Within the scope of this research, we will attempt to answer the question of whether socialism will help or hurt America, and what steps can be taken to improve American relations with the world. The migration of socialism from its European homeland to the United States produced, as we have seen, results sometimes exciting but also deeply troubling to the Marxists. To succeed, any revolutionary movement needed to come to grips with the pervasive religious and cultural values, to understand and appreciate as well as to attempt to transform them. Homegrown radicals and class-conscious workers, for all their weaknesses, potentially provided socialism access into the American mainstream. The process of discovery had to be mutual, a complex and protracted probing from both sides. The critical question was, what did each bring to the conversation?
Socialism supplied a definite class view and a strategic instrument, the union, which could serve as means of transition to a new order. Indigenous radicalism stood for the most part outside these traditions. (Perrier 1983) But its disciples held for that very reason a more sophisticated view of the multi-cultural, factory and non-factory, character of the American lower classes, Black and white, male and female. They also had a better subjective sense of the meaning, for Americans, of the old Republic’s decline and debauch at the hands of monopolistic capitalism. At their best they understood the traumatic awakening into history which alone could bring a serious acceptance of Socialist ideas, and the moral or spiritual vacuum which only an expanded faith in democracy could fill. (Perrier 1983)
The pre-industrial religion of a redemptive, benevolent deity watching over the republic fitted the needs of American radicals and reformers well into the late-nineteenth century. More than that, it placed the palpable deterioration of democracy in a great field of hope. America had failed the trust given its founders with the virgin continent. But that trust might yet be redeemed. The blasphemer, agent of Indian genocide, slaver, merchant aristocrat, could not rule on. The shadow of his antithesis, the redeemer-woman, hovered in the background ready to bring salvation to a society that recognized its own heart of darkness and willingly marched toward the light.
No wonder Marxists found themselves strangers in a strange land. The sweeping bourgeois triumph Marx depicted did not, in America, consolidate an ideological victory over the past but rather ensured an endless revenge against the hubris of material progress. (Quint 1994) The Radical Reformation, where so much of the inner life of Protestantism first evolved (and devolved), had held as its foremost goal an escape from the history of kingdoms and slave classes to the pre-Mosaic paradise before the fall. Crankish as this sounds, it combined the abandonment of a defeated armed struggle with the undiminished hope of overcoming mankind’s sorrows. It promised a peaceful path to utopia, an alternative to Calvinism and the logic of the merchant. (Bell 1972)
Unlike Europe with its far more centralized national labor movements, socialism in America had to confront an extraordinary welter of local conditions and exceptionalisms. Despite the popularity of the Appeal to Reason, Wilshire’s Magazine or even the more theoretical International Socialist Review, there was no American equivalent to the authoritative Die Neue Zeit, much less an Iskra to constitute the core of Party activism (Quint 1994). Rather the public space for socialism in America was invigorated by the extraordinary diversity of the local Socialist press, publishing in a score of languages. It was this local alternative press (not so different from that undertaken by the New Left generations later) that attempted to answer Horace Traubel’s question: ‘Who will remind America that she has promised democracy to the head and broken it to the heart?’ (Bell 1972)