The 60s Radicals Have Won-Now What?

Forty years ago, in the summer of 1968, leftist radicals fought the police outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Four years later, these same New Left forces went into the Democratic Party, seized control of its nomination process, and put George McGovern on the presidential ticket. The result was the biggest defeat of a major party candidate in modern American history, surpassing even the Goldwater and Mondale debacles of 1964 and 1984. For decades afterward, as the cultural Left consolidated its position in the Democratic Party (and other places, like the mass media and academia), the Democrats fuctioned as an often seemingly irrelevant opposition party, achieving victory only when they put up a couple of previously obscure frying pan governors as candidates.

As Republicans continued to win elections, the cry from the Right was a persistent, “The Sixities are over!” as if the radical Left had finally been vanquished for good. The Right was saying this as recently as 2004, when a former celebrity of the anti-Vietnam War movement, John Kerry, headed up the Democratic Party ticket, obtaining forty-eight percent of the vote. The radical Left was a fringe movement in the late 1960s, comprised of politically marginalized and socially outcast racial minorites, feminists, homosexuals, environmentalists, student radicals, leftist intellectuals, counterculturalists and the antiwar movement. Now, forty years later, what was marginal in 1968 is normal, mainstream and a cultural majority at the end of 2008.

The electoral victory of Barack Obama symbolizes the culmination of the long march from the streets of Chicago to full institutionalization of the radical Left of a previous era. That Obama, the individual, is more of a centrist than a leftist and was only a child in 1968 is less significant than what he represents. The 68ers have now seized the establishment and those who insisted the establishment could never be trusted have become the establishment.

On virtually every issue, the radical Left of the 1960s has either won or is in the process of winning. Racism? Despite the claims of “anti-racist” professionals who insist that Nazis are hiding under every bed, racism is at an all-time low. Blacks are only 12.5 percent of the U.S. population, and have a lengthy history as an outgroup, yet a black man wins the presidency. If hatred of blacks was particularly common, the Obama presidency would be impossible. Sexism? The woman who is to become the next Secretary of State is a woman who personally epitomizes 70s era feminism. The class of urban professional women has grown exponentially in recent decades. Even the vice-presidential candidate of the ostensibly “conservative” party was a woman, something that would have been virtually unthinkable forty years ago. A friend of mine’s mother was told as a child that her ambition to become a doctor was inappropriate because of her gender. Today, such sentiments would be laughable. As an illustration, the daughter of the Reverend Jerry Falwell, the man who for many symbolized anti-60s social conservatism, is now a physician. Gay rights? Homosexuals are more out of the closet, more socially integrated and have more “rights” than ever before. Anti-gay marriage referendums continue to pass, but do so by a smaller margin each time they come up for vote, with the real source of the conflict being generational in nature. The gay rights movement will eventually win on that issue as well. In the 1950s, homosexual relationships were considered a serious felony, like drug use in the present era. Today, not only does gay culture thrive in American cities, but even mainsteam bookstores like Barnes & Noble feature entire sections of literature devoted to gay issues. Such materials would likely have been banned under obscentity laws prior to the late 60s or early 70s.

Environmentalism? One of the world’s leading advocates of environmental causes, who obtained a Nobel Prize for his efforts, was very nearly elected President of the United States in 2000. Student radicalism? Many of the student rebels of the 1960s are now tenured academics, and there is no place in American society where the far Left is more secure than in academia. The sexual revolution? This has proven to be every bit as enduring as the civil rights revolution. Very few Americans even remember that some states had laws prohibiting contraceptive devices in the 1960s. Pornography and adult entertainment are now almost as mainstream as rock and rap music.

What about the antiwar movement? Surely, some might think, the present war in Iraq illustrates a failure of the radical Left is this area. Well, not really. In the early days of the Vietnam War, it was physically dangerous to oppose the war. Early antiwar protests typically required police protection, and the protestors were happy to have the cops present to ward off vigilante attacks from gung ho patriots. When the Gulf of Tonkin resolution was passed, it did so unanimously in the House of Representatives, and with only two dissenters in the Senate.

The number of casualties on the American side has yet to be one-tenth of what they were in Vietnam, yet public opinion turned against the war at the first site of blood, and this was in spite of the fact that September 11 had occurred only a few years earlier. It is politically impossible to impose war taxes, which is why the System is financing the war with inflation, deficit spending and foreign loans. The draft is likewise politically impossible and, indeed, the fact that there has been no draft since the Vietnam era marks yet another profound victory for the radical Left of the time. The present Iraq war, the public disgust generated by the neoconservatives and the Bush crowd, the national bankruptcy produced by Bush policies and the ineptness of the U.S. at fighting modern, “fourth generation” guerrilla armies have likely rendered further major imperial expeditions like Vietnam or Iraq impossible for the forseeable future. Yes, some piss ant Clintonesque imperialisms like those in Haiti or Kosovo may continue (with the added irony of former Vietnam War protestors defending these in the name of “humanitarian” war), and these will likely end only when the present regime finally dissolves, but the empire is on its last legs and its days are likely numbered. 

Indeed, even the “conservatism” of the present time is “liberal” compared to the pre-1960s period. Ronald Reagan did not govern appreciably to the right of John F. Kennedy. Reagan’s wars in Central America were simply a repeat of Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs and early involvement in Vietnam. George W. Bush has not governed to the right of Lyndon Johnson, presiding over the same kind of failed combination of joint extension of the warfare and welfare states as LBJ. The present day leadership of the Republican Party are the neoconservatives, who were on the far left end of the Democratic Party in the 1960s, the so-called “state department socialists.” What about the Religious Right? There is no group around more consistently demonized by the Left, and the literature of the Left is full of wild claims concerning an imminent theocratic coup by the Religious Right. The reality is that the Religious Right are simply convenient scapegoats for the Left and useful idiots for the Right. In the thirty years that the Religious Right has been an organized political movement, it has achieved nothing concerning any of its major issues. Putting prayer back into public schools? There are arguably more restrictions on religious practice and expression in state institutions than ever before. Banning abortion? A comprehensive anti-abortion referendum could not pass popular vote even in conservative South Dakota, and with Obama likely appointing the next members of the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade is probably secure. Tuition tax credits or vouchers for private religious schools? It ain’t happening.

Jews are another traditional American outgroup, who were at times excluded from some social organizations and institutions until the civil rights era. Today, ethnic Jews own the majority of the major media companies, and the Israel Lobby is by far among the most powerful in the U.S government, essentially controlling U.S. policy in the Middle East. Yet, merely pointing out these facts invite sshrill accusations of the new “Scarlet A” of anti-Semitism. Prior to 1965, the U.S. maintained a racially restrictive immigration policy, which has since been liberalized remarkably. America was ninety percent white in 1960. Today, the U.S. is only sixty-eight percent white, and proposed policies to so much as deny welfare state benefits to illegal immigrants are denounced as racist and xenophobic.

Indeed, the only area where the radical Left is losing is in the area of so-called “criminal justice.” The U.S. police state has expanded dramatically in recent decades, and the “War on Drugs” and enforcement of other “consensual crime” laws have largely been the foundation of this, and has produced a corresponding prison-industrial complex. The execution rate in the U.S.  is also unusually high for a modern, democratic, industrialized nation. 

Though the Left has achieved complete or nearly complete victory on just about every issue, the Left will never admit as much. Sixties radicalism has become what any other movement becomes once it is institutionalized. The purpose of the Left today is to simply perpetuate its own existence and its own vested interests. For this reason, invisible armies of racists, sexists, homophobes and theocrats must constantly be said to be hiding behind every rock or tree. Heretics who dissent from left-wing orthodoxy on any number of matters must be constantly sought out for denunciation, repression or persecution.

This brings us to the question of what it really means to be a radical in 21st century North America. How “radical” is it to simply espouse anti-racism, feminism, gay rights, environmentalism and other run of the mill “progressive” causes? Are such things “radical” or are they mainstream, status quo and now establishmentarian in nature?

Is attacking the supposed “racism”  of a Don Imus or a James Watson really the act of a dissident? Or would it be the “radical” thing to do  to champion the rights of freedom of speech, religion or association for those with beliefs and opinions that dissent from liberal orthodoxy? Is it “radical” to persistently denounce groups like the Klan or Neo-Nazis that everyone hates anyway, or would it be more “radical” to expose supposed humanitarian do-gooders like the SPLC or the ADL for the frauds they are? What would be more cutting edge or “going against the flow,” to denounce “sexism” in the manner of an establishment liberal like Gloria Steinem or to defend academic and intellectual liberty for the likes of Walter Block? As far as defending outgroups goes, are groups like homosexuals, immigrants, minorities or women really “outgroups” in contemporary society? Would it not be far more radical and far more shocking to the establishment to defend gun-toting rural rednecks, drug-dealing inner-city ghetto dwellers, home schoolers and truants, practicioners of alternative medicine, strange religious sects, drug users, prostitutes and convicts, or avowedly separatist indigenous people like the Lakota Republic? What would be a greater outrage, a protest demonstration led by commie cults like the Workers World Party, or the formation of citizen militias, common law courts and secessionist movements? What would be more rebellious in nature, a recycling program or civil disobedience demanding the right to smoke in private bars and clubs, thereby giving the finger to the therapeutic state? What is more truly radical, agitating for gay marriage or a riot against the police state and prison-industrial complex similar to that which recently transpired in Greece?

The anwers to these questions are clear enough.

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16 replies »

  1. Really great post. I agree that the cultural left virtually won every major battle, only not as fully and quickly as they’d like to. I consider myself to be on the left side of most issues, but it concerns me how much of a double standard the left has when it comes to defending the civil liberties of “minorities” (yes to women and gays, no to poor white religious nuts). I would have to slightly disagree that the left is “losing” on the issue of the criminal justice system, because they have virtually abandoned this issue, opting for narrow identity politics (i.e. advancing the social status of favored groups). I have blogged about this issue recently, positing a possible “liberal police state”.

    The left feels the nascent power of being in cultural ascendancy, and dutifully drop, or at least soften their stance, on issues that would really shake up the power structure, such as the prison system and the military industrial complex. Why should they weaken state power just at the moment they are finally able to wield it?

  2. Good analysis, Keith. The important point is to see the mainstream cultural left as no longer radical but establishmentarian. You can still advocate radical positions on the issues they claim to care about, but to do so in a radical manner would necessarily challenge the institutions they have captured.

    One of the ways they’ve become the establishment is by creating images of a movement for change without substance. Of course, Obama epitomizes this marketing approach to cultural transformation. Alter the packaging and people will think it’s a new kind of corn flakes.

    The irony of the matter is that these leftist issues are still problems in important senses, but since the mainstream left has built their image around looking like they’re fixing them, they’ve never been addressed on an institutional level. It’s easy to go after individual bigots – much more challenging to address the structural racism of things like housing projects and welfare programs. It sucks that environmentalism is a cultural movement and not a radical political one like it should be. But culture is much more easily co-opted by capitalism than structural change. And so it goes with the institutional nature of things like racism, sexism, etc. – in all cases the goal is to preserve existing power structures as much as possible while playing lip service to ameliorating these ills.

  3. Evan, thank you.

    Jeremy, good comments. A problem that I see is that those things that do the most harm to group the Left claims to champion at the same time frequently find their most vigorous proponents on the Left. For instance, in the early 80s Walter Williams published “The State Against Blacks” which documented all sorts of ways state intervention undermines black community, social and economic life, yet he was not only ignored but ridiculed by the black civil rights establishment. Studies have shown that inner-city blacks have a higher quality of life in Houston than in other cities. Not coincidentally, Houston has no zoning laws. When has the Left ever spoken up against zoning ordinances?

    Arguably, the most serious problem faced by women that men don’t deal with as much is violent sex crimes. It seems to me the solution is more women who are armed and trained in the art of self-defense. We know what the typical liberal view on that is.

  4. Well, Keith, there are these people called left libertarians who are trying to convince the radical left of the damage statist interventions like zoning laws do. 🙂 Who knows if we’ll succeed.

    But I think if this trend of an establishment left continues, it will be much easier to find radical leftists who will reject this establishment cultural leftism – not just because it’s the status quo, but because it’s an image without substance. This could be the dynamic that finally dislodges the narrow identity politics described above from the radical leftist movement.

    I think we should anticipate a left-dominated government that will seek to moderate and stabilize capitalist institutions and will make “awareness” of these cultural issues paramount. The best thing that could happen would be for the left to return to a radical class / labor movement that appeals to people in the broadest possible sense, rejecting this apologist rhetoric in favor of a popular, classical leftism opposing the establishment qua establishment and divisive identity politics qua identity politics.

    But that’s a tall order – I dare say it’ll take more than fourty years!

  5. “Studies have shown that inner-city blacks have a higher quality of life in Houston than in other cities. Not coincidentally, Houston has no zoning laws. When has the Left ever spoken up against zoning ordinances?”

    Really? This information could’ve been provided the black neighborhoods in Columbus, OH who were getting gentrified by wealthy gays.

    I, more or less, agree with your perspective completely. Keep in mind, though, that the Nation of Islam is well-regarded in many black communities but is shooed away by many in the middle to upper class black populations. Guess what the NOI preaches and practices? Self reliance. If you get a chance, please read this excellent piece by the gentleman who runs Muhammad Farms: http://www.muhammadfarms.com/cooperative_corporation_vs_the_l.htm

    I highly doubt you will come across articles like that in cultural left publications unless they’re marveling at Will Allen… (Blacks have been urban farming for DECADES…but out of necessity and the supermarket redlining, not really for environmental reasons)

    All the left wants from blacks is votes, money, and labor. Anything like property acquisition is stigmatized as “nationalist.” Whites on the free market left, however, seem to see my point of view, hence why I think an alliance between the free market left and black nationalists is not out-of-question.

  6. Miles,

    Brilliant piece on co-ops. That gives me some interesting ideas; particularly the role of “black capitalists.” In Alaska, we have for profit Alaskan Native Corporations (as opposed to a reservation system w/ a tribal government.) An ongoing problem has been getting these corporations to contribute directly to the economic well being of Alaskan Natives. Instead these corporations mostly log, mine and drill and then move on to greener pastures. The idea is for profits to be distributed to share holders (who are exclusively Alaskan Natives.) When this does happen, it’s not steady income, and the promised jobs in rural Alaska (where Alaskan Natives live) pack up and leave as soon as the natural resources have been plundered. The resort is crippling poverty in geographically isolated communities that pay up to a dollar per kilowatt hour for electricity and $10 for a gallon of milk.

    The for profit organizational model is a poor one for developing local economic resilience in a community. Perhaps if Alaskan Native Corporations could take the role of the “black capitalists” in this piece then we’d be on to something.

    For more go here:


  7. I saw that study indicating a higher quality of life for blacks in Houston in “Black Enterprise” magazine some years ago (early 2000s). Columbus is also considered to be a city that has a high quality of life for blacks. Because studies of that type that I’ve seen were conducted by sources with an orientation towards black businessmen and professionals, I wonder what sort of class bias they would have.

    Gentrification is a major issue here in Richmond, and rents have risen dramatically over the last decade because of it. There’s a very powerful civic organization in my area that wields a great deal of influence over city council. Some of its principal members are “gay gentrifiers” of the kind you mention.

    “Keep in mind, though, that the Nation of Islam is well-regarded in many black communities but is shooed away by many in the middle to upper class black populations. Guess what the NOI preaches and practices? Self reliance.”

    That makes sense. The NOI is a genuine radical organization that advocates real self-determination. Persons of any color who want to climb the system’s ladder would naturally disassociate themselves from them. I’ve seen that among white liberals for years who fawn all over the NAACP but are horrified by that “black fascist” NOI.

    Thanks for the link to the article. Really good stuff.

    “(Blacks have been urban farming for DECADES…but out of necessity and the supermarket redlining, not really for environmental reasons)”

    Notice that cultural left causes like environmentalism, feminism, gay rights, transexual rights, animal rights, etc. did not become popular in the West until a certain level of affluence for the middle classes and upper strata working class had been secured. Those kinds of things are a luxury that people struggling for basic survival in terms of food and shelter don’t have time to worry about.

    “All the left wants from blacks is votes, money, and labor. Anything like property acquisition is stigmatized as “nationalist.” Whites on the free market left, however, seem to see my point of view, hence why I think an alliance between the free market left and black nationalists is not out-of-question.”

    Yes! Economic issues of this type are a perfect way to forge alliance between black nationalists and left-libertarians/left-anarchists. I wish more left-wing anti-statists could understand that.

  8. These Cooperative Corporations mentioned in the article would seem to be a way towards economic self-determination for disadvantaged people of all ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds. This is something everyone can agree on. I could see developing something like that for poor whites in urban centers and poor towns as well.

  9. This blog helped me a lot in my school work. I am writing a thesis on the sametopic. I was feeling kinda lost, but it seems I found what I was looking forand I’m on the right path now. thanks!

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