Norman Thomas: The Great Dissenter

Norman Thomas: The Great Dissenter

Norman Thomas: The Great Dissenter

Norman Thomas: The Great Dissenter

Excerpt

Many Americans of the 1920s could not readily distinguish between “socialism and rheumatism,” but that did not deter Norman Thomas from becoming a Socialist. As a member of the Socialist Party, he pursued the presidency six times, never garnering more than a fraction of the votes cast for the Democratic and Republican Party nominees. The Socialist Party never gained a firm foothold in American politics, and as a consequence membership in the Socialist Party was generally considered as reserved for political outcasts. In later years, during the McCarthy era, Socialists frequently were misidentified as Communists, and super patriots recklessly equated democratic socialism and the welfare state with communism, thus forcing Thomas repeatedly to deny any affiliation with the Communist Party.

As a pacifist, Thomas opposed America’s involvement in both World Wars. Even after Pearl Harbor, it was only with great reluctance that he gave what he designated as “critical” support for the war effort. His positions in opposition to war never endeared him to the general public and his pacifist views were widely rejected. During both wars, and especially during the First World War, Thomas greatly displeased an overwhelming majority of the general public because of his steadfast support for religious and other conscientious objectors who refused to enter combat.

Others of his positions were equally unpopular. Despite the vilification the Communists rained down upon him, he contended that members of the Communists Party should be provided the same civil rights as other Americans. During World War II, he was one of a handful who publicly objected

1 Thomas autobiography, 73.

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