Juneteenth and the revolutionary essence of the American Civil War
History from a Marxist perspective is always much more than facts and dates. It is complicated, but Marxists see dialectical and historical materialism as a way to overcome the complexities and develop a truthful analysis. We will be celebrating Juneteenth, a national holiday, this Sunday, one year after the Biden administration declared it a national holiday and 157 years to the day that Union army troops entered Galveston, Texas, marched to the customs house, and issued this proclamation:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
Transforming the nearly 4 million former slaves into wage workers had been the underlying motive of the industrial capitalists who emerged as the great victors in the war, regardless of the promises for the redistribution of land to the slaves. Similar promises of “middle class freedom” were also made to poor whites in the North and South, and both whites and free African Americans believed in and fought to make these promises real. Marxists have understood and made central the class nature of the war, which does not negate the positive social revolutionary consequences of the conflict. But why was the proclamation necessary in Texas in 1865?
In 1862, Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery on paper in all of the Confederate states, to be enforced by the Union army. By June 1865, the Confederate government had collapsed, Lincoln had been assassinated, and the main Confederate armies, the Army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee and the Army of the West had surrendered, but slavery continued in those slave states which had supported the Confederacy. It would remain until the ratification of the 13th Amendment abolished slavery everywhere.
There were approximately 250,000 slaves in Texas in June 1865. Slaveholders had fled from Mississippi and other battleground states with as many of the slaves as they could bring with them to a state where the Union army had no presence.
Celebrations among the freed slaves of Texas spread rapidly, as did celebrations throughout the former slave states. Black people moving north and west in the “great migration” of the early 20th century would bring these celebrations with them.
Today, when the Republican Party, the party of anti-slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the three constitutional amendments abolishing slavery and establishing national protection for citizenship rights, including the right to vote, has been transformed into its opposite—a party seeking to ban from schools and libraries the history of the African American people and the struggle against slavery, segregation, and all forms of racism.
Today Congress is dealing with the January 6 failed coup, whose leaders saw themselves reviving “the spirit of 1776” like the leaders of the Confederacy who attempted to negate Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency. For these reasons, this affirmation of Juneteenth is especially important.
1. In his classic study, Black Reconstruction, W. E. B. Dubois saw
a. the slaveholders’ launching of the war to save slavery as essential to the destruction of slavery.
b. the resistance of the slaves during the war, undermining the Confederate economy, as the most important factor in the Confederate/slaveholder defeat.
c. the struggle to build a “united front” of former slaves and landless poor whites as the revolutionary possibility of Reconstruction.
d. All of the above
2. The late Victor Perlo, a leading American Marxist and Communist economist, saw racism in the U.S. as
a. separate from the class struggle.
b. something that the white working class supported.
c. a way for capitalists to extract higher profits by paying African American workers less than white workers, which also depressed wages and salaries generally.
d. something that could be fought by winning over the corporations and the media.
3. Marxists and Communists see racism as
a. a question of ethnic identity.
b. the failure to understand “the other.”
c. a political, economic system to distract and divide the working class.
d. a failure of education.
4. According to Marxists and Communists, systemic racism under capitalism harms all working people by
a. paying people of color less, which also depresses general wage rates.
b. interacting with and strengthening discrimination based on gender, religion, and ethnicity.
c. strengthening the use of the military and the police to deal with all domestic and foreign crises.
d. All of the above
5. The three most prominent African Americans of the 20th century, W. E. B. Dubois, Paul Robeson, and Martin Luther King
a. fought for a peace based on economic and social justice.
b. saw the liberation of the African American people as part of a larger struggle for the liberation of all people.
c. were formally listed at one time or another by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover as Communists and subject to official harassment and abuse.
d. All of the above
Source: Communist Party U.S.A.