Debating slavery: Marx's discussion

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Mon Oct 23 08:46:04 MDT 2000

Interestingly, Lou, I was thinking last night that perhaps you and Andy are not
looking at the French  and American revolutions in terms of combined and uneven
development (!). Especially Andy's emphasis on the "definition" of a revolution as the
overthrow of the entire prevailing mode. I don't recall Marx defining it that way. He
says something like the forces of production are fettered by the relations of
production , bursts the latter asunder, and then begins an era of revolutions.
Furthermore, I think it is Lenin who gives us the rule of thumb that politics is
concentrated economics.  Andy distinguishes between political revolution and social
revolution.  Yet, since revolutions are sharp and relatively rapid transformations,
their clearest form is in exactly poltical revolutions , and those political
revolutions are the concentrated reflections of social revolution.  Actually, in the
case of the U.S. Civil War, we had one of the most concentrated examples of the social
olution itself in that a main social form or form of relations of production (slave
relations of production) was suddenly abolished simultaenously with a political

In general, specific revolutions in specific countries,  in the sense of "an era of
revolutions" , are not the entire transformation of the mode of production, because
the mode of production is an international form. The transfromation of THE mode of
production takes place in the form of many individual revolutions, sharp events in
terms of time,  in individual countries, each of which by themselves does not meet the
entire "definition" of transformation from one mode to another.

There is no neat and clean movement from one "stage" to the next in a given country.
The mode of production refers to an international system ( although technically
speaking feudalism didn't have nations; it covered the area of many nations when
nations arose with capitalism). The transformation from one mode to the next involves
various combined and uneven forms in various countries. With capitalism these combined
and uneven forms include even colonies and especially settler colonies like the
Western Hemisphere, America.

Yoshie's point on anti-empiricism is pertinent in this regard. What were Marx and
Engels' practice with respect to the U.S. Civil War ? Enormous effort in solidarity
with the North , acting as a virtual thinktank for Lincoln, organizing British workers
to support the North.  If these events were nothing but a transfer of power from one
ruling class fraction to another , why would they have expended so much effort ?
Because in the U.S. specific combined and uneven form of capitalism, the dissolution
of the slave aspect was a tremendous potential impetus to dissolution of the entire
international capitalist mode . Or at least they thought so. Labor in the white skin
could not be free, in the sense of achieving socialism, while labor in the Black is

I'll discuss the American war of Independence, later, but Marx specifically uses the
word revolutionists to refer to the American Independistas. This is no doubt because
Marx understood the impact of that war on the international capitalist mode ( the only
locus of THE mode) as radically progressive. He is not stingy about applying the term

There never has been an actually existing capitalism that was "purely" wage-labor or
free labor.  It has always and only been in formations that were combined with
relations of production that were not "even" with free labor.

By the way, actual socialism has only and always existed in combined and uneven forms
as well. Failure to appreciate this fact underlies much faulty and stagist
understanding of the SU, China, etc.


>>> lnp3 at 10/22/00 04:40PM >>>
Jim Farmelant:
>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.

I would express it somewhat differently. I advocate a radical break with
the mythology of the "bourgeois-democratic" revolution whose articulation
in Marx's writings was heavily influenced by liberal historiography,
particularly those who glorified the French bourgeoisie of 1789. I think
that when Marx wrote based on his own information rather than second-hand
reporting, he was much more clinical about the bourgeoisie. In Germany he
thought that the "bourgeois revolution" would have to be led by the workers
and peasants since the industrialists seemed to lack the will to confront
the Junkers. Guess what he called it. Permanent Revolution. Rings a bell,
doesn't it.

Daniel Guerin, who started out as a Trotskyist and never fully dropped his
Marxist methodology, wrote a book about the French Revolution titled "Class
Struggle in the First French Republic: Bourgeois and Bras Nus 1793 1795."
Guess what, his analysis is not much different than the one found in Marx's
writings on the German revolution. Anything that was "revolutionary" in
1789 was accomplished by the peasantry and the plebian masses against the
landed gentry and the bourgeosie both.

Furthermore, my analysis of  the bourgeois democracy is radically different
from that put forward by the Second International and which actually
lingered on in the Trotskyist movement. I agree with Andy. I am not that
impressed with 1776. Yankee Doodle Dandy, my ass. As far as Lincoln and
company are concerned, they put down a challenge by the slavocracy but
blacks continued to live in a state that fell short of the "free wage
labor" so elevated by Laclau, Brenner and Genovese into a sine qua non for
capitalism. Does anybody believe that the American south was precapitalist
in the 1950s? For that matter, does anybody believe that the Mexico of B.
Traven's novels in which the Indians of Chiapas lived in a state of
permanent debt peonage while chopping mahogany trees for the world market
was "precapitalist"? Give me a break.

Louis Proyect
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