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Red Hunting in the Promised Land: Anti-communism and the Making of America.

Joel Kovel, the Alger Hiss professor of social studies at Bard College, brings an original and ingenious perspective to the history of the American Left in Red Hunting in the Promised Land: Anticommunism and the Making of America (Basic Books. 331 pages. $25.00), though his book is not so much about the Left as about efforts to suppress it. Kovel set out to discover "why this nation, of all the capitalist powers the least threatened by Communism, has been the most floridly anticommunist."

Kovel concedes that "Communism failed, both in the United States and in the world at large, for intrinsic reasons as well as because of what was done to it," but his focus is on what was done to it and why. His thesis is that there was never a "Soviet menace" that actually imperiled the United States, or an internal threat of the kind conjured up by generations of rightwingers. Rather, he posits a mythic persecution of vulnerable outsiders that dates back to the beginnings of the American experience, and that directly relates persecution of minorities to persecution of political dissidents.

"Black Americans," Kovel writes, "were considered basically subhuman animals while Native Americans became the inhuman devils (a beast, too, though of the apocalypse) flitting through the wilderness beyond the city upon the hill; two nightmares as yet undigestible by the dominant culture, the one sedimenting into white racism, the other into anticommunism."

In a brief review, I can't begin to do justice to the intricate connections Kovel draws between America's treatment of its original inhabitants and its relentless attack on radicals. The parallels are fascinating, though I found them not fully persuasive. Still, Red Hunting in the Promised Land is well worth reading, if only for its keenly etched portraits of such redhunters as Father Coughlin, J. Edgar Hoover, Joseph R. McCarthy, and John Foster Dulles.

Kovel also provides a cogent response to the capitalist triumphalism that has flourished since the collapse of Soviet communism, and a moderately hopeful perspective from which to view the current disarray of the Left.

He writes, "Many sophisticated people have come around to the view that left and right no longer have real meaning in today's fragmented politics. But it seems to me that we still need to think in these terms, not because there is anything like a substantial, organized Left in America today (after all, if there were, then how could we write of the triumph of anticommunism?) or because there is any coherent "left" program to rescue us, but because the term, left, signifies the voice that speaks for the underside. This voice may not speak out; it may not be conscious at any given time. But as long as society is polarized by domination it exists as a potentiality."
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Author:Knoll, Erwin
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1994
Words:464
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