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Irish University Review

The Eclipse of Socialism in the United States


Author(s): Denis W. Brogan
Source: University Review, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Winter, 1954/1955), pp. 29-49
Published by: Irish University Review
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25504281
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THE ECLIPSE OF SOCIALISM IN THE
UNITED STATES
By
DENIS W. BROGAN
IT is one of the commonplaces of propaganda in our contemporary world
*
that the United States is "different" On the one hand, the preachers
of the American way of life insist on the unique character and success of
their society and hold up the social order of the United States to the
admiration of the benighted inhabitants of the rest of the world. Some,
indeed, give hope that by playing the sedulous ape, the lesser and more
backward nations may attain some degree of American felicity; others,
more pessimistic or more American, see in the American way a Platonic
pattern "laid up in Heaven," i.e., in the United States. On the other side,
the world is told, every day and in every tongue, that the United States is
the home of fascism, of tyranny, of exploitation, of threats to world peace,
indeed, to world existence, as well as being the home and plague centre of
" "
such menaces as horror comics and Coca Cola.
Much of this war and counter-war may be disregarded. American
life does not differ toto caelo or toto inferno from the life of any other
industrial society, even the society of the Soviet Union. But from the point
of view of the political observer, there is one profound and, at first sight,
baffling difference between the United States and the rest of the world,
even between the United States and such a close neighbour as Canada.
" "
The United States is the only great industrial society where socialism
is not only not a dominant political doctrine, but in which the belief in
socialism is withering away, not growing, not even holding its own.
"
It is necessary to begin by defining socialism," the more that it is
" "
used so lavishly as a term of abuse or praise. Here, I take socialism
in the sense given it in Pal grave's Dictionary of Political Economy.1
"
Socialism requires that the process of production and distribution should
be regulated, not by competition, with self-interest for its moving principle,
but by society as a whole for the good of society."
"
It is important to insist on this narrow definition of socialism," since
the word can be used most loosely, even by people who know better, to
mean no more than scepticism of the merits of the profit motive or doubts
on the effective benevolence "
of the unseen hand."2 Such sceptics have
10p. cit. Vol. III. p. 431 (1926 ed'tion, edited by Henry Higgs).
2 Thus Cardinal Gibbons who not only should have known, but did know better, referred to
" "
Albert de Mnn as that great Christian Socialist." John Tracy Ellis, The Life of James
Cardinal Gibbons." Vol. I. p. 529 (1952).
29
30 UNIVERSITY REVIEW

been common in America since industrialism became important ; they are


"
numerous still. But the sceptics are not Socialists," unless they hold the
doctrine set out by the then leader of the American Socialist party in 1936.
"
Socialism believes in planned production for the use of all rather than
an unplanned production for the profit of an owning class. It asserts that
this type of production for use requires social ownership of land, natural
resources and the principal means of production and distribution, including
of course, the entire system of money, banking and credit."3
It is useful to insist on this definition, because much writing on
"American socialism," by refusing to give any concrete content to socialism,
to make of it more than expression of divine or earthly discontent, has
confused the issue. This in what is still, in many ways, the best history of
American socialism (in the sense I have taken) dwells affectionately on the
early "communities," the Shakers, Aurora, Icaria, the Phalanxes of the
"
Fourierists. But some of these communities were not socialist "; they were
forms of Protestantism monasticism ; their success or failure, material or
spiritual, has next to nothing to do with modern American socialism. Some
communities, these very short lived or quite sterile, like Robert Owen's
"
settlement and Icaria were socialist "; some like Oneida community had,
at any rate, links with the later socialist movement and showed an intelligent
interest in its doctrines. But the economically and socially successful com
munities were created by men whose main aim was to save their souls and
for whom economic arrangements had the importance they had for a
monastic founder and no more.4 Mr. Morris Hillquit (to which book I have
referred to above), was too good a Marxian not to note that "modern
socialism ... is the product of full grown capitalism, and as a rule it does
not take root in any country before its industrial conditions have made it
ripe for the movement."5 But he cannot refrain from nostalgic glances at
the pre-industrial past. Perhaps the number of "communitarians" (to avoid
"
the ambiguity, to-day, of communists ") shows that American soil is not
naturally or traditionally hostile to socialism. But if the history of these
communities proves anything, it proves that American soil is. For all the
communities that "made a go of if" were of recent foreign (usually
German) origin and as they became Americanised, they became less
communitarian. Thus the largest and most successful of these communities,
Amana, abandoned its economic community features just before the
"
collapse of the Coolidge boom." Religious and political sectarians from
Europe found, indeed, political and economic conditions for experiment
that did not exist in Europe, cheap land and an astonishing freedom of

5 Norman Thomas, "After the New Deal, What?" p, 157 (1936). Mr. Thomas was, among
other things, protesting nganst a mixed economy. "Socialism is much more than the sum
total of certain socialized industries. It involves a general plan impossible on the yardstick
theory." ibid. p. 163.
4 Contemporaries saw th's and were astonished at ?the of communities based on
secular doctrines. " appearance
(See Arthur Eugene l?estor. Jr.. Backswoods Utopias, the Sectarian and
Owenite Phases of Communitariaism : 1663-1829," p. 210 (1950).
5 Morris Hillquit. "History of Socialism in the United States," fifth edition, 1910. p. 136
THE ECLIPSE Of SOCIALISM IN THE UNITED STATES 31
" "
incorporation, but the contagion of the [American] world's swift stain
was too much for them. They were defeated, it may be suggested, by the
temptations of what a modern American historian has called American
" The social dissenters wanted a share in the visibly abundant
abundance."
"
natural resources of the land. Thus the frontiersmen probably had been
to regard want as part of the order of nature ; but where so much
taught
land was available, then it was wrong for men to want. In other words, the
availability of an economic surplus altered the standards of social justice."6
It was another consequence of this division that the optimistic could
see the abolition of class conflict coming about through the prohibition of
immigration, especially of "inferior races." It was these immigrants who
"
caused all the troubles. But if immigration were restricted in accordance
with the first principles of international justice, America can still absorb
a large foreign element as she has done in the past and out of the most
unpromising material continue to make tolerable citizens."7 The same
attitude was expressed by a very optimistic economist a generation later,
smash showed that even the restriction of
just in fact before the great "
immigration was not, at once at any rate, a solution. After three or four
of restricted immigration, it will be no longer true that there is
generations
a difference of language, education, religion, standard of living or anything
else to separate employer from employee. . . . With class consciousness
will disappear also what we now know as the labor problem."8
As has been suggested, one effect of the existence of free land was to
reduce the amount of competition in the labour market between native
Americans and to exacerbate it between native Americans and immigrants.
The native American, if not entirely indifferent to the siren songs of socialist
" "
theorists, was seeking rather for a Paradise Mislaid than accepting the
" "
fact of a Paradise Lost and setting about creating a new one. Socialism
as a creed and a party suffered and still suffers from its visibly foreign
origins. Not all of those who advocated a political party as the means to
socialism were of immigrant origin, but most were and, from the beginning,
the American socialist movement in modern industrial America drew much
of its support and much of its intellectual leadership from Continental
socialism. It was a German, Edward Schlegel, who made the first attempt
"
to convert American trade unionism to the project of an independent

"
6 David M. Potter, People of Plenty Economic Abundance and the American Character," p. 119
(1954). I hasten to add that neither Professor Potter nor myself share the na?ve view gome*
times attributed (erroneously) to Frederick Jackson Tirner. The ex'stenco of ?ree land on
the frontier was of little importance to the unemployed industrial worker, even while there
still was free land. All that it did for him was to dinrn'sh the number of native Americans
entering the industrial labour market; the son of the farmer could "go west and grow up
with the country." This diminished
" "the competition from native born proletarians, but
increased the identification of unfair competition in the labour market w'th imm grants.
"No Irish need apply" was thus a rnrricr to class-thinking among the native Americans and
the;r Irish rivals?and so io doctrinaire socialism.
7 Nicholas Paine Oilman, "Socialism and" the American Spirit," p. 31 (1893). Mr. Oilman
"
seemed to have had a special down on Poles, although there were few Poles or Polish
Jews in the United States in 1893.
8 Thomas N'xon Carver, "The Present Economic Revolution in the United p. 81-2
States,"
(1926). Despite his rather comic identification of class with race, it is too early yet to be
sure that Professor Carver will not be right
32 UNIVERSITY REVIEW

political labour party."9 He swept aside the fears that the new party would
" *
be a helpless minority by pointing out that the Free soil party originated
with a few thousand votes, but if it had never been formed, Lincoln would
"10
never have been President of the United States.'
But although there was plenty of radical discontent expressed in the
the Greenback party and the like, a socialist party as such appealed
Grange,
mainly or only to immigrant groups who as a rule brought their ideology
with them.
" "
At the very beginning of what may be called orthodox socialism in
America, its exotic character was underlined. Even before the dying First
International was exported to America by Marx, there were attempts to
link American radical movements with the European working-class move
ment. Before the Civil War there were Marxists in America, like Joseph
" "
Wedemeyer, and after the war when the objective conditions of a mass
movement began to be visible, the United States began to loom large in the
minds of European revolutionaries. As Miss Sumner pointed out, the fact
that the International, in its origins, was a trade union rather than a
doctrinaire socialist movement helped.11
In any case, orthodox Marxism in the United States, as elsewhere, had
to fight not only mere trade unionism, or Bakunin's anarchy but the
"
disciples of Lassalle. The Social Party of New York and Vicinity" formed
in 1868 was not an orthodox Marxist society although F. A. Sorge was
active in its leadership.12
The resolution
only that bore any impress of genuine international
" "
co-operation put to the National Labor Congress in 1869, was Sorge's
motion that the Congress declare "its adhesion to the principles of the
International Working Men's Association and expects at no distant day to
affiliate with it."13
There was plenty of discontent in America in the years that followed
the Civil War but it was difficult to fit the American facts to the Socialist
pattern, Marxian or Lassallean. The "Patrons of Husbandry," "the
"
Grange in whom farm discontent was embodied for a time were pledged
" * *
not to wage aggressive warfare against any other interest . . . they
[the Patrons] were not enemies to capital but were opposed to the tyranny

9 Hillquit, op. cit. p. 164.


10 H'Uquit, op. cit. p. 164-5. This showed a na?ve misunderstanding of the genesis of the
Republican party that elected
" Lincoln. Generations later, the Socialist leader noted, with
melancholy candour, that under the American psychology the very fact that the Socialist
Party has been in the field for more than a generation wijthout conspicuous political success
militates against it. This, I think, is an adverse psychological factor more serious than the
prejudice against the name, Socialist, of which one hears so much." Norman Thomas,
op. cit. p. 229. *'
11 Helen L. Sumner in John R. Commons (and associates) A History of Labor in the United
States." vol. II. p. 205 (1918).
12 Sorge did not become a complete Marxian until 1872 when he met Marx and Engels; thence
forward, he was a devoted disciple. His grandson, Richard Sorge, loter became one of the
most successful double spies (;n the Communist interest) in history.
13" A Documentary History of American Industrial Society," edited by John B. Commons (and
others), vol IX, Labour Movement, p, 359 (1910)
THE ECLIPSE OF SOCIALISM IN THE UNITED STATES 33

of monopolies, high rates of interest, and exorbitant per cent, profits in


trade."14
"
The Knights of Labor," influenced in more ways than one by the
"Patrons of Husbandry," were committeed to co-operation, to political
neutrality, to self-improvement. Even their later r?le as leaders in militant,
but usually unsuccessful strikes, was forced on them.
It was difficult for European doctrine and practice to be adjusted to
such spontaneous mass movements as the crusade of Denis Kearney against
" "
Chinese labour in California. Stress on Workers of the World Unite
would have been tactless on the San Francisco "sand lots." And the
inflationary policy of the "Greenbackers" attracted and diverted proletarian
energies. These movements had their brief high tides of political success,
but they ebbed as good times returned, or as the issue ceased to be relevant
And, a point to be stressed generations later, the association of
" "
Socialism with free love and atheism was harmful. Even before the Civil
War, Adolph Douai, one of the ablest propagandists, had to quit Boston
for the more tolerant air of Hoboken because of his praise of the atheism
of Humboldt and in a world where evangelical religion was still so powerful,
the dogmatic and complacent atheism and anti-clericalism of the immigrant
Socialists was a handicap.15
Undoubtedly, one reason for the difficulties encountered by socialist
propaganda among the American workers was the strength of the Catholic
Church among them. Or to put it more exactly, the strength of the Church
among the Irish workers who played a r?le in labour leadership dispro
portionate to their mere numbers which were, in any case, great.16 It was
for this reason that prudent labour leaders were anxious to avoid estranging
the episcopate even at the risk of alienating some non-Catholic members.
As Terence Powderly, leader of the Knights of Labor and a Catholic by
" *
origin put it. I am afraid the Church will make trouble for us. . . . On
one side capital fighting us, on the other hand the clergy have assailed me
inmany places without cause. Between the men who love God and the men
who don't believe in God I have had a hard time of it/ "17 In fact, Cardinal
Gibbons, aided by Cardinal Manning, prevented the condemnation of the
Knights who were, in any case, as Gibbons had foreseen, a dwindling force.
In the same way, although Gibbons could not prevent the condemnation
of the doctrines of Henry George, so eagerly sought for by Archbishop

14 Solon Justus Buck, "The Granger Movement," p. 64 (1918).


15 Not all the ill-favour with which socialism was regarded arose from the theory and practice
of the Germans. Even before the Civil War, the theories of Fanny" Wright " and Robert Pale
Owen alarmed the pious as did the practice of Oneida and Section 12 of the American
branch of the International
" " had as its mouthpiece, Virginia Woodhull, vociferous preacher
and practiser of free love and washer of Henry Ward Beecher's dirty linen in public.
16 A good many " of the union " leaders in the last decades of the nineteenth century who were
class'fied as British by origin, were of Irish origin, like Patrick McBryde and Patrick
Dolan (and more recently like Philip Murray "of the United Mineworkers and then of the
Steelworkers). See Rowland Tappan Berthoff, British Immigrants in Industrial America,"
97 rT. (1953).
S. enry J Browne, "The Catholic Church and the Knights of Labor," p 69 (1949)
34 UNIVERSITY REVIEW

Corrigan of New York, in the course of his war with Dr. McGlynn, he at
least secured that the Holy Office should not publish the condemnation.18
The problem of running a joint movement of European newcomers and
" "
old Americans remained serious if not quite insoluble, as long as there
was a continuous inflow of immigrants whose socially minded members
often arrived with their minds made up about the nature of all society,
including the American. And too rigid a doctrinaire position not only
alienated many native Americans, but some of the leaders of national
groups who were less animated by specific social doctrines than by general
resentment or nationalist feeling.19
Above all, the European doctrinaires were prone to over-estimate the
amount or misunderstand the character of the American workers' class
consciousness, the degree to which Professor Potter's dictum was true in
"
the last century, as it is in this. Few Americans feel entirely at ease with
the slogan *Soak the rich,* but the phrase 'Deal me in* springs spon
taneously and joyously to American lips."20
Among those who failed to notice this was no less a person than Marx's
son-in-law, Edward Aveling. He was convinced that the American worker,
unlike his more gullible English brother, knew that "no ultimate modus
vivendi is possible between them [the workers] and the capitalists ; that the
next years of the nineteenth century will be taken up chiefly by an inter
necine struggle, that will end, as the capitalists hope, in the subjugation of
the working class ; as the working class know, in the abolition of all
classes."21
" "
The members of the German-American Socialist Labor Party if they
"
suffered from its foreign origin and its use of German came . . . armed
with the experience earned during the long years of class struggle in
. . . This is a fortunate circumstance for the American
Europe. prole
tarians who are thus enabled to appropriate, and to take advantage of, the
intellectual and moral fruits of the forty years' struggle of their European
class mates, and thus to hasten on the time of their own victory."22
Unfortunately, even the militant workers of American or European
origin, did not willingly accept the Marxist interpretation forced on them.
Engels might urge the Germans to denationalise themselves, to go to
the workers rather as Russian revolutionaries used to "go to the peasants,"
but the workers often failed to respond. Few workers groups had a more

18 It is one of the comic sides of the George episode, that Engels was to point out the
serious limitation of George's doctrines, their inadequacy for the stage at which the American
economy had arrived. "
19 Thus John Devoy signed, " along with Sorge and others, " a manifesto of the North Amercan
Central Committee ending with this affirmation. A full and clear knowledge of the
interests of our class will, we are satisfied, soon influence you in declaring your affiJ'at on to
that fraternal union of the laborers of all countries destined to b-eak the yoke under which
the working classes languish?the wages-slavery." "Documentary History," vol. IX, p. 358*9.
20 Potter, op. cit. p. 119. "
21 Edward and Eleanor Marx Avel;ng. The Working-Class Movement in America," p. 15-6
(1891). "This has some claim to being the silliest " " book ever written on America.
22 Engels' Preface to the American " Edition of The Condition of the Working Class in
"
England (1887), reprinted in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels on Britain," p. 7
(Moscow 1953).
THE ECLIPSE OF SOCIALISM IN THE UNITED STATES 35
" "
militant record than the Molly Maguires of Pennsylvania who brought
to the minefields the robust methods of Irish agrarian war. But that did not
make them disciples of "scientific socialism." The Irish World might
protest against the methods used to secure convictions, but it did not do
so in any fit of Socialist or revolutionary zeal.23
Violence in labour or agrarian struggles was not, of course, a novelty
"
or un-American." Down to to-day some of the most violent areas are and
have been "Anglo-Saxon" in racial composition. But revolutionary theories
" "
preaching armed revolt, or propaganda by the deed as the anarchists
put it, was an importation.24 Some of the most violent preachers of dis
regard for the possibilities of peaceful and legal action, were Germans
escaped from Bismarck's anti-Socialist laws. The unimportant and, indeed,
preposterous attempts to organise armed bodies of workers were provoked
not only by theory, but by the brutality of the Chicago police and scepticism
of progress by constitutional means was reinforced when the Democrats
in control of Chicago unseated a duly elected alderman. But nearly all
revolutionary talk was rhetoric, although as Most and his comrades found,
the American law could punish words by hanging.25
More characteristic was the violence that accompanied the great steel
" "
strike of 1893, the Homestead battle that so damaged the reputation of
Andrew Carnegie as a radical reformer and the great Pullman and railway
strike of 1894 that showed the Federal Government, under a Democratic
President, as the ally of the railways and of the odious George M. Pullman.
But none of these strikes were doctrinally revolutionary or socialist,26
The upheavals of the American workers often took forms distressing
to the doctrinaire Socialists. Thus in theWs, the land taxation doctrines
of Henry George, made public in the best-seller, Progress and Poverty,
aroused an enthusiasm that no exposition of Marxism or any other foreign
doctrine could hope to arouse. The doctrines won over an important and
able priest in New York, Dr. McGlynn, involved him in a row with his
Archbishop, Dr. Corrigan ; they led to Henry George being nominated for
Mayor of New York and that nomination both frightened Tammany and
encouraged the Socialists. It was not that they agreed with George's
"
diagnosis or remedy. The Socialists were at no time in sympathy with

85 Much later, attempts were made to give the Molly Maguires a genuine revolutionary pedigree.
The Ancient
" Order of Hibernians became the organisation that carried on the class war.
This mutual aid organisation was transformed into ?heir principal organ of class struggle
while the nnion itself was being smashed. The middle-class politicians of the organisation
were shoved into the background; wh'le
" the Catholic clergy openly aligned itself with the
coal operators."
" Anthony Bimba, The Molly Maguires," p. 11-2 (1932).
24 Of the Chicago anarchists," only Parsons" was an American by birth.
35 The execution of the Chicago anarchists after the Haymarket bomb had been thrown by
an unknown person, was perhaps the first episode in the American class war that built up
the P'cture of America " as a ruthless society of murderous exploiters, no longer seen in
Europe as Lincoln*? last best, hope of earth."
26 When Debs, the railwaymen's
" leader,
" was sent to jail, he had read Ingersoll, the great
rationalist orator, Les Miserables and contemporary writers like Henry Demarest Lloyd,
but it was in Woodstock prison that he was visited by the
" ' Milwaukee Socialist (later a
Congressman), Victor L. Berger, " and introduced to Marx. As a souvenir of that visit,
there is in my library a volume. Capital," by Karl Marx, inscribed with " the compliments of
Victor L. Berger, which I cherish as a token of priceless value.' McAliser Coleman,
"Eugene V. Debs," p. 168 (1930).
D
36 UNIVERSITY REVIEW
. . . They supported
Henry George as the apostle of a new social creed.
the Henry George movement solely for the reason that they saw in it a
movement of labor against capital, and they indorsed the candidacy of
* "27
Henry George not on account of his single-tax theory, but in spite of it.*
The Socialists were encouraged for the same reasons that the politicians
of the old parties were alarmed. Henry George was asking questions to
which non-Georgian answers might be given. The old order didn't want
the questions asked. "Let a labor revolt of political character get well
started, and no one knew how hard it would hit the party that had always
made a special appeal to workingmen."28 The Democratic Party thus
threatened, put forward a strong candidate, Abram Hewitt, and he warned
"
the electors of New York that the horrors of the French Revolution and
the atrocities of the Commune offer conclusive proof of the dreadful
consequences of doctrines which can only be enforced by revolution and
bloodshed, even when reduced to practice by men of good intentions and
blameless private life."29
The alarm of one group and the hopes of another were baseless.
Whether it was by quoting Taine on the French Revolution or by other
means, Hewitt won easily, beating George by 20,000 and leaving the
Republican candidate, young Theodore Roosevelt, far behind.30 And when
Henry George ran for Governor in 1886 on a "labor" ticket with Dr.
McGlynn on the ticket with him, he was excommunicated by the orthodox
Socialists and he ran a very bad third.31
The tendency of the discontented American to seek for native rather
than foreign panaceas, was illustrated by the great though ephemeral
popularity of Edward Bellamy's best-seller, Looking Backward and its
"
progeny the Nationalist Clubs."32 This literary Utopian socialism merged
with a more important indigenous movement, the agrarian revolt that
culminated in the nomination of Bryan by the Democrats and by the short
lived "Populist" party in 1896. The defeat of Bryan, the repudiation of
" "
his panacea of the free coinage of silver ended the last great farmer's
revolt It failed?and socialism appealed to some of the defeated.
But the creation of an American Socialist movement necessitated the
toning-down of the highly doctrinaire attitude of the most noisy supporters
of socialism of whom the most prominent was Daniel De Leon. De Leon
(born in Cura?ao of Jewish parents, although he later tried to conceal his

27 Hillquit, op. cit.


" p. 253-4. "
28 Alian Nevins, Abram Hewitt " (1953), p. 462.
29 Quoted in Henry George Jr., The Life of Henry George," vol. II, p. 473 (1904).
30 George believed then and afterwards that he was cheated out of the election by the usual
Tammany methods. But Professor Nevins (op. cit. 4. 469) shows how improbable this is.
What really elected Hewitt was the votes of normal Republicans who rallied to the cause of
social order even when represented by a low tariff Democratic nominated" by Tammany.
31 One of the charges against George was that he had not defended the Chicago anarchists."
But his son is surely right in attributing far more importance
" to the defection of Patrick
Ford who supported Archbishop Corrigan " in the columns of "The Irish World."
32 Professor Fred E. Haynes reports that Looking Backward was selling by the end of
1889 (it has already sold 210,000 copies) at over 10.000 copies a week and there were
Nationalist clubs all over the " Union. Not surprisingly the greatest strength was in
California. Fred E. Haynes. Social Politics in the United States," p. 145-6 (1924).
THE ECLIPSE OF SOCIALISM IN THE UNITED STATES 37

racial origins) was a man of great ability, great arrogance and some power
of leadership. He passed from supporting Henry George and then Edward
" "
Bellamy to the founding of the Socialist Trades and Labor Alliance as
well as to membership and leadership of the Socialist-Labor Party.33
But although De Leon was admired by Lenin, he was unfitted for
general leadership and the Socialist Party, founded in 1900, was definitely
designed to appeal to a less romantic and intransigent section of the radical
elements in the American population.
But the new party had its difficulties. It had to decide on its attitude
to the trade unions. There were not only Lassallean elements suspicious of
the unions, but the unions under the leadership of Samuel Gompers and his
far from revolutionary American Federation of Labor, were more con
cerned with the problems of what Selig Perlman was to call "the job
empire" than with a total recasting of American society. Above all the
"
trade union movement, then and now, non seulement . . . reconna?t le
salariat comme un ?tat stable mais encore l'accepte."34
And even the reformed and officially tolerant Socialist Party released
"
from a narrow dogmatism, which at times misinterpreting Mande himself,
had held the inchoate American socialist movement in the rigid bonds of
a sect"35 was too doctrinaire for veteran radicals like Henry Demarest
Lloyd. He thought that the farmers "are able to co-operate with the
movement, although apparently excluded from it by terminology."36
Indeed, the difficulty of getting the American farmer to see himself in the
r?le allotted to him by the Marxians has been one of the stumbling blocks
to American socialism down to this day. They were not willing to accept
" "
the lead of the dispropertied working class in the industrial centres as
the secretary of the new party, William Mailly, candidly put it in his reply
to Lloyd.37
For the American farmer, even in dark days, clung to his status.
"
Putting the situation in another way, we may say that 4 million farmers
are business men.38 But the farmer's attitude to alliance with labour was
not solely, often it was not mainly, determined by his conception of his
"
economic status. Thus it appears that farmers and workingmen are least
in agreement upon questions whick evoke traditional sentiments and
emotions regarding moral standards,"39 And this was only one way of
saying that the American farmer, guardian, in his own mind, of the old
American, Protestant tradition, was hostile to the notion of a socialist
33 In many ways De Leon recalled that Old Etonian Marxist, H. M. Hyndman. His remaining
followers celebrated the centenary of his birth in " 1952 by a blast at all existing political
parties, ranging from the Republicans to the Stalinoids." They await the not very
imminent moment when the basic truth of De Leon's doctrines will force itself even on
the stupidest.
34 Robert Marjolin. "L'Evolution Syndicale aux Etats-Unis," p. 98 (1936).
35 Caro Lloyd, "Henry Demarest Lloyd," vol. II, p. 257 (1912).
36 Ibid. p. 258.
37TbTd. p. 258.
38 Stuart A. Rice, "Farmers and Workers in American Politics," p. 40 (1924).
?9 Ibid. p. 214.
38 UNIVERSITY REVIEW
"
policy as un-American," that to him more than to the townsmen, socialism
was foreign, therefore bad.
The peak of Socialist success was reached just before the first World
War. The million votes cast for Debs for President in 1912 remained the
high water mark of the party in national politics.40 There were local
victories. New York and Milwaukee each sent (at different times) a
Socialist to Congress. There were some local successes but whatever
chances the party had (they do not in retrospect seem to have been bright)
were lost in the crisis caused by the war. The Socialist party remained
steadfast in opposition (though many individual members supported
Wilson's policies). It was damned as unpatriotic; many of its leaders were
given long sentences under the highly authoritarian regime of Wilson. And
the party was still mainly a party of immigrants, divided, bewildered,
ignorant of the world to which they had come. There were the masses
all right but they were not revolutionary masses, divided as they were by
religion, language, race.41
It was a party badly shaken by internal and external pressures that
began listening to the news out of Russia, a country with which many
of Us members had close connections. For the numerous Jews in the
party, the fall of the Tsardom was so unmixed a blessing that they did
not scrutinise very closely what, in due course, replaced the Tsardom.
For Poles, Letts, Finns, Russian imperialism had gone down; that was
all that they needed to know. The ground was prepared in radical circles
for the acceptance of the Bolshevik claims to be the leaders of the workers
of the world.
"
The deception of the hopes that the war really was one to make the
"
world safe for democracy combined with resentment at the suppression
of criticism, the persecution of dissenters, to make the news from Russia
of absorbing interest. The very word "revolution" was sacred in the
American tradition; news of revolution was inevitably received with
" "
optimism. I have been over into the future and it works was the reply
of Lincoln Steffens to Mr. Bernard Baruch, after his return from Russia,
a retort soon famous in a slightly variant reading.42 The anger bred by
the regime of Wilson's Quaker Attorney-General, Mitchell Palmer, spilled
"
over. The plain truth of our war to make the world safe for democracy
is that to-day there is less freedom of speech and right of assembly ....
more reaction and militarism than when we declared war on Germany."43
And many who felt like Mr. Steams were ready to read Ten Days That

40 Debs polled nearly as many votes at the height of the Republican reaction of 1920, but
-, were now voters and the proportion of Socialist votes was smaller than in 1912.
41 ^omenx
The future leader, then an orthodox A.F.L. leader, William Z. Foster.
noted that Communist formally
during the steel strike of 1919. Negroes were imported in large numbers to break
the sinke. Most of them seemed to take a keen delight in stealing the white men's jobs
,~.?5?\/sn,BniIul?ne\r stnVe" Wiiram Z. Foster. "The Great Steel Strike," p. 208 (1920).
42
i??,o? , ?* Linco1? StefTens,'* vol. II. p. 799 (1931). Steffens had accompanied William C.
Bullitt to Russia."
43 Harold Steams. Liberalism in America," p. 215 (1919). Some of Mr. Stearns's anger had
an aesthetic origin.
THE ECLIPSE OF SOCIALISM IN THE UNITED STATES 39

Shook theWorld inwhich John Reed, in 1919, told of the coming of the
"
new age. It was possible, too, to believe that a revolutionary crisis was
in the United States . . . The Soviet World of
approaching Philadelphia
. . . that the next two years would see the birth of the Socialist
predicted
Soviet Republic of the United States of America. Nothing seemed
when one looked at ?*
impossible Europe."
These illusions were made all the more easy to swallow because of
the existence, inside the Socialist party, of numerous foreign language
sections. Inside these national groups, whose formal function was the
Am?ricanisation of immigrant Socialists, national and sectional feuds,
passions, illusions flourished. Many of these groups, like the Letts, repre
sented nationalities in the old Russian Empire that had a strong revolu
tionary tradition. And the news from Petrograd and Moscow was mote
intoxicating for them than it was even for American radicals. They saw
the American scene through European eyes; saw in New York and Boston,
Petrograd, Moscow, Berlin, Paris. They even harboured the illusion that
the returning soldiers would play the part that they had done in Russia
and, to some extent, in Germany. Even the old Socialist leaders who had
been sent to jail were not sound and the war Socialists and labour leaders
were odious class traitors. Every symptom of economic discontent, a general
strike in Seattle, a police strike in Boston, was interpreted as the first
rumbling of the earthquake,
The panic of the American ruling class (as far as it was real) en
couraged these messianic delusions. It was not inconvenient?and not
totally false?to see in the great steel strike of 1919 a possible revolutionary
**
upheaval. Opposition to trade unionism now became "Americanism and
many of the gains of the Wilson era were swept away, in part as a result
of the ostentatiously vigilant activities of the President's Department of
Justice. The "Left Wing manifesto" of 1919 reflected this "temps des
illusions." The basic theme was that "the party must teach, propagate
and agitate exclusively for the overthrow of Capitalism and the establish
ment of Socialism through a proletarian dictatorship."45 To believe such
a solution possible in the United States of 1919, was to imagine a vain
thing indeed, but a majority of the Socialist militants were so much
"bewitched, bothered and bewildered" that they did. The party split
Roughly the group that went over to the Bolshevik leadership was provided
"
by the "foreign-language federations whose membership had doubled in
a few months and constituted a little more than half of the total party
membership in 1919. It was an exotic, immigrant group that proposed
to transform overnight a nation of well over a hundred million people.46

44Granville Hicks, "John Reed," p." 343 (1936). "


45 James Oneal and G. A. Werner, American Communism (second edRion, 1947). p. 50.
46 Of course not all of ?he militants were recent immigrants or of East European origin.
William Z, Foster, soon to be the most" loyal of Leninists and then ot Stalinists, was a
"
native-born son of a Fenian father, and Mother Bloor, the Joan of Arc (mutatis mutandia)
of the party, had for her maiden name ?he very English one of Reeves.
40 UNIVERSITY REVIEW

The old Socialist


leadership strove to repair the damage; after the
failure of the steel strike, the American Federation of Labour was reduced
to trying, with moderate success, to hold its own, losing most of its war-time

gains and being almost everywhere on the defensive even in strongholds.

It was some time before the various contestants for the leadreship
of the Left sorted themselves out. The winners were bound to be those
"
who were accepted by the new Bolshevik Third International."

Whilethe struggle for Russian recognition (which meant leadership)


went on, the forces of the state thus boldly threatened, struck back. There
were mass raids and deporations to Russia. Suspected radicals were
" "
picked up by the police and federal authorities; there were outbursts
" " " "
of what was soon to be known as fascist violence like the massacre
at Centralia, Washington. Strikes failed. The feeble "Farmer-Labor"
movement of 1920 came to nothing, although there was a large Socialist
protest poll for Debs. And in the presidential election Warren G. Harding
got the largest proportionate share of the popular vote in American history,
a record not yet surpassed. The Revolution was postponed and the Socialist
" '
criticism of 1919 proved justified. He who dreams of a dictatorship of
'
the proletariat in a single state of this country ... in spite of the fact
that only a tiny fraction of the 110,000,000 people are ready for any social
change, invites all the powers of reaction and must eventually go under
ground."47 The new party had to go underground and part of it has
been underground ever since.

This double character of the party presents great difficulties to the


commentator. He may be convinced that, at all times, the formal and the
effective leadership of the party have been different, that the policy of
" "
the open party has been controlled by the underground party and that,
in turn, by the current rulers of the party apparatus in Russia. But his
evidence for this, in the nature of things, must come from sources that if
not necessarily discredited, are open to suspicion, ex-party members who
have resigned or been expelled, police spies," hostile students of party
literature who work on the equity principle ! Truth will out, even in an
affidavit." And he will be forced to rely with Thoreau on circumstantial
"
evidence. There is something in it as when you find a trout in the milk."

With these cautions, it is possible to set out a series of beliefs about


the American Communist party. It has never been independent of Russian
control. Its formal public organization has often been the least important
part of it. Its main function has always been to forward the interests of
the Soviet Union and it never has had any chance of being an effective

"
47 The New York Call," June 10, 1919, cited in Oneal and Werner, op. cit. p. 75.
THE ECLIPSE OF SOCIALISM IN THE UNITED STATES 41

revolutionary party in the United States and, at most times, has been an
impediment to the creation of an effective radical party.48
" "
The winner the Workers7 party (later to be the Communist party)
was formed on December 26th, 1921, and since that day there has been
always a centre of Communist orthodoxy in the United States, some Vatican
to which the faithful could turn. There have been heresies and schisms,
but no effective revolutionary party, not enfeoffed to Moscow, has since
been set up; no dissidents, Trotskyites, Lovestoneites have got anywhere
and the old pre-Bolshevik parties of the extreme left have remained tiny
sects.49

The obvious failure of the revolutionary movement to develop along


Russian lines, the needs of the general policy of the Soviet government,
forced on the American party a formally legal life, forced it to try to
penetrate existing radical movements and organisations and to create new
one which would be instruments for the seduction of the permanently
gullible and means of indoctrination for the promising.50
The failure of the open party to win much support made it desirable
to secure more or less innocent allies. The collapse of farm prices, the
discontent on the railroads had led to a recrudescence of agrarian and
industrial discontent. The Republican party offered nothing and lost ground
in the Middle West to Non-Partisan and Farmer-Labor Congressional
candidates. The Democratic party was rent by quarrels over the Ku Klux
Klan and Prohibition. Even Gompers, at the head of the A.F.L., before
his death began to think that the time had come for independent political
action. The obvious leader for such a movement was the senior Senator
from Wisconsin (then a radical state), Robert M. La Follette. There was
no visible hope in the old Socialist party whose membership, by 1922, had
dropped from 100,000 in 1919 to 11,000 in 1922. The Communists set
about boring from within and trade union leaders were startled and angered
by the skill with which the preliminary conferences were penetrated.51
The agrarians, the railway unions, what was left of the old Socialist
party, the local Farmer-Labor parties and Non-Partisan Leagues with
ex-Progressives of the Roosevelt third party of 1912 and disgruntled
"
Democrats like Senator Wheeler, rallied to the Conference for Progressive
" "
Political Action which soon became in effect the La Follette Progressive
48 The necessary futility of revolutionary action of the traditional type made subserv:ence to
Russian rule necessary for those who believed in a revolutionary solution of the contradictions
of American cap;talist society. They knew the only effective remedy, but they also knew
that the patient would only take it if forced to do so by a superior power, the U.S.S.R.,
hence the preservation and extension of the power of the TJ.S.S.R. was the one thing needful.
For such a party, independence was treason. " "
49 The orthodoxy of the new party was of course contested. The Workers*
*' ' Challenge attacked
its leadership in a style recalling that of the late Mr. Vislrnsky. That asinine assumption
of humanity and pusillanimous purveyor of putrid punk that ca'ls himself manager
" was of the
official organ of the Workers* Party * one fine phrase. (Oneal and Werner, op. cit.
p. 126.) " " "
50 One of these fronts was The Irish Workers and Peasants Famine Rel;ef Committee."
51 Bem'amin
*' GUIow gives an inside but very hostile account of how this was done in his book
The Whole of Their Lives." chapter four /194?) Gitlow was then a Commun'st leader and
was, to his surprise, nominated as Vice-Presidential candidate on the ticket with Foster
in 1924.
42 UNIVERSITY REVIEW

ticket." Although the Communists had ostentatiously renounced La


Follette and denounced Debs for class treason for supporting him, the
charge that La Follette was a Communist stooge was lavishly publicised
and no doubt did him harm.52
The La Follette campaign failed. Its leader died soon after his defeat
and America entered on the last years of the Coolidge boom. There were
doubters and sceptics ; there were intelligent converts to the small
Communist party. There wer strikes and causes c?l?bres to be exploited
but the party was apparently negligible.53
Yet it had of keeping the trade mark of being the revolu
the asset
tionary party. Every leader who tried to set up on his own was pulled down.
The party was purged again and docility to Moscow was the one criterion
of revolutionary fitness. The party "was suspended on wires" (from
Moscow) said a wit, but it did not die. After each purge, the detection
and expulsion of the last traitors was announced and rejoiced in. A few
years or months later, the process had to be done all over again.54 Much
of its energy was devoted to wrecking unions that could not be controlled
and assailing the Socialist party as the worst enemy of the workers. But the
"
prestige of 1917 was not lost. The Comintern leaders are incomparably
the best body of Marxians anywhere ; they are flooded with information
from all countries ; they have had an enormous personal experience,
especially the Russians, many of whom have lived in various countries,
speak several languages.*9* It might have been rash for Mr. Foster to stress
the importance of foreign travel and knowledge of foreign languages in the
presence of Stalin who had, then, only once been outside the borders of
Russia and spoke only Russian?and Georgian.
It had soon become a burning question, among the formally united
Socialists, whether the revolutionary tradition of violence should be retained,
denounced or ignored. By 1912, the enemies of violence, of sabotage won
the day, but the indigenous tradition of violence and the anarchist sympa
thies of many immigrants had already led to the formation of the
"Industrial Workers of the World," the LW.W. or "the Wobblies."
Attempts have been made to link this very American phenomenon with
European syndicalism, with the doctrines of Sorel, and such theories may
have affected some leaders. But the strength of the I.W.W., in the West
where the tradition of violence, on both sides, was as old as white settle
" "
52 Thus Louis Budenz editor of "Labour Age and an active Progressive in New Jersey politic?
was threatened *
by a crowd clamoring and calling out, K:ll the Socialist.'
" , . . The
made no effort to disperse the crowd.'* Kenneth Campbell MacKay. The Progressive
[ovement of 1924," p. 170
Solice (1947). Mr. Budenz later turned up as editor of the "Daily
Worker " and later as one of the first and most eminent ex-Communists to expose his former
associates.
53 During the last stages of the Sacco-Vanzetti case there were plenty of rumours in Boston
that the Communists had been much more interested in securing martyrs than in rescueing
victims who were, after all, anarchists.
54 It would be unkind to recall the smugness with which an intellectual leader of the party
noted, in 1939. that its house was swept and garnished at last. Some years later he and his
wife (another party ornament) were in their ?urn shot out with the rubbish.
* W. t. Foster, " From Bryan to
Stalin,*' p. 163 (no date). Italics mine.
THE ECLIPSE OF SOCIALISM IN THE UNITED STATES 43

ment and in eastern industrial cities where masses of new immigrants


brought with them the anarchist traditions still lively, especially in Italy,
suggests a more spontaneous origin. The orthodox I.W.W. were hostile
to politics ; they believed in direct action ; in sabotage. They were accused
by their enemies of believing in assassination and some of their leaders
were tried for the murder of ex-Governor Steunenberg of Idaho but were
acquitted. The next great western trial, that of the McNamara brothers for
the wrecking of the plant of the Los Angeles Times with the consequent
loss of twenty lives, turned out badly for the whole labour movement as
the accused confessed.
But if the I.W.W. and its sympathisers were villains to their enemies,
they were heroes to their friends. Round some of them grew legends of
martyrdom ; round the Wobblies were written some good songs like
" "
Hallelujah I'm a Bum and there are still nostalgic memories of the good
old violent days.55
But the I.W.W. was bound to be a transient power. For one thing,
the migratory workers who represented its main western strength, also
represented a less and less important economic force.56 The increasing
stability of western society, the decreasing demand for seasonal labour
would, in any case, have weakened the Wobblies. But they were bitterly
" "
divided between the politicals whose head was Daniel De Leon and the
" "
industrials headed by Vincent St. John who were, or professed to be,
"
afraid that De Leon's object was to turn the I.W.W. into a tool of a
political party and its functionaries and its officers be obedient to the
commands and whims emanating from [the Socialist-Labor party]."57
Doctrinaire socialism again came into collision with less intellectual, but
more deeply rooted radical forces and both suffered. The repression of
the first World War and the period of reaction that followed ended, for all
serious purposes, the power of the I.W.W. and left the Communists as the
only serious
revolutionary party in the field.58
" "
It had to be a revolutionary party since its failure as an open party
was obvious and appeared to be final. America was happy. It had no use
for even mild social criticism, much less for the root and branch renovation
proposed by the Communists.
Nor did the Socialist party do much better. In the election of 1928,
when over 32,000,000 votes were cast, Norman Thomas, beginning his long
career as the perennial Socialist candidate, polled only 267,000 votes and
" " "
55 The real hero of Mr. James Jones's " long novel, From Here to Eternity," is the Wobbly
leader of the underground in the Stockade." Like many Wobbly leaders he was an Irish
American.
56 At this time, it might be noted, in a still frontier state like Oklahoma there was a large
Socialist vote. "
57 Quoted
" in "Paul Frederick Brissenden, The I.W.W.." p. 226 (1919).
58 Big Bill Haywood. the most famous Wobbly leader, took refuge in Moscow where he died.
"
When he read a letter of the Third International he sa'd to a colleague, Here is the
"
I.W.W. all feathered ont." Bill Haywood's Book," p. 360 (no date). In Russia he took
Lenin's word for it that industry was controlled by the workers. He died there in 1928
before the great purges which might have been dangerous for him.
44 UNIVERSITY REVIEW

Foster for the Workers party polled 48,000.59 Most of what radical or
dissentient sentiment there was, was attracted to Al Smith, although Herbert
Hoover was supported by some radicals who, if not Communists to be were
future partners of the renascent Communist party. For in a year or two it
was renascent, less through any virtues of its own (other than that of
unscrupulous zeal), than because of the ignominious and disgraceful break
down of the American ruling class, a collapse made all the more humiliating
by its having been preceded by an orgy of self-praise, of self-satisfaction
and of nauseating complacency that had to be experienced to be credible.
It was just after the election that was to end poverty in America, that was
to mean a chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage, that the roof
fell in and busy among the wreckers were the Communists whose gloomiest
predictions were surpassed by the event.60

Even to-day, the scars of the great depression are visible and at
moments give pain. As the American economy plunged deeper and deeper
down the slope, old faith went and was replaced in many cases by new
" "
faith. Some came into the party through fighting fascism in which they
could see or think they saw the real face of American capitalism, a view
that the words and behaviour of some American capitalists did not make
implausible.61
The very depression produced mixed reactions. "One couldn't help
being exhilarated at the sudden unexpected collapse of that stupid gigantic
fraud."62 But it also produced anger at the human misery daily growing
"
and at the deception of hopes for America is promises." The editor of
the literary weekly at Columbia University, the greatest university in the
richest city in the world, reminded the students that of those who had just
graduated and were now in the queues outside the soup kitchens.63

Nor were the anxieties confined to the intellectuals ; they extended to


"
the whole people as it is now easy to forget. At their back was the tramp
of Fascism. In front and all around them was the long struggle with the
Depression."64
Yet the surprising thing is that the great mass of the American people
did not turn to the Communist party in open or concealed form, that it
did not turn to the Socialist party, that it sought relief negatively, in a
protest vote against the existing order rather than in a positive programme.
"
59 Figures from The Political Almanac," 1952. compiled by George Gallup and the American
Institute of Public Opinion Staff. ** '*
60 An admirable account of the demoralisation of the '*capitalist high command in an
industrial city was given by Miss Buth McKenney in Industrial "Valley." 1939. The scene
was in Akron. Ohio, in 1932. Miss McKenney (author also of My Sister Eileen ") has
"since ceased to be a Communist.
61 From then on my life took on a new zest. "I seemed to have cast off the old feeling of
listlessness and despair." Elizabeth Bentley. '* Out of Bondage." p. 8 (1952).
62 Edmund Wilson onoted in Granville Hicks. Where " We Came Out," p. 32 (1954).
63 But Mr. James Wechsler candidly tells us. that infinitely more " distress was created by
Harris's war on football than by his visit to the bread lines." The Age of Suspicion,"
p. 24 (1954).
64 Alistair Cooke, "A Generation on Trial," p. 13 (1950).
THE ECLIPSE OF SOCIALISM IN THE UNITED STATES 45

For in the presidential election of 193265 the total Communist vote was
100,000. But if the masses were unmoved, an important elite was not
It listened. The winning of support and more than support, devotion, from
so many of the abler and more devoted young men and women of boom
time America was not so surprising as it has been made to seem in the
" "
context of contemporary America. America the Golden of Coolidge's
time was not golden for everybody. The world of Harding and Coolidge
had no answers to many of the questions that intelligent young men and
women put to themselves. Communism had.66
And if the new faith could win converts when the old social faith
seemed justified by works, it was no wonder that it won more when the
temples of the old faith began to collapse over the heads of the worshippers.
By the end of 1930, the old oracles were dumb or laughed at.
"
And echoes list to silence now
Where God told lies of old."
The impetus might come, too, from knowledge of the revolutionary move
ment in Europe, from belief in the new world that Steffens had believed he
had seen.67
If the new doctrine could win adherents when the old capitalist faith
seemed to be justified by works, it was no wonder that it won more when
" "
the temples of the old faith became bare ruined choirs and the prophets
of the new economic paradise were reduced to silence or peevishness.
The history of Socialism in general and of Communism in particular
in the New Deal period is difficult to narrate. The Socialist party story is
indeed short and simple ; it evaporated. Election after election, its vote
fell. It totally failed to capture and canalise the mass discontent that lay
behind the triumphs of the New Deal and was not totally satisfied by the
mixed achievements of the New Deal. Socialist party meetings were like
the reunions of Messianic sects, composed of elderly devotees who had
once had a vision that they refused to abandon. In the years just before
the war of 1939, by sticking firmly (as it had done in 1917) to its pacifist
tenets, the Socialist party attracted some who were put off by the belli
gerence of the Communists and did not want to be associated with the
Nazi and Fascist elements so prominent in what would now be called
u "
neutralist circles. That boost was temporary and in the post-war years,
even the indefatigable leader, Mr. Norman Thomas, has given up hope
not only in the party but to some degree in the old socialist remedies.

65 In 1932 all minor parties polled 2.9 per cent, of the vote cast. (" The Gallup Political
Almanac for 1948," p. 15.) The total Communist vote was 100,000.
66 The most remarkable of the Communist converts of this time has told us that it was not an
"intellectual conviction of the validity of Marxian dialectics that won members for the party.
But I have never known a Communist who was not aciifely aware of the crisis of history
whose solution he found'* in Communism's practical program, its vision and its faith."
Whittaker Chambers. Witness." p. 192 (1952). "
67 Thus Joseph Freeman, born in Russia and going back in 1927 could write that when I first
left Russia as a boy I went from the prison of " the peoples to the free West; now, on my
second journey, it was the other way round." An American Testament," p. 550 (1938).
Mr. Freeman made this journey in 1927. He has long since left the party.
46 UNIVERSITY REVIEW

The fate of the Communists was different. In public, their achieve


ments were unimpressive. Except in New York City, they had nothing like
a mass following. Their electoral record was even more depressing than
that of the Socialists. But there can be do doubt that they infiltrated the
new mass unions and some important Federal agencies and in "the
American Labor party," they found in New York an effective political front
that enabled them to bargain with such independents as Mayor La Guardia
as well as with that old and broadminded organisation, Tammany Hall.
The attitude of the party to the New Deal varied with the international
party line. At the beginning all was scorn ; the fumbling expedients of the
Roosevelt administration could not save a society condemned by history.68
The imminence of a revolutionary crisis was taken for granted.
" "
America Faces the Barricades was the title of one such diagnosis.69
Albert Weisbord, a well-known Communist militant, published an immense
work in which he exposed the hollowness of the New Deal.70 Many were
inclined to agree with the caustic comment of two non-Stalinist but radical
"
critics, There is nothing the New Deal has so far done that could not
have been done better by an earthquake."71
That the New Deal couldn't plan was the theme of Where Life is
Better by James Rorty.72
" "
In an endeavour to make the popular front more palatable, the
American Communist party in 1938 severed all ties with the Communist
" '
International and came out unqualifiedly for the right of the majority
"
to direct the destinies of our country.' The public received this affirma
tion with some scepticism, not without reason, since public mendacity had
been justified by such a leading figure as William Z. Foster. The
Ribbentrop-Molotov pact again reversed the direction of "the train of
history," throwing off such passengers as Mr. Granville Hicks. The
Communists, in fact, became allies of the German-American Bund, spread
"
ing such slogans as The Yanks aren't coming." Again the train reversed.
" "
Russia was attacked by Hitler and all aid to Russia and Britain became
the party line,73
With America in the war, all became simple. Communism was simply
old-fashioned Americanism ; Lincoln and Roosevelt were its heroes as

68 A credulous but not necessarily untrustworthy witness in the early days of the New Deal,
reported that a group of young Federal officials talked of Boosevelt as Kerensky and of
themselves as Lenin and Trotsky (their pardons begged, as Lenin and Stalin). They were
wrong, not only because they were not Lenin nor Stalin nor Boosevelt Kerensky, but
because the U.S.A. was not the Russia of 1917 and was in no danger or hope of becoming
the U.S.S.A.
69 By
" John L. Spivak (1935).
70 The Conquest of Power," 2 vols. (1938) .By this time Weisbord was a bitter enemy of
Stalinism. "
71 Benjanvn Stolberg and Warren Jay Vinton. The Economic Conseouences of the New Deal,*'
p. 94 (1935). Messrs. Stolberg and Vinton, even from the height of their philosophical
superiority, " could see where lay one formidable obstacle to any socialist movement in
America. But even stranger than fiction is the psychological identification of American
labour with the middle classes." Ibid. p. 59.
72 1936.
73 A frend of mine was addressing a meeting in favour of aid to Britain in New York, a
meeting p;cketed by the Communists. When he came out, the news of Hitler*? attack had
come through and the pickets cheered him.
THE ECLIPSE OF SOCIALISM IN THE UNITED STATES 47

much as Lenin and Stalin and everything had to be sacrificed to winning


the war.74 Finally the party itself was sacrificed, formally dissolved and
reduced to the level of an educational organisation.
The danger of Communist infiltration of the New Deal was pointed
out by its critics, but many of those critics were so obviously fanatical,
dishonest, or blind to the character of the modern world that the element
of truth in their warnings was ignored by all right-minded (i.e., left-minded)
Baiting Communists became a profitable Congressional sport and
people.
the famous committee of the House of Representatives on Un-American
Activities began its long life under a barrage of criticism.75 Its chief
triumph, perhaps its only triumph was the unmasking in 1948 of Alger
Hiss, for it was testimony before this committee that led to the famous
prosecution for perjury. From that time on, the American people was ready
to answer a question put by an ex-Lord Chancellor. The American
"
Communists (like Communists everywhere) desire the success of Russia
and its satellites above that of their own land."76 And it was learning that
the Communists had succeeded in planting some time bombs in the
American government that produced the climate of opinion which made
possible the career of Senator McCarthy, with the immense damage that
his antics have done to the external prestige of the United States.77
" "
The ending of the war and the beginning of the cold war put an
end to the not very plausible painting of the Communists as just old
fashioned radicals. Already a split had occurred in its most important
political the American
"front," Labor party, the openly anti-Communist
"
elements off to form the American
hiving Liberal party." The outrage
ously patriotic attitude of the Communists during the war had alienated
many old-fashioned union leaders and members who saw no reason why
the workers should be more blindly patriotic than the bosses, even to save
Russia. There were fights, most of them successful, to rid unions of
Communist leadership,78 and the obvious subservience of the party to
Russia made its claim to be a genuine American party harder to swallow.
The last effort at political action on a big scale came with the launching
of the Progressive party in 1948. Already there had been great disillusion
"
741 visited during " this period, the Los Angeles office of The People's World," the California
edition of the Daily Worker." I asked a zealous young woman about some statements
I had heard, that the Communists in
" the unions were not defending basic union rights
because they impeded the war effort. That's a leftist argument," she retorted with flashing
eyes. "
75 The best discussion and criticism of this committee is by Father Ogden ; The Dies
CommHtee," by August Raymond Ogden, F.S.C. (1945).
76 The Earl Jowitt. "The Strange Case of Alger Hiss," p. 19 (1953).
77 It might, indeed, be argued that Hiss was rightly expendable to produce just this result
but I do not think it was planned that way, any more than I believe that Senator McCarthy
is a conscious promoter of Communism. I leave that kind of parliamentary logic to the
Senator and his friends.
78 There is nothing more surprising in the acceptance of effective Communist leadership in some
unions than the acceptance of corrupt but effective leadership in the New York docks or
the old readiness of American business to deal with corrupt political bosses or racketeers if
it paid. The non-ideological character of the American labour movement can help the open
or crypto-Communists. The Communists did themselves more harm by abandoning the normal
attitude of union leadership in the war than by excessive " militancy since. For some of
their excesses of collaboration see Aaron Levenstein, Labor To-day and To-morrow," ch. X
(1945).
48 UNIVERSITY REVIEW

ment among the regular New Dealers over the eclipse of so many of their
leaders after the death of Roosevelt, culminating in the dismissal of the
Secretary of Commerce, Henry Wallace, by Mr. Truman.79
As it was around La Follette that the Progressive movement of 1924
crystallised, so it was around Wallace that the Progressive movement of
1948 was induced to crystallise. Mr. Wallace was, indeed, a find for the
Communist party. His reputation was still high among the unthinking
intellectuals,80 although very much clouded over in Washington. Many of
"
his supporters were men and women who only in a general honest thought
"
and common good to all regretted the New Deal and could not bring
themselves to believe that the war-time "partnership" with the Soviet
Union was over. And it was widely believed that this third party movement
"
plus the defection of the Dixiecrats," the opponents of racial equality in
the South, ensured the overwhelming defeat of Mr. Truman. Mr. Truman
won and instead of the 4,000,000 votes counted on, Mr. Wallace polled a
little over a million, doing a lot worse than La Follette in 1924 and very
much worse than Theodore Roosevelt in 1912.81
In 1952, the Progressive party had few supporters or believers who
were not Communists, fellow-travellers or blind. Its candidate was a San
Francisco lawyer, Mr. Vincent Hallinan.82 He polled round 250,000 and
" "
as in 1948 the strength of the Progressives was concentrated in New
York City where in 1918 the Communist party had known its optimistic
early days.
In 1954, in the New York State elections, the American Labor party
got less than 50,000 votes and so lost its right to a place on the ballot in
future elections.83 Most of the leaders of the American Communist party
are in jail. The party is subject to legal threats whose efficacy it is yet too
early to determine. It is back, in short, where it was when John Reed
brought the good news from Russia in 1918. With it, involved in equal
oblivion, save in a few local strongholds, is the American Socialist party,
not to speak of the tiny splinter groups that cling to the memory of
Trotsky or Daniel De Leon. Formal socialism has failed not merely to
capture but to dent the American mind.
There are institutional reasons for that failure. It is very hard, as
American experience shows, to start a third party. There are legal,
geographical, historical obstacles. But it is easy, thanks to the primary

79 It was noted that in the New York speech pleading for an understanding with Bussia which
led to his dismissal, that any criticism made by Mr. Wallace of the United States was
received with cheers, even the slightest hint that the conduct of the U.S.S.R. had not been
perfect, with boos. Mr. Wallace did not take the hint.
80 Mr. Wallace's credulity was already part of Washington folklore, but I can well remember
the indignation I aroused by g'ving an example of it at a Midwestern academic party. Yet,
as a sucker "Mr. Wallace "beats Banagher and Banagher beats the drum.*' See Dwight
Macdonald, Henry Wallace the Man and the Myth." ch. 5 (1947 ; 1948).
81 Wallace trot 2.4 per cent, of the vote cast; La Follette! 6.7 per cent.; Boosevelt 29.6 per cent.
82 Mr. Hallinan claimed to be a kinsman of Mr. de Valera. He has since been convicted of
Income tax frauds.
83 The American Labor Party denies being simply a Commun'st front. Granting that claim,
the figures are even more striking, for the hard Communist core is included in and so is
less than the total vote given to the American Labor Party.
THE ECLIPSE OF SOCIALISM IN THE UNITED STATES 49

system, to infiltrate the existing parties. It was the theory of the late
Senator Borah that anybody who won a Republican primary was a
Republican, even though he believed in the dictatorship of the proletariat
and there were, it is suspected, a few examples of successful infiltration of
existing parties in the heyday of the New Deal. There have been successes
of confusion like the Progressive party of 1948?and successes of treason.
But it is a paradox of our times that the most advanced capitalist society
has so decisively rejected state ownership of the means of production, the
theory of the class war, the theory of the need for a complete reconstruction
of society. The United States is an anomaly in the world. The richest, most
powerful state, by its practice, affirms that socialism is not inevitable, that
Marx was wrong. Of course the Americans may be wrong or only right
for themselves. Time will tell, but the doubt bred by the American example
remains active in a world that wants American results but scorns American
means to those ends.