Newsletter of the Democratic Left, vol. 1, no. 6 (October 1973) (Michael Harrington) pdf, epub, doc

Edward Michael Harrington was an American democratic socialist, writer, political activist, professor of political science, and radio commentator.

Early life

Harrington was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He attended St. Louis University High School, College of the Holy Cross, University of Chicago (MA in English Literature), and Yale Law School. As a young man, he was interested in both leftwing politics and Catholicism. Fittingly, he joined Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker movement, a pacifist group that advocated a radical interpretation of the Gospel. Above all else, Harrington was an intellectual. He loved arguing about culture and politics, preferably over beer, and his Jesuit education made him a fine debater and rhetorician. Harrington was an editor of The Catholic Worker from 1951 to 1953. However, Harrington became disillusioned with religion and, although he would always retain a certain affection for Catholic culture, he ultimately became an atheist.

Becoming a socialist

This estrangement from religion was accompanied by a growing interest in Marxism and a drift toward secular socialism. After leaving The Catholic Worker Harrington became a member of the Independent Socialist League, a small organization associated with the former Trotskyist leader Max Shachtman. Harrington and Shachtman believed that socialism, the promise of a just and fully democratic society, could not be realized under authoritarian Communism and they were both fiercely critical of the "bureaucratic collectivist" states in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Harrington became a member of Norman Thomas's Socialist Party when the SP agreed to absorb Shachtman's organization. Harrington backed the Shachtmanite realignment strategy of working within the Democratic Party rather than running candidates on a Socialist ticket.

Socialist leader

During this period Harrington wrote The Other America: Poverty in the United States, a book that had an impact on the Kennedy administration, and on Lyndon B. Johnson's subsequent War on Poverty. Harrington became a widely read intellectual and political writer. He would frequently debate noted conservatives but would also clash with the younger radicals in the New Left movements. He was present at the 1962 SDS conference that led to the creation of the Port Huron Statement, where he argued that the final draft was insufficiently anti-Communist. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. referred to Harrington as the "only responsible radical" in America, a somewhat dubious distinction among those on the political left. His high profile landed him on the master list of Nixon political opponents.

By early 1970s Shachtman's anti-Communism had become a hawkish Cold War liberalism. Shachtman and the governing faction of the Socialist Party effectively supported the Vietnam War and changed the organization's name to Social Democrats, USA. In protest Harrington led a number of Norman Thomas-era Socialists, younger activists and ex-Shachtmanites into the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. A smaller faction associated with peace activist David McReynolds formed the Socialist Party USA.

In the early 1980s The Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee merged with the New American Movement, an organization of New Left veterans, forming Democratic Socialists of America. This organization remains the principal U.S. affiliate of the Socialist International, which includes socialist parties as diverse as the Swedish and German Social Democrats, Nicaragua's FSLN, and the British Labour Party.

Academician and public intellectual

Harrington was appointed a professor of political science at Queens College in 1972 and was designated a distinguished professor in 1988. During the 1980s he contributed commentaries to National Public Radio. Harrington died in 1989 of cancer. He was the most well-known socialist in the United States during his lifetime.

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