Stories that feature ‘Louis Boudin’

American Socialist, R.I.P.

This story takes place in 1959. It was told on February 21st, 2011 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

The American Socialist folded at the end of 1959. It was a period of declining interest in the socialist movement. Those radicals who had left the Communist Party in revolt had mostly retreated into their personal lives, a few of them going back to work in the movement in a passive sort of way. But there were no new social forces entering the arena. The working class, the students, the black movement — all had yet to be heard from.

Those with unusual perception could see the beginnings of the massive social revolution that the black civil rights movement was beginning to build, but the forces that would be the seed for a new radical movement in America had yet to appear. So our magazine went out of business and American Socialist Club in Chicago dissolved.

Most of us did not give up radical politics in the process. We were just responding to a void in the American left which we were not strong enough to fill. The American Socialist Club was the last organized socialist movement I was ever a member of — not by choice, but because I never again saw an ideological tendency I could identify with and commit myself to at the same level. This may have been a rationalization for all the conflicting pressures that I was now under, as an insider in business who was also an outsider to the system, but it was also the truth.

I identified in my own mind, though, with Louis Boudin, the early radical lawyer (and uncle to civil rights lawyer Leonard Boudin). When he left the 1919 convention in which the Socialist Party’s left wing had split off to become the American Communist Party, Boudin was asked if he intended to join the new group. “l didn‘t leave a party of crooks to join a party of imbeciles,” is what he said. I still admire the man for that, for rejecting the pale reformism of social democracy without jumping into the knee—jerk caricature of Bolshevism that aspired to be its alternative.

l suppose history will remember us, to the extent that history remembers the losers at all, for making a significant if limited contribution to the development of socialist thought in America. My friend James Weinstein once told me that Studies on the Left, the seminal New Left discussion center of the 1960s, drew part of its inspiration from The American Socialist, and maybe that is legacy enough.