Recently, it's come to my attention that when people hear the word 'left' they automatically associate it with one of the myriad of Marxoid leninist groups out there, people who don't represent anyone or anything except themselves, and that people have a hard time grasping what I'm trying to put out there as being the real left, or the relevant left.
So....if you take those people out of the picture, what is the relevant left? I think that the relevant left, the left that I associate myself most with, is expressed in the wonderful book by Paul and Mary Jo Buhle and Dan Georgakas entitled "The Encyclopedia of the American Left", which if you want to know about the left you should look up at your library. It's really expensive.
Anyways, like any other book this one has it's own perspective and is shaped by the author's own beliefs; however, unlike most beliefs, theirs translates out into increased, not lessened respect of their subject matter, in this case the left in American history.
Instead of giving a little synopsis of the Trotskyist or whatever groups that happen to make the most noise these people actually examine the labor struggles of our history, the early attempts to build socialist parties and socialist support, they examine utopian community advocates and anarchists. They examine Communists as well as radical gay rights groups. Immigrant socialist groups and native born ones.
Buhle and Georgakas come from a tradition of labor history which draws on the experience of and writings of C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya. James, in particular, emphasized workers' self initiative and actually broke with the established organized left groups of his day in order to do something which was more
They basically start from the Revolution and go until the seventies.
That, the actual tradition of the American left, the living tradition of the American left, is what I believe in.
Another good book is "American Socialism from the Shakers to the Third International: A documentary history", edited by Albert Fried. It covers some of the same ground through reproducing the actual texts from this movement. Both books, Encyclopedia of the American Left and this one, are great reads.