IF I HAD A HAMMER: The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left by Maurice Isserman

IF I HAD A HAMMER: The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left

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An American Left chronicle, with contributions from participants in the major transitional period following WW II. Isserman's account comes perhaps as close as possible to selecting the persons, organizations, and events that prepared the way for the massive political activism that arose after the McCarthy era. In Which Side Are You On? (1982), Isserman examined the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) during its United Front efforts to defeat Fascism in WW II. Here, he presents the Left's deep disillusionment with Stalin and the disarray occasioned by the Cold War and the HUAC hearings, when CPUSA was already divided over the character of party building. In the absence of CPUSA's authority, he sees the Socialist Party, Irving Howe's Dissent, Schachtman's Young People's Socialist League, and the pacifist and civil-rights movements as among the midwives to the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which in Isserman's opinion was the New Left. The seminal, surprisingly daring and imaginative acts of political courage in the 1950's that deserve a place in American history are here: the ironic appropriateness of the sailboat Golden Rule's chance replacement in a protest of Pacific A-bomb tests by the Phoenix of Hiroshima; the small groups determinedly staying outside in defiance of New York's Civil Defense evacuation drills. Isserman's thorough work helps reveal the continuity that, because of the sharp breaks with CPUSA, has not been assumed present between the Old Left and the New. Isserman's narrative has a definite pull created by the allure of behind-the-scenes, first-person reports of complex internal struggles, in the context of a changing world, all tied in with the development of SDS. In sum: a tale that shows a well-forged link with the past.

Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 1987
Publisher: Basic Books