Irving Howe (June 11, 1920 – May 5, 1993)
was an American literary and social critic and a prominent figure of the Democratic Socialists of America.
Early Years of Life
Howe was born as Irving Horenstein in The Bronx, New York. He was the son of Jewish immigrants from Bukovina, Nettie (née Goldman) and David Horenstein, who ran a small grocery store that went out of business during the Great Depression. His father became a peddler and eventually a presser in a dress factory. His mother was an operator in the dress trade.
Howe attended City College (CCNY) and graduated in 1940, alongside Daniel Bell and Irving Kristol. While at school he was constantly debating socialism, Stalinism, fascism, and the meaning of Judaism. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Upon his return, he began writing literary and cultural criticism for the influential Partisan Review and became a frequent essayist forCommentary, Politics, The Nation, The New Republic, and The New York Review of Books. In 1954, Howe helped found the intellectual quarterly Dissent, which he edited until his death in 1993. In the 1950s Howe taught English and Yiddish literature at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. He used the Howe and Greenberg Treasury of Yiddish Stories as the text for a course on the Yiddish story at a time when few were spreading knowledge or appreciation of these works in American colleges and universities.
Since his CCNY days, Howe was committed to left-wing politics. He was a committed democratic socialist throughout his life. He was a member of the Young People's Socialist League and then Max Shachtman's Workers Party. In 1948, he joined the Independent Socialist League where he was a key leader. He left this movement in the early 1950s. At the request of his friend Michael Harrington, he helped co-found the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee in the early 1970s. DSOC merged into the Democratic Socialists of America in 1982, with Howe as a vice-chair. He was a vociferous opponent of both Soviet totalitarianism and McCarthyism, called into question standard Marxist doctrine, and came into conflict with the New Left after criticizing their unmitigated radicalism. Later in life, his politics gravitated toward more pragmatic democratic socialism and foreign policy, a position still represented in the emphatically nuanced political and social arguments of Dissent. Throughout his life he was attacked and challenged due to his socialist beliefs. He has had a few famous run-ins with people. In the 1960s while at Stanford University he was verbally attacked by a young radical socialist who claimed that Howe was no longer committed to the revolution and that he had become status quo. Howe turned to the student and said "You know what you're going to be? You're going to be a dentist.