Power on the Left: American Radical Movements since 1946

Power on the Left: American Radical Movements since 1946

Power on the Left: American Radical Movements since 1946

Power on the Left: American Radical Movements since 1946

Excerpt

A book about the American Left since 1946 must deal not only with forces that changed the country deeply but with stereotypes and prejudices that obscured their effect. Many of us have been too influenced by European models to look more closely at the significance of our own movements, too traumatized by the cold war demonology of a worldwide Communist conspiracy originating in Moscow to see that the Soviet experience, particularly after 1956, may have had little bearing on our own revolts. It has too often been assumed that every Left movement in America must be a Communist movement. Thus, we have ignored the possibility that the Left may take many shapes and originate from diverse ideologies, rather than being dominated by the Soviet brand of Marxism-Leninism.

It is the intention of this book to show that the Left in recent decades has been essentially pragmatic, nurtured by American needs and not by a closed system imposed from abroad. The Left has generally aimed at limited goals, not cataclysmic revolution. And it has been highly fragmented.

This fragmentation obviously raises the problem of what organizations and movements should qualify for inclusion on the Left. The problem was simple in 1946, when the Communist party and its closed system—with bases in organized labor and occasional allies in the American Labor party and other organizations—represented the Left. But from 1960 on, the problem becomes increasingly complex. This book deals with a few movements that might belong in the "civil liberties" or "reformist" categories. But it does so because these seeds of rebellion often led to far more radical organizing. The black students, for example, who sat down at white lunch counters and invaded the white restaurants of bus terminals throughout the South between 1960 and 1962 had no ideological system or structure. They were simply struggling for rights long denied them. Their acts . . .

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