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It Didn't Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States (Norton Paperback) Paperback – January 23, 2013


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Product Details

  • Series: Norton Paperback
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (January 23, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393322548
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393322545
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,019,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Marx decreed in Capital that the most industrially advanced nation would usher the world into the bright dawn of socialism. But it didn't happen in America, the pinnacle of capitalist achievement. This broad but unambitious survey addresses one of the classic questions of American historiography: What accounts for the weakness of working-class radicalism in the U.S.? Preferring to restate the highlights of an admittedly worked-over literature on the subject rather than make significant new arguments of their own, Lipset (professor of public policy at George Mason University) and Marks (political science at UNC-Chapel Hill) present a "political sociology" of socialism's American flop. Lacking the feudal history that spurred Europe's early labor movements, the authors explain, American workers were "born conservatives," already enjoying social mobility and a relative prosperity. Moreover, strong constitutional limits on government power thwarted collectivists from the get-go and led homegrown radicals toward libertarian or anarchist camps. America's invincible two-party system made it all but impossible for a socialist candidate to succeed; since the Civil War, the authors point out, just nine non-major party candidates have won more than 5% of the national vote in any presidential election. What surprises there are in this book pop up in little-known annals of U.S. radicalism, such as the North Dakota Nonpartisan League, a strikingly successful contingent that in 1919 proposed a system of state ownership, only to be bitterly attacked by America's socialist party as an opportunistic rival. Green parties, the authors say, are the latest venue for utopian reform desires; again, the U.S. remains exceptional, as they point out, with no influential environmental party. (July)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This history marks a great leap forward in scholarship about socialism in America, particularly on the American Socialist Party. Lipsett (public policy, George Mason Univ.) and Marks (political science, Univ. of North Carolina) contrast the brief rise and long decline of the American Socialist Party with the steady progress of social democratic and labor parties in other Western industrialized nations. The diversity of the American working class, American individualism, and the determination of Socialists not to ally with the labor movement or other political parties head the long list of reasons why "it didn't happen here." The broad scope of this work (it covers both the Socialist Party and its offshoot, the Communist Party), its historical detail, and its unsentimental analysis complement recent works on specific aspects of American socialism, e.g., Jim Bissett's Agrarian Socialism in America (Univ. of Oklahoma, 1999). Highly recommended for all academic and larger public libraries.
Duncan Stewart, State Historical Society of Iowa Lib., Iowa City
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Steven S. Berizzi on November 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This ambitious and generally excellent book by two veteran political sociologists seeks to explain why the United States, alone among industrial societies, lacks a significant socialist movement or labor party. According to Seymour Martin Lipset, who currently teaches at George Mason University of Virginia, and Gary Marks of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, they are addressing " a classic question of American historiography." That is an accurate assessment, and the authors tackle it with intelligence, imagination, and useful comparative analysis. In an era of global capitalism triumphant, I suspect that most readers will not be interested in a long, albeit erudite, discussion of why the working-class challenge to industrial capitalism failed in the United States. Nevertheless, I recommend this book because it offers deep insights into American society which go far beyond answering the narrow question presented in the title.
Lipset and Marks present three principal reasons for the failure of socialism in the United States. First, that it is "but one instance of the ineffectiveness of third parties in the United States over the last century." Second, socialists and labor unionists "never succeeded in bringing the major union movement, the American Federation of Labor and later the AFL-CIO, to support and independent working-class political party." Third, "immigration created an extremely diverse labor force in which class coherence was undermined by ethnic, racial, and religious identity." Lipset and Marks devote a long, detailed chapter to each reason, and they are the heart of the book, along with the authors' fascinating discussion of the socialists' tendency to battle among themselves over issues of "ideological purity.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Jussi Bjorling on July 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Gary Marks and Seymour Lipset may seem to be taking on an easy mark in their book explaining why socialism never made much headway in the United States. However, they are doing something much broader and more interesting than simply explaining a single failure; instead, they have constructed a theory of American political life that shows (according to them) that socialism NEVER COULD HAVE been successful in the United States. In some ways, it is a pity that this book's title will probably limit its appeal to students of socialism, because it addresses far more.
Their thesis has many, many supporting arguments, but the two most important to me seemed to be first, that American political culture is naturally predisposed against collectivism and class warfare. The authors trace this tendency back to 19th-century economic and social conditions, and discuss how it interacted with incoming groups of immigrants. Second, the authors discuss the inability of socialism to offer the most attractive vision of the future to the working class (unlike in Europe, where the unions are all socialist). This failure meant that socialism could never attract a mass base, and as a result was confined to the vocal but numerically insignificant leftist intelligentsia.
I did not agree with everything in this book, but I found it extremely thought-provoking and recommend it wholeheartedly.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Richard E. Hegner on August 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The authors take on the perennial question of why a strong socialist movement never developed in the United States from virtually every imaginable angle--including American "exceptionalism," our electoral system, American federalism, the nature of unionism in the U.S., persection of leftists, etc. The emphasis here is on thorough--they have obviously reviewed all the major social science thought and research on this issue and added some original thinking of their own. (The footnotes are extensive, if not somewhat overwhelming.) They seem at their best when they approach the issues from the perspectives of political science and history, less so when they attempt sociological or economic explanations or attempt to draw lessons from international comparisons or multivariate analysis. (They frequently make comparisons with the experiences of such nations as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, which seem to verge on irrelevance in places.) The style of the book is that of a social science textbook--at once both its strength and its weakness, in that the book's theses are well developed but hammered home rather repetitively. The summaries at the end of each chapter are especially useful. The book is something of an effort to read, given the amount of detail offered, but it is a worthwhile and thought-provoking investment of time.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on November 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Seymour Martin Lipset's and Gary Mark's book, It Didn't Happen Here, explores the various reasons why Socialism never became an influence in the United States. They combine an historical perspective looking at events in America with a comparative approach to politics in other countries where Socialism influenced the political life. The book is thorough and well researched and should set an example for an approach to the subject. There are times that it does become repetitive in presenting a point repeatedly and much of the book is not as fascinating as the first and concluding chapters where a whole range of ideas are presented in a more general fashion. This book, though, is ideal for the reader with an interest in comparative politics who desires an in-depth look at left wing politics in connection with unions, immigrants and American exceptionalism (an idea that is in some ways showing a bit of decline as the rest of the world becomes politically more similar to the United States). The intellectual effort getting through this book does eventually pay off.
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