Last week I posted about an OAH panel proposal that I put together on Marx and Marxism. The proposal is very speculative, which no doubt helps explain the remarkable conversation that ensued in the comments section. This post, which is my paper proposal for the proposed Marx panel, is even more speculative. Here’s hoping the conversation is every bit as productive and compelling.
Studies on the Left was one of the most important journals of leftist thought in postwar America. Founded in Madison, Wisconsin in 1959, its editors sought to publish a scholarly-inflected journal that debated the issues of the day from a leftist but consciously non-sectarian perspective. Indeed, Studies on the Left featured articles by a roster of some of the most important leftist intellectuals of the twentieth century, including Herbert Aptheker, Noam Chomsky, W. E. B. DuBois, Philip Foner, Eugene Genovese, Eleanor Hakim, Langston Hughes, Staughton Lynd, Herbert Marcuse, C. Wright Mills, William A. Williams, and C. Vann Woodward.
Historians have analyzed Studies on the Left as an arm of the New Left. This is entirely reasonable, given that Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) founder Tom Hayden was brought on as editor in 1964 in order to better connect with a growing student left. The theories that animated the journal, particularly the idea of “corporate liberalism,” were nicely suited to the politics of the New Left. But what goes unnoticed in these examinations of Studies on the Left is the journal’s explicit attempt to fashion an Americanized Western Marxism, less pessimistic than the European-centric Western Marxism of the Frankfurt School, but equally rigorous in its attention to literary form and cultural theory. This paper will cast attention on the theoretical Marxism of the journal. Was Marx and Marxism relevant to the milieu of the American left in the sixties? Did its Marxism help or hinder the mission of Studies on the Left?