Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 2, 2020

The World Socialist Web Site and the toppled Washington and Jefferson statues

Filed under: indigenous,slavery — louisproyect @ 8:46 pm

There was a time when I kept closer track of the World Socialist Web Site, when Syria and Ukraine were on the front burner politically. As apologists for Assad and Putin’s genocidal-like war in Syria, their talking points filtered out into the “anti-imperialist” left.

As for Ukraine, I got into a series of exchanges with their cult leader Joseph North back in 2015 when WSWS began running hysterical articles about nuclear war about to break out over Ukraine. I had written an article titled “Is the U.S. contemplating a nuclear attack on Russia?” that questioned their reliability as journalists and, more importantly, their grasp of geopolitics. Like many who make a hodge-podge of conspiracy-mongering and Marxism, they always see world events in apocalyptic terms, mostly as a way of generating website traffic.

According to Alexa, wsws.org is rated 13,097 in global internet engagement, which is extraordinarily high. For comparison’s sake CounterPunch is rated 47,413. The interesting thing is the Socialist Equality Party’s inability to turn those page reads into raising its profile on the left. Because of its cultish demeanor and its chicken-little hysterics, there’s little chance that a 21-year old young radical is going to join.

It’s only gain lately has been to line up a group of septuagenarian history professors in their crusade against Project 1619 that began as a special issue of the Sunday New York Times Magazine. It included an article by chief editor Nikole Hannah-Jones that charged Lincoln with viewing free black people as a “troublesome presence” incompatible with a democracy intended only for white people. This got under the skin of both WSWS and the historians who saw the USA as a model of revolutionary democracy, unlike, for example, Gerald Horne who argued that 1776 was an attempt to preserve slavery.

I weighed in on the Project 1619 debates in February but had little to say until now. Only recently has WSWS shown up on my radar screen when someone on the Facebook Leftist Trainspotters group posted a link to an article that was positively livid over the threats to Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Grant monuments arising during the George Floyd protests. I would have advised young activists to leave Lincoln and Grant alone (not that they would pay me much attention) but I’d be happy to take a sledge hammer to Washington and Jefferson myself.

The article’s treatment of Washington sounds like something that would have shown up in my social studies textbook in 1959:

George Washington was the commander of the Continental Army in the American Revolution (1775-1783), in which the 13 colonies asserted their independence from their British colonial masters. Washington, in a decision that electrified the world, left behind his military post and returned to private life, helping to institute in practice the separation of the civilian from military power in the republic.

Are these people for real? George Washington owned more than 100 slaves and signed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, which authorized the capture of runaways in free states and criminalized coming to their aid. When one of his slaves, a woman named Ona Maria Judge, escaped, he made every effort to re-enslave her, even if he had to break the law.

This is not to speak of Washington’s genocidal assault on the Mohawks who had fought with the British in 1776, mostly because the colonists were aggressively seizing Indian land with Washington’s approval. Washington gave the marching orders to his underling General John Sullivan, who was in charge of Indian removal: “The immediate objectives are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops in the ground and prevent their planting more.”

Their encomium to Thomas Jefferson is even more bizarre:

Thomas Jefferson was the author of what is arguably the most famous revolutionary sentence in world history: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” That declaration has been inscribed on the banner of every fight for equality ever since 1776. When Jefferson formulated it, he was crystalizing a new way of thinking based on the principle of natural human equality. The rest of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence spells out in searing language the natural right of people to revolution.

This is a throwback to the turn the CP took under Earl Browder, who once said, “Communism is 20th Century Americanism”. Under his leadership, the party created the Jefferson School in New York to train cadres. One can understand why the muddleheaded Stalinists would take this approach but what does this have to do with a group that claims to have inherited the mantle of Leon Trotsky?

Compared to Jefferson, Washington was mere piker with his 100 slaves. Jefferson had six times as many on his Monticello plantation. One of them was Sally Hemings, a slave that bore six children to Jefferson. When he was a 44-year old widower, he began screwing her (maybe even raping) during his post as minister to France. She was 14 at the time. Nice.

Like Washington, Jefferson was just as vicious toward native peoples. As president, Jefferson believed that land in the west had to come under white ownership. In 1776, he was growing frustrated with the inability of the colonists to bring the Cherokees under control. He wrote, “Nothing will reduce those wretches so soon as pushing the war into the heart of their country. But I would not stop there. I would never cease pursuing them while one of them remained on this side of the Mississippi.”

As the newly formed United States began to expand westward, they ran into resistance from the Shawnee and other tribes in the Great Lakes region. He invited their leaders to Washington in 1809 and warned that “the tribe which shall begin an unprovoked war against us, we will extirpate from the earth or drive to such a distance as they shall never again be able to strike us.” Showing the kind of racist arrogance that typifies treatment of native peoples, he added, “In time you will be as we are. You will become one people with us; your blood will mix with ours, and will spread with ours over this great land.” The blood was not mixed with the whites, however. It was scattered on the soil as the genocide began.

If war on the Indians marked the beginning of internal colonizing, it was manifest destiny that served as the foundation for the USA becoming one of the world’s greatest imperial powers. In a letter to James Monroe, Jefferson wrote about how this glorious new democratic republic could transform the entire western hemisphere, “it is impossible not to look forward to distant times when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits, and cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent.” Yes, that southern continent. From the seizure of Texas and other Mexican land in 1845, US domination proceeded across the entire southern continent.

WSWS also credits Jefferson with inspiring the Haitian revolution, as if this was some kind of proof that he had no imperial designs on the southern continent. “The American Revolution delivered a powerful impulse in that direction that led to the French Revolution of 1789 and the greatest slave revolt in history, the Haitian Revolution of 1791, in which slaves liberated themselves and threw off French colonial domination.”

The facts on Haiti and Jefferson are not quite what you get from these great American patriots at WSWS. As president, Jefferson encouraged Haitian independence from France, but refused to recognize the new black republic and even embargoed trade with it. Jefferson’s attitude toward Haiti was a variation on Henry Kissinger’s realpolitik. If Haiti threw out the French, that was good for American interests as well as British. On the other hand, Haiti’s independence as an emancipated new society might pose a threat to southern slaveowners so you could not go overboard with that democracy stuff. In a meeting with the British, Jefferson thought it was a good idea to prevent the freed slaves from having “any Kind of Navigation whatsoever or to furnish them with any Species of Arms or Ammunition.”

The Haitian revolution scared the hell out of the plantation-owners. While Jefferson had given lip-service to abolitionism, he shared their worries about armed black people who might be able to topple slavery in other places like Brazil or Cuba. This was a real fear over an 19th century domino effect.

In Tim Matthewson’s article “Jefferson and the Nonrecognition of Haiti” that appeared in the March 1996 Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, he describes Jefferson’s realignment with the slavocracy:

During the debates over the Haitian trade, Jefferson acknowledged a significant shift in his attitude toward slavery. He abandoned optimism about emancipation. “I have long time given up the expectation of an early provision for the extinguishment of slavery among us,” he wrote to William Burwell. Never abandoning the general goal of emancipation, his letter marked an increasingly pessimistic trend in his thoughts on slavery. In a man of such sanguine temperament, this shift suggested the transmutation of the post-Revolutionary South associated with the expansion of slavery and the southern reaction to the Dominguan revolution. Since the 1780s, he had publicly favored the exclusion of slavery from the West, but in 1804 he had expressed no objection to the extension of slavery into Louisiana and the southwest. His shift acknowledged that the die had been cast and the future had been sealed, perhaps for generations, and it also suggested that his commitment to emancipation had been reduced to a theoretical concern.

My only question is whether the geniuses at WSWS knew this and still decided to write a puff-piece about Jefferson or perhaps they were just ignorant. In either case, they don’t seem equipped to lead Americans to socialism or even lecture young activists about which statues they shouldn’t take down.

8 Comments »

  1. I see a fusion in of the future between the wsws and the US SWP which swings slightly to the right them.

    Comment by David Walters — July 2, 2020 @ 10:32 pm

  2. Come on Louis, think it through: “he began screwing her (maybe even raping)” – is consent even possible for a 14 year old slave and the pedophile aristocrat enabled by law to own her as property? Otherwise this is a great read.

    Comment by mb — July 2, 2020 @ 11:07 pm

  3. Big Thanx for this.

    JAI

    On Thu, Jul 2, 2020 at 1:48 PM Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist wrote:

    > louisproyect posted: “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4V29opdHt-M There > was a time when I kept closer track of the World Socialist Web Site, when > Syria and Ukraine were on the front burner politically. As apologists for > Assad and Putin’s genocidal-like war in Syria, their t” >

    Comment by John A Imani — July 2, 2020 @ 11:07 pm

  4. I agree w mb. Very bad choice of words. That’s rape, Louis.

    Comment by BC — July 3, 2020 @ 7:09 pm

  5. By all accounts, Jefferson’s sexual relationship with Hemings spanned several decades, beginning when Hemings was a teenager and Jefferson was in his 40s. It was not, in any sense of the word, consensual: Hemings was a child, and Jefferson literally owned her; she was not in any position to give or withhold consent. What Jefferson did to Hemings was rape.

    https://www.vox.com/2016/4/8/11389556/thomas-jefferson-sally-hemings-book

    Comment by louisproyect — July 3, 2020 @ 10:01 pm

  6. “As soon as I grew old enough to look around and see what was going on in this country—all the inequality and injustice still remaining—the beneficiaries of privilege, claiming the heritage of our first revolution, struck me as imposters. I recognized the standard Fourth of July orators as phonies, as desecrators of a noble dream. They didn’t look like the Liberty Boys of ’76.

    “But that never turned me against the Fourth of July, as was the case with so many American radicals and revolutionists in the past. I thought the Fourth of July belonged to the people. I always regarded its renunciation as one of the biggest mistakes of American radicalism. It is wrong to confuse internationalism with anti-Americanism; to relinquish the revolutionary traditions of our country to the reactionaries; to let the modern workers’ revolutionary movement, the legitimate heir of the men of 1776, appear as something foreign to our country.

    “The revolution which will transform society and bring in the socialist order is a world-wide affair, a task requiring international cooperation to which we contribute only a part. But our part in this international cooperation is the revolution here at home. We must attend to that, study it and know it. And we can’t do that properly unless we know our country and its history and traditions. They are, for the greater part, good. The country itself is good, and so are the great majority of the people in it. Their achievements are many and great. There is nothing really wrong with the USA except that the wrong people have usurped control of it and are running it into the ditch.

    “The cure for that is not to throw away the country and its traditions, but to get rid of the usurpers by the process popularized by our forefathers under the name of revolution. This new revolution will have to complete the work started by the men of 1776. ”

    James P Cannon, father of American Trotskyism, 1951

    Comment by Tanaka Ueno — July 5, 2020 @ 4:01 am

  7. Jefferson did not ‘inspire’ the Haitian Revolution. The aim of that revolution was to wipe out slavery, as clearly stated in article 3 of Toussaint L’Ouverture’s 1801 constitution, furthermore, article 1 of same stated that St-Domingue was a colony of France, not an independent nation. That constitution was written because Napoleon was making noises about “special laws” to govern colonies, in other words, a return to the slavery that the French government had abolished on 2/4/1794. Violating instructions from Napoleon, L’Ouverture sent his army to the Spanish side of the island, ceded to France by Spain, and abolished slavery there. Independence became necessary due to French intransigence about restoring slavery.
    As early as 1797 L’Ouverture stated in his reply to a speech of citizen Viénot Vaublanc, an advocate of the former slaveowners, that in effect, slavery would be reestablished over his dead body. Anybody who finds any kinship between him and Jefferson should be locked away in an insane asylum. In my opinion, L’Ouverture was inspired mostly by François Mackandal whose execution he may have witnessed in 1758.

    Comment by Oswald Durand — July 8, 2020 @ 3:17 pm

  8. Don’t look to the WSWS for scholarship. The organization is a cult and the staff consists of self-important, ignorant hacks – every last one of them. The difference between Jefferson of 1776 and the Jefferson of later years? Cotton. His slaves became a valuable commodity and the ban on the Transatlantic trade gave him and other Virginia planters a near monopoly on what became the most important commodity in the American market – enslaved peoples to be literally sold down the river. BTW it’s not Joe North, it’s Joe Kishore and David North (pen name for David Green). Why do you think Green adopted the name North? He styles himself as a one dimensional fan of the Union cause, hence his reverence for the founding fathers whether or not they were slavers. Even Franklin was a racist and xenophobe. He described the German immigrants to Pennsylvania as “dark foreigners” that were polluting America. Let’s face it – America was settler colonialism through and through. It was “freedom” of a very peculiar and limited type. Read Ed Baptist’s book – The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.

    Comment by Ed — September 7, 2020 @ 4:26 am


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