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Defining the New Left

  • Van Gosse

Abstract

From the 1950s through the 1970s, a series of social movements surged across America, radically changing the relationship between white people and people of color, how the U.S. government conducts foreign policy, and the popular consensus regarding gender and sexuality. Together, these move- ments redefined the meaning of democracy in America. Indeed, a commitment to a radical form of democracy, and “power to the people,” is what linked them together. They constituted a New Left, a “movement of movements” that was considerably greater than the sum of its parts.

Keywords

Foreign Policy White Youth Normative Heterosexuality Popular Consensus Antiwar Movement 
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A Selected Bibliography

  1. The scholarship that identifies the New Left with white student radicalism, and in particular SDS, is ably represented by three influential books that came out in the same yearGoogle Scholar
  2. Todd Gitlin, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage (New York: Bantam Books, 1987)Google Scholar
  3. Maurice Isserman, If I Had a Hammer: The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left (New York: Basic Books, 1987); andGoogle Scholar
  4. James Miller, “Democracy is in the Streets”: From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987). In “A Movement of Movements: The Definition and Periodization of the New Left,” I trace how earlier definitions of the New Left were more ecu-menical and inclusive, citing books such as Paul Jacobs andGoogle Scholar
  5. Saul Landau, The New Radicals: A Report with Documents (New York: Random House, 1966) andGoogle Scholar
  6. Jack Newfield, A Prophetic Minority (New York: New American Library, 1966). It should be noted, however, that my insis-tence on the multi-generational character of the New Left, and refusal to equate it with what C. Wright Mills called a “young left,” is in some ways sui generis. It derives from narratives like those of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement, as chronicled byGoogle Scholar
  7. James T. Fisher, The Catholic Counterculture in America, 1933–1962 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), and the stories of local struggle led by black mothers and their children, as traced inGoogle Scholar
  8. Charles Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  9. My overall understanding of the New Left remains strongly shaped byGoogle Scholar
  10. Sara Evans, Personal Politics: The Origins of Women’s Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979) because of its focus on the connections between different move-ments over time, including the continuity between earlier traditions, such as Christian social action, and newer movements beginning in the later 1950s. Years ago, I read Lawrence Wittner, Cold War America: From Hiroshima to Watergate (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1978), and its utility as a framing device stayed with me—a long periodization of the post-1945 period that moves the reader beyond simplistic dividing lines between “the Fifties” and “the Sixties.” Around the same time, I was deeply influenced byGoogle Scholar
  11. Manning Marable’s Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America, 1945–1990 (Jackson: University of Mississippi, 1991), both because of its periodization that connects a “Second Reconstruction,” beginning in the 1940s, with the revolution and counter-revolution of the 1870s, and his biting characterization of a bipartisan Cold War liberalism thatGoogle Scholar
  12. encompassed Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, Marable’s Black American Politics: From the Washington Marches to Jesse Jackson (London: Verso, 1985) complements this general history with deeper analytical essays that again stress the breadth of a struggle extending from the 1940s to the 1980s. The his-toriography of the post-1945 period is vast and ever-growing, and these references are intended to show how I arrived at a New Left that extends across the post-1945 period rather than being an episode of the mythic and mystified 1960s.Google Scholar

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© Van Gosse 2005

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  • Van Gosse

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