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Communist League

Negro National Colonial Question


Due to the confusion that still persists as regards the cause and effects of the Civil War in the U.S.N.A., the editors are putting forth Marxist conclusions as regards the War. Serious students of the War should study the articles and letters of Marx and Engels on the War. The richest source is The Civil War in the United States by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.

Above and beyond all other considerations, the Civil War was as Marx wrote, “a war of conquest for the extension and perpetuation of slavery.”[1] It is in this sense of the word that Marx and Engels point out that the Civil War was a war between two social systems. Marx and Engels point out how the Union was of service to the slave oligarchy only so long as it served the slave system. As the contradictions between the system of slave labor and the system of free labor intensified and the balance of political power titled against the slave system, it became clear that 20,000,000 free men would no longer submit to the dictatorship of the 300,000 slave masters who controlled the country.[2] It was at this point that the slave oligarchy first attacked the South and subdued it and then attacked the North.

The Aims of the Contending Forces

The slave oligarchy understood that if secession was attained by the core of deep Southern slave states, the economic and social interests of the entire Mississippi basin and even of California would compel them to join the slavery Union -thus, as Marx points out, their aim was to reorganize the Union on the basis of slavery, not to dissolve it. The inevitable result of such a reorganization would be the introduction of slavery and serfdom for the Anglo-American workers of the North and West. On the side of the Union, all the moral and political forces that were generated by the long hard struggle of the yeoman farmers and the financial and industrial bourgeoisie against the restrictive dictatorship of the slaveocracy momentarily joined.

The farmers who could not compete against slave labor readily joined the struggle. The workers, who as a result of competition from slave production were being forced down to the level of slavery themselves, also joined the fight. The industrial and financial bourgeoisie, drunk with their new political and financial power rushed into the battle. Of course, in history, the underlying economic causes are always covered up by surface, ideological proclamations. Thus the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, with its fevered, “As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free”, became the clarion call of the Union forces.

John Brown, in his long struggle to force the South to break the Union knew that the gigantic economic forces of the North would be the trump card to force the South back into the Union without slavery. What started as a reactionary war of conquest was, for a historical moment, turned into a true revolution – the Slaveocracy fighting to hold back the wheels of progress, the forces of the Union objectively fighting to free the means of production from the fetters that slave landlordism had placed upon them.

The Political Motion that Precipitated the War

In history, it is clear that the election of Lincoln was the signal for the secession of the Confederate states. However, that begs the question, what allowed for the election of Lincoln?

Lincoln was elected because of the political growth of the Northwest. The growth of the Northwest caused a split in the Democratic Party and the result was the election of Lincoln? How did this take place?

First of all, the economics of slavery demand the constant expansion of slavery into fresh and fertile soils – that meant the westward motion of the slave system. Since the Executive branch and the Judicial branch of the government was firmly in the hands of the slavers, the only struggle that could take place was in the Legislative branch. The slave oligarchy slowly eroded the power of the House of Representatives and made the Senate the more powerful body, because the North became, by far the most populous. But that also meant that as new territories became states they had to go into the slavers political pocket. This was easily accomplished in Texas and New Mexico. In Missouri (1820), the famous compromise was worked out where in Missouri entered the Union as a slave state, but slavery was excluded west of the Missouri and north of 36 degrees 30 minutes latitude. Then in 1854, hard pressed to expand slavery, the Southern dominated legislature and the Senate passed the Kansas-Nebraska Bill which repealed the Missouri Compromise and left it up to the citizens of the territories to decide if or not they wanted the slave system.

When it became apparent that the free soil immigrants and the yeoman farmers were capable of fighting for their rights against slavery, the oligarchy had to try again. John Brown and his men were the best example of the capabilities of the free men to resist slavery. A huge relief organization was formed to arm and protect the free men from the murder and intimidation of the border ruffians who were the vanguard of the slavers. Kansas was saved for free labor. Out of this struggle and this relief organization grew the Republican Party.

The slavers then turned to the base of their political strength, the Supreme Court. In 1857, the Supreme Court presented the Dred Scott decision. This infamous decision stated that the government had the duty to protect Slave property in any territory. So, against the expressed will of the majority all territories became slave territories. As Marx wrote:

If the Missouri Compromise of 1820 had extended the geographical boundary-line of slavery in the Territories, if the Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854 had wiped out every geographical boundary-line and set up a political barrier instead, the will of the majority of the settlers, then 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 places for the cultivation of free states into places for the cultivation of slavery.[3]

Thus the Supreme Court and the Executive office under Buchanan sought to win in Washington what they had lost in battle with John Brown. Steven Douglas, leader of the Northern Democrats broke with the South because the Dred Scott decision contradicted the principle of sovereignty as defined in the Nebraska Bill of 1854. Thus the Democratic Party was fundamentally split. The Republicans at the second convention (1860) declared their platform was: not a foot of new territory is to be conceded to the slave empire. The irrepressible conflict was breaking out. At the Montgomery secessionist Congress (1860) a short time later, Senator Toombs, the leading spokesmen for the South said, “In fifteen years more, without a great increase in slave territory, either the slaves must be permitted to flee from the whites, or the whites must flee from the slaves.”[4]

Thus the issue was joined. During the election of 1860 the Democrats got 2,223,110 votes, the Republicans got 1,866,452. But the Democratic vote was split, Douglas received 1,375,157 and Breckinridge, 847,953. Lincoln was elected, the Union was out of the hands of the oligarchy and the slave power wheeled from political activity, prepared a military Bonapartist coup and attacked the Union. Thus Kansas took her revenge. It was Kansas that birthed the Republican Party and split the Democrats and thus insured the election of Lincoln and the resultant Civil War.

The Underlying Causes

At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces come into contradiction with the existing productive relationships, or, what is but a legal expression for these, with the property relationships within which they had moved before. Prom forms of development of the productive forces these relationships are transformed into their fetters. Then an epoch of social revolution opens.[5]

So wrote Karl Marx. The Civil War in the U.S.N.A. completely proved him correct. In a footnote to the “Poverty of Philosophy”, Engels states,

(in 1847) the world trade of the United States was limited to the import of immigrants and industrial products, and the export of cotton and tobacco, that is, of the products of slave labor. The Northern states produced principally corn and meat for the slave states. It was only when the North produced corn and meat for export and also became an industrial country, and when the American cotton monopoly had to face powerful competition in India, Egypt, Brazil, etc., that the abolition of slavery became possible.[6]

Marx writes,

Direct slavery is just as much the pivot of bourgeois industry as machinery, credits etc. Without slavery you have no cotton; without cotton you have no modern industry, It is slavery that has given the colonies their value; it is the colonies that have created world trade, and it is world trade that is the pre-condition of large-scale industry.

Thus slavery is an economic category of the greatest importance.[7]

So we see that at a point of its growth, slavery, which made the colonies of value, became the fetter on the further development of the productive forces. And thus it was overthrown. It was not the morality of the anti-slave movement that was fundamental, but it was the conflict between the productive forces and the productive relations that made the “irrepressible conflict” explode into what at that time was the bloodiest and costliest conflict in civilized history.

So we see that the Civil War was not an exceptional event in history, but a moment in history that completely conforms to the Marxist laws of social development.

At the end of this costly and bloody affair, and its epilogue, the period of Reconstruction, there had emerged in the North a financial oligarchy whose blood lust and financial power put to shame the wildest dreams of the slavers. Dr. DuBois noted with sadness, the South controlled the Nation and Wall Street controlled the South. The end result of the Civil War and the gigantic accumulation of financial capital and industrial means of production was the emergence of United States of North America imperialism, the scourge of finance capital. Its first creation and first victim of its savage gold lust was the defenseless and prostrate Negro Nation.


[1] Marx, Karl, Engels, Frederick, The Civil War in the United States, International Publishers, N.Y., 1937, p. 73

[2] “In 1860, there were in the South 385,000 owners of slaves distributed among 1,516,000 free families. Nearly three-fourths of all free Southerners had no connection with slavery through either family ties or direct ownership. The ’typical’ Southerner was no% only a small farmer, but also a non-slave-holder.” (Kenneth Stamp, op. cit., p. 30)

“Slightly less than half of the slaves belong to approximately twenty-five thousand masters operating plantations of these (large) dimensions.” (Kenneth Stamp, op. cit., p. 38)

[3] Marx, Karl, Engels, Frederick, op. cit., p. 63

[4] Marx, Karl, Engels, Frederick, op. cit., p. 67

[5] Marx, Karl, “Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy”, Selected Works. Vol. I, F.L.P.H., Moscow, 1962, p. 363

[6] Marx, Karl, “Poverty of Philosophy” (footnote to, F.E.) Handbook of Marxism. Martin Lawrence Ltd., London, 1937, p.

[7] Marx, Karl, op. cit., pp. 356-357