Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu May 25 18:29:24 MDT 2000

[As I have stated a number of times, the American left faces a situation
not unlike that of the 1950s.  Following the radicalization of the 1930s
and 40s, there was a witch-hunt, which combined with the Krushchev
revelations, threw the Communist Party into a crisis. In an attempt to
transcend the sectarianism of both the CP and the Trotskyist movement,
socialists gathered around the magazine American Socialist initiated a
"regroupment" process that attempted to launch--in the words of editor Bert
Cochran--a "New Left". Today, after the collapse of "official socialism" in
the USSR and the 1960s protest movements, the left finds itself in a
similar situation of trying to pick up the pieces and move forward. This
1957 tour report by Cochran provides both interesting information about the
efforts of the left to move forward back then, and possible clues as to how
we can develop our own "regroupment" today--starting with this mailing list.]

Trends on the Left: A Tour Report by Bert Cochran

I WAS absent from our office for almost a month beginning with the middle
of March, during which time I lectured in Detroit, Chicago, Berkeley, San
Francisco and Los Angeles, and, in addition, participated in a great number
of house meetings attended by anywhere from fifteen to a hundred people. A
brief rundown on some of these meetings has interest beyond house-organ
commentary, as they mirror the trend of some of the Left activities in the
country’s main centers.

I lectured in Detroit to an audience of about 130 under the auspices of the
Detroit Labor Forum. This is a non-partisan forum organization in which
quite a number of unattached radicals are participating. It was set up
about a year ago through the efforts of supporters of the American
Socialist and independent radicals and has by now become the most
impressive institution in town for the organization of forums, debates and
general discussion. Because it is genuinely non-partisan, attempts to
address itself to the independent radical, and seeks solutions to the great
problems of our times rather than devoting itself to the intra-mural
bickerings of small sects, it has won a position and attracts larger
audiences than Detroit has seen in the past decade. As will be shown, this
development is not unique with Detroit.

One other little sidelight is of more than passing interest. My lecture was
attended by a scattering of Auto Union people as well as a group of
students from Ann Arbor, and I had a two-hour discussion with the latter at
a house gathering after the forum. There was a reason for the attendance of
each group. The UAW in Michigan is seething with grievances and nervousness
as a result of unemployment, speed-up and the shift of plants to other
parts of the country. We are still a long way from socialist consciousness
or even interest, but as always, a pool of social discontent produces a
freer atmosphere, and numbers of isolated individuals begin thinking in
more fundamental terms and get interested in more basic discussions. As for
the students, I cannot be sure as to the full meaning, but I have observed
in a number of spots that small radical grouplets are sprouting up on a
number of campuses. I think the general picture drawn in the Nation some
weeks back is eminently right, but I also think that the political
atmosphere is slightly balmier, and that consequently intellectual
discussions are reviving in isolated corners of some of the larger campuses
among the few who are unhappy at playing Babbitt and are choking in the
climate of conformity.

They have a Eugene V. Debs forum in Chicago that is very similar to the
Detroit proposition, operates on pretty much the same conception, and
attracts a similar audience. What brought me to Chicago this time, however,
was the third anniversary reception for the American Socialist. It was a
gala affair in every respect. All of us are indebted to Harvey and Jesse
O'Connor for offering the use of their home and for their splendid help.
The cordial greetings sent to the gathering by Paul Sweezy of Monthly
Review, I. F. Stone, Joseph Starobin and others were cherished by all. And
finally, thanks are due to the large group present for their financial
contributions. Everyone had a good time. The atmosphere was festive. The
food and drinks were superb. And the speeches were pretty good.

IN San Francisco an almost identical development has taken place as in
Detroit and Chicago. George Hitchcock, well-known figure in San Francisco
both as a playwright and political activist, decided several months back
that the town needed a central discussion center. He called together some
of his friends and they set up "The Independent Socialist Forum of the Bay
Area." Their first public meeting featuring Carey McWilliams attracted a
good-sized audience. I was the second speaker and addressed an audience in
the neighborhood of 175. It is noteworthy that Hitchcock and his friends
had come to the same conclusion as others in different parts of the
country: That what is required is a discussion of the big problems of our
times and addressing ourselves primarily to the unattached radicals and
people who are first becoming interested in socialist thought.

Incidentally, my lecture in San Francisco must be considered a historic
event as it was delivered on the day of the biggest earthquake that the
city experienced since 1906. I had thought that the meeting would surely be
cancelled or postponed, but the arrangements committee went right ahead.
Obviously it takes more than an earthquake to ruffle the hardy San
Franciscan pioneering stock (some of it recently transplanted from New
York). The quake pointed up the great American genius for organization—
tinctured with ballyhoo. I turned the radio on within a matter of minutes
after the big jolt at 12:13 noon. The Mayor was on the air giving us the
lowdown on the situation and the considerable arrangements that were in
full operation (and incidentally putting in a plug on how he was right on
the job). In two minutes I had a picture of what was transpiring throughout
the area, what the experts thought, what the public authorities were doing,
and what safety steps I was expected to take. After a couple more city
officials filled in details, a chorus came on to soothe my jangled nerves,
singing, ‘Don’t take my love, my dear, unless you really care." Everything
was under control.

What with the successful forum, the several house meetings with trade
unionists and others, the student forum I addressed in Berkeley, and the
half hour radio interview over Station KPFA, I feel that the American
Socialist is much better known in the area, and our circulation there ought
to go up appreciably.

The symposium at the Embassy Hotel in Los Angeles, addressed by Vincent
Hallinan, Dorothy Healey, William Warde, Carl Marzani and myself, and
chaired by Reuben Borough, was attended by over 1,000. It made a big impact
on radical circles. The first impression of this type of meeting is
invariably favorable, audiences react initially (before the thing is
overdone), in the hope that a new approach can be found to revive
radicalism in our day. Here, I found a strong sentiment for the
establishment of an independent forum, and likely, the Embassy meeting will
serve as a preliminary for such a project. In Los Angeles, I had my biggest
round of receptions, house gatherings and the like, and have big hopes that
the American Socialist will now enjoy substantial support.

MY overall impression is that the Communist movement has had its authority
destroyed, is disintegrating apace and nothing is able to take its place
yet. The various sects have no attractive power, and they have never
demonstrated this so conclusively as this past year. The various Left
periodicals, groups, or what-have-you, lack either the know-how, or
substantial enough acceptance to be able to step forward as the new leading
center to bring order out of the chaos and purposefulness out of the
disorientation. Hence, the indescribable confusion and babel of voices.
Everything is up for grabs. For a period of time, discussion,
clarification, formulation of socialist premises, and a sorting out of
people will remain on the of the day—and all attempts to rush organization
are still premature and prove stillborn.

Out of the discussion and churning will come sooner or later a new
intellectual center that will enjoy the authority to enable it to take the
lead. It will not about through organizational hocus-pocus. Such a center
will only be created—and the year’s experiences bear out this out--through
a general acceptance of a program on the matters that count today. The
formulation and acceptance of a program is not a matter of reeling off six
or eight planks on civil liberties, integration or shorter hours of work,
or by utopian attempts to fuse quarreling sects.

We face a big job of intellectual labor, of re-orientation, of broad
acceptance of a new world outlook and set of tactics, of the creation of a
new morale. It will take place only when there is an ideological
breakthrough, and when there is a consensus of outlook established on the
part of significant numbers of American radicals, dissenters,
free-thinkers. That is what we have to work for. That is how the new
American Left will come into being. The American Socialist —herald of the
New Left—has to rededicate itself to this effort.

Louis Proyect
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