The Mind of the Left

An excerpt from The Black Book of the American Left Volume II: Progressives

Part I: The Mind of the Left

  1. Introduction

At a 2003 Columbia University teach-in against the war in Iraq, Professor Nicholas DeGenova told the protesters: “peace is not patriotic [but] subversive.” This is a good starting point for understanding the warped perspective of anti-war radicals. DeGenova went on to explain: “Peace anticipates a very different world than the one in which we live – a world where the U.S. would have no place.”[1] This arresting formulation goes to the heart of the questions that were previously raised by the anti-war demonstrations that took place within two weeks of the attacks of 9/11 and were directed at preventing an American response. How could so many Americans be inspired so quickly to oppose their own country’s response to an unprovoked attack by an enemy so vicious? How could “progressives” who decried religious fundamentalism, and claimed to support democracy and women’s rights, and oppose “imperialism,” then go out to defend the terrorist, expansionist state of Iraq? How could they oppose a war for Iraqi freedom?

Almost as instructive as DeGenova’s remarks in providing answers to these questions were the mild rebukes he received from other speakers at the Columbia teach-in. These rebukes came from critics concerned that by describing peace as “unpatriotic” DeGenova had gone a phrase too far, exposing their positions to unfriendly fire. Among these critics the most significant voice belonged to Columbia’s most famous radical professor, Eric Foner. While DeGenova was an obscure assistant professor, Foner was an academic lion, a former head of the two main professional historical associations as well as the Columbia History Department, and winner of the Bancroft Prize for historical writing. Foner is also a founding member of Historians Against the War.[2]

In distancing himself from DeGenova’s declaration, Foner explained, “I refuse to cede the definition of American patriotism to George W. Bush. I have a different definition of patriotism, which comes from Paul Robeson: “The patriot is the person who is never satisfied with his country.” By citing Robeson as an authority on patriotism Foner provided a revealing commentary on his own allegiances. Paul Robeson was a Communist Party icon, a winner of the Stalin Peace Prize while Stalin was alive. His passport had been lifted by the State Department because of his overt loyalty and service to the Soviet enemy. At a time when Soviet tanks were supporting police states in occupied Eastern Europe, Robeson led a Kremlin-inspired campaign to distract attention from its own crimes, in particular Stalin’s purges of East European Communist leaders who happened to be mainly Jews. In 1951, while these purges and executions were in progress, Robeson presented a petition to the U.N. charging the United States with committing “genocide” against American Negroes.[3] Two years earlier, Robeson had declared that “Ameri-    can Negroes” would not fight for the United States in a war with the Soviet Union.[4]

Throughout his career, Robeson’s attitude towards the liberties and opportunities afforded by America was as unrelentingly critical as his attitude towards oppression in the Soviet bloc was lax and forgiving. In this he resembled his admirer, who could trace his own intellectual roots to American Communism. Eric Foner grew up in a family of well-known Communist Party members. His uncle Philip was the Party’s “labor historian,” and edited the speeches and writings of the Black Panthers and of Robeson himself. Another uncle was the head of a Communist-controlled union. Eric Foner began his own political career writing for the National Guardian, a paper whose editorial line was Maoist and whose editors, Cedric Belfrage and James Aronson were Party members as well.

In a lengthy review of Foner’s academic work, the liberal intellectual historian John Diggins wrote, “[Eric] Foner … is both an unabashed apologist for the Soviet system and an unforgiving historian of America.”[5] Historian and democratic socialist Theodore Draper, caustically dismissed Foner’s own history of the United States, The Story of American Freedom, as a work more accurately described as “the story of unfreedom.” Writing in the New York Review of Books, Draper characterized Foner as “a partisan of radical sects and opinions” and described his narrative as “a tale of hopeful efforts that failed and of dissident voices that cried out in the wilderness.” A distinctive feature of Foner’s history, Draper said, was his attempt “to rehabilitate American Communism,” concluding, “from [Foner’s] account it would be hard to understand why so many millions of immigrants should have come to the United States for more freedom.”[6]

This background is essential for parsing Foner’s definition of patriotism as “never being satisfied with [one’s] country.” It was not dissatisfaction with this or that particular institution but with the American narrative itself, and invites a further question: Since Communists like Robeson were dissatisfied with their country to the point that they were unwilling to defend it, what are the conditions – if any – under which Foner and Columbia’s protesters would be willing to defend their country against America’s enemies? How fundamental are the changes they would demand before experiencing a sense of loyalty to the actual society in which they live? How do their views differ in practice from DeGenova’s that in a peaceful world the America we know would not exist? Not one of the Columbia speakers spoke to this issue. Implicit in DeGenova’s statement (and their silence) is that America – by which they mean American imperialism – is the cause of the wars we face, and therefore “the U.S. would have no place” in a world at peace.

  1. The Communist Forerunners

Samuel Johnson’s famous scoundrel who finds a last refuge in patriotic fervor has a counterpart in radicals like DeGenova and Foner who cloak their revolutionary agendas in the flag and the values they intend to subvert. A generation of American Communists, like Robeson, rationalized their disloyalty to America as a higher loyalty to the revolution that would one day transform America itself. In defending Soviet Communism, they were in their minds actually building “a better America.” In the 1930s, the Communist Party’s leader, Earl Browder, fashioned this fantasy into a Party slogan: “Communism is Twentieth Century Americanism.” Through this distorted lens, American Communists viewed their loyalty to the Soviet Union as loyalty to a future America that would be built on their Communist principles. In this surreal framework, they were able to view anti-Communism as a kind of treason to America. Albert Lannon was a Communist leader who was tried under the Smith Act for conspiring to teach the overthrow of the American government. As a Communist, his first loyalty was to the Soviet Union, while he regarded America as his enemy. When he appeared in court, however, he was able with complete sincerity to invert these relationships and the values normally associated with patriotism:

I consider disloyal and traitors those who foment war, those who try to deprive Americans of their democratic rights, those who live on the blood and sweat of the American working class, those who have instigated this and other trials of Communists and progressives to stifle the great voice of my beloved Communist Party.[7]

Obviously not every critic of American policy – even wartime policy –- has treasonous intent, a distinction easily blurred in times of national peril. It is a fact that led to well-known abuses during both World Wars, as well as the period of the Cold War associated with Senator McCarthy. The fact that some leftists were on the receiving end of these abuses did not, however, prevent Communists from accusing those who disagreed with them of treason themselves. During the Second World War when America and the Soviet Union had a common enemy, the Communist Party denounced both labor leader John L. Lewis and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph as “American traitors” because they refused subordinate labor battles and civil rights struggles to the war effort, and therefore to the defense of the Soviet Union.[8] On the other hand, many American Communists in fact were active traitors. They worked as agents and spies for the Soviet Union, operating in secret Communist Party apparatuses set up to serve Soviet interests.[9] Belatedly, some American leftists have owned up to this reality: “Among the most remarkable revelations that emerged from the [opening of the Soviet archives],” wrote two of them, “was the extent to which the Communist Party USA was itself embroiled in Soviet espionage. That individual spies like Julius Rosenberg were Communists is not exactly news. But that the Party helped on a regular basis to recruit spies and vet their political reliability did come as a surprise, as did the indication that some of its top leaders, including the wartime general secretary, Earl Browder, actually ran espionage operations.”[10]

Why did these Americans willingly betray their country? Many of them were European immigrants who had come to America seeking refuge from persecution abroad. Why would they be willing to work for the enemies of a nation that had given them opportunity and freedom? While many students of the left have reflected on this question few have as astutely as the philosopher Gerhardt Niemeyer. “In Communist eyes,” Niemeyer wrote, “the future is more real than the present.” For Communists, he added the future was “closed.”[11] What Niemeyer meant by this was that radicals imagined the future as already determined, however improbable this may seem. In their eyes, once human beings have been freed from institutional oppression – once the means of production had passed into everybody’s hands, the natural goodness of human beings would assert itself and the traditional dilemmas of power would no longer exist. With the abolition of private property, the progressive future would be one in which “social justice” prevailed and there were no longer troubling questions about the dispensations of authority. In this future the questions of process and means would no longer be important – since the cause of social injustice, private property, would no longer exist. Thus for Marxists there was only the end result, the socialist revolution, which justified everything. For Communists there was the revolution and then there was the perfect future, which for them, had already been achieved in the Soviet Union.

This explains why American Communists were willing to betray their country. They were convinced that their comrades in the Soviet Union had already created the just society. The Soviet Union was “a heaven…brought to earth,” the American Communist Tillie Olsen wrote in 1934, expressing the general view.[12] For radicals who shared this belief, the fate of the progressive future lay in the success of the Soviet regime. For Communist progressives the interests of the Soviet state were the interests of mankind itself: to serve one meant advancing the other. As one Communist Party text instructed its adherents: “The USSR is the stronghold of the world proletariat; it cannot be looked on as merely a nation or a country; it is the most advanced position of the world proletariat in the struggle for a socialist world.”[13] For progressives who held these beliefs, betraying their country was easily justified as benefiting their countrymen at the same time. It was a “higher” form of patriotism. For Communists and other progressives, treason to America was loyalty to humanity. It was loyalty to a truer American self. The same idea was recently extended by post-Communist radicals to include racial issues: “Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity,” is the motto of the magazine Race Traitor, which is edited by Harvard leftists and which progressive icon Cornel West has called “the most visionary courageous journal in America.”[14]

In his memoir, Witness, Whittaker Chambers described the Communist movement he had served as a new development in the annals of betrayal: “Other ages have had their individual traitors – men who from faint-heartedness or hope of gain sold out their causes. But in the 20th Century, for the first time, men banded together by the millions in movements like Fascism and Communism, dedicated to the purpose of betraying the institutions they lived under. In the 20th Century, treason became a vocation whose modern form was specifically the treason of ideas.”[15] Chambers was wrong in maintaining that treason for an idea was an entirely new phenomenon. Benedict Arnold could reasonably be considered a traitor motivated by an idea, loyalty to the Crown of England, his first allegiance. By the same token, America’s revolutionary founders were traitors to their King in the name of an idea. This is why – having created a democracy – they made treason such a difficult crime to prosecute. Chambers was right, however, in the sense that Communists and Fascists betrayed the institutions they actually lived under in the name of an abstraction – the perfect future – whereas the others had not. Benedict Arnold and other loyalists to the Crown acted to preserve the system they lived under. So did the American founders who fought to defend what they considered “the rights of Englishmen” for Americans, which they believed the Crown denied them. In other words, they fought not for a future abstraction but to defend a reality they knew. Insofar as they invoked abstract ideals it was only to articulate the principles they for the most part lived by, which the colonial power sought to deny them. But Communists and Fascists were not defending any reality. Like contemporary radicals, they were motivated by abstractions – by the vision of a future that did not exist and had never existed but which they were convinced they could create.

It is this abstraction, this monde ideal that accounts for the otherwise incomprehensible fact that for Communists “the future is more real than the present.” The belief in this “reality” is why radicals discount the apparent freedoms and material benefits of the actual world they live in. Their eyes are fixed on a revolutionary future that is perfect and just. Measured by this impossible standard, any actually existing society – including America’s – is easily judged deficient, even to the point where it is worthy of destruction.[16] It is the impossible dream that explains the extravagant hatred radicals feel towards their own privileged circumstances. It is an expression of their total rejection of the existing world.

Commenting on the writings of Marx, which are still the wellspring of the radical “critique,” Niemeyer observed that Marxism is not a criticism of particular social wrongs but a “total critique of society” itself: “Marx’s indictment condemns not this or that concrete choice or a pattern of civil actions, but the entire historical condition of human existence [under capitalism].” This is not so much a “moral” critique as an “ontological” one – a critique that affects the entire social reality. “All that which has gone under the name of reality appears to Marx as a nullity.”[17] Not only is the radical’s revolution not about the reform of a social reality, and therefore ultimately its preservation. It is the opposite. It is about the total destruction of a social reality. As Niemeyer explains, “By force of the overall definition, in the present society all laws are unjust, all consciousness is false, all relations must be corrupt, all institutions appear oppressive.”[18] In Marx’s chilling phrase, “Everything that exists deserves to perish.”[19] A total critique requires a total solution.

This is the perspective that informs not only the critiques of Marx and his followers, but also of post-Communist radicals, including the current anti-war left. For those who define the world in this totalitarian way, the problem of determining the morality or justice of particular human actions and particular institutions no longer exists. Because America is an unjust society, all its wars are also unjust by virtue of that alone. America’s reasons for entering the war in Iraq are thus tainted before the fact. It does not matter to the radical whether the use of force was authorized by the elected representatives of the American people, as the Iraq War in fact was. In the radical perspective the electoral system is itself a fraud and cannot be a source of legitimacy for any actions, except of course those favored by the left. Formal political democracy merely masks the domination of a corporate ruling class whose interests the state allegedly serves. It doesn’t matter to the anti-American radical if America is the nation under attack, because America is the corporate ruler of the “global system,” which radicals view as responsible for the conditions that create the terrorists and inspire their attacks. In other words, whatever the details and regardless of the facts, America is the root cause of the attacks on itself.

In the radical perspective every aspect of human activity is shaped by the injustice of the prevailing global order. The radical’s universe is thus Manichean, his political actions invariably a choice between an oppressive present and the progressive future. This is a religious conception rather than a political one. Radicals see themselves as the army of the saints and their opponents as the party of Satan, a fact that explains their passionate hatred for conservatives, who are the opponents of their faith.

Aileen Kraditor is the foremost scholar of the worldview of American Communists. A New Left historian and former member of the Communist Party herself, she has written a classic study of “the mental world of rank and file American Communists.”[20] An entire chapter of her book on the subject is devoted to “The Rationale of Hate,” as the predominant emotion the Party attempted to instill in its members.[21] In 1984, his futuristic novel about Communism, George Orwell came to the same conclusion and made the “Five-Minute Hate” program, a daily ritual in his totalitarian state. One leader of the American Communist Party tasked with instilling these attitudes was its “chief theoretician,” Herbert Aptheker, to whom Kraditor devotes several pages. In a text published in 1949, Aptheker described the global capitalist system as “so putrid … that it no longer dares permit the people to live at all.” In a review of Cleveland Amory’s book on America’s wealthy, he wrote, “these are the rules as depicted by a court-scribe. They [the members of America’s ruling class] have the morals of goats, the learning of gorillas and the ethics of – well of what they are: racist, war-inciting, enemies of humanity, rotten to the core, parasitic, merciless – and doomed.”[22]

Apetheker’s rhetorical style was typical of Party functionaries and has been characteristic of the pronouncements of hardcore radicals ever since. In 1951, at the height of the Cold War, the Party’s General Secretary William Z. Foster expressed a view of the conflict which in sentiment and tone was not dissimilar to those voiced from anti-war platforms fifty years later: “It is nauseating to listen to the self-righteous big capitalists and their mouthpieces hypocritically blathering about their “moral leadership of the world.” Goebbels …was a novice compared with the war propagandists of the United States….American imperialism, which is the organization of the most ruthless gang of fascist-minded capitalists on earth, is insolently pictured by its orators and pen-pushers as the champion of democracy, the defender of world peace, the moral guardian of mankind.”[23]

Foster died before the Cold War ended, but Herbert Aptheker lived to see its conclusion, remaining an unrepentant Communist all his life. His ideological venom would only be of historical interest if it were not for the fact that the next generation of radicals – including the organizers of the anti-war movement – has embraced him as an intellectual model. In the 1990s Aptheker was given appointments as a Visiting Professor at Bryn Mawr and at the University of California’s Boalt Hall, one of the nation’s most prestigious law schools. His historical writings have been praised by the leading figures of the historical profession in its leading professional journals. Before his death in 2003, he was formally honored as a scholar by the Columbia University History Department through the auspices of his friend and admirer, Eric Foner.[24]

One can see the core elements of Aptheker’s political perspective on display in the demonstrations against the war in Iraq – in their demonization of the Bush Administration as a terrorist regime and as “the real axis of evil,” and in their extreme slogans, “Bush is the Disease, Death is the Cure,” and “We Support Our Troops When They Shoot Their Officers.” And in their speeches as well: “The President wants to talk about a terrorist named bin Laden,” declaimed a keynote speaker at the Capitol anti-war demonstration. “I don’t want to talk about bin Laden. I want to talk about a terrorist called George Washington. I want to talk about a terrorist called Rudy Giuliani. The real terrorists have always been the United Snakes of America.”[25]

One could also see these elements present in the fact that the “anti-war” movement was created in the wake of 9/11, thereby defining itself as a movement to attack one’s country when one’s country was attacked.

  1. The Transition

The collapse of the Communist system, which brought the Cold War to an end, was a watershed event in the life of the international left. The catastrophe of Communism included the creation of a totalitarian state, the reintroduction of slave labor on an epic scale, politically induced famines and government-created poverty of unprecedented proportions, political purges and mass executions resulting in the deaths of an estimated 100 million individuals.[26] These were the direct results of a system based on socialist theories, which provided no rational method for allocating resources and no effective incentives to work or create wealth, and no guarantees of individual rights. The unique cause of the system’s failure was the socialist idea that had resulted in a continent-sized society that did not work.[27] A Czech writer, Joseph Svorecky, asked: “Has there ever been a case in history of a political system collapsing overnight, not as an aftermath of a lost war or bloody revolution but from its own inner rottenness?”[28] The answer was there had not. The Soviet system and its political empire were the products of a self-conscious effort to create a social order based on false intellectual doctrines. It was the artificial nature of the regime that explained the unprecedented circumstances of its fall.

The Soviet catastrophe should have been a moment of reckoning for the progressive movements that had based their hopes on the socialist future, and guided their actions by its theoretical perspectives. But the paramount fact overriding all others was that it did not. Although their solution had failed, progressives continued to embrace the political culture that had produced it, and to guide their political ambitions by the same fallacious assumptions. In America’s universities now dominated by the political left, Stalinists like Antonio Gramsci, Gyorgy Lukacs, Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse and Eric Hobsbawm became iconic names. The Cuban Stalinist Che Guevara was resurrected as a saint of the popular culture along with the Rosenberg spies who were elegized as martyrs in the high culture, among whose expressions was a celebrated theatrical epic, “Angels in America,” which won the Pulitzer Prize. Its dramatist Tony Kushner was, not surprisingly, a signer of the “Not In Our Name” denunciation of the war in Iraq petition circulated by the Revolutionary Communist Party.

For seventy years, the international progressive left had supported the efforts of Soviet Marxists to create socialist states in Russia, China, Cuba and Vietnam. A significant exception was the “Second Socialist International,” whose member organizations, particularly the British Labor Party and the German Social Democrats, played important roles in bringing down the Soviet regime. The head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the principal anti-Soviet alliance, was in fact a Belgian socialist named Paul-Henri Spaak. But in the United States, anti-Communist socialists remained marginal factions of the political left, grouped around tiny political magazines like Dissent, and had no effect on the direction of its mainstream.

After Khrushchev’s denunciation of the crimes of Stalin in 1956, a “New Left” had emerged in Europe and America. Hoping to escape the taint of the Stalinist past, these leftists rejected what they regarded as Communist deformations of the socialist dream, but not the Marxian theories that had led to them. In contrast to the socialists of the Second International they refused to embrace a politics that was anti-Communist or support the democratic West in its Cold War conflict. New Leftists proclaimed themselves “anti-anti-Communists” and continued their antagonism to the capitalist world. Their support for new Communist revolutions along with their steadfast opposition to America’s Cold War agendas reflected their primary hostility to the democratic West and their continuing commitment to the fantasy that communism could be made to work.[29]

In the normal course of events, the collapse of the Communist states and the bankruptcy of their Marxist economies ought to have thrown the left into a profound crisis of faith. It should have caused radicals to re-think their Marxist critiques of democratic capitalism and ideas about the revolutionary future. It should have caused them to re-evaluate their opposition to American policy and their support for regimes that had murdered tens of millions and oppressed hundreds of millions more. But such reassessments did not take place. Instead, in articles, manifestoes, and academic texts, leftists the world over claimed that the Marxist economies they had supported and defended did not represent “real socialism” and therefore, were not what they had meant to defend.[30] The system that had dominated world events and their own political imaginations for nearly a century was dismissed as merely “actually existing socialism,” and not “real socialism,” and therefore of no particular interest to them now that it was gone, and irrelevant to their political agendas.[31] Jutta Ditfurth, a member of Germany’s Green Party articulated the general leftist denial with admirable directness: “There simply is no need to re-examine the validity of socialism as a model. It was not socialism that was defeated in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union because these systems were never socialist.”[32]

In the absence of serious second thoughts, leftists continued to base their political agendas on the same Marxist premises that history had discredited. Even when they acknowledge the need for reappraisal, they avoided the reality of what actually had happened. After the Soviet regime fell, Samuel Bowles, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told the Wall Street Journal, “Marx wrote almost nothing about socialism and communism…,” from which he concluded, there was a need for “rethinking about socialist economies but little about capitalist economies.”[33] But of course the entire edifice of Marxist theory and its critique of capitalism had been built on the premise that a socialist economy was a practical, viable alternative. This was the very presumption that the Soviet experience had utterly discredited. The socialist ideal provided Marxists with their standard for measuring every shortcoming and failure of capitalist societies and for explaining what was wrong with them. The falsification of Marxist theories of socialism could hardly be separated from the Marxist view of capitalism, since they are two sides of the same analytical coin. If Marx’s economic theories do not work in a socialist economy how can they be said to explain any economy? If socialism is not a viable system and capitalism is the only system that can produce wealth and freedom in a modern technological environment, what does this say about the revolutionary project itself? In the absence of a practical alternative to the capitalist system, the revolutionary project becomes a nihilism – the will to destroy existing societies without an idea of what to do next.

The persistence of the revolutionary illusion without the revolutionary fact has given rise to what should properly be called a neo-communist movement – one that has learned nothing from the failures of Communism but has not forgotten the cause itself. Neo-communist radicals add new dimensions of oppression to the Marxist model, like racism and “sexism.” But it is the same Marxist model that divides the world into oppressors and oppressed, identifies capitalism as the root cause of global problems, and regards the United States as the global system’s guardian-in-chief. Consequently, like the Communist perspective it has replaced, the contemporary radical outlook opposes America’s wars and opposes America’s peace. All that really distinguishes this neo-communist perspective from its Communist predecessor is its ad-hoc attitude towards the revolutionary future, and the nihilistic agenda that follows. The contemporary left defines and organizes itself as a movement against rather than for. Its components may claim to be creating egalitarian futures in which racism, “sexism” and corporate dominance no longer exist and, therefore, in which “social justice” prevails. But unlike Communists, the neo-coms are not committed to even a commonly shared rudimentary blueprint as to what such an order might be. It is this lack of programmatic consensus that leads some leftists to deny that there even is a “left,” and that makes it possible for a fragmented coalition of neo-coms – including anarchists, eco-radicals, radical feminists, “queer revolutionaries, Maoists, Stalinists, and vaguely defined “progressives” – to operate in improbable coalitions like the anti-war movement. It is why they can do so in ways that benefit such anti-egalitarian allies and regimes as Islamic radicals and the Baathist, fascist state of Iraq.

Neo-Communists may or may not reject the Leninist idea of a vanguard party; they may depart from particular aspects of the Communist future like the “dictatorship of the proletariat” or the “central plan.” But they are inspired by the same hostility to private property and the market economy, and to the corporate structures that produce society’s wealth. It is this common enemy, capitalism, that unites them in the battles they engage whether against the structures of “globalization” or the war on terror. The continuity between the generations of the Communist and neo-communist left is, in fact, seamless. It is the product of a leftist culture that openly embraces the intellectual forerunners, political traditions, and anti-capitalist perspectives of the Communist past.

An illustrative example of this mentality is provided in the career of Eric Hobsbawm, who is today a revered figure of the intellectual left. Hobsbawm joined the Communist Party in 1930, and remained a Communist until after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when he let his membership card lapse.[34] An unremitting apologist and devoted servant of the most oppressive and repulsive empire in human history, Hobsbawm is today one of the most honored professional historians in the universities of Europe and America.[35] Hobsbawm’s last historical work, The Age of Extremes, is probably the most highly praised effort to understand the 20th Century and the events about which he was – and remains – so profoundly wrong. The final installment of Hobsbawm’s four-volume study of industrial capitalism, hailed by one reviewer as “a summa historiae of the modern age,” The Age of Extremes has been translated into 37 languages. This in itself is a testament to the vitality of the neo-communist outlook in the international culture of the left.[36]

The Age of Extremes appeared in 1995, four years after the fall of Communism, and is an elaborate defense of the twin illusions in whose name the left wreaked so much havoc during the 20th Century: first, the inherent evil of capitalist democracies and, second, the humanitarian promise of the socialist future. The Age of Extremes is in fact an elaborate and perverse defense of the very illusions that created the Communist nightmare.[37] Although the Communist cause left a greater trail of victims than any other in historical memory, Hobsbawm’s attitude towards its enormities remains, revealingly, one of sadness and “nostalgia” rather than outrage and guilt. In an autobiography published in 2002, Hobsbawm told his readers, “To this day I notice myself treating the memory and tradition of the USSR with an indulgence and tenderness.”[38] These are his sentiments towards a regime that enslaved and slaughtered tens of millions, and reduced hundreds of millions to lives of unimaginable misery. Imagine a historian expressing the same sentiments towards the memory and tradition of Nazi Germany, which inflicted its damage over twelve-years rather than seventy, and over one continent instead of several. Such an intellectual would be treated as a moral pariah in the world of letters, would hardly be accorded scholarly respect. Yet the opposite is true of Hobsbawm whose tributes issue from the highest reaches of the academic culture, and whose s denial and nostalgia are the widely shared attitudes of the intellectual left.[39]

A young Hobsbawm joined the Communist Party in Berlin in the 1930s, embracing a faith that has never left him. “The months in Berlin made me a lifelong Communist, or at least a man whose life would lose its nature and its significance without the political project to which he committed himself as a schoolboy, even though that project has demonstrably failed, and as I know now, was bound to fail. The dream of the October Revolution is still there somewhere inside me.”[40] Hobsbawm’s reflection is striking, and provides crucial insight into the mind-set of the left. Even though he now claims to “know” that the Communist project “was bound to fail,” the dream of Communism lives on inside him. In other words, his belief in an alternate world to replace the one into which he has been born is not really connected to any reality.

It is an acknowledgment – albeit unintended – of the religious nature of radical belief. Hobsbawm’s other admission is also striking: his life would “lose its nature and its significance” without the revolutionary project, without, that is, the project of destroying the world he has been born into. While the destruction of the present social order is justified by the desire to create an alternative one, but the practical reality of alternative is not an important issue for Hobsbawm or for the millions of leftists like him, who proceed with the destruction without regard for what will follow. So strong is the psychological need for the utopian illusion and its project of destruction, that it does not matter to Hobsbawm and his fellow radicals that the noble future to which he devoted his life and talent did not work and could not have worked, or that when put into practice it created monstrous injustice instead. After this history is completed, and the corpses of its victims are piled high, Hobsbawm still refuses to relinquish his revolutionary fantasy, remaining a dedicated enemy of the democracies he and his comrades have set out to destroy. Even though the utopian future is only an impossible dream, and has been the cause of immeasurable human unhappiness, it is still the center of his intellectual and political life.[41]

This is an admission by Hobsbawm that for him, and radicals like him, the revolutionary project is less about creating the future than it is about their war against the present. This is what gives their lives meaning. Hobsbawm claims that he had doubts about the Soviet system all along. But his enmity towards the democracies of the West, which provided him with a privileged life, was far greater than those doubts. In 1991, the year that ended the Soviet nightmare, Hobsbawm wrote down his reflections. He called the article, “After the Fall” and in it expressed not his relief or joy but his concern that the Soviet Union’s oppressive empire was now a thing of the past. In his eyes, the Soviet Union, creator of tens of millions of innocent victims, was the lesser two evils; and it was the greater evil that had emerged victorious: “Capitalism and the rich have, for the time being, stopped being scared. Why should the rich, especially in countries like ours where they now glory in injustice and inequality, bother about anyone except themselves? What political penalties do they need to fear if they allow welfare to erode and the protection of those who need it to atrophy? This is the chief effect of the disappearance of even a very bad socialist region from the globe.”[42]

In other words, as far as Hobsbawm is concerned, the “chief effect” of the disappearance of a system that murdered 100 million people, in peacetime, and that imposed dictatorships and terror on a billion souls is this: The capitalist democracies of the West and the rich who rule them will no longer have this regime to check their predatory designs. “The world may yet regret[!],” Hobsbawm observes elsewhere, “that faced with Rosa Luxemburg’s alternative of socialism or barbarism, it decided against socialism.”[43] In this view, capitalism – the system that supports the democracies of the West and has raised the living standards of hundreds of human beings to levels that only royalty enjoyed in the past – is barbarism, while the system that murdered millions and impoverished whole continents is civilization. This is also the conclusion of Hobsbawm’s summa historiae: “We have reached a point of historic crisis…. If humanity is to have a recognizable future, it cannot be by prolonging the past or the present. If we try to build the third millennium on that basis we shall fail. And the price of failure, that is to say the alternative to a changed society, is darkness. In short, the choice before mankind is exactly what Rosa Luxemburg thought it was in 1917 – socialism or capitalist barbarism.”

This is also the core belief of the neo-Communist left. Even after the catastrophes to which the quest for a Communist utopia led, they believe that the destruction of the democracies of the West are required for the sake of humanity and its survival.

An illuminating parallel to Hobsbawm’s perspective is found in the work of historian Gerda Lerner, a pioneer of radical feminism and a bridge between the New Left and the Old. Like Hobsbawm, Lerner began her political career as a Communist in Central Europe but emigrated to the United States in the late 1930s to escape Nazism. Unlike Hobsbawm, she withdrew her membership from the Communist Party twenty years later, joining the New Left to become one of its intellectual leaders. As a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, Lerner was a shaping influence on New Left feminism, writing one of its canonical texts, The Creation of Patriarchy. In 2003, during the conflict in Iraq, she was one of the founding members of Historians Against the War.[44]

Lerner abandoned the Communist Party in 1956 following Khruschev’s revelations about the crimes of Stalin, which were revelations only to Communists who had long since closed their minds to the facts. But even Khrushchev’s revelation of the crimes she had been complicit in – monstrous as they were – did not cause Lerner to rethink her commitment to the revolutionary cause. Instead she continued her radical career as an “anti-anti Communist,” condemning the democracies of the West, opposing their Cold War against the Soviet Union and pursuing her revolutionary agendas as before. Lerner’s career is especially instructive because it spans three radical generations and because unlike Hobsbawm she made the transition to each new revisionist version of the progressive cause without reservations.

More than thirty years after being apprised of Stalin’s crimes and joining the “New Left,” she experienced a second metaphysical lurch when the entire Communist enterprise collapsed. In 1991, the fall of the Soviet Union and the opening of the Soviet archives forced her to examine the lies that had governed her life for more than fifty years. In a memoir, published in 2002, she acknowledged: “Had I written this account twenty years ago, I would have focused on the rightness of my position and on explaining to the post-Vietnam generation that the Old Left has been unduly maligned and its achievements have been forgotten. That still seems partially true to me, but now everything has become far more complex and disturbing.”[45] As a historian, Lerner felt she could not simply shrug off the facts that had managed to penetrate her ideological Iron Curtain. “I have striven to lead a conscious, an examined life and to practice what I preach. It now appears that, nevertheless, I failed in many ways, for I fell uncritically for lies I should have been able to penetrate and perceive as such.” But like others who went through the same crisis and did not give up their political faith Lerner was ultimately unwilling to confront the lies she had lived by for so long. When it came to what she refers to as “disturbing” realities her text becomes minimalist and fails to make any serious attempt to deal with them. The entire passage of her self-examination occupies a mere four pages of the 373-page book she refers to as her “political autobiography.” This is a pretty accurate measure of how willing she is to allow these facts to re-shape her views of the world.

Lerner manages to concede one lie in particular that she promoted in her service to the progressive cause. This was her acceptance of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, a traumatic event for activists who had regarded themselves in the front line of the struggle against Nazism. It should have been especially difficult for a Jew to swallow this lie, but when the Kremlin signed a “non-aggression” pact with Hitler, Gerda Lerner adapted to the new political reality overnight. She and her comrades rationalized the Soviet alliance with Hitler as a pact against Western imperialism, and formed an anti-war left inside the Western democracies to oppose the “militarist” policies of allied nations like Britain and the United States, which were attempting to resist the Axis powers.[46]

In Lerner’s account of her about-face none of the ironies of her current opposition to an Anglo-American coalition fighting a fascist dictatorship in Iraq enter her consciousness. Instead she focuses exclusively on the past, recalling her studied disregard for the evidence available at the time, which showed that Stalin actively colluded with Hitler in dividing up Poland. These facts were easily accessible in the pages of the New York Times and fifty years later in the history of those events recorded in Harrison Salisbury’s book on the siege of Leningrad, which she admits she read but did not believe. It was only when the Soviet archive itself was opened and she was presented with official Soviet documentation of the collusion, that she was finally able to acknowledge the truth. In other words, even though she had left the Communist Party in 1956, she had to wait another 35 years for an imprimatur from the defunct Soviet regime to accept the facts. In other words, although she was a “New Leftist,” she was still a Communist and the Communist Vatican, now defunct, was still for her the final arbiter of the truth.

Like Hobsbawm, the progressive faith is for Lerner, not a creed she is able to give up. “Like all true believers, I believed as I did because I needed to believe: in a utopian vision of the future, in the possibility of human perfectibility,…. And I still need that belief, even if the particular vision I had embraced has turned to ashes.[47] (Emphasis added.) After a lifetime of lies, her psychological need for a utopian solution is so great, so fundamental to her identity and being, that her political choices remain the same: hostility to the capitalist democracies of the West and faith in the fantasy of a socialist future. It is the same illusion that led to her commitment to Communism in the first place. She clings to it in the face of the monstrous crimes which her activities and devotions made possible, and the total bankruptcy of the societies and regimes she believed in. Her anti-Communist opponents were right all along about the commitments she made and the world she believed in, but Gerda Lerner remains their determined and passionate enemy. In regard to the conflict in Iraq it does not matter to her that Saddam Hussein did not even pretend to advance the cause of “social justice” as Stalin did. It just matters that his antagonist was America, an incarnation of the Great Satan. Her politics are still based on the hope that the next socialist revolution will turn out differently from all the ones that failed. Even though she can’t identify or describe the utopia of her dreams, she is still convinced that a “socially just” system waits to replace the capitalist democracies she is determined to destroy. Since her belief in the Soviet Union and in the socialist bloc states was never grounded in reality, there can be little difference between the beliefs that inspire her activities in the present and those that inspired her Stalinist agendas in the past, or her New Left causes. At the end of a long political life, Gerda Lerner is still pledging her allegiance to an irrational creed.

The utopian longing for an alternate reality that is “truly human” is the religious well-spring of the neo-communist left, just as it was of the Communist left that preceded it.[48] And it is this vision of perfection that inspires contempt and hatred for the real world that is lacks it. Asked by an interviewer whether she saw any parallels between the Nazism she experienced in her youth and the America that provided her refuge and freedom, she is as ready to make the comparison as she was when she was a follower of Stalin: “I see many very frightening signs. I see us creating a deviant ‘out-group’ once again. For example, the treatment of the Afghan prisoners, whom we are taking halfway across the world without a trial, without investigation. We are removing them from their homeland, we are putting them in open cages, like animals. It’s horrible. And I think the only reason for doing it is that the government wishes to create this terror group as the new scapegoat for everything that’s wrong with society. It is very dangerous. I also see the automatic, knee-jerk ‘patriotism,’ in quotation marks, in response to the terrorist attacks, and the immediate demand for conformity, so that anyone who questions whether bombing Afghanistan was the proper response will be treated as a traitor. That’s familiar ground, I’ve been there before.”[49]

What has this historian learned from the perverse realization of her Communist dreams and their self-implosion? By her own account, virtually nothing. “I have called myself a post-Marxist,” she writes, pointedly avoiding the term ex-Marxist. “I came to that stance as soon as I became a feminist. Ever since the late 1950s I believed that the so-called errors of Communist leadership in the Soviet Union were structural and built into the very fabric of Marxist doctrine.” This might seem like the prelude to a jettisoning of her false beliefs. But when Lerner explains her revision, it is evident that no such rationality is in the offing: “Basically, I came to the conclusion that Marxist thought was in error in regard to race and ethnicity in its insistence that class subsumed these categories. As for gender, Marxist thought, while giving lip service to the ‘woman question’…reduced patriarchal dominance to economic dominance.”[50] This is the extent of her second thoughts: the failure of Marxism, of Communism, consists of a gap in its indictment of capitalism.

In other words, Marxism failed to provide a proper map to the socialist future not because it was based on false economic assumptions or utopian delusions about human possibilities, or a failure to understand the link between liberty and property, but because Marxist theory gave inadequate attention to race and gender oppression. How this accounts for the human catastrophe of Soviet Communism she doesn’t even attempt to explain. It doesn’t even occur to her that an explanation might be in order. There is no lack of thoughtful analysis available on the question of why the socialist idea turned out so badly, but Professor Lerner seems entirely ignorant of this literature and wholly uninterested in the issue itself. [51] Her mind is as firmly shut as when she was a Stalinist. Moreover, no “post-Communist” progressive in the world of academic feminism appears to have entertained such questions either. Her observations about gender and race are all she has to say about the failure of a system to which she dedicated fifty years of her own life and which destroyed hundreds of millions of the lives of others.


In sum, far from instilling humility in progressives like Gerda Lerner, the collapse of socialism served to revive their self-righteousness and re-energize their assault on the democratic West. The collapse of the Soviet system has had only one consequence of note for them. It has lifted the burden of having to defend – however critically – an indefensible regime that is now defunct. Because their utopian vision was no longer anchored in the reality of an actually existing socialist state this left was freed to indulge its nihilistic agendas and destructive impulses without constraint.

  1. The New Left

Gerda Lerner was in her thirties when the New Left began in the wake of Khrushchev’s speech about Stain’s crimes. She was young enough to become part of its political generation as one of its mentors. Her easy assimilation to New Left attitudes and doctrines and their embrace of her as a political authority reflected the strong bonds that linked the new movement to the Communist past. It began officially in 1962 with the “Port Huron” statement, whose authors were determined to “speak American” and which employed terms like “participatory democracy” in identifying its goal, which replaced the Communist term “Soviet power,” a concept identical in meaning.[52] Sixties leftists aspired to create an indigenous radicalism that would avoid the foreign loyalties that had discredited their predecessors. Yet, by the end of the decade, the “new” left had become indistinguishable from the old. By 1969 it was a reliable ally of international Communism and employed a political vocabulary that was virtually indistinguishable from that of the Communist states.[53] It opposed the anti-Communist Cold War and regurgitated Marxist “critiques” of American society. Like its Communist predecessors, it viewed America as the arch imperialist, a guardian of the global system of exploitation that plundered the poor. It sent “Venceremos Brigades” to Cuba under the watchful eye of Cuban intelligence to shore up the Castro dictatorship and parroted the propaganda of Communist North Vietnam and gave “critical support” (its term of choice) to the Soviet bloc which it, too, regarded as a check on the predatory ambitions of the United States.

These attitudes continued through the next decades as the left focused its energies on “solidarity” organizations to aid Communist movements and regimes in Central America, and domestic “peace movements” to disarm the West in the face of the continuing Soviet threat to Europe. This evolution of the left is discernible in the career of one of its pioneers in 1960 who co-authored a UCLA faculty resolution denouncing America’s “invasion” of Iraq more than forty years later. In 1960 Maurice Zeitlin was a Marxist graduate student at Berkeley and a founding editor of Root and Branch, one of three journals that helped to launch the new radical movement.[54] With fellow editor Robert Scheer, who later became a columnist at the Los Angeles Times and a prominent opponent of the war in Iraq, Zeitlin visited Cuba in 1960, the second year of the Communist revolution and wrote one of the first books hailing the triumph of the Castro regime.[55]

While in Cuba Zeitlin conducted an interview for Root and Branch with Che Guevara, the Minister of Trade Unions and number two man in the Communist regime.[56] In the interview, Zeitlin challenged Guevara’s attitudes towards unions as a litmus test of the intentions of the revolutionary state. As a New Leftist he was concerned that the socialist movement would not repeat the “mistakes” of the Stalinist past. He questioned Guevara about the control of the unions by the state, and asked him about the role he thought they should play in a socialist society. Should unions be appendages of the revolutionary state as Lenin and then Stalin had made them in Soviet Russia? In asking the question, Zeitlin reminded Guevara that the elimination of independent unions had paved the way for the Soviet police state and its infamous gulags. Guevara did not answer. The question angered him. He would not criticize the Soviet Union or even discuss their policies, and abruptly changed the subject. Zeitlin had put Guevara to the test and the Cuban leader had failed. Guevara’s reaction showed that he was a Stalinist himself.

Zeitlin and the other Root and Branch editors understood exactly the significance of what Guevara had said, and its implications as well. The intention of Cuba’s revolutionary leaders was to make Cuba a totalitarian state. Zeitlin and the editors of Root and Branch were New Leftists committed to breaking with the Stalinist past. They published Zeitlin’s interview but continued to support Cuba’s Communist regime. Despite Guevara’s clear commitment to a totalitarian state, these New Left editors rationalized their support by telling themselves that it was America’s opposition to the Cuban revolution that was forcing the Castro regime to pursue a totalitarian course, even though the interview had taken place before the Bay of Pigs and before the regime had declared itself a socialist state.[57]

This incident is emblematic of New Left politics, which applied a double standard to Western democracies and the Soviet bloc, unrelenting criticism of the former, a wide berth for the latter. When “revolutionary” regimes came into conflict with the United States, the New Left’s political allegiances were always clear, its attitudes invariably defensive of the Communist side. At the end of the Sixties, Zeitlin wrote a critique of the Castro government’s repressive practices for the New Left magazine, Ramparts. But like his progressive comrades and despite his criticisms he continued to support the Castro dictatorship and defend it against his own country’s efforts to promote freedom for the Cubans. When the Communist empire collapsed in 1989, Zeitlin remained committed to the utopian cause and to the anti-American agendas that were its consequence. Cuba survived the collapse. More than forty years after the revolution its caudillo was the longest surviving dictator in the world and its economy had slid from being the second richest in Latin America in per capita income to a place as the second poorest, slightly above Haiti and below Honduras and Belize.[58]

In these years Zeitlin had become a professor of sociology at UCLA, specializing in Chile and writing about its “dominant classes.” In 1997, he spoke at a UCLA symposium on 20th Century utopias, where he returned to the subject of Che Guevara. Thirty years earlier, Guevara had resigned his position in the Cuban dictatorship to take up arms as a revolutionary in Bolivia, where he was killed. His purpose in instigating the guerilla campaign, as he announced in a famous 1967 declaration, was to incite an international civil war, creating “two, three, … many Vietnams.” Despite the catastrophes of Soviet and Cuban socialism, Zeitlin used the occasion of the UCLA seminar to declare his continuing faith in the Communist cause for which Guevara had died: “Che [Guevara] was above all a revolutionary socialist and a leader of the first socialist revolution in this hemisphere,” Zeitlin told his college audience. “His legacy is embodied in the fact that the Cuban revolution is alive today despite the collapse of the Soviet bloc… No social justice is possible without a vision like Che’s.”[59]

More than 40 years after his confrontation with Che Guevara over the totalitarian future of the Cuban revolution, Zeitlin was celebrating the Communist he had once opposed as a hero of “social justice” and a prophet of the utopian future. In other words, despite the bankruptcy and collapse of the Communist bloc, despite the failure of every Marxist program and regime that Guevara had supported, despite the mass murders and economic failures of its Marxist regime in Soviet Russia, Zeitlin remained – like Hobsbawm, Lerner and an entire generation of New Left radicals – a small “c” communist: a fantasist of the socialist future and a determined opponent of the democratic West. And while praising the Communist future, Zeitlin was simultaneously leading the attack on America’s “invasion of Iraq,” blind to the fact that Iraqis were dancing in the streets of Baghdad pulling down the statues of the former dictator and cheering the American troops that had come to liberate them, even as he did so.

Zeitlin’s return to his Communist roots is instructive precisely because he was once an intelligent dissenter from that past, and thus an authentic member of what had started out to be a “new” left. There were plenty of other leftists who were never embarrassed by that past and who continued its agendas as Communists proper, Maoists and members of various Trotskyist sects.[60] They were even referred to as “MLMs” or Marxist-Leninist movements in the left. It was a prominent member of these Communist sects named Leslie Cagan who emerged as the primary leader of what the New York Times and other left-leaning media described as the “moderate” peace coalition against the war in Iraq.[61] According to the Times article on the coalition, a group of leftwing activists, meeting under the auspices of People for the American Way, selected Cagan to the head “United for Peace and Justice” to organize the mass demonstrations against the war. According to its leftwing organizers, United for Peace and Justice was created as a public relations effort to deflect the criticism of the existing anti-war movement which was a coalition run by the hard-line Communists of International ANSWER, who were aligned with North Korea, and who had organized all of the national protests to that point.[62]

Leslie Cagan was a Sixties radical who became an activist in the Communist movement in college, breaking American laws to travel to the Communist World Youth Festival in Bulgaria in 1968. The following year she joined the First Venceremos Brigade, a project of Cuban intelligence, which recruited American leftists to help with the sugar cane harvest. Cagan was a leader in other institutions of the left, including the Pacifica radio network, and was an organizer of demonstrations for the Soviet-inspired nuclear freeze movement and for solidarity with Communists in Central America in the 1980s. She was also against the 1991 Gulf War that had prevented Saddam Hussein from annexing Kuwait. For seven years Cagan was the director of the Cuba Information Project, which promoted the Communist dictatorship and worked closely with its official agencies. In 1997 she coordinated the U.S. delegation to the World Youth Festival in Cuba, once again in defiance of U.S. law.[63] Then, in 2001, she was chosen to lead the mainstream left opposition to the War in Iraq, the “moderate coalition,” in the words of the New York Times.

Cagan’s view of America was as permanently dark as those of Hobsbawm and Lerner, with whom she shared a direct political lineage. In 1998, the sixth year of the administration of Democrat Bill Clinton, Cagan wrote: “I cannot recall a period in my lifetime as bad as this. The accelerated concentration of wealth and power in everything from the mass media to manufacturing to health-care and banking; the ever-widening gap between the world’s poor and wealthy; the global environment crisis; xenophobia, racial and religious violence; an epidemic of violence against women, children and sexual minorities; the influence and power of religious fundamentalism in all its variations.”[64] Cagan was not being exactly candid when she identified “religious fundamentalism in all its variations” as one of her nightmare fears. Islamic fanatics were not on her radar screen. When religious fundamentalism took an anti-American turn, she and her comrades were quite prepared to form alliances with forces they otherwise professed to abhor. For Cagan and her comrades anti-Americanism defined the party line. It was the core of their revolutionary agenda and took precedence over all others, allowing them to make a de facto alliance with a regime as oppressive, misogynistic and bloody as the regime in Iraq. The Iraq dictatorship was a formally fascist regime, which had murdered 300,000 Iraqis, but that did not prevent the left from marching to defend it against their own country, which was a liberal democracy with a vibrant Bill of Rights.

  1. The Utopian Idea

The worldview of the radical left is shaped by a Manichean dualism that unites its disparate factions and shapes their common agenda. At the heart of this worldview is the belief in a utopian future that is “socially just,” and a dystopian present that is oppressive and evil. Professor Todd Gitlin, a former president of Students for a Democratic Society and a historian of the Sixties, was one of the speakers at the Columbia teach-in against the war in Iraq.[65] Like his New Left comrades, Gitlin was a self-declared “anti-anti Communist,” choosing not to support the West in its Cold War against the Communist police states. After the 9/11 attack however, Gitlin draped an American flag from his New York apartment window and felt a tinge of patriotism for the first time in his political life, and suffered the opprobrium of his comrades for his transgression. In an essay titled, “Varieties of Patriotism,” Gitlin examined his feelings about this episode and attempted to explain it.[66]

During the Cold War, he wrote, he had not identified with the Soviet Union, but did expect the utopian idea to be realized in Vietnam or Cuba or some other revolutionary state. His alienation from his own country and rejection of patriotic feeling came not from a positive identification with America’s enemies but from a negative revulsion inspired by the Vietnam War. According to Gitlin, Vietnam was something like an American original sin. “The war went on so long and so destructively, it felt like more than the consequence of a wrong-headed policy. My country must have been revealing some fundamental core of wrongness by going on, and on, with an indefensible war.”[67] Because of this “fundamental core of wrongness,” Gitlin recalls, “the American flag did not feel like my flag, even though I could recognize – in the abstract – that it made sense for others to wave it in the anti-war cause.” Gitlin “argued against waving the North Vietnamese flag or burning the Stars and Stripes ” – or at least he did at first.[68] “But the hatred of a bad war, in what was evidently a pattern of bad wars – though none so bad as Vietnam – turned us inside out. It inflamed our hearts. You can hate your country in such a way that the hatred becomes fundamental. A hatred so clear and intense came to feel like a cleansing flame. By the late’60s, this is what became of much of the New Left.”

Gitlin summarizes the anti-American feelings of his generation of radicals in these words: “For a large bloc of Americans, my age and younger, too young to remember World War II – the generation for whom ‘the war’ meant Vietnam and possibly always would, to the end of our days – the case against patriotism was not an abstraction. There was a powerful experience underlying it: as powerful an eruption of our feelings as the experience of patriotism is supposed to be for patriots. Indeed, it could be said that in the course of our political history we experienced a very odd turn about: The most powerful public emotion in our lives was rejecting patriotism.”

Gitlin’s reflections are rare among leftists for their introspection and frankness. But they are disingenuous in the end. The rejection of patriotism, the identification with the Communist enemy, the hatred of one’s country, were staple attitudes of the left long before the Vietnam War began. It was not actions by the United States in Vietnam or anywhere else that inspired this alienation; it was the power of the utopian idea. Unlike Leslie Cagan, Gitlin was brought up in a liberal household and while still impressionably young was drawn into the radicalism of 1960s. The shapers of this movement, its intellectual leaders and leading institutions were already anti-American and had rejected patriotism long before Todd Gitlin came of age. During the early Cold War years, they had supported Stalin and then Mao and finally Fidel and Ho, whom they defended employing the usual double standards of the left. The Vietnamese Communists, for example, were to them “national patriots” and bearers of “rice roots democracy” to a people “oppressed” by American imperialism.

There was, in fact, nothing inherent in the Vietnam War that should have caused any American to turn against his country. Every year that has passed since the war’s end has brought new testimonies to this fact. The most eloquent of these come from disillusioned leaders of the victorious side who confirm what the post-war slaughter had already revealed – that the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam was not an indigenous vanguard but a creation of Hanoi, that far more North Vietnamese soldiers were involved early in the conflict than even Washington had claimed, that Communist North Vietnam had conducted a conquest rather than a liberation of the South, imposing a regime that was ruthless, reactionary and oppressive.[69] Far from being an “indefensible war,” as in Gitlin’s description, America’s involvement in Vietnam was driven by honorable objectives. America’s failure to win the war, a failure Gitlin and the left worked hard to bring about, was a national tragedy for the Vietnamese.

Colonel Bui Tin was a leader of the Communists’ campaign of conquest, and an architect of the Ho Chi Minh Trail through which they accomplished it. In 1995 he wrote: “Nowadays the aspiration of the vast majority of the Vietnamese people, both at home and abroad, is to see an early end to the politically conservative, despotic and authoritarian regime in Hanoi so that we can truly have a democratic government of the people, by the people, for the people.”[70] In understanding the mind of the anti-American left, it is interesting to note how once the United States was defeated in the war the Vietnamese whom leftists had claimed to love with all the passion they denied their own countrymen, disappeared from their consciousness and also their consciences. When America withdrew from Indo-China, tens of thousands of innocent South Vietnamese and millions of Cambodians were murdered by the Communists. The Communist victors reduced the nations they had conquered to impoverished gulags. But these sufferings of the people of Cambodia and Vietnam evoked no response from activists who had once made them the center of their political concerns. The difference was that their oppressors now were Communists not Americans. Today, the aspirations of the Vietnamese themselves are as invisible to these radicals as are the testimonies of the Iraqis freshly liberated from the prisons and torture chambers of Saddam Hussein.

Gitlin’s fixation on Vietnam as the symbol of an American essence – an essence that is evil – is unrelated to any factual reality. It is merely an inverted expression of the utopian idea. Vietnam was a metaphor that served to justify the already formed radical worldview, which he adopted.[71] It did not create it. Gitlin is also less than candid in attributing his anti-patriotic feelings to America’s role in the Vietnam War. According to his account, these feelings lasted for more than thirty years until 9/11. By the same account, his patriotic fervor – if it can be called that – was quite short-lived. A “few weeks” after 9/11, he took down his American flag, because “leaving the flag up was too easy, too easily misunderstood as a triumphalist cliché. It didn’t express my patriotic sentiment, which was turning toward political opposition…”[72] Patriotism by this tormented logic is expressed in opposing one’s country rather than supporting it.

Gitlin’s opposition hardened as President Bush declared war on America’s al-Qaeda attackers and identified three states – Iran, North Korea and Iraq – as an “axis of evil.” In Gitlin’s words, “By the time George W. Bush declared war without end against an ‘axis of evil’ that no other nation on earth was willing to recognize as such – indeed, against whomever the President might determine we were at war against, … and declared further the unproblematic virtue of pre-emptive attacks, and made it clear that the United States regarded itself as a one-nation tribunal of ‘regime change,’ I felt again the old estrangement, the old shame and anger at being attached to a nation – my nation – ruled by runaway bullies, indifferent to principle, their lives manifesting supreme loyalty to private (though government slathered) interests, quick to lecture dissenters about the merits of patriotism.”[73]

Ignoring the particular (and particularly hysterical) claims in this indictment, Gitlin’s comments provoke a question that he himself has raised but fails to answer. In what way could these particular faults be ascribed not to “wrong-headed policies,” but to “some fundamental core of wrongness” in America’s constitution? Put another way, why does the fact of Gitlin’s turn “toward political opposition,” preclude a continued display of the flag – which is to say, an embrace of his nation – particularly when that nation is a democracy that protects opposition and embraces dissent? It seems that Gitlin learned very little from his brief identification with his country at war. It is certainly possible to love one’s country and identify with it even when one judges an individual policy or a series of policies or an entire political administration to be wrong. That is what a democracy is about. The war against terror or the war in Iraq could easily be criticized on many grounds that would be recognized as patriotic and that should not result in alienation from one’s flag, or cause one to experience “shame and anger at being attached to a nation.”

Perhaps the Iraq war was the wrong war fought at the wrong time. Perhaps the policies pursued were counter-productive and far from strengthening national security, incurred more risks. Since the policies in question – both the decision to go to war and to pursue regime change were ratified by both political parties – they were not the whims of “runaway bullies” and could be changed by pursuing a different electoral result. Gitlin’s rejection goes much deeper, and can only have been inspired by hostile assumptions about America itself, in its fundamental core. And this is precisely the case. In describing his hatred for America as a Sixties radical, Gitlin recalls encounters he had with Communists in Cuba. “Those of us who met with Vietnamese and Cuban Communists in those years were always being told that we had to learn to love our people. In my case, it was a Communist medical student in Cuba who delivered the message in 1967. Love our people! How were we supposed to do that, another SDSer and I argued back, when our people had committed genocide against the Indians, when the national history was enmeshed in slavery, when this experience of historical original sin ran deeper than any class solidarity, when it was what it meant to be an American.” (emphasis in original)

This litany – typical for American radicals – is an expression of Gitlin’s antipathy for his country rather than a reasonable accounting of observable facts. It is based on a utopian standard with no anchor in any actually existing historical reality. There was no such genocide (in any meaningful sense of the word) against American Indians, many of whom fought on the side of the settlers in the frontier wars and more of whom are alive today than were alive when the first Europeans set foot on the continent; moreover, these “exterminated” people now live on vast areas of land which were set up for them and are financially supported by the United States, a country in which they also enjoy full citizenship rights. One may regret the past that led to these results, or feel that the provision made for these people is insufficient, but to regard America as a genocidal nation because of them is irrational bigotry. There is no nation on earth that was not created through some original aggression. Why should America, which has been more generous than other nations to those it conquered, be singled out for such condemnation? The same question can be asked in regard to Gitlin’s rhetorical flourish about the institution of slavery. Historically, America was a more important force in ending slavery than it was in participating in an institution that was embraced by all European, Latin American and Islamic states, and by Africans themselves. The historical record refutes Gitlin’s claim that these injustices are somehow the American essence or that it makes this country less worthy than say Gitlin’s favored Cuba which, in fact, imported more African slaves than all of England’s North American colonies or the United States.[74]

Gitlin summarizes the case against patriotic attachment to America in these terms: “Worst of all, from this point of view, patriotism means obscuring the whole grisly truth of America under a polyurethane mask. It means covering over the Indians in their mass graves.[75] It means covering over slavery. It means overlooking America’s many imperial adventures – the Philippine, Cuban and Nicaraguan occupations, among others, as well as abuses of power by corporations, international banks, and so on. It means disguising American privilege, even when America’s good fortune was not directly purchased at the cost of the bad fortune of others, a debatable point. So from this point of view, patriotism betrays the truth.” One could hardly ask for a more acid expression of the utopian view and the irrational hatred it inspires. Is there an actually existing nation that has had no war of conquest in its past, embarked on no imperial adventures, experienced no abuses committed by its private institutions, enjoyed no privileged status of one kind or another, and received no good fortune at some other people’s expense? There is no such country. On what grounds, therefore, would this litany persuade one to renounce his native land, particularly a land as generous and free as America? In so far as these claims are justified they reflect human problems not specifically American ones. Gitlin’s rejection of America can be explained only by the illusions of a worldview based on an imaginary future that has no anchor in any past or present human reality, and whose complaints, therefore, can never be assuaged or redressed. Gitlin’s leftist critique and the political alienation it promotes are identical in nature to those of its Communist predecessors. The term “progressive” aptly describes their common utopianism, which is the striving towards an unattainable future whose sole practical effect is to provide a measure by which they can condemn the present.

  1. The Nihilist Left

Noam Chomsky is a cult figure among contemporary radicals and their leading intellectual figure, celebrated throughout the leftwing culture. A New Yorker profile has identified him improbably as “one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century,” while the leftwing English Guardian refers to him as the “conscience of a nation.”[76] No individual has done more to shape the anti-American passions of a generation. When Chomsky speaks on university campuses, which he does frequently, he draws ten times the audiences that other academics do. Abroad he has attracted individual audiences as large as 10,000. According to the academic indexes that establish such rankings, Chomsky is one of the ten most quoted sources in the humanities, ranking just behind Plato and Freud. His most recent tract on the events of 9/11 sold 200,000 copies in America alone, despite the fact that it is not really a book but a series of rambling interviews of pamphlet length. Of the hundred odd “books” on current affairs subjects he has published, all but a handful amount to collections of table talk, a further indication of the cult-like nature of his influence, and the general cultural decline.

Chomsky claims to be an anarchist, which frees him from the burden of having to defend any real world implementation of his ideas. In fact, he does not take his “anarchist” ideas very seriously either as a program or an intellectual doctrine. His comments on the subject in a political career spanning nearly half a century amount to mere fragments – an article here, an isolated passage there. Moreover, his commitment to anarchist principles, which would presumably entail the rejection of all forms of social hierarchy and coercion, is highly selective. He is more than willing to support “centralized state power” when it is mobilized against private businesses, and defends Marxist dictatorships in Nicaragua, Cuba, Vietnam and other Third World countries – like Iraq – when they are engaged in conflicts with the United States.[77] Even considered strictly as ideas, Chomsky’s anarchist thoughts, if they can be dignified as such, are at base authoritarian and therefore incoherent.[78] The utility of Chomsky’s anarchism is to provide an impossibly perfect model of freedom by which to judge the democracies of Western societies as “fascistic” and “oppressive.”

The destructive antipathy of radicals like Chomsky towards the existing social order in the West is a form of political nihilism, which is manifest even in Chomsky’s prose style. “To read Chomsky’s recent political writing at any length is to feel almost physically damaged,” observed Larissa MacFarqhuar in a New Yorker profile. “The effect is difficult to convey in a quotation because it is cumulative. The writing is a catalogue of crimes committed by America, terrible crimes, and many of them; but it is not they that produce the sensation of blows: it is Chomsky’s rage as he describes them. His sentences slice and gash, envenomed by a vicious sarcasm…. He uses certain words over and over, atrocity, murder, genocide, massacre, murder, massacre, genocide, atrocity, atrocity, massacre, murder, genocide…. Chomsky’s sarcasm is the scowl of a fallen world, the sneer of Hell’s veteran to its appalled naifs.”[79] It is, in fact, a form of literary fascism, bludgeoning the reader into acceptance.

MacFarqhuar’s New Yorker profile made its appearance in May 2003, barely two weeks after the successful liberation of Baghdad, and began with a characteristic Chomsky observation reflecting a world view that is not interested in criticizing particular policies that Americans may have pursued, but in condemning America in its essence:

When I look at the arguments for this war, I don’t see anything I could even laugh at. You don’t undertake violence on the grounds that maybe by some miracle something good will come out of it. Yes sometimes violence does lead to good things. The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor led to many very good things.[80]

These comments are noteworthy both for their malice towards America and their misrepresentation of historical events. The interview was conducted before the war, which was concluded in three weeks, perhaps the swiftest and most bloodless such victory on record. Obviously the military planners of “Operation Iraqi Liberation” did not count on a “miracle” to achieve a positive result, but had reasonable expectations that their objective was both practical and worthwhile. The very absurdity of Chomsky’s claim betrays the irrational nature of his attack.

The second half of Chomsky’s statement is even more perverse if possible. There are innumerable cases Chomsky might have offered as examples of justifiable violence. The sneak attack on Pearl Harbor is not one of them. Even the Japanese concede that. Pearl Harbor, as Chomsky is well aware, has been invoked as a historical analog for 9/11. By using the parallel, Chomsky intends to reverse the meaning of both events. Like 9/11, Pearl Harbor is an event symbolizing America’s shattered innocence and its determination to respond. Praising the act of infamy is Chomsky’s way of denying the innocence and assaulting America’s right to defend itself. In reversing the meaning of both events, Chomsky expresses the loathing he feels for his own country.

Chomsky’s view of Pearl Harbor dovetails neatly with Osama bin Laden’s rationale for 9/11. Bin Laden claimed that the attack was a response to America’s “invasion” of the holy lands of Islam. Chomsky explains how Pearl Harbor led to good things: “If you follow the trail, [Pearl Harbor] led to kicking Europeans out of Asia – that saved tens of millions of lives in India alone. Do we celebrate that every year?”

In point of historical fact, Pearl Harbor led to the expulsion of the Japanese empire from Asia where its brutal rule had left behind a trail of atrocities in China, Korea, Malaya and elsewhere. But acknowledging these realities would undermine Chomsky’s case. His reference to tens of millions of Indian lives saved by independence (which had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor or its effects) is another Chomsky fiction standing history on its head. One of the recognized achievements of British rule in India was to establish internal peace in place of the inter-communal violence that existed previously and that has recurred since. Whatever else may be said of British rule, it saved Indian lives that would otherwise have been lost to this violence, a fact epitomized in the communal slaughter that broke out in the precise moment the British departed. A million Indians were killed in the civil strife that erupted between Hindus and Muslims on the eve of independence, leading to the partition of the country and the creation of a Muslim state in Pakistan.

It is difficult to know if Chomsky believes his own lies. In the same New Yorker profile, he indicates – without acknowledging any irony or contradiction – that kicking Europeans out of Asia in his view actually led to very bad results. In a comment condemning the Bush family for inviting foreign dictators to Washington, Chomsky names several of the leaders of post-war Asia he despises: “[A gangster] they loved was [Indonesia’s] General Suharto. Another they adored was Marcos of the Philippines. In every single one of these cases, the people now in Washington supported them right through their worst atrocities. Are these the people you would ask to bring freedom to Iraqis?” These gangsters, who were elected leaders, were the products of independence. Marcos was subsequently ousted by the United States, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, one of the planners of Operation Iraqi Freedom, was one of the architects of the new democracy in the Philippines that followed Marcos’s exit.

Chomsky’s twisted history reflects the core belief of anti-American radicals that the United States can do no right, and assailing the victim of Pearl Harbor is only a small part of Chomsky’s distorted account of World War II. To complete a credible picture of American perfidy, he must also deny the United States its role in the allied victory over Nazi Germany. The New Yorker profile reports the following Chomsky comment to a college audience: “The United States and Britain fought the war, of course, but not primarily against Nazi Germany. The war against Nazi Germany was fought by the Russians. The German military forces were overwhelmingly on the Eastern Front.” To say that larger German military forces were committed on the Eastern front of World War II is correct, but to say that “the war against Nazi Germany was fought by the Russians” is absurd. Without massive support from the United States it is doubtful that Russia would have survived. The fact that the United States defeated Germany’s axis partners – Italy and Japan, and that Britain vanquished Hitler’s African legions was hardly incidental to the allied victory. To ignore the fact of the Normandy invasion, the defeat of Hitler’s European armies, and the liberation of three-quarters of the German homeland by American arms displays a mind consumed with hate.

Disturbed by the perverse implications of Chomsky’s argument, a student in his college audience was observed by the New Yorker reporter offering this objection to his comments: “But the world was better off.” It was a concession that Chomsky was unwilling to make. He responded to the student by blaming the allies for Hitler’s victims: “First of all, you have to ask yourself whether the best way of getting rid of Hitler was to kill tens of millions of Russians. Maybe a better way was not supporting him in the first place, as Britain and the United States did.” In fact, Britain and the United States didn’t but Russia did. American isolationism and British appeasement in the 1930s, may have been helpful to Germany by underestimating its aggressive ambitions but it was not the kind of direct support provided by the Russians through the Stalin-Hitler Pact, which actually launched the war in Poland.

Chomsky was not content with the insinuation that Britain and America were Hitler’s sponsors and allies. He had to make them responsible for the Holocaust as well. “By Stalingrad in 1942, the Russians had turned back the German offensive, and it was pretty clear that Germany wasn’t going to win the war. Well, we’ve learned from the Russian archives that Britain and the U.S. then began supporting armies established by Hitler to hold back the Russian advance. Tens of thousands of Russian troops were killed. Suppose you’re sitting in Auschwitz. Do you want the Russian troops to be held back?” There is no evidence to support this accusation. Some academics puzzled by the bizarre nature of Chomsky’s claim have suggested that he was alluding to Bandera’s Ukrainian nationalists, who had every reason to detest both Hitler and Stalin.[81] But there is no evidence to support Chomsky’s contention of allied support for Bandera or any anti-Soviet military forces until 1948, which was during the Cold War and three years after the liberation of Auschwitz.[82] Even the historical premise of Chomsky’s claims is a falsification. However important Stalingrad was as a military victory, it was hardly equivalent to winning the war and no one but Chomsky thinks it was – not even the Russians who begged the allies to open a “second front” to save them from defeat.

These are not mere intellectual lapses but keys to a worldview that is shaped by one overriding imperative – to demonize America as the fount of worldly evil. This agenda entails a revision of history as ambitious as that of Holocaust deniers, with whom Chomsky has had an unsavory relationship.[83] Their purpose is not to understand the history in question, but to portray America as a satanic monster – the Third Reich of our times. Chomsky’s influence can be detected in the prevalence of this theme among protesters against America’s actions after 9/11 and during the conflict in Iraq. For Chomsky the 9/11 attacks represented a turning point in the war against American imperialism. “For the first time, the guns have been directed the other way. That is a dramatic change.”[84] It was the first time the “national territory” had been attacked since the War of 1812. In the intervening years, “the US annihilated the indigenous population (millions of people), conquered half of Mexico, intervened violently in the surrounding region, conquered Hawaii and the Philippines (killing hundreds of thousands of Filipinos), and in the past half century, particularly, extended its resort to force throughout much of the world. The number of victims is colossal.”[85]

Anyone accepting Chomsky’s words at face value could almost feel the justice of al-Qaeda’s malignant death squad that struck thousands of innocents in the World Trade Center. The premise of Chomsky’s texts is that whatever evil is committed against America by others pales in comparison to the evil that America has committed against them. In Chomsky’s telling, America is the “Great Satan,” the power responsible for the oppressions and injustices of the modern world. In Chomsky’s post-9/11 talk he declared: “The people of the Third World need our sympathetic understanding and, much more than that, they need our help. We can provide them with a margin of survival by internal disruption in the United States. Whether they can succeed against the kind of brutality we impose on them depends in large part on what happens here.”

Chomsky revealed just how seriously he meant this incitement to treason when America finally launched its military response to the 9/11 attacks. On October 18, eleven days after U.S. forces began strikes against the Taliban, Chomsky told an audience at MIT that America was the “greatest terrorist state” and was planning a “silent genocide” against the people of Afghanistan. Chomsky delivered this malicious charge in an almost casual manner: “Looks like what’s happening [in Afghanistan] is some sort of silent genocide,” is what he said.[86] His speech at MIT to 2,000 listeners was viewed and heard by millions via satellite and the Internet, and C-Span TV.

According to Chomsky, not only was America planning a genocide in Afghanistan, but America’s cultural elite knew it, and were unconcerned because the targets were Third World peoples. “It also gives a good deal of insight into the elite culture, the culture we are part of. It indicates that whatever, what will happen we don’t know, but plans are being made and programs implemented on the assumption that they may lead to the death of several million people in the next few months very casually with no comment, no particular thought about it, that’s just kind of normal, here and in a good part of Europe.”

As usual, Chomsky’s defamation was based on a preciously small foundation of fact, a large area of uncertainty and a readiness to make the most far-fetched assumptions about the malignity of American motives. It was indeed the case that in Afghanistan the food situation was dire, and that prior to America’s intervention a famine was predicted for millions. But, in fact, thanks to the determination and generosity of the American government, help was already on the way. Through massive food transports conducted by the American military the famine was soon averted. The rescue mission was, in fact, already part of the White House war plan which had been publicly announced before Chomsky delivered his address. There was no comment – press or otherwise – on the planned genocide not because of the immoral indifference of Americans and Europeans, as Chomsky suggested, but because the crisis was about to be solved and there was no basis whatsoever for Chomsky’s sinister allegation. As Laura Rozen reported in the on-line leftwing magazine on November 17, 2001, “Aid experts say that … alarms about the impact of the U.S. military campaign against the Taliban have ignored the fact that more food has been reaching Afghanistan since the U.S. bombing began than was before – a lot more.”[87]

Given the military uncertainties when the fighting was just getting underway and the distrust sowed about America’s intentions by people like Chomsky, the myth of the “silent genocide” could still seem plausible to the uninformed. This was as true in Cambridge where he made his false charges as it was a month later in countries bordering Afghanistan where he went to spread them to much larger Muslim audiences. In this campaign of lies against his own country, Chomsky traveled to New Delhi and Islamabad, where he made front page news with claims that the United States was the world’s “greatest terrorist state” and was planning to conduct one of the largest genocides in history on a neighboring Muslim population. In Islamabad, the situation was particularly volatile. Pakistan was an unstable nation armed with nuclear weapons and ruled by a military dictatorship whose security forces had set up the Taliban. While the international press worried about the problematic future of the Islamabad regime, and tens of thousands of pro-terrorist demonstrators filled the streets of the capital, the prestigious MIT professor made the front pages of the local press with attacks on his own country calling it a genocidal threat to Muslims.[88] It was Chomsky’s personal effort to “turn the guns around.”

  1. The Anti-American Cult

Noam Chomsky’s demonic views and seditious actions would be of little interest – intellectual or otherwise – but for the fact that they have such a wide following.[89] Critics of the Chomsky phenomenon often fail to appreciate that this is not so much the cult of an individual – Chomsky is an impressively boring speaker and a middling writer – but of an anti-American cult among progressives whose primitive hatreds Chomsky speaks to. Chomsky did not spring into being de novo. He is the product of a leftwing culture that had already traveled far down the path of fanaticism and was rooted in the conviction that a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal is really a Great Satan – an empire built on slavery, oppression and imperial conquest. The scope of this cult is indicated by the proliferation of lesser Chomskys who feed the hungers of movement activists for anti-American litanies and rationales. Most prominent among these is Chomsky’s intellectual twin, the popular historian Howard Zinn, a lifelong adherent of Communist causes. Like Chomsky, Zinn has produced a corpus of work that is a cartoon version of the nation’s past, pillorying America as an evil predator. Zinn has even published a Chomsky-like tract of table talk about 9/11, blaming America and its alleged crimes for the terrorist attack and characterizing the victim as a terrorist state.[90]

Like Chomsky, Zinn is a rambling and unimpressive speaker, and a pedestrian writer who has attained an intellectual celebrity few can match. His signature book, A People’s History of the United States, is a raggedly conceived Marxist caricature that begins with Columbus and ends with George Bush. It has sold over a million hardback copies, greatly exceeding that of any comparable history text. Like Chomsky’s rants, Zinn’s book has been incorporated into the academic curriculum of universities and secondary schools. The New York Times Sunday Book Review gave it this imprimatur: “Historians may well view it as a step toward a coherent new version of American history.” The reviewer was Eric Foner.

Like Chomsky, Zinn’s readership extends far into the popular culture as well. He was invoked as a “genius” by the lead character in the Academy Award winning film Good Will Hunting (the film’s co-writer and star Matt Damon grew up as a Zinn neighbor and is a Zinn enthusiast) and is an intellectual authority for entertainment celebrities. Both Chomsky and Zinn have been heavily promoted to rock music audiences by mega-bands such as Rage Against the Machine and Pearl Jam even while they are also icons of intellectual journals like the Boston Review of Books, which is edited by an MIT professor and Chomsky disciple.[91]

The express methodology of A People’s History of the United States is political. In an explanatory afterword, Zinn explains to the reader that he has no interest in striving for objectivity because his intention is to expose American history as a conspiracy of rich white men to oppress and exploit “the people,”[92] who are exclusively Indians and other minorities, especially blacks (“there is not a country in world history in which racism has been more important, for so long a time, as the United States”), women and the industrial proletariat.[93] Zinn launches his narrative not with the settling of North America, or the creation of the United States as one might expect, but with a lengthy chapter on Columbus’s “genocide” against the native inhabitants, an event – which even if it had happened as Zinn describes it – was committed by agents of the Spanish empire more than a century before the English settled North America and nearly three centuries before the creation of the United States. It is an emblem of the tendentiousness of this entire project, which is really not a history of the American people, but an indictment of white people and American capitalism.

The perspective that shapes the nearly seven hundred pages of A People’s History is a plodding Marxism informed by the preposterous idea that nation-states are a fiction and only economic classes are real social actors: “Class interest has always been obscured behind an all-encompassing veil called ‘the national interest.’ My own war experience [World War II], and the history of all those military interventions in which the United States was engaged, made me skeptical when I heard people in high political office invoke ‘the national interest’ or ‘national security’ to justify their policies. It was with such justifications that Truman initiated a ‘police action’ in Korea that killed several million people, that Johnson and Nixon carried out a war in Indochina in which perhaps three million died, that Reagan invaded Grenada, Bush attacked Panama and then Iraq, and Clinton bombed Iraq again and again.”[94]

Zinn’s summary of events illustrates the continuity of leftwing myths in shaping the consciousness of radical generations. A Stalinist in his youth, Zinn retains into his seventies the same ideological blinders he wore as a young man. America’s defense of South Korea against a Communist invasion from the North was not initiated by the United States as the Communist propaganda machine maintained at the time. It was a response to a Communist aggression, which was initiated by Stalin himself.[95] The war and subsequent American support for the South Koreans resulted in their liberation from both poverty and dictatorship. South Korea was, in 1950, one of the poorest countries with a per capita income of $250, on a level with Cuba and South Vietnam. Fifty years of American protection, trade and investment has made South Korea a First World industrial nation with a reasonably stable democracy. By contrast North Korea, which was the industrial heart of the Korean peninsula and which the American armies failed to liberate – thanks to Zinn’s political allies at the time – is an impoverished totalitarian state that has starved more than a million of its inhabitants in the last decade, while its Communist dictator hordes scarce funds to build an arsenal of nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles. The rest of Zinn’s examples consist of equally vacuous communist propaganda.

Not surprisingly, Zinn describes the founding of the American Republic – the world’s most successful democratic experiment – as an exercise in the tyrannical control of the many by the few for greed and profit. “The American Revolution…was a work of genius, and the Founding Fathers deserve the awed tribute they have received over the centuries. They created the most effective system of national control devised in modern times, and showed future generations of leaders the advantages of combining paternalism with command.”[96] In Zinn’s reckoning, the Declaration of Independence was not so much a revolutionary statement of rights as a cynical means of manipulating popular groups into overthrowing the King to benefit the rich. The rights it appeared to guarantee were “limited to life, liberty and happiness for white males” – and actually for wealthy white males – because they excluded black slaves and “ignored the existing inequalities in property.”[97] This is an absurd (and absurdly unhistorical) view of the Declaration and the Republic to which it gave birth, but it is the entrenched belief of the political left for whom Zinn is an icon and his tract canonical.

The attack on the American Founding is crucial to the outlook shared by Zinn, Chomsky, and their followers. It is central to understanding the left’s animus against America, and the fact that no particular event – least of all a foreign policy event like the war in Iraq – is required to generate the kind of hatred on display during the “anti-war” protests. There is nothing original in Zinn’s book, nor has he engaged in any serious research other than to dot the i’s and cross the t’s of Communist clichés. A People’s History of the United States reflects a leftwing culture that despises America in its core. As a result of the left’s colonization of the academic social sciences, this anti-American culture is now part of the educational curriculum of America’s emerging elites, and as much an element of the cultural mainstream as any other historical tradition. In 2004, the Organization of American Historians devoted an evening at its annual convention to honor Zinn and his work. Todd Gitlin, a former president of SDS and now Professor of Sociology and Journalism at Columbia University, summed up the academic triumph in these words: “My generation of the New Left – a generation that grew as the [Vietnam] war went on – relinquished any title to patriotism without much sense of loss … The nation congealed into an empire, whose logic was unwarranted power. All that was left to the Left was to unearth righteous traditions and cultivate them in universities. The much-mocked ‘political correctness’ of the next academic generations was a consolation prize. We lost – we squandered – the politics, but won the textbooks.”[98]

Entire fields – “Whiteness Studies,” “Cultural Studies” “Women’s Studies,” “African American Studies,” American Studies” and “Peace Studies,” to mention a few, are now principally devoted to this radical assault on American history and society and to the “deconstruction” of the American idea. The study and teaching of American Communism at the university level is now principally in the hands of academics who, in the words of two political scientists, “openly applaud and apologize for one of the bloodiest ideologies of human history.”[99] Even the study of the law has been subverted by political ideologues with ferociously anti-American agendas. Consider the following passage from a legal text on the Fourteenth Amendment, the statute which establishes equal rights for all Americans, written by a professor at Georgetown, one of the nation’s most prestigious law schools of law: “The political history of the United States that culminated and is reflected in the [Constitution] is in large measure a history of almost unthinkable brutality toward slaves, genocidal hatred of Native Americans, racist devaluation of nonwhites and nonwhite cultures, sexist devaluation of women and a less than admirable attitude of submissiveness to the authority of unworthy leaders in all spheres of government and public life.”[100]

These views are replicated in whole libraries of texts written by the academic left. They present an American reality shaped by the intellectual traditions of Communism and characterized by the crude economic determinism and historical distortions of writers like Chomsky and Zinn. It is hardly surprising, given the orthodoxies of American universities, that hundreds and perhaps even thousands of faculty-led anti-American demonstrations justifying the attacks of 9/11 and denouncing America as “imperialist” and “racist,” were held on campuses during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. From this point of view, observes Gitlin, “the attacks of September 11, 2001 revealed a symmetry that the hard-bitten Left had long expected. America was condemned by its history. The furies were avenging, chickens were flying home, American detonations were blowing back.” The left had “little hardheaded curiosity to comprehend a fanatical Islamist sect that set no limits to what and whom it would destroy. Whoever was killed in America, Americans must still end up the greatest of Satans.”[101]

Despite the fact that as a self-described “democratic socialist,” Gitlin dissents from the most extreme views articulated by Chomsky, Zinn and others, he nonetheless shares their disturbingly negative perspective on America’s history and world role. “Read history with open eyes and it is hard to overlook the American empire….You need not subscribe to the Left’s grandest claims that America from its birth is essentially genocidal and indebted to slavery for much of its prosperity to acknowledge that white colonists took the land, traded in slaves, and profited immensely thereby; or that the United States later lorded it over Latin America (and other occasional properties, like the Philippines) to guarantee cheap resources and otherwise line American pockets; or that American-led corporations (among others) and financial agencies today systematically overlook or, worse, damage the freedom of others.”[102]

This selective memory obscures the reverse side of the ledger and fundamentally distorts the impact of America’s development and the meaning of its history. America is also a nation that was a pioneer in ending slavery and has liberated hundreds of millions of people from totalitarian tyrannies. Its national narrative encompasses expanding spheres of tolerance and inclusion. Its war against terror is being led by a Secretary of State and National Security Advisor who are African American and a post-war military command in Iraq led by an Arab American and a Hispanic American. Its policies in Iraq ended one of the most brutal tyrannies on record. Its corporate institutions have led the world in technological innovation and its economic order has lifted billions out of poverty, liberating them from unbearable social conditions. If the glass is half empty, it is also half full, yet Gitlin and his leftist comrades are blind to this fact.

Their mentality is on display in a post-mortem analysis of the Iraq War by the celebrated author, Norman Mailer, which appeared in The New York Review of Books. Mailer is a veteran of the left, having begun his political life as a prominent literary figure in the Communist-orchestrated Progressive Party campaign of Henry Wallace. The political focus of the campaign was opposition to the “Truman Doctrine,” America’s early Cold War effort to resist Stalin’s conquest of Eastern Europe. The Wallace “peace candidacy” was, in fact, a prototype of all the post-war so-called peace campaigns against America’s efforts to resist totalitarian aggression. Twenty years later, Mailer was a leading literary figure in the anti-Vietnam War movement of the 1960s, writing a highly praised book, Armies of the Night, which celebrated the famous “March on the Pentagon.” The New York Review of Books is a magazine of the literate, and somewhat moderate, left. Its editors stopped publishing the writings of Chomsky in the 1970s, when he veered too far over the political edge by dismissing early reports of the Communist genocide in Cambodia and defending a Holocaust denier in France. [103] Yet the New York Review editors were perfectly comfortable with Mailer’s article, which was acidly titled, “The White Man Unburdened,”[104] as though America’s war in Iraq, whose leadership included two African Americans and an Arab and Hispanic American, and which immediately turned over authority to an Iraqi government, was nonetheless an expression of racial imperialism.

In its accusatory title, as in its bill of specifics, Mailer’s article was actually indistinguishable from the less artful screeds of Chomsky and Zinn. It illustrated the metaphysical dimension of the anti-American worldview, which enables its adherents to accumulate disinformation with every new event in order to construct demonic images of America’s practices and purposes. The fact that on 9/11 America was the victim of an unprovoked attack by religious fanatics is no more discouraging to the anti-American hysterias of these critics than the fact that in April 2003 American forces had liberated Iraq from one of the most bloody tyrannies of the modern world. That is because their anti-American attitudes are built on three irreducible assumptions, each of which was exemplified in Mailer’s article in the New York Review of Books: (1) America can do no right; (2) even the rights America appears to do are wrong; (3) these wrongs are monstrous.

Approaching the question of Iraq, Mailer asks, “Why did we go to war?” and begins by addressing the facts that might seem to justify the war, most prominently the discovery of the mass graves of Saddam’s victims. The uncovering of these graves, writes Mailer, appears to show that “we have relieved the world of a monster who killed untold numbers, mega-numbers of victims.” But such appearances are wrong, according to Mailer, because it is America that is responsible for them: “Nowhere is any emphasis put upon the fact that many of the bodies were of the Shiites of southern Iraq who have been decimated repeatedly in the last twelve years for daring to rebel against Saddam in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War [of 1991]. Of course, we were the ones who encouraged them to revolt in the first place, and then failed to help them.” Having shifted the blame for Saddam’s slaughter to America, Mailer explains why Washington failed to help Iraq’s Shiites in a way that compounds its culpability. A successful Shiite rebellion, he writes, “could result in a host of Iraqi imams who might make common cause with the Iranian ayatollahs. Shiites joining with Shiites!” Racists and imperialists, of course, would want none of that.

This is a warped view of why America might have feared an alliance between Shiites in Iraq and Iran. The Iranian revolution of 1979 spawned a revival of radical Islam and began with the seizing of the American Embassy by Iranian revolutionaries a million strong chanting, “Death to America.” To support its hatred of America and the imperial ambitions of radical Islam, the Iranian regime developed long-range missiles and planned to tip them with nuclear warheads. It created Hizbollah, the largest terrorist army in the world, which in 1983 blew up a US marine barracks in Lebanon, killing 245 servicemen, and whose leaders also promised death to the American Satan. If the Iraqi Shiites had overthrown the regime of Saddam Hussein in 1991 and forged a radical alliance with Iran this would certainly have posed a threat to America, one that had nothing to do with Mailer’s racial paranoias.

There was another consideration behind America’s decision not to overthrow Saddam in 1991. The first Bush Administration did not want to proceed without U.N. authorization or without authorization from its Arab coalition partners (who were unanimously opposed to toppling Saddam). It may be argued that the first Bush should have ignored these considerations and proceeded unilaterally, but not by a progressive like Norman Mailer who opposed the Gulf War on exactly those grounds. Mailer also represses any memory of the opposition by the Democratic majority in Congress to the Gulf War, and thus to any regime change in Iraq. Although Bush formed the Gulf War coalition in faultless multilateral fashion, his war policy was still opposed by the Democrats and he was barely able to secure the congressional authorization required to reverse Iraq’s conquest of Kuwait. Although he assembled an international coalition of 40 nations, only ten Democratic senators finally voted to authorize the use of force – even for the limited goal of liberating Kuwait. Moreover, three of those senators, Al Gore among them, did so reluctantly and at the last minute. In other words, Norman Mailer and the political left he represents were opposed to the very war that he now complains did not go far enough and lead to the removal of Saddam.

What is Mailer’s own accountability – or the accountability of those who share his politics – for positions that led to Saddam’s massacre of the Iraqi Shiites? He concedes none. The consequences of his past oppositions to American interventions don’t even occur to him. This is because his intent is not to understand the war, but to make America responsible for Saddam Hussein’s killing fields: “Today [the Shiites]… may look upon the graves that we congratulate ourselves for having liberated as sepulchral voices calling out from their tombs – asking us to take a share of the blame. Which of course we will not.” In other words, in addition to being mass murderers, we are hypocrites too. “Yes, our guilt for a great part of those bodies remains a large subtext and Saddam was creating mass graves all through the 1970s and 1980s. He killed Communists en masse in the 1970s, which didn’t bother us a bit.” This Mailer accusation is not only tendentious; it is downright puzzling. What other nation, it could be asked, would be held accountable for not rescuing its own enemies? Of course for progressives like Mailer, Communists are not enemies. The events Mailer is referring to were a series of power struggles between fascists and Communists who both wanted Americans dead and America destroyed. What was Mailer suggesting with his accusations? That America should have intervened in a Soviet sphere of influence and risked nuclear war to rescue the foot soldiers of the Communist bloc?

Mailer next accuses of America of “supporting” Saddam in his war with Iraq in the 1980s, a common charge of the anti-war left: “[Saddam] slaughtered tens of thousands of Iraqis during the war with Iran – a time when we supported him.” But this is to confuse realpolitik with affection. What America did was to tilt to Saddam’s side – supplying him with weapons – at a juncture in the Iran-Iraq War when it looked like Iraq was going to be defeated by the fanatical, anti-American Shiite regime in Iran. America did not want to see a totalitarian Iran with three times Iraq’s population dominating the Middle East. If Iran had prevailed in the war, the ayatollahs would have taken control of the majority the world’s oil reserves, and the empire of radical Islam – with terrorist armies operating in Europe and elsewhere – would have become a global force. To prevent this by aiding Saddam was realism, not endorsement. Moreover, the military equipment America supplied to Iraq in the war was designed to balance the arms Iran received from the Soviet empire, still a going concern at the time, which also would have benefited handsomely from an Iranian victory. What would Mailer have had American planners do? If they had failed to take any action at all, Mailer would have blamed America for the deaths Iran inflicted on Iraq, and for the disastrous consequences that would ensue from its victory. Instead, American arms contributed to a military stalemate and a peace, which saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But this reality is off Mailer’s radar screen.

When it comes to adding up the balance sheet of America’s efforts in Iraq, Mailer does it with steely disdain: “A horde of those newly discovered [Shiite] graves go back to that period [of the Iran-Iraq war]. Of course, real killers never look back.” Real killers. In other words, Americans. In sum, America can do no right. Even the right America does is wrong, and the wrongs America is responsible for are monstrous. This syllogism captures the entire logic of the anti-American mind.

  1. The Great Satan

A crucial aspect of the worldview of American radicals is not only the monstrous nature of America’s essence, but the belief in American omnipotence – the ability of America’s leaders to control the circumstances of their international policies without regard to the interests of allies or the threats of adversary powers or the constraints imposed by domestic political forces. Radicals never see America as reacting to a threat that cannot be ignored, or to a set of circumstances whose outcome it cannot determine. A typical expression of this assumption can be found in a statement made by James Weinstein in his recent book The Long Detour, which is about the re-emergence of the American left. Weinstein was a Communist in the 1940s, a founder of the New Left in the 1960s and of the socialist newspaper In These Times, and an advocate of the idea that socialists should work within the Democratic Party to achieve their ends. In his book, which was published two years after 9/11, Weinstein wrote: “The realistic military threat to the United States from any other nation, of course, is near zero.”[105]

A corollary of the view that America is the master of world events is the idea that America has no worthy enemies, only rebellious subjects. America’s adversaries are only reacting to America’s own aggressions. In an interview on March 31, 2003 as U.S. troops entered Iraq, Noam Chomsky posed a rhetorical question to himself, “Has Saddam ever posed a threat to the US?” and answered it: “The idea verges on absurdity.”[106] Three months before the Iraq war, Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers on Vietnam and a protester against the impending conflict in Iraq had been asked: “What threat does Iraq now pose or could pose in the future to essential US objectives in the Middle East or globally?” Ellsberg’s answer: “No threat at all, so long as Saddam is not faced with overthrow or death by attack or invasion.”[107] In other words, Iraq posed no dangers to American security that America itself did not provoke. This is the perfectly circular, self-validating logic of the anti-American cause.

It is also perfectly preposterous. Even a backward and impoverished nation like Afghanistan under the Taliban had shown it could pose a serious threat to the lives of American citizens through its support for the Islamic terrorists who conducted the 9/11 attacks. Estimates of the economic damage caused by 9/11 range as high as $600 billion; whole industries – airlines and travel being the two most obvious – were threatened with bankruptcy. If 9/11 had been followed by similar attacks in the United States and Europe, the possibility of global economic instability with attendant civil and political disruption was a real, and daunting, prospect.

The assumption of America’s omnipotence is a function of the religious element of the radical worldview. It is as evident in the left’s understanding of the Cold War with the Soviet bloc as it is in the war with Iraq. A favored text of activists opposed to the Iraq war is the book, Rogue State by William Blum, a former State Department employee and a featured speaker at university “teach-ins” against the war on terror after 9/11. The “rogue state” in Blum’s title is the United States. The book itself is subtitled, “A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower,” and comes with encomiums from authors as disparate as Gore Vidal and Noam Chomsky on the one hand, and Thomas Powers and former New York Times bureau chief AJ. Languth on the other. This is the way Blum opens his text: “This book could be entitled Serial Chainsaw Baby Killers and the Women Who Love Them.”[108] In the author’s view the chainsaw baby killers are American officials and their agents, and the women who love them are supporters of American foreign policy.

In fairness to Powers and Languth, their praise for Blum was based on a volume published prior to Rogue State called Killing Hope: US Military And CIA Interventions Since World War II. But while the tone of this book is more dispassionate, the irrational animus towards the United States remains the same. Blum begins his introduction to the 1995 edition of Killing Hope with these words: “In 1993, I came across a review of a book about people who deny that the Nazi Holocaust actually occurred. I wrote to the author, a university professor, telling her that her book made me wonder whether she knew that an American holocaust had taken place, and that the denial of it put the denial of the Nazi one to shame…. Yet, a few million people have died in the American holocaust and many more millions have been condemned to lives of misery and torture as a result of U.S. interventions extending from China and Greece in the 1940s to Afghanistan and Iraq in the 1990s.”[109] In other words, America is worse than Nazi Germany.

From its opening image, Rogue State proceeds to dismiss the idea that the Cold War was a conflict between nuclear superpowers or a contest between totalitarianism and freedom. Instead, Blum presents the Cold War as the concoction of a single omnipotent power – a power whose ends are predatory and evil – able to manipulate events in order to establish its global rule: “For seventy-nine years the United States convinced much of the world that there was an international conspiracy out there. An International Communist Conspiracy [italics in original] seeking no less than control over the entire planet for purposes which had no socially redeeming values. And the world was made to believe that it somehow needed the United States to save it from communist darkness. ‘Just buy our weapons,’ said Washington, ‘let our military and our corporations roam freely across your land, and give us veto power over whom your leaders will be, and we’ll protect you…’[110]

There is no discernible difference between this view of America’s role in the Cold War and the crudest Communist caricature manufactured by the Kremlin leaders at their height, between the Stalinism of a Herbert Aptheker and the “anarchism” of a Noam Chomsky or the “progressivism” of a Howard Zinn – or the views expressed on scores of Internet websites like,,, and, which serve as the organizing venues of the “anti-war” movement.[111] When it comes to the perception of American policy and its purposes, these views are substantively the same: American policies and purposes are controlled by a corporate ruling class whose guiding interest is profit and plunder. External enemies are mythical; they serve merely as a smokescreen for suppressing revolts against the empire. Thus, in What Uncle Sam Really Wants, Chomsky writes: “[After World War II] US planners recognized that the ‘threat’ in Europe was not Soviet aggression … but rather the worker- and peasant-based antifascist resistance with its radical democratic ideals, and the political power and appeal of the local Communist parties.”[112]

The resistance movements Chomsky refers to, such as those in France and Greece, were dominated by Communists; their “radical democrat ideas” were to establish Soviet satellites and totalitarian states. The views of Chomsky, Zinn and Blum, which accurately reflect the political culture of the organizers of the movement against the war in Iraq reprise the Stalinist propaganda line during the Cold War and are based on long discredited Marxist analyses of the democratic West.[113] These views demonize America as a satanic force in the modern world, the force behind a global order of hierarchy and privilege that is responsible for the misery of the world’s impoverished masses. As long as America continues to maintain the will and ability to protect what radicals regard as a global order of “social injustice,” all reforms and social advances will be illusory. This is the meaning of Nicholas DeGenova’s claim that all progressives should wish for the defeat of American power in Iraq and elsewhere because America can have no place in a world that is at peace and just. It is the credo of the radical left, and its corrosive views have come to permeate the entire spectrum of the progressive cause.

[1] The date of the teach-in was Wednesday, March 26, 2003;

[2] For a description of this organization, see Greg Yardley, “Historians Against History,” July 11, 2003

[3] The petition was titled, “We Charge Genocide.” The Wikipedia entry omits the fact that this was a Communist petition and that all the signers were Party members and fellow travelers.

[4] “It is unthinkable … that American Negroes would go to war on behalf of those who have oppressed us for generations …against a country [the Soviet Union] which in one generation has raised our people to full human dignity of mankind.” New York Times April 4, 1949. Philip S. Foner, ed. Paul Robeson Speaks, Secaucus, 1978, p. 537 n.1

[5] John P. Diggins, “Fate and Freedom in History: The Two Worlds of Eric Foner,” The National Interest, Fall 2002; available online at

[6]Theodore Draper, “Freedom and Its Discontents,” New York Review of Books, September 23, 1999. Foner even “pays tribute to Communists for enlarging the scope of American freedom.”

[7] Albert Vetere Lannon, Second String Red: The Life of Al Lannon, American Communist, Lanham, 1999, p. 151. The author is Lannon’s son.

[8] Lewis refused to take a “no strike” pledge, while A. Philip Randolph refused to call off the 1943 March on Washington. Lewis Coser and Irving Howe, The American Communist Party, New York, 1974

[9] John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, New Haven 1999. See Appendices A and B for lists of “Americans and U.S. Residents Who Had Covert Relationships with Soviet Intelligence Agencies.”

[10] Maurice Isserman and Ellen Schrecker, “‘Papers of a Dangerous Tendency:’ From Major Ande’s Boot to the Venona Files,” in Cold War Triumphalism, New York, 2004, p. 157

[11] Gerhart Niemeyer, Deceitful Peace: A New Look at the Soviet Threat, NY 1971, p. 205. Cited in Aileen Kraditor, “Jimmy Higgins,” The Mental World of the American Rank-and-File Communist 1930-1958, NY 1988, p. 2

[12] Cited in John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, In Denial: Historians, Communism and Espionage, San Francisco 2003, p. 53; Cf. Aileen Kraditor, op. cit.

[13] Haynes-Klehr, ibid. The statement is from a book written by one of the Communist Party’s leading trainers of cadre.

[14] West’s comment is on the jacket cover of an anthology by the magazine’s editors, Noel Ignatiev (a Sixties Maoist) and John Garvey. Race Traitor, New York, 1996. In the words of’s reviewer, “The journal Race Traitor began in 1992 with one lofty ambition: ‘to serve as an intellectual center for those seeking to abolish the white race.’” West was a political consultant to the Democratic Party campaigns of former Senator Bill Bradley and Al Sharpton.

[15] Witness, NY 1952, p. 524

[16] Of course, they do not apply the same standard to revolutionary movements and regimes, which are struggling to bring a just society to birth. The failures of revolutionary movements and regimes are to be explained by the opposition of the old regimes, and their efforts to strangle the revolutionary utopia at birth.

[17] Gerhart Niemeyer, Between Nothingness and Paradise, South Bend, 1998, pp.96-7.

[18] Niemeyer, op. cit.

[19] Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. The words are approvingly quoted by Marx from Goethe’s Faust where they are uttered by Mephistopheles.

[20] Aileen Kraditor, “Jimmy Higgins:” The Mental World of the American Rank-and-File Communist, 1930-1958, 1988

[21] Kraditor, op. cit. pp. 60-61

[22] Herbert Aptheker, History and Reality, NY 1955, p. 112. Cited in Kraditor, op.cit. p.62. The book was by author Cleveland Amory.

[23] Kraditor, op. cit. p. 62.

[24] Also present were Communist professor Angela Davis, and History Department member Manning Marable who had been a member of the Committee on Correspondence, a faction of the American Communist Party led by Davis that had been expelled because of its opposition to the attempted coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991.

[25] Horowitz, “America Under Siege,” op. cit. The speaker was Malik Shabazz, a graduate of Howard University, a lawyer and the leader of the New Black Panthers.

[26] Stephanie Courtois and Mark Kramer, The Black Book of Communism, Harvard, 1999

[27] “The Road to Nowhere,” in Horowitz, The Politics of Bad Faith, NY 1998; Martin Malia, The Soviet Tragedy, NY 1994

[28] Hollander (272)

[29] Cf. Horowitz, “The Road to Nowhere,” op. cit.

[30] Of course, after 1956, their defense of Communism was qualified. New Leftists generally referred to their “critical support” of the Soviet bloc to signal its qualified nature. Such support was summed up in a famous article of the Sixties by Andrew Kopkind called “Two Cheers for the Soviet Union.” See discussion below.

[31] E.g., Daniel Singer, “1989: The End of Communism?” in George Katsiaficas, After the Fall, NY 2001, pp. 13, 15, 128, 130, 134, 144. Again the caveat must be made that not all leftists took this view, in particular those who had supported the anti-Communist Cold War effort of the United States and the Western powers.

[32] Paul Hollander, Discontents: Post-Modern and Post-Communist, New Brunswick, p. 281 Cf. also two typical collections (with the same name): Robin Blackburn, ed. After the Fall, Verso, 1991 and George Katsiaficas, After the Fall, Routledge, 2001

[33] Wall Street Journal, November 25, 1991

[34] Verbal communication by Christopher Hitchens to the author. Hobsbawm was piqued by the fact that the Party had not sent him a request for renewal.

[35] Author David Caute, for example, has called him “arguably our greatest living historian – not only Britain’s, but the world’s.” Jacket blurb, Interesting Times, op. cit.

[36] A reference to Hobsbawm’s four-volume history of industrial capitalism, from a review by Joseph Keppler, Seattle Times, April 16, 1995

[37] An analysis of the book is contained in Horowitz, The Politics of Bad Faith, NY 1998, pp. 17 et seq.

[38] Hobsbawm, Interesting Times: A Twentieth Century Life, New York, 2002, pp. 55-56

[39] Cf. John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, In Denial: Historians, Communism and Espionage, San Francisco 2003, which analyzes the responses of American historians to the fall of Communism and the opening of the Soviet archives. Tony Kushner’s Perestroika provides a cultural expression of the nostalgia progressives feel towards their failed and criminal past.

[40] Interesting Times, op. cit. Cf. also Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s review of the autobiography in the New York Times, September 5, 2003, titled “Still Saluting the Red Flag After the Flag Pole Fell.”

[41] This is evident both in his final work, The Age of Extremes, in his post-Communist articles (see following footnote) and in the interviews he has given in the last decade

[42] “After the Fall,” in Robin Blackburn, ed. After The Fall, The Failure of Communism and the Future of Socialism, London 1991, pp. 122-3. Interesting Times, p. 280

[43] Interesting Times, pp. 280-281. Luxemburg famously said that mankind was faced with a choice between “socialism or barbarism.”

[44] Greg Yardley, “Historians Against History,” July 11, 2003

[45] Gerda Lerner, Fireweed, A Political Autobiography, Philadelphia. 2002, p. 369

[46] Technically, of course, the United States was neutral. But American sympathies clearly lay with Hitler’s victims, while the aim of the Communist peace movement was to keep America neutral. See, Harvey Klehr, The Heyday of American Communism, op. cit.

[47] Lerner, op. cit., p. 370. In her catalogue of utopian ideas, Lerner includes “idealism and heroism.” But this is just typical radical bad faith. The idea of human perfectibility – of a society embracing the ideals of social justice – is integrally connected to the Communist catastrophe. But in what way do a belief in the possibility of individual heroes and/or noble aspirations lead to Marxist gulags? They don’t. Nor are they concepts specific to Marxism and Communism.

[48] For example: Leo Pannitch and Sam Ginden, “Transcending Pessimism: Rekindling Socialist Imagination” in George Kastiaficas, ed. After the Fall: 1989 and the Future of Freedom, NY 2001. “The socialist ‘utopian’ goal is built around our potential to be full human beings.” p. 179

[49] Interview with Joan Fisher, Wisconsin Academy Review, Spring 2002 Vol. 48, No. 2,;

[50] Op. cit., p. 371

[51] E.g., Martin Malia, The Soviet Tragedy, NY 1995 and Leszek Kolakowski, Main Currents in Marxism: The Breakdown, Vol. III, Oxford, 1981

[52] On the new terminology as an attempt to speak American, see James Miller, Democracy Is In The Streets, NY 1988. On the similarity in the meaning of the concepts, see Horowitz, “The Port Huron Statement and the War on Terror,” Glazov, ed. Left Illusions: An Intellectual Odyssey, Dallas 2003. This article is also included in this Volume of this Series.

[53] See Oglesby’s speech “Name the System” , Miller, Democracy Is In The Streets, op. cit., and Horowitz, “Hand-Me-Down-Marxism,” in Left Illusions, Dallas 2003

[54] I was also an editor of Root and Branch. The journals were Studies on the Left and New University Thought.

[55] Robert Scheer and Maurice Zeitlin, Cuba: Tragedy In Our Hemisphere, NY 1961. (I helped to edit this book). Scheer is a also a lecturer at the Annenberg School of Communications at USC.

[56] Cuba: Tragedy in Our Hemisphere, NY 1961

[57] I was one of those Root and Branch editors.

[58] CIA World Fact Book,

[59] Argiris Malapanis, UCLA Symposium, “LA Symposium Debates Che and the Cuban Revolution,” The Militant, November 24, 1997 The Militant is an organ of the pro-Castro Socialist Workers Party (SWP)

[60] An appropriate term for these groups might be “paleo-communists.”

[61] Chris Hedges, “A Longtime Antiwar Activist, Escalating the Peace,” New York Times, February 4, 2003

[62] Kate Zernike and Dean E. Murphy, “A Nation At War: Dissent – Antiwar Effort Emphasizes Civility Over Confrontation,” New York Times, March 29, 2003 and Michelle Goldberg, “Peace Goes Mainstream,”, January 20, 2003.

[63] Leslie Cagan, “It Should Be Possible, It Has To Be Possible,”, June 1998; communication from Ronald Radosh who was familiar with Cagan in the 1960s.

[64] Cagan, op. cit.

[65] Todd Gitlin, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage, 1987

[66] The article is included in a new book, The Fight Is For Democracy: New Liberal Unorthodoxies, edited by George Packer. NY 2003

[67] Ibid. p. 119

[68] This is a revealing slip. The Vietnamese flags present in the antiwar demonstrations were Vietcong flags – the flags of the Communist-controlled South Vietnamese National Liberation Front, not North Vietnam flags. There would not have been North Vietnamese flags since the left maintained (falsely) that the Vietnamese liberation struggle was a struggle for self-determination by the Vietnamese in South Vietnam.

[69] E.g., Bui Tinh, From Enemy To Friend: A North Vietnamese Perspective On The War, Annapolis, 2002; Truong Nhu Tang, A Viet Cong Memoir, NY 1985. Truong was Minister of Justice for the NLF. Col. Bui Tin was one of the architects of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the path of the Communists’ conquest of the South. He was a leader of the Hanoi regime and a personal friend of Ho Chi Minh. Truong Nhu Tang was a founder of the National Liberation Front.

[70] Bui Tin, Following Ho Chi Minh, 1995 p. 192

[71]Peter Collier and David Horowitz, “A Decade Overrated and Unmourned,” in Collier and Horowitz, Deconstructing the Left, Los Angeles, 1995 p. 9 See Part II, Volume One in this Series.

[72] Gitlin, “Varieties of Patriotic Experience,” op. cit. p. 133

[73] Op. cit., p. 134

[74] A response to the general radical indictment of America is to be found in Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About America?” Washington, 2002. America accounted for less than 1% of the world slave trade in Africans. For data on American slavery, see Horowitz, Uncivil Wars: The Controversy Over Slavery, San Francisco, 2001, p. 111

[75] What graves is he talking about? There were indeed isolated massacres of Indians just as there were isolated massacres by Indians. But “mass graves” representing actual genocides? This is a charge more readily put to the Aztecs than to the European settlers in North America.

[76] Larissa MacFarqhuar, “The Devil’s Accountant,” The New Yorker, March 31, 2003; Guardian quote cited in Keith Windschuttle, “The Hypocrisy of Noam Chomsky,” The New Criterion, May 2, 2003

[77] Noam Chomsky, Class Warfare, 1966, pp 122-3

[78] Barry Loberfeld, “The Coercive Anarchism of Noam Chomsky,” January 31, 2003; Loberfeld is a libertarian.

[79] Op. cit., p. 73

[80] Op. cit., p. 64

[81] See H-DIPLO March 2003 logs. Confronted by John Williamson with the untenability of his statements, Chomsky claimed that he had never made them and that the New Yorker reporter Larissa MacFarquhar had merely made them up. In fact the entire event, including the exchange cited by MacFarquhar was videotaped by C-Span, and showed that Chomsky was lying. John Williamson, “Chomsky, Linguistics and Me,” Peter Collier and David Horowitz, eds. The Anti-Chomsky Reader, Encounter Books, 2004

[82] In fact, the evidence is that there was no contact before 1948.

[83] Werner Cohn, “Chomsky and the Holocaust Deniers,” in Collier and Horowitz, eds., The Anti-Chomsky Reader, op. cit.,

[84] Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, “Interviewing Chomsky,”, September 18, 2001. Christopher Hitchens, “Of Sin, the Left and Islamic Fascism,”, The Nation, October 8, 2001

[85] Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, “Interviewing Chomsky,”, September 18, 2001. Pearl Harbor doesn’t count in Chomsky’s calculus of attacks on the national territory because Hawaii was a “colony” at the time. The fact that it was a benignly run colony and that it is now a proud state of the Union counts for nothing, of course, in Chomsky’s view.

[86] Transcript available at

[87] Cited in David Horowitz and Ronald Radosh, “Noam Chomsky’s Jihad Against America,” in Collier and Horowitz, The Anti-Chomsky Reader, op. cit. The relief agencies’ alarm was not unrelated to the leftwing politics of the relief community and the charges of Chomsky himself.

[88] Chomsky’s remarks were also reported in the October 9, 2001 edition of the Tehran Times.

[89] An impressive array of leftwing media outlets provide platforms for Chomsky’s views. In addition to bibliographical Internet sites devoted to his work, they include The Nation, The Progressive, The Boston Review of Books,,,,,, the Pacifica Radio network and PBS to name a few. Chomsky’s influence is discussed in Richard Posner, Public Intellectuals

[90] Howard Zinn, Terrorism and War, NY 2002. Like Chomsky’s 9-11, which sold 200,000 copies and was translated into many languages, Zinn’s tract is a one-(small)-volume interview about these themes.

[91] MIT professor Joshua Cohen. Cohen told the author this in a private communication.

[92] Zinn, A People’s History, p. 646. “Objectivity is impossible , and it is also undesirable. That is, if it were possible it would be undesirable, because if you have any kind of a social aim, if you think history should serve society in some way; should serve the progress of the human race; should serve justice in some way, then it requires that you make your selection on the basis of what you think will advance causes of humanity.” Cited in Dan Flynn, “Master of Deceit,” a review of Zinn’s book, June 3, 2003

[93] Zinn, A People’s History, p. 23

[94] Zinn, op. cit., pp. 658-9

[95] “Scattered Soviet materials have shown that Soviet involvement in preparing and planning an invasion after Stalin gave his reluctant endorsement in January 1950 was higher than previous writers had thought.” Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, NY 1998, p.263. As it happens Cumings is a leftwing historian.

[96] Zinn, op. cit. p. 59

[97] Zinn, op. cit. p. 73

[98] “Varieties of Patriotic Experience,” op. cit. p. 120

[99] John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, In Denial: Historians, Communism and Espionage, Encounter 2003, p. 1

[100] Robin West, Progressive Constitutionalism: Reconstructing the Fourteenth Amendment, Durham 1994, pp. 17-18

[101] Gitlin, op. cit. p.122

[102] Gitlin, op. cit. p.120

[103] Stephen Morris, “Whitewashing the Cataclysm,” in Collier and Horowitz, eds. The Anti-Chomsky Reader, op. cit.

[104] Norman Mailer, “The White Man Unburdened,” New York Review of Books, July 17, 2003

[105] James Weinstein, The Long Detour: The History and Future of the American Left, p. 225 Weinstein was a founding editor of Studies on the Left and the founder and publisher of In These Times.

[106] “Chomsky on War,”, March 31, 2003

[107] “Daniel Ellsberg on Iraq,”, January 31, 2003

[108] William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide To The World’s Only Superpower, Common Courage Press, Monroe Maine, 2000, p. 1

[109] William Blum, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Common Courage Press, Monroe Maine, 1995, p. 1. Blum has a website called “The American Holocaust” and speaks widely on American campuses and abroad.

[110] Rogue State, op. cit p. 1

[111] Andrew Boyd, “The Web Rewires The Movement,” The Nation, August 4, 2003;

[112] Noam Chomsky, What Uncle Sam Really Wants, Odonian Press, 1992, p. 15

[113] For an analysis of this movement, see discussion below…