Capitalism, slavery and the Brenner thesis part 4

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at
Mon Sep 29 20:23:17 MDT 2003

[ quoted text clipped; staircase on quoted section removed ]

On Mon, 29 Sep 2003 10:28:07 -0400 Louis Proyect <lnp3 at> writes:
> This is the next-to-last installment in my series of articles on
> slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction. It is based on a reading
> of:
> 1. Karl Marx, "The Civil War in the United States" (selected
> articles from 1861 to 1866)
> 2. V.I. Lenin: "The Development of Capitalism in Russia" (1899) and
> "New Data on the Laws Governing the Development of Capitalism in
> Agriculture"
> (1915)
> 3. George Novack and Harry Frankel (Braverman), articles in
> "America's Revolutionary Heritage"
> 4. Peter Camejo, "Racism, Revolution, Reaction", 1861-1877
> 5. Max Shachtman, "Communism and the Negro" (1933)
> Although, as I shall point out in my final post, Marx was beginning
> to doubt the revolutionary capacity of the bourgeoisie as early as
> 1848,

Which leads me to repeat a question that I asked on
the list some time ago, which was did any of the
German Forty-eighters who emigrated to the US,
following the failure of the revolution in Germany,
see history as repeating itself in terms of the
aftermath of the US Civil War and Reconstruction?
Did any of them perceive any similarities between
the timidity of the German bourgeoisie who
ultimately fled back into the arms of the Junkers
and other aristocratic and clericalist elements,
rather than face the prospect of proletarian power,
and the behavior of the Northern industrial capitalists
who after having succeeded in overthrowing the
planters as a ruling class, declined to press
the revolutionary transformation of the South
any further, and indeed in the end cut a deal
with the remnants of the planter class?

> his various writings on the American Civil War exude confidence that
> the Northern industrialist would drag the South into a modern world
> based on market relations and democracy. In my estimation, it is
> this written record that partially makes the task of revising our
> understanding of the "second American revolution" so daunting.
> While most contemporary civil war historiography regards Lincoln's
> attitude toward emancipation as driven by exigency rather than
> principle, there is very little evidence of this in articles for the
> Vienna Presse or the Tribune. Anxious to show that the war is not
> simply over tariffs, as the London press alleged, Marx virtually
> depicts the war as national liberation struggle of the "great
> republic" in the North against "adventurous idlers" in the South:
> "[T]he Union had in fact become the slave of the three hundred
> thousand slave-holders over the South." Despite his recognition that
> the Republicans were far more interested in keeping slavery out of
> the Northwest than in uprooting it from the South, he still regarded
> the struggle as one "between two social systems, between the system
> of slavery and the system of free labor."

And Marx was at least partially correct in that as Melvin has
been pointing out the Civil War was among things about
the emergence of a new nation on North American soil,
which was seeking to displace the original United States,
which had from its beginning been dominated by the
Southern planter class.  Lincoln may well have sought
a compromise that would have preserved the Union,
and he was discinclined to do anything more than
he absolutelty had to.  Nevertheless, circumstances
were to drive him in an increasingly radical direction
as the Civil War proceeded.  He found, that despite
his original intentions, the winning of the war required
him to abolish slavery in the rebellious states, to accept
African-Americans into the Union Army, indeed to start
treating African-Americans as if they had certain basic
civil rights.  To some extent all these moves were made
against his own basic instincts, but he came to realize
the necessity of them, nevertheless.

> What is missing, however, from Marx's public articles is any kind of
> deep theoretical engagement with slavery as a mode of production, or
> with the question of how the struggle against slavery and for
> socialism was related.

If we want to discuss things at the level of the forces-relations
dialectic, perhaps we can discuss slavery as a set of
relations of production that contributed to the development of
capitalism during the period of primitive accumulation but which
over time had come to act as fetters on further development of
the forces of production, in at least several different respects.

> Since his articles were written for the bourgeois media, this is
> understandable. His letters to Engels in this period have a more
> measured quality. He refers to 'bourgeois' democracy and admits that
> some Northern businessmen are partisans of the Confederacy.

Well presumably the owners of textile mills in the North that
were dependent on Southern cotton were not too happy
about losing access to that essential raw material.
And probably the manufacturers of agricultural implements
that catered to the plantations were not ecstatic either.

> Whatever gaps exist in Marx's writings, they are certainly filled in
> by George Novack and Harry Frankel who try to theorize slavery and
> the struggle against it within the context of the larger struggle
> for socialism in the USA. The Pathfinder collection also includes
> excellent articles on the American Revolution of 1776, the class
> character of the Andrew Jackson administration, populism, the
> suffrage movement, etc.  Side by side with Howard Zinn's "People's
> History of the United States" and similar books by Herbert Aptheker
> and WEB Dubois, they help to provide an alternative to the standard
> self-glorifying texts most of us read in high school or college.
> As might be expected, Novack and Frankel make the case for a
> "bourgeois-democratic revolution" led by an alliance of temporizing
> politicians like Lincoln who were more interested in preserving the
> Union than in eradicating slavery and Radicals like Thaddeus Stevens
> who expressed the class interests of a rising industrial
> bourgeoisie. At times the identification with a revolutionary
> bourgeoisie leads to some rather unsettling formulations, such as
> George Novack's explanation of the "interlinked stages of the
> bourgeois-democratic revolution in the United States".

Probably they would have been better off in seeing the industrial
bourgeoisie as being pulled in contradictory directions.  On
the one hand, they did have a class interest in a radical
reconstruction of the South along bourgeois democratic,
market capitalist lines, which would have required them
to permit the freedmen a share of political power in
the South.  But the industrial bourgeoisie also had
a class interest in resisting the rise of the working
class a political force in its own right, and to the
extent that the populist Reconstruction governments
in the South came to be seen as contributing to
the development of a class consiousness among
workers, black and white, then that was something
to be opposed.  In other words, the industrial bourgeoise
of the North faced a situation analogous to that faced
by the German bourgeoisie in 1848, and in both
cases, the good burghers fled into the arms of
reaction.  Hence, my question about whether
any of the Forty-eighters living in the US ever
perceived a repitition of history here.

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