Labour and the Left in America: A Review Essay
STUDIES ON THE HISTORY of the American left rarely escape the question of why socialism failed to become a permanent alternative for a radical transformation of American society. Although many attempts have been made to provide a conclusive answer, that question is by no means settled and, if properly approached, it is likely to remain on the agenda for quite some time. Similarly, the period during which American socialism experienced its greatest success will probably continue to be a centre
... ue to be a centre of focus for students concerned with that important question. From the latter part of the nineteenth century to the 1920s, in fact, a whole generation of American socialists lived and fought with the belief that a radical social transformation was as much on the agenda in the U.S. as it was in any of the industrialized countries of Europe. Socialist presence was felt at all levels of society: the labour movement was experiencing a rapid growth and consolidation and the intensity of industrial strife made American workers one of the most militant working classes. Yet that generation of socialists, with its strengths and its weaknesses, with its hopes and its illusions, is only part of the picture. Equally if not more important is the American working class itself -that historical actor which more than any other would have insured the success of a socialist alternative. Failure to give it the historical central ity it deserves has often meant that the question "why socialism failed" connotes a negative judgment on the American working class for not having embraced the socialist message. Few historians of American socialism have resisted the temptation of Bruno Ramirez, "Labour and the Left in America: A Review Essay," LabourIU Travailleur, 7 (Spring 1981), 165-173.