Solidarity Blues

Race, Culture, and the American Left

By Richard Iton

360 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 41 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4847-0
    Published: June 2000
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6076-2
    Published: June 2003

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Awards & distinctions

2000 Best Book Award in Race, Ethnicity, & Politics, American Political Science Association

2001 Outstanding Book Award, Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America

A number of arguments have been made to explain the relative weakness of the American Left. A preference for individualism, the effects of prosperity, and the miscalculations of different components of the Left, including the labor movement, have been cited, among other factors, as possible explanations for this puzzling aspect of American exceptionalism. But these arguments, says Richard Iton, overlook a crucial factor--the powerful influence of race upon American life.

Iton argues that the failure of the American Left lies in its inability to come to grips with the centrality of race in the American experience. Placing the history of the American Left in an illuminating comparative context, he also broadens our definition of the Left to include not just political parties and labor unions but also public policy and popular culture--an important source for the kind of cultural consensus needed to sustain broad social and collectivist efforts, Iton says.

In short, by exposing the impact of race on the development of the American Left, Iton offers a provocative new way of understanding the unique orientation of American politics.

About the Author

Richard Iton is associate professor in the departments of African-American studies and political science at Northwestern University.
For more information about Richard Iton, visit the Author Page.


"An engaging and enlightening discussion of the nature, meanings, and consequences of leftist politics in the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As a book, Solidarity Blues succeeds in its central goal of explicating the negative impact of race on the historical and political development of the American Left."--Waldo E. Martin Jr., University of California, Berkeley

"In Solidarity Blues Richard Iton has written an outstanding account of the American Left and its 'cultural heterogeneity.' Employing both primary and secondary sources, Iton provides a timely and persuasive reconsideration of American exceptionalism, and an assessment of the relative importance of class and race in explaining this phenomenon. The strength of Iton's analysis lies both in its comparative analysis of American exceptionalism and in the cogency of his theoretical argument. For scholars of the American Left, exceptionalism, and comparative labor relations, Solidarity Blues is an important addition to existing research."--Desmond King, University of Oxford