Re-building American Radicalism: a reading list

Julio Pino jpino at
Mon May 22 12:22:41 MDT 2000

   Re-building a revolutionary left in America that is based squarely on
local radical traditions and not foreign imports requires a sense of
history---not of the dozens of sects and cults that failed but of mass
movements that were able to unite a socialist(sometimes proto-socialist)
vision with popular culture. In drawing up this reading list I've drawn on
works that have inspired me. I've skipped over the obvious, eg, The
Autobiography of Malcolm X, My Life by Emma Goldman etc., and chosen works
of history that inform us on how to connect with working people.

1. Detroit: I Do Mind Dying : A Study in Urban Revolution by Dan Georgakas,
et al.
The rise and fall of DRUM, Detroit Revolutionary Union Movement, black
autoworkers who challenged the UAW (AKA "U Ain't White")in the late sixties
to early seventies. Determined to build a broad base, DRUM drew on
everything from Detroit bluesmen whose anthems championed the
proletariat(the title of the book is taken from one such song) to
sympathizers from Michigan State, where the student newspaper pratically
became a DRUM organ. The newly issued second edition(1999)features
interviews with ex-members, reassesments of DRUM from Manning Marable and
othes, and tries to extract some lessons for building a multi-class
political alliance today.
2. The Populist Movement (Hardback edition: "The Democratic Promise")by
Lawrence Goodwyn.
Goodwyn calls the Populist Party of the 1880s "the last serious attempt in
American history to build a counterculture to the received culture of
Protestant capitalism." Focusing on the strenghs of the party(uniting, if
only temporarily,black and white farmers, the co-op movement, prominent
female leaders) while not ignoring its weaknesses(a critique of capitalism
that centered on distribution, not production)the book is a primer for
building a radical movement from the grass-roots.
3. Tom Paine and Revolutionary America by Eric Foner.
What Paine is least remembered for, thanks to bourgeois biographers, is his
economics. Foner documents that Paine spoke for the artisan element of the
American working class, who like their English counterparts, so well
treated by EP Thompson, made claims on behalf of a "moral economy" opposed
to incipient American capitalism.a good place to start a discussion of the
American radical tradition.
4. The Decline of Socialism in America by James Weinstein.
Yes, Weinstein went on to found and edit "In These Times", mouthpiece of a
still-born American Social Democracy. But in this book he makes the case
that the Socialist Party of Debs fell apart not because of World War I and
the government repression that followed, a cherished myth among leftists
even today, but because the party allowed itself to get caught up in the
internal squabbles of the European labor movement and the nascent Comintern
after 1921.
5.SDS by Kirpatrick Sale.
How did a small group that started life by splitting-off from the Young
People's Socialist League (theYPSLS) go on to become THE vehicle for campus
protest in the sixties?
As SDS grew bigger it got more radical, something unusual in American
politics, but its very success caused the leadership to think the
revolution was just around the corner.If I had to recommend one book on
what the sixties meant to America, this would be it. Predictably, it's also
out of print; check out your nearest used book store.
Please add to my list.
Julio Cesar

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