[Marxism] Behind the attack on New York Times Project 1619 | Louis Proyect

Mark Lause markalause at gmail.com
Fri Dec 27 21:35:25 MST 2019

I've just heard that jaw-dropping clip from the president offering his
expert warnings about the environmental dangers of windmills.  I’m sure
that, between them, the various media outlets have given a far bigger and
louder platform to his idiocy than they've ever given the advocates of wind
power.  Such is life for us, as unwilling denizens of the Opposite World
structured by the American ruling class.

Like the president, corporate media regularly disparages work by anyone
whose perspective they’d prefer to dismisses, perhaps especially so for
those who've spent years, decades, lifetimes actually studying a
subject.  Their
priority is, first and foremost, showcasing whatever will goose its
readership/viewership and the advertising revenues linked to them.

In this context, we should welcome the 1619 Project for popularizing what
scholars of American History generally have been studying and discussing
for half a century:  Race cannot be separated from any major event in our
history, and the nature of power means that these have been shaped by the
imperatives of white supremacy.  These insights should actually surprise
nobody on a Marxism list, though, if they do, we have all the more reason
to praise the project.

However, I would not uncritically embrace the New York Times without a few

To state the obvious, causality requires sifting and processed of those
diverse motives.  In a large and complex population, a broad spectrum of
concerns motivates individuals. The nonslaveholders in the Confederate Army
or small town kids of all backgrounds enlisting to fight for the U.S. in
Vietnam might tell us all sorts of things about their motives.  Rather than
take these on face value as explanatory of the general cause of the
war.  Rather
we weigh them critically.

Then, too, we can't take the outcome of the process as an indication of
what motivated those who participated in it.  In particular, people my age
hopefully have recollections of their parents talking about what hopes they
had coming out of the sacrifices of World War II.  Most did not struggle
because they wanted the permanent warfare state and the Mutually Assured
Destruction insanity that emerged.  I suppose you could say that this was
“one of the principal causes” of WWII—it certainly had to motivate some in
power or we wouldn’t have gotten them—but it would be misleading to read
this backwards into the past.  In the wake of the American Revolution or
the Civil War, there were always many people who protested the outcomes as
less than they had expected.

Certainly, some of the slaveholding gentlemen in slaveholding states
opposed secession and became Unionists because they rightly saw secession
and war as likely to result in the destruction of the institution of
slavery.  Did that mean that one of the principal causes of the Union in
the Civil War was the preservation of slavery?  Some with racialist
hypernational politics opposed the Axis in WWII, but that did not mean the
Allies favored fascism.  At least such erroneous assumptions in these cases
would have something from which to leap to a conclusion.

To me, though, the fundamental objection to the assertion that the American
Revolution was about saving slavery from its abolition by the British are
obvious.  This refurbished old Tory whitewash of the British Empire is
applied over an undercoat of American parochialism.  First, the American
colonies did not square off against a British Empire eager to abolish

In fact, it did not do so for several generations after the American
Declaration . . .   Maybe somebody had a TARDIS.

Then, too, the empire's move against slavery never emancipated the imperial
economy from slavery.  Indeed, not only did it make a series of exemptions
at the behest of the East Indian Company, but the entire Industrial
Revolution rested as firmly on the textile industry, the cotton trade from
the American South, and its reliance on African slavery.  This British
reliance on slavery provided the Confederacy with a strong base of support
within the government and provided the Confederacy’s main hope for the
salvation of its own independence from the U.S. and the salvation of its
“peculiar institution.”

Most directly, the American Revolution became an American Revolution—a
unitary experience—only after the fact, in the establishment of unified
national government with a unified policy.  In practice, colonists
organized their rebellion through their colonial governments, which forged
a common military force and a foreign policy but balked at almost any other
move the direction of a national policy.  Slavery did not have the same
economic power in northern colonies as in the southern—Vermont never had
slavery at all.  Then, too, the history of the war itself reflected the
British belief that they had their strongest support in elite circles among
the slaveholders of the South.  In this sense, the primary causes of the
revolution should reasonably be sought in the grievances common to the
colonial governments that waged it, and slavery hardly represented a common

The record of the Revolutionary generation on slavery was deplorable, but
hardly unmixed.  Staring as the struggle for Independence still raged,
state governments in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania withdrew the legal
sanction for slavery.  By 1804, every state north of the Mason-Dixon Line
had done so.  More substantively, the nascent national government
explicitly excluded slavery from the Northwest territory.

All the shortcomings notwithstanding, this ensured a sectional base for
organizing an effective active opposition to slavery on all levels,
including the overt defiance of Federal law in the aid and shelter of
runaway slaves.

Certainly, the black abolitionists who rooted their arguments in the
language of the Declaration of Independence and regularly celebrated the
role of African Americans in the Continental Army did not understand the
American Revolution as an attempt to avoid the abolition of slavery.
John Brown thought so, as did all of the Radial Abolitionists.  Frederick
Douglass even saw the end of slavery as an implicit transformation of
American national identity, that would include African Americans.  Marx and
the entire of the Marxist movement in the U.S. shared this view.

These may be arguable positions, but I have yet to see some substantive
reason for doing so.


Mark L.

PS: Perhaps part of the problem is that people think a "bourgeois
revolution" is a process that's required to do something for us.  The
adjective is the key to who owns that process.  The people generally get
only what we could grab out of the shift of power, but it's hard to find a
"bourgeois revolution" that actually presented us with the kind of
genuinely democratic transformation we would want.

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