The author wishes to thank all those who helped in the preparation of this history of the Communist Party.  Their cooperation covered a wide range of work--extensive research in many fields, the writing of various studies, and the reading and correcting of the manuscript and proofs.  Of especially great value were the large number of penetrating criticisms and constructive proposals made by these co-workers, without which this history could not have been written.

William Z. Foster

Next: Chapter One

Chapter One: Early American Class Struggles (1793-1848)

1. Early American Class Struggles  (1793-1848)

The history of the Communist Party of the United States is the history of the vanguard party of the American working class. It is the story and analysis of the origin, growth, and development of a working class political party of a new type, called into existence by the epoch of imperialism, the last stage of capitalism, and by the emergence of a new social system—Socialism. It is the record of a Party which through its entire existence of more than three decades has loyally fought for the best interests of the American working class and its allies—the Negro people, the toiling farmers, the city middle classes—who are the great majority of the American people. It is the life of a Party destined to lead the American working class and its allies to victory over the monopoly warmongers and fascists, to a people's democracy and socialism.

The life story of the Communist Party is also the history of Marxism for a century in the United States. The C.P.U.S.A. is the inheritor and continuer of the many American Marxist parties and organizations which preceded it during this long period. It incorporates in itself the lessons of generations of political struggle by the working class; of the world experience of the First, Second, and Third Internationals; of the writings of the great Socialist theoreticians, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin; and of the great revolutions in Russia, China, and Central and Eastern Europe. It is also the continuation and culmination of American scientific, democratic, and artistic culture, embracing and carrying forward all that is sound and constructive in the works of Franklin, Jefferson, Douglass, Lincoln, Morgan, Edison, Twain, Dreiser, and a host of American thinkers, writers, and creators.

The Party history is the record of the American class struggle, of which it is a vital part. It is the story, in general, of the growth of the working class; the abolition of slavery and emancipation of the Negro People; the building of the trade union and farmer movements; the numberless strikes and political struggles of the toiling masses; and the growing political alliance of workers, Negroes, farmers, and intellectuals. The Party is the crystallization of the best in all these rich democratic and revolutionary traditions of the people; it is the embodiment of the toilers' aspirations for freedom and a better life.

The story of the Communist Party is also necessarily the history, in outline, of American capitalism. It is the account and analysis of the revolutionary liberation from British domination and establishment of the Republic, the expansion of the national frontiers, the development of industry and agriculture, the armed overthrow of the southern slavocracy, the recurring economic crises, the brutal exploitation of the workers, the poles of wealth and poverty, the growth of monopoly and development of imperialism, the savage robbery of the colonial peoples, the great world wars, the barbarities of fascism, the bid of American imperialism for world domination, the fight of the people for world peace, the general crisis of capitalism, and the development of the world class struggle, under expanding Marxist-Leninist leadership, toward socialism.


The American Revolution of 1776, which Lenin called one of the "great, really liberating, really revolutionary wars,"1 began the history of the modern capitalist United States. It was fought by a coalition of merchants, planters, small farmers, and white and Negro toilers. It was led chiefly by the merchant capitalists, with the democratic masses doing the decisive fighting. The Revolution, by establishing American national independence, shattered the restrictions placed upon the colonial productive forces by England; it freed the national market and opened the way for a speedy growth of trade and industry; it at least partially broke down the feudal system of land tenure; and it brought limited political rights to the small farmers and also to the workers, who were mostly artisans, but it did not destroy Negro chattel slavery. And for the embattled Indian peoples the Revolution produced only a still more vigorous effort to strip them of their lands and to destroy them.

The Revolution also had far-reaching international repercussions. It helped inspire the people of France to get rid of their feudal tyrants; it stimulated the peoples of Latin America to free themselves from the yoke of Spain and Portugal; and it was an energizing force in the world wherever the bourgeoisie, supported by the democratic masses, were fighting against feudalism. The Revolution was helped to success by the assistance given the rebelling colonies by France, Spain, and Holland, as well as by revolutionary struggles taking place currently in Ireland and England.

The Revolution was fought under the broad generalizations of the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, which called for national independence and freedom for all men. It declared the right of revolution and the dominance of the secular over the religious in government. But these principles meant very different things to the several classes that carried through the Revolution. To the merchants they signified their rise to dominant power and an unrestricted opportunity to exploit the rest of the population. To the planters they implied the continuation and extension of their slave system. To the farmers they meant free access to the broad public lands. To the workers they promised universal suffrage, more democratic liberties, and a greater share in the wealth of the new land. And to the oppressed Negroes they brought a new hope of freedom from the misery and sufferings of chattel bondage.

The Constitution, as originally formulated in 1787, and as adopted in the face of powerful opposition, consisted primarily of the rules and relationships agreed upon by the ruling class for the management of the society which they controlled. The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments of the Constitution, providing for freedom of speech, press, and assembly, religious liberty, trial by jury, and other popular democratic liberties, was written into the Constitution in 1791 under heavy mass pressure.2

Great as were the accomplishments of the Revolution, it nevertheless left unsolved many bourgeois-democratic tasks. These unfinished tasks constituted a serious hindrance to the nation's fullest development. The struggle to solve these questions in a progressive direction made up the main content of United States history for the next three-quarters of a century. Among the more basic of these tasks, were the abolition of slavery, the opening up of the broad western lands to settlement, and the deepening and extension of the democratic rights of the people. The main post-revolutionary fight of the toiling masses, in the face of fierce reactionary opposition, was aimed chiefly at preserving and extending their democratic rights won in the Revolution.

It was a great post-revolutionary political rally of these democratic forces that brought Jefferson to the presidency in 1800. Coming to power on a program of wresting the government from the hands of the privileged few, Jefferson sought to create a democracy based primarily upon the small farmers, but excluding the Negroes. From this fact many have drawn the erroneous conclusion that his policies were a brake on American industrial development. Actually, however, by the abolition of slavery in the North, the opening up of public lands, the battle against British "dumping" in America, and the extension of the popular franchise, all during Jefferson's period, the growth of the country's economy was greatly facilitated.

The extraordinary rapidity of the United States' economic advance in the decades following the victorious revolution was to be ascribed to a combination of several favorable factors, including the presence of vast natural resources, the relative absence of feudal economic and political remnants, the shortage of labor power, the constant flow of immigrants, and the tremendous extent of territory under one government. Another, most decisive factor was the immense stretch of new land awaiting capitalist development, the opening up of which played a vital part for decades in the economic and political growth of the country. It absorbed a vast amount of capital; it largely shaped the workers' ideology and also the progress and forms of the labor movement; and it was a main bone of contention between the rival, struggling classes of industrialists and planters. As Lenin, a close student of American agriculture, noted, "That peculiar feature of the United States ... the availability of unoccupied free land" explains "the extremely wide and rapid development of capitalism in the United States."3


The swiftness of the industrial growth of the United States was matched by that of the working class. In pre-revolutionary days the stable part of the free working class was largely made up of skilled craftsmen—ship-builders, building mechanics, tailors, shoemakers, bakers, and so on—who inherited much of the European guild system, with its relations of masters and journeymen. The shift of the center of production from home to mill, however, and the development of the factory system, especially after the war of 1812, revolutionized the status of American labor. The development of the national market enabled the budding capitalists, with their expanding factories and large crews of workers, soon to replace the master craftsmen employing only a few mechanics at the bench. The new capitalists resorted to the most ruthless exploitation of the workers, which included huge numbers of women and children, and they displaced skilled labor by machinery.

The conditions of the workers in this period were abominable. The hours of labor extended from sun-up to sun-down—13 to 16 hours per day. Wages were often no more than a dollar a day for men, and far less for women and children. In the shops the workers were subjected to the worst boss tyranny. Health conditions were unspeakable, and safety precautions totally absent. The workers also had no protection whatever against the hazards of unemployment, accidents, sickness, and old age.   When they could not pay their way, they were thrown into debtors' prisons—as late as 1833 there were 75,000 workers in these monstrous jails. Irish immigrants and free Negro workers were employed building turnpikes and canals, and they died like flies in the swamps.

The workers were faced with the alternatives of going west, of submitting to the harsh conditions of this work, or of fighting back. Inasmuch as the great bulk could not afford the expense of going west and taking up land, they stood and fought the exploiters. Mostly their struggles, at first, were in the shape of blind, spontaneous strikes. But soon they learned, particularly the skilled workers, that in order to fight effectively they needed organization. The trade union movement began to take shape, and strikes multiplied. But the employers struck back viciously, using the old English common law, which branded as "conspiracies" all "combinations" (organizations) to improve wages and other conditions of work.

Before the 1819 economic crisis there were already many unions in various trades and cities. During that industrial crash these early unions collapsed, but no sooner had industrial conditions begun to improve again when the workers, with ever-greater energy and clearer understanding, resumed the building of their unions. The next decade saw very important strikes of the new-born labor movement.

The unions, in this early period, began to extend into many new occupations and to combine into city-wide federations. By 1836 such union centers existed in 13 of the major seaboard cities. The unskilled were also being increasingly drawn into the movement. A high point in the rising labor movement was reached in 1833-37, when 173 strikes were recorded—chiefly for better wages and the shorter workday. During these years, in March 1834, the National Trades Union, the workers' first attempt at a general labor federation, was organized. It lasted three years.4

The panic of 1837 again wiped out most of the trade unions, yet the great struggles of the 20's and 30's had produced lasting results. In addition to the 10-hour day gains, imprisonment for debt was abolished, a mechanics' lien law passed, a common school system set up in the North, and property qualifications for voting as yet only by whites in the North "were practically eliminated.


The workers of young America, oppressed by ruthless exploiters, had been quick to learn the value of trade unionism, and the most advanced among them also saw early the necessity for political action on class lines. They realized that it was not enough that they had the voting franchise; they had to organize to use it effectively.

Bourgeois historians have coined the theory that the American workers historically have resorted alternately to economic or political action, as they lost faith in one form and turned to the other. The facts show, however, as indicated by these early American experiences, that the same working class upsurge that produced great economic struggles, also found its expression in various forms of political activity. Thus, the city of Philadelphia, the first to build a labor union, to organize a central labor body, and to call a general strike, was also the starting place for the first labor party in the United States.

The call for a political party issued by the Philadelphia labor unions in 1828 declared that "The mechanics and working men of the city and county of Philadelphia are determined to take the management of their own interests, as a class, in their own immediate keeping."5 The New York Workingmen's Party was launched a year later, and during the years 1828-34, some 61 local labor parties were established, with 50 labor newspapers. These local parties, despite ferocious attacks from the employers, made many gains such as the 10-hour day on public works, the free public schools, and limitations on the labor of women and children. The workers dovetailed this political struggle with the economic battles of the trade unions. But within a few years the local parties had passed out of existence.6

Although these local labor parties did not develop into a permanent national organization, they nevertheless prepared the ground for the next phase of the political struggles on a national scale—the farmer-labor alliance that formed around Andrew Jackson during the 1830's. Labor, although still weak, was particularly attracted to support Jackson, the frontiersman president, because of his vigorous attacks upon the United States Bank, the darling project of the budding capitalists of the time. This movement in support of Jackson was the beginning of labor's organized functioning in the support of bourgeois political parties, a policy which was to become of decisive importance in later decades. The disappearance of the early labor-party movement was to be ascribed to various reasons. The local parties were torn by internal dissension, cultivated by outside politicians, who sought either to lead them back to the bourgeois parties or else to destroy them. They were undermined also by political confusion, engendered by various schemes and panaceas of Utopian reformers. They were subjected, too, to extreme attacks from the reactionaries on moral and religious grounds. Besides, the major bourgeois parties, largely for purposes of demagogy, took over much of their program. Underlying all these weaknesses, however, was the basic fact that the continued existence of the frontier made possible the persistence of Jeffersonian illusions and prejudices which prevented the development of a stable working class and the establishment of an independent class political movement.


The American labor movement entered the industrial era with a Jeffersonian ideology inherited from the agrarian and colonial past. The mass of workers who took part in the struggles of the 1820's and 30's of the immature working class, could not and did not raise the question of the overthrow of the existing social order. Their fight, instead, was directed toward realizing the promises of 1776, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. They held tenaciously to the concept of a government representing the interests of all the people. They saw the solution of their problems, not in changing the existing order, but in improving and democratizing it.

The workers predominantly held the Jeffersonian theory of democracy. This was largely the adaptation to American conditions of John Locke's conceptions of "natural rights" and "equalitarianism." These ideas, seized upon by the revolutionary bourgeoisie in its struggle against feudalism, had become the dominant ideology of the Revolution and as such were absorbed by the workers. The great influence of the Declaration of Independence upon working class thinking during the pre-Civil War decades was evidenced by the repetition of its language and form in many union constitutions and statements.

But the bitter capitalist exploitation soon began to give a different class content to the outlook of the working class. The workers' demand for equality was no longer limited to formal equality at the ballot box; it was also directed against economic inequality and exploitation. Crude but penetrating attacks upon the capitalist system began to be formulated in proletarian circles.

"We are prepared to maintain," said the Mechanics' Free Press of Philadelphia, "that all who toil have a natural and inalienable right to reap the fruits of their own industry, and that they who labor ... are the authors of every comfort, convenience, and luxury."7 The Workingmen's Political Association of Penn Township, Pennsylvania, declared that "There appears to exist two distinct classes, rich and poor, the oppressors and the oppressed, those that live by their own labor and those that live by the labor of others."8 The Workingmen's Advocate of New York demanded a revolution which would leave behind it no trace of the government responsible for the workers' hardships.9 And Thomas Skidmore, one of the most famous radicals of the times, proposed a co-operative society which would "compel all men, without exception, to labor as much as others must labor for the same amount of enjoyment, or in default thereof, to be deprived of such enjoyment altogether."10 The land reform theory of George Henry Evans fell under this general head. Many poets and writers—Thoreau, Whittier, Emerson, and others—expressed similar radical ideas.

These anti-capitalist expressions represented a groping of the masses for a program of working class emancipation. But they lacked a scientific foundation and a firm set of working principles. It was the historical role of Marxism to give the needed clarity and purpose to this early proletarian theoretical revolt and to raise it to the level of scientific socialism.


The crisis of 1837, and the twelve long years of depression that followed it, profoundly influenced the thinking of labor and the progressive intellectuals. In their search for a way out of the bitter evils which encompassed them, many advanced beyond the limits of capitalism proper. In the face of the reduced standards of the workers, the sufferings of the unemployed, and the general paralysis of industry, they concluded that what was needed was a new social system which would end the exploitation and oppression of the many by the few. Lacking a scientific analysis of the laws of capitalist society, however, they had no recourse but to devise or support various ingeniously concocted plans for newsocial orders. Thus was initiated an era of Utopian experiments.

While these Utopian schemes originated mainly in Europe, they were most extensively developed in the United States. At least 200 such projects were undertaken within a few years. American soil was particularly inviting for them. There was ample land to be had cheaply; the people were burdened with few feudal political restrictions; and the masses, near in experience to the great Revolution, were readily inclined to try social change and experimentation. 

Indeed, America, long before this time, had already had considerable experience with co-operative regimes. The Indian tribes all over the western hemisphere had been organized on a primitive communal basis.11 Also the colonies in both Virginia and Massachusetts, during their early critical years, practiced some sharing in common of the general production.12 And from 1776 on numerous European religious societies, on a primitive communal basis—Shakers, Rappites, Zoarites, Ebenezers, Bethel-ites, Perfectionists, etc.—took root in the United States and expanded widely. But the three Utopian schemes most important in the pre-Civil War era were those of Robert Owen, a Scotsman, and Charles Fourier and Etienne Cabet, both Frenchmen.13

Owen, a humanitarian industrialist, planning to found a society in which all the workers would own the means of production and where there would be no exploitation, came to the United States in 1824 and established co-operative colonies in New Harmony, Indiana, and also in a few other places. At first these enterprises attracted wide attention, but by 1828 they had all perished. Owen was invited to speak to Congress. In 1845 he called an international Socialist convention in New York, but it amounted to very little.

The Fourierist Utopians made even more of a stir than the Owenites. Differing from Owen, who abolished private property rights, Fourier preserved individual ownership. Unlike Owen also, Fourier considered industry an unmitigated evil and relied upon an agrarian, handicraft economy. The Fourierists, with the support of such prominent figures Albert Brisbane, Horace Greeley, James Russell Lowell, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, and Henry Thoreau, during the 1840's set up some forty "Phalanxes," or colonies. The most famous of these was Brook Farm, near Boston. By 1850, however, the movement had virtually disappeared. The Cabet, or Icarian movement established its first agrarian colony Texas, in 1848. Various others were soon set up in Missouri and Iowa.

Some of these co-operative ventures lingered on in skeleton form until as late as the 1890's. During this same general period Wilhelm Weitling, a German immigrant worker, tried, with but little success, to establish a utopian-conceived labor exchange bank, from which the workers would receive certificates to the full value of their product. It was Weitling's idea that this scheme would gradually replace capitalist production; but it soon went the way of all such enterprises.

In the 1840's and 1850's a big movement also developed toward producers' and consumers' co-operatives, which the numerous Utopians advanced as a social cure-all. Many of the great crop of land reformers of the period were also filled with grandiose conceptions of fundamental social change, largely of a Utopian character. Even as late as the 1890's traces of this agrarian utopianism were still to be observed, as for example, in the Debs colonization schemes  (see page 94).

The many Utopian colonies and movements which sprang up in the pre-Civil War period eventually died out because they were not based upon the realities of material conditions or upon an understanding of society and its laws of growth and decay. They were constructed according to arbitrary plans, emanating from wishful thinking. These little island colonies were artificial creations and could not survive in the midst of the broad capitalist sea, which inevitably engulfed them one and all. They proved, among other things, that it is impossible "to build the new society within the shell of the old."  The  more  definitely Utopian schemes, with the exception of Weitling's, never greatly attracted the workers, who turned to more practical projects, such as trade unionism and political action. They were mostly anti-slavery, but they had few Negro members. The supporters of the various Utopias consisted chiefly of white farmers and city middle class elements.

The great European Utopian leaders, with their artificially constructed social regimes and ignorance of the leading role of the workers, could not lay the foundations of a solid Socialist movement. Nevertheless, they performed a very useful service for the workers by their sharp condemnations of capitalist exploitation. As Marx and Engels pointed out, they were definitely the forerunners of scientific socialism. And as Engels said: "German theoretical socialism will never forget that it rests upon the shoulders of St. Simon, Fourier, and Owen, the three who, in spite of their fantastic notions and utopianism, belonged to the most significant heads of all time, and whose genius anticipated numerous things, the correctness of which can now be proved in a scientific way."

This, briefly, was the course of the class struggle in this country before the rise of Marxism. The workers were with increasing vigor combating their exploiters economically, politically, and ideologically, but in this fight, because of the youth of capitalism, the working class still lacked the class consciousness, energizing force, and clear direction, which finally was to manifest itself in the Communist Party.

1 Herbert M. Morais, The Struggle for American Freedom, pp. 254-57, N. Y., 1944.
2 V. I. Lenin, Capitalism and Agriculture in the United States, p. 40. N. Y., 1946.
3. Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States, pp. 97-180, N.Y., 1947.
4 Mechanics' Free Press, Philadelphia, Aug. 16, 1828, cited by Foner,  History  of the Labor Movement in the U.S., p. 127.
5 Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the U.S., pp. 121-41.
6Mechanics' Free Press, Oct. 25, 1828.
7Mechanics' Free Press, June 5, 1830, cited by John R. Commons and associates, History of Labor in the United States, Vol. 1, p. 193, N. Y., 1918.
8The Working Man's Advocate, Oct. 31, 1829, cited by Commons, History of Labor in the U.S., Vol. 1, p. 238.
9Thomas Skidmore, The Rights of Man to Property, p. 6, N. Y., 1829.
10 Lewis H. Morgan, Ancient Society, Chicago, 1907.
11 Richard T. Ely, The Labor Movement in America, pp. 7-8, Boston, 1886.
12 Charles Nordhoff, The Communist Societies of the United States, N. Y., 1875.
13  Frederick Engels, The Peasant War in Germany, p. 28, N. Y., 1926.

Chapter 2

Chapter Two: Pioneer Marxists in the United States (1848-1860)

2.  Pioneer Marxists in the United States (1848-1860)

Adolph Douai, early American Marxist,
friend of Karl Marx, teacher and founder
of first Kindergarten in the US.
The foundation of scientific socialism dates from the publication of The Communist Manifesto in 1848 by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.1 These two great scientists were the first to explain that socialism, contrary to the ideas of the Utopians, was not the invention of dreamers, but the inevitable outcome of the workings of modern capitalist society. They discovered the laws of capitalist development and proved that the growth of capitalist society, with the class struggle going on within it, must inevitably lead to the downfall of capitalism, to the victory of the working class, to the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialism. They taught that the proletariat was the grave digger of capitalism and that its victory would rid humanity of all exploitation.

The doctrines of scientific socialism were introduced into the United States during the decade preceding the Civil War. The objective conditions had become ripe for them. Industry was growing rapidly and despite the restrictive power of the slavocracy, American capitalism had already reached fourth place among the industrial nations of the world. During this decade the volume of manufactured goods doubled, railroad mileage increased from 9,000 to 31,000, annual coal production (50,000 tons in the 1830's) reached 14 million in 1850, and a tremendous advance took place in the concentration and centralization of capital. The discovery of gold in California had given a big stimulus to general capitalist development. The working class had also become numerically stronger, and class relations were sharpening. Immigrants, mostly skilled workers and farm hands, were pouring into the country at double the rate of the preceding decade, and already about one-third of the population was depending upon manufacturing for its livelihood.

Marxism took root in the United States after the working class had already experienced two deep economic crises. The workers had long undergone severe exploitation at the hands of the employers, they had built many trade unions and local labor parties, waged innumerable hard-fought strikes and political campaigns, and won various important concessions in sharp class struggle. As we have seen, the most developed thinkers among them had already begun to attack the capitalist system as such and to seek a way of escape from its evils. The acceptance of Marxist socialism by these advanced sections of the working class was, therefore, the logical climax of the whole course of social development in the United States since the Revolutionary War. It was further stimulated by the current revolutionary events in Europe—the Chartist movement in England and the revolutionary struggles in France, Germany, and Ireland—with all of which the awakening American working class felt a vivid and direct kinship.

The traditional charge by employers that Marxist socialism, because it originated in Europe, is therefore alien to the United States, is typically stupid. As well assert the same of the alphabet, the multiplication table, the law of gravity, and a host of other scientific principles and discoveries, all of which also developed outside of the United States. "Marxism is no more alien to the United States because of the historically conditioned German origin of its founders, or the Russian origin of Lenin and Stalin, than is the American Declaration of Independence because of the British origin of John Locke, and the French origin of the Encyclopedists.2


Marxist thought, based on the generalized experiences of the toiling masses of all countries and worked into a science on European soil, was transmitted to the American working class by the stream of political immigrants, mainly German, who came to this country following the defeat of the European revolutions of 1848. During the 1830's about 2,000 German immigrants arrived yearly, but after 1848 this stream became a torrent of over 200,000 annually throughout the 1850's. There were also large numbers of Irish immigrants, and Italian and French as well (the latter particularly after the Franco-Prussian war and the defeat of the Commune in 1871); but it was the Germans who remained the most decisive force in developing Marxist thought in the United States throughout most of the rest of the nineteenth century. They were the earliest forerunners of the modern Communist Party.

The Germans settled chiefly in such main industrial centers as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati. Many entered industry as skilled mechanics and soon began to exert a strong influence on the development of the trade union movement. While most of them considered themselves Socialists and revolutionaries, they brought along with them a wide variety of political ideas, and they reflected the many ideological divisions that existed in their homeland. Their primary preoccupation was with events in the old country, but many of the Germans, in the early 1840's, began to be drawn into American political affairs.

In 1845 a group of Germans formed the Social Reform Association, as part of the National Reform Association. The principal figure in this movement was Hermann Kriege, once a co-worker with Marx, who later swallowed the doctrines of George Henry Evans, a labor editor who had become a land reformer. Kriege was probably the first radical exponent of "American exceptionalism." In substance he was already generating the notion that there existed in the United States a capitalist system fundamentally different from that of Europe, and he developed the theory that because of the great mass of free land, the American workers need not follow the revolutionary course of their European brothers. He declared that if the 1,400,000,000 acres of United States lands were distributed to the poor, "an end will be put to poverty in America at one stroke."3 Marx castigated Kriege for this opportunism and riddled his agrarian illusions.

Another important figure among the early circles of German immigrant workers was Wilhelm Weitling. After an earlier visit, he returned to the United States in 1849. Weitling was one of the first revolutionary leaders to come from the ranks of the workers. He took a position midway between Utopian and scientific socialism. His plan for a "labor exchange bank," previously indicated, attracted much working class support, and for the next decade it proved to be a confusing element in the developing Marxist movement.


Joseph Weydemeyer, born in Germany, an artillery officer who had participated in the Revolution of 1848, was the best-informed Marxist early to immigrate to the United States.4 More than any other, he contributed toward laying the foundations of scientific socialism in the new world. Arriving in 1851, Weydemeyer stood out as the leader among the American Marxists, which then included such men as F. A. Sorge, Adolph Douai, August Willich, Robert Rosa, Fritz Jacobi, and Siegfried Meyer, most of whom had known and worked with Marx personally in Germany. Sorge, like Weydemeyer, was a well-developed Marxist. Marx and Engels long carried on a voluminous correspondence with him.5

Weydemeyer and his co-Marxists found the Socialist movement in the United States in confusion. There were the disintegrating effects of Weitling's labor exchange bank scheme; Kriege was advocating his agrarian panacea; Willich and Gottfried Kinkel were seeking to transform the movement simply into a campaign to advance the revolution in Germany; and there were various groups of Utopians and anarchists.

Of all the groupings only the German Sports Society, the Turnverein, organized in 1850, had a relatively sound program. Founded upon advanced socialist ideas, this body opposed conspiratorial groups and proposed instead a broad democratic movement rooted among the masses. While these Marxists supported the free soil and other reform movements, they warned that these were not the path to socialism and they emphasized that the emancipation of the working class could only be achieved in struggle led by the proletariat against the capitalist class.

Weydemeyer, a close co-worker of Marx and Engels and well-grounded in Marxist theory, was singularly qualified to undertake the task of clarifying the ideology of the budding American Socialist movement. He was an extremely capable and energetic organizer, and he had spent three years in underground work in Germany, where in the face of the fierce Prussian terror, he had continued to spread the works of Marx and Engels. A gifted polemist, Weydemeyer ably defended Marxism against many distortions. He possessed the ability to apply Marxist principles to American conditions. He avoided the errors of the Utopians, of the radical agrarians, and also those of the "exceptionalists," who believed that the workings of American bourgeois democracy on the land question would solve the problems of the working class. Marx considered Weydemeyer as "one of our best men," and had agreed to his going to the United States only because of the growing importance of America in the world labor movement.


The Proletarian League, founded in New York in June 1852, was the first definitely Marxist organization on American soil. It was composed of seventeen of the most advanced Marxists in New York City, at the initiative of Weydemeyer and Sorge. The rising tide of labor struggle and organization, and the rapidly developing strike movement in the United States, together with the foundation by Marx of the German Workers Society in Europe, gave the immediate impetus to the formation of the pioneer Proletarian League.

In starting the League, and in the ensuing work of that organization, the Marxists, then called Communists, based themselves upon the newly-published Communist Manifesto. This historic document, which still serves as a guide for the world's Socialist movement, furnished a clear and basic program for the young and still very weak American movement. Marx and Engels, who always paid very close attention to developments in the United States, were prompt in seeing to it that copies of the great Manifesto were sent to Weydemeyer and his co-workers.

The Communist Manifesto, among its many fundamental political lessons, teaches that "the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself";6 that "every class struggle is a political struggle";7 that the building of a political party of the most advanced section of the workers is fundamental to the success of the Socialist movement; that the proletariat, in its struggles, must make alliances with other progressive forces in society; that the Marxists have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole; that Communists must fight for the immediate as well as the ultimate interests of the working class; and that socialism can be established only through the abolition of the capitalist system.

Die Revolution, the first American Marxist paper, founded in 1852 and edited by Weydemeyer, popularized this basic program. In the first of the only two issues of the paper there appeared, years before it was published in Europe, Marx's classic historical work, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. During the following year this original Marxist journal was succeeded by another, Die Reform, also with Weydemeyer as its guiding spirit. This paper, finally a daily, became the leading labor journal in the United States.

As consistent Marxists, the League members did not live in an ivory tower. Together with centering major attention upon theoretical clarification, they also, in the spirit of The Communist Manifesto, participated actively in the struggles of the working class. In all this work Sorge played a role second only to that of Weydemeyer, and thenceforth, for over a generation, he was to be a tower of strength in the political movements of the American working class.

In line with their general policy of supporting the workers' struggle, the Marxists, small though they were in number, issued in March 1853 a call through the trade unions of German-speaking workers for the formation of one large workers' union. Consequently, over 800 workers gathered in Mechanics' Hall, New York, and launched the American Labor Union. The platform of this organization, avoiding the utopian-ism of Weitling and the "ultra-revolutionary fantasies" of Willich and Kinkel, adopted a short program of immediate demands. This first American Marxist program of immediate demands had the weakness of not being specific and also of ignoring the basic issue of slavery. The organization was composed almost exclusively of German workers. It was a sort of labor party, with affiliated trade unions and ward branches. Its life span was short.

While stressing the united political action of all workers, the American Labor Union directed its energies to the organization of new workers in each craft. Its program called for the immediate naturalization of all immigrants, passage of federal labor laws, removal of burdensome taxes, and the limitation of the working day to 10 hours. It gave active support to the many strikes of the period. And upon its initiative, representatives of 40 trades with 2,000 members launched the General Trade Union of New York City.

The impact of these movements made itself felt among the English-speaking workers in other cities. Through the efforts of two leading Marxists, Sam Briggs and Adolph Cluss, the Workingmen's National Association was set up in the city of Washington in April 1853. The organization, however, died during the same year. The American Labor Union was reorganized in 1857 as the General Workers' League, but it, too, died out by 1860.8


The severe economic crisis that struck the country in the autumn of 1857 sharply changed the character of the workers' struggles. Although it hit the native workers hard, causing them much suffering, it was the newly-arrived immigrants who felt the brunt of the depression. The major struggles of the period were waged by the unemployed, and they developed into battles of unprecedented scope and sharpness. In the forefront of these struggles stood the Marxists who, though few in number, were able to give the workers clear-sighted and militant leadership.   Big demonstrations of the unemployed, led by the Communists, took place in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Newark, and here.  They demanded relief and denounced the ruling class and its system that created starvation amid plenty. So outstanding was the role of the Marxists in this period that all important struggles of the time were labeled "Communist revolts" and attempts at revolution.

To better co-ordinate their activities the Marxists reorganized their forces, forming the Communist Club in New York on October 25, 1858. Friedrich Kamm was elected chairman and Fritz Jacobi secretary, although Sorge was the real leader of the organization. A Communist Club resolution proclaimed as the aims of the Communists: "We recognize no distinction as to nationality or race, caste, or status, color, or sex; our goal is but reconciliation of all human interests, freedom, and happiness for mankind, and the realization and unification of a world republic."9

The Communist Club of New York, exercising national leadership, began to establish communication with similar but smaller groups springing up in other major centers, notably Chicago, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati. With many leading Marxists, including Weydemeyer, who had moved to the Middle West, the center of the movement also soon shifted to Chicago, where the Arbeiter Verein (Workers' Club) was coming forward as the most effective socialist organization of the period.

Developments abroad and the growing movement for international solidarity occupied much of the attention of the Marxists in the United States. The formation of an international committee in London in 1856 to commemorate the great French revolution, stimulated these trends. Consequently, an American Central Committee of the International Association was set up, with contacts in many cities. One of its first and most successful undertakings was a mass meeting to commemorate the historic June days of the 1848 Revolution in France. Another event, in April 1858, was a big torchlight parade in honor of Felice Orsini, the Italian patriot who had attempted the assassination of Napoleon III. All of these activities brought the German Marxists into contact with other working class forces, and consequently helped to prepare the groundwork for the International Workingmen's Association, founded in 1864 and later known as the First International.


The early Marxists were confronted with the task of developing the ideological, tactical, and organizational bases for Marxism in America. As yet, however, this movement was not united ideologically, nor was it organized into a national party. This meant that first of all the Marxists themselves had to master the teachings of Marx and Engels. This implied, furthermore, acquiring the ability to apply the principles of Marxism to the specific conditions in this country. They also had to lay the foundations of a national Marxist political party. All this called for the most persistent struggle to free the minds of the workers from the many Jeffersonian, bourgeois agrarian illusions which persisted with particular stubbornness among them.

The needs for ideological clarification and political organization were freshly stressed when, with the easing of the economic crisis of 1857, various petty-bourgeois conceptions began to make themselves increasingly felt afresh in the thinking of the workers. These were also reflected in growing confusion and friction in the Marxist movement. Thus, some of the leaders did not push the fight against slavery, although claiming to be true disciples of Marx; also various Utopian sects reappeared, and Weitling's harmful notions sprang up again in new garb.

In undertaking their great tasks of ideological and organizational development, the early Marxists were favored by the fact that in the decade before the Civil War many of the fundamental problems of Marxist theory—its philosophy, political economy, and revolutionary tactics —had been developed by Marx and Engels. In addition to the famous Manifesto, they had also completed such basic works as Wage-Labor and Capital, Ludwig Feuerbach, The Eighteenth Brumaire, and The Peasant War in Germany. The American movement also had the tremendous advantage of close personal contact with Marx and Engels, who both carefully observed and advised on its development.

The great problem of the Marxists in the United States, of course, was to apply Marxist principles to specific American conditions. Here the early Marxists were faced with many objective and subjective difficulties. These difficulties, in their essence, continued constantly to reappear in new forms and under new conditions, and they have persisted in many ways down to the present day.

Already in the 1850's the Marxists noticed a seeming contradiction between the great militancy and fighting capacity of the American working class, and the slowness with which the workers developed a class-conscious outlook toward politics and society. They noted the contradiction between the highly advanced development of American capitalism and the subjective backwardness of the labor movement. Some of the German immigrants' tried to explain this on the basis of a supposed innate political inferiority of the American working class, while others concluded that Marxism had no validity in the new, democratic United States.

Combating such illusions, the early Marxist leaders pointed out the destructive effects upon labor of slavery in the South. They pointed out further that the existence of the free land in the West, by absorbing masses from the East, hindered the development of class consciousness and of a stable working class, and that the current petty-bourgeois Jeffersonian ideas among the workers stemmed from the Revolution of which the bourgeoisie were the ideological leaders, and also from the whole history of the country. They also gave a Marxist explanation of the recurrent economic crises, which deeply perplexed the workers and the whole American people.

So powerful were the current bourgeois illusions and disintegrating influences among the workers that Engels, in 1892, wrote as follows to Hermann Schlueter: "Up to 1848 one could only speak of the permanent native working class as an exception; the small beginnings of it in the cities in the East always had still the hope of becoming farmers or bourgeois."10

The pioneer Marxists, Weydemeyer, Sorge, and the others—greatly aided by the many new books, articles, letters, and the personal advice of Marx and Engels, fought on two ideological fronts—against the "lefts," who believed that political activity was futile and that Socialism was to be brought about by conspiratorial action and by directing themselves exclusively to supporting revolutionary movements in Germany; and also against the rights, who toyed with agrarian panaceas, sought to tie the workers to corrupt bourgeois politicians, and denied the role of Marxism in the United States.

The Marxists especially attacked the budding theories of "American exceptionalism," advocated by those who, like Kriege, sought to liquidate Marxism by arguing that communism was to be achieved in the United States by a different route from that in Europe—through agrarian reform. Of great help in this struggle were the current writings of Marx and Engels. They pointed out that the establishment of a bourgeois democracy, such as existed in the United States, did not abolish but greatly intensified all the inherent contradictions, and that the forces making for the speedier development of American capitalism were also producing more clear-cut class divisions and sharpening all class relations. They pointed out that the "land of opportunity" was also the classical land of economic crises, unemployment, and of the sharpest extremes between the wealth of the few and the poverty of the great masses.

One of the difficulties peculiar to early Marxism was that its founders, nearly all German immigrants, were striving to introduce their Socialist ideas into a labor movement speaking a different language and having a background and traditions which they little understood. Many of these immigrants also thought that their own stay in America was only temporary, until victory was won in Germany. These circumstances provided fertile ground for sectarian tendencies, which manifested themselves in strong trends among the Socialist-minded German workers to stay apart by themselves and to consider the American workers as politically immature. This sectarianism was a very serious obstacle to the bringing of Socialist ideas to the masses of native workers, and for a full generation Engels  thundered against it.

The early Marxists carried on a great deal of propaganda on the need of the workers to act politically in their own interests. They stressed the importance of the workers fighting the employers on all levels; they exposed the fallacy of separating the political from the economic struggles; they showed that every economic struggle, such as the 10-hour day fight, when the working class fought as a class against the ruling class, was a political struggle.

The developed Marxists of the decade just prior to the Civil War were only a handful; yet, for all their weakness, they made tremendous contributions to the young American labor movement. They were pioneer builders of the trade unions; they fought in the front line of every struggle of the workers; they helped break down the barriers between native and immigrant workers; along with native Abolitionists, they were militant fighters against Negro slavery; they helped to build up a solid and influential labor press; and above all, they created the first core of organized Marxists in America, and they spread far and wide the writings of Marx and Engels. The extent of the general influence of the pioneer Marxists may be gauged from the fact that many young trade unions of the period, in their preambles, used The Communist Manifesto as their guide.

For all their relative sensitivity to the position of the white workers, the Negroes, the immigrants, and other oppressed sections of the population, the pioneer Marxists did not, however, become aware of the "significance of the struggle of the Indian tribes, who during these years were being viciously robbed and butchered by the ruthless white invaders of their lands. Indeed, in the whole period from Jefferson right down to our own day, the long series of workers' trade unions and political parties have almost completely ignored the plight and sufferings the abused and heroic Indian peoples.  The story of labor's relations with the Indians is practically a blank.

1 During these early decades, revolutionary Socialists called themselves Communists. As Marx pointed out, this was because the Utopians and opportunists had discredited the name of Socialist. During the period of the Second International, however, from 1889 to 1914, when opportunists and revolutionaries found themselves within one organization, the terms Socialist and Social-Democrat again came into general use. After the Russian Revolution, for the same reasons that had originally moved Marx to adopt the term Communist, the Bolsheviks ceased calling themselves Social-Democrats and resumed the designation of Communists. The name Communist is also more accurate scientifically.

2 V- J- Jerome in The Communist, Sept. 1939, p. 836.
3 Cited by V. I. Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. 12. p. 299, N. Y., 1943.
4 Karl Obermann, Joseph  Weydemeyer: Pioneer of American Socialism, N. Y.,  1947.
5 See Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Letters to Americans, N.Y. 1952
6  Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto, p. 6, N. Y., 1948 (Preface to the English edition of 1888).
7 Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, p. 18.
8 Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the US., pp. 232-33.
9 Obermann, Joseph Weydemeyer, p. 96.
10 Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence, p. 496, N. Y., 1942.

Chapter 3

Chapter Three: The Marxists in the Struggle Against Slavery (1848-1865)

3. The Marxists in the Struggle Against Slavery (1848-1865)

Joseph Weydemeyer, Marxist and friend of Marx
served as a Lt. Colonel in the
Union Army during the Civil War.
The United States Constitution, drawn up after the Revolutionary War and implying the continuation of Negro slavery, was a compromise between the rival classes of southern planters and northern merchants and industrialists. But it established no stability between these classes, and they were soon thereafter at each other's throats. The plantation system and slavery spread rapidly in the South after the invention of the 1795. In the North the power of the industrialists grew rapidly with cotton gin in 1793 and the development of sugar cane production in the expansion of the factory system and the settlement of the West. The interests of the two systems were incompatible and the clash between them sharpened continuously.

Developing relentlessly over the basic, related questions of control of the  newly-organized  territories   and  of   the  federal  government,   this struggle was finally to culminate in the great second revolution of 1861-65.   As the vast new territories acquired by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, by the seizure of Florida in 1819, and by the Oregon accession and the Mexican War of 1846, were carved up into states and brought into the Union, the bitter political rivals grabbed them off alternately as free or slave states. Thus, a very precarious balance was maintained. The  northern  industrialists  vigorously  opposed   the  extensive  infiltration of the slave system into the West and Southwest, even threatening secession from the Union. They contested the Louisiana Purchase, and bitterly condemned the unjust Mexican War, in which the United States took half of  Mexico's  territory  (the  present states  of  Texas, California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and part of Wyoming). Lincoln denounced this predatory war, and opposition to it was intense in the young labor movement.1 On the other hand, the industrialists were eager to seize Oregon, and they never ceased plotting against the territorial integrity of Canada, as these were non-slavery areas.

Despite all its expansion, the slave system, however, could not possibly keep pace in strength with the great strides of industry in the North. By 1860, 75 percent of the nation's production was in the North, and the same area also held $11 billion of the national wealth as against five billion held by the South. To redress the balance of power shifting rapidly against them, the southern planters embarked upon a militant offensive to consolidate their own power. In the face of this drive the northern industrialists at first retreated. Their ranks were split, as many bankers, shippers, and textile manufacturers were tied up economically with the South; they were confused as to how to handle the complex slavery issue; and they feared the growing power of the working class.

During the 1850's the planters, through the Democratic Party, controlled both houses of Congress, the presidency, and seven of the nine Supreme Court judges. They used their power with arrogance. They passed the Fugitive Slave Act, repealed the Missouri Compromise by adopting the pro-slavery Kansas-Nebraska Act, slashed the tariff laws, adopted the infamous Dred Scott decision, vetoed the homestead bill, and declared slavery to be legal in all the territories. Marx raised the real issue when he spoke of the fact that twenty million free men in the North were being subordinated to 300,000 southern slaveholders.2 Class tensions mounted and the country moved relentlessly toward the great Civil War.


It was the leaders and fighters of the Abolitionist movement, in their relentless opposition to slavery, who most fully expressed the historic interests of the as yet hesitant bourgeoisie, and of the whole people. Men and women like Frederick Douglass, Wendell Philips, William Lloyd Garrison, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, John Brown, and Elijah P. Lovejoy prodded and stirred the conscience of the nation. They fought to destroy slavery, built the underground railway, and aggressively combated the fugitive slave laws. With few exceptions they based their fight for Negro emancipation mainly upon ethical and humanitarian grounds.

The most powerful force fighting for abolition, however, was the tour million Negro slaves in the South. For generations, and especially Since the turn of the century, the recurring slave revolts, violent protests against the horrible conditions of slavery, shook the very foundations of the slavocracy. Despite the most ferocious suppression, the Negroes sabotaged the field work, burned plantations, killed planters, and organized many insurrections. These struggles grew more intense as the Civil War approached. The South became a veritable armed camp, with the planters making desperate efforts to stamp out the growing revolt of their slaves. Imperishable are the names of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, and the many other brave Negro fighters in this heroic struggle for liberty.

The northern white workers also played a vital part in the great struggle. The existence of slavery in the South was a drag on these workers' living conditions and the growth of their trade unions in the North. Marx made this basic fact clear in his famous statement that "Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin when in the black it is branded."3 Retarding factors to the northern workers' understanding of the slavery issue, however, were the anti-labor union tendencies among middle class Abolitionists and the pressure in the workers' ranks of opportunist leaders. Such men as George Henry Evans, the land reformer, for example, argued that the emancipation of the slaves prior to the abolition of wage slavery would be contrary to the interests of the workers, as it would confront the latter with the competition of a great mass of cheap labor. Once organized labor sensed, however, that the abolition of slavery was the precondition for its own further advance it was ready to join in the great immediate task of destroying the block that stood in the path of its development and that of the nation. With this realization, during the late 1850's, labor became the inveterate enemy of slavery, and it became a foundation force in the great coalition of capitalists, workers, Negroes, and farmers that carried through and won the Civil War.


From the beginning, under the general advice of Karl Marx, the Marxists in the United States took the most consistent and clear-sighted position within the labor movement in fighting for the outright abolition of slavery. The strong leadership of the present-day Communist Party among the Negro people has deep roots in the fight of these Marxist pioneers. They saw in the defeat of the slavocracy the precondition for consolidating the nation's productive forces, for the expansion of democracy, and for the creation of a numerous, independent, and homogeneous proletariat advancing its own interests. They also saw in the emancipation of the Negroes a great cause of human freedom. They realized that in order to clear the decks for the next historic advance, the working class must join with other anti-slavery forces and do its utmost in carrying through the immediate, democratic, revolutionary task of ending slavery and the slave system.

The contribution of the early Marxists to the Abolitionist movement was out of all proportion to their small numbers. They were very active in the terror-ridden South. Outstanding here was the work of Adolph Douai, who had been a close co-worker of Karl Marx in Europe. In 1852, Douai settled in Texas where, at the time, it was said that one-fifth of the white population was made up of 48'ers from Europe. In San Antonio Douai published an Abolitionist paper, until he was finally compelled to leave in peril of his life. Important work was also done in Alabama under the leadership of the immigrant Marxist, Hermann Meyer, who was likewise forced to flee.

In the North the anti-slavery Marxists were particularly active, notably the Communist Club of Cleveland. A conference in 1851 declared in favor of using all means which were adapted to abolishing slavery, an institution which they called repugnant to the principles of true democracy. In St. Louis and other centers where the German immigrants were numerous, the Marxists carried on intense anti-slavery activities. They developed these activities especially after the passage in 1854 of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which broke down the barriers against slavery in the Middle West. A few days after this bill reached Congress the Chicago Socialists, led by George Schneider, a veteran of 1848 in Germany and editor of the Illinois State Gazette, initiated a campaign which culminated in a large public demonstration.

On October 16, 1859, the heroic Abolitionist, John Brown, and his twenty-one followers, Negroes and whites, electrified the country by seizing Harper's Ferry in a desperate but ill-fated attempt to develop an armed rising of the Negro slaves of the South. The Marxists hailed Brown's courageous action, and they organized supporting mass meetings in numerous cities. The Cincinnati Social Workingmen's Association, led by Socialists, declared that "The act of John Brown has powerfully contributed to bringing out the hidden conscience of the majority of the people."4 Ten of Brown's men were killed in the struggle and he himself was later hanged.

Joseph Weydemeyer, the Marxist leader, considered that all these developments signalized the beginnings of a new political awakening of the American labor movement. Along with Marx, however, he had to combat the sectarian views, held by Weitling, Kriege, and others, that Marxists should limit themselves to questions of the conditions of the Workers and the struggle against capital, and that labor should avoid "contamination" with political activities. Some sectarians even branded participation in the anti-slavery movement as a "betrayal" of the special interests of the working class.

In all his activities Weydemeyer contended for the position that the fight against slavery was central in the work of Marxists in that period. He strove to involve the trade unions in the great struggle. He showed that without a solution of the slavery question no basic working class problem could be solved. He linked the workers' immediate demands with the fundamental issue of Negro emancipation. In this fight the American Workers' League, under Marxist influence, played an important role in winning the workers and organized labor for the abolition struggle. Thus, in 1854, after the passage of the infamous Kansas-Nebraska Act, the League held a big mass meeting which declared that the German-American workers of New York "have, do now, and shall, continue to protest most emphatically against both white and black slavery and brand as a traitor against the people and their welfare everyone who shall lend it his support."5


Following the "Nebraska infamy" of 1854, events moved rapidly toward the decisive struggle. The arrogant actions of the planters, who controlled the government, aroused and sharpened the opposition in the North and West. The old political parties began to disintegrate, and the Republican Party was formed in February 1854. Alvin E. Bovay, former secretary-treasurer of the National Industrial Congress and a prominent leader in New York labor circles, brought together at Ripon, Wisconsin, a group of liberals, reformers, farmers, and labor leaders-all of whom were disgusted with the policies of the Whig and Democratic parties. This group decided "to forget previous political names and organizations, and to band together" to oppose the extension of slavery.6 Their program also supported those who were fighting for free land.

The response of the northern industrialists to the new party was immediate and favorable. Most of them saw in it the instrument with which to wrest political control from the slave-owners and to advance their own program; protective tariffs, subsidies to railroads, absorption of the national resources, national banking system, etc. The mercantile and banking interests, however, tied financially to the cotton interests of the slave-owners in the South, largely condemned the new party.

The initial response of the workers to the Republican Party was varied. While many broke their traditional ties with the Democratic Party, others hesitated to join the same party with the industrialists. Among the northern and western farmers the new party, however, got wide acceptance from the outset.

The Marxists, basing themselves on the Marxist teachings (The Communist Manifesto) of fighting "with the bourgeoisie whenever it acts in a revolutionary way,"7 unhesitatingly supported the Republican Party and called upon labor to do likewise. Die Soziale Republik, organ of the Chicago Arbeiterbund, then the foremost Marxist group in the country, stated this policy. Although the Marxists were firm advocates of full emancipation of the Negroes, they held that they could best advance the anti-slavery cause by uniting with other social groups upon the basis of the widely accepted program of opposition to the further extension of slavery. This tactic was, in fact, a transition to a later, more advanced revolutionary struggle.

In the elections of 1856 the Republicans especially strove to win the support of the workers. The Marxists took a very active part in the campaign. For example, in February 1856, they helped to initiate a conference in Decatur, Illinois, of 25 newspaper editors, including the German-American press, to organize the anti-Nebraska Act forces for participation in the election campaign. Abraham Lincoln was present at this gathering and he ardently supported the resolution which it passed. This resolution was also adopted at the 1856 Philadelphia convention which nominated John C. Fremont for President. Fremont polled 1,341,264 votes, or one-third of the total vote cast. In consequence the Democratic Party was split, the Whig Party was practically destroyed, and the Republican Party emerged as a major party.


The election in 1860 was the hardest fought in the history of the United States up to that time. The Republican Party made an all-out and successful effort to win the decisive support of the great masses of armers, workers, immigrants, and free Negroes, who were all part of the great new coalition under the leadership of the northern bourgeoisie. Philip S. Foner states that "It is not an exaggeration to say that the Republican Party fought its way to victory in the campaign of 1860 "the party of free labor."8

Lincoln was a very popular candidate among the toiling masses. He was known to be an enemy of slavery; his many pro-labor expressions had won him a wide following among the workers; his advocacy of the Homestead bill had secured him backing among the farmers of the North and West; and his fight against bigoted native "know-nothingism" had entrenched him generally among the foreign-born. He faced three opposing presidential candidates—Stephen A. Douglas, John C. Breckinridge, and John Bell—representing the three-way split in the Democratic Party, and all supporting slavery in one way or another. Lincoln stood on a platform of "containing slavery" to its existing areas. There was no candidate pledged for outright abolition.

In the bitterly fought election the slavocrats, who also had many contacts and supporters in the North, denounced Lincoln with every slander that their fertile minds could concoct. The redbaiters of the time shouted against "Black Republicanism" and "Red Republicanism." Pro-slavery employers and newspapers tried to intimidate the workers by threatening them with discharge, by menacing them with a prospect of economic crisis, and by warning them that Negro emancipation would create a flood of cheap labor which would ruin wage rates. At the same time, the reactionaries tried to split the young Republican Party by cultivating "know-nothing" anti-foreign movements inside its ranks.

The Marxists were very active in this vital election struggle. The clarity of their anti-slavery stand and their militant spirit made up for their still very small numbers. Their key positions in many trade unions enabled them to be a real factor in mobilizing the workers behind Lincoln's candidacy. To this end they spared no effort, holding election meetings of workers in many parts of the North and East. Undoubtedly, the labor vote swung the election for Lincoln, and for this the Marxists were entitled to no small share of the credit.

The Marxists were energetic in winning the decisive foreign-born masses to support Lincoln. In 1860 the foreign-born made up 47.62 percent of the population of New York, 50 percent of Chicago and Pittsburgh, and 59.66 percent of St. Louis, with other cities in proportion. The Germans, by far the largest immigrant group in the country, were a powerful force in Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. They heavily backed Lincoln. "Of the 87 German language newspapers, 69 were for Lincoln."9

The Marxists were especially effective in creating pro-Lincoln sentiment among the German-American masses. This was graphically demonstrated at the significant Deutsches Haus conference held in Chicago in May 1860, two days before the opening of the nominating convention of the Republican Party. This national conference represented all sections of German-American life. The Marxists Weydemeyer and Douai, who led the working class forces at the conference, were of decisive importance in shaping the meeting's action. Douai, selected as head of the resolutions committee, wrote for the conference a series of resolutions demanding that "they be applied in a sense most hostile to slavery."10 These resolutions largely furnished the basis for the election platform of the Republican Party.

The fierce campaign of 1860 concluded with the election of Lincoln. The final tabulation showed: Lincoln, 1,857,710; Douglas, 1,291,574; Breckinridge, 850,082; Bell, 646,124


In the face of Lincoln's victory, the oligarchy of southern planters acted like any other ruling class suffering a decisive democratic defeat, by taking up arms to hold on to and extend their power at any cost. Acting swiftly and disregarding the will for peace of their people, seven southern states seceded, setting up the Confederate States of America, with Jefferson Davis as president. All of this was done before Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861, while the planters' stooge president, James Buchanan, was still in office. Eventually the Confederacy contained eleven states. The seceders opened fire on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, thus beginning the war. The conquest aims of the rebellious South were boundless. "What the slaveholders, therefore, call the South," said Marx, "embraces more than three-quarters of the territory hitherto comprised by the Union."11 The second American revolution had passed from the constitutional stage into that of military action.

The North, ill-prepared, met with indecision the swift offensive of the southern planters. This weakness reflected the prevailing divisions in the ranks of the bourgeoisie. Among these were the Copperhead bankers and merchants, who strove for a negotiated peace on the slavocracy's terms. Then there were the Radical Republicans, representative of the rising industrial capitalists, whose most revolutionary spokesman was Thaddeus Stevens and who insisted upon a military offensive to crush the rebellion, with the freeing and arming of the slaves. And finally there was the vacillating middle class, largely represented by Lincoln's hesitant course.

The leaders of the government sought evasive formulas, instead of taking energetic steps to win the war. Lincoln, ready for any compromise short of disunion, proclaimed the slogan, "Save the Union," at a time when the situation demanded clearly also the revolutionary slogan of "full and complete emancipation of the slaves." Stevens, bolder and clearer-sighted, declared that "The Constitution is now silent and only the laws of war obtain." On the question of the slaves, Stevens stated that "Those who now furnish the means of war but are the natural enemies of the slaveholders must be made our allies."12 This position was strongly supported by the Negro masses, whose leading spokesman, Frederick Douglass, declared, "From the first, I reproached the North that they fought the rebels with only one hand, when they might effectively strike with two—that they fought with their soft white hand, while they kept their black iron hand chained and helpless behind them— that they fought the effect, while they protected the cause, and that the Union cause would never prosper till the war assumed an anti-slavery attitude, and the Negro was enlisted on the loyal side."13

While Lincoln carried on his defensive leadership the military fortunes of the North continued to sink. Events combined, however, to change the conduct of the war from an attempt to suppress the slaveowners' rebellion into a revolutionary struggle to liquidate the slave power. These main forces were, the increasing power of the northern bourgeoisie through the rapid growth of industry and the railroads; the lessons learned from the bitter defeats in the early part of the war; and the tremendous pressure exerted by the farmers, the Negro masses, and the white workers—especially the foreign-born—for an aggressive policy in the war.

Hence, on September 22, 1862, after about 18 months of unsuccessful war, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, proclaiming that after January 1st persons held as slaves in areas in rebellion "shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free." In August 1862, the enlistment of free Negroes into the armed forces had been authorized.14 Lincoln removed the sabotaging General McClellan in March 1862 from his post as head of the Union forces, and generally adopted a more aggressive policy. The liberation of the slaves, with its blow to the slave economy and the addition of almost 200,000 Negro soldiers to the northern armies, proved to be of decisive importance. From the beginning of  1863 the slave power was clearly doomed.   But it took two more years of bitter warfare until the South admitted defeat, with Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. At the cost of half a million soldiers dead and a million more permanently crippled, the reactionary planters had been driven from political power and their slaves freed.

The Civil War constituted a bourgeois-democratic revolution. The capitalists of the North broke the dominant political power of the big southern landowners and seized power for themselves; the slave system, which had become economically a brake upon the development of capitalism, was shattered; four million slaves were formally freed; and the tempo of industrialization and the growth of the working class were enormously speeded up all over the country.


In this long and bloody war the oppressed Negro people displayed boundless heroism. In many ways they sabotaged the war efforts of the South; they captured Confederate steamers and brought them into northern ports; and they were the major source of military intelligence for the North. In the plantation areas the slaves' spirit of rebellion was so pronounced that the South was compelled to divert a large section of its armed forces to the task of keeping them suppressed.

The heroism and abandon with which the newly-freed slaves fought in the Union armies amazed the white soldiers and officers. Characteristic of many similar reports was the statement of Colonel Thomas Went-worth Higginson: "It would have been madness to attempt with the bravest white troops what [I] successfully accomplished with black ones."15 The action of the almost legendary Negro woman, Harriet Tubman, who led many forays deep into the South to free slaves, was bravery in its supremest sense. And when Lincoln was urged in 1864 to give up the use of Negro troops, he replied: "Take from us and give to the enemy the hundred and thirty, forty, or fifty thousand colored persons now serving us as soldiers, seamen, and laborers, and we cannot longer maintain the contest."16

Together with the approximately 200,000 Negro fighters in the northern army and navy, there were also about 250,000 more employed m various capacities with the armed forces. Aptheker quotes government figures estimating that over 36,000 Negro soldiers died during the war. He states that "the mortality rate among the United States Colored Troops in the Civil War was thirty-five percent greater than that among other troops, notwithstanding the fact that the former were not enrolled until some eighteen months after the fighting began."17 Of the enlisted personnel of the northern navy, about one-fourth were Negroes, and of these Aptheker estimates approximately 3,200 died of disease and in battle. These gallant fighting services were recompensed at first by paying the Negro soldiers at lower rates than the white soldiers.

Organized labor also played a large and heroic part in the Civil War. The outbreak of the war found the great mass of the workers backing the war as a struggle to stop the further extension of slavery. Only a small section supported the advanced stand of the Marxists, who demanded abolition. A small minority of workers, the most backward elements in the big commercial centers of Boston and New York, were strongly under the anti-war influence of the Copperheads. There was also a small but influential group that opposed all wars on pacifist grounds. All through the war the workers suffered the most ruthless exploitation from the profiteering capitalists. Price gouging was rampant, and the capitalists brazenly used every means to cheat the government and to enrich themselves.

The call for volunteers received a tremendous response from the workers. Overnight, regiments were organized in various crafts. Foreign-born workers responded with great enthusiasm. Among the labor contingents to enlist were the DeKalb regiment of German clerks, the Polish League, and a company of Irish laborers. One of the first regiments to move in the defense of Washington was organized by the noted labor leader, William Sylvis, who only a few months before had voted against Lincoln. It has been estimated that about fifty percent of the industrial workers enlisted. T. V. Powderly, head of the Knights of Labor, was not far wrong when he declared years later that in the Civil War, "the great bulk of the army was made up of working men."18

At the start of the war, the labor movement was in a weakened condition, not yet having fully recovered from the ravages of the 1857 economic crisis. In the main, organized labor followed the bourgeoisie led by Lincoln, without as yet entering the struggle as a class having its own political organization and full consciousness of its specific aims. There was an actual basis for this course, inasmuch as the interests of the workers, in the fight against slavery, coincided with those of the northern industrialists.  As the war progressed, labor's line strengthened and the workers became a powerful force pressing for the freedom of the slaves and for a revolutionary prosecution of the war.


The war record of the Marxists, predecessors of the Communist Party of today, was one of the most inspiring chapters in the annals of the Civil War. Their response to Lincoln's call for volunteers set a good example for the entire nation. Within a few days the New York Turners, Marxist-led, organized a whole regiment; the Missouri Turners put three regiments in the field; the Communist clubs and German Workers' Leagues sent over half their members into the armed forces. The Marxists fought valorously on many battlefields.

Joseph Weydemeyer, formerly an artillery officer in the German army, recruited an entire regiment, rose to the position of colonel, and was assigned by Lincoln as commander of the highly strategic area of St. Louis. August Willich, who became a brigadier general, Robert Rosa, a major, and Fritz Jacobi, a lieutenant who was killed at Fredericksburg, were all members of the New York Communist Club. There were many other Marxists at the front.

The American Marxists, taught by Marx and Engels, had a more profound understanding of the nature of the war than any other group in the nation. They realized that a defeat for the Union forces would mean the end of the most advanced bourgeois-democratic republic and a retrogression to semi-feudal conditions. Victory for the North, they knew, would greatly advance democracy. They understood the war as a basic conflict of two opposed systems, which could only be resolved by revolutionary measures.

Hence, from the very beginning, the Marxists raised the decisive slogans of emancipation of the slaves, arming of the freedmen, confiscation of the planters' estates, and distribution of the land among the landless Negro and white masses. They understood, too, the Marxist policy of co-operation with the bourgeoisie when it was fighting for progressive ends. During the war they tended to strengthen the position of the working class and its Negro and farmer allies and practically, if not consciously, to lake them the leading force in the war coalition. They fought against pacifism and against Copperhead influences within and without labor's ranks. A major service of the Marxists was in helping to defeat the aspirations of Fremont to get the Republican nomination away from Lincoln in l864. Marx urged the working class to make the outcome of the Civil War count in the long run for the workers as much as the outcome of the War for Independence had counted for the bourgeoisie. This, however, the weak forces of the workers were unable to do. Nevertheless, their relative clarity of political line and their tireless spirit made the Marxists a political force far out of proportion to their still very small numbers.

During the Civil War Karl Marx himself played a vitally important part, his genius displaying great brilliance. Marx's many writings in the New York Daily Tribune and elsewhere constituted an outstanding demonstration of the power of revolutionary theory in interpreting developments, in seeing their inherent connections, and in understanding the direction in which the classes were moving. From the inception of the conflict and through every one of its crucial stages, Karl Marx, incomparably deeper than any other person, grasped the basic significance of events and projected the necessary line of policy and action. Lenin considered this "a model example" of how the creators of the Communist Manifesto defined the tasks of the proletariat in application to the different stages of the struggle.

Far better than the northern bourgeois leaders, Marx clearly understood that here was a conflict between "two opposing social systems" which must be fought out to "the victory of one or the other system." He blasted those who believed that it was just a big quarrel over states rights which could be smoothed over; he criticized the bourgeois leaders of the North for "abasing" themselves before the southern slave power, and he pressed Lincoln again and again to take decisive action. From the outbreak of hostilities Marx urged the North to wage the struggle in a revolutionary manner, as the only possible way to win the victory. He demanded that Lincoln raise the "full-throated cry of emancipation of slavery"; he called for the arming of the Negro slaves, and he pointed out the tremendous psychological effects that would be produced by the formation of even a single regiment of Negro soldiers. In the most discouraging times of the war Marx never despaired of the North's ultimate victory. His and Engels' proposals for military strategy were no less sound than their penetrating political analysis. Marx clearly gave the theoretical lead to the northern democratic forces in the Civil War.19

Marx, as the leader of the First International, exerted a powerful influence in mobilizing the workers of England and the Continent in support of the northern cause. With his position as correspondent to the important Die Presse of Vienna, Marx was also able to influence general European opinion regarding the decisive events in America. He upheld the Union cause in his inaugural address to the International and in three major official political documents addressed by that organization, in less than a year, to President Lincoln, President Johnson, and the National Labor Union.

The British ruling class, despite all their pretended opposition to slavery, wanted nothing better than to intervene in the war on the side of the Confederacy. If they were prevented from doing this, it was primarily due to the militant anti-slavery attitude of the British working class, who hearkened to the advice of Marx and developed a powerful anti-slavery movement. As Marx said, "It was not the wisdom of the ruling classes, but the heroic resistance to their criminal folly by the working classes of England that saved the west of Europe from plunging headlong into an infamous crusade for the perpetuation and propagation of slavery on the other side of the Atlantic."20

History records few such effective demonstrations of international labor solidarity. Lincoln himself recognized this when, addressing the Manchester textile workers who were starving because of the cotton blockade, he characterized their support as "an instance of sublime Christian heroism which has not been surpassed in any age in any country."21 Lincoln also thanked the First International for its assistance, and the United States Senate, on March 2, 1863, joined in tribute to the British workers. The international support of labor was a real factor in bringing to a successful conclusion this "world historic, progressive and revolutionary war," as Lenin called it.

1 Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the U.S., pp. 277-79.
2 Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Civil War in the United States, p. 71, N. Y., l957
3 Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, p. 287, N. Y., 1947.
4 Cincinnati Communist, Dec. 5, 1859.
5 Hermann Schlueter, Lincoln, Labor, and Slavery, p. 76, N. Y., 1913.
6 Elizabeth Lawson, Lincoln's Third Party, p. 26, N. Y., 1948.
7 Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, p. 43.
8 Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the US., p. 295.
9 Lawson, Lincoln's Third Party, p. 41
10 V.J. Jerome in The Communist, Sept. 1939, p. 839. 
11 Marx and Engels, The Civil War in the US., p. 71.
12 Elizabeth Lawson, Thaddeus Stevens, p. 16, N. Y 1942.
13 Philip S. Foner, ed., Frederick Douglass: Selections From His Writings, p. 63, N. Y.,
14 Herbert Aptheker, To Be Free: Studies in American Negro History, p. 71, N. Y 1948.
15 Cited by Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the U.S., p. 319.
16 Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, Vol. 3, p. 210, N. Y., 1939.
17 Aptheker, To Be Free, p. 78.
18 Terence V. Powderly, Thirty Years of Labor, p. 58, Columbus, Ohio, 1889.
19 Marx and Engels, The Civil War in the US.
20 Karl Marx, Inaugural Address, Sept. 28, 1864, in Founding of the First International, p. 38, N. Y., 1937.
21 Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, Vol. 2, p. 24.

Chapter 4