Juneteenth 2020 — Seeds of Class Unity
Every year, communities hold “Juneteenth” commemorations, honoring the U.S. military order that freed 250,000 Texas slaves on June 19, 1865.
With the arrival of the Union Army, the rumors that the slave-owning ruling class was losing the Civil War became a reality. And seeing African American soldiers, slaves’ quiet prayers for liberation were turned into cheers of triumph. Harriet Tubman had prophesied that President Lincoln could not defeat the South “till he does the right thing” by making war on slavery. She was right, and once the struggle to preserve the Union was forced into becoming a fight to free four million humans held as property, the Civil War had objectively become a revolution.
Juneteenth also represents a victory for the Mexican and Indigenous peoples. The 1846 U.S. invasion of Mexico resulted from a 10-year battle to extend slavery into México’s Texas region, after that country had abolished it. By the war’s end in 1848, the U.S. had stolen one-third of México, the area now called the Southwest, and began making war on native peoples to steal their lands, too.
Defeat of Slavery
The Confederacy’s defeat in the Civil War wouldn’t result in freedom for these two peoples. Still, it did prevent the legal enslavement which the Southern-dominated U.S. government would soon have forced upon them.
European revolutionaries of the time understood that the defeat of slavery in 1865 was also a victory for the world’s working class. In 1866, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels summed it up by writing, “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin when in the black it is branded.” This idea had already been put into practice by their comrade Adolph Douai, who fled Germany after the failed revolution of 1848, and started up a newspaper in Texas. Douai called for the abolition of slavery, teaching that the enslavement of Blacks didn’t help Southern whites, but instead helped capitalists force them to accept their own poverty.
Freed Slaves Led Political War
The Civil War was a struggle for political power between two antagonistic wings of the ruling class, the Southern slave power and the financial and industrial capitalists of the North. The former wanted to transform the entire country, and eventually, the hemisphere into a slave empire; the latter wanted to reduce the South to the reserve of industry. After the military victory over slave capital, a political war to reconstruct the South began.
In Reconstruction, freed slaves played the key role in developing revolutionary unity between freed slaves and the poorest section of whites. Together they got 1,500 African Americans elected throughout the South, passing laws to redistribute some of the Confederates’ land and creating the South’s first free public schools. By the early 1870s, 15 percent of Southern office-holders were Black, a larger percentage than in 1990!
Northern financial and industrial capitalists were willing to accept this until their banks and railroads had gained control of the Southern economy. Once the South’s ruling class had been remade into finance capital’s subordinates, they were returned to power in Southern state and local governments through a violent, counter-revolutionary offensive against the pockets of developing working class unity.
Louisiana provides an example of what occurred throughout the South. William Ward had gone from slave to Union soldier to a state representative, elected by the growing unity between Blacks and some whites. On Easter Sunday in 1873, their enemies took advantage of his absence to openly murder 150 black men in what became known as the Colfax Massacre. The next year, Louisiana’s White League assassinated six white office-holders and as many as twenty Black witnesses in Cousatta. In such ways, fascism was imposed on the South.
In 1876, newly elected President Hayes ended federal military protection of Reconstruction efforts. That action encouraged the violence that the Ku Klux Klan and other gangs focused against Blacks and those whites who persisted in uniting with them, killing the Reconstruction movement. To prevent its arising anew, an enormous layer of segregation laws, Confederate worship, and extreme racist ideology was then packed over the grave of Reconstruction.
However, the South continued to have the nation’s highest rates of poverty for both whites and Blacks. That led to many struggles of white workers and small farmers, some of whom inevitably united with Blacks who were fighting the same problems. An example arose during the Great Depression of the 1930s when Black and white sharecroppers built the Alabama Sharecroppers Union (ASU), led by an African American, Tommy Gray. Despite its heroic struggles, the ASU was crushed by the same old combination of KKK violence against Blacks, segregation, and government inaction.
A New Basis for Class Unity
Today we face a new situation. The high-tech world economy is step-by-step ending our ruling class’s ability to provide social bribery to mass sections of workers. They are being thrown into a new class that is forced to fight for whatever housing, healthcare, or education it needs. Now the motion towards class unity is unstoppable because it arises from this new material basis and is not just a good idea.
Automation of the means of producing goods is step-by-step, eliminating the jobs economy. Fascism is the only way the ruling class can maintain an economy of private ownership when the system of jobs, bribery, and capitalism itself is no longer sustainable.
Today, a new type of economic communism based on distribution according to need is no longer just a wish but is the only solution to the social crisis developing out of the death of capitalism. The new technology demands a new economic communist system that can ensure that it serves humanity’s needs.
The old is never abruptly replaced by the new, and class and color are intertwined. So the ruling class has not given up its use of color divisions and is escalating the attacks on “new class” African Americans by cops and pro-fascist gangs. But as in the war over Reconstruction, the attacks against Blacks have grown into violence against the entire class of all colors and nationalities.
Forms of discrimination are developing, which at first appear to only be about color differences but end up justifying violence against the “behavior” and “culture” of the whole new class. Our rulers bill it as defending families from homeless criminals, or an invasion of immigrants, or drug addicts. What’s really underway is a process of imposing a new form of racism on society as a whole.
But no matter how the ruling class attempts to divide the new class of workers being created by high-tech globalization, the reality is that this class can take no steps forward without resolving the problems that confront them as a whole.
We are dealing with a political question. Either the tiny fascist ruling class will violently maintain itself in power, or the emerging new class will unite to create a society that ensures economic survival and equality. Nurturing the seeds of class unity planted by our country’s past revolutionaries is the best way to celebrate Juneteenth. RC
May/June 2020. vol.30. Ed3
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011