Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Comrade Abraham: Was President Lincoln a Closet Marxist?

by Nomad

Abe Lincoln Labor

When we think of Lincoln, most of us do not consider the sixteenth president as a Marxist revolutionary. Yet, a little research uncovers some very interesting- slightly confounding- connections between Abe Lincoln and the father of the Communist movement. As fascinating as that might be, there is an even bigger shock in store when it comes to the origins of the Republican Party.

This quote in the meme above reportedly came early in his political career (December 1847). For some of us who grew up thinking of "Honest Abe" as a folksy backwoods lawyer, it's a bit jarring to hear him talking about labor issues. It's not the image many of us have of the man who freed the slaves and held the nation together. (It's hard enough to think of him as a Republican.)

But there was more to that quote. Lincoln also wrote in that same passage:
These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert to fleece the people.
It's impossible to imagine that any president would dare to say such a thing today. And especially not a Republican one. Any conservative politician who expressed such thoughts today could expect to be skewered alive and roasted slowly (with relish) live on Fox News.

The Battle of the Quotations
As we are all well aware, politicians tend to talk more than necessary and in doing so, say a lot of nonsense, especially early on in their careers. However, in Lincoln's case there is more to it than that. We do know that from early in his career, Lincoln's ideas had not changed but actually expanded. 

While speaking at  the U.S. Sanitary Commission Fair in Baltimore on April 18, 1864, Lincoln pointed out that liberty can mean different things to different people. One man's definition of liberty can easily be another man's definition of tyranny and oppression. 
"The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men's labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatable [sic] things, called by the same name – liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two difference and incompatable [sic] names – liberty and tyranny."
The key phrase here is "the product of other men's labor." It was the same phrase he used in the above quote. 
It's hard not to see in that phrase a some degree of Marxist thought. Compare it to what the Communist Manifesto has to say: 
Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriations.
Whatever his personal views on private wealthy might have been, there is another quote by Lincoln we should consider. It comes from his Douglas debates and suggests that Lincoln believed that all men had a right to fruits of their labor. He said:
"That men who are industrious, and sober, and honest in the pursuit of their own interests should after a while accumulate capital, and after that should be allowed to enjoy it in peace, to use it to save themselves from actual labor and hire other people to labor for them is right."
This is a line that is often cited by conservatives. However, the message was not quite as absolute as they suggest. They tend to neglect the lines that followed:
In doing so they do not wrong the man they employ for they are benefited by working for others, hired laborers receiving their capital for it. Thus a few men that own capital, hire a few others, and thus establish the relationship of capital and labor rightfully. A relation of which I make no complaint. But I insist that that relation after all does not embrace more than one-eighth of the labor of the country.
Lincoln does not appear to be referring to corporations hiring thousands workers, but to small businesses run by "industrious, sober and honest" employers. A "rightful" relationship between labor and capital was Lincoln's somewhat far-fetched dream. 
With its sweatshops and child labor, its unsafe conditions and unsustainable wages, the capitalist system that emerged in the decades after his murder, was largely created by a collaboration with the Republican party of the 1870s and 80s. Still worse, that system took on a form much more like slavery and peonage and less like the harmonious relationship Lincoln supported. 
It was called, even at that time, "wage slavery." 


Socialist Horace Greeley,
founder of the Republican Party
The Tribune Connection
Still, this doesn't answer the main question of whether Marx had any influence in Lincoln's positions, before or during his presidency. If so, then how much influence?

In fact, apart from general similarity in ideologies and thoughts of the day, there was a more concrete connection between Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln.
It came in the person of Charles Dana

In 1849 Dana was appointed managing editor of the Tribune, the most consistently influential of nineteenth-century American newspapers, owned by Horace Greeley.  

First a little more about Greeley.
In 1854 in a small town in Wisconsin, abolitionist Greeley became one of the founders of the new Republican Party. According to some historians, Greeley even helped to secure the presidential nomination for Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

Combining business with politics. Greely made the Tribune the Republican party's unofficial national organ. The weekly nationwide edition of the paper promoted a wide variety of interests and causes.

Greeley and the Tribune spoke out in opposition to such things as government support of the railroads, the massive accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few, monopolies and land speculators. (Exactly the kinds of things the Republicans today would support and close down the US government over.)

As the Encyclopedia Britannica notes, Greeley urged a number of educational reforms, especially free common-school education for all; he championed producers’ cooperatives- meaning unions- (but opposed woman suffrage.) 
It was Greeley's position of the abolition of slavery that dominated his politics. And his newspaper served up the kind of news that the radical activist abolitionists in the North wanted to hear. Constant (and mostly-true) tales of slave owners abuse consolidated and hardened public opinion in the North against the plantations of the cotton-producing South.

In fact, the Tribune's extreme position on this subject made it a target for the paper's only rival, The Herald. The editors of the Herald were able to stoke working-class resentment and the prejudice and fears of the immigrants of the North. Elevating the status of blacks would come at the expense of white immigrant labor, the  editors of the Herald suggested. They maintained that Greeley was attempting to "assert the equality of white men and the Negroes."
Playing the low-wage immigrants against the no-wage slaves proved quite effective.

And if that ploy was not offensive enough, the writers of the Herald also claimed that Greeley was promoting the ideas of free-love-ism, "and all men should have property in common, the family should be abolished and that all women should be common prostitutes."
These accusations are practically a check-list of the demands found in the Communist Manifesto.
Radical Republicans of the Left
The attorney Clarence Darrow once called the Greeley's New York Tribune, “the political and social Bible” of every reforming, radical and Republican household. Among other contributors employed by the newspaper were Margaret Fuller, the first major feminist), Henry James Sr. and Albert Brisbane, both social utopians. 

(To cite one example of the kind of ideas that these writers advocated: Brisbane was instrumental is promoting the revolutionary utopian ideas of Fran├žois Marie Charles Fourier. Fourier was responsible of the creation of "communes" based on on a new world order which included equal rights for women, acceptance of homosexuality and worker rights.)

Whether the Republican Party today cares to admit it or not, the father of the party, Greeley was a proud champion of radical Socialism. (If there is any doubt, then the 1892 book,  Horace Greeley and Other Pioneers of American Socialism should put all doubts to rest. )

The Tribune produced a form of advocacy journalism of Far Left politics. Ironic, when you think of all the times that Fox News has condemned the largely-fictional liberal bias of the news media.

History, as we have seen in our own age, is not something the Republican party does well. There are plenty of good reasons for that. 
It's hard to maintain conservative pro-capitalist credentials when the far-right Republican Party itself was founded by a group of Socialists that promoted a Socialist agenda with all manner of radical rhetoric, through a Socialist newspaper. 
If you are feeling dizzy, just relax: it's quite normal. Your world has been turned upside down.

Charles Dana 
Dana's Patronage
By any measure, Charles Dana was a gifted man and he was also a forgotten behind-the-scenes player in American history.
As biographical notes for Dana points out: 
The extraordinary influence and circulation attained by the newspaper during the ten years preceding the Civil War was in a degree due to the development of Dana's genius for journalism, reflected not only in the making of the Tribune as a newspaper, but also in the management of its staff of writers, and in the steadiness of its policy as the leading organ of anti-slavery sentiment.
But as we have seen, Dana's editorial agenda at the Tribune was by no means limited to the anti-slavery movement. Greeley's biographer, Jeter Allen Isely mentions Dana and his European connections:
"Immediately upon joining the Tribune, Dana went abroad to cover the 1848 revolutions in Europe, where he came under the influence of the socialist Pierre Joseph Proudhon, and where he met Karl Marx, whom he subsequently engaged as a London correspondent for the Tribune.
For 13 years, Dana and Greeley worked together, and for ten years of that time, Marx as a foreign correspondent in England. Since 1848, Marx had captured the public's attention for his contribution to The Communist Manifesto. That book introduced the idea that capitalist societies would eventually be replaced by socialism, and then eventually communism.

Like the Tribune throughout the 1850s and during the Civil War, Marx felt that that the defeat of slavery would result in a golden age for labor.

As a correspondent for the Tribune in England, Dana's arrangement with  Karl Marx provided him with much-needed income. At that desperate time in Marx's career, his friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels could only provide limited financial support. 
History records that Engels came up with a clever solution. He would write and submit articles for publication and Marx would receive the credited by-line. The arrangement lasted ten years, with the final Marx column being published in February 1862.

(The relationship is generally only footnoted and passed along without much comment. One source says that Marx worked "briefly" for the Tribune. However, a full decade is hardly a brief period. Here is a list of of articles that Marx wrote for the Tribune.)

In any case, it comes as a shock to learn that  the Tribune- under Dana and Greeley- became both a voice of the emergent Communist movement- straight from the words of its leaders- as well as a supporter for the newly hatched Republican party. 

The Rise and Fall and Rebirth Of Dana
During these years, Dana, wrote Greeley biographer Don C. Seitz, had become "dominant in the Tribune office and made much trouble for his superior, altering and suppressing his articles in accordance with his own journalistic judgment, which was generally good." 
However, not everybody agreed with that assessment. Dana's critics at a rival newspaper had this to say: 
"The news value of the Tribune during the spring and early summer of 1861 was very slight. Its whole tone and tenor were hysterical. It shrieked, it threatened, it scolded, and it denounced. Its columns were filled with rumors and counter-rumors; and with advice, mostly useless, to the government, to merchants, the public, to labor, and the farmers. It bragged and it boasted. It sniveled and sneered. It demanded action!
On the other hand, Greeley was cantankerous and overbearing. At around that time, he even publicly castigated the president for his lack of leadership in an August 1862 op-ed piece called "The Prayer of Twenty Millions." )

After repeated clashes of egos between Dana and Greeley, the board of managers of the Tribune, led by Greeley, asked for Dana's resignation in April, 1862.

Coincidentally, in the year of dismissal, Dana immediately- in fact, within days- found work as a trusted member of Lincoln's staff. Later Dana gave this account of the events:
My retirement from the Tribune was talked of in the newspapers for a day or two, and brought me a letter form the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, saying he would like to employ me in the War Department. I had already met Mr. Lincoln, and had carried on a brief correspondence with Mr. Stanton.
Within a short period, he was selected to be the assistant Secretary of War and remained in that spot from 1863 to 1865. In fact, the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, gave him his highest trust by making Dana a special investigating agent of the War Department, touring the military camps and reporting back what he found. 

This was not merely an act of Providence.  It came about as a result of carefully calculated planning by Dana.
According to Dana's biographer,
Since Lincoln's inauguration in 1861, Dana had worked at establishing close ties with key members of the president's cabinet.
Thus, Charles Dana, the former boss of Karl Marx (and indirectly of Friedrich Engels) became, as journalist and historian Alexander K. McClure described, "the few men who enjoyed Lincoln's complete confidence." 

To suspicious modern eyes, Dana, the long-time friend of the Marxists, had successfully infiltrated the White House. That is one way to view the events but how much influence Dana might or might not have had is debatable.

Marx Karl

Karl Marx abt 1861
Salute to the Single-Minded Son
Of course, Marx and Lincoln never met and discussed the future of capitalism in the United States.

However, Karl Marx did send a congratulatory letter to Lincoln upon his re-election on November 22, 1864.

In a letter on behalf of the International Workingmen's Association, Marx connected the liberation of the slave class to the eventual liberation of all laborers, whether they be enslaved or hired. 
The workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so the American Anti-slavery War will do for the working classes. They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working class, to lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world.
We know also that Marx's letter was passed along to the president. The reply by Charles Francis Adams, who acted as a minister in charge of the president's correspondence, was carefully worded.
The Government of the United States, Adams wrote, "strives to do equal and exact justice to all states and to all men and it relies upon the beneficial results of that effort for support at home and for respect and good will throughout the world."
Nations do not exist for themselves alone, but to promote the welfare and happiness of mankind by benevolent intercourse and example. It is in this relation that the United States regard their cause in the present conflict with slavery, maintaining insurgence as the cause of human nature, and they derive new encouragements to persevere from the testimony of the workingmen of Europe that the national attitude is favored with their enlightened approval and earnest sympathies.
As we know that dream of the emancipation of the working class, with a fair and balanced relationship between labor and capital, died on the night of April 15, 1865, some six months after Marx's letter.