New Left

New Left
Herbert Marcuse, associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory, is celebrated as the "Father of the New Left".[1]

The New Left was a term used mainly in the United Kingdom and United States in reference to activists, educators, agitators and others in the 1960s and 1970s who sought to implement a broad range of reforms, in contrast to earlier leftist or Marxist movements that had taken a more vanguardist approach to social justice and focused mostly on labor unionization and questions of social class.[2]

In the U.S., the "New Left" was associated with the Hippie movement and college campus protest movements. The British "New Left" sought to correct the perceived errors of "Old Left" parties in the post–World War II period.[citation needed]



The confused response of the Communist Party of the USA and the Communist Party of Great Britain to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 led some Marxist intellectuals to develop a more democratic approach to politics, opposed to what they saw as the centralised and authoritarian politics of the pre-war leftist parties. Those Communists who became disillusioned with Communism due to its authoritarian character eventually formed the "new left", first among dissenting Communist Party intellectuals and campus groups in the United Kingdom, and later alongside campus radicalism in the US and elsewhere.[3] The term "nouvelle gauche" was already current in France in the 50s, associated with France Observateur, and its editor Claude Bourdet, who attempted to form a third position, between the dominant Stalinist and Social Democratic tendencies of the left, and the two Cold War blocs. It was from this French "new left" that the "First New Left" of Britain borrowed the term.[4]


As a result of Nikita Khrushchev's Secret Speech denouncing Joseph Stalin and the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, many abandoned the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and began to rethink its orthodox Marxism. Some joined various Trotskyist groupings or the Labour Party.[5]

The Marxist historians E. P. Thompson and Ralph Miliband established the Communist Party Historians Group and a dissenting journal within the CPGB called Reasoner. Once expelled from the party, they began the New Reasoner from 1957. In 1960, this journal merged with the Universities and Left Review to form the New Left Review. These journals attempted to synthesise a theoretical position of a revisionist, humanist, socialist Marxism, departing from orthodox Marxist theory. This publishing effort made the ideas of culturally oriented theorists available to an undergraduate reading audience. In this early period, many on the New Left were involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, formed in 1957. According to Robin Blackburn, "The decline of CND by late 1961, however, deprived the New Left of much of its momentum as a movement, and uncertainties and divisions within the Board of the journal led to the transfer of the Review to a younger and less experienced group in 1962."[6]

Under the long-standing editorial leadership of Perry Anderson, the New Left Review popularised the Frankfurt School, Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser and other forms of Marxism.[7] Other periodicals like Socialist Register, started in 1964, and Radical Philosophy, started in 1972, have also been associated with the New Left, and published a range of important writings in this field.

As the campus orientation of the American New Left became clear in the mid to late 1960s, the student sections of the British New Left began taking action. The London School of Economics became a key site of British student militancy.[8] The influence of protests against the Vietnam War and of the May 1968 events in France were also felt strongly throughout the British New Left. Some within the British New Left joined the International Socialists, which later became Socialist Workers Party while others became involved with groups such as the International Marxist Group.[9] The politics of the British New Left can be contrasted with Solidarity, UK, which continued to focus primarily on industrial issues.[10]

1960s in the United States

In the United States, the "New Left" was the name loosely associated with liberal, sometimes radical, political movements that took place during the 1960s, primarily among college students. At the core of this was the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS.[11] The New Left can be defined as 'a loosely organized, mostly white student movement that promoted participatory democracy, crusaded for civil rights and various types of university reforms and protested against the Vietnam war.'[12]

The term "New Left" was popularised in the US in an open letter written in 1960 by sociologist C. Wright Mills (1916–62) entitled Letter to the New Left.[13] Mills argued for a new leftist ideology, moving away from the traditional ("Old Left") focus on labor issues, towards issues such as opposing alienation, anomie, and authoritarianism. Mills argued for a shift from traditional leftism, toward the values of the counter-culture, and emphasized an international perspective on the movement.[14] According to David Burner, C Wright Mills claimed that the proletariat were no longer the revolutionary force; the new agent of revolutionary change were young intellectuals around the world.[15]

Student protest called Free Speech Movement took place during the 1964–1965 academic year on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley under the informal leadership of students Mario Savio, Brian Turner, Bettina Aptheker, Steve Weissman, Art Goldberg, Jackie Goldberg, and others. In protests unprecedented in this scope at the time, students insisted that the university administration lift the ban of on-campus political activities and acknowledge the students' right to free speech and academic freedom. In particular, on 2 December 1964 on the steps of Sproul Hall Mario Savio gave a famous speech: "...But we're a bunch of raw materials that don't mean to be - have any process upon us. Don't mean to be made into any product! Don't mean - Don't mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We're human beings!...There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all."[16]

The New Left opposed what it saw as the prevailing authority structures in society, which it termed "The Establishment", and those who rejected this authority became known as "anti-Establishment". The New Left did not seek to recruit industrial workers,[citation needed] but rather concentrated on a social activist approach to organization, convinced that they could be the source for a better kind of social revolution.

Many New Left thinkers in the U.S. were influenced by the Vietnam War and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Like the British New Left, they recognized problems in the socialism of the Soviet Union, but unlike the British New Left, they did not turn to Trotskyism or social democracy. Some in the U.S. New Left argued that since the Soviet Union could no longer be considered the world center for proletarian revolution, new revolutionary Communist thinkers had to be substituted in its place, such as Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro.[17]

Other elements of the U.S. New Left were anarchist and looked to libertarian socialist traditions of American radicalism, the Industrial Workers of the World and union militancy. This group coalesced around the historical journal Radical America. American Autonomist Marxism was also a child of this stream, for instance in the thought of Harry Cleaver. Murray Bookchin was also part of the anarchist stream of the New Left, as were the Yippies.[18]

The U.S. New Left drew inspiration from black radicalism, particularly the Black Power movement and the more explicitly left-wing Black Panther Party. The Panthers in turn influenced other similar militant groups, like the Young Lords, the Brown Berets and the American Indian Movement. The New Left was also inspired by SNCC, Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee. Students immersed themselves into poor communities building up support with the locals.[19] The New Left sought to be a broad based, grass roots movement.[20]

The Vietnam war conducted by liberal President Lyndon Johnson was a special target across the worldwide New Left. Johnson and his top officials became unwelcome on American campuses. The anti-war movement escalated the rhetorical heat, as violence broke out on both sides. The climax came at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

It could be argued that the New Left's most successful legacy was the rebirth of feminism.[21] As the leaders of the New Left were largely white men, women reacted to the lack of progressive gender politics with their own social intellectual movement.[22]

The New Left was also marked by the invention of the modern environmentalist movement, which clashed with the Old Left's disregard for the environment in favor of preserving the jobs of union workers. Environmentalism also gave rise to various other social justice movements such as the environmental justice movement, which aims to prevent the toxification of the environment of minority and disadvantaged communities.[23]

Students for a Democratic Society

The organization that really came to symbolize the core of the New Left was the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). By 1962, the SDS had emerged as the most important of the new campus radical groups; soon it would be regarded as virtually synonymous with the ‘New Left’.[24] In 1962, Tom Hayden wrote its founding document, the Port Huron Statement,[25] which issued a call for "participatory democracy" based on non-violent civil disobedience. This was the idea that individual citizens could help make ‘those social decisions determining the quality and direction’ of their lives.[19] The SDS marshalled anti-war, pro-civil rights and free speech concerns on campuses, and brought together liberals and more revolutionary leftists.

A demonstrator offers a flower to military police at an anti-Vietnam War protest in Arlington, Virginia, 21 October 1967

The SDS became the leading organization of the anti-war movement on college campuses during the Vietnam War. As the war escalated the membership of the SDS also increased greatly as more people were willing to scrutinise political decisions in moral terms.[26] During the course of the war, the people became increasingly militant. As opposition to the war grew stronger, the SDS became a nationally prominent political organization, with opposing the war an overriding concern that overshadowed many of the original issues that had inspired SDS. In 1967 the old statement in Port Huron was abandoned for a new call for action,[27] which would inevitably lead to the destruction of the SDS.

In 1968 and 1969, as its radicalism reached a fever pitch, the SDS began to split under the strain of internal dissension and increasing turn towards Maoism.[citation needed] Along with adherents known as the New Communist Movement, some extremist illegal factions also emerged, such as the Weather Underground Organization.

The SDS suffered the difficulty of wanting to change the world while 'freeing life in the here and now.' This caused confusion between short term and long term goals. The sudden growth due to the successful rallies against the Vietnam War meant there were more people wanting action to end the Vietnam war, whereas the original New Left had wanted to focus on critical reflection.[28] In the end it was the anti-war sentiment that dominated the SDS.[29]

Attacking liberalism

Kazin (1998) says, "The liberals who anxiously turned back the assault of the postwar Right were confronted in the 1960s by a very different adversary: a radical movement led, in the main, by their own children. The white New Left."[30] Kazin concludes, "For the young moralists of the 1960s — missionaries of a secular persuasion — only a self-conscious rebellion from below could topple the corrupted liberal order."[31]

Singh (2007) says the attack originated from "thinkers the political left and those associated with the new social movements of the 1960s and 1970s."[32] It was a worldwide phenomenon, as a Culture war broke out on university campuses between the older established liberals and the younger radicals of the New Left. Herbert Marcuse, a philosopher of the New Left, said that "The new radicalism militates against the centralized bureaucratic communist as well as against the semi- democratic liberal organization."[33]

Isserman (2001) reports that the New Left" "came to use the word 'liberal' as a political epithet."[34] Historian Richard Ellis (1998) says that the SDS's search for their own identity "increasingly meant rejecting, even demonizing, liberalism."[35] As Wolfe (2010) notes, "no one hated liberals more than leftists.".[36]

European movements

American influence on the European New Left appeared first in West Germany, which became a prototype for European student radicals.[37] German students protesting against the Vietnam war often wore discarded US military uniforms, and they made influential contacts with dissident GI's--draftees who did not like the war either.[38]

The Prague Spring was legitimised by the Czechoslovak government as a socialist reform movement. The 1968 events in the Czechoslovakia were driven forward by industrial workers, and were explicitly theorized by active Czechoslovak unionists as a revolution for workers' control.[citation needed]

The driving force of near-revolution in France in May 1968 were students inspired by the ideas of the Situationist International, which in turn had been inspired by Socialisme ou Barbarie. Both of these groups emphasised culture as a form of production.[citation needed]

May 1968 slogan. Paris. "It is forbidden to forbid."

While the Autonomia in Italy have been called New Left, it is more appropriate to see them as the result of traditional, industrially oriented, communism re-theorising its ideas and methods. Unlike most of the New Left, Autonomia had a strong blue-collar arm, active in regularly occupying factories.[citation needed]

The Provos were a Dutch counter-cultural movement of mostly young people with anarchist influences.

Inspirations and influences

Key figures

Other associated people

See also


  1. ^ Douglas Kellner. <>
  2. ^ [1] Cynthia Kaufman Ideas For Action: Relevant Theory For Radical Change
  3. ^ Michael Kenny The First New Left: British Intellectuals After Stalin London: Lawrence & Wishart
  4. ^ Hall, Stuart "Life and Times of the First New Left", New Left Review, 61, January–February 2010.
  5. ^ Dennis L. Dworkin - 1997Cultural Marxism in postwar Britain: history, the new left, and the origins of cultural studies (1997) p 46
  7. ^ ROBIN BLACKBURN "A BRIEF HISTORY OF NEW LEFT REVIEW". Anderson took over as editor in 1962.
  8. ^ Hoch and Schoenbach, 1969
  9. ^ Ian Adams, Ideology and politics in Britain today (1998) p, 191
  10. ^ Tariq Ali Street-Fighting Years: An Autobiography of the Sixties (2005)
  11. ^ David Burner, Making Peace with the 60s, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 151.
  12. ^ Edited by John McMillian & Paul Buhle, The New Left Revisited, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003), 5.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Daniel Geary, "'Becoming International Again': C. Wright Mills and the Emergence of a Global New Left, 1956-1962," Journal of American History, Dec 2008, Vol. 95 Issue 3, pp 710-736
  15. ^ David Burner, Making Peace with the 60s, (Princeton University Press, 1996), 155
  16. ^ American Rhetoric - Mario Savio
  17. ^ Edward J. Bacciocco, The New Left in America: reform to revolution, 1956 to 1970 (1974) p 21
  18. ^ Paul Avrich, Anarchist voices: an oral history of anarchism in America (2005) p. 527
  19. ^ a b Maurice Isserman & Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) 169.
  20. ^ Edited by John McMillian & Paul Buhle, The New Left Revisited, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003), 4
  21. ^ Maurice Isserman & Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) 295.
  22. ^ Edited by John McMillian & Paul Buhle, The New Left Revisited, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003), 6.
  23. ^ [2] Cynthia Kaufman Ideas For Action: Relevant Theory For Radical Change
  24. ^ Maurice Isserman, If I Had a Hammer: The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left (New York: Basic Books Inc Publishers, 1987) 174.
  25. ^
  26. ^ Maurice Isserman & Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) 170.
  27. ^ Maurice Isserman & Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) 172.
  28. ^ Edited by John McMillian & Paul Buhle, The New Left Revisited, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003), 3.
  29. ^ Maurice Isserman & Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) 183.
  30. ^ Michael Kazin, The populist persuasion: an American history (1998) p 196
  31. ^ Kazin, Populist persuasion p 197
  32. ^ Nikhil Pal Singh, "Liberalism" in Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler, eds. Keywords for American Cultural Studies (2007) p 144
  33. ^ Quoted in Jeremi Suri, Power and protest: global revolution and the rise of detente (2005) p 129 online
  34. ^ Maurice Isserman, The other American: the life of Michael Harrington (2001) p. 276
  35. ^ Richard J. Ellis, The dark side of the Left: illiberal Egalitarianism in America (1998) p 129
  36. ^ Alan Wolfe, "Jeremiah, American-style," New Republic, May 13, 2010, P. 31
  37. ^ Stanley Rothman and S. Robert Lichter, Roots of radicalism: Jews, Christians, and the Left (1996) p 354
  38. ^ Maria Hohn and Seungsook Moon, Over There: Living with the U.S. Military Empire from World War Two to the Present (2010) p 275
  39. ^ Michael Scott Moore (2005-10-18). "So, Farewell Then, Joschka Fischer". Retrieved 2009-11-24. 

Further reading



  • Anastakis, Dimitry, ed (2008). The sixties: Passion, politics, style (McGill Queens University Press).
  • Cleveland, John. (2004) "New Left, not new liberal: 1960s movements in English Canada and Quebec," Canadian Journal of Sociology and Anthropology 41, no. 4: 67-84.
  • Kostash, Myma. (1980) Long way from home: The story of the sixties generation in Canada. Toronto: Lorimer.
  • Levitt, Cyril. (1984). Children of privilege: Student revolt in the sixties. University of Toronto Press.
  • Sangster, Joan. "Radical Ruptures: Feminism, Labor, and the Left in the Long Sixties in Canada," American Review of Canadian Studies, Spring 2010, Vol. 40 Issue 1, pp 1–21


  • Miyazaki, Manabu (2005). Toppamono: Outlaw, Radical, Suspect: My Life in Japan's Underworld. Tōkyō: Kotan Publishing. ISBN 978-0970171627. Includes an account of the author's days as a student activist and street fighter for the Japanese Communist Party, 1964–1969.

United Kingdom

British New Left periodicals

British New Left articles

United States


  • New Left Movement: 1964–1973. Archive # 88-020. Title: New Left Movement fonds. 1964–1973. 51 cm of textual records. Trent University Archives. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. Online guide retrieved April 12, 2005.
  • Russ Gilbert "New Left" Pamphlet Collection: An inventory of the collection at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Online guide retrieved October 8, 2005


  • Albert, Judith Clavir, and Albert, Stewart Edward. The Sixties Papers: Documents of a Rebellious Decade (New York: Praeger, 1984). ISBN 0-275-91781-9
  • Breines, Wini. Community Organization in the New Left, 1962–1968: The Great Refusal, reissue edition (Rutgers University Press, 1989). ISBN 0-8135-1403-7.
  • Cohen, Mitchell, and Hale, Dennis, eds. The New Student Left (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966).
  • Evans, Sara. Personal Politics: The Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement & the New Left (Vintage, 1980). ISBN 0-394-74228-1.
  • Frost, Jennifer. "An Interracial Movement of the Poor": Community Organizing & the New Left in the 1960s (New York University Press, 2001). ISBN 0-8147-2697-6.
  • Gosse, Van. The Movements of the New Left, 1950–1975: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004). ISBN 0-312-13397-9.
  • Isserman, Maurice. If I had a Hammer: the Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left, reprint edition (University of Illinois Press, 1993). ISBN 0-252-06338-4.
  • Long, Priscilla, ed. The New Left: A Collection of Essays (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1969).
  • Mattson, Kevin, Intellectuals in Action: The Origins of the New Left and Radical Liberalism, 1945-1970 (Penn State Press, 2002). ISBN 0-271-02206-X
  • McMillian, John and Buhle, Paul (eds.). The New Left Revisited (Temple University Press, 2003). ISBN 1-56639-976-9.
  • Novack, George; writing as "William F. Warde" (1961). "Who Will Change The World? The New left and the Views of C. Wright Mills". International Socialist Review (USFI) 22 (3): pp. 67–79. Retrieved 2006-10-16. 
  • Rand, Ayn. The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (New York: Penguin Books, 1993, 1975). ISBN 0452011256.
  • Rossinow, Doug. The Politics of Authenticity: Liberalism, Christianity, and the New Left in America (Columbia University Press, 1998). ISBN 0-231-11057-x.
  • Rubenstein, Richard E. Left Turn: Origins of the Next American Revolution (Boston: Little, Brown, 1973).
  • Young, C. A. Culture, Radicalism, and the Making of a US Third Wold Left (Duke University Press, 2006).


  • Munk, Michael. The New Left: What It Is ... Where It's Going ... What Makes it Move. 22pp A National Guardian Pamphlet. New York. n.d. [1965]. Stapled softcover. Photos.

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