The first attempt to stage a Northern secession followed Thomas Jefferson’s 1803 Louisiana Purchase, which many in New England saw as spreading slavery and diluting Northern power. Timothy Pickering, a Massachusetts native who had served in cabinets under both Washington and Adams, called for “a new confederacy exempt from the corrupt and corrupting influences and oppression . . . of the South.”
Bringing in Cohen is a clever strategy, in vain, I fear. I have repeatedly suggested a look at The Last Revolution to Jacobin, to no avail. I have been canceled and won’t get a hearing. Lots of other places to get such a hearing. Clearly however, as I suspect, the ranks of Marxism are becoming aware of my critique. But does Jacobin seriously think that Cohen, analytical Marxism and/or the Western Marxists, despite impressive and intelligent work can really salvage Marxism as a theory of history? We are running out of time, we need a minimal package to construct socialism and postcapitalism. Surprisingly Marx eliminated himself and his many followers from being able to do that.
I have advised simply dropping historical materialism. Getting brilliant fellows like Cohen to waste their talents trying to reanimate that dead corpse is in the words of Patton in the Sahara battles, ‘a waste of fine infantry’. The relations of production theory is Marx’s innovation of theory and it doesn’t work. World history is far more complex than a machine of economic factors: it has religious, aesthetic, philosophical,political, etc, streams with their own dynamism. Examine world history: the relations of production are indeed an object of study but the analysis of Marx’s got lost in a woods, in part because he wanted to somehow guarantee that a communist stage would proceed from a capitalist stage. He may be right for an entirely different reason: capitalism is driving everyone including Mlle Gaia crazy and the only remedies are barbarism or some constructed version of a new society that doesn’t depend on capitalism. But there is no law of history that guarantees this. Socialism or communism have to be defined historically. Mlle Gaia can’t figure it out: we must create a postcapitalist vehicle that might take many forms and none of them are inevitable unless we create their future as free agents. Here Marxists are forever stuck in the limbo to which Karl Popper and Isaiah Berlin took and left them, egad, the Poverty of Historicism and Historical Inevitability, … But empirical studies of ‘relations of production’ as histories are eminently possible. Marxist have wasted all their time and never tried this approach and produced an immense literature of obsolete books on theory. Here to inject another opinion of mine: I would say that ‘starges of production’ theory can’t even explain slavery which is not a stage of production save empirically where it was a disease of civilization. The danger of Marx’s approach is seen here: it threatens to make a law of stages with aberrations of civilizations. History should have produced higher civilization without slavery, and we see however how the phenomenon took over the whole of occidental antiquity. There was nothing inevitable about bit. Note that at the dawn of Greek democracy Solon denounced slavery, to no avail.
In the end in the context of the eonic effect, abolition arose in the modern transition as a macro factor finally generated its abolition in the emergent factors of the modern transitions (which also at its fringes, e.g. the New World showed a near rebirth of slavery in relation to capitalism.
I cannot hope to talk Marxists out of their pet theories but I can suggest that Marx’s work is no longer popular and is now of little interest to the working class and/or anyone else.
We have a crisis that needs a new formulation. The abstruse versions of Marxism are too complicated and ended up in disastrous confusions. Marxism as this point is an immense charge of the light brigades and will end up eliminated from the path to a viable socialism which is not a Marxist monopoly.
Socialist philosopher G. A. Cohen was a brilliant thinker who subjected Marxism to the same scrutiny he would any other ideology. If you want to see Marxism at its most nondogmatic and precise, you should read G. A. Cohen.
I would like to read these books but they are too expensive, hardbacks are falling away from capitalist commerce these and even Kindle books are starting to appear free by the thousands at Amazon. Anyway the issue of the American revolution might benefit from comparison with the republics of Archaic Greece and in that context the birth of Athenian democracy. The birth of freedom ideologies could wait til the end of slavery, it arose in the midst of slavery and was thus imperfect, yet a first beach head for a new innovation. The resemblance to the American case is striking but we can see that the ancient example had seeded a legacy even if it confused the first rebs.
The battles over American history provoked during the latest national reckoning on race have focused heavily on the Revolution and the Civil War. As David
The film Spartacus is a reminder of something discussed in Decoding World History: slavery was a disease of civilization and doesn’t appear at the dawn of higher civilization in Sumer and early Egypt. We have images in mind of slaves building pyramids but at the start they were patriotic draftees. The exact history of slavery is not clear, but the modern world of abolition reminds of the now obvious: all the world done in work done in world history could have been done without slavery which has no teleological anything behind it while the issue of higher civilization itself is part of a larger macroevolution. It is surely false to say that slavery could only be overcome by the industrial revolution. The Christian world replaced slavery up to point but created a world along the lines of the code of Manu, peasant, lords, warriors, priests, with slavery still extant yet modulated in the medieval fantasy of Christians. In the core transitional zone of the modern transition abolition was roughly the case, but then capitalism starts a regression and in the frontier zones, e.g. America, the disease makes a comeback.
If the pyramids were originally constructed by free citizens the point is clear enough. History has two levels and in Athens we see the birth of eleutheria/democracy even as slavery is growing cancerous in the occident to the point of the terminal depravity of Rome. We note this strange set of layers and be mindful that our liberation in the future is being prepared now, and in fact already exists, even as civilization seems to be passing into another endemic disease. But we don’t have option of waiting two millennia for liberation from capitalism. Socialists arose at the dawn of capitalism and sounded the warning: do it now at the birth of capitalism. So far no such chance.
Unfortunately, we don’t quite have a sufficient database for world history to fully explore such questions. Yet slavery reminds us that most of history is a series of mistakes, deviations, and immense delusion. Higher civilization emerges and slowly but surely begins to deviate into slavery (the origin in some accounts is from prisoners of war) and this becomes endemic to the point that the era of Rome and its passing republic is a tragedy of history. It is no accident that a movement of liberation in the form of religion emerges at this point. But Christianity is a very ambiguous entity in this regard and very soon is part of the problem: no Spartacus there.
One can recommend a close study of the eonic model to come to see something unnerving: homo sapiens invented slavery as a disease of civilization and was unable to extricate himself from that without external macro processes, the eonic model and its transitions. It is again no accident that slavery is abolished directly in the period of the modern transition, and close to its divide point. The model discusses the divide point ca. the generation around 1800 and here we see an immense cluster of revolutionary potentials, the French Revolution, feminism a divide bullseye, the American democratic start, capitalism/industrialization, and notably the abolitionist movement, and then the rise of socialism and world of Marx/Engels. And much much more. Some mysterious macro effect is directly associated with the passage from slavery. It is as if civilization can actually get underway, finally. But a new problem arises: capitalist exploitation and the capture of the state by capitalists. Although the issue of capitalism is different from slavery we should see the resemblance and take the warning that capitalism against protest from various versions of the left is becoming endemic in civilization in a mixed set of pluses and minuses, but as a dominant new disease of civilization, even in concert with its benefits. In the final analysis, the minuses are in danger of coming to the fore and we see that capitalism is becoming a danger to civilization itself. The rise of the spectrum of the left we should note is also a macro-eonic effect and the resolution of the capitalist issue at its core remains to be solved. But so far capitalism has moved to destroy the left, so far. Figures like Marx, and the early socialists, are world-historical in their core relevance. The core of his generation’s gestation of the modern left is also a macro effect. Man has to be taught class struggle. In any case, we must as we pass further and further from the modern transition be mindful of degenerating capitalism becoming endemic. It may simply end in chaos, and if the Bolsonaro’s can simply declare war against the Amazon basin then we see an endgame. But the point here is that while the issue of capitalism was ambiguous from the start it is also cursed from the start with a jeckyl/hyde fate as its malevolent forms turn like slavery into a disease of civilization. It is hard to see how the modern brand of endemic capitalism can be overcome, but it may be doomed to self-destruction.