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  • Introduction
  • Leon Fink

The 2016 presidential elections were hardly the first time that Russian actors helped shape events in the United States and other “Western” countries. For the worldwide Left especially, the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917 triggered a profound century of influence—inspiration, disillusionment, organization, disintegration—that arguably still shapes the possibilities and the very conceptual categories of transcendence of the capitalist world order. A century later, we asked several historians with different specialties to offer some perspective on the rolling influence of the revolutionary communist events. Writer and activist Suzi Weissman at once underlines the historical breakthrough represented by “profoundly democratic” workers’ councils (or soviets) and the tragedy of their suppression, a setback that had the effect of permanently associating communism with dictatorship and liberal capitalism with democracy. Tony Michels trains his attention on the waves and depths of socialist disillusionment with the Soviet state. From the anarchist disaffection after the Kronstadt rebellion in 1921 to the revelations of prisoners in the 1920s to the Trotskyist press of the thirties and forties to Kruschev’s own mea culpa for Stalinism in 1956, a hopeful seizure of power turned many to “anguish, anger, and sadness.” With a case study of a single communist militant, Eloy Martins, a Brazilian metalworker with a fourth-grade [End Page 1] education, John D. French and Alexandre Fortes suggest the ways that the Russian revolutionary ideal might be translated into a very different political setting. Martins, who was recruited to the movement by his soccer coach in the late 1920s, followed various twists and turns of the Brazilian Communist Party through the 1970s and, like other comrades, “embraced a fight that they knew would bring more grief than happiness.”

In the same era as the Boshevik revolution, our two research essays suggest, two other powerful sources of identity and mobilization—namely, gender and religion—were vying with class within US labor circles. In the first essay, Diana D’Amico documents the complex politics attending the entry of female-dominated teacher unions within the ranks of the AFL. While union leaders like Grace Strachan and Margaret Haley sought to combine professional economic ends with the larger civic empowerment of women, they encountered resistance not only from the educational hierarchy but also within a labor movement intent on advancing its preferred vision of “progressive manhood.”

A powerful strain of Christian socialism, argues Janine Giordano Drake, had for years been percolating within the growing labor movement of the 1880s and 1890s. Operating through independent “labor churches” and “peoples’ churches” and experimental communes all with a strong base within the Socialist Party itself (where even party leader Eugene V. Debs paid it due deference), Christian socialists fully held their own against their more “godless” counterparts on the American Left. Notwithstanding its own internal tensions, however, such religious (or irreligious) radicalism worried not only the business community but church leaders as well. One of the most influential of such antisocialist albeit prolabor reformers, Drake suggests [End Page 2] was Charles Stelzle, a leader within the Protestant Federal Council of Churches and chief apostle of the ecumenical Men and Religion Forward Movement. With support from more conservative AFL leaders, Stelzle’s initiatives, by offering a “middle way between socialism and capitalism,” at once enhanced the power of liberal ministers and undermined the transformative promise of the religious Left.

The reviews section appeals across space, time, and thematic focus. Among the latter that our reviewers single out for high praise are two works on labor song: Darryl Holter and William Deverell’s treatment of Woody Guthrie’s Los Angeles years and David Spener’s “biography” of We Shall Not Be Moved / No Nos Moverán. In other realms, in Lunch-Bucket Lives, Craig Heron has reportedly produced a magisterial work on class and power in Hamilton, Ontario; Nancy Woloch offers a definitive treatment of the rise and fall of women’s protective legislation; and Kiran Klaus Patel documents the transnationalism at the heart of New Deal policy making. On a more contemporary note, moreover, Jamie K. McCallum draws our attention to an important new realm of international labor politics in the form of “global framework agreements.” [End Page 3]


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