Tuesday, November 29, 2011

They Don’t Call them the “Dark Ages” for Nothing

The Dark Side of Christian History, By Helen Ellerbe, 1995

This short history of the truly dark ages, written by a pagan feminist, reminds us what Christianity did to Western civilization over a long, long period. This is not pretty stuff. And I quote Ellerbe: “As it took over leadership in Europe and the Roman Empire collapsed, the Church all but wiped out education, technology, science, medicine, history, art and commerce.” Nice. And not for 20 years either. Elements of direct Church rule lasted from its embrace by Emperor Constantine around 324 A.D. (sic) to the last of the Inquisition and witch hunts in the late 1700s.

Orthodox Christianity, as Ellerbe calls it, sold its soul when it became the official doctrine of the Roman Empire. The many tendencies of Christianity were crushed into one by people like Saint Augustine. Ellerbe seems to be a sort of early semi-Christian pagan, who feels affinity for the Gnostics, Kabbalism and Mary Magdalene, all extirpated from the official Bible. Echoing Nietzsche, she details the Catholic, and later Protestant, assault on human enjoyments like dancing, sex, drinking, theater, art, reading, nature and love, replacing them with the authoritarian principles of male chauvinism, obedience, fear and punishment. Which, as she uncharacteristically points out, any ruling class in the world would appreciate – especially the Kings and barons of Europe.

Ellerbe details the destruction of Jews, ‘witches’ and heretics brought about by the Inquisitions and the witch trials. She points out that book burning was also a method to combat heresy, which certainly sounds familiar. The trials were many times for material gain, as Inquisitors were allowed to seize the land and property of those condemned. The exact number of dead is unknown, but Ellerbe estimates in the millions. The Church openly authorized the holy use of bloody force and torture against ‘sinners’ and pagans. It also contributed to the spread of the Black Plague by opposing cleanliness, killing cats and dogs that were thought to be 'allies' of witches, and opposing any medical treatment but bleeding.

Ellerbe interprets the Crusades as part of the Church’s attempt to solidify its hold over Europeans by forging an alliance against the evil ‘Muslims’ – who, while obscurantist in their own way, did not drop to the depths of brutality as did the Church. Though a similar history could be written about the bloody rule of another group of desert fundamentalists, let's say the Saudi Wa'hhabists. The rape of Constantinople in 1204 stands as a monument to that most Christian ferocity. The Church destroyed the Carthars of southern France's Languedoc region in the Albigensian crusade, as they differed with the Catholics in a more liberal direction. Up to a million people of southern France were killed over 30 years of war, depopulating that part of France for many years.

Even Martin Luther’s attempt to correct the Catholic Church in 1517 did not really take Christianity in a new direction. Luther was as pro-Augustine and anti-Jewish as the next Catholic, and Ellerbe puts both trends in the same camp of orthodox Christianity. Ellerbe quotes Luther as calling for Jews to be enslaved or thrown out of “Christian lands;” that their ghettos and synagogues should be burned. In seems very clear that Nazi ideology in the 1930s was nothing but a return to earlier forms of Christianity. The 30-Years War was fought directly over Catholic/Protestant issues. The massacre of 10,000 Protestants on St. Bartholomew’s Day in France was more of the same. The founding of the U.S. by Protestant fundamentalists at Plymouth Colony and Boston would become a death knell for Native Americans. The first Thanksgiving was an accidental blip that Pilgrim colonists made up for 16 years later when they took revenge on a Pequot village of 400 souls over land issues, butchering all.

The Witch Hunts, which still existed in the U.S. in 1692, only ended in the late 1700s in Europe. They focused on women, who were many times mid-wives or carriers of herbal medical knowledge, both which threatened the Church. Ellerbe contends that the witch hunts destroyed Western herbal medical knowledge, and this accounts for why the tradition almost died out. Witches were burned, tortured, sexually abused – even girls as young as 9.5 years old could be accused. Ellerbe points out that, “Areas of political turmoil and religious strife experienced the most intense witch hunts.” Poor, older women – the classic knowledgeable ‘crone’ – were first and easy targets. The witch trial was both Catholic and Protestant church official policy. Figures of witch killings listed in Wikipedia are large undercounts, according to Ellerbe. She cites one Bishop of Wurtzberg who claimed 1,900 lives in 5 years, and a Lutheran prelate, Benedict Carpzov, who claimed to have sentenced 20,000 ‘devil worshipers.’ Orthodox Christian ideology made both the existence of God and the Devil necessary, and certainly, the devil must have his minions.

Ellerbe goes on to deal with the modern world, and in this part of the book, she fails. She spends time denouncing Darwin for being a ‘social Darwinist” (he wasn’t), ignoring his actual scientific accomplishments. She also denounces pre-Einstein science as purely a continuation of orthodox Christianity, due to its alleged infatuation with controlling nature. However, the scientific method has nothing to do with 'controlling nature.' She should note that it is scientists who are at present leading the fight against religious obscurantism's hostility to global warming, and in favor of environmentalism. It might be noted philosophically that Ellerbe’s pagan idealism is closer to Christianity in method than to science, and that it is she who shares the irrational mysticism of the fundamentalist Christlian, though in a different form.

Ellerbe promotes circular time as the correct and 'natural' way to view the world, all based on the seasons. She criticizes the concept of linear time promoted by religion, science and watches. However, she seems to be unfamiliar with the notion of spiral time, which more closely corresponds to the dialectical interplay of nature and linearity, combining the two concepts. After all, even in nature, every year is not the same - the theory of the anthropocene chronological period we are in shows that nature is not merely 'circular.' And as we know, time sometimes runs backwards in society in an historic and economic sense. Of course, for each individual, the clock always 'ticks.'

Ellerbe has no economic analysis whatsoever of the whole period of the dark ages, as if Catholicism and Protestantism happened in a material void. As a result, she cannot account for orthodox Christianity's relation to slave or peasant society or the birth of capitalism. Elerbe is an idealist who believes that the ‘divine’ needs to be wrestled away from the church. She believes that the source of orthodox Christianity was (and is) only a ‘belief structure’ and an ‘ideology’ held by evidently 'bad' or 'incorrect' people – and has nothing to do with material economic reality.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!

Red Frog, November 29, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Third Rail: The American Class Structure

Namoi Wolf - Guardian, November 26, 2011 - Excerpts:

  • “Wonkette and Washingtonsblog.com reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on "how to suppress" Occupy protests."

  • "As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels."

  • "For the terrible insight to take away from news that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a violent crackdown is that the DHS does not freelance. The DHS cannot say, on its own initiative, "we are going after these scruffy hippies". Rather, DHS is answerable up a chain of command: first, to New York Representative Peter King, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, who naturally is influenced by his fellow congressmen and women's wishes and interests. And the DHS answers directly, above King, to the president ..."

  • "Our system of government prohibits the creation of a federalized police force, and forbids federal or militarized involvement in municipal peacekeeping.

  • "So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organized suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. Occupy has touched the third rail: personal congressional profits streams.”

  • Red Frog, November 27, 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

No Turkey Pardoned Dept: Wouldn’t You Love to Be Locked in a Cage?

“Fear of the Animal Planet – the Hidden History of Animal Resistance,” by Jason Hribal, 2010

In this somewhat poorly-organized book, Hribal nevertheless takes a topic that few have dealt with – basically, what animals think of confinement and overwork. As you might guess, they do not like it any more than humans enjoy a tiny uncomfortable cell or heart attacks. While this might be obvious to vegetarians or environmentalists, it is not to some people. Of course, if you own a dog, or live on a farm, you might have an inkling. Animals think, have feelings like pain, have a social life, have memories, use tools, and have strengths that humans do not, like a dog’s sense of smell, a cheetah’s swiftness, or a gorilla’s strength. In essence, the difference between ‘animals’ and humans is many times quantitative, not qualitative. Marx drew the qualitative distinction at the ability of humans to ‘create’ and produce. However, humans are actually animals too. In spite of this, philosophers like St. Augustine called for the trial and execution of animals for ‘crimes,’ Rene Descartes’ believed that animals were ‘machines’ and Adam Smith thought they were ‘property.’ Of course, capital believes humans are variations of all three.

Hribal focuses on animals caged in zoos, aquatic parks, circuses, breeding farms and research facilities, calling many animals by their human-given names. He tells the stories of elephants, gorillas, orcas, orangutans, chimpanzees, polar bears, tigers, sea lions and dolphins who have attacked their ‘trainers’ or keepers, or even strangers who have harassed them. The animals do not normally attack randomly – they actually seek out those who have harmed them. The dirty secret is that zoos, circuses and aquatic parks almost never admit what has really happened – everything is an ‘accident’ or just ‘acting up’ – when the real cause is confinement, control and its consequences. Hribal also details innumerable escape attempts by animals. Even though they know the sometimes deadly consequences of escape, they do it anyway, preferring that to continuing caged labor. The orangutans are so intelligent that they pick locks, observe when electricity is accidentally shut off on fences, and have even ‘shorted out’ an electric fence to escape.

One of Hribal’s continuing points is that not only are these animals caged, but they are also working animals who earn thousands or millions of dollars for their owners, in exchange for a pittance of fish or straw. And, like humans, the animals are nearly always overworked – sometimes to sickness and sometimes to death. Remember "Clyde," the famous orangutan from Eastwood's film "Every Which Way But Loose?" Clyde was beaten to death by his trainers for stealing a doughnut after the film was over.

Hribal starts out detailing the story of “Jumbo” the most famous elephant of all time, who became upset with his vicious English trainers and was killed by a train while escaping. Until it was outlawed in the U.S, circus and zoo animals were regularly hung, shot innumerable times, decapitated and executed in various manners for the crime of escape or retribution. And then there is “Shamu” – Seaworld’s longest living orca, if you believe the 50-something orca’s all named “Shamu” are the same whale. The many Shamus and his fellow aquatic animals have made millions of dollars for Seaworld as the flagship act. Caged animals only live half as long as those in the wild, but “Shamu” lives forever – or at least as long as the Seaworld Corporation. Many times the mother animals have to be killed in order for the ‘babies’ – of elephants or sea lions let’s say – to be taken away. These institutions were and still are directly responsible for decimating wild populations in their pursuit of the next performer.

Recently, a small zoo owner in Zanesville, Ohio let his animals go, and they were gunned down by the local police. The owner shot himself right after letting them out, perhaps in a fit of guilt. After you have read this book, I think you will refuse to attend circuses, zoos, aquariums or support most research on animals. Protecting animals is part of the same worldview as protecting the majority of humans. To paraphrase Marx, you can judge a society by how it treats the most vulnerable – in this case, the most vulnerable are animals.

Postscript: Jeffery St. Clair wrote the introduction to this book. St. Clair gets a dig in against Castro, who enjoys the zoo in Havana. Then in a somewhat odd attack on Marx, he accuses Marx of calling his enemies ‘baboons’ – and then details all the horrible things that capitalists have done to baboons – as if Marx did them! Even for an anarchist, that is a stretch. In addition, I could find no reference to Marx calling anyone a ‘baboon.’

For a defense of Marx on the question of animals, see, “Marx, Myths and Legends – by Lawrence Wilde” on the net, quoted here*. Of course, John Bellamy Foster also defends Marx on issues of the environment and nature against erroneous liberal and anarchist attacks.

Wilde: “A clarion call for the liberation of animals is cited approvingly by Marx in On the Jewish Question (Marx, 1975: 172). The words themselves belong to Thomas Münzer, the leader of the German Peasants’ Revolt in the early sixteenth century. What attracted Marx was Münzer’s view that under the dominion of private property and money, nature is treated in such a contemptuous way that it is debased. Münzer had concluded:
‘...all creatures have been turned into property, the fishes in the water, the birds in the air, the plants on the earth; the creatures, too, must become free.’ “*

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, November 18, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pictures are worth a ... many words

Militarized "police" in Chapel Hill, North Carolina advancing on Occupy protesters who had squatted in an empty car dealership. Notice the Lawyer's Guild member falling backward, the two drawn M16s or AR15s and the .45 handgun. Iraq? No, just the fruit of the Department of "Homeland" Security. Which we paid for.

An 80+ old activist lady, after being pepper-sprayed in Occupy Seattle.

Lastly, Craig wanted me to post this picture of jailbird Eugene Debs. This free sticker with your Holiday Book purchase.

And I got it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, 11/21/2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Yuppies, Foodies, Cheapskates, Drunks, Oh My!

“Waiter Rant – Thanks for the Tip – Confessions of a Cynical Waiter,” by Steve Dublanica, 2008

Workers don’t usually tell their tales. Well, this one did - the front of the house speaks! If you’ve ever been at a restaurant table, uncomfortable with the inability of a loved-one to make a simple food decision, or the demanding micro-attentions an aging in-law makes on servers, it has not gone unnoticed by those other than you. Dublanica writes a waiter’s blog of the same name, and got his book contract through that. He’s taken the inspiration from his posts and made a book out of it.

The Waiter hates demanding yuppies who have to have special tables, or ‘know the owner’ or parade their arrogant - and sometimes incorrect - foodie proclivities before the wait-staff. Or those who don’t tip well, or at all. The Waiter estimates 20% of diners are ‘socially maladjusted psychopaths.’ Of course, this Waiter works in New York. Thinking of eating out on Mother’s Day? Forget it – crowded, guilt-laden pandemonium. Valentine’s Day? Another crowded con with elbow-to-elbow diners.

As Dublanica puts it: “Today, waiters are expected to be food-allergy specialists, sommeliers, cell-phone-rule enforcers, eye candy, confessors, entertainers, mixologists, emergency medical technicians, bouncers, receptionists, joke tellers, therapists, linguists, punching bags, psychics, protocol specialists and amateur chefs.” Then he goes on about food porn from there.

It all actually makes you not want to eat out. Of course, if you read “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain about ‘the back of the house,’ you really won’t eat out.

Dublanica worked at an intense upscale Italian restaurant in Manhattan for 7 years before he burned-out as the head waiter/manager. Before that he waited a restaurant that was so dysfunctional he couldn’t last a year. He now works a low-key place that doesn’t pay as well. He was 31 in 1986, when he ‘fell into’ working as a waiter, after stints in a sexually-repressed Catholic religious school and a crooked health clinic. If you only thought old-country Greeks and Italians lasted that long in the waiting business, you guessed wrong. Throughout the book Dublanica worries about his status as an aging ‘loser,’ and while not the best part of the book, he finds it necessary to dwell on it constantly. Which is a gauge of how devalued the trade of waiter is.

The Waiter is kind to the ‘back of the house’ staff, as the cooks are called. As he puts it, if they made Mexicans from Pueblo illegal in the U.S., there would be no one to cook in restaurants. The restaurant industry would shut down. He knows that cooks contend with brutal hours, burns, cuts, low pay and crazy demands. However, he’s not so kind to the owners of these restaurants, who are many times petty, crazed tyrants. Or some of his fellow waiters, who backstab in order to get ahead. As he analyzes the wait-staff, a good proportion are ‘live for the moment’ alcoholics and druggies who get high on nights with $250 in tips. Though he’s not afraid to souse his exhausted miseries in three-martini late-nights after work. Vampiric? Hell, yes.

Of course the favorite topic of any waiter is tips. 15%-20% is expected, at least in the U.S. Among his other duties, however, Dublanica is not a sociologist, so he might be surprised to find some – even many - societies do not have tipping, and certainly not on the U.S. scale. American customers subsidize waiter wages, as dreadful state laws mandate tiny minimum wages for wait-staffs. This is a simple gift – call it corporate welfare - to the restaurant industry. And customers know it. It creates a ‘feast or famine’ atmosphere among U.S. restaurant staffs instead of some reliable baseline of pay. Tipping is not expected or required in India, China, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Finland, Spain, Cuba, etc. Sometimes it is only countries that are close to the American tourist or model that tipping is similar to the U.S., like Canada or Mexico. What is striking is that tipping in many countries has no mandatory level, and if it is done, is only for exceptional service or for kindness. The U.S., alone in the world if you believe Wikipedia, mandates a 15%-20% tip. Think about it.

The Waiter’s most miserable moment came when his restaurant, the fictional ‘Bistro’ as he calls it, suffered a failure of air-conditioning and the ‘POS’ computer system on the same very hot New York night, as crowds of hungry people lined up outside the door. ‘POS’ seems to be the order/billing software. Demanding customers, a boss calling him every three minutes to make him explain, clueless waiters who did not know how to add up bills without a computer, a dining area that reached 95 degrees and a kitchen that reached 110 nearly brought down the whole restaurant. Somehow, Dublanica pulled the restaurant through without having to close it. The show must go on. Dublanica also shows great generosity of spirit and psychological understanding to troubled souls who reveal themselves in restaurants. As one woman said to him while watching him gently talk a drunken lady into leaving the Bistro, “You’re not just a waiter, are you?" No, he’s not. No one is 'just' anything, of course.

Among other high-profile guests, he once waited on The Gladiator – Rusell Crowe. Crowe was the only one who publically identified him as the “Waiter” behind the “Waiter Rant” blog. Dublanica was flattered – and surprised.

Over the past 30 years, with the financialization of American life, and the destruction of private time, restaurants meals have grown in ‘necessity.’ I call it the privatization of the family meal. Instead of inexpensive, healthful food skillfully prepared in a low-key way at home, eating is now supposed to be a public event involving being served as if we were still children – or bosses. The food is lower quality, of excessive quantity and the prices are higher than most home meals. People who constantly go to restaurants even lose cooking skills. The U.S. restaurant industry survives on the backs of immigrants, bad government laws and low pay. If a government was to mandate a living wage and other benefits for workers in restaurants, many restaurants would disappear. As far as I’m concerned, that would not be bad at all. A restaurant that cannot provide health care, decent wages, regular hours and normal work conditions does not deserve to exist. And we don’t need them either.

And I bought it at Half-Price Books,
Red Frog, November 15, 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

Marionettes at the Gates of Dawn

What Piper Plays the Tune?

Certainly not Syd Barrett. This week George Papandreou advocated allowing the Greek people to vote on whether to accept the ‘rescue’ package offered by the ECB, EU & IMF. The moment he stopped speaking, there were howls of outrage and anger from the assembled Euro Heads, from the corporate Press, from the Pundits, from every capitalist voice. The DOW swooned 300 points. How DARE he bring the people into this? Did you hear one voice in the media commending this action? One?

The right in the PASOK, including the finance minister, called for his removal –– and threatened to bring down the government. After several nasty phone calls and private meetings with the EuroHead – i.e Angela MerkelPapandreou backed down. It was odd and somewhat poignant to see a man who had cravenly agreed to every single demand by the banking sector and the powers that be suddenly grow a spine – and just as suddenly collapse it. This is, after all, the Second International we are talking about here. Perhaps it was the sweetness of the 50% haircut Merkel/Sarkozy had pushed on the banks, in exchange for a larger financial bailout fund. Of course, the real people who forced that 50% haircut were the Greek people - by saying ‘hell no.’

Papandreou was replaced by a U.S. educational product, Lucas Papdemos, a Harvard and Columbia professor, graduate of MIT, senior economist at the Boston Federal Reserve and a member of the Trilateral Commission. I.E. the banks have their 'technocratic' man in place.

If this sounds familiar to what the ruling elite did, in a trivial way, around the Twins stadium debate (and what is still going on with the Viking stadium,) you’d be right. It is also what the Congressional ‘super-committee’ is all about – an undemocratic star chamber assigned to be head butchers. Increasingly, as capital finds itself in trouble, it will do away with ‘democratic’ procedures and go straight to edicts and back-room deals. Democracy is a window-dressing that is dispensed with if necessary – or if not needed. Which is why the U.S. only needs two parties, right?

Now Italy is the next one on the hot seat. The clown Berlusconi has said he will resign, and Italian government bond debt, as of November 9, is almost at the bailout-point. The markets are swooning again. The Guardian estimates that 1 trillion Euros will be necessary to bailout Italy. And that is getting very close to an amount no entity can afford. Banks that over-leveraged themselves loaning money to every door-post in sight might not be 'rescued' if the rescuers don't show up. As Galbraith pointed out, this is not a Euro crisis or a 'sovereign debt' crisis, it is at bottom, a banking crisis brought about by over-leveraging. The real question here, then, is what objective amount of debt is 'too big to succeed?'

What did our President say in response to Greece? The U.S. had earlier refused to give more money to Europe through the IMF, and opposed the EU proposal to tax financial transactions. Here is Obama speaking during the recent G20 meeting in Cannes. (Really?! Cannes?) about the Greek situation: “They're going to have a strong partner in us," Obama said, "but European leaders understand that ultimately what the markets are looking for is a strong signal from Europe that they're standing behind the euro."

“…what the markets are looking for...” You see, the ‘markets’ talk. Or perhaps they are ventriloquists and have others talk for them? Perhaps they are now ‘people’ and have ‘freedom of speech’ just like corporations? Is Obama the direct translator of the ‘markets’ – marketese perhaps? It seems so. Of course, Wall Street opposes the tiny tax on financial transactions, because it might slow down program trading or speculation. And that is also the position of the U.S. government. And Wall Street also supports austerity for the European and U.S. working class. Wall Street – “The City” in London, the Parisian Bourse, the German Frankforters and the Swiss – or should I say Suisse - bankers - look like they do have another marionette.

And indeed the day Papandreou backed own, the markets rocketed back up. They are the epitome of ruling class opinion - like a thermometer stuck in a babies bottom. In fact, it is almost axiomatic that how the markets behave dictates what the politicians say - sometimes immediately, sometimes a few days later.

Red Frog
November 7, 2011
94th Anniversary of the outbreak of the October Revolution in Russia through armed insurrection in Petrograd, New Style Gregorian Calendar. (Oct 25, 1917 Old Style Julian calendar)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Everyone in a Trailer Isn't Trash

“Why the South Lost the Civil War,” by Richard Beringer, Herman Hattaway, Archer Jones and William Still, 1986

This is an example of my reading a book so you don’t have to. This tome, written by four professors, attempts to answer a question that doesn’t seem to be one, but actually is. Many students of the Civil War – and other wars – assume it was the superior manpower and industrial strength of the northern states that lead to Appomattox, and, incidentally, the ending of slavery. Even modern-day Confederates want to believe this. The ‘revisionist’ view – which is also hinted at in “The People’s History of the Civil War” (available at Mayday) and other books – is that internal weaknesses within the southern people lead to the defeat. As the Vietnamese and other guerrilla wars prove, mere dominance in numbers or ordinance or technology does not create victory.

What was the fatal flaw of the Confederate cause? Asked in this way, the answer is pretty obvious. But for die-hard Confederates, who imagine God on their side, Bobby Lee and Nathan Bedford Forrest in the saddle, and a ‘War of Northern Aggression,” it is still confusing. Even unionists of that day who rejected the Emancipation Proclamation – like the Democrats lead by McClellan and other Copperheads – thought it was only the power of the original Union that triumphed.

The authors trace the defeat to a failure of ‘Southern Nationalism.’ They point out that the south was similar in culture to the north, except for its overwhelmingly agricultural roots, and especially those roots in slavery and the plantation system. So the real and only basis of ‘southern nationalism,’ at bottom, was the slave system, and the existence upon slavery of a planter class. And this was, as Marx pointed out, a historically regressive system, which is why he supported the north in the Civil War. This should not come as news to most modern people. The twist however – and I put this in the face of bourgeois northern bigots who talk about’ rednecks,’ ‘crackers’ and ‘trailer trash’ as especially a southern phenomena – is that it means the majority of southerners ultimately wanted slavery to end in order to end the war. Their ‘southern nationalism’ was skin-deep.

A geographical map of the south will show the areas of most resistance to the war. Mountain areas and wood zones show the regions where few slaves were held, and most southerners were poor white working people eking out a living. East Tennessee and Kentucky, western Mississippi, wooded northern Alabama, the mountain areas of western Virginia (which became West Virginia because of the Civil War), western North and South Carolina and northern Georgia, and the swamps of southern Louisiana were all outside both the cities and the large farms and plantation zones. The “State of Jones” (reviewed below) was in the piney woods of western Mississippi. “Cold Mountain” is in western North Carolina. None of these people had an immediate financial stake in slavery. Their farms were either too small or unproductive to support slaves, or they could not afford slaves or – as in the case of Newton Knight, their religious and political beliefs prohibited slavery. Painting all southerners as supporters of the Confederacy is a foolish mistake. In fact, as most historians now recognize, if secession had been put to a popular vote, it would have failed in many southern states.

The conflict at Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s call for soldiers turned many southern Unionists into reluctant supporters of their ‘state.’ Robert E Lee was only the most well-known one. These authors show how, as the war progressed, support for the ‘southern’ cause diminished, desertion from the armies increased, protests against hunger grew and non-compliance with the draft and Confederate army property requisitions increased. Peace societies became more public in the South after 1863 and the defeats at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. Old pro-unionist politicians (who still supported the war) won a majority in North Carolina in the 1863 election. By the end of the war, the majority of the southern population preferred re-union over continued warfare. And this, the authors contend, is the real reason the south lost.

They go into many of the conventional arguments about its failure in some detail. Some think that an excessive concentration on ‘states rights’ did not allow the south to win. The authors clearly show that in the main two states whose governors conflicted with Jeff Davis – Georgia and North Carolina – both states sent more men and goods to the Confederate armies than states that did not conflict with Davis. One North Carolina politician, William Holden, famously said that “It was a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” This echoed the thoughts of Newton Knight, who objected to the Confederate rule that planters with 10 slaves were exempt from service, and was one of the reasons why the "Knights' turned against the Confederacy.

The authors show figures that indicate the Union blockade of southern ports was very porous. They describe how southern military organization was superior to the Union’s in that it recruited people from the same locales to join existing units, instead of creating new, green units of unaffiliated people, as the Federals did. As to the issue of industry, the south was able to quickly create a large metal-working, armaments and clothing industry under central control of the Confederate government. While I do not agree with their assertion that Confederate soldiers were as well supplied as Union soldiers – many sources conflict with this – they consider this not to be the decisive question. They do show how there were always guns, bullets and cannons at least.

The main contribution of the authors is to compare the thoughts of classic military strategists who studied Napoleon and Frederick the Great – Clausewitz and Jomini – against actual military events during the war. They contend that the south actually had a military advantage through its huge territory, interior lines and mainly defensive strategy, citing both Clausewitz or Jomini. So, again, why did they lose except through extra-military issues? And here they point out that Davis and the Confederate government put all its emphasis on military victories and none on ‘propaganda’ or morale-building or paying attention to the condition and opinions of the civilian population. As we know from Vietnam and other wars, like Iraq, the opinions of the U.S. population play a role in the withdrawal of troops. However, when the war is actually in the territory of the population (unlike Vietnam or Iraq) this can be decisive.

Another contribution of this book centers on its coverage of how religion impacted both northern and southern peoples’ morale. As might be expected, both sides thought ‘God’ supported their cause. Almost every church in the U.S. split into a pro-slavery southern wing and a pro-union (and maybe anti-slavery) northern wing, even the Catholic Church. Many religious preachers joined the armies, the most famous being Leonidas Polk, a Tennessee planter and a bishop in the Episcopal Church, who found his way to the Confederate army. Polk was later blown in half at Pine Mountain near Marietta, Georgia, by a shell from one of Sherman’s batteries. So I guess God really ‘did’ support the North. And this odd idea – odd to an atheist at least – began to creep into Confederate thinking. If ‘God’ allowed the ‘Yankees’ to win, then either he was ‘testing’ southerners in their faith, or else he was ‘chastising’ them for imagined failings. As time went on, some southerners even decided that God wanted the north to win because perhaps slavery ‘was’ a sin. And there goes your morale and your morals – at least for a believer.

The most unusual point they make is that they delineate how the Confederate government created a centralist state and economy during the war. This should terrify the present southern Republicans and Libertarians. The South actually initiated a draft a year before the north. Writs of habeas corpus were suspended at the same time, and martial law declared. Impressment of goods by government soldiers was legalized, though they were supposed to pay a ‘reasonable amount.’

Basing themselves on the 1978 work of Raimondo Luraghi’s “Rise and Fall of the Plantation South,” the authors describe how the Confederate government took over 39 iron furnaces, ‘nationalizing the whole productive power of existing manufacturers” for war production. The government provided 50% loans to create new industry, limited profits, fixed prices, built publicly-owned mills like the giant Augusta, Georgia, Powder Works – the largest nationally-owned factory system in the world at that time. Shipyards were put under government control, and new ones built under government ownership. This forced industrialization changed Richmond, Augusta, Columbus, Atlanta, Macon and Selma into industrial centers. They, however, only later passed laws limiting planters from producing cotton, as cotton brought in higher profits than food. Many blockade runners were carrying cotton, and not getting food back, but only luxury goods for the upper class. As such, centralization did not fully extend to the planter class and their plantations. Since the Confederate government was based on this class, that made sense.

My main issue with these authors is the idea of ‘victory,’ which is the bulk of the book. They do point this out tangentially, but not in a direct way. If victory means the end of direct slave labor, than the Civil War can be considered a complete victory. But if ending slavery also meant equal democratic rights for Black people, equal property rights for Black people, the provision of land and an end to sharecropping and the plantation system (especially in the Mississippi Delta) than the Civil War was not a victory. The violent defeat of Reconstruction through guerrilla warfare by ex-Confederates and the ex-planter class showed that they – now private farmers and businessmen – actually won the longer war for white supremacy. In place of slavery, black people got the KKK, Jim Crow segregation, share-cropping and the poll tax. It was the northern capitalist class that sat by and watched and essentially collaborated with the southern capitalists on this issue. So that is perhaps why the South 'lost' the Civil War - they saw it as only a series of battles in a longer war.

It was only after 90 years that the Civil Rights Movement punctured segregation and gained some democratic rights like voting for Black people. And even now, those voting rights are under attack, as was shown in Florida in 2000. Black people are still the poorest and most exploited southerners, and still discriminated against, segregated and disdained. The “civil war” still continues and will not be finished until the modern reincarnation of the planter class and their allies – are removed.

And I bought it at a garage sale in Athens, Georgia
Red Frog – November 5, 2011