Marxism in the United States: Remapping the History of the American Left

By Paul Buhle | Go to book overview

3
Marxism in the Debs Era

The political strength of the Debsian Socialist Party and the revolutionary elan of the Industrial Workers of the World have no equal in American radicalism. Together they reflect the capacity of the left to identify and equate with itself the key symbols from both historical sides of the great social transition: honest producers of the agrarian, republican past and cosmopolitan worker-intellectuals of the technological, multi-cultural future. In probing the secrets of full-blown capitalism based upon advanced heavy industry, state regulation and a vast consumer market, they interwove for a moment the immigrant and homegrown strains long incompatible. They also faced up to the emergence of the United States as the dominant military- industrial power in the world. Tragically, they ran out of time, out of strategy and out of forces before they could consolidate permanent social bases.

The first grand transformation of American society, sweeping aside the pre-industrial order with its moral economy of relatively autonomous craft labor, subsistence or labor exchange farming and close family units, had called the Socialists' homegrown predecessors into being. Utopians, labor reformers, even militant temperance advocates had sought to broaden the terms of individual freedom while resisting the social implications of total market domination. Socialists offered several constituencies their last chance to defend imperiled ways of life. The second transformation, coordinating Fordist mass production with a burgeoning 'culture industry', provoked the younger generation to attempt to make new cultural sense of the opportunities created by the objective force of the market. The linking

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