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

Date: Wed Feb 02 2011 - 16:18:54 EST

OK, Paul, let's consider some of what Marx says below:

> "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.

What is the evidence that intensive cultivation can't be
performed by slave labor or that slaves during this period of time
were less intelligent (!) and had less energy than wage-workers?
If 'intelligent' (skilled) free labor was needed, then the slaveowners
could hire individuals.

> 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.
The implication here is that the acquisition of land in the West was
driven largely by the need to have more land which could be used for
agricultural production by slaves. I don't see the evidence for this.
> 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."
Well, that could simply be fear-mongering by a representative of the
slavocracy. In any event, I question whether this really was an
'economic law' of slavery.

> "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.
That begs the question we're discussing now since it deals with the political
balance of power (what he calls below an 'equilibrium')in the US government
and obviously says nothing about whether an independent state in the South
could have existed and survived for an extended historical period.
> 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."

Even if we grant this argument, there is nothing in it that would lead
one to conclude that the Confederate States of America could not have - and
came close to - existed as a sovereign nation. I.e. even if what he
says is true, that might spell over time the death knell for slavery in
the CSA but it wouldn't necessarily mean that the CSA would no longer exist.
Wasn't it possible, for example, for the CSA to gradually move away from
slavery as it became more inefficient? One could indeed imagine a bourgeois
revolution occurring in the South at some point because of this but
that wouldn't necessarily mean an end to the CSA - just a major departure
from its historical origins.
Might there have been increasing impoverisation in the CSA and an
increasing gulf between wealth in the Union and the CSA? Probably, but
certainly there's lots of evidence - in that period of time and our own -
for relative economic stagnancy to persist in an individual nation
without its leading to the collapse of the nation. Almost certainly, had
the CSA existed as a nation it would have been economically dependent on the
UK and would have had a neo-colonial relation to it.
If someone were to respond by saying that some of my comments are
speculative, I would say - quite so. But, so were Marx's - he had no way
of knowing whether the South could have succeeded in seceding or what
would happen in the CSA over the longer-term.
In solidarity, Jerry
ope mailing list
Received on Wed Feb 2 16:22:10 2011

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