[sixties-l] On Being Attacked By The Left

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Thu Jul 05 2001 - 15:19:15 EDT

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    On Being Attacked By The Left

    FrontPageMagazine.com | July 3, 2001
    by Ronald Radosh
    URL: http://www.frontpagemag.com/columnists/radosh/2001/rr07-03-01p.htm

    IT HAD TO TAKE PLACE, and was only a matter of time. Since publication of
    my memoir Commies: A Journey through the Old Left, the New Left and the
    Leftover Left, I received favorable and even enthusiastic reviews in the
    usual conservative publications - including National Review, The Weekly
    Standard, The Wall Street Journal and Commentary, as well as numerous
    editorial comments by different columnists. I also was on scores of
    alternative radio talk shows, usually hosted by conservative or
    libertarian hosts, including Milt Rosenberg in Chicago, David Brudnoy in
    Boston, and this site's own columnist Lowell Ponte. I cannot complain. I
    have received far more coverage than I thought would be the case, and most
    of it has been sympathetic and supportive.

    But when and where would the response from the political Left appear? The
    answer was to come this past Thursday, when The Nation magazine posted two
    pieces from its July 16 issue on their web site. In addition, one of their
    magazine's regular columnists, John Nichols, wrote his own screed, which
    appeared on the eve of my visit to Madison, Wisconsin, in that state's
    major paper, The Capital Times. According to Nichols, my views changed
    because I wished to "follow the intellectual winds of each moment." In
    making that claim, Nichols carefully avoided all the reasons I set forth
    in my memoir about what events led me to change, as well as the reality
    that my academic career came to a grinding halt because I no longer held
    the acceptable politically correct views. He also accuses me of attacking
    Pete Seeger for "the consistency of his commitment to peace and social
    justice," ignoring that what I argued is that Seeger's only consistency
    was to the current Communist Party line; that in fact, Seeger was antiwar
    during the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact; pro-war after the Soviet Union
    was the ally of the United States; and anti-war during the years of the
    Cold War and Vietnam. To Nichols -- a rather dense left-winger -- it is
    good form to acknowledge that perhaps "Stalin was a bad guy," and then
    simply get over it, and move on to campaign for very American socialist

    Martin Duberman's lengthy review in The Nation, however, aims for a more
    balanced response. Duberman, himself a noted historian and playwright,
    realizes that the crude polemics of a John Nichols will not be taken
    seriously. Indeed, he begins his discussion by even chastising the regular
    Nation readers who hate David Horowitz and I so much that they simply
    think anything we write can be dismissed by calling us turncoats. Indeed,
    he even starts by praising me for writing a memoir that he finds at times
    "vivid and charming," one with "closely reasoned arguments" and hence
    presenting a "critique that must be dealt with." They may not "convince,"
    he writes, but "they do trouble the waters." This is as good as one can
    expect from any quarter of the far Left^and already^ some website
    discussions find entries from Leftists who condemn Duberman for the
    terrible crime of being soft on me and even affording my ideas some
    limited credibility. So let me begin by thanking Martin Duberman for his
    effort, and even attempting to come up with some answers about what I have
    to say.

    These, however well intended, collapse after close examination. As the
    biographer of Paul Robeson, Duberman is most upset at my comment that the
    brilliant African-American singer "squandered his early success by
    dedicating himself relentlessly to a vigorous defense of the Soviet Union
    and Joseph Stalin." Duberman admits that by not saying anything after the
    Khrushchev report about Stalin's crimes in 1956, he can to a "degree" be
    said to have indeed squandered his career. But after acknowledging this,
    Duberman continues to apologize for Robeson's behavior, just as he did in
    his biography of the singer. Duberman argues that at the time Robeson
    failed to criticize the Soviet Union, he already was the subject of a
    vendetta by J. Edgar Hoover, who determined to bring the singer down not
    because he was pro-Soviet, but because he insisted on "black rights" and
    "socialism," as well as because he had an "outspoken critique of American

    Duberman thinks I should have mentioned this, believing that these reasons
    exculpate Robeson. To Duberman, I let the U.S. government's "colonialist
    policies and vicious racism" off the hook. In using this language, indeed
    in citing this as an excuse for Robeson, Duberman himself is engaging in
    precisely the use of the Stalinist logic long used by American Communists
    and fellow-travelers in the 40's and 50's. It used to be common, when
    those dreaded Trotskyists, not to speak of Cold Warriors, tried to bring
    up the Soviet gulag, the response would be "what about the lynching of
    black people in the South?"

    In his essay, Duberman fails to bring up Robeson's reprehensible behavior
    regarding Stalin's impending pogrom against Soviet Jews, which the singer
    learned about when he traveled to the USSR for a concert tour in 1949.
    There, Soviet Jewish friends told him how bad things were for Jews in
    Soviet Russia, as Joshua Rubinstein writes in his new book, Stalin's
    Secret Pogrom: The Postwar Inquisition of the Jewish Anti-Fascist
    Committee, (Yale University Press, 2001). Robeson asked to see the
    imprisoned (and soon to be executed) poet Isaac Fefer, whom he had met in
    the United States in 1943. The poet understandably asked Robeson to keep
    quiet about his fate, fearing that if he spoke out, retribution would be
    taken on his family.

    When Robeson returned to the United States, he denied all reports of any
    Soviet anti-Semitism, claiming- and lying- that he had met "Jewish people
    all over the place" and had heard not one "word about it." Rubinstein,
    echoing Duberman, acknowledges that Robeson justified his silence on the
    group that "any public criticism of the USSR would reinforce the authority
    of America's right wing," but he notes that Robeson "did not even alert
    his friends in the [Communist] party to what he knew, or search for other,
    discreet ways to help Fefer once he decided not to make a public appeal.
    As one party comrade said to the writer Howard Fast, 'If you and Paul
    Robeson had raised your voices in 1949, Itsik Fefer would be alive
    today.'" As always with the Stalinist Left, the interests of the USSR and
    Stalin came before those of us who were oppressed, tortured and murdered
    by the dictator. The Soviet Union was perceived and evidently still is
    by Duberman - as being on the "right side of history," and hence any of
    its sins had correctly to be covered up, since nothing would be worse than
    serving the interests of "American imperialism."

    Nothing, however, is more silly in Duberman's response to my memoir than
    his cheap shot accusing me of racism, by somehow only finding "generous
    things to say about any number of whites" but nothing equal about "any
    black people." It may not be clear to Martin Duberman, but I do not think
    in racial terms when I criticize those I disagree with. I am responding to
    their ideas, and not to their skin color. Thus he criticizes me for
    viewing the late John P. Davis, once a prominent fellow-traveler and head
    of a CP front group, as a "terse martinet" (his words). Davis was, in my
    estimate, a vile individual, and this is based on my memory of him, and
    has nothing to do with his status as an African-American. It is apparent
    that it is my criticism of their politics, and not race, that bothers him.
    Thus, he follows by noting that I view Johnnetta Cole "egregiously, as
    someone who cast in her lot with the cause of 'Communist
    totalitarianism.'" But this is indeed what Cole has done, and anyone can
    learn this by simply looking at her record. Evidently, her status as a
    prominent African-American intellectual and educator (miseducator is what
    I would more appropriately term her) excuses her nascent Stalinism.
    Finally, I do have nice things to say about the late Bayard Rustin, whom I
    have praised many times in print. But Rustin, a moderate social-democrat
    and tough anti-Communist, evidently does not muster inclusion in
    Duberman's list of "African-American cast of characters." Perhaps in his
    eyes, only apologists for Stalinism are true black people.

    Readers of Commies already know that there are three major episodes in my
    life that forced me to reconsider my political views the Cuban
    revolution, my work on the Rosenberg case, and my travels to Central
    America during the decade of conflict in the 1980's. Duberman discusses
    only Nicaragua and the Rosenberg case, and strangely, completely leaves
    out my chapter on and views about Fidel Castro and Cuba. I suspect this is
    because Duberman agrees with me on this issue, and prefers not to let
    Nation readers know this. How do I know this? A good part of my discussion
    of the Cuban revolution relies upon an account I first published back in
    the 1970s after my return from Cuba, and which I included in an anthology
    I edited in 1976, The New Cuba: Paradoxes and Potentials, now out of
    print. I began the collection with a selection from none other than Martin
    Duberman, called "The Questions Raised by Cuba." In that essay, Duberman
    wrote that the Cuban revolution, whose advances he took for granted, "has
    yet to find institutional means for ensuring that the people can have a
    direct and continuous voice in deciding national policy." And he asked the
    fundamental question. Believing at the time that Cuba had made "impressive
    headway" against disparities in income, job opportunity, health services,
    diet and education a list which today I and others would challenge ^
    Duberman asked whether "other kinds of costs; [i.e., political repression
    and lack of democracy] seem to overbalance the material gains." As I
    suggest in Commies, I think we know by now the answer to his mid 70's
    question, and it is a solid yes.

    Turning to Central America and the Sandinistas, Duberman begins by noting
    that he is "not a Latin American expert." That, of course, did not stop
    the rest of the entire American Left- from Stalinist to Trotskyist to
    "democratic socialist" to some social-democrats, from unabashedly and
    uncritically giving their total support to Daniel Ortega and his attempt
    to install a Marxist-Leninist state in Nicaragua. On El Salvador, he
    writes that my argument "is in part persuasive," and responds that Jose
    Napoleon Duarte was, despite his good intentions, a proxy of the far
    right-wing. That is a fair argument, although I think he is wrong. But his
    claim that the FMLN guerrillas were not a pro-Soviet revolutionary group
    is not based, as he writes, on my belief that they did not "inspire
    massive and sustained support from El Salvador's poor," but on the record
    of their politics and information that has appeared since the fall of the
    USSR showing the close connection of the Salvadoran rebels with the
    Soviets, East Germans and Cubans.

    As for the Sandinistas, Duberman argues that my view of the commandantes
    as hard-line Marxists is shortsighted, and that, in fact, many
    left-liberals saw that view as exaggerated, since many democrats were in
    their ranks. Here, it is Duberman and the left-liberals he cites,
    including Irving Howe, who were misguided, and whose views constantly
    neglected frank confrontation with the Nicaraguan reality. Duberman,
    however, is going to find, I predict, sharp letters of attack from Nation
    readers for his saying I am partially correct. Indeed, he even goes to a
    man he calls a "respected expert" on the region, Professor Laird Bergad of
    the City University of New York, to read my pages on Nicaragua, and to
    obtain a response. Readers fully expect Duberman, and Bargad to say I am
    wrong. But the quote virtually leaps out, as the Professor tells him
    "Radosh is right. There were too many Stalinists among the leadership. By
    following the Castro model they did submerge democratic impulses, and
    their attack on the Miskito Indians was a huge blunder." Duberman, of
    course, says that the ousted "Somoza dictatorship [was] far worse than
    that of the Sandinistas," when in fact, it was comparatively moderate and
    merely authoritarian compared to what Ortega and company were instituting.
    But I must give Martin Duberman credit for praising me for having
    "valuably reminded the left in this country that we have all too often ^
    uncritically ^ turned a blind eye to mounting evidence of repression," as
    well as resorting to what he calls "ethically dubious slogans" to excuse
    the repression. For Nation readers, this is strong stuff.

    Finally, to the Rosenbergs. Here, Duberman is out of his league. His
    historical work is not concerned with things like the Rosenberg case, and
    his discussion reveals it. First, he repeats the canard that I, Harvey
    Klehr, John Haynes and Allen Weinstein have all asserted that the CPUSA
    was merely a "fifth column" for Soviet espionage, and hence the
    "implication that the anti-Communist crusade undertaken by McCarthy and
    others was therefore justified." No matter how many times Klehr, Haynes
    and I have gone to great lengths to show this to be false, it is still
    repeated, this time by Martin Duberman.

    So let me make it clear. I agree with Klehr and Haynes, who wrote that for
    McCarthy, "anticommunism was a partisan weapon used to implicate the New
    Deal, liberals and the Democratic Party in treason." McCarthy, they write,
    used material "that was exaggerated, distorted and in some cases utterly
    false." They also write, and I concur, that the relations between the
    CPUSA and the Comintern "does not justify or vindicate McCarthyism." And
    moreover, they have pointed out many times that while the CPUSA was a
    recruiting ground for Soviet spies, it is obviously wrong to view it just
    through that lens. Nevertheless, Duberman, and his colleague Victor
    Navasky (who I will answer next week) continue to repeat what has already
    been answered time and time again.

    As for the Rosenbergs, Duberman says that my co-author Joyce Milton and I
    uncritically accepted the reports of FBI agents at face value." But rather
    than deal with the Rosenberg case, he spends paragraphs about the various
    inaccuracies of personal agents' comments on people and events he was
    researching, including inaccuracies about Paul Robeson. (He says that FBI
    reports erroneously said that Robeson had taken out formal membership in
    the Communist Party. But he does not comment that during the recent
    anniversary of Robeson's death, the CP leadership claimed in print that
    indeed this is precisely what Robeson had done!)

    Duberman is correct that FBI agents often did not get things right. But in
    writing our book, we never blindly accepted claims and theories of agents.
    Instead, we used the files in conjunction with much other material, often
    challenging and citing FBI errors, while at other times using the files
    and showing how other data corroborated material found in the files. Most
    of the files we used were not the type of file in which individual agents
    cited individual impressions as simple truth. His criticisms therefore are
    not apt and are beside the point.

    As for the Venona files, here Duberman shows his further ignorance. That
    Eric Foner, whom he phoned, can say Venona only has led him to accept "the
    possibility" that Julius Rosenberg "may have engaged in some sort of
    low-level espionage" is itself pathetic. Foner, who despite all evidence
    cannot bring himself to acknowledge that Rosenberg was a master spy, is
    obviously, like Duberman, not really familiar with what the Venona files
    have to reveal about the Rosenberg spy ring. Readers of my introduction to
    the 1997 reissue of The Rosenberg File, as well as readers of Klehr and
    Haynes' Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, know however that
    lots of detail is indeed offered as to what their ring gave to the
    Soviets. In no way was the result of Julius Rosenberg's efforts
    "low-level." Rather, the Soviets were provided with such material as the
    design for the first MIG jets, the latest data on radar and sonar, as well
    as the "proximity fuse" used later by the Soviets to shoot down Gary
    Powers' U-2 during the Eisenhower presidency. So Duberman, who has clearly
    not looked at this new material, is plainly wrong when he writes that "we
    can't even be sure of the nature of that information" supplied to the
    Soviets by Rosenberg.

    Finally, like Ellen Shrecker, Duberman resorts to the illogical and
    embarrassing apologia that even if they did spy and give the Soviets top
    secrets, we have to "feel compassion and extend some understanding" toward
    these spies, since they betrayed our nation "at enormous personal
    sacrifice," they believed - erroneously- that the Soviet Union stood
    "alone among the great nations in the 1930s and 40s, for antiracist,
    anticolonialist principles." In other words, they meant well and after
    all blacks were being lynched in the South! Yes, he really offers that
    up, and writes "gleeful crowds in the American South were still enjoying
    the community spectacle of a burnt, lynched black body." The old
    anti-Communist joke, it seems, is still relevant! For Duberman, what
    counts is their motivation those who spied for the Soviets did so not
    for "material consideration but humanitarian ones." For him, the
    motivation excuses everything; for me, the results, and not the
    motivation, is what should count. I could care less what good principles
    those who betrayed our country thought they were serving when they spied.
    Their actions harmed our country; their words and their thoughts only
    revealed their stupidity.

    Duberman ends his assessment with the strange note, alluding to my
    mentioning how my son Michael at a young age was accosted on the West Side
    of Manhattan by bums whom the Left always defended as the "unfortunate
    homeless," with this strange and bizarre analogy. He writes: "If
    'unfortunates' become 'bums,' is it any wonder that all Commies become
    spies?" Really, can't Martin Duberman, a sophisticated historian, come up
    with anything better?

    Ronald Radosh is a regular columnist and book reviewer for
    FrontPageMagazine.com. A former leftist and currently Professor Emeritus
    of History at City University of New York, Radosh has written many books,
    including The Rosenberg File (with Joyce Milton) and, most recently,
    Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover

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