Is the Left reemerging as a political force? If we are indeed seeing a new phase of American radicalism, it would not be the first time. Based on insights from the online Mapping American Social Movements Project, this essay reframes the history of American radicalism by paying close attention to the singular fact that for the last century the Left has consisted solely of shifting constellations of social movements without the anchoring presence of a competitive left-wing electoral party. As a result, the American Left has been uniquely unstable. Its organizations come and go, flourishing for a time then withering, only to be replaced at some later point by a new Left based in different organizations, often with different demography, geography, and ideological agendas. This article maps five distinct left constellations over the past century and explores the question of how American radicalism has repeatedly reconstituted itself absent the supportive institutional apparatus of an electoral party.
Remapping the American Left: A History of Radical Discontinuity
JAMES N. GREGORY is the Williams Family Endowed Professor of History at the University of Washington and Immediate Past President of the Labor and Working- Class History Association. He is the author of numerous articles and prize- winning books, including The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America. Most recently he edited the 2019 Centennial Edition of the classic Seattle General Strike. This article derives from his ongoing work with the born- digital Mapping American Social Movements Project.
James N. Gregory; Remapping the American Left: A History of Radical Discontinuity. Labor 1 May 2020; 17 (2): 11–45. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15476715-8114733
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