Beyond the Left I
A New Deal for an Old Social Issue
A simple explanation holds that Negroes rioted in Watts, the voice of Black
Power was heard throughout the land and the white backlash was born; the pub-
lic became infuriated and sympathy evaporated. This pat explanation founders,
however, on the hard fact that the change in mood had preceded Watts and the
Black Power slogan. Moreover, the white backlash has always existed underneath
and sometimes on the surface of American life. No, the answers are . . . more
complex. —Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go from Here?
By the end of the 1950s, the Socialist and Communist Parties had ceased to be significant forces in American politics. The effective marginalization of the orthodox parties of the left coincided with the emergence of the civil rights movement, and the latter development forced the mainstream parties— the Democrats and the Republicans—to deal explicitly with the issue of race. The focus of this chapter will be the response since the New Deal era of the Democratic Party, the effective party of the left once the Socialist and Communist Parties were rendered inoperative, to the gradual reintroduction of race (and, not coincidentally, black voters) into mainstream American politics and life.
The New Deal coalition—the Democratic Party alliance of organized labor, lower-income voters, Catholics, Jews, blacks, and southerners assembled under the leadership of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) during the 1930s—is probably as close to the class and interest group alliances that supported leftist parties and policy innovations in other Western societies as any produced in the United States. 1 The combination of forces and circumstances that came together in the interwar period created the foundation for a virtual revolution—to borrow from Theodore Lowi—in terms of the role that the state could play in regulating the economy and redistributing resources. 2 As a result, major institutional developments such as the National Labor Relations Board and policy achievements such as old-age insurance, Aid to Dependent Children, a minimum wage, and unem