The Socialist Party of America: A Complete History

The Socialist Party of America: A Complete History

The Socialist Party of America: A Complete History

The Socialist Party of America: A Complete History


At a time when the word "socialist" is but one of numerous political epithets that are generally divorced from the historical context of America's political history, The Socialist Party of America presents a new, mature understanding of America's most important minor political party of the twentieth century. From the party's origins in the labor and populist movements at the end of the nineteenth century, to its heyday with the charismatic Eugene V. Debs, and to its persistence through the Depression and the Second World War under the steady leadership of "America's conscience," Norman Thomas, The Socialist Party of America guides readers through the party's twilight, ultimate demise, and the successor groups that arose following its collapse.

Based on archival research, Jack Ross's study challenges the orthodoxies of both sides of the historiographical debate as well as assumptions about the Socialist Party in historical memory. Ross similarly covers the related emergence of neoconservatism and other facets of contemporary American politics and assesses some of the more sensational charges from the right about contemporary liberalism and the "radicalism" of Barack Obama.


The story of how I came to the study of American Socialism is the story of a personal inheritance.

My great-grandfather, also named Jack Ross, emigrated from the Polish city of Lomza at the age of fourteen, once he was old enough to be jailed by the Okhrana for his involvement with the Jewish Socialist Bund. In New York, he became a skilled diamond cutter and a founder of the International Jewelry Workers Union. After settling down with a family in Brooklyn, he was a “Jimmie Higgins,” as unsung rank and filers of the Socialist Party were known, of Jewish Branch Boro Park.

What he lacked for distinction in the movement, he more than made up for in the depth of his convictions. He remained an unreconstructed Bundist, insisting he was not a Zionist and reliably voting for what he regarded as the sufficiently nonbourgeois Liberal Party of New York until his death in 1975. His son, my father’s father, was never especially interested in politics, but knew well enough from his father to stay away from the Communists at Brooklyn College in the 1930s, and he voted for Norman Thomas in 1948.

My mother’s parents, Gertrude and Stanley Ruttenberg, were never members of the Socialist Party, but they were my role models in serving the cause of social justice. They met on the Steelworkers Organizing Committee in Pittsburgh and were intimately acquainted with the more famous leaders of the CIO up to the time of the merger that formed the AFL-CIO and beyond. They were of a generation of labor partisans caught up in the heyday of Cold War liberalism, with my grandfather . . .

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