The Campus Radical in 1960

The Campus Radical in 1960

If there is to be an American political left in the 1960s and 70s it will be led, for the most part, by radical students of today and tomorrow, rather than by those who received their political training in the 1930s and 1940s. It is this fact which gives a certain interest to the posture and moods of the current generation of radicals.

Thus it is significant that in the two spontaneous student movements that have developed recently—movements against segregation and bomb testing—there has been a notable coolness toward programs and realpolitik. This reaction stems largely from a deeply-felt notion that the older kind of politics, with its resolutions, machinations and polemics is both futile and totally unnecessary for dealing with such clearcut questions as Strontium 90 and the right of a child to be decently educated. To these problems one need apply no dialectic, but simply an immediate response of emotion and will. And these are the kinds of problems to which today’s campus radicals address themselves, not the victory of socialism in Ceylon or, for that matter, the problem of fascism in France. The area of vision is different, and the organ of response has shifted from the brain to the intestines.

I exaggerate, of course. Moral indignation in the face of injustice was always the mainspring of socialist activity and today’s young radicals are by no means incapable of logical thinking. Furthermore, pockets of the older radicalism still exist, especially in New York City. But there has been a decided shift in emphasis. To fully appreciate the reasons for this shift, I want to relate an incident—trivial in its own right but revealing as a symptom—in the life of a quasi-radical student organization functioning under the old dispensation in the mid-fifties. Since I have little experience with the desegregation movement, my further comments will be directed exclusively toward the antibomb campaign.