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Lipset: Why no socialism in the United States

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Lipset. 1977. Why no socialism in the United States?. In Radicalism in the Contemporary Age, eds. Seweryn Bialer and Sophia Sluzar, vol 1. Boulder: Westview Press..

In Brief

Lipset reviews what socialists say about socialism in America. Originally, Marx and Engels expected the most industrialized, advanced capitalist state to be the first to face social dilemmas and succumb to socialist revolution. When Russia caught everyone off guard (an agrarian, underdeveloped state leading the way toward socialism), Trotsky and others then began to suspect that America would be last, citing some of the same reasons Marx and Engels used.

See below for the reasons.

Why No Socialism: Two Main Answers

Answer 1: American society (sociological, economic, and political aspects).

  • A new society, without a feudal, class-stratifed past
  • Ideological empasis on equality, liberty, egalitarianism makes it hard to persuade Americans that they need socialism. US already emphasizes equal opportunity
  • Mobility: either move West, or fill a job vacated by somebody else who went West

Answer 2: Factors internal to the various radical movements in the U.S.

  • Too diverse (too many languages, since most workers were immigrants in late 1800s-early 1900s). Also racial divide (working whites didn't cooperate with working blacks)
  • Rapid economic growth: Workers better off in real terms than Europeans
  • Electoral rules favor two parties; primary system helps these parties absorb fringe factions (think FDR--he led a coalition of society's downtrodden). Harder for a third (socialist) party to emerge.