Re: [OPE] Marx on the U.S. Civil War

From: Paul Zarembka <>
Date: Wed Feb 02 2011 - 10:54:13 EST


In my view, you have missed the whole point of Marx's writing on the
Civil War. His basic point is in

and reproduced below.

I am NOT arguing one way or another whether Marx is correct but trying
to confront him on HIS terms.

Your argument does not consider Marx's argument, but is simply YOUR
political calculation without consideration of the economic base of
Marx's perception of the causes of the War and his prediction that the
North would eventually win, even at the time in 1962 when the North
seemed to be losing.


"The cultivation of the southern export articles, cotton, tobacco, sugar
, etc., carried on by slaves, is only remunerative as long as it is
conducted with large gangs of slaves, on a mass scale and on wide
expanses of a naturally fertile soil, which requires only simple labour.
Intensive cultivation, which depends less on fertility of the soil than
on investment of capital, intelligence and energy of labour, is contrary
to the nature of slavery. Hence the rapid transformation of states like
Maryland and Virginia, which formerly employed slaves on the production
of export articles, into states which raise slaves to export them into
the deep South. Even in South Carolina, where the slaves form
four-sevenths of the population, the cultivation of cotton has been
almost completely stationary for years due to the exhaustion of the
soil. Indeed, by force of circumstances South Carolina has already been
transformed in part into a slave-raising state, since it already sells
slaves to the sum of four million dollars yearly to the states of the
extreme South and South-west. As soon as this point is reached, the
acquisition of new Territories becomes necessary, so that one section of
the slaveholders with their slaves may occupy new fertile lands and that
a new market for slave-raising, therefore for the sale of slaves, may be
created for the remaining section. It is, for example, indubitable that
without the acquisition of Louisiana, Missouri and Arkansas by the
United States, slavery in Virginia and Maryland would have been wiped
out long ago. In the Secessionist Congress at Montgomery, Senator
Toombs, one of the spokesmen of the South, strikingly formulated the
economic law that commands the constant expansion of the territory of
slavery. "In fifteen years," said he, "without a great increase in slave
territory, either the slaves must be permitted to flee from the whites,
or the whites must flee from the slaves."

"As is known, the representation of the individual states in the
Congress House of Representatives depends on the size of their
respective populations. As the populations of the free states grow far
more quickly than those of the slave states, the number of Northern
Representatives was bound to outstrip that of the Southern very rapidly.
The real seat of the political power of the South is accordingly
transferred more and more to the American Senate, where every state,
whether its population is great or small, is represented by two
Senators. In order to assert its influence in the Senate and, through
the Senate, its hegemony over the United States, the South therefore
required a continual formation of new slave states. This, however, was
only possible through conquest of foreign lands, as in the case of
Texas, or through the transformation of the Territories belonging to the
United States first into slave Territories and later into slave states,
as in the case of Missouri, Arkansas, etc. /John Calhoun,/ whom the
slaveholders admire as their statesman /par excellence,/ stated as early
as February 19, 1847, in the Senate, that the Senate alone placed a
balance of power in the hands of the South, that extension of the slave
territory was necessary to preserve this equilibrium between South and
North in the Senate, and that the attempts of the South at the creation
of new slave states by force were accordingly justified.

"Finally, the number of actual slaveholders in the South of the Union
does not amount to more than three hundred thousand, a narrow oligarchy
that is confronted with many millions of so-called poor whites, whose
numbers have been constantly growing through concentration of landed
property and whose condition is only to be compared with that of the
Roman plebeians in the period of Rome's extreme decline. Only by
acquisition and the prospect of acquisition of new Territories, as well
as by filibustering expeditions, is it possible to square the interests
of these poor whites with those of the slaveholders, to give their
restless thirst for action a harmless direction and to tame them with
the prospect of one day becoming slaveholders themselves.

"A strict confinement of slavery within its old terrain, therefore, was
bound according to economic law to lead to its gradual effacement, in
the political sphere to annihilate the hegemony that the slave states
exercised through the Senate, and finally to expose the slaveholding
oligarchy within its own states to threatening perils from the poor
whites. In accordance with the principle that any further extension of
slave Territories was to be prohibited by law, the Republicans therefore
attacked the rule of the slaveholders at its root. The Republican
election victory was accordingly bound to lead to open struggle between
North and South. And this election victory, as already mentioned, was
itself conditioned by the split in the Democratic camp."

(V23) HIDDEN HISTORY OF 9-11, Seven Stories Press, 2nd ed. softcover
====> Research in Political Economy, Emerald Group, Bingley, UK
====> P.Zarembka, ed.,
====> or

On 2/2/2011 9:49 AM, GERALD LEVY wrote:
> Hi Paul Z:
> My brief comment was not simply a response to this particular letter,
> but was rather directed at the whole of Marx's writings on the Civil
> War.
> But, let us consider the section of the letter you cite as providing
> a materialist analysis:
>> "The South would or could conclude peace only on condition that it
>> gained possession of the border slave states. In that case, California
>> would also fall to it, the North-West would follow suit and the entire
>> Federation, with the exception, perhaps, of the New England states,
>> would again form one country, this time under the acknowledged
>> supremacy of the slaveholders. It would be the reconstruction of the
>> United States on the basis demanded by the South. But that is
>> impossible and wont happen.
> Is it true that the South would or could 'only' conclude a peace on that
> basis? i doubt it. By that time of the war don't you think they would
> have agreed to an armistice on the basis of recognition of the Confederate
> States of America as a sovereign nation? I suspect they would have -
> and let the border states (from their perspective) be damned. It's true
> that the border states were key to the beginning of the war and
> its historical context, but this - after years of fighting - was a new situation
> entirely.
>> "The North, for its part, can conclude peace only if the Confederacy is
>> restricted to the old slave states, and then only to those bounded by
>> the Mississippi River and the Atlantic. In which case the Confederacy
>> would soon come to a happy end. In the intervening period, ceasefires,
>> etc., on the basis of a status quo could at most occasion pauses in the
>> course of the war."
> Why would it 'only' mean that the CSA would come to a 'happy end'.
> Had the War been concluded on the basis of the above, then the CSA
> would be recognized by most nations, would have a very strong
> military ally in the UK and could commence trade again both with the UK
> and most other nations. At some point in the future, of course, the
> slaves could revolt but in the interim the CSA could have existed as
> an independent nation.
> All of Marx's writings on the Civil War are laced with comments about how
> the Union would - eventually - succeed. I think this was tied to a
> particular historical perspective of his that it would represent progress
> and was basically something which could only be slowed but not stopped.
> In this, there was a whiff of a conception of inevitable victory which
> was common among revolutionaries before his time, during his time, and since.
> In solidarity, Jerry
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Received on Wed Feb 2 10:57:38 2011

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