Forwarded from Anthony (Civil War)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Jul 10 17:21:58 MDT 2003

While I haven't had time to read the complete discussion on the US civil
war, my strong impression is that there is a lot of rehashing, and a fair
amount of misinterpreting, of what Marx wrote in his famous series of
newspaper articles on the war. I think this discussion might be more
productive, if people took Marx's contributions as the starting point of
the discussion, not the biblical be all and end all of the issue.

Here is my point. The US civil war was not about slavery per se, but about
which system - the Northern 'free labor' system, accompanied by 'free land'
- or the southern 'unfree labor' - slave system, was going to expand westward.

This expansion was bottled up by the civil war that had been going on for a
decade in and around Kansas and Missouri by the time Lincoln was elected.

The North's expansion was blocked by that civil war, while the onset of the
final crisis of slavery in the south - which would have happened with or
without the civil war - could be delayed if the south could expand, or
advanced if it could not. southern slavery was in a terminal crisis
independently of the civil war.

The abolition of the legal slave trade, and slavery throughout the
Carribean region earlier in the 19th century had put the writing on the wall.

Westward expansion of southern slavery within the boundaries of the United
States of 1860 was in any event very problematic. Plantation agricultural
is essentially tropical and semitropical agriculture - works well in
Mississippi, but not as well in Kentucky (which is why the slaveowners were
so strong politically in Mississippi, but much weaker in the border
states.) Plantation agriculture could work in the southern regions of the
river system tributary tot he Mississippi, but not very far out onto the
great plains or into the northern river valley regions.

The best bet for southern slave expansion was not west, but south - further
into Mexico, and into the southwest of the United States. However,
Southwestern expansion into New Mexico, Arizona, and California would have
requred the adaptation of slave plantations to large scale irrigation,
something that as far as i know southern slave owners had not contemplated.
Expansion along the eastern coast of Mexico however, could have been
carried out without much if any technological changes.

The issue of further conquest in Mexico - half of Mexico has been taken in
the recently completed Mexican - American war, is not an issue that was
debated in the 1860 Presidential election as far as I know - but it was
lurking in the background in my opinion.

The other issue, which it seems is not being discussed, is that the huge
area within the boundaries of the United States that was being fought over
- from the Mississippi River West - was already occupied by a completely
different social system (or group of social systems) than the 'free' North
and the slave south: those lands were the homes of the Indian nations, many
of whom had been displaced from the Eastern USA. North and South were
fighting over which system would impose a 'final solution' on the Indian
question, as incidental (in the minds of white US citizens of that time) to
taking the remaining Indian lands.

My own view on this, is that the expropriation of Indian lands was the one
of the key aspects of primitive accumulation of capital, as important or
more important than the expropriation of the wealth of Indian
civilizations, the creation of the 'free' wage workers of Europe, the
enslavement of millions of Africans, and/or the military/commercial
subjagation of Asia.

The civil war was, in the first place, a war over which social classes
would do the primitive accumulating (the social classes of the North united
in this war against the Indians, or the slaveowners, big and small, of the

How it affected the West, from the war between the USA and Indian tribes,
to the way it affected relations among the tribes, would be an interesting
contribution to this discussion. If anyone on the list knows about these
things, and has time to make a contribution, I for one would like to read it.

All the best, Anthony

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list:

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