Briefwechsel Oktober 1864 Bis Dezember 1865 [The First International and the American Civil War]

Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels, Briefwechsel Oktober 1864 Bis Dezember 1865 [The First International and the American Civil War]. Marx/Engels Gesamtausgabe III, vol. 13. Internationale Marx-Engels-Stiftung Amsterdam (Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2002).

The volumes published so far in the MEGA Correspondence Section (vols. 1-8, 10) were prepared in Moscow, whereas this volume was prepared by a Russian-German group of scholars with the support of a long list of individuals and institutions in several countries.

The present volume contains correspondence of Marx and Engels with each other and with other people from October 1964 to December 1965. In all we know of 460 letters from various sources, but only 354 are extant. The 106 lost letters are mentioned in a special register. Of the extant letters, 81 were written by Marx, 39 by Engels, and 234 were addressed to them; 153 of the latter are published here for the first time in full and/or in their original languages. The meticulous preparation of the texts and the comprehensive annotations provide important new insights.

The International Working Men’s Association (IWA), also known as the First International, was established in late September 1864. Other central issues in the letters were the American civil war, which was entering its final phase, and the beginning of the German and Italian small states’ fusion into larger nation states. Marx continued to evolve his economic theory and was approaching the end of another draft (Ökonomisches Manuskript 1863-65). The correspondence makes it very clear that in a tour de force Marx managed to draft the planned second volume of Das Kapital and the main parts of the third volume. Not until he had designed the composition of the entire work was it possible for him to write the final version of the first volume.

In one of the early letters (#21), Marx explains to Engels how he has become involved in the activities of the International. This and subsequent letters demonstrate, step by step, how he took on an ever more important role in the IWA, because he knew how to get the different factions to co-operate, and could formulate tasks and theoretical positions in a manner that allowed everyone to work together. Thus, he was by no means just the self-righteous egotist always blowing his own trumpet as some of his critics have depicted him. Although this trait appears in some of the letters, what is important is that in his handling of the political situation of the IWA, Marx demonstrates great flexibility, while at the same time (in his lecture “Value, Price and Profit”) he was able to submit central elements of his economic theory to the General Council of the International and gain support for it.

The most important members of the International were the British local and national trade unions; in addition to them, the IWA consisted of French workers’ associations and of some, mainly small, workers’ educational associations in various countries like Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy. As yet there were no political workers’ organizations, and a number of different theoretical lines were competing for influence in the International. In France, there were Proudhonists, in Italy the supporters of Mazzini, and among Polish and German refugee organizations other positions were supported, while in Great Britain Liberal, bourgeois suffragists constituted an important element in addition to the trade unions. The few Communists around Marx did not steal the show. Nevertheless, Marx managed to pen and get approval for the central documents of the International. Thus, for a number of years he had considerable influence on the international labor movement and succeeded in eliciting co-operation among the different trends. This was difficult, as the Proudhonists and the Liberals were opposed to the trade unions. Some of the other groupings only had short-term demands for political reform or the demand for Polish independence on their agendas.

The correspondence with the former Chartist leader Ernest Jones serves to demonstrate efforts to involve British trade unions in the struggle for universal suffrage. An important factor in this context was the attempt to establish an English-language newspaper for the IWA. Initially the attempt was successful, but because of financial difficulties, the paper was soon taken over by radical Liberals. In the same way, we gain an insight into Marx’s attempts to strengthen the French and the Belgian sections of the International (he was corresponding secretary for Belgium).

These years saw another shift in the German Labour Movement, which Marx and Engels attempted to influence in various ways. In 1863, Ferdinand Lassalle had been a moving force in the establish- ment of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein [General German Workers’ Association] (ADAV), becoming its first president. However he had foolishly let himself be involved in a thoroughly silly duel in 1864 and managed to get himself killed. As best he could from the outside, Marx tried to take part in the development of the ADAV: thus he had a lengthy correspondence with Countess Sophie von Hatzfeld, who had understood little if anything of the Labour Movement, but who adored Lassalle and enjoyed a certain amount of influence over parts of the ADAV. This correspondence petered out in 1864, but not as a result of any breakup. Such a breakup did, however, take place between the ADAV leadership and Wilhelm Liebknecht, shortly after Marx and Engels followed his lead. All three of them had taken part in editing or writing for the ADAV’s paper, the Sozial-Demokrat. However, at this time the ADAV was playing a dangerous game, collaborating with Bismarck’s government, and thus had compromised itself in Marx’s eyes: it was not possible to pursue socialist policies in co-operation with a Conservative government.

Cooperation with Liebknecht, who in 1862 had returned to Germany from his exile in Great Britain, was decisive for ensuring that the German Communist Party of 1848 could regain a foothold. The correspondence with Wilhelm Liebknecht from these years is published in its entirety: 33 of the 46 existing letters sent by Liebknecht are printed in full together with various annexes prepared by him. Despite Liebknecht’s considerable efforts, which cost him dearly in financial as well as other terms, they were not enough for Marx, his wife Jenny Marx, and Engels. Liebknecht was criticised by both Marx and Engels because he failed to follow every suggestion or bit of advice they gave him. In the introduction (p. 65), this criticism is characterised as hard and unjust. At this time, Liebknecht was the only spokesperson for their ideas in Germany and it was his achievement that a new Labour Party saw the light of day only a few years later, a party which endorsed the fundamental principles of Marxist analysis as it was known and developed at the time. Despite this achievement he never gained their recognition. From October 1864 to December 1865 tenuous contacts were estab- lished by Marx and Engels with various individuals in Germany other than Liebknecht, partly by reactivating former members of the League of Communists.

In late 1865 the preparations for the 1866 Congress of the International become a prominent feature in the correspondence. A central theme was the drafting of a resolution concerning the role of trade unionism. Preparations of this and other resolutions continued long into 1866. Marx was admired for having been able to justify industrial action to improve wages (in “Value, Price and Profit”), and this gained him the support of the British trade unions. This, however, was not the only reason for his growing influence over these 15 months. His ability to evolve guidelines for future activities seemed very convincing to the General Council. This is reflected in the letters, and thus we now have far better tools than before for analysing developments during these years.

Another of their correspondents was Marx’s contemporary Joseph Weydemeyer. Originally he had been an officer in the Prussian army, but he had been working together with the emerging communist forces from 1846, had taken part in the 1848/49 revolution, and subsequently he became one of the leading members of the League of Communists in Germany until 1851, at which time he had to emigrate to the USA. In the States he pursued his revolutionary activities without, however, achieving any perceptible results. In the American Civil War he was a Unionist colonel, and his few but long and detailed letters were an important source for Marx and Engels’s analysis of the Civil War; as usual Engels was in charge of the military matters.

Weydemeyer criticised “Old Abe” for his not very energetic pursuance of the war, for his preference for not very efficient generals whose blunders had cost thousands of soldiers their lives. He did, however, have a certain amount of respect for General Sherman. War was not the only thing he kept Marx and Engels abreast of; other domestic policy matters were described and analysed as well, including the role of American labour organisations.

There was a clear division of labour between Marx and Engels, in this period more so than before or after. Marx had inherited quite a sum of money, but it had soon been spent on settling old debts and to move to a better apartment. Engels had to come to his assistance again as early as the autumn of 1865. Obviously, Marx was not very good at running his personal finances. Marx apparently had no problem with accepting such financial assistance; as he saw it he and Engels had entered into a partnership in which Marx spent all his time on activities in the political and theoretical field (#282).

This volume contains much new material as, through the aggregated correspondence and a number of annexes, we get a much deeper insight not just into Marx and Engels’s theoretical deliberations, political advances, personal situation and interests in other matters (e.g. the history of language), but equally into the development of the Movement, its discussions and ideas. The introduction and the meticulous and comprehensive annotations of many letters greatly facilitate understanding of the linkage between individual letters and the other MEGA volumes. The development of the political and economic theory can now be seen in a clearer light.

Reviewed by Gerd Callesen
Arbejderbevaegelsens bibliotek og arkiv
[Labor Movement Library and Archive]

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