To the victor go the spoils

I always remember that America was established not to create wealth—though any nation must create wealth which is going to make an economic foundation for its life—but to realize a vision, to realize an ideal. America has put itself under bonds to the earth to discover and maintain liberty now among men, and if she cannot see liberty now with the clear, unerring vision she had at the outset, she has lost her title, she has lost every claim to the leadership and respect of the nations of the world.

Woodrow Wilson, “The Coming On of a New Spirit”, speech to Chicago Democrat’s Iriquois Club (12 February 1912)

As the one hundred anniversary of the October Revolution approach, critics right and center decry and disparage Lenin and his revolution while advocates on the left try to rehabilitate socialism for a new generation. While these debates rage on, another question relates not to the merits of Lenin and the Soviets or the efficacy of Communism but instead how the United States, the clear victor of the Cold War, can enact a more egalitarian socialist model than the failed Soviet experiment. The left today needs today to learn from many strains and traditions offered throughout history, not solely Marxist-Leninism, and offer a new model for equality and justice that speaks to all people from across the political spectrum. One of the lessons from the Russian revolution is that desperate people in desperate times will do desperate and mean things. The United States is at a crossroads. A toxic xenophobic right is on the rise again in the heart of a modern democracy. The liberal center is powerless to stop it or is outright collaborating with the klpetocrats. The left alone stood against the rise of imperial war of 1914-18 and against the brown shirts in the thirties. In their time the liberal center and the capitalists could not stop their respective historical catastrophes of the trenches and Hitlerism, but appeased them or colluded with them outright. The Soviet Union was born in the ashes of a broken and autocratic Czarist monarchy, while the National Socialists grew and festered in the heart of the time’s most progressive liberal democracy. Which country does the United States today more closely resemble? And when we are faced with mean and desperate circumstances and mean and desperate people, will we do any better than the societies of Europe one hundred years ago?

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Book jacket, 1939

New York Public Library Digital Collections

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