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Abstract

Historiography on the Great Depression in the U.S. evinces a lacuna. Despite all the scholarship on political radicalism in this period, one of the most remarkable manifestations of such radicalism has tended to be ignored: namely, the mass popular movement behind the Workers’ Unemployment Insurance Bill. This bill, which the Communist Party wrote in 1930, was introduced in Congress three times, in 1934, ’35, and ’36, as an alternative to the far more conservative Social Security Act. Its socialistic nature ensured that it never had any chance of becoming law, but it also enabled it to become enormously popular among Americans across the country, who were more enthusiastic about radical social democracy than has often been appreciated. Millions of people belonging to labor unions, unemployment organizations, left-wing political parties, church groups, women’s groups, and immigrant societies participated in the movement to get the bill enacted as law. In this article I tell the story of the momentum that accumulated behind the Workers’ Bill, a story that challenges any interpretation of the Great Depression emphasizing the relative conservatism of the U.S. population.

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