The Forging of American Socialism: Origins of the Modern Movement

By Howard H. Quint | Go to book overview
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XI. Socialist Unity Achieved

FROM its very inception, the world-wide socialist movement, notably in its Marxist variants, has suffered acutely from the inability of its advocates to reach areas of agreement, let alone to work harmoniously with one another. This condition is inherent in the nature of socialism, providing as it does not only a political method but also a social faith which demands from its adherents a dedicated way of life and a religious devotion. In fact, the histories of Christianity and socialism share certain definite similarities. Both are militantly missionary. Both are teleological. Just as the Church has been torn by dissensions over dogma, so has the socialist movement been split over matters of doctrine. Just as Christian heretics were burned at the stake in the later Middle Ages, so have socialist deviationists been pilloried, harassed, excommunicated, and even liquidated by those claiming doctrinal infallibility.1

In considering the disunity in the socialist ranks, the personal factor must not be minimized. Socialism, in demanding a radically different form of societal organization, is a revolutionary creed. And rarely does one find a large area of agreement on means and ends among any group of revolutionaries, especially when the original creed tends inevitably to proliferate in response to new social and economic pressures and changes. Desire for power, suspicion, vituperation, and jealousy have rivaled ideological factors in the socialist movement. In the United States during 1900 and 1901 personal factors were more important than doctrine in determining the course of events leading up to the formation of the Socialist Party of America.

Seymour Stedman, Frederic Heath, and Margaret Haile, three members of the Social Democratic Party's Committee on Socialist Unity, had serious misgivings as to the desirability of union with the Socialist Laborites when the conference with

Norman Thomas discusses this problem in A Socialist's Faith ( New York, 1951). pp. 5, 23.


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