Social Democrats and Revolution

In 1883 Georgi Valentinovich Plekhanov, son of a prosperous country gentleman, founded the first Russian Marxist movement and dominated it for over twenty years.  Coming from the country where many revolutionary leaders originated rather than cities, he was turned to radical politics as a student. He formed a “Liberation of Labor” group whose principal object was to systematically apply Marxism to the Russian scene.  

Plekhanov believed that Russia would have to become industrialized in order to produce a proletariat, a working class, before Czarism could be overthrown. Only the workers could produce a revolution. The Narodniks had a different view, opposed the capitalistic and industrial path of eventual revolution, holding that “serfdom to socialism” was more direct.

Karl Marx was a contributor to Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune before the war, promoted Lincoln’s cause in Europe and penned supportive letters to both Lincoln and his successor, Andrew Johnson. Marx saw the industrialized North as fertile ground for a socialist proletariat, and black people as workers to be organized against capitalism.

Social Democrats and Revolution

“One starts to see here the beginnings of a future rivalry; the Marxists with their emphasis on the industrial worker and the Narodniks with their emphasis on the peasants. It was Plekhanov, presiding over his revolutionary court in Geneva, who most rapidly began to gain ground.  In his writings he urged that terrorism was a secondary weapon; the main object was to set up a socialist organization among the working class in Russia, to train agitators, to stimulate strikes and demonstrations, and to spread Marxist ideas through the illegal printing press.

Soon small groups of his followers began to form in the principal cities in Russia. They called themselves Social Democrats.

Neither Marx nor Engels, moreover, had thought very highly of the Russians. Marx was particularly trenchant about them. “I do not trust any Russian,” he once wrote Engels. Russia, in any case, Marx thought, still had a long way to go before it achieved socialism; he had much better hopes of the United States where “the masses are quicker.”

(The Russian Revolution, Alan Morehead, Bantam Books, 1959, excerpts pp. 35-36)

If Our Enemies Prevail

Prominent South Carolina theologian James H. Thornwell saw the sectional conflict as not being merely between abolitionists an slaveholders,” but waged on one side by “athiests, socialists, communists, red Republicans and Jacobins, and the other by the “friends of order and regulated freedom. In one word, the world is the battleground and Christianity and Atheism the combatants.” Thornwell saw the progress of humanity as being at stake in the war.  Among Lincoln’s staunchest supporters were Karl Marx, many influential German revolutionaries who had fled the failed socialist revolutions of 1840s Europe, and New England utopians.

If Our Enemies Prevail

“Some Southerners saw such deception [as Lincoln’s] coming, James H. Thornwell, a prominent Presbyterian preacher and seminary professor in South Carolina, predicted if the South were defeated, then the North would not only revolutionize “the whole character of the government” from ‘a federal republic, the common agent of the sovereign and independent States’ to a “central despotism, with the notion of States forever abolished,’ but also would brand the South with the stigma of slavery:

“And what have we to expect if our enemies prevail? Our homes, too, are to be pillaged, our cities and property confiscated, our true men hanged, and those who escape the gibbet, to be driven as vagabonds and wanderers in foreign climes. This beautiful country is to pass out of our hands. The boundaries which mark our States are, in some instances, to be effaced, and the State that remain are to be converted into subject provinces, governed by Northern rulers and by Northern laws.

Our property is to be ruthlessly seized and turned over to mercenary strangers, in order to pay the enormous debt which our subjugation has cost. Our wives and daughters are to become the prey of brutal lust. The slave, too, will slowly pass away, as the red man did before him, under the protection of Northern philanthropy; and the whole country, now like the Garden of Eden in beauty and fertility, will first be a blackened and smoking desert, and then the minister of Northern cupidity and avarice.

There is not a single redeeming feature in the picture of ruin which stares us in the face, if we permit ourselves to be conquered.  It is a night of thick darkness that will settle upon us. Even sympathy, the last solace of the afflicted, will be denied to us.  The civilized world will look coldly upon us, and even jeer us with the taunt that we have deservedly lost our own freedom in seeking to perpetuate the slavery of others.

We shall perish under a cloud of reproach and of unjust suspicions, sedulously propagated by our enemies, which will be harder to bear than the loss of home and of goods. Such a fate never overtook any people before.”

(From Founding Fathers to Fire Eaters: The Constitutional Doctrine of States’ Rights in the Old South, James Rutledge Roesch, Shotwell Publishing, 2018, excerpt pp. xiv-xv)  

The Covenant with Power

In Woodrow Wilson’s call for a declaration of war against Germany, he spoke of freedom of the seas yet was silent on Britain’s blockade of Europe. He also proclaimed self-determination as a great principle while declaring Irish independence as irrelevant and avoiding the question of Southern self-determination 56 years earlier in his own country. Senator Robert LaFollette wrote of Wilson: “I sometimes think the man has no sense of things that penetrate below the surface.  With him, the rhetoric of a thing is the thing itself.  Words, phrases, felicity of expression and a blind egotism have been his stock in trade.”

The Covenant with Power

 “If the United States had refused to intervene in 1917, would a German victory in 1918 have been a better historical alternative? The answer is debatable.

What would have happened if Wilson had taken William Jennings Bryan’s advice and practiced real rather than sham neutrality? Without the backing of American weaponry, munitions and loans, the Allies would have been forced to abandon their goal of the knockout blow. The war might have ended in 1916 with a negotiated peace based on a mutual admission that the conflict had become a stalemate.  As a genuine neutral, Wilson might have even have persuaded both sides to let him be a mediator.

Lloyd George’s argument – that unless the United States intervened, Wilson would have no place at the peace table – was specious at best. Both sides would have needed America’s wealth and industrial resources to rebuild their shattered economies.

A victorious Germany would have no need of political adventurers such as Adolf Hitler. Nor would this counterfactual Germany have inserted the Bolsheviks into Russia and supported them with secret-service money.  Lenin and Trotsky might have agitated in a political vacuum in Switzerland unto a crabbed old age. The war created the collapse that gave Bolshevism its seventy-year reign of blood and terror.

Perhaps the best way to look at Woodrow Wilson’s tragically flawed intervention in World War I is, in the words of the historian Lloyd C. Gardner, as a covenant with power. Painfully, with mistakes aplenty, the United States recognized that power is at the heart of history.

At the Paris Peace Conference, Wilson discovered limitations to America’s power . . . [especially those that] lay in the prime illusion of idealism – the expectation that noble words can easily be translated into meaningful realities.

Woodrow Wilson struggled with his inadvertent covenant with power. Like Lincoln, who suspended habeas corpus and jailed [thousands] of dissenters during the Civil War, Wilson tolerated a brutally realistic government of the home front.”

(The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I, Thomas Fleming, Basic Books, 2003, excerpts pp. 480-482)

Satisfying the Philanthropists

Augustus Charles Hobart-Hampden was a British naval officer who served in the suppression of the slave trade prior to the American Civil War, and then became a blockade runner under the pseudonym “Captain Roberts,” running the blockade successfully twenty-seven times. He authored the postwar book, “Never Caught.”

Hobart-Hampden wrote of delivering the human cargo of a captured slaver to British authorities, who would feed and clothe the Africans, and then serve seven years as apprentices – which he compared to a form of slavery itself – and after which they were free. He added: “I fear they generally used their freedom in a way that made them a public nuisance wherever they were. However, they were free, and that satisfied the philanthropists.”

Satisfying the Philanthropists

It was at the time when philanthropists of Europe were crying aloud for the abolition of the African slave trade, never taking for a moment into consideration the fact that the state of the savage African black population was infinitely bettered by their being conveyed out of the misery and barbarism of their own country, introduced to civilization, given opportunities of embracing religion, and taught that to kill and eat each other was not to be considered as the principal pastime among human beings.

At the period I allude to (from 1841 to 1845) the slave trade was carried out on a large scale between the coast of Africa and South America; and a most lucrative trade it was, if the poor devils of Negroes could be safely conveyed alive from one coast to another.

I say if, because the risk of capture was so great that the poor wretches, men, women and children, were packed like herrings in the holds of the fast little sailing vessels employed, and to such a fearful extent was this packing carried on that, even if the vessels were not captured, more than half the number of blacks embarked died from suffocation or disease before arriving at their destination, yet that half was sufficient to pay handsomely those engaged in the trade.

On this point I propose giving examples and proofs hereafter, merely remarking, en passant, that had the Negroes been brought over in vessels that were not liable to be chased and captured, the owners of such vessels would naturally, considering the great value of their cargo, have taken precautions against overcrowding and disease.

Now, let us inquire as to the origin of these poor wretched Africans becoming slaves, and of their being sold to the white man. It was, briefly speaking, in this wise.

On a war taking place between two tribes in Africa, a thing of daily occurrence, naturally many prisoners were made on both sides. Of these prisoners those who were not tender enough to be made into ragout were taken down to the sea coast and sold to the slave dealers, who had wooden barracks established ready for their reception.

Into these barracks, men, women and children, most of whom were kept in irons to prevent escape, were bundled like cattle, there to await embarkation on board the vessels that would convey them across the sea.

Perhaps while on their way [to Brazil the loaded slaver] was chased by an English cruiser, in which case, so it has often been known to happen, a part of the living cargo would be thrown overboard, trusting that the horror of leaving human beings to be drowned would compel the officers of the English cruiser to slacken their speed while picking the poor wretches up, and thus giving the slaver a better chance of escape.”  

(Hobart Pasha; Blockade-Running, Slaver-Hunting, and War and Sport in Turkey, Augustus Charles Hobart-Hampden, Horace Kephart, editor, Outing Publishing, 1915, excerpts pp. 60-68)

Merchant of Terror

To his brother John Sherman on October 1, 1862, General W.T. Sherman wrote:

“I rather think you now agree with me that this is no common war — that it was not going to end in a few months or a few years. For after eighteen months the enemy is actually united, armed and determined, with powerful forces well-handled, disciplined and commanded on the Potomac, the Ohio, the Missouri. I knew, and know yet, that the Northern people have to unlearn all their experiences of the past thirty years and be born again before they will see the truth.”

Property destruction was not the complete answer. Sherman was convinced of this, since the “guerilla” attacks continued even after the example offered in the fate meted out to Randolph. There was something lacking – an element to complete the new concept of war – if the part played by the people of the South was to be eliminated.  With acceptance of the fact that destruction of property was not the final answer, Sherman’s mind leaped the gap and seized on the solution – terrorism. 

He would so thoroughly inject the shock of fear into the South that it would lead to its complete demoralization. Such demoralization would work like a slow poison, resulting in the paralysis of the Confederate armies through wholesale desertions of men returned home to assure the safety of their families. More important, dread would so sicken the people of the South that they would clamor for cessation, and to obtain relief they would exert every pressure on their government to end the war.

Here then, in Memphis, was the mold made. The months ahead would see it filled in: it would harden into the completed philosophy of total war, employing a program of devastation and waste, the turning loose on the countryside of a horde of pillagers and looters who would do their work systematically and well.”

(Merchant of Terror: General Sherman and Total War, John Bennett Walters, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1973, excerpt pp. 65-66)

Hooded Capitals of the Nation

A review of Kenneth T. Jackson’s “The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915-1930” (Oxford University Press, 1967) noted the commonly held view that Klan membership drew from older American stock “from villages and small towns.” Two studies published in 1965 disputed this interpretation – Charles C. Alexander’s “The Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest” and David Chalmer’s “Hooded Americanism.  

Jackson wrote that the primary reason why the Klan attracted membership was the fear of “change that would destroy the traditional values, religion and way of life of an older America.” It should be noted that the Klan of 1915 that marched with US flags, bore little if any resemblance to the original of the late 1860s, and which carried no flag.

“Ragen’s Colts” below, originated as the athletic club of pitcher Frank Ragen, who hired out team members to Chicago Democrat politicians to facilitate various forms of election fraud.

Hooded Capitals of the Nation

 “The Klan’s major source of membership and influence, these authors asserted, was in American cities. Jackson’s most significant contribution [is] his analysis of the sources of Klan membership and the motivation of its members. Of the more than 2,000,000 people who became affiliated with the Invisible Empire between 1915 and 1944, at least 50 percent lived in cities with populations exceeding 50,000 [and] a majority had probably lived in cities for years.

The “hooded capitals of the nation,” Jackson has observed, were Indianapolis, Dayton, Portland, Oregon, Youngstown, Denver and Dallas, for in these cities large proportions of the people became Klansmen. The Klan also gained many thousands of recruits and temporary political power in Northern metropolises like Chicago and Detroit as well as in the Southern cities of Atlanta, Knoxville and Memphis.

Chief among the culprits were Catholic and Jewish immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, and Negroes from the South.  It is interesting to note that anti-Catholicism was the primary impetus to Klan growth, and that the notion of white supremacy was not seriously challenged even by many organizations that opposed the Klan.  In 1919 for example, the Ragen’s Colts, a gang of Irish youth in Chicago assaulted Negroes viciously on numerous occasions. Two years later the Colts hanged in effigy “a white sheeted Klansman.”

Jackson’s purpose is not to revile the Klansmen as fanatics, but rather to explain the popular appeal of the Klan and to provide a narrative of its rise and fall. Klansmen dreamed of restoring the social cohesion they thought had once existed in America. It sought assiduously to project the image of itself as the champion of morality and “law and order.”

(Journal of Negro History, William M. Brewer, editor, Volume LIII, Number 2, April, 1968, excerpts pp. 102-103)

Lee’s Only Chance

Though Lincoln doubted that he would be reelected in 1864, and was heard to state that he hoped another Republican would replace him as he feared being imprisoned by a Democrat for his numerous unconstitutional acts, his Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana said “the whole power of the War Department was used to secure Lincoln’s re-election in 1864.” By that time there were far too many whose careers and wealth depended upon the powerful centralized government Lincoln had created, and which the Radical Republicans wanted to rule.

The starving, ragged soldiers of Lee and Johnston were the last remaining barriers to full Radical control of the destiny of the “nation conceived in liberty” declared at Gettysburg in November 1863.  

Lee’s Only Chance

“In Lee’s ranks there was less fear of Grant than of that grim enemy, hunger. George Cary Eggleston [A Rebel’s Recollections] reports the rigid economies in food which his men practiced; then he adds:

“Hunger to starving men is wholly unrelated to the desire for food as that is commonly understood and felt. It is a great agony of the whole body and the soul as well. It is unimaginable, all-pervading pain inflicted when the strength to endure pain is utterly gone. It is a great despairing cry of a wasting body – a cry of flesh and blood, marrow, nerves, bones, and faculties for strength with which to exist and to endure existence. It is a horror which, once suffered, leaves an impression that is never erased from memory, and to this day the old agony of that campaign comes back upon me at the mere thought of any living creature’s lacking the food it desires, even though its hunger be only the ordinary craving and the denial be necessary for the creature’s health.”

In the whole campaign from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, the Union losses were 55,000, nearly as much as Lee’s whole army. Grant, however, could find new recruits; he was amply reinforced; and he had no embarrassment from the lack of food or equipment. As a defensive accomplishment in fighting off superior numbers, the campaign stands as a significant chapter in Confederate annals.

Confederate losses in the Wilderness campaign were proportionally heavier than those of Grant, behind whom stood the North with its numbers, wealth, organization, and equipment.  Lee’s chance of conquering the Northern armies had gone.  His only chance was in the doubtful hope that a stout and desperate defense, if continued long enough, would wear down the Northern will to fight, produce Lincoln’s defeat in the election of 1864, and by the sheer force of war weariness bring peace on terms acceptable to the South.”

(The Civil War and Reconstruction, James G. Randall, D.C. Heath and Company, 1937, excerpts pp. 544-547)

Unceasing Blows and Sheer Attrition

In early May 1864, Grant moved across the Rapidan River in Virginia to pass quickly through the Wilderness before giving battle. Instead, there he lost some 26,000 men in the dense thickets. On June 3rd Grant lost “more men in the eight minutes of hottest fighting than in any period of the war.”  Though this carnage intensified the peace movement in the North, Lincoln provided Grant with an endless supply of immigrants, substitutes and conscripted men to continue this fearful slaughter. Lincoln, despite ruling the North with near-dictatorial powers, was well-aware 1864 was an election year and victories at any cost were needed before November.

Unceasing Blows and Sheer Attrition

“With the spring of 1864, the war entered a new phase. Union victories in the West had cut deeply into the economic and military strength of the Confederacy.  They had done more, for they had associated the names of Grant and his lieutenants with a habit of mind which connoted aggressiveness, strategy on a large scale, and victory.

It was not that Grant was a supreme master of the “science of war,” nor even that he merited full credit for the victories under his command . . . It was rather that a situation had been reached where, with Northern recruiting, Confederate depletion, and Grant’s sledge-hammer blows, the essential conditions of Union triumph had been presented.

Almost immediately [after Grant’s elevation to lieutenant-general] the final grand strategy of the war began to unfold itself, a strategy by which Grant used his numerical superiority and plunged ruthlessly ahead in Virginia, losing an enormous number of men, but wearing out the Confederates by sheer attrition; while in the lower South Sherman attained unenviable laurels by destroying vast amounts of food and other supplies in his “march” through Georgia and the Carolinas.  

It was by these unceasing blows at the heart of the Confederacy that the war, which had dragged on indecisively for three years, was brought to an end in 1865.”

(The Civil War and Reconstruction, James G. Randall, D.C. Heath and Company, 1937, excerpts pp. 539-543)

Perpetuating Sectionalism

Louisiana’s tragic experience in defeat and Reconstruction produced a remarkable carpetbag governor, Henry Clay Warmoth of Illinois. One of his most notable utterances was “I don’t pretend to be honest . . . I only pretend [to be as] honest as anybody in politics . . . why, damn it, everybody is demoralized down here. Corruption is the fashion.” It has been noted that Warmoth amassed a million dollar fortune while governor with a salary of $8,000 per year.

Perpetuating Sectionalism

“From the time that Benjamin F. Butler’s troops marched into New Orleans on May 1, 1862, until the inauguration of Francis T. Nichols in 1877, Louisiana was under the heel of an oppressive radical regime.  Self-government ceased; only the Negroes, white scalawags, and carpetbaggers had voting rights. Military rule was, in effect, martial law, and whatever could not be gained politically was accomplished with the bayonet. Black votes were manipulated, and the State legislature soon comprised a great number of illiterate Negroes who did the bidding of their new masters.

US Grant . . . was a weak president, and willingly or not, he became the tool of the radical Congress. He associated himself with a group of disreputable financiers and politicians. His administration brought ruin and anarchy by overturning a society and offering no substitute for social groundwork.

The Reconstruction policy of the Radical Republicans, to which Grant gave his full support, assured the supremacy of the Northern mercantile and industrial classes in the councils of the nation. But it also created a defensive unity among the people of the South, and it kept alive the hatred between the two sections of the country.

A climate of hate, political vindictiveness, and class distinction raged, with Negroes as the political pawns. The Republican-dominated legislature passed an act making service in the “Louisiana Native Guard” compulsory for all able-bodied citizens between eighteen and forty-five. Since the organization excluded disenfranchised whites, it was a black militia. In some instances these troops were used to terrorize white communities.

Meanwhile, the average black farmer, who had been promised forty acres and a mule, received nothing. Most relied upon their former masters for succor or advice, and often freed slaves and their former masters weathered this troubled era together.”

(Louisiana Legacy: A History of the State National Guard, Evans J. Casso, Pelican Publishing, 1976, excerpt pp. 90-91)

Diversity Among Louisiana Slave Owners

It was not uncommon for Northerners to own Southern plantations worked by black slaves. Obviously the climate in the South allowed a longer growing season and larger acreage than available in Northern States, and New Englanders were already familiar with black slave labor in their own State, as well as their infamous transatlantic slave trade.  Further, Massachusetts mills since the War of 1812 needed slave-produced cotton which perpetuated African slavery in this country.

 Diversity Among Louisiana Slave Owners

“By the time of the Civil War, Louisiana’s population exceeded 700,000, of which almost half were black slaves or freedmen. A review of the census during the period immediately prior to the Civil War reveals some interesting facts.

There were 13,500 plantations and farms owned by Anglo-Saxon Protestants, French and Spanish Catholics, Jews and Negroes. There were approximately 1,640 large slaveholders who tilled 10 percent of the total acreage planted. A large slaveholder was one who owned 50 or more slaves. Therefore, 90 percent of the planted acreage in Louisiana was farmed by small slaveholders, non-slaveholders, and free blacks.

There were Negro slaveholders throughout the South but more in Louisiana than any other State.  In 1830 there were 10 Negroes who had 50 or more slaves. By 1860, only 6, who together owned 493 slaves or an average of 82 each. There were a considerable number of Negro slave owners who were not classed as large slaveholders; Natchitoches parish for instance had 14 Negro slaveholders.

Many Northerners and Europeans who had money to invest settled Louisiana to enjoy its prosperity. The census reveals that in 1850 among the largest slaveholders were 9 from Connecticut; 9 from Massachusetts; 7 from Ohio, 6 from Missouri; 6 from New Hampshire; 5 from Maine; 4 from Indiana; 4 from New Jersey; 3 from Vermont; 1 from Delaware; 2 from Rhode Island; 2 from the District of Columbia; 17 from Pennsylvania; 20 from New York; 33 from Maryland; 12 from Ireland; 6 from Scotland; 5 from England; 2 from Germany; 2 from Santo Domingo; 1 from Canada; 1 from Austria, 1 from Wales; 1 from Jamaica; and 17 from France.

The attraction to Louisiana was the same as it is today – prosperity. The ancient plantation system, patterned after the English manorial system, found its ultimate fruition in the South and especially in Louisiana.  

Fewer than one-third of the men who fought for the South during the Civil War came from families who had slaves. Therefore one can readily dismiss the idea that every Confederate was a planter sipping bourbon or gin on his spacious veranda while his minions in the field brought in his wealth. The majority of Southern people were hard-working small farmers, carving a niche in the wilderness, intent upon attaining some security in a troublesome world.

Emotional Northerners, reflected the claim that the war was fought solely for slavery. But Lincoln himself stated that if it would save the Union, he would rather see the United States all-slave, part-slave or slave-free, depending on the recipe needed for the preservation of the United States. Even the Emancipation Proclamation clearly exempted those Southern Sates held by Union forces.”

(Louisiana Legacy: A History of the State National Guard, Evans J. Casso, Pelican Publishing, 1976, excerpt pp. 76-77)

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