[Marxism] Victoria Woodhull and Cornelius Vanderbilt | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Feb 22 13:37:15 MST 2020

Below you will find an excerpt from Barbara Goldsmith’s 1998 “Other 
Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria 
Woodhull”. It deals with the unlikely hook-up between Victoria Woodhull 
and her sister Tennessee Claflin with Cornelius Vanderbilt, the richest 
man in America. Woodhull and her sister put out a magazine called 
Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly that called for socialist revolution, free 
love and spiritualist values. As I pointed out in a CounterPunch 
article, Marxists in the USA were divided between the “Yankee” faction 
led by her and the “orthodox” faction led by Frederick Sorge and 
supported by Marx. Sorge and Marx led a drive to expel Woodhull and her 
comrades that culminated in them capturing themselves. Despite 
Woodhull’s idiosyncrasies, she was connected to the living pulse of 
America’s most exploited—the women, the African-Americans and the most 
militant workers.

In addition to being the first woman to run for president (her 
running-mate was Frederick Douglass), she and her sister were the first 
women to own a Wall St. stock brokerage. The excerpt shows how they got 
their hands on the money to fund the business and to pay for their 
revolutionary-minded magazine.

It will be immediately obvious that Goldsmith has not written a 
scholarly book. Since her previous biography was about Gloria Vanderbilt 
(the great-granddaughter of the patriarch discussed below), you can 
probably guess that she was writing for the mass market rather than 
Marxist ne’er-do-wells like me.

Apparently the book was optioned to become a Hollywood movie but nothing 
came of that until 2017, when Amazon announced plans to make such a film 
but not based on Goldsmith’s book as far as I can tell. Someone named 
Ben Kopit is working on the script and I wouldn’t expect much. Maybe the 
best bet would be for Paul Buhle to do a comic book since he is a 
Woodhull scholar among his many other assets.

As a mass-market biographer rather than a historian, Goldsmith paints a 
lurid picture but perhaps one not that remote from the reality. To 
balance this book, I also received a copy of Mark Lause’s “Long Road to 
Harpers Ferry: The Rise of the First American Left” that deals with the 
Yankee left. Mark has also written a book on “Free Spirits: 
Spiritualism, Republicanism, and Radicalism in the Civil War Era” that I 
am anxious to read.


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