The American Left: Radical Political Thought in the Twentieth Century

The American Left: Radical Political Thought in the Twentieth Century

The American Left: Radical Political Thought in the Twentieth Century

The American Left: Radical Political Thought in the Twentieth Century

Excerpt

Let it be acknowledged immediately that radicalism has failed in twentieth-century America. It has produced neither socialism nor revolution, nor the immediate likelihood of either. It has not succeeded in transferring power from those who have it to those who do not. Other, easier, criteria for judging success run a very high risk of sentimentality, wish-fulfillment, and can be used only with the possibility of damaging the mind. I mean to be saying that the test of radicalism's success is the existence of the social order that radicalism demands. Modern American radicalism may point to a partly courageous and partly insane record, to partial victories and short-run achievements, but on the grounds set out here it cannot avoid the charge of failure. What follows, then, are the most important statements which have punctuated this history of failure.

This apparently hard-headed approach to American radicalism is partly impertinent, for radicalism must fail, must always fail, so long as society encourages or allows injustice. This side of utopia, radicals must always be pushing their rock up the hill, and the distance of the summit or the weight of the rock is an absolute but not a conclusive criterion. For radicalism's only fatal failure will be to let loose of the rock, to quit. Despite political intimidation and harassment of the most intense kind, despite apathy and hostility, despite internal confusion and autocannibalism, despite stupid external direction and stupid internal obeisance, despite all this and even more, American radicals have not quit and show no signs of doing so. In the light of this, the absolute failure to reconstruct American society can, without sentimentality, be fitted into its proper context. But here it is not how the game is played that matters. Winning is what matters. The redistribution of power is what matters.

A better understanding and even appreciation of the work that radicals have done in the recent past may add a little strength to the present struggle. The record assembled here, after all, is filled with dumb ideas as well . . .

Author Advanced search

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.