A Eulogy for Martin J. Sklar, 1935-2014: Historian, Patriot, and Socialist
I was a friend of Marty Sklar since 1955, when I first met him as an entering freshman at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His name had been given to me by a friend in New York City, who said that Marty was a leading figure on the left in Madison, and would gladly take me under his wing. He was also my graduate teaching assistant in the U.S. history course I took in Madison.
Since that meeting, I have been engaged with Marty for over half a century, agreeing and disagreeing with him about history, politics, and the state of American society. Throughout these years, one thing was constant about Marty: he said in 1955 -- and held to this belief up to his passing -- that he was a socialist.
Marty’s definitions of socialism, however, were something other than how most people would define that system. I have written about his concept before at PJ Media, particularly in this column, in which I tried to explain his original theory called “the mix,” in which he argued that all modern societies are composed of elements of both socialism and capitalism. This led him to argue that he considers himself to be a “Freedom Leftist” who believes in a pluralist-democratic and “publicly accountable left,” as opposed to Obama, whom he considers to be a “left sectarian doing his mass work.”
At his core, Sklar writes, Obama’s “world view is 'Third-Worldist sectarianism.'” Moreover, he argues that Obama’s economic proposals are a high-tax, protectionist, and slow-growth program. Those of Republicans, in contrast, were based on a lower-tax, low-cost energy, “high-growth/job stimulus” program, and are not “ensnared in the green business/academia lobby agenda of high-cost energy,” which would work to both restrict economic growth and workers’ incomes.
Here is what Sklar wrote in 1999 in an essay titled “Capitalism and Socialism in the Emergence of Modern America,” which appears in Reconstructing History: The Emergence of a New Historical Society. His paragraph defines how he looks at both capitalism and socialism:
Social change in [the Progressive era] inaugurated an incessant interaction, both antagonistic and complementary, between capitalism and socialism that shaped and reshaped American society in the twentieth century. The continuing corporate reorganization of enterprise and the national economy has in its essence involved the meshing of capitalism and socialism in an American society distinguished politically by liberal democracy. ... The rise of corporate capitalism in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century may therefore be understood as also representing the early phases of a sociopolitical reconstruction of American society based upon a hybrid of capitalism and socialism in a liberal democracy.
Sklar was insistent on the principle that state and society had to be separate from each other, and that the individual and liberty had to be protected against all encroachments by the state against individual citizens. Capitalism, he believed, broadened individual initiative and guaranteed principles of liberty and efficiency, as well as egalitarian values and behavior.