he ’60s left collapsed for many reasons, but two major ones are especially relevant to the prospects for today’s left — and they pull in opposite directions. One important advantage the contemporary left has over the ’60s left is that it was created by conditions that are not going away. The Vietnam War was the main issue uniting the diverse parts of the ’60s left, and it brought hundreds of thousands of new sympathizers into the movement. And so, when the Nixon administration ended the draft and then signed a peace agreement with North Vietnam, what we called “the movement” rapidly dissipated. The women’s, civil rights and environmental movements — to name three of the biggest groups — continued, but they were no longer part of a larger whole. Meanwhile, those groups that had espoused revolution were displaced by reformist, staff-driven organizations that worked out of Washington or New York offices.
Today’s left is different. Of the factors driving it, only the Trump presidency will expire, and that might not happen for five years. Climate change will continue to menace shorelines, create extreme weather, and imperil agriculture and fishing — and this is, unfortunately, going to happen even if a Democrat wins the presidency this year and rejoins the Paris agreement. As the politics around climate change inevitably become more pressing, the case for a large-scale subordination of private capital to public priorities — a demand that is at the heart of the political left — will only strengthen.
Most important, though, the underlying economic conditions that led to the creation of today’s left are going to continue to shape the labor force of American capitalism. Under the impact of artificial intelligence, many jobs will alter overnight or disappear, creating continuing insecurity among the young, fueling dissatisfaction with capitalism and providing an incentive to organize.