Prophets of the Left: American Socialist Thought in the Twentieth Century

By Robert Hyfler | Go to book overview

seen, the consistency with which he embraced radical positions obscured his conservative reasons for doing so.

Although the Thirties and Forties brought a certain degree of organizational success to the left, most notably the formation and growth of the CIO and the growth of Communist influence, they did not bring comparative developments in American socialist thinking. The Communist movements--loyalists and pretenders included--imported their thinking from abroad, and under Thomas's leadership socialists were doers and participators, not thinkers. As the cold war and the revival of state repression obliterated radical structures and old political ties, socialist thinking remained in decline and without roots. The student left which emerged in the 1960s was, in Daniel Bell's words, "sons without fathers . . . nihilists without memory." 13

Yet finally, despite a wishful teleology, the writings of Michael Harrington introduce the basis for a new socialist literature in America. His socialism is worth considering for two reasons. First, in the personality-oriented milieu of American politics, there emerges in each generation a recognized spokesman for American socialism. The process by which this occurs involves both internal selection by the left and media anointment. For whatever reasons, not least of which being his tireless service to the socialist cause and his abilities as a prolific and informed writer and organizer, Harrington has inherited a role previously played by Thomas and Debs.

Second, Harrington represents both continuity and change within the socialist tradition. In his writings, we can see Hillquit's moderating faith in the historical process as well as Thomas's brand of reformism. At the same time, he reintroduces lost categories and approaches. While hardly a radical socialist, Harrington does exhibit an ambivalence toward the state which has been absent in social democratic circles for many years. With integrity, and a refreshing degree of independence, he confronts American problems within the context of a sophisticated Marxist paradigm. Harrington presents to the left a tactic, an agenda for the coming decades which can be analyzed, critiqued, and transcended.


NOTES
1.
Morris Hillquit, Socialism Summed Up ( New York: Fly, 1912), p. iii.
2.
See Ira Kipnis, The American Socialist Movement, 1897-1912 (West-

-13-

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Prophets of the Left: American Socialist Thought in the Twentieth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • 1 - Introduction: Theory and American Socialism 3
  • Notes 13
  • 2 - The Conservative Uses of Marx: Hillquit, Spargo, and Berger 15
  • Notes 40
  • 3 - De Leon and Labor Accommodationism: Two Poles of the Working-Class Movement 47
  • Notes 62
  • 4 - Socialism in the Working Class: Debs and the Wobblies 67
  • Notes 91
  • 5 - The Emergence and Subjugation of the Socialist Left: Boudin and Fraina 97
  • Notes 116
  • 6 - Norman Thomas and the Socialism of Concern 121
  • Notes 137
  • 7 - Michael Harrington and the Future of Socialism in America 143
  • Notes 168
  • Selected Bibliography 173
  • Index 183
  • About the Author 189
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