Since the Second World War the American radical has had the unenviable task of having to advocate socialism in the midst of capitalist plenty. So unrewarding have been his efforts that nowadays he hardly talks about socialism at all, but instead applies his efforts to separate issues, such as civil rights or capital punishment, which seem to contribute to the general progress.
We know that today most of the world’s people are groping toward one form of socialism or the other. They take it for granted that a planned society is healthier and more viable than capitalist chaos and drift. The question that confounds them is how to move rapidly toward socialism without sacrificing humanitarian ideals.
The fact that in the U. S. today a socialist is a rare bird not only testifies to the decline of the American Left, but is further evidence of the growing insularity and almost incredible backwardness of this modern industrial nation. It is as if material wealth had dulled the sensibilities of an entire population. Consider, for example, how few of our fellow citizens manifest any concern that human civilization may be pulverized in a nuclear war at any hour. I do not mean to minimize the activities of any of the pacifist organizations or of individuals who have taken a forthright stand for peace and disarmament. The fact remains that they are over-shadowed by the massive anti-bomb demonstrations in Great Britain, a prosperous capitalist nation like our own.
Freedom rides, sit-ins, campaigns to abolish capital punishment and the House Un-American Activities Committee—all are reassuring signs that the entire nation has not yet been reduced to conformity. But even as we applaud we know that these fresh outbursts are only a pale reflection of the vigorous, militant Left that in the 1930s and during the war fought domestic and foreign fascism tooth and nail, the Left that drew its strength from the working class and helped create the Congress of Industrial Organizations. (I am always astonished when I listen to the reminiscences of the “retired” communists and socialists of the period. Many of them actually thought they were coming to power!)