During a 1970s trip to the Havana General Psychiatric Hospital, a group of visiting American leftists were told that this hospital led the world in the percentage of its patients lobotomized. The leftists had already encountered “perfectly sane” homosexuals in the mental wards, because the Castro regime believed that homosexuality was a disease justifying commitment. Some leftists were horrified, and exclaimed that this “was exactly what we’re working against at home.” But another retorted, “We have to understand that there are differences between capitalist lobotomies and socialist lobotomies.” Reading his 2001 memoir, Commies, one wonders if the old left, new left, and left-over left characters Ronald Radosh describes might not have received “socialist lobotomies” themselves.
Commies is the story of a “red diaper” baby’s evolution through a succession of leftist causes in post-war America?the Rosenberg case, McCarthyism, Castro and Cuba, the anti-war movement, the Sandinistas, and on and on. Each “cause” represented yet another opportunity to convert America to socialism or Maoism or whatever intellectual fad was then in vogue on the left. Radosh’s pedigree was impeccable; he attended schools and summer camps for “little reds” and inevitably drifted into that ultimate refuge for lefties?the university.
Radosh’s main “cause” was the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg atomic spy case. For Radosh and the left, the Rosenberg case was nothing more than a government conspiracy, with anti-Semitic overtones, to stamp out the left and bring fascism to America. Radosh does note the ambivalent stance of the U.S. Communist Party on this case initially. Still taking their direction from Moscow, the Party did not adopt the Rosenbergs’ cause until Stalin hit on the case as a way to distract attention from his own purge of “anti-Zionists” in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, particularly in Czechoslovakia.
Ironically, after Watergate, the Rosenbergs’ sons used the Freedom of Information Act to petition the government to release its records on the case. These newly declassified documents shattered Radosh’s youthful illusions about their innocence, however, and set him on the path of rethinking many of the leftist myths that had guided his life.
His account of the importance of the Rosenberg’s “martyrdom” explains much about the left. Leftists live according to a set of “myths.” The Rosenbergs were framed, Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist patriot, Castro and later the Sandinistas would create humane, truly democratic governments. The only thing standing in the way of true progress is the American government and its corporate sponsors, which repeatedly prosecutes innocent people, suppresses national liberation movements, and despoils the environment.
Radosh observes that leftists spent most of their time putting out journals and newsletters. These journals and the leftist movement, in general, spawned several prominent players in the American media and, later on, a remarkable number of members of the Clinton administration. In his first term, Clinton intended to appoint Johnetta Cole as Secretary of Education. But she was soon identified as a leader of the Venceremos Brigades and a member of the U.S. Peace Council, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Soviet-run World Peace Council. Her most outspoken defender was Jesse Jackson, who claimed that the opposition to Cole’s appointment came from “Jewish complaints.” Clinton eventually backed away from nominating her. Another leftist star, Michael Lerner, became Hillary Clinton’s guru during her “politics of meaning” phase.
One left-wing journal, In These Times, produced John B. Judis, now a senior editor of The New Republic, as well as Sidney Blumenthal, who became a Washington Post reporter. He later became Bill Clinton’s chief hatchet man with the media. Another left-wing star, David Gelber was the staff director for the massive May Day 1971 anti-war march on Washington, before moving to network televison news. After a stint producing for Dan Rather, he ended up as Ed Bradley’s senior producer at “60 Minutes.”
And then there is Robert Scheer, contributing editor to the Los Angeles Times and The Nation, syndicated columnist, and senior lecturer at the Annenberg School for Communication. Scheer’s current bio omits some intriguing highlights, however. He visited Kim Il Sung’s North Korean paradise and told Radosh, in a taped interview, that Kim had created a true path to socialism. Scheer’s views were too much even for Pacifica radio, which refused to run the interview. Scheer later became Wen Ho Lee’s staunchest defender.
The elite media didn’t like Radosh’s 2001 book. The Washington Post reminded readers that he went on to champion the “terrorist Contras in Nicaragua” and the New York Times snidely titled its review “Don’t Steal this Book”?a play on “Steal this Book,” a volume written by Abbie Hoffman, another old lefty.