" I want to be on the left wing of the possible
Michael Harrington was probably the most prominent socialist in the United States from the 1960's until his death in 1989
Harrington was born in 1928 into a middle-class Irish Catholic family in St. Louis. He was mostly educated, through college at Jesuit institutions. He spent time as a law student at Yale, a graduate student at the University of Chicago and a social worker in St Louis.
He began his career as an activist by joining the Catholic Worker organization in New York in 1951. He left both the organization and the Catholic Church about two years later but remained active as a civil libertarian, joining something called the Young Socialist League in 1954.
During the next decade or so, Harrington was an active supporter of civil rights and trade union movements as well as other liberal and leftist causes. He became an advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr in 1965 as well as an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. As the Socialist Party adopted a more conservative drift, Harrington resigned the party chairmanship in 1972. He went on to form the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, a group dedicated to building a progressive coalition within the Democratic party. In 1981, the DSOC merged with something called the New America Movement and formed the Democratic Socialists of America. This went on to become the largest socialist organization in the United States since the 1930s.
While the author of sixteen books, Harrington is probably best known for The Other America: Poverty in the United States which was published in 1962. The book was a volume of statistics, analysis and narratives that attracted a huge amount of attention. It appeared at a time when most of the country was celebrating the postwar American economy. The book argued that tens of millions of Americans remained desperately poor and that they were trapped in a culture of poverty. Harrington argued that, despite its capabilities, the United States had not solved the problem of poverty and was turning a blind eye to a large group of Americans. As a result of the attention the book received, President John F. Kennedy was prompted to read it and it helped shape the subsequent War on Poverty. The War on Poverty, sponsored by both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, was a huge social undertaking. It provided expansion of existing social programs as well as new initiatives in housing and health care. Harrington himself became a participant in antipoverty task forces and a visible spokesman for liberal policies and programs.
Although he denounced the founders of the Students for a Democratic Society, a move he later regretted, for not being anticommunist, Harrington acted as a liaison between the Left of the 1930's and the New Left of the 1960's.