What would have do Marx in Texas? 

Historic fantasy. 

I am not a Marx scholar although I did qualify in a Marx inflected history of economic thought field exam at that citadel of Marxism, Yale University, in 1977, and for my minor knowledge of Texas socialism in the 19th century I’m indebted to Mike Land, a real Texan who has just newly arrived at the LBJ School. Still, the chance to speak on the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth is irresistible, especially since I was at the Saint Petersburg Economic Congress last year, and this was held in the city on the banks of the Neva and a man rose to declare that all persons of progressive spirit should be that year celebrating three great anniversaries: the 150th of Das Kapital — and he waved across the river at the Hermitage — the 100th of the storming of the Winter Palace — and then he pointed at me — the 50th anniversary of the publication of The New Industrial State. I looked up at the sky and said, “Dad, did you catch that?” 

James Kenneth Galbraith 

Professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin 

Adventures of Marx in Texas

As Robin Blackburn reported in Jacobin in 2012 Marx did consider emigrating to Texas. In 1843 he wrote the Mayor of Trier, his birthplace, for permission to emigrate. But at least according to the usually reliable source, namely my father, in his 1977 documentary Age of Uncertainty, he didn’t come simply because he could not afford the fare. So eventually, he went to London instead, it was cheaper and from a scholarly standpoint had certain advantages.

Had Marx emigrated, 142 years before I did, he would have found a robust socialist community with which to pick fights. It would have included Victor Prosper Considerant, French, a Fourierist, author of the tract Destin e sociale, founder of the European Society for the Colonization of Texas, a plan for that colonization called Au Texas published in 1854, and the founder in 1855 of La R union, 2,500 acres on the Trinity River near what is now Dallas. Two hundred people were already there when Considerant arrived in 1855. Alas, according to the Texas State Historical Association “the settlement was completely disorganized. It never fully recovered from that state” (socialist then, socialist now). Prospero went on to farm in Bexar County for a number of years before returning to the Latin Quarter in 1869 just in time to survive the Paris Commune.

Then there was Adolph Douai, PhD from Leipzig, husband to the baroness von Beust with 10 children, participating in the rising of 1849, and came to Texas in May 1852 to New Braunfels and then went on to San Antonio to found the San Antonio Zeitung, a beacon of abolitionism, and then also, a little later, an advocate of a free state in Western Texas. This was not a particularly popular position with the local landowners, and he was forced out. He went eventually to Boston where he founded a kindergarten, I think, the first in the United States, you must recall I mentioned that he had ten children… you can see that the possibility for this was on his mind for perhaps domestic reasons. And ultimately he went on to New York where in 1883 he was selected to give the eulogy for Karl Marx at Cooper Union.

I should also mention Ernst Kapp, founder in 1853 of Die Freie Verein which in 1854 called for the abolition of slavery. And there were entire settlements, so-called “Latin” settlements, including Millheim in Austin County, Latium in Washington County, Bettina (after Countess Bettina von Arnim) in Llano County, and Sisterdale and Tusculum in Kendall County. Marx would have been quite at home, especially had he gone to Boerne which became a health resort with five hotels by the 1880s. Compared to London it would have been a much better place to live at the time, and it’s undoubtedly the case that more of his children would have survived.

Now the Germans, particularly the East Germans, were not entirely welcome here in Texas. There was a newspaper in Austin in 1850s which opined in an editorial which is certainly worth a word or two, it wrote, “There is one class, however, that we are opposed to and have no disposition to hold out to them inducements to settle among us. This class is of that propaganda school which in France and in parts of the United States has and is seeking to sap the foundations of society. The socialist desires to destroy individual rights and property, and if he is not a very intelligent and moral man (a rare thing) we may have in him a neighbor who will rob and plunder us whenever he can get the chance. For he holds it as primary principle in his creed that no individual has a right to accumulate property for himself and above all what is necessary to sustain him belongs to the rest of society. Again, the socialist is an abolitionist everywhere. We note this advent of socialism in Texas as foreboding us no good and we wish them to have a fair understanding before they reach our soil that as a political sect our whole people are against them.” And in 1861 the German socialists of Texas made a heroic but militarily deficient stand for the Union. They were caught by the Confederates at the Nueces on August 19, 1862, up to 68 of them, “mostly German intellectuals”, led by Major Fritz Teneger who had “camped without choosing a defensive position or posting a strong guard.” Nineteen were killed, 9 prisoners were executed against two losses on the Confederate side and 8 more were killed trying to cross to Mexico on the 18th of October 1862.

It is safe to say though that had Marx emigrated to Texas in 1843… well Marx was not a fighting man and preferred his combats to be of the literary and political sort, he probably would not have met his fate on the banks of the Nueces. Marx was of course a journalist. He took a keen interest in the Civil War and wrote dispatches for the New York Tribune and for Die Presse of Vienne, these are collected [to make up an] entire book of his accounts and correspondence with Engels on the subject. He was aware of the anti-slavery sentiment that existed in Texas. He would very likely have known that as James G. Blaine wrote, in reports in his memoirs of his 20 years in Congress, that the annexation of Texas in the first place was driven in part by a fear amongst leading Southerners that the Republic under European influences, no doubt partly German but also perhaps partly French, might abolish slavery, and if it did so it would block the path of the expansion of slavery both to the west and to the south.

Texas and the Civil War in Marx’s works

In 1861, at the outset of the Civil War, Marx wrote an account of… basically state-by-state account of the population balance of free and slave in each of the confederate states and the effects of all of that on the military prospects, and of Texas he wrote the following:

“Even the actual slave states however much external war, internal military dictatorship and slavery give them everywhere the semblance of harmony are nevertheless not without resistant elements. A striking example is Texas. With 180,388 slaves out of 601,039 inhabitants, the law of 1845, by virtue of which Texas entered the ranks of the United States as a slave state, entitled it to form not nearly one but five states out of its territory. The South would thereby have gained ten new votes, instead of two, in the American senate. And an increase in the number of votes in the American senate was the main object of its policy at that time. From 1845 to 1860 however the slaveholders found it impracticable to cut up Texas where the German population plays an important part, into even two states without giving the party of free labor the upper hand over the party of slavery in the second state (which would have been of course right here in Central Texas). This furnishes the best proof of the strength of the opposition to the slaveholding oligarchy in Texas itself.”

More broadly, Marx saw the Civil War as a war of southern aggression intended to destroy the Union as an economically viable entity which he believed would be the consequence of Southern victory. Given that the South would control the Mississippi and therefore the entire trade of the Midwest and the Upper Midwest, all the tributaries from the Ohio and the Missouri and everything down would come under the effective control of the South and it would become therefore impossible for the Midwestern states to remain allied with the Union, he foresaw in that case not secession, secession he thought was basically a red herring of an objective, but reorganization of the country all along slaveholding lines with perhaps a border on the Hudson leaving maybe a rump of New England as an independent free territory which presumably at that point would feel obliged to join up with Canada. As the war developed, he advocated splitting the Confederacy and grasped early on the significance of Atlanta, the rail junction linking the two main parts of the South, Atlanta and the other lines running to Georgia. Georgia, he wrote, is the key to secession.

He was brutal about McClellan whom he saw as a do-nothing general whose objective was to create the conditions for a stalemate that would ultimately lead to the victory of the Confederate States but he wrote also an unabashed praise of Abraham Lincoln, that he was “sui generis in the annals of history, no pathos, no idealistic flights of eloquence, no posing, no wrapping himself in the toga of history. He always gives the most significant acts, the most commonplace form. Where another man acting for the sake of so many square feet of land declares to be about the struggle for an idea Lincoln, even when he is acting for the sake of an idea, speaks only in terms of square feet of land. The most formidable decrees which he holds against the enemy and which will never lose their historical significance resemble as the author intends them to ordinary summonses sent by one lawyer to another on the opposing side.”

And then there is the letter to Lincoln which I’m sure many of you have seen from the International Working Men’s Association, Karl Marx, corresponding secretary for Germany, which in its opening sentences declares, “From the commencement of the titanic American strife the working men of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class.” And famously, although Lincoln did not see much of his mail, he did see this letter and he did instruct his representative in Great Britain, Charles Francis Adams, to make a reply which includes in part this sentence: “The Government of the United States has a clear consciousness that its policy neither is nor can be reactionary but at the same time adheres to the course which it adopted from the beginning, of abstaining everywhere from propagandism and unlawful intervention. It strives to do equal and exact justice to all sates and to all men.”

Now had Marx come to Boerne, he probably would not have written Das Kapital, at least not in the form we find it, he might have taken an interest in natural history or anthropology [illegible], would not have had access to the archives of the British Museum, but he would have benefitted from the waters and the climate. More of his children certainly would have survived. Carbuncles would not have tormented him. He might have become a Republican, in those days that would be the natural thing. And he almost certainly would have lived past his natural term of 1883 which as we all know was the founding year of the University of Texas. And so it’s practically a foregone conclusion that he would have become a founding professor of this University, and then what statues we would have had! How we would have enjoyed defending them rather than tearing them down! It would have been great! Pity that this didn’t happen because, you know, just imagine the great bust with a flowing beard there on the south… I console myself, however, that I was teaching about this and reading those passages to my students some years ago. And a young woman came up to me, she was from the suburbs of Fort Worth. She approached me after class and she said, “Professor, you might be interested to know that my great-great-great-grandfather was Friedrich Engels.” Thanks very much.


Exclusively for the Free Economy journal 

James Galbraith: On the occasion of Karl Marx›s 200th birthday, one can make many reflections. There is the immense reach and continuing appeal of his analytical framework, an epic achievement. Rooted in a reality of conflicts, Marxism continues to draw adherents from the insipid doctrines that mesmerize textbook writers and repel students of the current mainstream economics. Then there is the historical experience of Marxists in power — a different story and one widely rejected by those who survived. And there is the historical paradox, insofar as Marxism helped to discipline — for a time — the non- Marxist world. So that some of the greatest enduring economic achievements of Marxism were the great social democratic and socialist reforms, carried out in the last century by some of Marx›s most committed detractors.

Yet if there is one quotation from Karl Marx for Americans, it is surely to be found in the address of the International Workingmens› Association, of which Marx was Corresponding Secretary for Germany, to Abraham Lincoln on the occasion of the latter›s re-election victory in the fall of 1864. Marx wrote: “From the commencement of the titanic American strife the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class.”

Lincoln saw the letter. He directed the head of the American legation in London, Charles Francis Adams, to make a reply. The reply conveyed appreciation for the personal sentiments expressed, and went on to state an official doctrine: “The Government of the United States has a clear consciousness that its policy neither is nor could be reactionary, but at the same time it adheres to the course which it adopted at the beginning, of abstaining everywhere from propagandism and unlawful intervention.”

In our own time there is perhaps nothing so urgent in Marx proper, as the call implicit in that response. We live in an exceptionally dangerous moment. Reactionary policy is now routine. Propaganda is mainstream. Unlawful intervention is rampant.

That we — as nations and as the citizens thereof — should abstain everywhere from propagandism and unlawful intervention — today that seems to be remote, a high goal. And yet it is utterly necessary, for our mutual survival. Let us unite to place it, once more, at the very center. 


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