Was the Union war against the Confederacy a progressive war or imperialist bloodbath?

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Feb 2 2016 11:33
Was the Union war against the Confederacy a progressive war or imperialist bloodbath?

This is a side discussion split off from this thread on International Perspective's "As We See It" position paper.

The opening post of this sub-thread was comment #44 in the parent thread which raised a question on a brief mention of the US Civil War in the "As We See It" document:

S Artesian wrote:
Perhaps Sander can supply some clarification. This appears in the recent IP position paper:

Quote:
Thus, his early deterministic and stage-ist theories led him to congratulate Lincoln on his re-election even while the first industrialized war was still in the course of murdering over half a million proletarians
Is IP suggesting the the Confederate troops were proletarians?

Even on the Union side, with so little of the economy, and so little of the population urbanized, and involved in industrial production, it's a stretch to call the majority of those troops "proletarians."

Friend of mine claims that IP considers the US Civil War an intra-capitalist dispute where the revolutionary stance would have been that of defeatism, working for defeat on both sides.

Is that an accurate rendering of the IP position?

I will append the subsequent posts on that topic in the next comment

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Feb 2 2016 11:45

#46 Sander

Quote:
Artesian wrote:

Quote:
Is IP suggesting the the Confederate troops were proletarians?
Even on the Union side, with so little of the economy, and so little of the population urbanized, and involved in industrial production, it's a stretch to call the majority of those troops "proletarians."
Friend of mine claims that IP considers the US Civil War an intra-capitalist dispute where the revolutionary stance would have been that of defeatism, working for defeat on both sides.
Is that an accurate rendering of the IP position?
.
Marx expected the victory of the North to speed up the development of capitalism, and therefore also of the working class, and thus be beneficial to the latter. We don’t disagree with that. The question is whether that was worth the price of more than 600 000 lives and all the other misery the war caused. “Half a million proletarians” may be an exageration, as there were many small farmers etc. among them, but that hardly changes the point. The war was horror and the fate of the downtrodden didn’t improve much after it. Marx was still too much captivated by his schematic, deterministic view of history to realize this.

More on other comments soon.

#47 S Artesian

Quote:
Quote:
The war was horror and the fate of the downtrodden didn’t improve much after it.
In order to avoid derailing this thread, I would suggest, if Sander agrees, that a new thread around this issue should be initiated.

My first comment would be : Sander didn't answer the questions. I didn't ask why Marx held his view; or even if Marx held a view. I asked if IP considered the Confederate troops proletarians. I asked if IP holds to "turn the guns around. Defeat of the North by the South is a 'lesser evil' than pursuing the war on behalf of the North."

The question for Marxists is precisely not what Sander claims it was: "The question is whether that was worth the price of more than 600 000 lives and all the other misery the war caused."

Baloney. The issue is what determined the war; what made it an historical necessity (if it was); and therefore what compelled the parties to act as they did. History does not assign a price to lives. That's a bourgeois affectation. History is not a cost-benefit scheme or an accounting exercise.

The war didn't improve the "fate" of the downtrodden "much"? Once again baloney. Fate's got nothing to do with it. The war abolished slavery. Was this revolution completed? No. But without the war, there would have been no period of Congressional (Radical) Reconstruction, 1868-1872, which in fact did greatly improve the material lives, if not the fate, of the downtrodden.

That the bourgeoisie turned away from Radical Reconstruction and agreed to the restoration of Redemptionist governments in the South does not mean the war or Reconstruction was a waste-- unless of course you think that the migration of blacks to the cities after the turn of the century, the civil rights movement, the militant struggles of black industrial workers would have occurred without the Civil War, without the 13th, 14th, 15th amendments.

As for Sander's rationalization of IP's "exaggeration" of the death of 500,000 proletarians: Since when do Marxists, presenting an analysis of capitalism engage in "exaggeration"? Exaggeration? What's next, claiming "artistic license" in mis-characterizing class struggle? IP does not engage in exaggeration-- but in direct distortion to support a position that has no real basis in fact. That's called ideology.

See why this should be split-off?

#49 Sander

Quote:
Artesian,
I’m appalled that you think the dead of 600 000 people (regardless whether they were proletarians or not) and all the other misery the war inflicted should not be a factor in judging whether to support such wars or not. It reminded me of Che Guevara writing in his diary that the millions of deaths in an atomic war would be well worth it to advance the cause of communism. I’m not saying you would make the same judgement but you argue in much the same vein as he did when you write

Quote:
“History does not assign a price to lives. That's a bourgeois affectation. History is not a cost-benefit scheme or an accounting exercise.”
Right. History has no feelings, it does not suffer, it has no sense, it has no purpose. But we humans do.

#50 S Artesian

Quote:
Sander wrote:
Artesian,
I’m appalled that you think the dead of 600 000 people (regardless whether they were proletarians or not) and all the other misery the war inflicted should not be a factor in judging whether to support such wars or not. It reminded me of Che Guevara writing in his diary that the millions of deaths in an atomic war would be well worth it to advance the cause of communism. I’m not saying you would make the same judgement but you argue in much the same vein as he did when you write
Quote:
“History does not assign a price to lives. That's a bourgeois affectation. History is not a cost-benefit scheme or an accounting exercise.”
Right. History has no feelings, it does not suffer, it has no sense, it has no purpose. But we humans do.

Sander,

I'm appalled that your tally of the cost-benefit of the US Civil War does not include the lives of the millions of Africans enslaved, those more than thousands who perished in the Atlantic passage, and those millions who were, quite literally, worked to death.

Those bodies, somehow, don't show up in your ledger, do they? Of course not, they were slaves. By definition, they don't count.

The absurdity of your "position"-- your numbers-driven pacifism-- is that, besides begging the questions, it leads to asking, "Well, if only 200,000 died, would that make it worthwhile?"

As if once the struggle is joined, you would have known what the death toll would have been.

I'm asking you to answer some simple questions, which the careful reader will note, you continue to avoid answering:

1. Is it IP's position that Marx, and the IMWA, were wrong in endorsing the North's military, political, and economic struggle against the slaveholders' rebellion?

2. Is it IP's position that "revolutionary defeatism"-- which means that revolutionaries in the North welcome the defeat of the Union troops by the troops of the slaveholders' rebellion as preferable to the victory of Union troops-- was the "correct" position?

3. What justification can there be for claiming that the US Civil War sacrificed the lives of over "500,000 proletarians on both sides" when the composition of the slaveholders' army was not proletarian at all, and the proletarian component in the Union Army was a distinct minority?

4. Does the IP regard the victory of the North in the Civil War, the formal, legal, and substantive elements of the abolition of slavery-- i.e. military occupation of the South, Congressional Reconstruction, the 13th, 14th, 15th amendments as "tragedies," and not just tragedies, but a defeat for the prospects of revolution?

Perhaps the US should have, after all, been more like Brazil? And let slavery continue, say until the 1880s, then those 500,000 of almost proletarians, including the almost proletarian slave owners, wouldn't have had to sacrifice so much? And the million or so slaves, those actually performing the labor, those who would have died in the 30 or so years.....?????

Do at least try to answer the questions. After that, you can be as appalled as you like

#53 S Artesian

Quote:
Quote:

A comment by Sander, in the midst of a discussion of the value-form, that the US civil war was a capitalist war, and one of the first wars in which warfare itself became industrialized,

Get your facts straight, Mac, if you're going to participate. Just to bring you up to speed and correct your distortion of the record, it was not a comment by Sander that triggered the discussion of the Civil War. It was the statement in your position paper "As We See It" on the Civil War that prompted my questions in this thread, a thread devoted, according to its title devoted to Internationalist Perspective: 'As We See It. Can't think of a better place to raise the question, can you?

Plus, I suggested that the admins might want to split the thread so we could pursue both issues. They have, so far, not seen the need for that. OK, then this is the place to pursue these matters.

You don't like it? Too bad. Ask the admins to split the thread, and then there will be two places where you can avoid the issues you raise in your own position paper.

Moreover, a friend of mine-- you know him, Loren Goldner-- stated that IP hold's a "defeatist" position on the US Civil War so I asked for clarification on that.

All will note that you, like Sander, ignore the questions directly dealing with the assertions in your position paper, and your attempted rationalizations thereof ("war is horrible." "war is terrible." "war cost 500,000 proletarians their lives." "I'm appalled at your sang froid" blahblahblah).

So let me reproduce the questions and then you may, one more time, and with feeling, avoid answering them, claiming that questioning your own assertions-- like the Confederate troops being "proletarians" for one-- is a diversion from.......what? Value-form? Do us a favor....

1. Is it IP's position that Marx, and the IMWA, were wrong in endorsing the North's military, political, and economic struggle against the slaveholders' rebellion?

2. Is it IP's position that "revolutionary defeatism"-- which means that revolutionaries in the North welcome the defeat of the Union troops by the troops of the slaveholders' rebellion as preferable to the victory of Union troops-- was the "correct" position?

3. What justification can there be for claiming that the US Civil War sacrificed the lives of over "500,000 proletarians on both sides" when the composition of the slaveholders' army was not proletarian at all, and the proletarian component in the Union Army was a distinct minority?

4. Does the IP regard the victory of the North in the Civil War, the formal, legal, and substantive elements of the abolition of slavery-- i.e. military occupation of the South, Congressional Reconstruction, the 13th, 14th, 15th amendments as "tragedies," and not just tragedies, but a defeat for the prospects of revolution?

No one disputes that Congressional Reconstruction was eviscerated; that a campaign of terror organized by the former Confederates and slaveholders (those "proletarians" who survived the tragic Civil War-- the tragedy being that they in fact survived) was the motor on the Redemptionist trolley; that the Northern bourgeoisie, and the Northern petty-bourgeoisie, turned away from Reconstruction when Reconstruction, to succeed, required racial equality throughout the land.

However that doesn't mean the Civil War was not necessary, and did not carry within it the impulse to emancipation-- as in fact subsequent revolutions and civil wars have embodied a similar impulse only to wither, ebb, and re-form the conditions of exploitation and oppression.

So answer the questions and in the subsequent discussion see if you can link your answers to your analysis of the value form. If you cannot, then you don't really get what Marx was driving at, and why he undertook the critique of capital.

All the talk in the world about value form don't mean a thing if the only place your so-called Marxism gets you is a place of abstention in a war against slavery.

S. Artesian
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Feb 2 2016 13:41

OK, we'll see if anyone from IP pursues this discussion.

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Feb 2 2016 14:00
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Marx expected the victory of the North to speed up the development of capitalism, and therefore also of the working class.

Marx also demonstrated how the British working class backed up his assessment with industrial action in support of the North.

Numerous slave rebellions and insurrections took place in North America during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. There is documentary evidence of more than 250 uprisings or attempted uprisings involving ten or more slaves.

Slave resistance in the antebellum South did not gain the attention of academic historians until the 1940s when historian Herbert Aptheker started publishing the first serious scholarly work on the subject. Aptheker stressed how rebellions were rooted in the exploitative conditions of the southern slave system. He traversed libraries and archives throughout the South, managing to uncover roughly 250 similar instances.

The American Civil War was the bourgeois reaction to these slave revolts. It killed two birds: it attempted to appease slave discontent and to bring those slaves into the free labour market pool.

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Feb 2 2016 14:39

The US Civil War was a slaveholders' rebellion in defense of slavery, for the expansion of slavery.

The stage was set with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, effectively allowing slavery to expand into new territories administered by the federal government, and the first act took place in Kansas, when slaveholders from neighboring Missouri initiated a terrorist campaign against "free soil" farmers in Kansas in order to secure a pro-slavery territorial government.

The Civil War was in no way, shape,or form an attempt to "appease slave discontent," as initially the North made it quite clear that slavery in the existing states, even those in direct rebellion, would not be threatened. This formal "position" was undermined, of course, by the slaves themselves who flocked to Union lines.

In the West, in 1861 the commanding Union general John C. Fremont declared the abolition of slavery in the military region of his command and was promptly relieved of his command for so doing.

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Feb 2 2016 16:18

From the previous thread:

S. Artesian wrote:
Actually, in the real terms of Marx's critique of capital, the practical struggle embodied in the US Civil War, of the actual material conditions of class, and the prospects for the emancipation of labor is 1000 times more substantive, than IP's (mis)exposition on fictitious capital, value form, etc.

Couldn't agree more.

It's disgusting when the agency of human beings in struggle gets airbrushed out of the discussion so that self-appointed experts, calling everyone a fool who doesn't agree with their highly-abstract polemics, can preach to us their ideological faith.

Back to agency.

CLR James brilliant works, like The Black Jacobins, show that slavery did not occur to passive African victims, but was vociferously opposed from its origins.

James wrote:
The docile Negro is a myth. Slaves on slave ships jumped overboard, went on vast hunger strikes, attacked the crews. There are records of slaves overcoming the crew and taking the ship into harbor, a feat of tremendous revolutionary daring. In British Guiana during the eighteenth century the Negro slaves revolted, seized the Dutch colony, and held it for years. They withdrew to the interior, forced the whites to sign a treaty of peace, and have remained free to this day. Every West Indian colony, particularly Jamaica and San Domingo and Cuba, the largest islands, had its settlements of maroons, bold Negroes who had fled into the wilds and organized themselves to defend their freedom. In Jamaica the British government, after vainly trying to suppress them, accepted their existence by treaties of peace, scrupulously observed by both sides over many years, and then broken by British treachery. In America the Negroes made nearly 150 distinct revolts against slavery. The only place where Negroes did not revolt is in the pages of capitalist historians. All this revolutionary history can come as a surprise only to those who, whatever International they belong to, whether Second, Third, or Fourth [or Internationalist Perspectives], have not yet ejected from their systems the pertinacious lies of Anglo-Saxon capitalism. It is not strange that the Negroes revolted. It would have been strange if they had not. (from the essay “Revolution and the Negro" [1939])

CLR James situates this in an historical context, much as Ted Allen did in finding the origins of American-style chattel slavery in the reaction to Bacon’s Rebellion, starting in 1676. Allen points out that the “white race” was a social control formation of the ruling class in response to the white and black unity in the latter stages of Bacon’s Rebellion.

In his monumental research in Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880 (1935), W.E.B. Du Bois discovered examples of the refusal of work by “slave” workers. He clearly shows how race and prefigurative class formations interact in the process of transformative struggle, where former slaves were agents of their own liberation:

Du Bois wrote:
[the] Civil War meant emancipation and…the black worker won the war by a general strike which transferred his labor from the Confederate planter to the Northern invader, in whose army lines workers began to be organized as a new labor force. […] This was not merely the desire to stop work. It was a strike on a wide basis against the conditions of work. It was a general strike that involved directly in the end perhaps half a million people. They wanted to stop the economy of the plantation system, and to do that they left the plantations. (p. 67)
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Feb 2 2016 17:42

Yes, indeed-- the actions by those determined, committed, to being slaves-no-more,- made manifest the impulse to the emancipation of labor.

These actions by slaves and former slaves overwhelmed the "limits" to which the North originally hope to confine the war.

RC
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Feb 3 2016 21:20

Isn't the agency of slaves a contradiction in terms?

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Feb 3 2016 22:17
RC wrote:
Isn't the agency of slaves a contradiction in terms?

Then what would you call it when people fight to escape captivity and to emancipate themselves?

Sounds like you're getting hung up on semantics.

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Feb 3 2016 22:22

Not just open insurrection either; slaves found many ways to drag feet, break tools, etc. It's often cited as one of the factors inhibiting productivity of slave production. Slaves were often only trusted with cheap simple tools as they had a habit of 'accidentally' breaking them. Plus escaping - CLR James talks about the communities of Maroons living up in the hills of Saint-Domingue for example.

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Feb 3 2016 22:52
Joseph Kay wrote:
Not just open insurrection either; slaves found many ways to drag feet, break tools, etc. It's often cited as one of the factors inhibiting productivity of slave production. Slaves were often only trusted with cheap simple tools as they had a habit of 'accidentally' breaking them. Plus escaping - CLR James talks about the communities of Maroons living up in the hills of Saint-Domingue for example.

Yes and no. Some slave were entrusted with complex and expensive tools-- some acted as artisan laborers; some were trusted with teams of plow animals; some were trusted to prepare, maintain, and oversee the extensive sugar processing equipment; and a very, very few ran steam engines of some sections of railroads in the South.

But no oppressed, exploited group loses or is devoid of their "agency." It just remains latent, hidden, or suppressed until it's made manifest.

It might appear that the slaves were liberated by the Union troops. In reality, the slaves liberated themselves, abandoning plantations and manor for the Union lines and fortifications.

RC
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Feb 4 2016 05:06

Hieronymous wrote:

Quote:
Then what would you call it when people fight to escape captivity and to emancipate themselves?

OK, I see what you mean. But then you have to see the other side of it: that when slaves made a rational decision, based on the relations of force and the situation they were in, not to rebel, but to get along with slavery, this was an act of agency as well.

S. Artesian wrote:

Quote:
But no oppressed, exploited group loses or is devoid of their "agency." It just remains latent, hidden, or suppressed until it's made manifest.

What do you mean by "hidden"? Their agency wasn't hidden at all to the slave masters, who saw their agency as obstinate. The slaves either used their agency to cope with slavery or their agency was beaten into submission. If their agency was only "latent" until it could be "made manifest" in those rare circumstances favoring a rebellion, then isn't that pretty much saying they were devoid of agency? Its not like slaves only had agency when rising up or breaking tools. And its no dishonor to the slaves to say that most of the time, the balance of power was so overwhelmingly against them that they just did what they could to survive.

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Feb 4 2016 05:57

RC, since you seem pretty unaware of the lived experience of slaves in the U.S., I suggest you check out George Rawick's From Sundown to Sunup: The Making of the Black Community. It's an introductory volume to 19 subsequent ones, the latter containing transcriptions of interviews conducted from 1936 to 1938 with former slaves. They recount how when they weren't working for the master -- from sundown to sunup -- they preserved their own culture based on struggling against their condition, often outwitting the master. The myth of slaves submissively and passively resigned to their fate without resisting is a bourgeois myth.

An article RC linked to on race relations in the U.S., translated from German, is simply wrong when it writes:

RC wrote:
...these slaves did not free themselves but were released from forced labor for plantation owners in the southern states into the world of free wage-labor.

A corrective would be to read the aforementioned W. E. B. Du Bois Black Reconstruction in America: Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880.

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Feb 4 2016 11:08
Quote:
Not just open insurrection either; slaves found many ways to drag feet, break tools, etc.

So ultimately nothing has changed. Our condition of life has shown no improvement. We basically still live in a one room shack, we wake up every morning to slave under a hot sun or a cold fluorescent. We have no land to call our own.

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Feb 4 2016 18:54

James MacBryde #14

James, what are you trying to say?
It is too clever by half.

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Feb 4 2016 20:54

I don't see anything clever about my last comment, old bod. Looking back at it, it seems pretty dumb. OK, so I tried to make the point that our condition of life is no better as a wage labourer than as a slave; and that our methods of struggle do not differ from slavery either but so what, it doesn't answer the question posed in the OP, which actually seems pretty academic to me.

RC
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Feb 4 2016 22:59

Hieronymous,

Thanks for the reading tips, but you aren't responding to the points. You write:

Quote:
The myth of slaves submissively and passively resigned to their fate without resisting is a bourgeois myth.

That might have been the prevailing image of slavery in American history books back in the 1930s and 40s when James, Rawick and Du Bois were writing. But do you think that’s still the picture of slavery held in the US today? Maybe in some places. It wouldn't apply to Roots, for example. Or take Django Unchained. A lot of cultural leftist types praised Django Unchained precisely for your reason -- it challenged the myth of the passive slave by showing a slave kicking ass all over the place.

This all starts with a false question -- agency or passivity? -- and then affirms agency in the abstract. It seems to have more to do with psychological self-help than a political-economic analysis of slavery.

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Feb 5 2016 05:15
RC wrote:
Hieronymous,

Thanks for the reading tips.

You're welcome.

The title of this split off thread was the question:

Quote:
Was the Union war against the Confederacy a progressive war or imperialist bloodbath?

What do you think?

And I'd suggest splitting this off and starting a new thread if you want to debate agency vs. passivity.

vicent
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Feb 5 2016 10:33

regardless of how progressive a war seems, I think it is safe to say that the sensible working class response to any war is to;
a) evade conscription either individually or collectively
b) if caught, desert as soon as possible
c) otherwise resist and mutiny against militarist despotism
if by chance one is not drafted there is no problem with continuing resistance against capital in the workplace, regardless of how that may affect the war effort

S. Artesian
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Feb 5 2016 15:29
vicent wrote:
regardless of how progressive a war seems, I think it is safe to say that the sensible working class response to any war is to;
a) evade conscription either individually or collectively
b) if caught, desert as soon as possible
c) otherwise resist and mutiny against militarist despotism
if by chance one is not drafted there is no problem with continuing resistance against capital in the workplace, regardless of how that may affect the war effort

The above is not exactly germane to this discussion.

How about these:

US Civil War: Proletarians on both sides? Proletarians caught in the middle? Irrelevant to workers? Not worth the effort? Of no consequence to slaves, ex-slaves, and "free" people? A waste? A money-making exercise?

Try those on for size.

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Feb 5 2016 16:57

Having started the thread it's probably bad manners not to express my own opinion. The quick version is 1) I don't see the US Civil War as an imperialist war and 2) I do think the war was inevitable and necessary and the destruction of the Confederacy and the Slave Power it fought to uphold, was progressive.

In response to positions like:

vicent wrote:
regardless of how progressive a war seems, I think it is safe to say that the sensible working class response to any war is to;
a) evade conscription either individually or collectively
b) if caught, desert as soon as possible
c) otherwise resist and mutiny against militarist despotism
if by chance one is not drafted there is no problem with continuing resistance against capital in the workplace, regardless of how that may affect the war effort

The position is posed in an abstract a-historical way which makes it "not even wrong" from a historical materialist perspective. From the perspective of African-American slaves then the injunctions to 1) evade conscription, b) desert, c) otherwise resist and mutiny; were precisely the principles that drove them to flee slavery and take up arms in the Union army. The question as to the class composition of both Union and Confederate armies, in terms of how many of the volunteers and conscriptees were actually proletarian or working class, is open to question, as SA has already pointed out.

I find the characterisation of the US Civil War as an "imperialist war" to be a-historical for a number of reasons. First of all the term "Imperialism" itself is only introduced in the late 1870s, i.e. after the 1861-1865 US war. It was introduced in the critique of Disraeli's foreign policy, denounced as "The New Imperialism" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Imperialism). This isn't just linguistic pedantry - there was a change in policy in the 1870s, led by Britain, which saw expanding new colonies as a remedy for the perceived decline of British capitalism after the "golden age" of uncontested dominance from the end of the Napoleonic Wars up to the Franco-Prussian War (this is the period of Jevon's musings over "Peak Coal", for e.g., and a near-universal fretting over the long term decline of the Industrial revolution). A policy that eventually led to a generalised competition between Western European powers to seize colonial space, peaking in the "Scramble for Africa" and the Berlin Conference of 1884-5, and culminating in the First World War. Whether we disagree with the specifics of Lenin and Luxemburg's different analyses of the dynamics of imperialism, there's no disputing the general historical outline of the phenonema and that it is historically located in the period 1871-1914, after the US Civil War.

Second, aside from the fact the US Civil War occurred in the pre-"New Imperialism" period of uncontested British imperial dominance, in the sphere of international trade, the world market and the developing globalisation of capitalism, there is the fact that it was not an inter-imperialist conflict but a civil war proper, with relatively little significant intervention from outside imperialist interests (as opposed to civil wars in Spain in the early 20th or Syria today, for e.g.). As such it represented the internal struggle between two ultimately incompatible modes of production.

And that's my second point - I think the war was inevitable by the time it happened. If we take Chris Hill's schema of preconditions, precipitants and trigger, then the preconditions for the war really goes back the compromise at the foundation of the state, best exemplified by the "3/5ths compromise" in the constitution. This progressively developed into a "one country, two systems" setup, the whole topic of precipitants has generated a vast swathe of hitorical writings, common reference points being the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Dredd Scott, etc. Everybody pretty much accepts that "Bloody Kansas" (as already mentioned by SA) was the trigger.

The division between the two systems was visible from the start. Thomas Jefferson's election in 1800 would have been impossible without the captive votes of the slave power. The "anti-bourgeois" vision of agrarian petty bourgeois utopia that made up "Jeffersonian democracy" was in reality unsustainable without slave production. Worse, from a Northern point of view, by the mid-19th century the Southern mode of production kept the slave states in a defacto relation of economic dependence on Britain, as the primary market for plantation cash crop production. Confederates even floated an ill-fated project of an export ban on cotton with the aim of forcing Britain into the war on the Confederate side. Even though the initial division between Jeffersonian democrats and Hamiltonian Federalists had cast the latter in the role of maintaining the link with the colonial power, by the time of the Civil War the roles were reversed. In that sense the Civil War was a settlement of outstanding issues left over from independence itself.

So much for geopolitics. Ultimately, from the likes of (ur-libertarian*) Joseph Dejacque onwards, radical socialists in the US had always argued for the destruction of the slave power. Even if this was resolutely not a conflict between massed proletarians separated only by accident of language or country, slavery represented the ultimate decomposition of the embryonic class, and it's destruction was not an optional goal for African-Americans, or ultimately for proto-class conscious actors.

---
* in the original libertarian communist sense - him coining the term, and all...

RC
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Feb 6 2016 00:20

Hieronymous wrote:

Quote:
Quote:

Was the Union war against the Confederacy a progressive war or imperialist bloodbath?

What do you think?

And I'd suggest splitting this off and starting a new thread if you want to debate agency vs. passivity.

If I am following your argument for the "progressive" character of the Civil War, it is that "slaves were the agents of their own liberation." But what was the content of this “liberation” that they were the agents of? You quote Du Bois:

Quote:
the black worker won the war by a general strike which transferred his labor from the Confederate planter to the Northern invader, in whose army lines workers began to be organized as a new labor force.

So they transferred their labor from the plantations to the only existing possibility of meals and pay – service as cannon fodder of the Union troops. Or else they starved. That was the material basis of their self-liberation.

I wouldn't take sides in questions like: which is the better mode of exploitation, slave labor or wage labor? I would ask instead: for 80 years after its founding, the USA saw nothing unAmerican about slavery. Then the US saw slavery as an obstacle to be removed. Why?

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Feb 6 2016 02:13
RC wrote:

If I am following your argument for the "progressive" character of the Civil War, it is that "slaves were the agents of their own liberation." But what was the content of this “liberation” that they were the agents of? You quote Du Bois:

Quote:
the black worker won the war by a general strike which transferred his labor from the Confederate planter to the Northern invader, in whose army lines workers began to be organized as a new labor force.

So they transferred their labor from the plantations to the only existing possibility of meals and pay – service as cannon fodder of the Union troops. Or else they starved. That was the material basis of their self-liberation.

I wouldn't take sides in questions like: which is the better mode of exploitation, slave labor or wage labor? I would ask instead: for 80 years after its founding, the USA saw nothing unAmerican about slavery. Then the US saw slavery as an obstacle to be removed. Why?

Think RC should study Ocelot's post above. I'm sure this will make him uneasy, but I find almost nothing to disagree with in Ocelot's analysis.

Ex-slaves were not used as cannon fodder by the Union Army. Most ex-slaves were not incorporated into infantry units. Those that were-- the "colored troops" formations-- fought with skill, bravery, and the will to survive, just like their white brethren-- who BTW saluted the courage this "Sable Army"-- as it has been called-- demonstrated in the face of the slaveholders' army.

The "great divergence" between North and South, when Northern "elites" begin to change their tune about slavery-- from being a protected institution to being an obstruction-- comes right after the Maine-Missouri Compromise, when it is clear that the South will do anything to expand the slave system, and offset the growing population and economic weight of the North.

Anyway, it's a slow change to say the least, and even after the South's initiation of the Civil War, the Union is loathe to explicitly target slavery, slave property. That issue was, as Hieronymous has pointed out settled by the slaves themselves, who flocked to the Union lines. The Union troops, and their officers, also forced the issue by refusing to return the refugee ex-slaves to their ex-masters, when the Confederate "gentlemen" showed up demanding the repatriation of their "property."

The progressive nature of the Civil War was realized in the abolition of slavery, made manifest by Radical (Congressional) Reconstruction, the 13th 14th and 15th amendments, the Reconstruction governments that were the first governments in the South to make provisions for public education, and the Freedman's Bureaus.

This progressive legacy was dismantled by a campaign of organized terror throughout the South to which the US executive and judicial branches did not respond in the manner mandated by the Reconstruction legislation.

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Hieronymous
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Feb 6 2016 06:49

I agree that there is no better exploitation. It's a false choice. But I would use an expression from addiction: harm reduction. Given the hypothetical choice between being forced out of bed by an alarm clock or a bullwhip, I think anyone's choice would be obvious.

But I never actually used the term "progressive," although I agree with the gist of what it implies. If I were a slave during the war, I'd like to think that I would grab a Northern gun and point it at former slave masters. But if I were an Irish working class immigrant (like my maternal ancestors actually were) in New York in that period, I could also imagine it hard to avoid being drawn into the ugly vortex of the Draft Riots in 1863. So to answer the hypothetical question of what I would have done had I been there, it would depend whether or not my skin was branded.

The Du Bois quote I gave above was from Chapter IV, entitled "The General Strike." Further on in the chapter he gives details how once they were liberated, some former slaves returned to plantations and started doing agricultural work for themselves; as a result, their "standard of living was rising" (p. 75). According to Du Bois, efficiency at providing for their own needs was an exponential improvement over what they produced for the master. But anyone who's ever had to toil while the boss is away knows this; unimpeded by managerial orders and oversight, you can facilely complete your tasks in half the time and head home early.

I largely agree with nearly everything Artesian and Ocelot wrote above.

EDIT: Also, I strongly suggest that everyone who hasn't read Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880 to check out pages 92-112 for his account of the combat performance of freed slaves.

Additionally, check out the late Will Barnes' grand opus Civil War and Revolution in America. He has several quotes with accounts of the heroic fighting of former slaves, this one taken from Bruce Catton's Grant Takes Command (p. 288):

Catton wrote:
[In Smith's formation in front of Petersburg,] "off to the left General Hincks' colored infantrymen the men to whom little had ever been given and from whom nothing in particular was expected, marched up to the dominating ridge, fought their way over the massive trenches and went storming on into the forts. ... In half an hour or a little more it was over. The salient was gone, the ridge to the south was crowned with black men in blue uniforms yelling and brandishing their weapons and climbing all over the captured guns, and when the sun went down Smith's troops had taken a mile and a half of trenches, five forts, sixteen pieces of artillery and several hundred prisoners. Between them and Petersburg there was nothing they needed to be afraid of …"

General Grant, whose attitude towards blacks was indifferent at best, also included reminiscences of the bravery of the emancipated slaves fighting under him in his Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. He even recounts instances where freedmen got extra-legal revenge by offing their former slave masters.

lettersjournal
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Feb 6 2016 20:59

Debord writes in his memoir about his fascination with war:

Quote:
I HAVE BEEN very interested in war, in the theoreticians of its strategy, but also in reminiscences of battles and in the countless other disruptions history mentions, surface eddies on the river of time. I am not unaware that war is the domain of danger and disappointment, perhaps even more so than the other sides of life. This consideration has not, however, diminished the attraction that I have felt for it.

It's hard not to be fascinated by it, attracted to it. The heroism and manliness. Good triumphing over evil and all that. It would be dishonest to deny the beauty in a war songs like 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic' or the great speeches of the generals. The St. Crispin's Day Speech...

Of course, that is the war of songs and movies and plays.

Perhaps the most alluring thing about war is that it's the domain of men: terrible, violent, dirty, exciting.

Quote:
Sartesian, I thought that I had answered your question: in 1861 I would have joined the Union army. I would not have advocated revolutionary defeatism. And in 1789 you might have been a Jacobin, and several years later I might have been with Babeuf. Is that the level upon which we want to discuss history? Robespierre looks different today than he did in 1789, just as Lenin looks different today than he did in October 1917. And, yes the actual outcome of the American civil war, and the subsequent century of a legalized caste system in America, changes the way one looks at the war itself.

On some level, all revolutionary ideology is built on the fantasy of having a hand in murder and destruction. Every theoretician dreams of being a man of action. To march to the front alongside your brothers. Anything to be free of child-rearing and agriculture (I mean, office work)!

But what does this have to do with communism?

What does it mean to make pronouncements about the progressive nature of this or that war? How are we to judge both the ends and instruments of history (if there any at all)? What does it really mean to say "I would have joined the Union Army"? Or "such and such looks different today than he did so long ago? (What about those long ago who didn't like the look of him then, either?)

If we run the tape forward a few centuries, will 'we' say, "Sure, in 2016 I would have been a left communist (or whatever), even though we know today that was terrible"?

lettersjournal
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Feb 6 2016 21:07

It is an obvious statement, but any argument advanced in favor of the Union in the Civil War can be advanced in favor of the Allies in WW2 or India in the civil war of Pakistan in 1971 or whatever else.

lettersjournal
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Feb 6 2016 21:30
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I do think the war was inevitable and necessary and the destruction of the Confederacy and the Slave Power it fought to uphold, was progressive.

What is the difference between this belief and the belief (common in the north at the time of the war) about the providence of God in relation to the Union war effort?

S. Artesian
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Feb 6 2016 21:41
lettersjournal wrote:

It's hard not to be fascinated by it, attracted to it. The heroism and manliness. Good triumphing over evil and all that. It would be dishonest to deny the beauty in a war songs like 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic' or the great speeches of the generals. The St. Crispin's Day Speech...

Of course, that is the war of songs and movies and plays.

Perhaps the most alluring thing about war is that it's the domain of men: terrible, violent, dirty, exciting.

Except nobody's talking about finding war alluring, or being attracted to it, or its manliness, or good triumphing evil, or the swell songs, and stirring speeches, and the bands playing.. or any of that.

We are discussing the material determinants, the cause of a particular war, and the actions necessary to resolve that conflict.

letterjournal wrote:
What does it mean to make pronouncements about the progressive nature of this or that war? How are we to judge both the ends and instruments of history (if there any at all)? What does it really mean to say "I would have joined the Union Army"? Or "such and such looks different today than he did so long ago? (What about those long ago who didn't like the look of him then, either?)

If we run the tape forward a few centuries, will 'we' say, "Sure, in 2016 I would have been a left communist (or whatever), even though we know today that was terrible"?

Different questions-- to identify the issues driving a confrontation means we can determine if one side, or a side, is driven by a need to remedy the oppression and exploitation that exists in that specific historical expression. So we can determine if there is a "progressive" component.

As for what it means to say "I would have joined the Union Army..." well in the context of Mac's post-- it means nothing, as he's using it to ignore the previous question.

We can evaluate the conflict at the heart of a war just as we can, and by using the same tools, that we employ to evaluate popular struggles, and revolutions.

lettersjournal wrote:
It is an obvious statement, but any argument advanced in favor of the Union in the Civil War can be advanced in favor of the Allies in WW2 or India in the civil war of Pakistan in 1971 or whatever else.

And it's a meaningless statement to say that an argument linked, connected, embedded in the evaluation of a specific historical period, a specific conflict with specific material conditions, can be abstracted completely from that history and can be tacked on to any and every other conflict.

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Hieronymous
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Feb 6 2016 21:56

But any argument advanced by lettersjournal in favor of discussing -- or not -- the issues driving a confrontation leading to war can be advanced by lettersjournal in favor of the Broncos in the Super Bowl or their favorite singer on American Idol (perhaps performing "Battle Hymn of the Republic") or whatever else.

RC
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Feb 7 2016 17:18

The progressives are ignoring the question: what were the Northern troops fighting for? Yes, against the southern secessionist slave-owners – bad people. Probably nobody here wants to say that the troops were fighting for the well-being of the slaves. So what was the state interest being served by the abolition of slavery?

Instead of answering that question, a salute to the troops – skill! bravery! “just like their white brethren”! That’s on par with Hieronymous’s insight, supported by books, that the slaves had will and consciousness. The Indians must have been impressed. BTW, when aren't American troops fighting valiantly for freedom and equality?

Do the progressives want to say that the general imposition of wage labor on the North American continent was a step on the stairway to communism? S. Artesian thinks the progressive nature of the civil war was “realized” in such things as the right to vote and public education. Is that another step?

So far, this is just a left version of American nationalist myth-making.

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Hieronymous
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Feb 7 2016 18:18

First RC, who the fuck do you think you are preaching your sermon too? Your parishioners? If so, you aren't posting on your church's Myspace page. This is libcom, in case you didn't notice.

Next, who the fuck are the "progressives"? Are you alleging that someone identifying as such reads this website? If so, you are once again on the wrong website. If not, stop making passive-aggressive smears.

RC wrote:
The Indians must have been impressed.

Who are you referring to? Do you mean this?:

lettersjournal wrote:
India in the civil war of Pakistan in 1971

That was a century later. If not, what the fuck are you talking about?

You said slaves were "canon-fodder" for what again? The right to vote and public education?

As Artesian suggests, why don't you take a look at Ocelot's post above and critique ruthlessly.

But please stop posting in bad faith.