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Friday, January 04, 2008

The geneology of contrarianism

Marx’s journalism has suffered a shabby fate – it has not, to my knowledge, been fully collected. One of the nice things about the german site that hosts all of Marx and Engels work is that it is collected there. But in German, translated from the English. It should be collected in English. The man was the godfather of a certain kind of journalism, plus of course there is Marx’s wasplike gift of sting. Marx may have learned from Heine that a pun or an allusion to Shakespeare could leave a lasting burn on the skin of the Beast, but the way he worked this out, the way he would paste up a mosaic of facts and quotes from the newspapers of the time to display the full pattern and palimpset of the oppressor class foreshadowed all the great journalists of the twentieth century. Kraus may not have read him, but he employs the same techniques. So does Tucholsky.

In 1861, when Marx wrote “The American Question in England”, the British establishment, under the spell of “chivalry” as a chaser to imperial power and money, was engaged in the shabby business of support the Confederates on – of course – a strictly moral basis. This support had two aspects: one was the class aspect, and one was financial. As a class, the bourgeoisie, by this time, had gone beyond the old fights with the landholders, the old philanthropic enthusiasm for banning the slave trade. At this point, beyond its function as a wealthmaking potential colony, the South’s whole plantation system had already begun to exert a romantic vacationer’s allure.

Marx, of course, brings the buzz saw to the pleasure dome. What makes this particular article relevant is the way it shows the peekaboo structure of the establishment journalist’s ethos. As they do today, journalists then were happy to live on the surface and stenograph the conventional wisdom of the powerful; however, sometimes they seemed to display flashes of impressive analysis, as though they had up and resolved to dig deep and confront the old mole of history itself, in one of its moleways. Of course, those flashes – nowadays we would call this “contrarianism” – always seem to end up at the same place that the stenography work gets us to: as a bulwark of greed, lust for power, and apology for the politics of an inbred and narcissistic governing class.

Marx’s analysis of the dynamic between the North and the South, and the way it is treated in 1861 by the liberal (as in classically liberal) British press is an amazing work of compression and analysis. As Marx observes, the objections to the North’s hypocrisy and illegitimacy by the British press hide the true intentions of the press under the cover of a Pecksniffish display of moral authenticity. The article is occasioned by a pamphlet addressed to the British on the part of the Union by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The pamphlet was tossed around and given the kind of contrarian treatment by the British press in much the way, say, that the NYT, the Washington Post, and Slate treat Michael Moore’s work: as both wrong wrong wrong and tediously filled with things that are right right right – but the latter being things that we all knew, after all. We all knew them so well that we just didn’t bother to report them. They were known by everybody who counted in D.C., that is. Like: we all knew that the WMDs were just an excuse to invade a country the White House had decided from the very beginning that it was going to invade.

This elitist trifling, this overt intellectual corruption to which the knowing smirk stands in the same relation as the does the buboe to the black plague, has a long and dishonorable history. Marx and Henry Adams were both encountering it, in their different ways, in 1861. Here’s a lengthy excerpt:

We come nearer to the pith of the question by the following remark of The Examiner:

“Mrs. Stowe says: ‘The Slave party, finding they could no longer use the Union for their purposes, resolved to destroy it.’ There is here an admission that up to that time the Slave party had used the Union for their purposes, and it would have been well if Mrs. Stowe could have distinctly shown where it was that the North began to make its stand against Slavery.”

One might suppose that The Examiner and the other oracles of public opinion in England had made themselves sufficiently familiar with the contemporaneous history to not need Mrs. Stowe’s information on such all-important points. The progressive abuse of the Union by the slave power, working through its alliance with the Northern Democratic party, is, so to say, the general formula of the United States history since the beginning of this century. The successive compromise measures mark the successive degrees of the encroachment by which the Union became more and more transformed into the slave of the slave-owner. Each of these compromises denotes a new encroachment of the South, a new concession of the North. At the same time none of the successive victories of the South was carried but after a hot contest with an antagonistic force in the North, appearing under different party names with different watchwords and under different colors. If the positive and final result of each single contest told in favor of the South, the attentive observer of history could not but see that every new advance of the slave power was a step forward to its ultimate defeat. Even at the times of the Missouri Compromise the contending forces were so evenly balanced that Jefferson, as we see from his memoirs, apprehended the Union to be in danger of splitting on that deadly antagonism. The encroachments of the slaveholding power reached their maximum point, when, by the Kansas-Nebraska bill, for the first time in the history of the United States, as Mr. Douglas himself confessed, every legal barrier to the diffusion of Slavery within the United States territories was broken down, when, afterward, a Northern candidate bought his Presidential nomination by pledging the Union to conquer or purchase in Cuba a new field of dominion for the slaveholder; when, later on, by the Dred Scott decision, diffusion of Slavery by the Federal power was proclaimed as the law of the American Constitution, and lastly, when the African slave-trade was de facto reopened on a larger scale than during the times of its legal existence. But, concurrently with this climax of Southern encroachments, carried by the connivance of the Northern Democratic party, there were unmistakable signs of Northern antagonistic agencies having gathered such strength as must soon turn the balance of power. The Kansas war, the formation of the Republican party, and the large vote cast for Mr. Frémont during the Presidential election of 1856, were so many palpable proofs that the North had accumulated sufficient energies to rectify the aberrations which United States history, under the slaveowners’ pressure, had undergone, for half a century, and to make it return to the true principles of its development. Apart from those political phenomena, there was one broad statistical and economical fact indicating that the abuse of the Federal Union by the slave interest had approached the point from which it would have to recede forcibly… That fact was the growth of the North-West, the immense strides its population had made from 1850 to 1860, and the new and reinvigorating influence it could not but bear on the destinies of the United States.
Now, was all this a secret chapter of history? Was “the admission” of Mrs. Beecher Stowe wanted to reveal to The Examiner and the other political illuminati of the London press the carefully hidden truth that “up to that time the Slave party had used the Union for their purposes?” Is it the fault of the American North that the English pressmen were taken quite unawares by the violent clash of the antagonistic forces, the friction of which was the moving power of its history for half a century? Is it the fault of the Americans that the English press mistake for the fanciful crotchet hatched in a single day what was in reality the matured result of long years of struggle? The very fact that the formation and the progress of the Republican party in America have hardly been noticed by the London press, speaks volumes as to the hollowness of its Anti-Slavery tirades. Take, for instance, the two antipodes of the London press, The London Times and Reynolds’s Weekly Newspaper, the one the great organ of the respectable classes, and the other the only remaining organ of the working class. The former, not long before Mr. Buchanan’s career drew to an end, published an elaborate apology for his Administration and a defamatory libel against the Republican movement. Reynolds, on his part, was, during Mr. Buchanan’s stay at London, one of his minions, and since that time never missed an occasion to write him up and to write his adversaries down. How did it come to pass that the Republican party, whose platform was drawn up on the avowed antagonism to the encroachments of the Slaveocracy and the abuse of the Union by the slave interest, carried the day in the North? How, in the second instance, did it come to pass that the great bulk of the Northern Democratic party, flinging aside its old connexions with the leaders of Slaveocracy, setting at naught its traditions of half a century, sacrificing great commercial interests and greater political prejudices, rushed to the support of the present Republican Administration and offered it men and money with an unsparing hand?

Instead of answering these questions The Economist exclaims:

“Can we forget [...] that Abolitionists have habitually been as ferociously persecuted and maltreated in the North and West as in the South? Can it be denied that the testiness and half-heartedness, not to say insincerity, of the Government at Washington, have for years supplied the chief impediment which has thwarted our efforts for the effectual suppression of the slave trade on the coast of Africa; while a vast proportion of the clippers actually engaged in that trade have been built with Northern capital, owned by Northern merchants and manned by Northern seamen?”

This is, in fact, a masterly piece of logic. Anti-Slavery England cannot sympathize with the North breaking down the withering influence of slaveocracy, because she cannot forget that the North, while bound by that influence, supported the slave-trade, mobbed the Abolitionists, and had its Democratic institutions tainted by the slavedriver’s prejudices. She cannot sympathize with Mr. Lincoln’s Administration, because she had to find fault with Mr. Buchanan’s Administration. She must needs sullenly cavil at the present movement of the Northern resurrection, cheer up the Northern sympathizers with the slave-trade, branded in the Republican platform, and coquet with the Southern slaveocracy, setting up an empire of its own, because she cannot forget that the North of yesterday was not the North of to-day. The necessity of justifying its attitude by such pettifogging Old Bailey pleas proves more than anything else that the anti-Northern part of the English press is instigated by hidden motives, too mean and dastardly to be openly avowed.”

Pettifogging Old Bailey pleas have bloomed into a veritable system since Marx's day. We now have to put up with the apparatchiks of contrarianism, the misshaped avatars of inside information, working day after day to close off and erase any possibility of a serious discussion of the power elite, tirelessly in pursuit of the trivial, the apes of the Petro-Gun club. During elections is when you see these apes most at work...

B.. b… but LI was going to segue from this long Marx sequence into the Iowa caucuses. Huh, well, this post is long enough as it is.

16 comments:

northanger said...

hmm............
AZ 142 = THE GENEOLOGY OF CONTRARIANISM = A LONG TIME AGO IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY... = BOOK OF OVERTHROWING APOPHIS = HOLD THE LINE, LOVE ISN'T ALWAYS ON TIME = KNIGHTS CAN JUMP OVER OTHER PIECES = LEGIONS LOSE LESS-INTERESTING LIVES = ONE OF THE PRINCIPAL FINDINGS = REBORN ILLUMINATED IN THE LIGHT = THE HERBIG-HARO KNOTS OF ORION.

roger said...

North! Your astromagnificence is back! I've noticed on your site that you have orbited the earth and gone to the odder manifolds of the universe since I last heard from you - but did you have a nice Christmas?

northanger said...

AZ 112 = HOLD THE MAYO, HOLD THE LINE= BRÍATHAROGAM MORAINN MAC MOÍN = ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS (AZ-59 PELAGIC ZONE) = FANTASIES OF BEAUTY AND THE OLD BEAST = GREEN MONKEY MIX PROJECT = IT OPENED ITS GATE BEFORE ME = NEXUS OF NECESSARY DECISIONS = OLYMPIAN SCHEME OF THINGS (AZ-30 NEMESIS) = PATRON GODDESS OF ZETA TAU ALPHA (AZ-29 THEMIS) = PEPPERED MOTH EVOLUTION = PORTRAIT OF JOE GOULD (1933) (p33, Wet: On Painting, Feminism, and Art Culture, Mira Schor) = SECRET OGHAM OF WARRIORS (RUNOGAM NA FIAN).

the odder manifolds of the universe? oh, so that's where went. thanks for the you-are-here.

i had a nice christmas, did you?

northanger said...

AZ 62 = RUNOGAM NA FIAN = 23 SAS REGIMENT = NEMESIS-FORTUNA = OGAM-MARKED ROD = OLD IRONSIDES = POLARSPHAIRA = THE SUNLIT ZONE (AZ-56 EPIPELAGIC) = THREE IMPULSES (AZ-71 UPPER LEVEL SYSTEM, AZ-294).

roger said...

My xmas did not, alas, veer towards the Saturnalian. Unless it is Saturnalian to put together a dueling hippos game for a four year old. But it was alright.

But what is this re-animation of Toto stuff? I had so happily forgotten Love isn't always on Time. Among the things the mind grabs from the air like a monkey, that thing was buried under, oh, Rupert Holmes, Abba, and every song on the American Psycho soundtrack. I sorta liked it that way!

northanger said...

you would've gotten different results if you did A instead of O. gigo.

roger said...

Into the infundibulum of seventies bands you have briefly evoked, I summon Chic to trump all doubled voweled groups, hold the line, the mayo, the pickles or whatever as they may. And here's a nice little post about this group.

northanger said...

AZ 128 = CHRONO-SYNCLASTIC INFUNDIBULUM (any detailed description of this phenomenon would baffle the layman, but any comprehensible explanation would insult an expert) = CONWAY CHAINED ARROW NOTATION (AZ-23 CHIC → AZ-87 CHIC LIVE AT THE BUDOKKAN → AZ-25 BUDOKKAN → AZ-71 DID YOU MEAN: BUDOKAN? → AZ-88 GOOGLE:MISSPELLING → AZ121 ORIGIN OF THE NAME "GOOGLE" (fifth link; 1 - 10 of about 2,290,000) → AZ-56 GOOGOLPLEX) = GATES COMPUTER SCIENCE BUILDING (AZ-121 ORIGIN OF THE NAME "GOOGLE") = GRABBED THE PRODUCTION REINS (AZ-23 CHIC) = JAMES WOOD AND LI'S REVIEWER ENVY = PHI BETA SIGMA FRATERNITY, INC. (AZ-128 CONWAY CHAINED ARROW NOTATION → AZ-39 BUSY BEAVER → AZ-27 SIGMA(N) → AZ-22 SIGMA) = THE LOCKMAN RUNS BEFORE THE KING = TONIGHT IT STARTS HERE IN IOWA (Mike Huckabee on 03-Jan-2008 @ Iowa Caucus).

AZ 79 = GODDAMN WHITE DICKS = 2008 ASTROSCHYZY = ABSTRACT ELASTIC MATERIAL (AZ-44 OUTSIDE IN) = BIRCH-ALDER LETTER = DICHEDUL DO CENNAIB = EXPRESSED COMPACTLY (AZ-56 GOOGOLPLEX) = INFALLIBLE SPELLER (AZ-121 ORIGIN OF THE NAME "GOOGLE") = INTERVENTION PACT (Instant :: Intervention Pact is white. The next time a source of your choice would deal damage to you this turn, prevent that damage. You gain life equal to the damage prevented this way. At the beginning of your next upkeep, pay {1}{W}{W}. If you don't, you lose the game; Set: Future Sight; Number: 8; P/T: None; Color: White; Cost: {0}; Artist: Dave Kendall) = MILLENNIAL LIBERAL (AZ-46 BONGO BONG) = NINE TIMES BEAUTIFUL (AZ-86 FEDELM NOÍCHROTHACH) = OBSERVABLE UNIVERSE (AZ-35 GOOGOL) = OGAM BEITH LUIS NIN = PARASITIC GROWTH = PELETIER LONG SCALE (AZ-35 GOOGOL) = POET OF THE SONS OF MÍL (AZ-77 ROIGNE ROSCADACH) = ROSEBUD, FABERGÉ EGG (Wikipedia @ 05-Dec-2007 Did You Know… that Emperor Nicholas II of Russia was billed 3,250 rubles for Rosebud, the first Fabergé egg he presented to his empress consort Alexandra Fyodorovna?) = SPHERE EVERSION = SWORN ANTIQUARIES = SYNCOPATED RHYTHM (AZ-46 BONGO BONG) = TESTS OF AUTHENTICITY (AZ-131 CONVERSING WITH ANGELS & ANCIENTS) = THE SIGMA PROTOCOL (AZ-128 CONWAY CHAINED ARROW NOTATION → AZ-39 BUSY BEAVER → AZ-27 SIGMA(N) → AZ-22 SIGMA) = VENSER'S DIFFUSION (Instant :: Return target nonland permanent or suspended card to its owner's hand. "Each reality is but the dream of another, and each sleeper a god unknowing"; Set: Future Sight; Number: 47; P/T: None; Color: Blue; Cost: {2}{B}; Artist: Hideaki Takamura) = VIDE HUMBOLDT'S GIFT.

northanger said...

AZ 64 = ROGER GATHMAN = ACKERMANN NUMBERS (AZ-56 GOOGOLPLEX) = BERNARD EDWARDS (AZ-23 CHIC) = GOOGOL ZEROS = HORSESHOE CRAB (Creature—Crab :: {B}: Untap Horseshoe Crab. "Hmm . . . It looks kinda like a bug. Let's crack it open an' see if it tastes like one!" —Squee, goblin cabin hand; Set: Tenth Edition; Number: 87; P/T: 1/3; Color: Blue; Cost: {2}{B}; Artist: Scott Kirschner) = PURE MATHEMATICS (AZ-56 GOOGOLPLEX) = THE CHANGE RULE (...the rule is, the more times you use the word change, that's actually how much change you will bring to the United States. It's actually a rule; Jeffrey Toobin, AC360º @ 04-Jan-2008).

AZ 153 = LET'S CRACK IT OPEN AN' SEE IF IT TASTES LIKE ONE! (AZ-64 HORSESHOE CRAB) = THE KNIGHT OF THE CROSS AND OF THE ROSE = WHERE A HOLE IS MADE, WHERE A STONE IS PUT.

AZ 159 = VAMOS ABRIR E DESCOBRIR SE O GOSTO É O MESMO! = 5150 (INVOLUNTARY PSYCHIATRIC HOLD) = CUT IN TWO ACROSS ONE CAN SEE A PENTAGRAM IN IT = SENIOR ADVISOR ON POLICY AND STRATEGY = SHOW OF MARCH 15, 1999 - PLEDGE DRIVE SHOW = THE CLASSIC SO-CALLED MISSIONARY POSITION.

P.M.Lawrence said...

A minor matter first. "Black plague" is a US neologism, confusing the historically specific Black Death with the more generic Plague. And did Marx really write "the London Times"? There's no such newspaper, it's the Times tout court, and cannot be confused with its sincere flattery imitators like the Times of India or the New York Times if they only stuck with their true names without any passing off. This internal evidence suggests that the excerpt has been edited for US audiences, which raises the question of what other, more material editing has occurred. (Or was that an artefact of being translated into and out of German?)

A major point is, though, that "preserving the Union" without abolition was the avowed Unionist objective, and that there was actually hypocrisy involved there on the part of those with that as a hidden agenda. In fact, abolitionism countenanced undercutting the Union, as shown by nullification style developments in Wisconsin after an incident at Racine.

You might like to read Trollope on North America; he, like Marx, brings out the distinction between the industrial northern states and the agrarian northwest (or "west", in Trollope - he even describes how that was still largely not a cash economy). It isn't widely appeciated now that the "north" was a coalion of two sections, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that intelligent observers knew this at the time.

P.M.Lawrence said...

Drat, finger trouble. For "coalion" read "coalition" throughout.

roger said...

I imagine Marx, writing for the New York Herald Tribune, called it The London Times as a convenience. As far as I can tell - I should look this up - the articles were written in English. You know, the international radical krewe was quite cavalier about the languages they wrote in. Herzen's first great work was dictated in German, Von aendern Ufer, and others of his works, and Bakunin's, were in French.

As for the abolitionists - well, of course there was hypocrisy there, but it wasn't the kind of hypocrisy that was at issue in 1861. The British Liberal establishment had not, up until then, to my knowledge, been all about supporting William Lloyd Garrison. And the abolitionists, god bless em, made their case self-limiting by advocating repeal of the Union, so it wasn't like the North was dallying with separatists. Notice, there was no official abolitionist party of any significance in the North in 1860. John Brown, in his letters before he made his attack, noticed the spirit of compromise abroad and was grieved by the moderation being displayed by his abolitionist friends - one of the reasons for the attack was to rekindle the old radical spirit, which had rather dwindled as Kansas came on line as a non-slave state.

Chuckie K said...

Roger, do you mean that Marx' journalism has not been collected separately? Or not onilne?

While the German Marx Engels Werke translates any works in English or French into German, the English Marx Engels Works uses the original publication. I haven't double checked the articles from the 50s and 60s you mention, but I have vol. 6 at hand, and Engel's The State of Germany, published in The Northern Star in 1846, has the end note 'Reprinted from the newspaper.' As I recall from the prefaces from the Werke, they seem to have aimed to include all verifiable articles and included those pieces of dubious attribution in the appendices. So at least readers with access to a research library should be able to readily find a fairly complete selection of Marx (and Engels) journalism.

Chuckie K said...

The Marx Engels Gesamtausgabe, on contrast to the collected works, publishes each piece in its original. Just for a laugh, I took a look at the current state of progress. You would be able to find all the journalism through 1855. but after that, only about half of the Abteilung containg the journalism is complete. I suppose, we should not hold our breath.

roger said...

Mr. C.d. - An e-mail correspondent told me the same thing.

What I wish is not so much that the infamously arrested edition of Marx and Engels GW go forward - I just wish some bright press printed all of the English language journalism of the two. You'll notice, Marxist.org has put up about a tenth of the journalism on line. And looking through past English collections, the journalism is always collected very selectively. Like, let's throw out the stuff about the Habsburg empire. NO! The deal is, articles that might have seemed boring ten years ago - such as Marx on the cold war between the British and the Persians over Afghanistan - seem pretty hot today. Supposedly, according to Charles Dana, the editor at the New York Herald Tribune, Marx's column was extremely popular and highly regarded, back there in the 1850s and 1860s.

Chuckie K said...

So now I suppose I have to start to scan, to beg for copyright clearance and to save for a server.

The journalism does becomes unexpectedly relevant. Have your ever checked out LeftWord, a press associated with the Indian CPI(M). They recently published one of those thematic anthologies on M&E on India. The question of transition to capital gaining neoliberal relevance.

But lots of all kinds of the writing suddenly become relevant. Before the holidays, a blog discussion sent back to review the Gewaltfrage. But in addition to the questions of force and leadership, I found a discussion of 'international' migration of workers' within the then ununified Germany as a force dissolving the old territories and boundaries. A very pertinent topic and they try to shore up the southern boundary with fences.