|By August Nimtz|
To understand Karl Marx and Frederick Engels's reading of theUnited States it would be useful to begin with an overview oftheir communist project, its origins and evolution¡ªone whichhas often been misrepresented, particularly its democratic component.Like many German Rhinelanders of their generation¡ªthosewho came of age politically in the aftermath of the FrenchRevolution of 1789¡ªthey sought an answer to the most pressingpolitical question of the day: how could Prussian authoritarianismbe replaced by democratic rule and who or what segment ofsociety would lead such a transformation? For the young Marx,working as a cub reporter in 1842 for the liberal daily RheinischeZeitung (Rhineland Magazine), and frequently at odds with governmentcensors, there were more specific questions. Whywould a government deny its citizens such basic liberties as freedomof the press and free speech? Why are peasants and thepoorer layers of society routinely disadvantaged in the politicalprocess? Why are the wealthy privileged?
Marx saw the need to return to Hegel, the intellectual mentorof his generation, who had drawn on the insights of the liberaleconomists James Steuart and Adam Smith to produce thebest that Western thought had to offer on political theory and politicaleconomy. Standing on Hegel's shoulders, Marx soon recognizedthe inadequacies of this towering intellect, especially hisdisdain for "true democracy." It was precisely the quest to realize"true democracy¡ªthe sovereignty of the people," that motivatedMarx to begin his lifelong inquiry into political economy.1
His inquiries pointed to the emergence and role of privateproperty in social evolution, a development that reached its logicalconclusions with the rise of the capitalist mode of productionin the second half of the eighteenth century. Along with thealienation of individuals from one another, or the erosion ofcommunity, came the commodification of all of society includingmost of all human labor. Private ownership of the means of production,uniquely associated with capitalism, generated increasinginequality. The simultaneously unprecedented increase ofwealth and poverty appeared as one of the most striking aspectsof the new system of production for those who survived its arrival.The inequalities of previous class societies, those based onprivate property, began to pale in comparison.
Marx concluded as early as 1843 that as long as social inequality¡ªclasssociety¡ªpersisted, real democracy, the "sovereigntyof the people," was impossible. His position was notunique. As C. B. Macpherson persuasively argues, almost allWestern visions of democracy before the nineteenth century assumeda "classless or a one-class society, not merely a politicalmechanism to fit such a society."2 Unlike other socialists and selfstyledcommunists, Marx argued that the fight for social justicecould not be successfully pursued unless it was linked to thestruggle for democratic rights. Thus, the prerequisite for the socialistrevolution was the democratic revolution¡ªthe conquest ofpolitical democracy, which provided the best terrain on which theoppressed could prepare itself for taking power and self-rule. AsHal Draper correctly notes, "Marx was the first socialist figure tocome to an acceptance of the socialist idea through the battle forthe consistent extension of democratic control from below. . . . [H]ewas the first to fuse the struggle for consistent political democracywith the struggle for a socialist transformation."3 Many yearslater, Engels acknowledged that it was the Chartists, the workingclass fighters for democratic rule in England in the second quarterof the nineteenth century, who taught them about the importanceof the political struggle.4
Based on his newly-arrived at claim that the proletariat constitutedthe only class that had both the capacity and interest torealize the "sovereignty of the people"¡ªto which his aforementionedletter to Lincoln alluded¡ªMarx, now in partnership withEngels, provided the small communist tendency of the broadersocialist movement for the first time an explicit program thatclarified its relationship to the democratic struggle. Drawing onEngels's draft for the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx incorporatedthe essence of this position in its second section,"Proletarians and Communists": "the immediate aim of theCommunists is the same as that of other proletarian parties: formationof the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeoissupremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat." Thegoal of this struggle, is as stated later in that section, "to win thebattle of democracy."5 For communists, the most "advanced" or"extreme wing," as they described it, of the "democratic party,"the fight for political democracy is an essential task.
It must be stressed that in moving from radical democracy tocommunism Marx and Engels did not abandon the demand forthe former. Marx polemicized in 1847 that, like the Chartists inBritain, the German proletariat, "can and must accept the bourgeoisrevolution as a precondition for the workers' revolution. However,they cannot for a moment accept it as their ultimate goal."6 Clarityon this essential point distinguished communists from otherdemocrats. As they stated repeatedly, political democracy was thebest means for socialist transformation and, thus, had to be foughtfor and defended. When a critic charged in 1892 that Marx andEngels ignored forms of democratic governance, Engels retorted:"Marx and I, for forty years, repeated ad nauseam that for us thedemocratic republic is the only political form in which the strugglebetween the working class and the capitalist class can first beuniversalised and then culminate in the decisive victory of theproletariat."7 The task now is to see more concretely how the two,particularly Marx, arrived at their conclusions about the relationshipbetween democracy and communism.The Lessons of the "Most Progressive Nation"
To reach such conclusions, Marx's new method required that hedraw on, as he liked to call it, the "real movement of history." Heemphasized, above all, the actual course of the democratizationprocess in various settings and times. For him, the reality of theUnited States, "the most progressive nation," as he sometimescalled it, provided the best example.8 It was also, as he describedin his notebooks some fifteen years later, a "country where bourgeoissociety did not develop on the foundation of the feudalsystem, but developed rather from itself . . . where the state, incontrast to all earlier national formations, was from the beginningsubordinate to bourgeois society, to its production, andnever could make the pretense of being an end-in-itself."9Though lacking a feudal base, what was so revealing for Marxwas the fact that class inequality was quickly emerging there inthe absence of a tradition of class inequality¡ªa claim supportedby modern scholarship to be discussed later. This offered crucialevidence for his thesis about the consequences of private ownershipof the means of production.
What was the specific evidence about the U.S. reality that theyoung Marx drew upon to reach his communist conclusions? Asthe "most progressive nation" in the world, it was especiallyuseful in his method of inquiry¡ªthe study of a "pure" case."Naturalists seek by experiment to reproduce a natural phenomenonin its purest conditions. You do not need to make anyexperiments. You find the natural phenomenon of freedom ofthe press in North America in its purest, most natural form."10 Ayear later in his critique of Hegel he addressed the issue of electionsand suffrage. Though he made no explicit reference to theUnited States there is no doubt he had the United States inmind¡ªthen the country with the most democratic elections. Butfor Marx, it was a question "of the extension and greatest possiblegeneralisation of election, both of the right to vote and the rightto be elected."11 To what degree the United States conformed tosuch a standard is an issue to be discussed shortly.
Marx's first sustained discussion of the U.S. political realitycame at the end of 1843 in his two articles, "On the Jewish Question."Again, it must be emphasized that this was written duringMarx's pre-communist years, or perhaps more accurately, enroute to his communist "world view."12 Some of his discussionabout civil society and the state carried with them much of the"phraseology" of German philosophy. He admitted as much twoyears later in The German Ideology, the work that first presentedhis and Engel's historical materialist perspective.13 Arguably thekey text of this period, the central claim of the "JewishQuestion"¡ªnotwithstanding its title¡ªis that political liberation,or what would later be called liberal or bourgeois democracy,however much an advance for humanity, should not be mistakenfor human emancipation.14 To substantiate his argument,Marx drew on the reality of what was until then the two mostadvanced developments in political democracy, revolutionaryFrance and the United States. As the German Ideology explained,"one has to 'leave philosophy aside'. . . one has to leap out of itand devote oneself like an ordinary man to the study of actuality,for which there exists also an enormous amount of literarymaterial, unknown, of course, to the philosophers."15 The U.S."actuality" would provide the most insights.
Firstly, as he argued, it was in the United States that the "politicalstate exists in its completely developed form . . . in its purity"because "the state ceases to adopt a theological attitudetowards religion."16 Yet, in that most "developed" state form religionwas pervasive in society¡ª"pre-eminently the country ofreligiosity." The "existence of religion is the existence of adefect"¡ªbecause it promoted narrowness and sectarianism,alienating humans from one another, an earlier conclusion thatMarx and the Left Hegelians had reached.17 Thus, the U.S. caserevealed that even in the most developed state such a "defect"could exist. The problem, then, was to be sought in the nature ofthe secular state, in its limitations and its own narrowness. Thisnecessitated an interrogation not of religion but the state itself.The question in particular was why the secular state is not onlyinadequate for the achievement of but an obstacle to "humanemancipation," or, as Marx explained, "the relation of politicalemancipation to human emancipation."18
It's worth noting that in his critique of religion Marx wasactually arguing for freedom of religion¡ªin this case, for Jews¡ªespeciallysince he wrote this shortly before his often misrepresentedcomment about religion being "the opium of the people."It makes clear that his critique wasn't part of a campaign to banreligion. Rather, it expressed his concern to know why such defectivethinking persisted. The answer, he argued, and the motivationof his lifelong political economy project, was to be foundin civil society, the basis of the secular state.
Secondly, Marx looked at the limitations of political emancipationin another arena¡ªprivate property. Indeed, as revealedby laws in various U.S. states, the state might free itself of privateproperty by banishing property qualifications in voting. Butsuch a measure did not abolish private property, it "even presupposesit." The basis for the state's claims of universality,which comes with the banishment of property qualifications,rest on the existence of private property. The particularity of privateproperty was, in other words, a necessary given for the universalityof the secular state. The state, therefore, "allows privateproperty, education, occupation, to act in their way. . . . to exertthe influence of their special nature. Far from abolishing these realdistinctions, the state only exists on the presupposition of theirexistence."19 As long as inequalities in wealth¡ªas well as educationand occupation¡ªpersisted, Marx noted, there would be inequalitiesin access to the electoral process including the "rightto be elected"¡ªa reality of U.S. politics that obviously has deeproots. Again, the U.S. case revealed that "political emancipationis not human emancipation."
Thirdly, as the "most progressive nation" the United States,along with France, was where "the rights of man" existed in"their authentic form." But these rights were those of the citizenon the one hand and the individualistic man of civil society onthe other. They did not, however, lead to real liberation as long asthey were treated as uncritiqued givens. They rested on the erroneousassumption that human fulfillment was based "not on theassociation of man with man, but on the separation of man fromman" and the related claim that individualistic or "egoistic" manwas the actual basis for society.
Real "human emancipation" could only be accomplished byrejoining individual and political man in every arena in dailylife¡ªcitizen and man¡ªmerging his individual and social beingas the realization of his real "species-being."20 Marx set himselfthe task of trying to understand how the reintegration of thesocial and political being of humans could be accomplished. Hiscritique of private property, the material basis of civil society'sindividualistic character, would soon lead him to a critique ofcapitalism and a program for its overthrow¡ªthe necessary stepfor human or, in later terms, social emancipation.
Finally, the United States revealed how "money has become aworld power" even within the world of Christianity. Anticipatingthe even more blatant commodification of religion in today'sAmerica, Marx stated "in North America . . . . the preaching of theGospel itself and the Christian ministry have become articles oftrade, and the bankrupt trader deals in the Gospel just as theGospel preacher who has become rich goes in for businessdeals."21 Marx was describing one manifestation of what later historianscalled the "market revolution" of Jacksonian America¡ªabout which more will be said later.
While critical of the "most progressive nation," Marx madeclear that "political emancipation is. . . . a big step forward,"though not the "final form of human emancipation in general."22 His acknowledgment of what had been achieved inNorth America¡ªa necessary step on the road to real emancipation¡ªwas indeed sincere. If citizenship was limited because itrepresented only political emancipation, it's acquisition was notto be dismissed. In the German Ideology, again written withintwo years of the "Jewish Question" thus expressing the views ofthe communist Marx and Engels, they were clearly supportiveof this advance. "The workers attach so much importance to citizenship,i.e., to active citizenship, that where they have it, for instancein America, they 'make good use' of it, and where theydo not have it, they strive to obtain it. Compare the proceedingsof the North American workers at innumerable meetings, thewhole history of English Chartism, and of French communismand reformism," the two wrote.23
Later, when one-time ally Ferdinand Lassalle told Marx in1862 that the "Yankees have no 'ideas'. . . . 'The freedom of theindividual' is merely a 'negative idea', etc.," he dismissed Lassalle'scomment as "antiquated, mouldering, speculative rubbish."24 The theoretical and therefore, political import of theU.S. case for Marx was that it revealed the best that "reallyexisting" democracy had to offer. It was just such a conclusionthat drove Marx to look beyond "political emancipation"¡ªtoreach communist conclusions.
Where did Marx obtain his evidence about the UnitedStates? How valid was it? He drew on three sources in the"Jewish Question" articles, one of which was Tocqueville'sDemocracy in America, published eight years earlier. Other thanemploying the latter to substantiate his point about the U.S.being "pre-eminently the country of religiosity," Marx did notmake any other explicit reference to Tocqueville. He was informedby the writings of Tocqueville's travel companion toNorth America, Gustave de Beaumont(1802â�1866) and secondarilyThomas Hamilton(1789â�1842), an English writer.
Though Beaumont's work, Marie or, Slavery in the UnitedStates was a novel published in 1835, the same year as his companion'sbook¡ªabout a romance between a young Frenchmanand mulatto woman doomed by the racial prejudices of the era¡ªitcontained highly informative appendices and notes aboutBlacks, Indians, women, religion and other subjects. His dataabout religious life was the basis for Marx's observations aboutits role and character in U.S. society. In reference to the overalltheme of his book¡ªracism in the United States¡ªBeaumont addressedin the foreword why his book might give the reader "differentimpressions" of the United States than Tocqueville's work."The true reason is this: M. de Tocqueville has described the institutions;I myself have tried to sketch the customs. Now, in theUnited States, political life is far finer, and more equitably shared,than civil life [la vie civile, in original]. While men may find smallenjoyment in family life there and few pleasures in society, citizensenjoy in the world of politics a multitude of rights."25 This isrevealing in that it suggests that Tocqueville, like Marx, also employedthe civil-political society distinction. This might help explainwhy Tocqueville treated the reality of Blacks, Indians¡ªandwomen also¡ªas peripheral to his analysis of democracy. The apparentassumption that the U.S. political community could be explainedwithout an examination of civil society or, morespecifically, slavery¡ªand vice versa¡ªwas exactly what Marx arguedand fought against.
It might be argued that Beaumont's comment refers only tothe first volume of Democracy in America and not to the second,published five years later, where the author addressed "customs"and "mores"¡ªthemes that properly belong to civil society.There is some merit to the retort but what Tocqueville doespresent is a very incomplete description of civil society. (Neitheris it always clear, unlike the first volume, if Tocqueville is referringto United States or European realities.) Political economy,regarded then by many as the central component of civil society,is most undeveloped¡ªan issue to be addressed later. Whateverthe case, the reality of slavery, Blacks, Indians, and women iseven more tangential to his concerns in the second volume.
Thomas Hamilton's two-volume travelogue, Men and Mannersin America, was published two years before Democracy in Americaand Marie. Beaumont drew on it in his discussion of U.S. religiouslife.26 Although the only explicit reference to Hamilton in the"Jewish Question" concerns electoral laws and the pervasivenessand commodification of religion, Marx's extant notebooks indicatethat he keenly read Hamilton¡ªin all likelihood the first detailedaccount of the United States he had encountered.27 There ismuch to suggest that it was Hamilton's reading of the UnitedStates that Marx prioritized for his assessment of the country and,by implication¡ªif my argument about the impact of the U.S. realityon him is correct¡ªplayed a decisive role in the communistconclusions he would later draw.28 Again, the focus here is thepre-communist Marx who had not yet concluded that the proletariatwas the truly revolutionary class. Precisely because hedoesn't understand this phase in Marx's development, let alonehis overall project, Seymour Lipset gratuitously claims that Marx,on the basis of the latter's reading of Hamilton, thought that socialismwas on the U.S. political agenda as early as 1829.29The focus here is only on what Marx noted and excerpted fromHamilton's work and what were some of the central claims Hamiltonmade about U.S. society. Aside from the above-mentioned referencesto Hamilton that Marx made, his notebooks excerptedother matters from the book. Among them were the details of Virginia'selectoral laws, specifically, the fairly high property qualificationsfor who could vote and be elected¡ªevidence for Marxabout the limitations of the suffrage in what Hamilton called "themost democratic state in the Union."30 Marx cited a discussion onpublic schools in New England including the interesting observationby Hamilton that their purpose was so that "every man. . . .shall qualify. . . . for a useful member of the State. No member ofsociety can be considered as an isolated and abstract being, livingfor his own pleasure, and labouring for his own advantage."31Could this have been an inspiration for Marx's major argumentabout the desirability of rejoining egoistical and political man?
Lastly, there are the very important excerpts from Hamiltonregarding class inequality and conflict in New York City and theactivities of what was apparently the recently formed Workingmen'sParty, the first working class party anywhere. These realitiesseemed to have escaped Tocqueville's observant eyes duringhis visit to the city at almost the same time, several months beforeHamilton, in May 1831. Hamilton's observations were exactlythe evidence that Marx could rely on to make his case aboutthe limitations of "political emancipation."
The last point speaks to a central difference between Hamilton'sentire book and Democracy in America, its greater attentionto both the class and racial inequalities in the United States¡ªwhilerecognizing at the same time what had been gained in theway of political democracy. It's useful to note that his visit andbook were prompted by the many claims being made in thenewly-reformed parliament in London about the wonders ofU.S. democracy. While Tocqueville sought to see what Europe¡ªFrancein particular¡ªcould learn from the U.S. experience,Hamilton came with a certain degree of skepticism about theUnited States as a model.
As for the class issue, Hamilton noted that it was the"Workies," as he called the Workingmen's Party¡ªa tendency hewas clearly leery of probably because they were in the forefrontof the democratic impulse¡ªthat demanded "equal and universaleducation."
It is false, they say, to maintain that there is at present no privilegedorder, no practical aristocracy, in a country where distinctionsof education are permitted. . . . There does exist then¡ªtheyargue¡ªan aristocracy of. . . . knowledge, education and refinement,which is inconsistent with the true democratic principle ofabsolute equality. . . . There are others who go still further, andboldly advocate the introduction of an AGRARIAN LAW, and a periodicaldivision of property. These unquestionably constitutethe extreme gauche of the Worky Parliament. . . . 32
Marx's above-cited comment about how the "state allowsprivate property, education, occupation, to act in their way . . . toexert the influence of their special nature" may indeed have beeninspired by the "Worky" program. It should be noted again thatMarx wrote this before he had concluded that the proletariatwould be the class to achieve the realization of real democracyand, thus, human emancipation. Thus, it may well be the casethat the conclusions he would draw within a year and a half ofwriting the "Jewish Question" were profoundly influenced bywhat he learned from Hamilton. The latter had more to say notonly about the Workies but other aspects of class inequality andtensions in the United States, along with the prospects for classstruggle. Again, this is in sharp contrast to Tocqueville's accountwhich says virtually nothing about the growing workers'smovement in the country.
The other major theme in Hamilton's account is its attentionto racial inequality and the impact of slavery. Throughout bothvolumes he depicts the horrors of the institution and how it fosteredracism beyond the slave holding states. He rejected theviews of the slave owners, with whom he discussed the issue,who claimed that they too favored abolition but were "slaveholders by compulsion alone." Hamilton dismissed theirexcuses. The abolition they wanted was "of a peculiar kind,which must be at once cheap and profitable. . . [to] enrich hismaster." The real reason slavery was maintained was that its endwould "put a stop to the cultivation both of sugar and rice in theUnited States, and the compulsion of which the planters speak isthe compulsion of money."33 It was the "pecuniary interests" ofthe planters that explained its continuance. For Hamilton materialinterests drove the "peculiar institution."
More than anything, Hamilton viewed slavery as an affrontto the democratic claims of the country, a "national disgrace." Hewas especially appalled by what he saw in the nation's capital.
"Washington the seat of government of a free people, is disgracedby slavery. . . . While the orators in Congress are roundingperiods about liberty in one part of the city, proclaiming,alto voce, that all men are equal, and that 'resistance to tyrantsis obedience to God,' the auctioneer is exposing human flesh tosale in another! [One day in Washington he rememberedwhen] the members of this enlightened and August body [theSenate] were driven to the Capitol by slave coachmen, whowere at that very moment waiting to convey them back, whenthe rights of man had been sufficiently disserted on for the day.. . . [T]hat slavery should exist in the district of Columbia, thateven the footprint of a slave should be suffered to contaminatethe soil peculiarly consecrated to Freedom, that the very shrineof the Goddess should be polluted by the presence of chainsand fetters, is perhaps the most extraordinary and monstrousanomaly to which human inconsistency¡ªa prolific mother¡ªhasgiven birth."34
The reality of Washington helped to explain what he also tooknote of¡ªthe disproportionate influence of the slavocracy in thenational government. As for the future of the "peculiar institution:""To suppose that slavery can long continue in this countrywhen other nations shall have freed themselves from the fouleststain which has ever polluted their humanity, is to contemplate aperiod when the United States will become a nuisance uponearth, and an object of hatred and derision to the whole world."And in anticipation of the Civil War, Hamilton proclaimed: "Myown conviction is, that slavery in this country can only be eradicatedby some great and terrible convulsion. The sword is evidentlysuspended; it will fall at last."35 In no uncertain termsslavery for Hamilton had indeed made the United States into a"defiled republic"¡ªwhat Marx would later note in his letter toLincoln¡ªand undermined any claims for it as a model of democracy.As will be seen shortly, this was clearly not the portraitthat Tocqueville had painted.
Though none of this found its way into Marx's extant notebooksit's unlikely that it didn't influence his reading of U.S. democracy.For example, when he argued in the "Jewish Question"that even if the state was free of religious affiliation, religioncould still have a hold on its citizens¡ªthe tendency to encouragenarrowness and separation¡ªit's likely that he had Hamilton'snarrative in mind, particularly, his account (see below) of racialsegregation in Protestant denominations.36 Whatever the case,Hamilton's book, in combination with Beaumont's Marie, introducedMarx to the reality of race and slavery in the United Statesand doubtlessly was influential in his argument about the limitsof political emancipation.37Tocqueville's America
Although the only explicit reference Marx made to Democracy inAmerica concerns the country's religiosity, it's instructive at thisstage of my analysis, before turning to the communist Marx, tolook more closely at Tocqueville. To start, how did the evidencefrom Hamilton and Beaumont that Marx employed in the "JewishQuestion" and excerpted in his notebooks compare to whatTocqueville had to offer? Secondly, how did Tocqueville's accountcompare to what Hamilton had to say on the social inequality,race and slavery issues discussed above? And finally,how did Tocqueville's conclusions about U.S. democracy compareto those of Marx?
Regarding the United States as "pre-eminently the countryof religiosity," Tocqueville, as already noted, was one of Marx'ssources for this characterization. "On my arrival in the UnitedStates the religious aspect of the country was the first thing thatstruck my attention," he stated. But what is most notable aboutTocqueville's account is the relative lack of concrete evidenceabout U.S. religious life. His tendency instead was to makebroad generalizations without supporting evidence. About theUnited States, for example, and no doubt betraying his admittedpro-Catholic sympathies, "they,"¡ªthe Catholics¡ª"constitutethe most republican and the most democratic class in the UnitedStates."38 Or, in regard to Christians in general, "They are nothostile to anyone in the world. . . .they love their contemporarieswhile they condemn their weaknesses and lament their errors."39
To appreciate the reality of religion in the United States,Marx turned to Beaumont and Hamilton. The picture they presentedwas more complex than Tocqueville's portrait and revealedthat all was not as brotherly as he suggested. Hamiltonwas critical, for example, of the racial practices of Protestants."No white Protestant would kneel at the same altar with a blackone. He asserts his superiority everywhere, and the very hue ofhis religion is affected by the colour of his skin."40
Beaumont cited Hamilton's observation, possibly because itpraised, he wrote, the Catholic church for including "worshipersof all colours and classes" in their services¡ªthe basis, perhaps,for Tocqueville's claim about Catholicism's democratic and republicancredentials. Beaumont also provided details on Christiansectarianism, particularly "l'hostilit¨¦ des protestants contre lescatholiques; la seconde est l'hostilit¨¦ de toutes les sectes chr¨¦tiennescontre les unitaires."41 As a product and victim of Germany's longhistory of religious sectarianism, all of this no doubt struck a responsivechord with Marx. Religious sectarianism and the racialpractices of Protestants to him were evidence of the "defect" ofreligion¡ªagain, the separation of humans from one another.
That Marx saw the need to cite Tocqueville only once doesn'tmean, however, that he dismissed his account. On the contrary,a case can be made that Tocqueville's observations about U.S. religiosityplayed a key role in the conclusions Marx drew aboutthe limits of its democracy. The major theme in Tocqueville's discussionon religion was how, in distinction to Europe, the separationof church and state actually increased the influence ofChristianity. "In the United States religion exercises but little influenceupon the laws and upon the details of public opinion;but it directs the customs of the community, and, by regulatingdomestic life, it regulates the state," Tocqueville wrote.42 He believedthe influence of Christianity was one of the "causes tomaintain democracy" in the United States.
The reality that Tocqueville described in the United Statesled Marx to draw very different conclusions. To understand whyit must be noted that in his prior writings, especially his critiqueof Hegel, Marx had argued that the problem in Germany, that ofhow to realize democracy, had to take into account the reality ofcivil society¡ªhumans in their social relations outside the state,such as the religious sphere. Tocqueville's insight about the consequencesof the separation of church and state in the UnitedStates may indeed have been the basis for what Marx noted inThe Holy Family, his first collaborative work with Engels andwritten about a year after the "Jewish Question": "religion developsin its practical universality only where there is no privilegedreligion (cf. the North American States)."
Marx continued, "in the developed modern state . . . the dissolutionof religion by the abolition of the state church, to thisproclamation of their civil death corresponds their most vigorouslife, which henceforth obeys its own laws undisturbed anddevelops to its full scope."43 Both statements are clearly consistentwith Tocqueville's explanation for the flourishing of religionin the United States.44
Secondly, while Tocqueville saw the non-Christian as sufferingfrom an "aberration of intellect,"45 for Marx, it was the religiousbeliever who was afflicted with a "defect." If Tocquevillethought that Christianity's regulation of "domestic life" sustaineddemocracy because it regulated the state, Marx most certainlydid not, as he argued in opposition to Hegel. Not only wasreligion a form of defective thinking, but¡ªin anticipation ofsome feminist critiques of liberal democracy¡ª"domestic" or"family life" for Marx meant the world of "patriarchal laws"which therefore made it "unfit . . . where it was a question of thepolitical [i.e. democratic] state, of citizenship.46
In effect then, Tocqueville provided Marx with just the kindof evidence he needed to support his thesis about the limitationsof a state-centered theory of democracy. If in the most democraticcountry in existence religious influence could not only persist butactually increase, then indeed political emancipation wasn't sufficientfor human emancipation. Tocqueville's evidence and insight,therefore, allowed Marx to ground his thesis in a way hehad not been able to until then¡ªfor Marx, a necessary step on theroad to a communist perspective. What this suggests, then¡ªperhapsa moment in the development of nineteenth century politicalthought not appreciated until now¡ªis that Tocqueville servedas an important foil for Marx's political development.
With regard to suffrage and related issues of private propertyand education, Tocqueville claimed that "universal suffragehas been adopted in all the states of the Union." Furthermore, itwas "the most powerful of the causes that tend to mitigate theviolence of political associations in the United States."47 Anotherfactor that helped to still the passions of the masses was that "inAmerica there are no paupers. As everyone has property of hisown to defend, everyone recognizes the principle upon which heholds it."48 Regarding education, Tocqueville noted that access toformal education was very limited and varied from one part ofthe country to the other, the least available in the South andWest. The "learned,"he offered, are very "few." Yet, he "was surprisedto find so much distinguished talent among the citizensand so little among the heads of government."49 The most educated,evidently, were not privileged when it came to the politicalarena. For Tocqueville, an inveterate elitist, this was notadmirable. " 'When the right of suffrage is universal, and whenthe deputies are paid by the state, it's singular how low and howfar wrong the people can go', he had noted in his diary."50 An exampleof such an outcome was the election of Davy Crockett tothe House of Representatives in 1828 from Memphis. If Crockett,probably the most popular figure in the country after AndrewJackson, was a real hero for those wary of the increasingly elitistcharacter of rule in the country, he was, for Tocqueville, someone" 'who has had no education, can read with difficulty, has noproperty, no fixed residence, but passes his life hunting, sellinghis game to live, and dwelling continuously in the woods. Hiscompetitor, a man of wealth and talent, failed.'" Tocqueville's diaryaccount leaves little doubt about for whom he would havevoted and his real opinion of universal suffrage.
As noted before, Hamilton's account made clear that contraryto Tocqueville's assertion, universal suffrage was not anorm; property qualifications were very much in force. His commentson education, however, were virtually in agreement withthose of Tocqueville. These included the above-mentioned pointabout the low correlation between levels of education and occupationof political office. Most divergent were their treatments ofthe issue of class and social inequality. Tocqueville did not denythe existence of social inequality in the U.S. With manufacturingcame, he stated, "rich men," although "the class of rich men doesnot exist. . . .[they don't act as a] definite class."51 But as is so oftenthe case in Tocqueville's second volume¡ªwhere he addressedsuch questions¡ªit's not always clear if he referredspecifically to the United States. Whatever the case he clearlyfeared that the acquisitive nature of U.S. society, especially thatassociated with the growing industrial revolution, would aggravatesocial inequality.52 This was something Marx expected, "theeffects of private property" acting "in their way."
At the same time, Tocqueville found that in the United States,"fortunes are scanty and insecure" and the "equality of conditions. . . prevents any [member of the community] from having resourcesof great extent."53 His chapter in the second volume, "Influenceof Democracy on Wages," is oftentimes insightful¡ªit evenmentions "the constant struggle for wages. . . between these twoclasses," i.e. "the workman" and "employer"54¡ªbut is not necessarilyinformed by the U.S. reality.
Thus, absent from Tocqueville's descriptions, especially incontrast to Hamilton, was the specificity of class conflict in theU.S. context. His overall tendency was to focus on the factorsthat mitigated its possible eruption. And since slavery, the mostunambiguous expression of class inequality, was peripheral tohis analysis of democracy, his forebodings about it centered atbest on racial, not class conflict. In effect, Tocqueville didn't informhis reader about the class conflicts already underway in theUnited States, let alone prepare them to understand how thoseconflicts would actually advance the democratic struggle.
Tocqueville's cursory attention to the class question reflects alarger problem¡ªthe absence of any sustained discussion on theU.S. political economy, particularly industrial development. It'sclear from his diary, notes and travel schedule that he simplyhad little or no interest in the matter, not only in the UnitedStates but also in England, which he visited a few years later."Beaumont also felt at a loss in trying to orient his friend [Tocqueville]where it was a "question of political economy."55
This is in sharp contrast to his countrymen, Michel Chevalier,who traveled to the United States a couple of years later, forthe same amount of time, and wrote extensively on the economicchanges underway in the country. That the latter was a followerof the utopian socialist Claude Saint-Simon (1760â�1825) was nodoubt determinant. That Tocqueville, on the other hand, waslargely ignorant of political economy of any variety was also determinant¡ªin ways to be discussed later. Suffice it to note herethe earlier observation, based on a comment by Beaumont, thatpolitical economy for Tocqueville appears to have been in thesphere of civil society and therefore, like race, and gender, tangentialto the concerns of Democracy in America. To the extent thathe interested himself with economic matters in and beyond thebook he came close to being a land determinist, believing that"[e]ssential political and psychological relationships in a societydepended on the existing pattern of landholding."56 The contrastwith Marx, who would soon conclude that socio-economic relationswere central, couldn't be starker.
Although Tocqueville relegated the Black experience to theperiphery, it's important to look at what he did have to say.57 First,his views on Blacks can only be described as racist: "we are almostinclined to look upon him as a being intermediate between manand the brutes," Tocqueville claimed.58 He betrayed, as well, anessentialist opinion of race relations: "wherever the whites havebeen the most powerful, they have held the blacks in degradationor in slavery; wherever the Negroes have been strongest, theyhave destroyed the whites: this has been the only balance that hasever taken place between the two races."59 It's possible to dismisssuch opinions on the grounds that they were representative of thetimes, which is partially true; it's not as if Hamilton was that muchmore progressive. However, there were others in France who proceededTocqueville who had far more enlightened ideas, specifically,Abb¨¦ Gr¨¦goire, the author of the well-known anti-racisttract, De la litt¨¦rature des N¨¨gres, ou, Recherches sur leurs facult¨¦s intellectuelles(1810). In this polemic, he criticized Thomas Jefferson'sthesis of Black racial inferiority. Tocqueville had to be familiarwith Gr¨¦goire's views. 60
As for his spin on slavery, Tocqueville is certainly more tentativethan Hamilton. It's true that he considered that the free stateswere more "populous and prosperous" than the slave states. Neitherdid he defend the institution¡ª"God forbid that I shouldseek to justify the principle of Negro slavery."61 But in devotingas much time as he does to explaining why it would be almostimpossible to get rid of the "peculiar institution" he comes closeto being its apologist.62 Perhaps this explains why his narrative,in comparison to Hamilton's, gives little or no sense of the horrorsof servitude for the slaves themselves. Tocqueville noted thatwhile the laws in the South were atrocious for slaves, the slavocracy,in fact, has "not. . . augmented the hardships of slavery; onthe contrary, they have bettered the physical condition of theslaves."63 His description of sugar-cane cultivation in Louisiana isstrikingly at variance with Hamilton's. Tocqueville was impressedby how "exceedingly lucrative" it was for the slave owners¡ªwhyit would be difficult to abolish¡ªwhereas Hamilton,upon visiting such a plantation, was struck by how it "was onlycarried on at an appalling sacrifice of life" for the slaves.64 In providinga richly informed description of the depths of racial prejudicein the North¡ªagain, no doubt based on Beaumont'sresearch¡ªTocqueville suggests that things were actually worsethere for Blacks than in Southern bondage.
Given the tone of his treatment, it's no surprise that, unlikeHamilton, there is no sense of outrage in Tocqueville's accountabout slavery. While he had no hesitation in asserting that Jeffersonwas "the most powerful advocate democracy has everhad," Hamilton saw Jefferson, the slave owner, as the embodimentof the "national disgrace."65 It becomes obvious why Democracyin America, as well as Beaumont's Marie, "appear to haveexcited no hostility toward [the authors]. . . in the South. Theycaused no indignation among slaveholders."66 Or, it's "no wonderthat despite [Beaumont and Tocqueville's] condemnation ofthe principles and practices of slavery. . . their works on Americafurnished ample material for the spokesmen of the anti-abolitionistsin France."67 Neither is it surprising that a leading Blackabolitionist "accused Tocqueville's writing of aiding 'the perpetuationof American slavery.'"68
With regard to slavery's future and that of the union, Tocquevillemade a most telling comment about his methodology:"Slavery has not created interests in the South contrary to thosein the North. . . . Slavery, then, does not attack the AmericanUnion directly in its interests, but indirectly in its manners."69The differences between the North and the South, in otherwords, were not to be sought in matters of political economy, asHamilton suggested, but rather in "manners" and "habits"¡ªtheoreticalpremises about which more will be said shortly. IfTocqueville didn't anticipate a war between the states to befought over the slave question, he was nevertheless pessimisticabout the future of race relations in the country. Given the situationin the North, "I do not believe that the white and black raceswill ever live in any country upon an equal footing."70 Hence, hepredicted an all-out race war or the recolonization of Blacks backto Africa as the only outcomes to the conflict. Yet, in spite of hishedging, he was clearly opposed to slavery, but in typical Tocquevillianfashion he seemed more fearful of what it would taketo bring it to an end¡ªa lot of bloodshed. He doubted that sucha price was worth the effort because "if liberty be . . . given . . .to the Negroes . . . they will before long abuse it."71
In contrast to Hamilton, Tocqueville failed to foresee theCivil War and its significance for the advancement of democracy.His foreboding about the coming carnage was sustained butclearly not in the way he thought. Because of his assumptionabout democracy's supposed fulfillment in the United States, itcould never occur to him that war would be necessary to makereal democracy a living reality. Thus, the absence of any discussionin his Democracy in America of the seven year war thatbrought the democracy he so admired into existence. Since slavery,for him, was a collateral issue, he could only be pessimisticabout what it would take to end it. Any struggle to abolish itwould be a detraction from the democratic impulse rather thanan advance for it. These, we'll see, were just the opposite of theconclusions drawn by Marx and Engels.
What most significantly distinguished Marx from Tocqueville¡ªat this stage in the analysis¡ªwas the former's convictionthat the vanguard example of the democraticmovement was still very much a work in progress. Tocqueville'sportrait, including his claim that the United Stateswas the "absolute democracy," supplemented by those ofBeaumont and Hamilton, revealed to Marx what remained tobe done. The criteria he employed in reading Tocqueville,based largely on his critique of Hegel, allowed him to be moresober. Rooted on terra firma¡ªthe reality of the United States¡ªMarxwas now in a position to undertake the requisite inquiryto learn what it would take to realize real democracy, the "sovereigntyof the people."
The most politically liberated society had taught that as longas private property¡ªthe fundamental underpinning of civilsociety¡ªwas in place then human emancipation, the rejoining ofthe social and political, was not possible. If there was now clarityon the diagnosis of the problem, then a prescription for its solutionwas in sight. This was the next stage in Marx's quest.
Only as a result of his political economy research in the nexttwo years leading to what he and his new partner called their"materialist conception of history," would he be able to say in nouncertain terms that the overthrow of slavery was the necessarycondition for full political emancipation¡ªand thus, eventually,human emancipation¡ªnot only in the United States but in Europeas well. Again, the conclusions Marx reached in 1843 aboutthe limitations of the U.S. polity, based in part on his reading ofTocqueville, were a necessary step in the position he would soontake on the "peculiar institution."72The Judgement of Recent Scholarship: A Balance Sheet
How has Tocqueville's portrait of U.S. democracy stood up to thetest of modern scholarship? What about the conclusions thatMarx reached? To be clear, the comparison at this time is their differingassessments of Jacksonian America, the period which informedDemocracy in America, as well as the texts of Beaumontand Hamilton. This was the historical moment, based on thesetexts, that informed the young Marx en route to communism inmaking his earliest claims about the U.S.73 In subsequent chapters,especially Two and Three and the Appendix, I will subjectMarx and Engel's views about developments leading up to andafter the Civil War to the same kind of scrutiny.
Perhaps what testifies best¡ªfor the purposes of this book¡ªtoMarx and Engels's accomplishments in the next two years isthat their historical materialist perspective, and not Tocqueville'sanalysis, served as the framework for what is now considered tobe the definitive account of the period, Charles Sellers's, TheMarket Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815â�1846, published in1991. Sellers notes at the outset that his study is informed by "themost powerful conceptual tools for understanding America'scentral transformation," namely, the perspectives of Marx andEngels.74 The central theme of his work is that the Jacksonian periodcan best be understood as one engulfed in a gigantic classstruggle between what he calls, on one side, the "developmentalistcapitalist" forces and, on the other, the array of "patriarchalrepublicans." The former constituted those who were preparedto employ and expand an activist state to put in place the requisiteinstitutions and infrastructure to promote a capitalist modeof production. The latter embodied the Jeffersonian ideal of thesmall rural white male property owner.
A particular strength of Sellers's work, and more relevant forpresent purposes, is that it treats the religious ferment underwayin the country that Tocqueville and Beaumont reported on as akey component of the anti-developmentalist coalition in all of itscontradictory manifestations. As Sellers demonstrates, there wasa deep reactionary side to the second "Awakening," one that exhibitedthe kind of defective thinking that Marx associated withreligion. Sellers shows how all of this was reflected in the politicalrealignments of party politics. With Jackson as its titularleader, the coalition sought to put a halt to the market revolutionengineered by the "developmentalists." At stake was not just thecountry's heart and soul but its very direction: would it becomea full-fledged and, later, advanced capitalist country with all thatimplied for class formation, or the agrarian republic in the imageof Jefferson. The outcome, of course, was victory for the developmentalists.But as Sellers, pointedly concludes, on the eve ofthe Civil War, "market revolution made slavery the great contradictionof the liberal American republic."75
The portrait that Sellers paints is quite different than that ofTocqueville. It isn't the case that the latter necessarily misrepresentedreality but provided a description that was totally incomplete.With his almost exclusive focus on what Beaumont describedas the political "institutions," Tocqueville offers at best asnapshot¡ªfull of errors¡ªthat lacks a sense of the big fermentunderway that Sellers describes or the seismic forces that drovethe "great contradiction." What Tocqueville presents are politicalinstitutions, minus the driving force of the politics of civil society.Little wonder that much of modern political science analysisfinds Tocqueville so attractive.76
In contrast, there is the even more incomplete evaluation byMarx¡ªagain, on the road to communist conclusions¡ªbut onewhose outlines anticipates Sellers. Though the historical materialistassumptions of his analysis¡ªparticularly, the tensions and conflictsbetween different modes of production¡ªwould take Marxand Engels two more years to formulate, the attention that Sellersgives to the religious tumult underway in Jacksonian America isexactly what Marx honed in on while reading Tocqueville, Beaumont,and Hamilton. He already grasped, unlike Tocqueville, thatreligiosity, religious conflict and sectarianism reflected more fundamentalaspects of civil society that political institutions alonecouldn't explain. It was indeed this realization that led him to anexamination of, as he would later explain, the "anatomy of civil society,"that is, political economy. Two years later, the "new worldoutlook" of historical materialism would emerge.
Bruce Levine's Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of Civil War,published a year after Sellers's book in 1992, covers similar terrainbut fleshes out the details of the "great contradiction" thatthe latter concludes with. As the title indicates, Levine's masterlysynthesis of extant research argues that the Civil War was the resultof "two antagonistic systems of social organization." Consistentwith Marx's historical materialist perspective, hedemonstrates convincingly that the "distinctive ways in whichNorth and South organized their labor systems left their mark onall aspects of regional life¡ªincluding family, gender, and leisurepatterns and both religious and secular life. Such culturalchanges, in turn, deeply influenced political life."77
Tocqueville, it may be recalled, didn't view the differencesbetween the North and South in their political economies butrather in "manners" and "habits." The latter, for Tocqueville, appearto have an independent existence. For Levine they are theproduct of the two very different systems of production.
More recently, Anthony Gronowicz's, Race and Class Politicsin New York City Before the Civil War verifies at the local levelmany of the developments that Sellers and Levine describe nationally,but with the added emphasis on race. Gronowiczproves that previous research on the period, especially, SeanWilentz's classic study, Chants Democratic,78¡ªthat tried to explainthe class struggle without taking into account race andracial slavery¡ªwas woefully inadequate. While Tocqueville alsoslighted the effects and dynamics of chattel bondage in hisaccount¡ªthat he spent time in New York during his visit is noteworthy¡ªfor Gronowicz they are central in understanding thecity's politics in the Jacksonian era.
The limitations of the workers's movement prior to the CivilWar on the race and slavery questions, what Gronowicz focuseson and what Sellers in part means by the "contradictions" of theanti-developmentalist coalition¡ª"patriarchy, racism, and feesimpleproperty"79¡ªis exactly what Marx alluded to in his 1864letter to Lincoln. More completely, he wrote: "While the workingmen, the true political power of the North, allowed slavery todefile their own republic; while before the Negro, mastered andsold without his concurrence, they boasted it the highest prerogativeof the white-skinned labourer to sell himself and choose hisown master; they were unable to attain the true freedom oflabour or to support their European brethren in their struggle foremancipation." Or, as he put it in Capital three years later: "In theUnited States of America, every independent movement of theworkers was paralysed so long as slavery disfigured a part ofthe Republic." As long as the movement of free labor, therefore,failed to fight for the liberation of bonded labor but rather"boasted" of what David Roediger calls the "wages of whiteness,"its own struggle against the "developmentalists" couldnever succeed. The details of Gronowicz's work will be examinedin chapter 3.
As for the many specific claims in Democracy in America,there exists a fairly extensive body of literature that severelyquestions Tocqueville's portrait. Edward Pessen's book, Riches,Class, and Power before the Civil War, remains the most detailedand exacting challenge. Its purpose was "to determine the extentto which" the claim that Jacksonian America was an 'era of thecommon man,' whose "chief architect . . . was Alexis de Tocqueville,"is actually "borne out by the evidence."80
Pessen subjected key claims in Tocqueville's work to empiricaldata. Regarding Tocqueville's assertion that the "equality ofcondition" in the United States prevented any of its citizens"from having resources of great extent," he concluded: "The notionthat antebellum America lacked substantial fortunes is notborne out by the evidence, primarily, as will be noted, because ofits faulty assumption concerning the alleged distribution of 'resourcesto all members of the community.'"81 The data also questionedTocqueville's most basic claim about "the generalequality of condition among the people." Facts "establish thatincreasing inequality rather than equality was a central theme ofAmerican life during the 'era of the common man.'"82 As to theclaim that the wealthy were not involved in the country's governance,the data suggested otherwise: "the more affluent classesand 'those who carried on the business of the country' had agreat deal of influence over the government of the nation's citiesduring the second quarter of the nineteenth century. . . . [to thecontrary] the rich appear to have been a true 'governing class.'Despite his possession of the suffrage, the common man had littleinfluence, let alone power, in the nation's cities during the eranamed in his honor."83 In general, the young Marx would nothave been surprised at Pessen's findings given the position hehad reached earlier about the "effects of private property . . . toact in their way."
As for the suffrage question, Alexander Keyssar purports tocontest in his recent work the supposed finding¡ªwhose "mostwell-known early celebrant" was Tocqueville¡ªthat "the historyof suffrage," at least in the United States, "is the history of gradual,inevitable reform, and progress." He presents overwhelmingevidence that this was simply not the case. Tocqueville'sspecific claim that "universal suffrage has been adopted in allthe states of the Union" was patently false, not only for women,non-slave Blacks, migrants, the poor and felons but also for significantnumbers of working class white males at the time whenDemocracy in America was published in 1835. While it is true thatthe latter acquired, on average, more access to the vote beforetheir cohorts in Europe did, Keyssar shows convincingly thatthey did so prior to becoming members of the working class assmall farmers or petty artisans. The "critical fact," he concludes,is "that the reforms of the antebellum era were not designed orintended to enfranchise a large, industrial, and partially foreignbornworking class."84
Levine also disputes Tocqueville's mantra about theequality of condition in the non-slave owning areas of theUnited States. He begins chapter two with a quote from Tocquevilleto this effect and then systematically presents evidenceto the contrary. The particular focus is on increasingdisparities in wealth and ownership of property from the inceptionof the republic to the Civil War. Levine presents dataand opinions about U.S. social reality during the period ofTocqueville's visit that convincingly challenge his claim. Heconcludes with the bleak assessment made by Philip Hone in1847: "Our good city of New York has already arrived at thestate of society to be found in the large cities of Europe; overburdenedwith population, and where the two extremes ofcostly luxury and living, expensive establishments, and improvidentwaste are presented in daily and hourly contrastwith squalid misery and hopeless destitution."85 Tocqueville'sdescription of the city in 1831 would not have prepared itsreaders for such an evolution.
Various retrospectives were made on the enduring value ofthe first volume of Democracy in America on the sesquicentennialanniversary of its publication. In 1985, a number of these werecollected in Reconsidering Tocqueville's Democracy in America, editedby Abraham Eisenstadt. The volume brings together a numberof distinguished scholars from various disciplines whosubject Tocqueville to a critical review. To varying degrees theyraise serious questions about his classic as an accurate portrayalof the reality he claimed to have described¡ªcriticisms that areelaborated on in the aforementioned works.
The most recent, and perhaps most well-known, challenge toTocqueville's overall reading of the United States is the monumentaleffort of Rogers Smith, Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions ofCitizenship in U.S. History. Smith argues that the main problemwith the Tocquevillian interpretation is that it focused only on the"political life" of the United States, which appeared "remarkablyegalitarian in comparison to Europe."86 Such an interpretationtends to ignore the "array of fixed, ascriptive hierarchies"throughout the history of the country¡ªespecially, the subordinationof women, Native Americans and Blacks¡ªthe painstakingdetails of which is the substance of his tome. The title of chaptereight, "High Noon of the White Republic: The Age of Jackson,1829â�1856," leaves little to the imagination. Smith describes¡ªingreat detail¡ªhow the country that Tocqueville visited in1831â�1832 was in the process of creating a democratic republicthat excluded non-whites. "If ever an era fit [an] account in whichracist, nativist, and patriarchal views structured American politicaldevelopment and conflicts as fully as liberal republican ones,this is it."87
Smith's critique, nevertheless, is fundamentally within Tocqueville'sown framework. Like the latter, his is the "politicalcause of liberal democracy."88 What he faults Tocqueville and hismodern-day followers for is ignoring the existence of the "WhiteRepublic" for most of the country's history and failure for notadvocating a more inclusive liberal democracy. The young Marxwould have argued, on the other hand, that even if the ascriptivehierarchies had been dismantled, the liberal democratic politywould still have been inadequate for the task of human emancipation.89 Given his affinities with Tocqueville, it's no accidentthat as comprehensive as Smith's case is it is devoid of whatMarx considered crucial, the undemocratic impact of privateproperty on the political process¡ªin other words, the class question.I will critically revisit Smith's thesis in the Conclusions.
Finally, there is Michael Goldfield's recent book, The Color ofPolitics: Race and the Mainsprings of American Politics, an inquiry alsoinformed by Marx and Engels's perspective.90 His main interest isthe historical interaction between race and color in the UnitedStates. In the process he draws on a number of their observations,some of which have been quoted earlier. Much of what Goldfieldhas to say will be addressed in subsequent chapters. Suffice it tonote here that with facts and figures he is able to show convincinglythat there was in the United States in the decades leading upto the Civil War¡ªthe Jacksonian era, and contrary to what Tocquevillesuggested¡ªa national ruling class profoundly tied towealth, whose economic base was slavery.
In sum, then, modern and current scholarship challenges,successfully in my readings, the portrait Tocqueville painted ofJacksonian America and sustains the incipient class analytic perspectiveof the young Marx. As a last piece of evidence for thisclaim, a case can be made that Marx offered a convincing explanationwhy Tocqueville's interpretation of the era misses themark. To do so requires an appeal to Marx the communist, whowas now armed with his historical materialist framework.
In a letter to Joseph Weydemeyer in New York in 1852, Marxobserved: "in the United States bourgeois society is still too farimmature for the class struggle to be made perceptible and comprehensible."91 He was referring, specifically, to the pre-eminenteconomist in the United States, Henry Carey, and the limitationsof his analysis, but his comment could just as well have applied,and even more justifiably, to Tocqueville, whose work was basedon observations made two decades earlier.92 There was a strikingsimilarity between their views. Both saw class conflict as relevantonly in the European setting and certainly not in the UnitedStates, which lacked a feudal legacy. If, as Marx suggests, that itwas difficult to see the class struggle in 1852, then for Tocquevillein 1831, before the "developmentalist coalition" hadconsolidated its rule, it was even harder.
Marx's observation is valid but it begs other questions; whywas Hamilton able to be sensitive to the incipient class strugglein the United States and Tocqueville not? To employ the matureMarx again and his own experience, which he himself acknowledged,it was not until he went to the homeland of Hamilton in1845¡ªthe site of the most advanced capitalist country, Britain¡ªthathe fully appreciated the industrial revolution then well underway.It was no accident that it was Engels, who had spent twoyears in Manchester, in the entrails of the industrial revolution,who led Marx to study political economy.
Tocqueville, owing to his class and national origins¡ªthe relativelyunderdeveloped character of France vis-¨¤-vis Britain¡ªhadtoo many feet in the past to be fully cognizant of what wasunderway in the United States. Hamilton was located in a frameworkof the most advanced developments. As noted earlier, Tocquevillehad difficulty interesting himself in political economy.Even in his first trip to England in 1833 his "interest . . . was in castlesand landed estates rather than its factories and railroads."93
Neither did Tocqueville's intellectual ancestry prepare himto grasp what was unfolding. Marx believed that his contributionswere based on the pioneering work of intellectual giantslike David Ricardo, Adam Smith and James Steuart, as well asHegel, none of whom Tocqueville, as far as can be determined,had been exposed. To the extent that Tocqueville was informedby a theoretical presupposition, it was, as he stated in the introductionto his work: "The gradual development of the principleof equality is, therefore a providential fact"¡ªa claim that he repeatedin prefaces to subsequent editions of his book.94 Divineintervention in the final analysis was the explanation for what heclaimed to have found in the United States. In a letter to JohnStuart. Mill in 1836, he described himself as a " 'new kind of liberal,'seeking to base a stable civic culture not upon a materialisticindividualism but upon a socially integrating religion."95What this revealed, as Seymour Drescher correctly argues, is thatTocqueville lacked a "systematic theory of social change."96 ForMarx, the appeal to religion as a foundation for a philosophical,methodological or political perspective was exactly the kind ofdefective thinking that he criticized in Hegel and to which hesought an alternative. That Christianity for Tocqueville was theonly valid religion¡ªIslam and Hinduism certainly weren't¡ªwasfurther evidence for Marx of the paucity of thought that religionfostered, expressing itself in all forms of sectarianism.97
Having said this, I am fully aware of Tocqueville's subsequenttravels to Britain and the impact it had on him. But thisraises another interesting question. Why didn't he address in introductionsto later editions of Democracy in America any reflectionson new ideas or changes under way in the United States,which he no doubt followed? Marx and Engels often used prefacesand introductions to new editions of their works to revisitclaims based on new developments or new data. That Tocquevilledid utilize the occasion of the twelfth edition of hiswork in 1848, in the aftermath of the revolutionary upheavals inFrance and elsewhere in Europe, to acknowledge the "suddenand momentous . . . events'" revealed that he could indeed beconscious of the times in which each edition appeared. Not onlydid he not recognize the need to rethink anything about hisanalysis but he advocated even stronger for the United States asa model for Europe.
What the preceding suggests is that in addition to the inadequaciesand defects of his framework, there was another dimensionof Tocqueville that figured significantly in the image hedrew of the United States¡ªhis own political core, his most basicpolitical instincts. Like Marx and Engels, Tocqueville, too, wasthe product of the French Revolution, perhaps even more so thanMarx and Engels.
But just as Stalinism in the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolutionleft for some doubts about the desirability of revolutionaryoverturns, the Terror in France had performed the samefunction for many in the aftermath of its Revolution. Tocqueville,owing to his class origins, was a victim of the Revolutionand a prime example of such sentiment. The guillotine hadtaken its toll on his own family. Thus, his particular spin on theUnited States¡ªthe realization of democracy without a revolutionarystruggle¡ªthat has many latter-day adherents. While thedrive toward equality was, as he argued, inexorable, his story ofthe United States showed that it could be forged without revolutionaryintervention by the masses.
As Europe erupted in revolution in 1848, beginning in Francein February, he urged the European readers of the latest editionof his book to look to the United States as the embodiment ofdemocratic governance. "The institutions of America . . . oughtto be a subject of study for republican France. It is not forcealone, but good laws that give stability to a new government. Afterthe combatants comes the legislator; the one has pulleddown, the other builds up," he wrote. And in recognition of therevolutionary situation he had to face¡ªfor a truncated timehopefully¡ª"each has his office."98 The belief that the legislativearena and not the streets was the center of politics is what Marxand Engels soon came to call¡ªon the basis of practical experiencewith individuals who held views similar to those of Tocqueville¡ª"parliamentarycretinism."
Nothing better captures Tocqueville than this admission in aself-reflective moment sometime between 1839 and 1841:
'My mind is attracted by democratic institutions but I am instinctivelyaristocratic because I despise and fear mobs. At themost fundamental level, I passionately love freedom, legality,respect for rights, but not democracy. I hate demagoguery, thedisordered action of the masses, their violent and unenlightenedintervention in public affairs. . . . I belong neither to therevolutionary nor the conservative party. But, when all is saidand done, I incline towards the latter rather than the former becauseI differ from the conservatives over means rather thanends, while I differ from the revolutionaries over both meansand ends.'99This suggests that Tocqueville was not incapable of seeing whatMarx and Engels anticipated and later explained, and is nowverified by current scholarship¡ªU.S. class formation and conflictin the making. His second volume, published in 1840 fiveyears after the first tome, clearly saw the possibility for such amessy reality since it was already underway in Europe. But thepolitical conclusions he would have had to draw¡ªthe need fora revolutionary mass movement to prevent Sellers's "developmentalists"and all that Tocqueville despised about them fromestablishing their hegemony¡ªwent against his political grain.The Revolution and the Terror had cast too long a shadow overhim. Tocqueville's disposition reminds one of the individualthat Frederick Douglass had in mind in his oft-quoted speechon the eve of the Civil War: "Those who profess to favor freedom,and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want cropswithout plowing up the ground." Perhaps it was his fundamentaldislike for the plow of mass struggle that led Tocquevilleto overstate the size of the harvest that he so desired, withoutsweat, blood, and all that accompanies the "disordered action ofthe masses."
Marx and Engels's political core was just the opposite of Tocqueville's.They reveled in the fight. They were heartenedwhenever the oppressed anywhere went into motion againsttheir oppressors. Sheldon Wolin, in his new book on Tocqueville,is right to say that in contrast to the latter, "Marxthought of politics as a form of combat." But the remainder ofthe comparison is invidious. To posit that "Tocqueville mightbe the last influential theorist who can be said to have trulycared about political life" and that "[f]ew of his contemporariesdid," is dead wrong.100
There was nothing in Marx's life, nor that of Engels, to suggestthat either "truly cared about political life" any less than Tocqueville.But what he and his partner understood and the lattercould not fathom was that "caring" wasn't enough. Combat is atthe heart of class politics¡ªon either side of the barricades. Thequestion is whether one is willing to put in the requisite time, energy,and sacrifice to join the battle. History revealed that Tocquevillewas not so disposed while Marx and Engels were, andsingle-mindedly so. The excerpt from Douglass's aforementionedspeech could easily have been authored by either of them.Exactly because they sincerely believed, like Douglass, that "Ifthere is no struggle there is no progress," they understood intheir bones what it would take to bring about real democracy inthe United States¡ªthe subject to which we now turn.
- For details on Marx's political evolution at this stage see my Marxand Engels: Their Contribution to the Democratic Breakthrough (Albany,N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2000), chapter 1.
- C. B. Macpherson, The Life and Times of Liberal Democracy (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 10.
- Hal Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, Vol I. (New York:Monthly Review Press, 1977), p. 59.
- 27, p. 405.
- 6, pp. 498, 504. In the catechismic style of his draft, Engels wrote,in reply to the question, "What will be the course of this [proletarian]revolution?": "In the first place it will inaugurate a democratic constitutionand thereby, directly or indirectly, the political rule of the proletariat."(6, p. 350)Draper, The Annotated Communist Manifesto (Berkeley: Center for SocialistHistory, 1984), pp. 175â�77, makes a convincing case that unlikeEngels in his draft, Marx was deliberately vague in his usage of "democracy"here and in other passages in the Manifesto, mainly becausehe was not as clear as his partner on the role of the democratic strugglein the transition to socialism. Within a year, however, he had clearlyembraced Engels's position.
- 6, p. 333.
- 27, p. 271.
- 38, p. 102.
- Marx, Grundrisse (Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1973), p.884 (hereafter, Grundrisse).
- 1, p.167. Marx wrote this in 1842. Note the similarity to what hesaid twenty-five years later in the Preface to Capital about his reason forbeginning the inquiry with the analysis of the commodity: " . . . in theanalysis of economic forms neither microscopes nor chemical reagentsare of assistance. The power of abstraction must replace both. But forbourgeois society, the commodity-form . . . is the economic cell-form,"or, later, "its elementary form." Capital, Vol I. (New York: Penguin,1977), pp. 90, 125. The commodity, in other words, as the "pure case"for understanding of capitalism.
- 3, p. 120.
- This crucial fact about Marx's writings in this period is exactlywhat Seymour Lipset ignores or doesn't understand in his clumsy effortto challenge Marx's understanding of the U.S. reality. See his "WhyNo Socialism in the United States?" Radicalism in the Contemporary Age,eds. Seweryn Bialer and Sophia Sluzar (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press,1977). More about Lipset's legerdemain later.
- For a most informative discussion on Marx's usage of "civil society"see Jan Rehmann, " 'Abolition' of Civil Society?: Remarks on aWidespread Misunderstanding in the Interpretation of 'Civil Society,' "Socialism and Democracy, Vol. 13, No. 2 (FallâWinter 1999).
- Draper's discussion of the articles and their context is first rate aswell as his appendix, "Marx and the Economic-Jew Stereotype," whichconvincingly disputes the anti-semitic charge often directed at the work(Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, vol. 1, respectively, chapter 5 and pp.591â�608). Gary Teeple's reading of the two articles is also useful, especiallyif read together with Draper; Marx's Critique of Politics: 1842â�1847(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), pp. 100â�108. For a more recentreading that also does justice to Marx's argument, see Y. Peled,"From Theology to Sociology: Bruno Bauer and Karl Marx on the Questionof Jewish Emancipation," History of Political Thought 13(3): 463â�85,Fall 1992.
- 5, p. 236.
- 3, p. 150.
- The replies of evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson to a reporter'squestions about his study of religion would have probably resonatedwith the young Marx and the Left Hegelians. While religionmay have promoted what he calls a "guarded egalitarianism" and"willingness of people to cooperate with others," it could also be divisive."Religions and other social organizations may preach kindnessand cooperation within the group, but they often say nothing aboutthose outside the group, and may even promote brutality toward thosebeyond the brotherhood of the [bee] hive. That has been the dark side[Marx's "defect"] of religion" (New York Times, Dec. 24, 2002).
- ibid., p. 151.
- ibid., p. 153.
- ibid., pp. 162â�68.
- ibid., p. 171. Commenting on the brief spurt in religiosity in theU.S. in the aftermath of September 11, Robert Wuthnow, director of theCenter for the Study of Religion at Princeton University, made a commentthat Marx would have understood all too well: " 'We are in someways a very religious country, especially compared to Western Europe,'Mr. Wuthnow said. 'But we're of two minds, and the other mind is thatwe are pretty secular. We are very much a country of consumers andshoppers, and we're quite materialistic. And as long as we can kind ofpaste together a sense of control through our ordinary work and ourordinary purchases, we're pretty happy to do that' "(New York Times,Nov. 26, 2001, p. B6). Marx later remarked on the U.S.âWestern Europedifference; see below, pp. 12â�13.
- ibid., p. 155.
- 5, p. 217. It's possible that Marx relied on Thomas Hamilton's observations,cited below, about the Workingmen's Party in New York inmaking this point.
- 41, p. 390.
- Gustave de Beaumont, Marie or, Slavery in the United States (Baltimore:The Johns Hopkins Press, 1999), p. 7.
- Thomas Hamilton, Men and Manners in America, 2 volumes (Edinburgh:William Blackwood, 1833). Unfortunately, the 1999 edition ofMarie doesn't include the appendix on religious groups that refers toHamilton's book. For the reference, see Marie ou L'esclavage aux États-Unis, 5me Édition (Paris: Charles Gosselin, 1842), p. 271.
- Marx/Engels, Gesamtausgabe, Abt. 4, bd. 2 (Berlin: Dietz Verlag,1981), pp. 266â�75. Hamilton's characterization of the money-grabbingNew Englander¡ª"The whole race of Yankee pedlars . . . resemble theJews"¡ªmay have been the basis for Marx's central argument in thesecond article about the Judaization of the Christian world. See Hamilton,Vol. 1, pp. 229â�30.
- Maximilien Rubel, "Notes on Marx's Conception of Democracy,"New Politics, vol. 1, no. 2 (Winter 1962), pp. 83â�85, also argues thatHamilton exercised a decisive influence on Marx. His treatment, however,is far more suggestive and less systematic than what is presentedhere. Lewis Feuer, "The North American Origin of Marx's Socialism,"Western Political Quarterly, vol. XVI, no. 1 (March 1963), pp. 53â�67,makes a similar argument but with particular focus on Hamilton'streatment of the Workingmen's Party of New York and in greater detail.A close reading of both Rubel and Feuer reveals that my argumentdiffers significantly from their reading of Marx's reading of the UnitedStates.
- Lipset, pp. 35â�36.
- Hamilton, vol. 1, p. 217.
- Marx and Engels, Gesamtausgabe, Abt. 4, Bd. 2, pp. 268â�69. Forthe comparable pages in Hamilton, see Vol. 1, pp. 221â�22.
- Hamilton, Vol 1, pp. 299â�301. For details on the party in NewYork at the time see Anthony Gronowicz, Race and Class Politics in NewYork City Before the Civil War (Boston: Northeastern University Press,1998), chapter 3.
- Hamilton, Vol. 2, pp. 226â�27.
- ibid., pp. 142â�43. Hamilton also denounced Thomas Jefferson forhypocrisy: "Continually puling about liberty, equality, and the degradingcurse of slavery," he not only fathered children by his slaves butlater, according to Hamilton, sold them into slavery¡ªa charge that hasgreater credence given the recent DNA findings about his descendants.See Vol. 1, pp. 324â�25.
- ibid., pp. 225, 227.
- ibid., p. 210.
- There are other interesting issues addressed by Hamilton worthnoting but are not necessarily germane to the topic at hand. One, forexample, was the protective tariffs' policy of the U.S. government,which Hamilton opposed. It's possible that this was not only Marx'sintroduction to the topic but one from a perspective, i.e. against protectionism,that would figure significantly in his political economywritings. It should be made clear that no claim is being made here thatMarx necessarily agreed with all of Hamilton's views.
- Tocqueville, vol 1, p. 311.
- ibid., p. 324.
- Hamilton, vol. 2, p. 210.
- Beaumont (1842 edition), pp. 272â�75. Again, unfortunately therecent English edition of Marie does not include the appendix, Sur leMouvement Religieux aux État-Unis.
- Tocqueville, vol. 1, pp. 314â�15.
- 4, pp. 116â�17.
- If Marx was indeed informed by Tocqueville's insight, it reveals¡ªespecially in the context of his larger argument in which thesestatements originate¡ªthe difference between the feudal and the modernstate, Marx went much further to explain the fundamental differencesbetween both states, i.e., beyond just how they related to religion.
- ibid., p. 321.
- "Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law," 3, p.94. Tocqueville's claim must have seemed contradictory to Marx givenhis assertion that other components of U.S. civil society such as slaveryand the treatment of Indians were "collateral" to an explanation of democracy.His other assertion, that the Catholic Church was a paragonof democracy, must have appeared ludicrous to Marx in view of his critiqueof the Church (p. 51).
Marx's critique of "patriarchal laws" anticipates Rheinhardt's critiqueof Tocqueville's defense of "America's gendered hierarchy"(p. 69).
- Tocqueville, vol. 1, pp. 206, 204.
- ibid., p. 254.
- ibid., pp. 327, 207.
- George Wilson Pierson, Tocqueville in America (Baltimore: JohnsHopkins University Press, 1996), p. 608.
- Tocqueville, vol. 2, p. 170.
- I owe this insight about Tocqueville to Laura Janara, specifically,chapter 4 of her dissertation, "After the Mother: Authority, Autonomyand Passion in Tocqueville's Democracy in America," University ofMinnesota, 1998.
- Tocqueville, Vol. 2, pp. 250, 258.
- ibid., p. 199. Tocqueville makes another interesting observation inexplaining why the modern state tends to grow in power: "the manufacturingclasses [workers] require more regulation, superintendence,and restraint than the other classes of society, and it is natural that thepowers of government should increase in the same proportion as thoseclasses." ibid., 327. Here, he makes clear that he is only referring to Europethough the implications for the U.S. in his thinking can only bespeculated on.
- Seymour Drescher, Dilemmas of Democracy: Tocqueville and Modernization(Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1968), p. 54n.
- Ibid., p. 56.
- Though it would be instructive to look at Tocqueville's views onAmerican Indians, given the almost complete absence of anythingcomparable in Marx I have confined this discussion to the situation ofBlacks in his analysis. For a thoughtful critique of his views on Indians,see William E. Connolly, "Tocqueville, Territory and Violence," Theory,Culture & Society, Vol. 11(1994), 19â�40.
- Tocqueville, vol. 1, p. 372. Regarding Marx and Engels's views onBlacks, see, p. 25 n.85.
- ibid., p. 373.
- Tocqueville was active in France's abolitionist circles (more aboutin Chapter Two), a milieu that was influenced by Gr¨¦goire's book. Forthe new English edition, see Henri Gr¨¦goire, An Enquiry Concerning theIntellectual and Moral Facilities, and Literature of Negroes (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1997).
- Tocqueville, vol. 1, p. 394.
- For a somewhat similar assessment, see Peter Augustine Lawler,"Tocqueville on Slavery, Ancient and Modern," Comparative Issues inSlavery, ed. Paul Finkelman (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1989).
- ibid., p. 395.
- ibid., p. 378n; Hamilton, vol. 2, p. 229.
- Tocqueville, vol. 1, p. 280.
- Drescher, Dilemmas of Democracy, p. 184n.
- Ibid., p. 177.
- Reinhardt, p. 64. In the section of his book from which this comes,Reinhardt makes a case similar to the one presented here. Tocqueville's"evasion of the politics of actively confronting slavery is more than arefusal to invent easy and fanciful solutions to complex and stubbornproblems; it amounts, despite his moral distress and the acuity of hisanalyses, to the subversion of his condemnations, to a backhanded legitimationof this condition." (p. 66)
- ibid., p. 412.
- ibid., p. 389.
- ibid., p. 397. This is a curious comment. Was he referring to theHaitian Republic or, perhaps, the Nat Turner rebellion in 1831, the yearof his visit, to which he made no explicit reference anywhere?
- The argument here is anticipated to some degree in MaximilienRubel, "Marx and American Democracy," Marx and the Western World,ed. Nicholas Lobkowicz (London: University of Notre Dame Press,1967), and Robert Weiner, "Karl Marx's Vision of America: A Bibliographicaland Bibliographical Sketch," The Review of Politics, vol. 42(Oct. 1980), No. 4. However, a close reading of both articles reveals thatin the former the thesis is not really proven to the degree it is here whilein the latter the significance of Marx's reading of Tocqueville is notfully appreciated.
- It's likely that other materials also informed him but the extantrecord only reveals these sources.
- Charles Sellers, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America,1815â�1846 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 6n.
- Ibid., p. 396.
- This is not to imply in any manner that Marx and Engels, in theirmove toward political economy, ignored political institutions. To thecontrary. Any close and honest read of the young Marx would revealnot only sincere interest in but detailed attention to the state and itsvarious institutions. For a useful summary of the evidence for thisclaim, see Teeple, chapter 5.
- Levine, pp. 14â�15.
- Sean Wilentz, Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of theAmerican Working Class, 1788â�1850 (New York: Oxford UniversityPress, 1984).
- Sellers, p. 6.
- Edward Pessen, Riches, Class, and Power Before the Civil War (Lexington,Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1973), p. 1. See also, Pessen's debate with aTocqueville partisan on some of these questions in Revue Tocqueville(1981â�1982)
- ibid., p. 26.
- ibid., p. 43.
- ibid., pp. 298â�89.
- Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracyin the United States (New York: Basic Books, 2000), pp. xvii, 76.
- Levine, p. 70.
- Rogers M. Smith, Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship inU.S. History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), p. 17.
- Ibid., p. 199.
- Ibid, p. 472.
- This was exactly what he understood about the oppression thatJews faced in Germany in both the political and civil spheres; he wasresolute, it should be quickly added, in defending religious and politicalfreedom for Jews. For details, see Draper, Karl Marx's Theory, Vol. 1,pp. 110â�13.
- Michael Goldfield, The Color of Politics: Race and the Mainspring ofAmerican Politics (New York: The New Press, 1997).
- 39, p. 62.
- See Eric Foner's "New Introductory Essay" in his Free Soil, FreeLabor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War(New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. xxi.
- Drescher, p.
- Tocqueville, vol. 1, pp. xi, 6.
- Jack Hayward, After the French Revolution: Six Critics of Democracyand Nationalism (New York: New York University Press, 1991), p. 149.
- Drescher, p. 278.
- For a critical assessment of Tocqueville's religious views, seeMichael Levin, The Spectre of Democracy: The Rise of Modern Democracyas Seen by its Critics (New York: New York University Press, 1992), pp.115â�18.
- Tocqueville, vol. 1, p.ix.
- Tocqueville, Mon Instinct, mes opinions," quoted in AntoineR¨¦dier, Comme disait M. de Toqueville (Paris, 1925), p. 48; quoted in Hayward,p. 149. See Also, Andr¨¦ Jardin, Tocqueville: A Biography (NewYork: Farrar, Straux, Giroux, 1988), p. 305, for a more abbreviated versionof this statement. To understand in a broader sense what Tocquevillemeant see Roger Boesche, The Strange Liberalism of Alexis deTocqueville (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987), and Alan S. Kahan,Aristocratic Liberalism: The Social and Political Thought of Jacob Burckhardt,John Stuart Mill, and Alexis de Tocqueville (New York: Oxford UniversityPress, 1992).
- Sheldon S. Wolin, Tocqueville Between Two Worlds: The Making ofa Political and Theoretical Life (Princeton: Princeton University Press,2001), p. 5.ï»¿