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

By Robert Hyfler | Go to book overview

private lives) the critical spirit and potential of an earlier radicalism. Vivian Gornick recalls the people who populated her childhood and youth within a Communist milieu:

Ideas were everything. So powerful was the life inside their minds that sitting there, drinking tea and talking issues, these people ceased to be what they objectively were--immigrant Jews, disenfranchised workers--and, indeed, they became thinkers, writers, poets.

Every one of them read the Daily Worker, the Freiheit, and the New York Times religiously each morning. Every one of them had an opinion on everything he or she read. Every one of them was forever pushing, pulling, yanking, mauling those opinions into shape within the framework of a single question. The question was: Is it good for the workers? That river of words was continually flowing toward an ocean called farshtand, within those elusive depths lay the answer to this question. 66

But a political theory is a public thing. It has only a limited future in the private space of urban workers. It needs the nourishment of open and sustained debate and the support of the printed word. Though cut off from its most revolutionary elements, the Socialist Party did, at least, maintain the intellectual and structural mechanisms capable of developing advances in socialist theory.

At the same time, the subordination of dynamic elements of American Marxism to Stalinism created a vacuum within the socialist camp. Within that vacuum, the staid Marxism of Hillquit's "old guard" was feeble competition for the utopian speculations of Norman Thomas. As will be seen, Thomas's tactic placed greater emphasis on influencing power than on securing it and served to link socialist theory to the imperatives of reform.


NOTES
1.
Louis B. Boudin, The Theoretical System of Karl Marx in the Light of Recent Criticisms ( Chicago: Kerr, 1915).
2.
Ernest Unterman, "An Endless Task," International Socialist Review [ISR] 7 ( August 1906):104.
3.
Boudin, Karl Marx, p. 23.

-116-

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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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