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Political Affairs to John Nichols: "Where are the communists?"

Julie McCarroll 4 February 2011

Political Affairs presents a consideration of John Nichols' new book, The "S" Word, which highlights the importance of Socialism as both an idea and as a movement:

Nichols connects the radical and 20th century American liberal traditions and movements with the Socialist movement, portraying such figures as American Revolutionary hero Tom Paine and Emma Lazurus, whose poem graces the Statue of Liberty, as part of the larger socialist tradition ... While one might take issue with some of Nichols' characterizations of Tom Paine and Abraham Lincoln in regard to their relationship to socialist traditions, Nichols nevertheless presents important sides of them which are usually omitted in traditional accounts - in the case of Paine, an almost total omission, except for a few quotes from Common Sense and sometimes from the American Prospect.

But, Markowitz argues,

there is one crucial flaw in Nichols' study, beyond differences in interpretation and the occasional factual error. The Communist Party is portrayed as peripheral, even during the period in which the CPUSA, as I see it, became the most effective and significant political movement to advance practically socialist policies in U.S. history. Nichols is no red-baiter and speaks positively about Harry Bridges, Jack O'Dell and other CPUSA members and supporters when he does deal with them. But he doesn't really address the anti-communist outlook of a number of the socialists whom he portrays positively, e.g., Norman Thomas, A. Philip Randolph Randolph, and Michael Harrington. The anti-communist views of these leading figures limited what they did and could do. For example, Thomas' involvement in the CIA funded Cultural Freedom Committee, Randolph's and former communist Bayard Rustin's support for the Vietnam War, or Michael Harrington's support in the early 1960s for the maintenance of the anti-communist clause in the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) constitution.

Visit Political Affairs to read the full review. 

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