Immigrant Socialism, 1865-1900
Marxists, and those influenced by Marx, filled a yawning gap in immigrant life of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century America. They spoke forcefully to the emergence of industrial society, the hardening of class lines and the importance of a collective labor response. Other reformers and radicals prescribed social remedies more familiar to American traditions. Marxists had a unique dual contribution outside the body of those traditions. Meaningful transformation, they argued, and actually showed in certain limited but important ways, had to be based on the changing nature of production and the ways in which it prepared workers to seize their own destiny. Secondly, any strategy of transformation had to be rooted in the real lives of the workers, their cultural inheritance as well as their strategic industrial position.
Only the first of these two observations could be accurately described as part of Marx's, or the First International's, own programmatic insights. Immigrant socialists struggled to redefine the social relations of production in the American economy, their major contribution to nineteenth-century Socialist thought. However, the linking of social relations to culture, and specifically to national identity, constituted the most controversial, and in some ways the most important, problem for twentieth-century Marxism. The illusions of abstract, universal class consciousness and labor brotherhood to be achieved by imposing a dominant culture upon subordinate cultures had to be overcome before this question could begin to be appreciated. The central significance of Blacks to American civilization, for generations recognized more clearly by native-born radicals than