Abraham Lincoln, socialist

Today I learned that Abraham Lincoln and Karl Marx corresponded…and that Lincoln was sympathetic to many of Marx’s ideas (that strange squelching sound you hear in the distance is the sound of generations of zombie Republicans rising up from their TV chairs to slobber and point an accusing finger at me.) The Red Scare of the middle of the last century sure managed to destroy a lot of good ideas and reasonable history with the scorching heat of fanaticism. It’s sad how much we lost in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Lincoln was not, of course, a Communist. And yet some of the ideas he absorbed from Marx’s Tribune writings — many of which would later be adapted for the first volume of Capital — made their way into the Republican Party of the 1850s and 60s. That party, writes Brockell, was “anti-slavery, pro-worker and sometimes overtly socialist,” championing, for example, the redistribution of land in the West. (Marx even considered emigrating to Texas himself at one time.) And at times, Lincoln could sound like a Marxist, as in the closing words of his first annual message (later the State of the Union ) in 1961.

“Labor is prior to and independent of capital,” the country’s 16th president concluded in the first speech since his inauguration. “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” That full, 7,000 word address appeared in newspapers around the country, including the Confederate South. The Chicago Tribune subtitled its closing arguments “Capital vs. Labor.”

Oh my god. Do you remember when the United States had a pro-labor political party? Neither do I.

Here’s how the Democratic party reacted to teachers voting to demand remote teaching options.

When Chicago teachers voted to work remotely last week to protest COVID-19 safety protections in the nation’s third-largest school district, Democratic Party officials leapt into action.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker pushed for a quick end to the job action and helped secure rapid tests to entice teachers back to the classroom. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the teachers “abandoned their posts” in “an illegal walkout.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki stressed that students should be in school. The standoff ended with a tentative agreement late Monday.

“Leapt into action”…to get teachers back into the classroom, to continue unsafe pandemic practices, to put more students and their families at risk, all in defiance of what medical experts have been advising. Keeping the schools open is so important to Democrats that they’d oppose the teacher’s union to get the back to work.

At least that’s not as bad as the recommendation of asshole conservative Henry Olsen (why does that guy get published in the Washington Post, our supposedly liberal paper? Maybe because it’s not as liberal as they want you to think.)

Teachers unions are in the wrong on covid-19. Democrats must force them back to work.
The Chicago Teachers Union’s vote to return to remote learning over what it says are unsafe conditions due to covid-19, forcing the city’s schools to close on Wednesday, not only defies reason; it’s also an assault on the well-being of children. City, state and national Democrats should act to bring vaccinated teachers back to work and prevent future unjustified work stoppages.

Let’s hope the Democratic party doesn’t ever listen to Henry Olsen, and why the hell is Henry Olsen trying to advise the Democrats in the first place?

Those are the two poles of the politics of the labor movement in America: on one side, Republicans who would be fine with sending workers into their workplaces at gunpoint, if necessary, and on the other side, Democrats who will more gently pressure unions to obey the dictates of the bosses, exactly the same outcome the Republicans want.

Poor Abraham.


  1. Walter Solomon says

    Marx was also a fan of Darwin who, in turn, apparently had a copy of Das Kapital (or the other Marx-Engels book) in his possession. It’s fun to think that these men could’ve had a web of correspondence with each other.

  2. Susan Montgomery says

    Chicago Democrats acting unethically? You must have read that wrong. After all, to be a Democrat – especially a black lesbian one with a college degree – means that one has reached a Zen-state of awareness and enlightenment which makes bigotry, cruelty and willful ignorance impossible.

  3. ospalh says

    The biggest problem, or one large step towards a solution of many problems, is the voting system.
    First-past-the-post systems just don’t work.
    With proportional represetation you can have more than two parties.
    (And with more complicated systems like the German MMP you get your local constituency’s MP on top of that.)

  4. says

    at times, Lincoln could sound like a Marxist, as in the closing words of his first annual message (later the State of the Union ) in 1961.

    Taking nothing away from your general point, and recognizing that this is inside a quote (and thus the error was probably in your source, not unique to you, PZ), I still feel compelled to point out that it’s highly unlikely that Abraham Lincoln gave any speech in NINETEEN sixty-one.

  5. haltritz says

    The Wash Post has three other, even worse, right-wing writers: Hugh Hewitt, Marc Theisen, and the brain-dead Gary Abernathy, who also appears as a commenter on PBS Newshour. Talk about waste of oxygen! And radio waves!

  6. fusilier says

    Along with the legislature’s Big Outrage over on-line/remote learning, Indianapolis TV stations are running advertisements for https://www.connectionsacademy.com/indiana-online-school

    Does anyone else see a discrepancy?

    Just FYI, durning hearings for a State Senate bill mandating “neutrality” in teaching (No Critical Race Theory in our kindergartens!!!), one of the speakers said he couldn’t possibly be unbiased when discussing Nazi-ism and the Holocaust.

    Republican Sen. Scott Baldwin said teachers’ lessons about fascism and Nazism should be impartial.
    “Marxism, Nazism, fascism … I have no problem with the education system providing instruction on the existence of those ‘isms,’ ” said Baldwin, who co-wrote the bill. “I believe that we’ve gone too far when we take a position. … We need to be impartial.”



    James 2:24

  7. anat says

    You know who else was a ‘Marxist’ (or perhaps proto-Marxist) even before Marx? Benjamin Franklin!

    All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition.

  8. davidc1 says

    Who is going to clear up the mess after all them repub heads have exploded?
    Marx wanted to dedicate one of his books to Charles Darwin.

  9. KG says

    d avidc 1@1 0 ,
    Darwin did have a copy of Das Kapital, which Marx sent him (it was a signed copy) but most of the pages were uncut, implying that he never read it; and it’s unlikely Marx ever offered to dedicate one of his works to Darwin.

  10. davidc1 says

    @11 Bugger another discredited myth.
    @9 Franklin was an Honorary Lunar Man,Darwin’s grandfather was a member of the Lunar Society.

  11. xohjoh2n says


    First-past-the-post systems just don’t work.

    They work extremely well. Their goals are just not your goals.

  12. PaulBC says

    “Labor is prior to and independent of capital,” the country’s 16th president concluded in the first speech since his inauguration. “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

    I think this is notable, not so much in sentiment, as in its wonky phrasing. The basic notion that work is more entitling than property (for which you collect rent) would have found support in many places without Marx’s influence, but it’s interesting that Lincoln used “labor” and “capital” explicitly.


    but most of the pages were uncut, implying that he never read it

    That’s a keeper… for some gotcha that will sadly never come up in my life unless I go looking for it.

  13. xohjoh2n says


    By Adam Smith (1776), there are three types of “money”, labour, rent and capital. (That is, rent and capital are different things, they belong to two different classes of people, and behave differently.)

  14. unclefrogy says

    it was speeches like that that would have upset the southern slave owners so much and rightly so. It would not have pleased the wealthy generally in the north either. It is not a long step from anti-slavery to being pro-working class and the needs of the public as a whole being more important then the desires of the rich and ownership classes
    was not one of the founding ideals the ideal of the yeoman farmer as foundational to democracy and a just society?

  15. robro says

    unclefrogy @ #18 — “not a long step from anti-slavery to being pro-working class” Indeed, and vice versa. Dividing the “slave” (meaning black workers) and working class (meaning white workers) was possibly an intention of colonial law makers (all white and many slave owners) when they began enacting slave laws at the end of the 17th century. I think there is also a time juxtaposition between the rise of Jim Crowe (essentially re-enslavement) and anti-labor/anti-union policies during the last quarter of the 19th century and into the 20th century as modern industrialization took hold.

  16. KG says

    unclefrogy@18, robro@19,

    Undoubtedly. But the antislavery movement, at least in Britain, was dominated by wealthy men who – whatever their genuine revulsion against slavery – were also “free trade and free labour” theorists who thought (following Adam Smith) that it was economically inefficient and a drag on profits, because “free labour” would have incentives other than avoiding the whip to work hard, even at low wages. Specifically, they thought that the sugar industry in the British Caribbean would flourish once slavery was abolished. In fact, it collapsed, outcompeted by slavery-based plantations in Cuba and Brazil, because the freed people were unwilling to work for the wages the plantation owners offered. See Padraic X. Scanlan Slave Empire: How Slavery Built Modern Britain.

  17. xohjoh2n says

    @21 In the news today:

    Slavery, Williams argues, was abolished in much of the British empire in 1833 because doing so at that time was in Britain’s economic self-interest – not because the British suddenly discovered a conscience. […] “When British capitalism depended on [sugar and cotton plantations in] the West Indies, they [the capitalists] ignored slavery or defended it. When British capitalism found the West Indian monopoly [on sugar] a nuisance, they destroyed West Indian slavery as the first step in the destruction of West Indian monopoly.”