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Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? Author(s): Eric Foner Source: History Workshop, No.

17 (Spring, 1984), pp. 57-80 Published by: Oxford University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4288545 Accessed: 20/09/2010 10:35
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Masthead of Solidarity

Why is there no Socialism in the United States?

by Eric Foner

It is now nearly eighty years since the German sociologist Werner Sombart raised the question, 'why is there no socialism in the United States?' In the ensuing decades, the problem has been a source of apparently endless debate among historians examining the distinctive qualities of the American experience, American radicals seeking an explanation for their political weakness, and Europeans alternately fascinated and repelled by the capitalist colossus to their west. Indeed, long before Sombart, the exceptional economic and political history of the United States commanded attention on both sides of the Atlantic. Marx and Engels themselves occasionally sought to solve the riddle of America, the land where, as Marx once put it, capitalism had developed more 'shamelessly' than in any other country. They could never quite decide, however, whether the unique qualities of nineteenth-century American life boded well or ill for the future development of socialism. Would the early achievement of political democracy prove an impediment to class consciousness in the United States or encourage it by making economic inequalities appear all the more illegitimate? Was the absence of a feudal tradition a barrier to the development of class ideologies, or did it make possible the early emergence of a modern, socialist political culture? If America was, in so many ways, the most capitalist nation on earth, should it not also become the most socialist? Marx and Engels could never quite answer such questions to their own satisfaction, and subsequent writers who


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have entered into the 'why is there no socialism'quagmirehave rarelybeen more successful.' In the end, MarxandEngelsremainedoptimisticaboutprospectsfor socialism workersof Britainto in the United States (Engels even advisingthe 'backward' learn from the example of the Knights of Labor.) Other observers, however, believed that the nature of Americansociety precludedthe emergence of classbased political ideologies on the European model. In 1867 E. L. Godkin, the Irish-borneditor of The Nation, sought to explainwhy, despite a wave of strikes in the United States, the 'intense class feeling' so evident in Great Britaincould not exist in America: on There [in Europe] the workingman a strike is not simply a laborerwho wants more wages: he is a memberof a distinctorder in society, engagedin a sort of legal war with the other orders.... His employeris not simply a capitalistin whose profitshe is seeking a largershare:he is the memberof a hostile class, which . . . it is consideredmean or traitorousfor him to hope to enter. This feeling, we need hardlysay, does not exist in America. The social line between the laborerand the capitalisthere is very faintly drawn. Most successfulemployersof laborhave begunby being laborersthemselves; most laborershope . . . to become employers.Moreover,there are . . . few barriersof habit, manners or traditionbetween the artisan and those for whom he works, so that he does not consider himself the member of an 'order.'Strikes,therefore,are in the United Statesmore a matterof business, and less a matterof sentiment,than in Europe.... Should the worst come to the worst [the Americanworker]has the prairiesbehindhim, a fact which ... diffusesthrougheveryworkshopan independence feeling, a confidence of in the future, of which the European knows nothing. Besides this, the Americanworkingclass are in the enjoymentof politicalpower.2 I have quoted Godkin at some length, because the 'why is there no socialism' debate has not advancedvery far beyond the answershe proposedover a century ago. Godkin touchedupon nearlyall the elementsfrom which modem responses to the question are generally forged: American ideology, social mobility, the natureof the union movement,the politicalstructure.In this essay, I propose to examinethe most recent trendsin this seeminglytimelessdebate. The essay is not meant as a history of socialismin the United States, or as an exhaustivesurvey of the immense body of literaturethat now exists on the subject (since nearly every work on Americanradicalism labor explicitlyor implicitlyproposesan and answerto the question,'whyis thereno socialism').It will not examineexpressions of Americanradicalism,such as abolitionismand feminism,whose impact upon Americanlife has been far more profoundthan socialism.I hope, however, both to draw attention to the most recent contributionsto this debate, and to raise questions about both the adequacyof specific explanations,and the underlying premisesupon which the entire discussionappearsto rest. It mightwell be worth raisingat the outset the questionwhetherthe experienceof socialismin the United States is, in reality, exceptional,or whetherit representsan extreme example of the dilemmaof socialismthroughoutwesternsociety. To some extent, the 'why is there no socialism'debate remainsinconclusive becausethe participants definesocialismin diverse,sometimescontradictory ways.

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It is often unclear preciselywhat it is whose absence is to be explained. When Sombartwrote, in the period before World War I, there existed a reasonably unifiedbody of socialisttheory and politicalpractice.But since the shatteringof the internationallabor and socialist movements by World War I, the Russian Revolution, the rise of socialistand communistpartiesand, indeed, governments hostile to one anotherbut all claimingthe mantleof 'socialism',and the emergence of new forms of socialism in the Third World, it is impossibleto contend that 'socialism'retainsa coherentmeaning.Socialismitself possessesa history,but too to often, contributors the debate treat it as an ahistoricalabstraction. Nevertheless,by commonconsent, the extremelyimpreciseproblem, 'why is there no socialism in the United States' has been reduced to a discrete set of questions. It does not mean, 'why has the United States not become a socialist nation?', or even, 'why is there no revolutionarylabor or political movement?' Rather, the problemis generallydefinedas the absencein the United States of a large avowedlysocial democraticpoliticalpartylike the Labourparty of Britain, the FrenchSocialistparty, and the Communistparty of Italy. From the strength of such parties,moreover,Americanwritersgenerallyinfer a masssocialistconsciousness among the working classes of these countries. Thus, 'why is there no socialism?'really means, why is the United States the only advancedcapitalist nation whose political system lacks a social democratic presence and whose workingclass lacks socialistclass consciousness? Posed this way, the question does seem to have a primafacie plausibility, although,as I will suggest,it maywell rest on assumptions aboutwesternEuropean politics and class relationsthat are out of date today and may never have been fully accurate.One must, in other words, be wary of explanationsfor American exceptionalism based upon trends and phenomenaequallyevident in other countries. But this is only one of the pitfalls that characterizemany analyses of the problem.Too often, it is assumedthat a fairlysimple, directconnectionought to exist between the social structure,class ideologies, and political parties. Many explanationsof the connectionexist, some, it is true, mutuallyexclusive. Poverty is sometimes seen as a barrier to radicalism,sometimes as its most powerful spur; social mobility sometimes is said to increase, sometimes to decrease class awareness;ethnic cohesivenessis seen as an impedimentto class solidarity,or as the springboardfrom which it emerges. But whatever the specific argument, disproportionate influenceis too often assignedto a single element of the social structure,and politics and ideology are too often viewed as simple reflectionsof economic relationships. in Particularly the case of the United States, the conflationof class, society and politics has unfortunateconsequences.One cannot assume that the absence of a powerfulsocial democraticpartyimpliesthat Americanworkersfully accept the status quo (although, as we shall see, such an assumptionis often made.) Actually, what needs to be explained is the coexistence in Americanhistory of workplacemilitancyand a politicsorganizedaroundnon-ideological partiesappealing to broad coalitions, rather than the interests of a particularclass. David Montgomeryhas expressed the problem succinctly:'Americanworkers in the nineteenthcenturyengagedin economicconflictswith their employersas fierceas any knownto the industrial world;yet in their politicalbehaviorthey consistently failed to exhibit a class consciousness.'Why was militancyin the factoryso rarely translatedinto the politics of class? Labor and socialist parties have emerged


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in the United States, (indeed, Americans, in the late 1820s, created the first 'Workingmen's parties'in the world) but they have tended to be locally-oriented and short-lived.As Montgomeryobserves, the Americanform of socialismhas centeredon controlof the workplace,ratherthancreatinga working-class presence in politics.3 'Whyis there no socialism' thus becomes a problemof explalningthe disjuncture industrialrelationsand politicalpracticein the United States. of Finally, there is the problem of proposed answers that simply explain too much. Descriptionsof an unchangingAmericanideology, or timeless aspects of the American social order such as mobility, leave little room for understanding the powerful Americanradicaltraditionbased upon cross-classmovementsand appeals to moral sentimentratherthan economic interest. Nor can they explain those periodswhen socialistpoliticsdid attractwidespreadsupport.It is too little noted that at the time Sombartwrote there was, in fact, socialismin the United States. In the first fifteen years of this century, the American Socialist party appeared to rival those in Europe, except the German, in mass support and prospects for future growth. Around 1910, the American Socialist party had elected more officialsthan its Englishcounterpart; certainly,Sombart'squestion mightas readilyhave been asked about Britainas the United Statesbefore World War I. Thus, what must be explainedis not simplywhy socialismis today absent from American politics, but why it once rose and fell. Such a definitionof the question, I will argue, requires that we 'historicize'the problem of American socialism.Rather than assumingan unchanging patternof Americanexceptionalism, we need to examinethe key periodswhen Americandevelopmentdiverged most markedlyfrom that of Europe. With these admonitionsin mind, let us review some of the most prominent explanations the weaknessof socialismin the United States. Probably most for the straight-forward approachis the contention that the failure of socialismresults from the success of Americancapitalism.Variousaspectsof the Americansocial order, accordingto this argument,have led workersto identifytheir interestswith the socio-economicstatus quo. This, indeed, was the burden of Sombart'sown analysis.The economicconditionof workersin the United States, he insisted,was far better than that of Europeansin terms of wages, housing, and diet. Socially, moreover,they were far less sharplydistinguished fromthe middleclassthan their Europeancounterparts.And finally, they were consciousof being able to move west if dissatisfied withtheirpresentconditions.The successof capitalism,Sombart believed, made the Americanworker 'a sober, calculatingbusinessman,without ideals.' 'On the reefs of roast beef and apple pie,' he added, 'socialisticutopias of every sort are sent to their doom.'4 From FrederickJacksonTurner's'frontierthesis,' whichsaw in the westward movementthe key to Americandistinctiveness, more recent studiesattributing to the failure of socialismto high rates of geographicaland social mobilityand the abilityof Americanworkersto acquireproperty,the successof capitalism been has seen as makingthe Americanworkingclass complacentand renderingsocialism irrelevantto Americanpolitics. As anyone who has lived in both America and Western Europe can testify, extremelyhigh rates of geographicalmobility are a distinctive feature of American life. In the nineteenth century, each decade witnessed a wholesale turnover of population in working-classneighborhoods, presumablywith adverse effects on the possibility of creating permanentclass institutions.5 Even today, the lure of the Sunbeltdrawsworkersfromthe depressed

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that Turneridenindustrialheartland,an example of the individual'safety-valve' tified as the alternativeto class conflictin the United States. A recent varianton the theme was the contention,popularduringthe 1960's,that the white working class had exchangedmaterialsecurityand a privilegedstatusin relationto minorities at home and workers abroad, for a renunciationof economic and political radicalism. to Socialism,according this view, could come to the United Statesonly as the indirectresult of revolutionsin the thirdworld, or the activityof marginal social groupslike migrantworkersand welfaremothers,not yet absorbedinto the Americanmainstream. Plausibleas they appear,the 'successof capitalism' 'mobility'approaches and raise as many questions as they answer. First, they rest upon assumptionsabout the standardof living of Americanworkersthat are rarelysubjectedto empirical verification. Have the wage levels and ratesof socialmobilityof Americanworkers alwaysbeen significantly higherthan in WesternEurope?Vague referencesto the 'scarcityof labor' in the United States do not suffice to answer that question.6 Manyimmigrants complainedthat certainaspectsof their lives -- the length of the work day, the pace of factory labor - comparedunfavorablywith conditionsat home. More importantly,the preciseimplicationsof the abilityto acquireproperty for class consciousnessand socialism are far more problematicalthan is often assumed. A venerabletraditionof analysis, datingback at least as far as Alexis de Tocqueville, insists that far from promotingpolitical stability,social mobility is a destabilizingforce, raisingexpectationsfaster than they can be satisfiedand thus encouragingdemands for further change. Certainly,recent American and Europeanstudies of labor historysuggestthat the better off workers- artisanls in the nineteenthcentury,skilled factoryworkersin the twentieth,were most likely to take the lead in union organizingand radical politics.7As for geographical mobility, until historiansare able to generalize about the success or failure of those millionswho have, over the decades,left Americanfarmsandcities in search of economic opportunity,the implicationsof the extraordinary turbulenceof the Americanpopulationmustremainan open question.8 in anycase, the historian But must beware of the temptationsimply to deduce political ideology from social statisticsor to assign disproportionate influence to a single aspect of the social structure.And finally, the 'successof capitalism'formulacan hardlyexplain the relative weakness of socialism during the Great Depression, which failed to producea mass-basedsocialistmovement,or the radicalism the 1960's,which of arose in a period of unparalleledaffluence. Even more popularthan the 'socialmobility'thesis is the contentionthat the very ethos of Americanlife is inherentlyhostile to class consciousness,socialisnm, and radicalismof any kind. Probablythe best known expressionof this point of view is Louis Hartz's The Liberal Traditionin America. To summarizeHartz's argumentvery briefly,Americanswere 'bornequal', never havinghad to launch a revolutionto obtain politicaldemocracyor social equality, with the result that American ideology has been dominated by a Lockean, individualisticoutlook againstwhich neither socialismon the left nor serious conservatismon the right can make any headway.A thoroughlybourgeois'fragment'spun off by Europe, Americapossessedonly one part of the Europeansocial order. Lackinga hereditaryaristocracy a dispossessed and workingclass, it had no need for classideologies and politics.


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No feudalism, no socialism. This oft-repeated aphorismsums up Hartz's contention that socialismarises from a vision, inheritedfrom the feudal past, of a society based upon a structureof fixed orders and classes. Without a feudal tradition, and a sense of class oppressionin the present, Americansare simply unable to think in class terms. Indeed, in its ideals of social mobility,individual fulfilment, and material acquisitiveness,American ideology produced a utopia morecompellingthananything socialismcouldoffer. Socialists calledfor a classless society;Americans,according Hartz,were convincedthey alreadylived in one.9 to Dominant in the 1950's, the 'consensus'school of Americanhistoriography exemplified by Hartz has lately been supplantedby an interpretationof the Americanpast markedless by ideological agreementthan by persistentconflict amongvariousracialand ethnicgroupsand classes.The rise of the new social and labor history,and a new sensitivityto the historicalexperienceof blacks,women, and others ignored in Hartz'sformulation,have made historiansextremelywary of broadgeneralizations about a unitary'Americanideology.' The work of Hartz, RichardHofstadterand others appearsto a generationof historianswho came of age in the turmoil of the 1960's as excessively celebratoryof the American

Actually, like Hofstadter'sThe AmericanPolitical Tradition,the first major expressionof the consensusinterpretation, LiberalTradition not a celebrThe was ation of Americandistinctivenessat all, but a devastatingcritiqueof a political cultureincapableof producinganythingapproaching originalidea. There was an a right-wing bias in muchconsensuswriting(represented,for example, by Daniel Boorstin, who gloried in the native pragmatismthat, he contended, enabled Americansto escape the disruptive politicalideologiesof Europe). But Hartzand Hofstadter,who shared Marxistbackgrounds, believed America'simprisonment withinthe confinesof liberalideology renderedit incapableof understanding the social realitiesof the modernworld. They were concernedless with socialismand its failure than with affirmingthe underlyingunities on which the American experience was girded, and with supplyinga correctiveto older interpretations that had mistakenthe familyquarrelsof Americanpoliticalpartiesfor ideological strugglesover the natureof Americansociety.'0 The workof the new laborand socialhistory,as I have indicated,has battered the consensusinterpretation. contrastto the universal In diffusionof liberalvalues, students of working-class culture have stressed the developmentof semi-autonomous working-class and ethnic culturesresting on an ethic of communityand mutuality,rather than individualism and competition.11 The idea of an unchallenged bourgeoishegemony is also weakened when one considersthat until the Civil War, the most powerfulpoliticalclass in the United Stateswas composedof southern slaveholdingplanters, a group bourgeois in neither its relationshipto labor nor its social ideology. Althoughthe Old South was hardly'feudal'(a term Hartz invokes without providing any precise definition), it was certainly prebourgeois in many respects. One might almost suggest that with its aristocratic social order and disfranchised laboringclass, the South should, if Hartzis correct, have providedfertile soil for socialism.12 Hartz's thesis has also been weakened from an entirely differentdirection: intellectualhistory. Recent writingon eighteenth-century Americanideology has not simply dethroned Locke from the pivotal ideological role accordedhim by Hartz, but has virtually expelled him from the pantheon of early American

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thought. The political rhetoricof the AmericanRevolution, accordingto recent studies, owed less to Lockean liberalism than to classical republicanism,an self-interestas a repudiation that of ideology that definedthe pursuitof individual 'virtue' (devotion to the public good) indispensablein a republicancitizenry. Eventually,liberalismtriumphedas the dominantrhetoricof Americanpolitical culture, but not until well into the nineteenth century, and as the result of a historicalprocesswhose outlines remainunclear.But if Hartz'sliberalconsensus did not characterize of Americanhistory,then other elementsof his argument, all such as the absence of a feudal past, lose much of their explanatory power. The the notion of an overarchingliberal consensus went far toward understanding context within which Hartz wrote - America of the 1950's- but has proved of little value in explainingthe strengthof challengesto the capitalistorder ranging from the class violence of 1877 to the Knightsof Labor, Populism,and the old SocialistParty.13 Nonetheless, Hartz's contention that even American radicals have been and trapped within a liberal ideology devoted to the defense of individualism private propertyis not entirely incompatiblewith recent studies of the radical tradition.From Tom Paine's studieddistinctionbetween society and government (the former an unmixed blessing, the latter a necessary evil) to abolitionists' critique of all social and political relationshipsembodying coercion, to the American anarchistswhose individualistoutlook differed so markedlyfrom the class-orientedanarchistmovementsof Europe, a potent strandof the American radicaltraditionhas rested upon hostilityto the state and the defense of the free individual.The ideologies of nineteenth-century labor and farmers'movements, and even early twentieth-century socialismitself, owed more to traditional republican notions of the equal citizen and the independentsmallproducer,than to the coherentanalysisof class-divided society. Pre-capitalist culture, it appears,was the incubatorof resistanceto capitalist development in the United States. The world of the artisan and small farmer persisted in some parts of the United States into the twentieth century, and powerfullyinfluencedAmericanradicalmovements.The hallmarks labor and of Populist rhetoricwere demands for 'equal rights,' anti-monopoly,land reform, and an end to the exploitationof producersby non-producers. These movements inheritedan older republicantraditionhostile to large accumulations property, of but viewing small propertyas the foundationof economic and civic autonomy. Perhapswe oughtto standHartzon his head. Not the absenceof non-liberal ideas, but the persistenceof a radicalvision restingon small propertyinhibitedthe rise of socialistideologies. Recent studiesof Americansocialismitself, indeed, stress the contrastbetween native-bornsocialists,whose outlook relied heavily on the older republican tradition, and more class-conscious immigrant socialists. According to Nick Salvatore, Americansocialists like Eugene V. Debs viewed corporatecapitalism,not socialism, as the revolutionary force in Americanlife, disruptinglocal communities,undermining ideal of the independentcitizen, the and introducing class divisionsinto a previouslyhomogenoussocial order.14 Salvatoreand other recent writersare not revertingto a consensusview of American history, though their work explores the values native-bornsocialists sharedwith other Americans.But ironically,at the same time that one group of historiansstronglyinfluencedby the radicalism the 1960swas dismantling of the consensusview of the Americanpast, anotherwas resurrecting as a theory of it,


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the 'hegemony'of middle-classor capitalistvalues in the United States. In one versionof the consensus/hegemony approach, laborandcapitalwere seen as united by an ideology of 'corporateliberalism'that, beneath an anti-businessveneer, servedthe interestsof the existingorder. Governmentregulationof the economy, and hailedby Americanreformersas a meansof bluntingcapitalistrapaciousness, seen by manyradicalsas a steppingstone to a fully plannedeconomyand perhaps even socialismitself, was now interpretedas the vehicle throughwhichcapitalists were able to control the politicaleconomy without appearingto do so. Because of the resiliencyof corporateliberalism,virtuallyall popularprotest movements had been incorporated withinthe expandingcapitalistorder.15 A somewhatdifferentversionof the 'hegemony'argument culture emphasizes rather than political ideology. The rise of mass culture, the mass media, and mass consumption twentieth-century in America, accordingto this view, not only renderedobsolete the socialistgoal of buildingan alternativeculturewithincapitalist society, but shapedthe aspirations workers,makingleisureand consumpof tion, rather than work or politics, the yardsticksof personalfulfilment.Recent studies of nineteenth-and early twentieth-century Americanradicalmovements have focused not on such traditionalconcernsas politicalideology and organizational history, but on the creationof 'countercultures'within the largersociety. Obviouslyinfluencedby the theoryof hegemony(and in some cases, by a perhaps idealized understanding the much-publicized of culturalactivitiesof the modern ItalianCommunistParty), these workshave impliedthat the seedbed of socialist politics is a counter-hegemonic of culturalinstitutions,ratherthan the polity set or the workplace.But studies of the modernworkingclass have emphasizedthe of disintegration 'working-class culture.''Sociallife,' contendsone such analysis, 'is no longer organizedaround the common relation to the productionof both cultureand commodities.The workingclass publicsphereis dead.'16 in Unfortunately,the consensusinterpretation its radical'hegemony'variants still suffers from the problem of homogenizingthe Americanpast and present. Indeed, in adoptingthe notion of hegemonyfrom Gramsci,Americanhistorians have often transformed from a subtle mode of exploringthe ways class struggle it is mutedandchanneledin modernsociety,into a substitute it. The sophisticated for analysisof a writerlike RaymondWilliams,who observeshow diverseideologies can surviveeven in the face of apparent'hegemony',is conspicuously absentfrom American writing.'7The notion that mass culture and mass society render any kind of resistanceimpossible, moreover, can hardly explain the dissatisfactions reflectedin the radicalism the 1960s. In the end, the 'hegemony'argumenttoo of often ends up being circular.Ratherthan being demonstrated, 'hegemony'of the mass cultureand liberalvalues is inferredfrom the 'absence'of protest, and then this absenceis attributedto the self-same'hegemony.' An entirelydifferentset of answersto the 'whyis there no socialism'question derivesfrom the sociologyof the workingclass itself, and examinesaspectsof the Americansocial order that make it difficultfor workersto organizesuccessfully. The assumptionis that socialist politics is unlikely to emerge in the face of an dividedworkingclass. The traditional internally assumption capitalist that development must produce an increasinglyhomogenousproletariatwith a single set of interests, representedby unions and a political party, has given way before a recognitionof the manykindsof divisionsand stratifications into the capitalist built laborprocessitself. Divisionsbetweenthe skilledandunskilled,craftandindustrial



Industrial Worker, August 25, 1917


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workers, often reinforcedby divisionsalong lines of race, ethnicityand gender, belie the notion of a unified working class. It is doubtful, however, that such divisions are very useful in explainingthe unique features of American labor history,for it appearsthat similarsegmentation exists in other advancedcapitalist societies. The United States is hardlythe only countrywhere capitalistdevelopment has failed to producea homogenousworkingclass.18 Even more common than labor marketsegmentationas an explanationfor the distinctive history of the American working class, is its racial and ethnic fromwhichthe AmericanproletaThe complexweb of backgrounds heterogeneity. riat emergedis often seen as renderingunity along class lines all but impossible. the Althoughapparently straight-forward, notion that the exceptionaldiversityof the Americanworkingclass has inhibitedboth class consciousnessand socialist politics, actuallyencompassesa numberof distinctapproaches Americanlabor to history. On the simplestlevel, it is easy to point to the criticalrole racismand ethnic prejudiceshave played in shapingthe history of Americanlabor. For most of Americanhistory, black workerswere systematically excluded by most unions. On the West Coast, prejudiceagainstthe Chinese shaped the labor movement, of skilledcraftworkersover a lesshelpingto solidifythe domination conservative skilledmajority.The racismof manylabororganizations turnfosteredprejudice in And even in the case of white ethnic againstunions among minorityworkers.19 groups, differencesof language, culture and traditionclearly made organization difficultearlyin this century,whenmassiveimmigration fromsouthernand eastern Europe coincidedwith the rapid expansionand consolidationof monopolycapitalism.The constantredefinition recreationof Americanlabor(a processthat and continuestoday with new waves of immigration),also meant that working-class institutionsand traditionshad to be rebuilt and battles refought over and over again. 'The making of the American working class' (a subject yet to find its historian)was a processthat occurredmany times, ratherthan once. The diversebackgrounds from whichthe Americanworkingclass was forged is sometimes seen as affectingclass consciousnessin other ways as well. Racial and ethnic loyalties often drew men and women into cross-classalliances,while racism, nativism, and ethnic hostilities inheritedfrom Europe all inhibited the developmentof a consciousness workers'collectiveinterests.Immigrant of groups created a complex network of ethnic social, religious and political institutions, divertingworking-class energiesfrom institutions like unions and radicalpolitical partiesthat explicitlysoughtto unite men and womenacrossethniclines.20 Others contendthat the culturalheritageof Catholicimmigrants, who comprisedso large a portion of the industrial workingclass, made them unreceptiveto any form of political radicalism.In his pioneering study of Irish immigrantsin nineteenthcenturyBoston, OscarHandlinportrayeda religiouscommunitythat saw efforts to changethe worldas at best futile and at worstsacreligious. Handlin'sargument has sometimesbeen generalizedto the propositionthat ex-peasantimmigrants are inherentlyindifferentor hostile to radicalmovements.(This contentionbegs the questionof why, for instance,groupslike Italianimmigrants played so prominent a role in the creation of the labor and socialist movementsin Argentina,while allegedly eschewingradicalismin the United States.) Another line of argument derivesfrom the large numbersof early twentieth-century 'new immigrants' (Italians, Poles, Greeks, etc.) who were actuallymigrantlaborers, planningonly a

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brief stay in the United States. In 1910, for example, threequartersas many Italians left for home as entered the United States. Not intendingto make the United States a permanenthaven, Gerald Rosenblumargues, these new immigrantsreinforcedthe narrow'business' orientation Americanlabororganizations: of higherwages, not efforts at social change, were what attractedthem to unions.21 Despite the popularityof what might be called the 'ethnic'interpretation of the weaknessof Americansocialism,it is by no meansclear that culturaldivisions were an insuperablebarrierto class consciousnessor political socialism.Racism and ethnic prejudice are not, as they are sometimes treated, 'transhistorical' phenomenathat exists independentof historicaltime and place. What needs to be studiedis what kind of organizingand what conditionshave allowedunionsto overcome pre-existingprejudices.Unions organizedon an industrialbasis have undercertaincircumstances been able to bringblack and white workerstogether. The Industrial Workersof the Worldmanagedto lead successful,militantstrikes earlyin this centuryby recognizing ethnicitycan, undercertaincircumstances, that generatedistinctiveformsof radicalprotest.This is especiallytrue whereclass and ethnic lines coincide, as in turn-of-the-century Americanindustrialcommunities. Ethnic group solidarity,Victor Greene has argued, actuallyincreasedmilitancy during strikes by immigrantworkers in the Pennsylvaniacoal fields, and the IWW'stacticof establishing strikecommitteescomposedof democratically-elected from each ethnic group, broughtto its strikes all the strengthof representatives the pre-existing networkof immigrant institutions.So long as each groupbelieved no one group was receivingfavored treatment,the bonds of ethnicityin no way contradicted willingnessto work with others. Like many 'global'explanations a of the failure of socialism, in other words, the ethnic approachproves too much: ratherthan investigating specificcircumstances the underwhich racialand ethnic divisionsinhibitclass solidarity,it assumesthat a diverseworkingclass can never achieve unity in economic or politicalaction.22 From the recent emphasisupon the resiliencyof immigrant sub-cultures has emerged the latest explanationfor the failure of American socialism. In The RadicalPersuasion Aileen Kraditor,a formerradicalhistorianwho has repudiated her earlierwritingsand taken a prominentrole in a new conservativehistorians' crganization,argues that the very strengthof ethnic culturesrenderedpolitical radicalismirrelevant to the immigrantproletariat. In early twentieth-century America, accordingto Kraditor,workerswere able to create culturalenclavesso self-sufficientthat they saw no need for far-reachingpolitical change: all they wantedwas to be left alone, enjoyingrelativelocal autonomy.Those radicalswho did try to organize in lower-classcommunitieswere perceived either as misfits who had rejectedtheircultural inheritance as representatives a hostileoutside or of environment.In a sense, Kraditor'sbook representsa rightward,but in some ways logical, extension of the new social and labor history. Her emphasisupon the culturalresiliencyof immigrant workers'ethnic communitiesreflectsa major preoccupationof recent historicalwriting,as does her subordination political of and ideological considerationsto ones of culture. Correctlycriticizingan older stereotypeof the unifiedclass-conscious proletariat,Kraditorsubstitutesanother equally ahistoricalconstruct, the self-satisfied,community-oriented worker, for whom the privatesphereis sufficientunto itself and who is thereforeuninterested in radicalideologies or politicalchange.23 Related to the compositionof the Americanworkingclass, of course, is the


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distinctivecharacterof Americantrade unionismitself. Why, despite a historyof in labor violence unparalleled Europe, does organizedlabor in the United States appearso muchmore conservativeand apoliticalthan its Europeancounterparts? Sometimes,attentionis drawnto the exclusionary policiesof AmericanFederation of Laborunions, whose craftbasis of organization reinforced divisions pre-existing between skilled and unskilledworkers,and excludedlarge numbersof workersblacks, women, new immigrants,etc., from the labor movement. Indeed, it has been arguedby JamesO'Connorthat, in a nationin whichno more than a quarter of the workforcehas ever belongedto tradeunions,the higherwages of unionized workersare, in effect, subsidizedby lower-paidnon-unionworkersvia inflation. Other writerscontend that the problemis not the nature and role of unionsper se, but the fact that laborleadershave constantlysoughtto undercutthe militancy of the rank and file, preferringaccommodations with capital to prolongedclass struggle.Whetherthis is a questionof the perfidyof individual'misleaders' the or growth of bureaucratic structuresisolating officials from their membership,the result has been a union movementuninterestedin posing a politicalchallengeto capital. No one, however, has satisfactorilyexplained how and why a presumably militant rank and file constantlychooses moderate 'misleaders'to representit. And it should be noted that the implicit portrait of class-consciousworkers betrayed again and again by a corruptor moderate leadershipassumes a unity and militancyamong Americanworkersthat other approachesto the 'failureof socialism'question have discounted.One might, in fact, argue that at a number of pointsin Americanhistory,the imageof a moderateleadership curbinga radical rank and file ought to be reversed.In the 1930s, for example, it is now clear that socialist and communistorganizersplayed a pivotal role in galvanizingworkingclass protest and creatingthe CIO industrial unions.24 Thus far, we have consideredapproachesto the question of socialismthat focus upon on the society or the workplace.An alternativepoint of view looks to the nature of the American political system since it is a political party whose absenceis to be explained.Variousaspectsof Americanpolitics,it is argued,have made it difficultfor labor or socialistparties to establishthemselveseffectively. First, there is the early achievementof politicaldemocracyin the United States, the 'free gift of the ballot' as Selig Perlmantermed it. Unlike the situation in Europe, the vast majorityof male Americanworkersenjoyed the suffragewell before the adventof the industrial revolution.In England,class consciousness was galvanized, at least in part, by the struggle for the vote and the exclusion of workersfrom the suffrageparalleledand reinforcedthe sense of a class-divided society learned at the workplace.In the United States, however, the 'lessons'of the polity were the opposite of those of the economy. In the latter, the worker often perceivedhimselfas a memberof a distinctclass;in the former,he thought of himself as an equal citizen of the republic.Alan Dawley, indeed, writes that 'the ballot box was the coffin of class consciousness' in nineteenth-century America. Not only were the major parties remarkably adept at absorbinglabor leaders into political office, but the early achievement of political democracy gave workersa vested interestin the existingpoliticalorder. Americanworkers, to according this argument,developeda strongsense of their 'rights'in both polity and workplace, but were not convinced of the necessity of launchinga direct nationalpoliticalchallengeto capital.Perhapslaborpartiesneveradvanced beyond

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the local level in the United States becauseworkersdid not see the nationalstate as being under the control of a hostile class. And even on the local level, Ira Katznelsonargues,workerstraditionally allocatedeconomicissuesto unions,while politics revolved not around questions of class, but rather the distributionof patronageamong competingethnic groupsby urbanpoliticalmachines.25 The unusualstructureof Americanpolitics has also affected the possibilities for socialistparties.The electoralcollege method of choosingthe presidenthelps entrenchthe two-partysystem (since votes cast for a thirdcandidatewho cannot achieve a majorityare 'wasted'). The size and regional diversityof the country has made it difficultto translatelocal laborstrengthinto nationalpower. American politicalpartieshave proven remarkably adept at absorbingprotest, adoptingthe demandsof reformersin watered down form, and forcing radicalsto choose in elections between the lesser of two evils. The contrast between the American 1930's,when FranklinD. Roosevelt'sNew Deal made broadconcessionsto labor and therebycementedan alliancewith the union movement,and the conservative policiesof Depression-era Britishgovernments, only one exampleof the remarkis able flexibilityof Americanparties. To liberal historians,such actions vindicate the receptivityof the Americanpoliticalorderto demandsfor reform;to radicals they often appearas frustrating barriersto trulyradicalchange.26 Other political factors have also inhibited the rise of labor and socialist politics. Americanhistorianshave yet to assessthe full implications the disfranof chisement of southern blacks from the late nineteenthcentury until the 1960's. Here was a group comprisinga significant portionof the Americanworkingclass that, when given the opportunity,proved receptive to parties like the Populists whichsoughtfar-reaching changesin Americanlife. Theirexclusionfrompolitical participationshifted Americanpolitics to the right while entrenchingwithin the Democratic party a powerful bloc of Southernreactionaries.At various times, immigrants most migrantlaborershave also been barredfrom voting. Indusand trial workers, moreover, have never formed anythingapproaching majorityof a the Americanelectorate. In a vast nation, predominantly ruraluntil well into this century, parties resting exclusively upon labor could not hope to win national power. In 1900, the United States was already the world's foremost induistrial power, yet a majorityof the populationstill lived in places with fewer than 2500 residents. A final 'political'considerationoften stressed by historianssympatheticto Americansocialismbut minimizedby those who are not, is outrightrepression. The Populistswere deprivedof electoralvictoriesthroughout Southby blatant the fraudin the 1890's.Violence by federaland state troops and privatepolice forces suppressed strikeson manyoccasions,andcourtinjunctions defeatedmanyothers. The first Red Scare of 1919-20, whichjailed and deportedradicalleaders, devastated both the SocialistPartyand IWW. The second, after WorldWar II, effectively destroyedthe CommunistParty.27 Each of these 'political'approachescontains an element of plausibility,but many suffer from a shortcomingshared by other explanationsfor the failure of socialism:they invoke aspectsof Americanpoliticscommonto other countriesto explainAmericanexceptionalism. take one example,virtuallyevery European To socialistmovementsufferedgovernmental repressionat one time or anotherin its history, sometimes far more severe repressionthan anythingexperiencedin the United States (very few Americanradicals,after all, were ever executed by the


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state.) The Spanishlabor and communistmovementssufferedunderFranco, the ItalianunderMussolini;Germansocialistsfaced Bismark'santi-socialist laws. Yet all managedto survive,and some emergedstrongerthan ever. The 1919and postWorldWar II Red Scareswere not confinedto the United States. Why, one may ask, has repressionproved more effective against radicalsin the United States than elsewhere?Of course, one might argue that the very opennessof American politics, the normalityof democraticprocedures, makes it difficultfor radical movements to deal with repression when it does appear. American radicals, because of the democraticpoliticalculturefrom which they have emerged, have lacked the traditionof underground organizationthat might have enabled them to survive repressivegovernments.Of course, one might also ask why, if the state has been unusuallyrepressivein the United States, Americanworkershave persisted in viewing the national government as somehow being above class politics. Other politicalexplanationsalso leave importantquestionsunanswered.The electoralcollege systembiases Americanpoliticstowardsa two-partysystem, but does not explain why socialistshave been unable to replace the Republicansor Democratswith a socialistor labor party(as the Republicansreplacedthe Whigs in the 1850's.) The fact that industrialworkers form a minority of the total population is hardly unique to the United States. Socialist and labor parties everywherehave come to power by appealingto middle-class and ruralvoters as well as industriallaborers.In every industrialcountry,moreover,a considerable minorityof workershas alwaysvoted for non-socialist parties.The implicitcomparison between a class-conscious Europeanworkingclass and the politicallyfragmented Americanproletariatmay not stand up to careful scrutinyof European politicalhistory. Thus far, the answersto the socialismproblemhave been largely'external'they have focusedupon aspectsof Americansocietyandpoliticsthathaveinhibited the growth of socialist politics and working-class consciousness.There are also explanationsthat mightbe describedas 'internal' those that focus on the nature and presumed errors of radical movements themselves. Such an approachhas an obvious appeal for more optimisticleft-orientedhistorians.For if essentially unchanging aspectsof Americansociety- socialmobility,the 'American ideology,' the nature of the political system - are responsiblefor the failure of socialism, there appearsto be little reason to hope for a futurerevivalof socialistfortunes. If, however, tactical, strategicor ideological errors sabotagedprevious socialist movements, then perhaps future radicalscan learn from past mistakes, avoid repeatingthem, and rebuildAmericansocialism. The 'internal'approachalso has the virtueof directingattentionto the actual historiesof pastsocialistmovementsandthe specificcircumstances contributed that to theirrise and fall. After all, if one acceptsas sufficientan 'external'explanation, one need not study in any detail the history of particularattempts to create a socialist politics in the United States. The 'internal'approach,in other words, tends to 'historicize'the socialismquestion, forcingthe historianto examine the specific contingenciesthat affected the failure of socialist parties, rather than focusingon generalizations aboutAmericansociety so sweepingas almostto stand outside historyitself. Not surprisingly, two periods of Americanhistorythat the have attractedmost attentionfrom those interestedin tracingthe historyof past socialisms, are the first two decades of this century, and the 1930's and 1940's.

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Both stand out as eras when the trajectoryof socialistmovementsin the United States diverged most markedlyfrom that of their Europeancounterparts.Why did the Socialist and Communist parties fail to build upon their undoubted successes and establish themselves as permanentparts of the American body politic? One kind of internalapproach,associatedmost prominently with Daniel Bell, argues that American socialists and communistsfailed to attractbroad support because of their sectarianorientationand concernwith ideologicalpurityrather than the give and take essentialto successin Americanpolitics. 'In the worldbut not of it,' they eschewedreformsin favorof a preoccupation with socialistrevolution, therebyisolatingthemselvesmore or less by choice. A somewhatanalogous argumentis that of JamesWeinstein,who begins by challenging Bell's portraitof the Socialistparty, insistingthat between 1900 and 1919 it acted as a traditional reformistparty, taking ideology less seriouslythan the winningof votes. In the end, however, accordingto Weinstein,the partysuccumbedto the kind of ideological rigidity described by Bell, the attempt of one faction, allied with the Comintern, to impose the Soviet model of a highly-disciplined, ideologically correctpartyuponwhathad been a broadcoalitionin the mainstream American of

Despite its successin winninglocal elections (the Socialistpartyby 1912had elected some twelve hundredlocal officialsand thirty-three state legislators,and controlledmunicipalgovernmentsin such cities as Schenectady,Milwaukeeand Berkeley) and attractinga respectablevote for Eugene V. Debs for presidentin 1912(900,000ballots, or six per cent of the electorate),the Socialistpartysuffered from a numberof internalweaknesses.Paul Buhle stressesthe nativismof many Socialistparty leaders and their unwillingness reach out to the new immigrant to proletariat.The party'selectoral obsession, which led it to measurethe advance of socialismalmost solely in terms of the ballot box, led it to neglect organizing when votes were not at stake. Preoccupiedwith electoral strategies, the party failed to respond to the massive upheaval of the unskilled immigrantfactory workersbetween 1909and 1919.Wherewas the Socialistpartyat McKee'sRocks, Lawrenceor the great steel strike of 1919?The Industrial Workersof the World demonstratedthat it was possible to organizethe new immigrant proletariat,but despite sympathyfor the IWWon the part of Debs and other left-wingsocialists, the two organizations went their separateways. Here, indeed, was the underlying tragedyof those years: the militancyexpressedin the IWW was never channeled for political purposes while socialist politics ignored the immigrantworkers. Indeed, the Socialist party's strengthlay not among factory workers but in an unusualamalgamof native-bornsmall farmers,skilled workersin certain cities, ethnic groups from the Russian Empire like Finns and Jews, and professionals and intellectuals.Leon Trotskywas perhapsunkindwhen he remarkedthat the AmericanSocialistswere 'a partyof dentists.'But its thinnessamongthe industrial workingclass was certainlyamongthe party'smost debilitating weaknesses.29 Another explanationfor the decline of American socialism focuses on the crisis brought about by World War I. The Socialists'principledopposition to America'sparticipation the warfundamentally in transformed party,alienating the many native-bornmembersand intellectuals,while attractinga new constituency among immigrantworkers. Ironically,at the moment of its final collapse, the


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Socialist party for the first time accurately reflected the composition of the Americanproletariat. Oppositionto the war laid the partyopen to the massiverepressionthat was, at least in part, responsiblefor its demise. One may speculate whether, had American Socialists, like their European counterparts,supported the war and perhapseven entered a coalitionwartimegovernmentas junior partners,as the Labourpartyin Britaindid, they mighthave shieldedthemselvesfrom repression and establishedtheir politicallegitimacy.(Of course, given the experienceof our own times, one may well ask whether participation governingan imperialist in nation involves a socialistparty in an inevitablesacrificeof principle,at least so far as foreignpolicyis concerned.)Whatis clearis an outcomefraughtwith irony, in view of the assumptionthat Americansocialismis so much weaker than that of Europe. Of the two great 'isms'createdby the nineteenthcentury- socialism and nationalism- the latter in western Europe proved far the strongerin 1914. Socialistinternationalism crucified the crossof socialistsupportfor the war was on effort. Wasthe Americanparty'soppositionto the wara courageous of suicide? act At least, history ought to record that the American Socialist party went to its death not because there was less socialismin the United States than in Europe, but because, apartfrom the RussianBolsheviks,the Americanwas the partythat remainedmost true to socialistprinciples. If the periodbeforeWorldWarI represented opportunity the developone for ment of a masssocialistpartyin the United States, the 1930'sappearsto represent another. By the mid-thirties,the Communistparty had establisheditself as the major force on the socialist left. The achievementsof the communists,recent researchhas made clear, were indeedimpressive.Movingfar beyondthe electoral emphasisof the old Socialistparty, they understoodthat struggle,on a varietyof frontsis the most effective meansof mass mobilization education.In contrast and to the socialists'isolationfromthe militantstrugglesof the pre-World WarI years, the communists took the lead in a remarkable arrayof activities- union-building, of demonstrations the unemployed,civil rightsagitation,aid to republican Spain, etc. Indeed, the wide variety of their activities becomes all the more amazing when it is rememberedthat the party at its pre-warpeak numberedwell under
100,000 members.30

Given the mass militancyof the CIO and rangeof partyconcerns,why did a largersocialistor laborpoliticalpresencenot emergefrom the Great Depression? Some accountsstressthe resiliencyof the politicalsystemitself, the way President Roosevelt managedto absorblabor militancyinto a redefinedDemocraticparty coalition. Others point to the internecinewarfarebetween AFL and CIO unions as sabotagingefforts toward the creation of an independentlabor party. Still others blame the Communist party'squest for legitimacy,especiallyin its Popular Front period. The party's determinationto forge an alliance of all anti-fascist elements, including the Democratic party, and its ideological emphasis upon American nationalism('Communismis twentieth-century Americanism'as the mid-thirties slogan went), foreclosedthe possibilityof independentsocialistpolitics. Accordingto James Weinstein, here also lay a cardinaldifferencebetween the old socialists, who at least had made socialisma part of Americanpolitical discourse,and the 1930scommunists,who saw themselvesas the left wing of the New Deal coalition.3' But like the old Socialistparty,the communists were unableto cut the gordian

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knot of the relationship between nationalism socialism.On the one hand, the and party achievedprimacyon the Left partiallyby virtue of its relationship with the USSR, the only existingsocialiststate. On the other, the Sovietconnectionproved a point of vulnerability,opening the party to repressionas 'un-American' after WorldWar II, and leading to inevitablequestionsas to whetherspecificpolicies reflectedAmericanor Soviet interestsand realities.It is not clear, however, how muchemphasisought to be put on the Soviet connectionfor the party'sfailureto grow in size. After all, every Communist partyin the worldhad to deal with the Comintern.What is certainis that the CP was most successfulpreciselywhen it was most American. As Maurice Isserman'srecent study demonstrates, the Popular Front, whatever its relationshipto socialist ideology, was exactly the policy that most Americancommunistsdesired, and the party'smembership was highest in the mid-1930sand again toward the end of World War II, precisely when socialismand nationalism coincided.Indeed, recentstudiesof the war years criticizethe partyfor subordinating labor militancyto the war effort and a quest for nationalistlegitimacy,via the no-strikepledge.32 that (The implicitassumption calls for greatereffortsto win the waralienatedAmericanworkersconcernedonly with their paychecksmay, however, be open to question.) Through the no-strike pledge, subordinationof criticismof the Roosevelt and administration, the decision to transformitself from a party into a 'political association'the Communistparty sought 'legitimacy' a permanentfoothold in Americanpolitics- duringWorldWarII. The experienceof warandthe resistance movements did legitimize European Communistparties as defenders of their nations (no one, whateverhis political outlook, could call the Frenchor Italian Communistparties'un-French' 'un-Italian' or after the experienceof WorldWar II). But Americancommunistsended up with the worst of both worlds. The nostrike pledge alienated shop-floormilitants, without winning 'legitimacy'from those with the power to dispenseit, the price, perhaps,of tryingto exist at all at the very focal point of world imperialism.The party remainedvulnerableto the wave of repressionthat beganwith the onset of the Cold War. The base communists had laboriously createdin the labormovementwas effectivelydestroyed,with disastrousconsequencesfor the entire directionof the post-warlabor movement. Let us return,in conclusion,to our originalquestion.Whyis thereno socialism in the United States? As we have seen, all the explanationsthat have been proposed- the internaland the external, the social, ideological, economic, and cultural- have a certainmerit, and all seem to have weaknessesas well. Nor can we simply add them all together in a kind of mixed salad and feel satisfiedwith the result. Perhaps the debate has gone on for so long and so inconclusively becausethe questionitself is fundamentally flawed.Perhapsbeginningour investigation with a negativequestioninevitablyinvites ahistoricalanswers. Like a kindredquestion that has bedeviled the study of Americanslavery'whywere there no slave rebellionsin the United States?'- the socialismquestion rests on a numberof assumptions that may not survivecarefulanalysis.The rise of socialism,or the outbreakof slaverebellions,are definedas normaloccurrences, whose absence needs to be explained. In the case of slavery, the question is premisedupon the convictionthat the 'normal'humanresponseto severe repression is armed rebellion, an assumptionfor which humanhistory, unfortunately, does not offer much support.In the case of socialism,the premise is that under capitalism,the workingclass will develop class consciousness,expressedin unions


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and a labor or socialistpoliticalparty, and that consequentlythe failureof either to emerge must be the result of some outside interference.No one asks, for exanmple, 'why is there no feminism in Europe?' (a legitimate question when eitherindependentfeministmovementsor the historical of participation womenin socialistpartiesin Europe and the United States are compared)becausesocialism is held to be an inevitable,universal while feminism developmentundercapitalism is assumedto emergefrom local, contingencies that varyfromcountryto country. In the end, of course, 'whyis there no socialism'rests upon an interpretation of history that accordssocialisma privilegedposition among radicalmovements because it arises inexorablyout of the inner logic of capitalistdevelopment,and holds out the promiseof a far-reaching social revolution.To the Marxistparadigm that underliesthis vision, I have no objection. But it does seem to me that the empiricalevidence that justifies the question - the existence of mass Labour, Socialistand Communistpartiesin westernEurope and not in the United States - fundamentally contradictsthe Marxistfoundationof the question. A Marxist question,in other words, arisesfrom a non-Marxist outcome, for the 'absence'to be explainedis not socialism(a revolutionary transformation society) but the of existence of politicalpartiesof a decidedlysocial democraticbent that aim at no such transformation. The Left parties of Western Europe have without doubt improvedthe conditionsof life of their constituents,but they have provedincapable of using their impressivepolitical strengthto reshape fundamentally their societies. They have, one mightsay, promotedliberalism egalitarianism and more thansocialism,andpresentedthemselvesas the proponents modernsuccessfully of ization and social rationalization ratherthan class rule, thus operatingin ways more analogousto AmericanpoliticalpartiesthaneitherAmericansor Europeans would care to admit. The issue for Western European socialist parties is not preciselysocialism,but the equitabledistribution the productsof capitalism.In of other words, one might well ask not 'why is there no socialismin the United States,' but, 'why has there been no socialist transformation any advanced in capitalistsociety?' To put the question this way challengesanother underlyingpremise of the socialism question: American exceptionalism.Too often in Americanhistorical writing,'Europe'is posited as an unchanging class-conscious monolithin contrast to the liberal, bourgeois United States. In much American writing, 'Europe' equalsFrance,and 'France'equalsthe FrenchRevolution.The heroicstrugglesof Europeanworkersand socialistsare highlightedand the more recent erosion of working-class consciousnessand socialistideology ignored. Too often, American historiansequate the officialdoctrineof 'revolutionary' labormovements,such as the French earlier in this century, or political platformscalling for collective ownershipof the means of production,with a pervasivesocialist consciousness amonga majorityof workers.They ignorethe fact that largenumbers European of workershave alwaysvoted for 'bourgeois'parties.Americancommentators often cite the history of British labor as one example of class-conscious'European' working-class development,unawareof the debates among Britishwritersabout whatsome see as an exceptionalabsenceof socialismcompared with the continent.
Certainly, recent events demonstrate that 'the containment of . . . working-class

movements within the limits of trade union economism and social democratic reformism' hardlyuniqueto the United States.33 is To abandonAmericanexceptionalism an organizing as theme is not, of course,

One Big Union Monthly, July 1920


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to assert that the historyof every capitalistnation is identical.The historyof the United States is, in importantways, unique, as is that of England, France, Germany, and every other country. But a preoccupationwith the exceptional elements of the American experience obscures those common patterns and nationalboundaries,most notablythe globalexpansionof processesthat transcend in capitalism the nineteenthandtwentiethcenturiesandits politicalandideological ramifications.It also diverts attention from the 'Americanizing'influences so prominent in Western Europe during the past generation. America, Sombart wrote, was 'the land of our future.' Are not the economies, and the working classes, of both America and Europe today being transformed the decline of by old basic industries,the backboneof traditionalunionismand socialism?Is not European politics, like European popular culture, becoming more and more 'American,'with single-issue movementsrisingto prominence politicalparties, and even those calling themselves socialist, emphasizingthe personalitiesof their leadersand their appealto the entireelectorate,ratherthan a carefully-delineated the ideology representing interestsof a particular social class?WesternEuropean Socialist and Communistparties today occupy points on the political spectrum rangingfrom distinctlymoderate (the Italian, Danish and PortugueseSocialist parties) to various shades of left and some, like the British Labour party, are bitterly divided againstthemselves. In such a situationit is not at all clear that 'socialism'retainsany clearly-defined politicalcontent. Perhaps,becausemasspolitics, mass culture,and mass consumption came to America before it did to Europe, Americansocialistswere the first to face the dilemmaof how to define socialistpoliticsin a capitalistdemocracy.Perhaps,in the dissipationof class ideologies, Europe is now catchingup with a historical process alreadyexperiencedin the United States.34 Perhapsfutureexpressionsof radicalismin Europe will embody less a traditionalsocialist ideology than an 'American'appeal to libertarianand moral values and resistanceto disabilities based upon race and gender. Or, perhapsa continuingworld economiccrisiswill propel politics in both WesternEurope and Americadown a more class-oriented path. Onlv time will tell whether the United States has been behind Europe in the developmentof socialism,or ahead of it, in socialism'sdecline.

NOTES An earlierversionof this paperwas deliveredat the conferenceon 'Whyis thereno socialism in the United States' in May 1983, organizedby the Centre d'EtudesNord-Americaines, Ecole des HautesEtudesen SciencesSociales,Paris,andwillbe published the proceedings in of the conference. 1 Among the many reviews of the 'why is there no socialism?'debate, two of the betterrecentsurveysare: SeymourMartinLipset,'WhyNo Socialism the United States?', in in Sourcesof Contemporary Radicalism, SewerynBialerand SophiaSluzer,ed., New York 1977, 31-149, which containsan interestingsection on how Marx, Engels, and other European socialistsviewedthe problem,andJeromeKarabel,'TheFailureof AmericanSocialism Reconsidered,'SocialistRegister,1979, 204-27. See also R. LaurenceMoore, European Socialistsand the AmericanPromisedLand, New York 1970. An excellent collection of discussionsof the historyof Americansocialismand introduction the Sombartquestion to is JohnH. M. Laslettand SeymourM. Lipset,ed. Failureof a Dream?:Essaysin theHistory of American Socialism, Garden City, N.Y., 1974. Still indispensablefor the history of socialismin the United States is Donald D. Egbert and Stow Persons, ed., Socialismand

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American Life, 2 vols., Princeton,1952,the secondvolumeof whichconsistsof an exhaustive bibliography. 2 E. L. Godkin,'The LaborCrisis,'NorthAmerican Review,CX (July, 1867), 177-79. 3 David Montgomery,'The Shuttle and the Cross: Weavers and Artisans in the Kensington"Riots"of 1844,'Journalof Social History,V (Summer,1972); Montgomery, WorkersControlin America,New York 1979. JamesR. Green, The Worldof the Worker, New York 1980, also stresses the predominance 'control'issues in labor struggles.An of excellent recent study of the rise and fall of local labor partiesin the 1880'sis Leon Fink, Workingmen's Democracy:The Knightsof Laborand AmericanPolitics,Urbana1983. 4 WernerSombart'soriginalessay has recentlybeen printed,for the firsttime in its entirety, in English translation:Why Is ThereNo Socialismin the UnitedStates?,White Plains 1976. 5 The view that the acquisitionof propertyand high rates of geographical mobility explainthe failureof socialismis expressed,for example,in StephanThernstrom's influential Poverty and Progress, Cambridge 1964. Peter Knights, The Plain People of Boston, 1830-1860, New York 1971, exemplifiesa host of studies of the high rate of population turnover nineteenth-century in Americancities. See also the self-congratulatory conservative versionof the 'successof capitalism' in argument JamesNuechterlein,'RadicalHistorians,' Commentary, October, 1980. 6 A recentinvestigation, PeterShergold,Working-Class The'American Standard' Life: in Comparative Perspective, 1899-1913, Pittsburgh1982, concludesthat skilled workersin did Pittsburgh enjoy higherwages thantheirEnglishcounterparts, that the unskilled but did not. 7 For an interestingrecent example,see RonaldSchatz,'Union Pioneers:The Founders of Local Unions at GeneralElectricand Westinghouse, 1933-37,'Journalof American History,LXVI (December, 1979), 586-602. 8 The idea that the West functionedas an effectivesafetyvalve for easternlaborwas disprovennearlyfiftyyearsago in CarterG. Goodirchand Sol Davidson,'TheWageEarner in the WestwardMovement,'PoliticalScienceQuarterly, (1935), 161-85 and LI (1936), L 61-116. Quantitative methodshave become far more sophisticated since then, but students of geographical mobilityare still generallyunableto ascertain whethermen andwomenwho moved in searchof economicopportunity actuallysucceededin betteringtheirconditionsof life. The essentialrawmaterialfor suchstudiesis the manuscript censusreturns,usingwhich it is easy to discoverthat an extremelyhigh percentageof urbanworking-class populations had 'disappeared' from one census to the next (a period of ten years). But not knowing wherethese individuals went, it is impossibleto locate themin the next census,to determine their occupation,wealth, etc. 9 Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition America, New York, 1955. The 'fragment' in argument expandedin Hartz'sTheFoundingof New Societies,New York 1964. One may is wonder, however, why Australia, another 'bourgeoisfragment'society did give rise to a powerfulLabourparty. 10 Richard Hofstadter, The AmericanPolitical Tradition,New York 1948; Daniel Boorstin, The Geniusof AmericanPolitics,Chicago1953. 11 The 'pre-bourgeois' characterof the Old South is arguedeffectivelyin the works of Eugene D. Genovese. See ThePoliticalEconomyof Slavery,New York 1965;TheWorld the Slaveholders Made, New York 1969;and Roll, Jordan,Roll, New York 1974. 12 Muchof this workwas inspiredby HerbertG. Gutman,Work,Culture Society and in Industrializing America,New York 1976. 13 The most significant revisionist workson the ideologyof the AmericanRevolution are J. G. A. Pocock, TheMachiavellian Moment,Princeton1975,whichsees republicanism extendingwell into the nineteenthcenturyas an organizing paradigm Americanpolitical of thought,and GordonS. Wood, The Creation the AmericanRepublic,1776-1787,Chapel of Hill 1969, which dates the 'end of classicalpolitics'and the triumphof liberalismfrom the adoptionof the federalConstitution 1788.Joyce Applebyhas recentlysoughtto resurrect in the idea of a dominantliberalideology, in a more sophisticated formulation than Hertz's. See her 'Commercial Farmingand the 'AgrarianMyth'in the Early Republic,'Journalof AmericanHistory,LXVIII (March,1982). 14 For the individualist strainin Americanradicalism, EricFoner, TomPaine and see Revolutionary America, New York 1976;YehoshuaArieli, Individualism Nationalism and


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in AmericanIdeology, Cambridge1964; StaughtonLynd, Intellectual Originsof American Radicalism,New York 1968;David DeLeon, TheAmericanAs Anarchist,Baltimore1978. For the 'smallproducer' radicalideology,see Lawrence Promise:The Goodwyn,Democratic PopulistMomentin America,New York 1976;ChesterMcA. Destler,American Radicalism, 1865-1901,New London 1946. For socialistthought,MariJo Buhle, Womenand American Socialism1870-1920, Urbana1979;Nick Salvatore,Citizenand Socialist:Eugene V. Debs, Urbana1982. 15 JamesWeinstein,TheCorporate Idealin the LiberalState1900-1918,Boston 1968; New York 1963. HowardZinn, A People's GabrielKolko, The Triumph Conservatism, of Historyof the UnitedStates,New York 1980, portraysradicalmovementsas alwaysbeing suppressed absorbedwithinthe liberalframework. or 16 Works examiningradicalismas the expressionof an alternativeculture include Goodwyn, DemocraticPromise;CharlesLeinenweber,'Socialistsin the Streets:The New York City SocialistPartyin Working ClassNeighborhoods, 1908-1918,'Scienceand Society, XLI (Summer, 1977), 152-71; and 'The Origins of Left Culture in the United States: 1880-1940,'a specialissue of Cultural Correspondence, Spring,1978.The quotationis from Stanley Aronowitz, 'Cracksin the Bloc: AmericanLabor'sHistoricCompromiseand the PresentCrisis,'Social Text,V (Spring,1982),45-51. See also John Alt, 'BeyondClass:The Decline of Industrial Laborand Leisure,' Telos, XXVIII (Summer,1976), 55-80. 17 RaymondWilliams,'Base and Superstructure MarxistCulturalTheory,' New in Left Review, 82 (November-December,1973), 3-16. For less sophisticated Americanuses of the idea of hegemony to explain the weakness of radicalism,see Aileen Kraditor, 'AmericanRadical Historianson Their Heritage,' Past and Present, 56 (August, 1972), 136-52; MiltonCantor, The DividedLeft, New York 1979. 18 Richard C. Edwards, Michael Reich, David M. Gordon, eds., Labor Market Segmentation, Lexington 1975; David M. Gordon, RichardC. Edwards,Michael Reich, SegmentedWork,Divided Workers: The HistoricalTransformation Labor in the United of States, New York 1982; Alistair Reid, 'Politics and Economics in the Formationof the British WorkingClass: A Response to H. F. Moorhouse,'Social History, III (October, 1978), 347-62. 19 Philip S. Foner, OrganizedLabor and the Black Worker,New York 1974;AlexanderSaxton, TheIndispensable Enemy, Berkeley, 1971. 20 This is the argumentof Mike Davis, 'Why the U.S. WorkingClass is Different,' New Left Review, 123 (September-October, 1980), 3-46. It is also emphasized the latest in evaluationof the Sombartquestion, John H. M. Laslett, Reluctant Proletarians: Short A Comparative Historyof AmericanSocialism,Westport1984. 21 Oscar Handlin, Boston's Immigrants, Cambridge1941; StanleyAronowitz, False Promises:The Shapingof AmericanWorkingClass Consciousness, New York 1973, whose thirdchapter,an excellentsurveyof the formationof the Americanworkingclass, seems to accept the notion that Catholicimmigrants peasantbackground inevitablyconservof are ative;GeraldRosenblum,Immigrant Workers: TheirImpacton American LaborRadicalism, New York 1973. 22 Victor Greene, The Slavic Community Strike,Notre Dame 1968;Eric Foner, on 'Class, Ethnicityand Radicalism the Gilded Age: The LandLeague and IrishAmerica,' in MarxistPerspectives, (Summer, 1978), 6-55; Melvin Dubofsky, We Shall Be All, New 2 York 1969. The phrase 'transhistorical' taken from the importantessay by BarbaraJ. is Fields, 'Ideology and Race in AmericanHistory,' in Region, Race, and Reconstruction: Essaysin Honor of C. VannWoodward, MorganKousserandJamesM. McPherson, J. ed., New York 1982, 144. For an exampleof the overcomingof racismby one industrial union, see Gutman,Work,Culture Society,ch. 3. and 23 Aileen Kraditor,TheRadicalPersuasion, 1890-1917,BatonRouge 1981.Kraditor's earlier work, which she now claims was writtenunder the influenceof 'liberalideology,' includesMeansand Ends in AmericanAbolitionism,New York 1969, and TheIdeas of the Women's SuffrageMovement, New York 1965. She is now a memberof the editorialboard of Continuity, conservative a historians' journal. 24 JamesO'Connor,The Fiscal Crisisof the State,New York 1973;JeremyBrecher, Strike,San Francisco1972,whichstressesspontaneouslabormilitancy,dampenedby union organizationitself; Philip S. Foner's multi-volume Historyof the Labor Movementin the UnitedStates,New York, 1947- ), emphasizing conservative the tendenciesof laborleaders,

Socialism and the United States


especiallythose of the AmericanFederationof Labor. For the 1930's,see Schatz, 'Union Pioneers,'and Bert Cochran,Laborand Communism, Princeton,1977,which,whileunsymevidenceof theirpivotalrole in creating patheticto communist unionists,providesconvincing CIO unions. Melvyn Dubofsky questionsthe extent of rank-and-file militancyduringthe Depression in 'Not So "TurbulentYears": Another Look at the American 1930's,' XXIV (1980), 12-20. Amerikstudien, 25 Selig Perlman,A Theoryof the Labor Movement,New York 1928, 167; Alan The Revolutionin Lynn, Cambridge1976, esp. Dawley, Class and Community: Industrial UrbanPoliticsand the Patterning Classin America, ch. 8; Ira Katznelson,City Trenches: of New York 1981. David Montgomery, Beyond Equality,New York 1967, also stresseshow for politicsserved as a 'safety-valve' labor discontent. 26 For Roosevelt's flexibility,see Mike Davis, 'The Barren Marriageof American Labourand the DemocraticParty,'New Left Review, 124, (November-December,1980), the 43-83. Allan Brinkley, Voicesof Protest,New York 1982, demonstrates hold of FDR on voters otherwiseattractedto radicalism. Christopher Lasch, 'The Decline of Populism,' in TheAgonyof theAmerican concessions Left, New York 1969,is excellenton how apparent to radicalgroupsrarelyinvolvefundamental social change.The electoralcollege system,in which the party carryinga state wins the state's entire electoral vote for its presidential candidate,penalizesthirdpartieswhose strengthis widelydispersed,while allowingregionthird partiesto carryenough states to disrupta presidential ally-concentrated election by throwingthe contest into the House of Representatives(as happenswhen no candidate receivesa majorityof the electoralvote.) 27 A recentstudyof the Socialistpartystressingrepression JamesR. Green, Grassis Roots Socialism:RadicalMovements the Southwest in 1895-1943, Baton Rouge 1978. For the firstRed Scare, see WilliamPreston,Jr., Aliens and Dissenters: FederalSuppression of Radicals,1903-1933, Cambridge1963;for the second, David Caute, The GreatFear, New York 1978. 28 Daniel Bell, Marxian Socialismin America,Princeton1967;JamesWeinstein,The Decline of Socialismin America1912-1925, New York 1967. Of course, every European Socialistpartyexperiencedthe same splitbetweenthose adoptingthe Bolshevikmodel, and those preferring social democraticpolitics. See Albert S. Lindemann,The 'Red traditional Years':EuropeanSocialismversusBolshevism,1919-21, Berkeley, 1974. 29 Paul Buhle, 'Debsian Socialismand the "New Immigrant Worker",'in William O'Neill, ed., Insightsand Parallels,Minneapolis,1973,249-304. JohnH. M. Laslett,Labor and the Left, New York, 1970,relatesthe declineof socialismin the unions.The best history of the Socialistparty remainsDavid Shannon, The SocialistPartyof America,New York 1955. 30 The astonishing varietyof partyactivitiescomes througheven in hostile accounts like Cochran,Laborand Communism. also MarkNaison, Communists HarlemDuring See in the Depression,Urbana 1983, and RadicalHistoryReview,23 (1980), an issue devoted to the historyof Communist partiesin Europeand the United States. 31 Davis, 'The BarrenMarriage'; James Weinstein,AmbiguousLegacy: The Left in AmericanPolitics,New York 1975. 32 Maurice Isserman, WhichSide Were You On?, Middletown,Ct., 1981; Nelson Lichtenstein,Labor'sWarat Home: The CIO in WorldWarII, New York 1982). A more sympathetic accountis Roger Keeran, The Communist Partyand the Auto Workers Union, BloomingtonInd., 1980). See also RadicalAmerica,IX (July-August1975), a specialissue on Americanlaborin the 1940's. 33 Reid, 'Politicsand Economics.'Marianne Debouzy, 'LaclassouvriereAmericaine: rechercheset problemes,' MouvementSocial, 102 (January-March, 1978), 3, notes the tendency of Americanhistoriansto make unwarranted assumptionsabout the European workingclass. Perry Anderson summarizesthe 1960's debates on 'the whole tragedy of Englishlabourhistory'in ArgumentsWithinEnglishMarxism(London, 1980), 44 46. For general problemsof Social Democraticparties, see Adam Przeworski,'Social Democracy as a HistoricalPhenomenon,'New Left Review, 122 (July-August,1980), 27-58. Bruce M. and Stave,ed. Socialism the Cities,PortWashington, 1975,discusseshow Americansocialists acted in those communities where they achievedlocal power. 34 This was the arrestingthesis of Lewis Corey, an Americancommunist who wrote duringthe 1930'sunder the name Louis Fraina.He arguedthat classicalsocialismwas a


History Workshop Journal

stage in the developmentof capitalism,a stage the United States, becauseof the extremely in rapidexpansionof capitalism the late nineteenthand twentiethcenturies,in effect leaped variety assistedthe bourover. In Europe, classicalsocialismof the Second International in revolution,a historicaltask unnecessary geoisie in completingthe bourgeois-democratic the United States. Harvey Klehr, 'Leninism,Lewis Corey, and the Failureof American XVIII (Spring1977), 249-56. History, Socialism,'Labor





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