You are on page 1of 37

Radical Historians and the Crisis in American History, 1959-1980

Author(s): Jonathan M. Wiener


Source: The Journal of American History, Vol. 76, No. 2 (Sep., 1989), pp. 399-434
Published by: Organization of American Historians
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1907976
Accessed: 24-04-2015 20:29 UTC

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at
http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content
in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship.
For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Organization of American Historians is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Journal of
American History.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
RadicalHistoriansand the Crisisin
AmericanHistory,1959-1980

JonathanM. Wiener

Mosthistorians profess
tobelieveinthepursuit oftruth, butasmembers ofa profes-
siontheyarealsoengagedin thelegitimation ofknowledge, in thedefinition of
whoisa historian andwhoisnot,whathistory isandwhatitisnot.Thedefinitions
themselves areproducts ofhistoricalforces.Overtimetheychange.The purpose
ofthisarticleistoexamine thatprocess byfocusing ontheprofession's initialrejec-
tionoftheschoolthatcalleditself"radicalhistory"inthe1960s,andthesubsequent
limitedacceptance ofthatschoolin the1970sand 1980s.
Duringthesixties, a newgeneration ofscholars, a newintellectual community,
formed outofitsownexperiences
itself andconcerns -notably thecivilrights and
antiwar movements. Amongtheprominent members of thatcommunity were
historianswhodeveloped a critiqueof,and an alternative to,thewaysAmerican
history had beenconstructed.Someintellectual leadersofthegroupmadeself-
conscious useofMarxisttheory,
organizing theirwork aroundissuesofclassrelations
andideology. Themajority did not,butall tookthoseissuesseriously. In general
radicalhistorianshavefocusedon issuesofexploitation, domination, andoppres-
sion;theyhavearguedthatexisting patternsofdomination arenotnatural orim-
mutable, butratherhavehistoricalorigins;thustheycanbe abolished. In seeking
thosehistorical theyhavefocused
origins, on ordinary peoplerather thanpolitical
elites,ongroups ratherthanindividuals, andonhumanagency ratherthanon ab-
stractor generalprocessesofchange.Fiercedebateshavesometimes brokenout
amongradicalhistorians. Newsubjects andmethods developed in response to in-
tellectualandpolitical
changesduring thesixtiesandseventies, andonetaskofthis
paperis totracethewayradicalhistorians' definitionsoftheirworkhavechanged.
Marxist ithasbeenwritten,
historians, are"obsessed byan . . . exclusivelyeco-
nomicinterpretation" ofhistory. They"forceevidenceto fittheirpre-conceived
opinions" and"ignore suchmaterials as do notsupport pointofview."
[their] They

ofhistory
JonathanM. Wieneris professor ofCalifornia,
at theUniversity Irvine.An earlierversionofthisarticle
waspresentedat the 1983annualmeetingoftheOrganizationofAmericanHistorians.Researchsupportforthis
articlewas providedbytheAmericanCouncilofLearnedSocieties.The authorwishesto thankEricFoner,Sean
Wilentz,JesseLemisch,ChristineStansell,PerryAnderson,MichaelP.Johnson,Daniel J. Walkowitz, and Peter
Novickfortheircomments, SusanArmeny oftheJAHfor herediting,and BillBillingsley
forhisresearch
assistance.

399

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
400 TheJournal
ofAmerican
History

believein "thesimplesinglefactorexplanation"ofhistory as "thefunctionofeco-


nomic motives." Therefore, it was argued, Marxist history is not history.,
The dominantvoicesin thehistory professiondescribedradicalworkin thisway
untilthemid-1960s.Sometimestheprofession specificallystigmatized Marxist his-
torywriting;just as often,mainstream criticsprojectedMarxism's supposedsins
onto all sortsofradicalscholarship. Indeed,mostof thestatements quoted above
in
appearedbetween1959and 1961 scholarly reviews oftwobooksbyWilliamAp-
plemanWilliams,TheTragedy ofAmerican Diplomacyand TheContoursofAmer-
icanHistory - booksthatpresented radical,but notreallyMarxist, interpretations.
HarvardUniversity professor FrankFreidel,reviewing thebook,calledMarxism"an
outmodedover-simplification." Oscar Handlin reviewedContoursin the official
journalofthepredecessor to theOrganizationofAmericanHistorians(OAH) and
informedthe profession that"largesections"of the book were"farcical"or "al-
togetherincoherent," and that Williamsmay have "intended[Contours]as an
elaboratehoax." The AmericanHistoricalReview(AHR) reviewer, FosterRhea
Dulles, called Williams's Tragedy "argument rather than history," thereviewer
and
in theAmericanPoliticalScienceReviewdeclared"thisbookcannotbe takenseri-
ously as history." Less than twentyyearslater,the Organizationof American
HistorianselectedWilliamsits president.2
The profession's initialdismissalofWilliamsand hissubsequentelectionto the
OAH presidencyprovide an exemplarycase showinghow historiansdefine
significant problemsand appropriatemethodsforsolvingthem,and how they
changethosedefinitions. The history profession as a community ofscholarsdraws
thelineseparating history fromnon-history and exercises sanctionsover.thosewho
do notconform to itsdefinition.Williamshad masterfully reinterpretedthemain
linesofAmericanhistory, but theprofession regardedhis workas non-history be-
causehe did not use theconceptsand methodsthatdefinedacceptablediscourse.
The rejectionand eventualacceptanceof Afro-American and women'shistory re-
vealedthe same phenomenon.3
In 1958someof thosemostvisiblea decade lateras radicalhistorians wereun-
known,scattered at schoolsthatlackedgraduateprograms: EugeneD. Genovesewas

I FosterRhea Dulles, review of The TragedyofAmericanDiplomacybyWilliamApplemanWilliams,Amer-


icanHistoricalReview,64 (July1959), 1022-23;C. A. McClelland,reviewof Tragedy ofAmericanDiplomacyby
Williams,AmericanPoliticalScienceReview,53 (Dec. 1959), 1195.
2 EugeneD. Genovesecharacterized WilliamApplemanWilliamsas a non-Marxist radicalbecausehe posed
a conflictbetween"the individual"and "thecommunity" ratherthanbetweenclassesand becausehe neglected
Marx'sconceptof exploitation.See EugeneD. Genovese,"WilliamApplemanWilliamson Marxand America,"
Studieson theLeft,6 (Jan.-Feb.1966),70-86. FrankFreidel,reviewof ContoursofAmericanHistorybyWilliam
ApplemanWilliams,Christian ScienceMonitor, Aug. 17, 1961,p. 7; OscarHandlin,reviewof ContoursofAmer-
icanHistorybyWilliams,MississippiValleyHistoricalReview,48 (March1962),743-45.JohnHighamprotested
thatHandlin'sreviewwas"tastelessand irresponsible . . . a scandalously
intemperatepolemic."SeeJohnHigham,
"Communication," ibid., 49 (Sept. 1962),407-8; Handlin rejectedthe criticism,ibid., 408. Dulles, reviewof
Tragedy ofAmericanDiplomacybyWilliams,1022-23; McClelland,reviewof Tragedy ofAmericanDiplomacy
byWilliams,1195.
3 See AugustMeierand ElliotRudwick, BlackHistoryandthe HistoricalProfession, 1915-1980(Urbana,1986).
No comparablestudyyetexistsforwomen'shistory, althoughthe need is obvious.The newpoliticalhistory and
quantitative historyofferexamplesof othernew schoolsthatmet initialresistance and thenacceptance.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
RadicalHistorians
and theCrisisin American
History 401

teachingat Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute,HerbertG. Gutmanat FairleighDick-


insonUniversity, Christopher Laschat WilliamsCollege,WarrenI. Susmanat Reed
College.A decade later,all had been hiredat majoruniversities, and twodecades
laterradicalarticleswereappearingin scholarly journals,and someyounger radicals
werebeinghiredby historydepartments and giventenure.Radicalhistorycon-
tinuedto be challengedand criticized, oftenvehemently, but it had becomepart
of the historyprofession, no longerexcluded.4
Howdid radicalhistorians establishtheirplacein theprofession? Howdid radical
history enterthedialogueamongAmericanhistorians? It wouldbe comforting to
theprofession to arguethatthe history professionexcludedradicalhistorybefore
1965simplybecauseit was bad history, and thatwhenradicalsbegandoinggood
history,theprofession acceptedand indeedhonoredthemand theirwork.Thusthe
profession excludedHerbertApthekerbut admittedGenovese;it excludedPhilip
Fonerbut admittedhis nephewEric.
The relevantcomparison, however, is not betweenAptheker's AmericanNegro
SlaveRevolts,publishedin 1943,and Genovese'sThePoliticalEconomyofSlavery,
publishedin 1965;it is betweenAmericanNegroSlaveRevoltsand theworkofUl-
richB. Phillips,thedominantworkofthetime,whichlookedat slavesthroughthe
eyesof "thedominantclassof the South,"to whomPhillipsdedicatedone of his
books.One mightalso contrast W. E. B. Du Bois'sMarxist-influenced BlackRecon-
structionin America,publishedin 1935 and ignoredfordecades bythe history
profession, withtheopenlyracistworkoftheDunningschool,partoftheregular
curriculum fordecades.5
Good workdoes notinsureacceptancefora newviewpoint.Scholars'definitions
of"goodwork"embodyassumptions aboutmethod,focus,purpose,and agenda
assumptions thatarenotoftenmade explicitorsystematically articulated.Indeed,
one characteristicofa successful schoolis thatmembersdo notneedto defendtheir
assumptions aboutsignificant problemsand appropriate methods;theirworkcon-
sistsof solvingproblemswhosesignificance is widelyaccepted.The conventional
explanation overlooks thecrucialproblem:Howwerea newgeneration ofhistorians
able to do radicalworkwithina profession thatrejectedit as nothistory?How did
the historyproducedbyradicalsin the sixtiesand lateracceptedbymainstream
historiansgetwritten in thefirstplace?The problemhas twosides:theformation
of a newgeneration of history students,mobilizedbythe civilrightsand antiwar
movements to challengeprevailing conceptions oftheAmericanpast,and a trans-

4For example,seeJonathanM. Wiener,"ClassStructure and EconomicDevelopmentin theAmericanSouth,


1865-1965," AmericanHistoricalReview,84 (Oct. 1979),970-92, and theensuingexchange:RobertHiggs"Com-
ments,"ibid.,993-97; HaroldD. Woodman,"Comments," ibid.,997-1001;andJonathanWiener,"Reply," ibid.,
1002-6. See also MichaelMerrilland MichaelWallace,"Marxismand History," in The LeftAcademy:Marxist
Scholarshipon AmericanCampuses,ed. BertellOllman and EdwardVernoff (New York,1982), II, 202-41.
5Ulrich B. Phillips,A History in theEasternCottonBeltto 1860(New York,1908);Herbert
of Transportation
Aptheker, AmericanNegroSlaveRevolts(NewYork,1943);EugeneD. Genovese,ThePoliticalEconomyofSlavery:
Studiesin theEconomyand SocietyoftheSlaveSouth(New York,1965);W. E. Burghardt Du Bois,BlackRecon-
struction:An EssaytowardaHistoryofthePartWhichBlackFolkPlayedin theAttempttoReconstruct Democracy
in America,1860-1880(New York,1935).

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
402 TheJournal
ofAmerican
History

formation in thehistory whichchangeditsdefinition


profession, of history
to in-
clude issuesand problemsthathad previously
been definedas non-history.

Beforethe sixties,the historyprofession, unlikesome fieldsin socialscience,had


neverhad a substantial groupofradicalscholars;someleftist scholarsofthethirties
and fortiesabandoneda Marxistorientation, including Merle Curti,LouisHartz,
and RichardHofstadter.6 A fewhistorians losttheirjobs duringthefifties, as McCar-
thyism sweptthecountry; mostoftherestoftheprofession provedto be easilyin-
timidated.
The Progressive school,withits sympathies forradicalsand democraticmove-
mentsand its attentionto economiccauses,had remainedopen to radicalwork.
But the consensushistoryinfluential in the 1950switha fewnotableexceptions
celebratedtheabsenceofradicalchallengesto thestatusquo, portraying America
as "a relatively
homogeneoussocietywitha relatively conservativehistory," inJohn
Higham'swords.InsteadofseeingtheUnitedStatesas dividedbetweenprivileged
and excludedgroups,RichardHofstadter, David Potter,LouisHartz,Daniel Boor-
stin,and othersemphasizedcontinuity and stability.7
The pictureofAmericanuniversities as powerful sourcesofoppositionto McCar-
thyismhas been shatteredby recentscholarship.When Americanuniversities
resistedinvestigation by anticommunist congressional committees, theirofficials
generallydefendedthemselves byclaimingthatthe university was capable of ex-
cludingCommunists and unrepentant ex-Communists on itsown.And thatpublic
claimseemstohavemaskeda secretrelationship betweeneachofthemajoruniversi-
tiesand theFederalBureauofInvestigation (FBI), in whichtheytradedinformation
about facultymembers'politicalactivitiesand ideas.8
In California,
forexample,periodicharassment ofleftists
and former leftists
was
transformed intoa permanent, quasi-legal"purgemachine."In 1952,twenty-eight
privateand publiccollegesand universities, includingtheUniversity of California
and StanfordUniversity, agreedto collaboratewiththe statelegislature's Com-
mitteeon Un-American Activities
and installon eachcampusan official responsible
to thecommittee.In thefirstyearofoperation,thissystemresultedin morethan
one hundreddismissalsor resignations and theprevention of about twohundred
newappointments. And privateorganizations also dedicatedthemselves to moni-
toringthepoliticalactivities
and opinionsofuniversity professors,reporting to the
House Committeeon Un-American Activities(HUAC) or to the FBI professors

6 On Hofstadter's
Communistpartyexperience, see SusanStoutBaker,RadicalBeginnings: RichardHofstadter
and the 1930s(Westport,1985).
7JohnHigham,History:Professional Scholarshipin America(Baltimore,1965), 221. Louis Hartzlamented
America'suniformity;
Daniel Boorstincelebratedit. The professionincludedcriticsofconsensusscholarship:
John
Higham,"The Cultofthe'American Commentary,
Consensus,"' 27 (Feb. 1959),93-100;C. VannWoodward, "The
PopulistHeritageand the Intellectual,"
AmericanScholar,29 (Winter1959-1960),55-72.
8 SigmundDiamond,"The Arrangement: The FBI and HarvardUniversity in theMcCarthy Period,"inBeyond
theHiss Case: TheFBI, Congress,and the Cold War,ed. AthanG. Theoharis(Philadelphia,1982), 341-71;Sig-
mund Diamond, "HeelingforHoover:God and the F.B.I. at Yale,"Nation,April 12, 1980,pp. 423-28; Ellen
No IvoryTower:McCarthyism
Schrecker, and the Universities
(New York,1986).

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
and theCrisisin American
RadicalHistorians History 403

whoselecturescriticizedHUAC or failedto criticizethe SovietUnion strongly


enough.9
M. I. Finley,a historianof ancientGreece,wasteachingat theNewarkcampus
ofRutgers University in 1951whenhe wasidentified as a CommunistbyKarlWitt-
fogel,a historian of China,testifying beforetheSenateInternalSecurity Subcom-
mittee.Wittfogel saidthatFinley, whilea graduatestudentat ColumbiaUniversity
duringthe thirties, had runa Communiststudygroup.Finley,called beforethe
samecommittee, testified thathe wasnot a memberof the Communistpartybut
invokedtheFifthAmendmentwhenaskedif he had everbeen one. The Rutgers
Boardof Trusteesdeclaredthatpleadingthe Fifthas Finleyhad done was "cause
forimmediatedismissal"and firedhim- thefirst timean Americanuniversity fired
a facultymemberforrelying on theconstitutional privilegeagainstself-incrimina-
tion.Finleywasthenblacklisted; no Americanuniversity orcollegewouldhirehim.
In 1958thehistory department of CornellUniversitynominatedFinleyfora posi-
tion,but PresidentDeane W. Malottrejectedthenomination.Finleyfounda job
at CambridgeUniversity in England,wherehe waseventually knightedforhisdis-
tinguishedscholarship.lo
Daniel Boorstin, an Americanintellectual historianat theUniversityofChicago,
tooka different coursewhensubpoenaedbyHUAC in 1953.He gaveHUAC every-
thingit wanted:he namednamesofCommunistpartymembershe had known-
his twocollegeroommatesand his adviserin history at Harvard,GranvilleHicks;
he declaredthathe agreedwiththecommittee thatCommunists shouldnotbe al-
lowedto teach;and he assuredcommittee memberstheywerenotthreatening aca-
demicfreedom."Boorstinwenton to writesomeofthefundamental worksofcon-
sensushistoryand thento serveas Librarianof Congress.
AmongthoseBoorstinnamedwashiscollegeroommate, RichardSchlatter,
who
at the timeof the hearingswas teachingAmericanhistoryat Rutgers, whichhad
firedFinleyfortakingtheFifth.WhenSchlatter wassubpoenaed,he toldthecom-
mitteein a privateexecutive sessionthathe had contactedeverybody he wasplan-
ningto name and had gottenpermission to name them.The committeedid not
askhimto appearat a publicsession,apparently wantingto avoidpublicizinghis
strategy foranswering theirquestions.12
W. A. Williamswasnotsubpoenaedbyanycongressional committee, buthe was
a targetforMcCarthyites at theUniversity of Oregon,wherehe taughtfrom1952
to 1957. "Variouspeople theretriedto makelifemiserableforme and someother
people on the campus," he explained."Theygot rid of at leastthreeof us." He
acceptedan offer fromtheUniversity ofWisconsin, one ofthefewmajoruniversities

9 David Caute,The GreatFear:TheAnti-Communist PurgeunderTrumanandEisenhower(New York,1978),


424.
10Schrecker,No IvoryTower,171-72,179, 273, 293.
" JonWiener,"TheOdyssey Nation,Sept.26, 1987,cover,305-7. ForBoorstin's
ofDaniel Boorstin," testimony,
see EricBentley,ed., ThirtyYearsof Treason(New York,1971),604-5.
No IvoryTower,196; RichardSchlatter,
12 Schrecker, "On Beinga Communistat Harvard:'PartisanReview,
44 (Dec. 1977), 612.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
404 TheJournal History
ofAmerican

thatdid notfirefacultymembersfortheirpoliticalviewsduringtheMcCarthy years.


ThenWilliams'spublisher,GeorgeBraziller, refusedto publishhisnewbook,The
Tragedy ofAmerican Diplomacy.In 1960HUAC subpoenaedthemanuscript ofThe
ContoursofAmericanHistoryas thebookwasaboutto go intogalleys.HUAC sent
Williams'snameto theInternalRevenueService;"theIRS workedme overforthe
betterpartoftwenty years,"Williamsreports, startingwithan effortto taxa grant
he receivedfromthe left-wing Rabinowitzfoundation.13
FewtargetsofMcCarthyism wereattackedbecausetheirscholarship wasradical.
Virtuallyall werechargedwithassociationwiththe Communistparty;mostsuch
associationshad takenplacein thepast,oftenin studentdaysa decadeortwoprevi-
ously,and manyofthoseattackedhad longceasedtheirconnection withtheorga-
nizedLeft.But theattackon radicalsand radicalideasprovedto be effective in in-
timidating academics,and the consequencesforthe profession wereprofound.A
chillspreadacrosstheintellectuallandscape:avoidingcontroversy becameprudent;
criticismof Americaninstitutions or practicescould endangerone's job. Faculty
membersplayedit safe,avoidingtopicsin theirteachingand researchthatmight
arousethe red hunters.14
The institutionsof the historyprofessiontookpartin the anticommunist hys-
forinstance,the Bancroft
teria.In the earlyfifties, Prizewas awardedto a poorly
written,minorbook on the groundsthat it showed"the inapplicability of the
Marxisttheoryof the class struggle.""5 During the fiftiesthe official
history
journals-those publishedbytheAmericanHistoricalAssociation(AHA) and the
OAH -placed theworkofthesmallnumberofradicaland Marxisthistorians out-
side the boundsof historical Williamswas not a Communist;he was
scholarship.
an independentradical.But theAHR did not considerhis book The Tragedy of
AmericanDiplomacyin its "Reviewsof Books"section.Instead,a one-paragraph
critiqueappearedin thesectiontitled"OtherRecentPublications." Williams'swork
receivedthe same treatment forseveralyears.When The GreatEvasionappeared
in 1964,arguingthatthehistory professionhad evadedMarxism, theAHR did not
reviewthe book at all. The Journalof AmericanHistory(JAH) gave it a one-
paragraphsummaryin the "Book Notes" section,whereit appearedalong with
Humor of the Old Southwest,SecretLoves of the FoundingFathers,and Bark
Canoesand SkinBoats of NorthAmerica.16

13 "InterviewwithWilliamApplemanWilliams,"in HenryAbeloveet al., eds., VisionsofHistory(New York,


1984), 132, 134-35.The interview publishedin RadicalHistoryReview(no. 22, 1979-80),65-92.
wasoriginally
14 Fora surveyof "apprehension" and "patternsof caution"amongacademics,including681 historians, see
Paul Lazarsfeldand WagnerThielens,Jr.,TheAcademicMind (Glencoe, 1958), 192-265.
15The book was ArthurHolcombe, Our More PerfectUnion: From Eighteenth-Century Principlesto
Twentieth-Century Practice(Cambridge,Mass.,1950). The committeethatyearawardedtheprizeto twobooks,
the otherbeingHenryNash Smith,VirginLand- The AmericanWestas Symboland Myth(Cambridge,Mass.,
1950).Foran accountcitingthecorrespondence oftheprizejury,see PeterNovick,"American Leftist
Historians,"
paperdeliveredat theannualmeetingoftheAmericanHistoricalAssociation, Dec. 1978,30n29(inJonathanM.
Wiener'spossession).
16 FosterRheaDulles,noteon TheTragedy ofAmerican DiplomacybyWilliamApplemanWilliams,American
HistoricalReview,64 (July1959), 1022-23;"BookNotes,"Journal ofAmericanHistory,51 (March1965),763-77.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
RadicalHistorians
and theCrisisin American
History 405

Duringthesixties, inresponsetothesocialandpoliticalupheavalsthatsweptAmer-
ican societyand politics,new groupsof historiansformed;the worktheydid
presented notso muchnewfactsas a different setofsignificant problemsrequiring
study,and different notionsof whatconstituted a solution.Theyproposeda new
radicalhistory.Theychallengednotonlythemainstream oftheprofession butalso
thescholarship producedbyhistorians withtiesto the Communistparty.The re-
ceivedorthodoxy of historicalmaterialism,and the interpretation of historythat
wentwithit, had been unquestionedin the party.The model of the disciplined
Bolshevik calledfora sternand woodenstyle.The partyhad no firmlineon Amer-
ican history,but itspoliticalshiftsrequiredshifting interpretations of thehistory
ofpopularstruggle, intentions
classalliances,and ruling-class and capabilities.The
subjectsof Soviethistory, partyhistory, twentieth-century labor history, and the
workofMarxist historiansunconnected withthepartyreceivedthemostdogmatic
treatments
The NewLefthistory thatwouldchallengetheprofession duringthesixtiesbegan
withtheshattering oftheCommunist party.And themostpowerful blowsto Com-
munistorthodoxy in theUnitedStateswerestruck, notbyHUAC orJoeMcCarthy,
but byNikitaKhrushchev. His 1956 acknowledgment of the crimesof Stalin,to-
getherwith the Soviet army'sinvasionof Hungary,destroyedAmericanCom-
munists'intellectualworld.18
The EnglishMarxisthistorianE. P. Thompson,whosebook TheMakingofthe
EnglishWorking Classhasbeenthemostimportant exemplar ofradicalhistory since
its publicationin 1964,has describedthe conditionsunderwhichan alternative
community of radicalscholarscould flourish:"some territory whichis, without
qualification,theirown: theirownjournals,theirown . . . centers:placeswhere
no one worksforgradesor fortenurebut forthetransformation ofsociety:places
wherecriticisms and self-criticism
arefierce,butalsomutualhelpand theexchange
oftheoretical and practicalknowledge; placeswhichpre-figure in somewaystheso-
cietyof the future."19
An alternative community beganto takeshape after1956,
of radicalhistorians
whenintellectuals leavingtheCommunistpartyjoinedwithleadingindependent
radicalscholars.ForAmericanhistorians In 1957
we can locateitsoriginsprecisely.
WilliamApplemanWilliamscameto theUniversity ofWisconsinin Madison;his
graduateseminarprovidedtheintellectual arenain whichNew Lefthistory in the
for
UnitedStatesfirstdeveloped.If radicalstudentsat Wisconsinworked grades,
theyalso engagedin themutualhelp,community building,and politicalthinking
Thompsondescribedas essentialto the developmentof radicalscholarship.

17 EricHobsbawm,"The Historians'Groupof the CommunistParty," in Rebelsand TheirCauses:Essaysin


HonourofA. L. Morton,ed. MauriceCornforth (London,1978), 21-47.
AmericanCommunismin Crisis,1943-1957(Cambridge,Mass., 1972);JonWiener,
18 JosephR. Starobin,

"The CommunistPartyTodayand Yesterday: An InterviewwithDorothyHealey,"RadicalAmerica,11 (May-June


1977), 25-45.
19"An Interview withE. P. Thompson:'RadicalHistoryReview,3 (Fall 1976), 25.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
406 The Journalof AmericanHistory

i _,~~~~A

11:'~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Warren Gutmanin Madison,Wisconsin,
JudithGutman,and Herbert
Susman, May1951.
CourtesyMrs.Warren
Susman.

Madisonhad a strong isolationist


Progressive, tradition
thatcombinedintellec-
tualworkwithpoliticalcommitment. Bytheearly1950s,Madisonwasalreadya
centerofintellectual
resistance
toColdWarpolitics andscholarship,
resistance
that
stoodoutsideboththeMarxistandtheliberaltraditions.
MerleCurtiwrotethehis-
toryofAmerican peacemovements;MerrillJensendefendedtheConfederationde-

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
RadicalHistorians
and theCrisisin American
History 407

mocracy; WilliamHesseltinestudiedpoliticsand becamea contributing editorof


Liberation magazine,a radicalpacifist
monthly. None had beensilencedbyMcCar-
thyism.20
HerbertGutmanwentto Madisonin 1950afterwhathe latercalled"a brief,in-
tenseifuneventful involvementwiththeorthodoxCommunist movement" and the
completionofan M.A. at ColumbiawithHofstadter. AtWisconsinhe studiedwith
Jensen,Curti,and HowardBeale ("myMadisonguides,"he latercalledthem)and
workedas Curti'sresearchassistant, helpingpreparean essayon CharlesBeardas
a historicalcritic."The Madisonyearsmade me understand thatall myleftpolitics
had not preparedme to understandAmericawest(and eveneast) of the Hudson
River,"Gutmanrecalledin 1982."Theprogressive historians. .. helpedme unload
mydogmaticblinders." WarrenSusman,a Wisconsingraduatestudentat thesame
timeas Gutman,recalledthatHesseltinealwaysaskedstudentsto writeon their
prelimsabout the use of the armyto deal withAmericaninternalpoliticalques-
tions."Thefearoftotalitarianism cametogetherwitha fearofexcessive government
powerof anykind,"he recalled.21
Williamshad been a politicalactivistbeforehe becamean historian.A naval
officerduringWorldWarII, he had workedwiththecivilrightsmovement around
the navalair trainingbase in CorpusChristi,Texas.As the Cold Warbegan,he
decidedto go tograduateschoolin history "totryand makesomesenseoutofwhat
the hell was goingon." His 1950 dissertationat WisconsinexaminedAmerican-
Russianrelations.He publisheda keyarticle,"The Legendof Isolationism in the
1920s,"in 1954 in Scienceand Societyand expandedits centralthesisinto The
Tragedy ofAmerican Diplomacy.Publishedin 1959,thebookarguedthattheroots
of Americanforeignpolicylay in the imperialexpansionof corporatecapitalism,
whichconsistently opposedrevolutionary
movements in otherpartsoftheworld.22
But Williamshad littleinvolvement withMarxisttheoryor Communistpolitics.
The students inWilliams'sseminarwhosetoutmostself-consciously tochallenge
consensushistory soughtto addressproblemsofeconomic,socialand politicalde-
velopment thatwerespecificallyAmerican.In 1959Williams'sstudents startedtheir
own journal,Studieson the Left.Overthe nexteightyears,its editorsincluded
MartinSklar,LloydGardner,JamesWeinstein, JamesO'Connor,StanleyArono-
witz,StaughtonLynd,and EugeneD. Genovese;itsassociatesincludedJoanWal-
lach (laterScott)and Susman.
In the editors'firststatementtheydescribedthemselves as "radicals";although
they did not referto as
themselves theyobjected scholarswho"shroud
Marxists, to

20 ibid. (no. 36, 1986), 101-3.


Paul Buhle, "Memoriesof Madisonin the Fifties,"
21 HerbertG. Gutman,"Learningabout America,"ibid., 104; WarrenSusman,"The SmokingRoomSchool
of AmericanHistory," ibid., 107.
22 WilliamApplemanWilliams,"The Legendof Isolationism in the 1920s,"Scienceand Society,18 (Winter
1954),11-20."Interview withWilliamApplemanWilliams,"129.At thesametimeWilliamscriticized thosewho
"makethefundamental errorofequatingeconomicdeterminism withMarxism." See WilliamApplemanWilliams,
"A Note on CharlesAustinBeard'sSearchfora GeneralTheoryof Causation,"AmericanHistoricalReview,62
(Jan. 1956),63.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
408 TheJournal
ofAmerican
History

in secrecythenowradicalfactthattheU.S. economyis capitalistic." The prevailing


conceptionof "objectivity,"theywrote,expressedthe worldviewof "the scholar
satisfiedwith-or browbeaten by- thingsas theyare."Thosewho "standopposed
to establishedinstitutionsand conventional conceptions" and whotherefore "pos-
sess an unconcernfortheirsafetyor preservation" could achievea moregenuine
objectivity."The radicalismofourtime. . . 'doesnotconsistin thethingsthatare
proposed,but in the thingsthatare disclosed,"'theywrote,quotinga stunningly
appropriateline from-of all people-WoodrowWilson.23
Studieson theLeftpublishedarticlesbyGabrielKolko,AileenKraditor, Conor
CruiseO'Brien,and a hostof graduatestudentswho criticizedthe beats,praised
Fidel Castro'srevolution,and debatedAmericancommunism.The journal'smost
important contributionwasa theoretically self-consciousreinterpretation ofAmer-
icanhistory, supportedbyan impressive seriesofresearch monographs. The editors
firstpresentedthis"corporate liberalism" thesisin 1962.Theyarguedthatthecen-
tralthemeofAmericanhistory wastheglobalexpansionofUnitedStatescapitalism.
The entirelegacyofpopularmovements had to be understoodwithinthiscontext.
Theirmostimportant politicalconclusionwasthatvirtually all popularand protest
movements had been incorporated withintheexpandingcapitalistsystem, instead
of undermining it.
Studieson theLeftwantedto makehistoryilluminatethe present.Its editors
arguedthatliberalism,the ideologybywhichthe corporateelitehad established
its hegemony, was becomingincreasingly authoritarian. The corporateliberalism
thesissuggestedthattheprincipalobstacleto thefurther democratization ofAmer-
icansocietywasnotthefarRight(represented at thatpointbytheJohnBirchSo-
ciety),but corporatecapitalism.The decisiveelementin Americanpolitics,the
Studies editorsargued,was the politicalsophistication of Americancorporate
leadership,actingin its own long-rangeclass interestby developinga liberal
ideology.The New Deal providedan exemplary case of the conservative achieve-
mentsof liberalreform and had includedthe leadershipof the labormovement,
whichwonrealconcessions. Capitalistsachievedtheirdominationovertheworking
classaboveall bymeansofideology.Byseizingtheinitiative in callingforreforms,
corporate capitalismturnedpopularprotestmovements towardstrengthening liber-
alism; as a resultpopularmovements seldom challengedcapitalismon socialist
grounds.24
GabrielKolkopublishedthefirst and in manywaysthestrongest ofthe mono-
graphsbased on thecorporate liberalismthesis.In The TriumphofConservatism,
he examinedProgressivism, whichprevioushistorians, Progressive
and consensus
alike,had describedas a democratic
movement forpopularcontrolofgiantnewcor-
porations.KolkoshowedthatmanyProgressive "reforms" had beeninitiatedbycor-
whoenlistedstatepowerto rationalizean economywhereuncon-
poratecapitalists
trolledcompetitioncreatedunstableand unpredictable conditions.Kolko'swork

23 "The Radicalismof Disclosure,"Studieson the Left,1 (Fall 1969), 2-4.


24 "Editorialstatement,"
ibid., 7 (Jan.-Feb.1967), 10-12.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
RadicalHistorians
and theCrisisin American
History 409

combinedexhaustivearchivalresearchwithan intellectualruthlessness in seizing


on crucialquestionsand demolishingthe consensushistorians' interpretationof
Progressivism.25
The corporate liberalism thesisaddresseda centralMarxist concern- thelinksbe-
tweeneconomicand politicalpowerin a capitalistdemocracy and arguedthator-
thodoxMarxismfailedto graspthenewformsof capitalistdomination.The capi-
talistclassin the contemporary UnitedStates,it asserted,rulednot just byforce
butalsobyproviding a rationalorganization oftheeconomytolimitstructural crises
and tomeetsomesocialneedsthatwouldbe neglectedunderlaissez-faire capitalism.
The corporate liberalism thesismadefifties Americanpoliticsintelligible:thein-
corporation of working-class challengeand the easydestruction of radicalmove-
mentsbyMcCarthyism. It tookseriously theproblematic ofconsensushistory, while
attacking itspiousnationalism and whigoptimism.And whentheliberalKennedy
and Johnsonadministrations committedthe countryto an imperialistwar in
Vietnam,advocatesofthecorporate liberalism thesiscouldclaimdecisiveempirical
confirmation.
Genovese'sThePoliticalEconomyofSlaveryrevealedhis intellectual tiesto the
corporate liberalism interpretation advancedin Studieson theLeft.His analysisof
the antebellumSouth emphasizedruling-class hegemonyand working-class in-
tegration, elementsat thecenterofthecorporate liberalismthesisregardingthein-
dustrialNorth.LikeKolko,he rejectedthe conclusionsof Marxisthistorians who
had written in the 1930sand 1940s.KolkoarguedthatPhilipFoner'sportrayal of
working-class resistanceto capitalismwasmistaken;GenoveseshowedthatHerbert
Aptheker's pictureof blackresistance to slaverywassimilarly erroneous.Genovese
drewon thetheory ofthemodeofproduction tofocuson theclassrelationbetween
masterand slave,and to portrayslave societyas fundamentally differentfrom
northern capitalism.He showedthe pressuresand limitsarisingout of the slave
mode ofproduction, whichpushedthe South'srulingclasstowardcrisisand war.
The reviewsof Genovese'sbook in the scholarly journalsweremostlynegative.
Some suggestedthatGenovesewas a bad historianbecausehe was a Marxist;the
restarguedthatGenovesehad someworthwhile thingsto saydespitehisMarxism.
The reviewer fortheJAH,Joe G. Taylor,wrotethatPoliticalEconomyof Slavery
containeda "good essay"on livestock;as forthe restof the book,"itsfewvirtues
are faroutweighedbyitsmanyfaults."TheJournalofSouthernHistoryreviewer,
ThomasP. Govan,a memberoftheeditorialboard,wrotethatGenovese"is either
unawareof the facts,misunderstands whattheymean, or is simplyunwillingto
permitthemto alterhispreconceived opinions."The Williamand MaryQuarterly's
reviewer,MelvinDrimmer, declaredthatGenovese's"over-all thesisisoverstatedand
simplified, tiedto a rigidphilosophyofsocialchange,based on questionableand
hypothetical reasoning,widelyat variancewithhistorical fact,and presentedwith

25 GabrielKolko,TheTriumph ofConservatism: A ReinterpretationofAmerican 1900-1916(Glencoe,


History,
1963).On morerecentworkdevelopingthecorporate see FrankBrodhead,"SocialCon-
liberalisminterpretation,
trol,"RadicalAmerica,15 (Nov.-Dec. 1981),69-77.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
410 TheJournal
ofAmerican
History

an arrogancewhichblindshim to evenhis own evidence."Historyand Theory's


reviewer, TheodoreR. Marmor, declaredthatGenovese'sworkwascharacterized by
"a combination ofempiricalacutenessand theoretical confusion."Genovese'sargu-
mentforsoutherndistinctiveness would have been more effective, the reviewer
declared,if he had relied,not on Karl Marx,but on the essayon "National
Character"in the 1954Handbook of Social Psychology. In theAHR Carl Degler
praisedthe bookfor"exposingthehiddenassumptions and the flawsin the logic
or evidence"ofearlierstudies.The "weakestelement[is] theassumption. . . that
theplantersas a groupwereconsciousof theirclassinterests," Deglerwrote.That
of coursewas the heartof Genovese'sMarxistanalysis.26
Onlytworeviewers understoodthe significance Genovese'sworkwouldhavein
breakingdowntheconsensusthatMarxist theoryhad no place in historical
scholar-
ship.Neitherreviewappearedin a professional journal.David PotterintheSaturday
ReviewcalledGenovese'sbook "one of the landmarksof Southernhistoriography
... one ofthosebooksthatrearrange basicconcepts." He praisedGenovese'sexplo-
rationofthemaster-slave relationship
and acceptedtheargument thattherelation-
shipdistinguished theSouthfromthecapitalistNorth.Genoveselatercommented
thatthe Potterreview"probablyhad moreto do withestablishing mybonafides
thananything else."27
Only one favorablereviewexplicitlyreferred to Genovese'sMarxism:Stanley
Elkins'slengthy essayin Commentary. Elkins'streatment ofGenovese'sMarxism was
remarkable. Beardwas not a Marxist,he began: "he could nevergraspthe subtle
relationshipbetweenclass interest,ideologicalconviction,and politicalaction
whichMarxand Engelsinsistedupon." Genovesewas a genuineMarxist.Elkins
declaredthathe was "thoroughly persuaded"byGenovese'sargumenton the dis-
tinctivenessofslavesociety,
theobstaclesto capitalist
development posedbyslavery,
and the South'sinternalcrisisas therootofsecession.ElkinsdescribedGenovese's
writingas "open-mindedand flexible."He statedhis own position:"the South
reflected a flawedformof capitalism,and the flawwas race."28
While the Studieson theLeftgroupwas arguingforthe keyroleof corporate
liberalismin Americanhistory, otherradicalhistorians weredevelopingotherin-
terpretations. HerbertGutman and David Montgomery belongedto the same
generationas the Studiesgroup,and, likeseveralof the Studieseditors,had had

26JoeG. Taylor, reviewof ThePoliticalEconomy ofSlaverybyEugeneD. Genovese,JournofAmericanHis-


tory,53 (June1966),36; ThomasP. Govan,reviewofPoliticalEconomy ofSlaverybyGenovese,Journa/ofSouthern
History,32 (May 1966),231-34; MelvinDrimmer,reviewofPoliticalEconomyofSlaverybyGenovese,William
andMaryQuarterly, 24 (Jan.1967),160-63;TheodoreR. Marmor, reviewofPoliticalEconomy ofSlaverybyGeno-
vese,Historyand Theory, 6 (no. 2, 1967),253-60; CarlDegler,reviewofPoliticalEconomyofSlaverybyGenovese,
AmericanHistoricalReview,71 (July1966), 1422-23.
27 David Potter, "Rightto Defend the WrongReasons,"SaturdayReview,Jan. 1, 1966,pp. 33-34; Ronald
Radosh,"An Interview withEugeneGenovese:The Riseof a MarxistHistorian," Change,10 (Nov. 1978),31-35.
28 StanleyElkins,"The FatalFlaw,"Commentary, 34 (July1966),73-75. The stateof theprofessionin 1966
is also revealedin thecriticalresponseto thechapteron theAmericanCivilWarin Barrington Moore,Jr.,Social
OriginsofDictatorship and Democracy:Lordand Peasantin the Makingof the ModernWorld(Boston,1966).
SeeJonathanM. Wiener,"ReviewofReviews:Social OriginsofDictatorship and Democracy," Historyand Theory,
15 (May 1976), 146-75.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
RadicalHistoriansand the Crisisin AmericanHistory 411

DavidMontgomery fromleft)demonstrating
(fifth withUnited
Radio,and Machine
Electrical, Workers 4 againstthe
(UE) District
HouseCommittee on Un-AmericanActivities
in Newark,NewJersey, 1956.

tiesto theCommunist party.NeitherGutmannorMontgomery, however,wasas-


sociatedwithStudieson theLeft;bothworked in relativeobscurityduringthe
Studiesperiod- GutmanatFairleigh Dickinson,
Montgomery at theUniversityof
Pittsburgh.Bothhadbeenvictims ofMcCarthyism.Gutman, as a graduate
student
at Wisconsin in theearlyfifties,
had independentlydevelopeda positionsimilar
P.
to E. Thompson's. Gutman's first
essay,"TheWorkers' SearchforPowerin the
GildedAge"appearedthesameyearas MakingoftheEnglishWorking Class,but
he did notbecomea leaderofradicalhistoriansuntillaterin thesixties.
Gutman
focused on thewaytheAmerican workingclass
was "made and re-made" bysucces-
sivewavesofimmigration andonthedefensive andresis-
rootsofclassconsciousness
tanceto capitalismamongworkers. He inspired
a generation ofyounger scholars
toseekoutin newwaystheroots
ofAmerican
working-class
life.29

29 Herbert SearchforPower
'The Workers'
Gutman, in theGildedAge,'in TheGildedAge:A Reappraisal,
ed. H. Wayne
Morgan 1963),31-53.Gutman
(Syracuse, calledhimself
a socialist,
butnota Marxist,
in"AnInter-
viewwithHerbert RadicalHistory
Gutman:' Review,27 (May1983),205-6,214-15.Gutman wassubpoenaedby
HUACin1953andquizzedabouthismembership intheCommunist hisparticipation
party, inthe1948presiden-

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
412 TheJournal
ofAmerican
History

Gutmanlaterdistinguished himselfevenamonghis radicaland Marxistpeers


bythestrength ofhiscommitment to genuinelydemocratic education,to bringing
the new laborhistoryhe had pioneeredto tradeunionists,labor educators,and
community collegeteachers.Thisworkculminatedin theAmericanWorking Class
HistoryProject,a multimediacurriculum on Americansocialhistorydesignedfor
workers students.Gutmanalso servedas an exemplary
and working-class figurefor
radicalgraduatestudents:"He showedus,"Sean Wilentzwrote,"thatyoudidn't
have to obeytheirrulesto partakeof the lifeof the mind."30
Montgomery providesanotherlinkbetweenthe Old Leftand theNew.He had
been a Communisttrade-unionorganizerduringthe fifties.Blacklistedby em-
in 1960 he decided to becomea historian.Beyond
ployersforhis union activity,
Equalityuncovered theworking-classmovement forsocialchangesbeyondthoseac-
ceptableto the RadicalRepublicans.Closerto the spiritand scholarship of Marx
thananything theNew Leftproduced,BeyondEqualitydemonstrated thatone of
the most criticalperiodsof Americanhistorycould not be understoodwithout
takinginto accountthe politicaldemandsof workers.31

Withina fewyearsof the foundingof Studieson theLeft,the politicalrealityit


soughtto comprehendhad undergonea dramatictransformation. In 1960-1961
in
blackstudents fifty-four citiesacrosstheSouthjoined thesit-inmovement, stir-
ringstudentpoliticalconsciousness acrossthecountry. In 1965twenty-five thousand
people turnedout forthe firstantiwarMarchon Washington, called byStudents
fora DemocraticSociety(SDS); henceforth thewarin Vietnamdominateduniver-
sitypoliticallife.The StudentNonviolentCoordinating Committee's (SNCC) grass-
rootsorganizingin the heartlandof segregation inspiredSDS to startorganizing
poorpeople in northern cities.The riseof the antiwarmovement, thecivilrights
movement in theSouth,and thewaveofghettorebellionsin Los Angeles,Newark,
Detroit,and elsewhereshatteredthe consensusschool'sassumptionthatin the
UnitedStatesthefundamental problemshad been solved;theyforcedtheissueof
race,ignoredbythedominanthistorians ofthe 1950s,intotheforefront ofAmer-
ican life.
The civil rightsand antiwarmovementsgave participantsan experienceof
makinghistory frombelow.It gavetheman appreciation ofthepopularcapability
to challengeelite domination-an appreciationlackingin the earlier,morepes-
simisticstudiesadoptingthecorporate liberalismthesis.The revivalofpoliticalop-
positionamongthemostoppressed(blacks)and themostincorporated (students)
tialcampaignofHenryWallace,and hisworkas a counselorat Camp Kinderland.He denouncedthecommittee
and refusedto answeritsquestions.See U. S. Congress,House,Committeeon Un-American Investiga-
Activities,
tion of CommunistActivities: New YorkArea-Part 5 (SummerCamps), 84 Cong., 1 sess.,Aug. 1, 1955,pp.
1394-1400.
30 SeanWilentz,"Herbert Gutman,1928-1985,"VillageVoice,Aug.6, 1985,p. 42. See alsojoan WallachScott,
"Remembering HerbertGutman,"RadicalHistoryReview,34 (Jan. 1986), 108-12.
31 David Montgomery, BeyondEquality: LaborandtheRadicalRepublicans, 1862-1872(New York,1967);"An
Interview withDavid Montgomery," in Abeloveet al., eds., VisionsofHistory,167-83.David Montgomery, "The
Working ClassesofthePre-IndustrialAmericanCity,1780-1830," LaborHistory,9 (Winter1968),3-22, waswidely
reprinted in anthologiesin the earlyseventies.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
and theCrisisin American
RadicalHistorians History 413

requiredanalysis;itsuggesteda different senseofhowhistory wasmade:notsimply


byelites,fromthetop down,butin theinteraction ofsocialgroupsholdingpower
in different forms.A secondwaveof New Lefthistorynow appeared,dubbed by
one of its leadingvoices,JesseLemisch,as "history fromthe bottomup."32
The civilrightsand antiwarmovements rapidlybecamea sourceof intellectual
energyforthosedevelopingcriticalperspectives on consensushistory. In the early
stagesmuchofthatcritical workdid notcomefromMarxists. One crucialearlychal-
lengeaddressedtheprevailing pictureofabolitionists as psychologically disturbed
fanatics.MartinDubermanmade clearthe connections betweenactivismand the
newscholarship in the openingsentenceof his 1962 essay"The Abolitionists and
Psychology." Historianswitha "heightenedconcernwiththepressingquestionof
Negrorights," he wrote,had undertakena reevaluation of the abolitionists"who
in theirowndaywereinvolvedin a similarmovement ofsocialchange."He empha-
sized thatthisscholarship was relevantto the movement:"Aboutboththemand
ourselves we areaskinganewsuchquestionsas theproperroleofagitation,theun-
derlying motivesof bothreformers and resistants,and theusefullimitsofoutside
interference."In thesameperiodLeon LitwackpublishedNorthofSlavery,which
challengedthe assumptionthatthe Northtreatedblackswith"benevolenceand
liberality."33
In one of the great coincidencesof historywritingwith historymaking,
Thompson's MakingoftheEnglishWorking Classwaspublishedin 1963,to be read
bystudentsinspiredbytheexampleofSNCC and readyto begintheirownmove-
mentto challengecorporate liberalism.Thompsonhad lefttheBritishCommunist
partyafter1956and helpedfoundNewLeftReviewin 1959,thesameyearStudies
wasorganized.The Review'scommitment to constructing an independentand crit-
icalMarxist theoryand history,politically
engagedwithconcrete politicalissues,was
strikinglysimilarto thatof the Studiesboard.34Thompson'sbook, meanwhile,
showedhowpeople whomhistorians had describedas mobs,deviants,and eccen-
tricshad beenintelligibleand intelligentagentsofhistory. He showedthatordinary
working peoplehad developedan articulate cultureofresistance to capitalistexploi-
tationand thattheyhad createdit out oftheirownculturaland ideologicaltradi-
tions;it was not the creationof a "vanguard"politicalparty.
ThroughtheVietnamteach-inmovement of 1965,practitioners ofthenewhis-
toricalscholarshipforgeda linkto politicalactivism.Williamshelpedorganizethe
University ofWisconsinteach-inand spoketo twothousandstudentsthere;at the
Berkeleyteach-in,StaughtonLyndspoketo twelvethousand.At theWashington
NationalTeach-Inon May 15, 1965,one hundredcampusesconnectedbya radio

32JesseLemisch,"The AmericanRevolutionSeen fromthe BottomUp:' in Towardsa New Past:Dissenting


Essaysin AmericanHistory,ed. BartonJ. Bernstein(New York,1967), 3.
33 MartinDuberman,"The Abolitionists and Psychology,'
JournalofNegroHistory,47 (July1962), 183-91;
Leon F Litwack,Northof Slavery:The Negroin the FreeStates,1790-1860(Chicago,1961),vii.
34 E. P.Thompson,ThePoverty ofTheory (London,1978),i-v;John Saville,"TheXXthCongressand theBritish
CommunistParty," in The SocialistRegister,
1976 (London, 1976), 1-23; David R. Holden, "The FirstNew Left
in Britain"(Ph.D. diss.,Universityof Wisconsin,Madison,1976).

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
414 TheJournal
ofAmerican
History

as Activists
Historians
LeonLitwack
(aboveleft)introducing
HenryWallace
atanoff-campus peace
| t ;' ' 1. ofCalifornia,
at theUniversity
.eft?rmeeting>;*4ps'"^X!F

Berkeley, in 1949.EslandaRobeson(Paul
:.. T Robeson's S. Lester
wife), Hutchinson,
M.P.,
.r
Ij6** ~ 5TI*-sar { rh 3 and SenatorMicheleGuia ofItalyare
behind
Litwack
andWallace.

. .. oanWallach
Scott onthesteps
(aboveright)
t oftheMemorial
Unionat theUniversity
of
_ Madison,
Wisconsin, ata
1963,speaking
rally the
against VietnamWar.
PhotographbyC. ClarkKissinger.

(left)infront
EricFoner ofColumbia
LowLibrary.
University's Thisphotograph
of
students tonuclear
opposed testing
appeared
intheColumbia circa1962.
DailySpectator

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Radical Historiansand the Crisisin AmericanHistory 415

JohnHigham,Arthur
JohnHope Franklin, Mann,andWilliamLeuchtenburg
demonstrators
withothercivilrights
(leftto right)marched
fromSelmato Montgomery,Alabama,in March1965.
byDennisHopper.
Photograph

at a peacemarchin San Francisco,


Levinewithhisfamily
Lawrence
circa1971.
Califomniaj
This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
416 TheJournal
ofAmerican
History

hookup held simultaneousteach-ins.Christopher Lasch, then teachingat the


UniversityofIowa,questionedtheteach-ins' politicaleffectiveness
butnevertheless
saw themas potentialsourcesof a new left,cuttingacrossgenerational divisions.
Teach-ins,he wrotein theNation,"represent preciselytheminglingofage groups
whichhas to occurbeforean effective Leftcan takeshape."35
The Rutgers teach-inhelpedearnGenovesethefullattentionoftheprofession.
Genovesewas among the mostpoliticallyoutspokenof the Studieson the Left
editors.In 1965RichardM. Nixonattackedhim forhis oppositionto the warin
Vietnam.In a speechat theRutgers teach-in,Genovesesaid,"I do notfearorregret
theimpendingVietcongvictory in Vietnam: I welcomeit."The Republicanguber-
natorialcandidatedemandedthattheDemocraticgovernor fireGenovesefromhis
tenuredjob. Nixoncame to the stateto campaignforthe Republicansand asked
a cheeringAmericanLegionaudience,"Does an individualemployedbythestate
havea rightto use his positionto giveaid and comfort to theenemiesoftheU.S.
inwartime?" The legionnaires roaredback,"No!" Nixonbeamed.Nixonsenta copy
ofhisspeechcallingforGenovese'sfiring tohissupporters aroundthecountry. Later
he told WilliamSafire,"I knowyouand the restof the intellectuals won'tlikeit
. . .but somebodyhad to take'em on."36
The incumbentgovernorand the Rutgersadministration publiclydefended
Genovese'srightto teach.The Democratswonin a landslide,and theAmericanAs-
sociationofUniversity ProfessorsgaveRutgersitsAlexanderMeiklejohnAwardfor
not firingGenovese.He, however,describesthe aftermath differently:afterthe
Nixonattack,theRutgersadministration "madeclearto me thatI wasgoingto be
a secondclasscitizenin salaryand inpromotion He resignedand went
possibilities."
to SirGeorgeWilliamsUniversity in Canada. Genovese'sThePoliticalEconomyof
SlaveryappearedthedayaftertheNewJersey gubernatorial election.The New York
Times,the Woashington Post,theNew YorkHerald Tribune,theSaturdayReview,
and Commentary all ranreviews ofthecontroversialhistorian'sscholarship."In all
Genovesesaid,they"wouldn'thavereviewed
probability," thebookat all ifithadn't
been forthe politicalnotoriety."37
IftheGenovesecaseat Rutgers showedthatuniversities wouldsometimes protect
radicalscholarsfacingoutsidepoliticalpressure,the experienceof Lyndat Yale
demonstrated thatuniversitiescould end thecareersofradicalhistorians whowere
also activists.Lynd,the most importantradicalorganizeramong the New Left
historians,wasfiredbyYale in 1968; despitehis important workon thehistory of

35 ForthetextofthetalksbyWilliamApplemanWilliamsand Staughton Lynd,see LouisMenasheand Ronald


Radosh,eds.,Teach-Ins:US.A.: Reports,Opinions,Documents(NewYork,1967),45-59; Christopher Lasch,"New
Curriculumforthe Teach-Ins:'Nation,Oct. 18, 1965,pp. 239-41.
36 "RutgersDisputeLoomsas CentralIssueinJersey,'New YorkTimes,Oct. 17,1965,p. 84; NewJersey Legisla-
ture,GeneralAssembly, "Reportto theGeneralAssembly oftheStateofNewJersey reProfessor
EugeneD. Geno-
veseand the 'VietnamTeach-In'at RutgersUniversity on April23, 1965:' p. 1 (DocumentsDivision,Princeton
UniversityLibrary,
Princeton, NJ.). See also ArnoldBeichman,"Studyin AcademicFreedom,'New YorkTimes
Magazine,Dec. 19, 1965. William Safire,Beforethe Fall: An Inside Viewof the Pre-Watergate WhiteHouse
(Garden City,1975), 22. See also "Mr.Nixonin NewJersey," editorial,New YorkTimes,Oct. 27, 1965,p. 42;
and RichardM. Nixon to editor,ibid., Oct. 29, 1965,p. 42.
37 Radosh,"Interview withEugene Genovese,'31-35, 32.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
RadicalHistorians
and theCrisisin American
History 417

Americanradicalism, no universitywouldhirehim. The firingand blacklisting of


StaughtonLyndmarkeda keymomentin theformation ofradicalhistoryand con-
tributedto theadversary relationship betweenradicalsand themainstream ofthe
profession.
Duringthe MississippiFreedomSummerprojectin 1964,Lyndhad servedas
directoroftheFreedomSchools,a projectthatenrolledtwothousandblackchildren
in thirty-onesummerschools.In April1965 he chairedthe committeethatorga-
nized the firstantiwarmass marchon Washington.While he was an assistant
professorat Yale,Lyndtravelledto NorthVietnamin 1965withTomHaydenand
HerbertApthekerin defianceof a StateDepartmentban. At the same timehe
helpedshape the newradicalscholarship as an editorof Studieson theLeftand
authorof Class Conflict,Slavery,and the UnitedStatesConstitution, a collection
ofessayswrittenfroma neo-Beardian perspective,and IntellectualOriginsofAmer-
ican Radicalism,whichbeganwithprerevolutionary Nonconformist thoughtand
concludedwiththe abolitionists, uncovering earlyexamplesof civildisobedience
and articulatecritiquesof privateproperty and the state.38
WhenIntellectualOriginsofAmericanRadicalismwaspublishedin May 1968,
editorsquicklyassignedreviewers to explainwhatthe New Left'smostpolitically
activehistorianhad to sayabout thepast. Timegavethe book a full-pagereview,
completewithpicturesofTomPaineand theauthor;predictably, themagazineridi-
culed Lynd'scommitments along withhis scholarship, callinghim "the Brooks
Brothers J. H. Plumb,writingin theSaturdayReview,de-
man as revolutionary."
scribedLynd'sbook as a "valuable"partof the "revolution in Americanhistorical
studies"thathad begun. "Lyndprovidesa usefulcorrective to [Bernard]Bailyn,"
he declared.RobertMiddlekauffreviewedLynd'sbook in the New Republic,
respectfullysummarizing itsthesisand rejectingIrwinUnger'scriticism thatLynd's
workhad an "exaggerated present-mindedness." RichardB. Morris,reviewing Class
Conflict,Slavery, in
and the UnitedStatesConstitution theNew YorkTimesBook
Review that same month-May 1968- declared that the book's "carefully
researched conclusions"were"soundand sensible."David Donald wrotethestrong-
estreviewofthebook: "Of all theNew Lefthistorians," he wrote,"onlyStaughton
of
Lyndappearsable tocombinethetechniques historical scholarshipwiththecom-
mitmentto socialreform."39

38 On Lyndand theFreedomSchools,see Clayborne Carson,In Struggle:SNCC and theBlackAwakeningof


the 1960s(Cambridge,Mass.,1981),109-10,119-21;and HowardZinn, SNCC: TheNew Abolitionists (Boston,
1965), 247-50.
39 StaughtonLynd,IntellectualOriginsof AmericanRadicalism(New York,1968); StaughtonLynd,Class
Conflict, andthe UnitedStatesConstitution
Slavery, (Indianapolis,1967);"FortheGentlemanRebel,"Time,July
5, 1968,p. 67;J.H. Plumb,"Perspective'SaturdayReview,June29, 1968,pp. 23-24; RobertMiddlekauff,"Recon-
structing SocietyfromBelow,"NewRepublic,July20, 1968,pp. 39-40; RichardB. Morris,reviewofClassConflict,
Slavery,and the UnitedStatesConstitution, byStaughtonLynd,New YorkTimesBook Review,May 26, 1968,
pp. 10-11;David Donald, review
ofIntellectualOriginsofAmerican Radicalism,byStaughtonLynd,Commentary,
46 (Aug. 1968),79. GenoveseattackedIntellectualOriginsofAmericanRadicalismas "a travesty
ofhistory."
Lynd
"presentshimselfas a spokesmanforthe New Left,"he wrote,"but he has onlythe rightto presenthimselfas
a spokesmanfora particulartendencyof it" non-Marxist radicalswhosepositionGenovesedescribedas "moral
absolutism." EugeneD. Genovese,reviewofIntellectualOriginsofAmericanRadicalism,byLynd,New YorkRe-
viewofBooks,Sept. 26, 1968,p. 79.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
418 ofAmerican
TheJournal History

Reviewers in the scholarlyjournalstreatedLynd'sIntellectualOriginswithsur-


prisingrespect.TheJAHreviewer, CharlesA. Barker, calledit "strong,"
writing that
"the author'sbeliefin conscienceand freedomenlargeshis own awarenessof
processeswhichscholarsare slowto discuss."HenryF. May,reviewing the book in
theAHR, wrotethatLynd'sbook"gainsfromhispassionateinvolvement"; he found
Lynd"convincing" in arguinghiscentralthesis,"thatthelibertarianand essentially
religiousstrainin Americanradicalismhasindeedbeenthemostpowerful and con-
sistent."40
WhenYale deniedLyndtenurein 1968,itsdecisionmade thenationalnews;the
New YorkTimesquoted himas saying,"I thinktheirreasonswereat leastin part
basedon myoutsideactivities." EdmundS. Morganand C. VannWoodwardreplied
to hischargesin print,defending theYale historydepartment's action.Lyndspent
1967 and 1968 searchingfora teachingpost in the Chicagoarea. He was recom-
mendedforappointmentbythehistory departments at NorthernIllinoisUniver-
sity,the Universityof Illinois-Chicago Circle,ChicagoState,RooseveltUniversity,
and LoyolaUniversity; the administration
at each institution, rejectedhim. The
ChicagoStateBoardof Governors statedthathis tripto Hanoi wasthe reasonfor
theiraction;therestgaveno reason.Lyndconcludedthathe wasbeingblacklisted
becauseofhisantiwaractivism.He becamea community organizerin Chicagoand
enrolledin law school.Lynd'sstruggleto stayin theprofession, his firingbyYale,
and subsequentblacklisting exposedthe costsof activistcommitments, strength-
eningradicals'conviction thatthe universitywas partof the statusquo and thus
"a socialinstitution
to be confronted," in thewordsoftheRadicalAmericaeditors,
ratherthan"a place wherecriticalscholarship may be carriedon."41

Radicalhistory reacheda watershedwiththeSocialistScholarsConferences, thefirst


ofwhichwasheld at ColumbiaUniversity in 1965.The conferenceorganizing com-
mittee,chairedbyHelmutGruberofBrooklyn Polytechnic,includedLouisMenashe
and MarvinGettlemanfromBrooklyn Polytechnic,AnnLane fromSarahLawrence
College,and Genoveseand SusmanfromRutgers.The firstconference statement
ofpurposedeclared:"We wishto showourstudents, ourcolleagues,and ourfellow
Americans in non-academic areasthatalternative havea va-
socialistinterpretations
lidity,a vitality,
and an integrity
whichhave unfortunately been underestimated
too long."The organizers had hoped to attractan audienceof 150 or 200; almost

40 CharlesA. Barker,reviewofIntellectualOriginsofAmericanRadicalismbyLynd, JournalofAmericanHis-


tory,55 (Dec. 1968),633-34; HenryF.May,reviewofIntellectualOriginsofAmericanRadicalismbyLynd,Amer-
icanHistoricalReview,74 (Feb. 1969),1077-78.EvenIrwinUngertreatedLyndrespectfully, writingofthe"imagi-
in his workwhichcould "tellus importantthingsabout complexhistorical
nationof flexibility" events"likethe
Confederation. IrwinUnger,"The 'NewLeft'and AmericanHistory:SomeRecentTrendsin UnitedStatesHistori-
ography," AmericanHistoricalReview,72 (July1967), 1259.
41 New YorkTimes,June7, 1968,p. 42; EdmundS. Morganand C. VannWoodward, "AcademicFreedom:
WhoseStory?"ColumbiaUniversity Forum,(Spring1968),42. In 1976Lyndbeganto practicelaborlawin Youngs-
town,Ohio, to fighttheclosingof Youngstown's steelmills,and to writeabout working-class
history.
On his ex-
periencesafterYale,see "StaughtonLynd," inAbeloveetal., eds.,VisionsofHistory,
147-65."'New LeftHistorians'
of the 1960s,'RadicalAmerica,4 (Nov. 1970), 84.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Radical Historiansand the Crisisin AmericanHistory 419

a 1ImIcA:u4
MC-j

4ll

StaughtonLynd(center)surrounded byotherdemonstrators and


nationalguardsmenin Chicago,April6, 1968,aftertheassassination
ofMartinLutherKing,Jr.

1000faculty and studentsattended.The intellectualhighpointoftheconference,


according to Studieson theLeft,wasSusman'spaper,"Conservatism in American
Life,"whicharguedthatradicalscouldlearnmorefromconservatives thanfrom
liberals.
Liberalshad"retreatedtogrossempiricism";conservatives
understood "the
valueofideology,' thevalueofan "analysisofthenatureofthetotalreality ofour
world."Susmanrecalledin 1985thattheabsenceofprogrammatic proposals in his
in
paperoutragedsome theaudience.One angryperson"grabbedtheaudience
microphone at theend ofthesession.'Ifthisis thewaysocialistscholars behave
sheshouted,'longlivethepeasantsand workers!"'42
A confrontationbetween LyndandGenovesesuggested theextent towhichrad-
icalhistoriansweredivided.Lynd,speakingon "The FutureofSocialism," argued
thepossibilityforthe"maturation ofa revolutionary in theU.S. as an increas-
crisis
inglypredatory foreignpolicygenerated resistance
at home."Genovesechallenged

42HelmutGruber, "Marxism in theAmericanUniversity,


1945-82:A DeceptiveTriumph,'in International
ConferenceofLabourHistorians, XIX (Vienna,1984),4. The Susmanincident
Tagungsbericht is recalled,
and
thepaperreprinted,
inWarrenI. Susman,Culture TheTransformation
asHistory: ofAmericanSociety intheTwen-
tiethCentury(NewYork,1984),55, 63, 73.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
420 TheJournal
ofAmerican
History

Lyndsharply, arguingthat"socialistscholarsoughtto concentrate on intellectual


workas partof a strugglethatmighttakea centuryto mature."43
The 1966 SocialistScholarsConferenceorganizingcommitteewas chairedby
Menasheand includedPaul Sweezy,editoroftheindependentMarxist Monthly Re-
view,PhilipFoner,andJamesWeinsteinofStudieson theLeft.It attracted 2,000
participants, whosawa deepeningconflict betweentheorganizing committee and
youngerradicalsseekinga politicallyengagedscholarship. Genovesegavea paper
on slaverythatopened,"American radicalshavelongbeenimprisoned bytheperni-
cious notionthatthe massesare necessarily bothgood and revolutionary, and by
the evenmoreperniciousnotionthatif theyare not, theyshould be."44He was
criticizingAptheker's AmericanNegroSlaveRevolts,butsoonhe and otherswould
directthesamecriticism at theworksofradicalsstudying historyfromthebottom
up.
Forthe 1967SocialistScholarsConference, theorganizers
issueda newstatement
ofpurpose,expressing concernaboutthemassiveturnoutofactivist students:"The
SSC is nota politicalorganization. are
Meetings designedformaximumexpression
ofscholarly ideasunencumbered bypartisanpurposes,politicalrhetoric orpolemic.
Membersareagreedthat,however greattheneed forpoliticalcommitment and ac-
tionon thepartof all Americans, not leastamongscholars,the SocialistScholars
Conference is notthepropervehicleforsuchan effort." Nevertheless3,000people
showedup forthe 1967conference, held at theHiltonHotelin New YorkCity.The
unprecedented numbersattendingthe SocialistScholarsConferences and the in-
tellectualseriousness of theprogramsdemonstrated thatradicalsin theuniversity
had reachedthe pointof criticalmass by 1965-1966.45
SDS activelypromotedradicalhistoryduringthoseyears,bringingthe energy
and commitment ofthecivilrightsand antiwarmovements to historical
issues.The
historyproducedunderitsauspiceshad a moreactivist and moreoptimistic perspec-
tivethantheworkof the Studieson theLeftgroup.In December1965 SDS had
authorizedthecreationoftheRadicalEducationProject(REP) to educatethethou-
sandsofpeople joiningtheorganization.SDS leaderswerealreadylamentingthe
"astonishing lack of politicalsophistication and knowledgeamong youngerand
newerrecruits," whoweremoreinterested in actionthaninideas.SDS leadershoped
theREPwouldredress thatbalance.The projectdescribeditselfas "an independent
education,researchand publicationprogram,initiatedby Studentsfora Demo-
craticSociety, devotedtothecauseofdemocratic radicalism
and aspiringtothecrea-

43 "Fromthe Editors:SocialistScholarsConference," Studieson the Left,5 (Fall 1965), 3-7.


44 EugeneD. Genovese,"The Legacyof Slaveryand the Rootsof BlackNationalism," Studieson theLeft,6
(Nov.-Dec. 1966), 3.
45 Gruber,"Marxism in theAmericanUniversity,"16. In an effort
to restoretheconference to itsoriginalschol-
arlypurpose,the 1968 meetingwas movedfromNew YorkCityto Rutgers,and attendancefellto 600 people,
mostlyacademics.But thestrainbetweenscholarly and activistcommitments deepened.The steeringcommittee
wasexpandedto includeNewLeftand movement people; it committed the 1969conference to an activist
orienta-
tion,declaringthatthe eventswerepartof "thestrugglefora socialistAmerica."ibid., 50. The 1970 organizers
issuedno statementof purpose,and thatconference was the last. See also GeorgeFischeret al., TheRevivalof
AmericanSocialism:SelectedPapersof the SocialistScholarsConference (New York,1971).

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
and theCrisisin American
RadicalHistorians History 421

tionof a newleftin America."In the late sixties,theprojectpublishedcloseto a


hundredpamphlets,sellingat betweenten and twenty-five cents,manyof which
dealt withhistoricalsubjects.46
AmongtheSDS-REP pamphletswasJesseLemisch'sTowards a DemocraticHis-
tory,publishedin 1966.Lemischdiscussedhistorians whodisliked"history written
witha biasfavorable to an elite"and whostudied"thecommonman";he included
Thompson;Kolko; Lynd;AlfredF. Young,who studiedworkers in eighteenth-
century New YorkCity;NormanPollack,whocriticizedHofstadter's negativepor-
trayalof Populism;and StephanThernstrom, who studiedsocialmobilityamong
nineteenth-century Massachusetts workers.As a grouptheydemonstrated thepossi-
bilityofa differentkindofhistory, basedon non-elitesources.He calledtheirap-
proachto research "democratic," becauseitwasbasedon "respectand sympathy for
the majority."This newhistorydemonstrated that"the commonman has in fact
had an ideology,thatthatideologyhas beenradical,and thatconditions havebeen
objectivelybad enoughso thata radicalcritiquehas beena soundone."The protest
movements ofthesixtieshad shownthathistory "canhappenfromthebottomup";
thetimehad cometo applythatlessonto historical scholarship, to writewhathe
called "historyfromthe bottomup." 47
The journalRadicalAmerica,foundedin 1967 bythe SDS RadicalEducation
Projectas "AnSDS JournaloftheHistoryofAmericanRadicalism," provideda key
linkbetweenthesecondgeneration ofNewLefthistorians and activists.LikeStudies
on theLeft,it was editedand publishedbyUniversity ofWisconsinstudents,but
bya cohortthathad grownup in thesixtiesratherthanthefifties. Fromthebegin-
ning Radical Americadebated Americanhistory.In its second issue,Joan and
Donald Scottlaunchedan attackon Lemisch'scall for"a democratic The
history."
Scotts,writingfromtheperspective oftheolderStudiesgroup,ofwhichJoanwas
a member,expandedGenovese'scritiqueofleftist historiesofslavery, arguingthat
it applied also to "historyfromthe bottomup." Lemisch,theyargued,was
propoundinga "mythof the people as gloriousrevolutionaries." Thompsonand
Thernstrom wereexemplary theScottsargued,"notbecausetheir
radicalhistorians,
substanceis the'commonman,'but becausetheirquestionsprovideus witha new
wayoflookingat history. Theirradicalsympathies raiseradicalquestionsaboutall
kindsof people."48
Lemischrespondedthat he did not advocateviewingthe people as glorious
revolutionaries,and thatthe keyproblemfacingradicalhistorians was to finda
method"toexploretheall-important connectionsbetweentheideologyoftheinar-
ticulateand theiractivity.""Historyfromthe bottomup" was sucha method,he

46 WiniBreines, Communityand Organizationin theNewLeft,1962-1968(New York,1982),91. The descrip-


tionappearson thecoverofJesseLemisch,Towardsa DemocraticHistory:A RadicalEducationProjectOccasional
Paper(n.p., [1966]).
47 Lemisch,Towardsa DemocraticHistory,4, 5.
48 Paul Buhle,"American Report,"New LeftNotes,Jan. 13, 1967,p. 2; JoanW.
RadicalHistory:A Progress
Scottand Donald M. Scott,"TowardHistory:A ReplytoJesseLemisch,"RadicalAmerica,1 (Sept.-Oct. 1967),
38, 42.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
422 TheJournal History
ofAmerican

argued.It assumedthat"theideologyof the inarticulate" wasrationaland might


"offera soundercritiqueofthesocietyin questionthan[thatof]the articulate."49
The exchangebetweenLemischand the Scottswasan earlyexpression ofa debate
thatwouldengageradicaland Marxisthistorians forthenextdecade and beyond.
The relationship betweenscholarship and activism,whichLyndand Genovese
had debatedatthe first Scholars
Socialist Conference,wasraisedin theAHA in 1969
whentheradicalcaucusproposedthatthehistorical takea standagainst
associations
thewarin Vietnam.The radicalcaucusthereby posed a frontalchallengeto theas-
sumptionsgoverning the history profession.It mobilizedhistorians on the leftto
an unprecedented degreeand provokedbitterdissensionnotonlybetweenradicals
and themainstream but amongradicalsas well.In 19692000 people attendedthe
AHA businessmeeting;the previousyear116 had appeared. The voteon con-
demningthewarwas "evenlydivided."The radicalcaucusranthe firstopposition
candidateforAHA presidentin the eighty-five yearhistoryof the organization;
StaughtonLynd got 30 percent of the vote.50
Opponentsof the antiwarresolution,includingGenovese,argued that as a
matterofprincipleit wasimproperforprofessional associationsto takean official
standon a politicalissue.BoththeAHA and theOAH subsequently declaredthey
wouldnotmeetin statesthathad notratified theEqual RightsAmendment, and
bothhaverecently divested their portfoliosof stockof companies doing business
in SouthAfrica.Those politicalstandsweretakenwithoutoppositionfromthose
who had criticizedthe radicalcaucusforits antiwarproposal.
The radical caucus's critiqueof the professionwas expressedmost fullyin
Lemisch's essay"Present-Mindedness Revisited: Anti-Radicalism as a Goal ofAmer-
ican HistoricalWritingsinceWorldWarII," presentedat the 1969AHA meeting.
The piecewasa passionateresponse,documentedwith305 notes,to theargument
thatradicalhistorians' politicalcommitments underminedtheirworkas scholars.
LemischdemolishedtheclaimthattheLeftwasinjectingpoliticsintoa profession
otherwisecharacterized by objectivity and politicalneutrality.Leadinghistorians
had oftentaken positions
political in theirwork, Lemisch showed; theytendedto
be cold warriors who enlistedhistoryin the fightagainstcommunism.He drew
parallelsbetweenthe scholarship of Allan Nevins,Samuel Eliot Morison,Daniel
Boorstin,ArthurSchlesinger, Jr.,and OscarHandlin,and theirinvolvement with
politicalcauses:Boorstin, forexample, had cooperated withHUAC, Schlesinger's
1949bookTheVitalCenter had helpedshapeCold Warideology,and Handlinwas
an outspokensupporterof the warin Vietnam.51
Lemischsubmittedhisessayto theAHR;obviouslytheReview wasnotgoingto
publishit, but theresponseofeditorR. K. Webb could hardlyhavedone moreto

RadicalAmerica,1 (Sept-Oct. 1967),44, 46, 47.


49JesseLemisch,"New LeftElitism:A Rejoinder,"
50 R. R. Palmer,"The A.H.A. in 1970,"AmericanHistoricalReview,76 (Feb. 1971),2.
published:JesseLemisch,On ActiveServicein Warand Peace:Politicsand Ideology
51The essaywaseventually
see RonaldRadosh,"AnnualSet-
(Toronto,1975),73-74. On itspresentation,
in theAmericanHistoryProfession
to: The Bare-Knuckled Nation,Feb. 2, 1970,pp. 108-9.
Historians,"

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
RadicalHistorians
and theCrisisin American
History 423

En 'I'd v_
' ,
w as

Ax | Of _ . : tmi tg

xtE I SS 1 0
_S s.f . #ss
- ' Hess

All"''' |
r _?s- A_ _sB_ ' 1

^ _
. x

A b|_e ' _
All_'
_ =
_v
__ I

__
.__ 1

__ ,
I__ _,_S
_ r + __ a

_r __ s
a___ _

JesseLemischtalking
toUniversity
ofChicagostudents
during
a
sit-in
against
thedraft attheadministration
building
inMay1966.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
424 TheJournal
ofAmerican
History

confirm Lemisch'sthesis.The essay,Webbwrote,"unjustly" convicted"a goodmany


ofmyclosefriends"of "historical derelictions."Lemisch'sevidence,Webb argued,
shouldbe interpreted as revealing,not a patternofpoliticalcommitments among
leadinghistorians,butrather"indiscretions orlapsesoroutrageous gaffesbysome."
Lemischthensubmittedhis piece to theJAH; the responseif anything exceeded
thatoftheAHR. An anonymousreaderforthejournalwrote,"I don'tknowhow
youcan tellhimthathe simplycannotdo this,and thathe certainly cannotdo it
in thepagesoftheJournal.He probablybelievesthathe can,whichsayssomething
abouthowfarhe and his ilk are estranged fromcivilization."EditorMartinRidge
advisedLemischto readthestoryofDiego Rivera'spaintinga portrait ofLenininto
a muralat RockefellerCenterin 1933;NelsonRockefeller had themuraldestroyed.
Ridgewas suggesting thatexpectingtheJournalofAmericanHistoryto publish
Lemisch'spiece was like expectingthe Rockefellersto includeLeninin the Rock-
efellerCentermural.Lemischconcludedthathispointhad beenproven:theofficial
journalsconsciouslyplayedthe partof the Rockefellers whenconfronting an in-
tellectualchallengefrombelow.52

The year1969marksa greatdividein thehistory oftheNew Leftand in New Left


history.Nineteensixty-eight had been a yearfirstoftremendous hope and thenof
defeatsand disasters fortheLeft:theTetOffensive, thestudentrevoltsin Parisand
at ColumbiaUniversity, and theEugeneMcCarthy campaign;butthentheassassi-
nationsofMartinLutherKing,Jr.,and RobertKennedy,thenomination ofHubert
Humphreyagainstthe backgroundof a police riotin the streetsof Chicago,and
the electionof RichardNixon. The disintegration of SDS in 1969 was especially
significantforradicalhistorians; SDS had beenthenationalorganization ofcampus
radicals,developing a critiqueofAmericansociety(in termsofparticipatory democ-
racy)and debatingstrategies forprotestand resistance.
Together theseeventsbroughta renewedsenseofthetenacity ofstructures
ofop-
pression,past and present,a renewedsenseof thepowerof thestatusquo to per-
petuate itself.The New Left'sinterestin Marxismgrewin response.Radical
America,whichhad appreciatedhistory fromthe bottomup, now declared,"we
findMarxism themostusefulstarting point."Historyfromthebottomup "hasdis-
tinctlimitationsifit is notlinkedwithan overview ofthewaythelowerclasseshave
relatedto therestofsociety." The Marxism RadicalAmericaadoptedwastheunor-
thodoxvariantdevelopedbyE. P. Thompson- a Marxismthatvaluedworking-class
cultureand consciousness and strovetointegrateclassanalysiswiththeculturalcon-
cernsgrowingout of blacknationalism, feminism, and youthculture.53
52 ForMartinRidge'sletterand anonymous referee's
report,see Lemisch,On ActiveServicein Warand Peace,
3-5.JournalofAmericanHistoryeditorialcorrespondence and referees'
evaluationswritten before1979areclosed
"forthelifetime oftheauthorunlessthereviewer explicitlysanctionsopening,"byvoteoftheOAH executive board.
The referee in questionhas refusedto givepermissionto open theLemischfileand makeknownhisidentity. Joan
Hoff-Wilson toJonathan M. Wiener,Feb. 20, 1987(in Wiener'spossession);David ThelentoWiener,June 3, 1987,
ibid.
'3 "Introduction:SpecialIssueon RadicalHistoriography,"
RadicalAmerica,4 (Nov. 1970),2, 3; JamesGreen,
ed., Workers'Struggles,PastandPresent:A 'RadicalAmerica'Reader(Philadelphia, 1983),3-23, quoting"Special

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
RadicalHistorians
and theCrisisin American
History 425

A secondconclusionthe RadicalAmericaeditorsdrewfromthe disastersand


defeatsof 1968-1969wasthatthestudentmovement had collapsedbecauseit was
too farremovedfromordinary working men and women."In one wayor another,
blue-collarAmericahad to be an essentialpart of our futureconstituency," the
editorsconcluded,and thejournalbeganpublishinga seriesofarticleson working-
classhistory thatcontinuestoday.54
The RadicalAmericaeditorsalso presenteda critiqueof the history profession.
It seemedto them"a bad combinationof a gentlemen's clubhouseand a bureau-
cracy" a gentlemen's club "notsimplybecausethereare scarcely anywomen...
butalso becauseofitsupper-class tonethatis carriedoverfromthedayswhenhis-
torywaswritten principallybywealthy menofleisure."Foryounger menstruggling
to advancetheircareers,the historyprofession became "thesourceof all values."
The editorsalso chargedtheprofession with"socialirresponsibility" in itsscholarly
work."It operatesforthemostparton twolevels:drymonographs, usuallyacces-
sibleonlyto otherhistorians . . . and patriotictextbooks,written in a mannerthat
is verycarefulnotto disturbanyone'scomfortable notionsaboutthestatusquo."55
In the nextseveralyearsRadicalAmericapublishedhistoricalstudiesof labor
radicalismamongsteelworkers, saleswomen, pullmanporters, and theunemployed;
studiesofconflictswithinAmericanlaboralonggender,race,and classlines;studies
oftheconstanttensionsbetweentrade-union organizations and self-directed labor
militancy.RadicalAmericahelpedshowthatAmericanworking-class history was,
in thewordsofCaseyBlake,"farricher, farmoreturbulent, and farmorecomplex
than anyonewould have imaginedfromits treatmentat the hands of earlier
historians,includingthoseon the left."56
Women'shistorydevelopedalongsidethe radicalhistory of the sixties.The tie
was firstexpressedat RadicalAmerica,whichpublisheda "Women'sLiberation"
issuein 1970and a pioneering monograph,"Womenin AmericanSociety:An His-
toricalContribution," thenextyear.The authors,MariJo Buhle,Ann G. Gordon,
and NancySchrom,introduced theirsixty-page essaybylinkingwomen'shistory to
feminist activism:women,theysaid, were"returning to historicalquestionsin a
searchfortheircollectiveidentityand foran analysisoftheircondition."The civil
rightsmovementprovideda model: "blackshave shownthe rolehistoryplaysin
defininga social movement."The goal of women'shistorywas to "definethe
oftheiroppression."
'specificity' The article"gainedimmediatecurrency as themost
importantsinglearticlewe had published,"editorPaul Buhle laterwrote,and it
wasreprinted steadilyforthenextfiveorsixyears."Afeminism informed byhistory"

RadicalAmerica(Nov. 1970). That issue indicatedthe editors'turntoward


Issue on Radical Historiography,"
Marxism.It includedPaul Buhle, "AmericanMarxistHistoriography, 1900-1940,"ibid.,5-36; Paul Richards,
"W. E. B. DuBois: Evolutionofa Marxist,"ibid.,37-66; JamesO'Brien,"The Legacyof BeardianHistory," ibid.,
67-80; and "New RadicalHistoriansin the Sixties:A Survey"ibid.,81-106.Otheressayspublishedthatyearin-
cluded MichaelMeerpol,"WilliamApplemanWilliams'Historiography," ibid.(Aug. 1970), 29-49.
to '15 Yearsof RadicalAmerica,"'
'4 Paul Buhle,"Introduction RadicalAmerica, 16 (May-June1982),4.
"5"Introduction," RadicalAmerica, 4 (Nov. 1970), 2, 4.
56 CaseyBlake,"WhereAre the YoungLeftHistorians?" RadicalHistoryReview(no. 28-30, 1984), 117.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
426 TheJournal
ofAmerican
History

forthe 1970s,"and the journal


becameRadicalAmerica's"principalorientation
publishedworkby MariJo Buhle, Sara Evans,Linda Gordon,and Sheila Row-
botham.57
The professionaljournalstreatedsomeofthefirst monographs inwomen'shistory
withthesamehostility and disdainthattheyhad bestowedon earlyworksofradical
history. The treatment of Linda Gordon'sWoman'sBody, Woman'sRight,pub-
lishedin 1976,wasespeciallybrutal.The book arguedthatreproductive freedom
forwomenwasnota problemofscienceovercoming nature,buta problemofpower,
a politicaland socialproblem;it arguedagainstorthodoxMarxism fortheirreduci-
bilityof genderas an analyticcategory;it arguedwithMarxismforclassanalysis,
showinghowtheexperiences and needsofwomendiffered accordingto class;and
itconcludedwitha callforpoliticalorganization and activity
toachievereproductive
freedomand sexualequality.58
Gordon had made her commitments clearin her acknowledgments; Edward
Shorter, reviewing thebookfortheJournalofSocialHistory, ridiculedthem:"The
membersoftheBreadand RosesWomen'sCollective, theMarxist-Feminist Confer-
enceGroup,and theRadicalAmericaeditorialboard,whomGordonacknowledges
fulsomely in the preface,will doubtlessbeam approvingly" at herwork,Shorter
wrote;"otherreadersmayhavetroublesuspendingdisbelief." ForGordon,Shorter
declared,as forAnnDouglasand CarrollSmith-Rosenberg, "Thenameofthegame
becomesgettingthegoodson thechauvinists." "Gordonslamsintothe'profession-
alization'ofbirthcontrol,... flailsawayat thepunchingbag of 19thcentury 'male'
medicine,"and "sneersat anykindof libertinebehaviorthatmayhavehappened
beforethe 1970s."It was Shorterwho slammedand sneered-in a journalthat
claimedto represent the new histories.59
The officialjournalstreatedWoman'sBody,Woman'sRightin a similarfashion.
The AHR reviewer, J. StanleyLemons,declared,"history was enslavedto politics
forthisbook."Gordon'sargumentwas "thrustupon the reader,"he complained,
implying thatwomenarenotsupposedtodo thethrusting in thehistory profession.
He objectednotonlyto herfeminism, butalso to herMarxist frameworkher"use
of Marxist jargon,"as he put it. "Likebaseballand cricket,"the reviewconcluded,
"history and politicalpolemicshave different rules."Lemonsthusdeclaredin the
officialjournalthatwritinghistoryout of feminist and radicalcommitments was
againstthe rulesof the profession. David M. Kennedymade the same argument
in theJAH.His reviewcalled Woman'sBody,Woman'sRight"breathtakingly ob-
tuse,"a book that"degenerates intosimplecant . . . [and] sneeringcanards."His

5 MariJoBuhle,AnnG. Gordon,NancySchrom,"Womenin AmericanSociety:An HistoricalContribution,"


to '15 YearsOf RadicalAmerica,"'3-5.
RadicalAmerica,5 (July-Aug.1971),3; Buhle, "Introduction
58 Linda Gordon,Woman'sBody, Woman'sRight:A Social HistoryofBirthControlin America(New York,
1976).
59EdwardShorter,reviewof Woman'sBody, Woman'sRightbyLinda Gordon,JournalofSocial History,11
(Winter1977), 270, 271, 272.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
RadicalHistorians
and theCrisisin American
History 427

conclusionaboutGordon'sworkadoptedprecisely theformulation usedto barrad-


ical historyfromthe profession a decade earlier:"This is not history."60
RadicalAmerica wasa politicalmagazinethatincludedhistorical articles;thefirst
journaldevotedexclusively appearedin 1974:theRadicalHistory
to radicalhistory
Review,publishedbyMARHO, theMiddleAtlanticRadicalHistorians'Organiza-
tion.In an earlystatement, theeditorsexplained,"Thegrowth oftheReviewreflects
theemergence ofa newgeneration of Marxisthistorians in theUnitedStates....
The collapseof the student-based movementof the sixties,and the failureof its
strategicvision,leftmanypeople on the Leftin despair,but inspiredin othersa
mood of introspection, a hungerto analyzethe developmentof a societywhich
seemedso unjustyetso resistant to basicchange."In thiscontext,"manypeople
made theirfirst seriousstudyofMarxism, notin thequestfora neworthodoxy, but
in an effortto understand thecomplexinterrelationships betweeninstitutional and
culturalchangewhichdominantliberalandradicalparadigms couldnotexplain."61
The journalhasrecently distinguisheditselfbya publishinga seriesofinterviews
withThompson,Williams,Gutman,Montgomery, NatalieDavis, and others,ex-
ploringthe relationship in theirworkbetweenhistorical scholarship and political
commitment. The RadicalHistoryReviewhas also distinguished itselfbyan atten-
tionto publichistory thathas setthejournalagainstthe increasing specialization
thatseparatestheprofession froma publicinterestedin itspast.The editors'discus-
sionsof the theoryand practiceof publichistoryalso challengethe packagingof
thepast forpublic consumptionbygovernments and corporations. The MARHO
Forumin NewYorkCityhasoverthelasttenyearspresentedalmost150talks,open
to the generalpublic,on radicalhistory.62

A turningpointin theprofession's
recognition
ofradicalhistory camein 1967,when
theAHR publishedan entirearticleattackingradicalhistory, IrwinUnger's"The
'New Left'and AmericanHistory." The editorshad solicitedthe adviceof David
Donald, whoarguedthatitshouldnotbe publishedbecause"thehistorians whose
work[Unger]discussedwerenotofsufficient consequenceto meritextendedcon-
in thepagesofourmajorprofessional
sideration journal."63The historians
included

60 J. StanleyLemons,review of Woman'sBody, Woman'sRightbyGordon,AmericanHistoricalReview,82


(Oct. 1977),1095;David M. Kennedy,reviewof Woman'sBody,Woman'sRightbyGordon,Journal OfAmerican
History, 64 (Dec. 1977),823-24. TodayGordonis a professor
at theUniversity ofWisconsinand in 1987waselected
to theNominatingBoardoftheOrganizationofAmericanHistorians.She remainsan editorofRadicalAmerica.
An adequatediscussionoftheprocessbywhichwomen'shistory wonacceptancebytheprofession requiresa sepa-
ratepaper.
61 "Introductory Statement," RadicalHistoryReview,3 (Fall 1976), 2, emphasisadded.
62 The authoris a memberof the RadicalHistory Revieweditorialcollective.Forthe MARHO position,see
"Editors'Introduction," RadicalHistoryReview(no. 28-30, 1984),5-12.Fortheinterviews, see Abeloveet al., eds.,
VisionsofHistory.ForMARHO essayson publichistory, see SusanPorterBenson,StephenBrier,and RoyRosen-
zweig,eds., Presenting the Past:Essayson Historyand the Public (Philadelphia,1986).
63 David Donald, review of Towardsa New PasteditedbyBartonJ. Bernstein, AmericanHistoricalReview,
74 (Dec. 1968),531.Unger'spaperhad originally beenpresented at the 1967meetingoftheOrganization ofAmer-
ican Historians.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
428 TheJournal History
ofAmerican

Williams,Genovese,Lasch,Kolko,Litwack,and Thernstrom. The editorsdid not


acceptDonald's advice.
Unger'sarticlewarnedofthedangerthenewhistorians posedfortheprofession.
"We see at presentonlythetipoftheiceberg," he wrote."Beneaththesurfacestill
lies the main mass of youngradicalscholars,"those "just now completingtheir
training at themajorcosmopolitan graduateschools."Soon theywould"haveto be
reckoned withbytheirprofessional elders."Unger'spurposewasto helppreparethe
professional eldersforthisreckoning. He urged"theseniormen"to extendto the
New Lefthistorians the "courtesyof judgingthem."And he outlinedhow to do
it: The NewLefthistorians raised"useful"questionsaboutthe"agonies"and "ills"
oftheUnitedStates.But theywere"bad tempered";"mostdisturbing ofall,"they
had "a contemptforpurehistory." Theyneeded to learnthathistory mustbe "al-
lowedto speakforitself."Theirquestionscame,notfrom"thenaturaldialogueof
the discipline,"but ratherfrom"the outsideculturaland politicalworld."64
The ambivalenceof the journalbecameclearthe nextyear,whenthe editors
decidedto publishtworeviews of Towards a New Past,an anthologythatdeclared
The book broughttogether
itselfan "anti-text." thevarieties ofradicalscholarship
developedduringthe precedingdecade. Aileen Kraditorwrotethat Lasch and
Genovesewerethe bestand Lemischthe worstof the contributors, and thatthe
volumewas "provocative" and "refreshing." That was the favorablereview.65
Donald wrotetheunfavorable review."The historical professionhas alreadypaid
thesewriters moreattention thantheydeserve," he wrote."Hereafter theireffusions
mightbetterbe publicizedin the obscurepartisanperiodicalsto whichtheyfre-
quentlycontribute." He waswriting aboutJamesMcPherson and Thernstrom as well
as Genoveseand Laschand Barton Bernstein. The "New .
Leftists . . need to re-
evaluatetheirattitudes," Donald declared.Theyshould"ceaseto claimthatthey
are the voiceof outragedyouth"and "end theirplaintivelamentsthatthe 'power
structure'of the historicalprofession ignoresthem"(althoughignoringthemwas
exactlywhatDonald proposed).If Genovese,Lasch,et al. changedtheirattitudes,
thentheprofession shouldallowthem"a significant sharein thewriting ofAmer-
ican history."These remarkswerepublishedin the profession's officialjournal.66
Nevertheless,duringtheearlyseventies manyradicalhistorians gotjobsand even-
tuallytenure.Doors were also opened to othernew histories:Afro-American,
women's,quantitative, interdisciplinary; but of all the changesin the profession,
theinstitutionalizationofradicalhistory wasthemostremarkable. As politicalcrisis

64 Unger,"The 'NewLeft'and AmericanHistory," 1260,1261,1262-63,emphasisadded. Afterexcoriating New


Lefthistorians,Ungertriedto makemoneyoffthem,publishinghis ownanthologyof theirwork:IrwinUnger,
ed., BeyondLiberalism:New Left ViewsofAmericanHistory(Waltham,1971).
65 AileenKraditor,reviewof Towardsa New PasteditedbyBernstein, AmericanHistoricalReview,74 (Dec.
1968), 529-31.ForLemisch'sresponseand Kraditor'srejoinder,see "Communications," AmericanHistoricalRe-
view,74 (June 1969), 1766-69.
66 Donald, reviewofTowardsa NewPasteditedbyBernstein, 531-33.He added a ritualdisclaimer:
"theprofes-
sion,dull and complacent,needs the concernforideas,the social involvement,
and thepassionthesedissenters
exhibit."Towardsa NewPastreceivedotherhostilereviews.
See CharlesMullett,reviewofTowards a NewPastedited
Journalof SouthernHistory,35 (Feb. 1969), 77-80.
by Bernstein,

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
RadicalHistorians
and theCrisisin American
History 429

underminedtheprofession's commitment to theprevailing conceptionof history,


leadinghistorians beganredefining thefieldin a waythatopenedthedoortoradical
history.
This processbeganwhenimportantfiguresexpresseda loss of confidence that
consensushistory askedthe importantquestionsand providedadequate answers.
Hofstadter, the mosteminentof the foundersof consensushistory, was the most
important to articulatethatdoubt.While Donald and Handlinweredenouncing
New Lefthistory, Hofstadter was writingThe Progressive Historians.That project
mightseeman escapefromtheturmoilofthedayintotheivorytower.But it was
also a responseto the crisisof consensushistory, to the challengefromradical
historians.Frederick JacksonTurner,CharlesBeard,and VernonL. Parrington had
taken"theircues fromthe intellectualferment of the periodfrom1890 to 1915,
fromthedemandsforreform raisedbythePopulistsand Progressives, fromthenew
burstof politicaland intellectualactivitythatcame withthesedemands."Hof-
stadterand his generation,respondingto a different historicalsituation,found
Progressivehistory irrelevant
and createda newhistory. Now,newpoliticaldebates
and demandsforreform weremakinganothernewhistory relevant; theestablished
formsofhistory no longer"inspiredone youngmanafteranotherto takeup history
as a profession."67
The phrasesdescribetheriseoftheProgressive historians butim-
plicitlyreferto the new crisisin the profession.
In March1968 Hofstadter readthe lastchapterof his book manuscript at Har-
vard'sCharlesWarrenCenterfor Studies in AmericanHistory.The consensus
school,he declared,did not provide"a satisfactory generaltheory."Consensus
historianshad been motivatedby"thesearchfora usable past . . . responsive to
theproblemsofforeign policyin theearlyphasesofthecoldwar."Thatwasa telling
likeUngerwhodenouncedtheNewLeftforseekinga usablepast,
responseto critics
insteadofpracticing "purehistory."Historians, Hofstadter wrote,neededto ask"a
set of newquestions"about "thecomplextextureof apathyand irrationality that
holds a politicalsocietytogether":"Whose participationin a consensusreally
counts?Who is excludedfromtheconsensus? Who refusesto enterit?To whatex-
tentare the allegedconsensualideas of the Americansystem. . . actuallyshared
bythe masspublic?"Such an accountwould be verymuchlikethe workradical
historiansweredoing;itwouldrestore to thecenterofthehistorical stage"ourslave
insurrections,ourmobbedabolitionists and lynchedWobblies,oursporadic,furi-
ouslymilitantHomesteads,Pullmans,and Patersons; ourracelynchings and ghetto
riots."68
Hofstadter broughta historical to theprofession's
perspective immediatecrisis.
"Once in each generation,"he observed,"theAmericanpeople endureda crisisof
real and troublingseverity"the Civil War,the 1890s,the 1930s. "Now,in the
1960s,it is in themidstofa dangerousmajorcrisistheoutcomeofwhichI hesitate
67RichardHofstadter, The Progressive
Historians:Turner,
Beard,Parrington(New York,1968), xii.
68Ibid., 453. Hofstadter
and a Columbiagraduatestudentpublisheda documentaryhistory
ofAmericanvio-
lence.The studentis nowan editorofRadicalHistoryReview.See RichardHofstadter
and MichaelWallace,eds.,
AmericanViolence:A DocumentaryHistory(New York,1970).

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
430 TheJournal
ofAmerican
History

to predict.""The urgency of our nationalproblemsseemsto demand,morethan


ever,thatthehistorian havesomething to saythatwillhelp us,"he wrote.Present-
mindednesshad "oftenbroughtwithit a majoraccessofnewinsight.... At their
best,theinterpretive historianshavegoneto thepastwithsomepassionateconcern
forthefuture." WinstonChurchilland LeonTrotsky, forexample,wrote"greathis-
tories."Frenchhistoriography has a "marvelous vitalityderivedfromthecontrover-
sial heritageof the Frenchrevolution." No otherargumentforincludingradicals
withinthe historical professioncould have been morepowerful.69
Potter,a consensushistorian ofHofstadter's statureand a politicalconservative,
reviewed Hofstadter's bookintheNew YorkReviewofBooksin 1968.He recognized
a kinshipbetweenit and NewLeftworks.The workofhistorians becameirrelevant,
Potterargued,not becauseof its "specificdefects," but ratherfrom"theirbeing
caughtin theintellectual riptidewhichoccurswhensocietyis replacingone image
of itselfwithanother."70 The sentencereferred to Turner,Beard,and Parrington,
but Potterwas also referring to himselfand Hofstadter.It expresseda loss of
confidence in thehistorical scholarship ofthefifties,thehistory ofPeopleofPlenty.
Thatloss,characteristic ofa vitalsegmentoftheprofession, underminedthecom-
mitmentto consensushistory amongotherhistorians, and led to a breakdown in
prevailingdefinitions ofwhatwas- and wasnot- history. It gaveradicalhistorians
a chance.
While some prominenthistorians questionedwhetherconsensushistory asked
theimportant questionsand providedadequateanswers, othersexplicitlyadvocated
includingradicalswithinthehistory profession.C. VannWoodwardwasamongthe
mostimportant.His work,goingbackat leastto OriginsoftheNew South,pub-
lishedin 1951,had alwaysposed a critiqueof and an alternative to the consensus
school.In 1960he wrotea blurbforStudieson theLeft.In thesameissuein which
Jean-PaulSartreand Che Guevaraappeared,Woodwardwas quoted: "It is a wel-
come sign that graduatestudentsare still alive and kickingin spite of all the
professorscan do to anesthetizethem."71
His willingness to open thedoorsto debatewithradicalhistorians had beenevi-
dent in 1966,whenhe participatedin the secondSocialistScholarsConference.
Therehe joined Apthekerin commenting on Genovese'spaper "The Legacyof
Slaveryand theRootsofBlackNationalism"and beganbynotingthata lackofre-
spectforage and authority characterized left-wingpoliticsas wellas theIvyLeague.
"In thisconflict, I naturally identify withMr.Aptheker, sincewe are of the same
generation," he said.He praisedGenovesefor"theblowthathe hasstruck forschol-
arlycandor,skepticism, irreverenceand independence."72
Woodwardwrotea long,seriousevaluationof Towardsa New Pastin the New
YorkReviewin 1968. Acknowledging that"manyolderhistorians wouldbridleat

69 Hofstadter,ProgressiveHistorians,459, 465.
70 David Potter,"The Artof Comity," New YorkReviewofBooks,Dec. 5, 1968,pp. 46-48.
71 Studieson the Left,1 (Spring1960), 5.
72 C. VannWoodward, "Commenton Genovese,"Studieson theLeft,6 (Nov.-Dec. 1966),36, 38, 40. Wood-
wardsubsequently led a fightto preventHerbertApthekerfromteachinga student-initiated
one-term seminar

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
and theCrisisin American
RadicalHistorians History 431

beingbranded'establishment' or 'consensus,"'
he declaredthatit wouldbe a "mis-
take"forthe profession to ignoreor dismissthe radicalhistorians. "Theydeserve
a fullhearingand a closereading," he wrote."Theyhavemuchto saythatis relevant
to thecorrectionof a complacentand nationalistic readingof ourpast."In one of
hismostmemorablestatements, Woodwardconcludedthat,iftheradicalhistorians
sometimes"opposedtheinevitable"in Americansociety,"theinevitableneedsall
the oppositionit can get."73
Otherestablishedhistorians joinedin redefiningthefieldto includeradicalhis-
tory.The editorsof newjournalslaunchedto overcomethelimitations of existing
scholarship adoptededitorialpoliciesdifferent fromthoseof the officialjournals.
Mostimportant wastheJournalofSocialHistory, whichbeganpublishingin 1967
underthe editorship of PeterStearns.The foundingeditorialboardincludednot
only committedopponentsof radical history,notablyOscar Handlin, Nathan
Glazer,and RobertNisbet,butalso Genovese,GeorgeRude,and ReginaldZelnick.
The board'scompositionand severalessaysin the firsttwovolumesmade it clear
thatradicalhistory waspartofsocialhistory.74 LaborHistoryand theJournal ofIn-
terdisciplinaryHistoryalso published the best radical workas part of social
history-and criticized it as such.Theireditors -Milton Cantorin theformer case,
RobertRotbergand TheodoreRabbin thelatter-played a crucialrolein redefining
the field.
As thebarriersbegantofall,somehistorians whohad insistedthatradicalhistory
wasnothistory abandonedthatposition.Donald wasthemostimportant. His own
workunderwent a striking transformation:thefirst volumeofhis CharlesSumner
biography, publishedin 1960,portrayed Sumneras psychologically disturbed;itre-
ceiveda greatdeal of criticism fromradicalhistorians. The secondvolume,pub-
lishedin 1970,portrayed Sumneras a heroicfighter forblackrights.Laterhe praised
Litwack'sBeen in the StormSo Long and otherradicalhistories of the post-Civil
War South.75

on W. E. B. Du Bois. See JesseLemisch,"If HowardCosell Can Teachat Yale, WhyCan't HerbertAptheker?"


RadicalHistoryReview,3 (Spring1976),46-48. A resolution callingon the OAH to investigatetheYale history
department's rejectionofAptheker passedin a mailballot,buttheYaledepartment indicatedthat"Yaleuniversity
policyforbidsdisclosure ofthediscussions and reasonsfordecisionsaboutappointments." See "The Yale-Aptheker
Resolution," OAHNewsletter, 4 (July1976),5. On thecontroversy, see "SouthernHistoryand thePoliticsofRecent
Memory," RadicalHistoryReview,38 (Apr. 1987), 143-51.
73 C. VannWoodward, "Wild in theStacks," New YorkReviewofBooks,Aug. 1, 1968,pp. 8-12. Foranother
positiveevaluation,seeJohnA. Garraty, reviewof Towards a New PasteditedbyBernstein, New YorkTimesBook
Review,May 12, 1968,p. 1. Woodwardsubsequently changedhisposition,writingthatthesixtiesNew Leftand
theredhunters whoattackedtheuniversity in thefifties
"hadmuchin common."C. VannWoodward,"The Siege,"
New YorkReviewofBooks,Sept. 25, 1986,p. 10.
74 EugeneD. Genovese,"Materialism and Idealismin theHistoryofNegroSlavery,"Journal ofSocialHistory,
1 (Summer1968),371-94;RichardTilly,reviewof TheMakingoftheEnglishWorking ClassbyE. P. Thompson,
ibid.,(Spring1968),288-93;JamesMcPherson, reviewofThePoliticalEconomyofSlaverybyEugeneD. Genovese,
ibid., 280-85;JamesT. Lemonand GaryB. Nash, "The Distribution ofWealthin Eighteenth-Century America:'
ibid., 2 (Fall 1968), 1-24; RobertWiebe, reviewof The CorporateIdeal in theLiberalStatebyJamesWeinstein,
ibid. (Winter1968), 174-76.
7' David Donald, CharlesSumnerand the Comingofthe CivilWar(New York,1960);David Donald, Charles
Sumnerand theRightsofMan (New York,1970); David Donald, reviewofBeen in the StormSo Long byLeon
E Litwack,New Republic,June9, 1979,pp. 32-33.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
432 ofAmerican
TheJournal History

MarxistPerspectives appearedin 1978;neverbeforehad a scholarly journalwith


so manydistinguished editorsmade itsadherenceto Marxist theoryso explicit.Al-
thoughthe editorsincludedanthropologists and sociologists, the organizerswere
overwhelmingly historians,led by Genovese.An editorialstatementsigned by
Genoveseand Susmanchallengedtheassumptionthatprevailing formsofhistori-
cal scholarshipposed the significant questionsand providedadequate answers.
Marxism,theyargued,could "pose the questionswhichintellectuals mustfaceif
theyare not to abdicatetheirresponsibility to interpret the worldand thereby to
contribute towardchangingit forthe better."The journalpublishedarticlesby
Hobsbawm,Lasch,and Montgomery; JohnW. Womackon "The MexicanEconomy
duringthe Revolution," Eric Foneron "Class, Ethnicity, and Radicalismin the
GildedAge,"and LindaGordonon "Politics,SocialTheory, and Women'sHistory."
Amongtheregulardepartments was"Fromthe OtherShore" offering essayscrit-
icalofMarxismbySchlesinger, StanleyEngerman, JohnP. Diggins,and others.De-
spiteitsintellectual and an offer
vitality, byCambridgeUniversity Pressto become
itspublisher, Genovesedecidedthatissuetenwouldbe thejournal'slast.Published
in 1980,it listed125editorsand organizational secretariesat collegesand universi-
tiesin thirty states- the clearestmeasurethatthe boundaryseparatingMarxism
fromthe history profession had disappeared.76
Duringthemidseventies, as somedoorsopenedto radicalhistory, thejob market
forhistorians collapsed,leavingmanyradicalhistorians unemployed orworking in
non-tenuretracksituations. Sometalentedradicals,fromStaughtonLyndto David
Abraham,havebeen deniedtenureor turneddownforjobs undermurkycircum-
stances.Radicalsin theeightiesfacerenewedoppositionfroma variety ofsources,
includingright-wing politicians,free-lancered hunters,a fewentrenchedand
fearfuloldercolleagues,and neo-conservative intellectualsemboldenedfora time
byRonaldReagan's1984 landslide.77
And ofcourseradicalhistorians havehardlybeen a unified,harmoniousgroup;
theyhave been dividedby a varietyof issues-for example,the debate between
Marxist structuralism and humanism.Theyhavedivertedtheirenergies,as in a de-
structivefeudbetweenGenoveseand Gutmanin theseventies, and theyhaveaban-
doned theirachievements, as in theclosingdownofMarxistPerspectives. And rad-
ical historianscontinueto face unavoidableconflictsbetweenintellectualand
activist
commitments. The pressures to conform to institutionalstandards ofschol-
arlyproductivity are immenseand difficult to resist.Radicalhistorianshave re-
spondedtothesepressures in differentways:Someworkat reachingwideraudiences

76 EugeneD. Genoveseand Warren Susman,"EditorialStatement:A Note to Our Readers,"MarxistPerspec-


and sold an additional
tives,1 (Spring1978),4-5. When thejournalceasedpublication,it had 3,500subscribers
1,000copiesas singleissues.New YorkTimes,Feb. 1, 1981,p. 16.
77 "The David AbrahamCase: TenComments fromHistorians,"RadicalHistoryReview(no. 32, 1985),75-96;
JonWiener,"Footnotesto History:The David AbrahamCase,"Nation,Feb. 16, 1985,pp. 180-83. On theopposi-
in theeighties,seeJonWiener,"Accuracy
tionto radicalhistory in Academia:Reed IrvineRidesthePaperTiger:'
ibid. April5, 1986,pp. 479-82; and JonWiener,"HistoryWars:Whythe Rightis Losingin Academe,"ibid.,
May 24, 1986,pp. 724-26.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Radical Historiansand the Crisisin AmericanHistory 433

. s _X W - ~~~~~~~N. s

FP E -t

r 41 OkeE_ _

', ~
t ......_i

Da otoey atcptn in a cii dioedec deosraio


_R~~ ~nsupro f stikn clrcladtcncl wokrsa
_~~~~~~~~YlUnvesiy 198.F_*

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
434 TheJournal
ofAmerican
History

throughfilmsor museumexhibits,throughtheirwritings fortheNationand the


VillageVoice,and throughthe AmericanSocial HistoryProject'scurriculum for
working-class students.Someengagein campuspoliticalbattlesarounddivestment
orunionization.Somearguethattheirfirst commitment mustbe to developingthe
qualityof radicalscholarship. Mosthave a strongcommitment to undergraduate
teaching.Despitenewattacksfromwithoutand intermittent conflictswithin,rad-
ical historyin theage ofReaganoccupiedthestrongest positionit has everheld in
Americanuniversities.78
In the conventional view,thistransformation is evidencethatthe profession is
a meritocracy; theradicalsshouldbe congratulated fordoingworkso goodthatthe
profession had to acceptthem,and the profession should be congratulated for
recognizing good workevenwhenit challengedthemainstream. But theforegoing
suggeststheinadequacyofthemeritocratic thesis:The profession had to transform
theprevailing definition
of "goodwork"beforeradicalhistorians could be judged
on their merits.The profession'sagenda was transformed when established
historiansobserved - and experienced - the social and politicalupheavalsthat
sweptAmericansocietyand politics.Partlyin responseto pressurefromtheirstu-
dents,partlyin responseto theirownexperiences and theirownintellectual work,
manyofthemabandonedtheassumptionthattheprevailing historical scholarship
posed the significant questionsand providedadequate answers.The consensus
abouttheboundariesofhistory thathad consolidatedhistorians' loyalties and com-
mitments disintegrated.The profession'swillingness to defendthe boundarythat
had separated"history" fromnon-history was undermined.Duringthiscrisisthe
profession redefinedthefieldin a waythatincludedradicalhistorians' conceptions
of the significantproblemsrequiringstudy.
Today'sradicalhistory arosein a particularhistorical context,againstthe back-
groundof the civilrightsand antiwarmovements; it developedas a critiqueof a
particularbodyof scholarship - consensushistory. Radicalhistory, thatis to say,
does notpresent"truth"in anytranscendent sense; it is itselfa historical product.
As E. P. Thompsonhas written, today'sradicalhistorians "areas muchsubjectto
ourowntime'sformation and determinationsas anyothers.Ifourworkiscontinued
byothers,it will be continueddifferently."79

78 On the
debatebetweenMarxist humanismand structuralism, seeJonWiener,"Marxist Theoryand History:
Thompsonand Althusser," SocialistReview,10 (July-Aug.1980), 136-44. On Gutmanand Genovese,see Ira
Berlin,"HerbertG. Gutmanand theAmericanWorking Class,"in HerbertG. Gutman,Powerand Culture:Essays
on theAmericanWorking Class(New York,1987),46-52, 55-59; EugeneD. Genovese,"Solidarity and Servitude,"
TimesLiterary Supplement,Feb. 25, 1977,pp. 198-99;EugeneD. Genovese,"The Debate overTimeon theCross:
A CritiqueofBourgeoisCriticism," inElizabethFox-Genovese and EugeneD. Genovese,FruitsofMerchant Capital
(New York,1983),136-71.Around13% ofhistorians describedtheirpoliticalorientation
as "left"in a 1984survey.
See StephenH. Balchand HerbertI. London,"The TenuredLeft,"Commentary, 54 (Oct. 1986),43. KentBlaser
arguesthatradicalhistorians havefailedto formand transmit a newparadigm,but his criteria forsuccessare so
highthatno schoolofhistory has attainedit: "fortheschoolto be successfulor hegemonic. . . it mustbe able
to socializefollowersoverseveralgenerations." Kent Blaser,"What Happened to New LeftHistory?:Part1, An
Institutional Approach,"SouthAtlanticQuarterly, 85 (Summer1986), 283-96, esp. 289.
79 E. P. Thompson,"AgendasforRadicalHistory," RadicalHistoryReview(no. 36, 1986),41-42.

This content downloaded from 128.122.253.228 on Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:29:18 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions