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The Quagmire of Cooptation KENNETH MCNAUGHT Peter Clecak. Radical Paradoxes: The Dilemmas of the American Left 1945-1970. New York: Harper and Row, 1974.358pp. The literature on the New Left grows by leaps - and bounds. Here we have another volume which Eugene Genovese says is so good he wishes he had written it. I don't agree with his view - but it is still a book that has to be read by anyone interested in the intellectual history of the American Left after 1945. As in other studies of the subject published after 1970, the New Left is referred to in the past tense - a fact that reminds one of the II cyclical" theory of reform and consolidation developed by the two Schlesingers. The only problem in applying it here is that Clecak himself agrees that no single centre of real power in the U.S. was seriously challenged by the Woodstock nation, by the splinter group activists or the philosophers of the movement. One might compare the power of Kolko's political capitalists in co-opting Sam Gompers to the fact that we now see blacks advertising fashions and deodorants - and being kissed by whites on Johnny Carson's show. Clecak's method of examining the post-World War II left is to give us philosophical-biographical sketches of four American writers who tried to face directly the question of eradicating the evils of American corporate capitalism: C. Wright Mills, Paul Baran, Paul Sweezy and Herbert Marcuse. He concludes with two chapters giving his own views on the New Left and the future of Socialism. Thus it is a book which should be read in conjunction with another recent book, Failureof a Dream?(John Laslett and S. M. Upset eds.), also concerned with the 11 dilemmas" and failures of American socialism. Clecak writes as a democratic socialist and very much as an American. Thus it is suprising to find infrequent references to such people as Veblen and Bellamy. He is concerned with what was the New Left in the United States without stressing the similarities between the nature and experiences of socialists and radicals in the whole American past and those "left-of-centre" in the post-World War II period. At times one almost feels that while rejecting the overall Lockean-consensus explanations of Hartz and Bell he in fact uses that ideological explanation in his endeavour to explain the New Left and his own current dilemma. And yet a sense of continuity is present. Each ofthe figures chosen by Clecak to illustrate the problems and nature of the "New Left" is really from the old Left. In a real sense he examines the failure of the old in terms of the new left - and comes up with conclusions that could be concurred in by both Victor Berger and Michael Harrington. In all cases he relates the course of his four "independent" Marxist intellectuals to their disillusionment with what actually happened in Stalinist Russia. And, variously, he recounts their endeavours to rehabilitate a THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL. VI, NO. 2, FALL 1975 Marxist interpretat10n of history in this light and in American terms. His "paradoxes" are many, but the central one is the leftist consciousness of being both right and necessarycombined with the awareness of powerlessness. And, of course, this paradox is compounded by living within "a divided nation, apparentlyunable to resolve our multiple social crises, yet powerful enough to threaten the very survival of mankind in the quest to preserve the essential features of the current social order." Thus Clecak can declare that "viewed from every serious radical perspective the historical situation itself has enforced the paradox of powerlessness on Leftists of every individual cast." But what does "enforced" really mean? Clecak refers to the frustrating powerlessness of the Left against "larger social forces," the result of either strengthening the system as it exists or ofthe Left's "total failure." Yet here again we return to the author's essentially American context. He explains the failure of American democratic socialism in twoways: because a) "a widespread belief in the main aims never coexisted with the social conditions for its political success" and b...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 220-223
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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