New Deal, Gilded Age and Progressive Era? (You feel filled with rage at repressive terror?) I’ve always liked the expression “History never repeats itself, but it rhymes.” (I’d heard that Mark Twain said it but apparently not. I found it attributed to a poet named John Robert Colombo.)

I’ve recently been reading Richard Greendwald’s book on the Triangle Fire, which is about reform. Reading that it strikes me once again that there are important resonances (which maybe just to say “it’s interesting to think by making comparisons”) between the current moment and its possibilities and the Progressive Era, at least with regard to my concerns with political reformism. (I’ve written some posts on this at my blog at libcom.org, I can’t be bothered to find the links just now but could do later if anyone wanted.) I’m also struck that there’s at least a minor metaphor in some left circles, that this is a new Gilded Age for the United States. That metaphor makes sense in a lot of ways (rising inequality, economic insecurity, prevailing political ideology that is relatively opposed to state intervention in the economy, rising social conflict) but I think it may smuggle in a questionable politics… there’s a sort of reformist left common sense within which the solution to the Gilded Age was the Progressive Era, with perhaps a minor repetition of the Gilded Age with the 1920s and the Great Depression followed by the massive political victory of a kind of progressivism via New Deal programs. I would of course welcome improvements in my own life if any resulted from policy changes in keeping with this political perspective but it’s hardly a political perspective I’m excited about. So on the one hand I want to say that the present rhymes with the late 19th and early 20th century U.S. I think it’s important not to let the historical metaphors get too tricky in making certain political perspectives feel more appealing than they perhaps should.

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