Marx, Engels, Lincoln, Guelzo, and McClellan

An ebbing tide lowers all boats, I suppose, and the dumbing down of America is bound to include the dumbing down of American Communists as well as the rest of us.

For instance, I'm holding in my virtual hands a virtual newspaper, The World Socialist Website actually, in which there appears a review of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America by Allen C. Guelzo (Simon & Schuster, 2004). The review is staggeringly favorable.

Guelzo seems to me to be, like Lincoln, an advocate of Natural Rights philosophy against which Marxists posit a "scientific materialism." Guelzo heavily blurbed Harry Jaffa's recent exposition on Lincoln as Natural Rightist. That book lambasted Marxists, not to mention Kantians like Calhoun, and muddleheads like Douglas. Natural Rights is antithetical to Marxism. Did the World Socialists read the whole book? Are they on some Lincoln admiration autopilot, indifferent to the ack-ack fired at them from the ground of Natural Rights? Or did Guelzo write a book pitched to such a wide audience that no reader could be offended by anything appearing here?

I'm wondering about this.

The McClellan references are important. In their extensive correspondence on the Civil War, Marx and Engels clearly identified with Abraham Lincoln. In their McClellan criticism, Marx and Engels laid the groundwork for setting up McClellan as a political antithesis of Lincoln's progressivism. Marx: "From the outset, the Northerners have been dominated by the representatives of the border slave states, who were also responsible for pushing McClellan, that old partisan of Breckinridge, to the top." (McClellan was actually a Douglas Democrat - that same Douglas who held Lincoln's hat at the inauguration.) Like Hans Trefousse understands in our day, Marx understood that McClellan had to be destroyed for his politics.

Our reviewer revels in Guelzo's banal interpretation of the Harrison Bar letter, the usual nonsense about the impertinence of political advice tendered a president by a general. Anyone who believes McClellan was unique in this should return his prizes and go home. McClellan not only asked in advance if he could submit his views: the letter invited the President to react to McClellan's cards-on-the-table. McClellan wanted, thirsted for, political guidance. Amost concurrently with McClellan's gentle demand for political guidance, several Northern governors threatened to withhold troops contingent on Lincoln explaining his war aims.

Now that is a Harrison's Bar letter. One, I might add, that never appears in the equations calculating the timing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The heavy lifting for a committed Marxist would be to delineate McClellan's politics vis a vis Lincoln's, not to cop a free ride on some snide, ahistorical nonsense about McClellan violating civil/military distinctions not yet defined.

By the end of the review, our socialist is concurring with Guelzo's attacks on black critics of Lincoln. Marx might have done the same, so committed was he to Lincoln as president.


The rise of monopoly capitalism in the aftermath of the Civil War led not to equality, but rather to ever-deeper inequality.

Now we are cooking. Except that monopoly capitalism may be a Republican Party outcome, something a socialist needs to think about, talk about, and to consider Lincoln's economic views on this matter. This is basic Marxist homework.

A final thought from Marx himself near the end of McClellan's tenure:

The long and the short of it is, I think, that wars of this kind ought to be conducted along revolutionary lines, and the Yankees have so far been trying to conduct it along constitutional ones.

Lincoln = revolution. McClellan = constitution.

Communists, why do I have to do your math problems for you?