Did Marx call for the extermination of ethnic minorities?

The whole idea that Karl Marx called ethnic minorities “racial trash” and that he wanted to exterminate them (i.e. Scottish Highlanders, Bretons, Basques, South Slavs, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs and Czechs) comes from a book titled “Politics and Literature in Modern Britain” and an article in the “Encounter” by literary historian George Watson; published in 1977 and 1984 respectively. Also, in the film “The Soviet Story” Watson is the voice behind the phrase: “[Karl Marx was] the ancestor of the modern political genocide”. This is a popular extract from Watson’s work that can be found on the internet:
In the January and February 1849 issues of his journal ‘Neue Rheinische Zeitung’, Karl Marx published articles calling for the extermination of whole races in Europe. These articles were included in a book of the teachings of Marx, Engels and Lenin published in Germany during 1902 and again in 1913. It is most likely that Engels wrote them. This socialist programme considered the Slav nations to be ‘counter-revolutionary’. The Germans, Poles and Magyars (Hungarians) were considered to be ‘the bearers of progress’. The rest must go:

“The chief mission of all other races and peoples, large and small, is to perish in the revolutionary holocaust”.


It was explained that the Slavs had failed to pursue essential historic evolution, so were therefore counter-revolutionary. All European countries contain ‘left-overs of earlier inhabitants’, now rightly brought into subjugation by more advanced peoples. Amongst such ‘racial trash’ (Voekerabfall) were listed Scottish Highlanders, Bretons, Basques, South Slavs (Slovenes, Croats, Serbs) and Czechs.

“Until its complete extermination or loss of national status, this racial trash always becomes the most fanatical bearer there is of counter-revolution, and it remains that. That is because its entire existence is nothing more than a protest against a great historical revolution. … The next world war will cause not only reactionary classes and dynasties, but also entire reactionary peoples, to disappear from the earth. And that too is progress”.


As Marx and Engels aged, they took greater interest in Eugenics and Social Darwinism suggesting that progress was interpretable in racial terms.


For what I found, the article to which Watson is referring to is titled ‘The Magyar Struggle’, and was published in number 194 of the ‘Neue Rheinische Zeitung’ journal on the 13 of January 1849 (which can be found in full at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1849/01/13.htm). By reading this article you can clearly see that the main problem with Watson's theory, is that Marx did not write that article, Engels did; a huge mistake for an unbiased literary historian (though he latter admits the possibility that Engels, and not Marx, wrote it).

Then we have Watson’s claim that Marx (Engels in any case) called for the extermination of whole races in Europe. Of course, if we pick and chose phrases from the article and take them out of context, then it does look like Engels (not Marx) wanted to get rid of other ethnic minorities (and not races). But if we read the whole article, it seems clear that Engels was talking about them in the context of the European Revolution of 1848, on the role that some ethnic minorities played in previous conflicts (as fanatical standard-bearers of counter-revolution and supporters of European monarchies), and on them being taken into account in any future revolution; and not because they were from an ethnic minority or from a different race (as Watson suggests).

Then we also have the issue of the "Völkerabfälle", which by the way does not mean “racial trash”, it literally translates as “residual fragments of people” (and this is how it's translated in the English version of the “The Magyar Struggle” article). This term was not used by Marx (as he didn’t write the article in the first place), and it was neither from Engels; it was from Hegel, as Engels explains in the article.

Therefore, it looks to me like the answer to the question on the title of this post is: Absolutely not. This rumour is no more than false anti-communist propaganda and a deliberate and malicious attempt to demonise Karl Mark. As Latvian political scientist and cultural commentator Ivars Ījabs explained: “To present Karl Marx as the progenitor of modern genocide is simply to lie”.

11 comments:

  1. Let's ignore the accusation regarding "Völkerabfälle", and instead look at the result of every "successful" Marxist revolution throughout history to be our guide for what Marxism in application looks like. You will find mass executions are in EVERY CASE of "successful" Marxist revolution without exception.

    If we are to assume that mass murder is not an inherent part of Marxism, then it is a remarkable coincidence that so many people across so many nations, and so many decades just happened to "misread Marx" in exactly the same way.

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    1. Perfect analysis and comment.

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  2. Ahhhhh....so its the archthinker of Marxism- never let revisionism get in the way of genocide.

    But what of the Jews....Marx had some strong views on them:

    "What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? "Money.…. Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist. Money degrades all the gods of man – and turns them into commodities…. The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jew. His god is only an illusory bill of exchange…. The chimerical nationality of the Jew is the nationality of the merchant, of the man of money in general."

    Karl Marx "On the Jewish Question" 1884

    Funny how modern leftist rant about the "zionist" conspiracy at a drop of a hat.

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  3. Ivan

    A typical communist liar. Here is what Engels exactly said:

    "The general war which will then break out will smash this Slav Sonderbund and wipe out all these petty hidebound nations, down to their very names.
    The next world war will result in the disappearance from the face of the earth not only of reactionary classes and dynasties, but also of entire reactionary peoples. And that, too, is a step forward."

    It's pretty obvious that Engels is talking about genocide in the future. And he admires this genocide. A genocide against nations and a genocide against whole classes of people. And you say that Marx has nothing to do with that?! You are ridiculous.

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    1. It seems to me that in his view of the material interpretation of history, history was a struggle between the classes. Slaves v. free people; Servants v. Nobility; and Proletarians againt the Bourgeosie. In the Marxist view of history, the struggle was about the empowering of the proletarians, an this in a Internationalist way. "Workers of the World unite!" In this interpretation, those peoples that are fighting for ethnic, nationalistic or any other kind of excluding identity - nations are not only built within a group, but also against the others, excluding itself from a broather group - are in another moment of history, and thus reactionary to the revolutionary ideas, especially internationalism. I don't think genocide is what it's defended here, but rather the voidness of their struggle who instead of focusing on human/workers conditions was focused on exclusive identities, within which this material concerns were ignored.

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    2. "The general war which will then break out will smash this Slav Sonderbund and wipe out all these petty hidebound nations, down to their very names."

      How can the idea of "smashing Slavs" and "wiping out petty, hidebound nations" not be murderous?

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  4. Actually, Marx was writing in accordance with the liberal bourgeois notions of Progress at the time. You will find people like Manzini or Mill advocating "similar" (I'll elaborate) measures.

    It was the early form (liberal) of nationalism, that is 'the principle of nationality'. This had very little to do with ethnic nationalism as exists today (even in 1920's, people in rural Poland responded to questions of nationality with: "I'm from around here").
    People like Palacky, Manzini, etc. were all very fond of imagining a Europe filled with 10-20 "nations" (with no thought given to ethnic boundaries) of a "sufficient size to be progressive".

    Not to mention that when Marx was talking about this, he was talking about the 1848 revolutions mainly levied against the EMPIRES, not capitalism. It was the radical democrats (in Hungray the lesser gentry, disgusted by the wealthier gentry's compromises with the Habsburg's) that spearheaded the revolution in Hungary (the only even remotely successful rev. in 1848.).
    http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1849/01/13.htm
    "The important Galician elders and army commanders, ... betrayed Poland to Austria and became the most loyal supports of the Habsburg dynasty, which in return guaranteed them their possessions against attacks from the lower nobility and burghers."

    The fact is; what Marx had in mind when he did call for "annihilation" (depends on the translation) of "counterrevolutionary" (NOT anti-communist, but anti-liberal, or radical democratic rev.'s) nations, he wasn't calling for their extermination. But their incorporation into some large state which would then produce a nation.

    This seems ... weird, from the modern perspective. But it was actually a very common idea at the time. Italians for example: 1860's only 2 percent spoke "Italian" (so much so that when teachers from Piedmont came to Sicily, the Sicilians thought these were Englishmen). So (the name escapes me), a high ranking Italian unification fighter says: "Now that we have Italy we have to make Italians".

    We are used to thinking of nations as everexisting polities, but in truth (and modern scholarship on nationalism points this out), they are "imagined communities". A myth created of necessity by modern states since the French revolution invented Total War. Nationalism (much like fundamental Islam) was very consciously CREATED and serves a mobilisationary purpose.

    However: this was not the prevalent understanding before advent of mass politics (say: 1860-1870's).


    Another matter is the "Jews" thing: first off, the "On Jewish Question" is actually written in defence of Jewish rights as equal citizens.
    He first equates "judaism" with "capitalism" (the bourgeois society: money making, financial system) then he says that Christians have become "practical Jews"... THEN he says that we must end ("practical") Judaism, i.e. the bourgeois society and it's culture. (including "Christian's-turned-jews" - jews being a metaphore).

    This may seem like an apology: but you forget that Marx believes that culture is an outgrowth of the system of economic production. So if Jews are "bad" (hucksters), it's because of the economic order they lived in: economic order that "Christians live in today!" (which is why he says they "turned Jewish").

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  5. Ivan

    This does not seem like an apology. It IS an apology. This brings more color to the liar face of communists. Because it seems that only they are able to explain that Engels actually was talking
    for peaceful, humane disappearance of whole nations during ... world war. HAHAHA

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  6. The lies around Internet that Engels was racist is simply bullshit.

    In this letter to Ion Nadejde, dated 1888, Engels CLEARLY was NOT racist against reactionary "Voelkerabfaelle":

    "Since Russia enjoys a virtually impregnable strategic position, Russian Tsarism forms the nub of that alliance, great repository of all European reaction. To topple Tsarism, to destroy that incubus which lies heavy on the whole of Europe, such, in my eyes, is the first condition for the emancipation of the nationalities of central and eastern Europe. Once Tsarism has been crushed, the nefarious power represented today by Bismarck will in turn crumble. Austria will fall to pieces, having lost its only raison d’etre, that of preventing by its very existence the annexation by conquering Tsarism of the scattered nations in the Carpathians and the Balkans. Poland will be reborn, Little Russia will be free to choose its political position, the Romanians, the Magyars and the South Slavs will be able to settle their own affairs and their new boundaries amongst themselves, unhampered by any foreign meddling and, finally, the noble nation of Great Russia, no longer engaged in pursuing chimerical conquest for the benefit of Tsarism, will be free to carry out its true civilising mission in Asia and to develop its vast intellectual resources in exchanges with the West, instead of squandering the best of its blood on the scaffold or in the katorga."

    He only threatened the pospect of a "revolutionary world storm" upon ethnicities (South Slavs in this case) which took reactionary side, Austria and Russia, which had been hell-bent on suppressing Polish and Magyar liberal-nationalistic revolutionariess and were using South Slavs.

    His main target was Russian Tsarism and Austrian reaction.

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  7. Can anybody say Engels is racist?

    "Little Russia (Ruthenians, as Engels called the inhabitants there earlier) will be free to choose its political position, the Romanians, the Magyars and the South Slavs will be able to settle their own affairs and their new boundaries amongst themselves, unhampered by any foreign meddling"

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  8. who cares anyway, there's been a lot of writing on any sort of communist political project since the 19th century. Capital isn't some sort of holy book :-/

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