Max Elbaum Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che, Verso: London, 2006 (new edition); 384 pp.: 1844675637, 12.99 [pounds sterling] (pbk)
In a period in which the 1960s are predominantly discussed in relation to the recent fortieth anniversary of 1968, Max Elbaum's book makes a refreshing change by taking a broader perspective. This is not to diminish the importance of the 1960s. Elbaum himself notes, 'the paramount matter to which I keep returning is the sheer scale and scope of the 1960s upsurge' (p. xii), and he, like many others who have theorized the radicalism that began in the 1960s, takes 1968 to be the pinnacle of such events. He does, however, provide a rare analysis of such events by taking them as part of a bigger picture, and looking at how the radicalism continued and developed even after the key groups that flourished in 1968 had declined.
In Revolution in the Air, Elbaum sets out a thoroughgoing exposition of the New Communist movement, the US left movement based around Third World Marxism. He details the attempt(s) at building a Marxist-Leninist party, in which the theory of the vanguard party was central. The new communist movement, based around anti-racist, anti-imperialist sentiment, became divided by splits over Chinas changing policies and stances and the way they and Maoism were interpreted internationally, and began a descent into sects and factions, ultimately self-destructing over its own central ambitions of party building. In charting both the origins and scope of this movement as well as its demise and pitfalls, Elbaum combines comprehensive research with personal experience. While his own 'lens of the left' is readily evident in the book, he shows a great awareness of this from the outset, and acknowledges that his story and experiences will by no means appease all or tell everyone's tale of this dynamic and vibrant era. Given the scope and diversity of the left, then and now, this remains unsurprising. The value of Elbaum's personal experience, as someone who was an insider, is evident in the balance he strikes between discussing the general situation of the New Communist movement, and considering the subjectivity of the era and its events. The balance of subjectivity and universality is something often lost in discourses surrounding the movements that developed in and of events of the 1960s, so Elbaum's work is refreshing from this point of view.
The book itself is structured...