I am always amazed when I run into some younger leftists, or even older radicals who may have not read much Marx and Engels, and find that they are surprised, very surprised to see that Marx and Engels were avid partisans of the Abraham Lincoln-led Union side in the American Civil War. In the age of advanced imperialism, of which the United States is currently the prime example, and villain, we are almost always negative about capitalism’s role in world politics. And are always harping on the need to overthrow the system in order to bring forth a new socialist reconstruction of society. Thus one could be excused for forgetting that at earlier points in history capitalism played a progressive role. A role that Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and other leading Marxists, if not applauded, then at least understood represented human progress. Of course, one does not expect everyone to be a historical materialist and therefore know that in the Marxist scheme of things both the struggle to bring America under a unitary state that would create a national capitalist market by virtue of a Union victory and the historically more important struggle to abolish slavery that turned out to a necessary outcome of that Union struggle were progressive in our eyes. Read on.
Articles by Karl Marx in Die Presse 1862
The Secessionists’ Friends in the Lower House. — Recognition of the American Blockade
Source: MECW Volume 19, p. 182;
Written: on March 8, 1862;
First published: in Die Presse, March 12, 1862.
London, March 8
Parturiunt monies! Since the opening of Parliament the English friends of Secessia had threatened a “motion” on the American blockade. The resolution has at length been introduced in the Lower House in the very modest form of a motion in which the government is urged “to submit further documents on the state of the blockade” — and even this insignificant motion was rejected without the formality of a division.
Mr. Gregory, the member for Galway, who moved the resolution, had in the parliamentary session of last year, shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War, already introduced a motion for recognition of the Southern Confederacy. To his speech of this year a certain sophistical adroitness is not to be denied. The speech merely suffers from the unfortunate circumstance that it falls into two parts, of which the one cancels the other. One part describes the disastrous effects of the blockade on the English cotton industry and therefore demands removal of the blockade. The other part proves from the papers submitted by the ministry, two memorials by Messrs. Yancey and Mann and by Mr. Mason among them, that the blockade does not exist at all, except on paper, and therefore should no longer be recognised. Mr. Gregory spiced his argument with successive citations from The Times. The Times, for whom a reminder of its oracular pronouncements is at this moment thoroughly inconvenient, thanks Mr. Gregory with a leader in which it holds him up to public ridicule.
Mr. Gregory’s motion was supported by Mr. Bentinch, an ultra-Tory who for two years has laboured in vain to bring about a secession from Mr. Disraeli in the Conservative camp.
It was a ludicrous spectacle in and by itself to see the alleged interests of English industry represented by Gregory, the representative of Galway, an unimportant seaport in the West of Ireland, and by Bentinck, the representative of Norfolk, a purely agricultural district.
Mr. Forster, the representative of Bradford, a centre of English industry, rose to oppose them both. Forster’s speech deserves closer examination, since it strikingly proves the vacuity of the phrases concerning the character of the American blockade given currency in Europe by the friends of secession. In the first place, he said, the United States have observed all formalities required by international law. They have declared no port in a state of blockade without previous proclamation, without special notice of the moment of its commencement or without fixing the fifteen days after the expiration of which entrance and departure shall be forbidden to foreign neutral ships.
The talk of the legal “inefficacy” of the blockade rests, therefore, merely on the allegedly frequent cases in which it has been broken through. Before the opening of Parliament it was said that 600 ships had broken through it. Mr. Gregory now reduces the number to 400. His evidence rests on two lists handed the government, the one on November 30 by the Southern commissioners Yancey and Mann, the other, the supplementary list, by Mason. According to Yancey and Mann, more than 400 ships broke through between the proclamation of the blockade and August 20, running the blockade either inwards or outwards. According to official customs-house reports, however, the total number of the incoming and outgoing ships amounts to only 322. Of this number, 119 departed before the declaration of the blockade, 56 before the expiration of the time allowance of fifteen days. There remain 147 ships. Of these 147 ships, 25 were river boats that sailed from inland to New Orleans, where they lie idle; 106 were coasters; with the exception of three ships, all were, in the words of Mr. Mason himself, “quasi — inland” vessels. Of these 106. 66 sailed between Mobile and New Orleans. Anyone who knows this coast is aware how absurd it is to call the sailing of a vessel behind lagoons, so that it hardly touches the open sea and merely creeps along the coast, a breach of the blockade. The same holds of the vessels between Savannah and Charleston, where they sneak between islands and narrow tongues of land. According to the testimony of the English consul, Bunch, these flat — bottomed boats only appeared for a few days on the open sea. After deducting 106 coasters, there remain 16 departures for foreign ports; of these, 15 were for American ports, mainly Cuba, and one for Liverpool. The “ship” that berthed in Liverpool was a schooner, and so were all the rest of the “ships”, with the exception of a sloop. There has been much talk, exclaimed Mr. Forster, of sham blockades. Is this list of Messrs. Yancey and Mann not a sham list? He subjected the supplementary list of Mr. Mason to a similar analysis, and showed further that the number of cruisers that slipped out only amounted to three or four, whereas in the last Anglo — American war no less than 516 American cruisers broke through the English blockade and harried the English seaboard.
“The blockade, on the contrary, has been wonderfully effective from its commencement.”
Further proof is provided by the reports of the English consuls; above all, however, by the Southern price lists. On January 11 the price of cotton in New Orleans offered a premium of 100 per cent for export to England; the profit on import of salt amounted to 1500 per cent and the profit on contraband of war was incomparably higher. Despite this alluring prospect of profit, it was just as impossible to ship cotton to England as salt to New Orleans or Charleston. In fact, however, Mr. Gregory does not complain that the blockade is inefficacious, but that it is too efficacious. He urges us to put an end to it and with it to the crippling of industry and commerce. One answer suffices:
“Who urges this House to break the blockade? The representatives of the suffering districts? Does this cry resound from Manchester, where the factories have to close, or from Liverpool, where from lack of freight the ships lie idle in the docks? On the contrary. It resounds from Galway and is supported by Norfolk.”
On the side of the friends of secession Mr. Lindsay, a large shipbuilder of North Shields, made himself conspicuous. Lindsay had offered his shipyards to the Union, and, for this purpose, had travelled to Washington, where he experienced the vexation of seeing his business propositions rejected. Since that time he has turned his sympathies to the land of Secessia.
The debate was concluded with a circumstantial speech by Sir R. Palmer, the Solicitor — General, who spoke in the name of the government. He furnished well grounded juridical proof of the validity of the blockade in international law and of its sufficiency. On this occasion he in fact tore to pieces — and was taxed with so doing by Lord Cecil — the “new principles” proclaimed at the Paris Convention of 1856. Among other things, he expressed his astonishment that in a British Parliament Gregory and his associates ventured to appeal to the authority of Monsieur de Hautefeuille. The latter, to be sure, is a brand — new “authority” discovered in the Bonapartist camp. Hautefeuille’s compositions in the Revue contemporaine on the maritime rights of neutrals prove the completest ignorance or mauvaise foi at higher command.
With the complete fiasco of the parliamentary friends of secession in the blockade question, all prospect of a breach between Britain and the United States is eliminated.