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Hooray, Hooray, the First of May

marx lincoln red deutschEditor’s Note: Ken Masugi, a veteran of this site, will be guest blogging here for the month of May.

As Friedrich Hayek dedicated The Road to Serfdom (1944) to “the socialists of all parties,” we might use May 1 to declare a counter-revolution of Marxist materialist science. For this purpose Hayek’s works are an invaluable resource. But an even more fitting response to international socialism was given by a figure Marx actually admired and wrote about—Abraham Lincoln.

Consider this internationalist sentiment by the author of the Gettysburg Address, “The strongest bond of human sympathy, outside of the family relation, should be one uniting all working people, of all nations, and tongues, and kindreds.” Does this prove Lincoln an arch-collectivist, as this writer for The Nation hopes?  Hardly. Note first Lincoln’s political purpose in addressing this labor group and then consider why he made an exception of the family.

In his March 21, 1864 message to the New York Workingmen’s Democratic Republican Association, Lincoln was rallying support for the war. The 2002 movie Gangs of New York (link no longer available) reflects the hostility in New York City against the Union, culminating in July, 1863 anti-draft riots that resulted in scores dead, including many blacks. But for Lincoln “the existing rebellion, means more, and tends to more, than the perpetuation of African Slavery—that it is, in fact, a war upon the rights of all working people.”

As Lincoln had put it seven years before in his speech attacking the Supreme Court’s opinion in the Dred Scott case, “In some respects [a black woman] certainly is not my equal; but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands without asking leave of any one else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others.”  The natural right she has eclipses any other sentiments we may feel.

Lincoln concludes that working people must respect the property of all. “None are so deeply interested to resist the present rebellion as the working people. Let them beware of prejudice, working division and hostility among themselves. The most notable feature of a disturbance in your city last summer, was the hanging of some working people by other working people. It should never be so.” The most famous speech of Lincoln’s early career emphasized the reverence for the law against lawless men.

It is in this context that he declares that “The strongest bond of human sympathy, outside of the family relation, should be one uniting all working people, of all nations, and tongues, and kindreds.”  Subsequently, the workingmen should not join the socialist movement or engage in class warfare. They should in fact be the fiercest protectors of property rights.[i]

Nor should this lead to a war upon property, or the owners of property. Property is the fruit of labor —property is desirable — — is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich, shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprize. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another; but let him labor diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.

Finally, in addition to the focus on the dignity of labor, Lincoln rests the distinction here between him and the spreading socialist movement on “the family relation.” The Communist Manifesto  is noteworthy not only for advocating a particular form of socialism or communism, based on a new view of world-history and the abolition of private (bourgeois) property but also on the abolition (Aufhebung) of the (bourgeois) family.

It is not in the bourgeois distortion of the world but rather in human nature that private property and the family are linked, as we see from both Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics. Neither the family nor private property can exist without each other. That is why communism ancient and modern required that men surrender their hold over what is closest to them, in property or flesh and blood. That both natural goods were denied to slaves made the war a moral necessity, a consequence of the belief that “All men are created equal.”


[i] And he reiterated this in his December, 1861 Annual Message to Congress, which he alluded to in his New York Workingmen’s message:

Again, as has already been said, there is not of necessity any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all. No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty; none less inclined to take or touch aught which they have not honestly earned. Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost.

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