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Saturday, 25 February 2012

Marx on Germans in the USA

I went on board a big frigate the deck of which was full of emigrants who stood watching the “yawl” being hauled up. A yawl here is any boat which has a keel and is therefore suitable for service at sea. The people were still cheerful; they had not yet trodden the last clod of their native soil. But I have seen how deeply it affects them when they really leave German soil forever, when the ship, with all its passengers on board, slowly moves from the quay into the roadstead and thence sails into the open sea. They are almost all true German faces, without falseness, with strong arms, and you need only be among them for a moment and see the cordiality with which they greet each other to realise that it is certainly not the worst elements who leave their Fatherland to settle in the land of dollars and virgin forests. The saying: stay at home and feed yourself honestly†a seems to be made for the Germans, but this is not so; people who want to feed themselves honestly go, very often at least, to America. And it is by no means always lack of food, much less greed, which drives these people into distant lands; it is the German peasant's uncertain position between serfdom and independence, it is the inherited bondage and the rules and regulations of the patrimonial courts†91 which make his food taste sour and disturb his sleep until he decides to leave his Fatherland.
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The people going over on this ship were Saxons. We went below to take a look at the inside of the ship. The saloon was most elegantly and comfortably appointed; a little square room, everything elegant, mahogany inlaid with gold, as in an aristocratic drawing-room. In front of the saloon were the berths for the passengers in small, nice little cabins; from an open door by the side we got a whiff of ham from the larder. We had to go on deck again to reach the steerage by another companion-way: “But it's terrible down there,”†b all my companions quoted when we got back. Down there lay the dregs who had not enough money to spend ninety talers on the cabin class fare, the people to whom nobody raises a hat, whose manners some here call common, others uneducated, a plebs which owns nothing, but which is the best any king can have in his realm and which alone upholds the German principle, particularly in America. It is the Germans in

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the cities who have taught the Americans their deplorable contempt for our nation. The German merchant makes it a point of honour to discard his Germanness and become a complete Yankee ape. This hybrid creature is happy if the German in him is no longer noticed, he speaks English even to his compatriots, and when he returns to Germany he acts the Yankee more than ever. English is often heard in the streets of Bremen, but it would be a great mistake to take every English speaker for a Britisher or a Yankee. The latter always speak German when they come to Germany in order to learn our difficult language; but these English speakers are invariably Germans who have been to America. It is the German peasant alone, perhaps also the craftsman in the coastal towns, who adheres with iron firmness to his national customs and language, who, separated from the Yankees by the virgin forests, the Allegheny mountains and the great rivers, is building a new, free Germany in the middle of the United States; in Kentucky, Ohio and in Western Pennsylvania only the towns are English, while everybody in the countryside speaks German. And in his new Fatherland the German has learnt new virtues without losing the old ones. The German corporative spirit has developed into one of political, free association; it presses the government daily to introduce German as the language of the courts in the German counties,†a it creates German newspapers one after another, which are all devoted to the calm, level-headed endeavour to develop existing elements of freedom, and, as the best proof of its strength, it has caused the “Native Americans”†b party to be founded which has spread through all the states and aims to hinder immigration and to make it difficult for the immigrant to acquire citizenship.†

[Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser No. 200, August 21, 1841]

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