Marx in Texas: Time for a Counterfactual History?

Did you know that Karl Marx considered immigrating to Texas? His brother-in-law did, settling in the tiny town of Sisterdale (current population: 110) as did thousands of other Germans, many of them political progressives, and, in 1843, five years before writing The Communist Manifesto, Marx himself went so far as to apply to the mayor of his hometown to request permission to move. He instead headed to Paris where he began a study of political economy that would ultimately result in Capital. 


Above, Marx in Texas, as imagined by poor photoshop skills. 

It’s fun to imagine what might have happened had Marx joined the ranks of the many other Germans who came to Texas. They arrived when it was a Mexican state and kept coming for a long time. They rose to power in Texas government, established the nation’s first kindergartens, created communes, and often supported the Union in the Civil War because of their anti-slavery sentiments. German Texans were massacred by Confederate forces as they attempted to flee to Mexico at the Massacre of Nueces, and many of those who survived later joined the Loyal League, a pro-Union group, in New Orleans.

The possibility of Marx as a Texan deserves to be remembered because it’s a reminder that the land of Ted Cruz  hasn’t always been and isn’t today fully rightwing. It’s the home of Jim Hightower and where Berkley Breathed got his start as a cartoonist; these are people who have imagined different worlds for us. Still, as Michael Ennis wrote in an article about German Texans for Texas Monthly,

[S]uch radicalism was far more easily assimilated on the actual frontier than it could ever be in the fantasy frontier inhabited by so many of today’s Texans.

That was in 2015, right before Texans voted for Trump over Clinton by 9%. But two years later, Beto O’Rourke lost to incumbent Ted Cruz by less than 3% of the vote. Beto O’Rourke is no socialist; he’s not even a progressive. But Julián Castro might be.

If Texas sends a progressive to the White House, it might seem like a miracle, but maybe it’s the ending we might have had if Marx had come a century and a half ago.


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