Lincoln, Obama and the sweep of history

“We’re not going back,” says it all.

We are here today to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of The Emancipation Proclamation, an act by President Lincoln that was a turning point in the Civil War and the whole fight against slavery. This was done with the strong urging of abolitionists like Frederick Douglass.

With a stroke of a pen the Union government outlawed the enslavement of about 4 million people. This was a great humanitarian act.

The truth was however, that the war was not going well for the North and they had to pass the Emancipation Proclamation in order to win.

The proclamation created a new surge in the mass movement of escaped slaves within the Confederate states. In “Black Reconstruction,” W.E.B. Du Bois described how the slaves carried out a general strike that crippled the slaveholder’s army. Slaves escaped by the thousands behind Union Army lines which then had to protect them.

The Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 opened the way to recruit black soldiers into Union Army regiments. Over 178,000 served in 175 segregated regiments.

These black soldiers comprised 10 percent of the Union forces and made a big difference. Some 40,000 gave their lives even as they did not receive equal pay. But they were fighting for something money couldn’t buy. Two years and 3 months later the South was forced to surrender.

Karl Marx’s wrote a regular anti-slavery column in the NY Tribune newspaper while also successfully organizing dockworkers in Liverpool to not unload goods from the slave states. Marxists rallied the working class in Europe as well as here against slavery, inspired by Marx’s powerful slogan: “Workers in white skin can never be free as long as workers in the black skin are branded.”

In 1864, Marx sent a letter to Abraham Lincoln congratulating him on his reelection. In it he called him a “son of the working class” and described his reelection as “the death of slavery”.

While the movie “Lincoln” showed the 16th president as very clear on his anti slavery positions, in reality Lincoln vacillated. First he wanted to end the war without ending slavery. He offered all kinds of concessions to the South including compensating the slave holders if they would release their slaves, and then proposed deporting them back to Africa en mass. But none of concessions worked, an important lesson from the past, please take note President Obama.

Ultimately Lincoln grew to understand that he had to end slavery in order to save the Union. Such was the sweep of history.

Thus, it matters big time who is in the White House especially at times of great crisis and change.

I think it is interesting that a year after he signed the Emancipation Proclamation when asked why he did it, “Honest Abe” made a very important admission. He said,

“I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.”

If Karl Marx, the father of communism, could support a Republican capitalist like Lincoln (heaping great praise on him) in the fight against slavery, should the left need to feel timid about supporting Obama in the fight against the 1% and the extreme right Republicans today? Certainly not.

The slavocracy was defeated. The Republicans have been defeated twice. The struggle continues.

The election results demand a new offensive against racism, poverty and for jobs and social justice. In the post election period, there is an intensifying upsurge for justice and peace. The president is speaking with more conviction and militancy, but the right, while still staggering from the defeat at the polls, is more divided but they are still pushing the same ideas that defeated them. The struggle is moving to a higher level — let it continue.

This is a section from the speech by Jarvis Tyner at the “We’re not going Back” Celebration of African American History at Winston Unity Center on February 24, 2013.

Photo: Julius Giardina

Jarvis Tyner speaking at the Celebration.



Jarvis Tyner
Jarvis Tyner

Jarvis Tyner is the former executive vice-chair of the Communist Party USA and a long-time member of the party's national board. Tyner has been an active public spokesperson against racism, imperialism, and war. He has written numerous articles and pamphlets and appeared on the media, campuses, and in other public venues advocating for peace, equality, and the socialist alternative.