The Left Wing of the Permissible: the Politics of Michael Harrington

By: JIM CREEGAN  Posted on

The beginning of the American New Left is usually dated from the appearance of the Port Huron Statement in 1962 . Drawn up by a handful of members of Students or a Democratic Society (SDS) at a conference in the Michigan town it is named for, the statement is an expression of the  growing discontent of middle-class students–“raised in modest comfort”, in their words–with the social and political status quo of mid-century America. Its call for the revitalization of American democracy is far removed from the radical leftist politics that SDS was to embrace later in the decade. It decries the prevalent apathy and social atomism on the college campus and in the larger society, and advocates “participatory democracy”—the direct involvement of citizens in the decisions that affect them. It enumerates concrete policy objectives , all clearly intended to be achieved by peaceful, democratic means. Internationally, these include universal nuclear disarmament as opposed to the Cold  War arms race, and support for third-world economic development instead of third-world dictators. On the home front, the manifesto advocates a renovation of the Democratic Party through a  break with the Dixiecrats, a large expansion of the public sector and the welfare state, and a democratization  and renewal of the labor movement as a force for social progress.