Prophets of the Left: American Socialist Thought in the Twentieth Century

By Robert Hyfler | Go to book overview

in the debates over immediate and long-range goals, reform versus revolution, accommodationism versus rejectionism. Both Gompers and De Leon were cognizant of these dual imperatives. Gompers's heralded goal of "more and more" was a nod toward the political while advocating a strategy of compromise. 57 In De Leon's analysis, party generals lead the foot soldiers of the working class into battle for the salvation of all humanity; yet, the implied sacrifice on the individual level is mitigated by the consolation that the battle may only be fought with ballots rather than bullets. Furthermore, like Lenin, whom he resembled so strongly in many ways, De Leon had a firm belief in the immediacy of the revolution and in the vanguard role of the party. He viewed reform as unnecessary, even counterproductive, and it was inconceivable to both the Russian and the American socialist that a theoretically correct party might lead the working class into a revolutionary adventure that would not succeed or that might not be in its interest. It is with this dilemma in mind that we approach the socialism of Eugene Debs and the militants of the IWW. Despite the frequent simplicity and roughness of their prose, and despite their occasional inconsistencies in logic, the activists of the working-class left sought solutions which often bridged the gap between pragmatism and principle, between the need for immediate reform and the search for the revolutionary future.

Marx's formula was to wait for the revolution until that moment when human suffering had reached the crisis point, when a solution on the level of individual self-interest was only possible through a political solution, when to save themselves individuals must save their class and humanity as well. The working-class militants of an IWW and Debsian persuasion, whose approach to socialism is discussed in the next chapter, viewed the underclasses as already suffering on that lowest level. They argued that workers were already being shot, children were already starving and, as citizens, the proletariat was already disenfranchised. To them, it was the party functionaries who betrayed their cause by sacrificing the current generation of workers for the sake of some future electoral victory.


NOTES
1.
Daniel De Leon, Reform or Revolution ( New York: Socialist Labor Party, 1918), p. 5.

-62-

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Prophets of the Left: American Socialist Thought in the Twentieth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • 1 - Introduction: Theory and American Socialism 3
  • Notes 13
  • 2 - The Conservative Uses of Marx: Hillquit, Spargo, and Berger 15
  • Notes 40
  • 3 - De Leon and Labor Accommodationism: Two Poles of the Working-Class Movement 47
  • Notes 62
  • 4 - Socialism in the Working Class: Debs and the Wobblies 67
  • Notes 91
  • 5 - The Emergence and Subjugation of the Socialist Left: Boudin and Fraina 97
  • Notes 116
  • 6 - Norman Thomas and the Socialism of Concern 121
  • Notes 137
  • 7 - Michael Harrington and the Future of Socialism in America 143
  • Notes 168
  • Selected Bibliography 173
  • Index 183
  • About the Author 189
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