- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2003

Journalism is a good apprenticeship for revolutionaries. Karl Marx, a member of the German intelligentsia of the 1840s, edited a leftist newspaper in Cologne until the Prussian police closed it down. He moved to Paris but soon was expelled from France for activities that were deemed subversive. His 1848 publication of the "Communist Manifesto," with its call for proletarian revolt, was followed by communal uprisings in several European capitals uprisings that owed little to Marx's exhortation but made him suspect in many European capitals.
Seeking a new base, Marx settled in London in 1849. There he lost his small savings in an unsuccessful attempt to launch a leftist journal. Reduced to a two-room flat in Soho, he turned to free-lance journalism to support a family that at one time included six children.
Visitors to the exile's grubby digs found a fervid polemicist. Marx was imperious in conversation; he brooked no dissent. A fellow revolutionary, the German-American Carl Schurz, recalled Marx as having a stocky build and a broad forehead, black hair and beard, and dark, sparkling eyes.
"I have never seen a man whose bearing was so provoking and intolerable," Schurz recalled. He would not accord "even a condescending consideration" to any opinion that differed from his own.
Marx could write passable English as well as his native German, and he soon found an outlet for his writings, the New York Tribune, owned by the eccentric Horace Greeley. Publisher Greeley was a bourgeois reformer who had little in common with Marx. Nevertheless, he ran a series of articles by Marx interpreting the 1848 uprisings, and the German communist became a stringer for the newspaper.
In the 1850s, Marx's long letters on political and economic affairs across Europe became a regular feature in the New York paper, which had a circulation of about 200,000. Marx was obliged to mute his communist fervor when writing for Greeley, but some of the material he wrote for the Tribune, especially that dealing with poverty in England, would later find its way into his most famous work, "Das Kapital."
The most important figure in Marx's life, outside of his family, was a fellow revolutionary, Friedrich Engels. The cultivated son of a German textile family, Engels turned to socialism, came to know Marx in Paris and manned barricades in the 1848 revolt in Germany. After the uprising was suppressed, Engels took refuge in Manchester, England, where he managed a branch of his father's business.
Through the years, Engels supported Marx financially, and equally important became his loyal ghostwriter. Many of Marx's submissions to the Tribune were in fact written by Engels. While Marx researched his magisterial "Das Kapital" at the British Museum, his acolyte toiled away on articles that would appear under his mentor's name.
"Engels really has too much work," Marx acknowledged, "but being a veritable walking encyclopedia, he's capable … of working at any hour of the day or night." The older man was suitably grateful, writing that without Engels "I would long ago have been obliged to start a 'trade.'"
When the Civil War broke out in America, Europe had been largely at peace since the defeat of Napoleon, and there was intense interest in the American conflict. "From whatever standpoint one regards it," Marx-Engels wrote, "the American Civil War presents a spectacle without parallel in the annals of military history."
Whereas Americans initially viewed the war in terms of the constitutionality of secession, Marx saw it through the prism of class struggle. He favored the North, of course, because the South based on slavery clearly was a feudal, pre-capitalist society. Yet he was uncomfortable supporting the North, a hotbed of capitalism where workers as a class had no more power than did workers in Europe.
Marx complained bitterly about Greeley's miserly wages, and his relations with the Tribune began to fray over the years. Fortunately, he found a new outlet one for which he could write in German the Vienna Presse. During the Civil War years, Marx wrote just seven more articles for the Tribune, but he wrote at least 35 for the Vienna Presse.
In a November 1861 article, Marx and Engels outlined the perspective from which they viewed the events in America:
"The present struggle between the South and North is … nothing but a struggle between two social systems, between the system of slavery and the system of free labor. The struggle has broken out because the two systems can no longer live peacefully side by side on the North American continent."
As the war went on, the two revolutionaries found the Lincoln administration far too timid in its objectives. The administration's repudiation of Gen. John C. Fremont's emancipation of the slaves in his military district was a bad omen to Marx and Engels, who wrote in the Vienna Presse that the administration was seeking to discredit the dashing Fremont.
Lincoln, they wrote, "has an aversion to all genius, anxiously clings to the letter of the Constitution, and [avoids any] step that could [upset] the 'loyal' slaveholders of the border states." Engels wrote his mentor in July 1862 that "if the North does not proceed forthwith in revolutionary fashion, it will get an ungodly hiding and deserve it."
Marx and Engels found the North's prosecution of the war inept as well as ideologically unsound. Marx characterized the Trent affair in which the United States seized and then released a British ship carrying Confederate envoys as "an international blunder … which might realize the boldest hopes of the rebels," diplomatic recognition by Britain.
"In the end," Marx suggested to Engels in August 1862, "the North will make war seriously, adopt revolutionary methods, and throw over the domination of the border slave tradesmen. A single Negro regiment would have a remarkable effect on Southern nerves."
When it came to military analysis, Engels though dependent on press accounts demonstrated considerable insight. The North's West Pointers posed a problem, he wrote, because they sought "the restoration of the Union on its old basis, and … kept free from revolutionary tendencies."
The worst of the military professionals in his view was Gen. George B. McClellan, "who, having been raised by favorable circumstances to a commanding and responsible position, wages war not in order to defeat the foe, but rather in order not to be defeated by the foe." Conversely, Gen. Henry W. Halleck and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant were said to be demonstrating "resolute military leadership."
As for the Confederates, Engels found Gen. Stonewall Jackson "by far the best chap in America." There is virtually no mention of the patrician Robert E. Lee.
By the end of the war, Marx was back at work on "Das Kapital," disappointed with the outcome in America. To be sure, the North had triumphed, but there was no proletarian revolution and no hint of one to come. If anything, Northern capitalists had come out of the war more dominant than ever.
Dedicated to the concept of class warfare, Marx had little appreciation of the values that drove the Civil War in America. Prompted by old-fashioned patriotism, Northerners had fought for the Union, Confederates for states' rights. Religion despised by all good communists was a motivating factor on both sides. On the battlefield, soldiers fought not for an economic class, but for comrades and flag.
For Marx and Engels, the American Civil War appeared to be an opportunity missed.

John M. Taylor lives in McLean. He is the author of several books dealing with the Civil War period, including "William Henry Seward: Lincoln's Right Hand."

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