In the course of my Marx and America research I have had the pleasure of reading a number of excellent biographies. To name but a few: Jonathan Sperber, Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life; Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist; David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. DuBois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963; and Leilah Danielson, American Gandhi: A.J. Muste and the History of Radicalism in the Twentieth Century (note: I’m excited to be on a panel at next week’s S-USIH conference with Leilah that also includes our very own Robert Greene II and Nelson Lichtenstein as commenter).
Now, I am not writing a biography of Marx, but I have come to the conclusion that the best way to tell the story of Marx in America is to examine the topic through the lens of a number of biographical snapshots that will include an eclectic and diverse mix of intellectuals and political actors.
I will begin my multi-biographical exploration with Marx himself and the first chapter will also include the stories of Marx’s German émigré collaborators such as Joseph Wedemeyer. From there, in ten or so chapters that move chronologically but that will also be structured thematically, I plan to include intellectual biographical snapshots that will include the following people:
John Reed, the globetrotting journalist famous for his vivid first-hand account of the electrifying story of Lenin and the Bolsheviks seizing power—Ten Days that Shook the World, now hailed as an American classic—whose worldview was dramatically transformed by his reckoning with Marx and the epic Gilded Age struggles between capital and labor.
W.E.B. Du Bois, easily the most important African-American intellectual of the twentieth century who is less known as one of the most innovative readers of Marx in American history, made evident in his groundbreaking Black Reconstruction in American Life (1935).
J. Edgar Hoover, longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and arguably the most vehement anticommunist in American history, who conceptualized Marx as the progenitor of modern evil.
Walt Whitman Rostow, the liberal economist who wrote a hugely influential book in 1962, The Stages of Economic Growth, that has since been viewed as an antithesis to Marx, made abundantly clear by its subtitle: A Non-Communist Manifesto.
David Harvey, the geographer who has been teaching a seminar on Capital since 1969—a seminar that is now wildly popular as a free online video—and who has arguably Marx’s most influential interpreter over the last 30 years.
These are just a few of the biographies I have in mind for the book. Instead of list out more, I would love to hear suggestions. Although I do indeed have women on the list—Emma Goldman, Claudia Jones, Ayn Rand, and Angela Davis, to name a few—I could use direction there. And although I have plenty of black Americans on the list beyond Du Bois, my current list is short on other ethnic minorities whose biographies might help us understand Marx in America. Thanks S-USIH hive mind!