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You are here: Platypus /Social Democracy, the Mix, and the Problem of the Labor Metaphysic: A Response to recent articles by Chris Cutrone and Matt Karp

Social Democracy, the Mix, and the Problem of the Labor Metaphysic: A Response to recent articles by Chris Cutrone and Matt Karp

Richard Schneirov

Platypus Review 138 | July-August 2021

IN 1947, C. WRIGHT MILLS, the celebrated intellectual father of the New Left, was part of a group of New York intellectuals, including Irving Howe and Louis Coser, who thought it possible that a CIO-led labor movement would play the transformative role assigned to it by Marx. Specifically, they held out the hope that labor would exit the Democratic Party and through a third party become the engine that would pull the United States toward European-style social democracy or even the kind of socialism envisioned by the Trotskyist parties. When it became clear that this was not about to happen, Mills was profoundly disillusioned. In his influential “Letter to the New Left,” Mills wrote of “the seeming collapse of our historic agencies of change” and wondered why “some New-Left writers... cling so mightily to the “working class” of the advanced capitalist societies as the historic agency or even as the most important agency, in the face of the really historical evidence that now stands against this expectation. Such a labor metaphysic I think, is a legacy from Victorian Marxism that is now quite unrealistic.” To be sure, Mills did not give up the game. He pointed to new agencies of change, calling attention to the passionate worldwide protests he witnessed among the “young intelligentsia.” Since that time, skepticism that the working class has an inherent drive toward socialism, has pervaded the New Left.[1]

Mills’ antique labor metaphysic, however, seems to be alive and well in two articles I’ve been asked to comment on by Matt Karp from Jacobin and Chris Cutrone in Platypus Review.[2] Both articles display the familiar lineaments of the labor metaphysic: the Old Left tenet that Marxism can be understood as a faith in a coming socialist future powered by the vaunted dialectic, an impersonal force riding above history. Each article in its own way is profoundly ahistorical, despite occasional references to historical events. Each collapses the considerable differences that emerged cumulatively between the late 19th century and our current period. Most egregiously, both articles erase the difference between the classical liberalism of the Gilded Age and the revisionist socialism and modern liberalism that emerged during the first half of the 20th century. Each ends up by contrasting that unchanging liberalism with left-wing, presumably transformative politics. Thus, for Chris Cutrone the rise of social democracy in the early 20th century “still accorded with classical liberalism” and “the essential political predicament of liberal democracy in the industrial era remains.” In other words, we are still in the Gilded Age. For Matt Karp too, we reside in a Gilded Age characterized by “mass inequality,” partisan polarization and identity or cultural politics, which blocks the way to class-based politics. Like many in the recent socialist revival, Karp assumes that if Democrats would only direct their appeal toward workers, typically blue-collar white workers, more exclusively and effectively, their special inner potential would be activated and produce a reliably left-wing base for the Democratic Party. 

Mills’ reference to the “labor metaphysic” having a 19th century provenance is worth examining in more depth for it illuminates the weaknesses of the philosophical and ideological foundation on which it rested. Victorians were pre-modernists who believed in a predictable universe based on natural laws, a benevolent God, and the conviction that humans could know a set of fixed and unified truths about all aspects of life. It relied on a dichotomy between what was human and what was animal—the latter characterized by instinct, passion, and uninhibited sexuality. Civilization required restraint and uplift by suppressing the animal component in human nature. Victorians transposed this binary distinction to human civilization by defining higher stages as civilized and lower as savage or barbaric. Victorians used the same binary to define the differences between male and female with the male, representing restraint of passions and rationality and the female exhibiting a passionate character and closer to nature.[3]

The followers of classical laissez-faire liberalism and the orthodox followers of Marxism (though not Marx himself), as well as believers in Darwinian evolution, all shared this belief in fixed natural laws governing human affairs, however much else they may have differed in the content of those laws. They also shared an unquestioned faith in human progress proceeding from lower to higher stages.  

Modernism, which succeeded Victorianism, was an attempt to overcome binary thinking and formalistic thought with its fixed laws and faith in certainty. Modernism was premised on a universe in flux, and in such an unstable world there could be no absolute doctrines, values, or ethics; nor could progress be assumed to proceed from lower to higher. Modernists viewed such stable foundations as illusions and emotional crutches, which needed to be set aside. To take several examples: in the arts, this meant the attempt to recover the animalistic and instinctual; in philosophy modernists turned to pragmatism with its dictum that all knowledge arises from experimentation and is provisional; in anthropology modernists revalued cultures once termed “savage” and “barbaric” with their new belief in cultural relativism; in psychology, modernism came in two stages, first, Freud’s mapping of the unconscious, which undermined the Victorian ideal of the “rational man,” and later with the post-Freudian search for “authenticity”; and in the field of history, modernists refused to worship at the altar of America’s “antique” Constitution, abandoned the faith in an automatic progress, and turned from political to social history. 

The Marxian revisionism of Eduard Bernstein in Germany, Jean Jaures in France, Sidney and Beatrice Webb in England, and Richard T. Ely and Walter Rauschenbush in the United States was a modernist attempt to rethink and update the socialist project. In Europe that meant rethinking Marxism. What became known as revisionist socialism and after World War II social democracy, sharply challenged the orthodox version of Marxism that pervaded the Second International. The dissenters rejected the precepts that: 1) working people were fated by capitalism to live at a subsistence level; 2) that conditions were worsening; 3) that the middle class was disappearing leading to the polarization of society into two hostile classes, a working-class encompassing the great majority and a tiny capitalist class; and 4) that capitalism was inexorably headed toward an internally-generated breakdown, which together with a class-conscious working-class, would pave the way to the replacement of capitalism by socialism.[4] 

The revisionists whether in Germany, France, Britain, or the United States, had pragmatic alternatives to the Victorian doctrines of classical Marxism. In place of objective “laws” that guaranteed capitalist breakdown and a clear path to a socialist terminus, the revisionists substituted a flexible capitalism and need to navigate the contingencies of a democratic process; and instead of class consciousness and class struggle, they substituted a growing awareness of social interdependence among all classes. Underlying this rejection of the economic laws of historical materialism was a new conviction that knowledge should be grounded in experience, that economic determinism was superseded by social and political primacy, and in a new ethics, guided by a recognition across society that the liberal goal of individual self-development could not be achieved in isolation but only in the context of social cooperation. Though revisionists were far from being liberals, they did not seek to abolish capitalism’s class system, its laws protecting private property in the means of production, the size and reach of the trusts, or transcend wage-labor. The new capitalism was here to stay. Revisionists still believed in socialism, but they did not believe its triumph was inevitable, nor would it be achieved through the class struggle.

For Sheri Berman, the premier historian of European social democracy, the revisionist-modernist critique of orthodox Marxism and classical liberalism cleared the way for the three main political ideologies that contended for power in the twentieth-century: social democracy, revolutionary socialism or Communism, and revolutionary nationalism or national socialism, exemplified in Europe by fascism and in many Third World revolutions in the mid-20th century. Each rejected the determinism of the economic and emphasized the primacy of politics in constructing the good society. Each ideology borrowed from the other two and often implemented the policies of its rivals.[5] 

When European capitalism fell into crisis in the 1930s, the attraction of social democratic policies grew irresistible. These policies included a welfare state, support for unions and collective bargaining, regulation of the market activities of business, and the use of deficit-financing to counter depressions and job losses. Each could be engrafted onto capitalism, thus changing it in important, sometimes fundamental ways but without abolishing it altogether. Notwithstanding the fact that these policies originated in the socialist camp, it was fascist Italy and Nazi Germany that first implemented social democratic solutions to the Great Depression, and conservative parties, sometimes in conjunction with social democratic parties, implemented the post-WWII settlement in Western Europe. Only in Sweden did the revisionists fully triumph within their socialist party during the interwar period and implement social democratic policies on their own. Since the last decade of the 20th century, it has become clear that social democracy has been the most successful political ideology and political program of the twentieth century, notwithstanding the short-lived success since the late 1970s of neoliberal ideology, which is currently in a state of political collapse.

The American social democratic path has followed the European template in having social democratic policies implemented by non-Marxian parties, but distinct in the absence of overtly socialist, Communist or fascist players in its political drama. While each European socialist party had substantial revisionist components, the American party was almost completely the preserve of orthodox Marxism. Closely related to this was the party’s relationship with the labor movement. In Europe, whenever revisionists came into conflict with Marxist orthodoxy, they had the support of the unions. Not so in America, where most socialists continued to attack Gompers as “class collaborationist” for his membership in the National Civic Federation. Within the party, Eugene V. Debs and his supporters allied with the dual unionist IWW for a time, which irrevocably alienated the American Federation of Labor (AFL) from the Socialist Party (SP).[6]

Only in Milwaukee under the leadership of Victor Berger was the party able to build an alliance with the unions approximating that of the European socialist parties or the British Labour Party. Alienation of the SP from most of the labor movement left it with a high membership turnover and forced it to appeal to potential members on ideological rather than interest grounds. The relative absence of close ties with the unions also gave intellectuals unusual sway within the party and made it prone to revolutionary gestures without real revolutionary plans or prospects. Because the conditions that would have made revisionist dissent within the party possible did not exist, American revisionism or social democracy would have to take root outside the confines of the party.[7]

The major figures of revisionist socialism in the US in the early 20th century—Walter Rauschenbusch, Jane Addams, Walter Weyl, Herbert Croly, John Dewey, and William English Walling—developed their thinking outside the context of Marxism and oscillated between the Republican and Democratic parties until the New Deal. While not overtly socialist, most were acutely aware of organized socialism and Marxism and were influenced by the revisionist critique of orthodoxy. 

To take one example, Walter Weyl’s immensely popular, The New Democracy (1912), was in part a polemic against existing socialism though from a social democratic viewpoint. It was littered with references rejecting orthodox Marxism and revolutionary unionism. It also contained a hefty chapter that aligned him with the revisionists. In it, Weyl rejected “absolute socialism,” his term for an orthodox Marxism that claimed for the worker the full product of his labor. Like other revisionists, he viewed that kind of socialism as essentially religious. He recounted and endorsed the revisionists’ criticisms of orthodox doctrines, especially the belief that the class struggle would eventuate in a war to the finish between two polarized classes. “The old laissez-faire liberal philosophy is done for,” predicted Weyl, “and the old absolute socialism is dying in the embrace of its dead adversary.”[8]

Without the discipline of contending for electoral power or maintaining the support of the mainstream labor movement, American Marxist and socialist thinkers retained a sentimental attachment to the Victorian orthodox Marxist myth, including the labor metaphysic. What is known as “Debsian socialism” was largely oblivious to its changing socioeconomic context. As Irving Howe has put it, “the trouble with Debsian socialism was... its failure adequately to grasp, and relate to, the changing nature of “the world as it was, once America passed the formative time of industrial capitalism.” And the prime reason for that failure was the American Protestant “tradition of moral testimony, sometimes moral absolutism—with its tendency to reduce human existence to blunt compartments of good and evil,” which is often “in deep tension with a democratic polity requiring compromise and entailing imperfection.” The American Left continues to harbor an attachment to that thread of moral absolutism in American political culture. To take one salient example: Senator Bernie Sanders and his supporters offer social democratic proposals but use the language and affirm an identity as Debsian socialists.[9] 

If we are to avoid metaphysical Marxism and understand the remarkable staying power of social democracy in the 20th century, we need to understand the socio-economic formation, which underwrote its development, while blocking any durable success for its alternatives. Otherwise we end up viewing, as do some historians, social democracy’s success as ephemeral and exceptional.[10] 

Following the turn of the last century throughout the Western world, all political, economic, and intellectual observers were sure that something significant had happened to capitalism or the business system. In the United States a massive corporate merger wave, the most significant in U.S. history according to business historian Alfred Chandler, increased the number of large corporations from 12, mostly in the railroads, to over 300 in all areas of the economy, especially manufacturing. By 1904 even though corporations made up just 24 percent of manufacturing firms, they controlled 83 percent of all manufacturing capital and employed 71 percent of all wage earners in manufacturing. The merger wave transferred property on a scale unmatched by any previous revolutionary upheaval.[11]

There are two general ways of viewing the merger wave. One way, common to today’s Progressives, populists, and most Marxists, is to focus on its impact on business scale: corporations were only larger forms of the proprietary capitalist firms typical of the 19th century economy. They were now “big business,” large enough to “monopolize” market price-making and withstand labor organizing, but still essentially capitalist. The transition to the corporation is still treated by many historians and leftists as a defeat for democracy, a triumph of the few against the many, and of conservative over populist-progressive forces. This view ignores the qualitative dimensions and the improved prospects for movements for social change that corporatization of the economy opened up. 

Marx spoke to these qualitative dimensions when he noted that the advent of the corporation entailed “the abolition of the capitalist mode of production within the capitalist mode of production itself.” For Marx, corporations, “as much as [workers’] cooperative factories show how a new mode of production naturally grows out of an old one, when the development of the material forces of production and of the corresponding forms of social production have reached a particular stage” and “should be considered as transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one [Marx’s term for socialism].”[12] These thoughts suggest that Marx was still open to new theorizing of the transition to socialism. But such suggestiveness remained thinly developed until Martin Sklar’s argument that socialism developed in the womb of capitalism not merely as potential but as a distinct mode of production much like capitalism developed side by side with feudalism beginning in the sixteenth century. Sklar called this co-existence and intertwining of socialism and capitalism, “the mix” [of capitalism and socialism].[13] Using the 300 year development of capitalism within and alongside feudalism as an model, we might extrapolate that the transition from capitalism to socialism might take a like number of years instead of happening in one revolutionary swoop and might be manifested in hybrid forms of capitalism and socialism just as feudalism and capitalism intertwined in changing ways between the sixteenth and the twentieth centuries.[14] 

The thesis that the corporation was a mix of two modes of production, a new social formation conducive to the success of social democratic politics and policies has two parts to it:

First, the corporation socialized (that is, took people outside of the household economy and individual ownership and into associations of interdependence and cooperation) property and its functions without abolishing capitalism. In addition to mergers eliminating the property of competitors, the act of incorporation separated the ownership of property from its operation by splitting it into innumerable shares of stock that were sold at small sums not just to the rich but to the growing strata of middle-income earners acting as money-lenders. In his 1914 tour de force, Drift & Mastery, Walter Lippmann observed that, “The trust movement is doing what no conspirator or revolutionist could ever do: it is sucking the life out of private property.”[15] 

At the same time, the operation of corporate firms was put into the hands of managers, deriving their incentive not from returns to their ownership stake but from their salaries. The large corporate firm consolidated production into a vast bureaucratic operation, controlled by a cadre of professional managers overseeing new functions like personnel management, advertising, and research and development, while scientific management reconstructed the very nature of work itself. Corporate managers rationalized, that is socialized, the corporation according to the latest in cooperative knowledge developed and taught at the universities. 

Finally, the corporation socialized market competition by holding prices above the competitive level, including the level needed to assure profit, what institutional economists term “oligopoly” or “monopolistic competition.” That allowed managers to largely replace the hidden hand of the market in pricing and planning and allocating investment. Corporations became price-makers rather than price-takers.[16]

Our second point distinguishes between socialization and socialism. Socialization is an in-between state in which social relations are poised to take the leap into socialism, but often remains driven by capitalist imperatives. Socialism is simply the governing of the web of interdependent relationships according to the common good, whose content is liberty, equality, and justice for all. But, there is no a priori reason why such a governing principle cannot co-exist with other governing principles, that is that socialism has to be an all or nothing state or happen all at once.[17] To govern the corporation—with its separation of ownership from control—for the common good does not require nationalization or collective ownership of the means of production. It only requires that its operation be governed to one degree or another and in one way or another for public purposes. Put differently, the new social distance opened up between corporate property and its operation opened up the possibility of operating corporate firms with more and more public control without yet fully abolishing its capitalist uses. To the degree that this has happened, the modern corporate firm has become, to greater or lesser degree a partnership endeavor between two different modes of production, a terrain of both cooperation and contention over the different uses to which the margin above the competitive price could be put. Let me offer four major examples of this.

In the first decade after the great corporate merger wave an important sign of this struggle occurred when discount stores, department stores, and mail order houses began to undercut the manufacturers’ suggested retail prices by discounting prices and substituting cheaper imitations for brand named goods, thus dragging down manufacturer’s inflated profit margins. The expanded income generated by corporate market control was making its way into the hands of consumers. To counter this, manufacturers and smaller volume local retailers formed an alliance called the American Fair Trade League to champion the principle of “resale price maintenance.” Mass retailers with the support of the American Federation of Labor and the General Confederation of Women’s Clubs organized a progressive opposition and successfully resisted the League’s proposed legislation.[18] 

Another instance of how socialization could go in either a capitalist or socialist direction or a combination of both was labor’s movement for industrial democracy. At the turn of the century, employers had tried to eliminate workers’ restrictions on output and increase productivity. What was known as scientific management would transfer the skill and knowledge of craft workers to the new managerial elite. Though many craft unions resisted such capitalist imperatives, others proposed a bargain by which employers would accept collective bargaining and shorter hours, in return for which the union leaders would persuade their members to embrace scientific management. The modus vivendi legitimized corporate control of the workplace by making it rule-based and cooperative. Unions won grievance procedures, detailed job descriptions, including seniority rights, in other words, a kind of workplace rule of law in the large corporations. What the noted labor historian David Brody has called “workplace contractualism” didn’t begin to take hold until World War I and was never fully accepted until the advent of mass production unionism in the late 1930s.[19] 

A more prominent form of the mix has been government regulation. The corporation was conducive to regulation because it replaced the hidden hand of market competition with the visible hand of managerial planning. The old self-regulating market had been justified since the early 19th century as a private institution that ensured the public good. Once the market lost its price-making power, government intervention could be justified as a way of assuring that the new corporation was rendered compatible with democratic standards. These legal and political imperatives resulted in large-scale federal government intervention following the corporatization of the economy in areas like railroad price-setting, assuring pure food and drugs, central banking, and conservation of natural resources. In the new regulatory regime, government typically acted as a watchdog through commissions to ensure that corporate price-making and its investment allocating power was not abused. This combination of corporate control of markets with government oversight was the new principle established during the Progressive Era under the Woodrow Wilson administration.[20] 

Self-identified social democrats almost always were disappointed with the mix as it developed in mainstream politics and government legislation. Most wanted to use government commissions to plan and directly manage corporations in ways that would subordinate the management of private business to the state. Though there were experiments early in the New Deal in this direction, the non-statist or “liberal” corporate “settlement” of the Progressive Era held firm. What was new to the mix in the 1930s was the enactment of universal social insurance and the adoption of Keynesian deficit financing of government spending. These were the fourth ways that social democracy piggybacked on the mix. Though many left-wing historians have followed historian David Brinkley in classifying this development as a conservative “accommodation with capitalism” because it prioritized economic growth over structural change, Keynesian deficit spending looks quite different when viewed from the standpoint of the mix.[21] 

Deficit financing through the sale of treasury bonds tapped into the growing surplus of funds that business investment no longer required for growth. That surplus could be spent (spending includes tax credits) by government for social purposes (education, health care, child care, the environment, and the like), for military goods, or turned back to the largest taxpayers in the form of tax cuts as in supply side economics. The different uses of deficit financing, which were typically conjoined, cemented the mix as a political fixture in American life. Under President Ronald Reagan deficit spending tilted the mix toward capitalism, while Democratic presidents who increased social spending tilted it toward the socialist side, that is toward social welfare or redistribution. Often, social and military spending and tax cuts for the rich increased in tandem. Rarely was policy single-minded. 

Nor should the goal of growth itself be viewed negatively. As the Polish Keynesian Michel Kalecki showed, accelerated growth that approached the level of full employment tilted the balance of class relations toward workers, undermined labor discipline, and aided labor organizing. Moreover, whatever the uses of deficit-financed spending, the mere fact that the government was doing it shifted the responsibility for growth from private investors to the government. By politicizing the responsibility for the state of the economy and clearing the way for democratizing economic planning and decision making, it undercut the public’s dependence on the unilateral power of capital to bring prosperity.[22] 

With this rudimentary understanding of the mix, we can now better understand an alternative theory of agency to the labor metaphysic. The movements and electoral coalitions to support consumers, workers’ industrial democracy, and New Deal regulation and social spending were all cross-class in nature; they did not emanate from the working-class alone. More particularly, they were coalitions of segments from different classes, often including some corporate managers and bankers. Each coalition was constructed out of a hegemonic political ideology and discourse, in Antonio Gramsci’s terms, “a historic bloc.”[23] Successful progressive movements in the era of the mix have not been exclusively working-class movements arising from below that foisted change on a defiant capitalist class; nor alternatively, were they managerial initiatives from above that co-opted movement demands from below. They sometimes included both but were always more. They were components of larger movement complexes that transacted transformative change within the mix. Class conflict was and remains important, but only because it “generate[s] conditions and pressures for change of profound effect”; but it is “emergent cross-class alignments [that] transact them.”[24]

On the Left there is much resistance to the theory of the mix. One progressive historian, when introduced to the theory of the mix, said that it reminded him of the suggestion during the latter stages of the Vietnam War that the United States should just declare victory and withdraw. In this view, calling part of our current reality “socialism,” serves as a clever pretext for abandoning the ideal of a socialist future and withdrawing from the difficult struggle for its achievement, however long the odds. To many, the mix doesn’t draw a clear enough boundary between what is and what should be, hence doesn’t provide a strong enough standpoint to offer criticisms of and clear alternatives to, capitalism and liberalism. 

To this, followers of the mix respond that the mix is superior as a description of actionable reality because it foregrounds the double-ness, the different and opposing tendencies conjoined within the present. There is no need to have a metaphysical faith in a socialist future because it already exists, partly as potential and partly as realization. The affirmation of what exists is not conservative to the degree that it finds there the basis and harbinger of a better future.

Many would dismiss the theory of the mix because it doesn’t provide a standpoint from which to distinguish themselves from liberals and liberalism. To this, partisans of the mix plead partly guilty. Accepting the two-sided nature of modern political economy means that we must have one foot in the liberal camp and mainstream politics and the other foot outside it. Those who understand social democracy in terms of the mix believe that liberals and liberalism are not the enemy and that a non-antagonistic dialogue between liberals and the left/progressives is necessary to create a successful hegemonic coalition. President Joe Biden is only the latest in a long line of politicians deemed moderate-liberals who moved to the Left with alacrity and without apology when the times allowed it and their party demanded it. Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were all leaders of left-liberal coalitions that forged major change. To accept that such change will not necessarily abolish capitalism is not to give up the game, but is to abandon utopianism and apocalypticism. It is to accept that change in this era of transition is yet another provisional hybrid form in a protracted “long revolution.”

There has long been a widespread mood of pessimism on the Left because the working class hasn’t come close to fulfilling the exorbitant expectations assigned to it by the labor metaphysic. The reality that socialism has become severed from the class that was supposed to carry it to victory has not been replaced by a viable alternative. Both writers whose works are being addressed here neglect to discuss socialism or offer a path toward it out of the present. Cutrone repudiates social democracy to which he offers as the alternative only the incanted phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat.” In Karp’s article, socialism is never mentioned as a post-capitalist alternative, and if it exists, seems to be an inherent potential in working-class based politics. The alternative of the mix re-grounds socialism in the real historical world, takes the theory and practice of socialism out of the realm of the unspoken, the utopian, and the metaphysical, and restores the sense of possibility that our journey can be successful. |P

[1] C. Wright Mills, “Letter to the New Left,” New Left Review, 5 (Sept.-Oct. 1960): 18-23; Dan Geary, “The ‘Union of the Power and the Intellect’: C. Wright Mills and the Labor Movement,” Labor History, 42 (Nov. 2001): 327-345.

[2] Matt Karp, “The Politics of a Second Gilded Age,” Jacobin (Feb. 17, 2021) and Chris Cutrone, “The End of the Gilded Age: Discontents of the Second Industrial Revolution Today,” Platypus Review 102 (2017–18). 

[3] Daniel Joseph Singal, “Towards a Definition of American Modernism,” American Quarterly 39:1 (Spring 1987), 7-26; Gail Bederman, Manliness & Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1907 (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1995); Henry F. May, The End of American Innocence: A Study of First Years of Our Own Time, 1912-1917 Revised Edition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992; orig. publ. 1959).

[4] The best transatlantic history of social democracy and its philosophical correlates is James T. Kloppenberg, Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870-1920 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

[5] Sheri Berman, The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe’s Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); see also George Lichtheim, Marxism: An Historical and Critical Study (New York: Praeger, 1965), 278-300. For a critique of social democracy see Adam Przeworksi, “Social Democracy as Historical Phenomenon,” New Left Review 1/122 (July-Aug. 1980): 27-58.

[6] Richard W. Fox, “The Paradox of "Progressive" Socialism: The Case of Morris Hillquit, 1901-1914,” American Quarterly 26:2 (May, 1974): 127-140; Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks, It Didn’t Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States (New York: Norton, 2000), 85-124, 167-202.

[7] Sally M. Miller, Victor Berger and the Promise of Constructive Socialism, 1910-1920 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1973); Lipset and Marks, It Didn’t Happen Here, 110-12; Daniel Bell, Marxian Socialism in the United States (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994; orig. publ. 1952), 86-87, 102.

[8] Charles Forcey, The Crossroads of Liberalism: Croly, Weyl, Lippmann and the Progressive Era, 1900-1925 (London: Oxford University Press, 1961); Walter E. Weyl, The New Democracy: An Essay on Certain Political and Economic Tendencies in the United States (New York: MacMillan, 1912), chap. 12, quote at 188.

[9] Irving Howe, Socialism and America (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985; first publ. 1977), 32, 35.

[10] For examples of that tendency see Jefferson Cowie and Nick Salvatore, “The Long Exception: Rethinking the Place of the New Deal in American History,” International Labor and Working-Class History 74 (September 2008): 3-32; Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle eds, The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930-1980 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989).

[11] James Livingston, Pragmatism and Political Economy of Cultural Revolution, 1850-1940 (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 99.

[12] Karl Marx, Capital (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing Co., 1959), Vol. III: 427, 428; J. W. Mason, “Karl Marx and the Corporation,” Jacobin (Jul 5, 2020)

[13] Martin J. Sklar, The United States as a Developing Country: Studies in U. S. History in the Progressive Era and the 1920s (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), chap. 1, 2, and 7; Livingston, Pragmatism and Political Economy of Cultural Revolution, 1850-1940; Richard Schneirov, “Socialism and Capitalism Reconsidered,” and Sklar, “Thoughts on Capitalism and socialism: Utopian and Realistic,” in The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, 2 (Fall 2003), 352-60 and 361-76. In Transcending Capitalism: Visions of a New Society in Modern American Thought (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2006) Howard Brick shows how key American academic social thinkers, including Sklar, developed in the first three-quarters of the twentieth century “a postcapitalist vision” in which American society was no longer viewed as capitalist or driven by economic imperatives.

[14] Barrington Moore Jr. points to some of the hybrid forms of feudalism and capitalism on the road to modernity in Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966); see also Charles Maier, Recasting Bourgeois Europe: Stabilization in France, Germany, and Italy in the Decade after World War I (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1975).

[15] Walter Lippmann, Drift and Mastery: An Attempt to Diagnose the Current Unrest ([1914] Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1961; orig. publ. 1914), 45; for a prescient appraisal of the postcapitalist possibilities latent in the corporation see his chap. 3. For similar contemporary observations on the importance of the corporate transformation see Thorstein Veblen, The Engineers and the Price System (New York: B. W. Huebsch, 1921), William English Walling, American Labor, American Democracy (New York: Transaction Publishers, 2005; orig. publ. 1926), John Dewey, Individualism, Old and New (New York: Capricorn, 1962; orig. publ. 1929), and Adolf Berle and Gardner C. Means, The Modern Corporation and Private Property (New York: Macmillan Co., 1933).

[16] Edward Chamberlin, The Theory of Monopolistic Competition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1933).

[17] For the case against the idea that our economy is uniformly “capitalist,” a usage arguably originating in neoliberal triumphalism, and against the idea that the economic sphere necessarily determines the social and cultural spheres see Fred Block, “Varieties of what? Should we still be Using the Concept of Capitalism?” Political Power and Social Theory 23 (January 2012): 269-291; J. K. Gibson-Graham, “Waiting for the Revolution, or How to Smash Capitalism while Working at Home in Your Spare Time,” Rethinking Marxism 6:2 (Summer 1993), 10-24; and Aileen Kraditor, The Radical Persuasion, 1890-1917: Aspects of the Intellectual History and the Historiography of Three American Radical Organizations (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981), 55-85.

[18] Meg Jacobs, Pocketbook Politics: Economic Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 2005), 30-38; Thomas K. McCraw, “Competition and Fair Trade: History and Theory,” Research in Economic History 16 (1996): 185-239.

[19] David Brody, “Workplace Contractualism: A Historical/Comparative Analysis,” in In Labor’s Cause: Main Themes on the History of the American Worker (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 221-50; David Montgomery, “Machinists, the Civic Federation, and the Socialist Party,” in Workers’ Control in America: Studies in the History of Work, Technology and Labor Struggles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 48-90; Joseph A. McCartin, Labor’s Great War: The Struggle for Industrial Democracy and the Origins of Modern American Labor Relations, 1912-21 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).

[20] Martin J. Sklar The Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism, 1890-1916: The Market, the Law, and Politics (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

[21] Alan Brinkley, “The New Deal and the Idea of the State” in Fraser and Gerstle, The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 85-121.

[22] Michel Kalecki, “Political Aspects of Full Employment,” Political Quarterly 14 (Oct. 1943): 322-330; James Livingston, Against Thrift: Why Consumer Culture is Good for the Economy, the Environment, and Your Soul (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 40-62, 211-29; Przeworksi, “Social Democracy as Historical Phenomenon.”

[23] Martin J. Sklar, "Periodization and Historiography: The United States considered as a developing country," in The United States as a Developing Country, 33-34; for an argument that such a cross-class hegemonic coalition characterized the New Deal see Thomas Ferguson, “Industrial Conflict and the Coming of the New Deal: The Triumph of Multinational Liberalism in America” in Fraser and Gerstle, The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 3-32; more generally see Matthew Schneirov and Richard Schneirov, “Capitalism as a Social Movement: The Corporate and Neoliberal Reconstructions of the American Political Economy in the Twentieth Century,” Social Movement Studies, 15:6 (2016): 561-76. The theoretical basis for cross-class movements transacting fundamental change is laid out in Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics (London and New York: Verso, 2014; orig. publ. 1985).

[24] Sklar, “Periodization and Historiography,” 19-20.

One comment

  • Posted 1 day ago

    this is the clearest thing I have read on here in ages

    by John Hoggett on July 29, 2021 4:27 am

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