Norman Thomas and the Socialism of Concern
The First World War shattered notions of working-class solidarity and the understanding on the left that a clear demarcation existed between the enlightened of the progressive world and those aligned with the capitalist order. Reinforced by organizational separations that were the legacy of the great schisms of 1914-1920, any acceptance within socialist ranks of a maxim reminiscent of Jefferson's "Differences of opinion do not make differences of principle" disappeared completely. In the process of schism and war, the political barricades were thrown every which way. Socialists, newly defined Communists, trade union activists, and liberals and progressives of all stripes constantly maneuvered to redefine the lines of conflict.
In the decades which followed, Norman Thomas emerged as the premier American social democrat, the spokesman for a non-Marxist brand of socialism which offered itself as an alternative to both communism and twentieth-century capitalism. That so moderate a voice for social change should emerge as a major spokesman for the American left (with a fair share of Marxist socialists standing to his right) was indicative of the reigning ideological and political confusion. As Hillquit's old guard scholastically condemned left-wing and Communist heretics to some Marxist purgatory, and as Communists labored to fight off repression while carrying out Kafkaesque Soviet dictates, Thomas fought a lonely battle to create a viable socialist presence in America. In an age of ideology, his lack of a truly critical theoretical perspective