Commentary Magazine


What's Left?

Unless one experiences a sudden conversion, one of those emotional thunderclaps after which the world changes color before one’s eyes, the process of shifting one’s attitudes toward familiar institutions and policies hardly strikes one’s attention more noticeably than the gradual process by which, we are told, the cells of the body replace themselves. One’s friends, nonetheless, delight in marking these changes; I have lately been informed by several of mine that I have clearly become very old intellectually, and veered shockingly to the Right. By coincidence, no doubt, this information was provided most recently by a man to whom I had been on the point of observing that he was becoming childish and that his political thinking had turned regressive. Which of us was right? What is Left?

For me, as for so many who were young in the 1930′s, the idea of what is Left was formed at a time when one out of every four workingmen in the nation was unemployed, when the Western farmlands were blowing away, when both the trade and the agriculture of the country were in a state of disastrous decay, when a fairly rigid class system still marked most of American society, when the Spanish Civil War was raging, when Nazism and Fascism were on the rise.

It seems to be current mythology that in the 1930′s all educated Americans were on the Left. This is nonsense. A second contemporary myth is that all those who held leftist sympathies were also members at one time or another of the Communist party, or one of its countless front groups. This also is nonsense. The “Communist Party U.S.A.” did indeed exert a considerable pull on Americans who accepted the leftist canons which I will describe below. It did so because the party was connected with a genuine source of temporal power, namely the Soviet Union; and the same circumstance forced all those affiliated with the party to accept Russian direction on international policy. Yet if there is one subject on which leftists have generally been unable to reach accord, it is on matters of international policy. The current near-unanimity of leftist opposition to the American role in Vietnam has helped many to forget that never before have American leftists been able to agree on what is an imperialist war or on what position they should take with regard to any other war.

On principles of domestic policy, however—and it is exclusively these to which I will devote my attention here—there was among people who considered themselves Left in the 1930′s, from the Social Democrats all the way over to the Trotskyites, a remarkable measure of agreement. I suggest that there were four general propositions which all of us on the Left accepted, even if we did not accept them explicitly. They were sufficiently precise to distinguish us from others who adhered to other social philosophies, and yet sufficiently vague so that we could agree on them and still disagree—in a mood of deadly enmity rising even to violence—on strategy, tactics, and most important of all, on whether the values we proclaimed had in fact been achieved on earth in any actual governmental system or program. The tenets were these:

First, we were proudly materialistic in the sense that we judged social and political programs primarily in terms of their power to increase the supply of goods and services available to those who now had less than a fair share.

Second, we rejected the profit motive as inhumane in itself and as an inefficient force for the production and distribution of goods and services.

Third, we believed that work was good and natural, that everyone wanted to work, and that the best instrument for putting an end to the exploitation of those who worked was the labor union—an institution to which we accordingly attributed a special social value.

Fourth, we believed that racial problems in an industrial world were, at bottom, economic, and that if economic problems could be solved, racial problems would cease to exist.

This is what it meant to be Left in the 1930′s. What remains alive of this catechism today?

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II

The materialism of the Left in the 1930′s consisted, quite simply, in the conviction that economic needs came first. This idea did not exclude other values—cultural, communal, educational, aesthetic. In fact, many leftists looked upon freedom from economic want as merely a necessary first step in freeing the mind and spirit for “higher” things. But priority was nevertheless given to the economic needs. And no one on the Left doubted that those needs were capable of being universally satisfied. Thus, for all its moments of depression, and despite the dire strategies of those leftist factions which saw a “final conflict” or a violent revolution as the only road to the achievement of the materialist goal, the American Left in the 1930′s was essentially optimistic. It assumed that the human population had already become stable in the industrialized countries, and would eventually be stabilized even in the colonies. And it assumed, in addition, that the supply of raw materials on earth would be sufficient to take care of all the reasonable needs of the entire population of the earth. Leftists in the 1930′s, in short, were enthusiastically anti-Malthusian, believing (on sound historical grounds) that Malthus was a bogey man on whom the English gentry had relied in an effort to protect their property from encroachment by a rising proletariat.

In all this the Left was supported by the demographers of the time who assured everyone that the American population had leveled off at 130 million and would grow no further; by the stagnant birth rates of the European countries; and by its own theories of imperialism according to which overpopulation in the colonies was a direct consequence of exploitation. Where raw materials were concerned, the situation was even more reassuring, because there was a general consensus on the Left that any shortage of raw materials could be ascribed to the deliberate policies of the monopoly capitalists who controlled them and who, in order to augment their profits, were always creating unnecessary scarcity. The pollution of air and water scarcely seemed a problem in a time of economic depression. Factories that were not working produced no smoke, and there was a faint undercurrent of feeling with respect to appeals or crusades on behalf of smoke and pollution abatement (and such appeals were made from time to time) that their real intent was to increase the pressure on the working population to accept low wages by diminishing opportunities for employment.

It is hardly necessary to recite in detail what has overtaken these two optimistic assumptions that sustained the materialist faith of the 1930′s Left. In a sentence, Malthus rolled over in his grave and rose to walk among us. Within a few years after World War II the demographers were announcing that the population of America, far from having leveled off, was growing and that its growth would continue. Soon it became clear that certain material benefits—some goods such as housing and many services like education—were incapable of indefinite expansion, or could only be expanded at serious cost to their quality and therefore to their ability to satisfy the needs they were designed to satisfy. Soon, too, it became clear that the second optimistic assumption of the 1930′s Left—that the supply of raw materials was adequate to take care of the material needs of all—might also have to be reexamined. The pollution of natural resources and the depletion of raw materials could not fairly be dismissed as problems peculiar to monopoly capitalism—for they were as serious if not more serious in non-capitalist countries; they now had to be seen as consequences of the attempt to supply more goods and services while keeping prices low enough to remain within the economic capabilities of more and more people.

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If it no longer seems possible to provide larger and fairer shares of goods and services to all, the materialist primacy of the 1930′s Left must be fatally compromised. And so, indeed, it has been for many who regard themselves as leftists today. Such contemporary leftists have tended to take two alternative tacks. One has been to pass over the problem of providing material benefits altogether and to concentrate instead on other issues. Thus, for example, there are those who believe that “community control” of inadequate resources will somehow compensate for the fact of their inadequacy, or that the major tragedy of insufficient income is the “stigma” that poverty entails. My own observation of the results of these brief flights over material needs is that they leave all concerned dissatisfied. The advocates of community control suddenly find upon winning that they have been given custody of an empty bag, while the “stigma” attached to poverty turns out to reside largely in the eyes of those not poor themselves. As a substitute for the hard job of distributing goods and services more equitably than we have so far done, this dematerialization of materialism simply will not serve.

A second, contrary tendency of those who feel the traditional materialism of the Left compressing itself under the weight of too many people is to turn away from the immediate material needs of the living population and concentrate their attention in effect on the population of the future by emphasizing the issue of the heritage of natural resources we are passing on to the generations to come.

In the 1930′s, there was at best an uneasy truce between conservationists (the precursors of the environmentalists of today) and those who saw the primary social and political problem as the widest possible distribution of greater material benefits. The conservationists were not only non-leftists, they were anti-leftist both in intellectual analysis and in style, and the language with which the two groups addressed each other was far from friendly. Today the environmental movement acts and talks in the style of the Left and is often taken both by itself and by others as a movement of the Left—an identification made easier by the fact that large private corporations offer themselves as the movement’s most obvious and immediate targets. But as anti-Semitism has been described as the socialism of fools so at least one wing of the environmental movement might be described as the socialism of cherubs: to this wing man alone of all the creatures on earth is vile and he alone has illegitimate needs and wants. This element of anti-humanism may not characterize the entire environmental movement, but neither does that movement contribute anything to meeting the primary challenge posed by the need of so many human creatures in the present for a higher and more generous standard of living.

Although only a fool would categorically deny that the natural environment is imperilled by the demands placed on it by a constantly growing population, it should, I think, be impossible for anyone who calls himself a person of the Left to accept the idea that the way to save the natural environment is by cutting consumption on the part of those who already consume the least, whose homes are derelict, whose diet is inadequate, whose health services, clothing, recreational opportunities are grossly deficient. Even while the environmental movement walks and talks like a new and more advanced incarnation of the Left, its unconcern and even contempt for what I have described as the first tenet of leftism makes it look more like an Old Right than a New Left. For from any perspective which deserves to be called Left the problem with respect to the natural environment is surely how to make some people cut back while others move forward. Politically this poses almost exactly the same problems of production and distribution that the emphasis on material values posed forty years ago. As many different answers will appear today as appeared in the 1930′s, and it is likely that along this front the most important political action of the next forty years will unfold. But wherever the “correct” answer may lie, it will not be found by following those who feel that they have solved the mystery that ties man to nature by raising a banner entitled Zero Growth. For many, and especially for the relatively deprived, Zero Growth means continued deprivation and the eventual doom of hope.

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III

The second mark of the Left in the 1930′s was the belief that the profit motive was both inhumane and inefficient as a force for the production and distribution of goods. Each faction on the Left developed its own recipe for the form of enterprise which would replace profit-motivated private capitalism; each faction had its own prescription for the way in which the future would come to succeed the present. It is a source of melancholy amusement to recognize that the contemporary Left has replaced the fascinating complexities of the Old Left’s strategic disputation with a simple question: Should one work within the System or outside it? We have already discussed what has happened to materialism, and this current question apparently presages the fate of dialectic.

In any case, to understand the Left’s troubles over private enterprise it is hardly necessary once again to recount the economic disasters of the 1930′s, nor to recall the extent to which the American economy was totally a matter of private business activity at the time. No one suggested that the Depression of 1929 followed Herbert Hoover’s game plan; the problem was that Herbert Hoover hadn’t any, and thought he didn’t need one. Today the impression of private capitalism has changed somewhat, even on the Left. It is no longer open to criticism—or at least, as we shall see, it has not been until lately—on the grounds of incapacity. On the contrary, it has lately been attacked for being all too competent, not merely in its productivity, which is now seen rather as something dangerous, but in its ability to accomplish what in the 1930′s it set itself above all to resist or conceal: the apparent intervention of government in its behalf.

The second part of the general leftist distrust of private profit in the 1930′s was more complex, and went to the issue of whether the profit motive permitted humane performance. In the 1930′s, the failure of private-for-profit production to put people to work, or to find a better use for pigs, while men hungered, than to slaughter them and bury their bodies, excited moral repugnance. And this moral repugnanace was reinforced by the general recognition that private entrepreneurs had been responsible in the past for the rigor and cruelty of the period of capital accumulation. American industrialists—whose trail had not been broken by feudal and hereditary aristocratic predecessors—had, we believed, imposed their own hierarchical order on this virgin territory, acquiring for their own use the natural wealth of an untapped continent, exploiting the workers, importing slaves from across the ocean, and devising a caste system that continued to accomplish their economic ends long after slavery had legally been abolished.

Although the double indictment of the private-profit system produced on the Left a wide and acrid disagreement over precisely what was to be done, all the remedies—save the anarchist remedy which found customers only in the literary world—shared in one element: the conviction that some form of general governmental control would be necessary to abate the evil and provide a sounder motive for economic activity, even if human nature itself had to be changed in the process.

Looking back today, it is possible to discern another element, less objective perhaps but extremely significant, that contributed to the general distrust of profit-motivated private enterprise. This was the pervasive fear that there would be no adequate place for young people of independence and intellectual courage in the profit-motivated world, and that we could expect to find roles suited to our talent and vision only if some major change occurred, affecting the entire process. Sometimes we masked this fear of exclusion by nurturing the belief that we would each be presented with an opportunity to “sell out,” an offer which we would all summarily reject.

Many of us, of course, discovered when the awesome moment came at which we had to earn a living that it was not so easy to turn a moral lapse into cash—that even if we were willing to sell, there was a dearth of customers willing to buy. And when we did succeed in making the sale, it became evident that the customer was buying, not our moral fall, but our intellect and talent; ultimately many of us sold out to the challenge of the obstacles rather than the attraction of the rewards. In this respect, at least, we found the moral issues of private profit much more complex than they had looked from the outside.

Though this by itself did not wholly disprove our original notion that private enterprise was a tangle of inefficiency, greed, and double-dealing, we made a much more important discovery simultaneously which further undermined our general point of view: we discovered government . If private enterprise turned out to be less impotent than we had imagined, and perhaps less evil as well, it could be said with even greater certainty that government was not nearly so promising or so benevolent as we had correlatively imagined. Once we had discovered that “bureaucracy” was not merely a fiction dear to Capt. Patterson’s Daily News and the Liberty League, but a frequently troublesome reality here and an iron tyranny in the socialist countries, it became much harder to believe that replacing the profit motive by government control would issue in the millennium. At the same time, at the top of the Eisenhower boom, when enlightened postwar capitalism and mutual funds worked hand in hand, it became considerably harder to attack private enterprise for inefficiency than it had been in the Depression.

Conversely, however, it became harder to continue believing in the virtues of private capitalism as in the next few years actual unemployment refused to disappear, as the facts on the economic plight of blacks and other minority groups emerged, as the salad-oil scandal broke and the stock market caved in, as the housing industry proved itself unable to provide a product which, even with subsidies, a majority of the American public could afford to buy or even to use.

The reappearance of economic problems which so many of us assumed had been solved might have seemed to justify the original suspicion of the profit motive shared by everyone on the Left during the 1930′s. But closer inspection revealed that the old suspicions had not correctly identified the shortcomings of the system of production for private profit. To cite only two examples: where we thought that private industry alone, and not the government, would refuse to undertake any activity that was not economically profitable, we now began to find that government too was hampered by the inability to cover the cost of its programs or to win local acquiescence in federal plans; and where we were afraid that the workers would be unable to buy back the products they manufactured, we began to discover instead that the workers were as a class acquiring great purchasing power while below them there was growing up a new dependent class of people who, with tremendous needs to satisfy, were unable to work at all.

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In fact, the difficulties facing the system of production and distribution in the United States are so massive today—particularly when measured against the promises that have been made to all sections of American society—that some on the Left have given up all serious hope of developing any viable set of economic arrangements and are instead stressing the values of non-work, community, and natural freedom. Such leftists—if leftists is what they really are—can of course give us no help in dealing with our economic problems. But what of the original leftist doctrine of the 1930′s? I believe I am not alone in thinking that some of it might still be helpful in coping with the economic problems of today.

In particular some of us have begun to wonder if our negative postwar judgment of government action was not somewhat over-hasty. The criticism which we had to make of government some years ago—that it was fumbling and hesitant, impolite and ineffectively manned, that, in short, it repeated in a larger and somewhat more impacted way many of the mistakes of private industry—is not the criticism we hear nowadays from others. Today the complaint generally is that government is ruthless, insensitive, elitist, professional, and untrustworthy. There are, of course, those who will consider these adjectives damning, but they are also the adjectives which one applies almost as words of welcome to people who arrive on the scene determined to accomplish something. Those of us today who feel a desperate need to accomplish something in the economic sphere might well remember the position we held earlier and be prepared to make peace with the aggressive characteristics now so often decried in government by many who claim no longer to believe in it.

It is also worth noticing that, with the exception of some who vaguely cry “Power to the People,” the criticisms of government stop short of the allegation that, by its very nature, it is illegitimate. There are, indeed, widespread differences on what the character of government should be, how decentralized its operations, how significant its guarantees of free thought and free speech, how it can exact a necessary degree of conformity (and no more) from its citizens, how its leadership shall be selected—the list is endless. But with all the dissatisfaction with the operation of this particular system of government at this particular time, the challenge to the notion of government itself remains notably muted. The process of government retains a legitimacy which, for better or worse, the system of private enterprise seems at least for the moment to have lost.

This is not an insignificant inheritance. The economic task that lies ahead—the adjustment of resources and production to a Malthusian situation in which appetite grows by what it feeds on and faster than what it feeds on—will lay a heavy hold on us; indeed it already does. The assumption of general affluence wanes in the face of an overwhelming need for services and goods, and before the sense of diminishing natural assets. The system that worked quite well in postwar America—a system based on a continuing inflationary expansion of incomes, and on the painless taxing away of part of the increase for the benefit, among others, of those whose earning power was low—seems to be reaching a limit, and will not remain painless and probably will not work at all when real income stops rising. Whoever imposes a new pattern of distribution, a new set of limits, for perhaps the first time, on earnings and consumption and a new system of controls on product design and raw-material depletion, will not be likely to win the favor of multitudes. Yet this, at a bare minimum, is what must be done to manage what its boosters blandly describe as a reordering of national (which must mean also super-national) priorities. The private-for-profit mode of ownership cannot impose such a regimen; nor will it be produced by local communes, dancing to their own guitars. Only government can do the job. The Left agreed on this proposition back in the 1930V, it retains—for reasons unforeseen at the time—a large measure of validity today.

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IV

Of the four beliefs I have ascribed to the Left of the 1930′s, none, at first glance, seems so totally abandoned as the third—the idea that labor unions possess a special social value.

Of course the Left’s commitment to labor in theory (practice remained quite another matter) antedated the 1930′s, but for those of us who reached political consciousness during the Depression, the camera caught the immediacy of combat long before television did the same thing in the area of civil rights and with similar results. I remember a large photograph that Life published in the 1930′s showing Richard Frankensteen and two or three other UAW organizers—one of them, as I recall, a Negro—blood streaming from their scalps, as they were repulsed from the Ford plant at River Rouge by Harry Bennett’s “goon squad.” Even those factions who regarded trade unionism as a fatal compromise between a potentially revolutionary force and the capitalist system saw in the picture of the bloodied organizers a demonstration of reality that surpassed words. The treatment of the sit-ins in the South in the early 1960′s has forever fixed in the minds of today’s Left the question: How can anyone say that decent men should never break the law as a matter of principle? So, in the same way, the battle of the unions to organize and to achieve bargaining parity in the 1930′s imprinted on the minds of the leftists of that period the belief that something of permanent value resides in the principle and practice of trade unionism.

What has happened to this feeling?

Unquestionably, for many who were on the Left in the 1930′s, it has disappeared in the overwhelming success that the unions have enjoyed—in the amazing fulfillment of the promise of the labor movement to effect a massive shift in class purchasing power in America. But the idea of union virtue also went down in pension- and welfare-fund scandals and reports of extortion and gangsterism; virtue rode off and disappeared from view in the Lincoln Continentals of the business agents; it drowned in a sea of work rules, feather-bedding, overstaffing, and jurisdictional hassles; it was buried in the vast fortunes made by some of the idealistic young men who decided in the 1930′s to devote themselves to labor law, having no idea that it would be lucrative but thinking, as do their current counterparts in OEO Legal Services, that they were giving up financial success in the pursuit of public service.

But the accusation against unions that carries the greatest weight today is that they deliberately exclude blacks and other non-white minorities, so that these institutions, once responsible for a vast broadening of the economic base of the nation, have become instead a reactionary force preventing the further broadening of that base. In summary, I think it not unfair to say that at the present moment many people who consider themselves to be Left in the contemporary context are either passively or actively anti-union. Indeed, some of their policy recommendations and strategies—community control of the schools, for example—include as a major objective the weakening and even the breaking of union power.

Quite apart from the question of whether an anti-union position can legitimately be labeled as Left, I cannot accept the idea that the unions no longer serve as a vital instrument for the achievement of social justice. First of all, there is the fact that the labor movement as a whole has made effective a large transfer of purchasing power, and that this process of transfer continues up through the present. New unions are emerging in the service fields, drawing almost their entire membership from non-white minority groups. I refer particularly to the hospital and retail-drug unions, and to the municipal-service unions which have organized sectors of the working class which had never before been organized. Other unions, originally consisting of a largely white ethnic membership, are now filling their ranks with non-white industrial newcomers. The Transit Workers’ Union, once almost completely Irish, has now become significantly black and Puerto Rican; the ILGWU, once almost completely Jewish, is now also largely black and Puerto Rican; and the United Federation of Teachers in New York has just absorbed thousands of non-white paraprofessionals who are beginning to benefit from the hard bargaining concluded earlier on behalf of the teachers themselves.

Another example of the same kind of thing can be found in the activities of the Joint Apprenticeship Program of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the Workers’ Defense League. Here, a special training program, based on an intimate understanding of union work rules and union strategic objectives, is helping to move a significant number of minority-group workers into sections of the building-trade unions which once systematically excluded blacks. The Workers’ Defense League, collaborating with Mount Sinai Hospital, has also developed another union-backed program for training young workers in special building maintenance skills, ranging from simple plastering to sophisticated oil-burner servicing. Here a whole new industry opens up which is directed precisely at one of the crucial economic targets of the 1970′s—reducing housing maintenance costs in the old cities.

A second continuing significance of the unions lies in their activities on behalf of major economic policy decisions by the national government. The primary objective of the labor movement as a whole—even to say so is supererogatory—is to insure work for its members at the highest possible wage. Unquestionably, the narrowness of this objective has led the unions to support national policies which provide full employment, to put the best possible face on it, at the expense of other values. They have indeed made peace with the government when the government has made war elsewhere. But the very narrowness of the objective is also a source of significant and important pressure in the direction of the materialist goal of the Old Left, the spreading of work throughout the economy. While local unions have tended to keep newcomers out until the older membership was fully employed, the national leadership, looking beyond these immediate concerns, has supported government programs which, through housing, school, and highway construction, through income-support programs and emphasis on social security and unemployment insurance, have tended to accelerate the inclusion of new groups into the working ranks of an industrial society.

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Of particular importance just now, at this particular moment, is the fact that the unions, by and large, inevitably stand for the economic needs of the present population. They are not likely to permit the production and distribution of goods and services which are needed now to be set aside without a struggle by those who believe that technology and industrial development are essentially incompatible with the protection of the environment. The unions will not necessarily be right in every argument with the environmentalists over the competing values of production and employment on the one side, and natural preservation on the other. But this is an issue which requires the confrontation of strong opponents if decisions are to be based on a proper balance of the values in question. One might even argue that the unions have been too slow to recognize the potential threat to employment and broadened purchasing power that has been posed by the environmental movement. Most probably, the national unions will get involved in this question only when unemployment begins to rise significantly as the environmentalists become more successful in effecting cutbacks in economic development. The voice of the labor movement then will be raised in the land and it will, in all probability, be the only voice speaking for the interests of the masses of people now living who will be asked to sacrifice the most for the sake, presumably, of those yet unborn.

The point about the unions which some of us are beginning to see is that they function best when they are embattled. Unions function best when they are competing among themselves for new members, precisely as they function best when their members are under some economic pressure, just as they function best when their adversaries feel the same threat at their own backs. Unions function worst when their members have spare jobs up their sleeves and can take endless strikes, or nearly endless strikes, without suffering excessive economic hardship. And they function worst when their adversaries are stupid, poorly led, inexperienced, or timid.

Two of the great discoveries made by some of us over the past forty years were, first, that we could cross certain picket lines with no twinge of guilt, that the mere fact that a union was engaged on one side of a conflict did not automatically put that side in the right; and, second, that it was not really true that wage increases and more expensive work rules simply reduced someone’s swollen profits. Nevertheless it remains the case that without a strong and vital labor movement the tradiional objectives of the Left are simply impossible of achievement.

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V

Of the fourth tenet of the 1930′s Left—the belief that racial problems in an industrial world are, at bottom, economic problems and that if economic problems are solved racial problems will also disappear—it is possible to say that virtually no leftist disagreed with it then and virtually no leftist agrees with it now.

Speaking, and very briefly, for myself (and perhaps for others with similar experience) I thought I knew something thirty-five years ago about what Americans had done to the Negro and the Indian; yet it has only been in the last few years that I have begun to become aware of the thickness of the accumulated humiliations, the depth of despair, and the sheer scope and variety of the problems imposed on people of color throughout the United States. I do not say this with any great sense of personal shame, or in order to brag of a miraculous recovery from the depths of sin. It is simply that I had not understood fully what was going on, although I had read about the racial problem endlessly, participated organizationally more than most, had friends in the black community, and took some small part in their political affairs. Today, in the light of what I have learned about the pervasive influence of color in the destiny of the non-white American, I can no longer believe, any more than most leftists, whether Old or New, that racial problems are entirely caused by economic factors or are entirely reducible to them.

Thus I now recognize the need, and I now support as just, the claim for vast remedial work with those who bear the scars of discrimination, broken family life, poverty, undernourishment, squashed ego, and all the other torments that racism has visited on blacks. (Many non-blacks require and have required the same kind of remedial work for the disabilities caused by discrimination based on class.) I cannot, however, accept the idea which has overtaken large segments of the contemporary Left that black performance in school or on a job should be judged by a special set of standards. To me this seems not only unnecessary but patronizing and demeaning to blacks. More than that, it is a denial of the belief in human equality—the one belief which more than any other has always distinguished the Left from the Right and loyalty to which sometimes seems as rare today on the so-called Left as it has traditionally been on the Right.

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VI

As I reach the end of this examination of the four tenets which were universally held on the Left in the 1930′s, I am struck by several impressions. The first is the seriousness of the present economic and political situation facing the United States, a situation in which wages and income are out of phase with productivity, and a whole roster of problems and conflicts has arisen to make more difficult the political steps necessary to bring these economic facts back into an acceptable relation with each other. Measured by the problems of this period in American history, the political discourse in which most of us are generally engaged seems unrelievedly trivial.

Secondly, I am astonished at how many of the central ideas of the Left of the 1930′s continue to enjoy a considerable measure of validity.

And finally, I suspect that the very friend who stimulated this enterprise by accusing me of having moved to the Right will nevertheless continue unconvinced, feeling that I have omitted what must seem to him the most significant element in my present stance: weariness. I, on the other hand, would argue that what he senses is simply the fact that I am no longer a practicing enthusiast. For this, I make no apology. I am now an enthusiast-in-waiting, knowing all too well that no program for social amelioration or greater justice ever works out exactly as one would wish, and that frequently it merely trades a newer, unworn evil for a familiar one which already fits loosely, and perhaps more comfortably. It may be that the greatest gift that the Left of the 1930′s can offer its contemporary successors may be the ability to expect the unexpected disappointment, and yet to persevere in the pursuit of a more equitable pattern of the production and distribution of goods, services, and political power, even when the facile answer no longer seduces, and when the tedious job of weighing, analyzing, and measuring the particular policy and the concrete proposal becomes—as it eventually must—the overriding order of the day.

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