From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The New Left was a broad political movement mainly in the 1960s and 1970s consisting of activists in the Western world who campaigned for a broad range of social issues such as civil and political rights, feminism, gay rights, abortion rights, gender roles and drug policy reforms.
Some saw the New Left as an oppositional reaction to earlier "Old Left", i.e. Marxist and labor union movements for social justice that focused on dialectical materialism and social class, while others who used the term saw the movement as a continuation and revitalization of traditional leftist goals.
Some who self-identified as "New Left" rejected involvement with the labor movement and Marxism's historical theory of class struggle, although others gravitated to their own takes on established forms of Marxism, such as the New Communist movement (which drew from Maoism) in the United States or the K-Gruppen in the German Sprachraum. In the United States, the movement was associated with the anti-war college-campus protest movements, including the Free Speech Movement.
The origins of the New Left have been traced to several factors. Prominently, 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 United States and in the Western Bloc. The term "nouvelle gauche" was already current in France in the 1950s, 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. According to Leszek Kołakowski, Marcuse argued 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, or Eros, as the true liberation of humanity, which inspired the utopias of Jerry Rubin and others. However, Marcuse also believed the concept of Logos, which involves one's reason, would absorb Eros over time as well. 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.
The writings of sociologist C. Wright Mills, who popularized the term New Left in a 1960 open letter, would also give great inspiration to the movement. Mills' biographer, Daniel Geary, writes that his writings had a "particularly significant impact on New Left social movements of the 1960s."
The New Left in Latin America can be loosely defined as the collection of political parties, radical grassroots social movements (such as indigenous movements, student movements, mobilizations of landless rural workers, afro-descendent organizations and feminist movements), guerilla organizations (such as the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions) and other organizations (such as trade unions, campesino leagues and human rights organizations) that comprised the left between 1959 (with the beginning of the Cuban Revolution) and 1990 (with the fall of the Berlin Wall).
Influential Latin American thinkers such as Francisco de Oliveira argued that the United States used Latin American countries as "peripheral economies" at the expense of Latin American society and economic development, which many saw as an extension of neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism. This shift in thinking led to a surge of dialogue related to how Latin America could assert its social and economic independence from the United States. Many scholars argued that a shift to socialism could help liberate Latin America from this conflict.
The New Left emerged in Latin America, a group which sought to go beyond existing Marxist–Leninist efforts at achieving economic equality and democracy to include social reform and address issues unique to Latin America such as racial and ethnic equality, indigenous rights, the rights of the environment, demands for radical democracy, international solidarity, anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism and other aims. Notable New Left movements in Latin America include the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the victory of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua of 1979, the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Worker's Party) government in Porto Alegre of 1990, among others.
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. Refusing to discontinue the publication at the behest of the CPGB, the two were suspended from party membership and relaunched the journal as The New Reasoner in the summer of 1957.
Thompson was especially important in bringing the concept of a "New Left" to the United Kingdom in the Summer of 1959 with a New Reasoner lead essay, in which he described
"...[A] generation which never looked upon the Soviet Union as a weak but heroic Workers' State; but rather as the nation of the Great Purges and Stalingrad, of Stalin's Byzantine Birthday and of Khrushchev's Secret Speech; as the vast military and industrial power which repressed the Hungarian rising and threw the first sputniks into space. ...
"A generation nourished on 1984 and Animal Farm, which enters politics at the extreme point of disillusion where the middle-aged begin to get out. The young people ... are enthusiastic enough. But their enthusiasm is not for the Party, or the Movement, or the established Political Leaders. They do not mean to give their enthusiasm cheaply away to any routine machine. They expect the politicians to do their best to trick or betray them. ... They prefer the amateur organisation and amateurish platforms of the Nuclear Disarmament Campaign to the method and manner of the left wing professional. ... They judge with the critical eyes of the first generation of the Nuclear Age."
Later that year, Saville published a piece in the same journal which identified the emergence of the British New Left as a response to the increasing political irrelevance of socialists inside and outside the Labour Party during the 1950s, which he saw as being the result of a failure by the established left to come to grips with the political changes that had come to pass internationally after World War II and with the post–World War II economic expansion and the socio-economic legacy of the Attlee ministry:
"The most important single reason for the miserable performance of the Left in this past decade is the simple fact of its intellectual collapse in the face of full employment and the welfare state at home, and of a new world situation abroad. The Left in domestic matters has produced nothing of substance to offset the most important book of the decade - Crosland's "The Future of Socialism " - a brilliant restatement of Fabian ideas in contemporary terms. We have made no sustained critique of the economics of capitalism in the 1950's, and our vision of a socialist society has changed hardly at all since the days of Keir Hardie. Certainly a minority has begun to recognise our deficiencies in the most recent years, and there is no doubt that the seeds which have already been sown will bring an increasing harvest as we move along the sixties. But we still have a long way to go, and there are far too many timeless militants for whom the mixture is the same as before."
In 1960, The New Reasoner merged with the Universities and Left Review to form the New Left Review. These journals attempted to synthesise a theoretical position of a Marxist revisionism, 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 (CND), 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, which continued to focus primarily on industrial issues.
The New Left Review, in an obituary following Hall's death in February 2014, wrote "His exemplary investigations came close to inventing a new field of study, 'cultural studies'; in his vision, the new discipline was profoundly political in inspiration and radically interdisciplinary in character."
Numerous Black British scholars attributed their interest in cultural studies to Hall, including Paul Gilroy, Angela McRobbie, Isaac Julien, and John Akomfrah. In the words of Indian literary theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Academics worldwide could not think 'Black Britain' before Stuart Hall. And in Britain the impact of Cultural Studies went beyond the confines of the academy."
Among Hall's New Left works were the May Day Manifesto, which reflected a "growing disillusionment on the left with what the authors argued to be the surrendering of socialist principles by the Labour Party" and Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order, which contemporary book reviewer John Horton described as "nothing less than an analysis of how the British state is managing the current 'crisis of hegemony'".
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 (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 United States 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, into a broader focus towards issues such as opposing alienation, anomie, and authoritarianism. Mills argued for a shift from traditional leftism, toward the values of the counterculture, and emphasized an international perspective on the movement. According to David Burner, C. Wright Mills claimed that the proletariat (collectively the working-class referencing Marxism) were no longer the revolutionary force; the new agents of revolutionary change were young intellectuals around the world.
A student protest called the 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 focused on social activists and their approach to organization, convinced that they could be the source for a better kind of social revolution.
The New Left in the United States also included anarchist, countercultural, and hippie-related radical groups such as the Yippies (who were led by Abbie Hoffman), The Diggers, Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers, and the White Panther Party. By late 1966, the Diggers opened free stores which simply gave away their stock, provided free food, distributed free drugs, gave away money, organized free music concerts, and performed works of political art. The Diggers took their name from the original English Diggers led by Gerrard Winstanley and sought to create a mini-society free of money and capitalism. On the other hand, the Yippies employed theatrical gestures, such as advancing a pig ("Pigasus the Immortal") as a candidate for President in 1968, to mock the social status quo. They have been described as a highly theatrical, anti-authoritarian, and anarchist youth movement of "symbolic politics". According to ABC News, "The group was known for street theater pranks and was once referred to as the 'Groucho Marxists'." Many of the "old school" political left either ignored or denounced them.
Many New Left thinkers in the United States were influenced by the Vietnam War and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. 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 Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). 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 B. 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.
The New Left also accommodated 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. Port Huron Statement participant Jack Newfield wrote in 1971 that "in its Weathermen, Panther and Yippee incarnations, [the New Left] seems anti-democratic, terroristic, dogmatic, stoned on rhetoric and badly disconnected from everyday reality". 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.
Hippies and Yippies
The hippie subculture was originally a youth movement that arose in the United States during the mid-1960s and spread to other countries around the world. The word 'hippie' came from hipster, and was initially used to describe beatniks who had moved into New York City's Greenwich Village and San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district. The origins of the terms hip and hep are uncertain, though by the 1940s both had become part of African American jive slang and meant "currently fashionable; fully up-to-date". The Beats adopted the term hip, and early hippies inherited the language and countercultural values of the Beat Generation and mimicked some of the current values of the British Mod scene. Hippies created their own communities, listened to psychedelic rock, embraced the sexual revolution, and some used drugs such as cannabis, LSD, and psilocybin mushrooms to explore altered states of consciousness.
The Yippies, who were seen as an offshoot of the hippie movements parodying as a political party, came to national attention during their celebration of the 1968 spring equinox, when some 3,000 of them took over Grand Central Terminal in New York, resulting in 61 arrests. The Yippies, especially their leaders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, became notorious for their theatrics, such as trying to levitate the Pentagon at the October 1967 war protest, and such slogans as "Rise up and abandon the creeping meatball!" Their stated intention to protest the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August, including nominating their own candidate, "Lyndon Pigasus Pig" (an actual pig), was also widely publicized in the media at this time. In Cambridge, hippies congregated each Sunday for a large "be-in" at Cambridge Park with swarms of drummers and those beginning the Women's Movement. In the United States the hippie movement started to be seen as part of the "New Left" which was associated with anti-war college campus protest movements.
Students for a Democratic Society
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 marshaled antiwar, 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
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.
In Europe Provo was a Dutch counterculture movement in the mid-1960s that focused on provoking violent responses from authorities using non-violent bait. One manifestation of this was the French general strike that took place in Paris in May 1968, which nearly toppled the French government. In France the Situationist International reached the apex of its creative output and influence in 1967 and 1968, with the former marking the publication of the two most significant texts of the situationist movement, The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord and The Revolution of Everyday Life by Raoul Vaneigem. The expressed writing and political theory of these texts, along with other situationist publications, proved greatly influential in shaping the ideas behind the May 1968 insurrections in France; quotes, phrases, and slogans from situationist texts and publications were ubiquitous on posters and graffiti throughout France during the uprisings. Another was the German student movement of the 1960s. Kommune 1 or K1 was the first politically motivated commune in Germany. It was created on January 12, 1967, in West Berlin and finally dissolved in November 1969. During its entire existence, Kommune 1 was infamous for its bizarre staged events that fluctuated between satire and provocation. These events served as inspiration for the "Sponti" movement and other leftist groups. In the late summer of 1968, the commune moved into a deserted factory on Stephanstraße in order to reorient. This second phase of Kommune 1 was characterized by sex, music, and drugs. All of a sudden, the commune was receiving visitors from all over the world, among them Jimi Hendrix, who turned up one morning in the bedroom of Kommune 1. The underground was a countercultural movement in the United Kingdom linked to the underground culture in the United States and associated with the hippie phenomenon. Its primary focus was around Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill in London. It generated its own magazines and newspapers, bands, clubs and alternative lifestyle, associated with cannabis and LSD use and a strong socio-political revolutionary agenda to create an alternative society. The counterculture movement took hold in Western Europe, with London, Amsterdam, Paris, Rome and West Berlin rivaling San Francisco and New York as counterculture centers.
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.
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 New Left in Japan began by occupying college campuses for several years in the 1960s. After 1970, they splintered into several freedom fighter groups including the United Red Army and the Japanese Red Army. They also developed the political ideology of Anti-Japaneseism.
The Workers' Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores – PT) is considered the main organization to emerge from the New Left in Brazil. According to Manuel Larrabure, "rather than taking the path of the old Latin American left, in the form of the guerrilla movement, or the Stalinist party", PT decided to try something new, while being aided by CUT and other social movements. Its challenge was to "combine the institutions of liberal democracy with popular participation by communities and movements". However, PT has been criticized for its "strategic alliances" with the right-wing after Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was elected president of Brazil. The party has distanced itself from social movements and youth organizations and for many it seems the PT's model of a new left is reaching its limits.
In Australia, the New Left was engaged in debates concerning the legitimacy of heterodox economics and political economy in tertiary education. This culminated in the establishment of an independent department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney.
Inspirations and influences
- Theodor Adorno
- Francesc Pi i Margall
- Federica Montseny
- Albert Camus
- Guy Debord
- Frantz Fanon
- Emma Goldman
- Paul Goodman
- André Gorz
- Che Guevara
- Allen Ginsberg
- Jack Kerouac
- Peter Kropotkin
- R. D. Laing
- Henri Lefebvre
- Ho Chi Minh
- Vladimir Lenin
- Claude Levi-Strauss
- Rosa Luxemburg
- Herbert Marcuse
- C Wright Mills
- Thomas Paine
- Bertrand Russell
- Jean-Paul Sartre
- Leon Trotsky
- Malcolm X
- Mao Zedong
- Emma Bonino
- Norberto Bobbio
- Marco Pannella
- Mahatma Gandhi
- Rabindranath Tagore
- Frida Kahlo
- Petra Kelly
- Stew Albert
- Perry Anderson
- Bill Ayers
- Rudolf Bahro
- Marshall Berman
- Charles Bettelheim
- Stokely Carmichael
- Noam Chomsky
- Daniel Cohn-Bendit
- Raewyn Connell
- Angela Davis
- Régis Debray
- Rudi Dutschke
- Deniz Gezmiş
- Murray Bookchin
- Alan Haber
- Tom Hayden
- Agnes Heller
- Abbie Hoffman
- Humphrey McQueen
- Ralph Miliband
- Tom Nairn
- Huey Newton
- Carl Oglesby
- Ronald Radosh
- Jerry Rubin
- Mark Rudd
- Mario Savio
- Bobby Seale
- Matthew Steen
- Frank Stilwell
- E.P. Thompson
- Raymond Williams
- Peter Worsley
Other associated people
- Todd Gitlin
- Tariq Ali
- Manuela Carmena
- José Mujica
- Howard Zinn
- César Chávez
- Christopher Hitchens
- David Dellinger
- Joschka Fischer
- Michel Foucault
- Norman Fruchter
- Karl Hess
- Gabriel Kolko
- William Mandel
- Stuart Macintyre
- A. J. Muste
- Nicos Poulantzas
- Charles A. Reich
- Richard Sennett
- Charles Taylor
- Robert Kurz
- Chinese New Left
- Congress for Cultural Freedom
- Cultural Marxism
- New Left 95
- New Right
- Old Left
- Reformist Left
- Revisionism (Marxism)
- Third World Socialism