In this wonderful history of how the ghost of the old American Communist movement informed and influenced the birthing and early history of the so-called New Left of the late 1960s and beyond, scholar Maurice Isserman shows how the contradictions and themes motivating the socialist of the late 1940s and 1950s profoundly affected the birth and growth of the new cultural critique emanating from the several leftist movements of the turbulent 1960s. Is so tracing the social history of the leftist movements within the domestic political scene. Isserman helps to make greater sense of many of the predominating themes of later domestic radicalism, as with the notorious rise of the Students For A Democratic Society (or SDS) movement, one that transpired largely on large, metropolitan college campuses.
Indeed, several of the founders of the SDS organization such as sociologist Todd Gitlin and California politician/social activist Tom Hayden were sons of socialist radicals themselves, raised in middle class households in which spirited intellectual discussions centering round the plight of the ordinary working man and his or her exploitation at the hand of capitalism was `de rigueur' for dinnertime conversation. We are treated to an inside look at how the wartime pacifism of Gandhi-like non-violent opposition played out over several decades to become the largely non-violent protests of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements of the sixties. Isserman has also authored other interesting tomes about the times, including both "Which Side Were You On", a study of the American Communist Party, and the provocative "America Divided", a study of the rise of the American Counterculture of the later sixties.
Here Isserman shows how the personalities of several key participants in the avant-garde urban socialist scene such as Michael Harrington (noted author of "The Other America"), Max Shachtman, and Irving Howe (author of several noted tomes on the rise of an urban and mainly Jewish intellectual class in America such as "World Of Our Fathers") and how they transformed the collapse of the American Communist Party in the 1950s into a nascent socialist movement that was more consonant with the needs and characteristics of the contemporary American social scene. Isserman is most interesting when tracing how individual beliefs become transformed into social policy, and he does this here with these several personalities quite well. For me, this was a memorable journey back into the intellectual and social heritage and the political genesis of the 1960s protest movements, and a reading experience I thoroughly enjoyed.