NORMAN THOMAS: The Last Idealist by W.A. Swanberg
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NORMAN THOMAS: The Last Idealist

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A large, engrossing biography of the man who came to embody anti-Bolshevik socialism in the US, viewed not as a quixotic diehard for sticking to the shell of the Socialist Party, but as a seminal and flexible political symbol. Disillusioned with God and Woodrow Wilson after WW I, Thomas moved from a settlement-house style of ministry into the SP ""when everyone else was leaving"" the party except the largely Jewish, trade union-based New Yorkers who however, supported Al Smith when Thomas ran on the SP ticket for governor in 1924. Gradually, Thomas brought a genteel, Gentile and Progressive style into the party, Swanberg stresses, but the Depression forced him to move from mere ""good government"" campaigns into more militant gestures like sharecropper support. Thomas' isolationist efforts before WW II and his defense of interned Japanese-Americans during the war were followed by a better-dead-than-red stand in the 1950s and a move away from SP battles per se into ""global do-gooderism"" by way of the Post War World Council. Swanberg gives as adequate a sense of earlier inter-party battles as Bernard Johnpoll did in Pacifist's Progress (1970), while seeing Thomas less as an Ohio-born fundamentalist and more as a sophisticated East Coat Fabian. This biography also exhaustively examines Thomas' personal life--his Social Register, spaniel-breeding wife, a preference for P.G. Wodehouse over Marx, and a magnetism which the admiring Swanberg describes as deliberately studied. Whether Thomas consciously became a ""State Department socialist"" in his old age is a question the book raises inconclusively;the central portrait is of a sincere and energetic activist who saw his potential mass base drop away yet kept plugging.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1976
Publisher: Scribners