on 27 February 2008
These articles, on a huge range of subjects, were written and published between 1852 and 1861. The Tribune's circulation at the time was 200,000, the world's largest.
There are nine articles on China, covering the British state's Opium Wars and its atrocities there. The British state produced opium in India, forced it on China by unprovoked attacks, and then turned round and accused the Chinese of attacking Britain, with "the flimsy pretence that English life and property are endangered by the aggressive acts of the Chinese."
Marx also produced nine articles on wars, revolutions and counter-revolutions in Europe, particularly Greece, Italy, Prussia and Spain.
Nine articles examined events in India, mainly the 1857 revolt in India and changes in imperial finances. Marx wrote that capitalist progress "will neither emancipate nor materially mend the social condition of the mass of the people, depending not only on the development of the productive powers, but on their appropriation by the people." He showed how vicious imperial rule was, citing Lord Dalhousie, India's governor general from 1848 to 1856, "torture in one shape or other is practised by the lower subordinates in every British province."
In eight articles, Marx analysed the struggles in the USA, the British government's role in the slave trade, the mill owners' and The Times' support for the slaveholding South in the American civil war. The mill workers, by contrast, supported the North and abolition, at great cost to themselves. Marx showed how the slave trade was integral to capitalism.
He also produced 14 articles on British politics and society, several elections, `a venal and reckless press', starvation and the Highland clearances, and 11 on poverty, riches and inequality, against global free trade and its promises of peace and prosperity, the financial panic of 1857 with its failing dodgy banks, and the condition of the working class.
Selection of Marx's writings for the New York Tribune, payment for which helped keep the wolf and many creditors away from the door whilst he was working on putting together Capital. Rumour has it that many of his contributions were ghost written fully or partly for him by Engels.
Most of the articles I find fascinating for their insight into world conditions and affairs, especially wars, that Marx had never visited to report on first hand. The man was sat in London most of the time but he had good contacts. Logically written with a 'Marxist' slant the articles are long enough to give the reader an overall picture but not long enough to be boring.
Those, like me, who have struggled and mentally beaten themselves up battling through (especially the early chapters) of Capital a couple of times will find this light relief. A book that I would read a few articles, put it down and pick it up a few days later to read a few more, whilst having a couple of other books on the go.
Not expensive and really is good history.
Modern comparisons would be (to my mind) the journalistic works of William Rust & John Pilger.
on 22 September 2009
In the 1850s the USA was still regarded by European radicals as 'The Land of the Free'. The left had yet to learn that America's concept of freedom was to be a world away from theirs. In these articles Marx is able to appeal to his American readers by reminding them of the iniquities of the Old World they had left behind; a world where inherited privilege and the clergy still held sway.
Only occasionally does Marx's tiresome, and now thoroughly discredited, historicism intrude. We get instead, a picture of the way that 19th century technology, with its railroads, steamships and the telegraph was making the world smaller. New global ties were breaking down the old bonds of feudalism and family.
Marx was not an on the spot reporter; he was based in London. His reflections on the disgrace that was the Chinese Opium War, the tragedy of the Highland Clearances and the misery that brought about industrial unrest in Lancashire are filled with passion and anger as well as sober, if contorted, reflection.
One piece on China shows how vastly that vast land has changed in the ensuing 150 years. The brutal, and futile, attempts of the British to open up Chinese markets to Lancashire's textiles are shown to be not only barbaric, but ridiculous. The Chinese clothed themselves quite adequately, Marx averred, by virtue of their home looms and spinning wheels, so had no need to import any cotton.
That the world has changed vastly, and not remotely in the manner that Marx so confidently predicted, takes nothing away from the lively style of the writing, and the insights these articles provide into a vanished age.