Harrington, Michael (Edward)

   Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Harrington was a prominent Marxist political activist. He advocated a thorough-going democratic, peaceful, humanist, ethical Marxism, and sought to work with liberal groups, notably the Democratic Party, in the United States. He was educated at Holy Cross College, Worcester, Massachusetts, Yale University Law School (briefly), and the University of Chicago, graduating from the last of these in 1949 with a master’s degree in English Literature. Moving to New York in 1951 he worked for the Catholic Worker movement writing for and editing the organization’s newspaper. Harrington embraced the movement’s pacifism and was a conscientious objector to the Korean War. In 1953 religious doubts led Harrington to leave the church and the Catholic Worker movement, and to become leader of the Young People’s Socialist League (the youth group of the American Socialist Party). Between 1960 and 1968 he was a member of the Socialist Party’s National Executive Committee, editing the official party paper New America from 1961 to 1962, and serving as the party’s national chairman from 1968 to1972. Harrington developed a close political relationship with the American Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas, who came to regard him as his successor (although Thomas rejected Harrington’s conscientious objector stance on the Korean War).
   However, a series of political setbacks and a nervous breakdown which left him unable to speak in public thwarted any ambitions to become leader. He did though become co-chairman of the Socialist Party, a position from which he resigned in 1972 over the issue of the Vietnam War to which he was opposed. In the same year he became professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York. In 1973 he led a few hundred of his anti-war followers into a new organization, the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC). This group was determined to be the “left wing of the possible” and tried to influence the Democratic Party to be as liberal as possible. In 1983 the DSOC merged with the New American Movement to form the Democratic Socialists of America. At the start this group had 5,000 members with Harrington as co-chair. It continued the project of the DSOC in working with the Democratic Party, although with little success. Throughout the 1980s Harrington became increasingly occupied with the Socialist International, attending many of its conferences and drafting many of its resolutions. He was involved with many other political groups, most notably the A. Philip Randolph Institute (an organization committee to establishing links between the black and labor communities) and the League for Industrial Democracy.
   Harrington wrote a great many articles, pamphlets and other publications, the most significant being his The Other America: Poverty in the United States (1962), a piece that influenced John F. Kennedy’s “War on Poverty” program and other democratic socio-economic policies, and his Socialism (1972).

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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