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It Didn't Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States

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Why socialism has failed to play a significant role in the United States—the most developed capitalist industrial society and hence, ostensibly, fertile ground for socialism—has been a critical question of American history and political development. Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks "survey with subtlety and shrewd judgment the various explanations" (Wall Street Journal Why socialism has failed to play a significant role in the United States—the most developed capitalist industrial society and hence, ostensibly, fertile ground for socialism—has been a critical question of American history and political development. Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks "survey with subtlety and shrewd judgment the various explanations" (Wall Street Journal) for this phenomenon of American political exceptionalism. "Clearly written, intelligent, filled with new information" (Times Literary Supplement), this "splendidly convincing" (Michael Kazin, Georgetown University) work eschews conventional arguments about socialism's demise to present a fuller understanding of how multiple factors—political structure, American values, immigration, and the split between the Socialist party and mainstream unions—combined to seal socialism's fate. "In peak form, two master political sociologists offer a must-read synthesis."—Theda Skocpol, Harvard University


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Why socialism has failed to play a significant role in the United States—the most developed capitalist industrial society and hence, ostensibly, fertile ground for socialism—has been a critical question of American history and political development. Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks "survey with subtlety and shrewd judgment the various explanations" (Wall Street Journal Why socialism has failed to play a significant role in the United States—the most developed capitalist industrial society and hence, ostensibly, fertile ground for socialism—has been a critical question of American history and political development. Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks "survey with subtlety and shrewd judgment the various explanations" (Wall Street Journal) for this phenomenon of American political exceptionalism. "Clearly written, intelligent, filled with new information" (Times Literary Supplement), this "splendidly convincing" (Michael Kazin, Georgetown University) work eschews conventional arguments about socialism's demise to present a fuller understanding of how multiple factors—political structure, American values, immigration, and the split between the Socialist party and mainstream unions—combined to seal socialism's fate. "In peak form, two master political sociologists offer a must-read synthesis."—Theda Skocpol, Harvard University

30 review for It Didn't Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States

  1. 4 out of 5

    Owlseyes

    Why Are There Suddenly Millions of Socialists in America? in: http://www.occupy.com/article/why-are... Why Are There Suddenly Millions of Socialists in America? in: http://www.occupy.com/article/why-are...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Pinko Palest

    such a wealth of detail in such a concise, readable, sensible format is only to be commended. The points are very interesting too, particularly those relating to socialist sectarianism. The only serious problem with the book is its dealing with american communists, which he portrays in accordance with maccarthyite opinion, ie 'reds under the beds'. And that, in a serious book about the Left, is just not on

  3. 5 out of 5

    E

    Well, that was a slog. The authors' endeavors to present their well-detailed findings in a bipartisan manner should be considered an admirable success, but their writing is bone-dry. Perhaps unbiased research is forever doomed to be soporific since bias more efficiently ignites righteousness, but I'd like to believe such a divisive topic with such a dramatic history could rivet any reader in all the ways this book did not. The authors concede that the topic is of course overwhelmingly broad and Well, that was a slog. The authors' endeavors to present their well-detailed findings in a bipartisan manner should be considered an admirable success, but their writing is bone-dry. Perhaps unbiased research is forever doomed to be soporific since bias more efficiently ignites righteousness, but I'd like to believe such a divisive topic with such a dramatic history could rivet any reader in all the ways this book did not. The authors concede that the topic is of course overwhelmingly broad and the potential issues are literally countless, but I was not convinced that many of the major sources of anti-socialist sentiment that went unmentioned deserved such blunt omission. It is utterly absurd to discuss the concept of American (socio-economic) Exceptionalism and to not once mention the nation's exceptional history of slavery. American religiosity is discussed only in reference to the Catholic case. Discussions of immigration focus solely upon the political orientations of Northern/Central Europeans and Jews vs. Other Europeans. The political landscape of the United States presented includes only the Midwest and the Northeastern cities. Surely the roots of Northeastern Protestant capitalism, the Southern class system and the hodge-podge acquisition of land in the West contributed significantly enough to the pan-American, anti-socialist sentiment that dominates every American political debate today? As arguers for American Exceptionalism, the authors should have conceded that this topic surpasses in scope all the other topics presented and thus should garner far more attention. I agree with their argument that exclusivist union practices and American federalism are major victors/culprits in the suppression of socialist politics, but once again attention to detail resulted in the omission of broader yet significant issues. The chapters on American Socialist sectarianism and inter-party fighting would have benefited from a direct comparison to the case of Germany, where the struggles were more pronounced and resulted in more violence before and after World War I, yet the Social Democrats endure to this day as the oldest political party in the Federal Republic of Germany. Perhaps I am personally biased toward Germany's relevance as a current resident of said nation, living less than 50 yards from one of the many places where the Berlin Wall once stood. But Germany is as Exceptional as the United States among the developed nations in that nearly half of its residents did experience what anti-Socialists fear and yet, as in most of Europe, one will never hear the vitriolic screams of "Socialist!" and "Communist!" when health care, unions or economic issues enter the political arena. The hysteria of this cultural phobia is indeed particular to the United States and this book unfortunately only picks up a handful of topics to examine in attempting to address the phenomenon.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jonna Higgins-Freese

    Let's see -- why it didn't happen here: the two-party system, which requires coalition building before versus after elections. (Although a number of non-socialist third-party candidates have done better than socialist ones, so that doesn't totally explain it) 44. A trajectory of working people advocating for equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome. American radicals who are suspicious of the state and more sympathetic to libertarianism and syndicalism than state collectivism. Co-ops, Let's see -- why it didn't happen here: the two-party system, which requires coalition building before versus after elections. (Although a number of non-socialist third-party candidates have done better than socialist ones, so that doesn't totally explain it) 44. A trajectory of working people advocating for equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome. American radicals who are suspicious of the state and more sympathetic to libertarianism and syndicalism than state collectivism. Co-ops, communes, and collectives should be the place to try radical futures. A history of US lacking both feudal and peasant classes, so that all conflict occurred among various levels of the bourgeoisie. The fact that everyone's incomes have been rising, although comparative inequality didn't change. "Even today (2000), "distribution of wealth has grown more unequal, but consumption and the overall standard of living have not. In absolute terms, the less privileged are better off than before" (28). America as a country is an idea, not an organic pre-existing thing -- it's an ideology versus a place. And that ideology tents to include: anti-statism, laissez-faire, individualism, populism, and egalitarianism. (29) Socialists have been separate from the working class parties in the US -- socialism was treated as a dogmatic/ideological thing versus a practical solution for working people. Lack of a history of repression -- working people have long had the vote, and "political freedom undermines class consciousness" (34-5). The ability for Americans to become landowners as an alternative to wage labor in the event of expropriation of Indian lands led to a nation that saw themselves as independent landowners versus wage laborers (58). US tradition of craft versus industrial unions -- led highly skilled workers to fight to preserve their "niche in the division of labor rather than to abolish the division of labor itself" (88). Unions themselves (i.e., Gompers) "oppposed government old age pensions, health insurance, minimum wages, unemployment, and legislated maximum hours laws" -- they saw the government as more difficult to fight than the corporations. the New Deal was the first example of a class vote, the first support for state backing of lower unemployment & assistance to citizens. immigration created ethnic diversity that cut across/fragmented class identities (125) because socialism was split from the unions, it became very ideological and radical versus reformist (114). There were two chances to establish a socialist party -- 1912-1920 and during the Depression. Teh tension between radical social movements and reformist political inclusion ended up on the siden of political inclusion (237).

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tucker Jones

    Though dry at times, Lipset and Marks systematically go through theories of why socialism never took off on the US. In a style reminiscent of a social science version of Mythbusters, they use comparative politics to declare some theories as plausible and some as bunk. The book also serves as a de facto introduction to the history of American socialism and the American Left more broadly. As a newcomer to labor history, this is what I found most useful-- for example, I hadn't realized the extent o Though dry at times, Lipset and Marks systematically go through theories of why socialism never took off on the US. In a style reminiscent of a social science version of Mythbusters, they use comparative politics to declare some theories as plausible and some as bunk. The book also serves as a de facto introduction to the history of American socialism and the American Left more broadly. As a newcomer to labor history, this is what I found most useful-- for example, I hadn't realized the extent of the differences between the goals, values, and tactics of the AFL and other groups such as the IWW and the Socialist Party, and the interpersonal bad blood that inhibited cooperation as well! Readers with a stronger background in the history of the American Left and Labor movements might not find this book as useful as I did. In parts, it dragged, because it was being a thorough piece of social science research and not a pop history book. I can't fault the authors too much for that, though.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Alkire

    Good read if you ever wondered why social democracy never caught on in the US

  7. 5 out of 5

    Tracy Towley

    Wow! This book was remarkable in that it was probably the dullest book I've ever read. I am a Socialist and I was very interested in the information these authors had to share, but it was so god damn academic and dry that I couldn't read it for more than 10 minutes at a time. I'm not sure who the audience is supposed to be for this book. "Beginners" to the themes within (Socialism, labor unions, the electoral college, immigration etc.) would be completely overwhelmed and confused, because the aut Wow! This book was remarkable in that it was probably the dullest book I've ever read. I am a Socialist and I was very interested in the information these authors had to share, but it was so god damn academic and dry that I couldn't read it for more than 10 minutes at a time. I'm not sure who the audience is supposed to be for this book. "Beginners" to the themes within (Socialism, labor unions, the electoral college, immigration etc.) would be completely overwhelmed and confused, because the authors make no attempt to clarify background information. That would be fine if the book was geared towards people who already have a solid foundation of these issues, but the reasons the authors come up with are nothing new to those of us who have studied the Socialist party in this country. On the upside, I will say that this book was extensively researched. For every point they made, they had pages and pages and pages (and pages!) of graphs and studies and examples to back up their assertions. I can see this being a useful resource for someone writing a paper, but it was definitely way too academic and zzzzzzzz for anyone who's simply interested in the subject.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Justin Podur

    This book takes on an important question and tries to do so with some rigour. In the end, I wasn't crystal clear on what the authors thought was the explanation, since they offered a multifaceted one, having to do with nuances of immigration, the relationship between the party and unions, sectarianism and ideological purity, and a few other things. I like the title and I respect the attempt. People who think about political strategy will want to look at this book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    John

    Oddly uneven. The arguments made are maddeningly tautological and occasionally pat. The effort to explain the failure of socialism in the United States by citing its "exceptionalism" is clearly out of date. Given the economic collapse occurring this very moment, the title could be amended to add: "...yet."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Geoffrey

    In-depth examination of how Socialism failed to catch fire in America the way it did throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. Truly enjoyed the depth of Lipset's research into the failures of American socialists and their inability to mobilize as a formiddable political power.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    Very thorough, but incredibly try. Sociological survey, with an emphasis on demographic data collection - seems like an excellent resource if you are researching a paper or trying to specifically answer this question, but something less than a pleasure to read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Justine

    I have high hopes for this book...the title is a question I often ask myself.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Miriam Jafrudi

    hasta ahora no estoy seguro

  14. 5 out of 5

    Helen Grant

    Exhaustive and overly academic review of factors that impeded socialism in the United States. Interestingly, the authors offered little analysis of socialism itself.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Brian

  16. 4 out of 5

    Adam

  17. 4 out of 5

    David F

  18. 4 out of 5

    Steven

  19. 5 out of 5

    Johannes Sartou

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mj Linane

  21. 5 out of 5

    Meghan

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dana Prosapio

  23. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

  24. 5 out of 5

    Justin

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

  26. 4 out of 5

    Shaun Richman

  27. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Misich

  28. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa Schulz

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Falche

  30. 5 out of 5

    Danielle Brooks

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