The Forging of American Socialism: Origins of the Modern Movement

By Howard H. Quint | Go to book overview
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VIII. Non-Partisan Socialism

WITH BUT a few exceptions Fabian and Christian Socialists had supported Bryan in the 1896 election. Eager to place the forces of reform in power, they had been willing to subordinate their broad socialist principles to the narrow issue of free silver. Bryan's defeat wrecked their immediate aspirations. It also had two other distinct and more permanent effects. First, many "one-step-at-a-timers," refusing to acknowledge that they had been hoodwinked by free silver, became completely disillusioned with the feasibility of achieving reform and social change through means of a political party, socialist or otherwise. Secondly, they were impelled increasingly toward reform of the existing political machinery and away from the more meaningful social and economic questions. In brief, they assumed a role like that of the civil-service reforming Don Quixotes of the two decades after the Civil War. Tilting at the windmills of corrupt politics and political organizations, they closed their eyes to the economic interests which were making American government the shield for special privilege.

Most middle-class socialists credited the Republican triumph in 1896 to the party's financially well-oiled, smooth-running political machine which dispensed money lavishly and in places where it would do the most good. The American Fabian, however, attributed McKinley's victory to a politically and socially uninformed middle class which threw in its lot with the plutocracy.1 As long as middle-class ignorance persisted and gullible workingmen were hoaxed into voting for candidates of their capitalistic overlords by the empty promises of full dinner pails, the cause of economic and social reform could make little, if any, progress. It followed that the chief task of those interested in the public weal was to educate the electorate in the principles of social, economic, and political reform. "The American Fabian feels that it has a work before it no less important than

American Fabian, II ( Dec., 1896), 4.


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