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

By Paul Buhle | Go to book overview

Conclusion

As we look back at American Marxism from the vantage-point of 1990, familiar themes resonate. What should have been clear a quarter-century ago has now become unavoidable. Amid another generation of revanchist (generally neo-conservative or neo-liberal) scholarly and institutional threats from the Right, the incorporation of Left insights into theory has, although just barely, begun in earnest.

The appeals for a return from history's galut [exile], and for a movement through history toward a multi-racial, multi-cultural, gender-egalitarian society, have been, as we have seen, twin themes of redemption. Counterpoints to the 'American Assumption' of a timeless, virtuous, bourgeois society immune to the Old World's ills, these two perspectives provided native- born Americans and waves of immigrants with chiliastic anti- capitalist appeals, and with 'scientific' socialist rationale. Their greatest limitation lay not in the ideas themselves, but in the system's expansive, self-recuperative powers. 1

Given the rise of the United States to economic and military world dominance--capped by the collapse of communism--we should hardly be surprised to see the Left and its intellectual efforts repeatedly marginalized over the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The very process of marginalization has often hidden the tracks of Left influence, by making state- sanctioned reform seem the inevitable outcome of conflict. As radicals helped launch the Republican Party and later forced laborist planks upon the local Democratic Party urban machines, Socialists acted decisively within the early AFL and Communists in the CIO and in the pre-formative civil rights movement. The conservative and bureaucratic element always

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