When the Old Left was Young: Student Radicals and America's First Mass Student Movement, 1929-1941

Front Cover
Oxford University Press, 1993 - Business & Economics - 432 pages
American college students during the Age of Roosevelt confronted two of the gravest crises in the twentieth century: the Great Depression and the growing international tensions that ultimately led to World War II. These crises generated more idealism than despair, politicizing undergraduates, who built the first mass student movement in American history. Led by leftists, this movement responded to the crisis in international relations by organizing national student strikes against war and fascism - which at their height in the mid-1930s mobilized almost half of the undergraduate population in the United States. While battling for peace in the international arena, the student movement responded to the Depression in America by waging a war on poverty. The movement championed a broader and more egalitarian vision of the welfare state than that of the New Dealers. Demanding "scholarships not battleships", Depression-era student activists pushed for federal educational funding and job programs for all needy young Americans. The student movement tested the limits of free speech on campus. Anti-radical college administrators sought to suppress the movement, provoking major battles over political expression. Though Depression-era student protests were almost always nonviolent and lawful, college administrators nonetheless turned over confidential information about their activist students to the Federal Bureau of Investigation - abrogating the First Amendment rights of these young activists. When the Old Left Was Young offers the first comprehensive history of the Depression-era student movement and its activism on behalf of peace, social justice, and free speech. The study explores the rolethat radicals - and particularly Communists - played in launching and leading the movement. Avoiding the polemics of Cold War-era historiography, When the Old Left Was Young presents Communist students in all their complexity; they emerge on these pages as idealistic champions of egalitarian social change, but also as manipulative political organizers whose eagerness to serve as apologists for the U.S.S.R. ultimately destroyed the student movement in the wake of the Nazi-Soviet pact and the Soviet invasion of Finland. Based upon sources generally ignored by political historians, including student newspapers, university records, FBI documents, and interviews with movement leaders, this book offers new insights into American political life during the Depression era. Revealing fascinating individual stories in this history of student insurgency, When the Old Left Was Young will be of key interest to readers concerned with the history of American education, youth, radicalism, free speech, U.S. and Soviet foreign policy, race relations, and the Great Depression.

From inside the book

What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.


Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano
Cafeteria Commies
Springtime of Revolt

6 other sections not shown

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (1993)

Robert Cohen is Assistant Professor of Social Sciences Education at the University of Georgia, Athens.

Bibliographic information