Engels, Marx and ethnic prejudices

magellan magellan at west.com.br
Sun Sep 9 01:14:46 MDT 2001

---Original messages--

Date: Sat, 8 Sep 2001 
From: "Gorojovsky" <Gorojovsky at arnet.com.ar>
Subject: Re: Former Nepali PM blames Palace, India for coddling Maoists 

En relación a Re: Former Nepali PM blames Palace, India for cod, 
el 7 Sep 01, a las 10:27, Ricardo Figueroa dijo:

> To S Chatterjee:
> Even though you claim that Marx and Engels had an
> international perspective, they made remarks about
> Latin America that makes me pissed as a Latin
> American.  He critized Simon Bolivar   (one of the
> liberators of the continent) and said that Latin
> Americans should be "confined to another hundred years
> of slavery".  

Mi querido Ricardo, Marx era al fin de cuentas un europeo, y como tal víctima 
de la información desinformante que la burguesía británica difundía por
todo el continente. La tragedia para los latinoamericanos no estuvo en los
errores de Marx y Engels sobre nosotros (recién con Lenin y la comprensión
del imperialism pudo un marxista europeo -o euroasiático- descubrir que
estas tierras también eran colonias -vid. El Imperialismo, etapa
superior... y sus referencias a lArgentina- aunque formalmente fueran
independientes) sino en los errores de los marxistas psitácicos de América
Latina, incapaces de comprender lo que tenían entre manos y por lo tanto
meros repetidores de mantras vacíos.

Trotsky, desde Méjico, tuvo también alguna idea de lo que realmente estaba 
pasando por aquí. Pero en realidad hubo que esperar hasta que en los años
40 y en el Río de la Plata surgiera una corriente de pensamiento marxista 
latinoamericana hasta los huesos. Al menos por una vez el Río de la Plata dio 
algo bueno de su seno -tan fértil en tristes traiciones- a Nuestra América.
Esa corriente, que me honro en integrar, es la Izquierda Nacional.

Si querés saber lo que es un marxismo latinoamericano, buscalo en nuestros 
autores. Sin la menor falsa modestia.


 I  _materialistically_  agree with Nestor:  Marx and Engels were men of
their time and their space, as we are of ours, and they showed several
times that they knew this situation better than anyone else.   See ahead,
for instance, an excerpt of the 1848 Manifesto about  historical relativity
(2).   It is needless to say that the recognition of historical relativity
lays in the core of historical materialism.

Were Marx and Engels inclined to ethnic prejudices at all?   It is hardly
believable when one knows their lives and their work.   Prejudices of
whichever kind are an ideological component of the superstructure and to
maintain them is sheer non-sense for a thorough  Marxist.   Nevertheless,
it is not infrequent to find bourgeois criticisms about supposed ethnic or
gender biases of Marx and Engels or of other sorts.  Sometimes they are
quoted literally. 

So, comrade Ricardo Figueroa, to add insult to injury, let's give some
examples of ethnic biases by Marx and Engels other than the ill-informed
reference to Simón Bolívar:   

		a)  The most famous of them, how far as Latin America is concerned, is  a
brief remark of Engels about the  "lazy Mexicans, who could not do anything
with it"  (California)  vis-à-vis  "the energetic yankees"  who  "for the
first time really open the Pacific Ocean to civilization, and for the third
time in history give the world trade a new direction.  The _independence_
of a few Spanish Californians and Texans may suffer because of it, in some
places  _justice_  and other moral principles may be violated; but what
does that matter to such facts of world-historic significance?"   

The full text, dated 1848, is transcribed below  (1).   It must be stressed
that the text is rather a celebration of the revolutionary advancement
brought about by capitalism. It is in the same line of the greatest eulogy
ever made to capitalism, that is dialectically found in the same work that
is its funereal chant:  the 1848 Manifesto.

Mexico is the Latin American country where nationalism  of the  "Yankee, go
home!"  kind is  --by far--  the most acute.   The main reason undoubtly is
the trauma of the 1848 war, when she lost more than half of her territory
to the United States, where chicanos and Mexicans are up today daily
harassed.   Those little phrases by Engels have been used by the Mexican
right-wing against the Communists.

		b)  In this same text one finds another astonishing example of ethnic
bigotry:   "Peoples which have never had a history of their own, which
from the time when they achieved the first, most elementary stage of
civilization already came under foreign sway, or which were forced to
attain the first stage of civilization only by means of a foreign yoke, are
not viable and will never be able to achieve any kind of independence.
And that has been the fate of the Austrian Slavs. The Czechs, among whom we
would include the Moravians and Slovaks, although they differ in respect of
language and history, have never had a history of their own." 

A true Marxist would never speak so.   The mere existence of a nation
necessarily implies that it has its own history.   Furthemore, prohecies of
such a  kind are completely alien to the Socialist thought.   Nevertheless,
it was Engels  --the young Engels, not the mature one--  who wrote these

		c)  Coming back to Latin America:   in a certain letter around the end of
the 80s Engels made derisory comments about Brazilian workers newspapers
that he had received.  He said something like  "these bothering South
Americans write too much in grandiose and romantic tones."   

To be sure, his only mistake was to attribute the style to all South
Americans.  That kind of ridiculous style really existed and it rather was
the Anarchist and petty bourgeois style, that then was the dominant
influence in Southern Europe, wherefrom came the elements of the incipient
Brazilian proletariat.

		d) A striking example of ethnic bigotry against the Jews may be found in
Marx.  Certain passages taken out from the context of the  "Jewish
Question"   (Zur Judenfrage, 1843)  could quite well be deemed to have been
written by an  _avant la lettre_  Nazi.    

Notwithstanding this, as you know, Marx descended from a very old lineage
of rabbis.  Marx is the German form found for the Hebrew name Mordechai.
He had a quite Semitic appearance and when he grew old he looked like an
Old Testament prophet, besides having a fitting thundering voice.  He was
understandably nicknamed  _Moor_  by his family, albeit in both English and
German  (Maure)  this word bears a somewhat negative racial connotation.
He found himself not vexed by this intimate treatement.  Let's remember
that this connotation differs from that one in the Iberian peninisula:
_mauro, mouro, moro_, the Arab in general,  was the secular national enemy,
but he was nevertheless recognized as an equal human being and a member of
a most advanced civilization, what explains why Mauro is used up today as a
 _Christian_  (first)  name, as well as  Germano (Germana), Franco, Latino
and Heleno (Helena).   

		e)  To add perplexity to insult and injury, let's keep in mind that both
Marx and Engels commonly referred quite derisively to their own German
compatriots.   These are  --by far--  the most commonly found ethnic
prejudices in their texts.  The term that they most apply to Germans is
_philistine_:   "a crass prosaic often priggish individual  guided by
material rather than intellectual or artistic values", according to the
Webster.  By the way, Philistine itself is another prejudice against an
ancient people, what gave origin to Palestine.  

Inside Germany, Engels directed invectives specially against Prussia and
Pomerania.   When criticizing Rodbertus, for instance, he used an abusive
language against the dumbness that would characterize the Pomeranians.
Did I say  "dumbness"?   Excuse me for such an ugly prejudice against those
who lack the power of speech...

By another side, let's remember the admiration that Engels showed in the
"Origin of Family"  etc.  by the Indian nations of America, by the
non-Moslem Sudanese and by the old  Germans, all of them primitive
Communist societies.   Let's remember Marx's favorite motto:   "Nihil
humani a me alienum puto"   (Nothing that is human is strange to me), what
demonstrates the great humanist   --in the cultural meaning of this word--
that he was.   After all, to search for prejudices in their texts is a
quite ridiculous task, a task for the  "politically correct"  petty
bourgeois and anti-Communists.   It demonstrates a complete lack of
comprehension of dialectical materialism.

Working people of all countries, unite!   
Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt euch! 

In solidarity,
Roberto Magellan


		(1)  Engels -- "Democratic Pan-Slavism"  -- Neue Rheinische Zeitung
(February, 14, 1848, a critique on Bakunin):

		"Just a word about  the  _universal fraternal union of peoples_  and the
drawing of  _boundaries established by the sovereign will of the peoples
themselves on the basis of their national characteristics_. The United
States and Mexico are two republics, in both of which the people is

		How did it happen that over Texas a war broke out between these two
republics, which, according to the moral theory, ought to have been
_fraternally united_  and  _federated_, and that, owing to  _geographical,
commercial and strategical necessities_,  the  _sovereign will_  of the
American people, supported by the bravery of the American volunteers,
shifted the boundaries drawn by nature some hundreds of miles further
south? And will Bakunin accuse the Americans of a  _war of conquest_,
which, although it deals with a severe blow to his theory based on
_justice and humanity_, was nevertheless waged wholly and solely in the
interest of civilization?  Or is it perhaps unfortunate that splendid
California has been taken away from the lazy Mexicans, who could not do
anything with it?  That the energetic yankees by rapid exploitation of the
California gold mines will increase the means of circulation, in a few
years will concentrate a dense population and extensive trade at the most
suitable places on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, create large cities,
open up communications by steamship, contruct a railway from New York to
San Francisco, for the first time really open the Pacific Ocean to
civilization, and for the third time in history give the world trade a new
direction?  The _independence_  of a few Spanish Californians and Texans
may suffer because of it, in some places  _justice_  and other moral
principles may be violated; but what does that matter to such facts of
world-historic significance?"

(2)  Historical relativity:  an excerpt of the 1848 Manifesto  

		"The selfish misconception that induces you to transform into eternal
laws of nature and of reason the social forms stringing from your present
mode of production and form of property   -- historical relations that rise
and disappear in the progress of production --   this misconception you
share with every ruling class that has preceded you.    What you see
clearly in the case of ancient property, what you admit in the case of
feudal property, you are of course forbidden to admit in the case of your
own bourgeois form of property."      

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