Socialism and Christianity in Early 20th Century America

Socialism and Christianity in Early 20th Century America

Socialism and Christianity in Early 20th Century America

Socialism and Christianity in Early 20th Century America


Despite an anti-religious reputation and the anti-religious worldview of many members, the American Socialist movement held a primarily religious and moral attraction for a small but highly articulate group of American Christians of diverse religious tradition. This study explores the dramatic and at times dangerous lives of individuals who found in the vibrant, growing socialist movement before World War I the grounds for hope that the biblical ideals of human worth and economic justice would at last be fulfilled. Its subjects are male and female, black and white, native- and foreign-born, clergy and lay people, and products of Christian traditions ranging from African-American Baptist to Episcopalian. Readers will find, not Milquetoasts standing hesitantly on the sidelines, but Christians with an unequivocal commitment to the complete socialist program who made major contributions to socialist work, as authors, political candidates, and party leaders.


Jacob H. Dorn

While working on this book in a second-floor study at home, I have often glanced out the window only to see a neighbor's bumper sticker proclaiming that "socialism doesn't work." That is not a message to buoy one's spirit during the often tedious work of searching notes for that just-right quotation, proofreading for misplaced commas, and double-checking of sources. The bumper sticker gives no clues as to how its creator (and the neighbor) decide what "works" and what doesn't, but it seems likely that the breakup of the Soviet Union, events in eastern Europe, and the ascendancy of conservative and neo-liberal perspectives in the United States inform their judgment.

Confusing socialism with communism is a common fallacy. So too is confusing socialism with the liberal welfare state whose foundations were laid during the Great Depression. The democratic and pluralistic socialism that attracted the subjects of this volume was a far cry from the Soviet model. It was also far more radical than the New Deal with respect to control of economic power and distribution of wealth. If socialism, loosely defined, is out of fashion, there is no reason to believe that the critique of capitalism and the aspirations for economic justice of a Kate Richards O'Hare or an Irwin St. John Tucker are uninstructive at the end of the twentieth century. They no more offer a blueprint for social reconstruction today than they did in their own day. They do offer, now as then, examples of great commitment to the good of all and of passionate efforts to spread that commitment.

In recruiting contributors to this work, I tried to find scholars who were doing intensive biographical work in the area of religion and socialism. Broad-gauged studies of social movements are fundamental to understanding them. Biography, however, gives those movements a human face. How better to help a later generation grasp the dynamics of socialist commitment than by tracing them in individual lives!

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