Thursday, May 13, 2010

Elena Kagan's Thesis

Hmmmm....! I wonder what a thesis titled "To The Final Conflict: Socialism in New York City, 1900-1933" is all about.

Read it for yourself...

Elana Kagan's undergraduate thesis

Via Weasel Zippers, uncovered for us lying teabaggers by Erick Erickson at Red State.

UPDATE: She asked why the “greatness” of socialism was not reemerging as a major political force

The story is a sad but also a chastening one for those who, more than half a century after socialism’s decline, still wish to change America,” she wrote.

Her thesis was dedicated to her brother “whose involvement in radical causes led me to explore the history of American radicalism in the hope of clarifying my own political ideas.”

A running list of excerpts (as I stagger through this horribly written thing) appears below. To be honest, throughout page after page she plays historian, building a case, retelling the case, making her case (like a true lawyer) so overburdened with repetition the eyes start to glaze over and the reader actively contemplates self-inflicted death by rusty letter opener. Obviously placement of even historical fact is commentary, but I will spare you her ad nauseum recounting of others' work (you can, after all, read it, and subsequently contemplate suicide, yourself) ... and try to hone in on the key messages that relate directly to her own thoughts ...
The success of the socialists in establishing a viable -- if minor -- political party in the early twentieth century suggests that historians must examine not only external but also internal factors if they hope to explain the absence of socialism from contemporary American politics. The effects of the frontier, of class mobility, of an ethnically divided working class may explicate why the Socialist Party did not gain an immediate mass following; they cannot explain why the growing and confident American socialist movement of the Progressive Era suddenly fell apart. For that, we must turn to the internal workings and problems of the socialist movement itself.


In our own times, a coherent socialist movement is nowhere to be found in the United States. Americans are more likely to speak of a golden past than of a golden future, of capitalism's glories than of socialism's greatness. Conformity overrides dissent; the desire to conserve has overwhelmed the urge to alter. Such a state of affairs cries out for explanation. Why, in a society by no means perfect, has a radical party never attained the status of a major political force? Why, in particular, did the socialist movement never become an alternative to the nation's established parties?


The story is a a sad but also a chastening one for those who, more than half a century after socialism's decline, still wish to change America. Radicals have often succumbed to the devastating bane of sectarianism; it is easier, after all, to fight one's fellows than it is to battle an entrenched and powerful foe. Yet if the history of the Local New York shows anything, it is that American radicals cannot afford to become their own worst enemies. In unity lies their only hope.
UPDATE II: On Kagan's brother, who earned her thesis dedication for his "involvement in radical causes" ...
Then there's Kagan's brother, Marc, who was a transit worker and union reformer in Transport Workers Local 100. Marc Kagan was one of former Local 100 leader Roger Toussaint's top aides until the two had a falling out in 2003. That's par for the course for the Upper Left Side, where if you can't launch two feuds before lunch, the day's a waste.

Marc Kagan became a teacher and he's no less a fierce supporter of union rights in his new union. In a letter in last week's Chief-Leader, he takes a swipe at schools chancellor Joel Klein's notion that seniority rules shouldn't apply to upcoming teacher layoffs. He goes on to offer a full-throated defense of unionism, one that's likely to light up the eyes of Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell as he looks around for something to throw at the new White House nominee. Marc Kagan writes:

"Here's a heretical thought: the actual purpose of unions is to improve workers' lives by challenging the free market: to win a higher than "market" wage, to make it hard for the employer to change working conditions or fire the higher-paid worker. We shouldn't hide these ideas under a rock like we're ashamed of them; just the opposite. When unions won the 8-hour day, or the weekend, or pension plans, unions defended the idea that working people's lives and rights were socially more important than employers' profits and rights. And we said that those victories would tend to spread, even into nonunionized sectors, and generally make people's lives better. And that was true, for decades.

"Today we are playing this movie backwards. As people in the nonunion sector have faced big roll-backs in wages and benefits, we hear them complain that unionized workers should also "give back." It's an indication that we have, at least temporarily, lost the battle of ideas in this country, that we can't successfully explain to our fellow workers that it is in their interests too if we are able to hold the line somewhere, rather than engage in a frantic race to the bottom."

Gee ... I'm surprised he didn't channel Ron Gochez and advocate all out revolution.

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