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The Hidden 1970s: Histories of Radicalism by Dan Berger (review)

From: Journal for the Study of Radicalism
Volume 7, Number 1, Spring 2013
pp. 147-149 | 10.1353/jsr.2013.0010

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In the past few years a plethora of books have appeared that document the rise of conservatism in the 1970s. This is hardly surprising given the tendency among historians to see in the 1960s a narrative of declension, whereby the early emphasis on community and "participatory democracy" gave way to violence and anarchism. Yet to follow such a precept ignores the fact that actual events rarely follow the neat boundaries set by historians. Just as Barry Goldwater and the conservative youth group Young Americans for Freedom played a role in the so-called liberal 1960s, the 1970s witnessed actions by various radical groups. Dan Berger's exemplary edited collection covers not only the more well-known activist groups of the Left in the 1970s, such as the American Indian Movement and the Republic of New Afrika, but also groups like Rising Up Angry and the Movement for a New Society. Thus, the histories chronicled in The Hidden 1970s bring greater attention to the concerns of individual activist organizations on the Left and makes it possible to see the 1970s as more than just a time of conservative reaction against the excesses of the 1960s. Berger explains in his introduction to the collection that focusing too much on conservative responses in the 1970s to events of the previous decade results in seeing the era as a "time of limits," when, in reality, the 1970s was "the ultimate exploder of limits" (7). Economic, political, and cultural convulsions offered conservatives opportunities to change the direction of America, but these same dislocations received just as much attention from the Left.

Dividing the chapters into three thematic parts, the book illustrates how the Left in the 1970s used insurgency, solidarity, and community activism as a means to bring attention to their causes. Though many of the authors in the book are involved in present-day efforts to end injustice and create alternative political and social institutions, they do not shy away from being critical of the mistakes made by earlier activists. For instance, Victoria Law's chapter on sexual assault, battering, and self-defense shows how the radical women's movement played a pivotal role in several cases involving women being jailed for killing an unknown male abuser, while ignoring larger issues of domestic abuse. Thus Joan Little and certain other cases received much attention from radical feminists, while domestic abuse was considered a private issue and not likely to inspire a revolutionary ethos. Such a strategy, in the end, would lead to many domestic abuse centers being led by individuals who had never been involved in the women's liberation movement. As a result, these centers provided abuse victims with services, but not information on how political and sexual hierarchical structures made it possible for such abuse to occur in the first place.

The section on solidarity illustrates the difficulties associated with creating transnational movements between various social groups. In addition to showing the obstacles to international solidarity, some of the contributors demonstrate how 1970s activism acted as a bridge, connecting the 1960s to the 1980s. For instance, Michael Staudenmaier shows how the Sojourner Truth Organization (STO), along with similar revolutionary unions, formed in the late 1960s and, by the middle 1970s, became involved in protests against imperialism. STO would once again change its focus in the 1980s as it turned its attention to the anti-nuclear movement, although it still emphasized anti-imperialism and the significance of the working class. Likewise, Fanon Che Wilkins claims that historians need to subscribe to the long view of black internationalism, which for him includes Black Power in the 1960s, the Sixth Pan-African Congress in 1974, and the anti-apartheid protests in the 1980s.

The final part of the book deals with community activism. Various groups sought to create their own public space through performance, as with the Cockettes in San Francisco, or, as with the Movement for a New Society, through direct action and the creation of "Life Centers." As the Right took control of national politics, the Left, though not always successful, built its own institutions at the local level. The Cockettes, Movement for a New Society, and Rising Up Angry hoped that these...



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