Black Marxism

Dubois: – The Civil War was supposed to be the war for the liberation of the black working class. However, the outcomes of the war mainly led to negative outcomes. Moreover, there were practically no improvements in the life of African Americans, ex-slaves, who were formally free but who stayed bound to their class, taking the lowest position in the American society. At the same time, it is African Americans who carried out a considerable part of success of the Northern army because it was due to African American reinforcement, the Northern army had managed to take the dominant position in the strategic struggle with the South and, eventually, defeat the Confederates.

At the same time, former slaver became mere tools in hands of the white commanders who sent them to certain death and used African Americans as the means to reach the ultimate goal in the war between the North and the South. In such a way, African Americans, slaves liberated by the Federalists, became mere commodities in hands of the white elite that conducted the war. They did not have the possibility to take decisions or influence decisions, which were taken by the white commandment, while the white commanders valued a little the life of African Americans whom they got used to treat as mere commodities. In such a context, white soldiers were in an advantageous position because they were free before and after the war and were conscious of their rights and ultimate purposes of the war, while African Americans were slaves before and during the war. Moreover, African Americans obeyed orders of the white commanders blindly, being accustomed to obey to white masters and they could not conduct the conscious struggle that proved that they were tools to reach ends defined by the white elite but not by the black workers.

Thus, the Civil War was the war of the whites, where African Americans were used as mere commodities and where they were in inferior position even compared to the white proletariat, although former slaves belonged to the same class as white workers. Moreover, potentially, the united power of the black and white workers could extend the Civil War and transform it in the social revolution that could have put the end to the rule of the bourgeoisie and paved the way to the new classless society of equal people.

Me: – African Americans did play an important part in the Civil War. However, it is impossible to view the contribution of African Americans in the victory of the North in the context of the total domination of the whites because they were interested in the liberation and abolition of slavery. At the same time, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that  African Americans were not really proletariat during the Civil War because they were mainly employed in the agriculture. Thus, they could not have their class consciousness as a part of the proletariat. Instead, it was only after the war their class consciousness had been awaken, not in the last turn, by the white workers, who also represented the class of workers, which African Americans joined after the war. In such a context, it is impossible to view the white workers and ex-slaves as representatives of one and the same class. At any rate, they had different needs and interests and they could not come together to overthrow the white elite or the bourgeoisie which did take the power in the US and controlled its political and economic development. What is meant here is the fact that I cannot agree that African Americans and the white workers belonged to the same class during the Civil War. In fact, the white proletariat was shaped as a class, while the social or class consciousness of African Americans was poorly developed. At the same time, it is necessary to take into consideration the fact that African Americans, i.e. former slaves, and white Americans, including white workers, have different goals in the Civil War.

Obviously, African Americans strived for the liberation and abolition of slavery, which was the unbearable burden for all slaves. Therefore, it is impossible to view African Americans as mere tools in hands of the white elite because African Americans had their reason to fight for their freedom and they joined the Northern army because they wanted to be free. On the other hand, it is possible to agree that it was the whites who took decision, while the blacks were in an inferior position in the army, but this inferiority insignificant in relationships between private soldiers both white and black. At the same time, the white soldiers were probably less motivated in the civil war, although their class consciousness was better shaped because a considerable part of white soldiers in the Northern army represented the proletariat because workers of large factories and plants located in Northern states were recruited in the Northern army, while African Americans joined the army to back up the existing army of Northern states. However, it is possible to presuppose that African Americans were motivated to take part in the war because they could count for consistent changes in their life, while for the white proletariat, this war was less comprehensible and white workers were less motivated. At the same time, it is possible to speak about the rise of class consciousness in the white American workers because they took part in the Civil war to support another oppressed class ”“ American slaves.

Moreover, in classical Marxist terms, it is impossible to view the Civil War, which was a revolutionary war by its nature, as the war focused specifically on certain groups solely, such as African Americans. In fact, it is necessary to view the Civil War in the US as a part of the ongoing class struggle. What is more, taking into consideration specificities and historical context of the Civil War, it is important to stress that it was the revolution determined by the change of the economic formation. To put it more precisely, slavery proved to be ineffective economic formation and the productive forces had outpaced the mode of production in the US. As a result, the strengthened bourgeoisie, the working class, and oppressed slaved naturally rebelled against the slave-holders and landowners to change the old economic formation for the new, more progressive one. In such a way, it would be more accurate and historically correct to view the Civil War as the social revolution that marked the change of the economic formation rather than the war marking the racial struggle or exploitation of African Americans by the white elite. But, it is necessary to recognize that African Americans were in the worst position compared to all the other racial and social groups in the US in the Civil War time.

Dubois: – The post-Civil War politics and socioeconomic development of the US proved that racism prevailed in the US society and African Americans turned out to be in a disadvantageous position, even compared to the white workers. Moreover, the ruling elite intentionally encouraged white workers and African Americans to come into clashes. In such a way, the white elite, which controlled the economic and political life of the country, redirected the rising white proletariat and lead it to open conflict with the black proletariat. In fact, the ruling elite presented interests of a few capitalists who appropriated the national wealth, while the working class was represented by white and black workers. The capitalists naturally were under the threat of a new social revolution because the proletariat could rise against their rule and start a new revolution that could have put the end to the power of bourgeoisie.

To prevent this threat of the social revolution carried out by the proletariat, the white bourgeoisie used racism and racial differences to develop conflicts within the American proletariat. In fact, the bourgeoisie promoted the idea that the white bourgeoisie spread racist ideas among the white proletariat to persuade white workers that it is African American workers which are the enemies of the white workers. In this regard, the idea that African American workers increased the competition in the labor market and replaced white workers became very popular. The bourgeoisie attempted to persuade white workers that African Americans were ready to work for lower wages that led to the overall decrease of wages for all workers.

In such a situation, it is quite natural that white workers viewed black workers as their enemies. White workers believed that black workers deprive them of their job and decrease their wages. Moreover, the dominant racist ideology widely promoted by the bourgeoisie contributed to the formation of racist beliefs in white workers. As a result, they felt being superior to black workers and, what was more important, they refused to cooperate with black workers because of their racial prejudices imposed on them by the bourgeoisie. In such a way, the bourgeoisie paralyzed the American proletariat because the racial antagonism within the proletariat became an unsurpassable barrier on the way of the proletariat to the social revolution and laid the foundation to racial prejudices which persisted in the American society for years.

Me: – Yes, I agree that the white bourgeoisie promoted the idea of racial inequality in the American proletariat, but I do not believe that the conflict between white and black workers was the product of the bourgeoisie ideological struggle against the raising proletariat. In fact, I think that the major problem of American proletariat was not only racism but its disorganization and stereotypes and prejudices which were established and promoted by the bourgeoisie. What is meant here is the fact that I can only partially agree that racial contradiction within American proletariat resulted from the ideological struggle of the bourgeoisie. In actuality, the major problem of the American proletariat was its disorganization that means that American workers could not organize a large scale labor movement, at least shortly after the end of the Civil War and even in a few decades to follow American proletariat was too weak in its organizational structure, to oppose to the ruling elite.

The disorganization of the proletariat means the lack of a strong leadership, the development of labor organizations, namely unions, the lack of cooperation at the national level and so on. Racism promoted by the bourgeoisie was nourished by objective factors which American workers confronted in their everyday life. African Americans could not find a well-paid job after the abolition of slavery. Moreover, they did not know how to survive in the world without masters and slaves. As a result, they were ready to work for the lowest wages whites could offer to them. Naturally, this led to the downfall of wages and white workers were affected by such a downfall. But the problem was not only in the bourgeoisie. In this regard, I would remind what I have already told. African Americans were not shaped as a working class shortly after the Civil War. Moreover, they were not the proletariat as Marxism interprets this term. African Americans were agricultural workers who knew nothing about the labor movement and the organized struggle of the working class against the ruling elite.

In this regard, the white proletariat outpaced the black proletariat consistently. In such a situation, the backwardness of the organization of the black proletariat and the ongoing discrimination and racism slowed down the overall progress of the proletariat in the USA. American workers could not fight effectively as long as African American failed to catch up with the development of the white labor movement.

Probably, it is true that the bourgeoisie encouraged conflicts between white and black proletariat but it is failure of the proletariat itself to forget about racial antagonism and unite their efforts in the common struggle against the bourgeoisie that actually led to the desperate position of African American workers as well as all other workers in the US.

However, I would not emphasize the difference between white and black proletariat. The policy of the bourgeoisie was not directed against African American proletariat specifically, but it was directed against the entire American proletariat. And again, I would not make racial distinctions as you, Mr. Dubois, do, but I would rather stress the class antagonism in the US. It is obvious that the American proletariat after the Civil War was unprepared to conduct an organized struggle against the white bourgeoisie. The latter, in its turn, would use any pretext to provoke conflicts within the proletariat. In addition, it seems to be wrong to view the racial conflicts within the proletariat as the major cause of the poor development of the labor movement in the US, especially shortly after the Civil War. Instead, I believe that the major reason for the failure of the rapid and effective development of the organized labor movement was the socioeconomic policies of the ruling bourgeoisie. What I mean is the fact that the bourgeoisie restricted rights of workers consistently. For instance, workers practically did not have opportunities to strike and, in this regard, the race of workers was absolutely insignificant because neither white workers nor black workers could strike. Furthermore, the level of wages was established by capitalists and, whatever the race of workers was, they could not change the level of wages because it was capitalists who took decisions concerning wages. In this regard, I would refer to experience of European countries, where there was no racial antagonism within the working class, but still workers had to accept the level of wages established by the bourgeoisie.

Finally, it seems as if you, Mr. Dubois, forget about one of the key ideas of Karl Marx that capitalists or bourgeoisie pay workers as much as suffice for their physical survival and as long as capitalists need the labor force.  To put it in simple words, regardless of the race of workers, capitalists establish wages depending on the situation in the labor market, namely depending on the amount of the labor force available to capitalists and respectively to the current needs of capitalists. Therefore, the color of skin of a worker is unimportant for capitalists.

Dubois: – But there was a huge gap in the level of wages between African American workers and white workers which allowed white workers’ wages to sink lower to the level of wages of black workers.

Me: – That is exactly what I am trying to tell you. It is not the race that actually defined the level of wages, but it is the overall situation in the labor market that influences the level of wages in the US as well as in any other country. The Civil War brought new labor force to the labor market of the US. As a result, capitalists got an excellent opportunity to drop wages as low as possible and the downfall of wages continued as long as wages were sufficient for workers, both white or black, to survive. It was not the race that defined the level of wages or the quantity of working hours or conditions of work, but it is the quantity of workers available to capitalists and the current needs of capitalists.

This means that, regardless of the race, capitalist would decrease the level of wages, when a lot of new workers rushed in the labor market as it was the case in the post-Civil War USA. As a result, capitalists took advantage of the large number of potential workers and established conditions of work beneficial for capitalists but not proletariat.

Dubois: – But you would not deny that the split between white and black proletariat prevented the social revolution in the US and weakened American proletariat for decades ahead, would you?

Me: – Definitely, internal conflicts within the American proletariat played an important role and they became a serious obstacle on the way to the emergence of the labor movement in the US. However, the social revolution in the US was impossible in the post-Civil War time because the new economic formation, capitalist one, had just taken the full control over the country, while the new productive relations, more advanced than capitalist ones, had not been shaped yet. In other words, according to Marxist postulates, the productive forces and productive relations matched the mode of production. As a result, there were no objective conditions for the change of the capitalist economic formation in the post-Civil War US as well as in the decades to follow. This is why racial contradictions were important factor that slowed down the development of American proletariat but the elimination of these contradictions would not open the way to the social revolution in the US.

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