[This is Chapter Thirteen of Murphey's book Liberalism in Contemporary America.]
The New Left II
The Green revolution: the counter-culture
On November 16, 1952, Time magazine carried an article "This is the Beat Generation," describing the forerunners of what became known as the Beats or Beatniks. Jack Newfield later told of "an underground subsociety that developed about 1953, was mythicized by the Beat novelists and poets, and quickly spawned colonies."1
It has been said that the "Beats" did not assume a distinct identity until after the appearance of Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road, which is referred to as "the Bible of the Beat Generation." Its considerable influence should not be taken as a sign of any particular merit; to someone outside its ethos it is a rather undistinguished telling of the story of a drifter; but the extent of its influence does point to the receptivity in the 1950s of a certain type of literary individual who was ready, as so many had been in the past, to respond to a message of withdrawal.2
Despite the importance that is assigned to Kerouac, we should augment this with an awareness that the movement was international in scope and reflected the contributions of several authors and influences. In what follows, we will simultaneously discuss Beat culture and these sources.
In his The Beat Generation, Bruce Cook has described contributions by William Carlos Williams, Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, John Clellon Holmes, Kenneth Rexroth, Diane diPrima (who he says wrote a "scandalous, semipornographic little book, Memoirs of a Beatnik"), Gregory Corso, and William S. Burroughs. Jack Newfield has said that "the Beat Generation was partly a small literary faction... Kerouac, who according to critic Seymour Krim 'single-handedly created the Beat Generation,' was the leader. The more gifted followers included Allen Ginsberg, the Jewish-radical-mystical-homosexual from Paterson, New Jersey." Newfield describes "the Beats' mysticism, anarchy, anti-intellectualism, sexual and drug experimentation, hostility to middle-class values, and idealization of the Negro and of voluntary poverty."3
One of the more famous works within the movement was Ginsberg's poem Howl. Bruce Cook informs us that it was "written during a long weekend spent in his room under the influence of various drugs -- peyote for visions, amphetamine to speed up, and dexedrine to keep going." He tells us that Ginsberg's mother had emigrated from Russia and "became involved in radical politics and eventually a member of the Communist party." Cook calls Ginsberg "the Beat Generation's Walt Whitman."4
The reference to Ginsberg's mother simply reenforces our awareness of the tie that all of this had to earlier radicalism. Cook interviewed Gary Snyder and quoted him as saying: "Formative influences?...well, that's kind of funny. I guess my grandfather, the one up in Washington, was pretty important. He was a Wobbly, dues-paying member of the Industrial Workers of the World ... The old I.W.W. mythology became very important to me as I grew up in the Northwest."5
When he interviewed Kenneth Rexroth, Cook "asked if he felt the western radical tradition was important to the development of the Beat thing... 'Oh, sure. No doubt about it. It goes back to Jack London and the I.W.W.... there was a lot of native radical feeling out here... good old-fashioned anarchist-pacifist...There were a lot of things happening back then... for instance, all the Conscientious Objectors... San Francisco was within hitchhiking distance of half the C.O. camps in America."6
Cook considers it "an accident of time" that a movement similar to the Beats was occurring in England, which he describes as "a group of young English writers -- which their press had dubbed the Angry Young Men." He sees no real relation between these and the Beats. He also gives short shrift to the fact that, as he says, "there were Dutch Beats, Turkish Beats, French Beats, and German Beats." But I consider Cook's conclusion a serious mistake; these phenomena were by no means disassociated, especially if we see them as part of a common heritage of anti-bourgeois alienation. Referring in 1959 to "today's 'lost generation' in England," Edmund Wilson was right, it seems to me, when he said that "our 'beat' generation here more or less corresponds to them. These anti-social writers are typical of the world in its present state."7
We see the ideological similarity from Wilson's comment that "the appearance of this phrase 'the Establishment' in England is very significant." Oddly, he added that "I don't think that in this country we could talk about anything equivalent." It wasn't long before reference to "the Establishment" was a standard part of the New Left's rhetoric in the United States. Wilson then spoke of "Jean Genet, the French writer, who carries the anti-social attitude farther than any of the rest." It would be a serious mistake to overlook the contribution of alienated French authors, especially Genet and Camus.8
The French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre believed Genet's "masterpiece" to be "Our Lady of the Flowers." Stanley Kauffmann would later look back and call Genet "a genius of homosexuality, who has also been a prostitute and a professional criminal (ten convictions for theft)." Robert Brustein said of Genet that his "most important ideological influence, aside from de Sade, is the tradition of French pornography." "For Genet...all functions are the manufacture of fakery and sham, and the artifice of the brothel is identical with the make-believe of the world. If the whorehouse is a mirror of society, society, in turn, reflects the whorehouse." To this, Victor Lange has added that Sartre valued Genet's work because "he regards his notorious life of crime and homosexuality as a significant and entirely legitimate form of anti-bourgeois action."9
As the counter-culture continued to develop in this country, Paul Goodman was another of the leading influences. (I will mention C. Wright Mills in another connection.) His works included Growing Up Absurd, consisting of articles that he authored between 1956 and 1960, and his later Utopian Essays and Seeds of Liberation. In Growing Up Absurd, Goodman wrote that "the Beat Generation has contrived a pattern of culture that [turns] against the standard culture." He said that "characteristics of the present-day poor are essential in Beat culture. As, contrariwise, are the organizational characteristics of being hip and convinced that society is a Rat Race. But finally, there are essential traits... [that comprise] the essential morality... One striking trait is nonconformism and tolerance in sexual and racial questions and behavior." Speaking of the Beats' language, he said that "the paucity of its vocabulary and syntax is for the Beats essentially expressive of withdrawal from the standard civilization and its learning." He went on to say that "they have the theory that to be affectless, not to care, is the ultimate rebellion."10
As we proceed into the 1960s, there was so much writing of this sort that it becomes arbitrary to pick just a few selections for comment. With that qualification in mind, I will nevertheless point to Joseph Heller's Catch 22, about which Robert Brustein wrote in 1961 that "through the agency of grotesque comedy, Heller has found a way to confront the humbug, hypocrisy, cruelty, and sheer stupidity of mass society." Brustein said the book "is one of those sublime expressions of anarchic individualism... Heller has come upon a new morality based on an old ideal, the morality of refusal."11
A vast literature developed over the ensuing fifteen years. The literature that was primarily oriented toward the counter-culture came to include such works as Theodore Roszak's The Making of the Counter-culture and Where the Wasteland Ends; Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion; Charles Reich's The Greening of America; Norman Mailer's The White Negro; Abbie Hoffman's Revolution for the Hell of It; Norman O. Brown's Life Against Death and Love's Body; Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange; and Timothy Leary's High Priest and The Politics of Ecstasy. Among the journals, The Realist is generally considered to have been the most representative counter-cultural vehicle. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of "underground" newspapers and journals.
The ideology of the Red revolution
Leftists take seriously the differences that for a century and a half have raged within the Left over such matters as method, ultimate social model, historical rationale, and which coalitions to form. To those involved in the New Left, the distinction between what can be described as the "soft" or "Green" Left of the counter-culture and the "hard" or "Red" Left of those who preferred greater discipline and organization seemed very real. Anyone who is not "of the Left," however, will be justified in seeing these as intramural disputes among people whose ideas and emotions were in most respects similar. Even though I am separating "the ideology of the Red revolution" into a different section from the counter-culture, the reader should not conclude that the two were sharply different in their thinking.12
Although I would have us keep in mind the common ground that existed among these factions, a student of the subject needs to know that there were a number of specific viewpoints. There was no universally recognized version of "New Left" thought. I will not attempt a review of the versions put forward by the many factions, since the fine details of the doctrinal disputes on the Left are not important to the analysis I am making. A good reference for such a review is Kenneth and Patricia Dolbeare's American Ideologies.
Newfield says that in the late 1950s "a New Left began slowly to take root, nourished by the pacifist and socialist British New Left of the Aldermaston marches and the New Left Review; by the Beasts' private disaffection from and rage at the Rat Race; by the Cuban revolution; and by the writings of such men as C. Wright Mills, Albert Camus, and Paul Goodman." Peter Clecak, in his Radical Paradoxes: Dilemmas of the American Left, 1945-1970, attributed the New Left's thinking to four "plain Marxists" -- C. Wright Mills, Paul Baran, Paul Sweezy and Herbert Marcuse.13
In early 1958, Frederick L. Schuman reported in The New Republic that "C. Wright Mills sees the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. as both 'overdeveloped' and 'superior' nations dedicated to 'technological prowess' and the blind worship of 'the science Machine." This was one of the first references to Mills in that journal. Mills' famous "Letter to the New Left" appeared in England's New Left Review (which had begun publication in January 1960) in the fall of 1960. The importance of Mills to the New Left was underscored by Ronald Berman in 1968 when he wrote that "Mills' 'On the New Left,'... on the subject of ideology at least, has become the Das Kapital of the present radicalism." Mills was the sociologist who more than any other writer gave form to the New Left's attack on the Establishment as involving a "military-industrial (and political)" triad.14
Phillip Abbott Luce, who was one of the leaders of the Chinese-oriented Progressive Labor faction of the New Left until his break from it in February 1965, wrote that "by the fall of 1958...most of the young radicals that I knew were searching for a program of initiating a New Left in America." He pointed to the beginning of the Marxist journal Studies on the Left in 1959 as having "expressed the views of the emerging New Left." He has added that C. Wright Mills was "one of the first American political mentors of the new era."15
Earlier I quoted Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s, statements -- penned in 1956! -- expressing his yearning for a new radical movement. In my reading of The New Republic, I found that the first statement of a comprehensive New Left position in that journal appeared in the issue of October 20, 1958. Philip Green showed the new passion there when he spoke of the "stirrings of critical thought" about "the ugly botch we call our 'way of life.'" He denounced "the damned Organization...the system," and said that "our society... is materialistic, technology-worshipping... Our vaunted stability is composed partly of war preparedness, and partly of anti-social waste... [The] citizenry is becoming progressively unenlightened, an object of cynical
It is important to focus on these early statements because they show us, as I have commented before, that the alienation and ideology of the New Left came into existence well before America's involvement in the Vietnam War and even before the radicalization that occurred through the confrontations of the Civil Rights movement. Only the mass support was added later.
These developments are consistent with the opinion expressed by Irving Howe that it was not the new "humanistic Marxism" -- which was burgeoning in eastern Europe and among some intellectuals in the West -- that mainly influenced the New Left's Red revolution. I earlier quoted Howe's comment that "most of the 'new leftists "have identified... with the harder, more violent, more dictatorial segments of the Communist world." Thus, in 1966 Christopher Lasch could say that "the New Left in general more and more identifies itself with Castro, Guevara, Regis Debray, and Ho Chi Minh." And he pointed out that the "black power" ideology, which spearheaded the more militant part of the Black revolution, had come to represent more than just "a revival of Afro-American nationalism," transcending issues based solely on race to become a part of the "romantic
anarchism" of the New Left.17
This is reflected in The New Left Reader, which was published by the Grove Press in 1969 and consisted of articles going back to 1958. Included were pieces by C. Wright Mills, Herbert Marcuse, Frantz Fanon, Fidel Castro, Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Rudi Dutschke, Daniel and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, and Mark Rudd. Such a compilation shows not only the "hard" nature of the leftism involved; it also shows the international nature of the "Red" side of the New Left. This corresponds to the international dimensions of the counter-culture, which I discussed earlier. Dutschke was a leader of the German New Left; the Cohn-Bendits, one of whom was "Danny the Red," were part of the French; and Frantz Fanon focused on the example of the Algerian revolution.
Herbert Marcuse was a professor of philosophy at the University of California in San Diego. His thinking was heavily steeped in Marxism, although there was also a substantial admixture of Bakunin, Rousseau and Fourier. Orthodox Communists denounced him as "petit-bourgeois" and considered him a "revisionist." Marcuse has been referred to as the intellectual mentor of Angela Davis.18
The thesis of Marcuse's book One Dimensional Man is that modern industrial, capitalist civilization is suffocating the human potential by obliterating values that are not part of its system. In An Essay on Liberation, Marcuse argued that modern society has lost touch with the original, socialist nature of man. (Here we see Rousseau's very considerable shadow.) He argued that the workers within capitalism, who traditionally have been the principal revolutionary hope for orthodox Marxists, have been lulled to sleep by a manipulative affluence. "The masses themselves are forces of conservatism and stabilization." Since they would no longer be the source of an anti-capitalist revolution, he looked hopefully to "the young middle-class intelligentsia" and to "the ghetto populations" as catalysts for revolution among a newly sensitized majority. "The political consciousness exists among the nonconformist young intelligentsia; and the vital need for change is the very life of the ghetto population." He saw that "at present in the United States, the black population appears as the 'most natural' force of rebellion." "The Cuban revolution and the Viet Cong have demonstrated: it can be done; there is a morality, a humanity, a will, and a faith which can resist...capitalist expansion."19
Although Marcuse saw great value in the counter-culture's reorientation of consciousness, he was no friend to "the wild ones and the noncommitted, the escapists...." This is why I am discussing him as on the Red, not the Green, side of the New Left.20
The revolutionary nature of his message is clear from what I have just quoted. His totalitarian nature was especially evident in his essay "Repressive Tolerance." He argued that the very "tolerance" that democratic society encourages has been one of the manipulative factors that have lulled the masses to sleep. He called for a "liberating tolerance" that would encourage all views from the Left and suppress all conservative views. "Liberating tolerance would mean intolerance against movements from the Right, and toleration of movements from the Left."21
Despite Marcuse's affinity for the Fidel Castro's and Ho Chi Minh's of the Soviet bloc, there were certain elements in his thinking that justified placing him within a "new" Left. He could speak in post-Stalinist terms of "the repressive Stalinist development of socialism"; and he could say that "the new radicalism militates against the centralized bureaucratic communist as well as against the semi-democratic liberal organization. There is a strong element of spontaneity, even anarchism, in this rebellion... Therefore the aversion against preestablished Leaders, apparatchiks of all sorts, politicians no matter how leftist."22
Nevertheless, the word "new" was appropriate only to those whose memories were short. The revival of "romantic anarchism" was in most ways a harking back to the wilder varieties of nineteenth century socialist thought. When at last the Soviet Union had lost its role as the focus for emulation, Bakunin and Fourier stood ready to fill the void.
A time of intense activity
I will not attempt an exhaustive review of the events of the 1960s, but will give only enough of the detail, drawn primarily from my notes from The New Republic, to paint a picture of those tumultuous years and to highlight any important observations about the content:
. In August 1960, an article by David Evanier spoke of "the sit-ins of the Negro students in the South, followed by the heroic demonstrations against the Un-American Activities Committee in San Francisco."23
. Advertisements appeared in The New Republic in November 1960 for the S.D.S. journal Venture; in April 1962 for the "radical journal" Studies on the Left; in September 1963 for Liberation; in January 1964 for the counter-cultural journal The Realist; and in July 1964 for The Psychedelic Review.
. Andrew Kopkind reported that the League for Industrial Democracy was sponsoring the Students for a Democratic Society (S.D.S.). "In the summer of 1962, the new SDS students met near Port Huron, Michigan, and approved a statement of ideas and principles. The 'Port Huron Statement' is the seminal document of the new left -- or 'the movement.'" He told of the rapid spread of S.D.S. chapters and the beginning, in early 1964, of "SDS projects in a number of Northern cities" to organize among poor whites. Tom Hayden had drafted the Port Huron Statement, and then became an organizer in Newark. In April 1965, the S.D.S. sponsored the "March on Washington to End the War in Vietnam."24
. In July 1963, Reese Cleghorn wrote that "today the banner taken to jail [by participants in the Civil Rights movement] is usually that of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee [SNCC].. .born of the 1960 college student sit-ins, cut free by its young leaders' decision not to accept direction from older organizations or Dr. King...." Two years later, Andrew Kopkind described SNCC as "the most radical civil rights group... It is anarchic rather than monolithic." He reported that SNCC had no desire to work within the Democratic party, wishing rather "to demolish it."25
. At the Democratic National Convention in August 1964 the Mississippi Freedom Democrats demanded to be seated in place of the regular-party delegation, and then, in the words of Andrew Kopkind, "rejected a compromise that would have given them 'tokenism.'" Despite the Johnson administration's success in securing the enactment of civil rights legislation, the conflict at the 1964 convention was looked back upon later by black militants as having indicated their inability to trust, and to work with, "white liberals."26
. In early 1965, an editorial told of the Berkeley sit-in that occurred in December 1964 at which 800 students were arrested after occupying the campus' administration building. In an article, Robert Brustein said that "these two revolutions -- the Negro and Sexual (or Homosexual) -- are currently supplying the major dialogues of our time." [It is a sign of the enormous variety within this radical resurgence that I have not previously found occasion to emphasize the "homosexual revolution," as such.]27
. An editorial in April 1965 reported that "among styles of protest [the teach-in against the war in Vietnam] is all the rage this month" on the campuses at Michigan, Berkeley, and the like.28
. An advertisement in June 1965 told about Saul Alinsky's efforts to build "FIGHT, a militant Negro organization," in Rochester. Alinsky was the author of the 1946 book Reveille for Radicals, which advocated organizing "conflict groups." "A war," he had said, "is not an intellectual debate, and in the war against social evils there are no rules of fair play." James Ridgeway wrote in 1965 that "Alinsky would not be in Rochester were it not for the Council of Churches... various denominations had put up the first part of a total of $100,000...."29
. In December 1965 Kopkind described the November "March on Washington" by 30,000 anti-war activists. "The weekend was an informal first Party Congress of the 'New Left.'" Instead of reporting strength, however, he told of fragmentation and lack of purpose. "There was a mood of uncommon pessimism... The students find they have no workable program for effecting the changes between the radicals and the liberals." Speaking of the march's National Coordinating Committee, he said that it was a "recreation of the sectarianism of the left of the 'thirties... There were the Trotskyists -- all 28 flavors... the Stalinists... the Maoists... the Russian revisionists... the Castroites.... Many had allegiance to Students for a Democratic Society."30
. The New Republic's first alienated "ecology" editorial (although it did not use the term, which had not yet caught on) appeared on June 25, 1966. By the end of the decade, and especially during the winter of 1969-1970, "the environment" became the focus for an hysterical attack on American life. The Environmental Handbook, rushed to print in time for the massive "Earth Day" protests that took place on April 22, 1970, spoke in tones of doom, saying "time is running out." In the Foreword, Garrett De Bell italicized his warning that "a year is about one-fifth of the time we have left if we are going to preserve any kind of quality in our world." Don Marquis said "america [sic.]... is dying because of the greed and money lust of a thousand little kings who slashed the timber all to hell and would not be controlled." Another author spoke of "smashing the worms of capitalism and totalitarianism." In The New Republic, Wayne Davis rung his hands "...as the curtain gets ready to fall on man's civilization." It was too late to save ourselves, he argued, unless we give up capitalism. "Let no one make the mistake of thinking we can save ourselves by 'cleaning up the environment.'" Only governmental ownership of land and resources offered any hope.31
It is worth observing that to the true devotees of the Red revolution the ecology craze seemed a harmful digression. Instead of indicating strength, it was a harbinger of loss of purpose and of fragmentation.
. In July 1966, an editorial commented that "in the space of three years, ghetto riots have become part of America's summer scene." The Watts conflagration was in 1965. In 1966, there were "riots" (if mass burning is truly rioting) in Chicago, Cicero and Harlem. In 1967: Newark, Detroit, Minneapolis, Plainfield (New Jersey), Hartford, Kansas City (Missouri), Waterloo, and Cambridge (Maryland). And these are just the riots that preceded the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in April 1968.32
. Phillip Abbott Luce had been among the many "radical youth" who had gone to Cuba for inspiration after Castro's victory there. He called Cuba "the Mecca of the early New Left." Even though the emphasis later shifted to the Vietnamese and Chinese Communists, it is worth noticing that, according to an unnamed reviewer in The New Republic, "in late November of 1969 216 young Americans, black and brown and white, left for Cuba by way of Mexico; and in February of 1970 687 more left -- followed later that year by another group of 409."33
. The project called "Vietnam Summer," with a peace group hiring 2,000 full-time field workers, took place at Cambridge in the summer of 1967. It was patterned after the 1964 "Freedom Summer." There had been a flow of activity from the militant Civil Rights movement to the anti-Vietnam War movement.34
. One of the wilder spectacles of the period occurred in 1967 with "the New Politics Convention." In an extensive report to The New Republic, James Ridgeway told how the convention was attended by black nationalists, members of the W.E.B. DuBois Clubs (the Communist youth organization), the Communist Party, peace activists, "people from SDS, various community workers, southern student organizers, and a large contingent who had come from the Vietnam Summer project." Ridgeway observed that "the Communists... were out in the open for the first time in years," but added that "they were the most conservative element present."35
Just how the convention managed to be held is a question, judging from Ridgeway's report. The black militants, he says, tried to get the blacks to leave; others formed a "white radical caucus, split off from the blacks; and "some jews [who] had financially supported the convention... walked out." It is interesting that Martin Luther King, Jr., the so-called apostle of "non-violence," gave the keynote address. Ridgeway mitigates this, so far as King is concerned, by pointing out that the speech was "such a bore to the delegates," but another report says the delegates responded enthusiastically.36
Ridgeway viewed the convention with despair. "For some of us who have held out hope for the future of the radical reconstruction of America, our despair was... in quite suddenly realizing that neither the new nor the old left takes America seriously... It is indeed the worst of times, and the National Conference of New Politics destroyed what was left of our hope and we are alone." One can understand his despair, since the convention was one of the wildest, most bizarre gatherings ever held.37
. In early 1968, Michael Miles reported that the S.D.S. had adopted Marxism, together with a non-exclusionary policy toward the Communists. Thus the New Left reversed the position taken by American liberals through the Americans for Democratic Action in 1947 and 1948. The A.D.A. had stood for the refusal of liberals to "cooperate with" Communists. In my chapter here on "Liberalism and a World in Revolution" (i.e., Chapter 16), we will see how critically important that issue has been throughout the world.38
. In April 1968, Daniel Zolo reported that "a violent students' revolt began about seven months ago in all major Italian universities," based on "non-orthodox Marxists" who looked to Che Guevara. Then in June of the same year, Robert Greenstein told of the student revolt in West Germany, led by Rudy Dutschke and based on the doctrines of Marcuse, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara and Rosa Luxembourg. An article by Peter Brooks in July 1968 told of the May revolt by French students, which expressed "the tradition of 'creative anarchy,'"39
. In May 1968, Dotson Rader and Craig Anderson gave an account of the rebellion at Columbia University. They said that a "small group of students, led by Tom Hayden,... had stormed Math Hall on Thursday night and secured it for the liberation." The "students" remained in the hall, "building barricades, pulling up the tiles...." On Tuesday, April 23, "approximately a hundred radical students, lead by Mark Rudd, chairman of SDS, had marched on Morningside Park." Eventually, "plainclothes police forcibly entered Low Library, using their night sticks to break through the crowd of professors who had blockaded the entrance... SDS had won a clubbed and outraged faculty to its side."40
The Columbia revolt is analytically significant for at least six reasons. First, it shows that the militant "student" activity was neither spontaneous nor a response to police provocation. Rader and Anderson reported that "months before, at an SDS conference in Maryland, the decision had been reached to take physical control of a major American university this spring." Second, it shows that the "issues" that were taken so seriously by the media and by academia were mere sham: "The... issues were pretexts. The point of the game was power. In the broadest sense, to the most radical members of the SDS Steering Committee, Columbia itself was not the issue."
Third, the fact that professors blockaded the building demonstrates the role of militant leftist faculty during those years. Fourth, in the comment about SDS's having "won an outraged faculty to its side" (necessarily those who were not already militant, such as the ones doing the blockading), we see the process of "radicalization" which was deliberately created by the confrontation and which no doubt served as one of its main purposes.
This relates, fifth, to a structural fact about modern society that is important in understanding the 1960s: that the intelligentsia, being attached to the Left, was prepared to articulate a high moralistic defense of the militants and an equally moralistic attack upon the police, the national guard, or any other representatives of the established order. Thus we see that, despite everything they have told us, Rader and Anderson were able, incredibly, to reach the conclusion that "police violence was unprovoked and unlimited" (emphasis added). At the same time, the predominant society, having very little by way of an intellectual culture to speak for it, could rally no moral defense of itself and no articulation of a rationale on its own behalf. This led, in large measure, to the majority society's paralysis and moral equivocation.
My sixth point relates directly to this. It is that the processes of orderly society were bared as being much more tenuous than we are accustomed to imagine. The social cements are not to be taken for granted; they can readily disappear. To those who value a free society, this is perhaps the most frightening single fact demonstrated by the New Left.
. Similar episodes, with similar responses, occurred at many other places, including Harvard in early 1969. After black militants took guns into Willard Straight Hall at Cornell, the editors of The New Republic made the typical moral inversion: "The black students at Cornell, or at least some of them, had their reasons for thinking they might need to defend themselves against violent attack."41
This voices a perspective that has been inherent in the Left's view of the world for more than a century. The masses, exploited, are no more than exercising their dignity as human beings by rising up; it is the bourgeoisie, in putting down the revolution, that commits the violence.
. The Columbia, Harvard and Cornell episodes served as a paradigm for the confrontation between the militants and the police in Chicago at the time of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Except for a few admissions here and there, the intellectual culture has insisted to the American people that "Chicago" represented the beating of "kids" by the "brutal Chicago police." Several prominent "liberals" -- including Michael Harrington, Jules Feiffer, Nat Hentoff, Christopher Jencks and Norman Mailer -- signed a 1930s-type manifesto that appeared as an advertisement in The New Republic on August 9, 1969. It defended the "Chicago Eight" defendants and said that "both the mass media and the government's own Walker Report made it clear that the principal responsibility for acts of violence that occurred in Chicago last August lay with the Chicago authorities."42
Here, though, is how James Ridgeway, The New Republic's own correspondent, described the events in Chicago right after they occurred: "The strategy was to confront the Chicago police, and thereby demonstrate that America was a police state... The radicals talked enthusiastically about little acts of violence... to provoke the police and manipulate the liberal McCarthy youth into their ranks. In effect, the idea was to simulate a little guerrilla war... Chicago smelled of revolution." This was consistent with Jerry Rubin's boasts in Do It!, where he said that "Sunday night a police car drove through Lincoln Park. From every direction the yippie's own brand of rock music started: the rhythm of rocks rending cop-car metal and shattering windshields. The Battle of Czechago was on."43
. During the second half of the 1960s, the various revolutions going on simultaneously under the New Left banner were torn by fragmentation and eventually by disillusionment and fatigue. During the summer of 1970 following the incident at Kent State in May 1970, various fragments of the Red revolution went underground and formed the basis for the bombings and kidnappings of the 1970s. A great many of the militants, and especially those involved in the counter-culture, withdrew into mystic fads and cults. Others "went straight," and this included, with some, going into electoral politics. I will discuss the collapse of the New Left in the next section, since it deserves detailed attention for its own sake.
. There were also during the second half of the 1960s some major developments within the Black revolution. The goal of "integration," which had received the imprimatur of the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, came under attack from the more militant blacks themselves. An article in The New Republic in late 1966 spoke, for example, of "the myth that integrationist measures are bringing better housing to the Negro poor." In January 1967, Kopkind reported Stokely Carmichael's views about the Great Society's "War on Poverty": "The war on poverty may give some black people some of the things they need, but to Carmichael it keeps them under white manipulation... What galls SNCC people most is the way white radicals seem to have treated SNCC as a kind of psycho-therapy, as a way to work out problems of alienation and boredom." This points to a double split that was occurring: between integrationist blacks and separatist blacks; and between whites and blacks within the Civil Rights movement. "What is happening now," Kopkind said, "is that many of those whites feel hopelessly rejected by their Negro friends." Simon Lazarus would later speak of "the sharp turn toward separatism and violence taken by SNCC in 1967." He mentioned "SNCC's scorn for moderates like Martin Luther King -- on the ground that the latter direct their appeals to whites rather than blacks."44
. A final development that I will mention is that there had been a direct flow of energy from the early Civil Rights movement to the anti-Vietnam War movement. Kopkind told in 1965 how many of those who had participated in the anti-war March on Washington that year had earlier taken part in the 1963 civil rights March on Washington and had been at Selma. This is consistent with Barry Kalb's observation in 1969 about one of the women in S.D.S.: she was "a veteran of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SNCC, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, and SDS." Ronald Berman quoted Mario Savio as having said that "last summer I went to Mississippi to join the struggle there for civil rights. This fall I am engaged in another phase of the same struggle, this time in Berkeley."45
The collapse of the New Left
To an outsider the New Left appeared to collapse suddenly and dramatically between the end of the academic year in May 1970 and the beginning of the fall semester. Great spasms of activity had accompanied the events of the spring, which had included the observance of Earth Day on April 22, the demonstrations that followed the United States armed forces' invasion of the North Vietnamese sanctuaries in Cambodia, and the outcry that followed the National Guardsmen's opening fire at Kent State University. Radicals urged renewed vigor in the fall, including a shutting down of all universities; but the movement, strangely enough, lost all its impetus. The masses were gone. Slowly the realization dawned that a major change had occurred. What remained were the bombings and kidnappings by those who "went underground," the flight of many thousands into mysticism and the occult, the turning of others to electoral politics, and the rise of "women's liberation" as the principal issue on the Left during the 1970s.46
The suddenness of this collapse was something of an illusion. The New Left had been dissolving internally for as long as five years, although it would be arbitrary to assign a beginning date. As we review the causes of the collapse, we will see that many of them had been underway since the mid-1960s. The New Left was, in the Marxist phrase, collapsing "from its own contradictions." (It would be a mistake, of course, to assume that the New Left fully "had its act together" at any one time and then began to collapse from there. Because of this, there is some artificiality in thinking in terms of a collapse. We do, however, seek to understand the New Left's downward, rather than upward, trajectory, and its eventual demise.)
There were at least nine causes, and almost certainly more, that contributed to the eventual evaporation of the New Left. Needless to say, several are related.
1. The militants' fatigue. Michael Unseem conducted interviews among the militants and found that by early 1969 one-fourth had dropped out. Some, he said, told him that they were "suffering from general exhaustion."47
The phenomenon of "tired radicals" corresponds to a like phenomenon during the 1920s, after the intense effort of the Progressive years. After recounting the effort of those years, George Soule said in 1931 that "the effect of all this upon us differed according to the individual. Some became 'tired radicals' and surrendered by going out for conventional success." According to L. Otis Graham, Jr., a symposium in 1926 on "Where are the Pre-War Radicals?" cited "the high personal cost..., costs both financial and professional" as a cause of their disappearance.48
2. The intellectuals' cycle: a time for withdrawal. I discussed this theme earlier, tracing it back as far as Emerson's generation. We see the withdrawal part of the cycle taking effect in Charles Kerr's April 1970 statement that "Robert Brustein would have young radicals lower their voices and settle down to a 'revolution of the spirit.'" In so urging, Brustein was following in the footsteps of Herbert Croly in the 1920s.49
3. The public's fatigue. In its very first editorial in its opening issue in November 1914, The New Republic attributed the loss by Progressive candidates in the 1914 elections to the fatigue the public felt toward political agitation. Can we doubt that the public who laughed at the antics of a Bruce and a Rubin in the 1960s would come to feel a similar fatigue after several years of New Left agitation? The human factors stay much the same from one episode to another.50
4. The displacement of moderates. Like slapstick as a form of entertainment, in which the old devices after a while stop startling, the New Left had to keep increasing its militancy and shock techniques to hold the attention of its audience (especially since the young in an age of television had become accustomed to rapidly changing images). And, too, those who were caught up in it were propelled to more and more extreme conduct. Jerry Rubin says that "By 1970 there was tremendous pressure on all activists to translate their radical talk into action -- shoot a gun or plant a bomb." The "going underground" with terrorist activity by the end of the 1960s was a predictable product of these forces.51
The effect, however, was slowly to lose the support of the "moderates" and those who shrunk from violence. Rubin writes that "most of us were not ready for an armed confrontation with the state. I felt that I was being set up for martyrdom by death or jail." In addition to militants like Rubin, there were the people who had "supported the goals of the New Left" while only mildly "faulting the means." Some were moderates out of wisdom, some out of the timorousness that had so long set American liberals apart from the remainder of the Left.52
Thus Robert Greenstein reported in June 1968 that the German movement under Rudi Dutschke was incurring "the alienation of liberals (such as Gunter Grass), who dislike the authoritarian style." Recalling a scene reminiscent of the Nazis, Greenstein said "the end of the Vietnam Congress... is a case in point... SNCC representative Dale Smith jumped on a table and raised a clenched right hand. Virtually every one of the 3,000 German students rose from his seat. Three thousand right fists shot up and down together, as students chanted in unison with Smith, 'Burn, baby, burn.'"53
5. Sectarianism; sterile factional in-fighting. The Left's fragmentation has been a source of great weakness for over a century. Although for a while it added to the range of New Left expression, it was a major factor in the eventual collapse.
In 1965, Andrew Kopkind told about the debate over "how far radicals can go in accepting liberal forms of action," thus revealing a split between the moderates and the revolutionaries. In 1969, it was reported that many within the New Left sympathized "with the Arabs as part of the romanticized third world," and a year later Reed Whittemore commented that "the Middle East struggle... is dividing the left ideologically." When we realize how much of the traditional Left has been Jewish, we know how significant a division this represented. The foreseeable split between the disciplined Left and the undisciplined romantic anarchist also developed. Michael Miles wrote in early 1969 that "at Berkeley... there is an open split between radicalism with a rational analysis and program and 'militancy' empty of political content." Other disputes simply reflected old sectarian differences: Barry Kalb reported in July 1969 that "The National Office group of the SDS last week informed the [Peking-oriented] Progressive laborites that they were no longer members of the family. Each party thereupon elected a slate of officers; each called itself 'the real SDS'." Several years later The New Republic looked back and added an additional split to the list: "Black leadership in this country has been splintered and quiescent since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr."54
6. Lack of revolutionary commitment on the part of the rank-and-file. We see the seeds of a major problem for the New Left in the comment by the editors of The New Republic in 1967 that "the overwhelming majority of the 150,000 Americans who took part in antiwar demonstrations in New York and San Francisco on April 15 almost certainly knew nothing, and probably care less, about what went on behind the organizational scenes." The New Left was, for a time, able to draw large crowds, but these did not consist of committed cadre. They could be, and were, there one day -- and not the next.55
The same point was made in The Nation about the black side of the New Left. In a 1972 article entitled "Where Did Their Revolution Go?," the author wrote that "the explanation would be that there simply never was a 'black revolution.' There was militancy... but never much of a genuine revolutionary conviction on the part of most black students."56
This lack of commitment could be due to a number of causes, but we might conjecture that perhaps Sombart's "schoals of apple pie and ice cream" were coming back to haunt the New Left.
7. The annual loss of continuity among college students. The New Left of the second half of the 1960s was largely centered in the universities. The annual graduation of approximately one-fourth of the students, including always those who were older, makes continuity in any effort difficult. This should not obscure the fact, of course, that the New Left did have an inner core of full-time militants, such as the ubiquitous Tom Hayden.
I have seen no study concerning it, but I have wondered whether the younger brothers and sisters of the students of the late 1960s perhaps reacted negatively to the antics of their older syblings, so that when they arrived at college they were not so inclined to continue the agitation. This would be an interesting area for empirical study.
8. Removal of the catalysts. The alienated core of the Left gains wide public support when it exploits issues that can bring in others who deeply feel their own interests at stake. Both the "black" and the "red" revolutions involved "catalysts" of this sort. In each case, the catalyst gradually disappeared. Despite the calls by black militants for more, the civil rights legislation enacted under the Johnson administration, including especially the Voting Rights Act of 1965, went far toward satisfying the needs that moderate blacks had perceived. (The New Left denounced such a removal of a catalyst as "cooptation," ascribing it to a manipulative cleverness on the part of the Establishment.)
The mass movement faded, too, as the Vietnam War ceased being an issue. As early as June 1968, Richard Anthony and Phil Semas told The New Republic's readers that "SDS support... [has been] drifting away in response to the McCarthy candidacy and the Paris peace talks." In February 1970, before the final spasm of that spring, the editors reported that "the young who once shouted, 'Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today' are now talking about ecology... The explanation for this thinning of resistance is Mr. Nixon's 'Plan for Peace.'"57
9. A rallying of the forces loyal to the existing society. Eventually signs began to develop of an articulated defense of American society. After Kent State, Andrew Greeley wrote that "it doesn't take those patriotic parades of 'hard hats' to demonstrate that there is immense dissatisfaction in the country with 'radical protest'" Then Greeley noted something that to him seemed quite incredible: "The outrage in academia notwithstanding, it appears that more than half of the American people blame the Kent State killings on the students themselves!"58
[Note in 2003: A tenth cause must be added, as certainly one of the most important, in light of what Kevin MacDonald tells us in his book The Culture of Critique. He describes how central a good many Jews were to the formation of the New Left, and how they left the New Left to actively support Israel after the Six-Day War of 1967. The withdrawal of this critically important element must have had catastrophic consequences for the movement's continued vitality. For details, see my review of MacDonald's The Critique of Culture, which is Book Review 84 (BR84) on this Web site.]
1. Jack Newfield, A Prophetic Minority (New York: New American Library, Inc., 1966), p. 45.
2. New Republic, November 8, 1980, p. 24.
3. Newfield, Prophetic Minority, pp. 44, 45, 47.
4. Bruce Cook, The Beat Generation (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971), pp. 64, 113, 28.
5. Cook, The Beat Generation, p. 32.
6. Cook, The Beat Generation, pp. 32, 59-60.
7. Cook, The Beat Generation, pp. 21, 155; New Republic, March 30, 1959, p. 14.
8. New Republic, March 30, 1959, p. 14.
9. New Republic, November 23, 1963, p. 23; New Republic, May 3, 1975; New Republic, March 28, 1960, p. 21.
10. Paul Goodman, Growing Up Absurd (New York: Random House, 1956), pp. 64, 65, 175, 281.
11. New Republic, November 13, 1961, p. 12.
12. In my discussion here, I am using the word "Green" in the sense Charles Reich used it in The Greening of America to denote the counter-culture, and not directly in the sense that the term is used by the "Green" faction (an anti-nuclear movement) in Europe in the 1980s. It is perhaps unnecessary to explain that the word "Red" as I am using it in these chapters on the New Left is intended more broadly than just to denote the Communist Party or even pro-Soviet groups.
13. Newfield, Prophetic Minority, p. 21; for a review of Clecak's book, see New Republic, January 5, 1974, p. 29.
14. New Republic, February 3, 1958, p. 15.
15. Phillip Abbott Luce, The New Left (New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1966), pp. 51, 47, 54.
16. New Republic, October 20, 1958, pp. 19, 20.
17. Irving Howe, Steady Work: Essays in the Politics of Democratic Radicalism, 1953-1966 (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1966), p. 73; Christopher Lasch, The Agony of the American Left (New York: Vintage Books, 1969), pp. 130, 131.
18. New Republic, December 24, 1977, p. 36.
19. Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), p. 80, 51, 58, 81.
20. Marcuse, Essay on Liberation, p. 60.
21. Herbert Marcuse, essay entitled "Repressive Tolerance" in A Critique of Pure Tolerance (Boston: Beacon Press), pp. 90, 109.
22. Marcuse, Essay on Liberation, pp. 85, 89.
23. New Republic, August 8, 1960, p. 13.
24. New Republic, June 19, 1965, pp. 15-19.
25. New Republic, July 20, 1963, p. 15; New Republic, April 10, 1965, pp. 13, 14.
26. New Republic, December 11, 1965, p. 17.
27. New Republic, March 27, 1965, pp. 6, 26.
28. New Republic, April 17, 1965, p. 9.
29. Saul D. Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946), pp. 153, 154; New Republic, June 26, 1965, p. 16.
30. New Republic, December 11, 1965, p. 15.
31. Garrett De Bell, ed., The Environmental Handbook (New York: Ballantine Books, 1970), pp. xiv, vii, 2; New Republic, January 10, 1970, p. 15.
32. New Republic, July 30, 1966, p. 5.
33. See Venceremos Brigade: Young Americans Sharing the Life and Work of Revolutionary Cuba, no individual author given; Luce, The New Left, p. 60; New Republic, July 10, 1971, p. 28.
34. New Republic, May 27, 1967, p. 5.
35. New Republic, September 16, 1967, pp. 9-11.
36. New Republic, September 16, 1967, pp. 9-11.
37. New Republic, September 16, 1967, p. 12.
38. New Republic, February 3, 1968, pp. 25, 22.
39. New Republic, April 27, 1968, pp. 16, 17; New Republic, June 8, 1968, pp. 18-20; New Republic, July 6, 1968, p. 25.
40. New Republic, May 11, 1968, pp. 9-11.
41. New Republic, May 3, 1969, p. 5.
42. New Republic, August 9, 1969, p. 5.
43. New Republic, September 7, 1968, p. 11; Jerry Rubin, Do It! (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970), p. 170.
44. New Republic, December 17, 1966, p. 20; New Republic, January 7, 1967, p. 18; New Republic, January 13, 1968, pp. 28, 32.
45. New Republic, December 11, 1965, p. 18; New Republic, July 5, 1969, p. 12; Ronald Berman, America in the Sixties: An Intellectual History (New York: The Free Press, 1968), p. 161.
46. Regarding the desire to shut down all universities, see New Republic, September 12, 1970, p. 19.
47. Michael Unseem, Conscription, Protest, and Social Conflict (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1973), pp. 276-277.
48. New Republic, January 21, 1931; L. Otis Graham, Jr., An Encore for Reform: The Old Progressives and the New Deal (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 162-163.
49. New Republic, April 25, 1970, p. 29.
50. New Republic, November 7, 1914, p. 4.
51. Jerry Rubin, Growing (Up) at 37 (New York: Warner Books, 1976), p. 93.
52. Rubin, Growing (Up) at 37, p. 93.
53. New Republic, June 8, 1968, p. 20.
54. New Republic, December 11, 1965, p. 17; New Republic, February 15, 1969, p. 9; New Republic, March 21, 1970, p. 32; New Republic, April 12, 1969, p. 18; New Republic, July 5, 1969, p. 11; New Republic, September 17, 1977, p. 6.
55. New Republic, April 29, 1967, p. 3.
56. The Nation, Vol. 215, p. 272.
57. New Republic, June 29, 1968, p. 13; New Republic, February 14, 1970, p. 1.
58. New Republic, June 27, 1970, p. 14.