FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Century of Socialism

by

The twentieth century is the century of socialism. Understanding its successes and failures around the world are crucial to understanding the history of that recent century and the potential future of the current one.  A recent addition to the multitude of historic reflections published on this subject lends a uniquely US perspective.  The author, Paul LeBlanc, is a long-time socialist whose tendency leans toward Trotskyism.  This latter fact is one that seems to matter mostly to other leftists and certainly does not detract from the history LeBlanc tells.

His book, titled Left Americana: The Radical Heart of US History, is a collection of historical reflections established in a context that combines Marxism and United States history.  Its subjects range from Chicago’s Haymarket martyrs to the nuances of the US Trotskyist movement; from a discussion of CLR James’s approach to Marxism and meaning in the world to a survey of radical and conservative movements in the 1950s and 1960s.  Furthermore, he provides a unique, albeit brief, biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and an examination of Brookwood Labor College—a not so well known institute of labor organizing in Katonah, New York that instructed dozens of labor organizers in the 1920s and 1930s.  The critical history LeBlanc provides goes beyond dates and details, delving into the meaning of the individuals and events discussed for today’s readers.

LeBlanc himself is a professor of history and a socialist organizer.  His personal political biography extends over sixty years.  After doing some political work in the milieu that would become known as the New Left, LeBlanc found the Trotskyist organization called the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) to be the best vehicle for understanding and organizing against the US war in Vietnam and for Black liberation.  That organization, like so many leftist groups in the United States, was constantly in debate over its interpretation of Marxism and after numerous splits, expulsions and power struggles, looks nothing like it did during LeBlanc’s participation.  His discussion of the political debates and accompanying power struggles within the SWP and the broader Trotskyist movement in the United States pepper several of the essays in this book.  To the reader unfamiliar with the ins and outs of sectarian leftism (or those who find sectarianism to be counterproductive), these nuances will seem to be beside the point.  To those interested in the particular histories of the US Left, LeBlanc’s insights could be quite useful.

A common response to the why the US has never had a broad-based and popular socialist movement capable of actually gaining power on a national scale is that socialism is considered
a foreign philosophy by many US residents.  LeBlanc’s text challenges this specific claim, pointing out the role played by socialists in the labor movement, the civil rights movement and the US antiwar movement.  The historical truth, however, is that, with the exception of a few Congressional and (arguably) a couple presidential campaigns, the primary influence of the socialists in the United States has been mostly behind the scenes.  In other words, socialists worked as organizers and foot soldiers in the aforementioned movements; and as educators both in the US educational system and in the streets.  This fact is even truer since the anti-communist crusades that followed World War Two and effectively purged all socialists and communists from most labor unions.

LeBlanc closes his text with an essay written about the Occupy movement of 2011.  Citing its historical antecedents and the potential for a revolutionary movement it seemed to hold, he calls for an injection of the ideas of revolutionary socialism into the promise Occupy represented.  As anyone who participated in the Occupy movement knows, the multitude of issues and political philosophies present in the parks and streets where Occupy took place was simultaneously a blessing and a curse.  The need for an all-encompassing analysis was obvious to those who had previous experience in organizing, but that analysis was never quite shaped.  This was due in part to the brevity of the movement—a brevity enforced by the crackdown by police and other law enforcement—and the movement’s intentionally inclusive assembly model.  It seemed that some type of radical leftist analysis was developing as other analyses simply failed to provide a way forward or proved to be mere facades for the Democratic Party.  Although his perception is somewhat more optimistic than mine, LeBlanc’s conclusion that the only way the people of the United States can prevent what portends to be a very ugly future for all but the rich is through revolutionary socialism is something I can certainly agree with.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
November 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jonathan Cook
From an Open Internet, Back to the Dark Ages
Linda Pentz Gunter
A Radioactive Plume That’s Clouded in Secrecy
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Fires This Time
Nick Alexandrov
Birth of a Nation
Vijay Prashad
Puerto Rico: Ruined Infrastructure and a Refugee Crisis
Peter Montague
Men in Power Abusing Women – What a Surprise!
Kristine Mattis
Slaves and Bulldozers, Plutocrats and Widgets
Pete Dolack
Climate Summit’s Solution to Global Warming: More Talking
Mike Whitney
ISIS Last Stand; End Times for the Caliphate
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Darkness, Part Two
James Munson
Does Censoring Undemocratic Voices Make For Better Democracy?
Brian Cloughley
The Influence of Israel on Britain
Jason Hickel
Averting the Apocalypse: Lessons From Costa Rica
Pepe Escobar
How Turkey, Iran, Russia and India are playing the New Silk Roads
Jan Oberg
Why is Google’s Eric Schmidt So Afraid?
Ezra Rosser
Pushing Back Against the Criminalization of Poverty
Kathy Kelly
The Quality of Mercy
Myles Hoenig
A Ray Moore Win Could be a Hidden Gift to Progressives
Gerry Brown
Myanmar Conflict: Geopolitical Food Chain
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: Robert Redford’s Big Game in Nairobi
Katrina Kozarek
Venezuela’s Communes: a Great Social Achievement
Zoltan Grossman
Olympia Train Blockade Again Hits the Achilles Heel of the Fracking Industry
Binoy Kampmark
History, Law and Ratko Mladić
Tommy Raskin
Why Must We Sanction Russia?
Bob Lord
Trump’s Tax Plan Will Cost a Lot More Than Advertised
Ralph Nader
National Democratic Party – Pole Vaulting Back into Place
Julian Vigo
If Sexual Harassment and Assault Were Treated Like Terrorism
Russell Mokhiber
Still Blowing Smoke for Big Tobacco: John Boehner and College Ethics
Ted Rall
Sexual Harassment and the End of Team Politics
Anna Meyer
Your Tax Dollars are Funding GMO Propaganda
Barbara Nimri Aziz
An Alleged Communist and Prostitute in Nepal’s Grade Ten Schoolbooks!
Myles Hoenig
A Ray Moore Win Could be a Hidden Gift to Progressives
Graham Peebles
What Price Humanity? Systemic Injustice, Human Suffering
Kim C. Domenico
To Not Walk Away: the Challenge of Compassion in the Neoliberal World
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Giving Thanks for Our Occupation of America?
Christy Rodgers
The First Thanksgiving
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “We Were Eight Years in Power”
November 23, 2017
Kenneth Surin
Discussing Trump Abroad
Jay Moore
The Failure of Reconstruction and Its Consequences
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Trout and Ethnic Cleansing
John W. Whitehead
Don’t Just Give Thanks, Pay It Forward One Act of Kindness at a Time
Chris Zinda
Zinke’s Reorganization of the BLM Will Continue Killing Babies
David Krieger
Progress Toward Nuclear Weapons Abolition
Rick Baum
While Public Education is Being Attacked: An American Federation of Teachers Petition Focuses on Maintaining a Minor Tax Break
Paul C. Bermanzohn
The As-If Society
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail