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Rebels of the New South: The Socialist Party in Dixie, 1892--1920

Brad Alan Paul, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Following the collapse of the insurgencies of the 1880s and 1890s, many former populists and Gilded Age radicals linked up with the region's new industrial workers, farmers, small businessmen and political organizers to fashion a socialism cast in a southern idiom. Armed with this heritage, the Socialist Party of America (SPA) would go on to occupy an important piece of a larger pattern of resistance movements that swept through Dixie between the 1880s and World War I. The SPA, not unlike the People's Party, Farmers' Alliance, Union-Labor, and the Greenbackers, provided something of a panacea for those marginalized either materially or philosophically by the New South creed. This study examines Socialist Party activity in the American South from the 1890s to 1920 and considers how the social, political, and economic character of the region in turn shaped the emergent socialist message. Explored is the formation of socialist politics, particularly through the links between the labor movement, agrarian radicalism, and the party's diverse membership. Played out in the region's manufacturing zones, developing coastlines, and in rural stretches were the tensions of industrialization, civic boosterism, and political disfranchisement as confronted by a vision of an alternative New South, anchored in the remnants of populism and fueled by socialist organizing efforts. In examining the one-party South, disfranchisement, and the poll tax, historians have accounted for the exclusionary and antidemocratic character of institutional politics but have slighted the independent political and cultural movements created by those very dispossessed. Indeed, New South industrialism and social change challenged conventional political relationships. The ballot box included union elections, and the South's power brokers just as often assumed the identity of an industrialist as they did political boss. Located in the union halls and workers, libraries, on city street corners, and in the region's mines, mills, and fields were southern politics of a different variety. By embracing socialism some Southerners created a community of adherents otherwise impossible in the alienating world of Democratic politics.

Subject Area

American history|Political science

Recommended Citation

Paul, Brad Alan, "Rebels of the New South: The Socialist Party in Dixie, 1892--1920" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9950201.