Category Archives: confederacy

Confederate Flag Debate Continues

By KurtFF8

Recently, the city of Lexington, Virginia passed an ordinance to prohibit Confederate Flags on city-owned poles.  The debate the emerged during the proposed rule brought up the fact that the debate on the flying of the flag is far from over.  The Sons of Confederate Veterans held a demonstration prior to the vote and, according to the article linked to above, vowed to “challenge the ordinance in court.”

Why is it that over 150 years after the start of the US Civil War that the debate over the Confederate flag is still relevant?  There are a few factors involved.

First and foremost: while the nature of the Confederacy itself is often cited in these debates, the usage of the flag since the end of the war is what drives these “cultural” conflicts.  Most importantly in recent history is the usage in the political movement against desegregation in the South.  The Flag became a symbol of resistance to the move to resist integration and stop “northern dominance” over the South.  This association is difficult to delink from the racist elements and motivations of the flag, considering the most recent historical widespread use of it was this political battle and the racist side that the flag symbolized.

As I have argued elsewhere, the States’ Rights argument that is often appealed to in these cases has historically been an excuse to actually prevent rights from expanding.  In the case of the Civil War: it was the right of states to continue to have the slave system.  In the civil rights era: it was the right of states to continue to segregate.  The Sons of Confederate Veterans argues that the Civil War was a war about freedom for the South.  They conveniently ignore or cease to elaborate for whom in the South that freedom was for.  Considering that the South explicitly seceded to preserve the institution of slavery, it is quite clear that the freedom was a very limited notion of the term.  The fact that the Sons of Confederate Veterans does not quite address this issue is quite telling of the nature of their organization and motivations for promoting symbols like the Confederate flag.

Each era that the flag was widely used (particularly the Civil War itself and the Civil Rights eras), it was a symbol of the oppression of black folks.  It would be a difficult case to make that it has been anything but this without getting into abstract debates about freedom of speech.  That’s not to say that the Sons of Confederate Veterans, or other groups are necessarily trying to promote a specific racist political goal in these cases.  But one thing that is undeniable is that they are attempting to promote the use of a symbol that has been used almost exclusively in history to promote racist political and social policy.

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Filed under African Americans, confederacy, National Oppression, Race, racism, slavery, Southern United States, State's rights, U.S. Civil War, Virginia

Karl Marx on the US Civil War

by KurtFF8

The US Civil War started 150 years ago.  During this time, Karl Marx wrote about the war and what it meant for America and the development of capital itself.  You can find various references to the war in his magnum opus where he often refers to the war as the “slave owners rebellion.”

One article he wrote that I find to be of interest is one in which he criticized the media coverage of the war (via criticizing the London Times).  The arguments he refutes in the article (the war being about tariffs, sovereignty, etc.) still come up today in debates about the causes of the war, even leading some folks to go as far as to say that the civil war was not about slavery despite the overt explanation by the South that their intention was to preserve slavery (see my article on the anniversary of the secession of South Carolina that covers this topic).

Some quotes from:

The North American Civil War

The war between North and South — so runs the first excuse — is a mere tariff war, a war between a protectionist system and a free trade system, and Britain naturally stands on the side of free trade. Shall the slave-owner enjoy the fruits of slave labour in their entirety or shall he be cheated of a portion of these by the protectionists of the North? That is the question which is at issue in this war. It was reserved for The Times to make this brilliant discovery. The Economist, The Examiner, The Saturday Review and tutti quanti expounded the theme further. It is characteristic of this discovery that it was made, not in Charleston, but in London. Naturally, in America everyone knew that from 1846 to 1861 a free trade system prevailed, and that Representative Morrill carried his protectionist tariff through Congress only in 1861, after the rebellion had already broken out. Secession, therefore, did not take place because the Morrill tariff had gone through Congress, but, at most, the Morrill tariff went through Congress because secession had taken place. When South Carolina had its first attack of secession in 1831, the protectionist tariff of 1828 served it, to be sure, as a pretext, but only as a pretext, as is known from a statement of General Jackson. This time, however, the old pretext has in fact not been repeated. In the Secession Congress at Montgomery all reference to the tariff question was avoided, because the cultivation of sugar in Louisiana, one of the most influential Southern states, depends entirely on protection.

….

For hardly had the Kansas-Nebraska Bill gone through, which wiped out the geographical boundary-line of slavery and made its introduction into new Territories subject to the will of the majority of the settlers, when armed emissaries of the slaveholders, border rabble from Missouri and Arkansas, with bowie-knife in one hand and revolver in the other, fell upon Kansas and sought by the most unheard-of atrocities to dislodge its settlers from the Territory colonised by them. These raids were supported by the central government in Washington. Hence a tremendous reaction. Throughout the North, but particularly in the North-west, a relief organisation was formed to support Kansas with men, arms and money. Out of this relief organisation arose the Republican Party, which therefore owes its origin to the struggle for Kansas. After the attempt to transform Kansas into a slave Territory by force of arms had failed, the South sought to achieve the same result by political intrigues. Buchanan’s government, in particular, exerted its utmost efforts to have Kansas included in the States of the Union as a slave state with a slave constitution imposed on it. Hence renewed struggle, this time mainly conducted in Congress at Washington. Even St[ephen] A. Douglas, the chief of the Northern Democrats, now (1857 – 58) entered the lists against the government and his allies of the South, because imposition of a slave constitution would have been contrary to the principle of sovereignty of the settlers passed in the Nebraska Bill of 1854. Douglas, Senator for Illinois, a North-western state, would naturally have lost all his influence if he had wanted to concede to the South the right to steal by force of arms or through acts of Congress Territories colonised by the North. As the struggle for Kansas, therefore, called the Republican Party into being, it at the same time occasioned the first split within the Democratic Party itself.

The Republican Party put forward its first platform for the presidential election in 1856. Although its candidate, John Fremont, was not victorious, the huge number of votes cast for him at any rate proved the rapid growth of the Party, particularly in the North-west. At their second National Convention for the presidential election (May 17, 1860), the Republicans again put forward their platform of 1856, only enriched by some additions. Its principal contents were the following: Not a foot of fresh territory is further conceded to slavery. The filibustering policy abroad must cease. The reopening of the slave trade is stigmatised. Finally, free-soil laws are to be enacted for the furtherance of free colonisation.

The whole movement was and is based, as one sees, on the slave question. Not in the sense of whether the slaves within the existing slave states should be emancipated outright or not, but whether the twenty million free men of the North should submit any longer to an oligarchy of three hundred thousand slaveholders; whether the vast Territories of the republic should be nurseries for free states or for slavery; finally, whether the national policy of the Union should take armed spreading of slavery in Mexico, Central and South America as its device.

There is an entire section of writings by Marx and Engels on the US Civil war that can be found at the Marxist Internet Archive following this link.

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Filed under confederacy, Southern Identity, Southern United States, State's rights, U.S. Civil War

Anniversary of Secession: What it means today

By KurtFF8

Today is the anniversary of the declaration of Secession by South Carolina from the United States in 1860.  This lead to the founding of the Confederacy and lead the  nation on a path to a long bloody conflict that cost the lives of countless people on both sides.  What does this anniversary mean for 2010 though?  For the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Confederate Heritage Trust: it means it’s time to throw a party.

The Secession Ball

Tonight, the two groups mentioned above will be throwing what they are calling “The Secession Ball” what is according to the website is “Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of South Carolina’s Secession.” They claim to even have the President Pro-Tempore of the SC Senate planning on attending the ball.  The Sons of Confederate Veterans officials condemns slavery and their spokesperson for the event claims that they are not celebrating the war, but instead just the courage of those who decided to sign the secession statement, while the NAACP has planed a march to protest the event tonight.

So if they are not celebrating the war or slavery, why the event?  Many organizations and individuals who attempt to defend things like the foundation of the Confederate States tend to appeal to notions of States’ Rights and of “Heritage” (“not hate”).  But it doesn’t take much to demonstrate how secession and the creation of the Confederacy were explicitly about preserving slavery and that the specific rights sought out in trying to defend “States Rights” in this particular case were the rights of the state to keep Slavery a legal institution.

So the courage to stand up to the Union ought to be seen as the “courage to defend slavery.”

Causes of the Civil War

 

John Brown is often portrayed as "insane" for his radical anti-slavery actions, and was even executed for them

Slavery was the base of the economic power for the Southern elite in the pre-Civil War South.  After decades of complicated power struggles and debates about expanding the institution to new American states, the Southern elite was threatened and to use a phrase Marx used, launched a “Slave owner rebellion.”  As I noted above, they made their reasons for secession quite clear: to preserve slavery.  While other factors, such as “taxes and tariffs,” are sometimes pointed to as causes for the war, these factors existed in so far as they interfered with the source of the wealth that was being harmed: the institution of slavery!

This is of course a long historical debate, but the arguments for Southern Secession tend to be red herrings when it comes to slavery.  Even these groups putting on the “Secession Ball” make sure to note that they are opposed to slavery and the Civil War’s bloody toll.  Yet they defend the event that is noted for its strong defense of slavery and for starting that very war.

States’ Rights

When “States’ Rights” is appealed to as the reason for the South’s actions, what rights those States were looking to protect are often ignored.  This is because it was the right to own slavery by the Southern elite.  Yet the argument over States’ Rights was not resolved at the end of the War.

After the Civil War ended and what is often referred to as “radical reconstruction” was abandoned to an extent, the newer elites in the South instituted “Jim Crow Laws.”  It was the “Jim Crow South” that was responsible for racial segregation that wasn’t to be fully broken until the civil rights movement exploded in the 1960s.  The arguments for maintaining these laws often appealed to the same thing: States’ Rights.

We can also see a similar kind of rhetoric of States’ Rights in the opposition to the moderate attempt at health care reform over the past few years.  It’s rare in the history of the South that these concept is appealed to actually expand the rights of the majority of the people, but instead States’ Rights are often appealed to for the strengthening of the elite.

We need to be clear about the nature of celebrating the Confederacy in any way: It was a reactionary attempt to preserve slavery in the South, and its’ defeat needs to be celebrated, not its’ founding.

 

Further Reading:

150 Years Ago: Marx & Engels on the War Against Slavery

Collection of Marx and Engels writings on the Civil War

Huffington Post Article

Guardian Article

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