Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Jamie Glazov, PhD: The Life and Work of David Horowitz

To read the entire essay at the Frontpage Magazine website, kindly click on this link:


From red-diaper baby to New Leftist to the Left's most formidable enemy.

Editor’s note: We are running the following essay by Jamie Glazov to mark the occasion of this week’s publication of Culture Wars, Volume 5 of David Horowitz's monumental work, The Black Book of the American Left. (Order Vol. 5 HERE.)

A shorter version of this essay was originally published by National Review Online.

David Horowitz was born in Forest Hills, New York, on January 10, 1939, the year of the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact, which shattered the illusions of many Communists and other members of the progressive left. But Horowitz’s school teacher parents, Blanche and Phil, remained steadfast in their commitment to the Party. They had met in Communist meetings in the early 1930s and engaged in what turned out to be a lifelong “political romance,” as David later described it in his autobiography, Radical Son, thinking of themselves as “secret agents” of the Soviet future.
Horowitz grew up in a Communist enclave in Queens called Sunnyside Gardens. As a child, he attended the Sunnyside Progressive School, a pre-kindergarten program the Party had set up and, as an adolescent, spent summers at a Party-run children’s camp called “Wo-Chi-Ca,” short for “Workers’ Children’s Camp.” In 1956, when Horowitz was seventeen, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev delivered a secret speech in the Kremlin about the crimes of Stalin. The “Khrushchev Report,” as it was subsequently called, was leaked by Israeli intelligence agents to the public, causing a crisis among the faithful. Party members who had previously dismissed claims by their opponents that Stalin was responsible for the deaths of millions as “slander,” now had no choice but to admit that the charges were true. They left the Party in a mass exodus that killed the Communist Party as a force in U.S. political life, although for many like Blanche and Phil Horowitz, it was impossible to give up the socialist faith.
Horowitz was a college freshman at Columbia University when the fallout from the Khrushchev revelations was causing a crisis in his parents’ circle. Opposed to Stalin but not to the socialist cause, he focused on his literary studies, taking courses with Lionel Trilling and other of Columbia’s distinguished faculty members. When he graduated in 1959 he married his college sweetheart, and moved to California where he began graduate studies in English literature at the University of California at Berkeley. There he met other “red diaper” babies who were determined to create a radical politics that would not bear the totalitarian baggage he believed had weighed his parents’ generation down and corrupted their political dreams.
Horowitz became an editor of a new magazine his circle of activists created called Root and Branch, which published essays embodying the political vision of the New Left two years before the Students for Democratic Society published the Port Huron Statement, which is generally regarded as the birth announcement of that movement. In 1962, he became one of the organizers of the first campus demonstration against the Vietnam War (at that point prosecuted by a few hundred advisors JFK had sent to support the Saigon regime), and in that year, while still a graduate student, he published Student, the first book to express the aspirations and worldview of the new radical generation.
Student portrays the university as the symbol of an oppressive corporate culture, foreshadowing the New Left critiques and campus eruptions to come. In dedicating his book to Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black and stressing his commitment to democratic politics, Horowitz also crystallized a difference between the fledgling New Left and the old Communist vanguard. Horowitz criticized the Soviet invasion of Hungary and equated it with America’s intervention in Cuba, and he broke with economic determinism and the idea that socialism had to follow a centralized plan. He knew how far he had strayed from the political world he had grown up in when the book was attacked by a reviewer in the People’s World, the Party’s west-coast organ.
Horowitz saw himself as a dedicated socialist, but some of his intellectual work in the early sixties strayed from dogma in a preview of the second thoughts that would shape his perspective two decades later. His literary studies led him to publish Shakespeare: An Existential View in 1965, a book that follows the Hegelian idea that human existence is defined not just by what actually is, but also by what might be. He mined the work of Shakespeare to explore the tension between this romance of the possible and the skeptical out-look, which constantly reminds us of the brute facts of an existence from which we cannot escape.
In an article for Root and Branch called “The Question About Meaning” Horowitz rejected Marxist determinism and endorsed the view that values are created by human will, and therefore that consciousness also determines being: “Everywhere, value attends commitment. Where men do not address their condition in the fullness of its claim, their experience fails to cross the threshold of significance. For value can exist effectively only where there are men committed to it. It is the commitment of men to the possible, to what is loftier than their attainment, beyond what the present has achieved, that permits the realization of the potential whose seed is already there.”
The idea of a spiritual dimension in which consciousness determines being and not the other way around was a trope from existentialism that contradicted Marxist materialism, even though at the time and in the flush of enthusiasm created by the notion of a “new” left, Horowitz did not realize nor pursue the implications of his ideas.
After publishing Student, Horowitz left California, taking his young family (he and his wife Elissa had a son in 1961) to Sweden—in part because he admired the work of the great Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman. During the year he spent there, he wrote The Free World Colossus, a “revisionist” history of the Cold War. It was one of the first expressions of the New Left’s fixation with the repressive workings of an American “empire,” and was ultimately translated into several languages. In the U.S., The Free World Colossus became a handbook for the growing anti-Vietnam War movement, providing a litany of America’s “misdeeds” abroad—the coups in Iran and Guatemala, the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam—that became a staple of left-wing indictments of America.
Needing a publisher for his manuscript, Horowitz wrote the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and was somewhat surprised to receive a job offer. He spent the years 1964-1967 in London, working for the British philosopher and for the man some saw as Russell’s Rasputin, Ralph Schoenman, but balked at the International War Crimes Tribunal, which Schoenman organized. The Tribunal was headed by Russell, Jean Paul Sartre and other leftwing intellectuals whose goal was to condemn America’s “war crimes” in Vietnam but ignore those committed by the Communists. It was a small but potent sign of the New Left’s ongoing reversion to Old Left politics, which would lead to Horowitz’s eventual exit from the movement
Horowitz had only a casual relationship with Russell, but while in London became close to and profoundly influenced by two European Marxists – Ralph Miliband, whose two sons eventually became leaders of the British Labor Party, and the Polish Trotskyist Isaac Deutscher, the famed biographer of Stalin and Trotsky. Under the tutelage of Deutscher, Horowitz’s writing career as a New Left intellectual flourished. He edited two books, Containment and Revolution and Corporations and the Cold War and wrote Empire & Revolution: A Radical Interpretation of Contemporary HistoryEmpire & Revolution was a reinterpretation of Marxism that offered a New Left perspective on imperialism, communism, and the Cold War. Heavily influenced by Deutscher and Trotsky, it represented Horowitz’s effort to rescue socialism from its Stalinist past and to reformulate a Marxist theory that would account for the horrors of Stalinism and yet still keep the prospect of a revolutionary future alive.
Horowitz returned to the U.S. in 1968 to become an editor at Ramparts magazine, the New Left’s largest and most successful publication, with a circulation of a quarter million readers. A liberal Catholic quarterly when it began in 1962, Ramparts revived the muckraking journalism of the Progressive era, becoming the voice of the anti-war movement. A few months before Horowitz was added to the staff (to provide “more theory,” in the words of then editor Warren Hinckle), Ramparts had caused a national furor with its revelation that the CIA had infiltrated the National Student Association and used it as a “front,” the first of several such exposes.
In 1969 Horowitz and his friend Peter Collier took over Ramparts in a palace coup against its editor Robert Scheer, whose peremptory style of leadership was creating major problems for its overworked staff. In 1973, Horowitz published The Fate of Midas and Other Essays, a collection of essays, which summarized his intellectual development up to that point including his attempts to integrate Keynesian economic theory with traditional Marxist analysis, part of his continuing project to provide the theoretical foundation for an authentically new left. The collection also featured personal appreciations of both Deutscher and Russell, and critiques of the violent Weather Underground and SDS.
By 1969, when he and Collier assumed the reins at Ramparts, the New Left was disintegrating into futile acts of “revolutionary” violence and rhetorical narcissism. Disturbed at the direction the movement was taking, but not yet able to contemplate a future as an outsider, Horowitz later said of his predicament: “I pretty well realized even at that time that you couldn’t really remake the world as the left intended without totalitarian coercion. But it was much more difficult to accept the consequences of that realization. For a long time, I simply could not face the possibility that there was no socialist future, that I was not going to be a social redeemer, and that we didn’t have the answers to humanity’s problems—in short, that I wasn’t part of an historic movement that would change the world.”
He thought that he had found an answer to the political paralysis of the early 1970s when he became close to Huey Newton, the leader of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, a group of black radicals that had jumped into the public view by making a point of carrying weapons in public and had been anointed the “vanguard of the revolution” by SDS leaders like Tom Hayden. Horowitz had avoided contacts with the Panthers in their overtly violent phase, but in 1970, Newton announced that it was “time to put away the gun” and turn to community activities. Seeing this as a constructive leftism, Horowitz found himself raising funds to purchase a Baptist church in Oakland’s inner city for the Panthers, which he turned into a “learning center” for 150 Panther children. He bought Newton’s view of incremental, community-based radical change, which seemed particularly salutary when juxtaposed to the nihilism of the Weather Underground’s bombing campaign that was reaching its height at the same time.
In September 1974 he recruited Ramparts bookkeeper, Betty Van Patter, to maintain the accounts of the tax-exempt foundation he had created to manage the Panther school. In December, Betty Van Patter’s bludgeoned body was found adrift in San Francisco Bay. The police were convinced she had been murdered by members of the Panther Party, but local prosecutors were unable to bring an indictment, and the federal government, under siege from the left, also steered clear of this crime, as did the press, which had largely bought into the notion that the Panthers had been targeted for destruction by racist law enforcement.
Entering what would become a ten-year, slow motion transformation from theorist of the left to its worst enemy, Horowitz undertook his own inquiry into the murder. As he collided with denial and threats of retribution if he continued to search, he was forced to confront three stark facts: his New Left outlook was unable to explain the events that had overtaken him; his lifelong friends and associates in the left were now a threat to his safety, since they would instinctively defend the Panther vanguard; and no one among them really cared about the murder of an innocent woman because the murderers were their political friends.
In the mind of the left, even questioning the Panthers’ role in Betty’s fate reflected disloyalty to the cause, since such curiosity could lead to devastating criticism of the Panthers and by extension the left itself, which had embraced the organization and turned its back on the truth that emerged from Van Patter’s death—that rather than a community service organization, Huey Newton had been running a black version of Murder Inc. in the Oakland ghetto.
Forced to look at his own commitments in a way he had never allowed himself before, Horowitz realized that it was the enemies of the left who had been correct in their assessment of the Panthers (just as they had been correct in their assessment of the Soviet Union), while the left had been disastrously wrong. The Panthers were not victims of police repression because they were political militants. They were ghetto thugs running a con on credulous white supporters, and committing crimes against vulnerable black citizens. It was the left and its “revolution” that had conferred on them the aura of a political vanguard, protecting them from being held accountable for their deeds.
As Horowitz considered the cynicism of his comrades’ reaction to Betty’s death, he recognized a familiar historical reality being played out on this smaller scale. Lies were being told to cover up murder. A collusive silence followed. Horowitz couldn’t help asking if there was something inherent in the socialist idea that led to the horrors committed in socialism’s name. He had to face the possibility that his entire life until then had been based on a lie. He had to face the connection between what he had experienced with the Panthers with the crimes his parents’ generation had defended, and thus to accept the fact that there was no “new” left, just a reiteration of the criminality that had been at the core of the left since Lenin – or the Jacobins and Babeuf. As he wrote: “It had been forty years since Stalin’s purges. The victims were dead, their memories erased. They were un-persons without public defenders, expunged even from the consciousness of the living. Those who knew the truth had to keep their silence, even as I had to keep mine. If we actually succeeded in making a revolution in America, and if the Panthers or similar radical vanguards prevailed, how would our fate be different from theirs? Our injustice, albeit mercifully smaller in scale, was as brutal and final as Stalin’s. As progressives we had no law to govern us, other than that of the gang.”
Everything Horowitz had previously believed, everything he had built his political life on, now crumbled before him. In a vignette that Horowitz wrote at the request the New York Times Magazine (which they predictably failed to print when they received it), he recounted the stages of his metamorphosis: “Being at the center of a heroic myth inspired passions that informed my youthful passage and guided me to the middle of my adult life. But then I was confronted by a reality so inescapable and harsh that it shattered the romance for good. A friend— the mother of three children—was brutally murdered by my political comrades, members of the very vanguard that had been appointed to redeem us all. Worse, since individuals may err, the deed was covered up by the vanguard itself who hoped, in so doing, to preserve the faith.”
“Like all radicals,” he continued, “I lived in some fundamental way in a castle in the air. Now, I had hit the ground hard, and had no idea of how to get up or go on.” Just as his progressive friends were indifferent to Betty’s death, so too the left as a whole failed to reckon with the horrifying toll taken by Communist-led and New Left-backed revolutions in Cambodia, Vietnam, and elsewhere. Radicals still considered themselves socialists, but exonerated themselves from socialism’s crimes.
In pursuing answers to Betty Van Patter’s death, Horowitz discovered that the Panthers had murdered more than a dozen people in the course of conducting extortion, prostitution, and drug rackets in the Oakland ghetto. And yet, to his growing bewilderment, the Panthers continued to enjoy the support of the American left, the Democratic Party, Bay Area trade unions, and even the Oakland business establishment. They were praised by prominent writers such as Murray Kempton and Garry Wills in the New York Times and by politicians like then Governor Jerry Brown of California, who was a political confidant of Elaine Brown (no relation), the Panther leader who had ordered Betty’s death.
Notwithstanding the media blackout and the silence of the Panthers’ supporters, the details of their crimes have surfaced over the years principally as a result of Horowitz’s efforts. The first notice of what had happened was a courageous article in New Times magazine by a left-wing journalist named Kate Coleman, whom Horowitz had approached and provided with information. In a 1986 piece in the Village Voice, Horowitz himself identified the Panthers as Betty’s killers, and in Radical Son, which appeared in 1997, Horowitz gave a detailed account of his Panther experience and Betty’s death.
These efforts had an impact even on some of the Panther survivors. In his last televised interview on 60 Minutes, Eldridge Cleaver, the former Black Panther “minister of information,” admitted the brutal ruthlessness of his comrades and himself: “If people had listened to Huey Newton and me in the 1960s, there would have been a holocaust in this country.” Years later, former Panther chairman Bobby Seale also made a public confession about Panther criminality and specifically acknowledged that the Panthers had murdered Betty Van Patter.
But for the most part, progressive keepers of the flame were silent. SDS leader and later California State Senator Tom Hayden and Los Angeles Times journalist Robert Scheer, who worked with the Panthers and promoted their agendas never wrote a word about Panther crimes in the forty-five years after Van Patter’s murder. Former SDS president and later UC Berkeley professor Todd Gitlin’s history of the 1960s fails to acknowledge Panther criminality or mention Van Patter, or the murders of police officers for which the Panthers and other leftist groups were responsible. Like other New Left historians, when Gitlin deals with the Panthers, he presents them as abused victims who sometimes were driven to indefensible (but unspecified) acts because of their persecution. In Kenneth O’Reilly’s Racial Matters: The FBI’s Secret File on Black America, 1960-1972, the Panthers do no wrong and are the targets of legal genocide.
In his essay “Still No Regrets,” Horowitz wrote: “A library of memoirs by aging new leftists and ‘progressive’ academics recall the rebellions of the 1960s. But hardly a page in any of them has the basic honesty—or sheer decency—to say, ‘Yes, we supported these murderers and those spies, and the agents of that evil empire,’ or to say so without an alibi. I’d like to hear even one of these advocates of ‘social justice’ make this simple acknowledgement: ‘We greatly exaggerated the sins of America and underestimated its decencies and virtues, and we’re sorry.’”
The political journey from left to right, of course, had been made before. But Horowitz’s change of heart was of a somewhat different character than the conversions of the ex-Communists who had traveled to the right before him. Unlike the contributors to The God That Failed, for instance, most of whom remained men of the left, Horowitz made a comprehensive break with the radical worldview. Horowitz’s “conversion” was actually his second. The first was his break from communism after Khrushchev’s revelations, while the second was from the socialist idea itself. For the writers of The God That Failed, Stalinism was a cruel socialist aberration. For Horowitz, the roots of Stalinism—and of totalitarianism—lay in socialism itself.
After Betty’s murder, Horowitz ceased his radical activism and his political writing for most of the following decade. Silence about politics became his refuge, as he painstakingly reassessed his life and outlook. He was already involved in a project with Peter Collier to complete a multi-generation biography of the Rockefeller family and this became his cocoon. In 1975, The Rockefellers: An American Dynasty appeared to widespread acclaim, including a front-page rave in the New York Times Book Review. It became a bestseller and a nominee for a National Book Award. The success of The Rockefellers led to a series of other books—The Kennedys: An American Drama (1984), The Fords: An American Epic (1987), and The Roosevelts: An American Saga (1994). These works earned Collier and Horowitz praise from the Los Angeles Times as “the premier chroniclers of American dynastic tragedy.”
During this period, Horowitz also wrote The First Frontier, The Indian Wars & America’s Origins: 1607-1776 (1978), a book which remained somewhat within the parameters of the leftist outlook, while attempting to establish the idea that a nation’s character, as defined in its early history, shaped its destiny. While he was at work on this book, events in Southeast Asia were writing a final chapter to the narrative that had defined his own generation. After the Communist victory in Vietnam in 1975, the North Vietnamese began executing tens of thousands of South Vietnamese and setting up “re-education camps” where ideological offenders were held in “tiger cages.” The general repression prompted an exodus of two million refugees, unprecedented in the history of Vietnam. Hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese boat people perished in the Gulf of Thailand and in the South China Sea in their attempt to escape the Communist new order that the efforts of the New Left had helped to bring about.
In Cambodia, the victory of the Communists led to the slaughter of some three million Cambodian peasants. More peasants were killed in Indochina in the first three years of Communist rule than had been killed on both sides during the thirteen years of the anti-Communist war. Horowitz later reflected on the cause of these events: “Every testimony by North Vietnamese generals in the postwar years has affirmed that they knew they could not defeat the United States on the battlefield, and that they counted on the division of our people at home to win the war for them. The Vietcong forces we were fighting in South Vietnam were destroyed in 1968. In other words, most of the war and most of the casualties in the war occurred because the dictatorship of North Vietnam counted on the fact Americans would give up the battle rather than pay the price necessary to win it. This is what happened. The blood of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, and tens of thousands of Americans, is on the hands of the anti-war activists who prolonged the struggle and gave victory to the Communists.”
As the Indochinese tragedy unfolded, Horowitz was struck by how the left refused to hold itself accountable for the result it had fought so hard for—a Communist victory—and how it could not have cared less about the new suffering of the Vietnamese in whose name it had once purported to speak. He became increasingly convinced, as his friend and colleague Peter Collier had tried to persuade him, that “the element of malice played a larger role in the motives of the left than I had been willing to accept.” If the left really wanted a better world, why was it so indifferent to the terrible consequences of its own ideas and practices?
In 1979, Horowitz wrote a column for the Nation, which its editors titled, “A Radical’s Disenchantment.” It was the first public statement by a prominent New Leftist that the New Left had anything to answer for. “A Radical’s Disenchantment” described his disillusion with the left, referring to many of the horrors that socialism had produced. Horowitz also confronted the silence with which the left had met these horrors, ending the piece with questions he had been asking himself: “Can the left take a really hard look at itself—the consequences of its failures, the credibility of its critiques, the viability of its goals? Can it begin to shed the arrogant cloak of self-righteousness that elevates it above its own history and makes it impervious to the lessons of experience?” He already knew, however, what the answer was.
In November 1984, Horowitz turned another corner. He cast his first Republican ballot for Ronald Reagan. Shortly thereafter he learned that Peter Collier had done the same. On March 17, 1985, he and Collier wrote a front-page story for the Sunday magazine of the Washington Post, “Lefties for Reagan,” and explained their vote by describing what they had seen and done while fighting against “Amerikkka” as part of the left. As they expected, the article inspired vitriolic responses from their former comrades and forced them to re-enter the political arena to wage what became a two-person war against the 60s left.
Dissecting the left’s hypocrisy now became a Horowitz métier. As a former believer, Horowitz could attack the progressive myth with the familiarity of an insider. He and Collier delivered their first stunning blow in Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties, a 1989 book in which they analyzed the legacy of the New Left and its corrosive effects on American culture. Destructive Generation represented the first dissent from the celebration of the 1960s that had been issuing forth in volume after volume from publishing companies now edited by former New Leftists. For years Destructive Generation remained both the definitive and the only critical work on the radicalism of the decade. In a summary indictment, the authors charged that the left had steadfastly refused to make a balance sheet, let alone a profit and loss statement, of what it had done. Progressives who preened their “social conscience” showed no concern for the destructive consequences of their acts on ordinary people like the Vietnamese and Cambodian peasants who had been slaughtered in the wake of America’s panicked withdrawal from Vietnam.
Before Collier and Horowitz turned on the left, they had enjoyed front-page reviews in the New York Times Book Review and bestseller status for their multi generational biographies. But Destructive Generation marked their eclipse in the literary culture. As Horowitz later recalled, “Our books, once prominently reviewed everywhere, were now equally ignored. With a few notable exceptions, we became pariahs and un-persons in mainstream intellectual circles.” The last review of a Horowitz book in The New York Review of Books was in 1985, the very spring that Collier and Horowitz announced they had voted for Ronald Reagan.
Horowitz’s next work, Radical Son, published in 1997 was powerful enough that even his enemies had to admit that it called up comparisons to Whittaker Chambers’ Witness and Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. George Gilder called it “the first great American autobiography of his generation.” In this memoir Horowitz provided an account of his life, the details of which were already being distorted by his political enemies, and described the intellectual process of his political change of heart. Like Chambers’ classic, Radical Son is an eloquent and riveting narrative, providing a cogent moral and intellectual basis for the changes it describes. It engages in a fearless examination of self, which was almost unprecedented in political memoirs, when Horowitz’s book appeared. Going further than any previous narrative in demonstrating how deeply the Marxist fairy tale is entwined with the character and psychology of its believers, Horowitz reveals the seductive power of the progressive faith. He shows how the socialist lie reaches into every corner of a believer’s soul, and why the break from radicalism can be a personally devastating decision.