Thursday, June 28, 2012

American-style Socialism

Again and again across the great arc of American history, at the critical junctures in our national journey, socialist citizens, thinkers and organizers, supported by Socialist candidates and elected officials (at the federal, state, and local levels), have provoked and prodded the body politic in progressive directions. Despite their determined efforts, America is not a socialist countryat least not in formal sense. [....] Even if programs ‘organized along socialist lines’ do not make a country socialist, and even if America’s relationship with social democracy is more nuanced and more complicated than that of many other nations, the United States is a country that has always been and should continue to be informed by socialists, by socialist ideals and a socialist critique of public policies. That may read to some as a radical statement. It’s not, at least for those who choose to be realists about our history, about our moment, and about the future that has yet to be written.John Nichols
Fox & Friends converts, aficionados of Rush Limbaugh, Tea Party Know-Nothings, Ayn Rand Libertarians, or Right-wing proto-fascists and wackos generally, should no longer fret over the Obama administration’s putative attempt to fashion and propagate “an elaborate scheme to foist European-style socialism on an unsuspecting public.” It should be obvious by now that European-style socialism will never get past the Supreme Court, nor capture the hearts and minds of Americans. What they should have ample reason to fear (insofar as it shatters their ideological illusions) however, is the prospect of an American-style socialism, that is, socialism and communism (notice the lower-case ‘c’) of red-blooded American vintage, in other words, but not exclusively, utopian socialism (of the sort which originally inspired Marx and Engels, although they later sought to distance themselves from its influence in a misguided effort to make socialism ‘scientific’ and in the more sympathetic endeavor to render socialism relevant to the ‘politics’ of their era*). Such socialism need not be “foisted” on an “unsuspecting public,” for presumably the bulk of this public has acquired a high school education, in which case it is intimately familiar with American history and thus well acquainted with the following works (as exemplary and illustrative samples), or at least the subject material discussed in same:
  • Buhle, Paul. Marxism in the USA: From 1870 to the Present Day. London: Verso, 1987.
  • Case, John and Rosemary C.R. Taylor, eds. Co-ops, Communes, and Collectives: Experiments in Social Change in the 1960s and 1970s. New York: Pantheon Books, 1979.
  • Curl, John. For All the People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2nd ed., 2012.
  • DeLeon, Richard Edward. Left Coast City: Progressive Politics in San Francisco, 1975-1991. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1992.
  • Flacks, Richard. Making History: The Radical Tradition in American Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.
  • Frost, Jennifer. An Interracial Movement of the Poor: Community Organizing and the New Left in the 1960s. New York: New York University Press, 2001.
  • Gendron, Richard and G. William Domhoff. The Leftmost City: Power and Progressive Politics in Santa Cruz. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2009.
  • Hine, Robert V. California’s Utopian Colonies. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1983 ed.
  • Jackall, Robert and Henry M. Levin, eds. Worker Cooperatives in America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984.
  • Melville, Keith. Communes in the Counter Culture: Origins, Theories, Styles of Life. New York: Morrow Quill, 1972.
  • Nichols, John. The “S” Word: A Short History of an American Tradition…Socialism. London: Verso, 2011. [This book contains much of the relevant literature in its notes from several chapters.]
  • Nordhoff, Charles. The Communistic Societies of the United States. New York: Schocken Books, 1965 (originally published in 1875).
  • Pitzer, Donald E., ed. America’s Communal Utopias. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
* On Marx and Engels’ ambivalent relation to “utopian socialism,” see Vincent Geoghegan’s Utopianism and Marxism (London: Methuen & Co., 1987). On the continuing relevance of “utopian socialism” to socialist aspirations and experiments, see Michael Harrington’s Socialism: Past and Future (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1989). For those of you who may have forgotten, this is the same Michael Harrington who penned the classic, The Other America (1962). On what is meant by the term “utopian,” please see here and here.


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