emancipation and the american revolution

LouPaulsen LouPaulsen at comcast.net
Sun Aug 24 16:41:50 MDT 2003


----- Original Message -----
From: "Louis Proyect" <lnp3 at panix.com>
To: <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Sent: Sunday, August 24, 2003 5:10 PM
Subject: Re: emancipation and the american revolution


>
> >Louis poses an important historical question about the relationship
between
> >emancipation and the American revolution. let me restate the question:
would
> >emancipation have come sooner or later if the colonists had lost the
> >revolution against King George?
>
> Am about to go over to the west side to have dinner with Les and Charles
> Brown who is in the city on a visit, but let me throw this out for
> consideration. Oakes makes a convincing case that the typical slave-owner
> in the south would be what he called "middle class", which really amounts
> to small and medium farmers, businessmen, tradesmen and other economic
> actors who had nothing to do with plantations. This social formation was
> anything but "seignorial", to use Genovese's term. What they in fact
remind
> me of is the fucking Afrikaners who went on a great Trek to defend their
> plucky yeoman way of life from the dirty imperialist British in the
> Victorian era. An important element of that life was slavery.

I was about to use much the same comparison, though not necessarily to try
to answer the question about whether emancipation would have come sooner or
later if the Continentals had lost the revolution.  In South Africa, the
Boers DID lose their independence war.  As a result, they were delayed by
nearly 50 years in imposing the regime that they wanted to impose on the
African masses.  But then they eventually did become independent and DID
impose apartheid, and it wasn't fought off for another half century.  If the
Boers had won in 1903, does it mean that apartheid would still be going
strong?  I sort of doubt it; maybe the democratic revolution would have got
going that much faster.

When you try to write 'alternate history' you get into a 'chaotic regime' in
the mathematical sense, that is, there are so many interactions that it gets
very hard to figure out what would have really happened.  You could say that
if the colonists had lost then slavery would have been abolished in the
British North American colonies in 1833, which is the year it actually was
abolished in the empire in our timeline.  But wait, if the British had been
profiting themselves directly from slave labor in production of southern
cotton, maybe they would have kept slavery going longer, not only in North
America but throughout the empire.  Or maybe they would have been more
hesitant to move to abolition because they would have been afraid of
igniting another independence war by the white slaveowners.  Who knows?
This suggests, BTW, that the method of deciding which side of a struggle to
be on on the basis of futuristic speculation about how things are going to
come out a few decades hence is not a very good one.

On the "emancipatory" nature of the U.S. war of independence, it's worth
thinking about the genocidal raids against the Native Americans, such as
Sullivan's expedition through the Finger Lakes region of New York State,
which burned villages and stored crops and essentially attempted to wipe out
the population through famine.  The nations of the region between the Ohio
and the Great Lakes were hoping for British support in an independence war
of their own through the Tecumseh period and into the War of 1812.

This doesn't mean that I think the U.S. war of independence was not a
historically progressive event, but then we have to realize that
'progressive events' of past centures have a hell of a lot of reactionary
horrible crap about them by current standards.

When I was living in DC in the 1970's, I was working as an admitting clerk
at George Washington University Hospital.  The IRA or someone purporting to
be them sent a letter bomb to the British embassy, and it blew off the hand
of a woman clerk who was working there, who was then admitted to my
hospital.  I handled some of her paperwork.  This inspired me to write a
poem, whose last line was "Send the hospital bill .... to Harold Wilson; to
Queen Victoria; to Oliver Cromwell."  (If I were writing it today I might
not consider Queen Victoria as important enough to mention.)  A then-comrade
in the DC branch, who was of Irish ethnicity himself for what it's worth,
then criticized my poem because of my slighting reference to Cromwell, on
the basis that when Cromwell went into Ireland in the 1650's to put down the
monarchists he was doing a progressive thing.  Maybe so - *grinding of
teeth* - but I don't think we have to ignore the horrible side of bourgeois
revolutionaries of previous centuries.

Lou Paulsen
Chicago




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