What has been the role of Marxism in American history? How has it been appropriated, construed (or misconstrued), even homegrown by previous generations of American radicals? What has happened to its latest major incarnation, the 1960s New Left, as political veterans entered middle age amid the Reagan Era? And what does the future hold? Can a theoretical system historically rooted in response to Victorian capitalism hope to come to grips with the challenges of the year 2000?
This book suggests broad answers to such questions while remaining self-conscious of their difficulty. The problem of American Marxism is irreducibly complex, and not only because the richness and diversity of the 'radical experience' defy simplification. Variously native-born and immigrant, male and female, Black and white, rural and industrial, the disciples of Marxian doctrine deserve many volumes of description. Happily, that detailed work has become a long-range collective effort. My own contribution to that effort includes a more thorough documentation of subjects discussed here, in forthcoming monographs on immigrant radicalism and reform literature, and in selected transcriptions from the Oral History of the American Left. Marxism in the U.S. seeks to synthesize preliminary findings of the combined research and to provide an advance look at interpretations to come.
The stock-taking of radical historiography coincides, not accidentally, with the New Left scholars' coming-of-age and with a generational crisis of sorts in left politics. Younger activists frequently express practical questions about the 1960s, especially 'how was it done?' and 'why did it fail?'. All the scholarly