Why is labor history so boring? Left-leaning intellectuals have worried at
this question for decades. Back in 1983, Irving Howe suggested that the
field's notorious leadenness stems from a deep-seated attraction to ideas
over people. "The Marxist mind finds itself drawn, with an almost punitive
willfulness, to such abstractions as 'social forces,' 'political positions,'
and 'relations of production,'" he wrote in a New York Review of Books piece
about turn-of-the-century labor leader Eugene V. Debs. "Before these
formidable categories, the actual figures of history tend to fade."
Fortuitously, Howe added, a new wave of historians was striving to inject
some life into the genre. The struggle continues today. No one reading Eugene
V. Debs: A Graphic Biography could doubt that authors Paul Buhle and Steve
Max have accessibility in mind. Both are powerhouses of the left, so it's no
wonder they're acutely aware of the movement's people problem. Max helped
found Students for a Democratic