Walter T. Howard, PhD

Professor of History

Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania

114 Old Science Hall


Hangin' with my three sons on Panama City Beach.

Who does it look like won this race? ........................................................................................... The genius sleeps!

Bloomsburg University

BU History Department

Curriculum Vitae

Communist History Network Newsletter Online

Historians of American Communism

American Communism and Anticommunism: A Historian’s Bibliography and Guide to the Literature

Black Communists Speak on Scottsboro: A Documentary History [Temple University Press]

We Shall Be Free! Black Cmmunist Protest in Seven Voices [Temple University Press]



U.S. 1877 to the Present

42-122-01, 02, 03 Old Science Hall Room G20 and Room 113 Dr. Walter Howard
U.S. 1877 to Present Fall 2014

Instructor's Office: Old Science Hall [OSH] 114
Office Phone: 389-4863/e-mail
Office Hours: MWF/11am to 12noon; 1pm to 2pm
Course Website:

The People Speak (2009) Poster


Course Description:
This course will provide an overview of the social, cultural, and political history of the United States from 1877 to the early twenty-first century, and will equip students to better understand the problems and challenges of the contemporary world in relation to events and trends in modern American history. The course is based on "Critical pedagogy” and considers how higher education can provide individuals with the tools to better themselves and strengthen democracy, to create a more egalitarian and just society, and thus to deploy education in a process of progressive social change. It involves teaching the skills that will empower citizens and students to become sensitive to the politics of representations of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and other cultural differences in order to foster critical thinking and enhance democratization. We will examine how the struggles of workers, women, racialized groups, artists and intellectuals, and the wealthy and powerful altered democracy. We will look at the impact war, depression, ideology, technology, globalization, social movements, etc., have had on the US.

Required Textbooks:

  1. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States This text is available online:

Since its original landmark publication in 1980, A People's History of the United States has been chronicling American history from the bottom up, throwing out the official version of history taught in schools -- with its emphasis on great men in high places -- to focus on the street, the home, and the, workplace.
Known for its lively, clear prose as well as its scholarly research, A People's History is the only volume to tell America's story from the point of view of -- and in the words of -- America's women, factory workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, the working poor, and immigrant laborers. As historian Howard Zinn shows, many of our country's greatest battles -- the fights for a fair wage, an eight-hour workday, child-labor laws, health and safety standards, universal suffrage, women's rights, racial equality -- were carried out at the grassroots level, against bloody resistance. Covering Christopher Columbus's arrival through President Clinton's first term, A People's History of the United States, which was nominated for the American Book Award, features insightful analysis of the most important events in our history,

Learning Goals [Outcomes]:
In this course students can expect to develop or enhance their ability to

Your instructor’s teaching philosophy: Guiding Principles
These statements are certainly no catechism. They do define my pedagogical political perspective in all my classes. As my students, I invite your participation in debating these learning issues when they arise in the course. My teaching encourages students to identify with a community and vision of democratic radicalism, humanistic, committed to individual freedom and the general welfare. There are beliefs shared by this community:

Each student’s written and verbal performance, level of effort, level of attention paid in class, and participation will be evaluated.  At the end of the course, all written work and participation will be evaluated equally and a final grade will be determined.

Students will be expected to comply with the Classroom Behavior/Conduct Policy. Cell phones must be switched off and meals must be eaten before the start of class.

You may inform the professor of your choice of biography by email.
Any student with a disability should see the instructor so that their special needs can be met.
Office Hours
I will be in my office, Old Science Hall (OSH) Room 114, during the time indicated on this syllabus, or by appointment if these times are not convenient for your schedule. To arrange an appointment time, see me or call and leave a message on my voice mail (389-4863). You may also e-mail me at I will be checking my e-mail several times every day, so it is a reliable way to pass along a comment or question.
Don’t be timid. If you are having problems in the course, don’t delay making an appointment to see me. I am always willing to discuss material, or more importantly, to talk to you about how to study more effectively.

At any time during the semester, a student may discuss her or his evaluation and progress with the professor. 

Grades are given on a standard curve as follows:
94-100, A
90-93, A-
87-89, B+
83-86, B
80-82, B-
77-79, C+
73-76, C
70-72, C-
67-69, D+
60-66, D
00-59, E
Most students exhibit appropriate behavior in class, but sometimes there is disagreement over the definition of “appropriate” behavior. The College expects students to maintain integrity and high standards of individual honor in scholastic work and to observe standards of behavior that are appropriate for a democratic educational environment. Unacceptable and disruptive behaviors will not be permitted, overlooked, or ignored.
For BU’s official Student Code of Conduct see:
Examples of disruptive behavior may include the following:

Course Outline

Introduction to the course: “History From the Bottom Up” and a Usable Past
Reading Assignment: The Essential Staughton Lynd, 2 Howard Zinn essays [pp. 27-41]
Video: “The People Speak” A look at America's struggles with war, class, race and women's rights based
on Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. The People Speak Zinn

The People Speak (2009) Poster

Journal Issue: What is your evaluation of the instructor’s teaching philosophy in this course? Should history be used for social and political activism in progressive causes?
America in the 1880s and 1890s: Social and Cultural History of American Racism

Racial beliefs have always been tied to social ideas and policy. After all, if differences between groups are natural, then nothing can or should be done to correct for unequal outcomes. Scientific literature of the late 19th and early 20th century explicitly championed such a view, and many prominent scientists devoted countless hours to documenting racial differences and promoting man's natural hierarchy.
Although today such ideas are outmoded, it is still popular to believe in innate racial traits rather than look elsewhere to explain group differences. We all know the myths and stereotypes - natural Black athletic superiority, musical ability among Asians - but are they really true on a biological level? If not, why do we continue to believe them? Race may not be biological, but it is still a powerful social idea with real consequences for people's lives.
Journal Issue: What were the racist ideas and philosophies of the late 19th and 20th century America? Do you agree or disagree with these philosophies? Why?
1890s-1960s: Jim Crow America
Reading Assignment: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, “The Birth of Jim Crow” [pp. 30 - 35]
Video: “The New Jim Crow Lecture”

Journal Issue: In light of the history of slavery, caste, and the poverty-to-prison pipeline, how deeply ingrained is white racism in American society?

Emma Goldman
On a cold December morning in 1919, just after midnight, Emma Goldman, her comrade Alexander Berkman, and more than 200 other foreign-born radicals were roused from their Ellis Island dormitory beds to begin their journey out of the United States for good.
Convicted of obstructing the draft during World War I, Goldman's expatriation came 34 years after she had first set foot in America, a young, brilliant, Russian immigrant. For more than three decades, she taunted mainstream America with her outspoken attacks on government, big business and war.
Goldman's passionate espousal of radical causes made her the target of persecution. Her sympathy for Leon Czolgosz, the assassin of President McKinley, brought down upon her the hatred of the authorities and the public at large. Feared as a sponsor of anarchy and revolution, she was vilified in the press as "Red Emma," "Queen of the Anarchists," and "the most dangerous woman in America."
Journal Issue: What was the historical significance of the American Socialist and/or Communist Movement in the early 20th century?





Electrical workers and their unions were at the vortex of the arguments that shook the labor movement and the country during the Cold War. This book recounts and interprets that experience. While international issues were widely considered beyond the bailiwick of workers, they split the labor movement, impacted heavily on the electrical unions, and were the subject of passionate debate among workers. Questioning the dominant assumptions of United States foreign policy from a labor standpoint required extraordinary vision and courage, but a significant body of trade unionists felt that such questioning was simply the common-sense approach for labor leaders and unions to take.


The Sixties: Rise of a New America, the Growth of Ethnic Consciousness
READING ASSIGNMENT: “Cesar Chavez” [Wikipedia]
Video: Cesar Chavez: History is Made One Step at a Time near Yuma, Arizona, on March 31, 1927, Cesar Chavez employed nonviolent means to bring attention to the plight of farmworkers, and formed both the National Farm Workers Association, which later became United Farm Workers. As a labor leader, Chavez led marches, called for boycotts and went on several hunger strikes. It is believed that Chavez's hunger strikes contributed to his death on April 23, 1993, in San Luis, Arizona.
Journal Issue: In light of demographic changes in 21st America [growth of brown and black majority], what is the importance of Cesar Chavez’s life and work?



Video: The Weather Underground Weather Underground emerged when Bernadine Dohrn and a group of fellow University of Chicago students split with the campus-run Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, because they disagreed with the SDS’s peaceful protest tactics against the Vietnam War. Dubbing itself the Weathermen, this new organization took its name from a line in Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”—“you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”—and within months had set off bombs at the National Guard headquarters and set in motion plans to bomb targets across the country that it considered emblematic of the worldwide violence sanctioned by the U.S. government.
Journal Issue: Is Violence ever justified in the name of social change and social justice?
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ he was convicted of murdering a policeman in 1981 and sentenced to die, Mumia Abu-Jamal was a gifted journalist and brilliant writer. Now after more than 30 years in prison and despite attempts to silence him, Mumia is not only still alive but continuing to report, educate, provoke and inspire.
Stephen Vittoria's new feature documentary is an inspiring portrait of a man whom many consider America's most famous political prisoner - a man whose existence tests our beliefs about freedom of expression. Through prison interviews, archival footage, and dramatic readings, and aided by a potent chorus of voices including Cornel West, Alice Walker, Dick Gregory, Angela Davis, Amy Goodman and others, this riveting film explores Mumia's life before, during and after Death Row - revealing, in the words of Angela Davis, "the most eloquent and most powerful opponent of the death penalty in the world...the 21st Century Frederick Douglass."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ October 6th of 1998 Matthew Shepard was beaten and left to die tied to a fence in the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming. He died 6 days later. His torture and murder became a watershed historical moment in America that highlighted many of the fault lines in our culture.
A month after the murder, the members of Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie and conducted interviews with the people of the town. From these interviews they wrote the play The Laramie Project, which they later made into a film for HBO. The piece has been seen by more than 30 million people around the country.
Ten years later, M. Kaufman and members of Tectonic Theater Project returned to Laramie to find out what has happened over the last 10 years. Has Matthew’s murder had a lasting impact on that community? How has the town changed as a result of this event? What does life in Laramie tell us about life in America 10 years later? And how is history being rewritten to tell a new story of Matthew Shepard’s murder, one that changes the motivation of his killers from homophobia to a “drug deal gone bad” despite all evidence to the contrary?

Journal Issue: How has American attitudes toward the LGBT community changed since the end of the 20th century?

The Obama Presidency: The First Black Chief Executive
Reading Assignment: Barak Obama [Wikipedia]
Video Documentary: Inside Obama’s Presidency []
Barack Obama standing in front of a wooden writing desk and two flagpoles. President Barak Obama
Journal Issue: What is the real historical significance of Barak Obama as America’s first African American president? Is it a substantial or just symbolic significance?
The 2008 Recession



Final Exam Essay Due on the last day of finals week.
Student Guide to Political Ideology for Dr. Howard’s Courses
1. The term "The Left" dates back to the French Revolution when in the constituent assembly, the more extreme and militant delegates occupied seats to the left of the front of the hall from the viewpoint of someone facing the delegates. In more modern parlance, it refers to those who perceive some urgent need for democratic and egalitarian change in existing circumstances and who believe that collective action is necessary to achieve it. Leftists can be defined in part by what they oppose, notably militarism, racism, elitism, authoritarianism. But within the broad tent occupied by people of The Left, there are many diverse tendencies, movements, perspectives, and organizations. Some of the fiercest political battles of the 20th century were among people who saw themselves as being part of The Left but who disagreed sharply-even at times, violently-with others who also claimed that rubric. One broad division is between those who believe that capitalism must be supplanted by common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, on the one hand, and those who believe that meaningful democratic and egalitarian reform can take place within capitalist structures.
2. Marxism. Karl Marx (1819-1883) was the author of Capital, the classic and basic text of modern socialism. He was also a shrewd and incisive journalist and commentator, as well as a political activist. Along with his collaborator and financial angel, Frederich Engels, Marx saw capitalism as both a liberating and an exploitative force. Its dynamism destroyed all the old traditions and hierarchies, freeing people from the dead hand of the past. However, its success depended on the exploitation of labor and the appropriation of wealth by an increasingly small and powerful class of owners of the means of production (and their political henchmen). Capitalism carried within itself the seeds of its own destruction because in exploiting labor, it created an ever larger and more alienated class of workers whose increasingly desperate conditions and outrage at their exploitation would eventually lead to revolutionary action. Eventually, as the social crisis created by capitalism deepened, the expropriators (i.e., capitalists) would be expropriated (i.e., workers would destroy the system and gain control of the means of production themselves).
Marxism was (and is) a broad, generic intellectual and political tendency. Some Marxists see Marx's writings as virtually sacred and probe them endlessly for instructions on how to act. More sophisticated Marxists, however, take his basic insights as to the material basis of all political and social life and seek to apply them in a flexible way. Agreeing with Marx's basic analysis, contemporary socialists believe that the apocalyptical vision of a labor-capital Armageddon is no longer relevant. Others stress the democratic thrust of Marxism, the call for empowering the majority and resisting the claims of the wealthy. Still others stress Marx's early writings, in which he wrote lyrically about the need to reclaim human agency in the face of relentless division of labor and alienation of workers from the tools of production. There are Christian Marxists, Marxist humanists, neo-Marxists, even pro-market Marxists. For my money, the best single book on Marxism, one that has insightful things to say about its application to conditions in the US, is Michael Harrington, Socialism (1972).
3. Socialism. Socialism is the generic term applied to those on the Left who believed (and believe) that a truly just and humane society cannot be achieved so long as the means of production, distribution, and exchange remain in private hands and who believe that the state must play a crucial role in the transition to a new form of social organization. Traditionally, socialism has been associated with government ownership and operation of economic activities, although many socialists believe(d) that only the "commanding heights"-the large, concentrated, critical industries and utilities such as railroads, steel, banking-need be publicly owned. There are and have been many varieties of socialism but in the absence of explicit qualifying remarks, for the purposes of this class when reference is made to "socialism," it means the ideas and programs and movements associated with the main socialist political parties and labor organizations in the western countries (i.e., industrialized regions, mainly Western Europe, the British Commonwealth, the US) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These socialist movements were strongly critical of the inequities of capitalism, strongly supportive of organized labor, and quite confident that socialism represented the wave of the future. In Europe, socialist organizations were at the forefront of those seeking to expand the suffrage and to bring working people into the political community. In more recent decades, socialists have lost much of their previous confidence but they continue to be critical of market capitalism, which they believe breeds inequality, waste, political corruption, and the disempowerment of ordinary people.
4. Social Democracy. In the heyday of socialism (ca. 1880-1950), many socialists, while remaining critical of capitalism, came to believe that Marx's basic analysis needed revision in light of more recent developments. Many of those active in the German Social Democratic Party (which was the largest political party in Germany for much of this period) and the British Labour Party (which after 1919 constituted the main opposition party in Britain and which came to power in 1945) came to regard the reform and regulation of capitalism as the only realistic goal. In Marx's day, so raw and naked was the exploitative thrust of capitalism it was reasonable to regard its overthrow as possible and necessary. But now, Social Democrats (most of whom remained active in socialist parties and organizations) argued, we have shown that it is possible to control capitalism through public regulation and legislation to protect workers from its excesses by encouraging trade unionism and regulating working conditions, as well as by state provision of medical, old age, and unemployment benefits. Social Democrats continued to be sharp critics of capitalism and often continued to believe that in the very long run capitalism would have to be supplanted but in practical political affairs they reached out to non-socialist progressives and liberals, cut back on the revolutionary rhetoric, and operated within the political system to improve the social welfare, educational, and regulatory functions of government. In 1959, the German Social Democratic Party formally abandoned explicitly revolutionary intent, while in 1995 the British Labour Party rescinded Clause Four of its 1919 constitution that had called for full public ownership of the means of production and distribution. In the US, the Socialist Party of America reached a peak in the WWI era, with its charismatic early leader Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926) capturing 900,000 votes in the 1912 presidential election and many local officials and two congressmen gaining election on the Socialist ticket. Since the 1920s, however, socialism has been only a marginal element in US political life and leading American socialists such as Norman Thomas (1884-1968) and Michael Harrington (1929-1989) have functioned more as social democratic critics and champions of social justice than leaders of a vanguard party.
5. Anarchism. The anarchist criticism of capitalism is both similar to and very different from that of the Marxist. "Man was born free," declared Rousseau in the 18th century, "but is everywhere in chains." In common with Marxists, anarchists such as Mikhail Bakunin denounced the exploitation inherent in capitalism. But whereas Marx and later socialists saw as the goal of revolutionary activity the gaining of state power, anarchists warned that any government, no matter how formally democratic, would inevitably degenerate into tyranny. This would especially be true of a socialist government that combined political and economic functions. Instead of gaining control of government, whether by revolutionary or legal means, anarchists believed, it was necessary for workers and citizens to gain democratic control of their workplaces and neighborhoods. While socialists envisaged a kind of superstate, coordinating everything from the top, anarchists believed in grass roots activism, without formal structures of governmental authority being necessary. Only through local activism and the insistence on grass roots democratic decision-making could people be truly free.
Some anarchists turned to violence, believing that "propaganda by the deed" could shatter the existing order and provide a liminal moment in which old structures of capitalist economics and bureaucratic government might be destroyed, providing room for the sprouting of innumerable popular organizations in workplaces, neighborhoods, and communities. Some anarchists preached sabotage and even assassination and indeed during this period there were many episodes of political murder (e.g., the killing of President William McKinley in 1901 by Leon Czolgosz, a self-styled anarchist) and bombings perpetrated by violent anarchist groups in the US, Russia, and Western Europe. Most anarchists, however, rejected violence. Over the years, the repression and victimization of anarchists (and other radicals) by public authorities and private vigilantes in the West far exceeded the violence perpetrated by radicals.
6. Syndicalism. Syndicalism is the belief-actually, an extension and application of anarchist principles-in workers' control. The workplace, syndicalists such as Georges Sorel held, is the nodal point of modern civilization. Sorel spoke of the "myth of the general strike," meaning by the word "myth" not a falsehood but an organizing and sustaining principle or goal. Workers have the inherent power to gain control of the means of production and, through the exercise of this power, the central economic and political structures in society. Syndicalists urged that exploited workers ignore political action, which they felt was a distraction and a blind alley, and that they exert their decisive power at the point of production. Fight "on the job, where you're robbed," in the words of an American Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) slogan. Worker solidarity across lines of skill, gender, nationality, race, and ethnicity would enable workers to bring down the existing order and "create a new world from the ashes of the old." The militant syndicalism of the IWW, implying as it did the ignoring of existing structures of power and the building of an alternative social order from the workplace outward, is sometimes termed anarcho-syndicalism.
7. Leninism. Leninism, Bolshevism, or Soviet Communism are roughly synonymous terms. Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) was the leader of the Bolshevik faction of the main Russian socialist party and leader of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and head of the new Soviet state. Two main ideas characterize Leninism: 1) rather than waiting for the masses of people to develop a revolutionary consciousness, a small cadre of dedicated revolutionaries must foment revolution and control its processes, bringing the masses along through their example and through the instruments of state power developed in the Bolshevik seizure of power; 2) the only reason that capitalism in the industrialized West has not followed the trajectory outlined by Marx is because of western states' imperial expansion and domination of what later would be called "the Third World." In effect, Lenin argued, western capitalist regimes had been able to buy off their working classes through economic exploitation of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the wealth of which provided a sufficient surplus for capitalists and their political henchmen to raise living standards at home and thus deflect potentially revolutionary activism. While the Bolshevik regime in the Soviet Union initially derived from the common critique of capitalism shared by all on the Left, it soon developed a dynamic and a character of its own. Particularly after Lenin's death in 1924 and the emergence of Josef Stalin (1879-1953) as the Soviet leader, the Russian Communist regime deepened the authoritarianism toward which Leninist doctrine seemed in any event to tend. The term "Stalinism" has come to indicate a particularly brutal authoritarianism. During the 1930s and World War II, many western liberals and radicals chose to ignore the more sinister features of Soviet Communism under Stalin in light of the Great Depression that afflicted the West and the Russian people's heroic struggle against Nazi Germany in the Second World War. Others in labor, socialist, and liberal movements, however, viewed Stalinism as the perversion of socialism and opposed it root and branch even during this period.
A major fault line among people on the Left even today runs between those who see the crimes of Stalinism has having perverted and betrayed the original, hopeful promise of the Bolshevik Revolution, and those who see the evils of Stalinism (and Maoism in China) as being traceable directly to the Bolsheviks' contempt for "mere" democracy and due process. Still another dimension of the dramatic controversies that swirled about the Russian Revolution and that made the "short" twentieth century (1914-1989) so ideologically and politically turbulent is provided by Leon Trotsky (1879-1940), a brilliant co-revolutionary, founder of the Red Army, and, many thought, heir apparent to Lenin. First exiled and then murdered in 1940 by a Stalinist agent, Trotsky remains for some the embodiment of the tragic failure of the Russian Revolution, while to others he remains squarely-if with greater charisma and intellectual brilliance-firmly within the authoritarian and murderous traditions of Bolshevism and Soviet Communism.
8. Socialism vs. Fascism. Students often profess to be confused about the differences between socialism and fascism. (Recall that by "socialism," I refer here to the ideas, policies, programs, and activities of the socialist and social democratic parties and movements of the West during the late 19th and 20th centuries [see No. 3, above]). Socialism and fascism are antithetical concepts. About their only point of agreement is that government must be used as a positive instrument of social and economic development. There are grounds for confusion, though. For example, Hitler's Nazi movement in 1920s and 1930s Germany adopted the name "National Socialist Party," and there are some conservative critics-historian John Lukacs is a good example-who believe that the kinds of enhanced government power advocated by socialists, as well as their scapegoating of certain categories of people-capitalists; the bourgeoisie; non-socialist politicians-is broadly equivalent to the authoritarianism and scapegoating central to fascism. But, unlike fascists or "national socialists" such as the Nazis, western socialists have never celebrated authoritarian rule, nor have they sought the physical liquidation of the people whom they identify as class enemies.
Here are some points to keep in mind:

On History and Hyperbole
In serious political discourse, it is important to use ideological terminology carefully and precisely. While in barroom or dormitory arguments short-hand labels are harmless enough, in more formal or public settings, it is wise to weigh one's words thoughtfully and to strive for fairness and exactitude. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't be passionate, engaged, and even partisan. But even in the most heated public political or ideological brawl, we do better when we strive for accuracy and fairness. It is the mark of our best and most astute political commentators, all along the political spectrum, that they represent their opponents' views rigorously and precisely.
There is a tendency, for example, among those on the political left to use inflammatory sobriquets with which to characterize their conservative opponents. "As a matter of strict fact," I recall a leftist friend of mine in the early 1960s declaiming, "Richard Nixon is a fascist." As a virtually life-long Nixon hater, I bow to no one in my disdain for our 35th president. In my view, he was a liar, a demagogue, and a perverter of the democratic process. But he was, as a matter of strict fact, no more a "fascist" than my Aunt Tillie.
As a kind of conscious, almost playful hyperbole among like-minded people in private settings, such extreme language probably does no harm. But in any sort of serious public setting-a political debate, a classroom, an informed discussion among people of diverse views-this sort of over-the-top language would rightly be regarded as unfair and disreputable and would, again rightly, identify the speaker as reckless, irresponsible, and unserious. Labels such as "fascist," "communist," "militarist," "racist," and, yes, "socialist" carry a lot of emotional and political freight and need to be used judiciously and cautiously.
Which brings us to the question of whether there is "any socialism" in today's America. Of course, there are explicitly socialist groups whose agendas and positions can easily be found via the internet. I've noted the websites of the two most active and visible of such groups below. Things get more problematic, however, when the term "socialism" or "socialist" is used by opponents to describe or characterize the views or policies of their political adversaries within the context of the prevailing two-party system. No serious socialist-a member, say of the Socialist Party of the United States or the Democratic Socialists of America-would credit the Democratic Party or any leading Democratic politician or spokesman with being a fellow socialist. As described in the on-line reading on this syllabus, a socialist, if she believes in anything, believes at some level in public, or at least common, ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange. No figure in the Democratic party has ever advanced such an agenda and so to characterized the Democratic party as "socialist" insults both Democrats and real socialists, who regard the mildly liberal programs and policies outlined, in, say, the Democratic party's 2004 platform as efforts to strengthen capitalism and to bolster so-called "free enterprise," not as steps in the direction of establishing a "cooperative commonwealth."
There are perhaps two possible ways in which it might in theory be considered legitimate to use the "socialist" label with reference to liberal groups or to the Democratic party. It might be argued that certain influential Democrats or liberals are trying to mislead the public. They secretly favor public ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange but they know that any explicit effort to enact such a program would meet with public hostility. Hence, they mask their intentions, claiming that they are merely well-intentioned reformers. Once elected, however, they attempt to enact their socialist agenda. Folks who believe that secret socialists are at work within the Democratic party are folks who tend to see any expansion of governmental activity-environmental regulation, regulation of workplace health and safety, publically financed efforts to provide affordable healthcare-as evidence of what we might call "Crypto-Socialism." However, it would be hard to find any evidence, either in public or private utterances, on the part of any Democrat that she or he secretly favored the promulgation of a socialist agenda, however much she or he might favor specific policies that involved the expansion of governmental involvement in the economy.
Perhaps more seriously, it might be argued that while liberals and Democrats may not be aware of it, certain policies or programs that they support-health care reform and regulation of corporate activities, for example-in some unintended way move the country in the direction of socialism (i.e., toward public ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange). You can't have the kind of national health care system urged by certain Democrats, the argument goes, without having, finally, to have the federal government take over control of all medical facilities and to make medical practitioners employees of the government, even though no real existing Democrat would be caught dead advocating such a development. Regulatory rules and requirements, it is sometimes argued, will inevitably have the long-range effect of stifling enterprise, impoverishing business people, and requiring that the federal government take over key economic functions. Thus, without anyone explicitly intending it, critics of interventionist policies warn, we will wake up one day to find the government owning and operating "the means of production, distribution, and exchange." We might call this scenario "Unintended Socialism."
It seems to me that both of these scenarios are pretty far-fetched. It is true that the one formally socialist member of Congress, Vermont Representative Bernie Sanders, does usually vote with the Democrats with respect to the organization of the House. And that he often sides with them in floor votes on specific issues. But it seems on the face of it absurd to see the 211 Democratic House members as stealth socialists, secretly waltzing down the trail blazed by one lone representative from Vermont.
The argument that the liberal Democratic agenda invariably segues into socialism, whatever the acknowledged intentions of its supporters, seems to me equally insubstantial. Beginning with the New Deal of the 1930s, government has played a larger role in American life than was the case before. Yet proportionately, over the past thirty years, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, the number of federal employees has been in decline. Non-military government spending has been claiming a shrinking proportion of the federal budget and of the GNP. Unless one simply argues that any expansion of the federal government's role is by definition a step toward "socialism"-an argument from faith and from definition, not one from analysis and evidence-the US seems even further from socialism today than it did to Werner Sombart nearly a century ago. Indeed, then there was a growing Socialist party which was electing scores of local officials and exercising considerable influence within an expanding labor movement. But today, Sanders excepted, there are no elected socialist public officials. A declining labor movement has long since repudiated the thin strands of socialism that it once exhibited. Socialist organizations, though often containing articulate social critics, have few members and little public visibility.
I mention these points not in an effort to defend Democrats (though, yes, I am one) or to promote the party's positions. Public policy proposals advanced by Democrats in Congress, on the state and local levels, and in the current presidential campaign are clearly subject to close public scrutiny. The view that this or that policy initiative will lead to greater red tape or unnecessary governmental intrusion is a legitimate one that needs to be argued on the facts and merits, issue by issue. I'm sure that we can rely on Republicans and non-party conservatives to perform this service, just as Democrats and liberals will criticize the record of President Bush and the positions that he has taken. But none of this has anything to do with "socialism" unless by "socialism" one simply means "policies and programs that I don't like."



U.S. Labor History

Introduction: The American Labor Movement

Dray Ch 2

Dray Ch 3

Dray Ch 4


History of Labor in the United States


42-208 Contemporary Issues [Summer 2012]

42-210 Values in Conflict


Pennsylvania History

Pennsylvania: 1865-1945

Pennsylvania, 1945-Present

Lectures: African History/Black Atlantic

42-208 Contemporary Issues [Summer 2011]


42-210 Values in Conflict [Summer 2011]