Cover image for After progress : American social reform and European socialism in the twentieth century
After progress : American social reform and European socialism in the twentieth century
Birnbaum, Norman.
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Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2001.
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x, 432 pages ; 25 cm
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1330 Lexile.
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HX238 .B57 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The twentieth century witnessed a profound shift in both socialism and social reform. In the early 1900s, social reform seemed to offer a veritable religion of redemption, but by the century's end, while socialism remained a vibrant force in European society, a culture of extreme individualismand consumption all but squeezed the welfare state out of existence. Documenting this historic change, After Progress: European Socialism and American Social Reform in the 20th Century is the first truly comprehensive look at the course of social reform and Western politics after Communism,brilliantly explained by a major social thinker of our time. Norman Birnbaum traces in fascinating detail the forces that have shifted social concern over the course of a century, from the devastation of two world wars, to the post-war golden age of economic growth and democracy, to the ever-increasing dominance of the market. He makes sense of thehistorical trends that have created a climate in which politicians proclaim the arrival of a new historical epoch but rarely offer solutions to social problems that get beyond cost-benefit analyses. Birnbaum goes one step further and proposes a strategy for bringing the market back into balance withthe social needs of the people. He advocates a reconsideration of the notion of work, urges that market forces be brought under political control, and stresses the need for education that teaches the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Both a sweeping historical survey and a sharp-edged commentary on current political posturing, After Progress examines the state of social reform past, present and future.

Author Notes

Norman Birnbaum is University Professor at Georgetown University Law School and the author of The Crisis of Industrial Society and Toward a Critical Sociology (both from OUP). A founding editor of New Left Review, he has served on the board of Partisan Review and The Nation . He lives inWashington, D.C.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Birnbaum, a Georgetown law school professor who writes for the New Left Review and the Nation (The Crisis of Industrial Society; etc.), traces the decline and fall of social reform in Europe and America. At the beginning of the 20th century, he says, folks both here and abroad were committed to reforming society, to reining in the excesses of capitalism and improving life for all. Of course, with the great reformers came strident reactionaries. Birnbaum shows, for example, that William Howard Taft railed against socialism, by which he meant anything restricting the market. Birnbaum traces the limitations of the reforming impulse in America, saying that the New Deal was basically a wash: it created Social Security, and FDR acknowledged that America is not a classless society. But the language of class never really raised its head again, Birnbaum says, and social reform ended in 1938. Birnbaum's discussion of the post-WWII welfare state is provocative: the welfare model, he says, is preferable to unchecked capitalism. But at the same time that Europe and America embraced the welfare state, they also experienced a rising standard of living, and Birnbaum wonders if decades of social reform were destined to culminate simply in a consumerist orgy. Finally, he takes the United States to task, observing that America has the grossest economic inequalities, and the weakest left, of any industrialized country. Birnbaum offers a readable, if occasionally overgeneralized and superficial, history, and an inspiring call to arms for readers who still hope to see social and economic reform. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this scholarly, detailed, and methodically written study, Birnbaum author of leftist critiques of democratic, capitalist societies (The Crisis of Industrial Society)Ddocuments and analyzes the successes and failures of social reform in America and Europe in the last 50 years. He concludes that both European welfare-state parliamentary democracies and American presidential administrations led by Democrats Kennedy, Johnson, and Clinton have been undermined by an economic overemphasis on the value of consumption and the pervasiveness of an individualistic social ethic. Although Birnbaum has no magic solutions, he believes that government must act to control market forces to meet the social needs of its citizens and that government needs to focus on citizen education to create a citizenry that is "autonomous and critical," resulting in a rebirth of citizenship characterized "not by a promised land, but a terrain of dialogue and experiment." He believes that the majority of people living in democratic societies today fail to understand the delicate balance between their rights and their responsibilities as citizens of their country. For academic and large public libraries.DJack Forman, San Diego Mesa Coll. Lib., CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter Two The Early Struggles            How different was the situation in Europe! As democratization in politics spread, the new space opened for public participation was occupied, often, not by the descendants of the Enlightenment but by their sworn enemies. The struggle to extend the rights of citizenship became a struggle as to who could, legitimately, claim citizenship in ethnically and nationally mixed states. Where formal citizenship was attained, the legitimacy of its exercise was as promptly challenged. Socialism had to contend for supremacy with movements that derided and hated its universalism, offered alternative paths to social solidarity, and appealed to just those social groups the socialist parties could not, somehow, encompass: the urban middle classes, upper and lower, and the peasantry.     The new European nationalism was, as Hobsbawm has pointed out, a direct consequence of the democratization of politics. It was impossible to demand military service of (male) subjects, extend the reach of modern administration and the rudimentary welfare state, limit and gradually reduce the privileges of local corporations and of the residues of aristocracy, extend universal schooling, without recourse to the idea of full membership in a nation. What, however, could provide a coherent social project within the nation?     Material prosperity was indeed increasing--but with no small amount of cultural conflict. European populations in the new world of railways and cities, and of mass literacy, sought some way to make sense of the uncertain journey on which they had embarked. Language and religion, familial tradition, local and regional specificities, provided foci of ideological organization--and, more, communal and political regrouping in the new electoral systems. These were made all the more important by the geosocial dislocations of industrialization and urbanization that carried persons and families far from homelands to which, psychologically, they clung ever more desperately. Alternatively, they sought assimilation in a new setting--and so Slavic immigrants to the industrial heartland became Germans and Austrians, as Italian immigrants to Lorraine became French. In Italy itself, Sicilians and Umbrians slowly began to think of themselves as Italians. National ideologies were made compatible with class interests, but sometimes also served as a means of unification across class lines.     In multinational states, socialists found themselves in paradoxical positions. They insisted that there were rights to national autonomy--and then found that autonomy was used to deny the primary assumptions of the socialist project. To be sure, there were progressive variants of nationalism--that is, ideas of nationalism made consonant with doctrines of progress. Sometimes these were espoused by the liberal bourgeoisie, who also saw in the nation an enlarged market and thought of the state as facilitating the unfolding of capitalism. Liberals also viewed the state as a guarantor of the unfolding of civic freedoms, which they thought almost certain to be expanded. Sometimes progress took the form of ideas of imperial domination, justified by claims to cultural or racial superiority--a Darwinism or, rather, a Social Darwinian gloss on ethnocentric stupidities, cynically used or fervently subscribed to in the interests of domination. Darwin himself was quite reticent about applying ideas of evolution to human societies but did suggest that those would prosper that showed larger degrees of internal solidarity--quite the opposite of the reductionist and savage individualism sometimes attributed to him.     There were socialist currents of nationalism, sometimes avowed, sometimes implicit--as in the German Social Democrats' belief that a war with Czarist Russia would be justified, in view of the autocratic barbarism of Russian state and society. In Great Britain, some of the early Fabians advocated social reform and even socialism, the better to prepare the nation for imperial competition. This was a theme not missing from Theodore Roosevelt's Progressivism in the United States. Still, the socialist utopia was a generically human one, and the pacificist internationalism of the socialist movement led to opposition to preparations for the great European war. It is a question whether the socialists, in bondage to the idea of progress, really believed that the war could come; they were hardly alone in supposing that their civilization was impervious to what they denounced as barbarism.     What difference did this all make? Were not the nationalists and socialists appealing to different constituencies? The historical assumption underlying the socialist program was that capitalism would erase these differences. Structural similarities in the process of subordination to capital would suffice to render a largely proletarianized society open to the socialist message. Where socialists could not establish their cultural or ideological supremacy (as Gramsci was to see in the next century), their capacity for assuming command of society was bound to be fatally weakened. Lenin's answer was: revolutionary voluntarism. Many others (including Lenin's opponents within Russian socialism) struggled to deal with the new complexities. Moreover, the very presence in society of competing ideologies such as nationalism and social Christianity opened the way for large inroads upon the potential socialist support in the working class itself. The nationalists, after all, propagated a doctrine that also explained the workers' troubles--attributed to oppression by different ethnic and national groups, foreign domination of various kinds, or the insufficient conquest of national autonomy and space. Sometimes, indeed, nationalist and class appeals were fused--and the socialist parties had to take these complexities into account. Viktor Lueger, the Mayor of Vienna, a socialist stronghold, from 1897 to 1910, was an anti-Semitic social Christian with strong support in the working class.     The nationalists, too, relied on more than feeling and ideology. They organized social movements, sometimes with the complicity of a state apparatus resolved to contain its domestic adversaries in the parties of progress, liberal or socialist. Local chapters and clubs, fraternal and sports organizations, journals and newspapers, constituted nationalist cultures--and there was important reinforcement in critical institutions such as the literary academies, theaters, and universities. Nationalists and socialists confronted one another as opposing segments of the society--but the boundaries of the movements were by no means entirely rigid, and reciprocal influence was considerable. That, again, worked to the detriment of the socialists: if a nationalist movement could claim to represent economic and social justice, it could undermine the socialists' claim to be the sole representatives of these values. Sometimes these efforts were conducted on parallel tracks--as in the simultaneous construction of a German welfare state and an enormous amount of activity by nationalist ideologies and groups. It was Wilhelm II who termed the socialists, to the delight of the beer hall, "Vaterlandlosen Gesellen"--a term translatable as (with apologies to the late President Nixon) "unpatriotic bums."     The new nationalism drew upon primordial attachments and beliefs and provided new objects of loyalty beyond family, neighborhood, and parish. It was exquisitely consonant with the ideological mobilization required to motivate mass conscript armies, which also served as foyers of nationalist indoctrination. Reserve officers connected the armies with the middle reaches of society. In prosaic occupations, they derived prestige from their association with the aristocrats in the upper ranks. Organizations such as the Navy League in Germany converted diffuse nationalism into imperialist projects.     Similarly, modern anti-Semitism used the profoundest of hatreds of the entire Christian era--and modernized it. Jewish emancipation excited the fury of those who insisted that Jews were different and could not be otherwise. If anti-Semitism had been a matter of unreflected prejudices, it now became a "science"--leaving theological terrain for pseudoanthropology, pseudobiology, pseudohistory. The prominence of Jews as disturbers of the peace, bearers in their emancipated lives of new ideas, was bad enough. The prominence of other Jews as bankers and businessmen was worse. Jews were converted into scapegoats for all the defects of the surging capitalism of the second half of the century. No sooner had the struggle for emancipation been ostensibly won than were Jews attacked for what they had made of themselves. Anti-Semitism, no less than nationalism, was organized--in clubs and leagues, with a press, with specific political groupings, or as an indispensable element of larger ones. The anticapitalist elements of anti-Semitism competed directly with a universalist socialism for the allegiance of the working class.     Twentieth-century fascism was born in nineteenth-century social movements that combined social Christianity, nationalism, and anti-Semitism in a quite coherent project--and that largely anticipated some of the forms of mass organization of fascism. The anti-Dreyfusards of France assaulted the republican tradition, the democratic state, and the legacy of the Enlightenment. (The anti-Semitic violence in France at the time shocked German opinion, which preferred a more orderly sort of anti-Semitism.) The socialist leaders in Europe, by and large, were steadfast in their refusal to take their distance from their Jewish comrades. To have done so would have entailed a renunciation of the ideas on which their beliefs rested. Many ordinary members and supporters of the socialist parties had no Jewish coworkers and were in any event less firmly attached to universalist ideas. The difference was part of the permanent tension between a socialism of ideals and a socialism of material gains. Not only were the forces that prevented socialists from opening a new age very old--but they continuously presented themselves in entirely modern forms.     What, concretely, did the attainment of citizenship by the working class mean? It meant, first of all, rights to vote and to form socialist parties, to publish and read a socialist press. It meant establishing a place in the political structure of the state--at least, in its representative institutions. It certainly did not mean integration in society in the sense of sharing social influence and power with the owners of large-scale capital and their state servitors, or with the sectors of society (including the landed peasantry) that owned smaller amounts of capital. Despite a rising standard of living (in the long run, the very long run), extreme vulnerability to the business cycle, to accident, and to sickness marked off the working class. Unions had to fight for their legal existence and then struggle step-by-step for economic and social terrain in the workplace. In the United States, where citizenship was not a problem for white males (including immigrants of five years of residence), labor struggles and strikes so increased in violence toward the end of the century that many of the propertied feared revolution. The socialist movements still constituted cultural enclaves, extended families of identification and sentiment, of shared experience and social fate. Whether these were areas from which a resolute and strengthened working class could storm forth to conquer of all of society was, visibly, a matter of doubt for a growing number of socialist leaders and thinkers.     We may recall the celebrated debate between Bernstein and Kautsky. Returned from exile in Great Britain, where he had been much impressed by the self-organization of the working class and the relative lack of elite demonization of the nascent Labour movement, Bernstein thought again about the inevitability of revolution. He had also absorbed enough of the moral politics characteristic of the British socialists to reinforce his own skepticism about Marx's ideas. Instead, he declared that there was an irreducible ethical fundament to socialism that made it a matter of moral choice--and he also insisted that there was nothing inevitable about its final triumph. The point was to continue the struggle for its own sake, even if the final goal (a classless society) receded forever over the historical horizon. Kautsky was shocked--less, apparently, at the thought than at its utterance, since this was the occasion for his famous rebuke: "Eddy, that is the sort of thing one thinks, but never says." Many socialists began both thinking and saying such things as the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth.     Let us distinguish national states as strong and weak, using reliance on citizenship, voting, and national solidarity as evidence for strength and recourse to the varieties of authoritarianism and repression as evidence for weakness. We can make some interesting distinctions. The stronger the state, the less revolutionary and the more reformist the socialist movement in practice. Often, however, rhetoric continued unchanged. In his Political Parties , Robert Michels gave us an unforgettable portrait of the Wilhelmenian Social Democrats--stolid, installed in the Reichstag with a fourth of the national vote, busy in a set of organizations ranging from their own insurance company to evening schools, efficient managers of municipal services. No matter what they said, they acted as if the maintenance of their organization was at least as important, if not more so, than the ends it was supposed to achieve.     Michels's teacher, Max Weber, for his part once recounted his impressions of a vacation he had spent at a Social Democratic camp on the Belgian coast. These good-natured, patriarchal, culturally conventional workers, he declared, could be portrayed as revolutionaries only by those who had never met them. Was Germany a strong state? It combined parliamentary democracy with authoritarian institutions (and correspondingly conflicting attitudes in large segments of the population) in an ambiguous and unachieved synthesis. The Social Democrats were strenuously antimilitarist--but did not sabotage conscription. Their members and voters were indignant at being exploited, unaccepting of the legitimacy of the propertied and state elites ruling Germany, convinced that large injustices reigned, but took many smaller and greater pleasures in the lives they led. Social welfare legislation and patriarchal relationships in the workplace--as well as a sense of workmanship and a sense of duty, religiously expressed--dulled the pain of capitalism. Wilhelmenian imperialism's ideology--an appalling fusion of chauvinism, provincialism, and racism--may have been more appealing to rank-and-file Social Democrats than the leadership could acknowledge. There were plenty in that rank and file who were convinced democrats, who intuited that the universalist legacy of the Enlightenment could make Germany a more decent and less brutal nation--but even they could hardly bring the revolution into daily life.     In France, the socialists--who shortly after the turn of the century were actually supporting governments in the Chamber--did think of themselves as constituent members of a republican bloc. Nineteenth-century memories, and the Dreyfus affair, made the defense of republicanism a precondition of any democratic politics in a France still bitterly and deeply divided by the antitheses of Catholic integralism and laicism, hierarchical order and equality, authoritarian traditionalism and citoyenneté . The French socialists had every reason to think of themselves as completely integrated in the nation of the French Revolution, as continuing a struggle that began in 1789. France was less industrialized than Germany or Great Britain--and the socialists were strong in the rural republican southwest and in regions where schoolteachers and even petty proprietors were defenders of the Third Republic. In fact, class conflict as such in the industrial areas was quite violent, perhaps more so than in Germany--but (the bloodstained origins of the Third Republic in the repression of the Commune notwithstanding) the socialists still thought of themselves as the most authentic exponents of the nation's ideals. Phrases such as le Peuple had a different resonance than das Volk . Still, it was someone from le Peuple --a fanaticized nationalist--who assassinated Jean Juares on the eve of a First World War, the outbreak of which he was attempting to stop.     In Great Britain, an actual socialist party (the Labour Party) was formed only after tortuous debates as to whether the working class could be adequately represented in the Liberal Party. Great Britain was the site of a paradox, in which a Labour Party had strong and indeed central union components--but in which the unions insisted on their autonomy in conducting industrial conflicts made all the more difficult by legal limits on their action. There were currents of reform in the other parties: social insurance was introduced by Lloyd George, and the Tories believed that they incarnated a British version of noblesse oblige. The United Kingdom had been a harsh police state in the eighteenth century and the beginning years of the nineteenth. The slow establishment of democratic rights and freedom from judicial arbitrariness was most decidedly not the result of the imminent development of liberal opinion alone. It owed much to the British Jacobins and to the Chartist movement (which also served Marx and Engels as a model of socialist organization), to continuous pressure by the enlarging working-class segment of the electorate. The choice of a parliamentary road to socialism was a consequence (for all of the misery of Dickens's and later Orwell's nation) of a conviction of the possibility of integration in the society. The lines, to build a new "Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land," expressed both utopian hope and a profound sense of attachment to a national tradition.     Everywhere, then, historical constraints, traditions of belief, and the grinding exigencies of political and social routine gave the several socialist movements their national forms. In Austro-Hungary and Russia, ethnic and national divisions made social projects and political strategies based on class alignments difficult to achieve. The socialists had to contend with multiple loyalties. Class interests and national sentiments were held in uneasy balance by the central states the socialists sought to replace--as they quarreled over what, precisely, they would do with state power.     What did reassuring phrases about the autonomy (today we might say, "identity," with even more vagueness) of the separate nations and regions mean for the constitutional and political futures promised by the socialists? The disintegration of the Hapsburg empire hardly surprised them: the surprise was their realization that they could not master subsequent events. Lenin proclaimed a new policy for the nations under Russian rule--and replaced the harshness of the Czarist bureaucracy with the stringencies of Bolshevik rule. In Italy the socialists (and the Communists afterward) confronted the reality of two nations, the north and the culturally different and impoverished south. They had no solution that could win them large adherence in the south, which to this day remains problematical for the party of reform in Italy. The organizational structures and the rhetoric of northern Italian socialism (and of the Communists later) were viewed by the sub-proletarianized southerners as alien. A significant number of southern intellectuals, however, were drawn to socialism. The analogy that comes to mind is with the Third World thinkers who sought to match a metropolitan ideology to indigenous realities. Their metropolitan ideology crumbled in the Third World, where newer forms of metropolitan domination through the market replaced military presence. In Italy the colonized south may claim a creeping conquest of the supposedly dominant north--in the pervasive corruption and inefficiency of the national state.     Perhaps we can generalize by concluding that the socialists who were most successful in attaining power, or in advancing socialist ideals in conditions quite unlike those envisaged by Marx, were those most rooted in their societies. Friedrich Ebert, the Social Democrat who was the first president of the Weimar Republic, and Lenin are not usually thought of together--but they shared a grasp of national realities that escaped some of their more universalist contemporaries (Luxembourg and Trotsky, for instance). Perhaps that should be amended. Luxemburg and Trotsky were certainly aware of obstacles to socialism in her Germany and his Russia. Each was uncompromising.     Nationhood, in the United States, rested explicitly on universal criteria of citizenship. These were opposed by racist and xenophobic institutions of a decidedly ethnocentric sort. The ethnic, racial, and religious divisions in the working class may have precluded the formation of a socialist movement and party of the kind found in Europe, but the matter merits closer examination. In 1893 the historian Frederick Jackson Turner published his celebrated thesis that the frontier, which he saw as closed, had determined much of American history. The frontier made employment and land available to those otherwise mired in economic distress: it was at once a means of escape and a ready-made instrument of perpetual economic expansion. Now that the frontier was closed, American social conflicts--especially class conflicts--would intensify.     This was the period in which small farmers in the South and West, maddened by the power of eastern finance, rose in the populist movement. The populists sought to erect defenses against the manipulation of the prices for their agricultural products. They echoed Jefferson's early strictures against the commercialization of the American Republic, and insisted on a sharp distinction between their kind of work and the functioning of urban capitalism. They could not make common cause with the urban working class, increasingly made up of Catholic immigrants. They did not see in the middle-class Progressives, with their own critique of the new capitalism, potential allies. The Populists were defeated in the election of 1896, when William Jennings Bryan lost the presidency. They certainly sensed that as the United States became more industrial, their political and social weight was diminishing. Their rhetoric became ever more pathetic, their cultural politics ever more provincial.     They constituted an American equivalent of the European peasant parties of the time--with the difference that they espoused a rather strenuous Protestantism rather than the social Catholicism of much of Europe. Still, the peasant parties in Protestant Scandinavia did what the American farmers would not do, made common cause with the urban working class--and had large roles in the early construction of Scandinavian welfare states. The European peasant parties owed some of their success to proportional representation. Its American equivalent was the Federal system, which allowed the smallest agricultural states and the largest industrial ones two senators each and so made it impossible to exclude the farmers from any political arrangement. The difficulty was that the rural states could more easily block changes than control, or institute, them.     The Populists were defeated, but in the cities violent confrontation between owners and workers intensified at the turn of the century. It was so intense that anxious comparisons with Europe were drawn. The union movement grew but was divided. Socialist parties were founded but found no unity and were instead foci of local and regional agitation, as well as political sects. Capitalists were frightened by the emergence of what they saw as a mass movement that might alter the national balance of power. Repression, locally, was very severe--and legitimated by a jurisprudence that assigned absolute primacy to the rights of property. The educated middle class was no less frightened but was dismayed by the corruption and lack of civic sense of the politics of the capitalist elite. Progressivism was a moralizing as well as technocratic response to the destructiveness of capitalism--an effort to canalize its immense productive powers for a version of the common good derived in part from Social Protestantism, in part from older notions of republicanism.     It is striking that many of the Progressive theorists were cosmopolitans who had studied in Germany and the United Kingdom. The similarities with Europe they saw seemed convincing, but our history spoke in our own accents. We had ethnic fragmentation and racial conflict; a new nationalism and imperialism (Theodore Roosevelt and, later, Woodrow Wilson); middle-class-led reformism; the awakened conscience of the Protestant churches; and a church of the poor and exploited, a Catholic church marked by doctrines expressed in In Rerum Novarum . We had, too, increasing numbers of Jewish immigrants and the beginnings of what was to be so important for twentieth-century American social reform: secularized Jewish sensibility and thought. The prophetic teachings of the Old Testament and the eschatological impulses of Judaism were refashioned as responses to the United States. Above all, we had socialists, groups whose members believed in the collective appropriation of the means of production, the social control of the economy, the construction of new institutions that would extend democracy and representation to economic processes.     Much has been made of the "liberalism" of American society. In the postwar years (dominated by a social consensus arranged by large corporations, the federal government, and the unions) Louis Hartz's book The Liberal Tradition in America had canonical status and was cited almost as often as Turner, whom few read. Hartz's analysis of liberalism was subtle and entailed, in addition to rights to property, what we would today term civil rights. Daniel Ernst has said that those who were enthusiastic about Hartz as a celebrant of our political tradition may have been wrong: Hartz can also be read as deploring our lack of alternatives. Slavery was a large embarrassment, of course, to those who insisted that American politics was constituted by liberalism--but there were other embarrassments--exploitation, imperialism, and privatized violence amongst them. Did American liberalism, as a structure of assumptions about the nature of humans and their societies, so shape American politics that a socialist alternative had no chance to develop? That certainly could be concluded from the insistence of the authors of the Constitution on curbing direct democracy. The text of James Madison's Tenth Federalist Paper, with its warning against assaults on a "natural" inequality, certainly is an unequivocal affirmation of the inevitability as well as the desirability of a class society.     The Tenth Federalist did refer to a public interest, defining it implicitly as the recognition of the structure of a society of unequals--insofar as it was defined at all. Was American republicanism, then, a facade for the legitimation of private interests and passions, to be satisfied irrespective of any judgment as to their qualities?     There are two obvious objections to a rather vulgar argument of this sort. The early American republic had an exalted notion of citizenship--so exalted, indeed, that its proponents believed that it could be extended to matters economic. The Americans were descendants of the soldiers of the New Model Army, and of England's Country Party. They did not see why they should accept domination by the rich. To be sure, insisting on equality in political institutions is not the same as a demand for a radically egalitarian social order, but it is a precondition of it. What there is of socialism in American society has often had antecedents in the sorts of radical democracy abhorred by a good many Federalists.     There is in our history another, religious, objection to the obsessive individualism of American liberalism. Calvinist in its origins, an idea of both human fallibility and human perfectibility, it depicted humans as potentially better than they are at any given moment. It followed that politics, and much else too, had to be judged by moral criteria, by whether human activities and wants were part of the realization of that potential. One way to think of it is as positive liberty, the liberty to fulfil a moral imperative. That there is a large potential for abuse and deformation in this sublime formulation we know. Moreover, American republicanism for long periods of time was professed by those who destroyed the Indians and enslaved and later excluded the blacks: republicanism was not for everyone. Still, Calvinism at times encouraged Americans to think of human communities as capable of self-transformation and abjured the limitless egoism of an undisciplined individualism.     The incompatibility of American tradition and socialism has been exaggerated. We did not develop a sizeable component of socialism in the nation's modern politics for many reasons, manipulation and repression being at least as prominent amongst these as liberalism. Moreover, there have been in American culture--consider its Catholic and Jewish segments--other sorts of communal and social values that were and are compatible with socialism. The present discussion of "communitarianism," unfortunately, is largely silent on the question of whether the present minimal limits on the working of the market in nearly all spheres of American society allow authentic communities to flourish.     The centrifugal forces dividing the American groups that might have united in something like the British Labour Party were stronger than the incentives to unity. The trade unions themselves concentrated on labor struggles but did so in no coordinated fashion. The nascent American Federation of Labor, under Samuel Gompers, specifically rejected an American labor or socialist party. At the other extreme, the Industrial Workers of the World were engaged in an American version of anarchism and syndicalism: a total rejection of the capitalist order accompanied by vague notions of worker self-government and even vaguer ideas of how to achieve it (unyielding combat apart). Despite the constitutional guarantees of the First Amendment, the right to organization and speech, the unions and the socialist groups were relentlessly harassed by public authorities, usually acting on the commands of capital. Sectarian conflicts did the rest: the effective appeal of American socialism was reduced. In Eugene Debs, the socialist movement had a leader of large stature. He once said that he could not lead American workers into the promised land, since, if he did, someone else would lead them out of it. He understood that American socialism needed an active popular basis.     Ethnic and racial division made the development of that basis very difficult. Where the optimal conditions for class consciousness existed, in the industrial cities and in industries about which working-class communities took root, an American working-class culture did develop. Many of these self-conscious workers, however, thought of the Republican Party as the party of labor--and were, later, willing to accept the bona fides and the programs of the Progressive reformers. The Progressives were of the educated middle class, angry at the rule of parvenu financiers and industrialists. The Progressives were men and women of the word, journalists, lawyers, pastors, professors, writers. They have also been described as "Ministers of Reform" by Robert Crunden, in a reference to their social Protestant antecedents. A large part of the political weight of these elites (who did give us, after all, Theodore Roosevelt) was due to their impeccable American origins and their inner conviction that they were reclaiming the nation from those who were unworthy of their privileges.     A segment of the immigrant working class was for the time being receptive to more established Americans who actually seemed to promise a version of noblesse oblige. Others, bitterly resentful of the combination of cultural contempt and economic exploitation to which they were subjected, formed enclaves of their own. Their churches often served as nodal points of their communities. Formally, the American Catholic Church after a long internal conflict rejected division on ethnic lines, but in fact, its parishes and often its dioscesan leadership were ethnically specific. That, if anything, strengthened the self-depiction of Catholicism as the church of the poor in the labor struggles that engulfed entire neighborhoods and cities. There were, too, increasing numbers of secularized Catholics or former Catholics, especially amongst the Irish, who made a vocation of the labor movement. They were quite like the secularized Jews who, having left the synagogue or grown distant from it, threw themselves with concentrated moral energy into the labor movement. This montage of ethnic and class consciousness, racial and religious separatism, political and social argument, resembled in its constant inner changes one of those moving constructions of modernist art--but the larger space in which it was installed was fixed.     That space was constituted by the relentless expansion of American industry, its conjoint reliance on a growing domestic market and on world trade. In our federal system, the monied and propertied could win most of their critical battles in the states--and could count on the divisions of any potential opposition coalition. Within American politics, there were deep and continuing divisions--Populists against finance, small business against large business, Progressive reformers against the more predatory capitalists, nativists against those who sought the assimilation and integration of the immigrants. The immigrants in question were European. The majority of blacks lived in the rural and segregated South and were denied elementary civil rights. Black workers in the North were often denied equality by white unions--which also demanded the exclusion of Asian immigrants. The predominance of agrarian interests in many states often made these large and small proprietors, whatever their antagonisms to one another, arbiters of national politics. The labor movement and the socialists were unable to set the agenda of politics, even if they were seen as enormous dangers to the social order.     Withal, the United States in the early twentieth century was not a society totally in bondage to the market. The Progressive reformers were just that: reformers. Their success in mobilizing important parts of the expanding working class behind their projects was the equivalent of the containment, in Europe, of the socialist movement by reform from above. One difference was that the Europeans had classes that had for a long time controlled their states and that were not prepared to be dispossessed by the newly rich. The Progressives, per contra, were convinced that they had to reconquer the American state--as well as to modernize it. The professional American civil services dates from the beginning of the century--a period by which Germany and the United Kingdom had already thoroughly modernized their administrations. Progressive reforms, not least in states such as New York and Wisconsin, began the domestication of American capitalism continued on a broader scale in the New Deal.     A cultural problem underlies much of this. Let us remain in the United States for the moment and recall the work of Lears, Rodgers, and Trachtenberg on the American version of cultural modernity. Modernity describes the complex of attitudes, beliefs, and values arising from industrialization and secularization. Harold Rosenberg gave us the phrase, the tradition of the new--and modernity is by now a tradition, so much so that in postmodernity, it has found its own revolting children. Modernity entailed the assumption of unending progress, of the dissolution of encrusted traditions and the decomposition of rigid institutions. It proposed the exploration of new possibilities in aesthetics, morality, politics. Modernity's emphasis was not on the sovereignty of reason but on reason's capacity to express and serve the depths of the psyche. That is why Freud, and the surrealists, are more modern than John Stuart Mill, even if his liberalism was a precondition of the aesthetic and scientific modernism that admitted of no divinely fixed and limited human nature. Human nature, for Freud, was supremely historical. Cities teeming with millions, the visible conflict of traditions, the anxiety of the intellectual defenders of religion, the continuously increasing authority of science, experiment expanding to every sphere of culture constituted modernism in the United States as well as Europe. (One of the best dramatic descriptions of it comes from Warren Beatty, who in his splendid film Reds showed what the early modern movement wrought in the American provinces--Portland--and in its capital--New York.)     Of socialism's relationship to modernity, we can say that socialism was made possible by modernity but that not all of its leaders and certainly not all of its followers were modernists. In his book on Engels in Manchester, Steven Marcus describes Engels's reading of the new city and its inhabitants. Engels treated it in the manner of, at once, critic, ethnographer, and scientist. Marx was decidedly traditionalist in his literary tastes but had the sense that tradition changed: he would hardly have been surprised by T.S. Eliot's definition of a classic as a work that changes our reading of the past. (Continues...)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
After Progressp. 0
1 Introductionp. 1
2 The Early Strugglesp. 26
3 The Russian Revolution-and Afterp. 49
4 The Thirties and Warp. 78
5 The Welfare Statep. 106
6 Contending Versions of Socialismp. 153
7 The Golden Age and Its Several Endingsp. 200
8 Is Mediterranean Socialism Different?p. 260
9 Les Anglo-Saxons: Great Britainp. 297
10 Les Anglo-Saxons: the United Statesp. 329
11 Is Solidarity Possible?p. 366
Notesp. 383
Bibliographyp. 405
Indexp. 411