"Left" stretched beyond reason © Naomi Gruson Goldfarb using SmartArt
EssaysThe Left

What’s Left?

A response to Jeremy Varon

Jeremy Varon’s interesting and important response raises three questions: 1) What do we mean by a “Left”? 2) How are we to understand the New Left’s break-up and, specifically the relation of the women’s movement to that break-up and 3) How are we to evaluate the Left today? Let me start with the third and work backwards.

I do not believe we can properly speak of a Left today. Jeremy’s view of a plurality of different movement working independently but parallel to one another avoids all the important questions. A Left needs coherence and direction. It needs leaders, organizations, its own counter public-spheres, some sense of the values that distinguish it from the mainstream. It needs a coherent analysis of such basic ruling class institutions as the Democratic Party, the universities and the so-called public sphere. Obviously I am not advocating a vanguard party, or a mass party of the Debsian sort. But to speak of the huge diversity of present protest movements that might be termed progressive as a Left stretches the term beyond reason. …

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Women Say NO To Torture, Outside The Third Guantanamo Hearing (Washington, DC), 2007 © Jim Kuhn | Flickr
EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionThe Left

Look Out Kids: On the New and Next Left

A reply to Eli Zaretsky

Bundled into Eli Zaretsky’s unmistakable claim that second wave feminism was substantially to blame for the undoing of the 60s-era Left is another curious charge: that no American Left exists today, or has for a long time [“Rethinking the Split Between Feminists and the Left”]. In their response, Ann Snitow and Vicky Hattam expose the flimsy basis and maladroit construction of the first charge [“The Women Did It?”]. While adding to their case, I address mostly the second. I do so not as one who “was there” in the 1960s but as both a scholar of the period and an activist since the 1980s in what I’ve always considered the Left. Zaretsky’s rebuttal of the Snitow/Hattam response further confuses his original argument while modestly improving its terms. I deal with it briefly at the end.

Uniting both of Zaretsky’s claims is a dismissive view of the experiences and perspectives of others. Second wave feminists might feel proud of their efforts to establish battered women’s shelters, health and day care collectives, rape crisis centers, alternative schools, peace camps, and more accepting versions of the family. …

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"Woodstock Kids," Aug. 18, 1969 © Ric Manning | Wikimedia Commons
EssaysSex & GenderThe Left

Further Reflections on Feminists and the Left

A response to Ann Snitow and Victoria Hattam

“The Women Did It?” by Ann Snitow and Victoria Hattam correctly argues that we need to understand the conflicts and splits of the late nineteen sixties if we are to build a New Left today. Today’s Left is rooted in the decisions and turning points of that time, and it will be hard to build something new until we come to grips with our past. However, Ann and Vicky (for we are all friends) frame the issues wrongly in that they are essentially concerned with blaming and defending. They reiterate that the men of the New Left really were sexist, and that the women of the New Left really had not meant to destroy the New Left in creating women’s liberation. This is not the way to think about it.

To be sure, I would be fool indeed to “blame” women for the demise of the New Left, as Ann and Vicky suggest I do. The women’s movement of the late sixties was akin to a natural force, a great river of emotion and eloquent power; who would blame a river? …

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1969 Cornell Conference on Women exhibit poster © Mann Library | Flickr
EssaysRace/ismsSex & GenderThe Left

The Women Did It?

A reply to Eli Zaretsky

We are living through dark times. Many lament the decline of a vibrant Left in American politics; why the right has been ascendant for the past quarter century is a matter worth extensive exploration. Zaretsky’s “Rethinking the Split Between Feminists and the Left,” however, both underestimates the deep roots of the American right and overestimates the power of feminism (Perlstein, Lowndes). In doing so, Zaretsky makes it difficult to rethink the possibilities and obstacles for the Left now. Zaretsky’s account of feminist politics runs amuck because of the ways in which he links feminism with madness and distances it from radicalism and race. Let us untangle the ways in which Zaretsky puts these elements in play in ways that distort past, present, and future.

Let us begin at the beginning — with madness. Zaretsky starts with a fine recognition of Shulamith Firestone (1945-2012), and her work as a radical feminist thinker (The Dialectic of Sex) and activist. …

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