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February 24, 2011

American Civil Wars: CW1.0 and CW2.0?

Recurring Wars.
Is it possible that some conflicts involve an initial war, a period of respite from armed conflict, followed by a second war which is actually a continuation of the first rather than a new conflict? Might they be considered as separate events at the time, and their continuity recognized only in hindsight?

How The Great War became World War One
In 1914 there was an industrialized war on a scale not seen before, and when people needed a name for it they called it The Great War.

In 1941 there was another tremendous conflict. Although it was not initially recognized, the eventual understanding that this was another in a series caused people to rename the Great War as World War I (WW1), and they called the second conflagration World War II (WW2). Historians suggest that WW2 was the denouement of the forces set loose in WW1 and codified in the Treaty of Versailles.

The American Civil Wars
In the 1860s the United States was split between North and South. The philosophical differences were manifest in their economic systems; the South was an agrarian economy based on racial slavery, and the North was an industrial economy based on intensive capital investment.

The schism resulted in war. Labels and names matter, and this war was called by many names. The Southern States (the Confederacy) referred to the conflict as the War Between the States, the War of Northern Aggression, the War of Secession, and as the War for Southern Independence (attempting to position the conflict as the second wave of the War for American Independence). Southern slaves referred to the conflict as the Freedom War.

The Northern States (the Union) referred to the conflict as the War of the Rebellion or the Great Rebellion. Internationally, the war was known as the American Civil War, and that name has become widely accepted.

  • Is it possible that we are in a second conflict, drawn along the same economic lines as the first civil war, which will require perspective and renaming to permit understanding in a new context?
  • Is it possible that 1861 was Civil War One (CW 1.0), and that in 2011 we are in Civil War Two (CW 2.0)?

Then and now, the South's economy is based on cheap, poorly educated, captive labor in an economic system where capital strives to keep labor costs low. Then and now, the North's economy is based on higher-cost labor balanced by increased capital investment and higher per-person productivity.

If economics is "war by other means", is the contemporary conflict in Northern states about the role of Unions actually the second round of the American Civil War? Consider these maps of the alignment of states in both CW1 (the first American Civil War) and the current pro-labor-union / anti-labor-union split:
Click to embiggen in a New Window

Both American Civil Wars are about Slavery.
The First Civil War was about Chattel Slaves.
The Second Civil War (CW 2.0) is about Wage Slaves.

Chattel slavery is a system under which people are treated as property and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation.

Wage slavery refers to a situation where a person's livelihood depends on wages rather than investments, gifts or other forms of remuneration, especially when the dependence is total and immediate. The term refers to an "
unequal bargaining situation between labor and capital
", particularly where workers are paid comparatively low wages. In wage slavery, work is compelled under economic threat of starvation or poverty, and also of social stigma or status diminution.

Which is preferable?
Granting that any form of slavery is an abomination, which is preferable, Chattel Slavery or Wage Slavery?
The [chattel] slave is sold once and for all; the proletarian (wage slave) must sell himself daily and hourly. The individual slave, property of one master, is assured an existence, however miserable it may be, because of the master's interest. The individual proletarian, property as it were of the entire bourgeois class which buys his labor only when someone has need of it, has no secure existence. (Karl Marx)
If you were operating behind the Veil of Ignorance, which would you choose? It's an interesting question.

Labor Unions in the North have kept the incomes and relative buying power of middle class workers higher than in the non-union South. Capital and Business have moved jobs away from the North to the South in pursuit of lower labor costs and less restrictive (right to work) legislation.

Over the decades, Capital and Corporations have reduced the presence of Unions in the private sector, and they are now preparing to reduce the presence of Unions in their last bastion, the public sector.

Could it be that the current wave of union-busting is a continuation of the First Civil War by other means? After the North abolished the South's Slavery, is the South about to abolish the North's Unions?

Maybe the Abolitionists aren't winning this time.


MH said...

Your analysis seems very incomplete by the fact that it is entirely domestic. The wage differential between the most lavishly funded union position and any low wage legal job in any U.S. state (and the illegal jobs that don’t involve actual physical coercion) is small in comparison to the difference between wages in the developed world and the undeveloped world. In other words, your “civil war” model really doesn’t work as only non-exportable jobs could be saved (and nearly all of those are public sector) by domestic unionization. That is, unless you are also calling for pulling out of NAFTA, GATT, and whatnot.

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