Michael Kazin

Michael Kazin is the author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan and other books. He teaches history at Georgetown University.

Recent Articles

Discovering a Better Left

About 40 years ago, I read a book by the historian-activist James Weinstein, and my political outlook changed utterly, and for good. Its title, The Decline of Socialism in America, 1912-1925 , doesn't sound like a catalyst of hope, much less of personal transformation. But at the time, I was recovering from a feverish romance with revolution. Weinstein's book was precisely what a recent refugee from the Che-adoring, Mao-quoting, Weathermanic archipelago badly needed. Weinstein revealed that, for two delicious decades, the peaceful and radical democrats of the Socialist Party had been a force to be reckoned with in American life. From 1901 to 1920, there were 323 Socialist newspapers with a combined readership in the millions. In hundreds of cities and towns, the SP elected mayors, councilmen, and tax assessors. Its members led such major unions as the Mine Workers, the Machinists, and the Ladies' Garment Workers. It was a revelation to learn that Socialists had once gained a plurality...

The Sit-Down Strike Returns! Now What?

Chicago workers' use of occupation to battle with their employer was successful, but labor needs more than the return of 1930s tactics to reclaim power.

There's something inevitable, as well as heartening, about the workers' occupation of Republic Windows and Doors that began on Dec. 5 and ended today in victory. After all the talk about the nation being ensnared in "the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression," laid-off employees at the small Chicago firm seized upon a tactic not widely used in the United States since Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House. During the late 1930s, thousands of workers -- in dozens of factories and a few department stores -- sat down on the job, forcing their employers to grant them union contracts and higher wages. It was the most dramatic moment in an organizational drive that made labor a powerful force in the American economy and a pillar of the Democratic coalition ever since. But don't expect history to repeat itself. Seventy years ago, most sit-down strikes took place at huge auto and rubber plants -- then essential cogs in the industrial base upon which the whole economy depended...

Era of Hope and Sorrow

Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865–1900 by Jack Beatty (Knopf, 496 pages, $28.95) West From Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America After the Civil War by Heather Cox Richardson (Yale University Press, 416 pages, $30.00) Are we living through a "new Gilded Age"? Although the phrase calls up images of rococo mansions and Victorian etiquette from the late 19th century, liberal commentators have recently turned that era into a potent metaphor for the present. David Remnick made The New Gilded Age the title of a collection of essays from The New Yorker . Paul Krugman, writing in The New York Times , evoked his youth in a more egalitarian, securely middle-class society, and then declared, "But that was long ago, We are now living in a new Gilded Age, as extravagant as the original." Kevin Phillips echoed the charge in a Prospect article that blasted "the moral degradation" of the corporate rich and their corrupt dealings with the Bush White House and the Republican...

The Other Bryan

Imagine the ideal democratic nominee for president. He's twice won election in Nebraska, one of the reddest of states, and is just as popular across the South and Midwest. He's a charismatic, energetic orator. He's also a stalwart progressive who has taken tough stands against corporate crime, to aid labor organizers, and to raise taxes on the wealthy. His marriage is loving and cooperative, and his three children long to emulate their father. Although a war veteran, he's an eloquent advocate of peaceful solutions to international conflicts. Most significantly, he's a devout churchgoer and lay minister who preaches that every true Christian has a duty to transform a nation and world plagued by the arrogance of wealth and the pain of inequality. That man is William Jennings Bryan. Of course, he's been dead for 80 years, but progressives should encourage a resurgence of the social gospel he championed if they hope to regain power in what remains the most religious nation in the...

State of the Debate: The White Rage

Why has extremist violence exploded on the right? A historical look at the evolution of populist rage.

WORKS DISCUSSED IN THIS ESSAY Morris Dees with James Corcoran, Gathering Storm: America's Militia Threat (HarperCollins, 1996). Kenneth S. Stern, A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate (Simon and Schuster, 1996). Catherine McNicol Stock, Rural Radicals: Righteous Rage in the American Grain (Cornell University Press, 1996). Susan J. Tolchin, The Angry American: How Voter Rage is Changing the Nation (Westview Press, 1996). I n the winter of 1992, a recently discharged white GI wrote to his hometown paper in Lockport, New York. With some anguish, he listed a familiar catalog of injustices: "Criminals have no fear of punishment"; "Taxes are a joke. . . . More taxes are always the answer to government mismanagement"; "Politicians are out of control. Their yearly salaries are more than an average person will see in a lifetime"; "The 'American Dream' of the middle class has all but disappeared, substituted with people struggling just to buy next week's...

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