A Third Reconstruction for Today
Two Reconstructions are behind us. But the point of this extended essay is that the politics shaping both sides remain with us today, at least in their main contours. We need to look harder if we can’t see them at first. We can conclude with a summary of what faces us now and beyond.
The deep economic crisis of 2008-09, one of the most precarious in our history, allowed a Third Reconstruction to arise. It first assembled as a political force in the Obama coalition and grew for eight years, spurred on by the assassination of Trayvon Martin and other outrages. Thwarted narrowly by the Trump backlash in 2016, it gathered strength again after several more police killings, now more widely opposed under the banner of ‘Black Lives Matter.’ The public police lynching of George Floyd set off elemental risings that were massive and multinational class and democratic battles, among the largest in our history. The clear demands were against white supremacy, patriarchy, and the NeoConfederate fascism of the Trump-led White Redemptionists.
The Jan 6, 2021 insurrection as a battle between two blocs
While Biden narrowly won in 2020, the ongoing expression of Neoconfederate Redemption could be seen with the South’s CSA battle flag carried into the halls of Congress during the Jan 6, 2021 attempted coup. This symbolism of the far right reveals the current ‘culture wars’ as two battles—one reactionary, one progressive– over how to recreate and project our American identity as well as to advocate competing political platforms. It shows why we must redefine and express our new narrative and its strategic ideas using the American idioms found within this deep dive into our history. To get where we want to go, we need to know who we are and where we’ve been.
“We here highly resolve,” declared Abraham Lincoln in closing his Gettysburg Address, “that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom” was at the heart of a redefinition of ourselves as a people. That ‘rebirth’ emerged within the Civil War and blossomed in the short-lived Reconstruction governments–our Paris Communes. It didn’t stop there, which is why we also need to awaken to the long ‘War after the War,’ (1865-1920).
The ‘Lost Cause’ campaign for white supremacist ideological and political hegemony enabled the South to win politically what it had lost militarily. It was also an armed conflict across the South between the ex-Confederate Redeemers of lynch law and white order, on the one hand, and the biracial power of the Black South alongside all workers and their allies in several states, on the other hand. The First Reconstruction, lasting until 1876, had the backing of federal troops and its own armed militias. These grew from the Black regiments in the Civil War and the Unionist whites in the South who deserted and/or took up arms against the Slave Power. (The ‘Free State of Jones’ in Mississippi is a well-known example. But less well known are the Reconstruction state militias, with the one in Louisiana organized and led by the former CSA General James Longstreet, who went over to the side of Reconstruction, among several others).
If people today want to uphold revolutionary class unity and struggle, along with the cross-class nature and need for common fronts, this is one place where they can find inspiration. Ongoing examples continue to be uncovered and redefined through all three Reconstruction efforts at taking power. These national-popular blocs were always counter-hegemonic, transformative, and had success in varying degrees. We can best be seen as their descendants, standing on their shoulders and keeping our eyes on the prize.
Our strategic task today, then, through both a ‘war of position’ and a ‘war of movement,’ is to bring the Third Reconstruction into the position of the ruling national hegemonic bloc. First, we develop our strength in labor and community organizations at the grassroots level. We will see that political clout reflected in Congress with the growth of the Justice Democrats and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. It should be evident that the ‘Squad’ in the House and Bernie Sanders, John Fetterman and a few others in the Senate are our immediate pathfinders in Congress. There are more in state-level governments. Any arguments for attempts to break with them or undermine them at this conjuncture with ‘third party’ options are wrong and need to be sidelined and defeated.
Second, we will widen the front by winning over all the centrist forces we can. If we can’t win governmental posts ourselves, we can work to elect antifascist candidates who can win. Then third, we must defeat, scatter, and crush the modern NeoConfederate Redemptionists. Sometimes this will also require direct action or the ‘war of movement’. In doing this, we are ‘winning the battles for democracy’ all along the line.
Taken together, these campaigns will also, as The Communist Manifesto urged us, ‘take care of the future within the present’ and ‘the whole as well as the part.’ Within the Third Reconstruction, we can develop the common ground for refounding a new socialist bloc aiming to rule the country in a new order. Our core strategic alliance comprises a multinational working class and the allied subalterns of all the oppressed and exploited (of which labor is but one). We can follow through from that position by building the green shoots of a socialist reconstruction already underway in several locales and launching many more deep structural reforms on our socialist path forward. Everyone willing to fight is welcome, whether for the whole thing or part of it. But prepare to lead, follow or get out of the way