ONE HAS TO ADMIRE THEIR PERSISTENCE. Labor Notes, the flagship journal of the domestic labor Left, professes itself to be “the voice of union activists who want to put the movement back into the labor movement.” Though stylistically about as riveting as the phonebook, for more than three difficult decades Labor Notes has critically observed and recorded organized labor’s endemic corruption, democratic shortcomings, and gross ineptitude in organizing workers in the private sector, where today only 7.2 percent of Americans are unionized.
Ben Blumberg For the American Left in the first half the 20th century—commonly referred to as the “Old Left”— the task of advancing freedom entailed a thoroughgoing critique of the racist institutions in American society, a socioeconomic and historical analysis of their origins and contemporary function, as well as practical efforts to eradicate these structures. In other words, racism was the challenge faced by the American Old Left. However, to a large extent it evaded the very challenge it set for itself by accepting the characterization of the black population’s political situation as “the Negro problem.” Only the best of the Old Left pushed against this characterization. The New Left, seeking to overcome the Old Left’s shortcomings and receiving a great impulse from the demands of the Civil Rights movement to do so, would nevertheless come to reenact the previous generation’s failings. This brings forth an uncomfortable question: if Marxists in the United States were unable to meet the challenge of raising racism to the level of a transformable reality, then to what extent can we speak of an American tradition of Marxism—a Marxism adequate to the situation of American capitalism—at all?