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International Socialism, Spring 1964

C. Davison

In the Midst of Plenty

From International Socialism, No.16, Spring 1964, p.31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The Other America
Michael Harrington
Penguin, 3s. 6d.

Harrington devotes the major part of his book to convincingly demolishing the myth of America as an affluent, classless, post-capitalist society. He describes in detail the plight of America’s 50 million poor: the subsistence farmers; the old, living on charity; the negroes; and, most significantly, the ‘new poor’ – those who find their skills no longer needed in automated industry. He shows the total failure of successive administrations to solve these problems: a four-year low-cost housing programme aimed at building 810000 units was launched in 1949 – it has not yet been completed!

Yet despite this effective analysis the book is profoundly disappointing for Socialists. Hidden away in the last five pages are Harrington’s proposals for solving these formidable problems. Having convinced us that, even if it wished, liberal capitalism could not solve these gigantic problems, he then offers us the exhilarating prospect of a re-shuffle of party alignments as the way out.

It is a sad reflection upon the present political environment in the USA that Socialists such as Harrington can become so disillusioned with working class political action, and accommodate themselves completely with liberal reformist ideology; for this book could well have been written by President Kennedy. Before reading this book I was willing to be convinced, as a distant observer, that entry into the Democratic Party to pursue the policy of ‘realignment’ was the only hope for American socialists. Having read the book I am certain there is no other way but to work for the creation of a ‘labour party’, for however difficult this way may seem, it is the only one that can produce real solutions to the problems the American working class faces, problems so imaginatively described here.

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