From the American Socialist Collection of Sol Dolinger

From the original typewritten pages found at
NYU’s Tamiment Labor Library and transcribed by Louis Proyect

Burt Cochran’s speech introducing
The American Socialist magazine in 1955

by Bert Cochran

I AM convinced, in the light of this reading of the American scene, that there is a real need for genuine American radicalism. By that I mean a movement that understands this country, that is sensitive to the feelings and aspirations of its people, that knows how to establish communication with them and how to make itself heard, that has the ability to come up with drastic structural solutions which recommend themselves to significant bodies of people as meaningful and realistic. I don’t mean by radicalism, the pettifogging, the quotation-mongering, the pseudo-Marxian profundities, the dogmatics, the circle bickerings and soul-destroying factionalism which have distinguished, I am afraid, all of us on the Left for the past years, and which carry a heavy onus of the responsibility for our ineffectiveness and disintegration. I know that a new important radicalism will arise in this country in response to the needs that exist and are due to become more pressing as time goes on. Whether the existing radical circles will play any role in this coming development is another question.

The past year hasn’t shown any progress but there has been a lot of churning and soul-searching. That’s a good sign. It shows there is still some life in the old carcass. When the time comes that you don’t even react to disaster, than you know that rigor mortis has set in. I don’t see that the discussion has produced a comprehensive meeting of the minds as yet, or that any new key ideas have been produced, and some have shown themselves to be remarkably impervious to floods, fires, famines and earthquakes. But there has definitely been, so far as I can observe, a sorting-out process, and, for many, a limited consensus of thought established.

If I may be permitted to draw my own design of the consensus that I believe has been achieved, I would state as the first proposition that the day of organizing a radical movement in this country as a branch office of the Russian concern—is over; and thank God! And that is true whether it is a branch office that gets its instructions from Stalin or Khrushchev or Lenin or Trotsky. This country is too big, too diversified, too self-sufficient and self-confident, it has too many people, it has too powerful a tradition of its own to tolerate a radicalism whose source of inspiration or whose hidden allegiances reside abroad. We can be friends of socialist achievements wherever they take place, and we can practice international labor solidarity on behalf of a common cause without surrendering the dignity of our independence and without losing our bearings that socialism in this country, as in all major countries, will only be won as a manifestation of its own national will.

The second proposition that I would list on which there has been a significant meeting of many minds is the realization that a new movement cannot be built representing simply one of the existing factions, or revolve around one of the existing factions. The fact is all of these have been trying to build the Left party of the American people for many years, and all of them have failed. It doesn’t mean that all of their ideas are necessarily worthless. But as an overall proposition, they have weighed in the balance of a quarter century, and have been found wanting. The new movement has to be new in fact as well as in name. It has to breathe the spirit of an all-national enterprise, and eschew the spirit of a faction or sect.

The third proposition is that the new movement will have to effect a wedding between radicalism and democracy all over again. It was a fatal error that an estrangement was permitted between the two, and reconciliation will have to be consummated, not as a matter of mutual convenience, but of true love. Socialism can have appeal and attractive power in America again only if it rests on the democratic achievements that have been wrested thus far and seeks to extend them, only if works to realize the American dream one of whose main components is freedom and democracy. And the promise will not carry conviction unless it is accompanied by the practice, by resistance to injustice, by an outcry against brutality, by hostility to dictatorship, wherever it appears, be it in Russia or America. Moreover, a revived Left will demonstrate its democracy by the free play for variegated concepts of work it permits in its own councils. The experiments with semi-military, over-centralized and over-bureaucratized forms of organization have proven a fiasco.

Naturally, we can’t jump over our heads, and premature organization schemes, or the hunt for fourth-dimensional gimmicks or stunts will not hasten us along the path. The Bible says: “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” The current season calls for building along the lines that are possible and that our present inertness and dispersion dictates. It is of arch-importance in this gestation period to have the nerve to persevere in our localities, to build up the local forums and discussion centers that have sprung up in various cities, to launch them where they have not yet been founded, to support and popularize the Left press, to help recreate once again in America a climate of intellectual discussion and interest, of dissent, of iconoclasm, of free thought. As the movement gathers self-assurance, picks up strength and fights to adopt a more commonly accepted approach on matters that count, it will move on to more ambitious institutional arrangements.

There are still deep and grievous divisions on the meaning of independent political action and a number of other important matters. Obviously, more experiences will have to be digested before we can say a working body of agreement has been perfected. But I believe that a start has been made, and that tenacity and faith are now virtues of a high priority that will in due course be amply rewarded.

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