Marx and the American Civil War (was Re: Realism in Eastern Europe)

Michael Perelman michael at
Sun Apr 18 09:14:52 PDT 1999

Unlike the cruise missiles liberals, Marx personally suffered a great deal because of the Civil War in the United States. Here is a brief section from my book, Karl Marx's Crises Theory:

Before I get to the material, I want to mention that some felt that Marx personally did a great deal to preserve the union, because he kept the International opposed to British intervention. Sen. Hoar from Massachusetts [I forget the reference to this. Perhaps someone could point me to it.] sent Marx a letter crediting him with an important service to the union. Perhaps someday we will see Marx on Rushmore.

Here is the text: The state of the cotton industry was not without personal significance for Marx and Engels. The year 1862, when Marx's analysis of capitalist agriculture was about to change, was a time of "disheartening material suffering" for Marx (Rubel and Manale 1975, p. 174), to a great extent due to the Cotton Famine. Engels, who depended upon the firm of Erman and Engels for the bulk of his earnings, was unable to supply Marx with much money. Early in the year, the depressed conditions in the cotton trade forced Engels' factory to work at only one-half capacity.

Prior to the Cotton Famine, Engels had maintained two separate residences: one for receiving his bourgeois friends; and one for himself and Mary Burns. With the onset of the crisis, he had to save on rent by living with Mary Burns full-time (Engels to Marx, 28 February 1862; in Marx and Engels 1973: xxx, p. 215).

Later in the year, Engels significantly informed Marx that the marxian theory of rent was too abstract to contemplate at the moment; he was too involved in the cotton crisis (Engels to Marx, 9 September 1862; in Marx and Engels 1973: xxx, p. 284).

Engels' tightened circumstances had disastrous consequences for Marx's finances. Moreover, Marx's tenuous relationship with the New York Tribune was finally severed in that year. In August of 1862, Marx wished that he knew how to start a business (Marx to Engels; 20 August 1862; in Marx and Engels 1973: xxx, p. 280). He continued, paraphrasing Faust, "Gray, dear friend, is all theory, and only business is green" (Ibid.). Before the end of the year, he informed Kugelmann that he had tried to obtain a job with a railway office, but his handwriting was inadequate (Marx to Kugelmann, 28 December 1862; in Marx and Engels 1973; xxx, p. 640). By the beginning of the next year, Marx's family lacked coal to warm the house and enough clothing to go outdoors (Marx to Engels, 24 January 1863; in Marx and Engels 1973; xxx, pp. 314-16).

-- Michael Perelman Economics Department California State University Chico, CA 95929

Tel. 530-898-5321 E-Mail michael at

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list