3 comments on “Karl Marx: The North American Civil War

  1. Another wonderful post, Rustbelt. Great collection of illustrations for this and the previous post. Was I imagining it or did this post at one time have the cover of An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln as one of the illustrations? Maybe I was just on some bad drugs. Since this is an area you’ve obviously been interested in for some time and I’m just beginning to research it, can you suggestion some reading material? I’ve just started Race and Radicalism in the Union Army. Thanks again.


    • Sean P,

      Well, here’s hoping you find some good drugs. I did indeed have the Robin Blackburn cover (can’t wait to reads that), but, coincidentally, the author of Race and Radicalism (the Rustbelt will soon have an interview with Mark Lause- the author- -just on that topic) drew my attention to that great anti-Lincoln cartoon and decided to replace it with that.

      I can suggest some reading material, but with so very much written on the period the number of good books numbers in the many hundreds. I have always, and continue, to say that McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom is just about the best single-volume introduction to that period. It covers the sectional crisis through reconstruction with deft and insight and a unified vision that is a perfect place to start. McPherson also has an excellent suggested reading essay at the end of it (updated in newer additions) which provides readers with a jumping off point for wherever their interests may lie. Some easy to find and somewhat introductory works follow.

      For those who like their Civil War bloody the Bruce Catton’s series covers the battles very well, but too broadly and with insufficient social context. . However, his pages on the actual fighting are intensely good. Read his chapters on Chickamagua or The Wilderness you’ll lose whatever romantic notions you might have of combat in that war. Noah Trudeau also does the battles well but his politics can’t do some of the story justice (though his combat-eye view of Colored Troops ‘Like Men of War’ is full of wonderful vignettes). I recently read Campfires of Liberty about camp life of black soldiers and found it illuminating.

      Eric Foner’s Reconstruction works (especially Forever Free) and DuBois’ Black Reconstruction are both essential readings. And, again,both can point the reader in a hundred different directions. On slavery more specifically and the debate about what kind of society the antebellum South was (I stand firmly on the side of a capitalist society in the argument- with a number of ‘buts..’) the recent work of Walter Johnson is a perfect place to start. He goes after Genovese’s ‘semi-feudal’ pre-capitalist argument by looking how the slave themselves (if not their labor) were fully commoditized and how integral slave production was to international capitalism of the period. His work Soul By Soul looks at the social relations refracted through the (commodity) exchange of a New Orleans slave market. The most penetrating book on the realities of the North American slave system I have read and a constant eye-opener. His other work, particularly an essay about Marx and slavery called The Pedestal and the Veil is also really illuminating (and I agree with it).

      Marx was, unsurprisingly, the most astute analyst looking at the war at the time I think (at least from the vantage point from which he looked). Just reading the work above, which stands up entirely and is supported by nearly all of the serious scholarship since, shows that. Engels, on the other hand, wasn’t as clear, though he also offered really salient views. Unfortunately other things (the founding of the First International) and Marx’ dropping his journalism meant that after the first year or so of the war their attentions were necessarily drawn elsewhere and their analysis of the war as it progressed was less involved.

      OK, this is totally unsatisfactory for a list of reading material and just off the top of my head at the moment, but there are so, so many other books, articles and essays to recommend. How about I look through my shelves, talk to some comrades and commit to getting a reading list, heavy on the Marxian methodology, together while asking readers to propose theirs in the next few weeks? Thanks for the kind words on the post. Best,



  2. Pingback: Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung

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