The Emergence and Subjugation of the Socialist Left: Boudin and Fraina
American socialism had a first-rate critic of revisionism and defender of a dynamic Marxism in Louis Boudin. A noted constitutional lawyer and mainstay of the Socialist Party's left wing, Boudin was perhaps the most serious student of Marxist theory within the movement. His work The Theoretical System of Karl Marx in the Light of Recent Criticism defended the Marxist system in an impressive and original manner. 1 So novel was his explanation of historical materialism that it drew the condemnation of a more dogmatic and deterministic comrade for not asserting that "individual actions can be and must be, explained by historical materialism in the same way as mass actions." 2 In many ways anticipating a later generation of Marxist scholarship, Boudin was emphatic in ascribing a central role in historical development to ideas.
Boudin's initial explanation of ideas within history is a model of orthodox Marxist clarity. "The ideas on all subjects relating to man in society, including those of right and wrong between man and man, and even man and his god, are changed by man in accordance with and because of . . . changed material conditions of his existence." 3 Yet, while rejecting the approach of "idealists" (who would explain all change "by the inherent development of ideas"), Boudin sought to elucidate a theory of history which--while emphasizing the irresistible influence of material conditions--would allow for the conscious role of human action and thought.
Although Boudin believed ideas exerted a "powerful influence," he