Saturday, March 16, 2019

An Irish Love Story During Troubled Times-David Lean’s “Ryan’s Daughter” (1970)-A Film Review-For Saint Patrick's Day

An Irish Love Story During Troubled Times-David Lean’s “Ryan’s Daughter” (1970)-A Film Review-For Saint Patrick's Day 

DVD Review

By Sandy Salmon

Ryan’s Daughter, starring Robert Mitchum, Christopher Jones, Sarah Miles, John Miles, Trevor Howard, directed by David Lean, 1970

As those of us who were around during the 1960s and paid attention to the movies if, like myself, for no other reason than cheap dates and darkness, might have expected if they heard the name David Lean they would fully expect to have big lush vistas and cinematic epics, long cinematic epics. He had an already established pedigree with Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago. And Lean does not fail us with this 1970 effort, Ryan’s Daughter, about the troubled love affair between a wistful Rosy Ryan, played by Sarah Miles, and an invalided British Army Officer, played by Christopher Jones, during the heart of World War I and the brewing troubles in the fight for Irish independence.

In a later time the wistful, restless, searching, reaching for rainbows Rosy might have been a classic “flower child”. I know I had dates with just such wistful women back in the 1960s and delighted in their company, as long as I could hold their attention. But our Rosy had two very big problems, maybe three, back then and it is not quite clear to me even after watching the three and one half hour masterwork (I won’t include extra time spent on the Special Features which were well worth checking out to get a feel for how an epic gathers itself together).

First and foremost she was a “flower child,” a free spirit in a rural Irish village isolated by the foaming sea and by its own staid traditions driven by the Roman church and an oppressed nation culture and while today a woman having an “illicit” affair would draw at most a few well-placed snickers back then the future held nothing but shaming, shunning and maybe worse. So her desire to “seek a newer world” as my old friend Sam Lowell would call what she was after was checked from minute one. Secondly, Rosy when she had that illicit affair was a very married women, married to a “quiet man,” a village intellectual, the widowed middle-aged village school teacher, Charles, played by Robert Mitchum. No man likes to be, or should like, to be cuckolded but Charles was the soul of rationality whatever emotional trauma was churning inside. A young lass and an older man set in his ways would seem to have been doomed from the start as both recognized in the end after the heat of her affair was terminated by the suicide of that troubled invalided army officer. Lastly Rosy was caught in the throes of the modern Irish struggle for national liberation where the nationalists were using Mother England’s troubles on the continent to spring for freedom. That made the British Army of Occupation all the more onerous. Made her “their” whore in the eyes of the locals. Worse made her subject to accusations, falsely as it turned out, of informing when the boyos from the IRA were trying to rescue weapons sent by the Germans which had been battered by the terrible wrath of Irish Sea and the British garrison was waiting in ambush for them up the road.                         

Name your chose of what would do Rosy in at the end (aided by a treacherous father who actually was a snitch) as she and Charles walked out of the village where they had stayed maybe too long but she paid dearly for that love-I hope she thought it was worth it. What, no question, is worth it is to watch this film unfold against the grandeur of the Irish countryside and those terrible seas.   

*From The Pages Of "Workers Vanguard"-In Commemoration Of The Paris Commune

Click on the title to link to an on line copy of the "Workers Vanguard" article on the subject mentioned in the headline.

Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Now! “Progressive” D.A. Continues State Vendetta

[American Left History publishes or re-publishes articles and notices of events that might be of interest to the liberal, left-liberal and radical public. That has been the policy generally since the publication due to financial constraints went solely on-line in the early 2000s as the Internet has allowed new and simply outlets for all kinds of material that were almost impossible to publish when it was solely hard copy going back to the early 1970s.

Over the past couple of months American Left History has received many comments about our policy of publishing materials and notices of events without comment. More than a few comments wondered aloud whether the publication agreed with all, or most of what has been published. Obviously given that we will republish material from sources like the ACLU, the movement for nuclear disarmament and established if small left-wing organizations formally outside the main party system in America unless we were mere by-standers to the political movements many of the positions are too contrary to agree with all of them.   

Policy: unless there is a signed statement of agreement by one of our writers, me or the Editorial Board assume that the article or notice is what we think might be of interest of the Left-wing public and does not constitute and endorsement. Greg Green, site manager]    


Workers Vanguard No. 1149
22 February 2019
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Now!
“Progressive” D.A. Continues State Vendetta
On January 25, Philadelphia district attorney Larry Krasner announced that his office was appealing the December 27 ruling of Judge Leon Tucker of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, in which Mumia Abu-Jamal won the right to challenge his frame-up conviction. A former Black Panther spokesman, MOVE supporter and award-winning journalist, Mumia has been in prison hell for 37 years—30 of them on death row—falsely convicted of killing Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in December 1981. Tucker’s ruling threw out the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decisions from 1998 to 2012 that rubber-stamped Mumia’s frame-up, because a judge on that court gave an “appearance of bias.” The judge, Ronald Castille, had been the D.A. during Mumia’s first appeal of his conviction and death sentence.
We welcomed Judge Tucker’s ruling and protest Krasner’s appeal, a further demonstration of his commitment to keep Mumia entombed for life. The ink was barely dry on Tucker’s decision when a host of liberals, radical activists and reformist socialists stepped up their campaign calling on Philly’s top prosecutor “to do the right thing.” Krasner is “doing the right thing”—for the capitalist class that he was elected to serve. The D.A.’s office, no less than the cops, courts and prisons, is at the core of the state machinery of repression whose purpose is to defend the profits and rule of the bourgeoisie.
An online petition to the D.A. initiated by Mobilization 4 Mumia, which includes Workers World Party’s International Action Center, demanded that Krasner not appeal, lauding his supposed “concern for justice.” It also declared: “It was a people’s movement that paved the way for your election,” as if the “people” could take over the instrument of their own repression and wield it for their purposes. Even after Krasner filed the appeal, his supporters were undeterred. A February 6 letter sent to Krasner, now another online petition, calls on him to drop the appeal, grotesquely groveling that he could “be the one to end this pattern of racism in Mumia’s case.”
The Spartacist League and the Partisan Defense Committee, a class-struggle, non-sectarian, legal and social defense organization associated with the SL, will not sign these appeals to the D.A. The petitions sow illusions that the Democrat Krasner could run the apparatus of the capitalist state in the interests of the oppressed.
In racist capitalist America, a key function of the state is and has been to terrorize, frame up and kill those fighting for black freedom, foremost among them members of the Black Panther Party, the best of a generation of black radicals who subjectively saw revolution as the road to black equality. The Panthers were met with surveillance, harassment, disruption, frame-up and assassination. As a teenager, Mumia was placed on the FBI’s Administrative Index designating him to be rounded up in case of a “national emergency.”
By filing the appeal, Krasner broke the hearts of those who envisioned him at the head of a class of “progressive” prosecutors. Workers World Party, which gushed that “Krasner’s election victory was significant” (, 15 November 2017), now laments: “It appears the new DA is the same as the old DAs” (30 January). Indeed! There is no such thing as a progressive D.A. Whether a liberal like Krasner or a more mainstream Democrat like Kamala Harris, who, as San Francisco D.A. and then California Attorney General, fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions, D.A.s administer capitalist “law and order,” packing people off to prison.
Last October, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) hailed Krasner’s campaign as a blueprint for how activists can help elect “progressive” D.A.s nationwide on the Democratic Party ticket. ISO leader Paul D’Amato responded that he prefers to “apply mass pressure without offering any political support” (, 19 October 2018). The ISO’s strategy is pressure politics, whether helping Democrats win elections or demonstrating in the streets to beg them. Or, for that matter, attending monthly meetings of local activists with Krasner “to keep the DA aligned with the perspectives of the movement organizers” (, 1 October 2018). As Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky said of the activity of such reformists, it is directed toward “training of the masses to become imbued with the inviolability of the bourgeois state.”
Krasner’s “progressive” credentials were based largely on his campaign promise to reduce mass incarceration. The reformists alibi the Philly D.A. by pointing to the pressure he is under from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), with the ISO inventing “the contradictions of his job” (4 January). Krasner has made absolutely clear that there are no contradictions; a D.A. doesn’t have to be tight with the FOP to be on the same side. In a 9 February Intercept article, Krasner defended his decision to appeal Tucker’s ruling for the “celebrity” Mumia out of concern “about all of the unfamous, poor, nameless people whose cases deserve individual justice.” Krasner is “concerned” that those victims of capitalist injustice might go free if Mumia prevails, as the D.A. bemoaned the possibility of “having to rehear possibly thousands of cases.”
While supporting Mumia’s use of every available legal means, our approach is one of class-struggle defense and our demand is for his freedom. Ever since we took up his case in 1987, we have fought for broader social forces, centrally the multiracial proletariat, to champion Mumia’s struggle while aiming to dispel any illusions in the “justice” of the racist capitalist courts. We seek to imbue the working class with the understanding that ending capitalist exploitation and racial oppression necessitates sweeping away the ruling class and its state apparatus and establishing a workers state.
We urge our readers to donate to Mumia’s legal defense. Checks payable to the National Lawyers Guild should be sent to the Committee to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal, Johanna Fernandez, 158-18 Riverside Drive W., Apt. 6C-50, New York, NY 10032, earmarked “For Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Legal Defense.”

In Honor Of Women’s History Month -Out In The Be-Bop Be-Bop 1960s Night- Save The Last Dance For Me-With The Drifters’ Song Of The Same Name In Mind.

From The Pen Of Peter Paul Markin

Scene: Brought to mind by one of the songs in this compilation, The Drifters classic end of the night high school dance number, Save The Last Dance For Me. (And the reason for the kudos to Women’s History Month in a little off-beat way as well.)

Recently, when I was reviewing a CD AM Gold: 1962, I mentioned, in detailing some of the events surrounding the North Adamsville Class of 1962-sponsored version of the traditional late September Falling Leaves Dance that one of the perks that year was getting to hear the vocals of local singer and classmate, Diana Nelson, backed up by local rock band favorite, The Rockin’ Ramrods. I also mentioned that her selection had been the result of a singing competition held by the town fathers and that I would relate some of the details of that competition at a later date. That time has come. Additionally, I related that I had had a “crush” on Miss (Ms.) Nelson since I started staring, permanently staring, at her ass when she sat a few seats in front of me in ninth grade. At the time of the above-mentioned dance she was “going steady” with some college joe, and had not given me the time of day, flirting or encouraging-wise, since about tenth grade, although we always talked about stuff, music and political stuff, two of my passions, and hers too. Here’s the “skinny.”

No question that about 1960, maybe into 1961, girl vocalists were the cat’s meow. (Okay, young women, but we didn’t call them that then, no way. Also “no way” as well is what we called them, called them among we corner boys at Salducci’s Pizza Parlor in the harsh summer night, especially when we got “no action.” I don’t have to draw you a diagram on what that meant, right?). You can, if you were around then, reel off the names just as well as I can, Connie Francis, Carla Thomas, Patsy Cline, and the sparkplug Brenda Lee. I won’t even mention wanna-bes like Connie Stevens and Sandra Dee, Christ. See, serious classic rock by guys like Elvis (who was either dead or might as well have been doing foolish films like Blue Hawaii), Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry (and his Mister’s woman habits) and Jerry Lee Lewis (and his kissing cousins habit) was, well, passé, in that musical counter-revolution night when guys like Fabian and Bobby Vee ruled the girl heart throb universe 

But music, like lots of other things abhors a vacuum and while guys were still singing, I guess, the girl singers (read young women, okay, and we will leave it at that) “spoke” to us more. Especially to record- buying girls who wanted to hear about teen romance, teen alienation, lost love, unstoppable hurts, betrayal (usually by the girl’s best friend and her boyfriend, although not always), lonely Friday nights, and other stuff that teenagers, boys and girls equally, have been mulling over, well, since they invented teenagers a long time ago.  

So it was natural for the musically-talented girls around North Adamsville, and maybe around the country for all I know, to test themselves against the big name talents and see what they had. See if they could make teen heaven- a record contract with all that entailed. In North Adamsville that was actually made easier by the town fathers (and they were all men, mostly old men in those days so fathers is right), if you can believe that. Why? Because for a couple of years in the early 1960s, maybe longer, they had been sponsoring a singing contest, a female vocalist, singing- contest. I heard later, and maybe it was true, that what drove them was that, unlike those mid-1950s evil male rockers mentioned above, the women vocalist models had a “calming effect” on the hard-bitten be-bop teen night. And calm was what the town fathers cared about most of all. That, and making sure that everything was in preparedness for any Soviet missile strike, complete with periodic air raid drills, christ again.      

In 1962 this contest, as it was in previous years, was held in the spring in the town hall auditorium. And among the contestants, obviously, was that already "spoken for" Diana Nelson who was by even the casual music listener the odds-on favorite. She had prepped a few of us with her unique rendition of Brenda Lee’s I’m Sorry so I knew she was a shoo-in. And she was. What was interesting about the competition was not her victory as much as the assorted talents, so-called, that entered this thing. If I recall there were perhaps fifteen vocalists in all. The way the thing got resolved was a kind of sing-off. A process of elimination sing-off. 

Half a dozen, naturally, were some variation of off-key and dismissible out of hand. These girls fought the worst when they got the hook. Especially one girl, Elena G., if anyone remembers her who did one of the worst versions  of Connie Francis’ Who’s Sorry Now I had (and have) ever heard. The more talented girls took their lost with more grace, probably realizing as Diana got into high gear that they were doomed. But here is the funny part. One of the final four girls was not a girl at all. Jimmy C. from right down the end of my street dressed himself up as girl (and not badly either although none of us knew much about “drag queen” culture then) and sang a great version of Mary Wells’ Two Lovers. Like I said we knew from nothing about different sexual preferences and thought he just did it as a goof. (I heard a few years later that he had finally settled in Provincetown and that fact alone “hipped” me, after I got hip to the ways of the world a little better, to what he was about, sexually.) 

I probably told you before that one part of winning was a one thousand dollar scholarship. That was important, but Diana, when she talked to me about it a couple of days later just before class, said she really wanted to win so she could be featured at the Falling Leaves Dance. Now, like I said, I had a big crush on her, no question, so I was amazed that she also said that she wanted me to be sure to be at the dance that next late September. Well, if you have been paying attention at all then you know I was there. I went alone, because just then I didn’t have a girlfriend, a girlfriend strong enough for me to want to go to the dance with anyway. But I was having a pretty good time. I even danced with Chrissie McNamara, a genuine fox, who every guy had the “hots” for since she, just the night before, had busted up with Johnny Callahan, the football player. And Diana sang great, especially on Brenda Lee’s I Want To Be Wanted. She reached somewhere deep for that one. 

Toward the end of the evening, while the Rockin’ Ramrods were doing some heavy rock covers, Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen I think, and she was taking a break, Diana came over to me and said, I swear she said it exactly like this- “save the last dance for me.” I asked her to repeat herself. She said Bobby (her college joe) was not here that evening for some reason I do not remember and that she wanted to dance the last dance with someone she liked. Well, what’s a guy to do when someone like Diana gives her imperial command? I checked my dance card and said “sure.” Now this last dance thing has been going on ever since they have had dances and ever since they have had teenagers at such events so no big deal, really. Oh, except this, as we were dancing that last dance to the Ramrod’s cover of The Dubs Could This Be Magic Diana, out of the blue, said this. “You know if you had done more than just stared at my ass in class (and in the corridors too, she added) in ninth grade maybe I wouldn’t have latched onto Bobby when he came around me in tenth grade.” No, a thousand times no, no, no, no…   

Note: After reading the above heart-rending story I believe that we can safely put aside those accusations by my Salducci’s corner boys, especially my chieftain, one Frankie Riley, that I was totally skirt-addled. That I would chase anything in a skirt, anytime. Needless to say that also puts to rest that vicious rumor that I “hit” on Chrissie McNamara that night of the dance after she gave Johnny Callahan the big kiss-off.    

And hence this quirky contribution to Women’s History Month.

From the Archives- The Fight For Women's Liberation in SDS


March Is Women's History Month

This article is passed on as an item of historical interest to the radical movement. It is a companion archival document to one posted here earlier this year about connecting the struggles to the working class, the central focus in overturning the old society. I would only comment that some of the analysis reads as though it could have been written today, although some ideas expressed here in general terms has been greatly expanded by the last generation of feminist and socialist work on the relation between class and gender.

Moreover, today there is no mass radical youth movement or other audience ready to 'storm heaven' to direct such sentiments toward. At that time radical youth, including radical black and white working class youth, were looking for ways to fundamentally change society and to fight against that generation’s war in Vietnam. In those days radicals, moreover, after the experiences of 1968, for the most part, stood point blank against the bourgeois parties and were out in the streets. Today those who are trying to ‘brain-trust’ a new SDS for this generation of youth seem to have regressed to a point early in the evolution of old SDS where the youth were directed toward 'going half-way with LBJ ( Lyndon Baines Johnson)' and the Democratic Party. We should, however, try to learn something from history. Read on.

Workers Vanguard no. 910 W March 2008

"The Fight for Women's Liberation"

Revolutionary Marxists at December 1969 SDS Conference (Young Spartacus pages)

In honor of International Women's Day {March 8), we reprint below a position paper first presented at the December 1969 New Haven conference of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) by the Revolutionary Marxist Caucus (RMC), forerunner of today's Spartacus Youth Clubs. This is a historic document of the Spartacist League, part of our struggle to bring the materialist, Marxist analysis of the nature of women's oppression to the New Left in the period of the early growth of the radical women's liberation movement We put forward the understanding that the core institution of women's oppression, the family, arose with private property (see The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State by Friedrich Engels). While women's oppression is distinct from and predates the oppression of the working class, it can only be ended through socialist revolution. This analysis stands against both "lifestyle liberationist" feminists who view gender as the main division in society and Stalinists (Maoist and otherwise) who hold the position that the family can be "a unit for fighting the ruling class" (as the Worker-Student Alliance [WSA] caucus in SDS argued).

SDS was originally the youth group of the Cold War, anti-Soviet "socialists" of the League for Industrial Democracy (LID). SDS moved leftward under the impact of events, particularly the struggle of the civil rights movement against Jim Crow segregation in the South and, later, the struggles against the Vietnam War. In 1962, SDS's Port Huron Statement toned down the overt anti-Communism mat was the stock in trade of the LID social democrats, and in retribution SDS leaders were locked out of their offices. By the end of 1965, SDS had dropped its anti-Communist exclusion clause and split from the LID entirely. It grew rapidly, drawing in tens of thousands of young activists at its peak.

In the summer of 1969, SDS underwent a split. As part of an orientation toward revolutionary regroupment, die RMC, supporters of the Trotskyist program of the Spartacist League, critically supported the wing led by Progressive Labor (PL) and its WSA caucus, which put forward a crudely pro-working-class orientation as against the generally Maoist National Collective. PL itself had been formed from a left split from the extremely reformist Communist Party in the direction of Maoism.

The context of widespread leftward movement, fueled not least by opposition to the Vietnam War and the draft, and the politically open character of SDS provided an arena for revolutionary Marxists to struggle for our program. The RMC sought to take full advantage of this necessarily time-limited situation in winning young would-be revolutionaries to Marxism. To this end, we put forward position papers and resolutions arguing for the program of revolutionary proletarian internationalism. We fought for Marxism as a program for the liberation of all of humanity, especially highlighting the need for a materialist program to confront the oppression of women and blacks (see also "Racial Oppression and Working-Class Politics," WV No. 897,31 August 2007).

This position paper also mentions in passing the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA) and Independent Socialist Clubs (ISC). The former was the youth organization of the Socialist Workers Party, a once Trotskyist organization by then degenerated into reformism—as exemplified by its leading role in the class-collaborationist National Peace Action Coalition. The Coalition's purpose was to appeal to liberal Democratic Party politicians who sought to extricate American imperialism from the losing colonial war in Vietnam and to head off a challenge to the capitalist order at home. The ISC were a left split from the Cold Warriors of the Socialist Party who purveyed the same anti-Sovietism with different trappings. Today, readers will recognize them as the still rabidly anti-Communist and helplessly liberal International Socialist Organization.

* * * *
I. SDS and Women's Liberation

SDS needs a clear, accurate class analysis of the special oppression of women and a Marxist program for women's liberation. No other radical youth group has yet undertaken this task. The YSA substitutes enthusiastic tail-ending for program; the ISC in their Statement of Principles patronizingly caters to the separatist mood by telling women that socialist revolution won't solve their problems automatically—as if other sorts of oppression would disappear without the intervention of consciousness?

The existing women's liberation movement, both liberal and radical, seems to see sex as the basic "class division" in society. This low level of theoretical development means an opportunity for Marxists to intervene with a working-class line. However, we will render our intervention useless if we cling to an oversimplified analysis that the only form of oppression is class oppression and confine our interest to the economic superexploitation of women workers.

The class question is the decisive issue in class society. However, other additional types of oppression do exist as well
—e.g., racial oppression, national oppression, women's oppression. To deny that Marxist revolutionaries must concern themselves with these issues is sectarian and blatantly anti-Leninist It is vital that revolutionaries participate in these struggles. The basis of such participation must be the realization that the class question is decisive and thus any movement which fails to identify itself with the struggle of the working class against the capitalist class is doomed to be beset by utopianism, crackpotism, liberal illusions and—ultimately—irrelevance.

The SDS resolution (which was sponsored by the WSA caucus and opposed by us) passed by our June convention (after the walk-out of the RYM [Revolutionary Youth Movement] splitters) did not provide a correct analysis or program. This failure was primarily due to an anti-historical, unMarxist method which resulted in an entirely incorrect position on the family.

II. Oppression and the Family

The June WSA resolution included the following statement: "The family does not have to be primarily reactionary. We should attempt to attack the bourgeois aspect and make the family a unit for fighting the ruling class."

This statement is flatly wrong. It ignores, in a crude anti-theoretical manner, the entire thrust of the Marxian critique of the family in order to accept as potentially revolutionary an institution which is inherently reactionary. The family can no more become a unit for fighting capitalism than can racial segregation, which is also a bourgeois institution. Both of these socio-economic institutions are oppressive and help maintain the capitalist system. Both are tools by which the ruling class maintains and strengthens false consciousness in the working class.

As a pro-working-class student organization, SDS must provide a Marxian class analysis of the social oppression of women. The primary source document for this analysis is The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, in which Frederick Engels traces the history of the increasing oppression of women through the various stages of economic development of society, showing that the appearance of private property brought with it the necessity of transferring this property through inheritance. From this flows the need to trace descent; and since the male, in the primitive division of labor, had come to be the property-owner, he is therefore given the right to exclusive sexual access to the bearer of his children. Hence, the institution of marriage emerges.

Following the method of Engels, examining the oppression of women in class society and the nature of class society itself, we must seek its roots in the primitive division of labor, which resulted in the social division of man and woman, placing the latter in a subordinate position, as class society was born. Subsequently the class divisions transcended the sexual division, and class became the dominant reality of society. To put it another way, Mrs. Rockefeller and her maid both suffer in varying degree from the pervasive oppression of females and have some issues in common, but the maid has more in common with her own husband than with Mrs. Rockefeller.

Sexual divisions continue to be socially enforced, since they bolster the capitalist system. The social inferiority of women is maintained by the entire structure of class society, including its ideologies. Many women internalize and come to believe the false ideas of class culture, and actually feel themselves to be inferior. Women today tend to be "under-achievers"; feeling rightly that there is not much future for them, they waste their talents and energies on trivialities, decide to live through their families or succumb to despair. It is our task to offer to these women a worthwhile goal: their own liberation, which cannot be a personal "self-liberation" but requires a socialist revolution and the withering away of the family. As communist revolutionaries, further, these women will lead incomparably richer lives. They will come to understand their own oppression and the origins,
the nature and the future of the family. As stated by Engels:

"We are now approaching a social revolution in which the economic foundations of monogamy as they have existed will disappear just as surely as those of its complement, prostitution. Monogamy arose from the concentration of considerable wealth in the hands of a single individual, a man, and from the need to bequeath this wealth to the children of that man and no other.

"For this purpose the monogamy of the woman was required, not that of the man. But by transforming by far the greater portion, at any rate, of permanent, inheritable wealth, the means of production, into social property, the coming social revolution will reduce to a minimum all this anxiety about bequeathing and inheriting.... The position of men will be very much altered, but the position of women, of att women, also undergoes significant change. With the transfer of the means of production into common ownership, the single family ceases to be the economic unit of society. Private housekeeping is transformed into a social industry. The care and education of the children becomes a public affair; society looks after all children alike whether or not they are, in bourgeois legal jargon, legitimate."

This is far from advocating that straw man of the bosses' press, that under communism men and women will live in separate barracks and all children will be brought up in a state orphanage. We are rather advocating the replacement of marriage as a compulsory economic unit with voluntary forms better suited to people's physical and emotional needs. Since the institution of the family is an integral part of the capitalist system, the struggle for women's liberation is inseparable from the struggle for a socialist revolution.

III. The Family and the Class

The WSA resolution states: "With the rise of capitalism and modern industry, the economic foundation on which the traditional family was based was destroyed. Women were taken out of the home and put into the factory. But the special exploitation of women, who became a cheap reserve labor force, continued. To justify the double exploitation of women workers, the ruling class fostered the ideology of male chauvinism."

To set the record straight, at the very beginning of the industrial revolution women and children formed the bulk of the industrial proletariat. The reasons for this are well established. Women and children were cheap, unskilled, docile labor used by the rising capitalists to batter down the wages of men (usually more highly paid) and to destroy the craft industries employing (relatively) highly paid male artisans. To quote Marx in Capital:

"The value of labor power was determined not only by the labor-time necessary to maintain the individual adult laborer, but also by that necessary to maintain his family. Machinery, by throwing every member of the family into the labor market, spreads the value of man's labor-power over his whole family. It thus depreciates his labor power."

Consequently, workers with large families were often given preference by the early capitalists who, as a matter of fact, often compelled the worker to require his entire family to work in his factory or lose his job.

The bourgeoisie of this period actually devised ideological apologia for femaie and child labor (see Jurgen Kuczynski, The Rise of the Working Class, Chapter 2, "The Working Class Emerges"). The limitation of female and child labor (by, e.g., the Factory Acts in Britain) represented concessions wrested by the "working class from capital. The progressive withdrawal of this super-exploited labor from the factory system compelled the capitalists to employ machinery in their stead if they wished to remain in business.

The destruction of the traditional family by employing women and children in production creates the possibility of founding the relationship between the sexes on a new economic basis. But, the spontaneous way this employment developed with the rise of capital was, to quote Marx, "a pestiferous source of corruption and slavery" which the advanced sections of the working class fought. The kernel of this contradiction is that under capitalism the family remains—because there is no other socio-economic institution to replace it.

An Institution of Indoctrination

The bourgeoisie and its theorists tinkered with the old institutions in order to fit them better into the new industrial capitalism. In the age of disintegrating feudalism, before the capitalists had accumulated much experience in running their own system, some of them even toyed with very radical ideas regarding the state, family and religion. They soon learned, however, that whether they themselves liked conventional family life or not, or whether they believed in God or not, the institutions of religion and the family were indispensable for inculcating the required docility, submissiveness, respect for authority and superstition in the working class. Without religion and the family the workers would be far more likely to become troublesome. For this reason the bourgeoisie learned to pay public obeisance to the ideals of religion and the family whether they personally believed in them or not. When economically necessary, the capitalist class will tolerate and even encourage female and child labor—but without allowing the development of institutions to replace the family. The working woman is not really freed from her role as household slave by obtaining work outside the home; she merely has one responsibility added to another.

Although individual families were destroyed—and are being destroyed—by capitalism, the family as an institution was not hurt, as it rises or falls with the existence of private property. When economic considerations permitted, the ruling class periodically initiated campaigns, through the media and the churches, to get women back into the home. This tendency reached a peak of brutal chauvinism and cynical barbarism with the Nazi slogan, "Kinder, Kiiche, Kirche," which portrays the woman deluded by religion and as breeder, babysitter and cook. "The family that prays together stays together": both religion and the family are bourgeois institutions of false consciousness.

Functions of the Family

Women and children left the process of production, not chiefly because the capitalists feared for the nuclear family and forced them out but in large part because under capitalism no substitute for the family is available. The domestic labor performed by the housewife has no exchange value, and the family is socially necessary to maintain the working class. The necessity of the bourgeoisie to concentrate and transfer its wealth via inheritance makes the family an ideological necessity for capitalism. Also, the struggle by the working class to limit the exploitation of women and children necessarily caused production to become more capital-intensive, hence ultimately raising the standard of living of the entire working class while in the long run diminishing the amount of labor needed in production.

In the present period, a period of capitalism in decay, there simply are not enough jobs to go around. Women, because of the domestic role they of necessity (under capitalism) must more or less fulfill, are on the fringes of the reserve army of the working class. When they are needed in production (such as World War II) the capitalists have no compunctions about the sanctity of hearth and home, and will gladly hire them to do "men's" work and will just as gladly drop them from production when they are no longer needed. (An unemployed male ex-soldiery would be a far greater threat to the bourgeois order than the more docile women unemployed workers.)

The hollow satisfactions of male supremacy within the home oppress both the men and the women and encourage false consciousness (male chauvinism). By way of comparison, segregation is similarly a tool of oppression (the hollow satisfactions of white supremacy in the U.S. encourage whites to oppress blacks) and false consciousness (racism). The working man learns to direct his anger and frustrations against his wife, rather than against the bosses. He is told that he is the boss in his own home ("a man's home is his castle"). Thus, the family as an economic and social institution is a shackle on the consciousness of the men workers as well as that of women,

The Family in Non-Capitalist States

The family serves its reactionary function not only in capitalist societies but also in the bureaucratically-deformed workers' states—i.e., Russia, China, and those other nations which have abolished the material basis of the family—private property—but which still require the family as a socio-cultural institution in order to suppress the consciousness of the masses, rendering them subservient to the parasitic bureaucracies headed by Brezhnev & Co., Mao, etc.

For example, the initial effect of the Chinese revolution—which in its need to fight imperialism found itself completing the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution and establishing the property relations of a workers' state—was the unleashing of an immensely progressive social force. The feudal oppression of women was abolished. But in the absence of workers' democracy in China, policy is determined by the whim of the Maoist bureaucracy. Hence, the ambivalent attitude toward the family: thus the bureaucracy opposed birth control during the Great Leap Forward; today they encourage long periods of celibacy for the Chinese youth.

The survival of most features of bourgeois family life within the non-capitalist world simultaneously reveals something about both the family and the nature of these societies. The bourgeois family is still the family, similar in decisive respects to the family in non-capitalist but not classless (e.g., feudal and slave) societies. The family unit represents a division of social labor far older than capitalism, dating back to the first "class" division of labor, that between man and woman. As such, the family will require more than the abolition of capitalism (in and of itself) before it is superseded entirely by a freer system of relations between men and women, parents and children. Needless to say, the overthrow of the capitalists and their state by the regime of workers' power is absolutely essential to the liberation of individuals from the narrowness, authoritarianism and sexual inequality inherent in family life. But we should recognize that this task will not be fatty accomplished until the dictatorship of the proletariat has fulfilled its historic mission: until class distinctions and their vestiges have been eradicated from society, i.e., mankind has reached the stage of classless society, communism. The same holds true for other features of class societies in general—aspects not simply peculiar to capitalism, such as the need for a state power over society, the existence of a certain amount of religious superstition, what Marx called "the idiocy of rural life," etc.

No society could today be entirely free of the dark heritage of the family with its sexual oppression and shut-in, stultifying life for the children. What is most repugnant to any revolutionist about family life in the deformed workers' states, however, is the feet that the political elite ruling these societies presents the survival of an archaic and reactionary institution as a great achievement in building socialism! The Bolsheviks in Lenin's time never glorified the family as an instrument—real or potential—for revolutionary socialist struggle and development. As far as the miserably insufficient level of Russian economy and culture permitted, they passed laws and created institutions designed to free Soviet citizens, particularly the women and children, from the oppressive and stultifying influence of the family. All this was of course reversed with the advent of Stalin's bureaucratic regime, which continues on to this day. After wiping out the left wing of the Communist Party and stripping the Soviets of power, the Stalinized regime proceeded to make divorce more difficult, illegalized abortion, enhanced parental authority, and worst of all called this adaptation to brutal barefoot Russian medievalism—socialism! For reasons which Stalinists find difficult to explain, the Soviet Great Leap Backward in policy regarding women and the family was led by the same parasitic gang who murdered the Old Bolsheviks of all viewpoints, throttled the Spanish revolution and let Hitler take power without firing a shot Just as Stalin was willing to use Great Russian chauvinism against national minorities, praise the Orthodox Church and foster anti-Semitism, so he found that the backward Russian family created a base for his bureaucratic and authoritarian aims. Even where private property no longer exists, the institution of the family serves—at best—to hinder the development of a socialist society. At worst it provides a base of support in the culture for the parasitic bureaucrats who barter away the gains of the revolution. SDS cannot wish away the social and cultural significance of the family by words about making it "a unit for fighting the ruling class." Reactionary institutions serve reactionary ends.

IV. The Working Woman

The economic aspects of the inferior position of women in our society provide the most immediate benefits to capitalism. Whenever capital needs to draw women out into the labor force, it has been able to use the ideology of male superiority to justify the super-exploitation of women workers—that is, women being paid less for doing the same work as the men. After all, "a woman's place is in the home," "a man has the responsibility of supporting a family, a woman only works because she wants to."

The assumption is that the woman's main role is that of the tender mother; hence, she is forced to take care of her children, even if they are unwanted, even when she is divorced. Any woman who wants more out of life is termed "unnatural" or "unfit." The lie is pushed that women are fit only for domestic chores and that therefore their labor is not worth as much as the labor of men.

Women make up one third of the American labor force, but the wages of the full-time working woman average only 60% of those of the average male working full-time. The non-white working woman, suffering under a double load of exploitation and oppression, must indeed be the most victimized category in American capitalist society. In itself, the lower average income of women workers roughly indicates the degree of their oppression, not their super-exploitation relative to working men. (They might—and do—take home less money because they are concentrated in less productive jobs.) But women, even more than other oppressed groups such as Black male workers, frequently receive less for work identical to that performed by more highly paid men. In addition to suffering oppression and discrimination, working -women are super-exploited in the literal and technical sense of the term.

Militancy or Passivity?

In the months ahead, many SDS members expect to have jobs, either full-time or temporary, in factories, on campus, in offices and hospitals, wherever labor struggles are going on. Those of us involved in assisting striking unions will be able to establish contacts with workers on the picket lines. As socialists, we must support the working class in its struggles and seek to raise consciousness, pointing out that male chauvinism divides the workers, that lower wages for women means lower wages for everyone. In Britain, where unions have calculated that wages would increase 11% if women received the same pay as men, equal pay for equal work has become a major union demand. In the U.S., a related process of awakening is going on.

Male chauvinism has made many women workers passive in accepting their lower wages and generally poorer working conditions. Many women are convinced that it isn't "ladylike" or "feminine" to be really militant, that political activity is only for men, that the picket line is too dangerous a place for women. These attitudes serve the bosses and most be fought Radicals should encourage militancy among women workers and relate women's oppression to the oppression and alienation that all workers experience under capitalism. Thus, women's liberation has an important role to play in the struggles of the working class. Further, situations sometimes arise where the women—because they are more oppressed by poor working conditions, low wages and speed-up—are more militant than the men. Women are not pale, fragile, helpless creatures; as workers engaged in industrial production, they can wield workers' power!

V. Male Chauvinism in the Student Movement

The student movement is infected with male chauvinism, a bourgeois ideology, as is the rest of society under capitalism. Long ago most of us faced up to our own deeply imbedded racist attitudes and began to conquer them. Now we must root out our male chauvinism as carefully. Here we are dealing with the social and psychological forms of discrimination rather than the economic aspects of male chauvinism. We must recognize also that no one—including our women members—is automatically exempt from male chauvinist attitudes. We must, by scrupulous attention to the content of a pro-women's liberation position, prevent the subject from becoming a bandwagon which intimidates free political debate in SDS the way that some Black hustlers have sought to racist-bait other radicals into accepting their positions as gospel.

Male chauvinism—perhaps a misleading term since it tends to obscure the feet that women's male chauvinist attitudes can oppress them or other women—has hurt the radical movement. Many potentially radical women are unwilling to join an organization which they believe is indifferent to women's oppression, It is a fact that a good number of the ersatz, crackpot and separatist tendencies in the existing women's liberation groups are a reaction to the male chauvinism in the student movement. These groups blur over class lines and stress "individual liberation" and other Utopian schemes.

Many of the women who do enter radical politics tend to play supportive roles and are not encouraged to develop politically or exercise leadership. SDS must rid itself of male chauvinism and utilize the full talents of all its members.

VI. SDS and Special Groups

It is not enough to fight individual aspects of women's oppression within the labor movement and in SDS. Separate women's liberation groups offer an opportunity to tie together all aspects of women's oppression in the minds of their members, and hence to suggest a single solution—which is socialism. As Marxists, we recognize that special oppression calls for special defensive and combative organizations of the oppressed. For this reason, SDS should give critical support (determined by program) to Black groups which fight the special oppression of Black people; similarly SDS should support women's groups which fight on the basis of a Marxist program for the special needs of women.

Armed with a more developed political and economic analysis of society, SDS members should be able to win the more serious groups away from petty-bourgeois amateur therapy sessions, liberalism, female separatism and vicarious anti-male terrorism, to a working-class perspective. Women's liberation groups are a good arena for winning militant 'women over to SDS and to socialism.

VII. Program for Women's Liberation

When SDS members make a political entry into a special group such as a women's liberation group, they should be armed with a program that raises consciousness by relating specific felt needs to the broader struggle for socialism. We carry through this program by raising a series of transitional demands—that is, demands which flow from the specific struggle but which lead the struggle to a higher level of militancy and political

We move that SDS accept the following program for struggle and agitate around the following demands:

For the abolition of family restrictions;

1. Abolition of abortion laws; each woman must be free to make her own decisions.

2. Free abortions, as part of demand for free quality medical care for everybody, so poor women will have the same freedom of choice as middle-class women.

3. Freely available birth control devices and information.

4. Free full-time child-care facilities for all children, the expenses to be borne by the employer or the state. Free pre-natal, maternity and post-natal care with no loss in pay for time off.

5. Establishment of free voluntary cafeterias in the factories and other places of work.

6. Divorce at the request of either partner. Abolition of alimony. Expenses for children to be paid by the state.

7. Lower the legal age of adulthood to 16. State stipend for schooling or training for any child who wishes to leave home. Free education for all children, with housing, food and stipend. No loco parentis. Student-teacher-worker control of all schools and colleges.

To fight the super-exploitation of women workers:

8. Full and equal pay for equal work.

9. Equal work: equal access to all job categories. Shorter work week with no loss in pay ("30 for 40") to eliminate unemployment at the capitalists* expense.

To fight male chauvinism:

10. An end to all forms of discrimination—legal, political, social and cultural.

SDS should seek the creation of a non-exclusionist class-conscious women's liberation organization in which SDS members can participate and struggle on the basis of the above program. Toward this end, we should direct interested SDS members to seek to initiate, along with other radical women, a nationally-oriented women's liberation publication.

In Honor Of International Women's Day-Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By-"The Internationale"- A Working Class Song For All Seasons

Click on the title to link a YouTube film clip of a performance of the Internationale.

In this series, presented under the headline Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By, I will post some songs that I think will help us get through the “dog days” of the struggle for our communist future. I do not vouch for the political thrust of the songs; for the most part they are done by pacifists, social democrats, hell, even just plain old ordinary democrats. And, occasionally, a communist. Sadly though, hard communist musicians have historically been scarce on the ground and have rather more often than not been fellow-travelers. Thus, here we have a regular "popular front" on the music scene. While this would not be acceptable for our political prospects, it will suffice for our purposes here. Markin.
The Internationale [variant words in square brackets]

Arise ye workers [starvelings] from your slumbers
Arise ye prisoners of want
For reason in revolt now thunders
And at last ends the age of cant.
Away with all your superstitions
Servile masses arise, arise
We'll change henceforth [forthwith] the old tradition [conditions]
And spurn the dust to win the prize.

So comrades, come rally
And the last fight let us face
The Internationale unites the human race.
So comrades, come rally
And the last fight let us face
The Internationale unites the human race.

No more deluded by reaction
On tyrants only we'll make war
The soldiers too will take strike action
They'll break ranks and fight no more
And if those cannibals keep trying
To sacrifice us to their pride
They soon shall hear the bullets flying
We'll shoot the generals on our own side.

No saviour from on high delivers
No faith have we in prince or peer
Our own right hand the chains must shiver
Chains of hatred, greed and fear
E'er the thieves will out with their booty [give up their booty]
And give to all a happier lot.
Each [those] at the forge must do their duty
And we'll strike while the iron is hot.


Debout les damnés de la terre
Debout les forçats de la faim
La raison tonne en son cratère
C'est l'éruption de la fin
Du passe faisons table rase
Foules, esclaves, debout, debout
Le monde va changer de base
Nous ne sommes rien, soyons tout

C'est la lutte finale
Groupons-nous, et demain (bis)
Sera le genre humain

Il n'est pas de sauveurs suprêmes
Ni Dieu, ni César, ni tribun
Producteurs, sauvons-nous nous-mêmes
Décrétons le salut commun
Pour que le voleur rende gorge
Pour tirer l'esprit du cachot
Soufflons nous-mêmes notre forge
Battons le fer quand il est chaud

L'état comprime et la loi triche
L'impôt saigne le malheureux
Nul devoir ne s'impose au riche
Le droit du pauvre est un mot creux
C'est assez, languir en tutelle
L'égalité veut d'autres lois
Pas de droits sans devoirs dit-elle
Egaux, pas de devoirs sans droits

Hideux dans leur apothéose
Les rois de la mine et du rail
Ont-ils jamais fait autre chose
Que dévaliser le travail
Dans les coffres-forts de la bande
Ce qu'il a crée s'est fondu
En décrétant qu'on le lui rende
Le peuple ne veut que son dû.

Les rois nous saoulaient de fumées
Paix entre nous, guerre aux tyrans
Appliquons la grève aux armées
Crosse en l'air, et rompons les rangs
S'ils s'obstinent, ces cannibales
A faire de nous des héros
Ils sauront bientôt que nos balles
Sont pour nos propres généraux

Ouvriers, paysans, nous sommes
Le grand parti des travailleurs
La terre n'appartient qu'aux hommes
L'oisif ira loger ailleurs
Combien, de nos chairs se repaissent
Mais si les corbeaux, les vautours
Un de ces matins disparaissent
Le soleil brillera toujours.

Die Internationale

Wacht auf, Verdammte dieser Erde,
die stets man noch zum Hungern zwingt!
Das Recht wie Glut im Kraterherde
nun mit Macht zum Durchbruch dringt.
Reinen Tisch macht mit dem Bedranger!
Heer der Sklaven, wache auf!
Ein nichts zu sein, tragt es nicht langer
Alles zu werden, stromt zuhauf!

Volker, hort die Signale!
Auf, zum letzten Gefecht!
Die Internationale
Erkampft das Menschenrecht

Es rettet uns kein hoh'res Wesen
kein Gott, kein Kaiser, noch Tribun
Uns aus dem Elend zu erlosen
konnen wir nur selber tun!
Leeres Wort: des armen Rechte,
Leeres Wort: des Reichen Pflicht!
Unmundigt nennt man uns Knechte,
duldet die Schmach langer nicht!

In Stadt und Land, ihr Arbeitsleute,
wir sind die starkste Partei'n
Die Mussigganger schiebt beiseite!
Diese Welt muss unser sein;
Unser Blut sei nicht mehr der Raben
und der machtigen Geier Frass!
Erst wenn wir sie vertrieben haben
dann scheint die Sonn' ohn' Unterlass!

(The English version most commonly sung in South Africa. )
The Internationale

Arise ye prisoners of starvation
Arise ye toilers of the earth
For reason thunders new creation
`Tis a better world in birth.

Never more traditions' chains shall bind us
Arise ye toilers no more in thrall
The earth shall rise on new foundations
We are naught but we shall be all.

Then comrades, come rally
And the last fight let us face
The Internationale
Unites the human race.

(Zulu) i-Internationale

n'zigqila zezwe lonke
Sizokwakh'umhlaba kabusha
Siqed'indlala nobumpofu.

Asilwise yonk'incindezelo
Asisodwa Kulomkhankaso

Sibhekene nempi yamanqamu
Ibumb'uluntu lonke
British Translation Billy Bragg's Revision[16] American version

First stanza

Arise, ye workers from your slumber,
Arise, ye prisoners of want.
For reason in revolt now thunders,
and at last ends the age of cant!
Away with all your superstitions,
Servile masses, arise, arise!
We'll change henceforth the old tradition,
And spurn the dust to win the prize!

So comrades, come rally,
And the last fight let us face.
The Internationale,
Unites the human race.
So comrades, come rally,
And the last fight let us face.
The Internationale,
Unites the human race.

Stand up, all victims of oppression,
For the tyrants fear your might!
Don't cling so hard to your possessions,
For you have nothing if you have no rights!
Let racist ignorance be ended,
For respect makes the empires fall!
Freedom is merely privilege extended,
Unless enjoyed by one and all.

So come brothers and sisters,
For the struggle carries on.
The Internationale,
Unites the world in song.
So comrades, come rally,
For this is the time and place!
The international ideal,
Unites the human race.

From The American Left History Archives-From The Frontlines Of The Anti-Afghan War Struggle A Very Short Comment On The Importance Of The Lessons Of The Political Struggle Of Trotsky Against Stalin For Today’s Anti-War Movement(2009)- Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S./Allied And Mercenary Forces From Afghanistan (2012)

Click on the title to link to link to the Karl Liebknecht Internet Archive’s copy of his famous 1916 anti-war speech, “The Main Enemy Is At Home”.

From the frontlines of the anti-Afghan war struggle, such as they are (2009).

Markin comment:

After some months of very little to discuss, practically speaking, concerning the struggle against American imperialism and its war machine as we have waited for President Obama to make good on his campaign promise to, in effect, stake his presidency on “winning” (or at least not losing) Afghanistan I now find myself with plenty of commentary to make. At least with plenty of comments, painfully learned, concerning the way forward for the seemingly moribund American anti-war movement. Those days, however, with President Obama’s recent announcement of troop level increases are over. What I want to comment on briefly today though is the general question of where the international socialist movement, historically, the strongest and best organized component of any anti-war movement, is going and where it has been historically.

This entry, strangely as will become apparent, is motivated by a comment from a young militant who recently attended one of the sessions of an occasional Marxist study circle that I attend, and sometimes lead. Obviously, given the furor over the seemingly irrational Obama decision on troop levels, the talk among attendees centered on the fight against escalation and how to make America a “peaceful” nation. This study circle is advertised as, and understood to be presented from a socialist perspective, for those who wish to find out something about the mysteries of radical politics. Previous subjects have dealt with basic Marxist texts and struggles led by those who claimed to adhere to a Marxist perspective. Thus, I was rather surprised when this young militant, rather abruptly, blurred out the following- “What the heck does the Bolshevik anti-war policy in World War I have to do with us?” (Exact quote), “What does the controversy between Stalin and Trotsky over international communist policy in the fight against the imperialists have to do with us?” (My paraphrase of his remarks).

Obviously, for old time militants from the 1960s (especially the late 1960s when the turn to the working class and thus classic Marxism hit full stride) this kind of questioning would be almost unthinkable, if not embarrassingly naïve. This, my friends, is what we are up against as we try to impart some lessons from our history. I have already related a separate story about a young women militant that I ran into at a recent anti-war demonstration (see “On The Slogan- Down With The Obama Government”, December, 2009). I am ready to make her a bloody Bolshevik organizer compared to the gist of that young militant’s comments.

However, I did not leave that young brother’s question unanswered, nor would that have been appropriate. I pointed out two things to him- for starters. First, Bolshevik anti-war policy in World War I, the successful anti-war policy I might add although that Peace of Brest-Litovsk with the Germans was a hard pill to swallow, was the only time, at least to my knowledge, in modern history that an anti-war movement was successful on its own terms. The only time that “the guns were turned the other way” on one’s own ruling class in war time.

Secondly, the fierce, if unequal, political struggles between the forces led by Stalin and Trotsky over, ultimately, communist war policy toward the international bourgeoisie and international imperialism manifested itself out, in the end, with the defeat of the international socialist movement. And that defeat is a direct contributing cause of why guys like Obama can turn the American war machine on and off as their leisure. If the actions of the majority of the international social democracy in support of their own governments at the start of World War I meant, practically, that that movement was a spent force for socialist solutions to modern society’s problems then the defeat of the Trotsky-led forces after the Russian revolution and the “victory” of Stalinism had the same effect, an effect that we are still struggling against. That, my friends, is the short answer. More, on both these subjects, later.

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-All Honor To “General” Harriet Tubman

Click on the headline to link to a “Wikipedia” entry for “General” Harriet Tubman

February Is Black History. March Is Women’s History Month. Those Who Fought For Our Communist Future Are Kindred Spirits. Any one , or all, of those reasons can be used as the reason to honor “General” Harriet Tubman

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Winter 1986-87 issue of "Women and Revolution" that has some historical interest all those who wish to learn about our militant forbears. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during this Women's History Month.

The Revolutionary Vanguard of the Civil War

Harriet Tubman: Fighter for Black Freedom

Toward the end of her long life, the black abolitionist Harriet Tubman commented on her years of service to the liberation of black people in a conversation with a journalist:

"She looked musingly toward a nearby orchard, and she asked suddenly: 'Do you like apples?' On being assured that I did, she said: 'Did you ever plant any apple trees?' With shame I confessed I had not. 'No/ said she, 'but somebody else planted them. I liked apples when I was young, and I said, "Some day I'll plant apples myself for other young folks to eat," and I guess I did it'."

—Frank C. Drake, The New York Herald, 22 September 1907, quoted in Earl Conrad, Harriet Tubman

In this simple metaphor, Tubman recognized the vanguard role she played in laying the groundwork for black freedom in the United States in the revolution that was the Civil War. As a conductor on the Underground Railroad and a military strategist and spy during the war, "General" Tubman, as John Brown dubbed her, stood in the revolutionary insurrectionist wing of the abolitionist movement in the struggle against the Southern slavocracy. Like John Brown, the heroic martyr of the 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, and the outstanding political leader of the abolitionist movement, Frederick Douglass, Tubman knew that freedom for the slave would come about only through blood and iron. Harriet Tubman's life is a microcosm of the struggle for black liberation in the
19th century; her life directly reflects the issues of the time.

Although the hope for a complete liberation of black people was later defeated in the cowardly betrayal of Reconstruction, Tubman's "apple orchard"—freedom for the slave—was a tremendous historical advance. The abolition of slavery and the fight for full citizenship for the black population was the great historic task of the Civil War, the second American Revolution, which carried forward the unfinished business of the first American Revolution.

The abolitionist movement was part of a broader bourgeois radicalism, the 19th century descendant of the 18th century Enlightenment, Protestant religious ideals and the American Revolution so dramatically unfulfilled in the "Land of the Free" where four million suffered in slavery. The abolitionists were part of the religious and intellectual upsurge which swept the United States after 1820, encompassing such movements as Transcendentalism and Unitarianism. Particularly among the most politically radical wing, the abolitionists were motivated by a vision of human emancipation profoundly rooted in religion. To men like the clergymen Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Theodore Parker, slavery was an abomination to god and the Christian Bible and a gross betrayal of the rights of man as put forth in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

Although slavery was their pre-eminent concern, these radical bourgeois egalitarians also fought for many other pressing political issues of the time, such as free education, religious tolerance and workers' rights. The women's suffrage movement first began as a fight within abolitionism over the role of women anti-slavery activists. The most deeply committed and politically astute of these revolutionary democrats, like Frederick Douglass, understood that the fight against slavery must be generalized into a struggle against all oppression. As the abolitionist and women's rights leader Angelina Grimke' said at the May 1863 meeting of the Women's Loyal League, a convention of support for the North in the Civil War, "I want to be identified with the negro; until he gets his rights, we shall never have ours" (see "The Grimke' Sisters: Pioneers for Abolition and Women's Rights," W&R No. 29, Spring 1985).

The situation of the triply oppressed black woman slave more than any other cried out for liberation. Even the right to raise their own children was often denied to these women, whose masters could sell them or any member of their family at will. 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—which included years as a soldier in the Union Army—she lived in poverty all her life.

A fugitive from bondage, black and a woman, Tubman triumphed over exceptional odds to become a leader of the second American Revolution. Like Frederick Douglass, she was able to generalize her bitter and brutal experience of oppression into a revolutionary social consciousness and a determination to fight for all the oppressed. She was an advocate of militant political action and revolutionary insurrectionism. As opposed to the "moral suasion" Garrisonian wing, she was part of the revolutionary vanguard of the abolitionist movement. As the "Moses" of her people on the Underground Railroad, Tubman was famous throughout the U.S. and beyond by the time of the war.

However, many details about her work are obscure, since she operated in the secrecy of what was essentially a revolutionary underground. She was illiterate, and much of what is known about her life comes from a biography of her by Sarah Bradford, who interviewed Tubman as an old woman (quotes from Tubman which were originally printed in dialect are here transposed into modern English spelling). Thus much of the story of her life must be told by others, especially by Frederick Douglass, with whom she shared the conviction, through the bleak decade of the 1850s, that the coming war must crush the slave system and break the bonds of black oppression. She was a co-worker and friend not only to John Brown and Douglass, but to many other key figures of her time, from abolitionist William H. Seward, Lincoln's secretary of state, to Sojourner Truth, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Wendell Phillips and Gerrit Smith. She knew Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott and most of the leading women's rights activists of her day.
Douglass honored Tubman's role in a letter written in 1868, in which he defended her right to an army pension as a Civil War veteran:

"The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encourage¬ment at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day—you in the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt 'Cod bless you' has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown—of sacred memory—I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have. Much that you have done would seem improbable to those who do not know you as I know you."

—quoted in Sarah Bradford, Harriet Tubman; The Moses of Her People
Slave vs. Free in the Antebellum U.S.

Like Frederick Douglass, Tubman was born a slave on the eastern shore of Maryland, probably in 1820. At that time the country was embroiled in the first of the major fights over slavery and the expanding U.S. territory, "resolved" in this instance by the Missouri Compro¬mise of 1820.

Since the founding of the U.S. in the late 18th century, when the slave system was left intact throughout the South, two economic systems, capitalism and slavery, coexisted within one country. The inevitable clash of economic interest which must lead to the victory of one over the other was postponed in a series of "compromises" centering on the maintenance of control by the slave states over the relatively weak federal government. But. the underlying economic conflicts between the two systems eventually reached the point at which compromise was no longer possible. The development of large-scale industrial capitalism required wage labor to exploit, the source of its tremendous profits, as well as a mobile and at least somewhat educated working population. Key to capitalist expansion was control of a growing home market. In contrast, the slave system was based on primitive, labor-intensive agricultural production; the slaveowners sought new lands to increase the highly profitable slave trade and to move plantations to fresh, non-exhausted soil. The clash came to a head over the huge, expanding territories of the West: would they be slave or free?

Karl Marx described the slow but inexorable sweep of political power by the slave states in their effort to increase control of the growing U.S.:

"The last Continental Congress of 1787 and the first Constitutional Congress of 1789-90 had legally excluded slavery from all Territories of the republic
northwest of the Ohio... The so-called Missouri Compromise (1820), in consequence of which Missouri became one of the States of the Union as a slave state, excluded slavery from every remaining Territory north of 36°30' latitude and west of the Missouri. By this compromise the area of slavery was advanced several degrees of longitude, whilst, on the other hand, a geographical boundary-line to its future spread seemed quite definitely drawn. This geographical barrier, in its turn, was thrown down in 1854 by the so-called Kansas-Nebraska Bill, the initiator of which was St[ephen] A. Douglas, then leader of the Northern Democrats. The Bill, which passed both Houses of Congress, repealed the Missouri Compromise, placed slavery and freedom on the same footing, commanded the Union government to treat them both with equal indifference and left it to the sovereignty of the people, that is, the majority of the settlers, to decide whether or not slavery was to be introduced in a Territory. Thus, for the first time in the history of the United States, every geographical and legal limit to the extension of slavery in the Territories was removed."

—Karl Marx, "The North American Civil War," Collected Works, Vol. 19

In 1820, when Tubman was born, news of the first of these bitter debates undoubtedly reached even the slave quarters, however isolated the slaves were kept from news of the day. Perhaps the slaves with whom Tubman lived as a child heard rumors about the deep split in Congress over the Tallmadge Amendment, which would have prohibited the introduction of more slaves into Missouri and provided for gradual emancipation of those already there. This first great debate on slavery was a harbinger of things to come. Abandoning even his earlier, contradictory anti-slavery position altogether, Thomas Jefferson strongly opposed the Tallmadge Amendment. In 1821 he wrote, "All, I fear, do not see the speck on our horizon which is to burst on us as a tornado, sooner or later."

As a child Tubman was acquainted with all the horrors of slavery. By the age of five or six she was at •work and suffering from whippings on her face and neck by a vicious mistress. Later she worked as a field hand. She was still a child at the time of Nat Turner's rebellion in 1831, put down by the slaveholders swiftly and ruthlessly. In 1832, the opposition of the agricultural South to the federal tariff designed to protect Northern industry led to the Nullification Crisis, in ' which South Carolina threatened to secede from the Union. The slaveholders' fear of black insurrection, sparked by Nat Turner's revolt, fueled their intransigence against the federal government.
Tubman was around 15 years old when the incident that literally marked her for life occurred. While trying to defend a fellow slave from the vindictiveness of the overseer, she was struck on the head with a two-pound iron weight which cracked her skull. For months she lingered between life and death, lying on rags in her family's slave cabin. The injury left a deep scar on her head and left her subject to spells of unconsciousness, sometimes three or four times a day, which plagued her for the rest of her life.

But instead of being crushed by the brutality of her life, Tubman hardened and determined to fight. When she recovered, she built up her physical strength until she could lift huge barrels of produce as well as a man, despite her small size. Her master would exhibit her strength as one of the "sights" of the plantation. She let people think her half-witted because of her brain injury, and plotted her escape. She began to experience daily visions, which inspired her driving commit¬ment to black freedom as part of a deeply personal religion.

In 1849, although it meant leaving her husband, a freeman who refused to go with her, Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery. Rumor had reached her and her family that their owners planned to sell them to the deep South, a dreaded fear of every slave in the bor¬der states. Already two of her sisters had been sent off in a chain gang, separated from their children. Her brothers lost courage for the escape; Tubman went on alone. As she later told Bradford: "I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted, and when the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me."
Aided by a white woman who gave her the first address of the Underground Railroad, Tubman made her way North, traveling at night. "I had crossed the line of which I had so long been dreaming. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom, I was a stranger in a strange land, and my home after all was down in the old cabin quarter.... But to this solemn resolution I came; I was free, and they should be free also." Cooking and laundering to support herself, she began the life of a fugitive slave in the North.

The 1850s: The Irrepressible Conflict at the Boiling Point

Tubman arrived in the North on the eve of the biggest struggle yet over the question of slavery. Congressional debate sparked over California's petition for admission to the Union as a free state continued for months, while legislatures and mass rallies North and South adopted fiery resolutions. Mississippi called for a convention of Southern states. Over time a compromise satisfactory to few on either side was worked out, largely due to the efforts of Henry Clay, Stephen Douglas and Daniel Webster, who was voted out of his Senate seat by an enraged Massachusetts legislature in 1851. Webster was replaced by the uncompromising abolitionist radical, Charles Sumner. Later a leader of the Radical Republicans, in 1856, after a stirring anti-slavery speech, Sumner was beaten into unconsciousness on the Senate floor by a Southern Congressman.

The terms of the Compromise of 1850 centered on a series of tradeoffs: while California would be admitted as a free state, no restrictions on slavery were to be made in the Mexican cession; and while Washington, D.C. ceased to be a depot for the slave trade, the 1793 fugitive slave law was to be replaced with a much tougher version. This new law was an unspeakable atrocity, a threat to the lives and freedom of black people in every state. In his scathing indictment of hypocritical American "democracy," "July Fourth and the Negro" (5 July 1852), Frederick Douglass described it:

"For black men there is neither law nor justice, humanity nor religion. The Fugitive Slave taw makes mercy to them a crime; and bribes the judge who tries them. An American judge gets ten dollars for every victim he consigns to slavery, and five, when he fails to do so. The oath of any two villains is sufficient, under this hell-black enactment, to send the most pious and exemplary black man into the remorseless jaws of slavery! His own testimony is nothing. He can bring no witnesses for himself. The minister of American justice is bound by the law to hear but one side; and that side is the side of the oppressor. Let this damning fact be perpetually told. Let it be thundered around the world that in tyrant-killing, king-hating, people-loving, democratic, Christian America the seats of justice are filled with judges who hold their offices under an open and palpable bribe, and are bound, in deciding the case of a man's liberty, to near only his accusers.'

—The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. 2

Many Northerners vowed to make the Fugitive Slave Law a dead letter. Congressman Joshua Giddings of Ohio, a long-time anti-slavery radical, defied even the army to enforce the statute: "Let the President... drench our land of freedom in blood; but he will never make us obey that law" (quoted in James M. McPherson, Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction). When the fugitive slave Anthony Burns was kidnapped in 1854 under the law in Boston by a gang of thugs organized by the federal government and Burns' Virginian master, the city erupted in seething conflict from the halls of government to the men in the street. The local vigilance committee, dedicated to helping fugitive slaves, organized mass rallies; a badly coordinated assault on the federal courthouse failed to rescue Burns. The federal government and the slaveholders succeeded in returning Burns to slavery. But he was the last fugitive to be returned from anywhere in New England. In fact, nine Northern states passed per¬sonal liberty laws, effectively nullifying the Fugitive Slave Law. In 1859, the Southern-dominated Supreme Court struck down the personal liberty laws as unconstitutional.

One of Harriet Tubman's most publicized actions was the courageous rescue of a fugitive slave, Charles Nalle, from the Troy, New York court where he was pronounced guilty in 1860 under the Fugitive Slave Law. For several hours a battle raged between the abolitionists and the authorities until Tubman, with the help of others, seized Nalle and started him off on the journey to Canada.

But the North was by no means free of pro-slavery or racist forces. Many states had "black laws"; Indiana, Oregon, Illinois and Iowa all eventually passed statutes banning black migration into the state. These measures reflected not only the racism of many whites in the states, but were an open conciliation to the South, stating in effect that fugitives would not be welcome.reflected not only the racism of many whites in the states, but were an open conciliation to the South, stating in effect that fugitives would not be welcome.

Indeed, opposition to slavery was all too often based on the wish to exclude blacks altogether. And throughout the 1850s, as the abolitionist movement grew in strength, so did the pro-slavery mob. Tubman had first¬hand experience with the violence of the Northern racists when she was part of a defense guard for Wendell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison at a Boston meeting in 1860, raided by pro-slavery hooligans.

The Underground Railroad

Under these conditions of mounting assaults on blacks, free and slave, Harriet Tubman began her work with the Underground Railroad. Marked by her scarred head and subject to spells of unconsciousness, she faced incredible dangers which grew greater as the years passed. She raised money for her trips through her own labor and by fundraising among abolitionists. Given the secrecy of her missions and the price on her head—the slaveholders offered rewards totaling $40,000, an enormous sum in those days—there were few records of her 19 trips back South. She always carried a pistol and threatened to use it on those whose courage failed, on the principle that dead men carry no tales. In her native Maryland, where she returned many times to rescue dozens, including all but one of her entire family, so many slaves escaped that a panic broke out among the slaveholders, leading to the 1858 Southern Convention in Baltimore. Ancient laws were resurrected to crack down on escaping slaves; 89 free blacks were re-enslaved under a new law.

But Tubman continued her work up to the Civil War. She personally brought out some 300 people altogether, from all parts of the South. In the 1880s, she spoke of
these years at a meeting of women's suffragists in Rochester, New York: "Yes, ladies...I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can't say—I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger." As Frederick Douglass said of the Underground Railroad:

"I never did more congenial, attractive, fascinating and satisfactory work. True, as a means of destroying slavery, it was like an attempt to bail out the ocean with a teaspoon, but the thought that there was one less slave, and one more freeman—having myself been a slave, and a fugitive slave—brought to my heart unspeakable joy."

—Life and Times of Frederick Douglass

Indeed, the political impact of the Underground Railroad spread beyond the comparatively small numbers it freed, which have been estimated at probably less than 1,000 a year out of a total slave population of four million. As an interracial network of activists who were willing to risk imprisonment or death in their work, it was a rallying point in abolition work. Speaking tours of ex-slaves, who described the horrors of their lives in bondage, won over many to abolition.

The vigilance committees not only helped to settle newly arrived blacks, but tried to fight the racism of the North.

Most importantly, the Underground Railroad effectively allowed the crystallization of a black abolitionist vanguard in the North. As the black historian W.E.B. DuBois wrote:
"Nowhere did the imminence of a great struggle show itself more clearly than among the Negroes themselves. Organized insurrection ceased in the South, not because of the increased rigors of the slave system, but because the great safety-valve of escape northward was opened wider and wider, and the methods were gradually coordinated into that mysterious system known as the Underground Railroad. The slaves and freedmen started the work and to the end bore the brunt of danger and hardship; but gradually they more and more secured the cooperation of men like John Brown, and of others less radical but just as sympathetic."

—W.E.B. DuBois, John Brown

It was becoming more and more clear that liberation for the American slave was a national task beyond the scope of local slave insurrections like Nat Turner's or Denmark Vesey's. Leadership for black emancipation thus developed in the North, among the core of militant ex-slaves, free blacks and white abolitionists— people like Douglass, Tubman, Brown, Wendell Phil¬lips and Charles Sumner. A small but crucial element of experienced radicals existed in the "Red 48ers/' European refugees from reaction following the crushing of the 1848 revolutions. Black, white, foreign-born, many of these later formed the left wing of the Republican Party.

The abolitionists were by no means a homogeneous group. One of the most famous abolitionists, William Lloyd Garrison, opposed all political activity—running for office, petitioning the government—on the grounds that the U.S. Constitution was pro-slavery. Advocating "moral suasion," Garrison opposed the use of force in the fight against slavery. He finally ended up by proposing the secession of the North as the "answer"—which needless to say would have done nothing to end slavery.

Although Douglass and Brown originally subscribed to "moral suasion," they both soon realized that it was doomed to fail. Even the Underground Railroad, although constantly defying the slave system and the federal laws which protected it, was not a critical weapon to end slavery and as such was more inspirational than strategic. Douglass, Brown and Tubman embraced all means to fight slavery, from petitioning and agitation to armed self-defense and insurrection. As Douglass commented in 1852 at a national free-soil convention, "The only way to make the Fugitive Slave Law a dead letter is to make half a dozen or more dead kidnappers. A half dozen more dead kidnappers carried down South would cool the ardor of Southern gentlemen, and keep their rapacity in check" ("The Fugitive Slave Law," The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. 2). When the war broke out, it was Douglass and the other radical abolitionists who argued for the immediate freeing and arming of the slaves. Black insurrection at last would destroy the slave power: only that way could the Union Army win the war.

Harpers Ferry: The First Battle of the Civil War

As the years passed,to anti-slavery forces it seemed that the slaveholders were winning every battle. Every "compromise" increased the power of slavery. In 1857 the Supreme Court ruling on the Dred Scott case effectively extended the boundaries of slavery throughout the country. Chief Justice Roger Taney, a Southern Democrat, led the court decision that residency in a free state did not free a slave and that the Missouri Compromise barring slavery in the Northern territories was unconstitutional. As Marx said, "... now the Supreme Court of the United States, by its decision of 1857, tore down even this political barrier and transformed all the Territories of the republic, present and future, from nurseries of free states into nurseries of slavery" ("The North American Civil War," Collected Works, Vol. 19). Most notoriously, Taney wrote that blacks had no claim to U.S. citizenship under the Constitution because blacks "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."

But many abolitionists and free-soilers were determined to fight with every weapon available. To the free-soil farmers of the West, the expansion of slave-based agriculture was a direct threat. The South hindered by every possible means the colonization of the territories by free labor, seeking instead new lands for the plantation system and for the immensely profitable slave trade. Outraged free-state settlers organized in self-defense. When the Kansas-Nebraska bill opened Kansas to slavery under the dubious slogan of "popular sovereignty," border ruffians from the neighboring slave-state of Missouri spread terror and murder throughout the area to prevent a free-soil government from forming. John Brown and his followers, armed with rifles and the determination that slavery would not triumph, were key in the eventual victory of freedom in Bleeding Kansas.

It was shortly thereafter that Brown began to finalize and execute his plan to initiate a slave insurrection to found a black republic in the South. When Brown approached Gerrit Smith, Frederick Douglass and others (among whom were the Secret Six) in 1858 with his plan for launching a guerrilla war against the slavocracy, they recommended Tubman as the key to recruiting followers among the many freedmen who had settled in Canada, beyond the reach of the Fugitive Slave Law. Her work in bringing slaves out of the South gave her not only detailed knowledge of the terrain throughout Brown's planned Appalachian route, but invaluable military experience. Brown went to meet the woman he called "General Tubman" at St. Catherines in Canada; she enthusiastically embraced his plan for arming the slaves and setting up mountain strongholds from which to wage war against slavery.

Tubman agreed to recruit followers and raise money for the plan. She also may have attended the Chatham, Ontario convention in May 1858, where Brown and his followers discussed the constitution for the new black republic. A sternly religious man not given to superlatives, Brown wrote to his son: "Hariet Tubman hooked on his whole team at once. He Hariet is the most of a man naturally; that / ever met with. There is the most abundant material; & of the right quality; in this quarter; beyond all doubt" (quoted in Stephen B. Oates, To Purge This Land With Blood).

But when the time came to launch the raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry which was to begin the guerrilla war, Tubman was ill and out of reach. Only sickness, brought on by her toil and exposure, kept her from being with Brown at Harpers Ferry. Thus Tubman was not there when federal troops dispatched by President Buchanan and under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart rounded up Brown and his men. A few escaped; of the rest, those who were not killed on the spot were railroaded and hanged by the vindictive courts of Virginia. At his execution in December 1859, John Brown's last, prescient words spoke of the years to come: "I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty, land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think: vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be done" (ibid., emphasis in original). In the North John Brown's martyrdom was a rallying cry for abolition, while hysterical fear of insurrection swept the South and led to lynchings of suspected agitators. In later years Harriet Tubman spoke of Brown, "We Negroes in the South never call him John Brown; we call him our Saviour. He died for us."

The Civil War Years

The Republican Party was founded in 1854 out of the struggle for Kansas. For the 1860 presidential election the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln as a moderate capable of winning wider support than more radical candidates. Although he opposed the expan¬sion of slavery, Lincoln's platform did not call for its elimination in the states where it already existed. Lincoln explicitly denounced John Brown's raid and declared his execution just. But Lincoln was still too anti-slavery for the South, and the secession of (eventually) eleven states led to the Confederate States of America. The Northern government, hoping for yet another compromise, had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the war, which was forced on them by the slaveholders' cannons at Fort Sumter. To Lincoln and the majority of the Northern ruling class, the goal of the war was not to end slavery but to put down the secession of the South.
Harriet Tubman again saw further, earlier: that the war for the Union must become a war to free the slaves. The abolitionist Lydia Maria Child quoted her words in a letter to the poet John Greenleaf Whittier (quoted in Conrad, op. c/t.):

"They may send the flower of their young men down South, to die of the fever in the summer and the ague in the winter— They may send them one year, two year, three year, till they tire of sending ortill they use upthe young men. All of no use. God is ahead of Mister Lincoln. Cod won't let Mister Lincoln beat the South till he does the right thing. Mister Lincoln, he is a great man, and I'm a poor Negro; but this Negro can tell Mister Lincoln how to save the money and the young men. He can do it by setting the Negroes free. Suppose there was an awfully big snake down there on the floor. He bites you. You send for the doctor to cut the bite; but the snake, he rolls up there, and while the doctor is doing it, he bites you again ... and so he keeps doing till you kill him. That's what Mister Lincoln ought to know."

But in the early months of the war Lincoln was opposed to the abolition of slavery in the U.S. in a military/political maneuver to woo secessionists and would-be secessionists into the Union. When General John C. Frernont, commander of the western depart¬ment, declared in August 1861 that all property of Missourians in rebellion was confiscated and the slaves emancipated, Lincoln fired him and rescinded the order. It took two years of ignominious defeats at the hands of the rebels to convince Lincoln of the necessity of freeing the slaves. When it became clear by late 1862 that the North could not win the war in any other way, he made plans to issue the Emancipation Proclamation—finally ending the spirit of compromise which had immobilized the North:

"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom."

Although the Emancipation Proclamation expressly left intact slavery in Union-loyal states like Maryland, January 1, 1863 was a day of rejoicing among all anti-slavery people. Douglass described his reaction:

"...I took the proclamation, first and last, for a little more than it purported, and saw in its spirit a life and power far beyond its letter. Its meaning to me was the entire abolition of slavery, wherever the evil could be reached by the federal arm, and I saw that its moral power would extend much further."

—Life and Times of Frederick Douglass

Almost as important as freedom itself was the government's decision to form regiments of black soldiers. Harriet Tubman herself was within earshot of one of the first battles employing blacks in combat: the heroic assault on the Confederate Fort Wagner, South Carolina, in July of 1863. It was here that the Massachusetts 54th, the first regiment of free Northern blacks, led by Tubman's friend Robert Gould Shaw, demonstrated before the eyes of the nation the courage and commitment of black soldiers. It was probably this battle Tubman was describing in her dramatic words: "And then we saw the lightning, and that was the guns; and then we heard the thunder, and that was the big guns; and then we heard the rain falling, and that was the drops of blood falling; and when we came to get in the crops, it was dead men that we reaped." From then on black soldiers were thrown into the fighting on all fronts, tipping the balance of power for the ultimate Northern victory against the slavocracy.
Fort Wagner was quite near to Port Royal, South Carolina, where Tubman spent most of the war years working for the Union Army. One of the earliest Union victories had liberated the lush Sea Islands from the slaveholders; from here the Union Army ran its Department of the South. Control of the port allowed Union gunboats to patrol the coastline from Savannah to Charleston and begin a blockade of Confederate shipping, cutting off trade between the cotton South and the textile merchants of Great Britain. Fugitive slaves and freedmen flocked to the protection of the Union Army. Abolitionists set up schools to teach the blacks, young and old, to read and write.

Here Tubman worked in the army's service in many capacities. Her authority as the "Moses" of the Underground Railroad was enormously important in reassuring the freedmen of the trustworthiness of the Yankees. As a nurse she first ministered predominantly to the blacks suffering from malnutrition. Later she nursed both black and white soldiers, going from camp to camp where men were dying of dysentery, smallpox and malaria. She set up a laundry and taught women to earn a living, while supporting herself by baking pies and brewing root beer at night after her hard day's labor.

Tubman's outstanding contribution to the war was as a Union spy and scout. General Hunter, the commander at Port Royal, recognized her expertise, tempered by her years in the Underground Railroad; under him Tubman organized a scouting service of black scouts and river pilots who surveyed and patrolled the Combahee River area in South Carolina.
In this capacity she was integral to a celebrated military action on the Combahee on 2 June 1863. Three ships under the command of Colonel James Montgomery, a veteran of the guerrilla battles in Kansas and a trusted comrade of John Brown, raided deep into South Carolina in a blow pointing forward to Sherman's march on Georgia. The Boston Commonwealth described the battle:

"Col. Montgomery and his gallant band of 300 black soldiers, under the guidance of a black woman, dashed into the enemy's country, struck a bold and effective blow, destroying millions of dollars worth of commissary stores, cotton and lordly dwellings, and striking terror into the heart of rebeldom, brought off near 800 slaves and thousands of dollars worth of property, without losing a man or receiving a scratch."

The liberated slaves were brought back to Port Royal, where the able-bodied men among them were inducted into Montgomery's regiment.

Reconstruction Betrayed

At the war's end in 1865, over 600,000 Americans lay dead—almost equal to the number of American deaths in all the rest of the nation's wars combined. It took this bloody conflagration to resolve two key questions in American history: the Civil War forged a loose confederation of individual states into a modern nation. And underlying this question of political power lay the conflict between slavery and capitalism. The black question is the linchpin of American history.

Northern industrialism, unfettered at long last from the opposition of the slaveholders, wasted no time. In 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed. A federal protective tariff fostered the growth of domestic industry. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided for the free-soil colonization of the vast territories of the West.

But in 1865 the question of what position the newly liberated slaves should occupy in American society cried out for an answer. The initial conciliationist policy of the federal government under Andrew Johnson was strenuously opposed by the Radical Republicans under the leadership of Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner. Congressional legislation provided for full political equality for blacks: the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution are the legal codification of the gains of the Civil War. Slavery was wiped from the American Constitution, and blacks were made full citizens by law. The 15th Amendment, as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1866, was passed to provide federal protection of blacks against Southern counterrevolu¬tionary violence. Black rights were enforced at riflepoint by the interracial Union Army.

But the foundation upon which black equality must rest was never laid: only confiscation of the huge plantation holdings of the ex-slaveowners and their distribution'among the ex-slaves would have laid the economic basis without which "equality" remained a legal formality. Having completed their revolution against slavery—the last great bourgeois revolution— the Northern capitalists turned their backs on the blacks. Although they may have been opposed to property in human flesh, the robber barons of the late 19th century allied with Southern landholders for private property in the means of production. Even the most basic of political rights, the right to vote, was denied to all women at this time, both black and white. The capitalist reaction flowed from the inherent inability of a system based on private ownership of the means of production to eliminate scarcity, the econom¬ic source of all social inequality. Only abolition of private property will remove the social roots of racial and sexual oppression.

Radical Reconstruction was destroyed in a political counterrevolution which stripped blacks of their newly won economic and political rights. Nightriding race-terrorists intimidated and murdered thefreedmen; the Ku Klux Klan was founded shortly after the war by ex-Confederate officers. The Compromise of 1877 codi¬fied the rollback of Reconstruction: the Republican Party bought the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes in exchange for the removal of Union troops from the South. Over the years a new form of rural repression developed to replace the slave plantations. The Jim Crow system of segregation and disenfranchisement bound the liberated slaves to poverty and oppression as landless sharecroppers.

The betrayal of the struggle for black freedom was certainly experienced by Harriet Tubman. At the war's end, almost 50 years old, she was at last able to head for her home in Auburn, New York. Exhausted by her years of labor, subject to increasing bouts of sickness, and with family members looking to her for support, her active political life was essentially over. En route North she was beaten by a train conductor who ridiculed her Union pass, entitling her to free transportation as an army veteran. She was thrown into the baggage car, badly hurt and humiliated by this racist and sexist attack. She suffered from the effects of this injury for years. Then began a decades-long battle for the pension to which her three years of war service entitled her. Tubman commented scornfully, "You wouldn't think that after I served the flag so faithfully I should come to want in its folds." She did not receive a penny until after the death of her second husband, Nelson Davis, in 1888, when she was awarded $8 a month. In 1899, when she was nearly 80 years old, the government made some recognition of her service to the Union. She received a full pension, much of which she used to establish a home, named in honor of John Brown, for indigent elderly blacks. Harriet Tubman died in 1913, over 90 years old.

Finish the Civil War!

At the time of Lincoln's re-election in 1864, the International Workingmen's Association, of which Karl Marx was a leading member, sent the president a letter of congratulation:

"From the commencement of the titanic American strife the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class When an oligarchy of 300,000 slaveholdersdared to inscribe, for the first time in the annals of the world, 'slavery' on the banner of armed revolt; whenon the very spots where hardly a century ago the idea of one great democratic republic had first sprung up,whence the first Declaration of the Rights of Man wasissued, and the first impulse given to the European revolution of the eighteenth century; ...then the working classes of Europe understood at once...that the slaveholders' rebellion was to sound the tocsin for a
general holy crusade of property against labor... "

But the stars and stripes, the proud banner of the Civil War, has long since become mired in the filth of racism and imperialist war. Only the working class, under revolutionary socialist leadership, can lead mankind out of the putrid decay that is capitalist society today.

Marx said, "Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded." The destruction of slavery signaled the birth of the American labor movement, the rise of unions and agitation for the eight-hour day. Blacks today play a strategic role in the American working class. Over the years mass migration from the rural South into the cities, both North and South, has transformed the black population from a largely rural, agricultural layer into an urban, industrial group. As an oppressed race-color caste integrated at the bottom of the U.S. economy, blacks suffer from capitalist exploitation compounded with vicious racial oppression—for them, the "American dream" is a nightmare! In precise Marxist terms black people are the reserve army of the unemployed, last hired, first fired, a crucial economic component of the boom/bust cycle of the capitalist mode of production. Thus Marx's words are all too true today: the fight for black liberation is the fight for the emancipation of all working people. It is fhe race question—the poison of racism—that keeps the American working class divided. As long as the labor movement does not take up the struggle of black people, there will be no struggle for any emancipation—just as the Civil War could not be won without the freeing and arming of the slaves.

Today the oppressed and exploited must look to the red banner of socialist revolution for their liberation. The Spartacist League raises the slogans, "Finish the Civil War! Forward to the Third American Revolution!" to express the historic tasks which fall to the revolution¬ary party. A workers party as the tribune of the people will fight for the interests of all the oppressed. Liberation for blacks and women can be won only by a workers government which will smash the capitalist system and reorganize society on the basis of a planned socialist economy. Key leadership in the revolutionary struggle will be provided by the Harriet Tubmans and Frederick Douglasses of our time. We honor these great black leaders for their role in bringing the day of liberation one giant step closer.