Marx the journalist

For the first two years of his exile in England Marx actively involved himself in German refugee politics. He was still a member of the central committee of the Communist League and was in contact with the League’s members who had stayed in Germany. His English contact was Harney whom he met again at a banquet organised by the Society of Fraternal Democrats at the end of 1849. In April 1850 Harney, for the Fraternal Democrats, together with Marx. Engels and Willich for the German Communist League and Adam and Vidil for the French Blanquists signed a declaration setting up a “Universal League of Revolutionary Communists” committed to “the overthrow of all privileged classes, their subjection to the dictatorship of the proletariat under which the revolution shall be maintained sine die until the communist society, the final organisation of the human family, has been realised”. In June Harney started to publish his own paper The Red Republican, in whose November issue was published the first English translation of the Communist Manifesto, identifying Marx and Engels as its authors.

Throughout 1850 Marx and Engels contributed a regular column to the Revue of the Neue Rheinische Z’eitung which was published in Hamburg. Among the things they commented on was the political scene in Britain, such as the death of Sir Robert Peel and the prospects of the Chartist movement, but the bulk of the material they sent on Britain concerned the economic situation there. Some time in the autumn of 1850 Marx came to the conclusion that there was a direct connection between economic crises and revolution. He read through the back numbers of the economist and a volume of Thomas Tooke’s History of Prices which had just been published to try to understand the economic crisis of 1847 which had preceded the revolutionary outbreak of 1848. The result was the detailed account of the course of this crisis which appeared in the Revue.

Marx’s position about there being a direct link between crises and revolution led him to a further conclusion: that in the then period of prosperity there was no immediate prospect of revolution; the revolutionary wave sparked off by the 1847 crisis was over and it was pointless to continue to try to provoke an immediate revolutionary uprising. This was a revision of the view Marx had expressed as recently as April 1850 in the statement he had signed with the Blanquists and Harney and it led to a split in the Communist League. It also led Marx to break with Harney who, as a romantic revolutionary, sympathised with those, including Marx’s opponents in the Communist League, who wanted to continue plotting a more or less immediate insurrection. When Harney’s position became known, Engels at Marx’s request immediately stopped contributing articles to his paper, which had in the meantime changed its name to The Friend of the People. Their other pre-1848 contact, Ernest Jones, was released from prison in 1850 and was soon involved in an acrimonious dispute with Harney over the use of the title of O’Connor’s paper The Northern Star, which ceased publication in 1852. Marx and Engels took Jones’s side in this dispute and in 1851 Engels was contributing instead to Jones’s Notes to the People which later became The People’s Paper.

The split in the Communist League occurred at a meeting of its central committee held on 15 September 1850. According to the Minutes. Marx explained his opposition to the policy of plotting immediate insurrection on the grounds that workers must be told that “if you want to change conditions and make yourselves capable of government, you will have to undergo fifteen, twenty or fifty years of civil war”, by which he meant many years of intense class struggle, certainly involving occasional violent confrontations with the state, rather than “civil war” in what has become the literal sense. This was to remain Marx’s view for the rest of his life and represented a return to the pattern for the evolution of working class political consciousnss which he had outlined, on the basis of experience of the English Chartist movement, before the bourgeois-revolutionary interlude of 1848-9. He first acted on this when he participated, through Jones’s People’s Paper, in the English working class movement between 1852 and 1856.

But Marx’s immediate concern was to earn a living. If he can be said to have had a profession it was journalism. He had been the editor of a democratic newspaper in Germany in 1842-43 and again in 1848-9. It was as editor of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung that he had met in 1848 an American journalist. Charles Dana, who was touring Europe. Dana was the editor of the New York Daily Tribune, one of America’s leading newspapers. It had been founded in 1841 by Horace Greeley and took up a generally democratic position on the issues of the day. Three years later Dana, who was anxious to increase the paper’s circulation among the German immigrants (and refugees) who had come to America after the final failure of the German bourgeois-democratic revolution in 1849. wrote to Marx asking him to contribute a scries of articles on this revolution. Marx gladly accepted this offer but. although it was submitted in Marx’s name, this series — later published as Revolution and Counter-revolution in Germany — was in fact written by Engels, partly because Marx had not yet acquired the confidence to write directly in English. Dana was very pleased with the contributions Marx had sent him and Marx became the regular London and European correspondent of the New York Daily Tribune for the next ten years. The first article written by Marx — an introductory article on the political parties in Britain in the context of the then impending General Election appeared on 21 August 1852. The last article appeared in March 1862. Marx’s first articles were written in German and translated into English by Engels — indeed, Engels throughout this whole period continued to write articles in Marx’s name — but later Marx began to write in English himself; which explains the peculiar grammar and vocabulary of some of the earlier articles.

The sub-editors of the New York Daily Tribune felt free to alter the articles as they considered appropriate. Marx eventually objected to this, since not all of the changes were of a purely editorial nature. One of the sub-editors was pro-Russian and often toned down the anti-Russia views expressed by Marx in his articles on the Eastern Question and the Crimean War. As a result of Marx’s protests, it was agreed that his articles should no longer be published with his signature. The last article signed by Marx (though ironically in fact mainly written by Engels!) was “Prospect in France and England” which appeared on 27 April 1855. Even before that date, Dana had used some of Marx’s articles as unsigned editorials.
Marx was a conscientious journalist who always read up a subject before writing an article on it. But his main source of information was inevitably the London daily and weekly papers. Apart of course from The Times, the main dailies Marx relied on were the Daily News, The Globe, The Morning Advertiser, The Morning Chronicle, The Morning Herald and The Morning Post. Marx also occasionally, through his contact with Engels who was living there, used the Manchester Guardian. Marx gives a useful run-down on the London dailies and their polities in an article published in Die Presse of Vienna on 31 December 1861. The article describes the press scene at that time rather than in the early and middle 1850s, when Marx did most of his writing for the New York Daily Tribune, but it had not changed all that much during this period. As to weeklies, Marx relied on The Economist, The Leader, and Jones’s People’s Paper.
But Marx also did some direct reporting himself, especially for the articles he wrote in 1855 for the Neue Oder Zeitung. He attended political meetings and rallies in London and was present in the Visitors’ Gallery for some of the debates in the House of Commons which he reported.
Marx came to be the London correspondent of the Neue Oder Zeitung through Ferdinand Lassalle (1825-1864). whose cousin. Max Friedlander (1829-1872). became one of the paper’s owners at the end of 1854. This paper had been published under this name since 1849 in Breslau on the river Oder (now Wroclau in present-day Poland) and, like the New York Daily Tribune, took up a generally pro-democratic position, though Marx had not agreed with the line it had taken during the German revolution when it had attacked workers’ organisations and “socialists”. Marx contributed articles, some again written by Engels, some translations or German versions of articles he had sent to the New York Daily Tribune, throughout 1855. Marx’s last article appeared on 8 October and the paper ceased publication soon afterwards. Marx seems to have felt freer to express his pro-working class position in the Neue Oder Zeitung than in the New York Daily Tribune, though this position is evident in the latter too, even if not so pronounced.
When collected together Marx’s articles do indeed provide an analysis of British politics and society in the 1850s by the same journalistic pen which wrote the much more widely known analyses of French politics over a shorter period, in the Class Struggles in France and The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon.
The other paper for which Marx regularly wrote paid articles was Die Presse in 1861 and 1862. This was the leading liberal daily published in Vienna, indeed one of the leading papers in the Austrian Empire. Marx had had opportunities to write for it earlier than 1861, but had turned them down on political grounds. The contact was again Lassalle’s cousin, Max Friedlander, who had in the meantime become the paper’s editor. In 1861 and 1862 Marx contributed a number of articles to Die Presse, a large number of them dealing with the American Civil War. especially about relations between Britain and the United States but also covering other subjects.
Marx’s work as a paid journalist came to an end with the publication of his last article in Die Presse on 4 December 1862.
Adam Buick

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