22/06/2021 by socialistfight
Yes and no. It was not about slavery for the northern ruling class, who represented the interests of modern capitalism which needed a market economy based on wage labour. Slavery was basically a subsistence economy which was a barrier to the development of this economy, and this had to be destroyed to enable modern capitalism to develop.
Of course there was a powerful anti-slavery movement at the base of struggle; Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, the slave revolts and the Underground Railroad which was a well-organised escape route for runaway slaves from the south. But like all bourgeois revolutions this was about replacing one ruling class with a more progressive class, or in the case of the US replacing a section of the ruling class in one part of the state with a more progressive section of the same class.
The WSWS SEP attempt to deny the truths of history; the Founding Fathers were almost all slave owning white supremacists who whipped their slaves and fathered children with slaves. These mothers remained slaves as did their children; see the Thomas Jefferson–Sally Hemings case. And Abraham Lincoln they say couldn’t be a racist despite his own words in those infamous Lincoln-Douglas debates proudly proclaiming his racism. ‘Had he lived he might have changed’ is idle speculation, we must recognise what he was from his own deeds and testimony.
Here is his white supremacist racism at Charleston, South Carolina, in his own words:
“I never have been in favour 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 favour 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 for ever 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 favour of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”
The WSWS SEP frequently quote Karl Marx’s letter to Lincoln which has no criticism whatsoever and freed slave Frederick Douglass who likewise made no criticism of Lincoln’s self-declared racism.
The latter profited mightily from his caution, he became very wealthy and got government appointments, President Harrison appointed Douglass as the United States’ minister resident and consul-general to the Republic of Haiti and Chargé d’affaires for Santo Domingo in 1889. He failed to oppose Reconstruction in 1877 as a true Republican. The Barak Obama of his day. He visited Ireland in 1845 and blamed drink and the work shy Irish for the Great British Genocide.
Marx and Engels were into non-historic peoples theories in an objectivist view of history’s progress as related by Roman Rosdolsky; the South Slavs were destined for history’s dustbin. See 1986 Engels and the `Nonhistoric’ Peoples: the National Question in the Revolution of 1848. Glasgow: Critique books, 1987. First published in Critique, No.18/19, 1986.
“Writing in the newspaper he co-edited with Karl Marx, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, Engels divided the nationalities of the empire into “historic” (Germans, Poles, Magyars) and “non-historic” (Czechs, South Slavs, Ukrainians, Slovaks, Transylvanian Romanians and Saxons). He considered the historic nations to be supporters of the all-European revolution, while the non-historic peoples were counter-revolutionary by their very nature and doomed to national extinction.”
“In his article “The Magyar Struggle,” for example, Engels wrote of “a bloody revenge on the Slav barbarians” and of the annihilation of “all these small pig-headed nations even to their very names.”
On the 1848 US theft of Mexico lands Engels wrote that “the enterprising Yankees will make far better use of it than the lazy Mexicans”. This is in contrast to Mark’s permanent revolution speech in 1850 after the defeat of ‘the Springtime of Peoples’ in 1848. Not until the Irish Turn of 1867 and the Fenian uprising did Marx recognise the progressive dynamic of the struggles of oppressed peoples. And the 1850 permanent revolution was not developed until 1871 and his understanding of the great revolutionary inspiration of the Paris Commune.
He generalised this from Ireland and the Paris Commune. He and later Engels recognised the plight of the poor oppressed Jews fleeing from the Tsar pogroms in a far better way that Marx did in The Jewish Question of 1843.
Debate on Facebook
Gerry Joseph Downing: David North vies with Donald Trump for Stars and Stripes US patriotism. Denying slave owners are racists and even that Lincoln is a racist despite his own insistence that he was is beyond belief. That the defeat of British colonialism was progressive and the defeat of the Confederacy was progressive is beyond doubt. But being unable to distinguish between the methods and principles of the bourgeois revolution and the socialist revolution is very backward and class reductionalist indeed. You cannot make a socialist revolution as long as class unity rests on black people accepting that racism should be ignored to achieve that unity. The defeat of racism in the USA above all countries with its record of slavery and KKK lynchings is a prerequisite for revolution. Or at least a leadership which is uncompromising on this question. The WSWS-SEP does not fit the bill.
Douglas Joshua Really?! It is you who doesn’t understand the difference between the classic bourgeois revolutions and the current stage we are in. The fight against racism etc is the fight against capitalism, while assimilating the lessons of the past. You calling Lincoln a racist is a perfect example of the petty bourgeois mentality.
Gerry Joseph Downing Douglas Joshua: he called himself a racist FFS. And is insulted when the Democrat Douglas charges him with being an abolitionist. You have read his words. How can you deny the undeniable?
The Lincoln-Douglas debates is series of seven debates between the Democratic senator Stephen A. Douglas and Republican challenger Abraham Lincoln during the 1858 Illinois senatorial campaign, largely concerning the issue of slavery extension into the territories. https://www.britannica.com/event/Lincoln-Douglas-debates
Barry Biddulph: Southern slavery or the slave plantations were not basically a subsistence economy for Marx. He regarded them as Basically Capitalist integrated into the circuits of international Capitalism. It would be difficult to understand industrial capitalism in Northern England if the South was a subsistence economy. On the Northern side of the civil war were the principle of free wage Labour, the threat of the extension of slavery which among other things was a threat to the economy and freedom of independent farmers, and the abolitionists who were against slavery on principle. And don’t forget the slaves themselves who left the plantations in their mass to fight for the Union. The north could not have won without them. Marx’s writings on the Civil war are among the best and most perceptive of Marx’s political journalism. If you have not read Marx on the civil war you might think it was a simple issue of a form of feudalism versus capitalism. But even feudalism is not basically a subsistence economy.
Gerry Joseph Downing: Barry Biddulph. It was capitalism in its international relations and exports but in its local economy the slaves could buy nothing. And even the small white homesteader grew most of his own needs and only went to the store in town in his buckboard occasionally for essentials for farming. There was very little consumerism, so vital to modern capitalism, south of the Mason-Dixon line. For that to develop wage labour was essential and it was rare down south. So not a subsistence economy like Africa and South East Asia before colonialism arrived and forced the production of cash crops for profit. But this internal southern economy prevented the development of modern capitalism and had to go.
Barry Biddulph: Gerry Joseph Downing. Marx’s writings on the civil war and the nature of the southern states cry out to be read. You are making things up as you go along. Industrial capitalism in the North and the capitalist slave economy were not defined by consumerism out of historical time. Did the slave and the homesteader have to go because they didn’t consume enough? Is this your explanation for the clash between the two social systems? Obviously, I prefer the explanation, based on the historical knowledge of Marx and historians like Robin Blackburn. Marx didn’t separate an internal and external slave economy in the south. He considered the slave economy as capitalist. Again, obviously, the Southern slaveholders did not prevent the rise of early industrial capitalism in the cotton mills of the North of the USA or England. Again following Marx, what had to go, as you put it, was the expansion of slavery which threatened the union. The trigger for the war was political. That’s why Lincoln did not start out fighting for the principle of abolishing slavery. You seemed to be groping in the darkness for a simple schema of pre- capitalist south had to go or as you revised your comment, old fashioned low consumerism or low standards of living Capitalism had to go. As I said Marx’s Writing on the Civil war is available. Robin Blackburn has a useful collection of his key civil war writings in, An Unfinished Revolution, Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln, 2011.
Gerry Joseph Downing: Barry Biddulph. And that leaves you clueless as to what caused the Civil War. Why should two equally capitalist state formations within the same state go to war? Lincoln recognised the incompatibility of the two systems, though he had no principled opposition to slavery and was a convinced white racist supremacist.
Barry Biddulph: Gerry Joseph Downing Again you would have to read Marx on the civil war to have a clue. You seem to pluck phrases out of the darkness. Marx didn’t argue that the two social systems were equal. Nor did he say there were two systems: one capitalist one precapitalist as you have been trying to argue off the seat of your pants. Marx’s point was the slave plantations were capitalist even without free Labour. So it wasn’t a clash between a precapitalist system and a Capitalist system but between a system of free Labour and a system of slave labour. When the Southern Slave owners threatened expansion of their territory they were opposed by the Northern industrialists, the mid-western free farmers the abolitionists, and eventually the slaves themselves. Marx presents a specific analysis as events unfolded. He did not present a schema of precapitalist versus capitalist. But it is very difficult to argue with a Marxist on the nature and history of the civil war when that Marxist has not read Marx on the civil war.
Gerry Joseph Downing: Barry Biddulph. I have not been trying to argue that the South was pre-capitalist, I said it was a subsistence economy and explained in some detail why and how it operated. You simply assert it was capitalist, Marx said so. So it can’t be a subsistence economy, although you make no attempt to show where my description is wrong. And I have read Marx on it. He dealt with its place in the global capital system. The finance capitalists in New York were in favour of that southern economy and profited mightily from it. But industrial capitalism could not progress with the millstone of slavery around its neck. Lincoln in his letter to Horace Greeley, August 1862, (http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/greeley.htm) made his point that he had no opposition to slavery in principle; his main aim was to save the Union, industrial capitalism. The South was a subsistence capitalist economy as I have explained. Get your head around it.
Barry Biddulph: Gerry Joseph Downing. I have got my head around the history and nature of the civil war and Marx’s analysis of it. I cannot get my head around your definition of a consumer poor southern capitalism or a subsistence economy which was your original “formulation” and other novel inventions. It is difficult to be critical of Marx on the civil war except for his letter to Lincoln on behalf of the First International or his assessment of Johnson.
Gerry Joseph Downing: Barry Biddulph. The northern economy was based on wage labour, the southern economy was based on slave labour. Got it??? It is true that the initial statement needs clarification in that the subsistence economy that existed in the South was fully capitalist. As was the subsistence economy of pre-famine Ireland.
Barry Biddulph: The 300,000-400,000 slave owners on their plantations enjoyed conspicuous and luxury consumption. They were supported by the poor whites in the south who clung on to racism and racial perks. In that sense, Marx was probably mistaken to see the independence of the South as a mere battle cry of the Slaveholders. But, in any case, self-determination is not an absolute right for Marxists. The trigger for the civil war was the constitutional crisis where the industrialists of the north were threatened with being outvoted in the senate once the slave states expanded. That’s why they moved to contain the souths expansion. The expansionism of the south and slavery was a reactionary threat as far as Marx was concerned. Gerry was looking for some stand-alone economic reason for the civil war. Marx has been criticized for failing to stress the expansionist aims of the north which eventually became full-blown imperialism. Marx’s uncritical letter to Lincoln, who was not a son of the working class, is rather a political embarrassment, the assessment of Johnson as a working-class politician even more so. ▲
Sherman’s 1864 march from Atlanta to the sea was a 90-mile wide scorched earth. Often not a living thing survived; crops and livestock were seized or destroyed. Farmers shacks were burned, railroads ripped up in the first example in modern times of total war. Although slaves were freed, there was no revolutionary appeal to joint the crusade for human liberation. The Ku Klux Klan were lynching and slaughtering blacks within two years.