Was Supreme Court Nominee Kagan a Youthful Socialist?

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Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's undergraduate thesis submitted at Princeton University in 1981, was a detailed history of the rise and fall of New York's Socialist Party in the early 20th Century. It's an impressive work for a young person — and it is sparking questions about the extent to which the young Kagan had embraced left-wing views....

Most of the document is a remarkably clear and cogent account of the deeply tangled and confusing politics that divided the left from the far left a century ago. Focusing on the New York City socialists, Kagan began with a question that historians had been asking for decades: Why didn't socialism happen in the United States as it did throughout Europe?...

The crisis for American socialism, Kagan writes, came with the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia. For radicals in the American movement, this seemed to be the start of something big — and they should join Russia's Leninists in a worldwide uprising to crush capitalism by violence. Their militant demands prompted years of internal warfare as factions battled factions and splinter groups splintered into smaller splinters.

If there is anything to object to in Kagan's narrative, it is that she focused so intently on the capital-S Socialists that she mostly missed what happened to the small-s socialism of Morris Hillquit. She pays only passing attention to the fact that New York's Democratic Party — then known as Tammany Hall — noticed the rising popularity of Hillquit's gradual reforms, and plucked a piece of the action. Issues such as labor rights, women's suffrage, and workplace safety were woven into the Democratic platform and helped to vault Tammany's Al Smith into the governor's office....

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Janine Giordano Drake - 5/29/2010

See this article I wrote on this subject!