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Elena Kagan Wrote Senior Thesis on Socialist Party

It appears that Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan, has a connection to the Socialist Party. No, she’s not a member–she wrote her senior thesis on the party’s history in New York City from 1900-1933.

A history major, Kagan traced the rise and fall of the Socialist Party in her hometown in a senior thesis titled “To the Final Conflict: Socialism in New York City, 1900-1933.” But her professor, Sean Wilentz, told the Princetonian her interest was strictly historical, adding that his star student was “the furthest thing from a socialist.”

Parts of the thesis which have been widely quoted are:

“In our own times, a coherent socialist movement is nowhere to be found in the United States. Americans are more likely to speak of a golden past than of a golden future, of capitalism’s glories than of socialism’s greatness. Conformity overrides dissent; the desire to conserve has overwhelmed the urge to alter. Such a state of affairs cries out for explanation. Why, in a society by no means perfect, has a radical party never attained the status of a major political force? Why, in particular, did the socialist movement never become an alternative to the nation’s established parties?”(pp. 127)

“Through its own internal feuding, then, the SP exhausted itself forever and further reduced labor radicalism in New York to the position of marginality and insignificance from which it has never recovered. 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. 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.” (pp. 129-130)

We’ll keep an eye out for the full thesis being made available. When it is, we’ll post it here. However, this little piece of information seems to jive well with Richard Winger’s assertion that Kagan would probably be a friend of ballot access reformers.


  1. paulie paulie May 14, 2010

    Alex is once again on the money.

    And the analysis is free of charge – please feel free to adopt it and spread it around 😛

    Recently read this elsewhere:

    “It’s worth remembering that Benjamin Tucker described his radical free-market position as a kind of socialism—not because he was promoting wide-spread sharing of resources in a gift economy, but because he thought eliminating statist privilege would effect the widespread dispersion of resources sought by socialists, but by voluntary rather than statist means.”

  2. Alexander S. Peak Alexander S. Peak May 14, 2010

    This is why minarchists shouldn’t try to kick anarchists out of the Libertarian Party, and vice versa. The LP should be radical, but it should be a big tent. Since we agree 95-99% of the way, disagreeing only on a few matters, we should continue to work together. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t voice our disagreements with one another—we should, since this is the only way we can teach one another—but we should focus on being a unified organisation against state power. Utilitarian libertarians, natural law libertarians, libertarians dedicated to the Constitution—all should be welcome.

    Mr. Cavlan writes, “The thing is, some folks seem to really believe that Obama is an actual socialist…. I can’t stand the prick but to believe this nonsense is mind boggling.”

    It all depends upon how one defines “socialism.”

    If one defines socialism as state ownership of the means of production, for example, and you define ownership as the power to control the owned thing, and you recognise that regulation is control, then it stands to reason that virtually all politians are socialists, including Hitler.

    But, if you define socialism as opposition to state-driven monopolisation (or oligopolisation) of capital, then I’m a socialist and Obama is not. In fact, all anarcho-“capitalists” are actually socialists if we use this definition, including Rothbard.

    For that matter, if one defines socialism as the belief that the current distribution of property titles is not based on justice, and that therefore some degree of redistribution is justified, then anarcho-“capitalists” like Rothbard and I can once again be described as socialists. After all, there are some who hold property that has been acquired through state aggression. Halliburton is a good example. I would not object to seeing the neomercantilist firm seized by its workers, since a majority of its profits are acquired, not through the free market, but through the central state.

    So, is Obama a socialist? Yes and no, depending upon how we define the term. Would I bother describing him as a socialist to my Democratic friends? Absolutely not. I see nothing to gain by doing so. I have, however, described him as a statist and a war-monger.

    Alex Peak

    P.S. Paulie, I loved that analysis.

  3. Michael Cavlan RN // May 13, 2010:
    “……… some folks seem to really believe that Obama is an actual socialist, Muslim born in Kenya. I can’t stand the prick but to believe this nonsense is mind boggling ……..”

  4. paulie paulie May 13, 2010

    I agree.

    Some of us thought, during Dubai-ya Bush’s court-appointed reign of error, that there was a high chance he would call off the pretense of elections entirely, and use some (possibly engineered) tragic event to stay in office under “emergency” martial law — the better to avoid war crimes prosecution.

    But, I think he stumbled on something even more clever: he went to Mexico, got a tan and some plastic surgery, dropped the fake hillbilly accent and phony dumb cowboy act, and made his way around the pesky problem of the 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution by being elected under a fake name: Barack Obama.

    Not only does this explain why his policies are so seamlessly continuous from one term to the next, but it solves the mystery of the “missing” birth certificate that is constantly brought up by the birther nuts – even though he was obviously in fact born in the US. It’s just that he was not born as Barack Obama, but as George W. Bush, son of George H. W. Bush.

    Sure, I know how absurd and far-fetched this may sound to some, but can anyone provide a better hypothesis to fit all the observed facts?


  5. Michael Cavlan RN Michael Cavlan RN May 13, 2010


    That was precisely my point. It is just as silly as those leftists who called Ronald Reagan a fascist.

    The thing is, some folks seem to really believe that Obama is an actual socialist, Muslim born in Kenya. I can’t stand the prick but to believe this nonsense is mind boggling.

  6. tiradefaction tiradefaction May 13, 2010


    Lol, he is redistributing wealth alright, from the many to the few (rich) individuals. Would you argue the big bank bailouts were redistribution of the wealth from the rich to the poor?

    Let us take an objective view of Obama´s current policies.

    Obama the ¨radical marxist¨ has done the following –


    Continued the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

    Backed president Bush’s bailout of America’s wealthy capitalists

    Signed in an economic recovery act comprised primarily of tax breaks, with little or no direct job creation

    Signed in a market driven health care reform package based on prior conservative plans

    Is pushing for privatization of major components of the space program

    Is opening up more land and coastal areas for oil and gas extraction

    Has pushed for a freeze on all non-military discretionary spending

    Is now pushing for what amounts to very modest financial reforms

    Obama the radical socialist? Pfft, more like Obama the moderate Republican.

    The health care reform bill put together by the Democrats and signed by Obama was patterned on the health care reform package passed by Republican governor Mitt Romney, and advocated for by the Heritage Foundation, one of the most conservative and extreme anti-socialist organizations in America.

    You really need to stop listening to the silly far right propaganda.

  7. CoalisKing CoalisKing May 13, 2010

    Only someone that is delusional could listen to Obama talk incessantly about “social justice” and “redistribution of wealth” and conclude he’s anything but a Marxist.

  8. tiradefaction tiradefaction May 12, 2010

    @ 1

    Only in America can one look at someone like Obama, and seriously conclude his policies are ¨socialist¨ Lol

  9. Erik G. Erik G. May 12, 2010

    Trent @ 9 / Paulie @ 7:

    I couldn’t agree more. For example, I wrote a paper in college about Henry Luce, the false idea that the State Department “let” China fall into communism, the Red Scare, and the damaging effects of McCarthyism on long-term American foreign policy, but that doesn’t mean I sympathized with American communists.

  10. Steven Wilson Steven Wilson May 12, 2010

    The exhaustion she states, is a reference to the never ending battle against the establishment. To make an entire society turn the corner takes a great deal. Even if you try and fail, you are never the same. And failure for some is like death.

  11. Trent Hill Trent Hill Post author | May 12, 2010


    I agree that this doesnt mean she’s sympathetic. I like to study minor parties on the left, right, and middle–and i’m definitely not a Socialist-Moderate-Constitutionalist, lol.

  12. paulie paulie May 12, 2010

    BTW, shouldn’t this be classified as socialist/left parties? Just curious.

  13. paulie paulie May 12, 2010

    Based on the very limited section quoted, and assuming that her opinions haven’t changed over the years, and that her sympathies – if not her votes and record – are somewhat with the radicals, any/all of which is possible, but not necessarily true — I think if anything, it is likely she is a foe of ballot access, because she thinks people like the SP hurt their own cause by not working within the establishment.

    Richard is an optimist by nature, but I think this is a more realistic reading.

    Major caveats however:

    1. The quoted sections are a very small selection of a much larger work, and not necessarily representative

    2. It was a long time ago; her views may well have changed a lot since then.

    3. There is no reason to assume she was necessarily sympathetic to her subject — for instance, there are many academics who, for instance, study fascism and are stridently anti-fascist.

  14. Michael Cavlan RN // May 12, 2010 :
    “Steve Wilson, I’m not saying that you are a delusional idiot. Well, OK I am.”

    Trent Hill // May 12, 2010 at 12:32 pm
    “It sounds like basically every third party.”

    ……. (at a time when we should be working over time for fusion) we follow the RfP USA and CP to splinters ville —— brought on by some of the vilest non Democans and non Republicrats around!

  15. Steve Steve May 12, 2010

    So she’s “the furthest thing from a socialist.” Does than mean we’re going to have an anachro-capitalist on the Supreme Court?

  16. Trent Hill Trent Hill Post author | May 12, 2010


    It sounds like basically every third party.

  17. Brian Irving Brian Irving May 12, 2010

    She said the SP “exhausted” themselves in internal feuding. “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. ”

    Sounds like the LP.

  18. Michael Cavlan RN Michael Cavlan RN May 12, 2010

    Must not laugh. Must hold in laughter at delusions of right wing fruit loops thinking, seriously believing that Obama, the current Democrat anti-Constitutional war criminal who continues the policies of the anti-Constitutional war criminal Bush is a freaking radical. You probably believe that he is from kenya, a Muslim and a Socialist too. Delusions which deny simple facts.

    Must hold in laughter. Must hold


    Steve Wilson, I’m not saying that you are a delusional idiot.

    Well, OK I am.

  19. Steven Wilson Steven Wilson May 12, 2010

    What you do in college is done is college because you are IN college. I wrote my thesis on Taste perception and threshold. It is a requirement to graduate. Kagan is extremely thorough on sequence of history.

    Obama is/was a radical in Illinois, and he is inviting another radical to join him. Is this a surprise?

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