The Journal for the Study of Radicalism
Vol 5, no. 1: 2011
Michigan State University Press
Andrew Cornell is a historian of American radical politics who teaches at New York University. His CV shows a wide array of interests within the field of anarchist and radical history, however it appears that much of his work focuses on radical campus activity. His article A New Anarchism Emerges: 1940-1954 does not cover campus politics but rather focuses on the period of the 20th century when American anarchism was at a low ebb. The old left of the IWW had passed its peak, the Communist Party was in decline, and American enthusiasm for World War II had dissipated much of the radical sentiments of the first half of the century.
During this period Cornell argues that while there was little that resembled a ‘movement’ with regards to anarchism, there were a number of publications and small groups of people whose work contributed to the rise of the radical 1960s. Cornell’s article is a survey of anarchist activity within the United States during a lull that occurred between two extended bursts of radical action. Cornell focuses on a number of now largely forgotten publications such as the anarcho-syndicalist newspaper, Why?, begun by the young syndicalist Audrey Goodfriend, and her older roommate, Dorothy Rogers. According to Cornell, the publication moved away from a strict program of anarcho-syndicalist ideas and news towards a broader program that included analysis of the Spanish Civil War and critiques of World War II.
Another publication Cornell discusses was a quarterly periodical titled Retort, published by Holley Cantine and Dorothy Paul. Retort emerged from Cantine’s adherence to the ideals of American transcendentalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau - Cornell points out that it was published out of a cabin built by Cantine - and it included literary works in addition to the standard political analysis and criticism of such journals. One of the first poem published in Retort was by radical San Francisco proto-beat poet Kenneth Rexroth. In a section under the heading of ‘Proto-Beats’ within Cornell’s article, Rexroth is placed at the forefront of a circle of west-coast poets and artists who foregrounded radical politics in their art.
In addition to Rexroth, some other well known figures were active during this period, although their best work was to come later. Eventual Chicago 8 defendant and former Union Theolgical Seminary student David Dellinger led protests against segregation in prison while he was incarcerated as a Conscientious Objector to WWII. Word of the protests spread to other prisons which eventually integrated their dining halls. Dellinger and his associates took a non-violent approach to their protests which Cornell suggested had some influence on the path of the later civil rights movement. (cf. see Glenda Elizabeth Gilmour's book, Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950 for a prehistory of the 1960s civil rights movement.) Furthermore, Dellinger entered the movement with a background in theological study and demonstrated the potential for spirituality in radical politics.
Cornell also discusses the early writings of the philosopher Paul Goodman, whose later work, Growing Up Absurd, about the unsatisfying and empty possibilities offered to American youth passing into adulthood during the mid-1950s, was an influential text on the burgeoning 1960s youth culture. Paul Goodman's may stand as a kernel of the essence of Cornell’s article, in that the anarchists of the 1940s developed new forms of political thought that intersected with the arts, spirituality, and action, and helped to produce the radical 1960s: that is the youth counterculture, the new left, the peace movement, and the civil rights movement. Goodman was multi-talented and contributed ideas to all of the facets of countercultural activity that made the 1960s a new golden age for American radicalism. Cornell describes a small and loosely connected network of anarchists who lacked anything resembling popular support, but were still very productive and provided the edifice upon which the radical 1960s were constructed.