Thursday, August 27, 2009

Long Quote: A Myth of the New Left

One of the great myths of the history of the new left is that the early phase of the movement was characterized by a "prefigurative politics" of participatory democracy, while the later phase, when the working class and lumpen rose to lead the movement, did not centrally contain this dimension. Many books characterize the early new left as peaceful and democratic and its later phase as undemocratic and violent. The myth of the "pure" participatory democracy of the upper-middle-class college students of the early 1960s was first given the lie by women who criticized the patriarchal control exerted by a few men. African Americans simultaneously examined critically the presence of white activists as well as the strictures of non-violence imposed upon them by pacifists, whose mainstream media power made them larger than life. Studied ignorance of watershed events like the direct democracy practiced in Philadelphia at the [Revolutionary Peoples' Constitutional Convention] is an essential means of perpetuating the mythological superiority of the early 1960s.

In October 2006 I was privileged to attend the fortieth anniversary celebrations of the Black Panther Party. At that event, many chapters had mini-reunions before reporting back to the group on what had happened in their cities four decades previously. FOUR DECADES! Because of the bitter internecine split in their ranks and the brutal repression they suffered from police and FBI, Panther members had not had an opportunity even to discuss what had happened. As we listened to reports from people who had been party activists in places such as New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I reflected on how many former college students active in the early 1960s had been given the opportunity to write their memoirs and imprint their perspective on the movement on future generations, while key activists from the movement's later phase were killed or remain imprisoned.

-- George Katsiaficas, pp. 352-353 of "The Global Imagination of 1968: The New Left's Unfulfilled Promise," in New World Comming: The Sixties and the Shaping of Global Consciousness edited by Karen Dubinsky et al., Toronto: Between The Lines, 2009.

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