Why Is There No Mass-Based American Socialist Movement?

“Everybody recognizes the United States as the only industrialized nation in the world with no significant movement for socialism. Since World War II, most Americans have come to assume that this has always been so, for not only in the affluent post-war years but even during the Great Depression (when American capitalism had collapsed and could revive itself only with the start of arms production for another world war), the idea of socialism remained the property of small and isolated groups. The reasons for this are also well known. They include the high American standard of living, the impact of free land and unique class mobility in a society with no feudal past, and the speed and ease with which sophisticated liberals, starting with Theodore Roosevelt, have been able to appropriate enough of the left’s demands to capture a good part of a potential socialist following. Then, too, the United States, being an immigrant nation, has been as sharply divided along lines of race and national origin as along those of class. Suppression of leftists and of their right to speak, removal of socialist publications from the mails, harassment of socialist organizations and prosecution of their leaders by federal, state, and local governments have also weakened the left.

“Unquestionably, the success of America capitalism has been outstanding. Yet the reasons for the absence of a coherent socialist movement in the United States for the past 65 years cannot be wholly  understood by the celebration of entrepreneurial vigor and nature’s largesse, much less by the success of the repressive state apparatus. In large part, the failure of the American left has been internal. But the failure should not be understood as the socialists’ inability to win a majority to their cause or as their inability to take power. Given the strength of American capitalism, that was never a possibility.

“Rather, the failure of an American has been its episodic character, in the inability of socialists to create and sustain a political movement that is a part of the mainstream of American political life — something the old Socialist Party briefly became — and that is able to survive defeats, learn from its mistakes, and retain organizational and intellectual continuity and growth.

“In short, the left has failed in not being able to create a community that is based on a set of clearly articulated principles and sustained by its application of those principles to the major political problems of the day.” — James Weinstein, introduction to The Decline of American Socialism in America: 1912-1925.decline

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4 responses to “Why Is There No Mass-Based American Socialist Movement?

  1. Pingback: How Upton Sinclair Upended California’s Democratic Party and the Lessons for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Run | Revolutionary Democratic Socialism

    • Excellent review. The truth is that the U.S. began developing a mass-based workers’ party, the Socialist Party, but its development was aborted by the aftermath of the Russian revolution.

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  2. Pingback: People Will Take Socialism Seriously When Socialists Start Acting Seriously | Revolutionary Democratic Socialism

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