The American Socialist Movement, 1897-1912

The American Socialist Movement, 1897-1912

The American Socialist Movement, 1897-1912

The American Socialist Movement, 1897-1912

Excerpt

American capitalism has been praised for many virtues. Its supporters have credited the unrestricted operation of the "free enterprise" system with extending the national boundaries from coast to coast, developing an enormous productive plant, rewarding the industrious, encouraging the poor, bringing prosperity to all, and providing the only environment for a society dedicated to freedom, democracy, and social justice.

Yet, throughout our history many Americans have found that what was praised in theory did not work in practice. Negro slaves, indentured servants, debt-ridden farmers, propertyless workers, ambitious professionals, and hard-pressed businessmen have all concluded at one time or another that society would benefit from some more or less basic changes in the operation of the American economy. Comparatively few ever went so far as to suggest that capitalism itself be eliminated. But many held that if they were to have the opportunities assumed to be available to all under a competitive system, the activities of those who had clawed their way to positions of economic power would have to be regulated and restricted.

Most American reformers have continued to seek ways to compel the free enterprise system to operate equitably. But the hardships and dislocations caused by the impact of industrial capitalism on America's relatively egalitarian agrarian society caused the ideology of European utopian socialism to be greeted with considerable enthusiasm before the Civil War. The new working class of the 1820s was discovering that the Declaration of Independence needed restating to meet the problems created by industrial capitalism.1 Middle-class social reformers were in search of a program . . .

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