This year is the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War – one of the most significant world-historic events of the nineteenth century. At the cost of some 600,000 lives, President Abraham Lincoln closed the final chapter of the American Revolution, extending freedom to nearly 4 million slaves in the process.
It was the greatest expropriation of property the world had ever seen.
The irrepressible conflict between the archaic slave system of the American South and modern industrial capitalism in the North ultimately underlays the destruction of the social and political fabric which had been established by the Founding Fathers some 70 years prior.
The “peculiar institution” was defended by a rapacious and increasingly aggressive slavocracy which would brook no incursion into its historically condemned mode of production. Compromise after compromise with this politically powerful minority continually hampered the nation’s social progress.
The Election of 1860 demonstrated the fundamental conflict could no longer be resolved within the framework of bourgeois democracy. When the American people expressed their will through the election of the anti-slavery Lincoln, the Southern Slaveholders chose to secede.
Within six weeks of Lincoln’s inauguration the 11 slave states of the Confederacy launched an attack against the U.S. Government at Fort Sumter.
A century-and-a-half later, the United States is being held ransom by a new super-minority – a financial aristocracy – which has amassed unheard-of wealth in its hands over the past four decades and wields an effective stranglehold over all political life.
Like the slavocracy before it, this tiny layer will accept not the slightest measure which impinges on its interests. Neither the smallest tax increase nor symbolic regulation is permissible to it.
The power of this social layer was displayed openly during the summer’s debt ceiling debate when the Standard & Poor’s rating agency, functioning as their representative, downgraded the U.S. credit rating after Washington delivered only $1.5 trillion in budget cuts instead of the $4 trillion demanded by the agency in the spring.
The veto was cast. Now President Obama is openly calling for the so-called super-committee to shoot for $4 trillion in cuts.
In 1860, American society was unable to progress any further without the destruction of slavery. When it was clear the minority of slaveholders would rather shipwreck the nation before conceding their interests, the emancipation was carried out by force.
Due to a unique set of historic circumstances, it was still possible 150 years ago for the American bourgeoisie to produce a figure such as Lincoln who was capable of rallying the nation behind a common progressive cause. And the destruction of slavery was a cause truly in the interests of all society’s classes.
Since then, the class divide of American society has become deep and pronounced. The faint awakening to this fact is being expressed in the ubiquitous “we are the 99 percent” slogan of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Under such conditions, the ruling class of contemporary America is organically incapable of producing a Lincoln-type figure around which the nation can be rallied. Not only has this class exhausted its progressive role in history, it is also tied to the financial aristocracy by a thousand threads with interests which are hostile to those of the working majority.
No one today would question the morality or legality of yesterday’s great forced expropriation of property – the freeing of 4 million human beings from brutal degradation.
While not slavery in the traditional form, today tens of millions of Americans are unemployed, homeless, hungry and condemned to a life of destitution. The resources to free them from these degrading conditions exist. But they will not be given; they must be taken.
This author could not think of a more morally justified cause.
We must simply ask ourselves, “What would Lincoln do?”