Debating slavery: Marx's discussion

Austin, Andrew austina at
Sat Oct 21 21:50:40 MDT 2000

-----Original Message-----
From: Charles Brown [mailto:CharlesB at]
Sent: Friday, October 20, 2000 3:29 PM
To: marxism at
Subject: RE: Debating slavery: Marx's discussion

AA: The South did want those Western territories to expand slavery. This was
in part because plantations in the South, especially the southeast, due to
shifting regional patterns of production and increased efficiency, needed to
sell off an oversupply of slaves.

CB: In the article quoted below, Marx says the South wanted those Western
territories because the economic nature of slavery was that it needed
constantly expanding territory. Are you agreeing or disagreeing with that
claim ?

AA: I refer you to my statement above which you included in your post and to
the text by Marx which you kindly provided reproduced: "Hence the rapid
transformation of states like Maryland and Virginia, which formerly employed
slaves on the production of export articles, into states which raise slaves
to export them into the deep South. Even in South Carolina, where the slaves
form four-sevenths of the population, the cultivation of cotton has been
almost completely stationary for years due to the exhaustion of the soil.
Indeed, by force of circumstances South Carolina has already been
transformed in part into a slave-raising state, since it already sells
slaves to the sum of four million dollars yearly to the states of the
extreme South and South-west. As soon as this point is reached, the
acquisition of new Territories becomes necessary, so that one section of the
slaveholders with their slaves may occupy new fertile lands and that a new
market for slave-raising, therefore for the sale of slaves, may be created
for the remaining section." When Marx focuses on the expansion of slavery he
focuses on the need of the slave-raising states to move their commodity.
This was what I argued.

CB: Lincoln was dead at that time of Post-Reconstruction.

AA: Everything I said about Lincoln is true and his policies had real
consequences. Johnson and Republicans carried Lincoln's policies forward
after his death. Neither Lincoln or Johnson believed that whites and blacks
could live together without the former in a position of supremacy over the
latter. Both were racists.

CB: Aptheker's thesis of the Civil War as revolutionary is based on the idea
that one of the main forms of private property in the U.S. system - private
property in people - was abolished by that war. Marxism focuses on the form
of property as defining a mode of production. There was a fundamental
transformation in the mode of production with the abolition of slavery.

AA: The only problem with this view is that those who were in control before
emancipation were in control afterwards. Lincoln only deprived those of
means from property who were in rebellion against the United States, and
this was largely in theory. Those who were not in rebellion had no property
confiscated, including slaves. In fact, Lincoln circumvented a law that the
radicals in Congress passed that may have seen a real confiscation of
slave-holders' property. In circumventing that law Lincoln actually
re-enslaved hundreds of thousands of people. To please the radicals Lincoln
at one point proposed a program for gradual compensated emancipation, to be
completed sometime in the early 20th century, wherein taxpayers would pay
slaveowners the value of their lost slave-labor and then finance the
organized migration of blacks to Africa. Lincoln had no intention before his
death for unqualified emancipation of slaves. Sure, Johnson, a bigger racist
than Lincoln, played the populist card, condemning the plantations for
having misled the average white man into betraying the union, but then he
turned around and permitted the restoration of property, amnesty and pardon,
for anybody who took an oath of loyalty to the union. The Republicans helped
secure for the plantation owners laws that coerced former slaves into
working on the plantations, one of these being the very amendment that freed
the slaves (the 13th)! There has never been a comprehensive reparations plan
for freed slaves.

A claim that the legal dissolution of formal slave-labor in the United
States meant a substantive transformation in the structure of property and
profits in the South is not supported by the evidence. Therefore there was
no social revolution in the sense articulated here. In fact, slavery in the
US was part of the capitalist world-economy, and the post-slavery US was
still part of the capitalist world-economy. The same class in control before
emancipation was in control after emancipation. Blacks labored on the same
plantations after emancipation. The same crops were being cultivated after
the war. The same trading networks were in operation after the war. What the
Civil War does represent is a failed attempt by the southern states to break
away from the United States of America and form their own nation. This is a
far cry from what is understood as a social revolution.

Andrew Austin
Green Bay, WI

More information about the Marxism mailing list