New Book: Revolution in the Air

Posted by on May 24, 2002


From: Dara Silverman

NEW FROM VERSO: a major interpretative history that will transform our understanding of 1960s movements and spark a vigorous and long-needed debate…

REVOLUTION IN THE AIR: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che, by Max Elbaum

“Max Elbaum has given us an incisive and critical history of the Other New Left – the radicals who brought class struggle and Third World liberation to the forefront, looked to the world for allies, and tried their best to work through the dynamics of race *and* class. If you still believe sixties radicalism was nothing more than youthful middle-class confusion or parochial identity politics, then open these pages and dig.” -Robin D.G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

REVOLUTION IN THE AIR is the first in-depth study of the long march of the US New Left after 1968. It tells the story of thousands of dedicated organizers who made the most ambitious post-1968 attempt to combine the energy and creativity of sixties’ movements with the working class tenacity of the Old Left. By recovering this under-examined chapter of US radicalism, REVOLUTION IN THE AIR challenges the dominant interpretation of the New Left, which artificially divides the decade into an early “good sixties” and a later “bad sixties.”

Meticulously researched by Max Elbaum, University of Wisconsin student leader in the late sixties and an activist ever since, REVOLUTION IN THE AIR details the work of the self-identified “New Communist Movement.” Through the mid-1970s this new current was the most dynamic and racially integrated trend on the US Left. Thousands of young Americans, radicalized by the Vietnam War and Black Power and spurred on by the Puerto Rican, Chicano and Asian American movements, embraced a Third World-oriented version of Marxism. For a decade, these admirers of Mao, Che, Ho Chi Minh and African revolutionary leader Amilcar Cabral organized resistance in factories and streets against the “new republican majority” of the Nixon and Ford years.

REVOLUTION IN THE AIR probes this experience, including the process through which the movement’s ardor to build a new revolutionary vanguard fell afoul of its own dogmatic paradigms. Painstakingly and self-critically, Max Elbaum describes the sectarian sins and failures of the partisans of Third World Marxism while refusing to obscure the resoluteness of their opposition to racism and imperialism. This fresh balance sheet of the late 1960s and 1970s Left is must reading for everyone concerned with the history of US radicalism. It is especially relevant for today’s new generation of activists who, like their sixties predecessors, are coming of age at a time when the Left lacks a mass base and is fragmented along racial lines, and when radical theory, strategy and organizational models need a major overhaul.

Max Elbaum was a member of Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s and a leader of one of the main New Communist Movement organizations during the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s he was a founder and editor of the socialist-dialogue magazine CrossRoads. His writings have appeared in the Nation, the US Guardian, Radical History Review, and the Encyclopedia of the American Left.

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