Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The British New Left (or Old New Left)
As a result of Khrushchev's secret speech denouncing Stalin and the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) ruptured. Many left the party for Trotskyist groupings or for the Independent Labour Party. Others formed a larval grouping dedicated to revisionist communism.
The historian E. P. Thompson was one of the chief ex-communists accused of revisionism by the CPGB. Thompson had previously established a dissenting journal within the CPGB called Reasoner. Once outside the party he began publishing the New Reasoner. 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. In this attempt they published material from the Western bloc Trotskyist traditions and from the Eastern bloc dissenting marxists.
In terms of their actions, the British New Left concentrated on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the hypocrisy of the Soviet Union and its allied countries. It often worked in existing popular front organisations to campaign for peace, disarmament, global justice or other issues important to communists. Some students within the British New Left joined the International Socialists, which later became Socialist Workers Party (UK) while others became involved with groups such as the International Marxist Group.
Compare with the simultaneously active, but not revisionist, syndicalist organisation Solidarity, UK.
The American New Left
The New Left was the name loosely associated with a radical political movement that took place in the United States during the 1960s, primarily among college students. The origin of the name can be traced to an open letter written in 1960 by sociologist C. Wright Mills 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 more personalized issues such as opposing alienation, anomie, authoritarianism, and other ills of the modern affluent society. Put differently, Mills argued for a shift from traditional leftism, toward the values of the Counterculture.
The New Left opposed 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 avoided recruiting industrial workers, and concentrated on a social activist approach to organizing. Many in the New Left were convinced that they could be the source for a newer, better kind of popular revolution . Loosely associated with the New Left was the Berkeley Free Speech Movement which began in 1964 as a coalition of student groups at the University of California, Berkeley which opposed restrictions to political activity on campus. The organization that really came to symbolize the core of the New Left was the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). In 1962 Tom Hayden wrote its founding document, the Port Huron Statement, which issued a call for "participatory democracy" based on nonviolent civil disobedience.
The most important institution within the US New Left was the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The SDS marshalled anti-war, pro-civil rights and free speech concerns on campuses, and managed to unite radical liberals and harder revolutionary left wingers. The SDS became the leading organization of the antiwar movement on college campuses during the Vietnam War, and during the course of the war became increasingly militant. As opposition to the war grew stronger, the SDS became a nationally prominent political organization. At the same time however, opposing the war became an overriding concern that overshadowed many of the original issues that inspired the New Left. In 1968 and 1969, as its radicalism reached a fever pitch, the SDS began to split under the strain of internal dissension and increasing penetration by Maoist ideologues, and along with adherents known as the New Communist Movement, some extremist terrorist splinter factions also emerged, such as the Weather Underground Organization.
Some elements of the US New Left were heavily influenced by the politics of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. These more Maoist sections, believed that the Khrushchev's Secret Speech of 1956 indicated that the Soviet Union had become revisionist. For these Maoist members of the new left, the Soviet Union could no longer be considered the world center for proletarian revolution. This section of the New Left substituted Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro as their lead thinkers. They also drew a lot of inspiration from the Black Panther Party.
Other elements of the US New Left looked to the strong libertarian socialist tradition of American radicalism, and investigated the Industrial Workers of the World and previous union militancy. This group coalesced around the history journal Radical Amerika. American Autonomist Marxism was also a child of the US New Left, particularly in the form of its principle thinker, Harry Cleaver.
The US New Left was broken by the US withdrawal from Vietnam. Radical liberal elements of the New Left retreated into professional life. Maoist elements formed miniscule microparties, some of which continue to the present day, but others dissolved in factional infighting. Many New Left revolutionaries continued their political struggles, but often in smaller organisations which were less visible. By the beginning of the 1980s, the US New Left was effectively non-existant. However, many of the organisational principles, particularly the social activist model, continue to be used by current American revolutionary groups.
- New Left Movement: 1964-1973. Archive # 88-020. Title: New Left Movement fonds. -- 1964-1973. -- 51 cm of textual records. Trent University Archives. Peter Borough, Ontario, Canada. Online guide retrived April 12, 2005.
- Breines, Wini. Community Organization in the New Left, 1962-1968: The Great Refusal 216 pp. Rutgers University Press; Reissue edition (March 1, 1989). ISBN 0813514037.
- Evans, Sara. Personal Politics : The Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement & the New Left 288 pages. Vintage (January 12, 1980). ISBN 0394742281.
- Frost, Jennifer. "An Interracial Movement of the Poor": Community Organizing & the New Left in the 1960s 266 pp. New York University Press (September, 2001). ISBN 0814726976.
- Gosse, Van. The Movements of the New Left, 1950-1975: A Brief History with Documents Bedford St. Martin's, 2004). 224 pp. Bedford/St. Martin's (October 29, 2004). ISBN 0312133979.
- Isserman, Maurice. If I had a Hammer : the Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left 259 pp. University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition (June 1, 1993). ISBN 0252063384.
- McMillian, John and Buhle, Paul (eds.). The New Left Revisited 280 pp. Temple University Press. (Jan 2003). ISBN 1566399769.
- Oglesby, Carl (ed.) The New Left Reader Grove Press(1969). ISBN 0887690700. Influential collection of texts by Mills, Marcuse, Fanon, Cohn-Bendit, Castro, Hall, Althusser, Kolakowski, Malcolm X, Gorz & others.
- Rubenstein, Richard E. Left Turn: Origins of the Next American Revolution. 286p. Boston: Little Brown, (1973). 286p. 1st edition.
- Munk, Michael. The New Left: What It Is ... Where It's Going ... What Makes it Move. 22pp. A National Guardian Pamphlet. New York. n.d. . Stapled softcover. Photos.
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