Monday, June 27, 2005

Remembering James Weinstein

I never met James Weinstein, but I certainly felt his influence. Doug Ireland has a long and very worthwhile tribute on his blog which is sort of a capsule history of the American left over the last century. You should read it all. And, if it makes sense, check out Weinstein's The Long Detour and subscribe to In These Times, the news bi-weekly Weinstein founded.

Here are a few highlights from Ireland's tribute

James Weinstein -- author, historian, teacher, editor, publisher, founder of In These Times magazine, and an important figure in the life of the mind of American radicalism for four decades -- died Thursday morning at his home on the North Side of Chicago, after a long bout with brain cancer. On his death, Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont -- the Independent member of Congress who is a democratic sociast -- told the AP, ""Jim Weinstein was one of the intellectual leaders of the American progressive movement."

Jimmy Weinstein was the son of privilege, but he always put his inherited wealth at the service of his lifelong radical ideals. A New York City native, he was politically active in left-wing causes from the age of 14, and -- after leaving his undergraduate studies at Cornell in 1944 to serve 19 months in the Navy as World War II came to a close -- he returned to finish taking his degree, then went on to graduate school at Columbia University, where he joined the Communist Party. Jimmy broke with the CP in 1956 after the Soviet invasion of Hungary (left)-- and later, as a historian, Jimmy became one of the Communist Party's most intelligent and perceptive critics...


Jimmy wrote five books -- among the most significant, to me, is his The Decline of Socialism in America, 1912-1925, which belongs on the bookshelf of anyone truly interested in the history of the American left...

Jimmy helped keep alive a history that has almost disappeared from the American consciousness. In the years immediately preceding the First World War, the socialist movement laid down deep roots in the Images_13 United States, in spite of many obstacles. Jimmy Weinstein's brilliant study of the Socialist Party altered many of the prevailing assumptions about American radicalism, showing that at its numerical peak in 1912, the party had 118,000 members well distributed throughout the country. It claimed 323 English and foreign-language publications with a total circulation probably in excess of two million. The largest of the socialist newspapers, The Debs Appeal to Reason of Girard, Kansas, had a weekly circulation of 761,747. In 1912, the year the party's leader, Eugene V. Debs (left) polled 6 percent of the Presidential vote, Socialists held 1,200 offices in 340 cities, including 79 mayors in 24 states. As late as 1918, they elected 32 state legislators. In 1916, they elected Meyer London to Congress and made important gains in the municipal elections of several large cities.

Among many points made in his writings -- both in his books, and in scholarly articles -- Weinstein argued coherently that the Communist Party U.S.A. helped squander that rich legacy of native American radicalism by its slavish devotion and subservience to Soviet Russia -- which was utterly irrelevant to the needs and experience of working-class America.

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