This particular speech by Michael Harrington was given in early 1971 at the Reynolds Club at the University of Chicago. The meeting was sponsored by the University of Chicago chapter of the Young Peoples Socialist League. In many ways, the speech is classic Harrington: a mix of the pragmatic and the utopian, with an awareness of the complexities that ideology often obscures. Some parts of the speech are 1960s quaint, but with the consequences of the Sanders movement still unfolding in this second decade of the twenty-first century, there are also aspects of the speech that are very worthwhile keeping in mind if we want the revolution to continue.
Michael Harrington is probably best remembered as the author of The Other America: Poverty in the United States. Published in 1962, it documented how, after two decades of unprecedented prosperity, there were still a substantial number of Americans who were poor and that it was not simply a matter of race or rural isolation, but something that was endemic all across our country. The book was not the first to document this state of affairs. But it was eloquent, thorough, and well timed to catch a growing wave of liberalism in the early 1960s. It was, in fact, given credit for inspiring the Johnson Administration’s “War on Poverty”.
The timing of the book was also fortunate in that Harrington was just finding his voice as a public speaker, allowing him to take advantage of the “buzz” and to become a player in mainstream politics. This also enabled him to become the last public spokesman of any consequence (until Bernie Sanders, perhaps) for democratic socialism in the United States.
This recording is a redigitization of a file posted in Chicago DSA’s Audio Archive.
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