American Civil War

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The American Civil War was a conflict in the United States of America that lasted from April 12, 1861 to May 9, 1865 between the northern states loyal to the Union and the southern states which sought to break away, primarily in order to maintain the institution of slavery. As had also been true historically, the existence of slavery alongside an emerging proletariat depressed wages for workers since they had to compete with slaves, leading to phenomena such as the British workers movement sympathizing with the Union cause and building solidarity with its workers.[1] After the Union won it passed the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, abolishing slavery "except as a punishment for crime". African-Americans, though nominally emancipated, often ended up doing the same kind of labor for the same masters and with similar conditions, then being called "sharecroppers" and relying on having to labor on landlords' property to make a living. Many African-Americans, even in the present, are still literally enslaved through the exception granted in the 13th Amendment, with the United States having the highest incarceration rate in the world in order to maintain cheap labor.

Prior to the war, capitalism was the dominant mode of production throughout the country although it featured slavery which was primarily so in the South. Slavery historically speaking is mostly an aspect of feudalism and opposed to the development of capitalism, the complexity of which demands a more educated and healthy workforce which inevitably demands a higher quality of life. The North thusly oriented towards industry and a free populace as it had less agricultural land and plenty of rivers to power industrial machines, having also a greater history of development that gave rise to wealthy merchants who first started building water-powered textile mills. Slavery was left to its last vestiges of usefulness by the time of its abolition, becoming mostly an impediment to capitalism rather than a beneficial feature, though slaveowners tried to offset this dying institution's problems, such as soil exhaustion, by opening up the vast land in the West to slavery, also planning to seize the Latin American lands southwards. The issue of whether new states admitted to the Union would be slave or free thus had political ramifications, for example as to whether the urban bourgeoisie or slaveowners would have a majority in the Senate.

Following the war Congress directed the Reconstruction era, which sought to have newly-freed slaves have the same civil rights as whites; guaranteed by three constitutional amendments: the 13th outlawing slavery (1865), the 14th guaranteeing citizenship to those born in the US (1868), and the 15th ensuring voting rights irrespective of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude" (1870). Abraham Lincoln was a strong supporter of this movement but was assassinated in 1865 and was succeeded by Democratic Vice President Andrew Johnson, who had come to favor the ex-Confederates and was thus lenient on enforcing the rights of former slaves. He was in turn succeeded by Republican Ulysses S. Grant in 1869 who actually enforced the protection of African-Americans in the South and combated the Ku Klux Klan, which arose out of white Southern discontent with Reconstruction. Republicans in the South were among those who opposed Reconstruction and this growing inter-party tension was failed to be resolved. The pressure of this, along with that of the Southern Democrats as well as Northern Republicans who wanted to withdraw the Army from the south as support for Reconstruction policies declined, ended up overwhelming the diminishing political will to maintain Reconstruction. The result was the Compromise of 1877 that ended this era, with US congressmen awarding Republican Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency in a disputed election in exchange for troops withdrawing from the region and no longer enforcing Reconstruction policies, influenced by fears of another violent conflict. This gave way to Jim Crow laws that in turn enforced racial discrimination against black people; effectively rolling back political and economic gains made by black people during Reconstruction.

Marxist support for the Union

Though the Union was a bourgeois force, it was more progressive in that it ultimately brought America closer to a workers' revolution, on top of putting the enslaved proletariat on the road to better conditions under capitalism. It also pushed the United States to advance its technology and mechanize according to the more advanced economic relations now more oriented towards capitalism, given that the slaveowners had fallen from their position of power. As capitalism's dynamics compel the accumulation of capital in order to remain competitive and grow, the bourgeoisie is thus pressured into maximizing profit margins, and as cutting wages may backfire and is a limited measure, it is often made to develop the means of production and ultimately accelerate capitalism's own contradictions. This is a view held by Marx and Engels as well as America's earliest Marxists, most of which were German immigrants who arrived in the 1850s, supporting the Republican Party against slavery and joining the Union Army.

Communist military leadership

The failed Revolutions of 1848 resulted in a lot of immigration and political refugees, with many communist Germans among them. Around 700,000 Union conscripts were German immigrants, with some communists among them becoming generals and officials, including Joseph Weydemeyer, Alexander Schimmelfennig, Franz Sigel, and Louis Blenker.

Perhaps the most prominent was August Willich (19 November 1810 – 22 January 1878) was Prussian Army officer and a leading early proponent of communism. He discarded his title of nobility in 1847 and took part in the Revolutions of 1848, where he was leader of a Free Corps, having Friedrich Engels as his personal aide. He was the leader of the left faction of the Communist League, who along with Schapper was leader of the anti-Karl Marx group when the League split in 1850. According to Wilhelm Liebknecht, he conspired with French revolutionary and political exile Emmanuel Barthélemy to kill Marx for being too conservative, with Wilhelm publicly insulting Marx and challenging him to a duel which Marx refused. Wilhelm emigrated to the United States in 1853 where he eventually became the editor of a German-language free labor newspaper that advocated for the right to labor on one's own terms. Upon the start of the civil war, he recruited German immigrants and joined the Army with the rank of first lieutenant and eventually became a Brigadier General, though suffered a severe wound in 1864 and served various administrative roles for the rest of the war. He returned to Germany in 1870 to offer his services to the Prussian Army in the Franco–Prussian War, though refused for his age, health, and communist views. He returned to Ohio where he died. Marx wrote that "In the Civil War in North America, Willich showed that he is more than a visionary".

Legacy of the Republican Party

The triumph of the bourgeoisie in the Civil War inaugurated the Gilded Age, where the bourgeoisie gorged itself on profits and corruption was given free rein. The Republican Party degraded from being a progressive force and generally became a "normal" bourgeois party, except in the South where the party's Radical wing was prominent and had to rely on ex-slaves and poor whites for political power. Liberal Republicans continued to exist well into the 20th century, and up to the 1930s there were self-styled "progressive" Republicans, from imperialist demagogues like Theodore Roosevelt to more substantive reformers like Senator Robert La Follette. Ultimately though the Republican Party was pretty much bound to degrade just as the Democratic Party had once its unintentionally progressive role in history was carried out, as bourgeois parties naturally tend to. The decline of the party led Alvan Bovay for one, the man credited with giving the Republicans their name and who had argued that Democrats had betrayed the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, ending up leaving the party after the Civil War in favor of other third-party efforts.

Reading material


  1. How the World Works: The Story of Human Labor from Prehistory to the Modern Day, 3.3 Contradictions and Development, Paul Cockshott