Learning about our tradition

Submitted by Matthew on 18 April, 2012 - 11:01

Mike Wood reviews the new online archive of the first series of the New Politics journal.

The American website UNZ has recently made available the entire run of the first volume of New Politics journal, from 1960 to 1978. This is a valuable resource for those interested in the history of the socialist movement and should ensure a wider readership for a tradition of thought that has largely been forgotten by the left today.

New Politics was started by Julius and Phyllis Jacobson in 1960, following the collapse of the Independent Socialist League in 1958. The right wing of the ISL, led by Max Shachtman, had negotiated to take the ISL into the loosely reformist Socialist Party. Julius Jacobson had been the editor of the ISL’s theoretical journal, The New International. This had been a highly regarded publication in the international Trotskyist movement since 1934, and its closure along with the ISL in 1958 left many former ISL members concerned about the hole it might leave in the American left-wing scene.

The Jacobsons sought to create a broad, anti-Stalinist, revolutionary, journal of socialist thought. The initial editorial board was broad, and included Hal Draper; the leader of the left wing of the ISL that had opposed Shachtman’s move to the right. The Jacobsons approached Shachtman himself about being involved, but he declined.

Until now, New Politics has only been available in a few University libraries and private collections. Despite this, some articles here will be well known, for example Draper’s 1966 version of “The Two Souls of Socialism”. Other pieces are only now widely available thanks to the UNZ archive, such as the debate following the publication of the “Two Souls” between Draper and Max Nomad. Anyone interested in Draper’s idea of socialism from below should read this exchange in the Spring, Summer, and Fall 1966 issues, in which he clarifies many of his views.

Other less well known works that I think deserve a wider audience include the transcript of a debate in the Winter 1965 issue between Draper and Nathan Glazer, a Berkeley academic, on the subject of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. The FSM was one of the first significant movements that can be clearly defined as part of the “New Left”. The New Politics current was unusual in regarding and engaging with the New Left sympathetically whilst maintaining strong ties to the “Old Left” of the 1930s and 1940s. There is also a lengthy symposium on the New Left in the Fall 1965 issue, including a contribution from Mario Savio, the most prominent leader of the FSM.

New Politics represents an important part of the anti-Stalinist revolutionary tradition that Workers’ Liberty identifies with. Anyone interested in learning more about that tradition will find this archive very helpful.

• Visit the archive here

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