The Cultures of Socialism in the United States

By Buhle, Paul | Monthly Review, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

The Cultures of Socialism in the United States


Buhle, Paul, Monthly Review


The little-understood roots of the left offer us the chance to demonstrate a vital continuity. A bridge just now being rediscovered exists between the nineteenth century Euro-American traditions upon which the modem Marxist movements were founded, and the cultures (i.e., the collective, including artistic, expression) of minority populations old and new to the United States.

At the bottom of the social ladder and increasingly at the heart of blue-collar class life, the latter groups have only in recent decades begun to be studied as potential agents of transformation. Since the 1965 change in immigration law, a new working class, largely but by no means entirely from the Caribbean Basin region (including Mexico and Central America), has taken shape. That new class has served to remind keen observers that the black, Asian, and Latino working populations were never absent. Indeed, large numbers of "Mexicans" along with Indians predated Europeans, afterwards suffering the continuing shocks of colonization. These groups were merely outside the purview of organized labor at large, and--despite often ardent efforts--outside the reach of the political left as well. A grasp of continuity removes the subject from the realm of antiquarianism (or mere sentimental backward-looking) and makes it available for today's political priorities.

Fifty years ago, two large and prestigious volumes entitled Socialism and American Life treated working people of non-European origin as essentially irrelevant to the subject at hand. As Daniel Bell pronounced in the volumes' key historical essay, "The Origin and Development of Marxian Socialism in the United States," political socialism had turned out to be a mere idealistic, transitional movement previewing the modern welfare state. U.S. Communism, whose supporters urgently embraced black liberation, was viewed by Bell and his colleagues as a mere conspiracy with no true national roots. According to this view, capitalism had by mid-century essentially resolved the problems that inspired socialists; the mostly European immigrant working class milieu and the grassroots plains states socialist movement were gone, in any case, once and for all. Nothing would replace them.

In the real-life global context, likewise in the U.S. countryside and cities, nonwhite populations as well as millions of working-class whites faced "problems" that had not been solved and grew worse. But they were off the charts, while sociologists pinpointed the social dilemma of the future as excessive blue-collar leisure and potentially pervasive alienation. Dissident Marxist scholars, then few and mostly scattered (their favorite outiet was usually Monthly Review), sought to reconstruct a different history, an unknown or forgotten story of labor struggle but also of social, economic, and cultural life among racial minorities. The radical discussion of "alienation" and the fresh translation of early Marx meanwhile raised fruitful questions about the very purposes of socialism: Was it mainly about the control and division of property or did the social relations of labor and what had been considered issues of "culture" actually concern the first generation of Marxists as well as the latest one?

But only with the arrival of a generation of historians rooted in certain types of cultural and industrial histories--David Montgomery and the late Herbert Gutman come to mind, as well as E. P. Thompson from Britain-did the subjects of the U.S. past become "cultural" in the anthropological as well as more usual social history sense of "ethnic culture." All three of these scholars, significantly, were former participants in the Popular Front milieu (and, it might be added, all three were fond of MR). Gutman in particular persuaded a generation of young scholars, themselves awakened by the civil rights and antiwar movements, that "culture" could be understood best as the cultural tools that populations carried along with them, and used to advance themselves in new situations. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Cultures of Socialism in the United States
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.