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The Civil War in the United States, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Edited
by Andrew Zimmerman. New York: International Publishers, 2016. Paper, $14.00.
This book is the second American edition, largely modified, of a collection of
Marx’s and Engels’ writings on the Civil War. The first edition, in 1937, was
organized by Herbert M. Morais, who for fears of political persecution (later
confirmed), published his work under a pseudonym. The almost 80 years between
the two editions largely explain their differences. As Andrew Zimmerman,
professor of German history at George Washington University and editor of this
new edition, points out in his Introduction, the first edition was marked by
the dominant interpretation among communist militants of the day, that the
Civil War corresponded to a “bourgeois revolution that removed fetters to
capitalist development in the United States” (xxix).
In this edition, the interpretation of W. E. B. Du Bois is assumed to be
similar to the one espoused by Marx and Engels, and Zimmerman tries to merge
these, to sustain the view that “the Civil War was not a bourgeois revolution,
but a workers’ revolution carried out within a bourgeois republic that was
finally undermined by that bourgeois republic” (xxix). For this reason, in the
selection of texts made by the editor we find a greater amount of material
related to slavery and to the debate about race.
The book brings together 111 pieces: newspaper articles, correspon- dence and
pamphlets written by Marx and Engels, and correspondence between them, and with
the International Workingmen’s Association, as well as an appendix with a
comment by Du Bois on the writings of Marx on the racial question.
The editor organized his selections into nine parts, covering: some references
to the question of slavery and abolition in Marx’s writings prior to the
outbreak of the Civil War; texts of the German revolutionaries produced during
the conflict; articles showing Marx’s insistence on defining slavery as the
central cause of the conflict; “The Trent Affair” (a diplomatic incident with
the UK in 1861 when the U. S. Navy captured two Confederate diplomats from a
British ship); texts in which Marx and Engels discuss the revolutionary
potential of the Civil War; Lincoln and his role in the process, including the
famous correspondence between the International Workingmen’s Association and
the President or his diplomatic representatives; excerpts related to the end of
the war and the prognoses for the Reconstruction period; the International and
its positions; and excerpts addressing the Civil War issue in Marx’s works
after the end of the conflict, especially from *Capital* and *The Civil War in
Each part is opened with a very helpful comment from the editor, which
clarifies the context, and the sources from which the texts were taken, and
gives a brief analysis of the texts. In addition, Zimmerman supplies an
Introduction of about 20 pages, followed by a list of bibliographical
In the Introduction Zimmerman presents an interesting analysis of the
connections between Marx and Engels, exiled in England, and their German
comrades from the revolutionary struggles of 1848–49 who opted for exile in
North America, many of whom engaged in the abolitionist cause before the war.
Several of these German exiles were frequent correspondents of Marx and Engels,
such as Joseph Weydemeyer, who would fight as an artillery officer in the Union
Army and continued to be involved in defending the political rights of former
slaves after the end of the conflict.
The editor is also concerned with explaining how Marx and Engels saw in the
Civil War the most important moment for international revolutionary struggles
since the defeats that followed the revolutions of 1848. The connection between
the Civil War and world revolution was so much about the importance of slavery
in the South of the United States for the capitalist economy on its
transatlantic scale, as well as the role of enslaved workers as subjects of a
revolutionary struggle. Zimmerman is not content, however, with an idealized
view of Marx’s and Engels’ stances on the racial issue. He presents both their
evident anti-racist position, combined with the recognition of the role of the
enslaved workers in the abolition of slavery and the conclusion of the war, and
the limits of their perception of the protagonist role of the slaves in that
process. This role, Zimmerman believes, was underestimated by Marx and Engels,
but not by some of their comrades who acted side by side with formerly enslaved
African Americans and realized that “the fight against racism is not a matter
of white people perfecting their own ‘un-racist’ ideas but rather develops
through interracial political solidarity” (xxvii).
We should also wonder why almost 80 years separate the two editions of this
collection of essays, since they are so central to the understanding of Marxism
as a “theory in progress.” The texts, as the editor reminds us, “reveal the
co-evolution of Marxism and the American Civil War” (xii). Perhaps it is
because in that interval of time the dominant views within and about Marxism
have been concerned mostly with Marx’s and Engels’ interventions on the
European labor movement. Zimmerman joins other authors — see, for example,
Kevin Anderson, *Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and
Non-Western Societies*, and Robin Blackburn, *An Unfinished Revolution: Karl
Marx and Abraham Lincoln* — who make us realize how much Marx’s and Engels’
works are still current and relevant for understanding not only the specific
history of the Civil War, but also for broader discussions on slavery and
capitalism, as well as its historical connections to race.
Marcelo Badaró Mattos
Universidade Federal Fluminense
Rua Antonio Parreiras, 28, 202
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