History,  The Left,  The Right

From the Vaults: Commentary, June 1986

David Horowitz was a very prominent radical leftist in the 1960s. It is interesting to note, as he recounts in his political memoirs, Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey (pp.133-4),  that he was assisted in his Marxist development by Ralph Miliband, the late father of David and Ed Miliband, during a period of time that he lived next door to him in London. Horowitz explained how Miliband took him under his wing and gave him access to his bookshelves.  In 1965 Horowitz’s book, The Free World Colossus: A Critique of American Foreign Policy in the Cold War was published and it became a standard work for Cold War revisionists. I would not suggest reading it. For those interested, Robert James Maddox devotes chapter four (pp. 79-101) of his 1973 book, The New Left and the Origins of the Cold War to demolishing  Horowitz’s book. Maddox concludes, “Far from being a piece of ‘serious’ scholarship – or scholarship of any kind – The Free World Colossus is little more than a polemic with footnotes.” But it was during this period from the mid 1960s to the early 1970s when Horowitz was at his peak in New Left activism. He was associated with Ramparts magazine. On this blog I have previously mentioned, that Ramparts promoted Che Guevara, the Black Panthers, various other revolutionary heroes of the New Left, and the drug culture.

Ultimately, Horowitz had what he has described as “second thoughts about the sixties.” He realised that the Black Panthers were a murderous band of criminals, that the way that way leftists had argued that the AIDS epidemic should be dealt with was disastrous, and he also realised the truth about some of his former revolutionary heroes. He notes, (Radical Son, p.351): “On election day 1984, I walked into the voting booth and, without hesitation, punched the line marked ‘Ronald Reagan.’” Together with his co-author Peter Collier, Horowitz had a lengthy article published in the Washington Post on March 17, 1985 entitled, “Lefties for Reagan.” It was in this article that the authors first publicly expressed their new found political views: “casting our ballots for Ronald Reagan was indeed a way of saying good-bye to all that – to the self-aggrandizing romance with corrupt Third Worldism; to the casual indulgence of Soviet totalitarianism; to the hypocritical and self-dramatizing anti-Americanism which is the New Left’s bequest to mainstream politics.”

Horowitz’s political activism did not stop with his about turn in his political views. He has become as prominent, if not more prominent, on the conservative right as he was on the radical left.  The left have never forgiven him for his betrayal. In 1907, Lenin famously said that in a debate, the aim is “not to convince but to break up the ranks of an opponent, not to correct the opponent’s mistake but to destroy him,  to wipe his organization off the face of the earth.” Horowitz was well aware of this maxim. He may have moved to the political right but he made his speeches in a style familiar to those on the radical left. He explains, (Radical Son, pp. 358-9):

I had made a decision to speak in the voice of the New Left – outraged, aggressive, morally certain. I would frame indictments as we had framed them, but from the other side. I wanted equity for those who had defended democracy against the Communist threat. I wanted justice for the victims of our crusades. I wanted my former comrades to be put on the receiving end of accusations like those they had made against everyone else. I wanted them to see how it felt.

Invited as token conservative to speak to two hundred pro-Sandinista radicals at Berkeley, it was this “outraged, aggressive, morally certain” tone that Horowitz invoked.  He commenced by reminding his audience that he was “one of the founders of the New Left.” He explained that he “was an organizer of the first political demonstrations on this Berkeley campus – and indeed on any campus – to protest our government’s anti-Communist policies in Cuba and Vietnam.” He then informed them that he was now both a supporter of Ronald Reagan and “a committed opponent of Communist rule in Nicaragua.” He progressed to launch a passionate and fiery onslaught that made the audience so irate that they never allowed him to finish. They shouted him down and ultimately switched off the microphone before he could conclude. Despite the fact that Horowitz never finished that speech, Commentary magazine published it in full in June 1986. Below is the peroration:

Nicaragua: A Speech to My Former Comrades on the Left

David Horowitz

Commentary Vol. 81, No. 6, June 1986, pp.27-31.

…. I would like to say this to my former comrades and successors on the Left: you are self-righteous and blind in your belief that you are part of a movement to advance human progress and liberate mankind. You are in fact in league with the darkest and most reactionary forces of the modern world, whose legacies – as the record attests – are atrocities and oppressions on a scale unknown in the human past. It is no accident that radicals in power have slaughtered so many of their own people. Hatred of the self, and by extension one’s country, is the root of the radical cause.

As American radicals, the most egregious sin you commit is to betray the privileges and freedoms ordinary people from all over the world have created in this country – privileges and freedoms that ordinary people all over the world would feel blessed to have themselves. But the worst of it is this: you betray all this tangible good that you can see around you for a socialist pie-in-the-sky that has meant horrible deaths and miserable lives for the hundreds of millions who have so far fallen under its sway.