From Here to There: A ReviewThe Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture Vol. 3, Iss.2, (December 2010): 255-262.
By Luke Stewart
The admirable radical: Staughton Lynd and Cold War dissent, 1945–1970, by Carl Mirra, Kent, Kent State University Press, 2010, 224 pp., US$34.95 (hardback), ISBN 9781606350515
From here to there: the Staughton Lynd reader, edited by Andrej Grubacic, Oakland, PM Press, 2010, 305 pp., US$22.00 (paperback), ISBN 9781604862157
Stepping stones: a memoir of a life together, by Alice Lynd and Staughton Lynd, Lanham, Lexington Books, 2009, 191 pp., US$26.95 (paperback), ISBN 9780739127506
The release of Carl Mirra’s biography of Staughton Lynd, The Admirable Radical: Staughton Lynd and Cold War Dissent, 1945–1970, Andrej Grubacic’s edited collection of Lynd’s writings, From Here to There: The Staughton Lynd Reader, and Lynd’s dual memoir with his wife, Alice, Stepping Stones: A Memoir of a Life Together will help to deepen our understanding of the long Sixties and the important debates about postwar American radicalism. Furthermore, these three books contribute to our understanding about Staughton Lynd as an historical protagonist and as a historian.
This past summer Carl Mirra’s biography – and to a lesser extent Grubacic’s edited collection and the Lynds’ dual memoir – sparked a lively exchange between John Summers, Staughton Lynd and Carl Mirra in The New Republic about Staughton Lynd’s scholarship. For instance, Summers, a visiting scholar at Boston University, argued “Lynd was never a historian who selects significant problems for study, but one who knows most of the answers in advance.” Moreover, Summers claimed Lynd, and new left historiography more broadly, helped to “turn history from a means of understanding to a record of heroes and villains.”1 Such broad strokes and swipes, painted by Summers, skirted a real analysis of Mirra’s biography and represents the continuing struggle for the kind of radical, bottom-up history that Lynd advocated in the Sixties and throughout his career.2
In Staughton Lynd’s response in The New Republic, he took issue with Summers’ inference that he refused to acknowledge “the many-sidedness of history.” Instead, Lynd listed the many historical debates that he has engaged with throughout his career and argued: “I have been concerned not so much with rescuing the voices of the people ‘below’ as with exploring whatever light their views may seem to throw on a variety of problems of interpretation.”3 This is particularly evident in the publication, with Alice Lynd, of Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working-Class Organizers4 and Lynd’s belief in guerrilla history.5 Lynd’s response to Summers touched on his academic work with steelworkers and his attempt to understand why the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) did not produce a radical trade union movement in the United States. Through employing guerrilla history, Lynd argued that the steelworkers:
reported that in the late 1930s the CIO had not been recognized as an exclusive bargaining representative in Little Steel but bargained with management as a members-only or
minority trade union that retained the right to strike. They were adamant that workers
then enjoyed wages and benefits better than after the adoption of a comprehensive
collective bargaining agreement complete with no-strike and ‘management prerogative’
Indeed, Lynd’s work with steelworkers in the late 1960s and early 1970s helped produce an alternative interpretation of the CIO’s importance in the 1930s and beyond. With regard to Lynd’s work as a radical labor historian and labor lawyer, Mirra writes in The Admirable Radical that Lynd “offends the advantage class but is often embraced by the working class” (p. 6).
While Staughton Lynd has always played a background role in the literature on the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War and in critiques of New Left historiography,7 these three books, and Lynd’s current renaissance, demonstrate the significance of Staughton Lynd in the history of American radicalism, historiography and radical intellectualism. Or, as Carl Mirra has written elsewhere, that Lynd is a “[h]istorian with a place in history.”8
Carl Mirra, associate professor in the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education at Adelphia University, has written an excellently researched, and long overdue, biography of Staughton Lynd. Mirra places Lynd in the broader context of postwar radicalism in America and covers the formative years of Lynd’s life to the beginning of Lynd’s transition to becoming a labor lawyer in the early 1970s. If there is one criticism of this political and intellectual biography, it is that Mirra does not go far enough as he only covers the turbulent years from 1945 to 1970. While Mirra addresses Lynd’s early life and exposure to the “Old Left,” his dishonorable discharge from the army, the Lynds’ experience at the Macedonia commune, his historical scholarship, and his participation in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, he stops short of the Lynds moving to Ohio and their readjustment in the 1970s, and beyond, as labor lawyers. While this is, according to Mirra, a “preliminary biography,” Mirra does indeed provide a refreshing look at postwar radicalism from the vantage point of one of its most controversial protagonists. Students of the Sixties, or the “long Sixties,” will no doubt find this book a welcome addition to the literature.
Mirra sketched an outline of Lynd’s political philosophy that acted as a blueprint for Lynd’s participation in the movements for social, economic, and political justice in the United States. Mirra clarifies that his biography is an unconventional one as it should be read as a “movement biography” and not simply a biography of ideas. He states that “[t]he analytical framework that shapes Lynd’s thought is inseparable from the social movements that both stimulated and modified these political predilections.”
Mirra points to three basic principles that guided Lynd. First, “Lynd argued for the right of revolution among the oppressed.” Second, that social transformation will only advance through “solidarity and commitment to the despised, downtrodden, and degraded.” This is better known as accompaniment,9 the phrase taken by Lynd from the late Archbishop Oscar Romero. Finally, that people make decisions for themselves, or, political decentralization (p. 8). Through analyzing Lynd’s contribution to social, economic, and political justice, Mirra has found that Lynd espouses these principals in both theory and practice.
While each chapter covers the important events and engages specific debates in Lynd’s life and the historical literature, the heart of the biography is Mirra’s analysis of Lynd’s participation in the Civil Rights Movement, the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War. The clash between radicalism and Cold War liberalism informs Mirra’s analysis of Lynd’s participation in these struggles and is an important current running through his analysis of Lynd’s scholarship. In the core chapters on the Civil Rights Movement, the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the antiwar movement, Mirra links Lynd’s belief in participatory democracy and horizontal decision-making to his experience in the Civil Rights Movement and the antiwar movement. Mirra found that Lynd’s participation in the Mississippi Freedom Summer, more than any other experience, “signifies the most potent political expression of Lynd’s liberation spirituality” (p. 50). By contrast to Lynd’s experience in the Freedom Summer, Mirra argues that the 1964 Democratic National Convention compromise in Atlantic City between the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and the national Democratic party “signified the absolute failure of coalition-style politics and reinforced his allegiance to alternative institutions and to local organizing over national coalitions” (p. 65).
The struggle between radical alternatives and Cold War liberalism also informed Mirra’s analysis of Lynd’s opposition to the Vietnam War. In two chapters on the antiwar movement, Mirra provides an invaluable analysis, from Lynd’s perspective, of the important events such as the first antiwar march in Washington on 17 April 1965 and the Assembly of Unrepresented Peoples in August 1965. Mirra’s analysis of Lynd’s sojourn to Hanoi during the Johnson administration’s second bombing pause and first major “Peace Offensive” is second to none. While the trip is criticized elsewhere as “political tourism,”10 Mirra argues that Lynd’s controversial trip to Hanoi helped to humanize “the other side” when the mainstream press, politicians, and pundits were blinded by the fog of war. He points to Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968, reaching many of the same conclusions in 1995 that Lynd had reached in 1966 (pp. 100–101). Furthermore, Mirra argued that the trip opened the door for journalists (such as Harrison Salisbury) and activists (such as Howard Zinn and Jane Fonda) to travel to North Vietnam (p. 117).
For those looking for an analysis of Lynd’s scholarship, his blacklisting from the academy, and the reaction to New Left historiography more broadly, Mirra has provided an excellent investigation. Despite critiques over the years by Eugene Genovese, Christopher Lasch, and John Summers, Mirra demonstrates that Lynd’s scholarship was well received and has lasted through the rigors of historical analysis as Lynd’s academic books during his time at Yale have been re-released with much praise.11 In this investigation, Mirra dedicated three chapters to Lynd’s scholarship and the reaction it provoked. Mirra argues that “[t]his chapter of Lynd’s life amounts to a study in political repression, inasmuch as it illustrates a tendency among US historians to dismiss scholars falling outside the mainstream” (p. 122).
Mirra moved beyond his previous analysis in “Radical Historians and the Liberal Establishment: Staughton Lynd’s Life with History” in Left History and concluded that “Yale’s president described Lynd’s politics as traitorous, its History Department chair called him strident, and Yale alumni clamored for his removal. Is it not reasonable to assume that these political denunciations influenced Yale’s decision to deny Lynd’s tenure?” (p. 145). Mirra does not reach this conclusion lightly. He discusses the friction between the “Big Three” in Yale’s History Department – C. Vann Woodward, Edmund Morgan, and John Morton Blum – and Staughton Lynd; the History Department’s lack-lustre review of Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism; Kingman Brewster seeking legal advice in September 1967 for the possible legal ramifications of the Lynd tenure case; and John Morton Blum’s admission in his memoir, A Life with History, that Lynd was not denied tenure at Yale because of financial constraints despite his pronouncements in the late 1960s to the contrary. Mirra concludes that “[i]t would be a mistake to reduce Lynd’s scholarship to mere activism; it was an attempt to provide a historical foundation for the participatory politics of the New Left. Lynd’s work was critical research on praxis, which was no less rigorous than traditional historiography” (p. 130).
While John Summers took aim at Mirra’s admiration for Staughton Lynd and questioned his objectivity, I found that Mirra’s analysis was fair as he allowed for Lynd’s critics to be heard (including Eugene Genovese and William Buckley). While Mirra did not shy away from his admiration for Lynd in his introduction, I found this was a reasoned historical analysis that shed light on many crucial events during the Sixties as well as analyzing Lynd’s scholarship after more than 40 years of rigorous analysis by other historians. While Mirra favors Lynd’s historical approach, the Summers-Lynd-Mirra exchange demonstrates that there is indeed more than one way of doing history. As Mirra demonstrates, Lynd’s particular brand of radical history has drawn accusations of anti-intellectualism from his critics and led to his blacklisting from the academy. Therefore, it is no surprise Lynd’s work continues to draw both praise and disdain.
Andrej Grubacic, a radical historian and anarchist from the Balkans, has compiled a set of valuable, and sometimes obscure, selections of Lynd’s writings over the past four decades. From Here to There offers the reader a glimpse into the possibilities and alternatives to capitalism, war, racism and top-down institutions. The Reader demonstrates Lynd’s commitment to justice for African Americans, workers, prisoners and the victims of American imperialism during his involvement in the civil rights, anti-war, labor, and prisoner rights movements. Grubacic’s edited collection, despite Summers’ claim that Lynd “vanished from intellectual society,”12 demonstrates Lynd’s contribution to the intellectual climate long past “the sixties.” Grubacic’s introduction is autobiographical as he states: “My intention is to describe the process that led myself, an anarchist revolutionary from the Balkans, to discover, and eventually embrace, many of the ideas espoused by an American historian, Quaker, lawyer and pacifist, influenced
by Marxism.” Grubacic’s intention is to present to the reader “the relevance of Staughton
Lynd’s life and ideas for a new generation of radicals” (p. 4).
In the introduction Grubacic advocates, as in Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History, a fusion of Marxism and anarchism. Grubacic calls this the “Haymarket Synthesis” or “libertarian socialism” and finds in Lynd’s writings three basic ideas to get us from here to there. First, Grubacic finds in Lynd’s essays “Toward Another World” and “From Globalization to Resistance” the belief in “self-activity” or horizontal organizing which was also the basis for the Industrial Workers of the World’s concept of “solidarity unionism” and the Zapatistas’ “vision of a government ‘from below’ that ‘leads by obeying’” (pp. 11– 12). Second, Grubacic addresses the belief Staughton has in creating local institutions, or what E. P. Thompson called “warrens.” Through Staughton’s work with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the Civil Rights Movement and in his work as a labor lawyer in Youngstown, Ohio, during the steel mill closures in the Mahoning Valley, Lynd had discovered the possibilities of organizing horizontal institutions. Therefore, in two of Lynd’s essays, “Edward Thompson’s Warrens” and “Remembering SNCC,” Grubacic finds that the best way to transition from capitalism to libertarian socialism is to “buil[d] on the positives of a socialist commonwealth emerging from existing creations improvised from below.” In other words, Grubacic defines a “warren” as a “local institution in which people conduct their own affairs – an immigrant center or local union, for example – that expands in time of crisis to take on new powers and responsibilities, and then, after the revolutionary tide ebbs, continues to represent, in institutionalized form, an expanded version of what existed to begin with” (pp. 12–16). Finally, Grubacic argues, “[i]f capitalism developed as a practice of the idea of contract, libertarian socialism should be developed as a practice of solidarity” (p. 16). Moving from the dual concepts of self-activity and the creation of warrens, Grubacic finds in Lynd’s essays “From Globalization to Resistance,” “Toward Another World,” “The Two Yales,” and “Intellectuals, the University, and the Movement,” and their book Wobblies and Zapatistas that in order to build “communities of struggle,” it should be done through the process of “accompaniment.” Grubacic states: “Revolutionaries should accompany workers and others in the creation and maintenance of popular self-governing institutions. In this process, we should not pretend to be something we are not. Rather, we can walk beside poor people in struggle just as we are, hopefully providing support and useful skills” (p. 17).
Whether you agree with Grubacic’s interpretation of Lynd’s writings and life, whether you are a radical or a historian, or both, there is something for everyone in this collection. There are important primary sources – such as Lynd’s critique of the academy in “Intellectuals, the University, and the Movement” – and analytical secondary accounts such as “Remembering SNCC.”
Finally, the Lynds’ dual memoir touches on the issues, debates, and events that are raised in Grubacic’s collection and Mirra’s biography. Perhaps most importantly we see the significance of Alice Lynd in these events. Staughton has received most of the attention, and for good reason. However, in this dual memoir we see that Alice and Staughton’s relationship, and their work together, was central to anything they would accomplish individually or together in the antiwar, labor, and prisoner rights movements. Mirra acknowledges the centrality of Alice in Staughton’s life. However, Mirra’s political and intellectual biography “minimized” Lynd’s family life because it was “unlikely to yield high dividends in understanding him or the period” (p. 4). As we see in the dual memoir, there was also a much more practical reason for this. While Lynd was facing increasing trouble at Yale for his politics, and Alice was working as a draft counselor, Staughton writes:
To Alice it seemed that the Movement came first, the children second, and she came
third. Up to this point Alice and I had carried into life outside community the assump-
tion that the Movement, the cause, was one’s highest commitment, and everything else
must find its place afterwards. In the spring of 1966 we decided that in an effort to
build a communal society one must begin with the community of family. If commu-
nity could not be brought off with spouse and children, parents and grandchildren,
how could one presume to try to create it in the larger society? Many Movement
marriages failed to survive the sixties. Ours, in the end, put down new roots and flour-
ished. (pp. 89–90)
From Alice we find that while the Assembly of Unrepresented Peoples helped found the first national antiwar organization, the National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam, she attended a workshop hosted by the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO) and so began her role as a draft counselor in New Haven for draft-aged men. Out of this experience came the book, written by Alice, We Won’t Go: Personal Accounts of War Objectors and her theory of the “two experts.” Alice wrote: “When I was counselling, I believed, there were two experts in the room: I was an expert on the Selective Service regulations and what was required to support a particular kind of claim; the counselee was an expert on what he had experienced, what he thought, and what he was willing to do. We put our expertise together” (pp. 85–7). According to Alice, both Staughton and she carried the “two experts” theory into their work as labor lawyers.
The remaining memoir covers the Lynds’ memories and experiences from the 1970s onward. While historians are rightfully cautious of memoirs, we gain from Stepping Stones an invaluable insight to how participatory democracy did not pass away in Chicago in 1969. From Stepping Stones we see the Lynds move to Youngstown, Ohio, and the battle for community ownership of the three US steel mills in the Mahoning Valley from 1979 to 1981, the Lynds’ five trips to Nicaragua in the 1980s, their trip to Palestine in the early 1990s and their work with prisoners in the 1990s and 2000s. The only thing missing is Staughton’s defence of Iraq veterans who refused to be deployed to Iraq. However, this was included in From Here to There in the essay “Someday They’ll Have a War and Nobody Will Come.” These three books address key debates and important events in Lynd’s long career as well as in “the Movement.” Together these three books demonstrate that the struggle for justice did not decline perilously after American troops withdrew from Vietnam in 1975. In fact, very few scholars have recognized the importance of the Lynds in continuing the struggle long after “the sixties.” In trying to help understand this dramatic period, the Lynds have left a cache of materials in the special collections of Kent State University, the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, and the Wisconsin State Historical Society. We can learn a lot from Staughton and Alice Lynd about the struggle for justice during the Sixties as well as how to get from here to there today.
1. John Summers, “What Politics Does to History,” The New Republic, July 19, 2010. http://
2. See Staughton’s critique of the academy in “Intellectuals, the University, and the Movement,” in Grubacic, From Here to There. Lynd’s paper was given at the March 1968 New University Conference and was originally entitled “The Responsibility of Radical Intellectuals.” According to Lynd, this paper was intended to go further than Noam Chomsky’s February 1967 “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” in the New York Review of Books. In Lynd’s paper, he argued: “A radical intellectual considers himself part of the
movement to create that new society which Jim Cockroft calls ‘participatory socialism.’
Whatever other intellectual tasks he undertakes, the radical intellectual feels a responsibility to help clarify the Movement’s emergent experience. He may or may not teach in a university; if he does, his most important teaching may occur outside his regularly scheduled classes and off the campus […] To do this we ourselves must have at least one foot solidly off the campus.”
3. Staughton Lynd, “The Battle Over Radical History,” The New Republic, August 4, 2010. http://www.tnr.com/book/review/the-battle-over-radical-history-part-2
4. Lynd and Lynd, Rank and File.
5. For a definition and discussion on Lynd’s conception of guerrilla history, see Staughton’s essay “Guerrilla History in Gary,” in Grubacic, From Here to There.
6. Staughton Lynd, “The Battle Over Radical History,” The New Republic, August 4, 2010.
http://www.tnr.com/book/review/the-battle-over-radical-history-part-2. See also Lynd’s introduction to his edited collection, “We Are All Leaders”.
7. See Unger, “The ‘New Left’” Lemisch, On Active Service; the fall 1989 Journal of American
History on United States historiography; the winter 2001 special edition of Radical History Review on radical history; O’Brien, “‘Be Realistic’,” Mirra, “Radical Historians” and other books on the subject such as Tomes, Apocalypse Then; Van der Linden, A Revolt Against Liberalism; Novick, That Nobel Dream; and Vogelgesang, The Long Dark Night.
8. Carl Mirra, “Staughton Lynd: A Historian with a Place in History,” History News Network, April 12, 2010. http://www.hnn.us/articles/125432.html
9. For a discussion on accompaniment, see Grubacic and Lynd, Wobblies and Zapatistas, 51–3, 137–46. Lynd also discusses accompaniment in his essays “Oral History From Below,” “The Once and Future Movement,” and “Liberation Theology for Quakers” (written with Alice Lynd) in Lynd, Living Inside Our Hope. Finally, the Lynds discuss their experience in accompaniment in Stepping Stones, 93–139.
10. See Hollander, Anti-Americanism; Hollander, Political Pilgrims.
11. In 2009 Cambridge University Press published new editions of Lynd’s Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism and Class, Conflict, Slavery and the United States Constitution.
12. John Summers, “What Politics Does to History,” The New Republic, July 19, 2010. http:// www.tnr.com/book/review/what-politics-does-history
Grubacic, Andrej. From Here to There: The Staughton Lynd Reader. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2010.
Grubacic, Andrej, and Staughton Lynd. Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2008.
Hollander, Paul. Anti-Americanism: Critiques at Home and Abroad, 1965–1990. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
———. Political Pilgrims: Travels of Western Intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China, and
Cuba, 1928–1978. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.
Lemisch, Jesse. On Active Service in War and Peace: Politics and Ideology in the American Historical Profession. Toronto: New Hogtown Press, 1975.
Lynd, Alice, and Staughton Lynd. Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working-Class Organizers. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1973.
Lynd, Staughton. Class, Conflict, Slavery and the United States Constitution. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
———. Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
———. Living Inside Our Hope: A Steadfast Radical’s Thoughts on Rebuilding the Movement. Ithaca, NY: ILR Press, 1997.
Lynd, Staughton, ed. “We Are All Leaders”: The Alternative Unionism of the Early 1930s. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
Mirra, Carl. “Radical Historians and the Liberal Establishment: Staughton Lynd’s Life with History.” Left History 11, no. 1 (2006): 69–101.
Novick, Peter. That Nobel Dream: The ‘Objectivity Question’ and the American Historical Profession. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
O’Brien, Jim. “‘Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible’: Staughton Lynd, Jesse Lemisch, and a Committed History.” Radical History Review 82 (2002): 65–90.
Tomes, Robert R. Apocalypse Then: American Intellectuals and the Vietnam War, 1954–1975. New York: New York University Press, 1998.
Unger, Irwin. “The ‘New Left’ and American History: Some Recent Trends in United States Historiography.” The American Historical Review 72, no. 4 (1967): 1237–63.
Van der Linden, A.A.M. A Revolt against Liberalism: American Radical Historians, 1959– 1976. Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1996.
Vogelgesang, Sandy. The Long Dark Night of the Soul: The American Intellectual Left and the Vietnam War. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.
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