Changes in the Nomenclature of the American Left

Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A frequency survey of Google Books and other digital sources indicates that in political terminology the use of the phrase "American socialism" yielded to "American left" in the course of the twentieth century. Reasons for this include the tactical and personal ambitions of reformers who saw advantage in dropping the socialist tag in the face of domestic anti-socialism. In mid-century, domestic antisocialism revived both in extremist rhetoric and in mainstream Republican charges of "creeping socialism." The Cold War also played a role in changing the nomenclature balance, as it led to the identification of American socialism with the creed of the Soviet adversary. At the same time, a broadening in the left's agenda beyond the election platforms of the Socialist Party of America contributed to the change. The nomenclative "-ism" failure is significant as an indicator of left tendencies because it relates to perceptions of the failure of socialism itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-100
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of American Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2010


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