American Socialist Triptych
The Literary-Political Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Upton Sinclair, and W. E. B. Du Bois
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: University of Michigan Press
Series: Class : Culture
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: Toward a Literary History of (Social) Democracy in America
This book focuses upon three prominent American socialists who also happen to be essential figures in the study of modern American literature. To be sure, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Upton Sinclair, and W. E. B. Du Bois aspired to careers in writing and intellectual work prior to their becoming socialists. Du Bois in fact wrote the work that made his name as an intellectual, The Souls of Black Folk, prior to expressing ...
Part I: Social Democracy in America
1: Looking Backward, Working Forward: Fin de Siècle Socialism according to Charlotte Perkins Gilman
In approaching the history of socialism in the United States, we immediately face the problem that historians have widely assumed socialism has never amounted to much here—even, among some specialists in the field, that in this country there has been no socialist movement worthy of the name. Werner Sombart’s Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? (1906) was notably premature in its negative judgment upon the ...
2: The Multiplicity of American Socialism: Upton Sinclair and the “Party of Agitation,” 1901–1914
For all of the hopeful indications of the rising tide of progressivism, the American socialist movement ended the nineteenth century and began the twentieth at a critical juncture. The popular organizations that had espoused socialist and socialistic measures in the 1890s, especially the Nationalists and the Populists, had either lost their momentum or been co-opted by the mainstream parties. The more militant parties, De Leon’s ...
3: The Feminism of American Socialism: Gilman and Company at Work, in Love, and on Trial
The career of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and her brand of socialist feminism provide further evidence for the continuity of American socialism before and after the turn of the century. Although Gilman, like other pre-1900 socialists, tended to eschew the socialist label and regard Marxism with some anxiety, the perspective upon women’s equality that she learned in the Nationalist movement and elaborated upon in her own intellectual ...
4: Within the Veil: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Second Internationale, 1909–1919
Diverse and multiple as American socialism was during the period of the Second Internationale, racial diversity, and specifically African American diversity, was much less readily accounted for. In the Jungle’s descriptions of the packinghouse strike of 1904 and the scabs who were used to break it, Sinclair’s narrative focalized through his protagonist Jurgis Rudkus—himself working as a strikebreaker—plays upon the gamut of racist ...
Part II: Literary Negotiations
5: Call and Response: The Politics of Literary Utopianism and Realism
The chapters of Part I have canvassed the writing of Gilman, Sinclair, and Du Bois broadly considered—published work, fiction and nonfiction, speeches in the case of Gilman, personal letters and other unpublished work. We have examined this writing with particular attention to what it says about American socialism of the 1890s and the two decades following: the period of the Second Internationale, and also the decades ...
6: Utopia and Apocalypse: Social Democratic Fiction and the Great War
More than the average citizen or statesman, socialists had foreseen the Great War. Capitalism had not only pitted class against class but nation against nation; mass, industrialized warfare was but the most open expression of day-to-day reality in a society riven by class conflict. In a 1913 editorial in The Crisis, Du Bois offered what amounted to a prediction of war, given unresolved issues in the scramble for empire: “The modern lust for ...
7: Heaven and Earth: Revelations and Doubt in the Sacco-Vanzetti Decade
The revolutionary moment of 1919 passed rapidly, a consequence both of the government’s stern repression of left-wing activity and of Left activists’ unreadiness, or unwillingness, actually to undertake the revolutionary violence the government accused them of plotting. Membership fell precipitously in both the Socialist Party of America and the several, successive Comintern-aligned parties that splintered ...
Part III: Political Interventions
8: Once More unto the Breach: Social Democratic Advance and Retreat in the Red Decade
In the narrative of American literature, socialism, and political change that we have been tracing, when we enter the 1930s and the Great Depression we approach the crisis. This narratorial understanding concurs with those scholars who have specialized in the Left and Communist- affiliated literature in identifying the 1930s as the historical moment of decision. But it also sharply disputes their singular focus on that decade and ...
9: Reading The Jungle at Breakfast: The New Deal and Other Social Democratic Legacies
It is just the kind of story that the politically savvy president might have entirely fabricated, when Roosevelt met with Upton Sinclair a few days after he had won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination of California in a landslide. Yet Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s improbable yarn about his mother reading from The Jungle at table and spoiling his breakfast ...