THE LONG DETOUR by James Weinstein


The History and Future of the American Left
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The noted leftist—publisher of In These Times and founder of Socialist Review—recounts the history of radical thought on this side of the pond.

A lucid writer and lifelong activist, Weinstein holds that socialism, Marxian and otherwise, “has meant the fulfillment of the promise of American democracy.” A dubious claim, perhaps, but Weinstein demonstrates capably that socialist ideas have been a part of the American cultural and political landscape since the early days of the republic, and have even flourished on occasion, particularly with the utopian communities of the early-19th and the labor activism of the early-20th centuries. Modern socialism found strong roots in America following the Civil War, he writes, largely among transplanted German workers who “were acutely aware of their isolation from the mainstream of American political life”; incorporating the ideas of Marx, Fourier, and other European radicals, these now-American radicals were largely responsible for creating the labor movement, and were effective enough that by the time of WWI several city governments (such as that of Schenectady, New York) openly branded themselves as socialist. But the cause lost much of its allure with the hardening of the Soviet regime, which, Weinstein ruefully writes, created the foundations of not a worker’s paradise but the “corrupt and primitive form of capitalism that Russia now enjoys.” Much of Weinstein’s narrative is set not in America but Moscow, and his account sometimes veers into the briar patch of high-level theory and mere rhetoric. Portions, however, contain fresh and eye-opening interpretations of long-debated matters, such as Weinstein’s notion that the origins of the New Left lie in Nikita Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization campaign of the early 1950s and that the only way socialism can really take hold in America is with the adoption of a parliamentary system of government.

It’s not To the Finland Station, but worthwhile prescriptions for American progressivism all the same.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-8133-4104-3
Page count: 272pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2003