ISR Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialist Review, Winter 1963


Carol Lawrence

A View of Radical America


From International Socialist Review, Vol.24 No.1, Winter 1963, pp.26-27.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


A Radical America
by Harvey Swados
An Atlantic Monthly Press Book, Boston. 1962. 347 pp. $5.

This book is a collection of articles written by Harvey Swados for such diverse publications as the Menorah Journal, Antioch Review, Anvil and Student Partisan, Mademoiselle, Saturday Review, the Nation, Monthly Review and American Socialist, to name a few of the magazines in which these essays have appeared over a thirteen-year period. Widely known for the novel, On the Line, a book about assembly line workers in an automobile plant, Harvey Swados has also written a study of the muckrakers and three other novels.

Skimming through the book’s twenty-five essay titles, can give the reader some of the flavor of this book. Labor’s Cultural Degradation, The Myth of the Happy Worker, Less Work – Less Leisure, Three-Penny Opera – Three-Dollar Seats, Exurbia Revisited, Be Happy, Go Liberal, and lastly, Why Resign from the Human Race?

The best of this book is found in the author’s absolute rejection of the myth that the American worker is happy, leisured, satisfied on the job, and making a living wage. As he observes so trenchantly, “It is not simply status-hunger that makes a man hate work that is mindless, endless, stupefying, sweaty, filthy, noisy, exhausting, insecure in its prospects, and practically without hope of advancement.” Furthermore he suggests that it is not the worker who is becoming middle class but the white collar man who is becoming increasingly alienated from his work and is becoming proletarianized.

In his introduction, Swados describes himself as a novelist who is a middle-class man of the mid-century, a Jew and a socialist. Disavowing the Russian, Chinese and the Cuban way, he describes himself as a skeptic as well as a socialist. But unlike most skeptical socialists he does not reserve his criticisms for the weaknesses of the anti-capitalist countries alone; he bitterly attacks the Kennedy-Nixon campaign and Kennedy’s Hundred Days as a cynical betrayal of the American people. He is equally outraged at the US-supported invasion of Cuba, which he calls the most shameless maneuver in modern American history, and the liberal intellectuals who “lacked the guts” to dissociate themselves from the Kennedy regime.

But deeply as he understands the working class, and much as he respects the individuals who compose it, he frankly lacks confidence in the revolutionary role of the working class as such. In his last article he calls upon youth who wish to move from the morass of American society in which they are now floundering, into a future which is incalculable, but which they can help to shape, to volunteer their services to underdeveloped countries and revitalize the American pioneer tradition. The original of this essay, written for Esquire magazine in 1959, foreshadowed President Kennedy’s Peace Corps, but in a footnote dated 1961, he suggests that despite the fact that the President’s motives are suspect, its impact on the youth who participate can only be salutary. While one cannot quarrel with the fact that an experience living in an underdeveloped community will be worthwhile for those young people who join the Peace Corps, one can certainly argue that they will be serving the same imperialist interests abroad that they are fleeing from at home. Swados himself points out, service in the Peace Corps isolates these idealistic youth from the bulk of American youth whom they might otherwise influence.

Top of page

ISR Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 22 May 2009