Marxism and Americanism
A. J. Muste, Louis Budenz, and an “American approach” before the Popular Front
in Marxism and America
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This essay revisits the historiographical debates about the “Americanism” of the Popular Front era. It shows that efforts to Americanize Marxism and build a cultural front began in the 1920s as organized workers and their radical intellectual allies came together in the workers’ education movement, the magazine Labor Age, and the relatively unstudied Conference for Progressive Labor Action to construct a democratic theory and practice of Marxism. By focusing in particular on the movement’s two leading lights, A. J. Muste and Louis Budenz, this essay argues that their “American approach,” at its most expansive, offered an interpretation of the world that centered and validated working-class American experiences and agency, while simultaneously promoting transnational solidarities. At its most limited, it devolved into a sentimental nationalism that could be easily co-opted by the dominant culture. In the end, the movement was undermined by the American labor left’s culture of sectarianism, even as its guiding ideas and leading personalities were incorporated into the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the broader Popular Front of the 1930s.

Marxism and America

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