- Socialist, Communist, and McCarthy-era blacklisted writers appear on the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) new “Books That Shaped Work in America” list celebrating the department’s 100th anniversary.
A Socialist leader, two Stalin apologists, two blacklisted ’50s screenwriters, and a suspected Marxist are included on the list, which DOL compiled based on recommendations from various figures in the community. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez described the program as an “online book club.”
Included on the list is Michael Harrington, who figures prominently in Red Army, which I wrote in 2011 with Aaron Klein.
- Michael Harrington’s 1962 book The Other America, recommended by former Labor secretary Robert Reich, cracked the list. Harrington was an open Socialist and co-chairman of the Democratic Socialists of America. He was identified in his New York Times obituary as “probably the most visible spokesman for Socialist ideals in the United States” with the exception of longtime Party leader Norman Thomas.
The full title of Harrington’s 1962 book is The Other America: Poverty in the United States.
Long-time followers will be familiar with my Harrington article from March 2010:
Michael Harrington, Thomas-Debs Dinner honoring Dolores Huerta, May 1976.
The late Michael Harrington co-founded the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. In 1983, DSOC was merged with the New American Movement to form Democratic Socialists of America, the source organization for many members of Congress and long-time Obama associates, including several who became part of his administration.
Harrington was described as the “champion of the poor, author of the influential ‘The Other America,’ which helped to spur the war on poverty a quarter-century ago” by Herbert Mitgang in the July 2, 1988, New York Times.
The 60-year-old distinguished professor of political science at Queens College in New York had been triply honored at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan. Attendees were “a ‘friends list’ of 600 men and women,” some who “wore buttons proclaiming boycotts and causes,” who had come “from all over the country – a nostalgic assembly of the old and new left including trade unionists, environmentalists, feminists and moderate Socialists” for an event that was “called, simply, ‘In Celebration of Michael Harrington.’”
Paula Span wrote in the Washington Post:
- The title of his new book reflects the long view of someone who chaired the Young Socialist League in the edgy ’50s (known earlier as the Young People’s Socialist League), steered the League for Industrial Democracy and the Socialist Party through the divisive ’60s, founded the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee in 1973 and is hoping to organize a demonstration to push the Dukakis administration leftward in the fall of 1989.
“You’d go crazy as a socialist in this country if you’re not an optimist,” he said.
As an interesting side note, the British Fabian Socialist authors, the husband and wife team of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, were closely associated with co-founders of the League for Industrial Democracy. See if you can catch the obvious connection below in Howley’s article in the Daily Caller:
- The first two reds on the list are Sidney and Beatrice Webb, who made it for their 1897 work Industrial Democracy, recommended by Carter administration Labor Secretary Ray Marshall. The Webbs were supporters of the Communist economic experiment and are known in academia as apologists for Josef Stalin, whose regime they wrote about from firsthand observation in their 1935 book Soviet Communism: A New Civilization.
Lastly, attendees at the Harrington fete were there to raise funds for Harringon’s new foundation, the New American Movement (NAM), which succeeded his earlier group, active 1971-1982, by the same name.
There is a DSOC-NAM-Obama connection. Harry C. Boyte, who co-chaired the Civic Engagement Group of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and served as a member of Obama’s policy team, was not only involved in Harrington’s DSOC and NAM but was also a member of the National Interim Committee for NAM, a “steering committee for local groups” in the Chapel Hill, N.C., area. In fact, Boyte co-authored NAM’s “first mission statement for mass publication.”
Mitgang wrote that Harrington would lead NAM, a “new organization to support research on poverty,” for as long as he could since Harrington had been “undergoing chemotherapy for cancer of the esophagus” for several months. Harrington determined to persevere with his writing, telling Mitgang “one book will be on the homeless in America and another will be about the democratic socialist movement in the world.”
- “‘It will be called ‘Socialism, Past and Future,’” he said. “I hope that it’ll be ready for the 100th anniversary of the Socialist International in June ’89. Willy Brandt and some of my other friends representing the Socialist parties will be there.”
- “Put it this way,” he said. “Marx was a democrat with a small d. The term Marxism in our society is ambiguous. The Democratic Socialists envision a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism and racial equality. I share an immediate program with liberals in this country because the best liberalism leads toward socialism. I’m a radical, but, as I tell my students at Queens, I try not to soapbox. I want to be on the left wing of the possible.”
Speaking of the upcoming U.S. elections, Harrington said:
- “… There will be new possibilities for talking to the people and changing things and creating another America. A Democratic administration always opens up a space for those who stand on the left.”
Also of interest are the names of some of those in attendance at the July 1988 event:
- Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts; the actor Edward Asner, who served as master of ceremonies; William W. Winpisinger, president of the International Association of Machinists; Cesar Chavez, president of the United Farm Workers Union; New York City Councilwoman Ruth W. Messinger; the playwright-cartoonist Jules Feiffer; Gloria Steinem, and Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan of the Brooklyn Roman Catholic Diocese, who delivered an invocation. Never ‘A More Loyal Ally’.
To this list we can add Harrington’s DSA co-chair, Barbara Ehrenreich, and D.C.’s Eleanor Holmes-Norton, head of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission under Jimmy Carter, both of whom spoke on Harrington’s behalf, as well as Bella Abzug, Mark Green, publisher Frances Lear, and musician Jackson Browne.
Senator Kennedy said: “Mike Harrington has made more Americans more uncomfortable for more good reasons than any other person I know.” In regards to Harrington’s book, ‘The Other America,’ Kennedy added: “Never again could we ignore the millions of faces pressed against the windows of our affluence.”
Kennedy’s words are most revealing, signifying for those who did not know that he stood clearly in the progressive (liberal, socialist, marxist) camp:
- “I see Michael Harrington as delivering the Sermon on the Mount to America. When it comes to the Kennedy brothers, he bats three for three. Among veterans in the war on poverty, no one has been a more loyal ally when the night was the darkest.”
Harrington had actively participated in the presidential campaigns of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 1980.
One of those “dark” occasions may have been in January 1987 when Harrington testified in the 100th Congress before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee that Kennedy headed. Kennedy described his “activist” domestic legislation as a “series of proposals to increase health, education and employment benefits and to hike the minimum wage.”
Full employment was on the agenda before Kennedy, Harrington’s DSA, and many others — “labor, religious groups, liberals, radicals, economists, the Council of Economic Advisers, the Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee, the Congressional Black Caucus and even the National Committee for Full Employment” — all retreated.
DSA’s influence in Congress is clearly seen through the October 1987 observance by Kennedy’s Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, which “marked the 25th anniversary of Michael Harrington’s landmark book, ‘The Other America,’” with a hearing “on poverty and policy in the 1980s and beyond.”
There is a lesson here for modern-day progressives who should heed the warnings of more than 20 years ago. Bertram Gross wrote in The Nation:
- Some progressives see “full employment’ as a worn-out slogan. Many underestimate the magnitude of unemployment. Others argue that progressives should concentrate on what is attainable under present-day capitalism.
If Harrington would not have agreed to this in theory his life style agreed to it in fact. In a review of his new book in August 1988, Linda Matchen wrote in the Boston Globe:
- Life can get complicated for a socialist in America. Just ask Michael Harrington, the country’s best-known socialist.
This is a man with a portrait of Karl Marx on the wall of his family room. A man whose working language includes “cadre,” “rank and file,” “bourgeoisie.” A man who lived for two years in voluntary poverty, and who later earned his living as an itinerant agitator.
At age 60, he says his entire life has been dominated by a single motivation — a “thirst for justice.”
But, it turns out, even a socialist has to earn a living, especially a socialist who has kids. Radical certitudes don’t seem so certain anymore in the face of mortgage payments and little league games. Accommodations have to be made.
“The most bourgeois experience I know is becoming a father,” Harrington says. “It is completely possible I will have two kids in college at the same time. Try that with poverty! It doesn’t work.”
The accommodations began about 20 years ago, around the time the first of his two sons was born. He needed health insurance for his family, and that meant he had to get a job. And so the Marxist agitator from Greenwich Village became a political science professor at Queens College.
Since he was committed to public education, he needed a home in a decent school district. Because his family was priced out of their Village apartment, he swallowed his moral hesitations and headed for the Westchester suburb of Larchmont, where he bought a three-bedroom, middle-class house. (Harrington’s socialist assessment of the decision, he makes clear in his autobiography, is that he was “driven out of the city by the polarization of classes and races because of the dominance of wealth over property and housing.”)
His lifestyle changes didn’t pass unnoticed. When he moved to the suburbs, a New York tabloid printed a smirking gossip-page item (“Socialist Leader Flees to Larchmont”), which was reprinted by the Wall Street Journal.
After all, here he was — an inveterate Marxist with a bourgeois lifestyle. It was not an easy contradiction for Harrington to come to terms with. Even harder was the fact that, in capitalist circles, he was becoming a famous Marxist. After the publication of his landmark 1962 book about poverty, “The Other America,” he was recruited as a consultant by the Johnson administration in its effort to wipe out poverty. Suddenly, he was communing with Cabinet members and presenting memos to the president.
Harrington says he paid a price for his political compromises. He suffered an emotional breakdown after the success of his book.
Upon his passing in August 1989, at age 61, the Chicago Sun-Times reported: “Although he championed the poor, Mr. Harrington was not among them. He was born to comfort and in his later years earned more than $80,000 a year.”
Not bad for the man who “taught at the Universities of Paris, Illinois, Michigan and California at Los Angeles and at Harvard University and the National War College.”
Not bad at all for the avowed socialist who was chairman of the Socialist Party from 1968 to 1972; was chairman of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee from 1973-82; served as secretary of the Socialist International committee; and, in July 1989, was named honorary president at the Socialist International centennial conference in Stockholm, Sweden.
- “America always needs an aging socialist around to show its tolerance. ‘See, we’re not Russians. We’re democratic! Look, there’s Harrington!’”– Michael Harrington, July 1988.
“How does the old adage go, ‘socialist at 20, sensible at 40′? For Mike, it’s been socialist at 20, socialist at 40, socialist at 60 and still counting.”–actor, emcee Ed Asner, July 1988.
Add another label to Harrington’s laurels: hypocrite.