John Nichols is the author of The "S" Word: A Short History of a American Tradition—Socialism (Verso).
Florida Congressman Allen West was wrong when he suggested that there were dozens of communists in the current Congress. Misled by crank websites, the out-there Republican from Florida suggested Tuesday that: "I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democrat Party that are members of the Communist Party... They actually don’t hide it. It’s called the Congressional Progressive Caucus."
It would be generous, indeed, to suggest that West is confused.
The Congress is not currently a haven for followers of Karl Marx....
[But] the banner around which radicals have historically gathered in official Washington has been that of the Republican Party.
Founded at Ripon, Wisconsin, in 1854 by utopian socialists and militant abolitionists, the early Republican Party included many German-American immigrants who had come the United States after the wave of European revolutions that stirred in 1848 fell short of its radical goals. Among the first Republicans were allies and associates of Karl Marx, such as Joseph Weydemeyer, who would eventually serve as as a Civil War colonel.
Abraham Lincoln, who like so many of the leading Republicans of his day read Marx and Engles in the pages of Horace Greeley's New York Tribune (where they served for many years as European correspondents), spoke often about the superiority of labor to capital and was highly critical of concentrated wealth. Among Lincoln's White House aides was Charles Dana, Marx's editor. And the sixteenth president accepted the congratulations of Marx and his fellow London Communists after Lincoln's 1864 reelection....