George Fitzhugh: The Socialist Socialists Wish Never Existed

George Fitzhugh (1806-1881) identified himself as a socialist. He condemned capitalism as birthing “a war of the rich with the poor, and the poor with one another” (Fitzhugh, 1854, 22). For him, free markets benefited the strong at the expense of the weak, and wrote in Cannibals All! (1857) that industrial capitalism in America constituted “wage-slavery”. No need to fear though, for Fitzhugh had an answer for this pressing problem of “wage-slavery” and class warfare. Are you ready for it? Slavery!

Fitzhugh held that the slavery of the South was more beneficial for its workers than the capitalist oppression of the North. In Sociology for the South, or the Failure of Free Society (1854), he stated that socialism “Proposes to do away with free competition; to afford protection and support at all times to the laboring class; to bring about, at least, a community of property, and to associate labor. All these purposes, slavery fully land perfectly attains. Socialism is already slavery in all save the master…Our only quarrel with Socialism is, that it will not honestly admit that it owes its recent revival to the failure of universal liberty, and is seeking to bring about slavery again in some form” (Fitzhugh, 1854, 48, 70). Fitzhugh was unique among slavery defenders in his advocacy of extending slavery to poor whites. He expressed concern that blacks could not compete in a free market and needed slavery to be economically secure and morally civilized, and was similarly paternalistic towards poor whites. Fitzhugh considered the notion insulting that whites were unfit for slavery. He wrote, “It is the duty of society to protect the weak,” but protection cannot be efficient without the power of control; therefore, “It is the duty of society to enslave the weak” (Fitzhugh, 1857, 278). While Fitzhugh’s socialism was not Marxian socialism strictly speaking, he expressed similar critiques of capitalism and competition, and held that it was society’s duty to provide for the poor. For him, providing for the poor required collectivism and control absolute.

Fitzhugh was no obscure figure in his time; he attracted a lot of attention, including negative attention from abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and President Abraham Lincoln, who was more irked by Fitzhugh than by any other slavery defender (Blumenthal, 2017). During the Civil War, he would work in the Treasury of the Confederacy and oddly enough, during Reconstruction, he would briefly serve as a judge on the Freedmen’s Court before his retirement.

Most young socialists of today probably don’t know of Fitzhugh, but if they did, they won’t be eager to cite him any time soon.

Sources:

Blumenthal, S. (20 May 2017). How Abraham Lincoln Found His Anti-Slavery Voice. Newsweek.

Retrieved from

http://www.newsweek.com/how-abraham-lincoln-found-his-anti-slavery-voice-610431

Fitzhugh, G. (1857). Cannibals All! Richmond, Va.: A. Morris.

Fitzhugh, G. (1854). Sociology for the South, or, the Failure of Free Society. Richmond, Va.: A. Morris.

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