Paul Merlyn Buhle (born 1944) is a former Senior Lecturer at Brown University, and author of books such as Wobblies!: A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World, Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor, Encyclopedia of the American Left, etc.
He wrote in the Introduction to this 1987 book, "What has been the role of Marxism in American history? How has it been appropriated, construed (or misconstrued), even home-grown by previous generations of American radicals? What has happened to its latest major incarnation, the 1960s New Left, as political veterans entered middle age amid the Reagan Era? And what does the future hold? Can a theoretical system historically rooted in response to Victorian capitalism hope to come to grips with the challenges of the year 2000? This book suggests broad answers to such questions..." (Pg. 9)
He observes that 19th century immigrants, "even those with a Socialist background in the Old World, inevitably saw the situation differently. They had entered... a vastly contradictory reality. It bore disillusioning similarities to the societies that they had left, and which Marxist descriptions fit with considerable accuracy; but the differences also loomed large..." (Pg. 21)
He suggests, "we may divide nineteenth-century immigrant Socialist efforts into two periods. During the first, from the beginning of Radical Reconstruction ... a primitive Socialist movement struggled toward institutional existence. The second reaches... to the Socialist Labor Party in the 1890s, when the foreign-based activists... attempted unsuccessfully to turn their greater resources into a mass revolutionary agency." (Pg. 32)
He said that Daniel DeLeon "entered a Socialist Labor Party in 1890 ripe for a takeover." (Pg. 50) He adds, "Railroad man, reformer and sentimentalist, Eugene Victor Debs epitomized these possibilities, and he effectively dramatized the necessity for Socialism through his own heroic failures to change the system from within." (Pg. 79) Of the 1920s, he concedes that "the Party's new-found popularity did not usually translate into mass recruitment. The ultra-sectarian attacks on Socialist Party members, the bloody charges on police lines or city hall, and the continual internal heresy-hunting, frighened many off or caused them to drop their membership within a few months. The Party captured and held... only those who had consciously or unconsciously sought a single cause for their lives." (Pg. 143) After the New Deal, "Neither could chart the transition through and beyond the New Deal to a different America. Communists lacked the self-confidence, independence from Russian imperatives, and the background to think through the expansion of the behemoth state." (Pg. 154)
This is an excellent, sympathetically-told history, that will be of interest to anyone interested in the history of Socialist/Communist/Marxist ideas in this country.