An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln

An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln

Robin Blackburn

Language: English

Pages: 268

ISBN: 1844677222

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln exchanged letters at the end of the Civil War. Although they were divided by far more than the Atlantic Ocean, they agreed on the cause of “free labor” and the urgent need to end slavery. In his introduction, Robin Blackburn argues that Lincoln’s response signaled the importance of the German American community and the role of the international communists in opposing European recognition of the Confederacy.

The ideals of communism, voiced through the International Working Men’s Association, attracted many thousands of supporters throughout the US, and helped spread the demand for an eight-hour day. Blackburn shows how the IWA in America—born out of the Civil War—sought to radicalize Lincoln’s unfinished revolution and to advance the rights of labor, uniting black and white, men and women, native and foreign-born. The International contributed to a profound critique of the capitalist robber barons who enriched themselves during and after the war, and it inspired an extraordinary series of strikes and class struggles in the postwar decades.

In addition to a range of key texts and letters by both Lincoln and Marx, this book includes articles from the radical New York-based journal Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, an extract from Thomas Fortune’s classic work on racism Black and White, Frederick Engels on the progress of US labor in the 1880s, and Lucy Parson’s speech at the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World.

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March 1865, the president was less constrained than on earlier occasions and placed slavery as central to the conflict in a way that he had previously avoided. He gave vent to his sense of the heavy wrong that his nation had committed by permitting an extremity of human bondage. He declared that each side in the still unfinished conflict had looked for “an easier triumph” but had not been able to contrive “a result less fundamental and astounding.” He saw the carnage of the war as perhaps God’s

“copperheads” and traitors because they were believed to have lacked enthusiasm for the Northern cause. The International’s strong Unionist credentials and welcoming attitude toward the Irish proved a good combination. The IWA became a rallying point for many of the disparate forces of emancipation seeking to take part in the reconstruction of the social order. It attracted the attention of Victoria Woodhull—in some ways the Arianna Huffington of the 1870s—who edited the widely selling and much

not the only evidence of the approach favored by Marx and Engels. The program of the French workers party was directly inspired by a conversation with Marx. Its very first clause declared, “the emancipation of the class of producers involves all mankind, without distinction of sex or race.”143 Its immediate program committed it to universal suffrage and equal pay for equal work. No doubt that economism still lurks in it, but in 1879 a platform like this was not such a bad starting point. The idea

President Lincoln, legally cautious, constitutionally conciliatory, by birth a citizen of the border slave state of Kentucky, escapes only with difficulty from the control of the “loyal” slaveholders, seeks to avoid any open breach with them, and precisely thereby calls forth a conflict with the parties of the North which are consistent in point of principle and are pushed more and more into the foreground by events. The speech that Wendell Phillips delivered at Abington, Massachusetts, on the

15. Then and only then could Northerners start to think in terms of a conflict urged on behalf of “the general interests of self-government” and the hopes of humanity and the interests of freedom among all peoples and for ages to come.31 But this account gives too much to Unionist rhetoric. The Union’s war aim was quite simply the preservation of the Union, and the frustration of “the interests of self-government” as understood by the majority of Southern whites. Both nationalisms had a

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