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

By Robert Hyfler | Go to book overview

7
Michael Harrington and the Future of Socialism in America

Michael Harrington came to the American socialist movement in the late 1940s, at a time when many socialists, having given up on any meaningful political conquest by the left, realistically redefined their goals in terms of progressive pressure on the more enduring centers of powers. In the wake of official and vigilante repression, the radical left had all but withdrawn as a public entity on the political scene. Moderates, reduced to the gadfly tactics of Norman Thomas, assumed a stance which had been their de facto position for well over two decades--since the disappointing electoral showings of the Thirties and the final defections of the remnants of socialist unionism after 1936.

Harrington dates his entry into the socialist camp from his affiliation with Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement. If today he is fond of describing himself as being on the left wing of what is possible, there is in this position a good deal of continuity from those early years. Dorothy Day represented a socialism of compassion, a tactical retreat from the politics of power. If in 1949 to be a Marxist, a revolutionary, and a political was increasingly inexpedient, to be a passionately concerned Catholic made the greatest sense to Michael Harrington, whose developing socialism was a reflection of his middle-class, Midwest, Catholic decency. Unlike Debs, whose baptism in socialism came through confrontation and struggle, Harrington found the left through an encounter with the imperatives of altruism. He relates in his autobiography an experience in his native St. Louis:

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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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