The Black Book of the American Left, Volume I: My Life and Times dwelt heavily on author David Horowitz’s personal journey from the hard left as a “red diaper” child of Communists to leadership in the New Left movement. We followed the anguished transitional trajectory that began with Horowitz’s reflections on the New Left’s role in America’s Vietnam defeat, and his visceral recoil from the criminal excesses of the Black Panther Party. These attacks on his settled convictions provoked profound self-interrogation, leading to an intellectual pivot away from the theories, antipathies and loyalties that had for so long defined his identity.
Volume II surveys the wreckage blotting the landscape of “progressivism,” a barrier island to Communism’s landmass. Here we find the unbroken bridge linking Communism to the received wisdom of the vast majority of academics in the West, who download them into vulnerable students en masse. The Marxist vision that sustained Stalin’s supporters in the 1940s and 1950s is alive and well in the post-colonialist and identity obsessions of postmodern theorists. Utopians then, utopians still, Horowitz finds their vision of social justice is still attended by the same suppression of “incorrect” thought and speech, the same self-righteousness, the same illiberalism in dealing with critics and apostates that were – are – the hallmarks of Communism.
Progressives may refer to themselves as “liberals,” but that is a misnomer Horowitz strenuously proscribes. Classical liberalism in our culture was largely vanquished in the counter-cultural revolution, though the odd grey-haired academic adherent pops into view now and then, seeming baffled by what has become of the noble assumptions of his youth. Referring to leftists as liberals launders their intellectual and political lineage. Real liberals – especially liberal scholars – don’t excommunicate their peers for deviating from the party line. Communists did; New Leftists did (as Horowitz learned first hand when he left the movement and his entire circle of “friends” renounced him); and progressives still do.
Take the case of feminist scholar Aileen Kraditor, Professor Emerita of History at Boston University. Aileen who? Precisely Horowitz’s point. Even though much of my journalistic effort is spent in exposing the misandry and other cultural crimes springing directly from feminist theories, I had never heard of Aileen Kraditor prior to seeing her name in Volume I of The Black Book (she is mentioned again in Volume II).
According to Horowitz, Kraditor, a feminist historian in good – even iconic – standing during the years she was a card-carrying Communist, was virtually “disappeared” from the feminist movement when she renounced Communism. Horowitz provided a mere thumbnail sketch, praising her work, and explaining why this once-admired scholar of the suffragette movement now languishes in near-obscurity, but it was enough to pique my curiosity.
I ordered Kraditor’s fascinating 1988 book, “Jimmy Higgins”: The Mental World of the American Rank-and-File Communist, 1930-1958, paying a hefty price for one of what seems to be a dwindling pile of remainders, but it was worth it. In the book’s foreword, Kraditor notes how difficult it was to get it published at all, acknowledging Horowitz as one of a handful of people who helped her bring the book to the world’s attention. (Interestingly, Jimmy Higgins is not cited amongst her writing achievements on her Boston U blurb.)
That’s the effect Horowitz’s writing has on me – to long to know more, that is – and I am sure I speak for many others of his readers. Horowitz knows the Left from the inside out. He recalls people and incidents everyone else has forgotten and recalls their words and deeds whole. Every essay is an intellectual assessment, but always contains a story, a plot, a human drama illuminating the eternal conflict between ideology and the individual conscience.
One of Horowitz’s special skills is to offers links, not only of beliefs handed down from previous incarnations of Marxist ideology, but precise little details that nail the object of his scorn to the wall, like the fact, adduced in the essay “The Peace Movement” in Volume II, that the fringe Workers World Party, the animating force behind the Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East’s 1990 march on Washington, was the same party that in the 1960s was “the only Trotskyite splinter to endorse the Soviet invasion of Hungary.” A palpable hit, one of hundreds.
The reprinted articles and speeches covering the 1990s and early 2000s in Volume II of The Black Book are broken down into four parts. In Part 1, introduced by an eponymous essay, “The Mind of the Left,” Horowitz elaborates on a theme he has raised many times: the Left’s belief in a perfect future necessarily results in hatred of the imperfect present. He joins post-9/11 apologism for terror to the reflexive anti-Americanism of the Left’s antecedents. Post 9/11 progressives seeking “root causes” for our enemies’ hatred in American sins were following the same nihilist and utopian agendas as their political forebears.
Here Horowitz makes the pithy observation that old-style traitors like Benedict Arnold considered themselves true American patriots, acting in the interest of preserving and strengthening American honor, while modern traitors believe the higher form of patriotism is to shame and subvert America, an existential difference.
Modern traitors inculpate themselves. Speaking for his ideological peers, former president of SDS Todd Gitlin said: “The most painfully public emotion in our lives was rejecting patriotism.” Unregenerate Communist Eric Hobsbaum – he died in 2012 – admitted: “To this day I notice myself treating the memory and traditions of the USSR with an indulgence and tenderness.” He was a frequent guest on the campus circuit. Anarchist guru Noam Chomsky, a hero to countless leftists, cheerfully identifies America as “the greatest terrorist state.” Horowitz’s portrait of Howard Zinn, a Stalinist in youth, whose recent death has not halted the indoctrination of millions of young Americans into national shame through his wildly popular A People’s History of the United States, reveals Zinn as an unscrupulous ideologue, unabashedly open about his intention to expose American history as a litany of evils by white euro-centrists visited on “the people”: Indians, blacks, women and workers.
Horowitz concludes of the modern traitors: “In sum, America can do no right; even the right America does is wrong; and the wrongs are monstrous. This syllogism captures the entire logic of the anti-American mind.”
In Part II, “After the Sixties,” Horowitz takes on the 1970s radicals’ “long march through the institutions.” Particularly noteworthy is the entry, “Angela Davis at Dartmouth,” a 1988 speech Horowitz gave at Dartmouth College, both for the lurid story of Davis’ adventures with little-remembered multiple-murderer lover George Jackson (she was indicted as an accomplice to murder, but never convicted) and for the liveliness of the writing. (Horowitz’s writing is never less than elegant, but his spoken-word pieces bring him into unusually intimate connection with the reader.)
For Elaine Brown a day without the possibility of somebody being punished was a day without sunshine (even if it was herself: “by her own account, [Brown] was bull-whipped for missing an editorial deadline”). She too became a regular on the blame-America campus circuit – not in spite of her anti-Americanism and engagement with revolutionary criminals, but because of them.
Progressives have done their best to cast negative memories of the Black Panthers into the historical oubliette, and have largely succeeded; but Horowitz is their nemesis on the subject. He circles back to the Panthers constantly in his writings, unearthing all the forgotten names, all the forgotten sins.
His essay, “Progressive Education, Panther Style (1997)” rebukes the media for their political amnesia, recounting as evidence the story of Geronimo Pratt, a cold-blooded killer who was viewed by the left as an “American Nelson Mandela.” When Pratt was released from prison on a technicality, not a single reporter checked the court records proving beyond any doubt that Pratt had murdered an elementary-school teacher on a tennis court three decades previously (that factoid – “on a tennis court” is typical Horowitz, the little narrative detail that humanizes), or interviewed the prosecutor. Instead they hung on and publicized the words of defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran who babbled police conspiracy theories. This essay sets that record straight.
In spite of his loathing of the Panthers, Horowitz is not implacable where redemption is sought. He shows his softer side in acknowledging the humanity of Panthers criminal Eldridge Cleaver. Cleaver, Horowitz writes in the essay, “Eldridge Cleaver’s Last Gift (1998),” “won my respect” when, in 1997, during a “60 Minutes” interview, he quietly condemned his past deeds, conceding that he had not appreciated in youth that America had been remarkably good to its minorities. He added, “If people had listened to Huey Newton and me in the 1960s, there would have been a holocaust in this country.” The interviewer didn’t respond to this remark, but Horowitz did: “In a world where it is so difficult to get a purchase on the truth, we can be thankful to [Cleaver] for providing us with one.”
Being thankful even to people we consider our ideological enemies when they step away from their errors is a human trait. And reacting more in sorrow than anger toward our ideological friends when we consider their speech or actions wrong is also a human trait (see Horowitz’s graciously firm criticism of Ann Coulter in his essay, “The Trouble with Treason”). But ideologues on the left are by definition incapable of common humanity when party lines are crossed.
In “The Secret Power of the Leftist Faith,” Horowitz explores the ruthless shunning – and worse – of “apostates” who deviate from the party line, a strategy that “keeps the faithful in line.” The most famous victim of progressive wrath was alpha pundit Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens’ crimes were his castigation of Clinton’s bombing of the Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq for the purpose of “distract[ing] attention from his filthy lunge at a beret-wearing cupcake [Monica Lewinsky]” and his exposure of Sidney Blumenthal as the willing agent of a corrupt regime, both captured in his 1999 book, No One Left to Lie To.
Blowback against this erstwhile icon of the Left was swift and harsh. One senses in it the kind of gut revulsion from the “unclean” we see in fundamentalist religions. Comrade after comrade blasted him in print. Longtime colleague at The Nation Alexander Cockburn denounced him as a “Judas.” He also accused him of being a closet gay and a sexual pervert. Todd Gitlin called Hitchens a “poison” who was no longer welcome to cross Gitlin’s threshold. Nobody stepped up to defend him. Horowitz concludes, “In blurting out the truth, Christopher has slammed the left up against its hypocrisies and threatened to unmask its sanctimonious pretensions.”
Hitchens resurfaces in a Part Three (“Loyalties”) essay, “The Destructive Romance of the Intellectuals,” in which Horowitz reviews novelist Martin Amis’ book about Soviet Communism, Koba the Dread. Hitchens was Amis’ best friend, yet Amis had the courage to challenge his friend’s tolerance and even support for ideas that produced such havoc on a grand scale. Addressing him directly – “Comrade Hitchens!” – Amis asks why, knowing what he knows, Hitchens doesn’t disavow his youthful regard for Trotsky and Lenin, as “These two men did not just precede Stalin. They created a fully functioning police state for his later use.”
There are some wonderful essays in this book that resist summary because it is the cumulative effect of the narratives in which the richness lies. I recommend “Three political Romances,” which unpacks “the Stalin school of falsification,” according to which historical data may be tortured in the interests of a more important historical “truth.” In this essay Horowitz strips the mendacious veneers from the self-serving personal myths propagated by “Guatemalan terrorist” Roberta Menchú (who won a Nobel prize for her lies); Stalinist propagandist and feminist doyenne Betty Friedan; and PLO apologist and bio-fictionalist Edward Said.
I also recommend a short essay, “A Question for the Millennium,” in which the still-functioning leftist magazine The Nation is reduced to moral rubble through a litany of the causes it has editorially supported: Stalinist collectivization, the purge-trials, the Nazi-Soviet pact, Pol Pot’s genocidal Cambodian campaign – and those causes it opposed: the formation of NATO, the security policies of Truman, Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan. As late as 2000,The Nation was still defending the innocence of Alger Hiss! With such a history, any self-respecting magazine would have thrown in the towel long ago. But to leftists the past is always “in another country”; and besides, its bloody wenches are always dead.
Far-left Journalist Robert Scheer is taken to the woodshed for a well-deserved drubbing in “Scheer lunacy at the Los Angeles Times (2001)”; the same for Noam Chomsky in “Guru of the Anti-American Left (2001)” (who else but Chomsky could write a history of World War II “without mentioning Hitler or noticing that the actions of the Axis powers so much as influenced its events[?]”) Ditto Tom Hayden and the SDS (“Even in 1962, [the late Irving] Howe understood that Hayden and his comrades were totalitarians in the making”).
In “The Left on Trial,” Horowitz eviscerates the disgusting leftist lawyer Lynne Stewart, who defended Omar Abdul Rahman (the “Blind Sheik” convicted of masterminding the 1993 World Trace Center bombing and plotting to kill 100,000 people in New York tunnels), and was herself convicted of aiding Rahman in furthering his terrorist agenda. Horowitz rightly sees her apologism for terror as emblematic of the Left’s mindset. Stewart assessed the 9/11 jihadists as “basically forces of national liberation.” In 2004, at a National Lawyers Guild annual convention, she attacked America as having “a poisonous government that spreads its venom to the body politic in all corners of the globe,” raising a glass to her heroes “Ho and Mao and Lenin, Fidel….” With the ashes of 3000 World Trade Center American victims barely cool, such are the people the National Lawyers Guild chooses to honor.
I was raised in the same era as Horowitz, but in a typically bourgeois Jewish home awash in Jewish values, but without ideology. So I really have no idea of what it is like to be indoctrinated with ideology every waking moment of one’s youth. I have always admired Horowitz for the intellectual independence that fueled his break with the Left, but didn’t appreciate how extraordinary his action was until I read his account of Robert Meeropol in “Guilt of the Son (2003),” which for memorability, psychological impact and illumination of the left’s imperviousness to moral clarity I think I must rate my favorite of this collection.
Meeropol was the younger of two sons orphaned by the execution of their infamous parents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, for treason (the boys kept the name of their adoptive parents, also diehard Stalinists). Robert and his brother Michael bore the unenviable burden of their Communist parents’ crimes of passing state secrets to the Soviets. For many years the sons denied their parents’ guilt, but newly-opened Soviet archives in the 1990s left no further room for doubt of it.
Horowitz describes meeting Robert Meeropol decades ago when he himself was having his famous “second thoughts” about the Left. He asked Robert with some trepidation if he could imagine that his parents were actually guilty, and Robert said that he could, an admission that touched Horowitz’s heart. Yet in 2003 Robert published a memoir, An Execution in the Family, in which the Rosenbergs are presented as heroes of an American “resistance,” and courageously loyal to a higher principle than a mere state. The memoir is, in Horowitz’s judgment “the story of a man whose adult life began as an effort to rehabilitate his parents for a crime he believed they did not commit, and ended as a crusade to justify the crimes they did commit.”
In Horowitz’s summary of Robert’s book, Meeropol comes off as a fragile and confused man, unable to find a comfortable career niche that would accommodate his leftist views. He is worthy of some sympathy, and yet both he and his more hardened brother consciously decided to make the crusade to clear their parents’ names their life’s work, in 1974 publishing the book We are Your Sons, and assuming the role of chief spokesmen and fundraisers in the Rosenbergs’ defence.
Not defense of their literal innocence, but defense of their Communist cause. It didn’t matter to them that the Rosenbergs stole the plans for American jet fighters or the trigger of the atomic bomb: What mattered was that they were demonstrating “resistance to the dominant forces of our society.” In other words, neither their parents’ crimes nor the Soviets’ crimes nor the fact that their parents put love of an ideology ahead of their love for their children have shaken their loyalty to the belief system that formed them.
Robert Meeropol found true happiness when he created the Rosenberg Fund for Children, a support group for the children of “political prisoners.” The fund’s first beneficiaries were the children of the “Ohio Seven,” a group of revolutionaries who robbed banks and carried out bombings against multinational corporations investing in apartheid South Africa in the 1970s and ‘80s. Another group of beneficiaries were the children of the Stalinist Communist Workers’ Party, whose leaders fomented suicidal incitement against the Ku Klux Klan in Greensboro, North Carolina, and were subsequently killed by them, becoming martyrs to the Left, remaining arrogant fools to the rest of us.
In 1997, a documentary filmmaker interviewed Robert’s children. They too are leftists who take pride in their heritage. Horowitz writes: “This is the secret of the left’s longevity, its ability to withstand the discrediting of its idea, to ignore the millions of its victims and thus to renew itself in the next generation. It is the creation of a culture, a historical narrative, and of a living community that perpetuates its myths, and sustains its progressive faith.”
In Jimmy Higgins, Aileen Kraditor tells us that
The process of ideological self-delusion takes place below the level of consciousness where “free and deliberate choice” occurs…Those who have never been ideologically self-brainwashed will never comprehend the nature of ideology until they understand how millions of intelligent and generally decent people – including themselves – can fall prey to it…In people possessed by an ideology, the need for what the ideology offers is so strong that it determines what they accept as evidence. Facts and logic can never make them change their fundamental worldview so long as the need for it remains as the organizing principle of their personalities.
Reading Jimmy Higgins, I see what it was that evoked Horowitz’s empathy for Kraitor. Not only does she nail the quintessential mindset of the ordinary Communist loyalist, arriving at the same conclusions as Horowitz, but one sees in her lavishly-detailed rendition of the fictional composite Jimmy Higgins an ideological portrait of Horowitz’s parents as he described them in his 1996 memoir, Radical Son.
It saddens me that Kraditor’s scholarly and profoundly insightful book, clearly a labor driven by the kind of prophetic zeal only former victims can really understand, has been lost to the mists of time. It is a comfort to know, however, that her name and mission live on in David Horowitz’s The Black Book of the Left series. There should be an honorific form of the normally pejorative “fellow travelers” to describe those who escaped from the ideological gulag. We may never really understand what it is like to live there, or what it takes to make the break away from its confines, but harkening attentively to those who’ve known slavery and freedom both is our duty, and in the case of David Horowitz’s The Black of the Left series, a richly rewarding pleasure, enhanced by the knowledge that there are many more volumes in the series to come.