Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 14, 2020

Marx, Lincoln and Project 1619

Filed under: Civil War,Counterpunch,Project 1619,slavery — louisproyect @ 2:23 pm

Victoria Woodhull: Spiritualist and leader of the first socialist international in the United States

COUNTERPUNCH, FEBRUARY 14, 2020

It must have enraged the historians who signed Sean Wilentz’s open letter to the New York Times and their World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) allies to see Abraham Lincoln knocked off his pedestal. How insolent for Nikole Hannah-Jones to write in her introductory essay for Project 1619 that “Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country, as does the belief, so well articulated by Lincoln, that black people are the obstacle to national unity.” Lincoln was not only an iconic figure for the average American. Karl Marx admired him as well for his war on slavery. Since the primary goal of the critics of Project 1619 was to prioritize class over “identity”, naturally Karl Marx was just the authority to help make their case against the bourgeois New York Times intent on dividing the working-class.

Since the WSWS sets itself up as a Marxist gate-keeper par excellence, we can assume that the historians also had the Karl Marx-Abraham Lincoln in mind when they hooked up with the Trotskyist sect. James McPherson is probably the closest to WSWS ideologically, having granted them interviews over the years. When they asked him if he read Karl Marx’s writings on the Civil War, the historian replied, “Well, I think they have a lot of very good insight into what was going on in the American Civil War. Marx certainly saw the abolition of slavery as a kind of bourgeois revolution that paved the way for the proletarian revolution that he hoped would come in another generation or so. It was a crucial step on the way to the eventual proletarian revolution, as Marx perceived it.”

In this article, I will look critically at what Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote about these questions. Although I have been a Marxist for 52 years, I have little patience with those who put him (or Lenin and Trotsky) on a pedestal. I believe that Nikole Hannah-Jones had good reasons to question his sanctity. More to the point, I will argue that Marx and Engels lacked the political foresight to see how black Americans would be short-changed after the Civil War. Keeping in mind that the first socialist international was located in the United States, we must examine its relationship to the newly emancipated black population. Based on my reading of Timothy Messer-Kruse’s “The Yankee International,” my conclusion is that it fell short.

Continue reading

3 Comments »

  1. A correction, Samuel Gompers was born in London, England in a family of Dutch-Jewish background.

    And as pointed out, both Marx & Engels got really irked by the Spiritualism that was then popular within the workers’ movement, of which Victoria Woodhull was a notable example. Engels write a piece debunking Spiritualism, “Natural Science and the Spirit World,” which years later was published as a chapter in Dialectics of Nature (https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1883/don/ch10.htm).

    Comment by Jim Farmelant — February 14, 2020 @ 7:59 pm

  2. A correction, Samuel Gompers was born in London, England in a family of Dutch-Jewish background.

    And as pointed out, both Marx & Engels got really irked by the Spiritualism that was then popular within the workers’ movement, of which Victoria Woodhull was a notable example. Engels write a piece debunking Spiritualism, “Natural Science and the Spirit World,” which years later was published as a chapter in Dialectics of Nature (https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1883/don/ch10.htm).

    Comment by Jim Farmelant — February 14, 2020 @ 8:00 pm

  3. Louis Proyect,Have you taken a very good look at ( “Julie Y. Chu:Cruel Optimism and the Settler-Colonial Roots of White Grievance” ) ?! Although brief,I found it clear-sighted,vis-a-vis “Noel Ignetiev: How the Irish Became White” ) on some important details. —
    Julie Y. Chu,Associate Professor & Director of Graduate Studies
    Department of Anthropology
    University of Chicago

    Comment by [Name Withheld] — February 16, 2020 @ 11:12 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: