Irving Howe opened A Margin of Hope, his autobiography, by recalling a conversation in which Ignazio Silone asked him when he first became a socialist. “At the advanced age of fourteen,” was Howe’s reply. That would have been 1934, a year after Franklin Roosevelt became American president and Adolph Hitler became German chancellor, and two years before the Moscow trials began. It was in a world of depression, fascism, Stalinism, and global conflagration that Howe’s politics first took shape. A great deal of his mature intellectual energy was devoted to understanding the fate of the left in those years.
The cardinal conclusion he reached was that any divorce of socialism from democracy violated socialism’s animating spirit, the belief that ordinary men and women should and could
have authority over their lives. And there was no greater violation than Stalinism, an unmitigated calamity for the left—not to mention for the inhabitants ...
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