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

By Paul Buhle | Go to book overview

5
Rise of the Culture Critique, 1925-
1940

'The most characteristic sign of our times,' a prominent socialist wrote in 1924, 'is the lack of confidence in all our pre-War ideals, and especially in our pre-War conception of how we are going to realize our ideals. 1 This sense of doubt constituted the greatest crisis in the idea of socialism that American Marxism had yet experienced. Marxists could no longer console themselves, as they had previously, that American conditions were not yet ripe for the doctrine. The revived strength of capital, increasingly focused upon mass production and industrialized leisure, suggested instead that the moment of socialism had come and gone. Communists had a fierce faith in the young Soviet Union and in their own ultimate destiny. But even the radical intelligentsia could not quell its doubts about the vanished Socialist project. The Depression temporarily blasted confidence in capitalism, but no convincing alternative emerged. Intellectuals would nevertheless contribute much to Marxism in a variety of areas. They could hardly appreciate themselves how great were the odds against their success.

The Marxist thinkers of the 1920s-30s possessed an educational level, and a familiarity with culture in the broadest sense, that their predecessors would have envied. Individuals succeeded in attaining high levels of formal theoretical sophistication. They lacked something more important: the rootedness of previous intellectual generations. Neither the organic ties of their German and Jewish antecedents to segments of the working class nor the grassroots audience of earlier socialistic reform intellectuals could be theirs. Likewise, they remained as a group strikingly out of touch with the rich intellectual legacies. The

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

Table of contents

  • The Haymarket Series ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface 1
  • Introduction 9
  • 1 - Immigrant Socialism, 1865-1900 19
  • 2 - American Socialism, American Culture 58
  • 3 - Marxism in the Debs Era 86
  • 4 - Leninism in America 121
  • 5 - Rise of the Culture Critique, 1925- 1940 155
  • 6 - Somewhere Beyond Leninism, 1940-1960 184
  • 7 - The New Left 221
  • Conclusion 258
  • Notes 277
  • Index 296
  • The Haymarket Series 303
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