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Romancing the Oppressed: The New Left and the Left Out

  • Richard J. Ellis


In the 1960s, the New Left sought to transform American society by mobilizing the most oppressed and excluded groups—blacks, the poor, unemployed youths. This article explores both the causes and consequences of the powerful attraction that the American New Left felt for the oppressed and downtrodden. The political thought and actions of the New Left cannot be reduced to psychological motives but must instead be rooted in the New Left's commitment to radical egalitarian social relations and values. While there is much that can be admired in the New Left's deep and sincere concern for the disadvantaged, the New Left's romance with the oppressed also had darker, illiberal consequences that led many in the New Left to excuse and justify the very sort of oppression they had originally sought to oppose.



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This article benefited greatly from the comments of the Review's anonymous referees, and was improved in large and small ways by Sammy Basu, Dean Hammer, Martin Lewis and Charles Lockhart.

1. Orwell, George, The Road to Wigan Pier (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1958), p. 148. This quotation also serves as a lead into Walzer's, Michael “The Obligations of Oppressed Minorities” in Walzer, , Obligations: Essays on Disobedience, War, and Citizenship (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970), p. 46. Also see Walzer's, splendid essay, “George Orwell's England,” in The Company of Critics: Social Criticism and Political Commitment in the Twentieth Century (New York: Basic Books, 1988), p. 121.

2. On the evolution of the term “New Left” see Isserman, Maurice, If I Had a Hammer…: The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left (New York: Basic Books, 1987), pp. 173–74.

3. Alan Haber to Charles Van Tassel, 31 July 1958, in Miller, James, “Democracy Is in the Streets”: From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago (New York: Touchstone, 1987), pp. 3031. Hayden, Tom, “Letter to the New (Young) Left,” in The New Student Left: An Anthology, ed. Cohen, Mitchell and Hale, Dennis, rev. and expanded ed. (Boston: Beacon, 1967), pp. 56. The article originally appeared in The Activist, Winter 1961. [Tom Hayden], “Politics, the Individual, and SDS,” SDS Microfilm, Series 1, No. 6. “What is the S.D.S.?” SDS Microfilm, Series 1, No. 6; also see Draft Constitution, 6 May 1962, SDS Microfilm, Series 1, No. 6. “The Port Huron Statement,” in The New Left: A Documentary History, ed. Teodori, Massimo (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1969), p. 166.

4. Isserman, , If I Had a Hammer, p. 174.

5. In “Letter to the New (Young) Left,” Hayden had noted that while “Marx … the humanist has much to tell us …. his conceptual tools are outmoded and final vision implausible” (p. 3, also see 6). Also see Mills, C. Wright, “Letter to the New Left,” in The New Left: A Collection of Essays, ed. Long, Priscilla (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1969), p. 22.

6. Gitlin, Todd, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage (New York: Bantam, 1987), p. 383.

7. The process is more fully elaborated in Richard J. Ellis, The Illiberalism of Radical Egalitarianism, in progress.

8. Mills, , “Letter to the New Left,” pp. 22, 25. Miller, , Democracy Is in the Streets, pp. 177, 262. “To: SDS executive committee, From: Tom Hayden, Re: manifesto,” p. 2, SDS Microfilm, Series 1, No. 6. Hayden, , “Letter to the New (Young) Left,” p. 8.

9. Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich, Collected Works (New York: International, 1976), 6: 485, 488, 494; 11:149, 187. The first quotation and last two quotations are from The Communist Manifesto; the other two are from The 18th Brumaire. My thinking about the role of the lumpenproletariat in Marx and Engels' thought is indebted to the penetrating discussion in Basu, Sammy, “‘Self-Ownership’ and ‘Friendship’: The Liberal Individualism of La Boetie, Overton, and Stirner” (PhD dissertation, Princeton University, 1993), pp. 505508. Also see Bussard, Robert L., “The ‘Dangerous Class’ of Marx and Engels: The Rise of the Idea of the Lumpenproletariat,” History of European Ideas 8 (1987): 675–92.

10. Mills, , “Letter to the New Left,” p. 22.

11. The program, somewhat ironically, was started with the help of a $5000 grant from the United Auto Workers to fund “an education and action program around economic issues” (Sale, Kirkpatrick, SDS [New York: Random House, 1973], pp. 96, 101102).

12. As ERAP's “Introductory Statement” put it, “we can expect for the future a growing army of unemployed and unemployables” (SDS Economic Research and Action Project, “An Introductory Statement,” p. 1, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 26). Also see Swarthmore Political Action Committee, “Chester, PA.: Community Organization in the Other America,” December 1963, p. 9, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 25.

13. The most influential statement of this view was Ray Brown, “Our Crisis Economy: The End of the Boom,” a paper delivered at a conference in Nyack, New York on Unemployment and Social Change in June 1963. The conference was attended by many in SDS, and the paper was widely circulated that fall as an SDS pamphlet. Also see the “Triple Revolution Statement,” which was issued in February 1964 as a press release and signed by many leading left intellectuals including Michael Harrington, Gunnar Myrdal, Robert Theobald, Linus Pauling, and Robert Heilbroner, as well as by SDSers Tom Hayden and Todd Gitlin. The statement was later published in Liberation 9 (April 1964): 915. For further background information, see Sale, , SDS, pp. 99100; and Miller, , Democracy Is in the Streets, pp. 170, 192.

14. Sale, , SDS, pp. 9697.

15. See, for example, Sale, , SDS, p. 143; Gitlin, , The Sixties, p. 165; and Rothman, Stanley and Lichter, S. Robert, Roofs of Radicalism: Jews, Christians, and the New Left (New York: Oxford, 1982), p. 12. The Orwell quotation that begins this article also points, of course, to the importance of guilt in the middle class romance with the oppressed.

16. These three cultural categories or ways of life (hierarchy, competitive individualism, and egalitarianism) as well as a fourth (atomized subordination or fatalism), are explicated in Douglas's, Mary seminal essay, “Cultural Bias,” which is reprinted in the Active Voice (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982), pp. 183253. The typology is further elaborated in, among other places, Douglas, Mary, ed., Essays in the Sociology of Perception (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982); Gross, Jonathan and Rayner, Steve, Measuring Culture: A Paradigm for the Analysis of Social Organization (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986); Thompson, Michael, Ellis, Richard, and Wildavsky, Aaron, Cultural Theory (Boulder, CO.: Westview Press, 1990); Schwartz, Michiel and Thompson, Michael, Divided We Stand: Redefining Politics, Technology and Social Choice (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990); Douglas, Mary, Risk and Blame: Essays in Cultural Theory (London: Routledge, 1992); Ellis, Richard J., American Political Cultures (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); and Coyle, Dennis J. and Ellis, Richard J., ed., Politics, Policy, and Culture (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994).

17. [Tom Hayden], “Politics, the Individual, and SDS,” SDS Microfilm, Series 1, No. 6. Also see the discussion in Miller, , Democracy Is in the Streets, p. 99; Miller mistakenly identifies the title as “Politics, the Intellectual, and SDS.” Also see Hayden to SDS executive committee, others, re: manifesto, SDS Microfilm, Series 1, No. 6.

18. This tension between “the purity of the church and the reform of society” is highlighted in the context of New England puritanism and those political cultures that evolved from puritanism in Greenstone, J. David, The Lincoln Persuasion: Remaking American Liberalism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), esp. pp. 265–74.

19. The theoretical reasons for the egalitarian attraction to the oppressed (or what Aaron Wildavsky calls “fatalists”) are sketched out in Wildavsky, Aaron, “Change in Political Culture,” Politics, the Journal of the Australasian Political Studies Association 20 (November 1985): 95102, esp. 99–100. Also see Thompson, , Ellis, and Wildavsky, Cultural Theory, esp. pp. 9596; and Ellis, Richard J., “The Social Construction of Slavery,” in Coyle and Ellis, Politics, Policy, and Culture, esp. pp. 117–20.

20. Hayden, Tom, “The Politics of ‘the Movement,’” Dissent (January/February 1966), p. 81.

21. Hayden, Tom and Lynd, Staughton, “Reply to Gans,” Studies on the Left (Summer 1965), p. 133.

22. The idea of a “new insurgency” was introduced in the document, “America and the New Era,” which had been drafted by Richard Flacks and Tom Hayden, and then adopted as the official SDS statement at the SDS convention in June 1963. The document is reprinted in Teodori, , The New Left, pp. 172–82.

23. The Russian Populists, Isaiah Berlin writes, “looked upon [the peasants] as embodiments of simple uncorrupted virtue, whose social organization … was the natural foundation on which the future of Russian society must be rebuilt” (Isaiah Berlin, “Russian Populism,” reprinted in Russian Thinkers [Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978], p. 211). Also see Venturi, Franco, Roofs of Revolution: A History of the Populist and Socialist Movements in Nineteenth Century Russia (New York: Universal Library, 1966), for which Berlin's essay was originally written as an introduction.

24. Abolitionists typically described the “African race” as “gentler and less selfish,” “humbler and more noble” than Caucasians. See Perry, Lewis, Radical Abolitionism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1973), pp. 107, 233, quote from James Russell Lowell (p. 233). Abolitionists, writes historian George M. Fredrickson, “tended to see the Negro more as a symbol than a person, more as a vehicle for romantic social criticism than as a human being with the normal ranges of virtues and vices” (The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny [New York: Harper & Row, 1971], p. 109). Also see Ellis, Richard and Wildavsky, Aaron, “A Cultural Analysis of the Role of Abolitionists in the Coming of the Civil War,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 32 (January 1990): 104.

25. Randolph Bourne, whose ideal of the “Beloved Community” became a popular slogan of the early New Left, looked to the peasantry in France for a model of the “whole man” who maintained “the directest connection” between their innermost thoughts and feelings and their “outer expression in speech, gesture, writing, art” (Blake, Casey Nelson, Beloved Community: The Cultural Criticism of Randolph Bourne, Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank, and Lewis Mumford [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990], pp. 279, 84). And Waldo Frank, as Casey Blake points out, “rhapsodized over the cultures of blacks, Hispanics, Indians and other outsiders as bastions of Gemeinschaft.” Visiting a Native American settlement, for instance, Frank found that “here, of a sudden all of a deep great gentle culture swam into my vision—a culture whose spiritual superiority to ours no intelligent man would question …. The uncorrupted Indian knows no individual poverty or wealth” [Beloved Community, p. 174). Impoverished Kansas farmers, in Frank's view, possessed an “earnest and innocent … willingness in them to be good and to be right” (p. 175).

26. In an early newspaper article on “Debates on the Law on Thefts of Wood,” written in 1842 for the Rheinische Zeitung, Marx had written of the poor as “the elemental class of human society” in whose customs there was an “instinctive sense of right.” The dispossessed's natural needs and urges were also inevitably “rightful” needs and urges (Collected Works, 1: 233–34). Also see Lubasz, Heinz, “Marx's Initial Problematic: The Problem of Poverty,” Political Studies 224 (1976): esp. 31, 33, 41. On the more general tendency in certain strands of Western political thought to see a natural, uncorrupted goodness in the poor or marginal, see Ellis, John M., “The Western Tradition of Political Correctness,” Academic Questions 5 (Spring 1992): esp. 24–27.

27. Among the strongest contemporary manifestations of this perennial egalitarian tendency is the radical environmental movement, whose adherents routinely argue that dispossessed indigenous peoples offer an authentic model of a truly ecological society. See, for example, Tokar, Brian, “Social Ecology, Deep Ecology and the Future of Green Political Thought,” The Ecologist 18 (January/February 1988): 139; and Roselle, Mike, quoted in Manes, Christopher, Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of Civilization (Boston: Little, Brown, 1990), p. 123; also see pp. 73, 153-54, 172-73, 229, 237-40.

28. Sale, , SDS, p. 36. Miller, , Democracy Is in the Streets, p. 36. Throughout this article I have paid particularly close attention to Hayden's political thinking because he is, in my judgment, the most revealing and representative thinker of the most important New Left organization. Hayden was not only the primary author of the Port Huron Statement and the impetus behind ERAP, but the most prolific author and most visible spokesman for the New Left over the course of the decade. Hayden, as Gitlin himself testifies, frequently “stated something many of us felt and stretched it one important inch” (Sixties, p. 260; also see pp. 165, 316; as well as Sale, , SDS, pp. 96, 158).

29. Hayden to Al Haber, quoted in Viorst, Milton, Fire in the Streets: America in the 1960s (New York: Touchstone, 1979), p. 181, emphasis added.

30. Hayden, , “SNCC: The Qualities of Protest,” Studies on the Left 5 (Winter 1965): 113, 119.

31. Newfield, Jack, A Prophetic Minority (New York: New American Library, 1967), p. 94.

32. Zinn, Howard, SNCC: The New Abolitionists (Boston: Beacon, 1965), p. 237; also see p. 12. Sutherland, Elizabeth, ed., Letters from Mississippi (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965), pp. 4849; also see pp. 17, 46-47, 51, 96, 226. Gitlin, , The Sixties, p. 163. Also see Rossinow, Doug, “‘The Break-through to New Life’: Christianity and the Emergence of the New Left in Austin, Texas, 1956–1964,” American Quarterly 46 (September 1994): 324.

33. Stembridge, Jane, “Some Notes on Education” pp. 3, 56. This document was kindly provided to me by Clayborne Carson, and can be found in the New Left Collection at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. Also see Letters from Mississippi, p. 17; and King, Mary, Freedom Song: A Personal Story of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement (New York: William Morrow, 1987), p. 140.

34. In celebrating the marginal position of poor blacks, the New Left created a dilemma for itself. For was not the aim of the civil rights movement to integrate Southern blacks into the system? Yet to integrate Southern blacks would destroy their unspoiled beauty and undermine their radical potential. Some activists were not unaware of this tension. As one participant in the Freedom Rides admitted, “There is some strong ambivalence which goes with this work. I sometimes fear that I am only helping to integrate some beautiful people into modern white society with all of its depersonalization.” He assured himself that it wasn't “19th century pastoral romanticism” that he felt but rather “a genuine respect and admiration for a culture which, for all the trouble, still isn't as commercialized and depersonalized as is our Northern mass culture” (Letters from Mississippi, pp. 47-48). This romanticized view of poor blacks together with a growing antipathy in the New Left to the commercialized North with “its white snaring suburbs, [and] its millions of insulated consciences” (Hayden, Tom, “The Dixiecrats and Changing Southern Power: From Bourbon to bourbon,” August 1963, p. 1, SDS Microfilm, Series 4B, No. 150), helped to undermine the goal of integration and pave the way for the flowering of black power and racial separatism.

35. Fruchter, Norm, “Mississippi: Notes on SNCC,” Studies on the Left (Winter 1965), pp. 7677. Hayden, Casey, “Preface” to King's, Mary Freedom Song, p. 8. Also see Carmichael, Stokely, “Who is Qualified?” in Thoughts of the Young Radicals, ed. Kopkind, Andrew (New York: Pitman, 1966), pp. 2829; and Radosh, Ronald, “The White Liberal's Crisis,” Studies on the left (Summer 1964), pp. 118–19.

36. Gitlin, , “The Radical Potential of the Poor,” in Teodori, , New Left, p. 137. Also see Fruchter, Norman and Kramer, Robert, “An Approach to Community Organizing” Studies on the Left (March/April 1966), p. 35.

37. Lynd, Staughton, “Radical Politics and Nonviolent Revolution,” Liberation (April 1966), p. 18; the text is from a speech delivered 26 March 1966 at rallies in Chicago and Madison.

38. Wittman, Carl and Hayden, Thomas, “An Interracial Movement of the Poor?” in Cohen, and Hale, , New Student Left, p. 197. Also see Sale, , SDS, p. 104.

39. Hayden, Tom, Reunion: A Memoir (New York: Random House, 1988), p. 124.

40. Sale, , SDS, p. 103.

41. Ibid., pp. 105, 107.

42. Economic Research and Action Project, June 1964 SDS Convention Statement on Community Organizing, SDS Microfilm, Series 2A, No. 20. Prospectus for Cleveland Community Project [n.d.], SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 16. Also see Jeff Goodman, “Organizing the Poor on their own Behalf,” SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 26. Just how high ERAP's hopes initially were can be gleaned from “An Introductory Statement” that outlined the organization's vision of the future: “America is entering a New Era. Automation is the agent of a New Industrial Revolution. The abundance made possible by new technology can eliminate the economic basis of exploitation. Man can be freed from insecurity, exhausting labor and from the dehumanizing struggle for material survival in an economy of scarcity. Man's creative energies can be released for self development, and for self government. A democracy of participation, at last, becomes possible …. Automation is revolutionary not only in its creative potential, but also in its destruction of this full employment mechanism.” Automation thus simultaneously created the constituency for revolutionary transformation (i.e., the unemployed and underemployed) at the same time that it made such a transformation in way of life technologically possible (SDS Economic Research and Action Project: An Introductory Statement,” SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 26).

43. “Prospectus for Conference on Community Organizing for Economic Issues,” to be held on 10-12 April, at the University of Michigan, sponsored by ERAP and the Michigan chapter of SDS, p. 2, SDS Microfilm, Series, 2B, No. 2.

44. Philadelphia ERAP Report, 16-24 June 1964, p. 5, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 2. Gitlin, , “The Battlefields and the War,” in Cohen, and Hale, , New Student Left, pp. 125–26. Richard Rothstein, Untitled working paper, prepared for an SDS sponsored Conference on Community Movements and Economic Issues, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 10-12 April 1964. SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 9. This premise that it was the most deprived who were the best agents of change did not go unchallenged within ERAP. See, for instance, Moody's, Kimberly critique, “Can the Poor Be Organized?” in Cohen, and Hale, , New Student Left, pp. 153–59.

45. See, e.g., Report from Cleveland, 27 July 1964, p. 2, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 2; and Cleveland, August 1964, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 2.

46. As a result, organizers sometimes felt the need to dissemble about their real or long-term aims in order not to frighten off those they were trying to organize. ERAP director Rennie Davis, who envisioned a “world beyond the welfare state” in which “the small community [was] tied in … to a country that guarantees a set income” and in which there was “democratic control and use of our economic resources for brotherly and creative ends” (Rennie Davis to Robb Burlage, 2 May 1964 SDS Microfilm, 2B, No. 17; Davis, Rennie, “Introduction,” p. 2, SDS Microfilm, 2B, No. 26), felt that it was important that organizers address “the question of ‘openness’ or honesty with regard to the long-term goals of the project [and] when conspiracy may be needed to achieve those goals” (Rennie Davis to Richard Flacks, 16 August 1964, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 38, emphasis added; this question had been placed on the agenda for the Training Institute of the Economic Research and Action Project, 6-11 June 1964, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 17).

47. The question of how ERAP organizing could lead to fundamental social change was a question asked with increasing frequency and urgency during 1965. So, for instance, David Bernstein inquired of Carl Wittman, how “a series of workable neighborhood democracies, local insurgency movements, [can] result in a revolutionary and just society formed in their image” (Bernstein to Wittman, 25 January 1965, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 20). Also see Carol McEldowney, [untitled letter regarding ERAP institute], 19 May 1965, p. 7, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 18; Cleveland Report, 23 July 1964, p. 6, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 2; Cleveland Report, 27 July 1964, p. 5, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 2; Report from Newark, 24 July 1964, p. 2, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 2; and Cleveland: Continuation of Projects, n.d., p. 3, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 2.

48. According to Sale, “by the end of the summer of 1965, ERAP had proven itself to be a failure” and “the collapse of ERAP [was] generally acknowledged by the end of 1965” (SDS, pp. 147, 142).

49. Hayden, , “Politics of ‘the Movement,’” pp. 81, 87, 83, 81, 8586.

50. Gitlin, Todd, “The Radical Potential of the Poor,” in Teodori, , New Left, pp. 137, 143, 137, 143–44. Among the most acute analysis of romanticism in the New Left is Gitlin himself in his memoirs, The Sixties, esp. p. 164, as well as earlier in The Dynamics of the New Left,” motive 31 (November 1970): 43.

51. To: SDS executive committee, From: Tom Hayden, Re: manifesto, p. 2, SDS Microfilm, Series 1, No. 6. Hayden, Tom, “Report on McComb, Mississippi,” p. 15, SDS Microfilm, Series 1, No. 11.

52. See Aron, Raymond, The Opium of the Intellectuals (New York: Norton, 1962), chap. 3.

53. Hayden, Tom, “The Ability to Face Whatever Comes,” in Kopkind, , Thoughts of the Young Radicals, pp. 4041, emphasis in original. Hayden, , “SNCC: The Qualities of Protest,” p. 123. Also see Hayden, Tom, “Community Organizing and the War on Poverty,” Liberation 10 (November 1965), 18. In his memoirs Hayden concedes, albeit obliquely, that he continued to search for the chosen agent of change. “Even more than myself,” Hayden writes, “Rennie [Davis] had long searched for some sort of moral agency, whether an organization or class of people, who could redeem the world. For a time it had been our generation, then the dispossessed of Appalachia, now he was pulled to the Vietnamese, whose suffering and dedication surpassed his understanding” (Hayden, , Reunion, 219, emphasis added).

54. Hayden, , “The Ability to Face Whatever Comes,” in Kopkind, , Thoughts of the Young Radicals, p. 40; also see p. 38. Also see “Call for a Congress of Unrepresented People to Declare Peace in Vietnam,” ERAP Newsletter, 10 July 1965, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 24; “Afterthoughts on Washington,” p. 11, ERAP Newsletter, 14 August 1965, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 24; Kay Moller, “Prospectus for the White Southern Student Project,” SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 2; Lynd, , “Radical Politics and Nonviolent Revolution,” p. 18; Lynd, Staughton and Hayden, Thomas, The Other Side (New York: New American Library, 1966), p. 236. This premise did not go unchallenged within SDS. In the spring of 1965, for instance, Robb Burlage urged those in SDS to ask themselves whether “there are real links—requisites for united movement—between the ‘alienation’ of the student or intellectual and the ‘alienation,’ displacement, and powerlessness of the poor” (Burlage to Helen [Garvy], Clark [Kissinger], NO-ers, et al., 25 April 1965, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 14).

55. From the Editors, After the Election,” Studies on the Left 5 (Winter 1965), 20. Cf. Marcuse, Herbert, Five Lectures (Boston: Beacon Press, 1970), p. 84.

56. Hayden, , “Politics of ‘the Movement,’” pp. 86, 83–84. Hayden, , “SNCC: The Qualities of Protest,” p. 119. Hayden, , “Student Social Action,” in Cohen, and Hale, , New Student Left, p. 288.

57. Jeff Goodman, “Organizing the Poor in their own Behalf,” SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 26.

58. SDS Pamphlet, “A Movement of Many Voices,” SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 26.

59. This expression is taken and modified from Gitlin, who summarizes the attitude as “one oppression, one revolution” (The Sixties, p. 185).

60. Hayden, Casey, “Notes on Organizing Poor Southern Whites,” ERAP Newsletter, 27 August 1965, pp. 710, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 24. Also see Evans, Sara, Personal Politics: The Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left (New York: Knopf, 1979), pp. 132–33.

61. Sale, , SDS, p. 143. Even those who did not romanticize the poor's native intelligence still expected to find an anger that could be harnessed and directed. So A1 Haber, for instance, could write that “the problem is finding ways to direct the energy of hostility and alienation (which is basically a healthy rejection of a society that fails to meet their needs) into modes of action which, on the one hand, do not compromise with the system and on the other hand, effectively challenge and undermine the structure of power under which these people suffer” (To: the SDS worklist, From: A1 Haber, Re: ERAP, [nd], SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 2).

62. SDS Bulletin, September 1964, quoted in Sale, , SDS, pp. 132–33. Also see Sharon Jeffrey's testimony, cited in Miller, , Democracy Is in the Streets, p. 199; as well as Evan Metcalf in Cleveland to Larry Gordon and Nick Egleson, Correspondence, ERAP Newsletter, 23 July 1965, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 24.

63. Sale, , SDS, pp. 142, 147.

64. Ibid., p. 135, also p. 148.

65. Evan Metcalf in Cleveland to Gordon, Larry and Egleson, Nick, ERAP Newsletter, 23 July 1965, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 24.

66. On fatalism as a cultural bias see Douglas, , “Cultural Bias;” Thompson, Ellis, and Wildavsky, , Cultural Theory; and Ellis, American Political Cultures, chap. 7.

67. Egleson, Nick in Hoboken, to Eyer, Joe and Porster, Brenda, “Correspondence: In the Factory,” ERAP Newsletter, 23 July 1965, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 24.

68. “America and the New Era,” in Teodori, , New Left, p. 181; also see Students for a Democratic Society, “A Letter to Young Democrats,” SDS Microfilm, Series 2A, No. 130.

69. Hayden, , “SNCC: The Qualities of Protest.” p. 121. Hayden, , “Community Organizing and the War on Poverty,” p. 17. Cf. Casey Hayden's indictment of welfare “caseworkers [who] act as agents of the middle class values of the state …. Recipients are supposed to be reshaped to meet society's demands and norms and then pushed back into the system.” Her aim as an organizer, in contrast, was “building a group of women whose allegiance is to us and each other against the system” (Hayden, Casey, “Chicago's Welfare Work,” ERAP Newsletter, 27 August 1965, pp. 12, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 24).

70. Richard Rothstein to Rennie Davis, 15 March 1965, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 35.

71. Sale, , SDS, p. 141.

72. Hayden, , “Community Organizing and the War on Poverty,” p. 18. Aronowitz, Stanley, “When the New Left was New,” in The 60s Without Apology, ed. Sayres, Sohnya, Stephanson, Anders, Aronowitz, Stanley, and Jameson, Fredric (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), p. 23.

73. Hayden, , “Community Organizing and the War on Poverty,” p. 19.

74. See, e.g., Evan Metcalf in Cleveland to Gordon, Larry and Egleson, Nick, Correspondence, ERAP Newsletter, 23 July 1965, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 24). Also see Sale, , SDS, p. 147.

75. See, e.g., the unidentified community organizer quoted in Jacobs, Paul and Landau, Saul, eds., The New Radicals: A Report with Documents (New York: Random House, 1966), p. 164.

76. On the poor's support for the Vietnam war and the government, and the ERAP organizers' reaction to the poor's disappointing attitudes, see the revealing account by Jeffrey, Sharon, “Vietnam in Poor Black & White Communities,” ERAP Newsletter, 14 August 1965, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B. No. 14.

77. See Breines, Wini, Community and Organization in the New Left, 1962-1968 (New York: Rutgers University Press, 1989), pp. 145, 148. Hayden, , “Politics of ‘the Movement,’” p. 84.

78. See the relevant remarks in Gitlin, , The Sixties, esp. pp. 384, 389, 289–90. Particularly revealing of the Leninist turn within SDS are Greg Calvert, “Beyond the Beloved Community: A Response to Pat and Ken,” National Secretary's Report, New Left Notes, 25 November 1966, pp. 1, 3, 8; and Calvert, Greg, “Participatory Democracy, Collective Leadership and Political Responsibility,” New Left Notes, 18 December 1967, pp. 1, 7.

79. This is not to say that SDS gave up on the urban poor altogether. Far from it. Even after the collapse of ERAP, some in SDS continued to court the alienated poor. The feeling persisted among some that “there is radical potential in these communities” and that “it is our job as radicals to reach out to the poor and working whites and bring them into the movement.” The need to believe in the radical potential of the poor overrode the hard experience of failure in the ERAP projects. “We should not conclude that because ERAP failed, organizing poor and working whites will fail,” insisted two organizers with experience in Chicago's JOIN project. Rather ERAP's failure pointed to the need for a different kind of organizing, one in which “rather than moving a project—office, large, number of people, etc.—into a neighborhood,” a small number of people would unobtrusively “submerge themselves in that community” (Bob Lawson and Diane Sager, “A Perspective for Community Organizing,” 1967, SDS Microfilm, Series 4B, No. 213).

80. Sale, , SDS, p. 248.

81. Hayden, , Reunion, p. 180. Curiously, Hayden also says that “most of my memories of the Vietnamese experience are collective ones, a whole society more than specific individuals” (p. 184).

82. Hayden admits as much in an interview with James Miller: “I think I was too motivated by anger at feeling excluded, and so I overidentified with the really excluded, like the Vietnamese. It skewed my judgment as to what was possible, or even necessary. I made the Vietnamese more than human” (Miller, , Democracy Is in the Streets, p. 269). Also see Hayden, , Reunion, p. 184.

83. Lynd, and Hayden, , The Other Side, p. 188. This view of the North Vietnamese as a peculiarly gentle people was a frequent refrain among the New Left. See Caute, David, The Fellow Travelers: Intellectual Friends of Communism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), pp. 394–95.

84. Hayden, , Reunion, p. 183. Also see Lynd, and Hayden, , Other Side, pp. 5657.

85. Findley, , “Hayden: Rolling Stone Interview,” 48. Also see Gitlin, , The Sixties, pp. 272–73.

86. Lynd, and Hayden, , The Other Side, p. 9.

87. Ibid., pp. 236, 200.

88. Ibid., p. 200; Hayden, , “A Visit to Hanoi,” p. 26. Also see Lynd, and Hayden, , Other Side, pp. 73, 62–63.

89. See, for example, Susan Sontag, quoted in Caute, , Fellow Travelers, p. 394.

90. Hayden, , “Politics of ‘the Movement,’” p. 85. Also see Hayden, , “Student Social Action,” in Cohen, and Hale, , New Student Left.

91. A speech delivered by Hayden at the 25 and 26 March 1966 International Days of Protest, quoted in Lynd, and Hayden, , The Other Side, p. 56.

92. Hayden, , “Politics of ‘the Movement,’” p. 85. Compare with “An Open Letter to ERAP Supporters and New Organizers,” written in the fall of 1964, in which Hayden boasted of having “created lives for ourselves in Clinton Hill of a deeper sort than days can measure” (SDS Microfilm, Series, 2B, No. 26).

93. Hayden's verbatim notes taken while on trip to Vietnam, quoted in Lynd, and Hayden, , The Other Side, p. 84.

94. Writing in the summer of 1965, Paul Potter expressed his worry that people in SDS “actively identify with the NLF and the Viet Cong … although the complexities of making judgments about those forces on the basis of confused, incomplete and almost universally ideologically distorted information remains as difficult as ever” (“SDS and Foreign Policy,” SDS Microfilm, Series 2A, No. 16; quoted in Gitlin, , The Sixties, pp. 188–89).

95. Johnson, Dale, “On the Ideology of the Campus Revolution,” originally published in Studies on the Left (1961), reprinted in Jacobs, and Landau, , The New Radicals, quotation on p. 98.

96. The quotation is Gitlin's description of what Potter was saying about Cuba in the early 1960s (The Sixties, p. 102; also see p. 122).

97. Johnson, , “On the Ideology of the Campus Revolution,” p. 97.

98. Mills, C. Wright, Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba (New York: Ballantine Books, 1960), pp. 114–17.

99. Dellinger, , “Cuba: America's Lost Plantation” (1960), reprinted in Revolutionary Nonviolence (New York: Anchor Books, 1971), pp. 127–28, 140–41, 148.

100. Dellinger, , “A 20th Century Revolution?” (1962), in Revolutionary Nonviolence, pp. 150, 154.

101. Dellinger, , “Cuba: Seven Thousand Miles from Home,” pp. 162, 159, 176.

102. Ibid., pp. 168-69, 174-75.

103. Ibid., pp. 166-67.

104. Dellinger, Dave, “Cuban Contradictions” (A Response to David Wieck), Liberation (June-July 1965), p. 45. Other intellectuals on the left reconciled themselves to the more disturbing aspects of Cuba's political system in similar ways. See Caute, , Fellow Travelers, pp. 408, 415; and Mills, , Listen, Yankee, p. 117.

105. Dellinger, Dave, “Cuba: The Revolutionary Society,” Liberation (March 1968), p. 9.

106. Higgins, James, “Episodes in Revolutionary Cuba,” Liberation (March 1968), pp. 25, 21.

107. Gitlin, Todd, “Cuba and the American Movement,” Liberation, (March 1968), p. 14.

108. Ibid., pp. 15, 17. Gitlin, Todd, “The Texture of the Cuban Revolution,” New Left Notes, 12 February 1968, pp. 45.

109. Gitlin, , “The Texture of the Cuban Revolution,” p. 4.

110. Hayden, Tom, “Two, Three, Many Columbias,” in Teodori, , New Left, p. 345.

111. Aron, , Opium of the Intellectuals, p. ix. Also see Hollander, Paul, Political Pilgrims: Travels of Western Intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba, 1928-1978 (New York: Harper & Row, 1983).

112. See the SDS Pamphlet, “Which Side Are You On?,” SDS Microfilm, Series 4B, No. 169.

113. Oglesby, Carl, “Revolution: Violence or Nonviolence,” Liberation (July/August 1968), p. 37. Cf. Ronald Radosh's discovery that members of the group that traveled with him to Cuba in 1973 revealed a psychological attitude much like the visitors to Russia in the 1920s and 1930s. “To criticize Cuba, they argued, was to aid the Revolution's enemies …. The job of North American radicals is to ‘offer political support,’ not to indulge in the bourgeois luxury of independent criticism; radicals should not ‘arrogantly assert [their] individual right to pursue [their own] sense of truth’” (’The Cuban Revolution and Western Intellectuals,” in The New Cuba: Paradoxes and Potentials, ed. Radosh, Ronald [New York: William Morrow, 1976], pp. 4142).

114. ERAPer Eric Mann, quoted after the April 1965 March on Washington, in Sale, , SDS, p. 191. Fruchter, Norm, “Reply to Rabinowitz,” Studies on the Left (Spring 1965), p. 94. Gitlin, , The Sixties, p. 257. Such language pervaded SDS by the summer of 1965. See, e.g., McKelvey, Donald, “Pacifism, Politics and Nonviolence,” Liberation (August 1965), p. 24; Hayden, , “SNCC: The Qualities of Protest,” pp. 123, 115; and Newfield, , Prophetic Minority, pp. 48, 208.

115. Gitlin, , The Sixties, pp. 396–97. King, , Freedom Song, pp. 7, 74, 297, 495. Lynd, Staughton, “Resistance: From Mood to Strategy,” in Teodori, , New Left, p. 311.

116. A thoughtful essay on this danger is Michael Walzer's “The Obligations of Oppressed Minorities” and particularly the short appendix “On the Responsibility of Intellectuals,” in Walzer, , Obligations, pp. 4673.

117. Marx, quoted in Aron, , Opium of the Intellectuals, p. 69.

118. On Hayden's intellectual development, see the early chapters of Miller, Democracy Is in the Streets.

119. Cf Lovell, David W., Marx's Proletariat: The Making of a Myth (London: Routledge, 1988), p. 4, and Aron, , Opium of the Intellectuals, p. xii.

120. See Lovell, , Marx's Proletariat, p. 11, also 225n25; and Aron, , Opium of the Intellectuals, p. 66.

121. Rothman, and Lichter, , Roots of Revolution, p. 166. Also see Wolfenstein, E. Victor, The Revolutionary Personality (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967). Cf Keniston, Kenneth who, in Young Radicals: Notes on Committed Youth (1968), saw the New Left's identification with the oppressed as evidence of a psychologically healthy “empathy” and “nurturant identification with the underdog” (Rothman, and Lichter, , Roofs of Revolution, p. 65; also see Sale, , SDS, p. 101).

122. Even Rothman and Lichter admit that in their own sample “most student radicals were not authoritarians” (Roots of Rebellion, p. 389). For a critique of Rothman and Lichter's evidence, see Flacks's, Richard review in Society (January/February 1984), pp. 8992. On the inadequacy of psychological explanations more generally, see Douglas, Mary, Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology (New York: Pantheon, 1982), p. 119; as well as Ellis, and Wildavsky, , “A Cultural Analysis of the Role of Abolitionists,” p. 95; and Coser, Lewis and Howe, Irving, “Images of Socialism” (1954), reprinted in Legacy of Dissent: Forty Years of Writing from Dissent Magazine, ed. Mills, Nicolaus (New York: Touchstone, 1994), pp. 3132.

123. In describing the idealization of the oppressed or the demonization of the system as a widely shared belief system I am not saying that every SDS activist accepted these views. Al Haber, Steve Max, and Kim Moody, among others, for instance, sharply challenged the romance with the oppressed almost from the outset. And certainly there were people within SDS who were sympathetic to the idea of working with the liberal-labor establishment. In general, those with stronger Old Left backgrounds—Steve Max is a prime example—seemed to be more skeptical of the version of the New Left represented by someone like Hayden. The best guide to the various factional differences within SDS is Sale, SDS.

124. Wildavsky, , “Change in Political Culture,” p. 100.

125. Memo: to all the guys on ERAP; From Tom [Hayden], p. 4, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No.1. Cf with three years later when SDS vice president Carl Davidson referred to the bulk of the organization's membership as the “shock troops” of the movement. See Davidson, Carl, “National Vice-President's Report—Has SDS Gone to Pot,” New Left Notes, 3 February 1967, p. 4.

126. See, for example, “Training Institute of the Economic Research and Action Project, 6-11 June 1964,” SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 17; and To: ERAP staff and friends, From: Cleveland Project, Re: Summer Institute,” 5 May 1965, p. 3, SDS Microfilm, Series, 2B, No. 18.

127. This was not the only or even the most important link between the egalitarian, participatory beginnings of SDS and the Leninist vanguard end. Also of vital importance was SDS's rejection of bourgeois representative institutions and procedures. SDS's rapid growth in membership made participatory democracy impractical for most purposes, and allowed advocates of “democratic centralism” like Greg Calvert to carry the day. In addition the organization's strong antipathy to formal structures and leadership roles paradoxically allowed for the concentration of power in an unaccountable and unrepresentative elite who were then able to take the organization in explicitly antidemocratic directions. This paradoxical development within SDS is explored more fully in Ellis, , “When More (Democracy) is Less,” in Illiberalism of Radical Egalitarianism.

128. ERAP Newsletter, 30 June 1965, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 24, p. 4. Also see Brecher, Jeremy to Davis, Rennie, ERAP Newsletter, 6 November 1964, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 24; and S.P.A.C., Chester, PA.: Community Organization in the Other America,” December 1963, p. 4, SDS Microfilm, Series 2B, No. 25.

129. Collier, Peter and Horowitz, David, “Baddest: The Life and Times of Huey P. Newton,” in Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts about the Sixties (New York: Summit, 1990), pp. 141–65. Gitlin, , The Sixties, pp. 350–51.

130. Gitlin comments perceptively on the roots of “the New Left's Third World turn” in The Sixties, pp. 262-63.

131. Hayden, “Proposed Book of Essays,” SDS Microfilm, Series 1, No. 11. Also see Miller, , Democracy Is in the Streets, p. 39.

132. This is not to say that the path from radical egalitarianism to illiberalism is inevitable, nor that it is the only path to illiberalism. Every cultural bias and mode of organizing has illiberal tendencies. Hierarchy's authoritarian tendencies are well-documented, as is the darker side of competitive capitalism. Moreover, to focus on the less lovely correlates of radical egalitarianism is not to deny that egalitarianism serves a valuable and essential purpose in democratic society. Egalitarianism is an astringent for the establishment cultures, puncturing authority's pomposity and exposing its hypocrisies and coverups. As Thompson, Ellis, and Wildavsky, write, “That which we today identify as free societies—those with the rule of law, alternation in office, and the right to criticize—are a product of the interpenetration of hierarchy, individualism, and egalitarianism” (Cultural Theory, p. 257).

133. Cf Douglas, Mary: “When one chooses how one wants to be dealt with and how to deal with others, it is just as well to be clear as to what else may be unintentionally chosen” (“Introduction to Grid/Group Analysis,” in Essays in the Sociology of Perception,, p. 7).

134. Thompson, Ellis, and Wildavsky, , Cultural Theory, p. 58.

135. Coser, Lewis and Howe, Irving, “Authoritarians of the ‘Left,’Dissent 2 (Winter 1955): 41, 44, 50. In this article, Coser and Howe were particularly concerned about the tendency of left intellectuals to find “a rationale or a half-defense” for Russian Stalinism in the name of Historical Necessity or Progress or Anti-Capitalism (p. 41).

136. On this latter point, see Douglas, , “The Problem of Evil,” in Natural Symbols, pp. 107–24. I have used Douglas's framework to try to explain the New Left's increasingly Manichean cosmology in “The Illiberal Turn in SDS” in Ellis, Illiberalism of Radical Egalitarianism.

137. Coser, and Howe, , “Authoritarians of the ‘Left,’” p. 40. Cf Richard Hofstadter who, in The Age of Reform, drew attention to the “coexistence of illiberalism and reform” that he found running throughout American history. “One of the most interesting and least studied aspects of American life,” Hofstadter observed, “was the frequent recurrence of the demand for reforms, many of them aimed at the remedy of genuine ills, combined with strong moral convictions and with the choice of hatred as a kind of creed” (Hofstadter, , The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R [New York: Vintage, 1955], pp. 2021).


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