NEW LEFTS

My book, New Lefts: The Making of a Radical Tradition, will be released by Princeton University Press on September 7, 2021. In it, I demonstrate a continuity between three moments in the history of the German and Western European left: radical antifascism in the 1920s-30s, left socialism in the 1940s-50s, and anti-authoritarianism in the 1960s. That continuity I call neoleftism, and it was based on internal revolts against the organizational form of traditional left parties and unions. Small groups of militant youth such as New Beginning (Neu Beginnen) in Germany tried to sustain grassroots movements without reproducing the bureaucratic, hierarchical, and supposedly obsolete structures of Social Democracy and Communism. Several generations of neoleftists experimented with alternative modes of organization such as councils, assemblies, and action committees. Eventually, many of them would experience the irony of defending the same institutions that their younger selves opposed. That irony came to a head in the 1960s amid the transition to a post-industrial society, when across Europe and beyond a self-styled New Left rebelled against the welfare state supported by their formerly radical parents.

If not outright dismissed as political failures, new lefts have been misunderstood by historians who focus on discrete moments rather than longer continuities or who favor the perspective of mass electoral parties. But creativity occurred at the margins of mass politics, even especially amid defeat. Problems that still afflict social movements today, such as the risk of institutional cooptation or the lack of durable structures, can be traced back to this history of new lefts.


Insider Intellectual History

A new trend has emerged in transatlantic intellectual history. Within the past five years, several books have appeared that focus on European émigré intellectuals or internationally active Americans who helped build new political, legal, and economic institutions toward the middle of the twentieth century. These books feature people like the Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, the […]


A Letter from an Anarchist

We call ourselves Anarchists, and in consequence we are sworn foes of government and all its agents. We advocate rebellion in all the ramifications of our economic life. We preach disloyalty and revolution in theory: we are loyal and law-abiding in practice.


Cyborg Scholar

Lynn Randolph, Cyborg (1989) When I refer to my scholarship, whose knowledge exactly do I mean? When I’m asked to comment on my area of expertise, who or what does the commenting? For academics, the answers to those questions used to be self-evident. But the proliferation of digital tools has sown confusion. Academics are undergoing […]


An Empty Gesture of Resistance

An op-ed published in The New York Times by an anonymous official in the Trump Administration makes the extraordinary claim that a resistance group has formed inside the White House. Its author dons the mantle of resistance and draws moral legitimacy from it. Heroic gestures, such as written protests or public demonstrations, seek to change […]


Assembling a New Left

What social forces exist under neoliberal capitalism that might form the basis for a new left? How should that new left organize itself politically – as a socialist party, one big union, a spontaneous assembly, or all of the above? See my essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books on Michael Hardt and Antonio […]


Signs of Subversion

If somebody would’ve told me that in 2018 I’d see a magical realist film comedy about a labor struggle in Oakland, well, I’d say that sounds just about right. Boots Riley’s hot new film Sorry to Bother You exposes the absurdity of America’s racial capitalist regime. It critically portrays the modern workplace, while also giving […]