I confess. I have a morbid fascination with the history of the Left in the US. Originally I wanted to read about my Old Left socialist, communist, and anarchist forebears, their successes and failures, and learn from their experience. Now I have moved on to my own New Left generation, now 50 years past. As a young and inexperienced student radical in the late 60s, I was mostly unaware of the ideological disputes between different Left groups of the time. The predominant Left group in my college years at Purdue University 1967-1969 was Student Peace Union. I now know SPU was founded by ban-the-bomb pacifists in the 1950s, and in the 1960s came under sway of the Young People's Socialist League (aka Yipsels), then dominated by the Shachtmanites, a Trotskyist sect. As “Third camp” socialists they rejected both Western capitalism and Soviet communism as equally imperialist. It turns out, this political current was also the source of Lyndon LaRouche's National Caucus of Labor Committees (NCLC), subject of Hylozoic Hedgehog's ebook, How It All Began: Origins and History of the National Caucus of Labor Committees in New York and Philadelphia (1966-1971). Hylozoic Hedgehog is the nom de guerre of a former NCLC member from 1971-1979. He also published a companion ebook Smiling Man from a Dead Planet: The Mystery of Lyndon LaRouche (2009) which I have not yet read.
|Lyndon LaRouche, Jr. (aka Lyn Marcus) 1974|
I can't vouch for the accuracy of HH's history. My LeftBook comrade Bert Schultz, who was fellow traveler of Progressive Labor Party (PLP) in NYC during this period, disputes the details and interpretation around NCLC's exit from PLP after the Columbia University student strike in April 1968. The facts seem murky enough to invite many histories. This account largely predates my involvement on the left, and my arrival in Philadelphia in Fall 1971. It shows NCLC was legitimate player in the New Left from 1966-1971 before it turned crazy a few years later. When I first encountered NCLC in Philadelphia they were disrupting public meetings with long harangues and were regarded as fascist thugs by most of the left. But it didn't start out that way.
Lyndon LaRouche, Jr. founded NCLC in 1968, and still remains its leader today at age 93 (now named the LaRouche movement). He grew up in a Quaker family, and served as a non-combatant in India during WWII. After the war and college, he joined the Socialist Worker's Party (SWP), assuming the party name “Lyn Marcus” for his political work. In 1964 he broke with the SWP and wandered through various left formations in NYC.
In summer 1966 LaRouche began teaching an idiosyncratic “Elementary Course in Marxist Economics” at the Free University of New York in a loft just off Union Square which attracted students from Columbia University and City College of New York. Some of these students joined LaRouche in forming the West Village Committee for Independent Action (CIPA) and later the NCLC. CIPA supported an effort to revive socialist electoral politics in NYC and nationally. Former Communist Party member James Weinstein was running for Congress in the liberal Upper West Side, and similar efforts were organized by Stanley Aronowitz on the Lower East Side. LaRouche offered a distinctive Marxist perspective. Invoking the mass strike ideas of Rosa Luxemburg and Industrial Workers of the World, LaRouche emphasized organizing different groups of people into united efforts rather than single issue campaigns. He advocated a larger programmatic class unity which transcended race, sex, trade union, or any particular or parochial group identity. LaRouche also asserted that capitalism was facing crisis in the 60s, and that Keynesian measures couldn't fix the economy. He proposed some sort of socialist reinvestment in technology and infrastructure, including nuclear fusion technology, which became a big theme for LaRouche years later.
LaRouche and his cohorts entered PLP in 1968, which he considered the most coherent Marxist faction of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). It is interesting -- both PLP and NCLC came out of the Old Left. PLP was founded in 1962 as a split from the Communist Party. Its leader, Milt Rosen, was the same age as LaRouche, a middle-aged communist leading college revolutionaries. Many leaders of the New Left in the 60s were also Red Diaper babies. There was more continuity between the Old Left and New Left than most realize. LaRouche entered PLP and SDS just as the Columbia University student strike began in April 1968, and the later NYC public school teachers strike against the Board of Education from May-November 1968. LaRouche's group became major players in both events. The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) strike was particularly contentious. The new community-controlled school board in the largely black Ocean Hill-Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn fired a group of white unionized teachers, and the UFT went on strike. Ninety-three percent of the city's 58,000 teachers walked out. The left divided on the strike--some supporting black community control, and others supporting organized labor. NCLC supported the union; most of the New Left supported local community control and called the UFT racist. This was one of the defining moments of the New Left. It may be the birthplace of identity politics that followed the demise of the New Left. There is a huge academic literature on the Ocean Hill-Brownsville conflict.
|United Federation of Teachers (UFT) strike |
the NYC School Board 1968
Herein How It All Began concludes. NCLC attracted many talented activists in these early years. The author HH vividly describes the hothouse atmosphere in the student New Left as I remember it. Just like the 1930s, revolutionary change seemed just around the corner. It also portrays the insular life in a left sect, or cult, which is the sad fate of too many socialist organizations.