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The New Left were the left-wing movements in different countries in the 1960s and 1970s that, unlike the earlier leftist focus on union activism, instead adopted a broader definition of political activism commonly called social activism. The U.S. "New Left" is associated with the Hippie movement, and college campus mass protest movements.

A key aspect of the New Left was a broadening of ideological focus from traditional Marxism. The New Left grew from protesting original Marxist concerns relating to class-based oppression, to include a focus upon 20th Century Neo-Marxist theory. Neo-Marxism, as found within the Frankfurt School's concept of critical theory, extended Marxist frameworks of critique to areas of life that Karl Marx himself had not focused upon in traditional Marxism, such as gender, race, and sexual orientation.

The British "New Left" was an intellectually driven movement which attempted to correct the perceived errors of "Old Left" parties in the post-World War II period. The movements began to wind down in the 1970s, when activists either committed themselves to party projects, developed social justice organizations, moved into identity politics or alternative lifestyles or became politically inactive.


The confused response of the Communist Party of the USA and the Communist Party of Great Britain to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 created a crisis of confidence in party decision making. Independent Marxist intellectuals began to develop a more individualistic approach to leftist politics, which was opposed to the perceived bureaucratic and inflexible politics of the pre-war leftist parties.

In Western Europe, these new developments occurred both inside and outside social democratic and Communist parties, contributing toward the development of eurocommunism. The New Left in the U.S. was primarily a continuation of the progressive movement and fueled by grass roots movements on college campuses. The New Left in the United Kingdom emerged through the links between dissenting Communist Party intellectuals and campus groups.

In Britain

As a result of Khrushchev's Secret Speech denouncing Stalin and the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, many left the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) for various Trotskyist groupings or the Labour Party.

The British New Left concentrated on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and global justice. 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. Trotskyist Tariq Ali, who played a role in some of the New Left protests of this era, documents his involvement in his book Street Fighting Years.

The Marxist historian E. P. Thompson established a dissenting journal within the CPGB called Reasoner. Once expelled from the party, he began publishing 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.

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. Other periodicals like Socialist Register, started in 1964, and Radical Philosophy, started in 1972, have also been associated with New Left theory and published a range of important writings in this field.

As the campus orientation of the US American New Left became clear in the mid to late 1960s, the student sections of the British New Left began taking action in these areas. The London School of Economicsmarker became a key site of British student militancy (Hoch and Schoenbach, 1969). The influence of the May 1968 events in France were also felt strongly throughout the British New Left. The politics of the British New Left can be contrasted with Solidarity, UK, which continued to focus primarily on industrial issues.

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. The origin of the movement is largely based on the original progressive movement . In loose terms the New Left movement can be defined as 'a loosely organised, mostly white student movement that promoted participatory democracy, crusaded for civil rights and various types of university reforms and protested against the Vietnam war.'

The term "New Left" can be traced to an open letter written in 1960 by sociologist C. Wright Mills entitled Letter to the New Left. Mills argued for a new leftist ideology, moving away from the traditional ("Old Left") focus on labor issues, towards more personalized issues such as opposing alienation, anomie, and authoritarianism. Put differently, Mills argued for a shift from traditional leftism, toward the values of the counterculture. According to David Burner, C Wright Mills claimed that the proletariat were no longer the revolutionary force, the new agent of revolutionary change was the young intellectuals around the world.

The New Left opposed 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, but rather concentrated on a social activist approach to organization. Many in the New Left were convinced that they could be the source for a better kind of social revolution.

Most New Left thinkers in the U.S., to varying degrees, were influenced by the Vietnam War and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Like the British New Left, they also believed that the Secret Speech drew attention to problems with the Soviet Union, but unlike the British New Left, they did not turn to Trotskyism or social democracy as a result. 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—Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro were identified as key contributors to this new framework.

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

The U.S. New Left both influenced and 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 Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Students immersed themselves into poor communities and building up gradual support with the locals. The New Left did have it's prominent leaders but was essentially a broadbased, grass roots movement, or this is what it was trying to achieve.

It can be argued that the New Left's most successful legacy was the rebirth of feminism, As the New Left was largely a white men run institution, women reacted from the lack of progressive gender politics with their own social intellectual movement.

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’. In 1962, Tom Hayden wrote its founding document, the Port Huron Statement, which issued a call for "participatory democracy" based on nonviolent civil disobedience. This was the idea that individual citizens could help make ‘those social decisions determining the quality and direction’ of their lives. The SDS marshalled anti-war, pro-civil rights and free speech concerns on campuses, and managed to bring together liberals and more revolutionary leftists.

The SDS became the leading organization of the antiwar 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. 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, but opposing the war became 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, 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 turns toward Maoism. 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 be too much, it wanted to change the world while 'freeing life in the here and now.' This caused confusion between the want for 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 war and the original New Left wanting to focus on critical reflection. In the end, it was the anti-war sentiment that outdid the SDS.

International movements

The Prague Spring was legitimised by the Czech government as a reformist movement to mitigate Czechoslovak socialism. The 1968 events in the Czech Republic were driven forward by industrial workers, and were explicitly theorized by active Czech unionists as a revolution for workers' control.

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 French groups placed an emphasis on cultural production as a form of production. Unlike the New Left, the sphere of culture was not unrelated to productivity.

While the Autonomia in Italy have been called New Left, it is more appropriate to see them as a unique response to the failure of the Italian PCI and PSI to deal with the new Italian industrial working class in the 1950s. The Autonomia was a result of traditional, industrially oriented, communism retheorising its ideology and methods. Unlike most of the New Left, Autonomia had a strong blue-collar arm, active in regularly occupying factories.

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

Criticism of the legacy

As many of those who supported the New Left in the 1960s are now in charge of the kinds of institutions they once opposed, conservative opponents argue that their assumptions—which are sometimes described as politically correct multiculturalism—are now the establishment orthodoxy. In what has been described as the culture wars, conservative critics of this orthodoxy such as Allan Bloom and Roger Scruton assert that New Left radical egalitarianism is motivated by anti-Western nihilism.

Inspirations and influences

Key figures

Other associated people

See also


  1. David Burner, Making Peace with the 60s, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 151.
  2. Edited by John McMillian & Paul Buhle, The New Left Revisited, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003), 5.
  4. David Burner, Making Peace with the 60s, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 155
  5. Maurice Isserman & Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) 169.
  6. Edited by John McMillian & Paul Buhle, The New Left Revisited, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003), 4
  7. Maurice Isserman & Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) 295.
  8. Edited by John McMillian & Paul Buhle, The New Left Revisited, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003), 6.
  9. 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.
  11. Maurice Isserman & Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) 169.
  12. Maurice Isserman & Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) 170.
  13. Maurice Isserman & Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) 172.
  14. Edited by John McMillian & Paul Buhle, The New Left Revisited, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003), 3.
  15. Maurice Isserman & Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) 183.

Further reading


  • Interview with André Gorz, about The New Left
  • Teodori, Massimo, ed., The New Left: A documentary History. London: Jonathan Cape (1970).
  • Oglesby, Carl (ed.) The New Left Reader Grove Press (1969). ISBN 83-456-1536-8. Influential collection of texts by Mills, Marcuse, Fanon, Cohn-Bendit, Castro, Hall, Althusser, Kolakowski, Malcolm X, Gorz & others.
  • Michael R. Krätke,Otto Bauer and the early "Third Way" to Socialism
  • Detlev Albers u.a. (Hg.), Otto Bauer und der "dritte" Weg. Die Wiederentdeckung des Austromarxismus durch Linkssozialisten und Eurokommunisten, Frankfurt/M 1979


For a discussion on the rise and fall of the 60s movement in Canada, USA and Germany see: Levitt, C. (1984). Children of Privilege. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Ontario.


  • 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

  • Ali, Tariq. Street Fighting Years: An Autobiography of the Sixties London: Collins, 1987. ISBN 0-00-217779-X.
  • Hock, Paul and Vic Schoenbach. LSE: the natives are restless, a report on student power in action London: Sheed and Ward, 1969. ISBN 0-7220-0596-2.
  • Scruton, Roger Thinkers of the New Left (Claridge Press, 1985).
  • The New Left's renewal of Marxism an account by Paul Blackledge from International Socialism

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.
  • 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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