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Re: Capitalism, slavery and the Brenner thesis part 4
by Jim Farmelant
30 September 2003 02:19 UTC
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On Mon, 29 Sep 2003 10:28:07 -0400 Louis Proyect <lnp3@panix.com> 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.

> "The bourgeois-national revolutionary movement in North America had 
> five 
> main tasks to fulfill. These were: (1) to free the American people 
> from 
> foreign domination; (2) to consolidate the separate colonies or 
> states 
> into one nation; (3) to set up a democratic republic; (4) to place 
> state 
> power in the hands of the bourgeoisie; and (5) most important of 
> all, to 
> rid American society of its precapitalist encumbrances (Indian 
> tribalism, feudalism, slavery) in order to permit the full and free 
> expansion of capitalist forces of production and exchange. These 
> five 
> tasks were all bound together, the solution of one preparing the 
> conditions for the solution of the rest."
> Although Novack's essay "The Civil War--It's Place in History" was 
> written in 1961, long before Wounded Knee, it is still astonishing 
> to 
> see such a facile grouping of slavery, feudalism and "Indian 
> tribalism". 
> Hadn't Novack ever read about the debt of Benjamin Franklin and 
> others 
> to the institutions of the Iroquois confederacy, which were adopted 
> by 
> the victorious rebels of 1776 as a model of grass-roots democracy? 
> This 
> kind of mechanical stagism owes more to Herbert Spencer than it does 
> to 
> Karl Marx, I'm afraid. I have been told that Novack was trying to 
> woo a 
> group of ex-CP intellectuals around John Gates into the SWP during 
> this 
> period. Perhaps Novack was trying to invoke Popular Front 
> conventional 
> wisdom about the progressive American bourgeoisie.
> Camejo's book is probably the best all-round introduction to these 
> questions. He wrote it during his 1976 SWP campaign for President. I 
> remember how important the book was to him. He wanted to show SWP 
> leaders that he was not just an agitational speaker and that he was 
> capable of doing serious scholarship. That he did. Although 
> numbering 
> less than 300 pages, the book does penetrate to the heart of the 
> matter 
> with impressive erudition.
> While not departing from the basic ideological framework established 
> by 
> earlier SWP leaders like Novack and Frankel, Camejo's book does have 
> the 
> additional virtue of readability. Despite the fact that he was 
> trying to 
> distance himself from his agitator past, the book retains the 
> electricity of a campaign speech:
> "While their living standards were deteriorating the workers could 
> see 
> about them the orgy of profiteering and graft that was enriching the 
> employing classes as never before in U.S. history. Millionaires had 
> been 
> a comparative rarity in pre-Civil War America, now they were 
> sprouting 
> up like mushrooms after a rainy spell. Manufacturers of war 
> materials, 
> shoddy uniforms, shoes that fell apart after a few marches, piled up 
> profits; railroad manipulators were grabbing off huge tracts of land 
> which were supposed to have gone to actual settlers under the 
> Homestead 
> Act. The orgy of lavish and conspicuous spending by profiteers made 
> more 
> bitter the sufferings of the workers."
> This quote also conveys Camejo's general refusal to put the 
> industrial 
> bourgeoisie on a pedestal. This is no heroic class leading other 
> subordinate classes to victory over its reactionary slave-owning 
> rivals. 
> It is a mercenary, rapacious and freedom-hating elite that only 
> takes a 
> kind of revolutionary action when forced by circumstances beyond its 
> control.
> When Camejo addresses the failure of the Northern industrialists to 
> carry out land confiscations against the defeated slavocracy, his 
> explanation seems at first blush to make perfect sense in Marxist 
> terms:
> "Unlike its French forerunner a century earlier, the American 
> industrial 
> bourgeoisie during the second American revolution was already a 
> fully 
> developed class with political hegemony in a substantial sector of 
> the 
> country--and with its opponent class concentrated in a smaller and 
> less 
> developed region. It was this regional character of the second 
> American 
> revolution which permitted the industrial capitalists to mobilize a 
> sufficiently powerful social force to achieve victory while limiting 
> the 
> concessions they offered to the lower strata of the population. The 
> relationship of class forces never compelled the bourgeoisie to add 
> land 
> reform for the ex-slaves to its one truly revolutionary 
> concession--the 
> abolition of slavery."
> In other words, the French bourgeoisie was too weak to make a 
> revolution 
> on its own. It had to cut a deal with the peasants in order to 
> establish 
> its own rule. In exchange for land confiscated from the gentry, they 
> got 
> foot soldiers for the revolution. If there is any correlation 
> between 
> weak bourgeoisies and mobilizing peasants, then there would have 
> been 
> 1789s all through Latin America. In reality, as I shall point out in 
> my 
> final post, the French bourgeoisie itself never really pressed for 
> land 
> reform. What is consistent in all of these misnamed "bourgeois 
> revolutions" is the tendency for social transformation to come from 
> the 
> bottom despite the intentions of the powerful. When slaves voted 
> with 
> their feet to join the Union, it led Lincoln to issue an 
> Emancipation 
> Proclamation. A similar process took place in France 75 years 
> earlier.
> Max Shachtman's "Communism and the Negro" was written in 1933. It is 
> now 
> available from Verso under the title "Race and Revolution" with an 
> excellent introduction by Christopher Phelps. The last time I ran 
> into 
> Phelps he was working on a book on Trotskyism and the black struggle.
> Shachtman was trying to persuade the Trotskyist movement that 
> black-white unity around class demands was superior to either 
> Trotsky's 
> support for self-determination developed during his Prinkipo exile 
> or 
> the CPUSA's own "black belt" slogan, which arose during the "3rd 
> period". The CP had theorized that the Deep South constituted a 
> black 
> nation in terms of the definition laid down by Stalin, especially 
> around 
> the criterion of occupying a common territory.
> Although these questions are obviously very important for Marxism, I 
> concentrated on what Shachtman had to say about slavery, the Civil 
> War 
> and Reconstruction. Although his chief interest was in supporting 
> his 
> views on black liberation in 1933, I found his analysis of 
> postbellum 
> class relations more acute than Novack, Frankel or Camejo despite 
> sharing their characterization of the Civil War as a 
> bourgeois-democratic revolution. Unlike them, he addresses the exact 
> class nature of the forms of labor of the postbellum period and 
> finds 
> that they fall short of what we understand by "pure capitalism". If 
> the 
> Civil War was an assault on "precapitalist" modes of production, 
> then it 
> must have been a rather unsuccessful one given the various kinds of 
> "extra-economic coercion" that remained in place from Reconstruction 
> onwards.
> For Shachtman, the words of African-American John R. Lynch, who was 
> the 
> speaker of the Mississippi house during Reconstruction, are critical:
> "it was soon made plain that if that plan should be accepted by the 
> country no material change would follow for the reason, chiefly, 
> that 
> the abolition of slavery would have been abolition only in name. 
> While 
> physical slavery would have been abolished, yet a sort of FEUDAL OR 
> PEONAGE SYSTEM would have been established in its place, the effect 
> of 
> which would have been practically the same as the system which had 
> been 
> abolished. The former slaves would have been held in a state of 
> servitude through the medium of labor-contracts which they would 
> have 
> been obliged to sign--or to have signed for them--from which they, 
> and 
> their children, and perhaps their children's children, could never 
> have 
> been released. This would have left the old order of things 
> practically 
> unchanged. The large landowners would still be the masters of the 
> situation, the power being still possessed by them to perpetuate 
> their 
> own potential influence and to maintain their own political 
> supremacy."
> Shachtman chose these words carefully in order to support his thesis 
> that despite the victory over the slavocracy, the South was not 
> reorganized on a "purely capitalistic" basis. Although the 
> plantation 
> system was no longer operated on the basis of slavery, it continued 
> to 
> compel the black sharecropper or lease tenant to produce on a 
> non-market 
> basis. This kind of class relationship was first noted by Karl Marx 
> in 
> Vol. 3 of Capital and commented on by V.I. Lenin in the 1915 article 
> "New Data on the Laws Governing the Development of Capitalism in 
> Agriculture". Lenin's article contained a detailed analysis of 
> American 
> agriculture in order to provide a benchmark for Russian agrarian 
> developments. Here is Lenin's reference to Marx that was cited by 
> Shachtman to support his analysis that the postbellum South was not 
> "purely capitalistic" in terms of Robert Brenner's schema:
> "America provides the most graphic confirmation of the truth 
> emphasized 
> by Marx in Capital, Volume III, that capitalism in agriculture does 
> not 
> depend on the form of land ownership or land tenure. Capital finds 
> the 
> most diverse types of medieval and patriarchal landed 
> property—feudal, 
> 'peasant allotments' (i.e., the holdings of bonded peasants); clan, 
> communal, state, and other forms of land ownership. Capital takes 
> hold 
> of all these, employing a variety of ways and methods."
> http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/newdev/01.htm
> In other words, just as was the case in Junkers Germany and Meiji 
> Restoration Japan, agrarian capitalism in the USA does not 
> necessarily 
> entail pure market relations. Sharecropping is a form of 
> "extra-economic" coercion that like slavery dates back to the Roman 
> Empire. The bourgeoisie does not mind digging back into the remote 
> past 
> in order to dust off some form of labor exploitation to adapt to 
> current 
> needs. If there is a surplus of labor, it will rely on market 
> relations 
> to drive down wages. If, on the other hand, there is a shortage, it 
> will 
> find all sorts of ways to chain workers to a plantation or mine 
> through 
> legal, political or even military institutions that take priority 
> over 
> market relations.
> Indeed, Lenin identified the plantation system of the Deep South as 
> having many of the same characteristics as agrarian capitalism 
> during 
> Czarism, which was a mixture of market and non-market class 
> relations. 
> In his 1899 "The Development of Capitalism in Russia", Lenin did not 
> posit market relations as a kind of sine qua non for capitalism. 
> Instead 
> he was eager to point out that extra-economic forms of coercion were 
> integral to labor exploitation in the Russian countryside. (The 
> corvée 
> referred to below was a system that originated under feudalism that 
> obligated a serf to perform labor services on his master's lands, 
> like 
> mending fences or sowing crops):
> "Thus, capitalist economy could not emerge at once, and corvée 
> economy 
> could not disappear at once. The only possible system of economy 
> was, 
> accordingly, a transitional one, a system combining the features of 
> both 
> the corvée and the capitalist systems. And indeed, the post-Reform 
> system of farming practised by the landlords bears precisely these 
> features. With all the endless variety of forms characteristic of a 
> transitional epoch, the economic organisation of contemporary 
> landlord 
> farming amounts to two main systems, in the most varied combinations 
> -- 
> the labour-service system and the capitalist system."
> http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1899/devel/ch03/02.htm
> Lenin adds:
> "Lastly, it must be observed that sometimes the labour-service 
> system 
> passes into the capitalist system and merges with it to such an 
> extent 
> that it becomes almost impossible to distinguish one from the other. 
> For 
> example, a peasant rents a plot of land, undertaking in return to 
> perform a definite number of days’ work (a practice which, as we 
> know, 
> is most widespread; see examples in the next section). How are we to 
> draw a line of demarcation between such a 'peasant' and the 
> West-European or Ostsee 'farm labourer' who receives a plot of land 
> on 
> undertaking to work a definite number of days? Life creates forms 
> that 
> unite in themselves with remarkable gradualness systems of economy 
> whose 
> basic features constitute opposites. It becomes impossible to say 
> where 
> 'labour-service' ends and where 'capitalism' begins."
> Indeed, it is impossible to say where feudal-like forms of 
> extra-economic coercion ends and where market relations begin in 
> both 
> semi-feudal Russia or a postbellum United States that was seen in 
> some 
> Marxist writings as "purely capitalistic". In my final post, I will 
> try 
> to resolve this seeming contradiction and to evaluate the Civil War 
> as a 
> "bourgeois-democratic revolution".
> -- 
> The Marxism list: www.marxmail.org
> ~~~~~~~
> PLEASE clip all extraneous text before replying to a message.

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