New Styles In American Social Protest

New Styles In American Social Protest

In the Fall 1960 DISSENT, Irving Howe and Lewis Coser have aptly seized a political mood which is characteristic of many young Americans and offers the potentiality of a new upsurge of the idea of social protest. However, it is a great shame that this mood and some of its underlying dynamics should be described under the title “New Styles in Fellow-Travelling,” particularly given the quite accurate observation that it “has little to do with any interest in Communist ideas or Communist organization.” Cynically, one could observe that even socialists may have difficulty in keeping up with the next generation.

Like any political mood, this one takes many different organizational and ideological forms which may have in common nothing more than a crystallized sense of opposition to the status quo. To rephrase a bit Coser and Howe’s list insofar as it is relevant to my own views and those of a number of persons I know, these are some of the relevant sources and components.

First and foremost is a very serious concern about the implications of weapons’ technology developments and the threat of nuclear war. This concern is not restricted to social protesters; what characterizes the latter is a feeling that the United States has contributed just as much to our present posture on the brink of annihilation as the Soviet Union and so a refusal to believe the current rationalization that all our own weapons’ developments have been absolutely necessary because of the Russians. It is this rather than any belief that Communism provides the ultimate utopia that makes us tend towards neutralism. It is not exactly weariness and disillusion with the Cold War— though one can feel that any anti-ideology is by definition a bit wearing—but rather fear of its potential consequences.

Second is the belief that the Soviet bloc has reached a point of stability, or at least is here to stay. We do know enough about history to realize that the Russian Communists did not achieve their present power position by acting like boy-scouts or by playing parlor socialism and we also know that at certain periods in its history, such as the Stalin purges, the Russian regime has gone far beyond the limits any humanitarian can tolerate. We also know that Communist ideology leads to expansionism and that sometimes the methods used for expansion have been far from subtle. At the same time, societies do change and just as capitalism in the advanced industrial countries no longer exploits the worker in the way described by Marx in his famous chapter on the working day, we also have the impression that even if it is not yet up to our standards of liberalism, Khrushchev’s Russia is a great improvement over Stalin’s. Molotov, after all, when he became politically inconvenient was simply given an agricultural post in an obscure part of Siberia and such methods of solving problems have also been used in democracies,...

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