Not a Dead Ender

G. William Domhoff

Jim Weinstein’s highly original archival research in the 60s on the Progressive Era had a big impact on the field in the social sciences known as power structure research. By focusing on policy-discussion groups like the National Civic Federation, he was able to show that some of the biggest and most international capitalists of that era did involve themselves in a sophisticated and conscious way in national-level policy issues, and were able to forge compromises with organized labor and reformers that preserved the corporate system while making some concessions to its opponents. 

It is a tribute to Jim’s work that many social scientists used his framework to extend his insights about the corporate moderates and their organizations well into the 70s, when most of the moderates became as reactionary as their one-time opponents within the capitalist class, mostly because the unions were no longer much of a threat and the social movements of the 60s were losing steam in the face of the New Right backlash.

Jim’s work on the capitalist response to electoral victories by the Socialist Party at the municipal level in the Progressive Era brought a class-conflict perspective into the study of community power. He convincingly demonstrated that most of the reforms” of the Progressive Era in the name of efficiency” were primarily ways to limit the electoral success of the socialists. Subsequent research on local politics did show that each of the reforms” had the effect of decreasing voter turnout and improving the chances of pro-capitalist politicians. Today, non-partisan, citywide elections and the city-manager form of government are taken for granted in the many cities that have them, but they stand as evidence that the reformist capitalists had the clout and hired expertise to change the very shape of government. 

Jim taught many of us many things. Would that he had been able to convince the many leftist scholars who took dead-end and politically hopeless paths even in the face of his work.

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G. William Domhoff is the author of Who Rules America? and The Power Elite and the State. He lives in Santa Cruz, where he is a sociology professor at the University of California.
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