Saturday, February 14, 2009

Does Obama's Religious Faith & Political DNA Contain Elements of Early Radical European Socialism or Later 20th Century 'Soft' - 'New Left' Socialism?

[The following entries set forth a pattern of ideology and policy prescriptions that, in many ways, resembles the platform of the American Democratic Party and the campaign positions of new U.S. President, Barack Obama. If we are mistaken, we kindly ask the Democratic National Committee and the White House to appropriately correct us.]


After Progress: American Social Reform and European Socialism in the Twentieth Century (Paperback)

by Norman Birnbaum

432 pp. New York:

Oxford University Press

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Birnbaum, a Georgetown law school professor who writes for the New Left Review and the Nation (The Crisis of Industrial Society; etc.), traces the decline and fall of social reform in Europe and America. At the beginning of the 20th century, he says, folks both here and abroad were committed to reforming society, to reining in the excesses of capitalism and improving life for all. Of course, with the great reformers came strident reactionaries. Birnbaum shows, for example, that William Howard Taft railed against socialism, by which he meant anything restricting the market. Birnbaum traces the limitations of the reforming impulse in America, saying that the New Deal was basically a wash: it created Social Security, and FDR acknowledged that America is not a classless society. But the language of class never really raised its head again, Birnbaum says, and social reform ended in 1938. Birnbaum's discussion of the post-WWII welfare state is provocative: the welfare model, he says, is preferable to unchecked capitalism. But at the same time that Europe and America embraced the welfare state, they also experienced a rising standard of living, and Birnbaum wonders if decades of social reform were destined to culminate simply in a consumerist orgy. Finally, he takes the United States to task, observing that America has the grossest economic inequalities, and the weakest left, of any industrialized country. Birnbaum offers a readable, if occasionally overgeneralized and superficial, history, and an inspiring call to arms for readers who still hope to see social and economic reform.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal
In this scholarly, detailed, and methodically written study, Birnbaum author of leftist critiques of democratic, capitalist societies (The Crisis of Industrial Society) documents and analyzes the successes and failures of social reform in America and Europe in the last 50 years. He concludes that both European welfare-state parliamentary democracies and American presidential administrations led by Democrats Kennedy, Johnson, and Clinton have been undermined by an economic overemphasis on the value of consumption and the pervasiveness of an individualistic social ethic. Although Birnbaum has no magic solutions, he believes that government must act to control market forces to meet the social needs of its citizens and that government needs to focus on citizen education to create a citizenry that is "autonomous and critical," resulting in a rebirth of citizenship characterized "not by a promised land, but a terrain of dialogue and experiment." He believes that the majority of people living in democratic societies today fail to understand the delicate balance between their rights and their responsibilities as citizens of their country. For academic and large public libraries. Jack Forman, San Diego Mesa Coll. Lib., CA Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A sophisticated and wide-ranging study. It is erudite, melancholy, and bound to arouse interest and controversy."--Peter Gay

"A wonderful journey through the ins and outs of Western socialism and social reform by a participant-observer with educated eyes."--Immanuel Wallerstein, Yale University

"The book is to be celebrated for its astonishing synoptic powers, its erudition, and, not least, its political quotes and anecdotes."--Norman Mailer

"In this great synopsis of a century of reform movements in the U.S. and Europe, Norman Birnbaum gives an account of what has kept accumulating in the course of the cosmopolitan life of a scholar with that unique combination of talents in comparative social, political, and religious studies."--Jurgen Habermas

"Superb...presents the key events and players in left movements of the twentieth century in a way that helps us understand their importance.... An elegantly written and thoroughly researched work that goes well beyond the standard left-wing narrative of rapacious capitalists and heroic organizing drives."--Ruy Teixeira, The American ProspectProduct Description

Publisher Review (Oxford University Press)

The twentieth century witnessed a profound shift in both socialism and social reform. In the early 1900s, social reform seemed to offer a veritable religion of redemption, but by the century's end, while socialism remained a vibrant force in European society, a culture of extreme individualism and consumption all but squeezed the welfare state out of existence. Documenting this historic change, After Progress: European Socialism and American Social Reform in the 20th Century is the first truly comprehensive look at the course of social reform and Western politics after Communism, brilliantly explained by a major social thinker of our time. Norman Birnbaum traces in fascinating detail the forces that have shifted social concern over the course of a century, from the devastation of two world wars, to the post-war golden age of economic growth and democracy, to the ever-increasing dominance of the market. He makes sense of the historical trends that have created a climate in which politicians proclaim the arrival of a new historical epoch but rarely offer solutions to social problems that get beyond cost-benefit analyses. Birnbaum goes one step further and proposes a strategy for bringing the market back into balance with the social needs of the people. He advocates a reconsideration of the notion of work, urges that market forces be brought under political control, and stresses the need for education that teaches the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Both a sweeping historical survey and a sharp-edged commentary on current political posturing, After Progress examines the state of social reform past, present and future.

About the Author

Norman Birnbaum is University Professor at Georgetown University Law School and the author of The Crisis of Industrial Society and Toward a Critical Sociology (both from OUP). A founding editor of New Left Review, he has served on the board of Partisan Review and The Nation . He lives in Washington, D.C.


A Secular Faith: A scholar urges a return to the radical socialism of Europe.

New York Times Book Review of After Progress: American Social Reform and European Socialism in the Twentieth Century

By John Patrick Diggins

April 8, 2001

Equating socialism with religion was once considered a double insult. Karl Marx, after all, drew on science for his analysis of history. To see socialism as a faith would be a case of ''the opium of the intellectuals.''

But Norman Birnbaum, a professor at Georgetown University Law School, proudly affirms the relationship of socialism to religion. Defining socialism as the historic effort to ''domesticate the market and terminate unnecessary human inequalities,'' Birnbaum sees it as our savior. ''The idea of redemption suggests that socialism has something religious about it. As a secular derivative of Judeo-Christian millennialism, socialism has had a theology, an account of first and last things, and its earthly bodies resembled churches and sects.''

Does the proposition of socialism become more palpable if we are taught to think of it as some kind of church? Religion, after all, is not about this world; Christianity dwells on pain, asking us to suffer and sacrifice. Perhaps Birnbaum has in mind social responsibility for the poor and oppressed. Contemporary America does indeed need a Michael Harrington, the revered conscience of American Socialism, and one of the people to whom the book is dedicated. But religion can live comfortably with poverty and inequality, whereas socialism cannot; and while the philosopher may question why God allows evil and suffering to endure, Birnbaum has no doubt that such offenses exist because we foolish mortals have ceased questioning capitalism.

''After Progress'' is a call to return to earlier times, when radical socialism was alive and well and living in Western Europe. Stuck, as many academics are, on theory, Birnbaum would have us ponder the writings of the Frankfurt School, that group of thinkers who escaped the Nazis to arrive in America with their gloomy notions about the future of industrial societies, as though all such societies were destined to the same totalitarian fate as Germany. Birnbaum also discusses Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist who has been red-hot on the American campus with his message that it is up to students and academics to deliver us to socialism, not necessarily by changing the economy but by transforming a culture of competitive individualism. But Birnbaum wryly notes that it was Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher who actually changed popular attitudes. ''They created a structure of fact, a Darwinian system, and then pointed to it as evidence that ideas of a cooperative and just social order were fantasies.''

The value of Birnbaum's book lies in its comprehensive survey of socialism together with its intelligent commentary. But his message that America should turn to Europe would be more persuasive if he could convince readers that he is writing about success instead of flat failure. The mere existence of European Socialist parties tells us little about the validity of socialism as an ideal capable of realization.

Thus, Birnbaum acknowledges that even a modest plan in Sweden to transfer some stock ownership to workers not only was resisted by capitalists but met with ''indifference'' from labor itself. Similarly, Willy Brandt's Social Democrats in Germany could at most expand the welfare state while failing to alter the economy. When François Mitterrand was elected in 1981, Parisians danced in the streets. But the best his Socialist government accomplished was raising the minimum wage and increasing social benefits, not transforming society.

The record is no better in Spain and Italy. The Socialist Party of Felipe Gonzales turned the economy over to technocrats in search of international capital. The first Socialist prime minister of Italy, Bettino Craxi, fled prosecution for corruption and died in exile. Meanwhile, the Italian Communists became ''silent partners'' with the Christian Democrats, only to see workers aligning with right-wing parties in the prosperous 1990's. Birnbaum regards the Italian left as a ''tragedy,'' with Socialists unable to radicalize democratic liberalism and Communists unable to democratize geriatric Leninism.

In Britain, the Labor Party watched helplessly as once-militant workers moved into a new society of consumption. How, Birnbaum asks, could Labor talk about the demands of idealism in the face of the comforts of materialism? Under Tony Blair, Socialism has settled for managerial efficiency while distancing itself from the labor unions.

With Europe's Socialist parties moving away from socialism, why in the world does Birnbaum think that America should run after it?


He is understandably outraged by our scandalous maldistribution of wealth and culture of avarice. But when it comes to American history, he offers us nostalgia in place of nerve. He thinks the Depression years of the 1930's were the best of times because they gave America a ''New Deal ideology of solidarity'' based on a generation's ''collective experience.'' Birnbaum's favorite expression, used throughout the book, is ''solidarity,'' but how inspiring is it to find in the Depression a solidarity of fathers in search of work and mothers standing in bread lines?

Why has socialism been so alien to America's political culture? Birnbaum describes Louis Hartz's book ''The Liberal Tradition in America'' as enjoying a ''canonical status,'' and he feels he can refute it with the following question and answer: ''Did American liberalism, as a structure of assumptions about the nature of humans and their societies, so shape American politics that a socialist alternative had no chance to develop? That certainly could be concluded from the insistence of the authors of the Constitution on curbing direct democracy.''

Birnbaum completely misunderstands Hartz's thesis. Drawing on Tocqueville, Hartz demonstrated that the checks and controls devised by the Constitution's framers, which did indeed aim to protect property owners from the popular masses, failed to curb democracy, and in the Jacksonian era people of all classes came to identify themselves with their possessions. The socialist simply cannot face the fact that there is no conflict between democracy and capitalism, and that there is no example in all of modern history of a country with an established liberal tradition leaving its political culture behind in order to move toward socialism. Therein lies Birnbaum's heartache.

John Patrick Diggins, a professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is the author of ''On Hallowed Ground: Abraham Lincoln and the Foundations of American History.''


An Interview with Norman Birnbaum

By Roger W. Bowen

Academe Online

January-February 2007

In this interview, Norman Birnbaum, one of the country’s foremost public intellectuals, brings to life the history of the United States and the European New Left. He takes us through U.S. and British higher education and politics from the McCarthy era through today, with personal and historical detail that reminds us that the tumult of today has precedent and, perhaps, roots in the 1950s and 1960s. Birnbaum is a founding editor of the New Left Review, was on the editorial board of the Partisan Review, and is on the editorial board of the Nation. Birnbaum was born in 1926 in New York City and educated at its public schools, Williams College, and Harvard University. He has taught at the London School of Economics, Oxford University, the University of Strasbourg, and Amherst College and is University Professor Emeritus at Georgetown University Law Center. His most recent book is After Progress: American Social Reform and European Socialism in the Twentieth Century, and he is working on a memoir titled From the Bronx to Oxford—and Not Quite Back. AAUP general secretary Roger Bowen interviewed Birnbaum in May 2006 in Washington, D.C.

Bowen: You just turned eighty this year, and you have had a very distinguished career. You advised Ted Kennedy’s presidential campaign. You consulted with the National Security Council during the Carter years.

Birnbaum: Yes, but I cannot claim that the foreign policy apparatus was very enthusiastic about it, and any advice I had to give was systematically not followed. And I was shuffled out in a remarkably rapid and smooth process.

Bowen: You’ve also advised the United Auto Workers, and you’ve served on the editorial board of the Partisan Review and the Nation for a great many years.

Birnbaum: Yes, the Nation for a very long period. I also think I may be one of the oldest living contributors to the Nation who is also compos mentis. But I’ve certainly been on the board since the 1970s—and remain today due to the generosity of editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel’s excellent regime. And, of course, I began to read the Nation when my father was a New York City school teacher. When it came into the house, I began to read it and the New Republic at the age of probably twelve. And now the Nation is in some danger, namely, of being in the black. We have got this awful experience and don’t know what to do with it.

Bowen: You can thank George Bush. You were also on the editorial board of the New Left Review.

Birnbaum: Well, I was on the founding editorial board of the New Left Review when it was launched in 1959 as a fusion of the New Reasoner and Universities and Left Review, which was done by a younger and somewhat more independent group from Oxford, including the late Raphael Samuel, Stuart Hall, and Charles Taylor. I joined Universities and Left Review with a lot of other people, like Ralph Miliband and Iris Murdoch in 1957, one year after both journals were founded.

Bowen: Okay. Let me ask the most obvious question. You have been on the left your whole life, your entire career. Why?

Birnbaum: When I think of the characters and ideas of many of those on the right, the left seems to be the only place anybody with self-respect could be. But, that apart, I think probably there is some religious ethnic inheritance, although I don’t go to synagogue. My grandfather was a member of the old Yiddish grouping. He was a house painter who came from Poland after having served his imperial majesty the tsar in the military service. My father was a New York City high school teacher who had studied at City College and liked the ideas of John Dewey. And, of course, Franklin Roosevelt was an iconic figure in the family. But I think we sensed that our fate depended upon the general installation of a regime of justice. And, of course, there was the atmosphere of American progressivism and then the New Deal. I think the first big books I read were things like the Beards on American civilization and Dos Passos’s U.S.A., which made a great impression on me. And I remember when I heard Thomas Mann speak—I think at age twelve—at the last rally for the Spanish Republic in New York. Andre Malraux was also among the speakers. But I remember my father’s astonishment when I said that Thomas Mann wasn’t Jewish. Gradually, there was the discovery that progressivism is at the center of a broad stream of American history. Being on the left was a way to join America, not to distance oneself from it.

Bowen: You identified somewhere three values of the left: emancipation, social solidarity, and democracy. I haven’t seen it put quite that way before. Of those three values, do you favor one over another?

Birnbaum: No, I think that a good society would provide for each of these. But, obviously, there are times when pursuing them involves situations where the context is unfavorable. After all, we have a long tradition of social Catholicism, not only in Europe, but even in this country, which is not necessarily conducive to emancipation but is conducive to a considerable amount of distributive justice that would be inconceivable without the social Catholics. And that’s also true of the European or postwar welfare states. Emancipation may be the most difficult to achieve of all these since we’re not quite agreed on what it means. That depends on one’s theory of human nature and human potential, or how much emancipation a society can stand.

Bowen: Are there moments in American history where the value of freedom and the value of equality are in direct conflict?

Birnbaum: Suppose there were a national referendum on civil unions or something like that. The value of democracy would conceivably dictate obedience to the majority rule, which I doubt would come out strongly in favor of civil unions. In that case, democracy needs to be strengthened by certain guarantees or certain institutional immunizations from majority rule. Anybody who lived through the McCarthy period, with its long institutionalized Cold War sequel, and who now has to endure tirades about how one is not loyal to the West because one doesn’t support the great struggle against Islamo-fascism, understands this. The impoverished defense of the West by persons who know little about fascism and nothing about Islam is grotesque. They may constitute a majority even though democracy is violated. There must be something else, namely, the dimensions of emancipation and solidarity. The other day, I was in Germany to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of a man long gone, Wolfgang Abendroth, who was the great leader of the academic left in the early years of the Federal Republic. One of the ceremonies was held at the rather nice, new headquarters of the metal workers’ union. It still has 2.5 million members. Abendroth was also a lawyer, a jurist, as well as a professor of politics, an adversary of the disciples of Carl Schmitt, who dominated the courts and law faculties after the war. In effect, I think the Europeans, with their notions of social democracy, which are widely shared although under attack, have an understanding of a democracy that is not reduced to formal voting. Their notion of civic society clearly entails the social provision of decent minima of the things necessary for the good life: education and health.

Bowen: You mentioned you were somewhat insulated from McCarthyism, because during the years when it was at its worst, you were at your best, teaching in Britain.

Birnbaum: I was insulated also because I never belonged to the American Communist Party. I was briefly a member of a Communist front group, the American Student Union, from 1939, when I entered high school, until 1940, when I felt that the party line on the Soviet Union’s alliance with Germany was intolerable and left. But I simply felt uncomfortable in the early McCarthy years and didn’t like what I saw. I had no difficulty when I got to Europe. When I began to teach in England in 1953, it was widely assumed I must be a political refugee, as there were some, like my late friend Moses Finley, the great classicist. I remember that a student who later became a distinguished anthropologist asked me how I stayed out of jail in America. In fact, one of my great early memories in England was having lunch with Mo in his rooms at his college at Cambridge University. At about 12:30, there was a knock on the door, and three servants marched in with silver platters, put them down, poured the wine, and discreetly withdrew. And he said, “I sure owe the House Un-American Activities Committee a lot.”

Bowen: You were first at the London School of Economics. From that vantage point, what did you think about McCarthyism?

Birnbaum: I think that the whole European experience was “deprovincializing.” It made me see there were other approaches to the Cold War, which in Europe were closer to what was then the mainstream of politics. I got to know people in the British Labor Party. I got to meet people in France, ex-communists like Edgar Morin and others, who had a different view of the Cold War. And I got to know the people in Germany from the Confessional Church who had resisted Hitler. They felt that the country could not continue divided, and that, therefore, efforts to talk with the other side were not treason but necessary. This gave me a view of the crabbed, narrow, anxious anticommunism, which persisted when McCarthy himself had fallen into disgrace. Also, when I was in England, the Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Central Intelligence Agency dispatched Irving Kristol to London to start Encounter. And I knew him and some of his group.
Bowen: But did you know that the CIA was sponsoring Encounter magazine?

Birnbaum: It got to be an open secret. As an eminent American social scientist whom I don’t feel like naming pointed out to me, “Given the money they’re throwing around, it must be from the CIA.” And later, there was a famous episode in which Dwight MacDonald came over to edit Encounter for a bit with some proposal that he should eventually replace Kristol. But the New York gang led by Sidney Hook fought tooth and nail against it, since Dwight was unreliable—that is, an independent thinker who rowed nobody’s party line. Dwight submitted a piece to Encounter that was later published in Dissent. Encounter didn’t print it, because it was thought to be too critical, and Dwight protested about this. I took up the protest by writing an open letter to the Congress, which was printed in Universities and Left Review, saying, “Come on, tell us where you get the money.”

Bowen: So you were attacked?

Birnbaum: I was. I think the year was 1958. I moved to Oxford in 1959.

Bowen: Did the term “New Left” originate around that time?

Birnbaum: Yes. The New Left had many sources in Europe and in the states. I taught in the summer of 1962 at Harvard and toured the states. I spoke at different universities. I went to Ann Arbor and met Tom Hayden, when he was writing the Port Huron Statement, the manifesto of Students for a Democratic Society. And I was treated as if I were an emissary from a brotherly cosmos in Europe. Among the many Europeans studying in the United States at the time was an anti-Franco physicist, Javier Solana, who brought the ideas back to Spain, to the antifascist turbulence of its sixties. I later met him when he was foreign minister, and he is now the senior foreign policy official of the European Union.

["Review' - Marcuse brought a forceful clarity to the leftist table, a classical Marxism willing to confront new realities. Several of his recurring points are worth remembering today.' - The Nation -- Marcuse brought a forceful clarity to the leftist table, a classical Marxism willing to confront new realities. Several of his recurring points are worth remembering today. - The Nation

Product Description - Marcuse embodied many of the defining political impulses of the New Left in his thought and politics - hence a younger generation of political activists looked up to him for theoretical and political guidance. The new material collected in this volume provides a rich and deep grasp of the era and the role of Marcuse in the theoretical and political dramas of the day.This volume contains articles, letters, talks an interviews including: "On the New Left," a transcription of the 1968 talk at The Guardian newpaper's 20th anniversary; "Reflections on the French Revolution" which contains comments on the 1968 French student and worker uprising; "Liberation from the Affluent Society" which presents Marcuse's contribution to the 1967 "Dialectics of Liberations" conference; and "USA: Questions of Organization and the Revolutionary Subject", a conversation between Marcuse and the German writer Hans Magnus Enzenburger, published here in English for the first time. Edited by Douglas Kellner this volume will be of interest to all those previously unfamiliar with Herbert Marcuse, generally acknowledged as a major figure in the intellectual and social mileux of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as to specialists who will here have access to previously disparate papers." ].

Bowen: You wrote that, for a time, the New Left provided you with a spiritual home. How so?
Rethinking the New Left: An Interpretative History

Van Gosse


August 2005

A Choice Outstanding Academic Title of 2006!

From the 1950s to the 1970s, a host of movements struggled to make democracy and equality realities in America. A radical conception of democracy animated the movements for civil rights and black power, for peace and solidarity with the Third World, and for gender and sexual equality. From Vietnam to the war at home against African and Native Americans, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, and Asian Americans, from Women's to Gay Liberation, the New Left was the broadest-based movement for fundamental change in American history. This book synthesizes and chronicles those protests, confrontations, victories, and defeats over two decades and more. It has a much wider chronological focus than just the decade of the 1960s, and is the most inclusive and broadest ranging analytical synthesis of the New Left yet published.

"Gosse's rethinking of the New Left provides an interesting and provocative framework within which to view the Sixties."
--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"Van Gosse has long been the leading voice of the post-1960s generation of historians of the 1960s. In Rethinking the New Left he has written a clear, lively, provocative, and wide-ranging history of the New Left. Rethinking the New Left will become the first stop for those looking for a concise, yet comprehensive, introduction to social movements of the 1960s and how they changed America for the better."
--Roy Rosenzweig, Director, Center for History & New Media, George Mason University

"Rethinking the New Left is a compelling and rigorous study of what truly was a 'movement of movements.' Correctly rejecting the notion that the New Left was synonymous with white college students, Van Gosse offers an in depth historical analysis of the various forces and social movements that brought about the political earthquake that was the '60s. Rethinking the New Left is as exciting to read as it is thought-provoking in recounting the courage and audacity of overlapping generations of activists who refused to sit still in the face of domestic and global injustice. Rethinking the New Left leaves the reader with issues to ponder as progressives consider new directions for transformative politics in the 21st century."
--Bill Fletcher, Jr., President, TransAfrica Forum.

"Rethinking the New Left is a refreshing account of social movements that goes beyond standard mythologies about the tumultuous 1960's. Broad in scope and accessible as well as analytic, Van Gosse's book is both a fast-paced history of New Left radicalism and a provocation to think anew about its countours and long-term impact."
--Max Elbaum, author of Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao, and Che

"I'd like to echo van Gosse's very sensible plea that we focus primarily on the social movements that made 'the 60s' rather than on the possible limitations of the largely mythic idea of 'the 60s.' What's more, I highly recommend Rethinking the New Left: it is must read material for folks like ourselves."
--Jeremy Varon, author of Bringing the War Home -].

Birnbaum: Well, it was “home” partly in the sense that I had membership in a group; our house in London was one of the meeting points. But it was my spiritual home in the sense that those in the New Left shared the conviction that although the Soviet Union had failed, liberal capitalism was not the only alternative. This was a period in which the great French social political scientist Maurice Duverger coined the phrase “fascisme á l’exterior,” meaning external fascism was a continuation of imperialism. The New Left included German Protestants and French left Catholics, as well as important segments of the British labor movement. I think I was particularly aware of the religious traditions, not just dissident Marxism.

Bowen: So this is a secular religion?

Birnbaum: Well, the older I get, the more bewildered and cautious I get about that term, which is still worth investigating. But let’s say that we subscribed to a secular set of beliefs that rest on metahistorical assumptions about human capacity.

Bowen: And who was part of that group at the time? And who among them are still close friends?

Birnbaum: Well, there are some people who are close friends whom I rarely see. Some I see more than others. In England, the late Raphael Samuel. Eric Hobsbawm sympathized with it. He stayed in the British Communist Party, but he probably belonged more to us than he did to mainline communism. Even though he stayed, Eric didn’t like the Soviet Union. But, I would say in England, there were Raphael Samuel and certainly Stuart Hall.

Bowen: Was Hobsbawm involved with Past and Present? You were on the editorial board there.

Birnbaum: Yes, he was very much involved with Past and Present.

Bowen: And Victor Kiernan was also on that board, was he not?

Birnbaum: Yes, Victor Kiernan was on the board. Past and Present opened up to people who weren’t quite Marxists but were certainly excellent social historians, like Lawrence Stone, who later went to Princeton.

Bowen: Kiernan, I know, left the party, I think in 1957.

Birnbaum: A lot of them did. Christopher Hill, who was also on the board, did. I knew him well at Oxford. Christopher is another person in England from that era who remained a friend. And of course, I knew and greatly respected and liked Charles Taylor. Charles moved in and out of England. He later came back from Canada and was a professor at Oxford. Charles had a very decided Catholic component in his beliefs and had good contacts with continental Catholicism.

Bowen: What about Americans?

Birnbaum: Certainly, I would say Christopher Lasch, although he later criticized it. Christopher and I were very close. We once collaborated, and we joined Partisan Review at the same time. Susan Sontag, too.

Bowen: Was Norman Podhoretz part of that movement?

Birnbaum: Podhoretz helped start the American New Left. He took over Commentary in 1961. I remember visiting the states in 1961 or 1962 and being received by the Kristols on the west side of Manhattan in their apartment, where I bumped into Bernard Malamud, who was going out. I remember being told by the Kristols in one voice, “You’ve come back at the right time. The whole country is pointing left. The Podhoretzes have just had the most ferocious argument with the Trillings.” The comment suggests that they had a rather village-like view of the country. Norman Podhoretz was very much at that time a part of the New Left. He published David Reisman and Michael Maccoby’s article on the American crisis, he published the first version of Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd, and he published Staughton Lynd’s arguments against the war. He published critiques of the Kennedy administration, which displeased it very much. Norman’s turn to the right was precipitated, I think, by the New York City school strike and by the conflict with the blacks—between the Jewish community and the blacks. When large segments of the American non-Jewish left sympathized with the Palestinians after the 1967 war, his New Left period ended.

Bowen: I want to go back to Oxford for a second. You taught class with Iris Murdoch.

Birnbaum: Yes.

Bowen: You were friendly with Isaiah Berlin.

Birnbaum: Well, it was Isaiah who encouraged me to come to Oxford.

Bowen: Yet you two were not very close ideologically?

Birnbaum: That was increasingly and painfully apparent.

Bowen: But you got along quite well, generally?

Birnbaum: Well, for a while. Let’s just say that the left is frequently accused of combining high-flying, broad, generous, inclusive notions of humanity with fallible human behavior. Let us say that in my relations with Isaiah, I discovered that this could also apply to liberals. Briefly, Isaiah encouraged me to come to Oxford to start sociology as an undergraduate discipline, which I did. But when the time came to back me in certain academic quarrels, he wasn’t there. Part of this was my fault. It’s a very complicated story.

Bowen: If we set aside personality differences, what in your judgment differentiates a liberal from a leftist, or a liberal from a progressive?

Birnbaum: I think it is clear that many liberals emphasize the formal properties of democracy. Some of the ideological groups around the White House have an exclusive focus on things like voting. One hopes they are not just thinking of the electronic machines used and abused in Ohio in 2004. But I think liberalism is certainly contained in the kind of social democracy I would identify myself with. But I think we must go a step further and ask what institutions could, in fact, sustain individual freedom, particularly in the face of the pressures of the market. Liberals concentrate on free space against the state, splendid when we think of practices like wiretapping, but true individualism requires free space against any number of coercive institutions. There were plenty of liberals I met in England who were in the old Tory Party. McMillan was a liberal. Some of them, by the way, the so-called one-nation Tories, are quite attentive to social issues. The Tory Party had that tradition rather like some of the Gaullists and certainly the European Christian democratic parties, German and Italian, which I knew quite well.

Bowen: Let me move you from Britain to the United States. You left Oxford, and you took a teaching position at Amherst College?

Birnbaum: No. When I first left Oxford, I consoled myself for eleven years of British Sundays by teaching for two years at Strasbourg with Henri Lefebvre. I then came back and taught for two years in New York on the graduate faculty in the New School. And so I didn’t move to Amherst until 1968.

Bowen: Which is very similar to your undergraduate college,Williams?

Birnbaum: Yes, it was for me. I was very glad to do it, because it was a good return to my roots; I had a marvelous experience at Williams. At bottom, I like very much the notion of broadly liberal undergraduate education, and I was the first sociologist at Amherst. Well, once Oxford and Cambridge decided to teach it, Swarthmore, Williams, Wesleyan, and Amherst decided it was safe to do so—even though it had been taught at Harvard and Yale for a very, very long time.

Bowen: So you were at Amherst maybe one year before getting involved in a fascinating legal case that, in some ways, resembles recent events? And that was Mandel v. Mitchell in 1969. You, Robert Heilbroner, Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk, Robert Paul Wolfe, and other major intellectual heavyweights sued the U.S. government over the issue of ideological exclusion?

Birnbaum: Yes. The U.S. government excluded Mandel, the leader of world Trotskyism, especially because the attorney general, John Mitchell, said he was responsible for the student riots in France. We sued on the very liberal grounds that we were teaching about these social movements and about Marxist ideas to our students. And whether or not we agreed with them, or the government agreed with them, the students should hear these ideas first hand. We wanted Mandel to come talk to our students.

Bowen: You make my point here. Your argument was a classic AAUP academic freedom issue.

Birnbaum: It was an academic freedom issue.

Bowen: And you lost.

Birnbaum: Yes, we lost first. But Mandel later came. I remember him coming to Amherst and giving a very good talk in which he quaintly referred to the students as “comrades,” which I hadn’t heard for a long time. But that was much later. We lost, yes.

Bowen: Well, fast forward to a year ago, with Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan likewise being excluded, this time by the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, which invoked article 411 of the Patriot Act, the ideological exclusion clause. And of course, the AAUP is suing, with the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups, on behalf of Ramadan. What explains this? Have we come full circle, or are we continuing on a crooked line? (On September 21, 2006, Ramadan received a letter from the U.S. government informing him that his visa had been denied. See the story in this issue of Academe.)

Birnbaum: Let’s go back to something really interesting. Years ago, the New York Times did a series on “Middletown,” which was actually Muncie, Indiana. Ball State College, which later became Ball State University, was there. The Times went and looked at it, and some parent from the vicinity told the newspaper, “There’s nothing I fear so much as the college professor,” in all seriousness. Think about the kids at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who didn’t want, in the first-year introductory program, to read about Islam. There is a certain tendency among Americans to resist ideas, different ideas, whether in the form of opposition to Marxists, opposition to alleged Islamists, or opposition to other things. Ban Mandel, ban readings about Islam. David Horowitz, for instance, believes college professors are “remote from American values,” and higher education, presumably, is safe only in his hands. So this tendency is there, and shrewd ideological marketers like Horowitz and Daniel Pipes exploit it to boost their careers and affirm their own political preferences. I am reminded that the giant John Kenneth Galbraith, who has just died, was fired from Harvard in the thirties for being a Keynesian and a New Dealer.

Bowen: Back to the issue of what makes ideas so threatening to the American public. What are they frightened of?

Birnbaum: Well, I think this is a good question. And I think it’s a question we ought to ask ourselves, because of the campaigns against the universities. The paradox is, and this was pointed out by Todd Gitlin in a review in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the only people who take the academic left’s political potential seriously are state legislatures, which are fighting this phantom. I think really one probably has to go back to two things: first, that sketched by Richard Hofstadter in the famous book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, that is, the premium on character, the suspicion of abstraction. Second is the notion of the United States as the achieved revolution, a religiously founded one. But is the American Revolution achieved, or is it still an open-ended project? But Hofstadter went back to the sources of the notion of America as a redemptive nation in the ideas of the people who fled Cromwell’s England because they thought that even Cromwell was betraying God’s cause. And I think the notion of the nation as a church means that dissent has very little or no place in it.

Bowen: You wrote, “Democratic socialism has suffered from the failure of modern liberalism to achieve its promise.” Let me ask, specifically, if modern liberalism had achieved its promise, what would the United States look like today?

Birnbaum: Well, if modern liberalism had achieved its promise, the United States certainly would be a society in which the differential in investment of resources between the elite sector of higher education and the kinds of colleges most people go to would certainly be far less. And there would also, I think, be a much greater diversity of opinion and cultural resources available on television and in the mass media rather than the anxious servility of those awful Washington journalists when they speak about political issues. I think more value would also be placed on cosmopolitan, international, innovative experimentation and culture.

Bowen: Conservatives today do not like the term “social justice.” The term gets them quite upset. Why is that term so upsetting to conservatives?

Birnbaum: I wish I knew, since, after all, people identify a certain type of old conservative who thought that the order conservatives proposed was the only one that would work and that it had its quantity of justice. These people were the patrician New Dealers led by Franklin Roosevelt. But it seems to me the kinds of conservatism now institutionalized in the Republican Party and its fellow-traveling institutes, research centers, and the like is based on anxiety and fear. Fear of change. These conservatives have profited pretty well from the present order. If you think of the recent tensions between, let’s say, the Jewish community and the black community, certainly, there’s a note of inappropriate triumphalism in the Jewish response, “We made it, why don’t they?” Of course, if we’re talking of Jews, we came from two thousand years of written culture, and when we came to this country, we weren’t brought here as slaves from primitive societies without a written tradition. And we weren’t confined to the South as agricultural laborers. It makes a difference, even though Norman Podhoretz and others won’t admit it. It does seem that an anxious conservatism may reflect on some people’s sense of the fragility of their acquisitions. What is going to happen in America? I’m reminded of a professor of economics at Wesleyan who two or three years ago wrote a letter to the Times severely criticizing those who didn’t understand that outsourcing was an economic good, that it brought cheaper goods, and asking why people shouldn’t have cheaper goods. And I replied, “Well, you know, you can outsource lots of things. With video, why couldn’t the very expensive price of education at Wesleyan be reduced by using people from India who have very good educations, and who, because of the time difference, would also be available to their students at all hours of the day and night?” Of course, the economists favor free trade: there are no $65-a-week Mexican economists to take their jobs. A lot of the anxiety is directly related to the sense of fragility. I think this probably has been true through much of American history. There were always challenges, there were always dangers, there were always political polarizations.

Bowen: Please give me your assessment of the state of higher education today and of the primary threats that we face.

Birnbaum: I think that what we have now is a very, very serious threat because of the organized nature of what were previously scattered vigilante responses. The David Horowitz phenomenon and the campaigns and activities of the people around Lynne Cheney and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni—these represent an organized danger. At the same time, however, they are very explicit in their ends and therefore, in some sense, easy to identify and fight. That’s one thing. Second, there’s another kind of danger to academic freedom. Everybody talks about the predominance of liberals in certain fields. Well, what about the predominance of market analysts in economics? A British thinker said that as long as the world profession of economics looks to Harvard and MIT for leadership, we’ll never get a social democratic revival in economics. The same might apply to fields like international relations. When Kissinger left the State Department with such obvious reluctance in 1976, he was asked in a notable interview whether he thought there would be new thought on foreign affairs in the universities. And Kissinger laughed and said derisively, “Don’t be silly. When every assistant professor in international relations thinks he can be a deputy assistant secretary of state or defense, why should he think any differently than the bureaucrats?” And he was right. Absolutely right on that. So that you have to ask yourself why this allegedly left-wing American university has produced Kissinger, George Shultz, Condoleezza Rice, Samuel Huntington, and James Schlesinger. How come this university produces the technocrats who run American capitalism and our empire? Wasn’t it William Buckley who coined the phrase, “We’d rather be governed by the first two thousand pages of the names in the phone book than by people who came from Harvard”? Well, his objection to being governed by fellow Yale alumni (Ford and two Bushes) is less. But there is a much more subtle danger to the university, and it comes from the inner stratification of American higher education. That is to say, the stratification and the allocation of resources, the fact that 46 percent of the people teaching are part time and without benefits.

Bowen: You referenced the American Counsel of Trustees and Alumni a moment ago. It would like to have a top-down management structure that prevents faculty from participating in the governance of institutions. And ACTA does not lament the fact that two out of three appointments today in the academy go to contingent labor.

Birnbaum: No, because contingent faculty have to struggle for existence; they haven’t got much time to develop broad, socially critical views. They tend to be people with great integrity, despite being under the most obvious kinds of pressures.

Bowen: Do you think faculty need collective bargaining today, at both public and private institutions?

Birnbaum: I would think so, yes. Given the tendency of trustees, state legislatures, and so on to try to decide how and when resources should be allocated. Second, given the ideological pressures, I think collective bargaining can secure tenure and thus academic freedom. It is interesting that those who would not dream of telling their physician what medicines to prescribe do not hesitate to tell professors of history, politics, economics, and literature what they should teach. It does seem to me that there is a direct connection between the preservation of academic freedom and faculty autonomy.

Bowen: Do you think, then, that collective bargaining by faculty is the best way to achieve academic freedom and protect faculty autonomy?

Birnbaum: That is a fair conclusion. It strikes me that probably in the long run, it is.

Bowen: Why do you, as a sociologist, think so many faculty are averse to collective bargaining?

Birnbaum: Well, let me speak about my own experiences at Amherst. When I arrived, we were quite well paid and had terrific resources, but there was tension with the board of trustees, some of whom were philistines who believed that the communists had a foothold at Amherst. The “communists” were me and my eminent colleague in American studies, Leo Marx. John J. McCloy of Wall Street fame was for a while the chair of the board of trustees. McCloy publicly declared that tenure was very bad, because it made for deadwood. And I said, “Well, the American ruling class is characterized by three things: one, its murderous hypocrisy; two, its total incompetence—this was the time of the last agonies of Vietnam; and three, its total absence of style.” McCloy had insulted the very people he wished to behave as servants. He shortly thereafter protested to the late Bill Ward, who was then college president, and told him to make me apologize. Bill said that’s the one thing he was sure he couldn’t do. Shortly thereafter, McCloy left the board of trustees.

Bowen: Is that when you first joined the AAUP?

Birnbaum: Yes, because I think it was the first time I had a full-time tenured job at an American university. There was a little group of us at Amherst. One of my dear friends at Amherst was Tom Yost, who later became AAUP president. He was a great guy, and we had marvelous times together at Amherst. But I think that some of my colleagues felt socially elevated by being allowed to teach the sons of the American upper-middle class, and they felt that we were at the apex of the American academic system. It was no problem flying somebody in to talk to our students, and I remember the large parade of great European left thinkers who visited.

Bowen: Amherst had incredible resources. The faculty were paid well, the students were very bright and highly motivated, and the faculty had a voice in governance. Why, then, would faculty at Amherst even consider collective bargaining?

Birnbaum: Well, that, I think, was what certain people thought. On the other hand, there were episodes. The trustees insisted they would name the president, and there was a conflict with faculty when Bill Ward resigned. The trustees advertised that they wanted, other things being equal, a graduate of Amherst College to be the next president, which excluded women, since no woman graduate of Amherst was old enough at that point. It excluded also any number of colleagues who had served the college for twenty or twenty-five years who would have been plausible candidates. I remember writing to the Chronicle of Higher Education, saying, “A liberal arts institution is an institution of learning, not a country club. This distinction, however, appears to have escaped our trustees.” Julian Gibb, chair of chemistry at Brown, got the job. Julian’s distinction was that he had been chair of chemistry and he was an Amherst graduate of 1946. Neil Rudenstine, who was then provost of Princeton, was turned down. Neil was later made president of Harvard, but he wasn’t thought to be quite qualified at Amherst. He wasn’t an Amherst man. It was preposterous. The faculty would have certainly taken Neil, and we’d have had a very, very good president. He might have even done better at Amherst than at the gigantic factory in Cambridge.

Bowen: Let me conclude by asking one last question. You left Amherst to go to Georgetown Law. You were a tenured full professor at Amherst and a prolific author. You were highly regarded throughout the academy. Why leave and go to Georgetown?

Birnbaum: There were several reasons. I had already made contact with mainline America, but as I had mentioned, I was working with the United Auto Workers, which was great for me. With the presidential bid by Ted Kennedy, I felt that if I went to Washington, I could do things of consequence for the Democratic Party. Too, I had tired of a certain localism at Amherst, which grew after the exciting days of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Let’s put it that way. And second, I greatly treasured my contacts among the Jesuits and American Catholicism. I went to Georgetown as a visitor for a couple of years. My colleagues at the law school felt that I should do what I had always done, general social commentary. I, at this point, was beginning to detach myself from American sociology, with its disciplinary emphasis. Somebody asked me why I didn’t write in sociological journals anymore, to which the answer was, “How many times can you write papers proving that (a) America has a class system, and (b) people are alienated? I have done that.” And I was quite interested in things like the Cold War, the critique of the Cold War. I was interested in doing a different kind of intellectual work that I learned from my Amherst colleague, Leo Marx. This discovery of America and American culture is somewhat reflected in my 1988 book, The Radical Renewal. So there were all kinds of reasons at that point, including personal ones, to make a change.

Bowen: How did a critical social scientist fit in at a law school?

Birnbaum: In the most famous line of German literature, Faust bemoans the two souls dwelling in his breast. Law professors are rigorous and dispassionate parsers of statutes and decisions, meticulous in dark suits, shirts, and restrained ties. They are also, however, in jeans and sports shirts, social thinkers and metahistorians, Platonic philosopher kings. I greatly enjoyed the company of my hospitable Georgetown Law colleagues and learned a lot from their inner union of opposites.

Bowen: Has writing your memoirs been a kind of self-discovery or rediscovery?

Birnbaum: Yes, it’s been very much a voyage of self-discovery, of reconsideration. For instance, the other night, I talked at the Oxford-Cambridge dinner and actually found benign words about my period at Oxford, which used to rankle to a certain degree. So it’s a work of not only self-discovery, but also of reconsideration and acceptance of one’s self.

Bowen: But you’re not softening politically, I sense.

Birnbaum: In brief, no, I am not softening politically. How could I? After all, I am only eighty years young.


Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

Building the New Anti-capitalist Party

By François Sabado

Socialist International Magazine

Issue: 121

2 January 09

Alex Callinicos’s article1 in the most recent issue of International Socialism shows well the changes that have taken place in the radical left in recent months. The characteristics of the situation, and in particular the deepening of the crisis of the capitalist system and the social-liberal evolution of social democracy, confirm that there is a space “to the left of the reformist left”. This space opens up possibilities for the building of new political formations or for initiatives such as the conferences of the anti-capitalist left,2 processes that require clarification. Certain experiences involve a diversity of currents. Although the political frontiers between these currents do not always appear clearly, the question of support for, or participation in, centre-left or social-liberal governments is a fundamental dividing line in the politics of alliances or regroupment.

There are not only “paths that diverge”, but different politics and distinct projects. When Callinicos evokes “more positive experiences” in connection with Die Linke in Germany and the New Anti-capitalist Party (Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, NPA) in France, he is, in fact, speaking of two different projects.

In the case of Die Linke we are dealing with a left reformist party. This is a party integrated into the institutions of the German state. The great majority of its members come from the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS)—the party of the bureaucracy of the former East Germany. Die Linke is a party that has come out in favour of a common government with the Social Democrats (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD) and, finally, a party whose project comes down to a “return to the welfare state”. Admittedly this party also reflects, in the west of Germany, a movement of radicalisation of certain sectors of the social movement, a step forward for the workers’ movement. But revolutionaries should not confuse these processes with the leadership of Die Linke, its reformist policies, its subordination to capitalist institutions and its objective of participation in government with the SPD.

The NPA on the other hand presents itself as an anti-capitalist party. It is a party whose centre of gravity revolves around struggles, around social movements and not parliamentary institutions. The founding characteristic of this party is the rejection of any alliance or participation in government with the centre-left or social liberalism. The NPA does not stop at anti_liberalism. Its politics are directed towards a break with capitalism and the overthrow of the power of the ruling classes.

In each case we are confronted with political formations—there are delimitations, programmes, policies—but they are not the same ones.

Anti-capitalist party or united front of a particular kind?

Also we cannot share Callinicos’s characterisation of the new formations of the radical left as “united fronts of a particular kind”. The Socialist Workers Party’s (SWP) conceptions were formulated by John Rees as follows: “The Socialist Alliance [the precursor of Respect] is…best seen as a united front of a particular kind applied to the electoral field. It seeks to unite left reformist activists and revolutionaries in a common campaign around a minimum programme”.3 This conception, originally linked to the British experience, was generalised as “the SWP’s conception of the nature of the new formations of the radical left”. We disagree with this conception.

To use the term “united front” for the building of a party or a political formation really is a novelty.

The united front is a response to the problems that are posed by the united action or the unification of the workers or of the social movement and of their organisations. The united front and the building of a party are two distinct things. An anti-capitalist and/or revolutionary workers’ party, over and above its precise definition, is a delimited political formation, on the basis of a programme and a comprehensive strategy of conquest of power by and for the workers. An anti-capitalist party cannot be the organic expression of “the whole class”. Although it must seek to constitute “a new representation of the workers”, or the convergence of a series of political currents, it will nevertheless not make the other currents of the social movement, or even the organisations that are “reformist or of reformist origin” led by bureaucratic apparatuses, disappear. The question of the united front remains posed.

Why should we not consider anti-capitalist parties within the framework of the united front? Because, if that were the case, it would amount to regarding these parties as a simple alliance or unitary framework—even of a “particular kind”. This would mean underestimating their construction as a framework or mediation necessary for the emergence of the revolutionary leaderships of tomorrow. To consider the NPA as a united front would amount to “toning down” its political positions to make them compatible with the realisation of this united front. For example, we do not make the unity of action of the workers’ and social movements conditional on an agreement on the question of government. Is that a reason for the NPA to give up or even relativise a battle on the question of government? No, we do not think so. The NPA made the question of government—the refusal to participate in governments of class collaboration—a decisive delimitation of its political combat. This example obviously demonstrates, but we could also evoke other examples, that the NPA does not fit in a united front framework. We want to build it as a coming together of experiences, activists and currents, but especially as a party. To regard it as a “united front of a particular kind” amounts to underestimating the battles that are necessary in order to build a political alternative. This conception of “a united front of a particular kind around a minimum programme” led the leadership of the SWP to reproach the leadership of the LCR with having “a negative and sometimes ultimatist attitude towards the collectives”,4 when the LCR was putting at the centre of its political battle the refusal to take part in a government with the leadership of the Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste, PS). With hindsight, does the leadership of the SWP still think that these reproaches were well founded?

And today, when Jean Luc Mélenchon, one of the organisers of the socialist left, leaves the PS while maintaining the continuity of his reformist conceptions, his positions on participation in or support for the Mitterrand and Jospin governments, and declaring that he wants to build a “French Die Linke”, what should the attitude of revolutionaries be? Should we support him and join with his proposals and projects for alliances with the French Communist Party, which maintains the perspective of governing tomorrow—with the PS? Or should we take into account his break with the PS, have a positive approach to unity of action with his current but not confuse the building of an anti-capitalist left with the building of a left reformist party?

Once again, yes to unity of action—as we demonstrated at the time of the No campaign in the European Constitution referendum—and yes to debate, but we should also realise that differences on the relationship to representative institutions and the attitudes concerning the question of government separate the electoral alternatives and the projects of building parties. The building of a French Die Linke, in relation to the history of the revolutionary movement and to what has been accumulated by the NPA, would constitute a retreat from building an anti-capitalist alternative. When a whole sector influenced by the anti_capitalist left has distanced itself from the leaderships of the traditional left, to constitute a new left reformist force would represent a step backward for the workers’ movement. We would once again involve this sector in “reformist manoeuvres”. Concepts such as that of the “united front of a particular kind” could then disarm us in defining a clear policy towards this type of current.

This concept, which underestimates the strategic range of the differences on the questions of government and representative institutions, throws light on some of positions taken by the International Socialist Tendency5 on international questions. It can explain, in the policy of your comrades in Germany, a relativisation of the critique of the policies of the leadership of Die Linke on the question of participation in governments with the SPD.

In the same way, we can also note the indulgence of the IST towards the new leadership of Rifondazione Comunista in Italy. At the last congress of Rifondazione a “left” reaction by its members put the partisans of Bertinotti6 in a minority. However, the policy followed by the new leadership is in continuity with the historical positions of Rifondazione, and continues to endorse the policy of alliances with the Democratic Party7 in all the regional executives governed by the centre-left.

Lastly, didn’t this conception of “a united front of a particular kind around a minimum programme” contribute to disarming the leadership of the SWP in its relationship with George Galloway, for whom Respect had to sustain “alliances with local Muslim notables who could deliver votes”?

To consider an anti-capitalist party as a united front framework can also lead to sectarian deviations. If the united front is realised, even in a particular form, might we not be tempted to make everything go through the channel of the party, precisely underestimating the real battles for unity of action? The anti-capitalist party must combine the party activities of a party and an orientation of unitary action, because we have not forgotten, contrary to what Callinicos suggests, that reformism continues to exist, that the movement of the workers has divisions and differentiations, and that it is necessary to intervene to draw it together, to unify the workers and their organisations.

Once again, the united front, in all its varieties, is one thing. Building a political alternative is another. The latter is the choice of the NPA.

What kind of revolutionary party?

Callinicos tries to catch us out by explaining that, although the NPA is an anti-capitalist party, it is “not a revolutionary party in the specific sense in which it has been understood in the classical Marxist tradition”. Let us discuss the classical Marxist tradition, which is extremely rich in its diversity.

Within this history the degree of strategic clarification, on principles and organisational tactics, and not forgetting the various interpretations of this or that revolutionary current, there are several models. It is true that the NPA is not the replica of the revolutionary organisations of the period after May 1968. Anti-capitalist parties such as the NPA do not start from general historical or ideological definitions. Their starting point is “a common understanding of events and tasks” on questions that are key for intervening in the class struggle. Not a sum of tactical questions, but the key political questions, like the question of a programme for political intervention around an orientation of class unity and independence.

In this movement there is a place and even a necessity for other histories, other references coming from the most varied origins.

Does that make it a party without a history, a programme and delimitations? No. It has a history, a continuity—that of class struggles, the best of the socialist, communist, libertarian and revolutionary Marxist traditions. It situates itself in the revolutionary traditions of the contemporary world, basing itself, more precisely, on the long chain of French revolutions from 1793 to May 1968, via the days of 1848, the Paris Commune and the general strike of 1936.

The NPA is also a type of party that tries to answer the needs of a new historical period—which opened at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century—and the need to refound a socialist programme faced with the combined historical crises of capitalism and of the environment of the planet.

Faced with such challenges, the NPA affirms itself as a revolutionary party rather in the sense given by Ernest Mandel:

What is a revolution? A revolution is the radical overthrow, in a short time, of economic structures and (or) political power, by the tumultuous action of broad masses. It is also the abrupt transformation of the mass of the people from a more or less passive object into a decisive actor of political life. A revolution breaks out when these masses decide to put an end to conditions of existence that seem to them unbearable. It thus always expresses a grave crisis of a given society. This crisis has its roots in a crisis of the structures of domination. But it also expresses a loss of legitimacy of governments, a loss of patience, on the part of broad popular sectors.

Revolutions are, in the end, inevitable—the real locomotives of historical progress—precisely because domination by a class cannot be eliminated by the road of reforms. Reforms can at the most soften it, not suppress it. Slavery was not abolished by reforms. The absolutist monarchy of the ancien regime was not abolished by reforms. Revolutions were necessary in order to eliminate them.8

It is true that this definition is more general than the strategic, even politico-military, hypotheses that provided the framework for the debates of the 1970s, which were at that time illuminated by the revolutionary crises of the 20th century.

Anti-capitalist parties such as the NPA are “revolutionary” in the sense that they want to put an end to capitalism—” the radical overthrow of economic and political structures (thus state structures) of power”—and the building of a socialist society implies revolutions where those below drive out those above and “take the power to change the world”.

They have a strategic programme and delimitations but these are not completed. Let us recall that Lenin, against even part of the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, changed or substantially modified his strategic framework in April 1917, in the middle of a revolutionary crisis. He went from calling for the “democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants” to the need for a socialist revolution and the power of the workers’ councils. Certainly Lenin had consolidated over the years a party based on the objective of a radical overthrow of Tsarism, on the refusal of any alliance with the democratic bourgeoisie and on the independence of the forces of the working class allied with the peasantry. And this preparatory phase was decisive. But many questions were decided in the very course of the revolutionary process.

Many things have changed compared to the period after May 1968 and more generally compared to the whole historical period marked by the driving power of the Russian Revolution. It is more than 30 years since the advanced capitalist countries have experienced revolutionary or pre_revolutionary situations. The examples that we can use are based on the revolutions of the past. But, once again, we do not know what the revolutions of the 21st century will be like. The new generations will learn much from experience and many questions remain open.

What we can and must do is to solidly base the parties that we build on a series of strong references, drawn from the experience and the intervention of recent years, which constitute a programmatic and strategic foundation. Let us recall them: an anti-capitalist transitional programme which combines immediate demands and transitional demands[1] a redistribution of wealth, [2] the challenging of capitalist property, [3] social appropriation of the economy, [4] class unity and independence, [5] a break with the economy and the central institutions of the capitalist state, the rejection of any policy of class collaboration, the taking into account of the ecosocialist perspective, the revolutionary transformation of society…

Recent debates have led us to make our conceptions of violence more precise. We have reaffirmed that “it was not the revolutions that were violent but the counter-revolutions”, as in Spain in 1936 or in Chile in 1973, when the use of violence aimed to protect a revolutionary process against violence from the ruling classes.

So in what respect does the new party constitute a change compared to the LCR? It must be a party that is broader than the LCR; a party that does not incorporate the entire history of Trotskyism and that has the ambition of making possible new revolutionary syntheses; a party that is not reduced to the unity of revolutionaries; a party in dialogue with millions of workers and young people; a party that translates its fundamental programmatic references into popular explanations, agitation and formulas. From this point of view, the campaigns of Olivier Besancenot9 constitute a formidable starting point. It must also be a party that is capable of conducting wide-ranging debates on the fundamental questions which affect society: the crisis of capitalism, global warming, bioethics, etc; a party of activists and adherents, which makes it possible to integrate thousands of young people and workers with their social and political experience, preserving their links with the backgrounds they come from; a pluralist party that brings together a whole series of anti_capitalist currents.

We do not want a second LCR or an enlarged and broader version of the LCR. To make a success of the gamble we are taking, the new party must represent a new political reality, following in the tradition of the revolutionary movement and contributing to inventing the revolutions and the socialism of the 21st century.

Avoid reformist temptations: build an anti-capitalist party!

In spite of these delimitations, Callinicos remains sceptical: “The LCR’s solution to the problem seems to be to install a kind of programmatic security_lock—commitment to anti-capitalism and opposition to centre-left governments. But this is unlikely to work: the more successful the NPA, the more it is likely to come under reformist pressures and temptations.”

Why such fatalism? Why would the development of the NPA automatically lead to reformist temptations? It is necessary from this point of view to consider the difference between a “spontaneous trade unionism”,10 to take up a formula of Lenin, and reformism as a political project and organisation, and even an apparatus. This “spontaneous trade unionism”, although it can form an environment favourable to reformist ideas, can also, faced with the increasing alignment of the reformist apparatuses to capitalist politics, move towards radical anti-capitalist, even revolutionary, positions, especially when the capitalist system is entering a phase in which it is reaching its historical limits. It is logical, if we build a popular, pluralist, broad, open party, that this party will come under all sorts of pressures. If it did not, that would be abnormal. But why should these pressures be expressed in crystallised reformist positions? There is and there can be a tension between the anti-capitalist character of the new party and the fact that workers, young people, even a series of personalities, join the new party quite simply because they seek a real left party, starting in particular from the interventions of Olivier Besancenot.

These new members can indeed be combative but full of illusions. This is the case with every mass party, even one that is in a minority. That is when it will be necessary to discuss and educate. That implies even more the need for a strong content to the political responses of the NPA and the careful maintenance of the radical character and the independence of the party.

In the same way, if these parties want to play a part in the reorganisation of the social movements, they must be pluralist. Many sensibilities must find their place in their ranks, including “consistent reformist” activists and currents, but that does not automatically mean that the problem is posed in terms of struggles between the revolutionary current and crystallised reformist currents that would have to be fought. The key question is that all the currents and activists of the NPA, over and above their positions on “reform and revolution”, put the class struggle at the centre and subordinate their positions in representative institutions to struggles and social movements.

Of course, we cannot exclude the hypothesis of a confrontation between reformists and revolutionaries. But it is not very probable, with the present political delimitations of the NPA, that bureaucratic reformist currents will join or crystallise. In a first historical phase of building the party the role of revolutionaries is to do everything they can so that the process of constituting the party really does give birth to a new political reality. That implies that revolutionaries avoid projecting the debates of the former revolutionary organisation into the new party. As soon as the NPA has taken off there will, of course, be discussions, differentiations, currents. Perhaps certain debates will correspond to cleavages between revolutionary perspectives and more or less consistent reformism. But even in these cases, the debate will not take the form of a political battle opposing a bureaucratic reformist bloc to the revolutionaries. Things will be more mixed, depending on the experience of the new party itself.

A revolutionary current in the NPA?

Here too there is no model. In many anti-capitalist parties there are one or more revolutionary currents, when these parties are in fact fronts or federations of currents. This is the case of the militants of the Fourth International in Brazil in the “Enlace” current.11 Without organising themselves as political currents related to the national political life of these parties, certain sections of the Fourth International can be organised through ideological associations or sensibilities. This is, for example, the case of the Revolutionary Socialist Political Association (Associação Política Socialista Revolucionária) within the Left Bloc in Portugal and of the Socialist Workers’ Party (Socialistisk Arbejderparti) within the Red-Green Alliance in Denmark. We can also find this type of current in other broader organisations or parties. This schema does not work for the NPA.

There are fundamental reasons for this. First, and fundamentally, there is the anti_capitalist and revolutionary character of the NPA, in the broad sense, and the general identity of views between the positions of the LCR and those of the NPA. There are and there will be political differences between the LCR and the NPA, with a greater heterogeneity and diversity of positions within the NPA, but the political bases under discussion for the founding congress of the new party already show political convergences between the ex-LCR and the future NPA.

Also, even though the NPA already constitutes another reality than the LCR, even though it is the possible crucible of an anti-capitalist pluralism, it is not justified today to build a separate revolutionary current in the NPA.

There is also a specific relation between the ex-LCR and the NPA. The ex-LCR represents the only national organisation taking part in the constitution of the NPA. There are other currents, such as a fraction of Lutte Ouvrière, Gauche Révolutionnaire, communist activists and libertarians, but unfortunately there are not, at this stage, organisations of a weight equivalent to that of the LCR. If that had been the case, the problem would be posed in different terms. In the present relation of forces, the separate organisation of the ex-LCR in the NPA would block the process of building the new party. It would install a system of Russian dolls which would only create mistrust and dysfunction.

Finally, the NPA does not come from nowhere. It is the result of a whole experience of members of the ex-LCR and also of thousands of others who have forged an opinion in a battle to defend their independence with respect to social liberalism and reformism.

There is thus a militant synergy within the NPA, where revolutionary positions intersect with other political positions coming from other origins, other histories and other experiences. Only new political tests will lead to new alignments within the NPA, not former political attachments.

It is an unprecedented gamble in the history of the revolutionary workers’ movement, but the game is worth the candle.

We will advance as we walk…

1: Callinicos, 2008. This comment by François Sabado of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) is an edited version of the translation by Murray Smith.
2: For instance, the conference “May 1968-May 2008” held in Paris earlier this year.
3: Rees, 2001, p32.
4: The “collectives” were the bodies that drove the successful No campaign in the French referendum on the European Constitution in 2005.
5: The international grouping of the which the SWP is a member.
6: Fausto Bertinotti led Rifondazione into a disastrous coalition with the centre-left in Italy.
7: The Democratic Party is a grouping of centre-left currents formed in 2007.
8: Ernest Mandel, “Why are we Revolutionaries Today?”, La Gauche, 10 January 1989.
9: The LCR’s candidate in recent presidential elections and its most well known figure.
10: Lenin used the phrase to evoke the spontaneous trade union reaction or the feeling of workers who wished to defend conditions in the workplace.
11: A current within the Brazilian Socialism and Freedom Party (Partido Socialismo e Liberdade).
Callinicos, Alex, 2008, “Where is the Radical Left Going?”, International Socialism 120 (autumn 2008),
Rees, John, 2001, “Anti-capitalism, Reformism and Socialism”, International Socialism 90 (spring 2001),


Universal Health Care: A 100 Year Plan

By Ethan Allen

Blacklisted News

Feb. 26, 2008

“…There's been a driven agenda by the Fabian socialists to create national health care systems throughout the world, including the United States…The march towards complete integration of the United States into global socialism has been an age old battle going back to the early 1900s, and doesn't look to stop any time soon. The modern socialist agenda masks itself in the humanist platform, of helping those that cannot help themselves. When the curtain is pulled back to show who's been behind social health care reforms, the secret reveals a power elite of bankers, socialists, and industrialists who only crave power and total control. History shows this to be true, and if we don't learn from history, we're doomed to repeat it…”


Types of Socialism
The word "socialism" has been used by many political movements throughout history to describe themselves or their goals, generating numerous types of socialism. Different self-described socialists have used the term socialism to refer to different things, such as an economic system, a type of society, a philosophical outlook, a collection of moral values and ideals, or even a certain kind of human character. Some definitions of socialism are so vague that they may include anything and everyone on Earth,[1] while others are so specific that they only include a small minority of the things that have been described as "socialism" in the past.

There have been numerous political movements who called themselves socialist under some definition of the term; this article attempts to list them all. Some of these interpretations are mutually exclusive, and all of them have generated debates over the "true" meaning of socialism.

Democratic socialism and social democracy

Main articles: Democratic socialism and social democracy

Modern democratic socialism is a broad political movement that seeks to propagate the ideals of socialism within the context of a democratic system. Many democratic socialists support social democracy as a road to reform of the current system. Other groups within democratic socialism support more revolutionary change in society to establish socialist goals. Conversely, modern social democracy emphasises a program of gradual legislative reform of the capitalist system in order to make it more equitable and humane, while the theoretical end goal of building a socialist society is either completely forgotten or redefined in a pro-capitalist way. The two movements are widely similar both in terminology and in ideology, though there are a few key differences.

Many who describe themselves as "socialists" disagree with the terminology of "democratic socialism" because they believe that socialism necessarily implies democracy. For many years, though, the terms "democratic socialism" and "social democracy" were used interchangeably to describe the same overall political movement, but in modern times, social democracy is considered to be more centrist and broadly supportive of current capitalist systems (for example, the mixed economy) and the welfare state, while many democratic socialists support a more fully socialist system, either through evolutionary or revolutionary means.

The term social democracy can refer to the particular kind of society that social democrats advocate. The Socialist International (SI) - the worldwide organization of social democratic and democratic socialist parties - defines social democracy as an ideal form of representative democracy, that may solve the problems found in a liberal democracy. The SI emphasizes the following principles[1]: Firstly, freedom – not only individual liberties, but also freedom from discrimination and freedom from dependence on either the owners of the means of production or the holders of abusive political power. Secondly, equality and social justice – not only before the law but also economic and socio-cultural equality as well, and equal opportunities for all including those with physical, mental, or social disabilities. Finally, solidarity – unity and a sense of compassion for the victims of injustice and inequality.

Democratic socialists and social democrats both advocate the concept of the welfare state, but whereas most social democrats view the welfare state as the end itself, many democratic socialists view it as a means to an end. Democratic socialists are also committed to the ideas of the redistribution of wealth and power, as well as social ownership of major industries, concepts widely abandoned by social democrats. As of current, there are no countries in the world that could qualify as a "democratic socialist" state, though many European nations are considered to be socially democratic or nearly so.

The prime example of social democracy is Sweden, which prospered considerably in the 1990s and 2000s. Sweden has produced a robust economy from sole proprietorships up through to multinationals, while maintaining one of the highest life expectancies in the world, low unemployment, inflation, all while registering sizable economic growth. Many see this as validation of the superiority of social democracy. However, many others point out that in comparison with other developed countries Sweden did fall behind in that period [2]. Also, Sweden experiences welfare dependency of around 20% of the working age population according to the Swedish Trade Union Confederation. Likewise, crime has been steadily rising since the 1960s, and during the past decade has grown ever more violent.

[edit] Religious socialism
[edit] Christian socialism

Main article: Christian socialism

There are individuals and groups, past and present, that are clearly both Christian and Socialist, such as Frederick Denison Maurice, author of The Kingdom of Christ (1838), or the contemporary Christian Socialist Movement (UK) (CSM), [3] affiliated with the British Labour Party.

Distributism, is a third-way economic philosophy formulated by such Catholic thinkers as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc to apply the principles of social justice articulated by the Roman Catholic Church, especially in Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum.

Various Catholic clerical parties have at times referred to themselves as "Christian Social." Two examples are the Christian Social Party of Karl Lueger in Austria before and after World War I, and the contemporary Christian Social Union in Bavaria. Yet these parties have never espoused socialist policies and have always stood at the conservative side of Christian Democracy[10].

Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is an advocate of a form of Christian socialism as he claims that Jesus Christ was a socialist.

Further information: Christian left and social gospel

Irish Republican socialism
Socialism has traditionally been part of the Irish Republican movement since the early 20th century, when James Connolly, an Irish Marxist theorist, took part in the Easter Rising of 1916. Today, most Irish nationalist and Republican organizations located in Northern Ireland advocate some form of socialism, both Marxist and non-Marxist. The Social Democratic and Labour Party, which until recently was the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland, promotes social democracy, while militant Republican parties such as Sinn Féin, Republican Sinn Féin, and the 32 County Sovereignty Movement all promote their own varieties of democratic socialism intended to re-distribute wealth on an all-island basis once a united Ireland has been achieved (by force). The Irish Republican Socialist Movement, encompassing the Irish Republican Socialist Party and Irish National Liberation Army, has an ideology which combines Marxist-Leninism with traditional militant Republicanism and is said to be the most direct fulfillment of Connolly's legacy.

[edit] Eco-socialism
Main article: Eco-socialism

Merging aspects of Marxism, socialism, environmentalism and ecology, Eco-socialists generally believe that the capitalist system is the cause of social exclusion, inequality and environmental degradation. Eco-socialists criticise many within the Green movement for not going far enough in their critique of the current world system and for not being overtly anti-capitalist. At the same time, Eco-socialists would blame the traditional Left for overlooking or not properly addressing ecological problems[12].

Eco-socialists are anti-globalisation. Joel Kovel sees globalisation as a force driven by capitalism - in turn, the rapid economic growth encouraged by globalisation causes acute ecological crises[13].

Eco-socialism goes beyond a criticism of the actions of large corporations and targets the inherent properties of capitalism. Such an analysis follows Marx's theories about the contradiction between use values and exchange values. As Joel Kovel explains, within a market economy, goods are not produced to meet needs but are produced to be exchanged for money that we then use to acquire other goods. As we have to keep selling in order to keep buying, we must persuade others to buy our goods just to ensure our survival, which leads to the production of goods with no previous use that can be sold to sustain our ability to buy other goods. Eco-socialists like Kovel stress that this contradiction has reached a destructive extent, where certain essential activities - such as caring for relatives full-time and basic subsistence - are unrewarded, while unnecessary economic activities earn certain individuals huge fortunes[13].

Agrarian socialism is another variant of eco-socialism.

[edit] Differences between various schools

Although they share a common root (as elaborated upon in the above sections), schools of socialism are divided on many issues, and sometimes there is a split within a school. The following is a brief overview of the major issues which have generated or are generating significant controversy amongst socialists in general.

[edit] Theory

Some branches of socialism arose largely as a philosophical construct (e.g. utopian socialism); others in the heat of a revolution (e.g. early Marxism, Leninism). A few arose merely as the product of a ruling party (e.g. Stalinism), or a party or other group contending for political power in a democratic society (e.g. social democracy).

Some are in favour of a socialist revolution (e.g. Leninism, Trotskyism, Maoism, revolutionary Marxism), whilst others tend to support reform instead (e.g. Fabianism, reformist Marxism). Others believe both are possible (e.g. Syndicalism, various Marxisms). The first utopian socialists even failed to address the question of how a socialist society would be achieved.

Socialists are also divided on which rights and liberties are desirable, such as the "bourgeois liberties" (such as those guaranteed by the U.S. First Amendment or the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union). Some hold that they are to be preserved (or even enhanced) in a socialist society (e.g. social democracy), whilst others believe them to be undesirable (e.g. Maoism). Marx and Engels even held different opinions at different times, and some schools are divided on this issue (e.g. different strains of Trotskyism).

All socialists criticize the current system in some way. Some criticisms center on the ownership of the means of production (e.g. Marxism), whereas others tend to focus on the nature of mass and equitable distribution (e.g. most forms of utopian socialism). A few are opposed to industrialism as well as capitalism (common where socialism intersects green politics)? Utopian Socialists, like Robert Owen and Saint-Simon argued, though not from exactly the same perspective, that the injustice and widespread poverty of the societies they lived in were a problem of distribution of the goods created. Marxian Socialists, on the other hand, determined that the root of the injustice is based not in the function of distribution of goods already created, but rather in the fact that the ownership of the means of production is in the hands of the upper class. Also, Marxian Socialists maintain, in contrast to the Utopian Socialists, that the root of injustice is not in how goods (commodities) are distributed, but for whose economic benefit are they produced and sold.

[edit] Implementation

Most forms and derivatives of Marxism, as well as variations of syndicalism, advocated total or near-total socialization of the economy. Less radical schools (e.g. Bernsteinism, reformism, reformist Marxism) proposed a mixed market economy instead. Mixed economies, in turn, can range anywhere from those developed by the social democratic governments that have periodically governed Northern and Western European countries, to the inclusion of small cooperatives in the planned economy of Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito. A related issue is whether it is better to reform capitalism to create a fairer society (e.g. most social democrats) or to totally overthrow the capitalist system (all Marxists).

Some schools advocate centralized state control of the socialized sectors of the economy (e.g. Leninism), whilst others argue for control of those sectors by workers' councils (e.g. syndicalism, Left and Council communism, Marxism, Anarcho-communism). This question is usually referred to by socialists in terms of "ownership of the means of production." None of the social democratic parties of Europe advocate total state ownership of the means of production in their contemporary demands and popular press.

Another issue socialists are divided on is what legal and political apparatus the workers would maintain and further develop the socialization of the means of production. Some advocate that the power of the workers' councils should itself constitute the basis of a socialist state (coupled with direct democracy and the widespread use of referendums), but others hold that socialism entails the existence of a legislative body administered by people who would be elected in a representative democracy.

Different ideologies support different governments. For example, in the era of the Soviet Union, western socialists were bitterly divided as to whether the Soviet Union was basically socialist, moving toward socialism, or inherently un-socialist and, in fact, inimical to true socialism. Similarly, today the government of the People's Republic of China claims to be socialist and refers to its own approach as "Socialism with Chinese characteristics," but most other socialists consider China to be essentially capitalist. The Chinese leadership concurs with most of the usual critiques against a command economy, and many of their actions to manage what they call a socialist economy have been determined by this opinion.

Fabian Society - Socialism

The Fabian Society is a British intellectual socialist movement, whose purpose is to advance the principles of Social democracy via gradualist and reformist, rather than revolutionary means. It is best known for its initial ground-breaking work beginning late in the 19th century and continuing up to World War I. The society laid many of the foundations of the Labour Party and subsequently affected the policies of states emerging from the decolonisation of the British Empire, especially India. Today, the society is a vanguard "think tank" of the Centre-left New Labour movement. It is one of 15 socialist societies affiliated to the Labour Party. Similar societies exist in Australia (the Australian Fabian Society), Canada (the Douglas-Coldwell Foundation and in past the League for Social Reconstruction) and New Zealand.

The group, which favoured gradual incremental change rather than revolutionary change, was named – at the suggestion of Frank Podmore – in honour of the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus (nicknamed "Cunctator", meaning "the Delayer"). His Fabian strategy advocated tactics of harassment and attrition rather than head-on battles against the Carthaginian army under the renowned general Hannibal Barca.

The society was founded on 4 January 1884 in London as an offshoot of a society founded in 1883 called The Fellowship of the New Life.[1] Fellowship members included poets Edward Carpenter and John Davidson, sexologist Havelock Ellis, and future Fabian secretary, Edward R. Pease. They wanted to transform society by setting an example of clean simplified living for others to follow. But when some members also wanted to become politically involved to aid society's transformation, it was decided that a separate society, The Fabian Society, also be set up. All members were free to attend both societies. The Fabian Society additionally advocated renewal of Western European Renaissance ideas, and their imposition on the rest of the world.

The Fellowship of the New Life was dissolved in 1898[2], but the Fabian Society grew to become the preeminent academic society in the United Kingdom in the Edwardian era, typified by the members of its vanguard Coefficients club.

Immediately upon its inception, the Fabian Society began attracting many prominent contemporary figures drawn to its socialist cause, including George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Annie Besant, Graham Wallas, Hubert Bland, Edith Nesbit, Sydney Olivier, Oliver Lodge, Leonard Woolf and Virginia Woolf, Ramsay MacDonald and Emmeline Pankhurst. Even Bertrand Russell briefly became a member, but resigned after he expressed his belief that the Society's principle of entente (in this case, countries allying themselves against Germany) could lead to war.

At the core of the Fabian Society were Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Together, they wrote numerous studies of industrial Britain, including alternative co-operative economics that applied to ownership of capital as well as land

Through the course of the 20th century the group has always been influential in Labour Party circles, with members including Ramsay MacDonald, Clement Attlee, Anthony Crosland, Richard Crossman, Tony Benn, Harold Wilson, and more recently Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The late Ben Pimlott served as its Chairman in the 1990s. (A Pimlott Prize for Political Writing was organized in his memory by the Fabian Society and The Guardian in 2005, and continues annually). The Society is affiliated to the Party as a socialist society. In recent years the Young Fabian group, founded in 1960, has become an important networking and discussion organisation for younger (under 31) Labour Party activists and played a role in the 1994 election of Tony Blair as Labour Leader. Following a period of inactivity, the Scottish Young Fabians were reformed in 2005.

The ideology of the Fabians can be encompassed in the famous quote, " Fabianism feeds on Capitalism, but excretes Communism ".

^ Pease, Edward (1916). A History of the Fabian Society. New York: E.P. DUTTON & COMPANY.
^ Pease, 1916

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