Course: History of the Left in Europe and the U.S.

HC 431H

Professors: Joseph Fracchia, Daniel Pope

When Barack Obama, many of whose policy decisions are actually more conservative than those of Republican presidents such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and even Richard Nixon, is regularly called a raging left-wing radical, it is clear that the state of political discourse in this country is, to put it mildly, rather muddled. When a term with a long history and covering a wide range of groups becomes disassociated from its history and meaning(s), and is hurled as an insult and character slur, it is clear that political discourse has lost its meaningful content which in turn enhances the possibility of social chaos and violence. One of the chief goals of this course is to restore content and meaning to “the Left” by analyzing its related but not identical histories in Europe and the United States from the early 19th to the early 21st century.

The course will be divided in the following way: We will first, and in introductory fashion, address the historical etymology of the term “Left” through an overview of the social and political conditions from the 17th into the 19th century (the advent of capitalism and liberal revolutions) that gave rise to the “Left-Right” political spectrum. Our first major area of concentration will be the period from roughly 1848-1914 which saw the rise of the working-class politics and the formation of labor unions and socialist and anarchist organizations. This period of growth and optimism on the left was abruptly ended with the outbreak of World War I and transformed by the unexpected victory of Lenin’s Bolshevik Party in the Russian Revolutions of 1917. The second period we will cover is that from 1919-1989 when a dual shadow was cast over leftist political and social movements in Europe and the US. From 1919-1945 it was the shadow cast by the increasing Stalinization of both the Soviet Union and the international socialist movement on the one hand, and the rise of fascism and nazism on the other; then, after 1945, the shadow of the Cold War standoff between the Soviet Union and the US. It was out from under this later shadow that a “new left” emerged in the 1960s. In this final part of the course we will study these new kinds of leftist movements that ranged from the democratic-socialist Students for a Democratic Society, civil rights and power movements, “third-wave” feminism, gay rights and eventually environmental and anti-globalization movements.

In analyzing these various leftist movements, our goals will be to understand their critiques of existing societies: their visions of what the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” should mean; what the social and political prerequisites of those rights might be; and how to bring about the social and political conditions that would enable those rights to be realized for all. Written Assignments: 10-12 paper; take-home final exam.