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New Left

The British New Left or Old New Left

As a result of Khrushchev's secret speech denouncing Stalin and the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) ruptured. Many left the party for Trotskyite groupings. Many left the party for the Independent Labour Party. Others formed a larval grouping dedicated to revisionist communism.

E. P. Thompson had previously established a dissenting journal within the CPGB called Reasoner. Once outside the party he began publishing the New Reasoner. This journal merged with Universities and Left Review to form the New Left Review (1960).

The British New Left concentrated on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the hypocrisy of the Soviet Union and allied countries. The British New Left often worked in existing popular front organisations to campaign for peace, disarmament, global justice or other issues important to communists. Eventually the students within the British New Left formed the International Socialist Tendency, which later became Socialist Workers Party (UK).

Compare with the simultaneously active, but not revisionist, syndicalist organisation Solidarity, UK.

The American New Left

The New Left was the name loosely associated with a radical political movement that took place in the United States during the 1960s, primarily among college students. The origin of the name 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 alienation, anomie, authoritarianism, and other ills of the modern affluent society.

The organization that came to embody the New Left was the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). In 1962 Tom Hayden wrote its founding document, the Port Huron Statement, which issued a call for "participatory democracy" based on non-violent civil disobedience. 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." Loosely associated with the New Left was the Berkeley Free Speech Movement which began in 1964 as a coalition of student groups at the University of California, Berkeley which opposed restrictions to political activity on campus.

The SDS became a leading organization of the antiwar movement on college campuses during the Vietnam War. As opposition to the war grew stronger, the SDS became a nationally prominent political organization, but at the same time opposing the war became an overriding concern that overshadowed many of the original issues that inspired the New Left. During the late 1960s, the SDS began to split under the strain of internal dissension and increasing penetration by Old Left ideologists, and some extremist splinter factions emerged, such as the Weather Underground and the Progressive Labor Party.