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U.S. | Arts + Action | Government & Elections

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln: An Ordinary Man in Extraordinary Times
by Brad Forrest
Wednesday Nov 21st, 2012 6:52 PM
I have no purpose, directly or indirectly,
to the institution of slavery where it exists.
I believe I have no lawful right to do so,
and I have no inclination to do so.
First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861
Lincoln, the latest production from Steven Spielberg, was released on Friday, November 16. The screenplay was written by Tony Kushner of Angels in America fame. The movie focuses on the struggle for the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that abolished slavery after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863, so right away the audience is taken into the thick of the political wrangling in Congress at the tail end of the Civil War.

Tony Kushner should be applauded for letting Lincoln’s words largely speak for themselves. The speeches are very eloquent, and though we’ve heard them many times before, it’s always a pleasure to hear them again. Daniel Day Lewis is astonishing as Abraham Lincoln. Really, he’s the spitting image of “the Great Emancipator” and brings just the right amount of gravitas to the role. One really feels that Lincoln has the weight of the world on his shoulders. Interestingly enough, Lewis gives his Lincoln a high-pitched voice that detracts not a bit from the austerity of the time. In addition, Lincoln could quote Shakespeare from memory, and those quotes were very uplifting.

Mary Todd Lincoln, played by Sally Field, is exquisite as Lincoln’s conscience. Field brings out all the power that Mrs. Lincoln possessed as an equal to a truly good man. Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens also deserves mention as an arrogant politico.

The Thirteenth Amendment was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, by the House on January 31, 1865, and adopted on December 6, 1865. The movie narrows its focus to the final period in the ratification of the amendment. The political horse-trading and log-rolling, which the middle class intelligentsia takes to be the acme of political struggle, is captured with a deft hand. The tension and suspense, as Lincoln tries to win over some wary Democrats up to the final hour, is palpable and makes for great entertainment.

What is most striking about Lincoln is not what takes place but what doesn’t. The masses are entirely absent from the whole production. The politics of the Civil War, in Lincoln, largely takes place in the ministerial antechambers, where Lincoln buttonholes allies and wins over foes. The masses, in the form of soldiers serve as a breathtaking backdrop, corpses on the battlefield, while the “ones who know” get on with the business of politics.

The losses from the Civil War were horrendous. In total, 625,000 people died and 412,200 were wounded. It need not have happened like that.

The Communist Manifesto was issued in 1848 on the eve of the European revolutions of that year, that is, twelve years before Lincoln and the Republicans won the presidency in 1860, mainly on their opposition to the spread of slavery. It is unclear whether or not Lincoln had a chance to look at that outstanding document before he achieved the presidency. It is well known that he was personally opposed to slavery, but that was for personal consumption, not applicable to practical politics. Here is what Lincoln wrote to Horace Greeley as late as 1862, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union” [Letter to Horace Greeley, August 22, 1862]. Lincoln’s allegiance was to the Union first and foremost and the ending of slavery came secondarily. It’s not necessary to have fully assimilated the materialist conception of history to understand that when the Slaveocracy rose in rebellion, it was a fight between two incompatible social systems. Hostilities began April 12, 1861 when the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter. Lincoln chose to take his stand on a chimera like the union of capitalism and slavery and not on the destruction of a clearly reactionary system. For did not the Declaration of Independence announce, “All men are created equal?”

Ironically, because of his fixation on saving the Union, Lincoln was forced into decreeing the Emancipation Proclamation. His troops were suffering setbacks, and victory looked uncertain. But Black soldiers were proving to be tenacious fighters on the battlefield. By issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln was able to open the gates to many more such fighters who were eager to join the struggle, given that their own freedom would accompany victory. These soldiers then played a decisive role in the victory of the North. Lincoln did not emancipate the slaves, as we are often told. They emancipated themselves, and unfortunately this element was overlooked by Kushner’s Lincoln.

Long ago Leon Trotsky wrote that a political struggle is essentially a contest of interests and forces and only secondarily ideas (The Revolution Betrayed). And we would add ideas battled over in an unwieldy Congress. As soon as the Confederates fired the first shot, Lincoln could have made an appeal over the heads of the recalcitrant northern politicians to the black and white workers for a struggle to the death to destroy the slave-owning oligarchy. He could have issued an appeal to the slaves of the south to rise up, thus decisively crippling the southern economy. To the northern capitalists that remained unconvinced, he could have offered a share in the southern wealth confiscated as booty. Capitalists, let it be known, are quite adept at calculating, and they would have been only too happy to pitch in had they found it profitable. The slave-owning apparatus would have been suspended in mid-air. One good blow by the northern army would have pulverized it, and the war would have been won in a year or less with negligible loss of life to the northern forces. As Teddy Roosevelt put it, the presidency is a “bully pulpit” where one can rally the forces outside Congress to wage a struggle at decisive turning points in history. Lincoln did not do this because he was too preoccupied with palliating the South and trying to “keep” the frontier states from joining the South. He mainly thought of the politicians and wasn’t sufficiently focused on the people below these politicians. He really believed that capitalist American politicians alone were the “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” when, as it has always been, the people were more radical than their representatives.

Lincoln delivers an exciting view of the struggle for the parliamentary mystery of majority and minority. For the middle class intelligentsia, who fear the titanic rumble of the class struggle, politicos twisting each other’s arms, pulling off wigs and hitting each other with canes is the absolute apex of politics. The masses, aside from cannon fodder, figure very little into their calculations. This obvious weakness aside, Lincoln is a good movie and his speeches are spine tingling. It is just too bad that he wasted so much time defending a political mechanism when the destruction of slavery was a far more secure means of defending the Union. Lincoln was an eloquent speaker, of that there is no doubt. However, as everyone knows, even President Obama can make a pretty rousing speech on occasion. That doesn’t stop him from being a typical capitalist politician and turning his back on the masses of working people.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Beeline
Wednesday Nov 21st, 2012 7:37 PM
The Great Emancipator signed the order for the largest mass hanging in United States history which took place at Mankato Minnesota. While it was considered to be humane to "free" the slaves it was considered just to hang Indians, many of which did not know what they were even charged with.
by Unity Jack for Mother Earth
Friday Nov 23rd, 2012 8:31 PM
The article should remember also though, that Lincoln was elected for a second term and was about to implement his favorite programs of governance for, by, and of the people, and it is that that the Southern Aristocracy of Former Slaveholders had him killed for. It would be well to remind ourselves of the events that led to his death and the reasons there with. Booth was not a lone maverick, he was a soldier fully and completly in sympathy with the Southern Aristocracy of Wealthy Slaveholders.

He was acting in conert with those suppressors of freedom and destroyers of liberty. After Lincoln was assasinated the Slaveholders rallied and ran an anti-reconstuctionist, anti-reparations candidate for president. Heyes was brought out and in the election he recieved less votes than did the candidate who ran for reconstruction.

Heyes was the first to be appointed by the non-elected 'Supreme Court' and he became the President who cancelled the union army occupation of the South, cancelled reparations (forty acres and a mule etc.) cancelled re-construction and any hope of government of the people, for the people, and by the peoples. In a word he cancelled Lincoln's whole program and raison d'etra for fighting the war in the first place.

Now you see, but can you understand that wages slavery is not scientific liberation of all classes, because full employment ends poverty. Can you see that Jim Crow was implemented in Southern Aristicratic Law under the Booth-Heyes and Supreme Court controlled by the exc-Southern Slaveholders. Lincoln was about to upset their officialdom, and get to implementing a liberation programe.

For instance, women were people and government for by and of the people was going to be put in place as Lincolns favorite doing. That alone would have been enough to get him killed. The Southern males to this day have not allowed their women to be elected equally so they can access half the law making.

One of the big features of Nazis white racist Germany was to put man into the leading dictatorship over all life including women. To this day the U.S. Constitution does not declare that women should be elected equally throughout the system. Are the women not people?

Indeed they are and native and black women have been organizing and practicing a form of return to the natural matriarchy since Lincoln's time and before. It was since before the Roman Slaveholders conquest of the matriarchy that ended equal electing of women practice of the British Tribes. Do you not realize that Lincoln had a few suprise cards up his sleeve for the second term, and was planning such a Ewomancipation also as part of the new programs of liberation of the union.

All that was cancelled with his death and the class struggle and unity has since sat at the point where woman to this day are still not elected equally, even though they are the people most in need of such Ewomancipation Declaration, and ability to access half the law making being half the people.

Mississippi gambling was made of this, when would the government begin to serve the peoples so all the needs of the people could be put in place. A planned society is not a gamble, but a harmony that gives plants, animals and people purpose and feeling worthy of the species, and happy occasion throughout the living life tree. That is the joy de vivre that is gone, and with out the natural harmony and joy that is the natural equal organic balance of the species, also the plants and animals who are sickening from abuse these bad, bad Imperial war mongering polluted days.

War, after war, after war after war, is no substitution for the joy and harmony of society in natural balance with green nature. Free the specie elect woman equal. Workers of the world unite. End pollution wars, not endless wars for more and more pollution. You yet have a world to win!! Bon Chance!!