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Utopia and Reform

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Abstract

This chapter traces the influence of utopianism in the history of American reform movements through the examples of Edward Bellamy’s utopian novel Looking Backward, 2000-1887 and muckraker Lincoln Steffens’s reaction upon returning from Russia in 1919: “I have seen the future, and it works.” There are obvious similitudes in those two references to a utopian future as a model to reform the United States in the present, but while Bellamy separated socialism from subversive cultural ideas, notably foreign theories, firmly anchoring the future he envisioned in America, Steffens chose a subversive foreign, un-American model to project a future for the United States.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Paul Buhle, Marxism in the United States: A History of the American Left, New York, Verso, 1987. Rpt. 2013, p. 59.

  2. 2.

    Brett H. Smith, Labor’s Millennium: Christianity, Industrial Education, and the Founding of the University of Illinois, Eugene, Ore., Picwick Publications, 2010, p. 60.

  3. 3.

    The Rochester seminary was planted as an offshoot of the Colgate, N.Y. seminary by a group of Baptists. It became a leading progressive theological school. See: Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, https://www.crcds.edu/history.

  4. 4.

    Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel, New York, Macmillan, 1917.

  5. 5.

    Nat Kazin, American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation, New York, Knopf, 2011, p. xvii.

  6. 6.

    U.S. Declaration of Independence, Preamble, approved by Congress on July 4, 1776, signed on August 2, 1776, Constitution Center, https://constitutioncenter.org/learn/educational-resources/historical-documents/declaration-of-independence.

  7. 7.

    John Locke, The First & Second Treatise of Government (1690), edited by C. B. Macpherson, Indianapolis, Ind., Hackett, 1980.

  8. 8.

    Op. cit.

  9. 9.

    Sanders, “The Declaration of Independence: A Revolutionary Document,” U.S. Senator for Vermont Website, July 5, 2014, https://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/must-read/the-declaration-of-independence-a-revolutionary-document.

  10. 10.

    Obama, “Inaugural Address,” January 21, 2013, The American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=102827.

  11. 11.

    Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions, New York, Verso, 2005, p. x.

  12. 12.

    Id., “Politics of Utopia,” New Left Review, vol. 25, January/February 2004, https://newleftreview.org/issues/II25/articles/fredric-jameson-the-politics-of-utopia.

  13. 13.

    Russell J. Dalton, Political Realignment: Economics, Culture, and Electoral Change, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2018, p. 2.

  14. 14.

    Nicolas Barreyre, “The Politics of Economic Crises: The Panic of 1873, the End of Reconstruction, and the Realignment of American Politics,” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, vol. 10, n° 4, October 2011, p. 422.

  15. 15.

    Ibid. The Great Recession, as we shall see, in that it generated a number of new political phenomena, events, and dislocations—the Occupy movement, the ascension of Bernie Sanders, and the election of Donald Trump—will most likely go down in history as a defining moment that questioned the social compact in the early twenty-first century.

  16. 16.

    Ibid.

  17. 17.

    The stories of Lucy Parson and Lizzie Holmes are good examples. Lucy Parsons, who was born a slave in Texas, married Albert Parsons and moved with him to Chicago. A socialist and later an anarchist, the editor of The Alarm, an anarchist newspaper, Albert Parsons was of the four Chicago radical leaders convicted of conspiracy and hanged following the Haymarket affair. His wife remained a labor organizer, radical socialist and anarcho-communist after the execution. The assistant editor of The Alarm was Lizzie Holmes, an anarchist and organizer of Chicago’s working women during the late nineteenth century. After the Haymarket affair, Lizzie Holmes testified in court on behalf of Albert Parsons.

  18. 18.

    Francis Shor, Utopianism and Radicalism in a Reforming America, 1888-1918, Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 1997, p. xv.

  19. 19.

    Barreyre, op. cit., p. 45.

  20. 20.

    Shor, op. cit., p. 45.

  21. 21.

    Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, 2000-1887, Boston, MA, Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1888. Rpt. Matthew Beaumont, ed., Oxford, New York, Oxford University Press, 2007.

  22. 22.

    Plato, The Republic, c. 375 B.C. Rpt. G. R. F. Ferrari, ed., Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

  23. 23.

    Thomas More, Utopia: On the Best State of a Republic and on the New Island of Utopia, 1516. Rpt. Durham, NC, Duke Classics, 2012.

  24. 24.

    Sylvia E. Bowman, The Year 2000: A Critical Biography of Edward Bellamy, London, Octagon Books, 1979, p. 107.

  25. 25.

    Charles Fourier, The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier: Selected Texts on Work, Love, and Passionate Attraction, edited by Jonathan Beecher, Richard Bienvenu, Boston, MA, Beacon Press, 1971, pp. 99–100.

  26. 26.

    “I am the inventor of the mathematical calculus of the destinies, a calculus which Newton had within his grasp without realizing it. He determined the laws of material attraction, and I have discovered those of passionate attraction, a theory approached by no one before me.” Ibid., p. 84. See also: Jonathan Beecher, Charles Fourier: The Visionary and His World, Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1986, p. 66.

  27. 27.

    Fourier, p. 249.

  28. 28.

    Edward Bellamy would later call the Fourierists of the 1840s “precursors” of his own movement, and claimed that they were denied their full potential by the coming of the Civil War, or, as Carl J. Guameri puts it, “that antislavery played a key role in diverting utopian socialists from their mission against northern society. Carl J. Guameri, The Utopian Alternative: Fourierism in Nineteenth-Century America, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991, p. 368.

  29. 29.

    Apart from Edward Bellamy himself, Sylvester Baxter and Cyrus Field Willard were arguably the most important leaders in the Nationalist movement, and both were theosophists. Arthur Lipow, Authoritarian Socialism in America: Edward Bellamy and the Nationalist Movement, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1982, p. 226.

  30. 30.

    The Populists themselves chose to fuse with the Democratic Party in the 1896 election, which caused the movement to collapse after a landslide loss in the electoral college.

  31. 31.

    Guameri, p. 404.

  32. 32.

    Bellamy, Equality, New York, D. Appleton & Co., 1897. Rpt. Rockville, MD, Wildside Press, 2010.

  33. 33.

    Quoted in Shor, p. 16.

  34. 34.

    Guameri, p. 404.

  35. 35.

    Shor, p. 17.

  36. 36.

    Quoted in: Jamie L. Pietruska, Prediction and Uncertainty in Modern America, Chicago, IL, University of Chicago Press, 2017, p. 180.

  37. 37.

    Postel, The Populist Vision, Oxford, New York, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 288.

  38. 38.

    Id., “If Trump and Sanders Are Both Populists,” op. cit., p. 6.

  39. 39.

    Id., The Populist Vision, p. 288.

  40. 40.

    Donald Trump often referred to Hillary Clinton as “crooked Hillary” during the 2016 campaign, usually in reference to her use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State in the Obama administration.

  41. 41.

    Jan-Werner Müller, What is Populism? Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.

  42. 42.

    Ibid., pp. 2–3.

  43. 43.

    Ida Tarbell is best known for her 1904 book, The History of the Standard Oil Company, New York, McClure, Phillips & Co., 1904, published as a series of articles in McClure’s Magazine between 1902 and 1904.

  44. 44.

    Ray Stannard Baker also wrote for McClure’s and later for the muckrakers’ own American Magazine. He notably explored the situation of black Americans in Following the Color Line (The American Magazine, LXII, April-August 1907).

  45. 45.

    David Graham Phillips published a series entitled “The Treason of the Senate” (Cosmopolitan, XL–XLII, March–November 1906) that was influential in leading to the passage of Amendment XVII to the U.S. Constitution, which provided for the direct election of U.S. Senators by the people of the states.

  46. 46.

    Charles Edward Russell, who wrote “At the Throat of the Republic” (Cosmopolitan, XLIV, December 1907–March 1908) joined the Socialist Party of America in 1908. He was one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

  47. 47.

    Upton Sinclair wrote the classic muckraking novel The Jungle, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1906, about sanitary conditions in meatpacking industry. He was an outspoken socialist.

  48. 48.

    Lincoln J. Steffens, The Shame of the Cities, New York, McClure, Phillips & Co., 1904. Rpt. Mineola, NY, Dover Publications, 2012.

  49. 49.

    Id., The Struggle for Self-Government, New York, McClure, Phillips & Co., 1906.

  50. 50.

    Seffens, Shame of the Cities, pp. 7–8.

  51. 51.

    Nicolas Gachon, Les Muckrakers et le rêve d’Amérique, 1900–1912, Lille, ANRT, 1999.

  52. 52.

    Lenin, quoted in Steffens, The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens, New York, Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1931, p. 797.

  53. 53.

    Frederic C. Howe fought against corruption and political bosses in Cleveland, Ohio, and was a leader in progressive politics in New York City. Marie Jenney Howe was a prominent feminist and also a Unitarian minister; she was involved with the movement for Women’s suffrage in the United States.

  54. 54.

    Steffens, Letter to Marie Howe, April 3, 1919, The Letters of Lincoln Steffens, vol. 1, edited by Ella Winter and Granville Hicks, New York, Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1938, p. 463.

  55. 55.

    Guameri, op. cit., p. 47.

  56. 56.

    Sanders, Twitter post, September 15, 2015, https://twitter.com/berniesanders/status/643764491000369152.

  57. 57.

    “The CNN Democratic Debate Transcript, Annotated,” Washington Post, October 14, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/10/13/the-oct-13-democratic-debate-who-said-what-and-what-it-means.

  58. 58.

    Ibid.

  59. 59.

    Sanders, Outsider in the White House, p. 47.

  60. 60.

    President Reagan accused the Sandinistas of importing Cuban-style socialism and aiding leftist guerillas in El Salvador. He regarded the regime as undemocratic even though foreign observers from democratic nations concluded that the 1984 Nicaraguan general election was generally free and fair.

  61. 61.

    Russell Banks, “Bernie Sanders, the Socialist Mayor.” The Atlantic, October 15, 2015, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/10/bernie-sanders-mayor/407413.

  62. 62.

    Jaffe, p. 105.

  63. 63.

    Keiper Bros, “(Drunk and Shirtless) Bernie Sanders sings ‘This Land Is Your Land’ with Soviets, 1988,” January 28, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgCfJxpqhd0.

  64. 64.

    Antonio Troianovski, “Excerpts from the Sanders Files in a Russian Archive,” New York Times, March 5, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/05/world/europe/sanders-russia-excerpts-archive.html.

  65. 65.

    Sanders, “Bernie Sanders on the Soviet Union Press Conference,” Channel 17, June 13, 1988, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KCoR6UYs1k.

  66. 66.

    Id., quoted in Benjamin Wallace-Wells, “Bernie Sanders Imagines a Progressive New Approach to Foreign Policy,” New Yorker, April 13, 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/news/the-political-scene/bernie-sanders-imagines-a-progressive-new-approach-to-foreign-policy.

  67. 67.

    Individuals can own property under socialism while there is no such thing as private property under communism. The two doctrines also differ in terms of means: a revolution in which workers rise up against the bourgeoisie is seen as an inevitable part of achieving a pure communist state while socialism seeks change and reform through democratic processes within the existing social and political structure.

  68. 68.

    Sanders, “The Urgency of a Moral Economy,” April 15, 2016, Bernie Speaks: Speeches by Bernie Sanders, compiled by David Cane, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Greenbridge Publishing, 2017, p. 48.

  69. 69.

    Ibid., p. 54.

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Gachon, N. (2021). Utopia and Reform. In: Bernie Sanders’s Democratic Socialism. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-69661-0_2

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