It’s been said that the Confederate flag is a symbol of the bravery of Southern soldiers who died in a glorious attempt to leave the Union. Why was the Civil War fought, to end slavery or preserve the Union? Lincoln proclaimed that he would do anything to preserve the Union, even allow the South to maintain slavery. But the Southern states realized that eventually slavery would be outlawed. In Capitalism and Slavery Eric Williams documents how profits from the trade in enslaved Africans, and the labor of enslaved Africans, created the surplus value that launched the Industrial Revolution. Once the Industrial Revolution, full blown modern capitalism, was underway, slavery not only became superfluous but counterproductive.

And so the Northern states outlawed human bondage early in the 19th century, while the South was shipping cotton, the fruits of its enslaved African labor, not only to the North but to Europe as well. Thus the immediate cause of the Civil War was to end unfettered European competition in the manufacture of cotton goods. The goal of Emancipation did not enter the picture until two years after hostilities commenced, when it became clear that that would end the conflict quicker. After the Northern victory, Reconstruction, that is, full and complete Emancipation, was abandoned once it became clear that the uprising in the South was fully stamped out.

Note that the vast majority of those who died for the Confederacy, the rank-and-file foot soldiers of the infantry, did not own slaves. They were basically poor whites who were impoverished precisely because of slavery. No one needed their labor, thanks to the abundance of slave labor. To make matters worse, there was a law in the Confederacy that said that anyone who had 20 or more slaves did not have to fight. And if that were not enough, those slaveholders who did join the Confederate ranks chose to join the cavalry, not the infantry which suffered a vastly disproportionate share of casualties.

During Reconstruction Blacks and poor whites worked together to improve the infrastructure and institute the first public school system in the South. However, Reconstruction ended when Nathan Bedford Forrest, an ex-Confederate cavalry commander, created the Ku Klux Klan. He successfully urged poor whites to flock to the banner of white solidarity and abandon their Black comrades. Thus, for the next 80 years the South remained a primitive, undeveloped backwater focused on suppressing a third of its population and miring everyone in poverty except for the ruling class, the descendants of the slaveholders. And so there was another titanic struggle, the civil rights movement. And again poor whites fought against it tooth and nail. But when it was over, the South began to boom as much of the repressive apparatus was dismantled, outside investments came streaming in, and the oppressed one third of the population was brought more into the economic mainstream for the benefit of all.

Which brings us to today. Look at those who still cling to the banner of the Old Confederacy. Again we see that it is mainly the relatively poor, moderately educated white group. Whereas Southern business interests, educated whites and African Americans are eager to drop the hateful emblem, whites of modest means, are again acting against their own interest. Ignorance is a terrible blinding thing, whereas education is a truly liberating force. . . ( Arthur Lewin, )