TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF DISSENT: An American Tradition by Irving--Ed. Howe

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF DISSENT: An American Tradition

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KIRKUS REVIEW

As editor Howe notes in his introduction, there isn't much of a socialist legacy in this country, and Dissent, a democratic socialist magazine, has largely been forced to position itself in the spectrum of American politics by saying what it is not. Though Howe would like to connect with Eugene Debs, Dissent actually is a product of the Communist and Trotskyist factionalism of the Thirties and Forties and the anti-communism of the Fifties. One of the magazine's major themes, as revealed in this selection of articles, is that a mass socialist or labor movement on the European model is not likely to arise in the U.S., and so, ""what is to be done?"" What Dissent rejects is the idea of a ""vanguard, on the communist model, and opts instead for a connection with the country's democratic traditions. In practice, this means getting pretty chummy with the Democratic Party … la contributor Michael Harrington. This leads, in turn, to trying to distinguish a democratic socialist from a Democrat, and that's not always easy. In a section entitled ""Visions of the Future,"" essays by Howe, Henry M. Pachter, Robert L. Heilbroner, and Harrington try to accomplish this; what they envision, however, is little more than continued government economic regulation coupled with an extension of democratic control (labor representation in management, etc.). In other words, do what the Democrats do, only more so. While the positive credo of democratic socialism is murky, the critical essays are often insightful--e.g., Paul Goodman's ""Devolution of Democracy"" (1962), on the poverty of public discourse, and Theodore Draper's ""Ghosts of Vietnam"" (1979), which dissects Guenther Lewy's America in Vietnam. Harold Rosenberg's 1956 call, in ""Marxism: Criticism and/or Action,"" for intellectuals to exercise their critical faculties, is taken up by the likes of Octavio Paz, Ignazio Silone, and Roy Medvedev--all of whom attempt to redefine the idea of socialism. Most of the other essays are less sweeping, dealing with specific problems of feminism, cities, minorities, etc. An uneven collection organized around a nebulous center, but representative of a certain intellectual crisis.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1979
Publisher: Methuen