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

By Robert Hyfler | Go to book overview

2
The Conservative Uses of Marx: Hillquit, Spargo, and Berger

Mainstream American Marxists, mixing an odd blend of Darwinian theory, strict Marxist determinism, and old-fashioned American optimism, developed a model of social change in which history evolves through the often unconscious and counterconscious activity of individuals and economic forces. They saw the need for conscious radical activity as arguable and perceived the most active agents of social change to be the very institutions and persons the socialists sought to replace. They understood socialism to be the next step in a natural process of change. The role of the socialist was to legitimize that which was inevitable, most natural, and most beneficial. At the hands of moderate socialists, Marxism was stripped of its teleological, not to mention eschatological elements. Morris Hillquit would argue that "it is improvement not perfection for which we are striving, and our contemporary social organization is capable of improvement just as all societies of the past were." 1

Therefore, while the historian Ira Kipnis was correct in asserting that with few exceptions, American socialists "gave lip service to the philosophy of Marx and Engels," he should have emphasized that the writings of these theorists were often used for some rather conservative purposes. 2 Popularizers of American Marxism such as Morris Hillquit, John Spargo, and Victor Berger used Marxism to advocate an "evolutionary" rather than "revolutionary" tactic and to warn against the premature introduction of socialism. In the process, they mythol-

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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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