TAKING SIDES: The Education of a Militant Mind by Michael Harrington

TAKING SIDES: The Education of a Militant Mind

Email this review


The intellectual odyssey of an American socialist activist, interspersed with selections of previously published articles. Harrington claims, ""I have always tried to write from the point of view of the poor and excluded. . . I began as a militant who wanted to change society, not as a scholar. That meant. . .be as ruthless with the unstated assumptions of the Left as with those of the Right."" He has never wavered in his vision of a democratic socialist America: a land where poverty is abolished, workers participate in decision-making, waste is eliminated, environment is cherished. Toward this end he makes speeches, writes 14 books, joins left-oriented groups, marches for civil rights and against war and nuclear proliferation, and becomes a professor of political science. The first article in the collection is a 1955 piece published in Dissent on the Committee for Cultural Freedom, a now-defunct group of liberal intellectuals who banded together to disassociate liberals from the taint of Communism. Himself an anticommunist, Harrington deplored its lack of true commitment to cultural freedom. (It was later revealed the CIA had infiltrated the group.) This article epitomizes the book's main problem. Harrington included it to counter the charge by ""activist critics"" that ""the entire 1950's Left had given in to McCarthy and only the Communists had kept the faith."" For most readers the point may be of peripheral interest; and even so it could have been handily made through a brief excerpt rather than through the article's interminable 4,500 words. But some pieces are still relevant as well as stimulating. Today's college students would do well to peruse ""The Mystical Militants,"" a 1966 analysis of campus radicals. ""They seem to have believed what they were told about freedom, equality, justice, world peace. . . They became activists in order to affirm these traditional values with regard to some ethical cause: defending civil liberties against HUAC, picketing for the life of Caryl Chessman, demanding an end to nuclear testing, fighting for civil rights. The shock generated by the [sic] society's duplicity in this or that single issue then opened their eyes to larger, and even more systematic, injustices."" Of the more recent articles, one is an interesting analysis of ideas and programs in the Nixon era which were actually socialist in orientation but, because the appellation was (and is) anathema, were called something else; the President instituted wage and price controls and proposed (unsuccessfully) a tax program which would have provided a guaranteed annual income. ""What Socialists Would do in America--if they Could"" lays out Harrington's vision and his analysis of how it could be achieved through the democratic process. A later article, evidently written specifically for this volume, analyzes the adverse international and domestic conditions as well as the mistakes that have sandbagged Francois Mitterand's attempt to turn France into a socialist state.

Pub Date: Oct. 28th, 1985
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston