1) The term “radical” as most of today’s young radicals apply it to themselves is adequately defined by any standard dictionary— going to the roots of social problems, demanding a change in the very nature of existing society. However, in the last generation, the word has been a subject of confusion on two counts—first, its application to the phenomenon of the so-called “beats,” and second, on account of that tendency which the editors of DISSENT once called “authoritarians of the ‘left.’ ” The “beats,” while projecting a “radical” image to the publicat-large, and providing a tone of revolt that was a major source of their appeal to young people, were not radical in any social sense. In fact, they represented a retreat from politics. The fact that the first widely noted movement of the “Silent Generation” was anti-political is indicative of the ’50s in America. And I believe that the decline of beatnikism says something important about what has changed since then.
How do I, and how does the present generation of young radicals view earlier radical generations? It can’t be denied that there is a considerable amount of “estrangement,” if not hostility toward movements and traditions of the past. This sentiment, insofar as it exists, has two roots. One is the traumatic experiences of some of the older of the present student radicals with the Communist movement; second is a certain degree of realization that the non-Communist radical left in the past has been isolated—and to a large extent has isolated itself—from the main stream of U. S. society and politics. But more and more, many who share this estrangement find it impossible mechanically to separate their present radical commitment from a relationship to specific tendencies and organizations existing from the past. In my own experience, many of the “anti-organizational” young radicals find themselves engaged in an increasingly tense balancing act between various organizations. And I should not conclude without emphasizing the fact that ideologically even the most “anti-organizational” of the young radicals in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred are dependent upon people and theories produced in the organized radical movements of the past.