Happy May Day, folks!
May Day (May 1st) is the international labor day that commemorates all those who have risked life and livelihood for justice in the workplace and in the community and specifically the Chicago martyrs who were unjustly imprisoned and executed as part of the labor movement’s struggle for the 8 hour work day. Normally this day would be marked with parades, rallies, speeches and, yes, picnics and entertainment, but this being the Year of our Plague 2020, we’ll have to do this day online and in our hearts.
That being the case, I decided to post this booklet by Michael Harrington as an appropriate way of making an argument for the occasion. It was originally published as an article (almost the entire issue, apparently) in the May – June, 1970, issue of Dissent Magazine. It was reissued that year as a booklet by The Norman Thomas Fund, a short-lived entity that was intended (I think) to be an educational vehicle for the old Socialist Party – Social Democratic Federation. Much of the content went on to be incorporated into Harrington’s 1972 book “Socialism”. Note the cover price of $1.25. This was not cheap. In March, 2020, dollars that comes to $8.45. This PDF was created for the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America website back when I was serving as the web master.
A lefty Of A Certain Age would remember Michael Harrington because for much of the last third of the 20th Century, he was pretty much the public face of democratic socialism in the United States. I think it was William F. Buckley who observed this was rather like applause for being the tallest building in Wichita. (Or was it Topeka?) So it’s entirely understandable if Harrington is not as well remembered in 2020 as he should be. Also, he did die way back in 1989 — a lifetime ago for some. At times, while Harrington was alive and after, the Democratic Socialists of America as a national organization functioned more or less as the Michael Harrington Permanent Book Tour and Appreciation Society; sooner or later, it is time to move on and this brings a new generation who understandably have an urge to pee on the fire hydrant to make it their own. And finally, if one had (or still has) a devotion to Marxism-Leninism, it may be (for some) uncomfortable remembering someone who was very much a skeptic (at least!) of “real, existing socialism” as the Soviet-bloc was often styled.
Why is Harrington is worth remembering and why this publication in particular? Well, for one thing, the debates over socialism, and policies inspired by socialism, have been going on for a very long time. While the arguments for or against change slowly, it’s worthwhile revisiting them for a fresh perspective. Take a look at this document and decide for yourself how well, or not, Harrington’s argument holds up.
Robert Gorman’s 1995 biography of Harrington was aptly titled Michael Harrington: Speaking American. Harrington had a talent for combining the pragmatism of “what do we do on Monday?” with utopian idealism, and it was that political pragmatism that made his idealism plausible to an American audience. I don’t know that Harrington ever framed it this way, but there is a difference between politics as a means of implementing a philosophy and philosophy as means of guiding one’s politics. I view Harrington as firmly in the latter category. And for a surprising number of American lefties of a certain age, Harrington and this publication in particular strongly informed their politics then and even today.
In the 21st Century, this booklet may be the very definition of TLDR. But if you wish, nonetheless, to read / download the work, CLICK HERE or on this cover thumbnail: