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From Tragedy to Farce:

The Rise and Fall of the American Left, 1914-2014.

By William A. Pelz

This talk will explore the pre-First World War advances made by the American radical movement, with particular emphasis on Eugene V. Debs and the Socialist Party, and discuss how they were halted.  An examination of how the hopes and possibilities of the early 20th century became the fear and loathing of the 21st will be conducted to see how the tragedy of earlier radicalism is now replaced by the farce of a non-viable left. . . or how on-the-line picketing has been replaced by on line petitions. Before the First World War, the left in the US was significant and growing.  1905 had seen the birth of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a radical union dedicated to organizing workers regardless of skill, race, sex or background.  The Socialist Party has something like 100,000 members, 1,500 elected office holders and their candidate, Eugene V. Debs, got a million votes for President (6%) in 1912.  These developments roughly parallel the growth of the left in Western Europe, but today little remains of that radical heritage.  While Die Linke (The Left) is the largest opposition party in Germany and the Labour Party is the opposition in England, in the USA there is a political musical chairs where two (basically the same) parties rotate office while Wall Street continues to control the economy. [Presidents come, Presidents go but Big Capital remains]  Almost all industrialized economies have better health care, education, life expectancy and less social inequality.  Why?  Why has the left failed even to smooth over the roughest edges of capitalist society?
What went wrong for Debs and early radicals?  What goes wrong today?

 

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