The American Left

The American Left: Its Impact on Politics and Society since 1900

Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt9qdrsx
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The American Left
    Book Description:

    Conservatives argue that left-wing politics has had an excessive influence in the USA, but few others extend that credit. Now, Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones tells the full story of the left's numerous achievements, from effective opposition to militarism to the winning of racial justice. He shows how the socialists of the Old Left gave way by the 1960s to the anti-war militants of the New Left, who in turn helped spawn a 'Newer Left' that moved beyond the by now largely realised socialist agenda. Post-2000, the Bush administration succumbed to the socialism it despised, and now Barack Obama is hailed as a president for the Left.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-6889-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vi-viii)
    Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones
  4. Chapter 1 THE REPUTATION OF THE AMERICAN LEFT
    (pp. 1-14)

    The American left has a reputation for failure. Explaining its failure has occupied the minds of intelligent observers for more than a century. This book challenges the validity of that field of inquiry. It sets out to show that the left has belied its reputation, and has had many successes. The initial challenge, then, is to explain not failure itself, but the reputation for failure.

    Understanding the reputation for failure is a step in the direction of infusing credibility into the notion that the left succeeded. It is instructive to begin by considering the issue of free speech. In America,...

  5. Chapter 2 THE SOCIALIST ORIGINS OF SOCIAL SECURITY
    (pp. 15-26)

    America’s present-day social security system takes care of people who are in their senior years, or unemployed, or sick. Not everyone would agree with those conservative critics who say that this amounts to socialism. The enactors of the relevant legislation in the 1930s and in our own day saw themselves, in ascending order of preference, as leftists, liberals, progressives or just plain Democrats.

    An examination of those who planned social security on the eve of World War I nevertheless suggests that the conservatives’ labeling of social security as “socialist” is correct.

    At the same time, there is a need to...

  6. Chapter 3 EARLY ACHIEVERS ON THE AMERICAN LEFT
    (pp. 27-37)

    Left-wing personalities had a major impact on American history and society from the late 1890s through to 1920. Their contemporaries were aware of their achievements, yet sometimes unaware of their socialist leanings. Historians have sometimes been blinkered, too. In a few cases, though, left-wing personalities had socialism bolted into their charisma in a way that nobody could ignore. They dazzled in ways that Wisconsin’s studious reformers could not.

    A time-line of some of the more imaginative contributions illustrates these points. It shines a light on the input of the American left in the years when at least some leading citizens...

  7. Chapter 4 SOCIALISTS IN CONGRESS
    (pp. 38-51)

    The theory that socialism failed in America is based on a premise regarding political outcome. The premise defines failure as an inability to capture the presidency or Congress. Socialists never came remotely near achieving an of ficial majority in Congress. Yet there is a conundrum here. For conservatives, including front line Republican politicians, repeatedly insisted that Democratic legislators passed one socialist measure after another to the severe detriment, in their view, of the American way of life.

    The difference in perception reflects different ways of counting. Strict constructionists who see socialism as a failure refer to the mere handful of...

  8. Chapter 5 THE IDENTIFICATION OF AMERICA AND ITS FASCIST ENEMY
    (pp. 52-75)

    In an article forNationin January 1931, William M. Leiserson once again appealed for a national scheme of social insurance. Casting his mind back to his days as a federal investigator, he revealed his awareness of the sensitivity of the issue then and since. For conservative opposition had continued in the years since his reports of 1914–15 – “one hundred percent Americans” had lined up to denounce proposals for social reform. In an attempt to re-channel the nation’s identity Leiserson thus asserted, “government compulsion to protect workers and their families has always been an essential characteristic of real Americanism.”¹...

  9. Chapter 6 THE NEW DEAL’S UNDECLARED SOCIALISM
    (pp. 76-97)

    Starting in the spring of 1933, the Democratic administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced reforms intended to address the causes and consequences of the terrible depression that had engulfed the nation. By mid-1934, the immediate political crisis was over. Critics on the right now felt free to let rip at the policies of Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” Some of these critics, for example the former presidential candidate Al Smith, were Democrats. More characteristically, though, they were Republicans such as the recent president, Herbert Hoover. The conservatives launched a rich vein of attack that would continue through the presidencies of Harry...

  10. Chapter 7 THE REPUBLICAN RE-INVENTION OF SOCIALISM
    (pp. 98-118)

    After World War II, opponents of the New Deal aimed to stem or reverse what they depicted as America’s move toward socialism. Through their act of depiction, however, they restored what they sought to eviscerate. They re-invented socialism in a manner that made it seem more powerful. To the architects of the Red Scare of 1919–20, socialism had been a potential threat to the American way of life. According to the conservatives of the later 1940s, the danger had arrived and was real.

    The conservatives’ claim reflected opportunism as much as genuine belief. The golden age of American socialist...

  11. Chapter 8 THE NEW LEFT SHARES THE CREDIT
    (pp. 119-141)

    Not many movements have extricated a nation from war, but the American New Left claimed precisely that, and many of its critics agreed. What added luster to the asserted triumph was that the war in question was unwise and unjust. America had no vested interest in Vietnam, and there was no threat to national security. The Vietnamese communists the United States fought were undemocratic and barbaric, but the South Vietnamese regime America tried to defend was no better. Congress gave its approval to the war only after an outright deception, an assurance by the Johnson administration that North Vietnamese ships...

  12. Chapter 9 THE NEWER LEFT
    (pp. 142-160)

    Gay Street has an attractive mix of Federal style and Greek Revival cornices. Constructed between 1826 and 1860, it originally housed the servants of the rich in nearby Washington Square. In a later age, its denizens were black musicians. Today, its bohemian ambience has succumbed to a reputation for money laundering.

    Reach the end of the street going north and you arrive at the site of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop. Before it closed down in 2009, the store flew the rainbow flag of gay liberation – from 1967, its proprietors sold lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) literature. This is...

  13. Chapter 10 THE REPUBLICAN ROAD TO NATIONALIZATION
    (pp. 161-173)

    On the evidence of the George W. Bush administration of 2001–9, the American right was as anti-left as ever. Subliminally, however, the conservative-dominated Republicans remained aware of socialist-style approaches to politics. Even as they revived anti-socialist slogans in attacking presidential aspirant Barack Obama, they embraced the ogre of their nightmares, nationalization.

    It was not the only indication of the survival of left values. Another was the election of Bernie Sanders to represent Vermont in the Senate in 2006. He was the first member of that body to profess unalloyed socialism. It is true that he ran as an Independent,...

  14. Chapter 11 OBAMA: A PRESIDENT FOR THE LEFT?
    (pp. 174-192)

    Some long held ambitions of the left came to fruition in the Barack Obama presidency. Notably, there was the achievement of near-universal health care. “Obamacare” rounded out the welfare state plans the Wisconsin socialists had formulated almost a century earlier.

    The widespread use of the term “Obamacare” indicates how an individual personality came to be associated with the reform. It suggests the need, in this chapter, for a new approach. Most of the left’s achievements have come through persuasion, not the orthodox political activity of political parties. But the US Constitution does provide for the election of one individual in...

  15. APPENDIX: DEFINING THE LEFT AND ADJACENT TERMS
    (pp. 193-197)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 198-225)
  17. ABBREVIATIONS USED IN THE NOTES
    (pp. 226-227)
  18. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 228-249)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 250-264)