What Is the New Left?

Nya Bruce
Nya Bruce
The New Left is associated with hippie culture.
The New Left is associated with hippie culture.

The New Left was an international left-wing political movement that developed in the 1960s as an offshoot of Marxism and other “Old Left,” ideals. Its goal was to affect changes in government policies around the world regarding issues such as war, feminism and civil rights. A majority of the participants of the movement were college students, and as a result they were responsible for many college protests. Although it appeared in varying degrees in countries around the world, it was the most prominent in the United States and Great Britain.

New leftism began as a result of the Communist Parties of the United States and Great Britain's inability to respond coherently to the Hungarian rebellion against Soviet rule in 1956. Marxist activists started to reject the authoritarian approach of Soviet-style Communism in favor of a more democratic approach. In Great Britain this led to many communists moving into the Labour Party, and the term “New Left” was born as a result. This movement soon joined forces with anti-nuclear groups such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Herbert Marcuse and Tom Hayden are considered to be the chief influences that led the new branch of leftism. Marcuse is widely considered to be the “father” of the movement, because of the many books he wrote. These include “Soviet Marxism: A Critical Analysis”, which condemned Soviet-style Communism, and “One-Dimensional Man”, which both predicted and criticized the rise of mass consumerism. Tom Hayden is responsible for writing the Port Huron Statement, a manifesto that not only addressed the issues of war, racism and political disenfranchisement, but also outlined the movement's goals.

Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was a radical student group that played a central part in the New Leftist movement within the United States. It was founded in 1960 at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Michigan. Tom Hayden was a member of this group when he wrote the Port Huron Statement in 1962, which SDS later revised and published. The Port Huron Statement is widely regarded as the defining document for the movement. Nonviolent demonstrations, the push for civil rights, solidarity, and anti-war activism, were all part of the Statement's list of goals and tactics.

Another major influence within the new leftist cause was the London, England-based journal known as the New Left Review. Formed by exiles from the Communist Party of Great Britain, the journal has been published bi-monthly without interruption since its inception in January of 1960. Its goal was to popularize socialism and present a Marxist perspective on modern capitalism, as well as discuss a number of viewpoints commonly held by leftists. This journal, while not the official publication of the new leftist movement, is considered by many to be the most prominent.

Often the new leftist movement is associated with the “flower power” hippie culture of the 1960s. Both cultures opposed capitalism and used nonviolent tactics to protest for nuclear disarmament, civil rights and environmentalism. Like the hippie movement, most of the participants in the New Left were college-aged, Caucasian, middle class students, although minority groups were also associated with it. There were differences, however, such as the fact that hippies routinely disengaged from society while some new leftists went on to become intellectuals and politicians.

Membership in the New Left, while never officially counted, is thought to have grown steadily from its starting point in 1960. The escalation of the Vietnam War, however, often brought the New Left and the hippie movements together in ways that made it hard for most to tell the difference between the two. In addition, membership for new leftist groups such as the SDS increased. Traditional liberal politicians and activists considered the new leftists to be far too radical, and the disdain of liberals united the New Left and the hippie movements against them.

In the late 1960s, the anti-war and anti-draft protests became a defining part of the new leftist movement and eventually led to increasingly violent protests. While protests were originally non-confrontational in nature, near the end of the movement, factions of the movement branched off and became increasingly aggressive. One such group, the Weather Underground Organization, resorted to violent crime, bank robberies, riots, and terrorist bombings.

Eventually the New Left would meet growing opposition from a counter-revolutionary coalition of anti-communists and Christian conservatives. This movement is popularly known as the New Right. The rise of the New Right was predicted by Herbert Marcuse in his 1972 book “Counterrevolution and Revolt”.

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Discussion Comments


@Logicfest -- if that were entirely true, then that would mean political thought on the left has stagnated over the past 40 years. The New Left may have influenced the left's modern political thought, but has it been relied on as a crutch by politicians who can't think of anything new? Probably not.

Political thought, see, evolves over time. Happens for both the left and the right.


What are members of the New Left doing today? A lot of those kids grew up and got jobs in the government. If you look at the policies that are being pushed for by the left in the United States today, you will see more than a few of them that come right of out of the New Left playbook.

The fascinating thing about the New Left is that its members didn't achieve just a whole lot when the movement was new and getting a lot of attention. Their ideals have become more institutionalized and accepted over the years.

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    • The New Left is associated with hippie culture.
      The New Left is associated with hippie culture.