- The New Freedom and the Radicals: Woodrow Wilson, Progressive Views of Radicalism, and the Origins of Repressive Tolerance by Jacob Kramer
Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2015
xi + 226 pp., $79.50 (cloth); $79.50 (e-book)
How should historians characterize the relationships between progressives and radicals in the early twentieth century? Or, more specifically, how did the era's leftists influence mainstream reformers? These are the central questions Jacob Kramer seeks to answer in his thought-provoking and well-researched book. For Kramer, progressives were neither reactionary wolves in sheep's clothing nor radicals disguised as moderates. He explains that influential progressives shared a number of goals with radicals in the first decade of the twentieth century, supported repressive campaigns against them during World War I, and demonstrated a mix of acceptance and rejection in the postwar period. Such relationships were not static, and Kramer highlights their achievements, limitations, and flexibility while insisting that "ideas concerning radicalism were always an important part of progressivism" (2). "Radicalism was not marginal," he writes, "but central to the development of twentieth-century American politics and governmental institutions" (4). Kramer's arguments, built on a solid foundation of archival and secondary sources, are insightful and mostly persuasive. Most importantly, he is likely to influence future debates and discussions about this critical period.
In making his case, Kramer explores the political ideas and actions of a familiar cast of characters: Jane Addams, Randolph Bourne, Louis Brandeis, George Creel, Herbert Croly, John Dewey, W. E. B. Du Bois, Felix Frankfurter, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Helen Keller, Florence Kelley, Walter Lippman, Carleton Parker, Upton Sinclair, Frank Walsh, and Woodrow Wilson. Kramer is well aware of the diversity of opinions within this cohort, recognizing that "at all times there was a range of views" (13). Throughout, he carefully describes the ways progressives responded to some of the period's critical events and movements: the murder of William McKinley by anarchist Leon Czolgosz, the growth of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the 1907 economic crisis, the spread of socialist agitation during World War I, the outbreaks of the Mexican and Russian revolutions, the Commission on Industrial Relations, the Red Scare, a series of high-profile strikes, the emergence of the Farmer-Labor Party, and the Sacco and Vanzetti case. He approaches these topics as an intellectual historian, offering perceptive readings of his subjects' speeches and writings.
Effectively responding to the multidimensional "labor question" remained an essential concern for progressives. Reinforcing Shelton Stromquist's important Reinventing "The People": The Progressive Movement, the Class Problem, and the Origins of Modern Liberalism (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2006), Kramer notes that progressives "tended to favor associations with workers or cross-class alliances that would reduce class conflict rather than remove the distinction between the classes" (6). But, of [End Page 127] course, they were unable to eliminate class conflict altogether. And although most progressives distanced themselves from militant confrontations on picket lines, many sympathized with the grievances of socialists and IWW members in the years before and after World War I.
Kramer offers an especially nuanced and well-reasoned analysis of Brandeis's relationship with labor, which contrasts sharply with that of many other scholars who have tended to overstate the famous lawyer's pro-union advocacy while downplaying or ignoring his alliances with employers' associations and involvement in union-breaking activities. Although Brandeis made numerous pro-labor comments during his life, his actions demonstrate that he was largely interested in promoting workplace efficiency and law and order. This was particularly true when he helped to establish the so-called preferential union shop following a massive New York City garment workers' strike in 1909; according to this plan, employers promised to hire union members if they were more efficient than nonunionists. Leftist critics referred to this plan as the "open shop with honey," recognizing that exploitative employers remained in control of hiring and firing decisions. Writing about the 1912 Lawrence strike, Brandeis denounced the IWW-led protest and called for the development of "conservative trade unionism," insisting...