Marx, Engels, and the American Civil War – II

We finished the last section of our discussion of Marx, Engels, and the American Civil War with their joint article on the state of the war and its prospects in March 1862, in which they remarkably accurately analyzed and predicted the course the war would follow for it to result in Union success. The Confederacy in the meantime was resorting to much more severe measures against ‘liberty’ than it would ever have accepted of a Union government, and which led to much dissension: first, the introduction of the first ever draft in the Americas in April 1862, and subsequently a severe tax on agricultural produce, which was enforced by a suspension of habeas corpus. Those people who accuse Lincoln of dictatorial tendencies in his repression of the pro-Southern dissenters in Maryland are well advised to take this into account. The Confederacy also increased its bureaucracy beyond any foreseen proportions to some 70.000, more than the Union and vastly more than ever before. This was mere necessity to have a chance at full mobilization and achieving the war aims.(1) The Union eventually also introduced conscription of sorts, and what’s more, its industrial expansion was aided greatly by the war, while inflation destroyed real wages, leading to much worker resistance. This would combine with fear of labor competition to form some virulent anti-war sentiment in places like New York City, but we shall see more about this later. Continue reading “Marx, Engels, and the American Civil War – II”

Marx, Engels, and the American Civil War – I

Given the reputation of America today as a bulwark of reaction and imperialism, it may surprise many to know that Marx and Engels were great supporters of the United States in their own day. For them, the United States was not a great power opposed to the interests of the various peoples worldwide as today, but it represented capitalism in its most pure and its most historically progressive form. America did not have any feudal history or any aristocratic remnants, and as such was the clearest and most energetic example of capitalism’s powers. Moreover, the colonization of the Americas in the first place was the genesis of the capitalist mode of production, by launching Europe beyond its feudal confines. As Engels put it in a lecture for the London German Workers’ Educational Society as early as 1847 (that is, before they became ‘Marxists’ proper):

Citizens! When Christopher Columbus discovered America 350 years ago, he certainly did not think that not only would the then existing society in Europe together with its institutions be done away with through his discovery, but that the foundation would be laid for the complete liberation of all nations; and yet, it becomes more and more clear that this is indeed the case. Through the discovery of America a new route by sea to the East Indies was found, whereby the European business traffic of the time was completely transformed; the consequence was that Italian and German commerce were totally ruined and other countries came to the fore; commerce came into the hands of the western countries, and England thus came to the fore of the movement. Before the discovery of America the countries even in Europe were still very much separated from one another and trade was on the whole slight. Only after the new route to the East Indies had been found and an extensive field had been opened in America for exploitation by the Europeans engaged in commerce, did. England begin more and more to concentrate trade and to take possession of it, whereby the other European countries were more and more compelled to join together. From all this, big commerce originated, and the so-called world market was opened. The enormous treasures which the Europeans brought from America, and the gains which trade in general yielded, had as a consequence the ruin of the old aristocracy, and so the bourgeoisie came into being. The discovery of America was connected with the advent of machinery, and with that the struggle became necessary which we are conducting today, the struggle of the propertyless against the property owners. (…) Thus, through the discovery of America all society has been divided into two classes, and without the rise of the world market this would not have happened. The workers of the whole world have everywhere the same interests; everywhere the different classes disappear and the different interests coincide. When, therefore, a revolution breaks out in one country it must necessarily affect the other countries, and only now can real liberation take place.

(1) Continue reading “Marx, Engels, and the American Civil War – I”

Arundhati Roy on the Naxalites

The Indian magazine Outlook India has published a long article by Arundhati Roy, a famous writer and activist, on the Naxalite Maoist movement of the poor in certain parts of India. The Naxalites are often portrayed as mere fanatics, throwbacks to earlier historical periods, or ‘security threats’. Of course, one does not expect capitalist governments to see insurrections of the poor and exploited against their rule in any other terms, but what is more galling is the simple lack of attention for and understanding of the real causes of this movement’s existence and successes. All the more important the fact that Roy was willing to break this silence. This despite the fact that she herself had a negative idea of them, based on the general propaganda against Maoism as a purely barbaric form of cultural and social violence – similar to how the Chinese nationalist-religious revolts of Taiping and the Boxers were portrayed in the West in their day, and how they are often still understood. It is for this reason worth giving this article the widest possible readership, and therefore I reproduce it here, despite its considerable length. For more on the Naxalites and their relations to other groups, see . Continue reading “Arundhati Roy on the Naxalites”

What was Nazi Germany? – Part III

Having set out the rise and outlook of the Nazi government as well as its economic impulses during the 1930s until the onset of World War II, it is now time to get into the matter of the actual conquest and colonization process itself. In this, it will be necessary to focus as little as possible on the now very familiar history of the diplomacy, the war itself, military tactics and so on. These things, although interesting in their own right and important for understanding the history of the period, do not shed much light on the nature of the Nazi regime as seen from a larger perspective. The essence of this series of articles is, after all, not to answer the question what Nazi Germany did, but what Nazi Germany was: in other words, when seen from a larger historical perspective and put in its post-19th century context, what sort of class society was Nazi Germany and from where did its policy direction come? I hope to have already shown that Nazi Germany’s class support came mainly from the army, from the middle-sized and large farmers/landowners, and initially from those sections of industry (and banking) most affected by the Great Depression. Later, the more competitive and ‘liberal’ sections of industry joined the Nazi effort more fully as the rearmament and strategic investment shifts of the Goering plans led to prospects of an improved position for these industries in case of war. Industry and (large) agriculture indeed have been shown to be the main beneficiaries of the militarist restructuring of German society during the 1930s. I hope also to have shown that Nazi policies aimed at effectively applying colonial methods, which were familiar to German politics both from the cruelties in Africa and the Americas by other nations as well as their own, within Europe itself. Now it is time to address two other, related, topics. The first is that of the war and the full implementation, as could be done during wartime, of the Nazi government’s settlement plans for Eastern Europe and its colonization scheme for Europe altogether. The enormity of the horror of these plans, fortunately curtailed by events although still unbelievably destructive, is still not quite commonly understood, nor is its connection to colonialism as a phenomenon. The second topic is the question of cui bono? – who ended up benefiting from this, and how? These will now be addressed. Continue reading “What was Nazi Germany? – Part III”

What was Nazi Germany? – Part II

As I have shown in the last article, there were six major circumstances or conditions prevailing in Germany at the time the Nazis seized power that determined their thought:

– First, there was large, if finally steady, unemployment in essentially all lower sectors of the economy.
– Second, there was an urgent need for foreign currency reserves to pay imports with: with the loss of Alsace-Lorraine, Germany had almost no major raw resource for its industries in any large quantity except coal. It had to import ore from France and Sweden, cotton and wool from Britain and elsewhere, rubber and oil from other countries’ colonies. Moreover, Germany’s large number of middle-sized farmers were technologically and productively backwards as a result of enormous excess labor in the countryside, a situation not dissimilar to the one the Soviet Union was in at the same time, about which I have written elsewhere. This meant that it also was highly dependent on middle-sized farmer export countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark for butter, animal feed, milk etc. With no regular reserves existing as a result of the reparations payments and the huge debt, this meant that reviving German exports had a priority, as did defaulting on any further debts, as Hitler did in 1933.
– Third, the German military position was weak, as mentioned, and from the point of view of the military needed urgent rearmament, especially faced with the inevitable hostility from France, Britain and the United States its newly nationalist policy would provoke.
– Fourth, it is important to emphasize that the standard of living in Germany was substantially lower than in Britain or America, and although it had very advanced heavy industry, much of its smaller agriculture and small industry (such as textiles and food processing) lagged seriously behind. In 1990 dollars, the German per capita income was about $4500, comparable with mid-level global economies today, such as Iran or South Africa. The United States was already, be it slowly and with great inequality, embarking on the mass production of consumer goods for the upper middle class, such as fridges and cars, which Germany altogether lacked. The British middle class, too, was significantly better off than the Germans, fuelling the fires of revanchism further. Britain’s comfortable arrangements with the other Commonwealth states in the form of the Ottawa Agreement economic union assured it an export market, while at the same time permitting cheap import of raw materials of all sorts from its colonies like India and Malaysia. Hyperinflation, but more importantly the reparations regime had destroyed the German middle class and damaged its industry, while Britain and the US proceeded to increase their growth pace. German capital therefore felt itself truly surrounded and incapable of meeting the challenge of competition on these terms, while the military worried about lack of industrial production potential due to unemployment and the small market, which would weaken the capacity for war production. German housing was terrible even compared with Britain, and general inequality very high (one reason why the KPD had remained large despite its incompetence). At the same time, its technological level at the top of capital was still high and its research excellent.
– Fifth, there was the central issue of Lebensraum. The excess labor in agriculture and its low standard of production, especially with a dual system of great landowners and lagging middle-sized family farms, gave the impression of great overpopulation in rural areas. This, in turn, was translated by Nazi policy into a need for more land. This was nothing new of itself: the mass emigration of some 40 million Europeans to settler colonies outside Europe in the preceding century was the product both of low wages and of land hunger. In 1933, some 29% of the entire workforce was engaged in agriculture; compare this to a country like the Netherlands today, which produces, albeit with significant subsidies, vast excesses for export with an agricultural workforce of a mere 2-3%. Moreover, most of these were agricultural laborers who were quite poor, as well as hard-pressed family farmers, whose infinitely divisible inherited plots became smaller and less profitable as time went on. The end of WWI had seen widespread famine and disease, which killed hundreds of thousands. The population density of Germany was high, especially now that it lacked any overseas colonies, and very unfavorable compared with France or America (or the USSR), meaning it would lag more and more behind and become ever more dependent on imported food. For Hitler c.s., this was a recipe for ‘race death’. The only option was expansion and settlement elsewhere. (It is important to note Italy, Germany’s later war ally, was in much the same position – in fact it had even fewer ha per rural population available than Germany did.)
– Sixth, there is the question of race. National-Socialism on the one hand expressed the unified desire for expansion and settlement on the part of both certain sections of heavy industry, in particular the ‘quantitative’ ones like mining and steel, as well as that of the middle and large farmers; on the other, it expressed the logic of colonialism in its most aggressive form, where all was ranked according to a hierarchy of peoples eternally fighting over their living space and exploitable resources, endlessly warring over their settlements, in a race to the death to have one ‘blood’ win over another. This crude medley of social Darwinism, racial ‘science’ and imperialist apologetics was a poisonous concoction brewed out of the ingredients of Victorian thought, and could not have existed without the prior popularity of each of these elements among the bourgeoisie and intelligentsia of the Victorian-era great powers. This includes, of course, anti-semitism and support for ideas of ‘racial purity’. Truly Nazism went further than any other in this regard, but this was more a matter of boldly boiling down the fluffy mass of Victorian imperial justification to its toxic core than a matter of innovation. In his main work Mein Kampf, Hitler immediately connected this entire ideological framework with the concrete and medium term needs of those larger farmers and heavy industry, as well as the revanchism among military circles, in a maneouvre as brilliant as it was diabolical. This meant of course implacable hatred toward those weakening the race on the one hand, such as ‘impure’ groups, and those opposed to the aforementioned classes on the other hand, such as socialists. In fact, the commentators seem to disagree on whether Hitler hated Jews more than Communists, and whether he hated Jews for being Communists or Communists for being Jews; be that as it may, these aspects followed immediately from these ideological elements. Fitting the combination of Lebensraum policy with support for the Nazis’ particular racial ideology, the agricultural areas of the north and east of Germany were the only parts to ever give the NSDAP a full majority in an election. Continue reading “What was Nazi Germany? – Part II”