Long Detour: The History and Future of the American Left

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The Long Detour is an intellectually engaging overview of the history of socialism in the United States and of the continuing relevance of socialist principles today. Historian and journalist James Weinstein, a lifelong socialist and one-time Communist, takes readers from the movement's early years of utopian communities, through the heyday of engagement with the makers of corporate America, and into the future of a de-industrializing era. He contends that socialism as a political movement was sidetracked when Communist domination of the American left stifled creative social thought and diverted the traditional left into sterile disputes over the true nature of the Soviet Union. And he argues that while "real existing socialism" - which is what the Soviets called their system - is dead, the humane social principles articulated by Marx and the leaders of the pre-1917 socialist movement remain vitally important to those on the left who seek to realize the promise of American democracy.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Although long tainted by association with disloyalty and nutty sectarianism, socialism is actually as American as apple pie, according to this engaging apologia for the left. Weinstein, ex-Communist, founder of Socialist Review and publisher of In These Times, argues that socialists were once a prominent and positive force in American democracy: they energized the labor movement, won elective office and proposed reforms-the eight hour day, unemployment insurance, abolition of child labor, public ownership of utilities, progressive income taxes-that became the cornerstone of Progressive, New Deal and Great Society legislation. The left lost its way, Weinstein contends, after the Russian Revolution, when sterile debates about the Soviet Union, and Communists' subservience to Moscow, marginalized it from the American mainstream. Then, in the 1960s, the New Left squandered an opportunity to reenter mainstream politics by failing to articulate a broad social vision and embracing an outre lifestyle radicalism that alienated Middle America. Weinstein's clear prose, free of Leninist cant, examines a forgotten but vital aspect of American political history. Some of his criticisms of the left miss the mark (his complaint that "[f]ew New Leftists thought much about a different form of society" will surprise radical feminists and Deep Ecologists); and sometimes, as with his rehash of New Left factional infighting or his insistence that Soviet tyranny was "fundamentally incompatible" with Marx's ideas, he can't resist gnawing on old sectarian bones. Still, he makes a strong case for the importance of the left reclaiming its rightful place in American politics. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Weinstein, founding editor of Socialist Review and In These Times, has written a brief history of the American Socialist movement and a defense of the validity of Socialist ideas in the 21st century. He traces the origins of American socialism to late 18th- and early 19th-century utopian movements, such as the Shakers and Robert Owen's New Harmony settlement in Indiana. Weinstein then discusses the influence of Karl Marx and the subsequent growth of various Socialist parties. While Socialists would gain minor electoral successes on the local level, their main influence came in shaping thinking on issues like economic and social reform. The rise of the Soviet Union and of American Communist parties left Socialists largely in disrepute during much of the 20th century. However, argues Weinstein, the Soviet Union's collapse and the discrediting of communism as a philosophy for government give socialism the opportunity to emerge again as a counterbalance against global capitalism and a means for further social reform. This book is a thoughtful balance of popular history and political argument and is recommended for all libraries.-Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ. Lib., Parkersburg Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The noted leftist—publisher of In These Times and founder of Socialist Review—recounts the history of radical thought on this side of the pond. A lucid writer and lifelong activist, Weinstein holds that socialism, Marxian and otherwise, "has meant the fulfillment of the promise of American democracy." A dubious claim, perhaps, but Weinstein demonstrates capably that socialist ideas have been a part of the American cultural and political landscape since the early days of the republic, and have even flourished on occasion, particularly with the utopian communities of the early-19th and the labor activism of the early-20th centuries. Modern socialism found strong roots in America following the Civil War, he writes, largely among transplanted German workers who "were acutely aware of their isolation from the mainstream of American political life"; incorporating the ideas of Marx, Fourier, and other European radicals, these now-American radicals were largely responsible for creating the labor movement, and were effective enough that by the time of WWI several city governments (such as that of Schenectady, New York) openly branded themselves as socialist. But the cause lost much of its allure with the hardening of the Soviet regime, which, Weinstein ruefully writes, created the foundations of not a worker’s paradise but the "corrupt and primitive form of capitalism that Russia now enjoys." Much of Weinstein’s narrative is set not in America but Moscow, and his account sometimes veers into the briar patch of high-level theory and mere rhetoric. Portions, however, contain fresh and eye-opening interpretations of long-debated matters, such as Weinstein’s notion that the origins of theNew Left lie in Nikita Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization campaign of the early 1950s and that the only way socialism can really take hold in America is with the adoption of a parliamentary system of government. It’s not To the Finland Station, but worthwhile prescriptions for American progressivism all the same.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813342511
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 11/1/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 308
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

James Weinstein is the founding editor and publisher of In These Times magazine, and was the founder of the Socialist Review. He is the author of several books, including The Decline of Socialism in America and The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State. He lives in Chicago.
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Table of Contents

1 The First Round: A Home of Their Own 1
2 Birth Pangs: Socialism Enters the Real World 17
3 Limits of Growth: Principles Transcend Party 45
4 Good Intentions: The Russian Revolution As an Act of War 77
5 Playing Catch-Up but Losing Ground 107
6 Capitalism Collapses: Whatever Happened to Socialism? 133
7 Fronts, Decay, Amnesia, and a New Left 169
8 Thigh Bone Connected to the Hip Bone: The Women's Movement, Civil Rights, and the War Machine 193
9 The Hard Part: Socialist Principles in the Post-Industrial Era 219
10 Entering the Mainstream: What Is to Be Done? 249
Bibliography 265
Index 271
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