For other uses, see New Left (disambiguation).
The New Left was a term used mainly in the United Kingdom and United States in reference to activists, educators, agitators and others in the 1960s and 1970s who sought to implement a broad range of reforms on issues such as gay rights, abortion, gender roles and drugs in contrast to earlier leftist or Marxist movements that had taken a more vanguardist approach to social justice and focused mostly on labor unionization and questions of social class. They rejected involvement with the labor movement and Marxism's historical theory of class struggle. In the U.S., the "New Left" was associated with the Hippie movement and anti-war college campus protest movements. While initially formed in opposition to the "Old Left" Democratic party, groups composing the New Left gradually became central players in the Democratic coalition.
1 Historical origins
1.2 United States,
1.3 Affiliated Groups
1.3.1 Students for a Democratic Society,
1.4 Continental European New Left,
2 Inspirations and influences,
3 Key figures,
4 Other associated people,
5 See also,
7 Further reading
7.5 United Kingdom
7.5.1 British New Left periodicals,
7.5.2 British New Left articles,
7.6 United States
The confused response of the Communist Party of the USA and the Communist Party of Great Britain to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 led some Marxist intellectuals to develop a more democratic approach to politics, opposed to what they saw as the centralised and authoritarian politics of the pre-war leftist parties. Those Communists who became disillusioned with the Communist Parties due to their authoritarian character eventually formed the "new left", first among dissenting Communist Party intellectuals and campus groups in the United Kingdom, and later alongside campus radicalism in the US and elsewhere. The term "nouvelle gauche" was already current in France in the 50s, associated with France Observateur, and its editor Claude Bourdet, who attempted to form a third position, between the dominant Stalinist and Social Democratic tendencies of the left, and the two Cold War blocs. It was from this French "new left" that the "First New Left" of Britain borrowed the term.
The German-Jewish critical theorist Herbert Marcuse is referred to as the "Father of the New Left". He rejected the theory of class struggle and the Marxist concern with labor, instead claiming, according to Leszek Kołakowski, that since "all questions of material existence have been solved, moral commands and prohibitions are no longer relevant." He regarded the realization of man's erotic nature as the true liberation of humanity, which inspired the utopias of Jerry Rubin and others. Another prominent New Left thinker, Ernst Bloch, believed that socialism would prove the means for all human beings to become immortal and eventually create God.
As a result of Nikita Khrushchev's Secret Speech denouncing Joseph Stalin many abandoned the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and began to rethink its orthodox Marxism. Some joined various Trotskyist groupings or the Labour Party.
The Marxist historians E. P. Thompson and John Saville of the Communist Party Historians Group published a dissenting journal within the CPGB called Reasoner. Once they left the party, they began the New Reasoner from 1957. In 1960, this journal merged with the Universities and Left Review to form the New Left Review. These journals attempted to synthesise a theoretical position of a revisionist, humanist, socialist Marxism, departing from orthodox Marxist theory. This publishing effort made the ideas of culturally oriented theorists available to an undergraduate reading audience. In this early period, many on the New Left were involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, formed in 1957. According to Robin Blackburn, "The decline of CND by late 1961, however, deprived the New Left of much of its momentum as a movement, and uncertainties and divisions within the Board of the journal led to the transfer of the Review to a younger and less experienced group in 1962."
Under the long-standing editorial leadership of Perry Anderson, the New Left Review popularised the Frankfurt School, Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser and other forms of Marxism. Other periodicals like Socialist Register, started in 1964, and Radical Philosophy, started in 1972, have also been associated with the New Left, and published a range of important writings in this field.
As the campus orientation of the American New Left became clear in the mid to late 1960s, the student sections of the British New Left began taking action. The London School of Economics became a key site of British student militancy. The influence of protests against the Vietnam War and of the May 1968 events in France were also felt strongly throughout the British New Left. Some within the British New Left joined the International Socialists, which later became Socialist Workers Party while others became involved with groups such as the International Marxist Group. The politics of the British New Left can be contrasted with Solidarity, UK, which continued to focus primarily on industrial issues.
In the United States, the "New Left" was the name loosely associated with liberal, radical, marxist political movements that took place during the 1960s, primarily among college students. At the core of this was the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. The New Left can be defined as 'a loosely organized, mostly white student movement that advocated for democracy, civil rights and various types of university reforms and protested against the Vietnam war.'
The term "New Left" was popularised in the US in an open letter written in 1960 by sociologist C. Wright Mills (1916-62) entitled Letter to the New Left. Mills argued for a new leftist ideology, moving away from the traditional ("Old Left") focus on labor issues, towards issues such as opposing alienation, anomie, and authoritarianism. Mills argued for a shift from traditional leftism, toward the values of the counter-culture, and emphasized an international perspective on the movement. According to David Burner, C Wright Mills claimed that the proletariat were no longer the revolutionary force; the new agent of revolutionary change were young intellectuals around the world.
Student protest called Free Speech Movement took place during the 1964-1965 academic year on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley under the informal leadership of students Mario Savio, Brian Turner, Bettina Aptheker, Steve Weissman, Art Goldberg, Jackie Goldberg, and others. In protests unprecedented in this scope at the time, students insisted that the university administration lift the ban of on-campus political activities and acknowledge the students' right to free speech and academic freedom. In particular, on 2 December 1964 on the steps of Sproul Hall Mario Savio gave a famous speech: "...But we're a bunch of raw materials that don't mean to be - have any process upon us. Don't mean to be made into any product! Don't mean - Don't mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We're human beings!...There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious--makes you so sick at heart--that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all."
The New Left opposed what it saw as the prevailing authority structures in society, which it termed "The Establishment", and those who rejected this authority became known as "anti-Establishment". The New Left did not seek to recruit industrial workers, but rather concentrated on a social activist approach to organization, convinced that they could be the source for a better kind of social revolution.
Many New Left thinkers in the U.S. were influenced by the Vietnam War and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Like the British New Left, they recognized problems in the communism of the Soviet Union, but unlike the British New Left, they did not turn to Trotskyism or social democracy. Some in the U.S. New Left argued that since the Soviet Union could no longer be considered the world center for proletarian revolution, new revolutionary Communist thinkers had to be substituted in its place, such as Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro.Todd Gitlin in The Whole World Is Watching in describing the movement's influences stated, "The New Left, again, refused the self-discipline of explicit programmatic statement until too late - until, that is, the Marxist-Leninist sects filled the vacuum with dogmas, with clarity on the cheap."
Isserman (2001) reports that the New Left" "came to use the word 'liberal' as a political epithet." Historian Richard Ellis (1998) says that the SDS's search for their own identity "increasingly meant rejecting, even demonizing, liberalism." As Wolfe (2010) notes, "no one hated liberals more than leftists.".
Other elements of the U.S. New Left were anarchist and looked to libertarian socialist traditions of American radicalism, the Industrial Workers of the World and union militancy. This group coalesced around the historical journal Radical America. American Autonomist Marxism was also a child of this stream, for instance in the thought of Harry Cleaver. Murray Bookchin was also part of the anarchist stream of the New Left, as were the Yippies.
The U.S. New Left drew inspiration from black radicalism, particularly the Black Power movement and the more explicitly Maoist and militant Black Panther Party. The Panthers in turn influenced other similar militant groups, like the Young Lords, the Brown Berets and the American Indian Movement. The New Left was also inspired by SNCC, Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee. Students immersed themselves into poor communities building up support with the locals. The New Left sought to be a broad based, grass roots movement.
The Vietnam war conducted by liberal President Lyndon Johnson was a special target across the worldwide New Left. Johnson and his top officials became unwelcome on American campuses. The anti-war movement escalated the rhetorical heat, as violence broke out on both sides. The climax came at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
It could be argued that the New Left's most successful legacy was the rebirth of feminism. As the original leaders of the New Left were largely white men, women reacted to the lack of progressive gender politics with their own social intellectual movement. The New Left was also marked by the invention of the modern environmentalist movement, which clashed with the Old Left's disregard for the environment in favor of preserving the jobs of union workers. Environmentalism also gave rise to various other social justice movements such as the environmental justice movement, which aims to prevent the toxification of the environment of minority and disadvantaged communities.
By 1968, however, the New Left coalition began to split. The anti-war Democratic presidential nomination campaign of Kennedy and McCarthy brought the central issue of the New Left into the mainstream liberal establishment. The 1972 nomination of George McGovern further highlighted the new influence of Liberal protest movements within the Democratic establishment. Increasingly, feminist and gay rights groups became important parts of the Democratic coalition, thus satisfying many of the same constituencies that were previously unserved by the mainstream parties. This institutionalization took away all but the most radical members of the New Left. The remaining radical core of the SDS, dissatisfied with the pace of change, incorporated violent tendencies towards social transformation. After 1969, the Weathermen, a surviving faction of SDS, attempted to launch a guerrilla war in an incident known as the "Days of Rage." Finally, in 1970 three members of the Weathermen blew themselves up in a Greenwich Village brownstone trying to make a bomb out of a stick of dynamite and an alarm clock. In contrast, the more moderate groups associated with the New Left increasingly became central players in the Democratic Party and thus in mainstream American politics.
Students for a Democratic Society:
Main article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Students_for_a_Democratic_Society_(1960_organization)
The organization that really came to symbolize the core of the New Left was the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). By 1962, the SDS had emerged as the most important of the new campus radical groups; soon it would be regarded as virtually synonymous with the 'New Left'. In 1962, Tom Hayden wrote its founding document, the Port Huron Statement, which issued a call for "participatory democracy" based on non-violent civil disobedience. This was the idea that individual citizens could help make 'those social decisions determining the quality and direction' of their lives. The SDS marshalled anti-war, pro-civil rights and free speech concerns on campuses, and brought together liberals and more revolutionary leftists.
The SDS became the leading organization of the anti-war movement on college campuses during the Vietnam War. As the war escalated the membership of the SDS also increased greatly as more people were willing to scrutinise political decisions in moral terms. During the course of the war, the people became increasingly militant. As opposition to the war grew stronger, the SDS became a nationally prominent political organization, with opposing the war an overriding concern that overshadowed many of the original issues that had inspired SDS. In 1967, the old statement in Port Huron was abandoned for a new call for action, which would inevitably lead to the destruction of the SDS.
In 1968 and 1969, as its radicalism reached a fever pitch, the SDS began to split under the strain of internal dissension and increasing turn towards Maoism. Along with adherents known as the New Communist Movement, some extremist illegal factions also emerged, such as the Weather Underground Organization.
The SDS suffered the difficulty of wanting to change the world while 'freeing life in the here and now.' This caused confusion between short term and long term goals. The sudden growth due to the successful rallies against the Vietnam War meant there were more people wanting action to end the Vietnam war, whereas the original New Left had wanted to focus on critical reflection. In the end, it was the anti-war sentiment that dominated the SDS.
Continental European New Left:
Main article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protests_of_1968
The European New Left appeared first in West Germany, which became a prototype for European student radicals. German students protesting against the Vietnam war often wore discarded US military uniforms, and they made influential contacts with dissident GIs--draftees who did not like the war either.
The Prague Spring was legitimised by the Czechoslovak government as a socialist reform movement. The 1968 events in the Czechoslovakia were driven forward by industrial workers, and were explicitly theorized by active Czechoslovak unionists as a revolution for workers' control.
The student activism of the New Left came to a head around the world in 1968. The May 1968 protests in France temporarily shut down the city of Paris, while the German student movement did the same in Bonn. Universities were simultaneously occupied in May in Paris, in the Columbia University protests of 1968, and in Japanese student strikes. Shortly thereafter, Swedish students occupied a building at Stockholm University. However, all of these protests were shut down by police authorities without achieving their goals, which caused the influence of the student movement to lapse in the 1970s.
The driving force of near-revolution in France in May 1968 were students inspired by the ideas of the Situationist International, which in turn had been inspired by Socialisme ou Barbarie. Both of these groups emphasised culture as a form of production.
While the Autonomia in Italy have been called New Left, it is more appropriate to see them as the result of traditional, industrially oriented, communism re-theorising its ideas and methods. Unlike most of the New Left, Autonomia had a strong blue-collar arm, active in regularly occupying factories.
The Provos were a Dutch counter-cultural movement of mostly young people with anarchist influences.
The New Left in Japan began by occupying college campuses for several years in the 1960s. After 1970, they splintered into several violent terrorist groups including the United Red Army who tortured their own members and the Japanese Red Army which murdered civilians and hijacked aircraft. They also developed the political ideology of Anti-Japaneseism.
Inspirations and influences:
R. D. Laing,
Other associated people:
A. J. Muste,
Charles A. Reich,
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license