Monday, 20 June 2016

Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows: Karl Marx and the Young Republican Party

Sadly this is a mock up I found on the web, but it neatly illustrates the topic.

History is full of strange occurrences, chance meetings and weird common interests. The Paris Commune for example united for a time the Anarchists (under the Proudhon faction) the Communists (Under the leadership of Blanqui's supporters) the lefty republicans and the Free Masons.

Here's another strange coincidence in the life of Karl Marx. Marx after leaving the University of Berlin with a background in philosophy he wandered for a bit ultimately becoming a journalist in Cologne.

He had also written some play scripts and even a comedic novel. But his main source of work and income in the early 1840's was journalism writing for and editing the Rhineland News. The News was explicitly political and of a left wing persuasion mainly criticising the Rhineland Diet. While writing for the Newspaper Marx started corresponding with German exiles in France and learned about their new socialist ideas taking root in French working class districts. One of those ideas went by the name of Communism a name popularised by Auguste Blanqui and of course would be taken up by Karl Marx. Communism soon supplanted Karl Marx's early German republicanism though not immediately, it seems the suppression of the Rhineland News in 1843 pushed Karl to make his break with constistutionalism. 

In 1847 the first Communist party, the Communist League* was established with Marx and his close friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels as major members. The Manifesto of the Communist Party was written on behalf of the Communist League and was an explanation of the groups beliefs, strategies and actions. Marx and the League also published a new paper in the Rhineland under the name of New Rhenish News but that didn't last very long either.

The Revolution of 1848 swept over Prussia and the smaller German states, the Communist League was supportive but unable to play any effective role. Though that didn't stop the League and Marx getting a lot of blame for causing it anyway.

Marx was exiled in 1843(he would return to Cologne in 1847) after the collapse of the Rhineland News and moved to Paris were he again found work co-editing a Leftist newspaper The German-French Annals. He and his wife and children had to keep moving around western europe until the fall out of the 1848 Revolutionary wave forced his family to seek shelter in London where he spent the rest of his days.

Whilst in London Marx ran out of money, and was desperately in need of work. An offer of work came from a surprising source, a newspaper published in New York, known as the New York Daily Tribune. The Tribune was founded in 1841 by Horace Greeley as a pro Whig party publication. In October 25th 1851 the paper boasted of acquiring some new foreign correspondents of great knowledge and insight

“a letter from Madame Belgioioso, upon the daily and domestic life of the Turks, and another upon Germany by one of the clearest and most vigorous writers that country has produced—no matter what may be the judgment of the critical upon his public opinions in the sphere of political and social philosophy.”
The clearest and most vigorous writer of Germany (even though it wouldn't exist for another twenty years) was Karl Marx, his first article was on the aftermath of 1848

 “The first act of the revolutionary drama on the Continent of Europe has closed...The ‘powers that were’ before the hurricane of 1848, are again the ‘powers that be.’ ”
 This relationship would continue for nine years until 1861. For his services Karl Marx was paid an average of $5 a week, which was just enough to keep his family in home, but not much beyond that. He would become the paper's global correspondent writing on events and conditions all over the world.  It wasn't a happy relationship, the paper refused all requests for a pay increase and Engels had to assist the Marx family financially from time to time. However the steady payments and research conducted for the Tribune would pay off for Marx's passion the development of his political understanding. Without the Tribune Marx probably would not have finished the first volume of Capital (some of his articles were reproduced in it) or any of his other post 1840's work.

So where does the GOP come into this? Well the Tribune supported the Whig party, however the Whigs collapsed in the 1850's with most members and supporters joining the newly created Republican Party. Horace Greeley was one such new member and he took his newspaper with him. This means that for several years Karl Marx's political ideas were being subsidised by the main journalistic arm of the Republican party. How's that for strange bedfellows?

But it goes a bit deeper Karl Marx was well aware of the American political developments and preferred the Republican party to the Democratic party. When the Civil War broke out Marx backed the Union, one of his last articles for the Tribune was about the public opinion of England (Britain) to the political instability in January 1861 (open war wouldn't happen until April) and warning and criticism of the Cotton importers and textile mill owners whom were trying to pressure the British Empire to side with the rebelling south.

The only war meeting convened on the arrival of the La Plata, in the cotton salesroom of the Liverpool Stock Exchange, was a corner meeting where the cotton jobbers had it all to themselves. Even at Manchester, the temper of the working classes was so well understood that an insulated attempt at the convocation of a war meeting was almost as soon abandoned as thought of.

And in 1864 the International Working Men's Association, of which Marx was a leading member wrote a letter congratulating him on his re-election and upon his resistance to the slave power of the Southern plantation owners. Marx was on of the signatures.

We congratulate the American people upon your re-election by a large majority. If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war cry of your re-election is Death to Slavery.
From the commencement of the titanic American strife the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class. The contest for the territories which opened the dire epopee, was it not to decide whether the virgin soil of immense tracts should be wedded to the labor of the emigrant or prostituted by the tramp of the slave driver?

When an oligarchy of 300,000 slaveholders dared to inscribe, for the first time in the annals of the world, "slavery" on the banner of Armed Revolt, when on the very spots where hardly a century ago the idea of one great Democratic Republic had first sprung up, whence the first Declaration of the Rights of Man was issued, and the first impulse given to the European revolution of the eighteenth century; when on those very spots counterrevolution, with systematic thoroughness, gloried in rescinding "the ideas entertained at the time of the formation of the old constitution", and maintained slavery to be "a beneficent institution", indeed, the old solution of the great problem of "the relation of capital to labor", and cynically proclaimed property in man "the cornerstone of the new edifice" — then the working classes of Europe understood at once, even before the fanatic partisanship of the upper classes for the Confederate gentry had given its dismal warning, that the slaveholders' rebellion was to sound the tocsin for a general holy crusade of property against labor, and that for the men of labor, with their hopes for the future, even their past conquests were at stake in that tremendous conflict on the other side of the Atlantic. Everywhere they bore therefore patiently the hardships imposed upon them by the cotton crisis, opposed enthusiastically the proslavery intervention of their betters — and, from most parts of Europe, contributed their quota of blood to the good cause.

While the workingmen, the true political powers of the North, allowed slavery to defile their own republic, while before the Negro, mastered and sold without his concurrence, they boasted it the highest prerogative of the white-skinned laborer to sell himself and choose his own master, they were unable to attain the true freedom of labor, or to support their European brethren in their struggle for emancipation; but this barrier to progress has been swept off by the red sea of civil war.

The workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so the American Antislavery War will do for the working classes. They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working class, to lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world. 

Signed on behalf of the International Workingmen's Association, the Central Council:
Longmaid, Worley, Whitlock, Fox, Blackmore, Hartwell, Pidgeon, Lucraft, Weston, Dell, Nieass, Shaw, Lake, Buckley, Osbourne, Howell, Carter, Wheeler, Stainsby, Morgan, Grossmith, Dick, Denoual, Jourdain, Morrissot, Leroux, Bordage, Bocquet, Talandier, Dupont, L.Wolff, Aldovrandi, Lama, Solustri, Nusperli, Eccarius, Wolff, Lessner, Pfander, Lochner, Kaub, Bolleter, Rybczinski, Hansen, Schantzenbach, Smales, Cornelius, Petersen, Otto, Bagnagatti, Setacci;
George Odger, President of the Council; P.V. Lubez, Corresponding Secretary for France; Karl Marx, Corresponding Secretary for Germany; G.P. Fontana, Corresponding Secretary for Italy; J.E. Holtorp, Corresponding Secretary for Poland; H.F. Jung, Corresponding Secretary for Switzerland; William R. Cremer, Honorary General Secretary.

Honestly now can you imagine such a thing happening today?

Further reading:

* By which I mean an explicitly Communist political party. Prior to the leagues founding early Communists were either members of other radical parties usually Republican, or like Blanqui's followers a clandestine network of supporters.

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