Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Karl Marx Gets a Raise

This is a companion piece to Today in Alternate History's "Passing of Horace Greeley" in which we explore a world where Marx wasn't radicalized.

While he spent his free time exploring new facets of scientific study into economics and social science, German-exile-in-London philosopher Karl Marx made his living (or what could be called one) as a correspondent for newspapers, most famously the New York Tribune, where Editor-in-Chief Horace Greeley defended him to critics with, "Mr. Marx has very decided opinions of his own, with some of which we are far from agreeing, but those who do not read his letters are neglecting one of the most instructive sources of information on the great questions of current European politics."

Greeley supported Marx's voice, but Managing Editor Charles Dana would later be described by biographer Franz Mehring as "a hard-boiled Yankee business man" in practice despite his socialist leanings. Their employer-employee relationship was largely one-sided in power: "not only did Dana immediately put Marx on half pay at the first sign of slacking sales, but he paid only for those articles which he actually printed as Marx’s work, nor was he bashful in throwing out whole articles when their general line did not suit his purpose. On occasions it happened that for three weeks, and even six weeks on end, all the contributions which Marx sent over found their way into the waste-paper basket."

Marx's frequent collaborator Friedrich Engels (who was independently wealthy and often helped out the Marx family), "In a fit of anger ... once declared that Dana’s socialism resolved itself into the lousiest petty-bourgeois cheating, and in fact, although Dana was well aware of Marx’s value as a contributor and did not fail to advertise that value to his readers, he showed Marx every form of ruthlessness which a capitalist exploiter feels himself entitled to show towards exploited labour-power dependent on him for its existence. By no means his worst offence was that he often stole the contributions Marx sent in and published them in a garbled form as editorial articles, a proceeding which caused their real author understandable annoyance." When he had calmed down, Engels decided to put his words on paper in a letter to Greeley. Feeling that he might lose one of his most fascinating voices (and knowing a goodwill story when he heard one), Greeley determined to rectify the poor payments and encouraged Marx to use his own position as an example to others in calling for fair wages.

The argument between Greeley and Dana proved to be the end of Dana's time with the Tribune; he left to join the war effort. While Marx was more in agreement with Dana's opinions that the Civil War should be fought and won as opposed to Greeley's calls for peace that would later be used as campaign fodder calling him treasonous in the 1872 election, Marx was forever grateful. His coverage of European perspectives of the war became ignored on the homefront, prompting Marx to move his family to New York in 1863. There he wrote extensively about the plight of newly liberated slaves during Reconstruction, making numerous tours of the South, as well as criticizing the early "Gilded Age" and routinely returning to Europe. When Greeley passed in 1872, Marx wrote his widely applauded obituary for the Tribune.

The relationship between reporter and editor was remembered by President John F. Kennedy a century after Marx's raise, speaking to the American Publisher's Association, "If only this benevolent New York newspaper had treated him less kindly, we would not have had one of our strongest voices among the cries for workers' rights; history might have been different. And I hope all publishers will bear this lesson in mind the next time they receive a poverty-stricken appeal for a small increase in the expense account from an obscure newspaper man."

1 comment:

  1. at Today in Alternate History we have explored the next steps in this scenario in our thread of the same name Karl Marx Gets a Raise.


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