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Journal Article

Community and Organization: The New Left and Michels' "Iron Law"

Wini Breines
Social Problems
Vol. 27, No. 4 (Apr., 1980), pp. 419-429
DOI: 10.2307/800170
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/800170
Page Count: 11
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Community and Organization: The New Left and Michels' "Iron Law"
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Abstract

Most analysts of the new left fault it for having been utopian, antiorganizational, and even antipolitical, suggesting that these characteristics were responsible for its failures. It is suggested in this paper that such evaluations of the new left are biased in favor of certain organizational and instrumental-political forms--forms the new left rejected in the name of a communitarian and expressive-political experiment. It is indicated that the new left was shaped by the ongoing tension within it between a spontaneous, grassroots social movement committed to participatory democracy and hostile to formal organization and the perceived need for formal, even centralized, organization capable of implementing political change. Faced with a choice between "strategic" and "prefigurative" politics, the new left, it is argued, chose the latter and hence chose to fail according to the established political standards. The new left sought to avert Michels' "iron law of oligarchy" by its refusal to transform itself into a political party and by its insistence on remaining a social movement. The attempt to found a new politics of participation and process, while unsuccessful, may well prove to have been the new left's most valuable legacy.

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