Theses Doctoral

The Free University of New York: The New Left's Self-Education and Transborder Activism

Umezaki, Toru

This dissertation addresses the unique history of the Free University (School) of New York (FUNY), 1965-1968, in the context of the American radical movement that occurred amidst the international upheaval of national liberations. The Free University of New York was founded by young radical intellectuals who were inspired by the struggles for self-determination that were taking place in Third World countries. Radicals concerned with Third World liberation movements created the anti-Vietnam War group May 2nd Movement, from which the Free University was born. Although FUNY only existed for a short period of time, from 1965 to 1968 it functioned as a center for radical education and politics for intellectuals in leftist circles within New York and in the United States as a whole. The uniqueness of the Free University lay in its experimental education and in its instructors' activities beyond the U.S. borders. The radical education at the Free University clearly reflected the interests of New Left intellectuals in the Sixties in America. The transborder activism of the Free University instructors included organizing an international pacifist movement against the U.S. involvement in the War in Vietnam, discussing the meaning of liberation with European intellectuals, and importing the idea of national liberation from the Third World revolutions. The FUNY activists played a significant role in the International War Crimes (Russell-Sartre) Tribunal in Europe in 1967, which accused the U.S. of atrocities in Vietnam. They also participated in the Dialectics of Liberation Congress in London in 1967 and the Cultural Congress of Havana in 1968 to discuss the relevance of liberation and self-determination in the First and Third worlds. FUNY instructors brought these ideas back with them and built the philosophical foundation for the domestic protest activities in post-1968 America. The activities of the Free University of New York were considered to be part of the larger New Left movement in the United States. However, the mainstream New Leftists in the United States not only rejected the "foreign" ideas of national liberation and the accusation of U.S. war crimes, but also marginalized the New York radical intellectual circle as an extremist fringe of the American left. This conflict reveals the peculiar nature of the American New Left movement in the momentum of the global sixties. Nevertheless, the Free University of New York contributed significantly to the development of the American Sixties by bridging the gap between the intellectual position of leftist activists during the Third World revolutions in the late fifties and beyond and the struggle of people of color for decolonization within the United States in the later sixties and seventies.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Foner, Eric
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 30, 2013