Crisis on the Left: Cold War Politics and American Liberals, 1947-1954

Crisis on the Left: Cold War Politics and American Liberals, 1947-1954

Crisis on the Left: Cold War Politics and American Liberals, 1947-1954

Crisis on the Left: Cold War Politics and American Liberals, 1947-1954

Excerpt

The American left has always defied neat classification and has contained, throughout its history, a turbulent mixture of overlapping political creeds of enormous diversity and complexity. Populists and progressives, liberals and radicals, Communists and Socialists have all interacted within this political tradition. Yet in spite of this diversity, and in spite of bitter and divisive conflicts, the American left was united throughout the first half of the twentieth century by a shared body of assumptions, including an identification with common people and antipathy toward big business, a faith in popular government, and a belief in progress and man's capacity for improvement, if not perfectibility.

The depression in particular drew leftists together and muted their differences by discrediting the conservative business leadership of the twenties and opening the door to social change. Sectarian divisions were never absent, but both liberals and radicals thought of themselves as members of the "left," and radicals were often viewed as "liberals in a hurry." Both liberals and radicals found employment in New Deal agencies and in the labor movement, and both seemed committed to a politics of redistributive social change. The Communist party, especially after the formation of the popular front, won new acceptability, and the Soviet Union gained considerable prestige among both liberals and radicals, although there were, of course, dissenters. Though it would be easy to exaggerate both the unity and the power of the American left (as did those who would later characterize the thirties as the "Red Decade"), it nevertheless seems clear that in the 1930s the left was more unified and exercised more influence over American politics than ever before.

The rise of Fascism and the intrusion of international events . . .

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