Answer Old Racist Lies: This Was A Righteous War Over Slavery!


"...the only state right the Confederate founders were  interested in was the rich man’s 'right' to own slaves."

From the declaration of secession passed by South Carolina enacted for December 20, 1860 (150 years ago).

“Upon its ratification by nine States, the Constitution of the United States sprang into existence. 'The ends for which this constitution was framed are declared by itself to be `to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.’

"We affirm that these ends have been defeated and the government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non slaveholding states. Those states have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the states and recognized by the constitution; they have denounced the institution of slavery; they have permitted the establishment of abolition societies. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of slaves to leave their homes and have incited those who remain to servile insurrection. . . [and now] all the states north of the [Mason-Dixon] line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the common government, because he has declared that that `government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,’ and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.”

* * * * * * * *

 

The following piece debunks the old myth that the Southern Confederacy was created in the cause of "freedom" (in defense of "states' rights" and decentralized democracy).

For a hundred years, the official view has been that this was a "tragic war between brothers" (which obviously adopts a whites-only view). To this day, the generals of the slavocracy -- especially Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson -- are idolized within the U.S. military. And (now refracted through the modern conservative prism) the Confederate cause is depicted as a holy war against big government and federalism -- and as a precursor of the culture wars today.

 

This piece appeared on the opinion pages of  the New York Times.

Gone With the Myths

By EDWARD BALL

 

ON Dec. 20, 1860, 169 men — politicians and people of property — met in the ballroom of St. Andrew’s Hall in Charleston, S.C. After hours of debate, they issued the 158-word “Ordinance of Secession,” which repealed the consent of South Carolina to the Constitution and declared the state to be an independent country. Four days later, the same group drafted a seven-page “Declaration of the Immediate Causes,” explaining why they had decided to split the Union.

The authors of these papers flattered themselves that they’d conjured up a second American Revolution. Instead, the Secession Convention was the beginning of the Civil War, which killed some 620,000 Americans; an equivalent war today would send home more than six million body bags.

The next five years will include an all-you-can-eat special of national remembrance. Yet even after 150 years full of grief and pride and anger, we greet the sesquicentennial wondering, why did the South secede?

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  • Guest - Dialectic Sines

    I'm born and raised in the South and what the author says about how people try to spin the civil war around here is totally accurate.

    Thanks for to links to the secessionist documents that seal the deal on the true nature of regurgitated bullshit about states' rights.

  • Guest - Chuckie K

    It is also worth looking at the Confederate Constitution: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/csa_csa.asp

    From Article 1: (4) No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.

    From Article 4: (3) The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several Sates; and may permit them, at such times, and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form States to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected be Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.

    And the Cornerstone Speech: http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=76 by Alexander Stephens, first vice-president of the Confederacy, in which he reviews the ways in which the Confederate Constitution improved on the U.S. constitution: "But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution." The *immediate cause*. He was certainly one to know.

  • Guest - RW Harvey

    News Item: Protests occurred yesterday at a gala event celebrating South Carolina's succession from the Union 150 years ago. These battles over slavery, racism, states' rights, etc. are hardly done with by any atretch of the imagination.

  • Guest - Milly

    I don't think that I'd call it a "righteous war over slavery," though for the South that was certainly what it was about. I think characterizing it as "righteous" is a bit of moralization that doesn't jive with the history, in which the Union's interest in industrial consolidation, and the war as a mechanism for realizing the agenda of an ascendant Northern bourgeoisie over a dying agrarian one, are minimized and concealed. The real heroes are the Maroons and the Railroaders and the abolitionists who were mostly marginalized in terms of the direction and purpose of the war, but who during the crisis that it created were able to strike and win amazing victories for themselves.

  • Guest - Chuckie K

    "the abolitionists who were mostly marginalized in terms of the direction and purpose of the war" - Thaddeus Stephens?

  • Guest - Aunt Vic Keller

    Yankee social-patriotism at it's worst. It's shameful that such an otherwise excellent communist blog would choose to parrot the dull and mediocre "editorial" propaganda of one of the most powerful and prestigious capitalist presses of the world. (What's next, Molly Ivans on Kasama?)

    For a relatively unbiased account of the atrocities committed by the US army during the Civil War, I strongly recommend Heatwole's <i>The Burning: Sheridan's Devistation of the Shenandoah Valley</i>. The white working-class of the Sheandoah Valley was mostly anti-abolitionist, being Scotch-Irish and Pennsylvania German settlers, yet the US army still used the war as a pretense to rape, murder, steal, and ransack the Shenandoah Valley proletariat and petit-bourgeois. (And of course the Northern bourgeoisie viewed the recaptured New Afrikan slaves as commodities just as all capitalist regimes view human bodies as a commodity) This is one of many blatant examples of the relationship of naked colonialism that exists between the US imperialists on the one hand and the European-descended Appalachians and Alleghanians on the other. (1)

    Also, according to Butch Lee's <i>Jailbreak Out of History</i>, a cult-classic communist take on the US Civil War, the US Army in Georgia was as preoccupied with battling New Afrikan maroon colonies and "land pirates" and returning captured fugitive slaves to Confederate landowners as they were with suppressing the insubordination of the white Confederate bourgeoisie.

    But yes let's celebrate the Yankee victory which paved the way for industrialization and recolonization of the South and genocide and conquest of American Indians in western North America. As Rashid's <i>Defying the Tomb</i> illustrates, there are more than a few New Afrikans in the US south who still remember the 40 acres and a mule each that their ancestors were promised, and are still angry at the USA for stabbing the New Afrikan proletariat in the back during the Reconstruction era.

    The scholastic work of Helen Lewis definitively established Euro-Appalachians for one as a US internal colony alongside New Afrikans, American Indians, Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, and Hawai'ians. All that's left is for Euro-Appalachians to see themselves as among "the wretched of the Earth".

    (1) In parts of the Shenandoah Valley there is still a parasitic colonial relationship that exists between affluent Yankee immigrants on the one hand and "indigenous" Euro-Appalachians on the other. A possibly interesting example would be the creation of the Shenandoah National Park in the 1920s, in which impoverished homesteaders were forcibly expelled from the Blue Ridge Mountain to turn the area into a tourist park. (This is well documented in the book <i>Recollections: The People of the Blue Ridge Remember</i>) The Harrisonburg Daily News Record recently conducted a three-part investigation into this historical tragedy, in the second part (entitled <i>Making Amends: Not All Families Appeased By Shenandoah National Park's Overtures</i>) gives an account of a Yankee park ranger harassing and threatening to arrest an "indigenous" Euro-Appalachian for pruning a single twig from an apple tree on park grounds. Thus when analyzing Neo-Confederate attitudes among working-class Southern whites it is important to remember that southern whites have a dual identity as colonial exploiter and colonially exploited.

  • Guest - Avery Ray Colter

    Good points, but when I see that the Yankee victory "paved the way for the genocide and conquest of American Indians", I hardly think, given what occurred in Texas, and the attempts of Confederate forces to turn California into a slave state (the remnants of which one can still find in several outposts in the Golden State), that a Confederate victory would have saved the indigenous First Nations.

  • Guest - bobh

    Interesting post by Aunt Vic Keller. You seem to be flirting with the notion that the Confederacy was a lesser evil than US imperialism. Was there a way that Sherman, Sheridan and Grant could have sponsored a white rebellion against the slavocracy? And if affirming the centrality of slavery in the Civil War is social patriotism, how do you characterize neo-Confederate attitudes?

    For a very different take on the Scotch Irish in the Shenandoah valley I recently read <a href="/http://dissidentvoice.org/Jan05/Bageant0126.htm" rel="nofollow">this essay</a>. I have no idea how truthful it is, just putting it out there since it takes a very different position than what you just posted.

  • I would like represent a distinct pole within this discussion -- and engage what Milly and Aunt Vic Keller are saying (which I think has been of value).

    Milly writes:

    <blockquote>"I don’t think that I’d call it a “righteous war over slavery,” though for the South that was certainly what it was about. I think characterizing it as “righteous” is a bit of moralization that doesn’t jive with the history, in which the Union’s interest in industrial consolidation, and the war as a mechanism for realizing the agenda of an ascendant Northern bourgeoisie over a dying agrarian one, are minimized and concealed. The real heroes are the Maroons and the Railroaders and the abolitionists who were mostly marginalized in terms of the direction and purpose of the war, but who during the crisis that it created were able to strike and win amazing victories for themselves."</blockquote>

    It is true that there are forces within the broad civil war coalition who have the most affinity to our politics today -- and that these are the most radical forces among <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2009/10/16/slave-leader-fred-on-john-brown/" rel="nofollow">the slaves and abolitionists</a>.

    And it is not wrong to highlight them, and to put them forward as models. This is why I wrote popular stories on <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2009/02/07/the-slave-rebellion-of-general-nat-turner-2/" rel="nofollow">Nat Turner's rebellion</a> and on the <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2009/01/31/freedom-train-the-story-of-the-underground-railroad/" rel="nofollow">Underground railroad</a>.

    But the history of great revolutionary movements don't consist mainly (or solely) of those forces that we (as modern communists) have the closest affinities with -- and it is not until the twentieth century (really) that modern communists actual are able to <em>lead</em> the great revolutionary struggles of the people (against class society) and wrest leadership away from capitalist forces (who often over the preceding century had, in fact, led the great struggles against feudalism and slavery).

    The United States was born from an independence struggle that had remarkably little social revolution (as part of its process or program). And, as a result, half of the new country was a network of slave labor camps. Half of the ruling elite was slave owners. And the class interests of the slavocracy marked the new society in countless ways (in its mode of expansion, its foreign policy, its culture, its approach to the Native people west of the Appalachians, its tarrifs and more.)

    There was a great and righteous revolutionary war that swept away slavery -- and pushed the class interests of the slavocracy away from controlling the future developments of the U.S. Its heralding "John the Baptists" were slave rebels and John Brown.

    But the actual war was (in real life and living history) led by revolutionary leaders who were (at one level of abstraction) representatives of the northern capitalists, like Abraham Lincoln, and Ulysses S. Grant, and William Techumseh Sherman (with other revolutionaries advising and pushing from the wings, including Frederick Douglass, the great political representative of freedmen and African American slaves, and Seward plus the Radical Republicans etc.).

    I think we should uphold both those forces in history who come closes to our extreme hatred and opposition to class society (and in this case, who armed the slaves and sought 40 acres and a mule to destroy the plantation system).

    But this does not mean that we (as historical materialists) can't understand the revolutionary role of those who (in fact) led this revolution.

    And this view is a challenge to many, because it is hard for a certain kind of non-materialist identity politics to deal with the fact that (1) the end of slavery did not mainly come from slave revolt (even though slave revolt and armed ex-slaves did play and important role). (2) that the main material force crushed the slavocracy was an army of a million plus white men, backed by the whole economic and military apparatus of the northern farm-and-capitalist society (grown on stolen soil). (3) that the main leaders of this revolution were representatives of the Union who had been vacillating on abolitionism as a cause, and were always ambivalent of the idea of social equality between black and white. (4) The forces of Lincoln and Grant were not the ones who betrayed African American people, but their successors within the Northern bourgeoisie were.

    It is not "social patriotism" to recognize the historical fact that the final consolidating act of the American republic had as its central drama the abolition of African slavery. The fact that the abolition of slavery was carried out under the flag of the Union (the stars and stripes), not under John Brown's Slave Rebel flag, does not mean that we (today) should uphold what that flag has come to stand for every since. It is merely an example of Marx's point that the bourgeoisie (in its struggle against feudalism and slavery) has played (for a particular historical period) a quite dynamic and revolutionary role -- that ended up (as it could only end up ultimately) establishing a new and oppressive system -- modern industrial capitalism, imperialism and everything that comes with it (including in the U.S. context, Jim Crow sharecropping in the Deep South).

    On a final point:

    The U.S. army waged its war in a way reflecting the nature of U.S. society: it mobilized its economic strength and its population advantage. And (unable to defeat the more martial confederacy in any decisive battle) they ultimately carved up the Confederacy and destroyed its ability to continue the war (by wearing down its troop strength and destroying its railroad system). This is what marx forsaw in the piece we published earlier.

    The march by Sherman to the sea (or Sheridan's destruction of Lee's grainary in the Shenandoah valley) were the methods used to destroy a slavocracy army that the North could not otherwise defeat. It does foreshadow the American method of "total war" (that has been such a terror in the following century). It does foreshadow the methods that Sheridan then used against the Native people of the plains (because the same revolutionary army depicted in the movie "Glory," becomes the genocidal force depicted in "Dances with Wolves.")

    But it remains true (if we can be both dialectical and materialist) that Sherman's march was a great revolutionary event, to which slaves flocked by the thousands, and that left a burning swath through the heartland of the Confederacy (mobilized to keep slaves enslaved, and the North at bay).

    There is a moment in the film Glory where Morgan Freeman's armed ex-slave Union soldier character says to wide-eyed slaves (in the Sea Islands): "Yes go tell your folks, we left as slaves but we've come back fighting men. Our year of jubilee has come."

    This was a great war of liberation -- that became more clear and more radical as it dragged on.

    Aunt Vic Keller <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2010/12/20/answering-the-old-lies-that-was-a-war-over-slavery/#comment-32832" rel="nofollow">writes</a>:

    "But yes let’s celebrate the Yankee victory which paved the way for industrialization and recolonization of the South and genocide and conquest of American Indians in western North America."

    Yes that can seem counterintuitive, and even absurd. But in fact many revolutionary movements of the past "paved the way" for new forms of class society.

    But yes, let's celebrate the Yankee victory -- the liberation of African slaves, the knocking down of the ugly power structures of whipping posts and paddy rollers by armed forces.... including the Federal occupation of the South to enforce Reconstruction and the new political power by force.

    And it is not some ritual of historical "celebration" -- it is also about the present, and our own ability to understand (and build!) real, life movements for revolution change (including today around <em>our</em> extremely radical politics and values): I have always believe there is a lot we can learn from the Civil War (and the French revolution, and the German peasant wars, and Techumseh's uprising, and Haiti's revolution etc.) -- including about the importance and possibility of broad coalitions, and about how political forces change their stand under the hammer blow of events, and how it is not just us, in small brilliant communist sparks, against the whole world but a complex real life process through which liberation and change come.

  • Guest - r graves

    are there any images available of John Brown's "Slave Rebel flag"? a google image search turned up a picture of him holding a flag, but its face isn't visible.

  • Guest - Aunt Vic Keller

    <blockquote>"But this does not mean that we (as historical materialists) can’t understand the revolutionary role of those who (in fact) led this revolution."</blockquote>

    Yes, but only in a strictly strategic sense, just as we can study strategy and tactics from Machiavelli or Clausewitz. There's a difference between understanding the strategic role of a historical group, and endorsing a historical group on some sort of ethical level.


    <blockquote>
    "non-materialist identity politics"</blockquote>

    This is obviously an ad hominem attack.

    <blockquote>
    "the end of slavery did not mainly come from slave revolt (even though slave revolt and armed ex-slaves did play and important role)"</blockquote>

    No such claim was alleged, at least by myself, nor to my recollection by milly. Thus this easily qualified a strawman attack. All milly said, in so many words, is that "those forces in history who come closes to our extreme hatred and opposition to class society" should be those we heroize as historical examples at efforts towards proletarian liberation. By your reasoning, since the anarchists and Marxists who participate din the French revolution were a relatively small force in analyzing the whole of World War II, we should celebrate and exemplify Patton as a progressive historical figure. In truth as communists we should denounce the historical atrocities of all capitalist forces rather than retreating into social-patriotism.

    <blockquote>
    "that the main material force crushed the slavocracy was an army of a million plus white men, backed by the whole economic and military apparatus of the northern farm-and-capitalist society. [...] hat the main leaders of this revolution were representatives of the Union who had been vacillating on abolitionism as a cause, and were always ambivalent of the idea of social equality between black and white."</blockquote>

    Agreed. So why uphold these characters as examples of progressive historical forces?

    <blockquote>
    "The forces of Lincoln and Grant were not the ones who betrayed African American people, but their successors within the Northern bourgeoisie were."</blockquote>

    It doesn't matter, what betrayed the New Afrikan cause was the class interests of the Northern bourgeoisie, not the moral or ethical character of any specific individuals. We are not, after all, bourgeois historians, and the Marxist analysis of history is closer to Tolstoy's rejection of the "great men" method of historical interpretation.

    <blockquote>
    "It is not “social patriotism” to recognize the historical fact that the final consolidating act of the American republic had as its central drama the abolition of African slavery."</blockquote>

    No, of course not. What is social patriotism is to refer (as George Bush or Barack Obama would) to "the final consolidating act of the American republic" as a "righteous war". (Rather than identifying with specific proletarian forces that strategically allied with the American republic, such as John Brown and Harriet Tubman) You're backtracking by trying to claim you were making a purely strategic statement when in fact you clearly framed the Civil War commemoration is ethical and moral terms with the use of words such as "righteous".

    <blockquote>"does not mean that we (today) should uphold what that flag has come to stand for every since."
    </blockquote>

    Ever since? That's absurd. You yourself have just now said "the United States was born from an independence struggle that had remarkably little social revolution". Why uphold the flag at all, it's entire historical legacy, from beginning to end, rather than merely "what the flag has come to stand for ever since"? I am not interested in capitulating to reactionary protectionism and constitutionalism, and in all truth neither are you, the US was a bourgeois regime in 1850 and it's a bourgeois regime in 2010.

    "The march by Sherman to the sea (or Sheridan’s destruction of Lee’s grainary in the Shenandoah valley) were the methods used to destroy a slavocracy army that the North could not otherwise defeat."

    Yes, but it was not necessary, from a purely strategic perspectives, for Union soldiers to rape and harass female slaves. Or torture the livestock of working-class white farmers out of sheer sadistic joy. (Both of these are in Heatwole's various works on the subject)

    <blockquote>"But it remains true (if we can be both dialectical and materialist) that Sherman’s march was a great revolutionary event"
    </blockquote>

    The French revolution was also a "great revolutionary event", as was the American revolution, the emergence of fascism and Stalinist social-fascism in Europe, Dengism, the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the 80s, and so forth. There is a difference between a "great revolutionary event" and a righteous war. We are never going to rally the southern proletarian to our cause if we celebrate and accuse the atrocities of those who butchered their ancestors to protect the class-interests of the northern bourgeoisie.

    <blockquote>"This was a great war of liberation — that became more clear and more radical as it dragged on."
    </blockquote>

    Regadless the radical forces were eventually, and meticulously crushed by the northern capitalists they callobrated with, and I'm not interested in seeing that happen again.

    <blockquote>"the knocking down of the ugly power structures of whipping posts and paddy rollers by armed forces"
    </blockquote>

    As opposed to the ugly power structures of factories and industrial mines that tear workers' arms from their sockets, poison their lungs, (so they can die a slow painful death) and so forth. As a New Afrikan friend of mine once reflected, the only difference between a plantation and a modern US prison is that there were no florescent lights on the plantation.

    <blockquote>"and how it is not just us, in small brilliant communist sparks, against the whole world"
    </blockquote>

    Yes but as Reconstruction clearly indicates, the "brilliant communist sparks" will always be crushed by any bourgeois force that feels its place in the world will be crushed.

    Thanks for your thoughts, are disagreements are ultimately very minor.

  • Guest - Milly

    My disagreement here is with the intent or the method or whichever is most appropriately descriptive of an attempt to characterize something as "righteous" or not when in reality as we all know very well this was a very complex thing. Why be reductive when we can instead be honest and forthright? Lincoln was no hero just because he helmed a situation that allowed for heroism and righteousness.

    We need to look to the slaves arming of themselves, the organization of secret abolitionist networks of people <b>through the Union</b> to aid slaves, and conversely the implementation <i>and</i> enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act to asses who slaves and abolitionists themselves thought were their highest allies.

    It is an <i>ignorant</i> and <i>dishonest</i> chauvinism to be so patriotic of the Union--less about who "won" than who "lost"--and it is unhelpful when thinking about the future to think of the past in such ways.

  • I wrote:

    <blockquote>"And this view is a challenge to many, because it is hard for a certain kind of non-materialist identity politics to deal with the fact that (1) the end of slavery did not mainly come from slave revolt (even though slave revolt and armed ex-slaves did play and important role). (2) that the main material force crushed the slavocracy was an army of a million plus white men, backed by the whole economic and military apparatus of the northern farm-and-capitalist society (grown on stolen soil). (3) that the main leaders of this revolution were representatives of the Union who had been vacillating on abolitionism as a cause, and were always ambivalent of the idea of social equality between black and white. (4) The forces of Lincoln and Grant were not the ones who betrayed African American people, but their successors within the Northern bourgeoisie were."</blockquote>

    Unfortunately AVK took this as a personal attack. These remarks weren't aimed at AVK or AVK's arguments at all. When I refer to communist analysis being a "challenge to many" who have "a certain kind of non-materialist identity politics" -- I am (openly) referring to considerably larger currents engaged in such debates, not anyone specific on our site.

    There is a view that identifies liberation with affirming identity and battling for authenticity -- and sees all liberation as (necessarily) an act of self.

    The idea (the historical fact) that an army of (mainly) white men led by capitalist representatives played the key military role in liberating African American people from slavery (with numbers of freed slaves actively participating) is hard for certain ideological orientations to accept. (It was hard for the Black Nationalist currents of the 1960s to discuss -- since their slogan had become "liberation will come from a Black thing.")

    We live in a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-gender society where liberation will come from a common united movement (or it will not come at all). Our unity (and a future revolution) will emerge from common universal goals and values (not from carefully charted "intersections" of discrete and semi-hostile identities). I repeat: Universal goals and values, not narrow assertion (or invention) of identity, turf and authenticity.

    The Civil War was a revolution of many classes led by the capitalists. The slaves were a major fighting force (increasingly as the war went on, often in ways undocumented). But they were never able to initiate the war, and would not have been able to carry it forward without the Union cause. Once the slavocracy was defeated, an opening emerged through which a great activism and enthusiasm of African American people emerged -- writing the powerful history of Reconstruction and resistance that marked the last half of the 18th century.

    Life is complex like that. Even future waves of revolution (which will be hopefully socialist, not capitalist) will have that kind of complexity... in ways we can't predict, but must be prepared to see, and navigate (as we "ride the tiger.")

    I wrote:

    <blockquote>“[the Civil War] does not mean that we (today) should uphold what that flag has come to stand for every since.” </blockquote>

    AVK writes:

    <blockquote>"Ever since? That’s absurd. You yourself have just now said “the United States was born from an independence struggle that had remarkably little social revolution”. Why uphold the flag at all, it’s entire historical legacy, from beginning to end, rather than merely “what the flag has come to stand for ever since”? I am not interested in capitulating to reactionary protectionism and constitutionalism, and in all truth neither are you, the US was a bourgeois regime in 1850 and it’s a bourgeois regime in 2010."</blockquote>

    This requires some dialectics and historical materialism.

    It is not true that the "U.S. was a bourgeois regime in 1850" -- it was an independent republic divided sharply between a bourgeois market <em>and</em> a large powerful area ruled by slavocracy. The northern capitalists and the southern slave owners were different ruling classes, resting on different modes of production. The revolution of 1776 was not a particularly thorough bourgeois democratic revolution (since much of the country was left in bondage) -- and it took a second revolution to complete even the bourgeois democratic revolution. (And even that was then reversed with the betrayal of reconstruction -- leaving the bourgeois democratic tasks of equality and basic bourgeois political rights for a distant future generation).

    The U.S. in 1850 was a society with a ruling structure that was both divided and entwined -- both merchant capitalist and slave owning (with different and opposed regional centers). And (in the prewar period) the slavocracy often had ascendent power in a number of ways (within that divided power structure).

    Under President Buchanan, with the Fugitive Slave Act, with the Dred Scott decision, there was troubling signs that the norms and demands of the slaveocracy were being <em>imposed</em> on the northern and western part of the U.S.

    In that prewar period, there was a great deal of oppression in and around the U.S. (including "Indian removal" beyond the Mississippi and the conquest of Mexican lands) etc.

    But the fact is that between 1860 and 1865, the flag of the northern Union <em>was</em> the flag of a revolutionary war ( to be more precise it <em>became</em> the flag of the cause of ending slavery trhough a complex process of politics and war) -- <em>despite</em> all the sinister things it came to represent <em>after</em> that.

    The overall "historical legacy" of the U.S. government and its flag is as an expansionist settler state -- genocidal, slave-owning, imperialists. But there is an exception, in one period -- and that is the Civil War and the following period of Reconstructions(where the troops that had been formed to kill Indians and conquer Mexicans were turned against the slaveowners).

    Things in the universe do not have one simple uniform static "essence" -- all is flux and contradiction. things turn into their opposites. The nature of things is not immutable.

    From without, the U.S. was expansionist and genocidal. But the Civil War generally put all that on hold (except for the killing of the Santee Sioux). The <em>internal</em> contradictions of the U.S. settler state erupted -- and forces arose to destroy slavery (forever) and launch a quite radical experiment of political equality for African American people. (Already by 1968, Sherman, Sheridan and Custer were deployed to the Great Plains, conducting the vicious attacks on Cheyenne and Lakota people -- like the battle of Washita -- so the war on Native People reopened, even while the Federal troops in the south were still functioning as an armed restrain on the plantation owners and an armed backing of the Reconstruction governments.)
    <strong>
    On a final and related point:</strong>

    I said

    <blockquote>“that the main material force crushed the slavocracy was an army of a million plus white men, backed by the whole economic and military apparatus of the northern farm-and-capitalist society. that the main leaders of this revolution were representatives of the Union who had been vacillating on abolitionism as a cause, and were always ambivalent of the idea of social equality between black and white.”</blockquote>

    AVK writes:

    <blockquote>"Agreed. So why uphold these characters as examples of progressive historical forces?"</blockquote>

    Why? Because they <strong>are</strong> important progressive historical forces. Because it is objectively true.

    Because that is what real-life progressive historical forces look like in the mid-1800s.

    We don't actually get to invent or imagine historical figures that please us -- we get the progressive historical figures that history actually produced!

    Think about it: Grant and Sherman led an army that crushed the slaveowners, broke their armed force, burned their depots, occupied their lands, installed radical new political relations, and emancipated slaves (literally by the millions).

    Those are pretty impressive accomplishments. They are outstanding, actually.

    Milly writes:

    <blockquote>"It is an ignorant and dishonest chauvinism to be so patriotic of the Union–less about who “won” than who “lost”–and it is unhelpful when thinking about the future to think of the past in such ways."</blockquote>

    I'm not patriotic <em>at all</em> about the "Union" or the United States (then or now). But.... it is precisely about who won and who lost.

    We certainly should (as Milly) suggests know about the slaves arming themselves, and the abolitionists working <em>through the Union</em> (to form black units etc.). We should excavate that history (which lay buried and forgotten in many ways).

    But it is also about who won the war... who led that victory. Who formed and guided the broad complex real-life coalition that defeated the slavocracy.

    Life (and history) is not mainly about inventing "role models" for ourselves. It is (after all) about winning -- and learning HOW to win.

    Why <em>shouldn't</em> we uphold people like Lincoln, Grant and Sherman and their armies for what they did (even while we have other things to say about their later actions)?

    Milly writes:

    <blockquote>"Lincoln was no hero just because he helmed a situation that allowed for heroism and righteousness. "</blockquote>

    Well, i think Lincoln was a remarkable revolutionary leader because he was a remarkable revolutionary leader -- who can teach us a lot about navigating the complexity of real revolution (wars, preparations, internal dissent, capitulationist forces, internal antiwar revolt, holding together large and contentious coalitions)...

    I'm not generally someone who uses "hero" as a term -- but certainly Lincoln is one of a handful of people in human history who led a revolution of this scope to victory (while many of our other heroes let attempts at revolution that failed.)

    Put another way: There is much to learn from the slaves who armed themselves and fought. There is much to learn from the abolitionists who prepared the soil for a liberating war. But (in the actual fact) those forces did not actually lead the war (make the plans, raise the armies, direct the battles, etc). We should also learn from the people who led these coalitioins to victory.

    I'm intrigued by Milly's comment:

    <blockquote>" it is unhelpful when thinking about the future to think of the past in such ways."</blockquote>

    Please lay out more of your thinking, Milly. Why is it unhelpful?

    I find it immensely helpful to study the ways in which broad and contentious coalitions form to make revolutions, how they are held together, how they achieve military victories, how they either rely on the people (or don't). And even when they are for a revolutionary cause and with a bourgeois leadership that is quite different from our own, I feel like there is a lot to learn (and it helps me unlearn many things I need to unlearn).

    Part of the work of Lincoln, Grant and Sherman was actually <em>reconceiving</em> the U.S. military to accomplish the specific goals this war presented. Previous Federal commanders like the copperhead General McClellan or the passive General Meade were able to train troops and even win battles (Meade was the victor at Gettysburg), but <em>not</em> pursue strategic victory aggressively and systematically -- in part because of their political indifference to the cause of actual victory -- i.e. reconquest of the slave regions.

    No future socialist force would <em>mechanically</em> adopt the military forms or strategies they developed for <em>their</em> army and <em>their</em> war (150 years ago!). But can't we learn <em>much</em> from the creative process by which these men (together will Abraham Lincoln, William Seward, Fremont and even Frederick Douglass) crafted a path to victory.

    Won't any future radical change will have to have its own creative process (which will involve new discoveries, defeating old dogmas, elevating relentless new thinkers, actually defeating its enemies in the field of battle, actually building new power structures with the raw materials of the old society and more).

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    When deciding whether or not Lincoln was a hero, keep in mind he thought he was committing political suicide by signing the Emancipation Proclamation.

  • Guest - RW Harvey

    Mainstream essay about the Civil War anniversary being about racism and slavery:

    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/lets_not_spin_the_civil_war_20101226/

    Regarding Lincoln as hero, this is complex. With the prosecution of the Civil War in mind, perhaps he is. Talk to Lakotas about Lincoln's refusal to pardon 38 Lakota warriors as a gesture of Christmas/Christian forgiveness, and hang then instead, and you get a very different assessment of Lincoln's heroics.

    Here is Henry Louis Gates speaking to this complexity:

    http://www.theroot.com/views/was-lincoln-racist?page=0,0

  • Guest - Aunt Vic Keller

    I have yet to read mr. Ely's response, I anticipate the opportunity to read his eloquent thoughts and continue the debate.

    However, I must point out that there was an absurd error in my last response. I mentioned anarchists and marxists participating in the "french revolution", obviously that is garbled history. What i meant to write was the french <i>resistance</i>, i hope everyone inferred that based on the blatancy of the context and apologies for the confusion. (don't hold my "learning disabilities" against me)

    re: RW and chegitz, Lincoln also was a staunch advocate of deporting New Afrikans back to Africa (in what would be neo-colonial projects similar to Liberia and Israel) before he eventually dismissed it as impractical. Friend of the New Afrikan proletariat, or tyrannical capitalist? You decide.

    Regardless of whether or not Lincoln believed he was committing "political suicide", he needed the New Afrikan proletariat as an ally against the Southern bourgeoisie. (Or the "slaveocracy" as some in the debate have referred to it, possibly alluding to the unscientific notion that the Southern ruling class was not a bourgeoisie, however that is speculation on my part) That doesn't mean that the northern bourgeoisie had any intent of further enslaving the New Afrikan proletariat in the future, as they did.

  • Guest - Aunt Vic Keller

    And of course, going along with the point raised by RW, how do the Lakotas feel to this day every time they have to look at a massive bust of Abraham Lincoln carved into their mountain?

    Glorifying such historical figures as heroes in any sense will only alienate us from other potentially progressive elements of the working-class.

  • Guest - RW Harvey

    You are correct, AVK, about Lincoln's vision of deporting the newly freed slaves. In the essay above (#15), Gates references this but veers away from calling Lincoln out as a racist, turning instead (in the spirit of WEB Dubois) to admire the complexity of the man and his times. Perhaps compexity rather then hero is more to the point.

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    Lincoln was a member of a recolonization society in the 1840s, but there doesn't seem to be much evidence he held these views later on. There is little or no evidence he supported expulsion, however, but rather encouraging freed slaves to colonize Africa.

  • Guest - Aunt Vic Keller

    "Encouraging" freed New Afrikan slaves to colonize Africa at the expense of indigenous Africans. (As is the case in Liberia)

    "Heroism" is a subjective quality, objectively speaking Lincoln was a member of the capitalist exploiter class.

  • Guest - Aunt Vic Keller

    Not to imply that New Afrikans are not indigenous to Africa, however ethnic identity should have nothing to do with the free movement of human beings.

  • Guest - RW Harvey

    Adding to the complexity:

    From a speech Lincoln delivered in 1858 in Charleston, Ill.:

    “I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races—that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

    From Gates'essay: "Even as he was writing the Emancipation Proclamation during the summer of 1862, Lincoln was working feverishly to ship all those slaves he was about to free out of the United States. So taken was he with the concept of colonization that he invited five black men to the White House and offered them funding to found a black republic in Panama, for the slaves he was about to free. Earlier, he had advocated that the slaves be freed and shipped to Liberia or Haiti. And just one month before the Emancipation became the law of the land, in his Annual Message to Congress on Dec. 1, 1862, Lincoln proposed a constitutional amendment that would 'appropriate money, and otherwise provide, for colonizing free colored persons with their own consent, at any place or places without the United States'.”

    So, Chegitz, it was way past the 1840s when Lincoln was contemplating and organizing where to send the freed slaves.

  • RWH writes:

    <blockquote>"Regarding Lincoln as hero, this is complex. With the prosecution of the Civil War in mind, perhaps he is. Talk to Lakotas about Lincoln’s refusal to pardon 38 Lakota warriors as a gesture of Christmas/Christian forgiveness, and hang then instead, and you get a very different assessment of Lincoln’s heroics."</blockquote>

    AVK writes:

    <blockquote>"re: RW and chegitz, Lincoln also was a staunch advocate of deporting New Afrikans back to Africa (in what would be neo-colonial projects similar to Liberia and Israel) before he eventually dismissed it as impractical. Friend of the New Afrikan proletariat, or tyrannical capitalist? You decide."</blockquote>

    It is undeniable that Lincoln participated in the suppression of Native people: He was a participant (as a soldier) in the pursuit of Black Hawk's Sauk and Fox people across northern Illinois. And as president, he was involved in the suppression of the Santee Sioux and the execution of dozens of their militants.

    It is also undeniable that Lincoln, as a politician, did not campaign as a supporter of social equality between Black and white -- and that he (like a number of prominent abolitionists) was a supporter of the African colonization schemes.

    Further, lets be clear: The removal and defeat of Native people was <em>not</em> a subject on which the Confederate and Union forces disagreed. And they had unity (in the pre-war period) around the expansion of the U.S. into the west. (there were some forces who opposed the deporting of Cherokee along the trail of tears, but they were marginalized.)

    The Confederate slaveowners wanted more and more "new" land for the expansion of their slave system -- and pushed for the annexation of Texas, and new states west of the Mississippi (and even Cuba). Meanwhile the Union forces (based among Northern capitalists) were gripped by a view of "progress" and Manifest Destiny that assumed the defeat, assimilation and disappearance of Native people.

    And this is a reason why the language of "hero" does not fit right. We are talking about political figures and political forces that led major revolutionary movements -- we are not talking about taking them (or their politics) as our models or "heroes."

    And let's face it -- what happens if you approach John Brown in this way? While he was a militant fighter against slavery, wasn't he <em>also</em> an unreconstructed Old Testament prophet (with pro-capitalist, religious and patriarchal views that we could never uphold today)?

    And isn't this similarly true of many other revolutionary forces of the pre-socialist period? Oliver Cromwell is part of a movement that overthrows the monarchy and aristocracy, but his movement also invades Ireland and begins a horrific domination there. Napoleon (even after he is emperor) brings the winds of radical anti-feudal enlightenment to much of Europe -- but also tried to crush the slave revolution of Haiti.

    So I would argue that the issue is not "hero" in some simplistic way...

    But I think it is worth saying that the Union forces (and their leaders like Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, and so on) carried through a great, historic and revolutionary change: the abolition of chattel slavery in the United States. And there is much to learn from that experience.

    AVK says in regard to Lincoln, "Friend of the New Afrikan proletariat, or tyrannical capitalist? You decide."

    On one level, I find it odd that this is posed this way. Wasn't he both a liberator of African American people, and also the leader of an exploiting capitalist class? Is our view binary and simplistic?

    As for "You decide" -- what do you think the verdict of African American people was about this man whose armies crushed the slave owners?

    Are we to judge this man based on his changing utterances on social equality (and their shortcomings by modern standards)? And if so, what abolitionists meet those standards? Even who among African American people meet those standards?

    Or do we judge him by the historical fact of the building of a great political coalition, and an unprecedented army that conquered the South through dogged and bitter warfare, and ended slavery?

    Sure "you decide".... but I'm not sure why that decision would be so hard.

  • Guest - RW Harvey

    Good points, and I agree: not hero in some simplistic way. And a word of caution about the idea that modern standards cannot/should not be used to assess and analyse -- this is some thin ice, don't you think, and could virtually make every kind of belief, behavior, act, etc., that occurred prior to, say, the Enlightnement completely relative. Isn't there a difference between historicizing and contextualizing and excusing or relativizing?

    The complex reasons, forces, and currents that made the civil war a revolutionary war against slavery propelled people like Lincoln, Sherman, and Grant, etc., into objectively heroic positions, oftentimes in contradiction to their personal socio-political bleiefs (and maybe against their will or their conscious awareness); this does not necessarily make them heroes, even in the context of procecuting the civil war.

  • RWH writes:

    <blockquote>"The complex reasons, forces, and currents that made the civil war a revolutionary war against slavery propelled people like Lincoln, Sherman, and Grant, etc., into objectively heroic positions, oftentimes in contradiction to their personal socio-political bleiefs (and maybe against their will or their conscious awareness); this does not necessarily make them heroes, even in the context of procecuting the civil war."</blockquote>

    I think that what you are describing (in regard to the U.S. civil war) is universally true: that revolutionary wars draw in complex forces for complex reasons. Yes it transforms "their personal socio-political beliefs", sometimes "against their will" and propells all kinds of people into "objectively heroic positions."

    This is not a description of something unique about the U.S. civil war -- this is a description how complex changes happen, and what happens to the humans who become part of those complex changes.

    I don't believe the narrative that Lincoln was "a racist" who didn't "want" to end slavery, but was "forced" to do so to preserve his beloved "union." I think he was a radical bourgeois democrat whose sense of progress and justice was deeply offended by the enslavement of humans, and who was a brilliant political representative of a complex national coalition that was determined to drive back the slavocracy's increasingly aggressive demands, and who was startled when events allowed him become an instrument of some truly historic changes that included the end of slavery. (Eric Foner has just written a new book on Lincoln's personal racial beliefs and changes -- which i am starting.)

    RWH makes a distinction between people who rise to "objectively heroic positions" but who are not <em>made</em> into heroes by that. I'm not sure what that means.

    For example, Lincoln went through one general after another, until he could found a Grant who was willing and able to <em>pursue</em> and <em>defeat</em> the Confederate army. Was Grant's vision, creative abilities and grim determination merely "<em>objectively</em> heroic" but somehow otherwise worthy only of <em>indifference</em>?

    I (once again) point out that this whole discussion of "heroes" is a mushy ground for our analysis. Its not the terms of a materialist analysis of revolution and revolutionary leaders.

    Look at AVK's remark:

    <blockquote>"“Heroism” is a subjective quality, objectively speaking Lincoln was a member of the capitalist exploiter class."</blockquote>

    And the rising capitalist class had no heroes -- for the people of their times, and even for us in a distant future? No cherished dreamers and poets? (Or no one we could recognize as such?) We have no time for Sun Yat-sen? Or the fierce Robespierre and murdered Marat? No heart for Simon Bolivar? What about Toussaint L'Ouverture, do we usher him to some non-heroic purgatory because this great liberator never got beyond a semifeudal replacement for the awful murderous machinery of chattel slavery? If some Native villages among the Seminoles had their own slaves, were <em>their</em> rebellions non-heroic, if some Cherokee took slaves with them on the "trail of tears" was their suffering less bitter or unjust?

    The historical reality is this: Before the rise of modern communism, the many great revolutionary movements of history were led by new exploiting classes. And yet there is contradiction here: such revolutions were <em>both</em> moments of great progress and liberation <em>and</em> also stages in the establishment of new forms of oppression. Can't we grasp and appreciate both aspects?

    And yes, my use of "slavocracy" (as a name for the Southern slave owning class) is consciously because they were <em>not</em> a capitalist bourgeoisie. They were a different <em>kind</em> of a ruling class (ruling over a different <em>kind</em> of class society, with a <em>different</em> mode of production) -- they were slave owners <em>not</em> capitalists -- and they were then <em>overthrown</em> by the Northern capitalists in broad alliances with African freedmen and the Southern slaves themselves (and with the anti-slavery workers and farmers, largely of the North who filled the ranks of the revolutionary Federal army).

    RWH writes:

    <blockquote>"Perhaps complexity rather then hero is more to the point."</blockquote>

    If complexity is inherently unheroic, then our heroes will be confined to simple martyrs who rise from the trenches and sacrifice everything for the cause. Because anyone who lives longer than that, and who acts on the real political stage will be complex.

    My whole point (on the contrary) is to learn to understand and appreciate complexity, and to learn from those complex players who could act on huge scale in the real world.

  • Guest - RW Harvey

    I appreciate the points you make, Mike. I especially like the term "startled" in reference to Lincoln finding himself in the position to move history (US history certainly) forward and end slavery. [Remember, In 1772 it was ruled that slavery in England illegal. The Slave Trade in and out of the British Empire was outlawed in 1807. The Abolition of Slavery Act of 1833 abolished slavery in the rest of the British Empire.]

    That's my point about objectively heroic and heroic: the difference between being thrust into positions and consciously taking those positions. Perhaps, as Gates points out, Lincoln did actually become more heroic as his consciousness shifted (after meeting Frederick Douglass, etc.). But early on it seems that he was defending the Union (as most US presidents would) and (complexly) came to see the military importance of freeing the slaves and the social importance of ending slavery as an institution.

    I believe we agree on the complexity vs hero discussion, and weren't you the one who introduced Lincoln as a hero in your estimation in earlier post? Complexity is not inherently un-heroic, nor is every heroic act full of consciousness, but there is something important in the dialectic between the two.

  • You misunderstand my point: Lincoln was an enemy of slavery -- consciously. He hated it. His presidency was the death knell of slavery. The southern states knew what his election represented and rose up against the federal government. And Lincoln led (through complex conditions) doggedly to their defeat (surrounded by forces and figures who did not believe in their defeat).

    Those people who look to this or that official statement during the campaign to "prove" that he was not anti-slavery have a "fetish of the word" and don't understand how politics, coalition and tactics work.

    He was not the agitator for abolition -- by the time he steps on the stage, it is time for something more. But it's not like Lincoln was some blind, reluctant or accidental instrument of larger forces who (somehow <em>despite</em> his will and desire) ended slavery. No, he was a remarkable and revolutionary representative of his times and his cause -- and very very conscious of the complex objectives of that cause (among which were the end of slavery).

  • Guest - RW Harvey

    IN the spirit of complexity I feel that these excerpts from an essay by Black historian, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (liberal certainly, and author of "Lincoln on Race and Slavery" and co-host of PBS "Looking for Lincoln" ) are in order:

    "But the truth is that until very late in his presidency, Lincoln was deeply conflicted about whether to liberate the slaves, how to liberate the slaves and what to do with them once they had been liberated. Whereas abolition was a central aspect of Lincoln’s moral compass, racial equality was not. In fact, Lincoln wrestled with three distinct but sometimes overlapping discourses related to race: slavery, equality and colonization. Isolating these three—like the three strands of a braid of hair—helps us to understand how conflicted the man was about African Americans and their place in this country.

    "Interspersed among these three discourses is the manner in which Lincoln seems to have wrestled with his own use of the “N-word.” Lincoln used the word far less than did Stephen Douglas, his Democratic challenger for the U.S. Senate, but he did indeed use it in prominent contexts including debates and public speeches. Even as late as April 1862, James Redpath recorded Lincoln’s saying of President Fabre Nicholas Geffard of Haiti (who had offered to send a white man as his ambassador to the United States), “You can tell the President of Hayti that I shan’t tear my shirt if he sends a nigger here!”

    "Lincoln despised slavery as an institution, an economic institution that discriminated against white men who couldn’t afford to own slaves and, thus, could not profit from the advantage in the marketplace that slaves provided. At the same time, however, he was deeply ambivalent about the status of black people vis-à-vis white people, having fundamental doubts about their innate intelligence and their capacity to fight nobly with guns against white men in the initial years of the Civil War....

    "Two things dramatically changed Lincoln’s attitudes toward black people. First, in the early years, the North was losing the Civil War, and Lincoln quickly realized that the margin of difference between a Southern victory and a Northern victory would be black men. So, despite severe reservations that he had expressed about the courage of black troops (“If we were to arm them, I fear that in a few weeks the arms would be in the hands of the rebels…”), Lincoln included in the Emancipation Proclamation a provision authorizing black men to fight for the Union....

    "The other factor that began to affect his attitudes about blacks was meeting Frederick Douglass. Lincoln met with Douglass at the White House three times. He was the first black person Lincoln treated as an intellectual equal, and he grew to admire him and value his opinion.

    "It is important that we hear Lincoln’s words through the echo of the rhetoric of the modern civil rights movement, especially the “I Have a Dream” speech of Martin Luther King Jr. It is easy to forget that when Lincoln made a public address, he was speaking primarily—certainly until his Second Inaugural Address—to all-white or predominantly white audiences, who most certainly were ambivalent about blacks and black rights, if not slavery. When Lincoln talked about wrestling with the better angels of our nature, he knew whereof he spoke: about his audience and, just as important, about himself."

    It should not surprise us that Lincoln was no exception to his times; what is exceptional about Abraham Lincoln is that, perhaps because of temperament or because of the shape-shifting contingencies of command during an agonizingly costly war, he wrestled with his often contradictory feelings and ambivalences and vacillations about slavery, race and colonization, and did so quite publicly and often quite eloquently.

    "So, was Lincoln a racist? He certainly embraced anti-black attitudes and phobias in his early years and throughout his debates with Douglas in the 1858 Senate race (the seat that would become Barack Obama’s), which he lost. By the end of the Civil War, Lincoln was on an upward arc, perhaps heading toward becoming the man he has since been mythologized as being: the Great Emancipator, the man who freed—and loved—the slaves. But his journey was certainly not complete on the day that he died. Abraham Lincoln wrestled with race until the end. And, as Du Bois pointed out, his struggle ultimately made him a more interesting and noble man than the mythical hero we have come to revere."

  • Guest - Eddy Laing

    Mike wrote:

    <BLOCKQUOTE>
    The historical reality is this: Before the rise of modern communism, the many great revolutionary movements of history were led by new exploiting classes. And yet there is contradiction here: such revolutions were both moments of great progress and liberation and also stages in the establishment of new forms of oppression. Can't we grasp and appreciate both aspects?

    And yes, my use of "slavocracy" (as a name for the Southern slave owning class) is consciously because they were not a capitalist bourgeoisie. They were a different kind of a ruling class (ruling over a different kind of class society, with a different mode of production) -- they were slave owners not capitalists -- and they were then overthrown by the Northern capitalists in broad alliances with African freedmen and the Southern slaves themselves (and with the anti-slavery workers and farmers, largely of the North who filled the ranks of the revolutionary Federal army).
    </BLOCKQUOTE>

    But perhaps the complexity of the US Civil War –– and with that the development of class society, classes, strata, and the emergence of US imperialism generally –– underlies (and overlays) the 'problem' with the revolutionary movement in the US.

    Above, you cleave off a section of the bourgeoisie because they used slave labor and re-define them as 'slavocrats' rather than capitalists, although clearly the processes in which they and other capitals (British as well as Northern) participated in were capital processes. It was not an idle concern of the Federal government during the civil war that Britain or other European powers would intervene on behalf of the Confederacy.

    Nor, importantly, is it unimportant that the plantation system of extractive (commodity) agriculture was introduced by Portuguese mercantile colonial outposts (to produce sugar cane as well as settler regime). It continues today in Brazil and Indonesia, among other places with hybrid labor forces - paid and unpaid. As I think is well-known, it is a particularly brutal, primitive and ecologically destructive process.

    And certainly the Northern US bourgeoisie, especially in New York and New England, was not unified in support of the Federal government, or of the Republican party (which was comprised of remnants of earlier Whig and nativist parties). Big bourgeois figures including August Belmont, William Astor, William Havermeyer and Samuel Tilden were actively organizing conciliation well into 1863, if not beyond.

    Meanwhile, J. P. Morgan had an operative placed in Grant's military HQ so he could parlay military developments into speculation in the financial markets. (And famously made his inaugural windfall by selling a shipment of defective rifles back to the Army at six times the price he purchased them from an military armory.)

    Who among the Northern bourgeoisie allied with African-Americans?

    On the other hand, I'd suggest that the US civil war coincides with the arrival of modern communism as an objective, and that many of the European immigrant volunteers fought under that influence, especially the Germans volunteers, and that the battle over Emancipation within the working class was a sharp dividing line in the North -- one that we need to understand much better than we do now.

  • There is much here that I agree with Eddy.

    In particular: I don't think that U.S. history conforms easily to a narrative of "the people against the oppressors" -- because there are complex stories being told combining genocide against Native people, enslavement of Africans, and the emerging class exploitation of white working people -- and because (in reality) these forces only occasionally saw each other as allies (and even participated in forms of suppression).

    Clearly slavery in the south emerged along with (parallel to) the emergence of modern capitalism, and to a considerable extent was framed by emerging capitalist finance and merchant capital. By the time "Cotton was king" it was also producing its major products for a capitalist world market as a raw material for new capitalist industrial production.

    But however slavery was conditioned and framed by this emerging capitalism -- it was slavery not modern wage slavery. The laborer was owned (not selling his/her labor power). This is a distinctive form of property relation and a distinctive mode of production with distinctive class relations.

    And the overthrow of slavery by capitalist forces (like the overthrow of feudalism or serfdom by modern forces) is not merely a case of "one hand slaps the other."

    * * * * * *

    It is also true, as you point out, that modern communism (including in some explicitly Marxist forms) makes its appearance during the U.S. civil war -- specifically among the German immigrant workers exiled by the 1848 revolutions. I wrote a piece on this here on Kasama called "<a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2008/07/17/the-sale-of-budweiser-memories-of-beer-lovers-hemp-farmers-and-bloody-revolution/" rel="nofollow">Memories of Beer Lovers, Hemp Farmers &amp; Bloody Revolution</a>."

    And, it is worth noting in this interesting discussion, that they appeared as energetic and committed fighters for the Union, and were part of the forces pushing (wthin that framework) for the emancipation of African people. (Their units, under Fremont, were among the first to apply emancipation as a policy -- in Missouri. And they were then dispersed into the Union forces that went, under Grant, to take Vicksburg in the heart of the Mississippi plantation region.)

  • When Lincoln was re-elected (in the 1864 election where defeat would have meant abandoning the war), Marx <a href="/http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/iwma/documents/1864/lincoln-letter.htm" rel="nofollow">wrote</a> on behalf of the First international (International Working Men's Association) and presented to the American ambassador to Britain:

    <blockquote>"We congratulate the American people upon your re-election by a large majority. If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war cry of your re-election is Death to Slavery.

    "From the commencement of the titanic American strife the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class. The contest for the territories which opened the dire epopee, was it not to decide whether the virgin soil of immense tracts should be wedded to the labor of the emigrant or prostituted by the tramp of the slave driver?

    "When an oligarchy of 300,000 slaveholders dared to inscribe, for the first time in the annals of the world, "slavery" on the banner of Armed Revolt, when on the very spots where hardly a century ago the idea of one great Democratic Republic had first sprung up, whence the first Declaration of the Rights of Man was issued, and the first impulse given to the European revolution of the eighteenth century; when on those very spots counterrevolution, with systematic thoroughness, gloried in rescinding "the ideas entertained at the time of the formation of the old constitution", and maintained slavery to be "a beneficent institution", indeed, the old solution of the great problem of "the relation of capital to labor", and cynically proclaimed property in man "the cornerstone of the new edifice" — then the working classes of Europe understood at once, even before the fanatic partisanship of the upper classes for the Confederate gentry had given its dismal warning, that the slaveholders' rebellion was to sound the tocsin for a general holy crusade of property against labor, and that for the men of labor, with their hopes for the future, even their past conquests were at stake in that tremendous conflict on the other side of the Atlantic. Everywhere they bore therefore patiently the hardships imposed upon them by the cotton crisis, opposed enthusiastically the proslavery intervention of their betters — and, from most parts of Europe, contributed their quota of blood to the good cause.

    "While the workingmen, the true political powers of the North, allowed slavery to defile their own republic, while before the Negro, mastered and sold without his concurrence, they boasted it the highest prerogative of the white-skinned laborer to sell himself and choose his own master, they were unable to attain the true freedom of labor, or to support their European brethren in their struggle for emancipation; but this barrier to progress has been swept off by the red sea of civil war.

    "The workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so the American Antislavery War will do for the working classes. They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working class, to lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world. "</blockquote>

    I don't assume that we should (automatically) adopt the analysis of Karl Marx for our own. But it is worth noting (in our own debate over Lincoln) what Marx's words and thoughts were.

    It is worth understanding the degree to which (in the mid 1800s) the cause of working class emancipation was still tied (in many places and in many ways) to the struggle waged by an emerging capitalist class against forms of "pre-capitalist" bondage (i.e. feudalism and slavery.)

    And (since we discussed the "righteousness" of Sherman's destructive march through Georgia) it is worth noting that without Sherman's capture of Atlanta, and his destruction of Georgia's railroads and farms, Lincoln's victory would not have happened, and the overthrow of slavery would not have been achieved in such a blunt way. (i.e. There would have survived that new Confederate republic on North American soil born in the very fight to preserve slavery).

    Marx, this visionary partisan of <em>communist</em> revolution, was able to see this civil war as a huge advance for the struggle of oppressed classes -- even while the new "social world" it created was a capitalist one. Understanding that is important for understanding historical materialism generally -- and even for understanding today when (now under communist leadership) certain forms of bourgeois democratic revolution against feudalism are breathtaking advances (during new democratic revolutions in countries like Nepal and India).

    <strong>Missing a Bitter Complexity of American History...</strong>

    At the same time when I appreciate (in many ways) where this statement is emerging from -- it is hard not to also notice here one problem we have been pointing to (from several sides)... that socialists historically simplified analysis by simply disappearing Native people from their analysis.

    Marx writes:


    <blockquote>
    "The contest for the territories which opened the dire epopee, was it not to decide whether the virgin soil of immense tracts should be wedded to the labor of the emigrant or prostituted by the tramp of the slave driver?"</blockquote>

    Even Marx speaks here of "virgin soil" as if the arrival of Europeans was the first arrival on this land! And (as I argued above, and others have noted), the struggle (including first Bloody Kansas and then the fierce partisan war for Missouri) in the western territories were righteous (and I'm tempted to add "heroic" in all sincerity -- since they were heroic), but none of this was "virgin soil."

    The fight over what <em>kind</em> of settler society would take root could only happen in connection with the preceding (and ongoing) grinding up of Native peoples.

    And even Marx's phrase here is not far removed from the kind of view (of progress and civilization etc.) that allowed the scion of a prominent abolitionist family to help hunt down Geronimo, or that enabled the federal cavalry of the anti-slavery war to "shift their guns from one shoulder to the other" and turn on the Plains Indians as soon as that Civil War had died down (and especially once they were cynically removed from the protection of freed slaves in the South).

    <strong>On the main point of Marx's piece....</strong>

    Marx writes:

    <blockquote>"[T]his barrier to progress [slavery of African people] has been swept off by the red sea of civil war." </blockquote>

    Is that true or not?

    It says of Lincoln that it "fell" to him to


    <blockquote>"to lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world."</blockquote>

    Is that true or not?

    And because the sweep and nature of this war seems underappreciated, let me drill down on one word: why does Marx (in 1864) call it "matchless"? Why, looking at the world then, does it seem so important, inspiring and revolutionary to the early working class communists (of both Europe and the Americas)?

  • Guest - RW Harvey

    I would never argue that the US Civil War was not revolutionary and, like much of what transpires in the world of this magnitude, very complex (as you've noted). Perhaps Marx sees it a "matchless" precisely because white workingmen take up arms on behalf of ending slavery -- something I would certainly agree is matchless in the world at that time. (I am not aware of any writings from Marx regarding England's abolition of slavery; perhaps because this was not prompted by civil war but by laws from the ruling class itself.)Yes, true, that the evil of slavery in the US was swept off the stage by this civil war.

    My point (and I think others, including Gates' essay) is that one cannot equate Lincoln with the Civil War and that it is indeed true that it "fell to him" (and fell upon his shoulders) to prosecute this war to save the Union and end slavery. All of this is extremely revolutionry and should not be undermined as such by any kinds of misreadings of the fact that Native peoples faced continued genocide and working class came more thoroughly under the heel of capital. If anyone is critiquing Lincoln or the Civil War because it did not go over to socialism, that is patently ridiculous.

  • Guest - Eddy Laing

    <BLOCKQUOTE>
    Clearly slavery in the south emerged along with (parallel to) the emergence of modern capitalism, and to a considerable extent was framed by emerging capitalist finance and merchant capital.
    </BLOCKQUOTE>

    We should trace the development of capitalism carefully here. 'Modern' slavery was enacted for economic and political reasons by capital (i.e. by capitalists and their agents) as part of the plantation system of agriculture. This was first implemented by Portuguese contractors (in the Azores and Canaries), and then the Dutch (by both the VOC and the West Indies Company), the British, and so on in the United States. It did not arise separately or somehow 'unintentionally' by a strata of non-capitalists.

    Initially, the 'new world' colonizers attempted to force indigenous populations to work for them, but disease (overwhelmingly) devastated the 'new world' populations, prompting the African slave trade.

    (Marx's ignorance of facts or poor choice of metaphor regarding 'virgin soil' might in part be due to the fact that until relatively recently (since the late 70s and mid 80s) the great extent of that decimation by European colonialism was not very well understood. Epidemiological/demographic work has since demonstrated that about 39 million -- out of a total population of about 57 million in the western hemisphere -- had died by 1568. For example, Lower Mississippi River Valley state-lets disappeared more or less completely, and that pattern was replicated repeatedly.

    This is not to ignore or downplay the ideologies of racism and ethnocentrism that prevent Euro-Americans, for example, from acknowledging indigenous civilizations or the remnants of indigenous civilizations when they are in the presence of them.)