Debating slavery: Marx's discussion

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at
Sun Oct 22 09:56:19 MDT 2000

On Sun, 22 Oct 2000 09:48:29 -0400 "Charles Brown"
<CharlesB at> writes:
> 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.
> (((((((((
> CB: The slavocracy was the ruling class of the whole U.S. in the
> decades before the Civil War. They were not in control after the
> Civil War.  The legal action constituting the full end of slavery
> was not the Emancipation Proclamation , as you focus on, but the
> 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which was passed after the war,
> not during. By it, ownership of slaves became illegal for everybody.
> But the ending of slavery was substantively carried out by the war
> itself, the legal actions being crystalization of the effect of the
> war.
>  The ending of slave relations of production was a social revolution.
> I  believe Andy also says the American Revolution was not a
> revolution. With Lou saying the French Revolution was not a
> revolution, between the two of you, there were no bourgeois
> revolutions at all in history. The feudalist mode of production just
> sort of slipped away smoothly without any revolution.

I find it amazing how both Lou & Andy have managed from a Marxist
standpoint come to conclusions concerning the American Revolution,
the French Revolution, and the American Civil War, that are strikingly
of those championed by conservative historians.  In Britain there has
existed a school of historians that have argued that the English Civil
Wars were not revolutionary in nature.  Conservative historians have
long defended the notion that there were no bourgeois revolutions
and they have done so because this fits in well their view that there
are no objectively real clashes between the interests of different
social classes.

I suppose one should not be so surprised though.  Eugene Genovese
whose work was discussed recently on LBO-Talk, developed a
view of slavery as having constituted a non-capitalist mode of production
whose stability rested on the ability of slaveholders (by virtue of
their paternalism) being able to win the consent of their slaves.
Genovese developed this analysis of slavery on the basis of his extension
of Gramsci's conception of consensus to the social relations of the
antebellum South.  It was perhaps only inevitable that given such a
viewpoint that Genovese's politics have over the years shifted
from the Marxian left (Genovese was a member of the CPUSA in
his youth and later was a member of the Progressive Labor Party)
to a neo-confederate politics which makes explicit the glorification
of the antebellum South that was implicit in his historiographical
work.   In Europe too the work of Gramsci has been taken up
by intellectuals of the New Right.  I suppose that this becomes
possible providing that one strips Gramsci of his Marxism.

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