How capitalist is the United States

"The most perfect example of the modern state"

The USA from the point of view of Marx, Engels, Sombart and Kautsky

In contrast to Tocqueville, Karl Marx never traveled to the USA. Friedrich Engels, too, was only able to fulfill this long-cherished wish in 1888. Rather, England was the preferred subject of study for both capitalist development. At that time there was such an economic difference between England and Germany that Marx warned his German readers in 1867 in the preface to the first edition of his major work "Das Kapital" against the illusion that the mode of production he was investigating was typically English. "The industrially developed country only shows the less developed country a picture of its own future", stated Marx (15).

Both thinkers never got the idea that it could be the USA that could show Europe the picture of its own future. They took it for granted that Europe was the pacemaker. - And that here again it is England that shows less developed countries the way. For example Germany, but also North America, which at that time only shook off the status of an English colony about a hundred years ago.

This does not mean that Marx was unaware of the American situation. After all, he wrote numerous articles for the New York Daily Tribune to keep himself afloat financially. As early as 1843, at the age of 25, he read Tocqueville's work "De la democratie en Amerique". At the same time he also read "The people and morals in the United States of North America" ​​by Th. Hamilton and "Marie ou l'esclavage aux Etats-Unis" from the pen of Tocqueville's friend Gustave de Beaumont (16). Tocqueville's work was known to him before he wrote all of his fundamental writings.

In the introduction to the "German Ideology" of 1846, Marx and Engels characterize the USA as the purest form of bourgeois-capitalist society: "The most perfect example of the modern state is North America. The more recent French, English and American writers all argue that that the state only exists for the sake of private property, so that this has also passed into common consciousness. " (17)

The actual direction of development misunderstood

In spite of such insights, Marx and Engels remained trapped in the mistake that social and political developments in the United States would align with those in Europe. In this sense, Engels expressed himself in 1887 in the preface to the American edition of his book (first published in 1845) on "The Situation of the Working Class in England": He pointed out that the laws of capitalism were equally valid on both sides of the Atlantic, and thus the more advanced part of the capitalist world foretell the future of the more retarded (18). This premise was correct, but Engels misunderstood the actual direction of development: It was not the old world, but the new one that provided the warning sign of how that capitalism would develop that Marx and Engels had studied on the English model.

Engels' false expectation, similar to the "impoverishment theory" and other moribund components of the Marxist utopia, was due to the prevailing, in this case Euro-centrist spirit of the times. The later revisionists, too, doubted the revolutionary perspective rather than the model character of social development in Europe. In 1906, when asked correctly, "Why is there no socialism in the United States?" the wrong answer, "that all the moments which have hindered the development of socialism in the United States up to now are about to disappear or be turned into their opposite, so that socialism in the Union in the next generation will in all likelihood after reaching full bloom. " (19)

"Looking Backward" - a socialist utopia made in the USA

The success achieved by the American writer Edward Bellamy with his utopia "Looking Backward" was often taken as an indication of the advancement of socialist ideas in the USA (20). The novel is about a Boston citizen in 1887 who regularly lets a hypnotist put him into an artificial slumber because of his neurasthenic sleep disorders. He only wakes up again in 2000 from one of the artificially generated rigid convulsions. To his great astonishment he learns that capitalism has meanwhile been transformed into a quasi-socialist society for the benefit of the whole nation, without the slightest violence, solely under the pressure of public opinion. His 113 years of sleep began in the crisis-ridden May 1887 - just at the time when Engels believed he recognized the beginning of a socialist movement in the USA in the foreword to the American edition of his book.

Bellamy's utopian novel first appeared in 1888 and became a long-lasting international success. It has been translated into almost every language in the world and as "A Review of the Year 2000" has been translated into German several times. "Marx's 'capital' remained absolutely unknown to this interpreter of socialism," criticized the social democratic party theorist Karl Kautsky shortly after the English-language original appeared. In no case could the book cause any damage. It corresponds to the backward consciousness of the American workers. The superficiality of the author is certainly also due to the fact that he does not know the literature of "modern scientific socialism" and the German labor movement. "Theoretically completely naive, for that very reason it should have a particularly powerful effect on naive minds, that is, it should acquire a certain importance in propaganda among American workers, whose theoretical meaning, as I said, is still unused." (21)

Bellamy's utopia, however, by no means just delighted the American audience. It was even published in Germany by the social democratic Dietz publishing house and until 1900 was probably the most widely printed novel in the social democratic press. This success did not match Kautsky's condescending judgment. It showed that the wind of history was not blowing from the old to the new world, but in the opposite direction; that towards the end of the nineteenth century those forces which in England pushed the labor movement early on into reformist paths and in the USA did not allow a comparable movement to emerge in the first place now also became effective on the European continent.

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