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The Port Huron Statement

The Port Huron Statement: Sources and Legacies of the New Left's Founding Manifesto

Richard Flacks
Nelson Lichtenstein
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    The Port Huron Statement
    Book Description:

    The Port Huron Statement was the most important manifesto of the New Left student movement of the 1960s. Initially drafted by Tom Hayden and debated over the course of three days in 1962 at a meeting of student leaders, the statement was issued by Students for a Democratic Society as their founding document. Its key idea, "participatory democracy," proved a watchword for Sixties radicalism that has also reemerged in popular protests from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street.

    Featuring essays by some of the original contributors as well as prominent scholars who were influenced by the manifesto,The Port Huron Statementprobes the origins, content, and contemporary influence of the document that heralded the emergence of a vibrant New Left in American culture and politics. Opening with an essay by Tom Hayden that provides a sweeping reflection on the document's enduring significance, the volume explores the diverse intellectual and cultural roots of the Statement, the uneasy dynamics between liberals and radicals that led to and followed this convergence, the ways participatory democracy was defined and deployed in the 1960s, and the continuing resonances this idea has for political movements today. An appendix includes the complete text of the original document.

    The Port Huron Statementoffers a vivid portrait of a unique moment in the history of radicalism, showing that the ideas that inspired a generation of young radicals more than half a century ago are just as important and provocative today.

    Contributors:Robert Cohen, Richard Flacks, Jennifer Frost, Daniel Geary, Barbara Haber, Grace Elizabeth Hale, Tom Hayden, Michael Kazin, Nelson Lichtenstein, Jane Mansbridge, Lisa McGirr, James Miller, Robert J. S. Ross, Michael Vester, Erik Olin Wright.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9099-8
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)
    Richard Flacks and Nelson Lichtenstein

    The United States was a very different country when a group of politically active young people drafted the Port Huron Statement more than half a century ago. The fact that this manifesto, from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), continues to live in our political and social imagination is truly remarkable. Its afterlife has been far longer than that of any other document emanating from the American left over the past century, and it has some of the iconic quality of other works that have helped define the American agenda, like W. E. B. Du Bois’sSouls of Black Folk,...

  4. Chapter 1 Crafting the Port Huron Statement: Measuring Its Impact in the 1960s and After
    (pp. 16-36)
    Tom Hayden

    We are now in the sixth decade since publication of the Port Huron Statement, the founding declaration of Students for a Democratic Society, issued as a “living document” in 1962. The SDS call for a participatory democracy echoes today in student-led democracy movements around the world, even appearing as the first principle in the September 17, 2011, declaration of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters.

    As a signpost of the early 1960s, the Port Huron Statement is worth treasuring for its idealism and for the spark it ignited in many an imagination. The Port Huron call for a life and...


    • Chapter 2 Two Cheers for Utopia
      (pp. 39-49)
      Michael Kazin

      The Port Huron Statement of Students for a Democratic Society is the most ambitious, the most specific, and the most eloquent manifesto in the history of the American left. It is also, at just over 25,000 words, undoubtedly the longest one. But it had to be lengthy to accomplish its aim—to propose an entire “agenda for a generation.” Consider the variety of topics about which Tom Hayden and his fellow delegates to that SDS meeting in June 1962 had intelligent and provocative things to say: moral values, American politics, the U.S. economy, the nation’s intellectual and academic life, the...

    • Chapter 3 Port Huron and the Origins of the International New Left
      (pp. 50-64)
      Lisa McGirr

      The Port Huron Statement and the student movement in the United States that it helped inspire was part of a widespread international moment of left-oriented youth rebellion that spread around the world during the 1960s. These mobilizations shared ideas, networks, repertoires of protest, and a sense of imagined community. Transnational linkages fueled these movements’ growth, as did social and economic developments affecting all of the core countries of the post–World War II capitalist West.¹ While distinctive political and social contexts within individual countries mattered most to understanding the grievances, character, strength, and trajectories of these diverse movements, an eye...

    • Chapter 4 The Romance of Rebellion
      (pp. 65-80)
      Grace Elizabeth Hale

      Somehow, amid the memoirs and anniversary conferences, the celebrations and the attacks, we have forgotten one of the most interesting facts about the early New Left: its radical act of the imagination. Young college student activists accomplished something unprecedented in U.S. history. They created a left political movement in a time of great prosperity. And they did it by imagining new conceptions of “we,” new alliances that joined people across chasms of class, race, and region. What inspired those mostly middle-class, mostly white, and mostly not southern college students who created Students for a Democratic Society and Friends of SNCC...


    • Chapter 5 The New Left and Liberalism Reconsidered: The Committee of Correspondence and the Port Huron Statement
      (pp. 83-94)
      Daniel Geary

      There is a well-known story about the Port Huron conference. Students for a Democratic Society invited the prominent socialist Michael Harrington to address the meeting. Harrington lambasted SDS for its insufficient anticommunism. After the day’s meeting, Harrington and Tom Hayden drank beer and engaged in an increasingly heated debate centered on the SDS stance on communism. When Harrington left the conference, he reported back to SDS’s parent organization, the League for Industrial Democracy, which subsequently reprimanded SDS leaders for the statement drafted at Port Huron. The moral to this story characterizes a common historical understanding of the relationship between the...

    • Chapter 6 A Moment of Convergence
      (pp. 95-106)
      Nelson Lichtenstein

      In our effort to put the Port Huron Statement into historical context we properly pay close attention to two sections in the Statement, which collectively take up just a few pages. The first is the luminous prologue, from which the idea of “participatory democracy” and the commitment of a new generation “to make values explicit” have been remembered and celebrated through the decades. Of only somewhat lesser import has been the controversy that goes by the shorthand name “anti-anti-Communism,” a formulation that does not appear in the Statement, but which encapsulates the break these young radicals sought to make with...

    • Chapter 7 The New Left’s Love-Hate Relationship with the University
      (pp. 107-124)
      Robert Cohen

      From its opening sentence, the Port Huron Statement makes clear that its agenda for the 1960s generation was linked to and critical of the campus world: “We are people of this generation …, housed nowin universities,looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.”¹ Part of this inherited world of Cold War America that made the Port Huron Statement’s authors uncomfortable was the university itself, which they saw as an instrument of the national power elite, complicit in the creation of the warfare state and in the failure of America to address the social order’s glaring inequities and injustices. The...


    • Chapter 8 The Democratic Process at Port Huron and After
      (pp. 127-139)
      Robert J. S. Ross

      Participatory democracy, the central idea of the Port Huron Statement, is today more relevant than ever before. The assaults on labor rights in Wisconsin and Michigan, the rise and fall of Occupy Wall Street as a movement against inequality, and the continuing institutionalization of global capitalism and financial capital’s power within it—all these beg the question: what does the concept of participatory democracy mean in our era of crisis and hardship? Indeed, questions of organization and decision making are relevant at all times when ordinary people seek to organize themselves for political and social action, so here I shall...

    • Chapter 9 A Manifesto of Hope
      (pp. 140-147)
      Barbara Haber

      A half-century of mostly hard political times can put a halo of nostalgia on any experience. The words of old timers about the good old days are and ought to be suspect. I begin by pleading guilty: the Port Huron convention is high on my list of most cherished memories. I pride myself immensely on having had the good sense to get there, and I carry a special warmth and respect for those who were there with me that has withstood later political differences, personal animosities, and long years of separation.¹

      But the glow Port Huron carries for me is...

    • Chapter 10 Putting Participatory Democracy into Action
      (pp. 148-160)
      Jennifer Frost

      The community organizing efforts of the Students for a Democratic Society began in 1963, the year following the Port Huron Statement. SDS aimed to build “an interracial movement of the poor” under the auspices of its Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP) to demand changes in state and society and abolish poverty in America. Over the next few years, New Left organizers established sixteen community organizing projects in low-income, racially diverse neighborhoods; the largest, most successful, and longest-lasting projects were located in Chicago, Cleveland, Newark, and Boston.¹ The ERAP projects were a central focus of SDS between 1963 and 1965,...

    • Chapter 11 Port Huron and the New Left Movements in Federal Germany
      (pp. 161-190)
      Michael Vester

      In this essay, I am looking backward and forward. I am looking backward to the Port Huron conference of 1962 and its relations to the early New Left movements for participatory democracy in Europe and especially in Federal Germany. In these movements, the relations between the American and the German student organizations—both were called SDS—played a special role. But this essay also looks beyond the early and mid-1960s. After describing the common and parallel roots and forms of the two movements, it proceeds to describe and explain why, on the political level, the German movements developed differently. They...


    • Chapter 12 Did We Learn How to Make Participatory Collectives Work?
      (pp. 193-205)
      Jane Mansbridge

      The experience of participatory democracy after the Port Huron Statement holds several lessons for activists today. It is true that the conditions today are different, but the transcendent goals of the Statement still capture the imagination and the heart. It is also true that the practice of participatory democracy that developed after the Statement went far beyond what its framers intended. But that practice—of “horizontal,” direct assembly, egalitarian, consensus democracy, inspired by the Port Huron goals—has nevertheless become standard, first in participatory collectives in the United States in the 1970s and later in many emerging radical collectives around...

    • Chapter 13 Participatory Democracy and the Fate of Occupy Wall Street
      (pp. 206-214)
      James Miller

      On the afternoon of August 2, 2011, a group of self-selected activists, about sixty in all, met at Bowling Green, a park in downtown Manhattan with the famous bronze statue of a snorting bull, installed in 1989 as a tribute to the financial power of nearby Wall Street.

      The people had gathered by the bull in response to a call for a general assembly, to organize an occupation of Wall Street, set to start on September 17. They came from a variety of political backgrounds. Some were students, others were union organizers. There were socialists, but a surprising number were...

    • Chapter 14 Radical Democracy as a Real Utopia
      (pp. 215-223)
      Erik Olin Wright

      Upon rereading the Port Huron Statement for the first time in decades, I was struck by how contemporary much of it sounds. Near the beginning, in the introductory section entitled “Agenda for a Generation,” the following appears: “In this is perhaps the outstanding paradox: we ourselves are imbued with urgency, yet the message of our society is that there is no viable alternative to the present … beneath the stagnation of those who have closed their minds to the future, is the pervading feeling that there simply are no alternatives, that our times have witnessed the exhaustion not only of...

    • Chapter 15 Philosophical and Political Roots of the American New Left
      (pp. 224-238)
      Richard Flacks

      By the summer of 1960, a critical mass of young people on a number of campuses were searching for a political identity rooted in the left. They had been galvanized to thought and action by the southern civil rights movement, the fight against the remnants of McCarthyism, and the growing worldwide debate about nuclear testing and the arms race. The urgency and possibility of action was heightened by the fact that students in a number of other countries were seizing the historical initiative. And, along with such issues and models of action, was the idea that a “new left” could...

  9. The Port Huron Statement
    (pp. 239-284)

    Introductory Note: This document represents the results of several months of writing and discussion among the membership, a draft paper, and revision by the Students for a Democratic Society national convention meeting in Port Huron, Michigan, June 11–15, 1962. It is presented as a document with which SDS officially identifies, but also as a living document open to change with our times and experiences. It is a beginning: in our own debate and education, in our dialogue with society.

    We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 285-314)
  11. List of Contributors
    (pp. 315-318)
  12. Index
    (pp. 319-330)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 331-331)