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Whatever Happened to the Socialist Party? W. M. DICK Failure of a Dream?: Essays in the History of American Socialism. Edited by John H. M. Laslett and Seymour Martin Lipset. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1974. 754pp. Joseph H. Cash. Working the Homestake. Ames, Iowa: The Iowa State University Press, 1973. 137 pp. James C. Duram. Norman Thomas. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1974. 165pp. The Thurber cartoon lady who posed the question which serves as title for this essaywould not get a very clear answer from current historians. For twenty years, sincethe publication of David A. Shannon's SocialistParty of America, the fires of debate oµ the failure of socialism have blazed, fanned more recently by the appearance and subsequent decline of the New Left. The need for some recapitulation and synthesis is partly provided for in Failureof a Dream?:Essays in the Historyof American Socialism. Each chapter consists of an original statement by a participant in the debate followed by a rejoinder and, where possible, a counterreply by the original writer. One section deals with 'internal' explanations of socialism's failure (bad tactics, internal dissension, etc.), and another with external factors, (i.e., factors derived from the nature of American society and culture as a whole). A final section attempts to relate the Old Left and the New. Two essays introduce the book, one by Betty Yorberg giving the socialists' view of the problem, and another, much longer, by the editors themselves, representing the social science profession. In 750 pages there are some valuable pieces. The exchanges between Louis Harz and Kenneth McNaughton the "Liberal Tradition," between Marc Karson and Henry J. Browne on the place of Roman Catholicism, and between James Weinstein and Gerald Friedberg on the role of internal dissension, are particu~ larly enlightening. It is gratifying also to find a translation of part of Werner Sombart's often quoted but little read Warum gibt es in den VereinigstenStaaten keinen Sozialismus? (1906), as well as a portion of Leon Samson's Substitutive Socialism(1935). This volume has several shortcomings, however. Often the precise subject being debated is clouded; instead of attack and counterattack, we find needless repetition of basic ideas. The problem is compounded by a lack of clarity as to the particular question being debated. Most writers are concerned with the failure of the Socialist Party in its classic phase - the Age of Debs - and its failure to revive during the depression, under the leadership of Norman Thomas. Attempts to introduce the subject of the New Left of the 1960's seem at times painfully extraneous, and the two polemical pieces on this subject by James Weinstein and Staughton Lynd give the final section of the book a very different tenor from the rest. The statement of the editors that these two essays "should enable the THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL. VI, NO. 2, FALL 1975 general reader, as well as the specialist, to form a clear judgement about the past character and likely direction of American radicalism as a whole" is hardly borne out. Moreover, it is disconcerting to read that the editors use the word 'failure' "asa shorthand way of stating the obvious fact that neither in America nor in Europe (or in any other part of the world, for that matter) have either the Socialists, the Communists, or any other ideological grouping of revolutionary radicals yet succeeded in implementing even the most common characteristics of a future society which are advocated by all socialists alike." Most contributors address themselves to the problem of why the Socialist Party of America, unlike its equivalents in other industrialized countries, failed to become a permanent part of the political scene. The editors' statement reflects a very different question indeed. The above considerations detract from the usefulness of the book for the general reader. Its value for the specialist is also less than it might have been. Since most of the arguments are well known and readily accessible, much depends on what the editors provide in the way of synthesis. In place of elucidating argument, however, their long introduction reads like what in fact it turns out to be- a rambling dialogue originally taped...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 217-219
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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