Saturday, August 11, 2012

From the Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- “Peter Paul Markin’s 27th Dream”

Twenty come and gone, dead. Old new uniform, resplendent college joe uniform complete with white-socked penniless loafers, gone, passed on to some Goodwill basket and mercifully back to all- weather, all-season patterned, usually, brown though, flannel shirts (yes, summers too, despite whacked out metabolisms that are out of synch, sweating, okay, perspiring, but we have been through that all before and the writer will just continue to write just as related to him, write through rums sweats and wine sweats and whiskey neat sweats, gone are the slugfest whiskey working-class brave beer chaser days, and the quarters to pay for them too, and take his chances, black chinos and, as if to put paid to those who wondered at the change and made surly comments about beat-ness, beatitude and such, moccasins, comfortable, soft-feel moccasins, in a sea of penniless (mainly) white-socked loafers. Topped off, and gladly, since junior high Frankie Larkin king hell king of the junior league corner boy night times, remind me to tell you sometime about that mad man and his mad escapades as Markin regaled me for many hours telling me about but not now because we are discussing somber moods, midnight sunglasses to keep the rubes, the cheerleaders, and the plain nosy at bay.

New uniform too. Drunk, whisky high-shelf drunk, when in the chips, whisky back alley low shelf liquor store rotgut whisky drunk, when on the bum, drunk in some atlantic bayside bar, complete with mushrooming arrivisite boats of all sizes and descriptions although most look as seaworthy as the Titanic, looking at delicious nubile sights all dressed, or rather undressed in bikinis, halters and shorts, or any cool and look-able combination which I am too weary, too eye-candy weary to fully describe just now.

Or some Southie hard week’s work done and quarters clinking gents only bar (ladies by invitation and accompaniment only so mostly manly rough-house and steady-handed drinking the rule ) no adornments, nothing but hard stools and wet mahogany countertops with pickled eggs and other strange jerky things to work up hard thirsts, as if the thirst that he (and not just him) came in that unadorned, unpainted door (squeaky too) to quench needed aphrodisiac drunk, with beer chasers (just plunk down the extra quarter and bang).

Or some mondaytuesdaywednesdaythrursday hangover drunk night spent neon-lighted in Kenmore Square chick-heavy dives like Skirt-Chaser’s Pub, High Heaven Angel Cafe, or Come And Get It Brother, If You Can Club (don’t google look those names up but I don’t need to draw you, you of all people, a diagram that here were meat market-worthy establishments filling the night with bare flesh, plenty is the hope, up from nowhere hope, high-end whiskeys (in the chips or don’t bother), and early morning romps along the Charles.

Drunk and no memories of old time North Adamsville, Irish town, faux Little Dublin town, Irish granite city old time quarries and sweat town, back in the day old time Wasp city of presidents but not lately town, simple storefront father and older brother bars used simply to get a few quick ones before home and bed, or after some convenient excuse softball games until one in the morning (or maybe two depending on blue law local rules for public houses versus cafes versus, hell, bowling alleys and brothels).

And no memories of the first time his Uncle Jim set him up for an underage wink, wink drink and the first few tastes went down hard, and he almost threw up and then the beer chaser (clink those quarters, please), settled him, and sleep, head on countertop sleep. And the shawlies howled at the moon for days (and secretly wink, wink proclaimed manhood, poor Uncle Jim’s sister, his mother, there will be hell to pay before that young lad is done, no question) and then some midnight scandal between Miss Molly somebody and a very married (and child heavy) Mister Midnight Rider somebody took all of their attention away from some half-arsed (no sic here) teenage boy trying to quickly to raise manhood’s bar. That scene, that Uncle Jim who was held in bad odor for other misdemeanors by the shawlies on his own hook, would be filed for future reference and sixteen forms of comparison with their own sparkling white just gone to confession (daily confession it seems now that I think of it, why?) johnnies (before the rage for Seans set in) and kathies.

And damn if they were not right, maybe not future reference right but right on the basics the named bars, Joe’s, Jim’s, Irish Pub, Dublin Grille, Café, Club, to infinity, Artie’s Bayside Club, The Sea ‘n Surf (and six forms of cuddle up dancing, drunk as a skunk, but cutting a figure, and best, walking out midnight doors, hand in hand with some foxy red-headed twist out for just the night and heading to some small town home in the morning, some dark-eyed, black-haired beauty with dancing eyes and loose morals who was slumming just then looking for ocean-aired adventure and not kansas hayseeds and she, yes, she, and I quote, hit pay dirt, or some skinny brunette with a hollow leg who just wanted to walk along the adjacent beach but who for one more hollow leg drink, some gin and tonic thing, could be persuaded to watch the “submarine races”), The Shakers (strictly high-end WASP Philly girls looking for shanty irish thrills before marrying some third cousin stockbroker and bliss).

Names, nameless, no legion. Girls and gin get it, no gin no girl, no girl no gin, get it and no bliss and no dreams, no endless night dreams of dainty curves and longing caresses, get it. Endless dreams and endless longings. And whiskey, whiskey with fewer beer chasers.

And the 24/7/365 years fell down drunk. Then some staggered midnight vista street, some 1967 staggered midnight, no dough having spent the last quarters on some fruitless pina colada senorita no go, walking drunken streets cabs stopping for quick jack roller fares, or funny, real jack rollers coming up empty and mad, maybe killing mad. Walking, legs weak from lack of work and hour on hour of stool-sitting and stewing over pina colada no gos, brain weak, maybe wet, push on, push on, find some fellaheen relieve for that unsatisfied bulge, that gnawing at the brain or really at the root of the thing. A topsy-turvy time, murder, death, the death of death, the death of fame, murder, killing murder, and then resolve, wrong resolve and henceforth the only out, war, war to the finish although who could have known that then. Who could have known that tet, lyndon, bobby, hubert, tricky dick war-circus thing then. And not drunk, get it.

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- “In The Time Of Radio Days (And Nights)”

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Lena Horne performing Stormy Weather. Wow!

I am a child of rock ‘n’ roll, no question. And I have filled up many sketches in my notebooks with plenty of material about my likes and dislikes from the classic period of that genre, the mid-1950s, when we first heard that different jail-break beat, a beat our parents could not “hear,” as we of the generation of ’68 earned our spurs and started that long teenage angst and alienation process of going our own way. Still, as much as we were determined to have our own music on our own terms, wafting through every household, every household that had a radio in the background, and more importantly, had the emerging sounds from television was our parents’ music- the music, mainly of the surviving the Great Depression (the 1930s one not the one we are in now in 2012) and fighting (or frantically waiting at home for news) World War II period. And that is what Lena Horne’s Stormy Weather (click headline above to hear) evokes in these ears.

This song and those like it, not jitter-bugging songs like when Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington or Harry James and their orchestras started to “jump” to high heaven are midnight mood songs (maybe sitting by the then scarce telephone, two-party ring telephones, maybe not), the songs of soldiers leaving for wherever and uncertain futures (on a million fronts with two million girls left behind in all kinds of conditions , including, ah, “the family way” condition, wedded or not), the songs of old-fashioned (now, seemingly, old-fashioned with their automatically contrived happy endings and improbably beginnings too) boy meets girl love, the songs of lonely nights waiting by the fireside (lighted or not depending on availability and dough with war prices skyrocketing), waiting for Johnny to come home( or waiting for Gold Star motherhood or a folded husband flag and rest in some wayward veterans’ field her or abroad ). A very different waiting to break out (or break up) sound than rock, be-bop or hip-hop. A sound driven more by a melody in synch with the long gone Tin Pan Alley lyrics than anything later produced.

Some of these tunes still echo way back in my young teenager brain, some don’t, but here are a few I remember (and can still recite the words to, mostly):

Swing On A Star, Bing Crosby (a much underrated, by me, singer, especially before I heard him do his rendition of Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? on the fly); Paper Doll, The Mills Brothers (this one I heard endlessly in the background radio and has great harmonics by these guys AND was my mother’s favorite ); There I’ve Said It Again, Vaughn Monroe (old Vaughn was the prototype, even more than Frank Sinatra, for the virile male singer who carried the “torch”); Stormy Weather, Lena Horne (I was mad for this song even in my “high rock” days and if you get a chance watch the late Lena Horne do her thing with this one on YouTube, Wow!); Night and Day, Frank Sinatra (classic Cole Porter, although I like Billie Holiday’s version better, Frank’s phrasing is excellent). Now if we just had Stardust Memories we really would be back in the 1940s.

From The Archives-The Struggle To Win The Youth To The Fight For Our Communist Future- Commemorating the War That Smashed Slavery-Finish the Civil War!

Markin comment on this series:

One of the declared purposes of this space is to draw the lessons of our left-wing past here in America and internationally, especially from the pro-communist wing. To that end I have made commentaries and provided archival works in order to help draw those lessons for today’s left-wing activists to learn, or at least ponder over. More importantly, for the long haul, to help educate today’s youth in the struggle for our common communist future. That is no small task or easy task given the differences of generations; differences of political milieus worked in; differences of social structure to work around; and, increasingly more important, the differences in appreciation of technological advances, and their uses.

There is no question that back in my early 1960s youth I could have used, desperately used, many of the archival materials available today. When I developed political consciousness very early on, albeit liberal political consciousness, I could have used this material as I knew, I knew deep inside my heart and mind, that a junior Cold War liberal of the American for Democratic Action (ADA) stripe was not the end of my leftward political trajectory. More importantly, I could have used a socialist or communist youth organization to help me articulate the doubts I had about the virtues of liberal capitalism and be recruited to a more left-wing world view.

As it was I spent far too long in the throes of the left-liberal/soft social-democratic milieu where I was dying politically. A group like the Young Communist League (W.E.B. Dubois Clubs in those days), the Young People’s Socialist League, or the Young Socialist Alliance representing the youth organizations of the American Communist Party, American Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (U.S.) respectively would have saved much wasted time and energy. I knew they were around but just not in my area.

The archival material to be used in this series is weighted heavily toward the youth movements of the early American Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (U.S). For more recent material I have relied on material from the Spartacus Youth Clubs, the youth group of the Spartacist League (U.S.), both because they are more readily available to me and because, and this should give cause for pause, there are not many other non-CP, non-SWP youth groups around. As I gather more material from other youth sources I will place them in this series.

Finally I would like to finish up with the preamble to the Spartacist Youth Club’s What We Fight For statement of purpose for educational purposes only:

"The Spartacus Youth Clubs intervene into social struggles armed with the revolutionary internationalist program of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. We work to mobilize youth in struggle as partisans of the working class, championing the liberation of black people, women and all the oppressed. The SYCs fight to win youth to the perspective of building the Leninist vanguard party that will lead the working class in socialist revolution, laying the basis for a world free of capitalist exploitation and imperialist slaughter."

This seems to me be somewhere in the right direction for what a Bolshevik youth group should be doing these days; a proving ground to become professional revolutionaries with enough wiggle room to learn from their mistakes, and successes. More later.
Workers Vanguard No. 979
29 April 2011

Commemorating the War That Smashed Slavery-Finish the Civil War!

Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

Part One

The following is a presentation given by Spartacist League speaker Diana Coleman, veteran of the Southern civil rights movement, at a forum in Oakland on March 5.

In 1965 I went down to Gulfport, Mississippi, with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) for the second Freedom Summer. It startles me to realize that that was nearly 50 years ago—46 to be exact, but who’s counting. There had been a debate in SNCC about whether to do voter registration or direct action sit-ins for integration. Well, by the summer of ’65, SNCC people were sick of registering people to vote, that is, to vote Democrat in a state that was run by the racist Southern Democrats, the Dixiecrats. Stokely Carmichael, in one of his better utterances, said that it was as ludicrous for Negroes to join the Democratic Party as it would have been for Jews to join the Nazi Party. That seemed right to me.

So we preferred sit-ins and demos. When our integrated group wasn’t served at a lunch counter, we organized demos, first a small one of our project members and then bigger and bigger ones of black youth, mostly teenagers, to demonstrate in front of the store. There are some poor-quality photos of this at the literature table. Well, with the Gulfport black longshore union threatening a port shutdown, those lunch counters finally did get integrated.

Even as a New Leftist, I was impressed with the power of labor. But in the interim, we were surrounded by an ugly crowd of raving white racists waving Confederate flags. I wasn’t surprised that they called us every racist name in the book. And I wasn’t surprised at the vile misogyny directed toward me and the two other young white women. But I was surprised to be called a “carpetbagger.” I didn’t even know exactly what one was. I thought it might have something to do with the Civil War. And I figured it was probably a good thing, not a bad thing, considering the racist scum who were mouthing off.

Indeed, it was a compliment, although not intended as such. This is what the Southern planters called the Northern Radical Republicans who stayed in the South after the Civil War and who, along with black Union soldiers, made up the backbone of the Freedmen’s Bureau. The term also included New England women abolitionists who came to the South to teach blacks to read. That accusation embodies as well the racist assumption that black people are happy with their lot and only get “stirred up” when white “outside agitators” come along.

This was my introduction to the fact that the contemporary black question, including the very concept of race, has its roots in the system of chattel slavery. People try to tell you that that was a long time ago. Not really. When I was in Mississippi that summer, I ran into old people whose grandparents had been born as slaves, and they told them all about it. As William Faulkner famously wrote about the South, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” The Civil War and its aftermath continue to shape this country to this day. The black population of America is no longer enslaved, but neither are they free. The Civil War was the Second American Revolution which ended chattel slavery, but it will take a third American revolution, a workers revolution, to end wage slavery, racial oppression, imperialist war and endemic poverty for blacks and all of the multiracial American working class.

As I look around at this country, Wall Street and the banks are doing great, while working people, particularly but not exclusively blacks and Latinos, lose their jobs, their houses, their health care, their pensions. There are the endless, orchestrated attacks on the unions. The homeless wander the streets. Police brutality is a fact of life in the ghettos and barrios. The U.S. is still in Iraq, still in Afghanistan, still running the Guantánamo prison camp. The U.S., with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, has one-fourth of the world’s prison population, most of them black and brown. And we see Obama, the first black president, presiding over the smashing of the United Auto Workers union, an institution that actually made a concrete difference in the lives of black working people. If this is “change we can believe in,” I sure don’t see it. It looks like the “same-old, same-old” to me. We say: No support to either bourgeois party, Democrat or Republican!

The Fight for Black Liberation Today

For the title of this forum, we wanted to make it clear how we wanted to “Finish the Civil War”—that is, by black liberation through socialist revolution. Indeed, there is another side out there that thinks that it’s just halftime in the Civil War and that the South will rise again. In December there was a Secession Ball in Charleston, South Carolina. In February, there was a re-enactment of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis. Last year, the governor of Virginia declared April Confederate History Month. A Virginia textbook is trying to peddle the lie that lots of black men took up arms fighting for their slave-owners.

Beyond this outright racist garbage, it is a sign of the reactionary times we live in that the Civil War is controversial with those who consider themselves leftists. In L.A. we talked to a young woman looking to join a socialist group who told me that she couldn’t really support the North in the Civil War because they were simply fighting for capitalism. And that blacks were better off as slaves than later as free sharecroppers, since they had higher caloric intake as slaves. Probably not true, but even if it was, so what!

A young man around the left group Spark argued that the Confederate flag was an “ambiguous symbol” expressing not only racism but also opposition to Northern aggression. Or how about Progressive Labor (PL) which, hailing “resistance” to the revolutionary war waged by the Union Army that smashed black chattel slavery in the South, lauds riots in New York City in 1863 that turned into an anti-black pogrom, killing at least a dozen black people and burning down black housing and an orphanage for black children. This kind of leaves you shaking your head and saying “right on” to Sherman’s March to the Sea.

We have described the black population in the U.S. as an oppressed race-color caste. We noted in our seminal document “Black and Red” [printed in Marxist Bulletin No. 9, “Basic Documents of the Spartacist League”] that “from their arrival in this country, the Negro people have been an integral part of American class society while at the same time forcibly segregated at the bottom of this society.” Thus blacks face discrimination, in different degrees, regardless of social status, wealth or class position. The grotesque arrest of noted Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. showed that in living color.

But blacks are today still an integral and strategic part of the working class, despite unemployment and mass incarceration. As Leon Trotsky, leader along with Lenin of the Russian Revolution, stated, “We must say to the conscious elements of the Negroes that they are convoked by the historic development to become a vanguard of the working class.” Won to a revolutionary program, black workers will be the living link fusing the anger of the dispossessed ghetto masses with the social power of the multiracial proletariat under the leadership of a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party.

From the formation of the Spartacist tendency in the early 1960s, we have stood for the perspective and program of revolutionary integrationism. This position is counterposed to both the liberal reformist response to black oppression and to all political expressions of black separatism. The liberation of black people from conditions of racial oppression and impoverishment—conditions inherent to the U.S. capitalist system—can be achieved only in an egalitarian socialist society. And such a society can be achieved only through the overthrow of the capitalist system by the working class and its allies. This talk is an exposition of those points.

Karl Marx and the Civil War

You cannot understand the black question in the U.S. without understanding that “peculiar institution,” slavery, and the bloody Civil War which ended it. And I want to deal prominently here with the role of Karl Marx in understanding these questions. There’s endless garbage out there from black nationalists and academics about how “Marxism is Eurocentric,” “Marx was a racist,” “Marx didn’t know nothing about the U.S.,” etc., etc. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In their Civil War writings, one is struck by Marx and Friedrich Engels’ astonishing knowledge of American history. They saw the Civil War as one of the century’s major battles for emancipation, a social overturn and a harbinger of socialist revolutions to come.

I read this book called Marx at the Margins by Kevin B. Anderson, a follower of Raya Dunayevskaya, and found his chapter on Marx and the Civil War quite useful. He makes the point that although Marx’s writings on the Civil War and slavery are quite available in the U.S., they are often disregarded and considered as “falling outside Marx’s core concerns, or even his core concepts.” Of course, in Volume 1 of Capital, which presumably does deal with Marx’s “core concepts,” Marx writes: “In the United States of North America, every independent movement of the workers was paralyzed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic. Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.” You will find these last words on the membership cards of our Labor Black Leagues.

Comrade Jacob gave a great class called “Slavery and the Origins of American Capitalism,” which was reprinted in WV [Nos. 942, 943 and 944; 11 September, 25 September and 9 October 2009]. I cannot recapitulate it all here, but what it demonstrated so well is that slavery, although it was certainly an outmoded social system, was key to the early development of American and British capitalism. In the 1800s, the textile mills of Britain ran on cotton from the Southern slavocracy, shipped on boats owned by Northern capitalists and leaving from Northern ports. British and American capitalists were tied to slavery by a million threads, even if they themselves didn’t own slaves. Anderson’s book had an interesting early quote from Marx in 1846, speaking about slavery in the American South and Brazil:

“Direct slavery is as much the pivot upon which our present-day industrialism turns as are machinery, credits, etc. Without slavery there would be no cotton, without cotton there would be no modern industry. It is slavery which has given value to the colonies, it is the colonies which have created world trade, and world trade is the necessary condition for large-scale machine industry…. Slavery is therefore an economic category of paramount importance.”

And in slavery we see the beginning of the material basis for the creation of a race-color caste. As Frederick Douglass said: “We are then a persecuted people, not because we are colored, but simply because that color has for a series of years been coupled in the public mind with the degradation of slavery and servitude.” The unscientific category of “race” and the racist myth of black inferiority were necessary props to slavery in the U.S. As Dick Fraser, a veteran Trotskyist who made a unique contribution to the Marxist understanding of the American black question, wrote, “Particularly when the world was bursting with revolutions proclaiming the equality of all men. This slave system became so repulsive in fact that only weird and perverse social relations could contain it. To despise the black skin as the mark of the slave was the principal and focal point of these social relations,” [“The Negro Struggle and the Proletarian Revolution” (November 1953), reprinted in Prometheus Research Series No. 3, “In Memoriam, Richard S. Fraser: An Appreciation and Selection of His Work” (August 1990)]. “Weird and perverse” is about right, now as then.

There’s this image that Marx spent all his time sitting around in the library of the British Museum writing Capital. Well, it’s good that he did, but he and the First International also fought slavery as an inseparable part of the struggle for working-class emancipation. A number of German workers came to the United States following the defeat of the 1848 bourgeois-democratic revolution. These “Red ’48ers” were animated by revolutionary ideals and became involved in the anti-slavery struggle. Joseph Weydemeyer, a close collaborator of Marx’s, became a Union officer at a critical juncture when the North needed leaders with military experience.

Marx and Engels also played a key role in winning English workers in the cotton industry to the cause of Northern victory. The British bourgeoisie wanted to intervene on the side of the Confederacy but was stymied by working-class opposition. These workers in England endured great privations and suffering, but they were won to an internationalist conception that they had an interest in fighting to get rid of black chattel slavery. If you are interested in more info on this topic, I recommend a talk by Don Alexander called “Karl Marx and the War Against Slavery,” which was given in 1990 [printed in WV No. 502, 18 May 1990].

James McPherson starts off his book Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution by stating:

“Four years after the guns fell silent at Appomattox, Harvard historian George Ticknor reflected on the meaning of the Civil War. That national trauma had riven ‘a great gulf between what happened before in our century and what has happened since, or what is likely to happen hereafter. It does not seem to me as if I were living in the country in which I was born’.”

Indeed, the Civil War was a social overturn that freed the slaves and opened the road to the development of the United States as a modern industrial power. Before the Civil War, the U.S. was very federated and didn’t have a national currency; there was no federal income tax or IRS (I leave it to you whether this was an advance!); many areas weren’t accurately mapped. Before the Civil War, the United States was a plural noun, as in “The United States are beautiful.” After the Civil War, the United States became a singular noun, as in “The United States is beautiful.” Or ugly, depending on whether you’re referring to the scenery or today’s political situation.

Writing in 1861, Marx said, “The present struggle between the South and North is, therefore, nothing but a struggle between two social systems, the system of slavery and the system of free labour. The struggle has broken out because the two systems can no longer live peacefully side by side on the North American continent. It can only be ended by the victory of one system or the other” [“The Civil War in the United States”]. Criticizing Lincoln’s early wavering on emancipation, Marx declared, “Events themselves drive to the promulgation of the decisive slogan—emancipation of the slaves.”

The Civil War: A Social Revolution

Marx was quite clear that slavery was an expansionist system that had to be stopped. Very much like Frederick Douglass, with whom there was a real convergence, Marx returned again and again to the notion that the Union needed to wage the war by revolutionary means, whether by the use of black troops or by encouraging a slave uprising. After John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, Marx wrote to Engels: “In my view, the most momentous thing happening in the world today is, on the one hand, the movement among the slaves in America, started by the death of Brown, and the movement among the slaves in Russia, on the other.... I have just seen in the Tribune that there was a new slave uprising in Missouri, naturally suppressed. But the signal has now been given.” After Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and gave the go-ahead to the recruitment of black troops, nearly 200,000 joined up to fight for their own freedom. They spread fear in the hearts of the Confederacy as Marx had predicted, and helped turn the tide to win the war.

Let me make a point here that the American Revolution was more of a political revolution than a social revolution. It didn’t overthrow an entrenched aristocratic order—it was more the question of which capitalists, British or American, would be profiting. The war of independence did not really need a radical, plebeian, terrorist phase. It didn’t give rise to a living radical tradition or heroes with whom we can identify. Who would it be—Jefferson, the slave-owner?

It is in the Civil War era that there are parallels with the plebeian component of the French Revolution. The radical abolitionists—Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and John Brown—are the only figures in American history before the emergence of the workers movement with whom we can identify. The life of Harriet Tubman illustrates in a particularly acute fashion the tremendous obstacles black women faced regarding even the elementary decencies of life. Despite her courageous work for black freedom, she lived in poverty all her life and was compelled to wage a decades-long fight for the pension her Civil War service entitled her to. Today black working women face triple oppression as blacks, women and workers.

John Brown is denounced in public schools as a dangerous extremist and a maniac. Of course, we don’t share John Brown’s religious outlook. But he was a committed fighter for black rights who wanted to inspire black rebellion and was willing to die trying. If that makes you crazy, then perhaps we need more crazy people. When John Brown said: “I, John Brown, am quite certain that the crimes of this land will never be purged away but with blood,” he was so right. It took blood and iron and a war that cost 600,000 men, almost as many as have died in all other U.S. wars combined, to end slavery.

I want to say something about Lincoln and historical materialism. Many opponents of revolutionary Marxism, from black nationalists to reformist leftists, have made a virtual cottage industry out of the slander that “Honest Abe” was a racist or even a white-supremacist. Here’s a quote from the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP): “It is a lie that ‘Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves’ because he was morally outraged over slavery. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves (and not all the slaves at first, but only those in the states that had joined the southern Confederacy) because he saw that it would be impossible to win the Civil War against that southern Confederacy without freeing these slaves and allowing them to fight in the Union army” [Revolutionary Worker, 14 August 1989]. The RCP’s conclusion: “Lincoln spoke and acted for the bourgeoisie—the factory-owners, railroad-owners, and other capitalists centered in the North—and he conducted the war in their interests.”

Actually Lincoln was morally outraged by slavery, but the real point is that the RCP rejects Marxist materialism in favor of liberal moralizing. They deny that against the reactionary class of slaveholders and the antiquated slave system, the Northern capitalists represented a revolutionary class whose victory was in the interests of historical progress. Presenting the goals of the North and South as equally rapacious, the RCP neither sides with the North nor characterizes its victory as the consummation of a social revolution. Do they, Spark or PL even bother to think they might want to deal with Karl Marx’s positions on this question? Not really; their Marxist pretensions are pretty thin.

As Marxists, we must be able to grasp that the bourgeoisie was once progressive, but now, in the epoch of imperialist decay, is no longer. Things change, that’s dialectical. Of course, this is all a little rich coming from the RCP, whose calling card is back-handed support to the Democrats, through their “Drive Out the Bush Regime” campaigns. Or PL, which brags that its members worked in the Obama campaign.

Lincoln and Emancipation

One of the more important and controversial of Marx’s writings on the Civil War is his letter to Abraham Lincoln on the occasion of his re-election in 1864. This was somewhat controversial in the First International at the time. And it still is controversial. Let me give myself as a bad example of this. One of the pictures on the forum flyer shows Ritchie Bradley cutting down the Confederate flag that hung in San Francisco Civic Center. That this symbol of slavery and the KKK was hanging in San Francisco in the 1980s really was outrageous. It had been there for years, sometimes taken down if there was a big demo but put back up. When Ritchie and I ran for SF Board of Supervisors in 1982, we had made an issue of it and said that, if elected, our first act would be to see it taken down. The issue had come up in unions like the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. But by 1984, with some pushing especially by our National Chairman, Jim Robertson, the Bay Area SL decided that the flag had to go.

This was a real project: the pole was a huge metal thing and the flag was hooked way at the top; you couldn’t just stand at the bottom and pull it down. Ritchie had to practice pole-climbing with a special rope device. He and another guy dressed in workers coveralls (over a Union Army outfit) went to the pole first with a ladder. The guy got Ritchie started and then pulled away the ladder. Meanwhile, we had someone at the nearby pay phone who called the SF Chronicle’s press reps in City Hall and said, “Wow, there’s this guy climbing the flagpole in a Union Army outfit, looking like he’s gonna tear down the Confederate flag. You should come out and take a picture.” So there were great photos in the bourgeois press.

The same day Ritchie first took down the Confederate flag, an all-white jury for a second time acquitted the Klan/Nazi killers of the five civil rights and labor organizers who were murdered in 1979 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Actually, Ritchie tore down two Confederate flags because “Dixie Dianne” Feinstein, then SF mayor, now Senator from California, kept putting them back up. She also had destroyed a replica of the historic Northern Fort Sumter flag that the SL kindly donated to the city and which Ritchie kindly installed. In fact, the Confederate flag only finally stayed down after anonymous militants came in the night and cut down the whole damn pole with an acetylene torch.

In the meantime, Ritchie went on trial for vandalism. But Ritchie and his lawyer, Valerie West, put Feinstein and the city administration on trial, as communists are supposed to do in this situation. Valerie tried to get the videotape of the Greensboro massacre, which prominently shows the KKK/Nazi murderers with Confederate flags, entered as evidence, but the judge thought that was “too good” and would unduly influence the jury. But there was all kinds of testimony about slavery, the KKK and the Civil War, which the jury just loved. One juror later said the trial changed his life. Most of the jury was for acquittal; it was a hung jury and the city didn’t try him again because they knew they’d never get a conviction.

So to get to my point here, I was supposed to testify as a witness and go into the SL’s politics. I was supposed to read Marx’s letter to Lincoln, but on the stand I just balked and wouldn’t read all of it. Valerie kept saying, “Isn’t there something else you want to read?” and I kept saying, “No.” What’s a lawyer to do? Anyhow, here’s what Marx wrote:

“Sir, We congratulate the American People upon your Re-election by a large Majority.

“If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved Watchword of your first election, the triumphant Warcry of your Re-election is, Death to Slavery.”

Here’s the part I really didn’t like and refused to read:

“From the commencement of the Titanic American Strife, the Working men of Europe felt instinctively that the Star spangled Banner carried the Destiny of their class….”

It goes on:

“The Working Men of Europe feel sure that as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the Middle Class, so the American Anti-Slavery War will do for the Working Classes. They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come, that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded Son of the Working Class, to lead his Country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained Race and the Reconstruction of a Social World.”

By declaring that the European workers saw “the star-spangled banner” as carrying the destiny of their class, was Marx forsaking the red flag of communism? That was my view, but it really reflected my own New Leftism and lack of historical perspective. Is “the star-spangled banner” waving over Sherman’s March to the Sea, followed by ten solid miles of black people who rightly saw the Northern force as a liberating army, just the same as “the star-spangled banner” on U.S. warplanes dropping napalm on Vietnam? Is Lincoln sending an occupying army into the South the same as Obama, Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism, sending an occupying army into Afghanistan? No!

The Civil War was the last of the great bourgeois-democratic revolutions, and Lincoln was bourgeois and revolutionary at the same time—with all the contradictions that this implies. As materialists, Marxists do not judge historical figures primarily based on the ideas in their heads but on how well they fulfilled the tasks of their epoch. While Lincoln had bourgeois conceptions—no surprise there!—he was uniquely qualified to carry out the task before him, and in the last analysis he rose to the occasion as no other. That is the essence of his historical greatness. We can complain that Lincoln wasn’t Lenin. That’s true—but there wasn’t much of an organized working class in the U.S. until after the Civil War, either. Marx understood that with the demise of the slave power, the unbridled growth of capitalism would lay the foundation for the development of the American proletariat—capitalism’s future gravedigger.

The Defeat of Radical Reconstruction

Now on Radical Reconstruction. As we said in “Black and Red”: “Capitalist and slave alike stood to gain from the suppression of the planter aristocracy but beyond that had no further common interests. In fact it was the Negroes themselves who, within the protective framework provided by the Reconstruction Acts and the military dictatorship of the occupying Union army, carried through the social revolution and destruction of the old planter class.”

Radical Reconstruction was the most democratic and egalitarian time in American history. Public education was set up in the South. Very brave abolitionist women from New England risked death teaching blacks. These schools were flooded by blacks of all ages. It had been a crime to teach a slave to read, but even for poor whites there had not been a public school system. Blacks voted at rates as high as 90 percent and many, mostly ex-slaves, were elected to state and national office. The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were passed, abolishing slavery, declaring that anyone born in the U.S. was a citizen and that the right to vote could not be denied on “account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Of course, women, black or white, still couldn’t vote. And indeed, Mississippi did not officially ratify the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery until 1995. Luckily, they lost the war, so slavery was abolished, official consent or not, but it’s certainly a statement.

These amendments were progressive measures won, as is always the case, by struggle. Initially, I had no idea how progressive the 14th Amendment was. I assumed that in all countries, if you were born there, you were a citizen. But in many countries you aren’t a citizen if you aren’t of the “native stock.” Today, this progressive measure is under attack from the anti-immigrant bigots. For example, Republican U.S. Congressman Gary Miller, ranting against immigrant women and “anchor babies”: “By granting children of illegal immigrants citizenship, the child can eventually anchor an entire family into the United States…. Consequently, the child—and potentially their family—will have access to a wide array of taxpayer-funded benefits.”

Tell me please, what is this “wide array of taxpayer-funded benefits”? We all know the undocumented workers get the worst work at the lowest pay, are afraid to collect benefits and face a higher risk of deportation under Obama than they did under Bush. These immigrants often bring experience of class struggle, experience which the U.S. working class could really use, and they provide a living link to the proletariat of other countries. The labor movement must see the struggle against anti-immigrant and anti-black racism as central to its own cause. No deportations! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! An injury to one is an injury to all!

Now as I said, “Capitalist and slave alike stood to gain from the suppression of the planter aristocracy, but beyond that had no further common interests.” For Reconstruction to have succeeded would have required breaking up the large landed estates and for blacks to have gotten the “40 acres and a mule.” But the promise of black freedom was betrayed when the Northern capitalists formed an alliance with the remnants of the slavocracy in order to exploit Southern resources and the freedmen. Especially after the Paris Commune of 1871, which the American bourgeoisie watched with great horror, they saw expropriation and redistribution of private property in the land as a threat. Black freedmen and poor white sharecroppers hardly had the social weight to effect this change. In the Compromise of 1877, Union troops were pulled out of the South—and sent to repress the Great Rail Strike of 1877. That tells you a whole lot right there!

Over the next 20 years emerged the postwar Southern system of sharecropping, poll taxes, chain gangs, the convict lease system and lynch law. This was codified in a series of laws institutionalizing the rigid Jim Crow segregation and police-state terror that dominated the South right up until the civil rights movement. It took a while, because blacks fought to defend the rights they had won. But there was a political counterrevolution, and the armed agents of it were the Ku Klux Klan. Hundreds, maybe thousands of blacks were lynched during this period. This was the so-called Redeemer period glorified by racist academics and racist movies like Birth of a Nation.

While blacks were not returned to slavery, the legacy of the defeat of Reconstruction is that blacks in the U.S. were consolidated anew as a specially oppressed race-color caste segregated at the bottom of this society. Segregation was the main prop of the new racist order. This was generalized throughout the country, where the harsh economic realities of black oppression were always in evidence despite the fact the segregation might be de facto, rather than the Jim Crow, back-of-the-bus kind. The segregation of blacks as an oppressed race-color caste is essential to the maintenance of American capitalism and has served U.S. imperialism very well.
Workers Vanguard No. 980
13 May 2011

Commemorating the War That Smashed Slavery

Finish the Civil War!

Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

Part Two

Below we conclude this article, Part One of which appeared in WV No. 979 (29 April).

Racist hostility toward blacks figured prominently in the labor and socialist movements of the late 1800s/early 1900s, with the exception of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). But it was not until the 1920s that American Marxists actively took up the fight for black liberation, as part of the fight for communism. James P. Cannon, a founding American Communist and foremost leader of American Trotskyism for its first 30-plus years, makes very clear how exactly this came about. He writes:

“The American communists in the early days, like all other radical organizations of that and earlier times, had nothing to start with on the Negro question but an inadequate theory, a false or indifferent attitude and the adherence of a few individual Negroes of radical or revolutionary bent.... Everything new and progressive on the Negro question came from Moscow, after the revolution of 1917, and as a result of the revolution—not only for the American communists who responded directly, but for all others concerned with the question.”


“Even before the First World War and the Russian Revolution, Lenin and the Bolsheviks were distinguished from all other tendencies in the international socialist and labor movement by their concern with the problems of oppressed nations and national minorities, and affirmative support of their struggles for freedom, independence and the right of self-determination. The Bolsheviks gave this support to all ‘people without equal rights’ sincerely and earnestly, but there was nothing ‘philanthropic’ about it. They also recognized the great revolutionary potential in the situation of oppressed peoples and nations, and saw them as important allies of the international working class in the revolutionary struggle against capitalism.

“After November 1917 this new doctrine
—with special emphasis on the Negroes
—began to be transmitted to the American communist movement with the authority of the Russian Revolution behind it. The Russians in the Comintern started on the American communists with the harsh, insistent demand that they shake off their own unspoken prejudices, pay attention to the special problems and grievances of the American Negroes, go to work among them, and champion their cause in the white community.”

—James P. Cannon, The First Ten Years of American Communism (1962)

The Russian Revolution of 1917 was the most important event of the 20th century and is our model for a successful proletarian revolution. As Cannon said, it “took the question of the workers’ revolution out of the realm of abstraction and gave it flesh and blood reality.” It demonstrated that the bourgeois state could not be reformed to serve the interests of the working class but had to be smashed and replaced by a workers state, the dictatorship of the proletariat. It showed the need for a disciplined vanguard party based on a clear revolutionary program. The Bolsheviks’ fight around the American black question is but one example of the hard, programmatic struggle that they waged to forge truly revolutionary Leninist vanguard parties around the world that could serve as tribunes of the oppressed and fight for international proletarian revolution.

The Great Migration and Black Proletarianization

The defeat of Reconstruction reconsolidated blacks as a race-color caste. But it was the Great Migration of blacks to the North and to the urban centers of the South that established blacks as a strategic component of the proletariat. I recommend this new book by Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. For those too young to remember, the book gives a vivid picture of the wretched racist conditions of the South, as well as the struggles blacks faced in the North. It follows three different individuals who personify the different directions that this migration took: one who went from Florida to Harlem, one from Mississippi to Chicago, and one from Louisiana to California. It’s a quite literate book; every chapter starts with a poem or quote from a famous black writer. The title, “The Warmth of Other Suns,” comes from a poem by Richard Wright. Let me read the one by Langston Hughes called “One-Way Ticket”:

“I pick up my life
And take it with me
And I put it down in
Chicago, Detroit,
Buffalo, Scranton,
Any place that is
North and East,
And not Dixie.
“I pick up my life
And take it on the train
To Los Angeles, Bakersfield
Seattle, Oakland, Salt Lake—
Any place that is
North and West,
And not South.
“I am fed up
With Jim Crow laws,
People who are cruel
And afraid,
Who lynch and run,
Who are scared of me
And me of them.
“I pick up my life
And take it away
On a one-way ticket—
Gone up North,
Gone out West,

Before World War I, something like 90 percent of all blacks lived in the South, and they were mostly rural. Wilkerson estimates that six million black people left the South in the decades from 1915 to 1970. That’s a lot of people! In 1910, Chicago had a black population of about 2 percent. California in 1900 had only about 11,000 black people, which was less than 1 percent. When I first read statistics like this, they were hard to wrap my mind around because I had grown up in the 1960s, when the heavy battalions of labor, from longshoremen to auto to steel, were heavily black.

This migration and the migration to the urban centers of the South, along with the struggle for industrial unionization in the ’30s, integrated blacks into the labor movement, although still at the lowest rungs and at the dirtiest and hardest jobs. Often blacks played a leading role in these labor struggles. Proletarianization gives you social power—at least, potential social power.

Race-Color Caste

Now there was an ambiguity which ran through both the Communist Party and later the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in its revolutionary heyday as to whether the black question was a national question, or embryonic national question, and whether the slogan of self-determination was appropriate. Leon Trotsky himself tentatively advanced this position in the 1930s, coming at the question from his understanding of the national question in Europe. Like the early Communist International’s intervention, Trotsky was primarily concerned that the American Trotskyists have a serious orientation to the black question and not capitulate to backward consciousness.

In practice, the SWP didn’t act like the black question was a national question and was guided by an integrationist, class-struggle perspective. The party was able to recruit several hundred black workers during World War II by acting as the most militant fighters against racist oppression in the factories, armed forces and American society at large. The SWP’s courageous work, carried out in the face of government repression, was in stark contrast to the Communist Party, which, in line with its support to the Allied imperialist “democracies,” explicitly opposed struggles for black equality during the war.

Dick Fraser joined the Trotskyist movement in 1934. He was a founding member of the Socialist Workers Party. He began a study of the black question in the late 1940s in response to the loss of hundreds of black worker recruits with the onset of the Cold War against the Soviet Union. He concluded that the problem was not with the SWP’s practical, day-to-day work fighting discrimination and victimization of blacks but with the party’s inadequate theoretical understanding. As Fraser wrote: “It is the historical task of Trotskyism to tear the Negro question in the United States away from the national question and to establish it as an independent political problem, that it may be judged on its own merits, and its laws of development discovered” (“For the Materialist Conception of the Negro Struggle” [1955], reprinted in Marxist Bulletin No. 5 [Revised]).

Fraser began from the premise that black people, whom he described as “the most completely ‘Americanized’ section of the population,” were not an oppressed nation or nationality in any sense. Crucially, black people lacked any material basis for a separate political economy. Whereas the oppressed nations and nationalities of Europe were subjected to forced assimilation, American blacks faced the opposite: forcible segregation. Hence, in the struggle against black oppression, the democratic demand for self-determination—separation into an independent nation-state—just didn’t make sense. As Fraser wrote in his 1963 piece “Dialectics of Black Liberation” (reprinted in Revolutionary Integration: A Marxist Analysis of African American Liberation [Red Letter Press, 2004]): “The Black Question is a unique racial, not national, question, embodied in a movement marked by integration, not self-determination, as its logical and historical motive force and goal. The demand for integration produces a struggle that is necessarily transitional to socialism and creates a revolutionary Black vanguard for the entire working class.”

He had earlier noted in “For the Materialist Conception of the Negro Question”:

“The goals which history has dictated to [black people] are to achieve complete equality through the elimination of racial segregation, discrimination, and prejudice. That is, the overthrow of the race system. It is from these historically conditioned conclusions that the Negro struggle, whatever its forms, has taken the path for direct assimilation. All that we can add to this is that these goals cannot be accomplished except through the socialist revolution.”

In The Warmth of Other Suns, Wilkerson makes a point that confirms Fraser’s point about blacks being the most American of Americans. She poses the Great Migration as a sort of internal immigration. But when she posed this analysis to the over 1,000 black people that she interviewed for this book, “nearly every black migrant I interviewed vehemently resisted the immigrant label.” They insisted that “the South may have acted like a different country and been proud of it, but it was a part of the United States, and anyone born there was born an American.” Further, that “for twelve generations, their ancestors had worked the land and helped build the country.” Indeed, black people’s labor has been central to building this country, but it will take a socialist revolution by the multiracial working class for them to realize the fruits of their labor.

Fraser lost the fight in the Socialist Workers Party on the black question. But his work found resonance in the Spartacist League. Despite political differences with him, he was invited to the SL/U.S. National Conference in 1983 and spoke on the question of the organization of labor/black leagues, saying: “I am humbled by the knowledge that things that I wrote 30 years ago, which were so scorned by the old party, have had some important impact, finally.”

In the U.S. at the time of the civil rights movement, the SWP was the only organization, at least formally, with an authentically revolutionary program based on Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. However, by the early 1960s, ground down by the isolation and McCarthyite witchhunting of the 1950s, the SWP had lost its revolutionary bearings. The party’s qualitative departure from its erstwhile revolutionary working-class politics began around 1960, when it slid into the role of uncritical cheerleaders for the petty-bourgeois radical-nationalist leadership of the Cuban Revolution. The SWP thus abandoned the centrality of the working class and the necessity of building Trotskyist parties in every country.

The abandonment of the fight for Marxist leadership of the black struggle in the U.S. was the domestic reflection of the SWP’s denial of the centrality of the proletariat in the destruction of capitalism. Its leadership willfully abstained from the civil rights movement while cheerleading from afar for both the liberal reformism of King and the reactionary separatism of the Nation of Islam. This meant that historic struggles that were to shape a whole generation took place without the intervention of a revolutionary party.

Contradictions in SNCC

Let me say a little more about my experiences in Mississippi in 1965 and how I saw this period. I certainly wasn’t in the Spartacist League; I was unfamiliar with any left group except the Communist Party, which my parents had been members of and which I rejected as very “old school.” My point is that I came back from Mississippi frustrated and confused by my experiences in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). This period is often portrayed in triumphalist fashion: MLK and the good fight against legalized segregation, etc., etc. At first I assumed that my project in Gulfport was particularly disorganized, but in retrospect I could see that SNCC was politically coming apart at the seams.

Now SNCC had started as the youth extension of MLK’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. As black liberals, their initial goal was formal, legal equality, or “northernizing the South.” The political strategy was to seek the support of the liberal establishment and try to get the federal government to help black people. That’s really what all this “pacifism” was about—appealing to the Northern Democrats and being respectable. But after some hard experiences in the South with cops, Klan, Democrats, etc., SNCC had moved to the left.

When I was in Mississippi, there was a lot of talk about going to the North to confront black oppression there—segregated housing, unemployment, rotten schools, police brutality. The American bourgeoisie might go along with getting rid of legal segregation, but black equality? An end to black oppression? No way—too central to the American capitalist system! And there was no consensus in SNCC on how to deal with capitalism. The only two answers I heard in the SNCC of that time were back to MLK liberalism or an incoherent black nationalist separatism. Without the intervention of communists, most SNCC radicals were not able to make the leap to proletarian socialism.

I want to deal with the contradictions that I saw in SNCC. First of all, when I was in Mississippi, the Los Angeles Watts upheaval broke out. Martin Luther King said that “as powerful a police force as possible” should be brought to L.A. to stop it. SNCC activists on my project cursed King’s name because it was clear that he was calling for pacifism for us and guns for the National Guard to put down black people in the ghettos.

Then we heard that our project might be attacked by the KKK. So people on my SNCC project proposed talking to the FBI about it. Being a red-diaper baby, I was horrified and opposed to this. I had seen my mother kick an FBI agent in the shins when he tried to barge into my parents’ house. But it was decided, and we all went down there together. The people on my project had assumed the FBI agent would be a Northerner, but he was a real Southerner with a heavy drawl. When he asked for our address, I was shaking my head and trying to get them to stop, but they gave it to him. Soon thereafter we heard through the grapevine that our house was in danger of being bombed! I wasn’t surprised and went around saying “I told you so” for days.

Worried about the threats, we moved out of our house for a while. With another young white woman, I went to stay with a very friendly black family. When night fell, they urged me and the other woman to sleep in one of the bedrooms. They kept insisting that there would be “no violence, no violence.” When I looked around the room, I could see that every guy there was holding a rifle or a shotgun. They kept saying that there would be “no violence from the Klan.” I just thought, “Well, this is the kind of ‘non-violence’ I’m for!” The Spartacist League, as you can read in the document “Black and Red,” was certainly for armed self-defense in the South. From my own experience, I think there was a lot more of it actually going on than people realize today.

Then we had a community meeting and were going to talk about the work we were doing. I suggested that we talk about this new thing called the Vietnam War. I sure got landed on for that! First, I was told that we were conducting a single-issue campaign around civil rights. When that wasn’t too convincing, I was told that “blacks were very patriotic” and wouldn’t appreciate criticism of American foreign policy. Later when I heard Muhammad Ali saying “No Viet Cong ever called me n----r” and saw that black people hated the war in Vietnam, I was sorry we hadn’t brought it up.

I never got to meet the longshoremen I mentioned who threatened to strike if the lunch counters didn’t get integrated. They were just the power in the background, but I was impressed with them. SNCC didn’t know what to do with them, but it seemed to me that there must be some left group out there who knew how to organize the power of labor. In the Spartacist League’s successful anti-Klan united fronts, I saw that power consciously mobilized in the fight for black freedom.

Several times people on my project asked me questions about Marxism; I would try to answer but I just didn’t know enough. That’s why it was such a crime and a betrayal that the SWP didn’t intervene. The Spartacist tendency originated in the early 1960s as a left opposition, the Revolutionary Tendency (RT), in the SWP. A central axis of the political fight was for an active intervention into the Southern civil rights movement based on the perspective of revolutionary integrationism—i.e., linking the struggle for black democratic rights to working-class struggle against capitalist exploitation. The SL was small, predominantly white, and the main body of young black activists moved rapidly toward separatism.

Northern Ghetto Upheavals

With the civil rights movement unable to change the hellish conditions of black life in the North, there was a rising level of frustrated expectations. There were a whole series of ghetto upheavals in the mid to late ’60s that were repressed with extreme police/National Guard violence. As we wrote in “Black and Red”: “Yet despite the vast energies expended and the casualties suffered, these outbreaks have changed nothing. This is a reflection of the urgent need for organizations of real struggle, which can organize and direct these energies toward conscious political objectives. It is the duty of a revolutionary organization to intervene where possible to give these outbursts political direction.” In line with this policy, at the time of the 1967 ghetto rebellion in Newark, New Jersey, we put out a very short agitational leaflet (less than a page, if you can believe) titled “Organize Black Power!” which you can see in Spartacist Bound Volume No. 1.

Despite their radical and often white-baiting rhetoric, most of the black nationalists quickly re-entered the fold of mainstream bourgeois politics. They offered themselves to the white ruling class as overseers of the ghetto masses. They became administrators of the various poverty programs and members of the entourage of local black Democratic politicians.

The Black Panthers represented the best of a generation of black activists who courageously stood up to the racist ruling class and its kill-crazy cops. They scared the ruling class. In 1968, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover vowed, “The Negro youth and moderate[s] must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teachings, they will be dead revolutionaries.” This was a blunt statement which was soon put into effect! Under the ruthless COINTELPRO government program, 38 Panthers were assassinated and hundreds were railroaded to jail. It is not an accident that the 17 class-war prisoners who receive Partisan Defense Committee stipends include three who are framed-up former Black Panthers: Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s foremost political prisoner, brilliant journalist known as the “Voice of the Voiceless,” whose freedom we have fought for over many years; as well as Ed Poindexter and Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa.

Unfortunately, the Panthers, along with most of the New Left, rejected the organized working class as the agent of black freedom and socialist revolution. The Panthers looked to black ghetto youth as the vanguard of black struggle. The underlying ideology of the Panthers was that the most oppressed are the most revolutionary. But, in fact, the lumpenproletariat in the ghetto, removed from the means of production, has no real social power. On another level, despite a lot of very dedicated black women members, the Panthers partook of the black nationalists’ contempt for women. From Stokely Carmichael’s gross statement about the position of women in the movement being “prone,” to Eldridge Cleaver’s rantings about “pussy power,” to Farrakhan, the nationalists seek to keep women “in their place,” often opposing birth control and abortion as genocide. We stand for free abortion on demand and women’s liberation through socialist revolution.

As we later wrote in the SL/U.S. Programmatic Statement [November 2000] about black nationalism in all its diverse political expressions: “At bottom black nationalism is an expression of hopelessness stemming from defeat, reflecting despair over prospects for integrated class struggle and labor taking up the fight for black rights. The chief responsibility for this lies on the shoulders of the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy, which has time and again refused to mobilize the social power of the multiracial working class in struggle against racist discrimination and terror.” And, I would add, today refuses to mobilize class-struggle resistance against the increased immiseration of the entire working class in the midst of the worst depression since the 1930s! We say: Break with the Democrats, for a revolutionary workers party! For a class-struggle leadership of the unions!

A Proletarian Revolutionary Perspective

The last 30-some years have consisted of all-out union-busting, a determined, and so far successful, effort to drive down the real standard of living for the working class and roll back many of the gains of the civil rights movement. To the extent that schools were ever desegregated, they are now being resegregated and are as “separate and unequal” as ever. The big advance is that the really segregated schools are named for Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks. Under Obama, “school reform” amounts to a massive assault on public education carried out through brass-knuckle attacks on teachers unions.

Higher education is becoming a privilege of the rich, with massive fee hikes. I saw more black students at the University of California when I was a student than I do now. Obama may intone that this country has come “90 percent of the way” to ending racism. Perhaps for the very thin layer of black people, like Obama and Oprah Winfrey, who benefited from the civil rights movement, got high governmental posts or made millions of dollars, it looks that way. But for the vast majority of black people, day-to-day life has gotten a lot worse!

Then there is government repression: the “war on drugs,” which is a war on black people; the “war on terror,” which is a war on civil liberties; three-strikes laws; mass incarceration of blacks and Latinos; mass deportations of immigrants; FBI harassment and grand jury subpoenas against Midwest leftists; the jailing of radical lawyer Lynne Stewart for ten years; the Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine up on criminal charges for interrupting the speech of the Israeli ambassador; in L.A., outrageous criminal charges against nonviolent acts of civil disobedience in support of immigrant and workers’ rights. The Obama administration has one-upped the Bush administration in its war on civil liberties, and that takes some doing!

A liberal columnist writing in the Los Angeles Times (12 February) commented, “From the hysterical reaction of two local prosecutors, you’d think Southern California suddenly had become Paris in 1848
—or, maybe, contemporary Cairo.” I wish! But parochial as it is, beaten down as it is, the working class of this country is part of the international proletariat and has and will respond to struggles around the world.

America’s capitalist rulers need their witchhunts as a means to keep those consigned to the bottom of this society “in their place.” Above all, they must suppress the social power of the multiracial working class, for in its hands lies the potential to end the barbarism of capitalist exploitation. Workers have the power to stop the wheels of industry and, through socialist revolution, to reorganize society with a planned socialist economy.

The American labor bureaucracy has certainly done a stellar job for the bosses in selling out and holding down class struggle for a very long three decades. So today we meet young people who are interested in Marxism but have never seen a picket line. But capitalism produces class and social struggle by its very nature and by the contradictions inherent in it, often where we least expect it and whether the labor bureaucracy likes it or not. I certainly did not expect that the Near East and North Africa would explode this year. Nor did I expect that there would be mass marches of workers in Wisconsin, of all places, albeit still very much under the sway of the Democrats and bourgeois pressure politics. You can certainly see the anger of the U.S. working class and the contradictions building. Long periods of passivity followed by explosive class struggle is actually sort of a norm for the American working class.

What we can and must do now is develop a multiracial and multiethnic cadre that can lead such struggles in the future when the working class moves into action. We need a revolutionary proletarian party based on the understanding that the workers share no common cause with their imperialist masters. You will not get this understanding from labor misleaders or the reformist left, endlessly pushing lesser-evilism and the lie that the capitalists can be made to change their priorities through a little protest and pressure. After all, lesser-evilism just means that when the Democrats get into office, they can do greater evil with lesser resistance! You’re certainly not going to get a Marxist program from groups like the International Socialist Organization, which shows its true colors by having victory parties for Obama’s election when they’re not busy prettifying the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

In conclusion, we fight to build a multiracial workers party that will champion the cause of all the exploited and oppressed in the fight for a socialist America and world. Only then can the wealth produced by labor be deployed for the benefit of society as a whole, laying the basis for eradicating all inequalities based on class, race, sex and national origin. We urge you to join us in the struggle for international proletarian revolution.

From The Archives-The Struggle To Win The Youth To The Fight For Our Communist Future- Mexican-American War: Prelude to American Civil War

Markin comment on this series:

One of the declared purposes of this space is to draw the lessons of our left-wing past here in America and internationally, especially from the pro-communist wing. To that end I have made commentaries and provided archival works in order to help draw those lessons for today’s left-wing activists to learn, or at least ponder over. More importantly, for the long haul, to help educate today’s youth in the struggle for our common communist future. That is no small task or easy task given the differences of generations; differences of political milieus worked in; differences of social structure to work around; and, increasingly more important, the differences in appreciation of technological advances, and their uses.

There is no question that back in my early 1960s youth I could have used, desperately used, many of the archival materials available today. When I developed political consciousness very early on, albeit liberal political consciousness, I could have used this material as I knew, I knew deep inside my heart and mind, that a junior Cold War liberal of the American for Democratic Action (ADA) stripe was not the end of my leftward political trajectory. More importantly, I could have used a socialist or communist youth organization to help me articulate the doubts I had about the virtues of liberal capitalism and be recruited to a more left-wing world view.

As it was I spent far too long in the throes of the left-liberal/soft social-democratic milieu where I was dying politically. A group like the Young Communist League (W.E.B. Dubois Clubs in those days), the Young People’s Socialist League, or the Young Socialist Alliance representing the youth organizations of the American Communist Party, American Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (U.S.) respectively would have saved much wasted time and energy. I knew they were around but just not in my area.

The archival material to be used in this series is weighted heavily toward the youth movements of the early American Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (U.S). For more recent material I have relied on material from the Spartacus Youth Clubs, the youth group of the Spartacist League (U.S.), both because they are more readily available to me and because, and this should give cause for pause, there are not many other non-CP, non-SWP youth groups around. As I gather more material from other youth sources I will place them in this series.

Finally I would like to finish up with the preamble to the Spartacist Youth Club’s What We Fight For statement of purpose for educational purposes only:

"The Spartacus Youth Clubs intervene into social struggles armed with the revolutionary internationalist program of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. We work to mobilize youth in struggle as partisans of the working class, championing the liberation of black people, women and all the oppressed. The SYCs fight to win youth to the perspective of building the Leninist vanguard party that will lead the working class in socialist revolution, laying the basis for a world free of capitalist exploitation and imperialist slaughter."

This seems to me be somewhere in the right direction for what a Bolshevik youth group should be doing these days; a proving ground to become professional revolutionaries with enough wiggle room to learn from their mistakes, and successes. More later.
Workers Vanguard No. 933
27 March 2009

Mexican-American War: Prelude to American Civil War

Finish the Civil War!

For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

(Part One)

We print below, edited for publication, a presentation by Jacob Zorn of the Spartacist League at a February 28 New York City forum.

This forum is being held in celebration of Black History Month. This is the first time that there is a black president of the United States, which in its own way is historic, especially given the history of black oppression in this country. American imperialism is bogged down in two increasingly unpopular wars and occupations abroad and an economic crisis that deepens each day. Thus, for the bourgeoisie, the fact that there is now a black president, not to mention a president who can put together an English sentence, is used to try to give a facelift to this brutal system, in order to refurbish its very threadbare “democratic” credentials—even as the capitalists plan to jack up brutal exploitation and oppression here and abroad.

Voting for the Democratic Party is counterposed to the interests of the working class and oppressed. During the elections, the Spartacist League called to break with the Democrats and for a class-struggle workers party. We did not vote for the Democrats. Nor do we think that a black president will serve to eliminate racial oppression here in the United States. Black oppression is deeply rooted in the history of the development of capitalism here, and only socialist revolution, which places the wealth of society in the hands of the multiracial working class, can liberate black people and all of the oppressed. This is why we call to finish the Civil War and for black liberation through socialist revolution.

In 1846, the United States invaded Mexico. When the United States finally left, it was only after forcing Mexico to give up about half of its national territory, including all or most of modern-day California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada, as well as Texas. In this forum, I want to look at how the oppression of black people here in the United States is rooted in the history of the United States, how the U.S. invasion of Mexico was a key part of this history, and how workers struggles in the United States and Mexico are inextricably linked.

The war was fought by the Southern slavocracy in order to further the expansion of the slave system into new land, as a way of solidifying the slave system’s domination of this country. The United States in the early 19th century was integrated into the developing world capitalist system, and the North had begun to develop into a very dynamic capitalist power. But this growth was hampered by the slave system in the South, which dominated the U.S. politically and economically. This coexistence of slavery and capitalism could not continue indefinitely. By the middle of the 19th century, what was called the “irrepressible conflict” came ever closer to breaking out into the open. The U.S. invasion of Mexico was an important signpost in the lead-up to the Civil War. As Marx put it in an article he wrote in 1861, during the Civil War:

“The present struggle between the South and the North is, therefore, nothing but a struggle between two social systems, the system of slavery and the system of free labour. The struggle has broken out because the two systems can no longer live peacefully side by side on the North American continent. It can only be ended by the victory of one system or the other.”

—“The Civil War in the United States” (1861)

Here in the United States, the invasion of Mexico is often either ignored or justified as inevitable; this was certainly my experience growing up in Arizona, which is part of the land taken from Mexico. In Mexico the war is much better known. No town or village is complete without its memorial or street dedicated to the “Boy Heroes” who fought against the U.S. There, the invasion is used to bolster Mexican nationalism, with its premise that the country needs to stand as one, regardless of class differences, to maintain eternal vigilance against the monolithic aggressor across the Río Bravo. As Marxists here in the “belly of the beast,” it is necessary to oppose any instance of U.S. aggression toward Latin America and to stand for the class solidarity of the working class throughout the Americas—to fight for workers revolutions throughout the continent, from Alaska to Argentina. Part of this is understanding the 1846 invasion of Mexico and why it happened.

At the same time, it is important to understand the class forces that contributed to the invasion. Yes, on the part of the United States the war was based on a desire to take over Mexican land, with a good deal of anti-Mexican, anti-indigenous and anti-Catholic bigotry thrown in. But more fundamentally, the invasion of Mexico was developed out of the historic division of the United States between capitalist and slave systems. This very division led, less than 20 years later, to America’s second revolution, the Civil War, which smashed the Southern slave system and paved the way for the unfettered development of capitalism in the United States.

For us, as for Marx and Engels, not to mention Frederick Douglass and the millions of slaves in the South, the Civil War was a just war on the side of the North. This is ABC. It’s embarrassing that one has to assert this, but it still seems to be far beyond the grasp of many even so-called Marxists, like for example the Progressive Labor Party. They recently debated for several months about the Civil War in the pages of Challenge—and seemed never to have really reached a conclusion (see “PL vs. Karl Marx (and Abraham Lincoln),” WV No. 919, 29 August 2008). For us, the problem is that the task of black liberation was not completed, and black oppression remains integral to American capitalism.

In order to understand this, it’s necessary to understand the role of slavery in the early United States. The basic task of a bourgeois revolution is to create a unified bourgeois nation: in this sense, the first American Revolution was incomplete. During the War of Independence against Britain, the “founding fathers,” both in the North and in the South, agreed that the 13 colonies would be better off outside the control of the British Empire. But they represented different propertied classes: the budding Northern bourgeoisie and the Southern slaveholding landowners. In 1776, both the Northern merchant capitalists and the Southern planter aristocracy supported independence from the British imperial system, and for several decades it was beneficial for both to coexist in the same economy and the same country.

The new republic was not an equal partnership—the Southern slavocracy was in control. Without understanding this, the entire first half of American history doesn’t make a lot of sense. Increasing cotton production in the 19th century clinched a common economic interest between the plantation owners of the South and the Northern bankers and merchants who profited from the export of cotton to Britain and its manufacture into goods. The “slave power” of the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution was codified a decade later in the U.S. Constitution, which was written in 1787.

When he was running for president, Barack Obama claimed “the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution.” This is a lie: while the Constitution never actually uses the word “slave,” it gave the slave South extra power, despite the fact that its population grew at a much slower rate than the free North. The “three-fifths clause” not only declared a slave three-fifths of a person, but also gave slaveowners extra power within the electoral system. And then there is the Senate, which gives each state the same representation regardless of its population. And when the Constitution was written, the Senate was not elected. Southerners held the presidency more often than not for most of the history of the early United States. This made it all but impossible to legally abolish slavery. Thus both in economic terms and in political terms, human slavery was the cornerstone of the early American republic.

Slavery eventually died out in the North, where the last state to abolish slavery was New Jersey in 1846. By the mid 19th century, Northern capitalism had developed to such a point that it was increasingly fettered by the Southern slavocracy. The envelope for this tension was often expansionism. From the original 13 colonies, the United States had already grown extensively, especially with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Both the slave South and the capitalist North shared expansionist aims. This was later called “Manifest Destiny.” But this expansion meant different things for each section. Northern capitalists and farmers wanted to expand to the west. This included much of what was then called Oregon—which is not only the current state of Oregon but also much of western Canada, which was claimed by Britain. They wanted to expand a market for manufactured goods, obtain raw materials, develop a hinterland for the North, and expand toward Asian markets through the Pacific Rim.

The Southern slaveowners wanted to expand the slave system and deepen its power over the country in order to guarantee that slavery would continue to exist. Immigration and population growth in the North threatened to offset the three-fifths clause, and new free states would mean less power for the slave South in Congress. So politicians from both sides concocted a series of so-called “compromises” to maintain the North/South balance. One example is the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which divided the Louisiana Territory into slave and free zones.

No sooner had one “compromise” been effected than the next crisis would arise. In 1861, after the Civil War broke out, Marx explained this:

“The progressive abuse of the Union by the slave power, working through its alliance with the Northern Democratic party, is, so to say, the general formula of United States history since the beginning of this century. The successive compromise measures mark the successive degrees of the encroachment by which the Union became more and more transformed into the slave of the slave-owner. Each of these compromises denotes a new encroachment of the South, a new concession of the North.”

—“The American Question in England” (1861)

The Democratic Party at the time was, in the South, the main party of the slaveholders. In the North, it comprised both merchant capitalists who traded with the South and the urban poor. In both regions, it was thoroughly racist.

Plantation-based cotton agriculture is very hard on the soil, especially as it was practiced in the South. Therefore the slavocracy had a constant demand for new land. Many Southerners wanted to create what they called an “empire for slavery,” which would include much of Latin America and the Caribbean, in order to make sure that there would always be plantation slavery in the United States. British military power was an obstacle to the North’s wish to expand to the northwest in Oregon, but Mexico appeared to be a scintillating morsel to the slave South.

Mexico After Independence

Both the U.S. and Mexico bore the marks of their colonizing powers. British North America, including later the United States, was largely based on the mercantile model of Britain, which was by the mid 18th century one of the most dynamic European economies and the first industrial capitalist country. Spain by this time was one of the most backward and bankrupt European powers; it had already squandered the wealth that it had taken from its American colonies. Rather than develop the productive forces of New Spain, the Spanish crown focused on getting as much gold and silver from its colony as it could and sending this wealth back to the Iberian Peninsula. Between 1808 and 1821, Spain was beset by various problems in Europe, and it lost control of its empire. Almost all of its American colonies became independent in this period, the exceptions being Cuba and Puerto Rico, which remained Spanish colonies until the United States took them in the Spanish-American War in the late 1890s.

I want to touch on African slavery in Mexico for a moment. The Spanish were in fact the first European power in the Americas to use African slaves. And the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean, such as Santo Domingo, were based on slavery. The first black slaves arrived in Mexico with Hernán Cortés, and slaves were important in early colonial Mexico—something that is often ignored by contemporary Mexican nationalists. But the main source of labor in Mexico was indigenous peasants, not African slaves, and by the 19th century slavery had died out in Mexico. So at its independence, Mexico abolished slavery, but this was more a symbolic than a real act—except, as we’ll see, in Texas.

Shortly after its independence in 1821, Mexico was crippled by the legacy of Spanish colonialism, which had left the country underdeveloped and economically weak and heavily indebted. Mexico was very unstable; it had no real central government. Its extreme southern territories, including modern-day Guatemala, and its far northern territories were not under control of Mexico City. Between independence in 1821 and 1861, Mexico had 56 presidents, suffered several coups, and faced invasions by Spain in 1829 and France in 1838 in addition to the U.S. invasion in 1846. Mexico, in short, was not a modern nation-state. Local caciques opposed central control and political power alternated between Federalists who favored a decentralized government and conservative Centralists who wanted to place power in the hands of the government in Mexico City. One of the central figures in this period was the adventurer General Antonio López de Santa Anna, who himself ruled Mexico eleven times.

The U.S. had long had its eyes on Latin America. One example of this was the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, which told European countries to keep their hands off the Western Hemisphere. Mexico—or as the Spanish colonialists called it, New Spain—was particularly enticing for the United States. At the same time, the United States was pulling northern Mexico into its economy, and central Mexico was very distant. Just to give an example, one of the largest settlements in far northern Mexico was Santa Fe, New Mexico, and it took 60 days to get to Santa Fe from Missouri. But to get to Santa Fe from Mexico City it took some six months! As the Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz allegedly put it almost a century later, Mexico was so far from God and so close to the United States.


I want to talk a bit about Texas, because it’s quite important. By the 19th century, Spain had already lost its territories in Florida and Louisiana. In 1819, the U.S. had signed a treaty with Spain, the Adams-Onís Treaty that established the boundary between the U.S. and Spanish territory at the Sabine River, and the U.S. renounced “forever” any claim to Texas—but Spain was still worried that its sparsely populated northern territory was vulnerable. So to populate the northern part of its territory, the Spanish government encouraged English-speaking North Americans, so-called Anglos, who were mainly citizens of the United States, to settle in Texas. The newly independent Mexican government continued the same policy. These immigrants were required to formally convert to Catholicism, which was the only legal religion in Mexico at the time, and the idea was that they would become Mexicans. But many of the immigrants had very little intention of actually doing so. Instead, they were mainly Southerners who wanted to extend slavery as far as possible into Mexican territory.

The first large-scale Anglo settlement in Texas was founded by Moses Austin and his son Stephen. By 1825, it had 1,800 inhabitants; 443 of them were slaves. Soon, Anglo immigrants and slaves outnumbered Mexicans in Texas ten-to-one, although it’s important to keep in mind that Native Americans outnumbered both. The links between far northern and central Mexico diminished even more as trade with the increasingly dynamic United States grew, and the Mexican government was too weak to force the Americans in Texas to do much of anything.

Slavery was a very special issue in this relationship. It was illegal in Mexico but was central to the economy in Texas, just as it was in the economy in the Southern United States. The Mexican government saw limiting slavery as a way to rein in these settlers, and it repeatedly reasserted its opposition to slavery, while not doing much to actually limit its practice in Texas. In 1829, the Mexican president Vicente Guerrero abolished slavery but allowed Texas to maintain slavery as long as no more slaves were admitted. The Texans got around even this by forcing their slaves to sign so-called “contracts” with their masters that virtually guaranteed their perpetual servitude.

The Texas “Revolution”: Pro-Slavery Coup d’Etat

There’s a lot of mythology about what’s called the “Texas Revolution” of 1835-36, in which Texas broke away from Mexico. But at bottom this was a slaveholders’ rebellion, fought to guarantee the existence of human slavery. Sometimes it is depicted as a reaction to a growing Mexican central government—this is what I was told when I visited the Alamo several years ago. I haven’t forgotten. But as veteran American Trotskyist Richard S. Fraser put it in an unpublished study of the development of black oppression in the United States, “The colonists didn’t care what government sat in Mexico City as long as slavery was tolerated. What they feared was that a stronger central government would most assuredly move against their practice of slavery.” Stephen Austin, a founder of Texas, himself argued: “Texas must be a slave country.” And in fact, as a state, Texas would become fervently pro-slavery and joined the Confederacy in the Civil War. The University of Texas has something called the “Handbook of Texas Online” and it describes:

“The Texas Revolution assured slaveholders of the future of their institution. The Constitution of the Republic of Texas (1836) provided that slaves would remain the property of their owners, that the Texas Congress could not prohibit the immigration of slaveholders bringing their property, and that slaves could be imported from the United States (although not from Africa). Given those protections, slavery expanded rapidly during the period of the republic.”

Many slaves in Texas saw the Mexican army during the so-called “revolution” as an army of liberation. Since Mexico had abolished slavery, slaves in independent Texas escaped to the south. As one former slave put it: “All we had to do was walk, but walk south and we’d be free as soon as we crossed the Rio Grande. In Mexico you could be free.” At least 4,000 slaves escaped to Mexico in the 1840s and 1850s.

The Texans of course defeated General Santa Anna in 1836 and won de facto independence, although it’s a funny type of independence, because as soon as they became independent many Texans wanted to join the United States. The slavocracy wanted to annex Texas, but to do so threatened to undo the balance between the North and South and also to provoke war with Mexico, which did not recognize Texas’s independence.

“Manifest Destiny”

Now as I mentioned earlier, there was a shared expansionism in both the North and the South. This was called Manifest Destiny, the idea that God had a unique plan for white, English-speaking, Protestant North Americans to conquer and “civilize” all of America. By the 1840s, the slavocracy and the Northern capitalists were increasingly at odds over the nature of this destiny, of this expansionism. To the North, it was tied to the growth of capitalism, the expansion of free labor and markets and more influence in Congress. Oregon, as I said, was very important. To the South, expansionism meant increasing the reach of slavery and bolstering its power in government. The more the country expanded, the greater the tensions between slavery and capitalism became.

At the time, Texas remained a lightning rod. Many Southerners were anxious that Britain would try to make Texas a client state and abolish slavery there. James Polk, a Southern Democrat, was elected president in 1844 as a militant advocate of Manifest Destiny. Polk, like many American presidents, was a representative of the slavocracy: he owned a 920-acre plantation and 34 slaves—he bought 19 of them while he was president of the United States. According to historian Joseph Wheelan, he was “an unrepentant slaveholder” who “as a congressman had consistently sided with Southern interests in blocking attempts to interfere with slavery” (Invading Mexico: America’s Continental Dream and the Mexican War, 1846-1848 [2007]). In his presidential campaign, Polk promised to expand into Oregon and to annex Texas. In 1845, under this pressure, lame-duck president John Tyler—himself a slaveholder from Virginia—announced the annexation of Texas.

This was a provocation against both Mexico and the Northern free states and would lead to a war with each. The pretext for invading Mexico was the border between Mexico and Texas. The border between Texas and the rest of Mexico had always been the Río Nueces, but after annexing Texas, the United States claimed that the border was actually the Río Bravo del Norte (called the Rio Grande in the United States), which is some 160 miles to the south. This not only meant making Texas bigger, but also it expanded the U.S. claim to much of New Mexico as well, which concretely meant the possibility of creating several more slave states. In his Personal Memoirs, former president Ulysses S. Grant, who fought in Mexico, argued: “The fact is, annexationists wanted more territory than they could possibly lay any claim to, as part of the new acquisition.”

The Invasion

The U.S. provoked a war with Mexico by stationing troops in this disputed area and then, when an American soldier was killed, claiming that, in Polk’s words, “American blood has been shed on American soil.” This was the first in a list of lies that have been used by the U.S. to justify invasions of different countries—the USS Maine (Cuba), the Gulf of Tonkin (Vietnam) and most recently supposed “weapons of mass destruction” (Iraq).

In the war, the U.S. had a three-pronged strategy. Stephen Watts Kearny invaded westward, into New Mexico and California (the latter with John C. Frémont). Zachary Taylor invaded northern Mexico, occupying Monterrey, and Winfield Scott invaded Mexico City from the Caribbean port city of Veracruz. Polk wanted a short war; he feared that if the war lasted too long, Taylor and Scott, who were Whigs, would become too popular. However, the war lasted longer than he expected, since Mexico did not surrender until forced to. The Marine Corps’ hymn still celebrates this invasion, asserting the U.S power in the “Halls of Montezuma,” that is to say, in Mexico City.

The war served as a testing ground for future military leaders in the Civil War and was the first war in which West Point graduates played a key role. From Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on the Confederate side to George McClellan and U.S. Grant on the Union side, most of the commanding officers in the Civil War had fought in the invasion of Mexico.

Many of these officers had very different takes on the war. In the case of Grant, he later called the war “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.” To use one example, there’s the northern city of Monterrey, which was occupied for almost two years. Historian Miguel Ángel González Quiroga describes how “the city was subjected to a furious onslaught unlike any it has witnessed before or since. The fighting left devastation and ruin that converted the town, in the words of one eyewitness, into a vast cemetery.”

Even though Mexico had a larger army, the U.S. won the war. This was a reflection not of Manifest Destiny but of the superior organization and wealth of the United States. Incidentally, Karl Marx thought that the United States won despite its leadership. He called General Scott “a common, petty, untalented, carping, envious cur and humbug.” The Mexican army was officer heavy; at one point, Santa Anna commanded an army of 24,000 officers and only 20,000 enlisted men. According to historian Josefina Zoraida Vázquez, the “conditions of the [Mexican] army were disastrous, it was tired, poorly fed and unarmed, it was large but untrained and confronted an army that was small, but disciplined, equipped, fed and regularly paid” (De la Rebelión de Texas a la Guerra del 47 [1994]). One thing I’ll mention about the U.S. side, it should be noted that many Catholic Irish and German immigrants in the U.S. Army resented the Protestant leadership, and there were even Irish-American soldiers who defected to Mexico, forming the San Patricio Battalion. Remember that during the 19th century, anti-Irish and anti-Catholic bigotry was rife in the U.S.

Furthermore, the Mexican government was divided; it was unstable and unable to mobilize the resources necessary to fend off the United States. Mexican soldiers—largely indigenous and mestizo peasants—had little incentive to fight for a largely white landlord class of hacendados. During the war, there were numerous changes of government in Mexico itself and there were rebellions, for example, in southern Mexico. As many as 200,000 people died or were dislocated in the so-called Caste War of Yucatán by 1848. The Mexican army was used to attacking other Mexicans, not fighting foreign armies. The U.S. also had better artillery. And to top it all off, Mexico was led by General Santa Anna—who was more concerned with holding on to his own power than winning the war. And as we will see, the war itself was not popular in the Northern part of the United States.
Workers Vanguard No. 934
10 April 2009

Mexican-American War: Prelude to American Civil War

Finish the Civil War!

For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

(Part Two)

We print below, in edited form, the conclusion of a presentation by Jacob Zorn of the Spartacist League at a February 28 New York City forum. Part One was published in WV No. 933 (27 March).

Why did the United States invade Mexico? As Marxists, we understand that there were class interests at play; the main class pushing for the war was the slavocracy. As veteran American Trotskyist Richard S. Fraser put it, “The war was fought not just for conquest in general but more particularly to extend slavery and the political power of the slave system.” The slave power’s goal of expanding slavery through invading Mexico was not a secret. One Georgia newspaper stated that taking territory from Mexico would “secure to the South the balance of power in the Confederacy [i.e., the United States], and, for all coming time…give to her the control in the operations of the Government” (quoted in James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era [1988]). In his Personal Memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant recognized that the annexation of Texas was “from the inception of the movement to its final consummation, a conspiracy to acquire territory out of which slave states might be formed for the American Union.”

The invasion was very unpopular among Northerners, and they derided it as “Mr. Polk’s War,” referring to then-president James Polk, a Southern Democrat. William Lloyd Garrison, one of the leading abolitionists of the day, argued in the Liberator: “We only hope that, if blood has had to flow, that it has been that of the American, and that the next news we shall hear will be that General Scott and his army are in the hands of the Mexicans.” In 1846, Frederick Douglass denounced the annexation of Texas as “a conspiracy from beginning to end—a most deep and skillfully devised conspiracy—for the purpose of upholding and sustaining one of the darkest and foulest crimes ever committed by man” (Belfast News Letter, 6 January 1846).

The war was a catalyst. It caused the Southern slave masters and the Northern capitalists to become less and less compatible. It made clear, as Abraham Lincoln put it in a famous speech in 1858, that “this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.” Many Northerners felt betrayed by Polk’s 1846 compromise with Britain over Oregon—which relinquished American claims to large parts of Canada and set the current U.S.-Canadian border—and opposed the invasion of Mexico. Lincoln, at the time a newly elected Whig Congressman from Illinois, denounced President Polk as a liar for declaring that Americans had been killed on American soil. Lincoln was representative of an increasing section of the Northern bourgeoisie, which, while willing to tolerate the continued existence of slavery in the South, opposed its extension and wanted to limit the extension of the slave power. Before the invasion, Northerners in both parties had been willing to accept the domination of the slavocracy; in the aftermath of the invasion, both parties were increasingly torn apart between their Northern and Southern wings. Former Democratic president Martin Van Buren of New York opposed the annexation of Texas and the extension of slavery; he broke from the Democrats, eventually running for president on the Free Soil party ticket in 1848.

David Wilmot, a Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania, expressed this hostility when he attached a proviso to the appropriations bill for the invasion in 1846 that banned slavery from any territory taken from Mexico. The House of Representatives passed this proviso in both 1846 and 1847, but the Senate voted against it in both years because the South dominated the Senate. The Wilmot Proviso shows that the contradictions between the slave system in the South and the capitalist system in the North could no longer coexist in the same country. This did not mean that various representatives of both sides did not try other compromises, but these attempts were increasingly fruitless.

The End of the War

In 1848, with U.S. troops occupying much of the country, including Mexico City, Mexico signed a peace treaty with the United States—the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The treaty set the border at the Río Bravo [Rio Grande], giving the United States almost half of Mexico; in exchange, the U.S. agreed to pay Mexico $15 million and promised to keep Indians living in the United States from attacking Mexico. Even so, many Southern expansionists complained that the United States didn’t get enough: many slaveholders wanted their “empire for slavery” to extend through all of Mexico into Central America, into the Caribbean and maybe even down to Brazil.

Shortly after the war, with the discovery of gold, thousands of migrants moved into California. There is a very interesting book that recently came out called The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War (2007) by Leonard Richards, which shows how many Southerners wanted to expand slavery to California. In 1854, the United States purchased la Mesilla—currently southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico—in order to build a railroad through to California. In the United States this is usually called the Gadsden Purchase, after James Gadsden, who was the U.S. envoy who dealt with Santa Anna over this question. It is usually remembered because Gadsden was a railroad executive who stood to benefit personally from the Gadsden Purchase. It could also be called the Gadsden-Davis purchase, since Secretary of War Jefferson Davis supported the railroad as a way of connecting California to the South and expanding the power of the slavocracy over the Southwest. Davis, who also had fought in the U.S. Army in the invasion of Mexico, of course would become the leader of the Confederacy in the Civil War.

Southerners did not give up their desire to expand southward. A decade after the Mexican-American War, one Southern leader argued: “I want Cuba. I want Tamaulipas, [San Luis] Potosí, and one or two other Mexican states; and I want them all for the same reason—for the planting or spreading of slavery.” Then there were the so-called Filibusters, Southern-backed Americans who tried to set up pro-slavery governments, who invaded various places in northern Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Among the most famous of these was one Dr. William Walker, who even briefly made himself president of Nicaragua in 1856. One of the things he did in his time there was to try to return slavery to Nicaragua. The U.S. also unsuccessfully tried to purchase Cuba from Spain. There was still plantation slavery practiced in Cuba. In 1898, of course, the United States fought a war against Spain to take Cuba along with Puerto Rico and the Philippines; by this time, although slavery had already been abolished, the U.S. did manage to export Jim Crow-style discrimination to these countries.

Even though the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo gave U.S. citizenship after one year to those Mexicans in the new U.S. territory, these Mexicans faced racist discrimination. Many Mexican landholders had their land north of the Río Bravo stolen from them. And Mexicans were also subjected to racist attacks by sheriffs, Texas Rangers and armed vigilantes. Between 1848 and 1928, mobs lynched at least 597 Mexicans in the U.S. The Native Americans who lived in the territory were also subjected to genocidal attacks, just as they were on the Mexican side.

For Mexico, the loss of so much of its national territory increased its instability. It would be too simple to say that the invasion of Mexico by the U.S. in 1846 led to the later U.S. imperialist domination of the country, but it did play an important role in stunting the development of Mexico. By the last quarter of the 19th century, when Mexico was under the bloody dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, American capitalists owned much of the wealth of Mexico and kept the country subjugated to enrich American imperialism.

Marxists and the Invasion of Mexico

When we were working on the flyer announcing this forum, I suggested the headline, “The Mexican-American War: A Marxist Analysis.” Luckily, we didn’t go with this, but it’s actually a lot trickier issue than it sounds. As Marxists in the United States, we oppose the predatory expansion of the U.S. Nonetheless, in 1846 the United States was not, in a Marxist sense, imperialist. Imperialism doesn’t just mean a big country taking over a little country’s land, but is, as Lenin explained, the last stage of capitalism, an epoch of wars and revolutions in which the world economy comes into violent collision with the barriers imposed by the capitalist nation-state. In 1846, the United States was still a developing capitalist economy and the American bourgeoisie was still, objectively speaking, a progressive class: its task of destroying chattel slavery was still outstanding.

Today, of course, the United States is the most powerful imperialist country and there is nothing progressive about the American bourgeoisie. It keeps Mexico and Latin America subjugated through trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] and, if necessary, through military force. We wrote in the Programmatic Statement of the SL/U.S., “For Socialist Revolution in the Bastion of World Imperialism!”:

“A workers government in the U.S. would also return to Mexico certain contiguous regions, predominantly Spanish speaking, of the Southwest which were seized from Mexico. This internationalist gesture would powerfully undercut the anti-Yankee nationalism that the Latin American ruling classes use to tie the workers to them and would be of significant value in extending support to proletarian revolution throughout Latin America.”

Although they chafe at the domination of the U.S., Mexican and other Latin American capitalists fear their own working class even more. They use the Mexican-American War, La Invasión Norteamericana, the North American Invasion as it’s called, along with the ongoing U.S. oppression of Mexico, to tout the lie that Mexican workers and capitalists share a common interest. The Mexican bourgeoisie also seeks to obscure the fact that the United States itself is a class-divided society and that American workers are the class brothers—and increasingly the real brothers—of Mexican workers. Ending the imperialist subjugation of Latin America—and the rest of the semicolonial world—requires the working class in the U.S. taking power as part of socialist revolutions in all of the Americas. And American workers must also fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants and against U.S. imperialism in Latin America and the rest of the world. It’s for this reason that we oppose NAFTA, the “free trade” rape of Mexico—not for protectionist reasons, but because it has meant misery for the workers and peasants of Mexico. And opposition to anti-immigrant racism in the U.S. is also intertwined with the struggle against black oppression, as the history of the Mexican-American War shows.

In Mexico, nationalists trying to discredit socialism sometimes denounce Marx and Engels for having supported the United States invasion. And throughout the Third World, they are also sometimes labeled “racists.” In 1848, Engels wrote about the war:

“In America we have witnessed the conquest of Mexico and have rejoiced at it. It is also an advance when a country which has hitherto been exclusively wrapped up in its own affairs, perpetually rent with civil wars, and completely hindered in its development, a country whose best prospect had been to become industrially subject to Britain—when such a country is forcibly drawn into the historical process. It is to the interest of its own development that Mexico will in future be placed under the tutelage of the United States. The evolution of the whole of America will profit by the fact that the United States, by the possession of California, obtains command of the Pacific. But again we ask: ‘Who is going to profit immediately by the war?’ The bourgeoisie alone.”

Several years later, in 1854, Marx wrote to Engels about the war, calling it “a worthy prelude to the military history of the great land of the Yankees.” And several days later, in another letter, he praised the “Yankee sense of independence and individual proficiency” and criticized the Mexicans: “The Spanish are already degenerate. But a degenerate Spaniard, a Mexican, is an ideal.”

Well, this is what is used against Marx and Engels. And Marx and Engels were wrong—but not because they were in favor of U.S. imperialism or because they were racists. The time of the Mexican-American War was very early in the development of Marxism, before the Communist Manifesto was published. Industrial capitalism was still in the process of development and Marx believed that it needed to fully develop in order to make proletarian revolution possible. Capitalism was then a progressive force, and Marx and Engels believed that one of its most progressive features was creating a nation with a unified working class. As a result, Marx and Engels opposed self-determination for small nations; they thought that such peoples should be assimilated into bigger nations. They mainly wrote about the Slavic peoples of Central and East Europe, but they also extended this to Mexico. In this view, the expansion of capitalism on a world scale would benefit not only the developed capitalist countries but the backward countries as well. As they wrote in the 1848 Communist Manifesto, “The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation.”

Marx and Engels’ empirical judgment on the Mexican-American War was wrong, but their theoretical premises were not incorrect. They were derived from a key experience in modern European history, which, in fact, directly affected Marx’s family: the Napoleonic occupation of Germany in 1806-1813. Where he went, Napoleon, bringing with him gains of the French Revolution, overturned the remaining feudal property relations and established formal equality before the law for all social classes. In Germany, these liberal reforms, including the emancipation of Jews, gave a major impetus to the beginnings of industrial capitalism. That is, the gains of the bourgeois-democratic revolution came to western and southern Germany, large parts of Italy and even the northern Balkans, not through an indigenous revolution, but through conquest from without. In many cases it encountered reactionary resistance under the name of national independence; so for the German intellectuals of Marx’s generation, a major division between the left and the right was one’s retrospective attitude toward these so-called “wars of liberation,” which in the German states were led by the Prussian monarchy against the Napoleonic occupation. Marx and Engels’ theoretical principle that social and economic progress stands higher than national independence, when the two conflict, was correct. I would argue that Marx and Engels’ attitude toward the Napoleonic occupation was a theoretical precursor to our position supporting the 1979 military intervention by the Soviet Union, a degenerated workers state, in Afghanistan (which is, in fact, not a nation).

Marx and Engels were not blind or indifferent to the monumental crimes committed by Western powers against the peoples of Asia, Africa and the Americas. But they viewed such crimes as the overhead historical cost for the modernization of these backward regions. And as I already mentioned, in the 19th century Mexico was a mess without much hope of a proletarian revolution, and American “tutelage,” as Engels put it, seemed the only possible way forward. In 1853, in an article called “The Future Results of British Rule in India,” Marx and Engels wrote:

“England has to fulfill a double mission in India: one destructive, the other regenerating—the annihilation of old Asiatic society, and the laying of the material foundations of Western society in Asia.”

But this projection was not borne out by the actual course of development. In fact, even though the capitalists did introduce certain elements of modern industrial technology into their colonies and semicolonies, for example transportation, the overall effect was to arrest the social and economic development of backward countries. By the mid 19th century, the European bourgeoisies ceased to be a historically progressive class against the old feudal-derived aristocracies—with the key turning point being the defeat of the 1848 European revolutions.

Marx and Engels generalized the experiences that Europe went through during the period of the Napoleonic Wars. In the 1867 Preface to the first German edition of Capital, Marx wrote: “The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future.” This statement aptly described European capitalist development in the early years of the 19th century. At the same time, this observation, which Trotsky later described as “conditional and limited” (Lessons of October, 1924), was at odds with the fact that European colonialism reinforced the social and economic backwardness of the countries and peoples it dominated.

Marxism is a science. It is based not on received wisdom but on observation and analysis of social reality. Marxists are not infallible, and, indeed, Marx and Engels learned from their observations and analyses of capitalist development and expansion. It wasn’t long after 1848 that Marx and Engels would develop a very different attitude toward colonialism, expressed, for example, in their defense of the Sepoy rebellion in British-occupied India in 1857-58. Ireland is probably the country to which they paid the most attention because of their knowledge of the British working class. By the 1860s Marx and Engels called for Irish independence from Britain, not only out of justice for Ireland, but also as the precondition for the organization of English workers. By the late 19th century, Marx and Engels had become champions of colonial independence and recognized that the modernization of Asia, Africa and Latin America could take place only within the context of a world socialist order. Marx’s Capital (written in 1867) contains biting analysis of what he called the “primitive accumulation of capital” by the blood and the death of peasants and workers and others. There is a good article in the current issue of Workers Vanguard that goes over the development of the Marxist position on the national question (see “The National Question in the Marxist Movement, 1848-1914,” WV No. 931, 27 February).

More generally, imperialism had not fully developed in Marx and Engels’ time. It was left to the Bolsheviks to fully grapple with the importance of the national question in the epoch of imperialism. And the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky fought against all forms of national oppression and for the right of self-determination of nations. And just as Marx recognized that the modernization of Asia, Africa and Latin America could take place only within the context of a world socialist order, Trotsky underlined in his theory of permanent revolution that in countries of belated capitalist development national liberation and social and economic modernization can take place only under the dictatorship of the proletariat, with the working class fighting to extend its revolution to the advanced capitalist countries.

In terms of the Mexican-American War, Marx and Engels, in a more specific historical sense, failed at the time to fully appreciate the fact that the invasion of Mexico strengthened the power of the slavocracy—the very power standing in the way of further bourgeois development. In the 1840s, they did not know very much about the U.S. But by the time of the U.S. Civil War, Marx and Engels had carefully studied the country. Marx’s writings are among the most perceptive on the U.S. Civil War of any contemporary observers because he understood that the war was a class war between two opposed social systems.

In 1861, at the start of the Civil War, Marx wrote: “In the foreign, as in the domestic, policy of the United States, the interests of the slaveholders served as the guiding star.” He mentioned in this context the U.S. attempt to purchase Cuba and pro-slavery Filibusters in northern Mexico and Central America, concluding that U.S. foreign policy “was conquest of new territory for the spread of slavery and of the slaveholders’ rule” (“The North American Civil War,” 1861). Marx wrote that slavery was the key issue in the Civil War, which he tied to the war with Mexico:

“Not in the sense of whether the slaves within the existing slave states should be emancipated outright or not...but whether the 20 million freemen of the North should submit any longer to an oligarchy of 300,000 slaveholders; whether the vast Territories of the republic should be nurseries for free states or for slavery; finally, whether the national policy of the Union should take armed spreading of slavery in Mexico, Central and South America as its device.”

The Mexican Invasion and the Coming of the Civil War

So by the time of the American Civil War, Marx recognized that the invasion of Mexico was integrally connected to the development of the slavocracy and that this was one of the key questions for American capitalism.

I want to talk a bit about the invasion of Mexico and the coming of the Civil War. The invasion of Mexico called the question: would the slavocracy or the bourgeoisie control the United States? The answer was not obvious. One of the best historians of the period, James McPherson, has said: “On the eve of the Civil War, plantation agriculture was more profitable, slavery more entrenched, slave owners more prosperous, and the ‘slave power’ more dominant within the South if not in the nation at large than it had ever been.” And the South was increasingly belligerent. Although many Northerners wanted to compromise more with the South, especially those merchants here in New York who benefited from selling Southern cotton, it became clearer as the bourgeoisie grew that establishing a unified capitalist society would require smashing slavery—that is, another bourgeois revolution. The conquest of so much territory from Mexico directly led to the Civil War. In his Memoirs, Grant wrote:

“The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.”

The immediate question posed by the Mexican invasion was: would this new land taken from Mexico be slave or free? In the San Francisco Gold Rush, tens of thousands of people rushed to California, and in 1850 the territory petitioned Congress to be admitted as a free state. This led to another crisis, and in 1850 there was another “compromise.” Like its predecessors, the Compromise of 1850 merely delayed the inevitable conflict between the North and South. This compromise allowed California to enter as a free state but kept the rest of the territories conquered from Mexico in limbo, with their status to be decided when they applied for statehood sometime in the future.

This would be the last major compromise. And in fact certain parts of it—like the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, which required that Northern states return escaped slaves to their masters in the South—inflamed divisions between the North and the South even more. The 1850s were marked by the North becoming aware that its continued development as a capitalist society meant breaking free from the slave power, and the slavocracy increasingly realizing that its domination of the country was threatened. In other words, the unity between the capitalist North and the slave South was breaking down. National politics reflected this. Even though General Zachary Taylor of the Whig Party was elected president in 1848, after the war, he would be the last elected Whig president, as his party split apart between North and South over the Fugitive Slave Act.

Even many Northern Democrats could not stomach the slave power domination of the country and their party. There was a series of parties that opposed the expansion of slavery. In 1856, John C. Frémont was the first candidate to run for president for the Republican Party. He ran on the slogan of “Free soil, free speech and Frémont,” which was in explicit opposition to the slavocracy. Although it was by no means an abolitionist party, the Republican Party understood that in order to safeguard the growth of capitalism, the slave power would have to be checked and the growth of slave territory stopped. The 1857 Supreme Court decision Dred Scott v. Sandford, which declared that Congress could not restrict slavery—and also declared that black people had no rights in the United States—made the Civil War almost inevitable. In 1860, when the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, was elected on the platform of stopping the expansion of slavery, the South declared that it was seceding from the Union in order to guarantee slavery, which they wrote into the Confederacy’s constitution. Or as Marx put it, “the war of the Southern Confederacy is in the true sense of the word a war of conquest for the spread and perpetuation of slavery” (“The Civil War in the United States,” 1861).

Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say also that the Southern slavocracy maintained its designs on Mexico. During the Civil War, northern Mexico became an important geographical point for the Confederacy to try to break the Union blockade and sell cotton to Europe. According to Eugene Genovese, the Confederacy had plans to march “into New Mexico with the intention of proceeding to Tucson and then swinging south to take Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, and Tamaulipas,” and “the Confederate government tried to deal with Santiago Vidaurri, the strong man of Coahuila and Nuevo León, to bring northern Mexico into the Confederacy.” At about the same time, Mexico itself was in the middle of its own war, in which Benito Juárez fought against French monarchists and Mexican conservatives like Vidaurri as he attempted to modernize Mexico.

Finish the Civil War!

The Civil War was the Second American Revolution, the last of the great bourgeois-democratic revolutions. It took four years and the deaths of some 600,000 Americans—almost as many as those who died in all other U.S. wars—to at last break the slave power. Included in this struggle were the almost 200,000 black troops who fought on the side of the Union. The North’s victory in 1865 ushered in the most democratic period in U.S. history, Reconstruction. The war, by ensuring the development of American capitalism, also laid the basis for the development of the American working class—the power that can get rid of capitalism. Black workers today make up a very important component of this working class.

The Northern capitalists betrayed Reconstruction and the promise of black freedom, as they pursued the economic advantages of their victory over the Confederacy, rather than advancing black rights. Toward the end of the century, the vicious segregation of Jim Crow was imposed. Meanwhile, the bourgeoisie moved from the consolidation of power nationally to the pursuit of imperialist power abroad—not least against Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Bloody American imperialism is the enemy of workers and the oppressed here in the United States and around the world. And this remains the case with President Obama, who is now planning to increase by 50 percent the imperialist troops occupying Afghanistan. The liberation of workers and peasants in Mexico and Latin America today requires socialist revolutions throughout the Americas, from the Yukon to the Yucatán, from Alaska to Argentina. We in the Spartacist League/U.S. are dedicated to forging a revolutionary class-struggle workers party that will be able to lead the working class to power in the U.S., which is what is necessary to smash U.S. imperialism. The fight for black liberation is central to this task. And that’s why we raise the slogan to “Finish the Civil War! For black liberation through socialist revolution!”