Printer Friendly

Divided They Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996.

David Horowitz reminisces: "My parents and their comrades were indeed conspirators .... the elaborate network of front organizations they created to camouflage their agendas, their practice of infiltrating and subverting liberal organizations, and the disingenuousness with which they presented themselves as 'progressives' all added up to a suspicious case."

Horowitz was raised in Sunnyside Gardens, a ten-block development in Long Island City he remembers as a kind of Communist outpost of Greenwich Village colonized by party activists who included a sprinkling of creative types like the painters Moses and Raphael Soyer. Horowitz's parents were teachers, forced from their jobs in 1952 for refusing to answer questions about their party membership.

"For thirty-five years," he writes, "I followed my father's footsteps and believed in his earthly redemption." As a 26-year-old ex-Berkeley activist he gained prominence in 1965 with Free World Colossus, a critique of the United States, role in instigating the cold war. In the early seventies, he and Peter Collier co-edited Ramparts magazine; they also wrote a best seller about the Rockefeller empire, and, later, books about the Kennedys and Fords, Horowitz helped the Black Panthers set up the Oakland Community Learning Center.

But in the mid-seventies, Horowitz shed his Marxism, indeed his entire left-liberal orientation, and ceased being politically active. Reading Kolakowski, J.L. Talmon and Solzhenitsyn, he gleaned that human beings were "corrupt in their nature," so it was "better to be governed by markets." He publicly aired his new doubts about socialism, the unraveling continued and by die early eighties he had metamorphosed into a full-fledged neoconservative, a champion of Reagan's anticommunist crusade in Central America. In 1987 he and Collier were sent by the State Department to Nicaragua to "share our expertise as ex-New Leftists on how to stir up trouble" for the Sandinistas. Today, at the helm of his own rightwing foundation, the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, he compares himself to Whittaker Chambers--as have others.

Radical Son is a half-memoir, half-diatribe that keeps returning to the theme of Horowitz's father@ his servitude to the party, his phobic and depressed nature. These passages take on a strangely moving and poetic quality as he attempts to convey his father's emotional paralysis and ineffectuality.

Upon hearing of Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin's criminality and mass murders; his parents went into a state of debilitating shock. Still, Horowitz castigates them for crimes of which they were ignorant and in which they played no part. It is a pattern he repeats with former comrades and acquaintances on the left, whom he holds accountable for every action undertaken in the name of leftism. Setting up almost crackpot chains of causality, he charges the antiwar movement with responsibility for Khmer Rouge atrocities and murders by the Vietcong. Yet when it comes to the United States, Realpolitik complicity with fascism, Horowitz totally lacks the comparative judgment and moral core to condemn it. His big tent even has room for Franco, who, he says, "after defeating the Communists ... established a social order in Spain that launched an economic miracle, and made a peaceful transition to democracy possible."

Horowitz mounts a sort of ad hominem attack upon Marxism. He excoriates the left for its hypocrisy, dishonesty and exaltation of criminality. To convey this in a fully visceral way, perhaps, he punctuates his chapters with a series of vignettes showing former left acquaintances-often people peripheral to his life-making stupid remarks or behaving obnoxiously. (The gossip and name-dropping may well be the only reason those familiar with Horowitz will thumb through the book.) He feels betrayed and disillusioned by individuals in the movement, so it seems his reflexive reaction is to embrace automatically the very worst aspects of their opponents and to portray the West as a positive force.

Horowitz claims it was the murder of an acquaintance, Betty Van Patter, by the Black Panthers in December 1947 that precipitated his political transformation. Van Patter was a former employee of Ramparts whom Horowitz recommended to the Panthers as a bookkeeper, she apparently attempted to delve too deeply into the party's finances, and was found murdered. From second- and thirdhand information and personal assumptions about the character of alleged perpetrators, he has convinced himself of the identity of die killers. He has been engaged in a noisy public campaign to implicate former Panther leader Elaine Brown.

Horowitz developed a friendship with Huey Newton in the early seventies, when the Panther Party was disintegrating, fratricidally split after scores of its members had been killed or imprisoned, casualties of COINTELPRO, the government's campaign against the left. Until then, he had shunned the Panthers ("Because of my aversion to the Panthers, violent dogmatism, I had never set foot in any of their facilities"). But when the party was in its death throes and Newton was increasingly erratic, violent and addicted to cocaine, Horowitz visited him in his penthouse and came away believing he had "found a political soul mate." When he told Newton the Leninist principle of centralism had proved a catastrophe and he should dissolve the party, Newton "surprised me by agreeing."

"Having Huey's ear made me feel politically powerfull in a new way," he writes. It "promised to increase whatever influence my ideas might have." The friendship also increased his "cachet in Hollywood," where he attended drug parties with Newton and "Huey would turn to me for his final companionship of the evening." Although he was unaware of Newton's addiction, and the dubious activities of his "Squad" in Oakland, he berates "the left" for deliberately concealing the Panthers, criminal activities and building a wall of silence around Van Patter's death. Horowitz apparently thinks the entire New Left regarded the Panthers as its revolutionary vanguard in 1975. For Horowitz, the basis for understanding the antiwar movement and all other activism of the period is recognizing that it is rooted in the Stalinism of the American Communist Party. So just as the old left defended Stalin, the New Left become "frontier guards" for the Panthers and their crimes, and he ponders the left's "criminal-intellectual" mindset.

But plainly it's the Panthers, goals Horowitz finds unworthy. When he's speaking of the contras, of course, their ultimate vision is all that matters. "Individual crimes ... were not the issue, but only a pretext for both sides to claim political advantage. The real issue was the order that would prevail." It's hardly surprising to find him claiming that the repressive campaign against the Panthers was just a myth created by the left, and that "the authorities we accused of harassing them were surprisingly forbearing and on occasion even showed exceptional consideration." The thirty or so killed by police would be happy to know their lives were taken in the spirit of forbearance.

Horowitz's "pilgrimage ... from the snug progressive ghettoes" of his parents has netted him a financial windfall. The Olin, Bradley and Scaife foundations fund his Center for the Study of Popular Culture to the tune of @@ million per year, enabling it to employ a staff of twenty and publish books and pamphlets under his Second Thoughts imprint, as well as run four magazines, a weekly radio show, a national lawyers network and various organizations and newsletters targeting the entertainment industry.

A friend of Horowitz's who has followed a similar course is Ronald Radosh, ex-revolutionary historian. Horowitz remembers recruiting Radosh as a contributor to the "Youth Page" of the Daily Worker when they were both 13, and they stayed in touch over the years, having themselves photographed together at Marx's grave in the sixties, fists raised in the Bolshevik salute. Horowitz informed Radosh of his suspicions about the Rosenbergs, guilt, and as Horowitz tells it, this inspired Radosh to start work on The Rosenberg File. Horowitz is also the impetus behind Radosh's new book, Divided They Fell.. The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996, which "had its start with a suggestion made by David Horowitz and Peter Collier after their ... Second Thoughts conference in I H@, at which former radicals and liberals looked back to reevaluate and reconsider their views."

Though he "remains a registered Democrat, albeit one who is on the center-right of that party," Radosh has concluded that "the Democratic Party ... has collapsed beyond repair." He assigns this to a single cause: its capture by antiwar and civil rights activists who backed McGovern in 1972. Over the next decade and a half, he argues, these New Politics liberals oriented the Democratic Party to the agendas of black radicals and other left-liberals. Radosh entirely ignores any economic and demographic reasons for the breakup of the "old Democrat" alignment of trade unions, solid South and ethnic machines.

Radosh believes the Democratic Party is still reverberating from the New Politics of the McGovernites. He condemns the guidelines of the McGovern Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection, adopted in, which instituted affirmative action in the selection of convention delegates, because they had the effect of gearing the party to "liberal constituency groups and activists rather than to the traditional Democratic electorate" represented by union leaders and professional politicians. But, as Mike Davis outlines in Prisoners of the American Dream, a few years later the reforms were reversed -- and the nominating process made less accessible to activists. Superdelegate seats were guaranteed to officeholders, quotas were relaxed, the number of primaries was reduced and the primary season was front-loaded to guarantee success to the officially favored candidate.

Though it's clear the party moved to the right in the second half of Carter's term, adopted even stronger pro-business positions in the eighties -- when it seemed like an auxiliary to the Reagan Administration -- and is now entirely taken over by neoliberals, Radosh perceives a continuing left-wing momentum. Using the familiar demagogy about liberal "elites" disfranchising working-class Americans, he portrays the Democratic Party as a kind of extremist fringe far to the left of the electorate, financed entirely by unions and Hollywood liberals. It's not surprising that he conveniently overlooks the underwriting of the Democratic Party by corporations and the very wealthy, not to mention foreign lobbyists.

Like many far better minds, Radosh feels the task of rebuilding the Democratic Party is insurmountable. But instead of calling for a new party that addresses maldistribution of wealth, he wants a party based on "fiscal and personal responsibility, cultural conservatism, and a more limited and constrained social safety net." Several years back, his heart was with the Democratic Leadership Conference and its former leader, Bill Clinton, whom he praises for supporting NAFTA, welfare "reform" and the death penalty. Efts current rejection of Clinton hinges on the President's residual support for affirmative action and his attempts to appoint a Cabinet that "looks like America." For Radosh, the strategy for creating a new majority party lies in winning back the white ethnic vote by attacking cultural liberalism, affirmative action, "identity-group politics" and, above all, distancing the party from the dispossessed. In the face of ever-increasing, intractable poverty and growing economic polarization, his only solution is to batten down the middle-class fortress.
COPYRIGHT 1997 The Nation Company L.P.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Deacon, Kathy
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 17, 1997
Words:1826
Previous Article:Radical Son: A Journey Through Our Times.
Next Article:Meridel LeSueur, 1900-1996.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters