The Forging of American Socialism: Origins of the Modern Movement

By Howard H. Quint | Go to book overview

I. Marxism Comes to America

AT THE instigation of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the headquarters of the first International Workingmen's Association, mortally ill from the wasting disease of Bakunin anarchism, was transferred in 1872 from London to New York, to let it die in peace and obscurity. The communist leaders left the unhappy task of administering the last rites and burial to Friedrich A. Sorge, their faithful American adjutant. But Sorge proved to be more a physician than a mortician, and by incredibly hard work and constant attention he kept the patient alive for four more years. Not until July, 1876, did a congress of American socialists finally pronounce the International officially dead. Few Americans probably took the time to read of the International's demise in those rare newspapers which saw fit to carry its obituary notice.

The International's presence in the United States, while a matter of public record, was hardly one of public knowledge or concern; and, indeed, the same might be said of the entire socialist movement during the two decades after the Civil War. The persistent efforts of immigrant proselytizers and their converts to give the transplanted and dissension-wracked American movement organizational permanence and public reputation had pathetically little success. In fact, it was not until 1886 that socialism suddenly and indelibly shocked itself upon the American consciousness. In that year, a populace, which basked in the complacency of the Gilded Age, was generally misinformed by the press that "socialist" agitators were to blame for the bloody Chicago Haymarket Square Riot. And a few months later, the same public learned, this time correctly, that the socialists were playing a major role in Henry George's great New York mayoralty campaign. For uneasy conservatives these were not happy portents for the future.

During the Paris commune of 1871 some American newspapers, to be sure, had raised the specter of socialism's threat

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