On September 24, 2011, Michael Kazin published an important essay in the New York Times, “Whatever Happened to the American Left?” In it he examined the “populist left’s” historic role in shaping politics and policy discussions in the United States, especially in moments of past capitalist crisis and the relative failure of this Left to gain influence in the current crisis. A week before this essay was published, unremarked by almost everyone in America, several hundred protesters, inspired by developments in Tahrir Square in Cairo, had gathered in lower Manhattan to protest economic inequality and the decline of democracy in America. By the middle of October, Occupy Wall Street had riveted the attention of the nation. Until winter weather and municipal police forces shut down Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park and scores of other encampments that had sprung up around the country, the Occupy movements created a space for left politics that had not existed for a very long time. IN LIGHT of these unexpected developments, it seemed appropriate to ask Kazin to revisit his New York Times essay and the pessimistic reading of post-1960s left politics it presented. In “The Fall and Rise of the U.S. Populist Left,” an updated and revised version of the New York Times piece, Kazin discerns possibility in the Occupy movements, while expressing skepticism about their desire to be “leaderless” and warning how hard it will be to escape America’s history of “failed ideas and strategies on the left.”
more from Dissent here.