The “S” Word: A Short History of an American Tradition … Socialism

A short, sharp, irreverent rejoinder to right-wing red-baiting.
During the Cold War it became a dirty word in the United States, but “socialism” runs like a red thread through the nation’s history, an integral part of its political consciousness since the founding of the republic. In this unapologetic corrective to today’s collective amnesia, John Nichols calls for the proud return of socialism in American life. He recalls the reforms lauded by Founding Father Tom Paine; the presence of Karl Marx’s journalism in American letters; the left leanings of founders of the Republican Party; the socialist politics of Helen Keller; the progressive legacy of figures like Chaplin and Einstein. Now in an updated edition, The “S” Word makes a case for socialist ideas as an indispensable part of American heritage. A new final chapter considers the recent signs of a leftward sea change in American politics in the face of increasing and historic levels of inequality.

Today, corporations—like other rich “individuals”—pay fewer taxes than they did in the 1950s, while our infrastructure crumbles and the seas rise. The “S” Word addresses a nation that can no longer afford to put capital before people.


  • “A chilling reminder of how much rich American history has been erased by shallow messaging. A crucial book.”
  • “Of all the giant slayers now afoot in the great American desert, John Nichols’s sword is the sharpest, his footwork the most graceful, his brain the most cunning.”
  • “The Tom Paine … of our time.”
  • “[A] search for the legacy of our homegrown radicals.”


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— Karl Marx and the First International Workingmen’s Association to Abraham Lincoln, 1864

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