Lenin on Lincoln

: October 15, 2017


In the United States, the imperialist war waged against Spain in 1898 stirred up the opposition of the “anti-imperialists”, the last of the Mohicans of bourgeois democracy who declared this war to be “criminal”, regarded the annexation of foreign territories as a violation of the Constitution, declared that the treatment of Aguinaldo, leader of the Filipinos (the Americans promised him the independence of his country, but later landed troops and annexed it), was “jingo treachery”, and quoted the words of Lincoln: “When the white man governs himself, that is self-government; but when he governs himself and also governs others, it is no longer self-government; it is despotism.” [2] But as long, as all this criticism shrank from recognising the inseverable bond between imperialism and the trusts, and, therefore, between imperialism and the foundations of capitalism, while it shrank from joining the forces engendered by large-scale capitalism and its development-it remained a “pious wish”.

In his writing “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism,” Vladimir Lenin quotes a quote of Abraham Lincoln and seems sympathetic to the expressed view about White Americans ruling over nations that are predominately non-White (the people quoting Lincoln opposed this on grounds of self-determination).  Lenin seems favorable to this disposition, but then concludes that the analysis cannot stand up as a realistic critique of capitalism because it is insufficiently conscious of the role of monopoly capitalism in imperialism.  Throughout the writing, Lenin goes through painstaking extremes to differentiate monopoly capitalism from other forms of capitalism, but suggests that the end result of capitalism is always monopoly once scarcity sets in.  Like many other of Lenin’s criticisms, it is made on grounds that the critiqued view is a bourgeois reformist view.

It should be noted that Lincoln’s views on self-determination were argued originally in context of his attitude towards Blacks.   Like many other politicians, Lincoln was known to flip flop and may have indeed supported imperialism over Filipinos if it was somehow useful to him.  While Lincoln supported Black self-determination, he certainly did not support Southern self-determination.  Thus, it can concluded that even though Lincoln had little interest in the Plantation slavery of the South (and to be frank therefore concluded that he did not need Blacks), he was very interested in expanding his own industrial capitalism.

Lenin in this article does not comment on Lincoln’s view towards Black self-determination, but it is my inference that Lenin knew the difference between anti-imperialism and segregationist views but could still critique Lincoln for not critiquing capitalism (and only talking about race) .  Basically, if a program separated Blacks and Whites but kept capitalism in place, foreign and domestic problems would still surface for both groups.  Non-monopoly capitalism, while it lasted, would encourage people to reintegrate and when it turned into monopoly capitalism, the consequences would be harmful whether Whites and Blacks remained integrated or segregated.

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