Donny Schraffenberger: Karl Marx and the American Civil War

karl_marx_reading_list_at_Duck2017-09-20_20-08-24.pngBy Donny Schraffenberger
Issue #80:

Karl Marx and the American Civil War | International Socialist Review – During the war, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels contributed dozens of insightful articles for the New York Tribune and, later, for the Viennese Die Presse on political and military issues. Engels specialized on the military strategy of the Lincoln administration and that of the Confederate Jefferson Davis rebel government. Karl Marx had a more sweeping look at the conflict, from the economic development of the nation to the actions of the political and military leaders. Overall, Marx had a better grasp on the whole war. Both men saw the war as an extension of the American Revolution of 1776. Marx and Engels argued that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the North’s arming of Black soldiers transformed the Civil War from a purely constitutional war to preserve the country with slavery intact, into a revolutionary war. They did not characterize the Civil War as a socialist revolutionary war, but they believed that it advanced the cause of all workers, both white and Black, by destroying chattel slavery. The revolution armed former slaves, destroyed the horrendous institution of slavery without compensation to the slave-owners, and opened the way for a struggle between the working class and the capitalist class. As a result, our next revolution in this country will be a working-class revolution.

During the American Civil War, Marx and Engels resided in England, having fled their German homeland following the failed 1848 democratic revolutions in Europe. Marx wrote for two newspapers, the New York Daily Tribune and the Viennese Die Presse, with Engels also contributing under Marx’s name. Marx began writing for the Tribune in 1852, publishing 350 articles, with Engels supplying another 125, and their jointly writing twelve, until the paper terminated Marx’s employment in 1862. As the European correspondent for the paper, Marx wrote on diverse topics from Tory election corruption to the increase of mental illness in Great Britain. Meanwhile, he was conducting his research for Capital. Due to the increased Civil War coverage, the Tribune pruned its European contributors to Karl Marx alone, until firing him in March 1862.

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