The Civil War: Lessons for today’s struggle

Below are excerpts from the book “The Klan and the Government: Foes or Allies?” written in 1983 by Sam Marcy, the founder of Workers World Party. The entire book can be read online at

klan_govtIn the Civil War in the U.S., the bourgeois democratic revolution was aborted. It did result in ending involuntary servitude. It freed the Black people from their legal ties to the slavocracy. But it failed to carry out the rest of the basic and revolutionary measures which were necessary for formal equality with the white population.

Nevertheless, as a result of the revolutionary prosecution of the war against the Southern slavocracy, the Southern slave state governments were immensely weakened and in part replaced through federal intervention and military occupation by the central government.

These measures were made necessary in order to defend the rights of the Black people and to insure that the Southern slave-state governments did not violate the new federal legislation which the U.S. government had promulgated.

The Southern state governments were thus under the jurisdiction of the U.S. military and had to obey its orders. Unable to do anything legally to subvert the new status and rights of the Black people, the Southern planters resorted to building a conspiratorial terrorist organization to supplement the Southern states’ legalized governments.

We see therefore that the KKK arose as an illegal, extra- governmental secret apparatus, nourished, promoted, and organized by the then legalized governments of the South. …

Need for people’s militia

The duty of the federal government in the South under Presidents Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, and Hayes was not merely to juridically proclaim and defend the rights of the freed men and women. Its duty was also to train, educate, and organize them, above all on a military basis so they would be able to properly defend themselves against the violence instigated and perpetrated by the revival of the slavocracy’s political power.

It was not enough to have subdued the slavocracy militarily. There had to be a counter-force or a parallel force as against the armed forces and repressive organs still wielded by the Southern states, notwithstanding the breakup of the old Confederacy.

It’s true that the Confederacy seemed crushed and powerless, insofar as exercising its political sway against the Northern bourgeoisie. But the old planter aristocracy was permitted to rebuild and revive on the basis of retaining all its private property and land as well as whatever financial and commercial assets it still had.

Under these circumstances, the economic and state power of the planter aristocracy remained an overwhelming force as against the Black people, notwithstanding the gains made — including those in the state legislatures of the South. What the Black population needed to resist the growth of the KKK was an organized militia, trained, armed, and financed by the federal government to protect and defend their newly won rights and also to contest the planters’ right to the land — which the former slaves were entitled to no less than the serfs in Europe during the bourgeois revolutions there. …

Treachery of Northern bourgeoisie

The federal government retreated under pressure from many of the capitalists in the North who felt that they had got what they wanted. … As a result the treacherous bourgeoisie withdrew the federal troops from the South and left the Black people defenseless against the KKK. The Southern aristocracy thereafter began a large-scale campaign to secretly recruit, organize, and promote the Klan as a mass terror weapon with an extra-legal and extra-state character, in order to destroy the ability of the Black people to utilize their newly won legal rights as proclaimed by the Constitution. The right of self-defense was virtually nullified by the withdrawal of federal troops from the South. …

Bourgeois scholars of Reconstruction, especially the more reactionary ones, underestimate the tremendous role played by the Black people in achieving the victory over the Southern oligarchy. They do everything to belittle the role of Black people and only rarely is there any mention of what W.E.B. Du Bois in his great book “Black Reconstruction” calls the general strike of Black people, that is, the abandonment of service on the plantations and the support it rendered to the Northern army, which was indispensable for the victory over the plantation aristocracy. …