Review by Marcelo Badaró Mattos
The Civil War in the United States, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Edited by Andrew Zimmerman. New York: International Publishers, 2016. Paper, $14.00. Pp. 256.
This book is the second American edition, largely modified, of a collection of Marx’s and Engels’ writings on the Civil War. The first edition, in 1937, was organized by Herbert M.. Morais, who for fears of political persecution (later confirmed), published his work under a pseudonym. The almost 80 years between the two editions largely explain their differences. As Andrew Zimmerman, professor of German history at George Washington University and editor of this new edition, points out in his Introduction, the first edition was marked by the dominant interpretation among communist militants of the day, that the Civil War corresponded to a “bourgeois revolution that removed fetters to capitalist development in the United States” (xxix).
In this edition, the interpretation of W. E. B. Du Bois is assumed to be similar to the one espoused by Marx and Engels, and Zimmerman tries to merge these, to sustain the view that “the Civil War was not a bourgeois revolution, but a workers’ revolution carried out within a bourgeois republic that was finally undermined by that bourgeois republic” (xxix). For this reason, in the selection of texts made by the editor we find a greater amount of material related to slavery and to the debate about race.
The book brings together 111 pieces: newspaper articles, correspon- dence and pamphlets written by Marx and Engels, and correspondence between them, and with the International Workingmen’s Association, as well as an appendix with a comment by Du Bois on the writings of Marx on the racial question.
The editor organized his selections into nine parts, covering: some references to the question of slavery and abolition in Marx’s writings prior to the outbreak of the Civil War; texts of the German revolutionaries produced during the conflict; articles showing Marx’s insistence on defining slavery as the central cause of the conflict; “The Trent Affair” (a diplomatic incident with the UK in 1861 when the U. S.. Navy captured two Confederate diplomats from a British ship); texts in which Marx and Engels discuss the revolutionary potential of the Civil War; Lincoln and his role in the process, including the famous correspondence between the International Workingmen’s Association and the President or his diplomatic representatives; excerpts related to the end of the war and the prognoses for the Reconstruction period; the International and its positions; and excerpts addressing the Civil War issue in Marx’s works after the end of the conflict, especially from *Capital* and *The Civil War in France*.
Each part is opened with a very helpful comment from the editor, which clarifies the context, and the sources from which the texts were taken, and gives a brief analysis of the texts. In addition, Zimmerman supplies an Introduction of about 20 pages, followed by a list of bibliographical suggestions.
In the Introduction Zimmerman presents an interesting analysis of the connections between Marx and Engels, exiled in England, and their German comrades from the revolutionary struggles of 1848–49 who opted for exile in North America, many of whom engaged in the abolitionist cause before the war. Several of these German exiles were frequent correspondents of Marx and Engels, such as Joseph Weydemeyer, who would fight as an artillery officer in the Union Army and continued to be involved in defending the political rights of former slaves after the end of the conflict.
The editor is also concerned with explaining how Marx and Engels saw in the Civil War the most important moment for international revolutionary struggles since the defeats that followed the revolutions of 1848. The connection between the Civil War and world revolution was so much about the importance of slavery in the South of the United States for the capitalist economy on its transatlantic scale, as well as the role of enslaved workers as subjects of a revolutionary struggle. Zimmerman is not content, however, with an idealized view of Marx’s and Engels’ stances on the racial issue. He presents both their evident anti-racist position, combined with the recognition of the role of the enslaved workers in the abolition of slavery and the conclusion of the war, and the limits of their perception of the protagonist role of the slaves in that process. This role, Zimmerman believes, was underestimated by Marx and Engels, but not by some of their comrades who acted side by side with formerly enslaved African Americans and realized that “the fight against racism is not a matter of white people perfecting their own ‘un-racist’ ideas but rather develops through interracial political solidarity” (xxvii).
We should also wonder why almost 80 years separate the two editions of this collection of essays, since they are so central to the understanding of Marxism as a “theory in progress.” The texts, as the editor reminds us, “reveal the co-evolution of Marxism and the American Civil War” (xii). Perhaps it is because in that interval of time the dominant views within and about Marxism have been concerned mostly with Marx’s and Engels’ interventions on the European labor movement. Zimmerman joins other authors — see, for example, Kevin Anderson, *Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies*, and Robin Blackburn, *An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln* — who make us realize how much Marx’s and Engels’ works are still current and relevant for understanding not only the specific history of the Civil War, but also for broader discussions on slavery and capitalism, as well as its historical connections to race.
Marcelo Badaró Matto, Universidade Federal Fluminense Rua Antonio Parreiras, 28, 202 Niterói, RJ Brazil 24210320 firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published in Science and Society.
Editors note: One of the ideas that motivates Hard Crackers is our belief in the continuing universal relevance of Abolitionism, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. We recommend reading the above review in conjunction with our Study Guide to the period: https://hardcrackers.com/abolitionism-a-study-guide/