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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lincoln the Marxist!!!

Lincoln the Marxist

I'm still reading about the circumstances around Lincoln's 1861 State of the Union Speech. But the text itself shows that:

    a; "class" distinctions were mostly an invention of the wealthy, and
    b; Lincoln didn't truck with permanent class distinctions.
    c; The issue of capital and labor is directly tied to that of slavery.

In December of 1861 near the beginning of the Civil War Lincoln gave a State of Union speech which included this often excerpted portion. I imagine real Marxists (I'm not one) like it even more than me:

From Infoplease: ist/state-of-the-union/73.html
"It is not needed nor fitting here that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions, but there is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government."

People like to think that class warfare started with the Marxists and reached it's culmination with the Bolshevik Revolution. But the reality is that property, including capital, and labor have been at odds with each other for most of human history. The reason why slavery was an important issue was because it represented the ownership of people and their labor as property. Ending slavery was important, not only to slaves, but to working people in general. And fighting the efforts of capital to not only exert economic power but to rule policy through politics and law are directly connected. And Lincoln in this speech explains why.

"It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.
(Read more: State of the Union Address: Abraham Lincoln (December 3, 1861) |

This is how our masters would prefer us to be. If we are slaves they don't have to pay us. If they can find willing slaves (like Robots) they can fix us in the position of slaves, or even worse, freeze us out of the parts of the economy they control. And we have to reject that premise in order to fight the policies.

"Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer...."

Unless their freedom is taken away from them. More importantly people have a natural right to own the means to pursue happiness, to have a property in the commons necessary for commoners such as us to survive. Thus the arguments of those who would make capital king are bankrupt and groundless.

"Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless."

If we are enslaved it is tyranny and usurpation, not a natural or humane logic. Lincoln is here stating a fundamental, a natural, an inalienable right.

"Labor is prior to and independent of capital. 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."

But of course capital has fought back with the argument that capital is the "job creators" and that people will not work unless capital pays them.

"Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them.

Thus one can see that the slave owners were fundamentally, capitalists.

The Vision of America

But the vision of America is of a vast middle class of people who are both capitalists and laborers, who own their own capital goods (tools, buildings, offices, etc...) and are not either slaves nor mere hired hands:

A large majority belong to neither class--neither work for others nor have others working for them. In most of the Southern States a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters, while in the Northern a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men, with their families--wives, sons, and daughters--work for themselves on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand nor of hired laborers or slaves on the other. It is not forgotten that a considerable number of persons mingle their own labor with capital; that is, they labor with their own hands and also buy or hire others to labor for them; but this is only a mixed and not a distinct class. No principle stated is disturbed by the existence of this mixed class.

And that class is nurtured by government that doesn't favor capital over labor and that doesn't penalize labor with evil policies, mandated minimum wages, and by giving capital ownership over the commons.

"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.

And so Abraham Lincoln shows the basis of the Progressive movement. We aren't Marxists. We don't see a laboring class that will suddenly "rise up" and seize the "means of production" as some abstract concept. We see ourselves as both capitalists and laborers, working class and capable of doing better. We see the American Dream as the right to not be fixed in place by oppression of any sort.

(Read more: State of the Union Address: Abraham Lincoln (December 3, 1861) |

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