Elena Kagan Princeton thesis: ‘Sad’ that U.S. socialist movement imploded

Jon Ward Contributor
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Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s undergraduate thesis at Princeton University in 1981 was mostly a clinical analysis of the socialist movement in the United States, but in her conclusion she expressed disappointment that “labor radicalism” had failed to gain political prominence.

Kagan, in her 130-page thesis, titled “To the Final Conflict: Socialism in New York City, 1900-1933,” sought to explain “why the growing and confident American socialist movement of the Progressive Era suddenly fell apart.”

Kagan’s thesis, in the end, was that infighting ultimately did in the movement.

“Through its own internal feuding, then, the [Socialist Party] exhausted itself forever and further reduced labor radicalism in New York to the position of marginality and insignificance from which it has never recovered,” Kagan wrote. “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.”

“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,” Kagan wrote. “Yet if the history of Local New York shows anything, it is that American radicals cannot afford to become their own worst enemies.”

“In unity lies their only hope.”

Though Kagan noted that it would be “absurd to overestimate” the Socialist Party in the U.S., she also said it had grown from 10,000 members in 1902 to 109,000 in 1919, and had built “a party press that included over 300 publications with an aggregate circulation of approximately 2 million.”

Read the whole thesis here.

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