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Marxism and Socialism in America

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Bernie Sanders’s Democratic Socialism
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Abstract

This chapter reflects on the influence of Marxist thought in America to assess its impact on Bernie Sanders’s intellectual maturing. Sanders read Marx, was taught socialism as a student at the University of Chicago in the 1960s, felt attracted to leftist causes, and was fascinated by the Russian Revolution and the Bolsheviks. Yet there are hardly any references to Marx in any of his later publications. This chapter reflects on how Sanders adapted his vision of socialism to and for the United States, how he developed his own version of Marxism, an American democratic version of Marxism that, maybe, would not make him consistently unelectable in the United States. The focus is on Eugene V. Debs, Bernie Sanders’s political hero and model.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Sanders, Eugene V. Debs, op. cit., p. 3.

  2. 2.

    See infra, p. 29. On the Pullman strike, see: Richard Schneirov, Shelton Stromquist, Nick Salvatore, eds., The Pullman Strike and the Crisis of the 1890s, Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1999.

  3. 3.

    Karl Johann Kautsky was a Czech-Austrian theoretician, a prominent promulgator of orthodox Marxism after the death of Friedrich Engels in 1895. See: Karl J. Kautsky, The Social Revolution and On the Morrow of the Social Revolution, London, Twentieth Century Press, 1909.

  4. 4.

    Sanders, band 8, “Internationalizing Socialist Thought.”

  5. 5.

    Id., with Huck Gutman, Outsider in the House: A Political Autobiography, New York, Verso, 1997. Rpt. Outsider in the White House, 2015.

  6. 6.

    Id., Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In, New York, Thomas Dunne Books, 2016.

  7. 7.

    Id., Where We Go from Here: Two Years in the Resistance, New York, Thomas Dunne Books, 2018.

  8. 8.

    Erich Fromm, a thinker associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory, fled the Nazi regime and settled in the United States. See infra, p. 137.

  9. 9.

    About John Dewey (1859–1952), see: John Dewey, America’s Public Philosopher: Essays on Social Justice, Economics, Education, and the Future of Democracy, ed. Eric Thomas Weber, New York, Columbia University Press, 2020.

  10. 10.

    Sanders, Outsider in the House, p. 15.

  11. 11.

    Id., Our Revolution, p. 166.

  12. 12.

    Quoted in: Patrick Healey, “Bernie Sanders, Confronting Concerns, Makes Case for Electability,” New York Times, November 19, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/11/19/bernie-sanders-defends-democratic-socialism-calling-it-route-to-economic-fairness.

  13. 13.

    Ibid.

  14. 14.

    On the New York Tribune, see: Adam Tuchinsky, Horace Greeley’s New-York Tribune: Civil War-Era Socialism and the Crisis of Free Labor, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 2009.

  15. 15.

    See: Henry Charles Carey, Principles of Political Economy, Philadelphia, PA, Carey, Lea & Blanchard, 1837.

  16. 16.

    Karl Marx, Letter to Joseph Weydemeyer, March 5, 1852, quoted in Andrew Dawson, “Reassessing Henry Carey (1793-1879): The Problems of Writing Political Economy in Nineteenth-Century America,” Journal of American Studies, vol. 34, n° 3, December 2000, p. 465.

  17. 17.

    See: George Rogers Taylor, The Turner Thesis: Concerning the Role of the Frontier in American History, Lexington, MA, D.C. Heath, 1949.

  18. 18.

    Michael Perelman, Marx’s Crises Theory: Scarcity, Labor, and Finance, Westport, CT, Praeger, 1987, p. 14.

  19. 19.

    Robin Blackburn, An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln, New York, Verso, 2011, p. 212.

  20. 20.

    Robert Weiner, “Karl Marx’s Vision of America: A Biographical and Bibliographical Sketch,” The Review of Politics, vol. 42, n° 4, October 1980, p. 470.

  21. 21.

    Blackburn, p. 213.

  22. 22.

    Marx, Letter to Joseph Weydemeyer, op. cit., p. 63.

  23. 23.

    Id., “Speech on the Question of Free Trade,” Karl Marx, Frederick Engels: Collected Works, vol. 6, London, Lawrence & Wishart, 1976, p. 465. The speech is also available in the Digital Collections of the University of Central Florida: http://ucf.digital.flvc.org/islandora/object/ucf%3A5209.

  24. 24.

    Daniel Bell, Marxian Socialism in the United States, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1952. Rpt. Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1996, pp. 18–19.

  25. 25.

    The Industrial Workers of the World, or “Wobblies,” was founded in Chicago, Ill. In 1905. For a story of labor in the United States, see: Philip Dray, There Is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America, New York, Anchor Books, 2011.

  26. 26.

    Allen Ruff, We Called Each Other Comrade: Charles H. Kerr & Company, Radical Publishers, Oakland, CA, PM Press, 2011, pp. 88–89; Marx, Capital, vol. 1, Chicago, IL, Charles H. Kerr, 1906.

  27. 27.

    The Knights of Labor were initially founded as “the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor” in 1869 by Uriah L. Stephens, James L. Wright, and a number of tailors in Philadelphia, PA.

  28. 28.

    Its membership had risen after the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.

  29. 29.

    James Green, Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America, New York, Anchor Books, 2007.

  30. 30.

    Samuel Gompers, a British-born cigar maker, was far from radical. He believed that labor goals could be achieved through collective bargaining without resorting to collective ownership, and in keeping unions out of partisan politics.

  31. 31.

    See: William M. Dick, Labor and Socialism in America: The Gompers Era, Port Washington, NY, Kennikat Press, 1972; Philip Taft, “On the Origins of Business Unionism,” ILR Review, vol. 17, n° 1, October 1963, pp. 20–38.

  32. 32.

    Marx, Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848. Rpt. London, Penguin Classics, 2002.

  33. 33.

    Ruff, op. cit., p. 73.

  34. 34.

    “U.S. President National Vote,” November 5, 1912, Our Campaigns, https://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=1954.

  35. 35.

    The Democratic Socialists of America, an organization of democratic socialist, social democratic, and labor-oriented members, was founded in 1982 and has its roots in the Socialist Party of America.

  36. 36.

    Irving Howe, Socialism and America, San Diego, CA, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985, p. 4.

  37. 37.

    Christine Bold, The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, vol. 6 “U.S. Popular Print Culture 1860-1920,” Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 245.

  38. 38.

    Sanders, Eugene Debs, band 9, “Debs for President.”

  39. 39.

    Library of Congress, “Topics in Chronicling America - Victor Berger: America’s First Socialist Congressman,” https://www.loc.gov/rr/news/topics/berger.html.

  40. 40.

    Sanders, Eugene V. Debs, band 2, “An Overview Of Eugene V. Debs.”

  41. 41.

    Democratic Party, “1912 Democratic Party Platform,” June 25, 1912, The American Presidency Project, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/273201.

  42. 42.

    Republican Party, “Republican Party Platform of 1912,” June 18, 1912, The American Presidency Project, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/273327.

  43. 43.

    Sanders, Eugene V. Debs, band 1, “Introduction.”

  44. 44.

    Jack Ross, The Socialist Party of America: A Complete History, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 2015, p. 339.

  45. 45.

    Obama, Sanders, quoted in Medina, Lerer, op. cit., p. 8.

  46. 46.

    David Easton, A Framework for Political Analysis, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, 1965, p. 112.

  47. 47.

    Eugene V. Debs, Letters of Eugene V. Debs, vol. 1, 1874-1912, edited by J. Robert Constantine, Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1990, p. liii.

  48. 48.

    Debs, “Abolitionists,” Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine, vol. 11, n° 2, February 1887, p. 67.

  49. 49.

    Jill Lepore, “Eugene V. Debs and the Endurance of Socialism,” New Yorker, February 11, 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/02/18/eugene-v-debs-and-the-endurance-of-socialism.

  50. 50.

    For a biography of Eugene Debs, see: Nick Salvatore, Eugene Debs: Citizen and Socialist, Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1982.

  51. 51.

    And regardless of their race too as of June 1894. See: Debs, “Draws a Race Line: Question of Color Before the American Railway Union,” Chicago Tribune, vol. 53, n° 170, June 19, 1894, p. 12.

  52. 52.

    Sanders, Eugene V. Debs, band 7, “The Formation and Fall of The American Railway Union.”

  53. 53.

    Schneirov, et al., op. cit., p. 19.

  54. 54.

    Sanders, band 8, “Internalizing Socialist Thought.”

  55. 55.

    Debs, “The Socialist Party and the Working Class,” September 1, 1904. E.V. Debs Internet Archive, https://www.marxists.org/archive/debs/works/1904/sp_wkingclss.htm.

  56. 56.

    Sanders, Eugene V. Debs, band 10, “The Speech That Sent Debs To Jail.”

  57. 57.

    Ibid. See also: Debs, “The Canton, Ohio Speech, Anti-War Speech,” June 16, 1918. E.V. Debs Internet Archive, https://www.marxists.org/archive/debs/works/1918/canton.htm.

  58. 58.

    Debs, “Karl Marx the Man: An Appreciation,” St. Louis Labor, n° 900 (May 4, 1918), p. 1. E.V. Debs Internet Archive, https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/parties/spusa/1918/0504-debs-marxtheman.pdf.

  59. 59.

    Id., “Marx and the Young People,” The Young Socialist’s Magazine, vol. 12, n° 5 (May 1918), p. 2. E.V. Debs Internet Archive, https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/parties/spusa/1918/0500-debs-marxandyoung.pdf.

  60. 60.

    Espionage Act, Pub.L. 65–24, June 15, 1917.

  61. 61.

    “U.S. President National Vote,” November 2, 1920, op. cit. p. 3.

  62. 62.

    Sanders, Eugene V. Debs, op. cit., p. 3.

  63. 63.

    Branko Marcetic, “The Bernie Sanders Origin Story, Part 1,” Jacobin, November 12, 2019, https://jacobinmag.com/2019/12/bernie-sanders-vermont-mayor-history-elections.

  64. 64.

    Ibid.

  65. 65.

    Bernie Sanders was born on September 8, 1941. His father Elias Ben Yehuda Sanders (1904–1962) was born to a Jewish family in Słopnice, Austria-Hungary, which, today, is part of Poland. “Eli” Sanders immigrated to the United States in 1921 and later married Dorothy Glassberg (1912–1960), who came from a large Russian Jewish family on New York’s Lower East Side. See: Harry Jaffe, Why Bernie Sanders Matters, New York, Regan Arts, 2015, pp. 22–25.

  66. 66.

    Mark Jacobson, “Bernie Sanders for President? Why Not Try a Real Socialist for a Change?” New York Magazine (December 28, 2014), http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2014/12/bernie-sanders-for-president-why-not.html.

  67. 67.

    The Liberty Union Party of Vermont (https://www.libertyunionparty.org) was founded in 1970 as a socialist party by former Representative William H. Meyer (D-Ct.), Peter Diamondstone, and Dennis Morrisseau.

  68. 68.

    “Population Changes: Summary of Redistricting of the City of Burlington, 1865-Present,” op. cit., p. 32.

  69. 69.

    “Burlington, Vt. Mayor,” March 3, 1981, Our Campaigns, https://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=512309.

  70. 70.

    “Vt. At Large,” November 6, 1990, Our Campaigns, https://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=34650.

  71. 71.

    “Vt. U.S. Senate,” November 7, 2006, ibid., https://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=6963.

  72. 72.

    He was re-elected in 2018 with 67.4% of the vote. “Vt. U.S. Senate,” November 6, 2012, Our Campaigns, https://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=507730.

  73. 73.

    Jacobson, op. cit., p. 32.

  74. 74.

    Sanders, Eugene V. Debs, band 11, “The Last Days of Eugene Debs.”

  75. 75.

    Id., Outsider in the White House, p. 27.

  76. 76.

    Id., Outsider in the White House, p. 27.

  77. 77.

    Ibid., p. 26.

  78. 78.

    Howe, pp. 17–18.

  79. 79.

    Jake Altman, Socialism before Sanders. The 1930s Movement from Romance to Revisionism, Cham, Switzerland, Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

  80. 80.

    Howe, pp. 9–11.

  81. 81.

    Ibid., p. 15.

  82. 82.

    Ibid., p. 16.

  83. 83.

    Sanders, Eugene V. Debs, band 2, “An Overview of Eugene V. Debs.”

  84. 84.

    Howe, p. 23.

  85. 85.

    Espionage Act, op. cit., p. 31.

  86. 86.

    Sedition Act, Pub.L. 65–150, March 16, 1918.

  87. 87.

    Sanders, Eugene V. Debs, band 8, “Internationalizing Socialist Thought.”

  88. 88.

    Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1997, p. 52.

  89. 89.

    Bell, Marxian Socialism, p. 45, quoted in Rorty, p. 52. Daniel Bell’s quintessential contribution was in the study of post-industrialism. His major works include The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties, New York, Free Press, 1960 and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, New York, Basic Books, 1976.

  90. 90.

    Richard T. Ely was a progressive political economist and advocate of the Social Gospel. See: Richard T. Ely, his Introduction to Political Economy, New York, Chautauqua Press, 1889.

  91. 91.

    Herbert Croly founded the liberal weekly The New Republic in 1914. His most important book was The Promise of American Life, London, Macmillan, 1909.

  92. 92.

    Theodore Dreiser, a novelist and journalist of the naturalist school, is best known for two novels: Sister Carrie, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1900 and An American Tragedy, New York, Boni & Liveright, 1925.

  93. 93.

    Asa Philip Randolph was a labor unionist (he was head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1941), socialist politician, and civil right activist who organized the 1963 March on Washington.

  94. 94.

    John L. Lewis was president of the United Mine Workers of America from 1920 to 1960, and founding-president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (1935), which established the United Steel Workers of America (1942).

  95. 95.

    Rorty, p. 51.

  96. 96.

    Ibid., p. 139.

  97. 97.

    Salvatore, p. 237.

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Gachon, N. (2021). Marxism and Socialism in America. In: Bernie Sanders’s Democratic Socialism. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-69661-0_1

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