Reconstruction and the Paris Commune

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at juno.com
Sun Aug 10 11:34:09 MDT 2003



Since a great many refugees from the 1848 Germany revolution
emigrated to the United States and later
served in the Union Army during the Civil War ( including
some old friends and associates of Marx, such as
Joseph Weydemeyer who served as a colonel, commanding
the Fortieth Missouri Regiment, and August Willich,
who likewise became a colonel, commanding the
6th Brigade of the Army of the Cumberland as well
as Carl Schurz who became a brigadier general)
I was wondering what the take of the Forty-Eighters
was on the outcome of Reconstruction, given that
most of them had been passionate abolitionists and
militant supporters of labor rights in the US.

Jim F.

On Sun, 10 Aug 2003 13:07:38 -0400 Jim Farmelant <farmelantj at juno.com>
writes:
>
>
> On Sun, 10 Aug 2003 11:02:09 -0400 Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com>
> writes:
> > One of the things I've discovered in my survey of Marxist and
> > left-oriented
> > literature on slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction is the
> > tendency for
> > scholars to look at this history from either the perspective of
> the
> > ruling
> > class or from the ruled. Genovese and Engerman-Fogel would be an
> > example of
> > the first approach; David Montgomery and Harold Gutman the latter.
> >
> > One of the real finds in my research is the 2001 "The Death of
> > Reconstruction: Race, Labor and Politics in the Post-Civil War
> > North,
> > 1865-1901" by Heather Cox Richardson, who seems strongly
> influenced
> > by the
> > labor-oriented scholarship of David Montgomery. This book argues
> > that the
> > ruling class turned against Reconstruction because it was seen as
> an
> >
> > encouragement to labor radicalism in both the North and South.
> More
> > specifically, she claims that there was a great deal of
> nervousness
> > about
> > whether something like the Paris Commune could find expression in
> > the USA.
>
> That would suggest a curious similarity between the outcome of
> the 1848 revolutionary uprisings in Germany and the outcome
> of Reconstruction.  In Germany, the bourgeoisie after initially
> supporting the uprisings fled in terror back into the arms
> of the Junkers when they realized that the uprisings were
> encouraging the proletariat to act on its own behalf.
> It was one thing when the bourgeois liberals of Germany
> were leading the revolts against the monarchs and
> aristocrats of Germany, but once the proletariat began
> to get into the act, that was too much.  The bourgeoisie
> decided they could tolerate rule by kings and aristocrats
> more than they could tolerate proletarian power.
>
> Likewise, it would appear that the American industrial
> bourgeoise began to develop cold feet over Reconstruction
> once labor radicalism began to break out in both the North
> and the South.  Apparently, the slogans of free soil and
> free labor were fine up to the point when workers began
> to interpret the slogan of "free labor" as meaning freedom
> from wage slavery.
>
> >
> > Given the observations I've made about E.L. Godkin's Nation
> > Magazine, it
> > should come as no surprise that one of her citations caught my
> > eye--namely
> > an October 5, 1871 Editorial that conflated Radical Republicanism
> > and the
> > Paris Commune. The editorial is a stinging attack on abolitionist
> > Wendell
> > Phillips and Civil War leader General Benjamin Butler, who are
> > depicted as
> > stirring up the working class in Massachusetts. I especially
> > appreciated
> > the Nation's worried reference to possible outbursts by "those who
>
> > crowd
> > the tenement-houses and workshops of manufacturing cities."
> >
> > ---
> >
> > The good people of Massachusetts, however, no less than the motley
>
> > crowd of
> > blatherskite reformers [a reference to the labor movement and the
> > suffragists], may draw a very significant, though somewhat
> alarming,
> > lesson
> > from the singular canvass they have just witnessed. They have had
> a
> > very
> > great deliverance, it is true, and may well be very thankful for
> it;
> > but,
> > at the same time, they had best look at the danger carefully, even
>
> > if for
> > the time it has ceased to threaten. What was the significance of
> > this
> > strange conflict? Was it, after all, anything less than the bold
> > attempt of
> > a thoroughly bad demagogue to take possession of the whole
> politics
> > of the
> > State, through the agency of its discontented factions? Was it not
>
> > the
> > organization, prematurely and under false colors, but still the
> > organization of such a COMMUNE [this word appeared in italics in
> the
> > Nation
> > editorial] as America could now supply?
> >
> > While the citizens of Massachusetts, therefore, may well take
> pride
> > in the
> > good courage and prudent conduct which at the eleventh hour saved
> > the good
> > courage and prudent conduct which at the eleventh hour saved them
> > from a
> > wry grave peril, it yet behooves them very seriously to consider
> the
> >
> > deplorably low condition of political morality which the events of
>
> > the last
> > two months have unmistakably revealed as existing throughout what
> is
> > soon
> > to be their controlling class. Having maturely considered this
> > subject,
> > they had best, while there is yet time, energetically bestir
> > themselves in
> > regard to it. Should they fail to do so, some demagogue bolder
> than
> > Butler,
> > and as unscrupulous, will yet illustrate to them the great
> > difference which
> > exists between popular institutions emanating from those who
> follow
> > the sea
> > and till the soil, and the same institutions in the hands of those
>
> > who
> > crowd the tenement-houses and workshops of manufacturing cities.
> >
> >
> > Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org
> >
> >
>
>
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