A Case Study in Changing a Nation's Culture
(The One Year Christian History - A Daily Glimpse into God's Powerful Work by E. Michael and Sharon Rusten, 2003)
Its membership was relatively small, but its influence continues today.
On September 12, 1905, approximately one hundred people met in a loft over Peck's Restaurant, at 140 Fulton Street in lower Manhattan. The purpose of the meeting was to strategize the overthrow of the Christian worldview that still pervaded much of American culture and to replace it with the ideas of a then rather unknown writer by the name of Karl Marx. They called the organization they formed that day the Intercollegiate Socialist Society.
The godfather of the organization was a twenty-seven-year-old author named Upton Sinclair. The first president chosen was the author Jack London, age twenty-nine. Also present was Clarence Darrow, the attorney.
The strategy of the organization was to infiltrate their ideas into academia by organizing chapters in as many colleges and universities as possible. And organize they did. Walter Lippman, later author and director of the Council on Foreign Relations, was the president of the Harvard chapter. Walter Reuther, the future president of the United Auto Workers, headed the Wayne State chapter; and Eugene Debs, who went on to become the five-time Socialist candidate for president, was a leader at Columbia.
The society grew. The first annual convention was held in 1910, and by 1917 they were active on sixty-one campuses and a dozen graduate schools. Other early activists included W.E.B. DuBois, who would become an official of the NAACP and later a Communist Party member, and Victor L. Berger of Wisconsin, who became the first Socialist elected to Congress.
In 1921 the Intercollegiate Socialist Society took its next organizational step, changing its name to the League for Industrial Democracy. Its purpose was "education for a new social order based on production for use and not for profit." Norman Thomas, another perennial Socialist candidate for president, was the leader behind the scenes. The renamed organization's first president was Robert Lovett, editor of the New Republic, and the field secretary was Paul Blanshard, who later became an author.
The college chapters of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society now became the Student League for Industrial Democracy. As members graduated from college, some entered the pulpit, others the classroom; some wrote textbooks while others entered the labor movement and both political parties. When the New Deal began in 1933, they were prepared. At the time the league had only 5,652 members, but they were in positions of leadership everywhere.
By 1941 John Dewey, the founder of progressive education and the league vice president in the 1930s, was its honorary president, and Reinhold Niebuhr, the theologian, its treasurer. Dewey had already organized the Progressive Education Association and the American Association of University Professors.
The League for Industrial Democracy was so successful that those who held membership in the movement or were cooperating with it could have been a list for Who's Who in America: Robert N. Baldwin, founder of the American Civil Liberties Union; Charles Beard, the historian; Carroll Binder, editor of the Minneapolis Tribune; Helen Gahagan Douglas, the congresswoman who was defeated by Richard Nixon for the U.S. Senate; Felix Frankfurter, Supreme Court justice; Sidney Hook, the educational social philosopher; Edna St. Vincent Millay, the poet; Henry Morgenthau Jr., one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's most trusted economic advisers; Walter and Victor Reuther, United Auto Workers; Will Rogers Jr., humorist; Franklin Roosevelt Jr., the president's son; and Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the historian.
The obscure loft in Manhattan where they organized has long been forgotten, but what began there that night permeates America's institutions and culture, having replaced the Bible-based values of the nineteenth century with a liberalism based on Marxism.