New Left Book Recommendations

So I'm working on a research project on the white antiwar New Left, and I'm wondering if anyone has any books to suggest.  You'll be able to tell from my summary just how little I know specifically about this period.

As far as I can tell, the general contours of the 1960s and early 1970s are as follows.  A youth movement began in the early 1960s from the ferment of the early Civil Rights struggle and the complacency/affluence/nuclear fears of the 1950s.  A comformist and crushing mass media society had mangled and deformed the country's cultural growth, and the shocking assassination of JFK in 1963 traumatized a whole set of leaders.  The 1950s intellectual protests at a neo-Victorian middle class culture spawned a wave of student organizations, most prominently but not exclusively Students for a Democratic Society.   The Vietnam War and the increasing heat of the Civil Rights battle pressured, radicalized, and enlarged the movement, leading to new music, film, and a drug culture that captured an experimental political age.  The women's rights movement was spawned from the male-dominated atmosphere of the 1960s political left.  Eventually, in 1968 and 1972, these trends turned electoral, but three major Presidential candidates of this movement died, one literally (RFK) and two at the polls.  

The student and youth radical leaders of that generation were not institution-builders, as the rhetoric was hotly geared towards revolution and a sort of liberal rapture.  It wasn't just that incremental change did not seem up to the challenge of the era, many of these leaders also thought that theirs was a genuinely revolutionary movement, that failure carried the cost of permanent exile from their society.  The result of the cultural and political energy of the white liberal antiwar class was Nixon's crushing 1972 victory and a thorough national repudiation of liberal values.  Still, antiwar activists were not repudiated individually, a confusing state of affairs that led to a turn inward in the 1970s.

One result was the disillusionment of the left activist class towards the electoral process, and a withdrawal into good government groups like Common Cause, Public Citizen, as well as single issue groups like NARAL and the initial media reform movement.  Much talent also flowed into the media-industrial complex itself - two or three whole generations of journalists with liberal sympathies reflexively adopt a self-hating attitude about liberalism.  Corporate law firms and Wall Street locked up liberal talent, as did the media business itself.  Another piece of the puzzle is the labor movement, which saw an influx of radical organizers who eventually became the current leadership class.

Anyway, as far as I can tell, it was an emotional, depressing and turbulent time for liberals, with a key set of advances, most prominently the end of the segregation and the busting open of American cultural oppression.  There was immense political trauma to liberalism, reinforced later by Jimmy Carter's failed Presidency, and Reagan's crushing victories in 1980 and 1984.  After awhile and beginning in 1972, liberal activists basically gave up, first withdrawing from the electoral realm into process work, and then pulled out altogether into a mostly apolitical stance.

Does this sketch make sense?  I'm not sure it does, and I'd welcome feedback.

Tags: 1960s, netroots, New Left, progressive movement (all tags)



Re: New Left Book Recommendations

I like your phrase "liberal rapture."

You probably need to start by defining exactly what you want to mean by "liberal."

My impression of counterculture music, and perhaps film, is that it preceded the antiwar movement.  You specify the white antiwar movement, but does that mean that you won't be dealing with black musical roots in the 1950s but focusing exclusively on a southern? folk tradition?

I don't really get what you mean by 2 or 3 generations of journalists who were self-hating toward liberalism.  This may get back to needing to define liberalism, which I tend to think has an element of being able to see more than one side to an issue.  In any case, you'll need to place the journalists/professors who came out of the Kennedy Administration and created a magical Camelot around JFK.  And the Watergate investigations.

And I haven't studied Carter's Administration closely, but I'm wondering about your basis for calling it a "failed" one.  I know at the time that I blamed all of the problems on the media, who insisted on opening each news program with "Day [fill in the blank] of the Hostage Crisis."  (This is actually about the time when I date the "liberal" media as turning, although I may have been too young earlier to see problems earlier.)

by catherineD 2006-12-23 12:20PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Well, what successes might the Carter Administration boast?

I mean, certainly one could argue that the administration tried to do good (solar panels on the White House, etc.), but leaving aside good intentions, I'd be interested to hear a list of accomplishments.

by BingoL 2006-12-23 12:37PM | 0 recs
Carter's successes

I'd count not going to war with Iran over the hostage  crisis as a big success. People count it as some kind of humilition but less than one year later Iran was at war, with Iraq.

That war cost more than 500,000 Iranian casualties and 350,000 Iraqi casualites. If the Carter had invaded Iran we would have suffered casualties at least equal to Vietnam.

Unlike George W. Bush who has prosecuted the Iraq War entirely based on politics, Jimmy Carter handled the Iran hostage crisis in a way that ensured his own political demise yet spared tens of thousands of lives. That's a success in my book.

by joejoejoe 2006-12-23 01:10PM | 0 recs
Re: Carter's successes

I'm so glad to hear about all of Carter's victories. He is a hero of mine... especially with regard to his post presidential efforts at creating peace around the world. He and Roslyn are still making contributions when they could just be getting fat and lazy on their presidential pension and wealth from peanut farming.

I was in high school during the Cuban missle crisis and I and others of my generation were always scared someone would set off a nuclear war. I felt very safe when Carter took office as I knew he would put morality before political gain and keep us as safe as possible under his watch.

Most people I've discussed Carter with put his presidency down. These comments give me some valid points to contribute to these conversations.

I also admired Carter for his environmental efforts. He was really pushing us in the direction of alternative energy and conservation until Reagan took over and killed all the pro-active programs.

Thanks for all this great feedback!

by nanasooz 2006-12-23 03:43PM | 0 recs
Go read the opening chapters of

Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, by David M. Kennedy. Hoover is judge a failure in popular culture and rightly so; however, that judgment overlooks Hoover's accomplishments which is generally lost on most people through the mists of time.

As for JC, he too has been branded a failure. To my way of thinking, in the most important way- persuading people to follow his leadership- he was a failure. That doesn't mean he was wrong about everything. To the popular culture, however, his presidency will always be branded a failure. I don't know if that judgment can be reversed. One thing I think I do know, President Carter doesn't lose sleep over what popular culture thinks about his presidency.

I've have always considered JC's historical equivalent to be Wilson's 2nd term (not Hoover, though both were engineers who had a single term in office). Wilson shared some of President Carter's faults- moralizing and inability to persuade others to follow his lead (see League of Nations). FDR, of course, revised the idea with the UN and Harry Truman made it a reality. So there is hope for energy independence and peace between Isreal and her neighbors yet.

by molly bloom 2006-12-23 04:10PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Carter negotiated the peace accord between Egypt and Israel.

Carter initiated the withdrawal from Panama.  

Carter appointed Paul Volcker, who insituted the reforms that stopped the runaway inflation of the 1970s.

Carter inherited a lot of economic problems that were not his fault.  He also had some advisors who were sleazy, but they were small fries compared to what subsequent Republican administrations have seen.

What is notable about Carter, from my perspective, is that he actually obeyed the law, as opposed to most of the recent Republican administrations.

by RickD 2006-12-23 01:37PM | 0 recs
So True!

What is notable about Carter, from my perspective, is that he actually obeyed the law, as opposed to most of the recent Republican administrations.
Jimmy Carter: Not A Felon!  Unlike all those other presidents.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-12-23 02:59PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Carter rejected Nixon's detente arguing that the Cold War had a moral component, and ge denounced the Soviet Union and other repressive regimes for as being evil. Needless to say, the press soundly denounced him for this, but his stance did lead to the collapse of a number of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes around the world, in Greece, in the Soviet Union and elsewhere.

Carter also made major progress towards a balanced budget. The government was moving towards a surplus when he left office. Given the hole we were in, this is most impressive.

Carter rebuilt the US military into an effective volunteer force and developed our rapid reaction and rapid strike capabilities. The failed Iran hostages mission was unfortunate, but the failure helped rebuild and restructure our military after Vietnam. Whether it can survive Bush is another matter.

Carter worked with the Federal Reserve to fight inflation, and it worked. The 1979 interest spike might have cost him the election, but it ended the deficit driven inflation that pervaded the 1970s. Sometimes a politician has to put his nation before his career, though this is not a particularly modern sentiment.

Carter was a big job creator. In his four years, he created as many jobs as Ronald Reagan did in eight, and most of these were better jobs than you'll find these days. The late 70s were fat times for most Americans.

by kaleberg 2006-12-23 01:58PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Carter didn't denounce the USSR as evil, that was Reagan. But he did fail to get Western Europeans to go along with basing medium range nuclear Pershing missiles on their soil to counter the Soviets who had done the same which would have shifted the threat of nuclear war to Euros who had no operational control. The thinking was if the long expected Soviet tank invasion of Western Europe via West Germany escalated into a nuclear exchange, better to lose say, Warsaw and Bonn than Moscow and New York. Needless to say the Euros didn't think much of that idea. Nor did they like the concept of neutron bombs.

What Carter did do is harp on the Soviets to live up to the Helsinki Accords which had more to do with the fall of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact than the US military build up in the 1970s and 1980s. Just ask Lech Walesa or any other Eastern European who lived thru the time. The major contributor to the demise of the Soviet Union though was the glaring inability of one party communist rule to deliver a decent standard of living to the peoples of Eastern Europe. You didn't have to look very hard to see East Germany had become a very poor cousin to West Germany. Neither did they. Initially after WW11 Euros were willing to sacrifice a lot to avoid another devastating war. But eventually the people in the East realized sacrificing their freedoms and prosperity wasn't the way to win the cold war, or any war. Like the line in the movie "War Games" says, "The only way to win is not to play." That's what Eduard Shevardnadze the Russian foreign minsiter at the time meant when he said, "We're going to do you a great disservice, we're going to deprive you of an

As for the demise of the US leftist political movement in the mid 1970s, it pretty much wound down when the draft and the war ended. When Nixon resigned political fatigue set in. See if the same doesn't happen after Iraq the Boy King is gone.

by markg8 2006-12-26 06:23AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Perhaps Carter did not call the Soviets evil using that word, but he did denounce them as immoral and said that there were moral objections to doing business with them. Surely, you remember the bashing he took when he tried to prevent the sale of gas pipeline technology because the pipeline had been built with slave labor, and no one can forget the traffic blocking tractor protests in DC by farmers who wanted to continue their wheat sales. The protesting farmers got an additional boost when they helped plough the roads during a snow storm!

As for the collapse of the Soviet empire, it was partly political and partly economic. Empires exist to make money. The Soviet empire went into red after the first oil shock in '73. Basically, it was costing the Soviets more money to keep their European subjects in line than they could milk them for. The USSR invaded Czechoslovakia in '68, but couldn't afford to move on Poland. They were tapped out.

Politically, communism was more or less dead by the late 60s. Soviet television was full of "The Great Patriotic War", and that seemed to be the only flag left to be wrapped in. The upwardly mobile communists knew the words and the score, but none of them believed what they were singing. As with England after WWI, there was no more desire to paint the world red.

Reagan managed to help keep the baling wire in place, but by the late 80s the USSR was ready to collapse.

by kaleberg 2006-12-27 09:01AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

That may have all stemmed from Carter's boycott of the Moscow Olympics after they invaded Afghanistan. The Soviets did install another government in Poland but what they couldn't do was make it popular or make the Gdansk shipyards competitive with South Korea's. Militarily they were busy with a unpopular war in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989.

The Soviet Union wasn't in business to make money.  
They were communists, their whole raison de 'etre was to improve living standards from the bottom up. Unfortunately one party systems that control every aspect of the economy and demand unquestioning loyalty to the party aren't meritocracies and are at lousy inspiring people to create wealth. The Soviet people proved they could and would make tremendous sacrifices for the greater good during WW11. But then Hitler made it very clear that slavery and eventual extermination were their fate if they didn't win. Watching the West outstrip them in every economic metric for 50 years after the war made them restless. Gorbatrov put the cart before the horse when he instituted glasnost and perestroika before opening up the economic system. The Chinese have done the opposite i.e. adopting capitalism without  democratic freedoms. I suspect and hope that the widerspread material wealth in China will lead to a demand for a greater say in governance by the middleclass. But in all honesty I have no more to base that on than Bush's faith in democracy as a cure for terrorism.

by markg8 2006-12-30 07:30AM | 0 recs
A Major Carter Success...

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.

Jimmy Carter (at the urging of his Interior Secretary, Cecil Andrus) used the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate national monuments in Alaska in order to protect huge tracts of public land from being released to the State of Alaska.  The monument designations gave Congress the additional time it needed to enact ANILCA, which Carter signed shortly before Reagan took office and Rethugs took over the Senate.

ANILCA established 79.54 million acres of public lands in Alaska as national parks, national monuments, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and wilderness areas.

An Alaska-sized success!

by KernBlue 2006-12-23 03:08PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Your summary hits on many good points.  One suggestion I would offer is to distinguish more finely between "liberalism" and progressive or radical movements of the period as they grow out of the larger conditions of the cold war and US imperialism.  You use "liberal" in the large, vernacular sense, but the progressive movements of this period ranged over a wide spectrum and many rejected the laizzez-faire and individualisitic-consumer basis of liberalism.  To my ear, "new left" is a rejection of liberalism (democratic and republican parties, corporatism, etc.) and an attempt to renew strands of left thinking that were abandoned during WWII and the 1950s anti-communist hysteria.  

A good book that takes a global perspective on the period's upheavals and progressive movements is Antisystemic Movements by Giovanni Arrighi, Terence K. Hopkins, Immanuel Wallerstein.  London:  Verso, 1989.  

Finally, I'd give corporate media consolidation and the rightwing takeover of the media even more attention than you have done in your summary.  It's a crucial element of the era that lays the groundwork for the Reagan-Bush era and its dismantling of the New Deal, etc.  I think the media were central in engineering the atmosphere of reaction in the early 1970s, etc.

Good luck on the project.  It's time to talk about these historical transformations again, and to educate people about them.

by satchmo 2006-12-23 12:22PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

I hear what you're trying to say but maybe I can say it clearer:

The term "New Left" is about a specific group of people, mostly students, black nationals, and some socialists. It shouldn't be used as broad term for liberalism in this time.

by jrb1968 2006-12-23 12:36PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

This is true.  Also, I was trying to point out that "liberalism" is not a progressive or opposition position opposed to conservatism.  Throughout the 20th century, liberalism (mainstream laissez-faire, business first, consumerist-individualistic thinking) is the dominant ideology in the US, espoused with differing emphases by both Dem and Rep parties.  Various alternative, oppositional, and radical elements challenge it from the left (but are brutually suppressed) and reactionary conservatism challenges it from the right, often backed by big money interests seeing to reinforce the corporate interests behind liberal power.  

Mainstream media and common parlance often speak as if "liberalism" and "conservatism" are the primary antagonists in US history, but it is far more accurate to speak of a liberal dominant that is often abetted by conservatism and is challenged, particularly at crisis moments like the Great Depression and the 1960s, by progessive or radical movements.

That's wordy, but I hope a clearer explanation of what I meant about defining liberalism more carefully.

by satchmo 2006-12-23 01:21PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

I think American liberalism was identified with FDR for the first half of the twentieth century. FDR spoke of the freedoms from want and fear in the same breath with the freedoms of speech and religion -- values inherent to the founding of our nation. FDR's addition to these American ideals is almost a rebirth of our nation.

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., identified some of the challenges of the 60s. He saw two kinds of issues coming to a head, ripping the New Deal coalition apart. He called the two camps the "quantitative" (issues of economic security) and the "qualitiative" (civil rights, environment, foreign awareness). Schlesinger thought liberalism had to move from the quantitative, which he felt the New Deal had solved, onto the qualitative. Others saw it differently.

And that's been the problem for almost forty years now.

by jrb1968 2006-12-23 01:34PM | 0 recs
In Context

Of course, the New Deal hadn't solved the quantitative problems.  It had just reduced the intense pressure to solve them, so that proto-pundits like Schlesinger could declare them solved.  But if you look at how poverty rates came down from 1959 or so to 10 years later, you'll see that there was a lot more quantitative work yet to be done post-New Deal.  Plus, of course, if you're black, the qualitative (civil rights) is the quantitative.

Still, Schlesinger had a point, even if he got plenty of the details wrong.  If 80% of the population is above the poverty line--which was a more realistic measure then than it is now--then other issues come to the fore.  This has been empirically validated in recent years by the World Values Survey.  People's well-being improves dramatically as their income rises--but only up to a certain point.  Beyond that, income doesn't make them significantly more happy.  Instead, quality of life matters, which is more about having control of ones life, and having a say in ones government, among other things.  The post-materialist values are those higher up Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-12-23 02:53PM | 0 recs
Re: In Context

Personally, I think Schlesinger was dead wrong. Wrote my senior thesis on just how wrong I think he was. And anyone who wanted to go in the opposite (all quantitative) direction were, as well. All wrong.

Schlesinger correctly identified the crisis of the times but was misguided in how to solve it. I think people like Kennedy, King, and Chavez were interested in bridging the gap between the qualitative and the quantitative. That was the best way to bring liberalism, and America, together.

by jrb1968 2006-12-23 03:00PM | 0 recs
I Agree 100%

Schlesinger correctly identified the crisis of the times but was misguided in how to solve it.
That's my sense entirely.

Sorry I didn't make myself clearer.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-12-23 03:32PM | 0 recs
Media consolidation

In my lost comment, I spoke about how the media of the 60's and 70's were more open minded than the corporate media of the present.  

We had mass movements and demonstrations and the media then covered them with a lack of cynicism that does not exist now.  They treated those movements and its marched with seriousness and respect.  the right had not begun its assault on the media as "liberal" so the media actually told a less slanted story.

One of the reasons these days that mass movements and marches don't work so well in effecting change is the change in coverage.  When there were huge antiwar marches in DC and Nixon ignored them, the press pointed out he ignored them; now when they happened in the run up to the war the press ignored them along with the President.

by debcoop 2006-12-24 07:16AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Ahem: "laissez"-faire, I meant to write.

by satchmo 2006-12-23 12:26PM | 0 recs
New Left- a Cultural Revolution

I'm a "child of the 60s" and entered college in the fall of 1966 when the anti-war and counter culture movement was just getting underway. I would say the New Left of the 60s and early 70s was more of a cultural revolution than an actual political movement. The "Old Left" really achieved the big advances in civil rights and the Labor movement. As a cultural movement the New Left was a failure in that it only sparked a right wing reaction that overtook the country. You are right in saying there was no vision, no plan for building an ongoing progressive movement and the institutions, ideological base, and sustainable political movement. I should add however that the cultural aspects of it opened us to a radical critique of the social and economic order. And out of that has come an ecological consciousness of sustainability as a necessary and viable goal. Out of it has come a universalist understanding of a spiritual and philosophical globalism that may form the underpinnings of a new world order that really supplants both the Cold War and the Clash of Civilizations we are dealing with at present.

by cmpnwtr 2006-12-23 12:47PM | 0 recs
Dirty F**ing Hippies In Fact And Fiction

I started college at the end of the 1970s, and am not quite a Boomer, but not really of Gen X either. I agree that being "Left" was more culturally focused than anything else, although there's a bit more going on here:

  • Being against the war in Vietnam was the defining political stand for most people.  This is a bit obvious, but since it hasn't been stressed yet, let me do it here.

  • Political movements in the Third World and in the unaligned nations were very trendy.  Most people who went for this did not understand the countries they were "admiring" in any deep way.  Anti-colonialism was a defining part of this world view.  Writers and intellectuals like Noam Chomsky were major proponents of this trend at the time, and some of them, including Chomsky, remain so today.

  • The Labor movement was not on people's radar, and politically active people were neither that comfortable with labor people generally, nor did a good piece of union members feel comfortable with the anti-war movement or in the culture of youth in the late 1960s and 1970s.

  • Many people of this generation were deeply alienated from symbols of traditional American patriotism (unlike New Deal liberals)

Folks like Duncan Blank like to joke about the press seeing us as Dirty Fucking Hippies.  I think the "truth" behind that point of view is a distorted image of the points above.  This kind of characterture of the generation of the '60s and '70s is unfair and inaccurate, but like most successful charactertures, it did have some relationship to the excesses of some of the trends above.

by Rob Thorne 2006-12-23 11:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Dirty F**ing Hippies In Fact And Fiction

Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll

I remember meeting some blue collar "hippies" who thought that was what the "revolution" was all about, but even then the polticos treated that idea as unserious.

If by sex you mean sexual relations then the women's movement had a profound impact.  And indeed the social, cultural changes that the 60's began seem to be inexorable in their impact.  It happens to grow more entrenched  with each succeeding younger generation.

However the beginnings of the popular reaction originated with the dis-ease that many people  had with these cultural changes -  from the religious fundamentalists in America to the religious fundamentalists in the Islamic world.
Most of the reaction against America and the modern world has to do with the increasing freedom of women in the modern era and the anger of those on the right to that modernism.

by debcoop 2006-12-24 07:26AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations


Your description makes a lot of sense.  But let me make a couple of comments from the perspective of someone who remembers the 1960s as a child (I was born in 1954) and the 1970s as a college student and graduate student.  To me, the period of disillusionment and withdrawal that you describe stemmed mostly from the successive assassinations of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.  (We normally thought of the assassinations as a collective assault on us.  To get the flavor of what I'm saying, check out the song "Abraham Martin & John.")  The final blow was Nixon's defeat of McGovern, despite the fact that nearly everyone we knew in the North (including our professors!) supported McGovern.  Many of us dropped out of politics at that time, replacing politics with (even more) drugs, streaking (look it up! LOL) and almost anything else.  One other factor that must be mentioned is Nixon's inspired decision to end the draft.  Those of us of draft age who had submitted to the draft lottery and were nervous about our personal futures couldn't believe our good luck when the draft ended.  But in retrospect, it seems clear that ending the draft benefited the government even more.  Within weeks of the end of the draft, the massive anti-war demonstrations of 1969-1972 had disappeared, never to return.

Good luck on the project!

by philwino 2006-12-23 01:00PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Young people leaving politics was pre-70s. I remember Hunter Thompson in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail describing the reaction of a young woman when he explained that he was going to New Hampshire for the primary. To her, "politics was a game that old people played, like bridge."

Of course, she could have just been a ditz. They had them back then too.

by kaleberg 2006-12-23 02:01PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

And remember that the voting age was still 21. I saw Barry Goldwater as horrible, but I was only 19 and had no vote in the matter.

by joyful alternative 2006-12-24 03:01AM | 0 recs
New Left Book Recommendations

On the New Left, there's a good chapter and a half on New Left groups in Michael Kazin's The Populist Persuasion. A very good collection of essays from the era can be found in The Liberal Tradition in Crisis; American Politics in the Sixties edited by Jerome M. Mileur. A good memoir about some of the politics of the late New Left movement is Lanny Davis' The Emerging Democratic Majority, written in 1974. Judis and Teixeira's more contemporary book of the same name has a good discussion on the aftermath of 60s politics.

I'm sure there's more, but these are books I've personally found to be the most helpful. Politics in the 60s (especially the late 60s) is my thing. I'm working on a website to carry my senior thesis about Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cesar Chavez. Check it out.

by jrb1968 2006-12-23 01:28PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Also, The Torch Is Passed: The Kennedy Brothers & American Liberalism by Thomas West and David Burner is an okay read, though it's been a while for me.

by jrb1968 2006-12-23 01:44PM | 0 recs
Read Kopkind and Gitlin

My first post disappeared.  So 2 authors who are an absolute must.

Andrew Kopkind, a brilliant, radical journalist who wrote for many publications but in the 60's and 70's wrote brilliant think pieces for many of the alternative weeklies of the era, like Ramparts, the Village Voice, The Real Paper and the Boston Phoenix.  Check him and his collected essays out in wikipedia.

Kopkind was a decade older than the predominant immediate post war baby boomers of the New Left, but he was a terrific writer. He died in 94. (Actually he lived next door to me when he was ill, though I didn't know that until he was quite ill)

Todd Gitlin is another must who wrote about the 60's in his book The Sixties.  He was president of SDS, and an original founder of the progressive Jewish magazine, Tikkun.  He writes now for TPM and is a professor at NYU.  He lives in NYC. and is pretty accessible.

Those of us of that era did not think of ourselves as liberals then, we were radical revolutionaries.  I remember a woman  (winter of  69/70) who was a leader of one of the "actions" against the labs at MIT who were doing work for the DOD, saying as surely as  day becomes night "When the revolution comes..." ( I was a bit more sceptical than she was)  In Aug of 70 I went to Chile and when I returned January 71 the movement had lost its intensity.  I remember the last gasp as the march against Nixon's inaugruation in 72.

We weren't disillsioned with electoral politics, we had never been illusioned.  But, at least for me, one of the things I learned, slowly through the 70's was that heightening the "contradicitons" , something Nader still believes, only allowed those contradicitions to prevail.

I think those 2 authors are a must, because they would understand what we're doing here now. And why it matters.

by debcoop 2006-12-23 09:10PM | 0 recs
Political Movies recommended

I know movies even better than books.  That was where my political interest went in the 70's.  My husband made a documentary about the Hollywood blacklist.  We saw thousands of movies and I mean thousands.  I saw every decent poltical movie made about that era, which was easy because well at least in the US there were barely any.  Europe had more.

AMERICAN FILM AND TV.  LOok tham all up in

The Revolutionary by Paul Williams.  PreTty good

Salvador by Oliver Stone.  Catches the feeling.  Remember the New Left was very interested in liberation movements throughout the world.  It was a way to get out of the "Belly of the Beast" as the US was called by some.

Running on Empty by Sidney Lumet about a family who went into hiding after they blow up a townhouse. Gives a good feeling of what the ideals were that motivated people.

And the best was on TV called Katherine:The Radical by Jeremy Kagan with a fabulous Sissy Spacek and a terrific Henry Winkler before he was the Fonz.

Oh how could I forget.  The Return of the Secaucus 7 by John Sayles, who continues to this day to make terrific films undergirded by both humanism, artistry and progressive poitics. I recommend City of Hope for the present

That's it.  Ignore the Strawberry Statement.


European film that understand the social and political outlook of the New Left were 2 German directors, Volker Schlondorff and Margarethe van Trotta ( they were married to each other for 20 yeARS)  He did the Tin Drum, but his more political films were

The Lost Honor of Katharina van Blum

The Sudden Wealth of the Poor People of Kolmbach

Margarethe did a film I thought was a masterpiece about that era.

Marian and Julianne. overwhelming at the time  

The Second Awakening of Christa Klages.

These films are truer to the intellectual and atmospheric underpinnings of the era than any American movie except the TV movie of Katherine:The Radical.

How could I forget the European Return of the Secaucus 7 known as For Jonah who will be 25 in the year 2000.  This Swiss film looks at the lives of several men and women in their 30s as they confront the slim gains of the "revolutionary" sixties. A lot of us turned to our children with the men in particular vowing to be be there for their kids in a way their parents hadn't.

by debcoop 2006-12-23 10:36PM | 0 recs


A couple of suggestions that might help you round out your project;  

Interview Todd Gitlin, who lived thru those decades, and is articulate about the politics of those times.

And check out David Zeiger's new movie, "Sir, No Sir," about the extraordinary amount of resistance to the Vietnam war within the military itself.

by global yokel 2006-12-23 01:48PM | 0 recs
Re: Recommendations

Talk to Tom Hayden. Port Huron statement and all that.

Also, the roots of the New Left can be found in the beat generation.

Cultural revolution...Tim Leary...acid...and all that...big part of it.

The cultural revolution and the political left joined for a very brief moment, and then separated as the political left went further and further astray and the cultural stuff got coopted. The sexual revolution was also part of this.

The results of the 1960s can be seen today in things as varied as food coops, herbal teas, Whole Foods, feminism, environmentalism, and the progressive activism within the Democratic Party.

I recommend any of the Hunter Thompson books, Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, the old Whole Earth catalogs (just to get a feel of what it was like and what people were talking about), and anything you can find on the SDS and the Berkeley   Free Speech movement. Clips of the Chicago Democratic Party convention of 1968, the Chicago (and other riots) after the King assassination.

It's very hard from today's vantage point to understand the feel of the period unless you were there. I was. It was unlike anything those who missed it could imagine.

The New Deal Democratic party was in its death throes with the Vietnam War and LBJ. The extreme conformism and sexual repression of the 1950s was dead. The beat culture led into a mass culture of sexual, intellectual, and psychic awakening, partially spurred by psychedelic drugs. Marxism of the old type was dead, but knee-jerk anti-communism was also being questioned. All kinds of experimentation that had been underground suddenly exploded into the general culture and everything changed.

Then came Reagan...but culturally the genie couldn't be put back into the bottle, even though politically many great, optimistic, but under-developed ideas failed.

We're still fighting many of those battles, and we will be for many years to come.

I don't think the great changes that occurred between, say, 1955 and 1975, have adequately been documented or understood to this day.

by Coral 2006-12-23 04:12PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

I'm going to try to offer up a more detailed post if I can (from my vantage point as a 51-year-old who was heavily active in the McGovern campaign, later in the early-to-mid 70s (in, believe it or not, the 1974 New York Ramsey Clark for U.S. Senate campaign against Jacob Javits -- Clark hadn't yet become a defender of Saddam's)... and has a pretty vivid teenager's memory of much of what came before and after all that.

But for now you might check out these two books for a real flavor of the times: The Sixties by Todd Gitlin, and Dreams Die Hard (on the assassination of Congressman Allard Lowenstein).

And good luck on your project!

by bcamarda 2006-12-23 01:49PM | 0 recs
New Left was radical, not liberal

You don't devote enough attention to the Vietnam war. Remember that all young men were required to serve and that it was difficult and traumatic to escape although, of course, most college-educated eventually did.

I remember 1968 as the year Lyndon Johnson tried to kill me. I felt an obligation to serve and yet I was afraid to; others who went felt they should have avoided it but were afraid to do that.

Culturally, the sharp change in Bob Dylan's music from songs like God on Their Side to Subterranean Homesick Blues illustrate how drugs morphed into politics and to some extent subverted the movement.

The evolution of Commentary from a left-wing to a right-wing magazine is worth a look.

Labor under George Meany was virulently anti-youth and anti-new Left.

by stevehigh 2006-12-23 02:05PM | 0 recs
Not To Mention Anti-Labor

Labor under George Meany was virulently anti-youth and anti-new Left.
Meany used to brag that he'd never walked a picket line.  That may be just an urban legend.  But it's believable.  He kept the AFL-CIO from endorsing McGovern in 1972, when McGovern had the most pro-labor record of any major party presidential candidate ever.  And he devoted enormous union resources to fighting left-wing unions--communist, socialist, you name it--in the Third World, effectively undermining the only unions avaiable in some places, propping up company unions in others, etc.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-12-23 02:18PM | 0 recs
Re: Not To Mention Anti-Labor

Meany took the AFL-CIO, and then the entire US Labor movement, into the warm embrace of the GOP.  If you recall he bragged about his vists to the Nixon Whitehouse.  

He served his masters well.

by ATinNM 2006-12-23 05:55PM | 0 recs
Not To Mention Supporters of US Expansion

The big unions were strong supporters of US Imperialism and did a lot of training of Third World Unions. The ideological front of the Cold War included a huge effort to coopt labor around the world.

And, Big Labor was very pro-Vietnam.

The cultural differences between the New Left and Labor were very successfully nurtured. Perhaps 90% of Reagan's appeal was his ability to convince god-fearin' working guys of the threat from those long-haired, drug-smoking hippies, who hated 'Merica.

Bush Jr, is still surfing that culture clash.

by MetaData 2006-12-23 08:03PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

A few quibbles--labor and liberals began to split in the 50s. People like Reuther moved somewhat toward the Center, revelations about the longshoremen (Commies and the Mob) and the Teamsters (the Mob) probably pushed many liberals away from seeking common cause with the labor movement. Some of the current labor leaders like those of the hospital workers and the service employees may have roots in the 60s, but much of Labor is run by people who are comfortable or timid in the face of marginalization from other progressive currents and the whipsaw of downsizing and outsourcing. I was a memeber of 1099 in the late 90s and would give it very mixed reviews, BTW; some of the organizers they sent around were doctrainaire idiots who couldn't connect with the career hospital workers or the "college boys" like myself.

Related to the above is the tendency for post-newleft groups to be "college boys (& girls)" in the worst sense of the term. Groups like the Sierra Club have failed miserably in connecting to the concerns of working people, minorities, and others who bear the greatest brunt of environmental degradation. For example, they made no effort to engage the concerns of loggers when trying to preserve the old growth forests, even though the loggers know that even if the forests can be logged they are in a declining line of work. This kind of rank ignorance and, often, frank snobbishness is part of what enabled the "Reagan Democrats" to emerge. It also made it possible for us to have an airport in our Capital named for someone who crushed a union.

I think Common Cause predated the antiwar left--if it didn't its insular, elitist leadership style did. I don't know that people who were strongly "political" in the 60s gravitated toward such a snobby group. They would have been more likely to join the owmen's movement or a Nader group, or sell-out and got into real estate. The Hollywood media is important in fundraising, but repesents an insignificant destination for the mass of 60s lefties. The post-60s world was more like "The Return of the Secaucus 7", than the inferior and better funded "Big Chill".

The single issue groups have become an albatros--most of them grind out the same rhetortic to the same audience and their lack of imagination has cost left wing causes dearly.

The more "realist" among us would argue that McGovern was a disaster as a candidate and that he failed to capitalize on the significant discontent in the country. Even without Nixon's dirty tricks, he would have been an embarrassing loser. Carter had great ideas, many of which lived beyond him (e.g., human rights as a tool of foreign policy), unfortunately, he was inept politician. I was for Udall in '76 and Teddy Kennedy in '80.

Some good reading: Gerald Nicosia's "Home to War",
Evan Thomas' bio of RFK, Tom Hayden's memoir, "Rebel", Jervis Anderson's bio of Bayard Rustin helps explains how old lefties failed to mesh with new lefties, Lichetenstein's bio of Reuther adds to this theme, while Thomas Geoghegan "Which Side are You On?" explains how liberals, among others have shafted labor.

by rich 2006-12-23 01:58PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

I disagree that the mob in the '50s made liberals uncomfortable with the unions. I anything, liberals wanted to free the unions from corruption. Liberals felt that those were institution meant for the workers and not the bosses. I think the split came later, in the 60s when the elitist liberals became apathetic toward the working class and the unions' rank and file became uncomfortable with the liberals.

by jrb1968 2006-12-23 02:31PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Also, Cesar Chavez's UFW did well with tying in some environmental issues with a labor group primarily composed of minorities. Their fight of the harmful toxins used to treat the land and produce is perhaps the only example of diversity in this movement.

by jrb1968 2006-12-23 02:33PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Chavez was a leader of great stature (I can remmeber that we skipped table grapes and watched them rot from neglect on store shelves--I come from a UAW family), but the environmental movement has always been about earnest middle class people who'd rather go backpacking than figure out how to connect with the AFL-CIO.

Take a glance at Geoeghegan's book and take a good look at where liberalism went--the roots for the current state of things really go back to the 50s.

by rich 2006-12-23 03:00PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

A couple other thoughts--not all the movements that emerged post-antiwar were truly single issue. The women's movement began with very wide interest and support--its leadership emerged fairly directly from the civil rights and antiwar movements (the antiwar meovement included some who began life as civil rights activists). OTOH, it managed to capture the imagination of awide swath of women of all ages and social classes in the 1970s. The women's movement lost a lot of steam when the emphasis moved from economics to abortion (and this is coming from someone very pro-choice) and the rhetoric became more anti-male than pro-woman.

Gay rights owes less to these other movements than the women's movement, although some individuals like Harry Hay go back to the "old left".

by rich 2006-12-23 02:04PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

This is a tall order. I've read all the books but one, that I am going to suggest. To understand those times, you have to know those times and history doesn't just happen in a vacuum. I was part of the first integrated classes in Mississippi. I had cousins joining the national guard to avoid the draft. I had friends whose fathers did tours of duty in Vietnam and they communicated by audio tapes. My older sister had a friend whose father was MIA and their last  hopes died when the POWS came home and he wasn't among them. I don't know that I could weave a coherent narrative on this subject in a single book.  

Try: The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage by Todd Gitlin for a chronolgical account of the New Left by an insider.

For books to understand the politcs and culture of the times read:

On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to understand some the underpinnings of the Hippie Movement. Not so much a liberal rapture (although that is an interesting summation) as the mass marketing of bohemia. Try investigating the bohemian movements in the US beginning with Throueau through John Reed and later the Beats.

I'd also read Richard Dallek's bio of JFK, and Robert Caro's 3rd installment of his definitive series on LBJ- Master of the Senate.

David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest and The Children and possibly The Fifties.

Mark Kurlansky's 1968

Eyes on the Prize (the PBS documentary) for a tour of the Civil Rights movement. (Ok, not a book)

RFK and His Times by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made by Jim Newton (on my list to read). While you are at it, get a copy of  Unequal Justice by Jerome Auerbach.

Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary by Juan Williams (written before he became a Fox stooge).

There are books on the major civil rights murders- Emmett Till, Schwner, Cheney and Goodman as well as Viola Liuzzo. Seek them out.

If you haven't read it, Diane McWhorter's book Carry Me Home which places the Birmingham church bombings in perspective of the city's labor history, power struggles and, of course Jim Crow, is a great book.

It was idealism married to bohemism. And of course, not everyone's motiviations were the same. Abbie Hoffman understood the Merry Pranksters and vice versa, but they were not on the same trip.  

Good luck.

by molly bloom 2006-12-23 02:06PM | 0 recs
This Is A More Positive, Pro-Active Way Of Saying

pretty much what I said--you need a broader focus.

And Diane McWhorter kicks ass.  One of the best books of the past 10 years. Period.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-12-23 02:21PM | 0 recs
Thank you but

Your imput was great.

by molly bloom 2006-12-23 02:51PM | 0 recs
Forgot Rick Perlstein's Barry Goldwater book.

by molly bloom 2006-12-23 02:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Forgot Rick Perlstein's Barry Goldwater book.

After the Storm

by jrb1968 2006-12-23 02:35PM | 0 recs
Re: Forgot Rick Perlstein's Barry Goldwater book.

Oops, Before the Storm

by jrb1968 2006-12-23 02:35PM | 0 recs
Same Thing

If you live in the Pacific Northwest.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-12-23 03:03PM | 0 recs
Re: Forgot Rick Perlstein's Barry Goldwater book.

I believe Rick is also coming out with a new book soon, on Richard Nixon.

by ri 2006-12-26 07:07AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

This is a very good list.

by Coral 2006-12-23 04:16PM | 0 recs
What's With This "White" Stuff???

Or "anti-war" for that matter?  The war was imposed on the New Left, not chosen by it--except in the sense that it proved a powder keg, and made it easy to draw crowds.  But even reacting powerfully to outrageous conditions doesn't necessarily set you up for long-term strategic advances.... and in exactly that sense, the war was a huge diversion.

On the one hand, you've said "the white antiwar New Left," and on the other hand, you've talked about all these other things--including the women's movement--which are far more diverse, and indicative of the breadth of concerns that the New Left saw before it.  (There's also the issue that every single aspect of these topics had more conventional liberals involved as well as true members of the New Left, and every shade in between.)

It bears mentioning that in 1967-68, the two most prominent opponents of the war, so far as the movement was concerned, were not Gene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy. They were Martin Luther King and Benjamin Spock. There was even talk--never encouraged by King--of running an independent King/Spock ticket. Hard to reconcile with the whole "white antiwar New Left" frame.  It's a bit like the retrospective distortions involved in the creation of the "classic rock" genre.  On the ground, at the time, there were no clear lines saying, "white antiwar New Left ends here" and "feminist movement starts here" or "civil rights movement starts here" or, well, you get the picture.

Furthermore, there are two problems regarding origins and continuations.  First, this:

The 1950s intellectual protests at a neo-Victorian middle class culture spawned a wave of student organizations, most prominently but not exclusively Students for a Democratic Society.
is what uber physicist Wolfgang Pauli would call "not even wrong." Student activism came from much more radical roots, from a new generation unintimidated by McCarthyism.  Aside from notable exceptions like C. Wright Mills, they were massively tuned out to being influenced by "1950s intellectual protests."  What's more, such protests directed at "a neo-Victorian middle class culture"--particularly in offshoots such as The Uncommitted and The Lonely Crowd--were precisely the sort of analysis that convinced itself that the New Left couldn't happen!

As a matter of fact, SDS started out as SLID, or the Student League of Industrial Democracy, an arm of LID, or the League of Industrial Democracy.  SLID, in defiance of McCarthyism, and ignorance of how destructively Machiavellian the American Communist Party had been, removed the prohibition of allowing Communists to join. LID would't stand for that. This is what precipitated the split.  Nothing at all to do with hand-wrining academics.

Second, I doubt that much of the "left activist class," dissillusioned "towards the electoral process" withdrew "into good government groups like Common Cause, Public Citizen, as well as single issue groups like NARAL and the initial media reform movement."  The folks who went that route tended to be more mainstream--liberal, not left--from the very beginning.

The real left activists tended to stay outside the system as they saw it--congregating in academia, or moving into local, community organizing, or labor organizing (you definitely got that one right) where they could interact directly with people, not with the policy elite.  They also continued to organize along anti-imperialist lines--the Latin American Solidarity Movement of the 1980s, for example.  There was also some participation in anti-nuclear demonstrations of the 1970s, which escalated into the Freeze Movement of the early 1980s.  But most of this was probably from people who fairly peripheral to the organizational core of the New Left.

There is a very good history of the anti-war movement, I'm 99% sure it's Who spoke up?: American protest against the war in Vietnam, 1963-1975. I just spent 20+ minutes looking for my copy, which I haven't looked at in probably 10 years.  It has a detailed analysis of how different radical and liberal forces interacted, down to the level of specific organizing meetings when necessary.  I don't agree 100% with its analysis, but it is the best single source I can think of.  It makes quite clear that there were more liberals than leftists involved.

You might also want to check out this citation page from The Vietnam War On Campus.

And, of course, the definitive history of post-50s feminism is Ruth Rosen's The World Split Open, which could help you get that part of the story right.  The radical roots came through the Southern Civil Rights Movement well before the anti-war movement got off the ground.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-12-23 02:09PM | 0 recs
Re: What's With This "White" Stuff???

While there was a lot of cross-over, it's fair to say there were certain identities within the anti-war movement, sometimes racial. There was definitely a distinctly white element to part of the anti-war left, just as there was a distinctly black element.

I've also read that the decadency of the New Left were those who favored controversy over strategy, in the words of Michael Kazin. He said there were many young activists who tried to bridge student union and streetcorner, and failed or gave up.

I guess it all depends on how you define New Left, and what title or term you give to each subgroup. Like you write, it's hard at times to explain where one begins and the other ends. Graphical representation is probably the easiest way to do it.

by jrb1968 2006-12-23 02:53PM | 0 recs
I'm Not Saying There Weren't Different Foci

(And the centers of attention could be fairly homogeneous.  But those centers were fairly small. What I'm talking about is the living, breathing  whole of radical politics at the time.)

I'm saying there weren't any boundaries.  There was no place where one thing left off and another began.  There was interpenetration.  Of course folks worked their asses off trying to acheive much more interpenetration, and often came up empty-handed.

And, of course, the main anti-war groups were overwhelmingly white.  But everyone understood why.  Blacks were busy fighting a war at home.  It was enough to have a Muhammed Ali stand up and refuse to go, and pay whatever price it entailed.  He was a one-man anti-war movement all unto himself.  And the white anti-war movement got that, loud and clear.

Furthermore, when the Black Panthers stepped forward, the white radical support for them--particularly in their Bay Area base--was second only to the anti-war movement itself in terms of how many people it would draw.  This went all the way down to the level of high school activists--if not younger.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-12-23 03:16PM | 0 recs
I would add

Martin Luther King moved heavily into addressing the issue of Vietnam. Without his assassination, the "white anti-war" movement would certainly have broadened significantly.

California movement politics would have some differences from East Coast and smaller university cities.

by MetaData 2006-12-23 08:17PM | 0 recs
Re: I would add

I'm not so sure about that. A lot of African Americans disagreed with King about Vietnam when he first started speaking out, and also, there was a lot of resistance from his aides initially.

If King had lived, he would have focused on economic issues as a way of ending the war. So I would say that maybe more "white anti-war" would have become more involved in destroying poverty if he lived.

by jrb1968 2006-12-24 03:44AM | 0 recs
Re: What's With This "White" Stuff???

Yes, I agree with this.

by Coral 2006-12-23 04:18PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

As some one only slightly older than Phil (born 1951), what I saw was something a bit more complicated than Matt Stoller's post.  We really had at least two waves with the first wave, in large part feeding the second wave.  Wave One was the classic prostests against conformism and racism that were characterized by the Free Speech movement at Berkeley, the Civil Rights Movement, etc.  The culmination of this was the smashing victory of LBJ in 1964 and the passage of the Civil Rights, Voting Rights, Poll Tax Amendment and a generation of liberal programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, day care, and a bunch of local anti-poverty agencies, the Job Corps, etc.

The second, and substantially weaker wave was the anti-war movement.  Both Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were leading figures in this but so was Gene cCarthy who seems to have been pretty much eliminated from memory.  Every Friday, they'd roll the list of American dead on the evening news and 200 names would flash by.  Except for the week of Tet.  That week it was 500.  The "safe" areas of South Vietnam?  Nowhere.  The American Embassy was attacked.  There were the protests in 69 and 70.  Not only Kent State (4 dead in Ohio, white) but Jackson State (17 dead at a black school).  

The Democratic Party by 1972 was split into perhaps three wings:  the southern whites, pro-war liberals, and anti-war.  Nixon essentially fixed the election by choosing McGovern.  That was followed by watergate investigations moving towards (but not to) impeachment and Nixon's resignation.  Vietnam ended badly in 1975.  All 58,000 American deaths managed to do, it seemed, was to increase the number of Vietnamese casualties.  The oil price increases led to incredible, rampant inflation in the late 70s.  The Iran hostage crisis melded into "th misery index" (it turns out things were not so bad but who knew.

by David Kowalski 2006-12-23 02:15PM | 0 recs
I Think You're Conflating Two Different Things

What you're calling the first wave was largely pre-New Left, with lots of institutional support going back to the New Deal--when LBJ first went to Congress.  The Great Society was New Deal liberalism--a lot of good stuff, but all top-down and nothing to do with the New Left.  No relation at all to the Free Speech Movement.

There were older radicals involved, to be sure, especially on Civil Rights.  But institutional liberals were solidly in line--at least by the time the major victories were won.  (Liberals on the Supreme Court were a good 10 years ahead of the other two branches on Civil Rights, for exmaple.)

The early New Left went through its training wheel phase at that time, but was not a major player.  By contrast, they were pretty much on their on regarding Vietnam for almost 2 years before the liberal anti-war movement got seriously in gear.  And even then, King got viciously attacked for speaking out against the war.  It was never an establishment position, even with Senators speaking out against it.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-12-23 02:31PM | 0 recs
Re: I Think You're Conflating Two Different Things

Well, you really have to start with two things that were the roots of the explosion of the 1960s changes in the general culture.

1. the civil rights movement, including the attempt to seat the Mississippi delegation in, what?, 1964. and the Freedom Riders.

2. Beat Culture, including Kerouac, Ginsberg and Kesey.

Mix that with the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and MLK, add the Vietnam War escalating under a Democratic LBJ with his War on Poverty and enacting of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, and the split in the Democratic party between old-line Democrats for the War and young people desperately opposed to the War and the draft, and the flowering of the feminist and environmental movements.

by Coral 2006-12-23 04:27PM | 0 recs
But These Both Impacted The 'Second Wave'

While only the Civil Rights Movement impacted the "First Wave."

So I'm not sure what the purpose of this comment is in response to what I said.

FWIW, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenged the seating of the white party regulars at the 1964 Convention.  While it was a very dramatic moment, it was not an early one, so I would not cite it as being part of "the roots of the explosion of the 1960s changes in the general culture."

I would say it was more like a flowering.

The amount of institutional effort that went into it was truly phenomenal, especially when you consider how meager their resources were, and vicious the intimidation was.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-12-23 05:43PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

I'm not sure what book to recommend. Too many authors had too many axes to grind.

1) The New Left was the post FDR left. As noted by others, FDR had solved the economic problems, at least for most Americans. Now the left was addressing the problems of the other Americans. Read How to Argue With a Conservative and consider that it was a period piece in 1968. No one was arguing publicly about the New Deal in the 1960s, though there was the nascent "free enterprise" movement.

2) There was a big movement towards what we now call identity politics. Folks at my high school tended to parody this with a Chinese students, Jewish students, German students, Italian students and other students rights manifestos. I wound down with the Numerical Rights manifesto which argued that our present society's days are numbered. Now it has poisoned the Democratic party. I'm not sure if anyone has even addressed this since any serious discussion would surely offend quite a few.

3) There was a big disjoint social movement which revolved around the fact that young people want to get laid, a lot. Even now, George Bush cannot denounce Cheney's grandkid, even if he doesn't consider her mom a first class citizen. Read The Price of Salt aka Carol or anything on Stonewall or Lenny Bruce for more on this.
4) There were a number of articles back in the 1960s on how many in the antiwar movement were the children of earlier liberal generations, including many who fought earlier battles. Check the New York Times archives for a few of these. You might also try watching the pro-war 49th Parallel to get a feel for old fashioned liberal values, and see which ones have survived.

by kaleberg 2006-12-23 02:20PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

As noted by others, FDR had solved the economic problems, at least for most Americans.
Thinking this was probably the gravest mistake establishment liberals ever made. By thinking this way, they condescended a great deal of economic populists, not to mention many minorities who were (are) still in the Great Depression.

by jrb1968 2006-12-23 02:44PM | 0 recs
McCarthyism Made This Myth Possible

Once the left had been driven underground, it was possible for liberals to deceive themselves into thinking that all the economic problems had been solved.  After all, who was left to contradict them?

(A major assist in this thinking came from some former leftists who would later drift even farther right and become the earliest version of the neo-cons. Most of these, though, had nothing to do with Strauss.)

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-12-23 03:28PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

A few of my favorites that nobody has mentioned yet:

The War Within: America's Battle Over Vietnam, by Tom Wells, is a pretty good overview of the anti-war movement, although it also explores the war from the perspective of the people administering it (esp. McNamara).

Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963, by Taylor Branch is good background material, as many of the organizers of the more active New Left groups were veterans of the civil rights struggles.

The Making of a Counter Culture by Theodore Roszak is an exploration more of the intellectual left and the theoretical underpinnings of the counter cultural phenomenon.

by hubbird 2006-12-23 02:37PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

One of the important movements of the 60s that tends to get lost in the Civil Rights and anti-war and countercultural movements was the Free Speech Movement.  You might want to check out "The Free Speech Movement:  Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s",  edited by Robert Cohen.

by Brad 2006-12-23 02:48PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left

The "New Left" was basically SDS and similar groups and together they were only a fragment of the anti-war movement, which included a wide range of people from liberal Democrats to extreme nutcase communists.  The New Left was new because it wasn't tied to the Socialists or the Communist Party, the old left. SDS was not attracted to electoral politics and it had no real structure, with the loudest members getting the most attention.  Due to the loudest-person-is-in-charge approach, the group became more and more radicalized quickly and it collapsed around 1969 into Weatherman (bombers and rioters) and other tiny fragments, which was about the same time that the liberal anti-war movement got going (Vietnam moratorium and so on). There were really a bunch of movements going on simultaneously, with all of them having many different groups and most having liberal and radical wings, including, beyond the movement against the war, student or youth power, anti-draft, women's rights, black power, and environmenalism. Most of them had some success, even great success, and they became institutionalized.  For example, George Meanyism was greatly weakened in the labor movement and the unions are run by successors of the 1960s-70s liberal movements. The Democratic party today is the successor to the moderate wings of those movements and the modern Republican party is the successor to the right-most faction of the Repulican party, emphasizing the pro-war, anti-UN, pro-racism, clearcut-and-pave-everything, anti-labor side of politics in those days.  The outcomes of some the 1960s battles are so institutionalized that almost nobody would go back, for example women's rights, which is so well established that young women today have virtually no idea how women were treated in, say, 1970 and hardly anyone would advocate a return to the legal subordination of women (which existed nearly everywhere up to about 1972). While 1960s liberalism had major defeats, it has also been hugely successful, with much of its success spreading across the Western world.

by tyva 2006-12-23 03:14PM | 0 recs
A Little Backwards

While 1960s liberalism had major defeats, it has also been hugely successful, with much of its success spreading across the Western world.
Germany got universal health care in 1880.  The US got universal health care for seniors only, with loopholes, during the 1960s.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-12-23 03:37PM | 0 recs
Re: A Little Backwards

Health care was not part of the anti-war/new left/civil rights/1960s/70s movements. A weakness, maybe.  But women's equality, gay rights, and environmentalism have spread.

by tyva 2006-12-24 06:30AM | 0 recs
I Was Using Health Care As Marker

for the fact that America's welfare state remained a pale echo of Europe's.  The systematic marginalizaiton and exclusion of blacks and Latinos (UFW, Ceasar Chavez) was most definitely part of the driving force that made 60s activism go.

What I'm objecting to here is a tendency to think the whole world revolves around the US.  In fact, our perceived "leadership" on these issues has some basis in fact, but it is based as much on the need to catch up as on anything else.

This is evident, for example, in the swiftness with which the rest of the world eclipsed the level of conrontation in the US during 1968, with Paris and Mexico City as the two most striking examples.  

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-12-24 07:13AM | 0 recs
Re: A Little Backwards

Helath care was a significant part of the anti-war/new left/civil rights/1960s/70s movements. The Black Panther Party successfully recruited medical students, residents, interns, and doctors to its Free Medical Clinics.  Additionally, the communities in which these Free Clinics flourished, helped to usher in government sponsored free and sliding scale fee clinics, as the government moved to co-opt the Black Panter Party.  

by leonard145b 2006-12-25 04:21AM | 0 recs
As an historican of the period, roughly speaking

I have to chime in here.

First, James Miller's A Democracy is in the Streets - more or less a narrative history of SDS

Maurice Isserman's If I Had a Hammer - about the collapse of American Marxism after WWII and the intellectual roots of the New Left. It also has some good stuff about the origins of neoconservatism

Terry Anderson's The Movement and the Sixties - another narrative history, with a wider scope than Miller. Focuses basically on all the activist movements between 1960 and 1974

A sort of memoir/history that could be very useful is Todd Gitlin's Years of Hope, Days of Rage

It also might be worth your while to read Isserman and Kazin's America Divided - a narrative history of the "long 60s" - covers US history from 1958-1974, with a strong emphasis on the era's protest movements

There are a number of more esoteric slections I could suggest if you want me to - but I'll leave it at this for now.

by Ben P 2006-12-23 05:18PM | 0 recs
Re: As an historian of the period,...

The process of refinement of the interesting idea you began with is well underway-- esp. the necessary distinction between liberals and radicals-- and the list of sources is growing.

I think there needs to be some thought on the distinction between the political and cultural currents on the left. I suggest being careful about assuming the left was dispirited by electoral politics; a prominent slogan of the day was "Don't vote, it only encourages them." Many young people on the left could not bring themselves to vote for Humphrey because of his support for the war.

I also think primary sources are essential, like New Left Notes, as suggested.
 I would suggest  Wini Breines'  Community and Organization in the New Left, 1962-1968: The Great Refusal  (ISBN: 0813514037 , Rutgers Univ Pr 1989)
 and Breines and Alexander Blooms' Takin' It to the Streets: A Sixties Reader (2nd ed (ISBN: 019514290X, Oxford Univ Pr 2002).

Calling the movement the white left is really to misunderstand a large proportion of its motivation and sympathies, though it really "became" white after the Panthers and other radicals in the black community in the late 1960s told the white left to go home and organize in its own communities and leave the organizing among black people to black people. Until then--and even after, in the women's movement-- there was an effort to incorporate both race and class in organizing, although this was a mixed bag. And the socialist feminist left was also actively antiwar.

An important branch of antiwar organizing was aimed at assisting soldiers (coffee house movement, for example), and there was significant organizing among rank and file, active-duty soldiers, which drew them into the broad left, at least for that period.

Todd Gitlin has moved increasingly to the right over the years, and has long opposed the so-called New Social Movements that seemed, through identity politics, to fracture the left. Kazin is also more to the right of the movement than many others, though not as aggressively as Gitlin. I would probably trust Tom Hayden more.
Paul Buhle is an interesting & prolific writer under fire from the right.
The magazine Social Text published an issue on the 60s sometime in the 80s.

You can find a gazillion sources on 60s' left culture here: .html

I would beware of interpreting the counterculture as ONLY sex. drugs and rocknroll--- the original idea was more like peace, love and rocknroll...

Also, the antimodern strain in much of the left counterculture is missing from people's comments so far... the hippies! There was a strong back to the land movement, which even political people experimented with in forming communes of various sorts., though many of the communes were in urban areas.... almost none of them gave up electrified transmission of music....

I think this is an important subject because the right has claimed that the left won the culture wars of the 60s and it has bent its efforts to "taking the culture back"--to the 50s, that is. The time when, as Ronald Reagan put it" WE didn't know WE had a race problem." (And remember Buchanan's spew at the Republican convention of... 91?) All those think tanks have been working on nothing else since then, meaning: 30 years of backlash!

by brooklyngal 2006-12-23 07:31PM | 0 recs
Gitlin and Kazin

are basically mainstream liberal to moderate Democrats today.

But this doesn't mean their work as historians should thus be discarded or somehow viewed as suspect. Indeed, I tend to view as more suspect people who right about historical events from which they have little emotional distance - at least if your criteria is History (with a capital H).

by Ben P 2006-12-23 08:46PM | 0 recs
Re: Gitlin and Kazin

Only read Gitlin at TPM before, and I think Kazin's topic selection and rhetoric make his histories must reads.

by jrb1968 2006-12-24 03:46AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Many great recommendations so far. As one poster noted above, it's worth considering what the Vietnam War was doing to American society.

So I'd suggest Winners and Losers by Gloria Emerson as something of a counter-weight to more academic tomes about the ins and outs of the New Left.

But speaking of tomes, Kirpatrick Sales' 700 and some page work SDS is a fairly exhaustive history of that organization. It was out of print about ten years ago, but you could probably find one somewhere on the inernet tubes.

by jondevore 2006-12-23 05:47PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

I collect books on the period.

You might want to check out Prarie Fire, which is the major political testiment directly from the Weather Underground.  Kirkpatrick Sale's SDS is the definitive history of that organization.  Todd Gitlin's book on SDS (I forget the title now) is probably the most important on SDS.  I'm currently reading Dan Berger's Outlaws of America which is sort of a history of SDS and Weatherman written by a leftist of the next generation -- it's OK, but lacks the first hand depth of the Gitlin or Sale book.  Also, Tom Hayden's Reunion is very good and James Miller's Democracy is in the Sterrts, mentioned above, is excellent.  Those are just impressions off the top of my head -- my bookshelves are bulging, the floors are sagging.

I think Matt's general sketch makes sense but it really does not go very far.  I'd agree with those who really trace the political new left and the cultural new left from different sources.  The political new left had its roots in the civil rights & antiwar movements and became quite radical, born out of 1968 and the frustrations and stubbornness of the political ststem.  

In contrast, the cultural side of the so-called new left had roots in the beats and was less traumatized by the frustration of politics.  The cultural warriors of the 1960's won.  The political warriors went underground or became reformers.  The cultural revolution (NOT the Chinese one!) was successful.  The political revolutionaries lost.  I'm practically quoting from Allen Ginsberg above.

Carter is another topic...later...

by howardpark 2006-12-23 05:56PM | 0 recs
The Cultural Left Was Marketable, Cooptable

Sex & Drugs & Rock 'n Roll sells, baby!

But I wouldn't exactly say that that constitutes winning.

While there was a definite chasm between the two camps, there were a good number of folks--my sister and I and our friends among them--with feet in both camps.  I distinctly remember one day going to an anti-war demonstration in Berkeley or next-door Oakland in the morning and afternoon, then driving over the Bay Bridge to go the Filmore that night.  We weren't the only ones by a long shot.

What's more, there was a signifant political component on the cultural side. Allen Ginsberg began political organizing of the cultural left back in the 1950s. And, of course, there was nothing new with this, either. The cultural left and political left have been interacting with each other since the 19th century, at least. There has always been a cultural component to left politics, for one thing, and there has always been a subversive component in the arts.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-12-24 07:34AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

I'm afraid I can't boast of being such an avid consumer of the writings that previous responders have cited. I did, however, live during that time. A couple of observations:

  1. Colbert did one of his satires within the last week of how lacking the Iraq war is with respect to protests. His premise: What would be good for the Republican party today is to have protests a la Vietnam because the electoral center was so turned off by the hippies and the likes of Jane Fonda. No argument here. [If I may digress for a moment. Some of my co-workers are avid Rush devotees. When asked of my opinion on Rush, my response is that I didn't take advice from drug deranged people when I was in college and I sure as hell don't do it now!] In other words, it wasn't the message as much as it was the messenger.
  2. The re-election of Nixon was not a repudiation of liberal thoughts and ideas. It was certainly a repudiation of George McGovern. Look -- McGovern was primarily a one issue candidate. He ran an effective primary. However, once the general campaign started, he looked as inept as, well, the guy who's in the WH today. Remember: HH Humphrey came within a whisker of besting Nixon in '68. Did the nature of the electorate really change that much in four years to give Nixon a landslide in '72? Doubt it. Also don't forget that we were still very much in the middle of the Cold War. Nixon negotiated the first missile reduction treaty with Brezhnev, and there was the opening with China. Yes, Vietnam was an open, bleeding sore. But it wasn't a sucking chest wound. And too many people had doubts about McGovern's ability to handle the USSR and China.

Two other factors to consider in writing the political story in the late 60s to early 70s: a) A government that actually got things done; b) True checks and balances.    

by Bob Miller 2006-12-23 06:06PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

First, Matt, I'm delighted you are doing this since I think you are one of the most astute thinkers around. I also hope to learn something. I saw most of it but don't have a good view of it, even after all these years. I can say for myself, it was a terrible, discouraging and guilt ridden time.

I seem to be older than most other commenters here, and I was there for most of everything. My first march against the Vietnam War was in February 1962. I traveled from college in Madison to DC. I was at every major antiwar demonstration as a participant or organizer, founded a draft resistance group for medical students and doctors and was myself a resister, sued J. Edgar Hoover and John Mitchell, was jailed and had bones broken by police in non-violent demonstrations and spent five bloody days on the streets of Chicago in 1968. And I still couldn't give a better or different version than you did.

Not that I think it's all "correct." whatever that  means. Only that the New Left (of which I was a part but not a member of SDS) was a very complicated and disorganized thiing, more of an idea than a movement although it was also a movement. I am not sure that any one description would truly capture those really turbulent times. Many of us have remained politically active and committed throughout from then to now, and some of us, despite our age, are even moderately successful bloggers. It doesn't feel different today than it did then, although this is a far different time. But for many of us that lived through it, today remains an extension of then, not separated by a discontinuity.

It will be interesting to see what you make of it. There is no reason why your version should be any worse than the ones we who lived it might give and many reasons why it will be better and more clear eyed.

Good luck.

by Revere 2006-12-23 06:07PM | 0 recs
Primary sources

Evergreen Magazine
Berkeley Barb
The Realist
Rolling Stone

If you haven't read it, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is a good description of the entirely apolitical crosscurrent. McGovern won the Arizona caucus by dragging honest-to-god dirty hippies out of communes with the promise of completely legal marijuana--an extremely generous interpretation of McGovern's real position. This was an important win because he crushed the very well-financed John Lindsay campaign in that caucus with a campaign budget consisting mostly of stems and seeds.

by stevehigh 2006-12-23 06:08PM | 0 recs
Re: Primary sources
Yes, those were important journals (though from different eras, no? Evergreen early, RS & the others late). Irving Howe (dissent) opposed the student movement--and when did Commentary decisively turn into a neocon rag (the original home of the original neoocons!).
 I wonder if that account of the McGovern win in Ariz is true or just a good story? Lindsay after all was an East Coast liberal (and wasn't he a Republican?).  Tom Wolfe is and has always been firmly on the right of politics.
by brooklyngal 2006-12-24 06:11AM | 0 recs
True story

This is no shit.

Skip Conrad told me contemporaneously; he was a straw boss there, intimately on the case. Yes, Lindsay was a former Rep., but he was the choice of the smart money, including San Jose mayor Norm Mineta. Lindsay was a very serious contender, and many thought he would do to McGovern what Kennedy did to McCarthy.

In San Jose, where I ran Students for McGovern during the primary, we registered any male with shoulder-length hair, turning up fewer than 20% Republican. By 1974, long hair was a fashion statement, not a political statement, and you were just as likely to find a Flournoy Republican.

by stevehigh 2006-12-24 02:05PM | 0 recs
Re: Primary sources

1. Right-wing sources are important to understanding what happened.

2. "Dysentery," as Woody Allen called both magazines, is significant because many of the contributors were Old Left better red than dead types. Their virulence toward the young (who were the kids in many cases) was in part an attempt to steer others from the errors of their own youth (i.e., liking Stalin), in part half-assed attonement, and in part just plain argumentative orneriness. It is fascinating to see how their arguments are so often dialectical and Marxist in flavor if not content.

3. I should have mentioned Ramparts, which is probably more important the rest.

4. I believe all of these pubs co-existed during 1972, when Rolling Stone, new to politics, published Hunter Thompson's coverage that formed the basis of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. Of course, I could be conflating 1967 and 1972.

Lemme get those store-bought choppers out of the water glass after I take my nap and I'll get back to you.

by stevehigh 2006-12-24 03:30PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

You've made quite a bit of mention of the Civil rights movement, and rightly so. There could be a lot more interesting stuff there about how the movement emerged, how it formed into organizations and such. An argument could be made that the anti-war movement benefited greatly from the organization and political momentum of the civil rights movement. An argument could also be made that civil rights orgs drove away their white supporters, leaving frustrated whites with no activistic outlet but the anti-war movement, even if a sbustantial amount of their political frustrations were the result of the civil rights situation.

This line of inquiry will, at times, be more informative about the CR movement than the white anti-war movement, so you can take it as far or not-far as you like. But any understanding of the white anti-war movement should nonetheless include comparisons with the black anti-war movement -- political inquiry should always consider race, especially a study of the civil-rights/anti-war era.

So if you're interested in that sort of thing, you can look at CORE, which alienated many white activists for not taking a stand on the Vietnam war; at SCLC which opposed the war because of their non-violence, but lost a lot of influence as resistance to the war escalated and and more militant groups rose in stature, and lost white activists because they began to segregate their workers (whites working white communities, blacks working black communities); and at SNCC which became very militant, very fast, began to exclude white activists, and opposed the war on the basis of a global struggle for civil rights. SNCC is probably the starkest contrast to the white anti-war movement at the time, and (one of) the founder(s) of SNCC happens to be a professor of history who's about to have a lot more free time on his hands as he retires from UVA.

The rest of what you've got sounds pretty good, but I don't know as much about all that. I do, however, think that you should explore each of your references to the civil-rights/black-anti-war movement a bit, and see what it tells you about the white anti-war movement and whence it drew its energy.

by msnook 2006-12-23 06:09PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Also, if you are interested, look into the ideological and practical splits between Black Nationalists/Nationalism, and the Black Panther Party.  Hint, look at the Eldrige Cleaver years, his split from the Party and the subsequent release of Huey P. Newton from prison, during the Bobby Seale, Elaine Brown era.

by leonard145b 2006-12-25 04:41AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Matt--I salute your effort.  Also have to say it confirms fears I've had that much of the left blogosphere has little real information or knowledge about the New Left aside from the media stereotypes that have framed it for decades. For lots of reasons I think this is tragic and has helped progressivism fall into the same pits over and over again.  However, that's a subject for another day, and I would like to respond to your request.  First, go to SDS, by Kirkpatrick Sale, Vintage Books 1974.  It is the definitive log of the white new left in the US by a thoughtful and careful thinker who was in the middle of it.  Then, go to The Sixties, by Todd Gitlin, 1987.  Gitlin was a founder of SDS and is today one of the most cogent and independent minds on the left.  He is a regular contribtor to The American Prospect and elsewhere.  His articles, down through the decades, illuminate lots about the recent path of progressivism in the US.  You should also know there is a big fat reference book actually titled The Encyclopedia of the American Left, edited by Mari Jo and Paul Buhle and Dan Georgakas,1990, which would probably be useful in your research.  To really escape the cliches (there is no era in history more characatured than the late 60s--so much so that many of us who were there still lapse into the cliches ourselves once in awhile even though we know first hand they are nonsense) you can't take one person's memoire as representative of the whole; you have to go back to primary sources, journals and flyers and newsletters from the time.  Not sure where all this stuff is, but academic libraries will often have bound copies of publications like The Nation from decades (even centuries!) past.  The Library of Congress has much of it.  Call up Gitlin, he teaches journalism and soc. at NYU.  Talk to Tom Hayden about the Port Huron Statement.  Damnit, start just by reading the Port Huron Statement.    

by blossom 2006-12-23 06:19PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

The Port Huron Statement is a great place to start and Hayden is very central to the New Left.  An interesting aspect of the early history of the New Left is the split with Labor Unions and the old left, best represented by Michael Harrington.

by howardpark 2006-12-24 05:06AM | 0 recs
Re: harrington and labor, and the black movement
I am very fuzzy on this history, because my 'branch' of the Movement was never antilabor but at least aspirationally actively pro labor (but not like those on the sectarian left who quit higher ed to organize in the factories, of whom I knew several who are still in the labor movement today). Harrington was a bit of a hero, and he was cofounder of (the refounding of?) the Democratic Socialists of America, which brought in the New American Movement members along with the likes of Cornel West, who was co chair for a while. This group remained interested in mainstream politics, obviously, but also with retaining ties between the nonblack and black movements and labor. It still exists (and I am stil a dues paying member, though basically inactive since the other other members I could find locally are young Columbia U undergrads, god bless em). This particular group is also somewhat internationalist, since the Democratic Socialist movement (symbol, a red rose) is strong in Europe (eg, was the governing party in Sweden until this last election).
by brooklyngal 2006-12-24 05:42AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Blossom -

>> Also have to say it confirms fears I've had that much of the left blogosphere has little real information or knowledge about the New Left aside from the media stereotypes that have framed it for decades.

True, and ironically, it was the same in the sixties and seventies.  There was a whole cottage industry, mostly after the implosion of SDS, of Old Leftists trying and sometimes succeeding at dialoguing with New Leftists.  Check out the film "Union Maids" sometime.  Or the early back issues of In These Times (which began in 1976). Books by authors such as Al Richmond and Dorothy Healey (ex-Communists who by the seventies began to realize that the only way New Leftists were going to appreciate those legacies of the Old Left that were positive was by engaging with them.  Unfortunately, most of this did not happen until it was too late.  

by sTiVo 2006-12-25 02:07PM | 0 recs
Off the Top of My Head

'sds' by Kirkpatrick Sale for an outsiders view of the whole sorry history of the SDS.

Back issues of 'New Left Notes' is indispensible as that was the main means of national communication.

'Prairie Fire' by the WeatherCollective will give you the end point of the SDS->WeatherPeople trajectory.

The documentary "The Weather Underground" is a inside look at life inside the movement and the ultimate fate of some of the members.

While important, and the largest block, the SDS was only one part of the New Left.

If you look-up 'The Farm' on Google you will find one of the successful communes that was started during those days.  Their site has a brief history.

'Fraye Arbeter Shtime' was still being published during those days and has some interesting stuff -- if you read Yiddish.  

Fred Wordworth started publishing 'The Match' in 1969 and those eary issues will give some feel for the Anarchist Left.  

The early issues of WIN (= Workshop In Non-Violence) magazine will give you insights into the young Pacifist Movement.  Very important strand in the make-up of the New Left.  

The last chapter or two of Peter Carroll's 'The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade' will give some brief remarks by the Old Left about the New Left.

by ATinNM 2006-12-23 06:38PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

A few things to add to your analysis:

* The 60s youth movement -- The baby boomers came of age and the whole society revolved around these new consumers with a relatively large amount of spending power. This gave young people an unprecedented amount of power.

* The sexual revolution -- The countercultural beats in the 1950s had begun to pry open the staid Victorian values of the 1950s, but the development of the birth control pill meant that the negative consequences of free sex were dramatically reduced. Sex without babies was a big change.

* FM radio -- Suddenly a whole spectrum opened up and progressives (including college radio stations) snared a lot of the early bandwidth enabling folk music and rock and roll to flourish in a way that might have been impossible if controlled strictly by the big corporations. KPFA in Berkeley was a major support for the progressive movement in the SF Bay Area.

* The blacklists of the 1950s knocked a lot of progressives out of the news media so that in the 1960s, the mainstream news tended to be very conservative. The reality of the 60s is very different than that portrayed in the mainstream news -- then or now.

* The draft helped radicalize and mobilize massive numbers of young men and their families and friends. When the war and the draft ended, the motivation for many people decreased a lot.

* Liberation movements -- besides the Black Freedom movement and the women's movement, many other groups began pushing for their liberation including Hispanics, Native Americans, gays, and the disabled. These groups initiated major changes in our culture and instituions that now have become almost completely accepted and mainstream.

* The energy crisis of 1974 and the high unemployment and massive inflation that soon followed put a major damper on activists. Suddenly, college students could no longer count on a job when they graduated and everyone was hurting economically a lot more than they had during the expansive 60s.

* Though the intense drama of 1968-70 subsided, progressive activists continued working hard through the 70s -- building alternative institutions like food coops, women's health centers, and battered womens' centers and working for air and water pollution controls, for solar energy, and against nuclear power. Some activists moved to rural communes, others organized in labor unions, others moved into academia, but lots of people were doing lots of stuff -- it just was not as dramatic/violent as the late 60s and it got a whole lot less media coverage.

If you are interested in SDS, I found SDS by Kirkpatrick Sale and The Whole World is Watching by Todd Gitlin to be enlightening (though it has been 25 years since I've read them so I can't say how they stand up to the test of time).

by RandomNonviolence 2006-12-23 06:45PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

This all rings true to my experience too, including the part about the 70s, and the efforts of Movement members to set up people-powered social movements & institutions, which are still effective today.
The media was thrown, in the late 60s, by the relentlessness of the boomer-driven social demands and antiwar activities and was happy to be able to turn back to pro-Statist trends and dismissal of locally based, nonspectacular drives.

The 60s has been called a revolution of rising expectations (the last time real wages rose, dramatically, and consumer society was firmly established). A majority of the population was under 30, yes?
Many thought that the oil shock (energy crisis) of  1974 (I thought it was 73) was a manufactured crisis precisely to put people--esp. young people!-- back into line, following the diagnoses and recommendations of Samuel Huntington and other writers of a very influential Trilateral Commission report on the "crisis of governability" of the Western democracies, resulting from the demands of formerly disenfranchised groups (native Americans, students--US voting age had been lowered, after all--black people, women, others...) for a share of political power.
This report recommended that higher ed. be made into a trade school rather than adhering to the governing model of a 'liberal' education for citizenship, a policy that took firm root and is pursued today. University campuses (including the one I attended) were built specifically to prevent large gatherings.

by brooklyngal 2006-12-24 05:54AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

One more that catches what happened in the transitiion between the hopeful advances of the 60s and the massive defeats of the 70s: Max Elbaum's Revolution in the Air. It has just come out in paperback with a new and interesting preface.

As someone who lived through it all, and keeps on, I'll be curious what you come up with. From my vantage point, the radicalism of the period has been erased, not only by the right, but also by subsequent liberalism. It is worth remembering that the upheavals of 1968 were global -- the only subsequent eruption of similar size was February 15, 2003 in the lead up to the Iraq war. It ain't over. It is just different.

by janinsanfran 2006-12-23 06:48PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

I second everyone who mentioned Todd Gitlin's Years of Hope, Days of Rage and David Halberstam's The Children (The Fifties by Halberstam may also be helpful here).

also "Takin' It To the Streets: a Sixties Reader", ed. Alexander Bloom is good

by brooklynmfs 2006-12-23 07:22PM | 0 recs
A great book:

Your analysis is too superficial, which would be fine if you captured the right summary information, and had a better idea of how connected things were. Check in with Barbara O'Brian over at Mahablog.

They Should have Served that Cup of Coffee Edited by Dick Cluster. From the description at South End Press: This anthology collects engaging essays and interviews by activists in the civil rights, women's, anti-war, and GI movements; the Black Panther Party; and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers."

But, the book is mainly about the motivation and foundation of the New Left. I came of age much later (early 70s), and even by then it was easy to forget that the roots of the movement(s) dated back to the late 50s.

The other point is that the movement didn't really end, even if energies went in other directions, academia, specific issue organizing, family, career. Perhaps the New Left never went very far beyond the over-educated white middle class, but it is a slander that the radicals flipped to conservative. Almost everyone I know from those days continue to have very strong radical opinions, and continue to be involved... I'm sure right here in River City.

Markos criticizes the politics of single-issue groups, (with good arguments). But, at the time the Democratic Party and Big Labor were extraordinarily hostile to radical ideas. Issue organizing was one way to make a difference and to attempt some small steps forward.

The internicine theoretical battles aren't so interesting, but then you discover a really interesting detail like the influence of the Quakers or Friends and other peace churches at the beginning of almost everything. Also, the old left was surprisingly inluential. Not the CP itself, but I knew a ton of Red Diaper babies who were instrumental in the movement work.

by MetaData 2006-12-23 07:47PM | 0 recs
Two cents on civil rights

To expand upon some of the themes in this thread, I think it's important to atempt an understanding of how the civil rights movement inspired young (mostly white) intellectual elites. For shorthand, I would call this "the Gitlin" interpretation. (As are many others, I'm a big fan of The Sixites.

PBS recently showed "Eyes on the Prize" (or part of it) for the first time in about 20 years. Imagine Virgil Goode being in charge of everything in every community in the South---that's what it was like. Virgil Goode with control of the National Guard, police, bus companies, business communities, everything. This was no blog war--it was a real war with real people being killed. The Freedom Riders would be met by angry mobs with lethal intentions.

It had to have been a searing time period that informed everything that came later, including whether to trust Democrats. It's not like the Kennedy administration was keen on moving civil rights forward. They hemmed and hawed, and while there were individuals who acted with courage, it wasn't until after JFK was killed that the Voting Rights Act was passed.

Sometimes we get hung up on "hippies" and the easy analysis that people "went too far." But there was a vicious, violent precursor to the anti-war movement in resistance to civil rights. The modern blog equal is LGF. Imagine those fucks in charge of your town.

by jondevore 2006-12-23 08:38PM | 0 recs
Re: Two cents on civil rights

And we teenagers saw this on TV and were radicalized and noticed how people of color weren't treated equally in the North either. I would have loved to be a Freedom Rider, but I was too naive and isolated and instead had a local NAACP officer address my high school Tri-Hi-Y.

by joyful alternative 2006-12-24 03:48AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Herbert Marcuse was father and theorist of the New Left, a term he disliked and rejected. I recommend

Douglas Kellner's Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism  

Herbert Marcuse's The New Left and the 1960s

by nonwhiteperson 2006-12-23 08:39PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations/Marcuse
I was a Marcuse  (um , looking for noun...)  I was anyway a grad student (an old one) and subsequently a friend of his and his (3rd) wife Erica Sherover, a woman much younger than he. (It wasn't divorce: each of his wives, including Erica, wound updying of cancer.)
As you may know Marcuse was the professor of Angela Davis and others (he taught philosophy), a very civilized man much against the violent irruptions on and around our campus in good old San Diego, a massive military town with an enormous antiwar/Chicano movement, but a supporter of left politics and at the center of many debates.  His lectures were attended by EVERYONE.
He used to come to our antiwar meetings and say, "juuust remember to voooooote!" since he knew that none of us were planning on it. (I didn't vote between 1967 and 1980).
He was much criticized for putting forth the position that the working class was not the designated engine of history but might even be... us! the students.... but he also put forward the theory of 'repressive tolerance' or 'repressive desublimation,' meaning he was afraid we could bring civilization down with us.
by brooklyngal 2006-12-24 06:06AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations/Marcuse

He was much criticized for putting forth the position that the working class was not the designated engine of history but might even be... us! the students....

Right, his critiques of capitalism resonated with the student movement in the 1960s. By the time he left for UCSD in 1965 he was an internationally celebrated mentor of the New Left. He had the most influence at UCSD. He integrated outsiders, minorities, radicals and intellectuals in the 1960s. It's actually inaccurate to ask about the "white antiwar New Left" because the New Left addressed race, gender, sexuality and elitism issues in addition to Old Left labor and class issues.

by nonwhiteperson 2006-12-24 10:27AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations
I don't know about books, but I was there. I think the disillusionment with electoral politics came much earlier than you imply. After all, even though the Democratic president and congress did pass civil rights legislation, we were well aware that they only responded after violence was right in their face, and they spied on civil rights workers and were very entrenched in the status quo.
Many whites were involved in the civil rights movement and some died for it. It was a natural progression from civil rights to SDS.
Then it was Democrats who escalated the Vietnam War. We learned that the government lied to us. When thousands of us demonstrated in DC, we were demonstrating against the policies of a "liberal" Democratic Pres and Congress.
I think the civil rights movement was the inspiration. The existence of a massive generation of baby boomers rejecting the oppressive 50's was the vehicle, which included the women's movement and the cultural revolution. The war became the engine. The war was devastating. It went on for a long time and the casualties were 20 times what we have had in Iraq, and we saw the whole thing on television unlike now. Everyone was affected. The draft expanded the pool of radicalized young people far beyond what we have now in relation to Iraq.
"Liberal" and "Democrat" were pretty much synonymous as they are now. "Liberal" came to represent timid, amoral compromise with the moral values of the left and with war, although I think most of us stuck with the Democratic Party in the long run.
There was an awful lot happening in a short time. People were "dropping out" very literally. The country was split more than at any time since the civil war. Families were split. Young people were becoming so radicalized that I think the establishment became truly frightened of what might happen, and we had already been through a period of Northern Black protesters setting fire to cities, armed clashes with the police (43 deaths in three days in the city where I lived and whole city blocks burned down) and the assassinations of Malcolm X, JFK, King, and RFK. The Democratic national convention in Chicago was the scene of violence in the streets. People were blowing up banks and university buildings. President Johnson was forced to say he wouldn't run, which I think may have represented a sense that the establishment could truly no longer govern.
"The Movement", which included sort of all of the above, was pretty amorphous. There were those who tried to organize it and do long-term planning, tie it to radical political philosophy, and create a more sophisticated, disciplined movement, but they weren't very successful in any of that, and when the war ended, the movement pretty much ended. And many of the goals had been met. We also became somewhat disillusioned with politics and turned inward in what I think was ultimately a healthy way. Besides, by that time we had to work on getting over our substance addictions. :) The conservatives were rebelling against the dirty hippies and taking over. We looked for supportive communities where we could weather the backlash and sort out our lives. And you can't go on with that kind of intensity indefinitely. It was very stressful as well as rewarding.
I think a lasting effect of the whole thing has been a critical political awareness and no hesitation in engaging in resistance and protest. I saw that in myself when I instantly caught on to Bush's crap and protested the Iraq war before it began this time.
There is a lot more to this, but that's enough for now.
I read a great article of yours recently; keep up the good work.
DenOr in the United States of Amnesia
by DeanOR 2006-12-23 09:14PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations
I would just add that a difference between then and now is that the churches were highly involved in both the civil rights and anti-war movements. The peace movement was far from being just college students. The churches, in particular, drew in a more middle-aged crowd, and as someone mentioned above the old Left was around too to provide some inspiration and leadership despite the "don't trust anyone over 30 stuff".
DeanOr in the United States of Amnesia
by DeanOR 2006-12-23 09:41PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Most of the books I can think of have been mentioned but 2 others you may want to add are:

Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader.  It is an excellent book about the growth of the consumer movement and also will give you an idea of how Public Citizen came about.  FWIW  - I can't stand Nader but the books is worth reading.

How the Good Guys Won by Jimmy Breslin.  It is a look at the era Watergate and will give you a good idea of the inner workings of the Dem establishment in the late 60s/early 70s.

by John Mills 2006-12-23 09:59PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

I think the part that you're missing so far is that the New Left was a really ideological movement. They argued about Marx and Marcuse and Mao and so on. Old Left didn't refer to labor as some have suggested, and definitely not to FDR and anyone in the government. The New Left was painting themselves in opposition to Khruschev and the CP-USA, arguing that the Communists had ignored most of the subtler structures of oppression.

I'd also second the sentiment that there's no way to talk about the white New Left. The New Left was working with the Panther Party and were supporting revolutionary movements in the Third World. I think you could talk about the white peace movement as separate from black peace movements (with the New Left somewhere between), but if you mean the New Left you're talking about a group that cuts across races.

There was a very strong anti-colonialist and internationalist emphasis within the New Left, so I'd recommend The Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon to understand that. Marcuse's most important is Eros and Civilization. Brush up your Marxist history for the project. I'd add in Angela Davis' autobiography so you see how race fit into the New Left.

Good luck!

by CT student 2006-12-23 10:36PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Eros and Civilization may be his most popular but I'd recommend One-Dimensional Man about what would be today's corporate mainstream media.

by nonwhiteperson 2006-12-24 10:32AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

CT student:

>>Old Left didn't refer to labor as some have suggested, and definitely not to FDR and anyone in the government. The New Left was painting themselves in opposition to Khruschev and the CP-USA, arguing that the Communists had ignored most of the subtler structures of oppression.

Yes and no.  One of the bases of whatever power the Old Left marxist organizations (Communists and Socialists) retained after McCarthyism was in the Labor Movement.  "Old Left" may not have referred  only to labor, but Labor was an important component of the Old Left, and was something the New Left was relatively lacking in.  

I came of age just after the implosion of the SDS (graduated High School in 1970) and one of the conclusions of what became my circle was that that was THE major problem of the New Left.  We thought we were too middle-class oriented and detached from working class people who should have been our allies. Thus began the small wave of labor organizers coming from the New Left who looked back with some interest at the Old Left and learning its strengths and weaknesses.  This small cohort had all sorts of interactions with Old Leftists then still involved in unionism, both positive and negative.

But this was certainly not the majority impression of the multitude of people who considered themselves in some sense part of the New Left.

by sTiVo 2006-12-25 02:25PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Matt, I can agree with most of the book recommendations above, but please don't miss the Academic history of the Anti-War Movement of that Era, An American Ordeal: The Antiwar Movement of the Vietnam Era by Charles DeBenedetti and Charles Chatfield.  Syracuse U Press.  It does it broadly and properly, beginning in the 50's with the Anti-Nuclear Testing campaigns -- and moves on till 1975, and includes the changing political strategies of the periods.  

The Anti-Nuclear Testing campaigns (SANE and Student Peace Union) flowed into support for the mass based Civil Rights Movement with non-violence at the core of the collaboration in 1960 -- but no one, and I mean no one can do this era without reading all three volumes of Taylor Branch's Social and Cultural Biography of Martin Luther King.  There are many many other histories of the Civil Rights movement noted in the Bibliography and in the text -- but you have to get the full measure of it to understand the late 50's and the early 60's.  So read -- and then work the bibliography.  

Tom Hayden's own biography, is highly significant because he deals with the founding of SDS in the late 1950's as a mostly white organization designed to support the Black Civil Rights Movement. (David Horowitz had fits with me on one of the History lists when I laid out the process by which SDS changed from a founding intent into something quite different.)   Read Hayden in conjunction with Isserman's bio of Michael Harrington, "The Other American" (Remember JFK got everyone to read Harrington's book, "The Other Americans") -- as JFK was beginning to move in the direction of some sort of Poverty Program. Gitlin is also critical -- all of his books on the 60's -- but he came along a bit after Hayden, and you need to comprehend these very short eras.  

No one has thus-far mentioned the fact that the 60's was quite international.  Movements in the US had a huge influence on France in 68, Germany in 68, and I would also add Czechoslovika in 1968 (and with Charter 77).  I would go so far as to say that some elements of the American 60's are there when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.  You are right about institution building, because if that had happened at all, some of those movements would have been useful in 1989.  Tony Judt's recent book, "Postwar" had a number of great chapters on the British, French and German movements that arose in Europe, both E & W in the 60's and afterwards.  Again -- a fantastic bibliography that can take you out to the specifics.

I highly recommend Tom Wells history of the Anti-Vietnam War movement, "The War Within: America's Battle Over Vietnam"  That's the big picture, but I would also recommend you read "Rads: The 1970 Bombing of the Army Math Research Center at the University of Wisconsin and the Aftermath."  By Tom Bates (1992).  It is the best book I know of that gets into disillusionment on the part of activists.  

I haven't begun to think what Feminist Lit I would recommend, but from about 1967 onward, a good part of the "liberal" movement is Feminist.  

Just last week when Jenne Kirkpatrick died I felt called upon on Firedoglake to do a negative Obit on the lady.  In 1968 my slate of precinct delegates beat her slate of precinct delegates in perhaps the most solid DFL precinct in Minneapolis.  (2-6 at that time).  Her Husband Evron Kirkpatrick was one of the Godfathers of Hubert Humphrey, but one cannot understand that era unless one comprehends how Gene McCarthy's slates beat him on his home ground, and why that was critical in Jenne running and joining the Neo-Con's.  Two books by David Lebedoff, "Ward Number Six" and "The 21st Ballot" (Schribners and U of Minn Press publications respectively) will get you down to the ground level fights in the political arena that were part of the larger fight.  

By the way, I agree that attention needs to be paid to Gene McCarthy's role in all this.  Hopefully someone is doing a decent biography. I would also point out that McGovern's campaign in 1972 in Minnesota, which while it did not win him the state electors, did move the most progressive DFL types into control of the State Legislature, which they kept for nearly 20 years.  (we just got it back).  

I also agree with the recommendation that you must read Robert Caro's "Master of the Senate" about Lyndon Johnson during the time he was Majority Leader in the 1950's.  In particular, focus on how he dealt with all the progressives elected in 1958 -- that was the core of the votes for change in the 60's.  

Warning! the term "Liberal" has a number of meanings in the context of the 1960's.  You will need to research this, and sort it out your own way -- but it doesn't mean the same thing it means today, and in Europe it has a very different and negative meaning, and among activists in the US during the 1960's it means mostly negative things. You have to conceptualize and not just lable.    

by Sara 2006-12-24 12:54AM | 0 recs
Up to this point it did

"After awhile and beginning in 1972, liberal activists basically gave up, first withdrawing from the electoral realm into process work, and then pulled out altogether into a mostly apolitical stance.

Does this sketch make sense?"

It kind of ignores Watergate and the wave election of 1974. I might even reverse it - after 1972 elements of the New Left embraced the electoral realm. Think of how many anti-war and civil rights activists ended up being elected officials: Tom Hayden and Julian Bond ended up mayors and legislators, and then we have Representative Bobby Rush whose bio includes this:

"During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's, Congressman Rush worked to secure basic civil and human rights for African-Americans, women and other minorities. He was a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1966 to 1968. Congressman Rush was a co-founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party in 1968.

While a Black Panther, he operated the Panther Party's Free Breakfast for Children program. "

When you have people who made the move from the SNCC to the Black Panthers ultimately to the US Congress you end up with a narrative diametrically opposed to the one you present. You can make a solid argument that in fact the New Left was coopted into the Democratic Party transforming it into the stereotypical "San Francisco Democrat" party.

In most ways the Democratic Party was pretty damn progressive in spirit from 1974 until its Third Way transformation. It had too many Old South holdovers and Big City machine politicians to be totally effective in actually moving a Progressive agenda but a lot of the leadership that is now moving to the fore were very active in what you are calling the "New Left" movement. As another example you could look at the biography of Congressman John Lewis You have a guy that moved from bleeding on the Selma bridge to Atlanta City Council to Congress. Not a lot of "withdrawing from the electoral realm" there.

I don't think younger modern Progressives really understand how much the needle moved during the post 1972 period. Positions that are now considered moderate and mainstream: choice and environmentalism for example, were considered extremist, and at a political level most all of those advances occured after 1972. So I politely suggest you rework the narrative a little and examine the legislative record from 1972 to 1980 when if anything the New Left overpushed their way through the doors of power and to some degree led to the backlash that was the Reagan Revolution.

by Bruce Webb 2006-12-24 01:35AM | 0 recs
Re: Up to this point it did

I don't think younger modern Progressives really understand how much the needle moved during the post 1972 period.

this is one of the msot important elements of the 60s/70s legacy to retrieve for "history"

by brooklyngal 2006-12-24 06:57AM | 0 recs
Re: Up to this point it did

>>In most ways the Democratic Party was pretty damn progressive in spirit from 1974 until its Third Way transformation. It had too many Old South holdovers and Big City machine politicians to be totally effective in actually moving a Progressive agenda but a lot of the leadership that is now moving to the fore were very active in what you are calling the "New Left" movement.

One of the later emergences of the "New Left", in a local setting, was the election of Harold Washington as Chicago mayor in 1983.  This movement sprang primarily from an overwhelming disgust with the Chicago Democratic machine on the part of Black people but white veterans of the New Left and even of the Old Left, also played a key role in what were very close elections.  The unfortunate death of Washington in 1987 put an end to this movement for the most part, and some of its leaders eventually did get co-opted into the administration of Richard M. Daley, still the current mayor.

by sTiVo 2006-12-25 02:32PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

I'm not much of a cultural historian, I'll read a book like "The Seventies" and take that as good enough.

I focus on campaigns, and the '68 election is one of the most fascinating ones out there.  I'm not sure about an over-arching book about the whole election (anyone rec one?), but the three I have that give you a day-to-day perspective are:

The AP story of Election 1968", by Relman Morin, a good overview that grinds through how Nixon won.

85 Days, by Jules Witcover, which, if you are going to talk about Bobby Kennedy and think you know what you are talking about, you must read.

1968: McCarthy, New Hampshire, "I hear America Singing", by David Hoeh that is probably the best documented book by a campaign staffer for 1968.

I'll have to make a post here sometime about the best politcal campaign books from each presidential nomination/election of the past... I'm sure I'd come out with a reading list of 50 books.

by Jerome Armstrong 2006-12-24 01:37AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

85 Days is a great book that everyone should read (though it doesn't have too much to do with the New Left or movement).

Witcover also wrote a book called The Year the Dream Died in the 90s. It's his composite of 1968. Some of 85 days is in there. And The Gospel According to RFK is another one for Kennedy's speeches from the '68 campaign. An Honorable Profession is a collection of stories, articles, and rememberances of Kennedy from the campaign or after his death. Another good read.

by jrb1968 2006-12-24 03:55AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Oh, and Jeremy Larner wrote a good memoir of his days with McCarthy that is worth reading.

by jrb1968 2006-12-24 03:56AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Speaking of campaign books, though he is basically only known for his book on 1960 & JFK, Theodore White also wrote good, workmenlike books "The Making of a President 1964", "making of a President 1968" and one for 1972.  Witcover & Germond picked the series up in 1976, starting with Marathon.

Also, no treatment of the 1960's is complete without an examination of the backlash.  Howard Phillips' "The Emerging Republican Majority", Watterburg's "The Real Majority" and any of the biographies of Phyllis Schlafley are good places to start.

by howardpark 2006-12-24 05:15AM | 0 recs
Don't overlook race

    The left became discredited and detached from working class whites because of race. In 1972 George Wallace won the Democratic presidential primary in Michigan because of outright race-baiting. School busing, affirmative action, and race riots drove many working class whites into the Republican/Nixon camp. The dedication to civil rights cost the liberals support for all the other issues. Fortunately, the younger generations seem to be less racist. I grew up among suburban white union workers who loved Reagan. Why have only southern Democrats been acceptable as national candidates? Race wasn't the only reason liberal became a dirty word, but it was the most important.

by MarvToler 2006-12-24 04:03AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Matt-great project and best of luck with it.

The anti war lefties in the 60's were largely based on the university campuses. The war began to fracture the New Deal coalition of labor, intellectuals, and especially southern whites who became increasingly disturbed at the pace and tone of civil rights legislation and enforcement. Blue collar types in the north did not subscribe to the anti war cause until much later. They were also appalled at the libertine excesses of this movement (sex, drugs, rock and roll). Yet, by 1972 this new, more narrowly comprised liberalism took over the leadership of the democratic party culminating in the nomination of McGovern and his calamitous defeat. At the same time, Nixon's southern strategy had peeled off the disaffected southern whites-as you know they are still republicans to this day. For some perspective on this it would be worth interviewing Frank Mankiewicz, McGovern's campaign manager and also close to Bobby Kennedy.

It is important to remember that the anti war movement was not just about the war-it was clearly "anti-establishment". Establishment elites (ie white guys in suits)pushed back hard against the "hippies" resulting in political isolation.
Progressives subsequently focused their efforts in specific causes: abortion rights (NARAL etc), the environment (Sierra club, Greenpeace, etc), and feminism (equal rights amendment-still yet to be ratified). This specialization further fractured the progressive cause-something only now beginning to be remedied.

The Reagan administration institutionized at the government level what had begun under Nixon-the formal implementation of corporatist policies. Anti union, lax corporate enforcement, and most importantly of all-looser regulation of communications. The wave of media consolidation began under Reagan as did the termination of the "fairness doctrine". The Wurlitzer of today was ushered into existence by these policies.

The demonization of "liberalism" has been a coordinated attack that had all of its key pieces in place in the early '80s. Progressives have been slogging through this mud ever since.

by Kevster 2006-12-24 06:18AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Although it is hard to argue with some of this, it is far too cut and dried to fit my memories of battles and trends.
The white working class was not, in my experience, appalled at what you call libertine excesses so much as appalled at their public expression and defense. One cultural difference of the 60s was that the middle-class left felt entitled to demand all the freedoms that people were long taking advantage of in a covert and (so it seemed at the time) hypocritical manner. Denouncing this was was part of the efforts to discredit the youth movement (including propagating the phrase sex drugs and rocknroll instead of as I mentioned earlier peace love and rocknroll, whcih characterized the love ins of the mid 60s). That and racism, racism, racism ... and red-baiting, red-baiting, red-baiting.
 And remember COINTELPRO, to discredit, most prominently, MLK.
Supposedly, Hoover convinced Johnson that Commies had infiltrated and were running the antiwar movement....a complete lie, in fact!

The youth/couterculture/antiwar movement did not invent either sex or drugs and certainly not rocknroll. Working class people of course felt divided from the m.c. kids by class privilege, which the right (& the 'establishment') did not hesitate to capitalize on. Alliances with labor were squashed from the top, as many people have noted (part of what is called The Historic Compromise... subject of another post, perhaps) , while HAIR (not sex, drugs rocknroll) because the visible sign of "libertinism". Yet to this day, typically, the various versions of long hair, including the mullet, are to be found among working class men, which points to the complexity of class divisions and envy.
Most of the antiwar soldiers were working class;in general, though, opposition to the war was hard to come to because the white churches heavily pressed the (largely 20th century) idea of God & Country as linked. I think it is important to recognize how militarism was sold to a skeptical population in earlier generations, in the US and Europe.

by brooklyngal 2006-12-24 06:55AM | 0 recs
Many currents; Berkeley in the 60's

I was part of Berkeley in the 60's, from 63 through 71. A must see is the film by that name:

The following people can give you an excellent idea of what that time was about: Todd Gilin; Robert Scheer, Tom Hayden, Fred Branfman (all post at; Andrew Kopkind; Michale Lerner at

The 60's were an liberation explosion in the midst of a deeply repressed America. From an extreme post-war stifling conformity, a new generation raised without those fears took on, all at once, a series of taboos:  race, sexual roles, sexuality, drugs, consciousness, environmentalism. All these movements cross-fertilized, first among students at many campuses, and then throughout America.

Interestingly, political reform per se was not one of core themes: there was huge interest and participation in politics, mainly because of the war and the draft, but very little interest in evolving the political system. We were far more interested in transcending conventional societal structures and creating new ones (now the stuff of legend as "dirty fucking hippies").   The Carter presidency gave a wonderful reception to thousands of idealists who put their ideas to work in Washington, within the establishment, in those years.

The ideas of the 60's were way ahead of their time, as we well knew.  The inevitable backlash took its toll, and it wasn't until Clinton that there was an opportunity for progressive thinking to take a seat at the table.

Today, the new progressive movement embeds some of the best 60's ideals with an appropriate pragmatism.  IMHO, Digby and Billmon represent this blend best.

The 60's idealists never went away. With the exception of a handful who chose to reject the error of their ways, they became mainstream citizens, and a huge number of them (if my friends are any guide) continue to be active in politics and culture in the areas in which they prefer.

Interestingly, Nancy Pelosi through her roots in the San Francisco Bay Area has always been attuned to these trends. Nancy is a poster child of that ferment expressed in a most mature way.

by camilow 2006-12-24 07:45AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

by brooklyngal 2006-12-24 08:19AM | 0 recs
A few thoughts

Matt- Please don't underestimate or overlook the free speech/free-to-assemble movement in your research (as was mentioned earlier). A person who continues the movement today would be Barry A. Adams, of Rainbow Family fame. His family name is Plunker. Link to unofficial web page and contact info for Adams can be found at this link: Welcome Home-Rainbow Family. I happened to meet him at the family gathering in Steamboat Springs, CO in summer 2006. I would suggest you contact him for an interview. He has a long history of the movement and is a man of wisdom. I think he currently lives in Montana.

Secondly, Cesar Chavez was a mover and there are many today who started their activists' careers because of Chavez.

And then there is Corky Gonzales and La Raza Unidos.

I agree with much of what's suggested above. Focus on the 'splinter' movements is necessary to capture a total picture.

Me, I was influenced by many movements and consider myself a 'pro-peace-hippie-flower-power-Chicana-f eminist-pro-labor-environmentalist-no-nu ke-idealist-liberal'. Which is why I say that a big picture look at the 60's defines today's New Left more than any one event or movement. That's both the beauty and the curse of growing up with so many influences. Beautiful because we continue to desire a world of peace and harmony; a curse because we expected it to happen in our lifetime. I know of many like myself who are active today.

by greenchiledem 2006-12-24 08:39AM | 0 recs
Re: The MUSIC was a key factor for success !

Matt, in addition to all the great recommendations you also need to factor in how the music from 1965 - 1970, which enveloped and embedded key messages of the liberal movement, was a significant catalyst for  ultimate success.

And this will most likely never be replicated.

by km4 2006-12-24 08:53AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Lots of really good books suggested.

Here's a video worth watching: The Psychedelic 60s Literary Tradition and Social Change": Ken Kesey speaking at the University of Virginia in 2000, shortly before he left us.

From the transcript:

I feel like there are warriors, and that we know, and have known, a number of warriors...wonderful, powerful warriors. And there is a way that you can see which is the warrior and which isn't. And I have done this by making, arbitrarily, two categories - one of them is "shit floats" and the other one is "cream rises."
How do we know we're warriors? How do we know who we are? We do, we do. Go ahead and brighten up that little spark in your life. Brighten it up and when you see each other there, don't turn away from each other. When some guy on the street needs money, give him some damn money. We can afford it. Lay a couple of bucks on him and then meet his eyes; deal with him. This is what most of them want is just to have that human touch. And we don't have to have master's degrees or big houses. We can do it with funny clothes on. We look at each other and say, "Have a nice day," and mean it, fucking mean it right down from where you are say, "Have a nice day." The person looks back and your face lights up and then already you are having a better day. This is where it's gonna run from.

I've got a good black friend. I've known him for 30 years. He's a jazz player, he talks a lot of jazz stuff. And often we will get into this argument and people will come out and say, "Yeah but look how many people are doing it. Look how many voted for it." But that has to do with numbers. We are never going to win by numbers. There are not enough of us. We are strong, but there are not enough for us to win a huge popular election. We are losers. Face it from the beginning, you don't have to deal with it later. We are dead ass losers, and yet it's a wonderful game to be in there fighting for that place on the block. And so my friend says, "You can count the number of seeds in an apple, but you can't count the number of apples in a seed." We are the seeds.

by Edger 2006-12-24 09:11AM | 0 recs
The Draft

Good comments all. It's been touched on a couple of times above, but as another who came of age at that time I can't emphasize enough the impact of the draft. It was a looming presence in every male's life from about 11th grade on. It engendered real fear, waking a generation from their sleep with nightmares, and was constantly in our waking thoughts. What's my number? What will I do? Where will I go? My heart's beating faster just thinking back on it...

by The Centerfielder 2006-12-24 11:34AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

The New Student Left: An Anthology edited by Mitchell Cohen & Dennis Hale, Beacon Press: The Unitarian Universalist Association, 1967.

by MS 2006-12-24 01:50PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

The Feminist Memoir Project is an essential read.
It will situate all the activist women you've met who are in their Sixties now and began in the New Left.  Repelled by the casual sexism of men in the movement, yet still wanting to participate, they created separate radical experiments.

Those women have been the central actors, largely unacknowledged, behind all the social movements that lasted beyond the sixties: the movement to help battered women, defend clinics, create women's studies, protect the earth, stop nuclear weapons, etc.  It's the great overlooked story (or one of them).

The institutions people now see as feminism were always the moderate wing of this movement (ie NARAL, NOW), akin to the DLC v. the grassroots.
The activists worked through mimeographing, small group organizing, leadership in their communities.

Unfortunately, the misogyny of our society has rendered this community invisible: its newspapers are out of print and its bookstores shuttered.
Thus women like Condi or Hilary become the symbol of the "new woman," and are (or should be) widely, and justifiably, distrusted.

by lauren 2006-12-25 05:49AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Several books and movies I would add:

Saul Alinsky: Rules for Radicals and Reveille for Radicals.

Abby Hoffman: Steal this Book

Betty Friedan: The Feminine Mystique

Erica Jong: Fear of Flying

Movies: The Weather Underground and Conspiracy: Trial of the Chicago 8

by hopeful 2006-12-26 04:24AM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations
by CocoaPuffPM 2006-12-28 05:31PM | 0 recs
Re: New Left Book Recommendations

Two recommendations:

First, I recommend "Generations: The History of America's future From 1584 to 2069" by Bill Strauss and Neil Howe, published in October, 1990, by Quill Press.  It originally sold for $12.95 in paperback.  Personally, I think it is the best book on American history ever written.  However, only sections of it cover the 1960s.  Nevertheless, in taking the long view of history, it (correctly, I think) portrays the 1960s as the beginnings of a religious awakening that ended in 1980.

Second, try "Coming Apart:  An Informal History of America in the 1960s" by William L. O'Neill.  It was published by Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co, New York, around 1971.  (Library of Congress Control Number:  79152098; International Standard Book Number:  0812962230)  Disclaimer:  This book was recommended to me some time ago, But I have not read it.


by Airpower 2006-12-30 03:58PM | 0 recs


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