WHEN TODAY'S LEFTISTS say that 'whiteness' is an oppressive social construct that must be destroyed, David Horowitz calls them bigots opposed to black success.
Recently, the onetime leftist and now conservative writer and activist David Horowitz received an e-mail from a friend that carried a quotation from the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Moscow, dated 1943. The order had been sent to Communists abroad, including the Communist Party in America.
"Members and front organizations must continually embarrass, discredit, and degrade our critics," the 56-year-old directive began. "When obstructionists become too irritating, label them as fascist or Nazi or anti-Semitic." But above all, "constantly associate those who oppose us with those names that already have a bad smell." Why? Because "The association will, after enough repetition, become 'fact' in the public mind."
For Horowitz, those words had resonance. In the Aug. 30 issue of Time magazine, columnist Jack E. White labeled him "a real, live bigot" for a hard-hitting article Horowitz had written for salon.com, titled "Guns Don't Kill Black People, Other Blacks Do," in which Horowitz criticized the NAACP's lawsuit to hold gun manufacturers responsible for urban violence. "A former leftist earns a place on the wild-eyed right," the Time column screamed, concluding that "we'd all be better off if he'd just shut up."
But it wasn't just the Time piece that rankled. Horowitz's most recent book, Hating Whitey and Other Progressive Causes, was about to be published by Spence Publishing Co., a conservative publisher in Dallas. The book had been rejected by the Free Press, the company that had published Horowitz's two most recent books, including his potent autobiography Radical Son only two years ago.
Free Press told him that the title of the new book was too controversial, a problem that continues—Hating Whitey has been having a hard time finding a place on bookstore shelves because of that title—which bothers him a bit, but not a whole lot, Horowitz tells Insight, because he gets a certain amount of satisfaction in irking the liberal establishment and accumulating its denunciations. After all, if he hadn't hit a raw nerve, no one would pay a bit of attention.
In the new book Horowitz continues a project that he began ten years ago with his book Destructive Generation (co-authored with fellow former leftist Peter Collier). He has pursued it through numerous articles and innumerable talk-show appearances and additional books, including Radical Son, and no doubt will continue after Hating Whitey. Horowitz is providing a critical analysis and ongoing discussion of what the left in America is up to these days and just how powerful that left is. Always he underlines what he sees as the deep anti-Americanism that underlies so much of the contemporary left, but his chief attack is on its shallowness and failure to come to terms with what American society really is like today. "The real war of the left," he claims, "is the war against America itself."
Horowitz knows the left intimately. In the early 1970s he was an editor at the radical magazine Ramparts, which under his tenure ran a cover image of a burning bank along with the line, "The students who burned the Bank of America may have done more toward saving the environment than all the teach-ins put together." The son of Communist Party members, he is author of such works as The Free World Colossus, a left-wing history of the Cold War, and Empire and Revolution, works that placed him at the intellectual core of the New Left.
How widespread is today's left? According to Horowitz, who certainly should know: "The ideological left is entrenched at the universities. On the race issue, the Democratic Party is left-wing, supporting racial preferences. Our judiciary is heavily infiltrated with people who don't believe in the Constitution, who find the Constitution an insuperable barrier to leftist agendas. This is especially true of the professorates at prestigious [law] schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown." And so be it.
Hating Whitey takes its name from a trait Horowitz finds common to both African-American leftists and leftists who are white: a loudly professed dislike for things white, and particularly for white males, which are seen as the cause of everything that's wrong with American society.
It's a trait the contemporary left learned from an older leftism, he tells Insight. "Marxists saw the working class as the instrument of salvation. Sometime in the fifties or sixties, races, genders, even sexual orientations got substituted for the proletariat and the great enemy was no longer the ruling class, but the white male."
In the 1960s, radical essayist Susan Sontag called the "white race the cancer of history." After she had cancer, Sontag apologized, not because her statement was a racist slur but out of "deference to cancer patients," Horowitz notes.
Sontag's radical posturing has become a leftist commonplace today, Horowitz says, especially among white liberals at elite institutions. Lecturer Noel Ignatiev, a former sixties radical, for example, several years ago launched "Whiteness Studies" at the prestigious W.E.B. DuBois African-American Studies Institute at Harvard University. Among other things, Whiteness Studies argue that "whiteness" is a "social construct that is oppressive" and must be "abolished." The motto of Race Treason, the name of Whiteness Studies' academic journal, is "Treason to Whiteness is Loyalty to Humanity."
Ignatiev is white. But his views are shared by many black radicals, a betrayal of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., whose vision—Horowitz points out—was of a color-blind society where no man or woman is judged by the color of his or her skin but by the content of their character. It's a vision Horowitz, who began his civil-rights activism in the early days of the movement, shared with King. And it's a vision Horowitz, who has black grandchildren, still holds today.
But far from a color-blind America, the contemporary left seeks a society divided by race, and one where race is a perpetual problem, an ongoing irritation, Horowitz contends. "When Martin Luther King spoke, many Americans responded positively. When Jesse Jackson speaks, he speaks only to a left-wing fringe," thus leaving most of American society untouched, Horowitz notes, a narrowness of constituency that would have been anathema to King.
It's a narrowness of constituency that stuns many black conservatives as well. "Booker T. Washington wrote about the race-grievance industry in the country of his time," Robert Woodson tells Insight. "It's still with us. He said we've got a whole class that makes a living as race merchants and it's in their interests to make certain that the race problem continues."
A black conservative, Woodson is president and founder of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, or NCNE. What makes the race-grievance industry pernicious is that "it's saying to us if whites don't change then you can't change," Woodson contends. "It keeps you locked in the victim mentality."
Equally significant, he adds, is the fact that such thinking is "an insult to blacks who founded banks and hospitals and did so much on their own under segregation. It denies that blacks have been able to do great things on their own."
Does the left wing play the racist card in order to divide American society and harm it where it's most vulnerable? "I can't believe that people like Jack White [the author of the anti-Horowitz column in Time] or [Democratic Rep.] Maxine Waters are unconscious about what they are doing," says Horowitz. "They can see how easy it is to destroy an opponent by playing the race card. When you make use of a word [whose potency] has risen to that level, you know you've got to be careful" if you don't just want to do harm.
But if the goal of the left has changed—to overthrow the white, male patriarchy instead of the rich, ruling class—the left as a whole remains much the same, according to Horowitz. Like the traditional left, the left of today views politics as war conducted by other means, he says. And like the traditional left, today's left regards as justified any means that lead to victory.
He explains: "The left consists of people who substitute faith in the power of human beings to be their own redeemers for faith in a true divinity. They seek to find that situation in which human beings can achieve a return to Eden without divine intervention."
Today, as before, "The instrument of salvation for the left is the political state," says Horowitz. "And the chosen people in this instance is the left itself," a belief that assures their own ultimate significance to history. It's a belief, too, that helps inspire "the viciousness of left-wing politics, the desire to destroy the opposition entirely, to eliminate adversaries from the field of battle."
Few things that Horowitz has said or written have aroused as much opposition (and as great a desire on the part of his critics to remove him from the field of battle) as his assertion that "blacks in America aren't oppressed. If they were, there would be an Exodus like the Israelites when they left oppressive rule in Egypt. If blacks in America are oppressed, why do Haitians seek to come to America?" he asks.
It's a controversial question—one with which black conservatives aren't entirely comfortable. "For 350 years, race has played a prominent role here. Slavery. Racism. White supremacy. I don't think we've shed ourselves of that history," Alvin Williams, executive director of the conservative Black America Political Action Committee, or BAMPAC, tells Insight. "I don't think you can put a [good] spin on slavery."
But "does that mean we should think of it as an impediment, that things can't change?" he asks. "No. We should never forget; by the same token we should see that things can get better. What my parents had to contend with, I don't have to contend with. Future generations are going to read about [racism] more in books than experience it firsthand."
It is of interest that some writers on the left don't share Horowitz's views about the power of the left in American society today but do agree with him on some of his criticisms. Richard Rorty, the socialist professor of philosophy at the University of Virginia who is regarded by many as the foremost American philosopher of our time, for instance, has denounced academic leftists for "having views on practically everything except what needs to be done."
In Achieving Our Country (1998) Rorty wrote that "the cultural left has a vision of an America in which the white patriarchs have stopped voting and have left all the voting to be done by members of previously victimized groups, people who have somehow come into possession of more foresight and imagination than selfish suburbanites." Rorty rejects this vision as superficial, urging "the left to get back into the business of piecemeal reform within the framework of the market economy," a task which he thinks the left has abandoned.
And longtime leftist activist Sam Smith, editor of the Progressive Review, tells Insight that in his view today's leftists and liberals are that in name only. "The problem is liberals have gotten too rich," says Smith. "They've become part of a privileged, narcissistic elite" that "simply wasn't prepared" to deal with the fact that the Clinton Administration "turned out to be the most corrupt in American history" and that in the 1990s "the country's centers of power became dominated by a culture of impunity in which moral and legal restraints on behavior" favored the rich and censured the poor.
Having fun in the most recent issue of the Progressive Review, Smith underlines the failure of the left by writing how progressives "labored mightily and produced" their own candidate for president: "Warren Beatty, and with that foolish whimper, twentieth-century American liberalism was, for all intents and purposes, over."
Smith does see "a few crocuses in the snow," as far as the left is concerned: the antisweatshop movement on American campuses, for example, which he finds "more sophisticated than the antiapartheid movement" of a generation ago, and the Service Employees International Union, which successfully completed the "largest organizing drive since the General Motors unionization of the 1930s." Perhaps, says Smith, "we're on the cusp" of a left renewal.
Similarly, University of Massachusetts at Amherst professor of sociology Paul Hollander sees a left resurgence in two factors of recent vintage. The first is the "frantic efforts many universities are making to get around court rulings on reverse discrimination" to keep affirmative action around.
The second is "the [Bill] Bradley candidacy" for president, which surprised many observers with "its left-of-center rhetoric and its views on race, which are race-obsessed and guilt-ridden in McGovern style," says Hollander, whose book, Political Pilgrims, is one of the best works on the left's obsessive search for utopia.
Horowitz, however, is convinced of the left's continued potency—and danger. "I've written a booklet, The Art of Political War. It's advice on how to fight this war." There's really no parallel between the left and conservatives, Horowitz warns in the pamphlet. "For conservatives, politics isn't religion. It's more of an unpleasant duty. Politics is only one part of their lives. For leftists, it is a religion," he writes.
Moreover, the left "fights politically in a very different way" than the right. "Conservatives are weaker political animals. Conservatives speak with many voices so that what they have to say is diluted, often unintelligible" in the din of political strife. "They're often reluctant to attack, and don't," while the opposite is true of the left.
Thinking about the obsession with whites that the African-American left seems to have, NCNE's Robert Woodson muses: "It's self-defeating, black folks worrying about what white folks are thinking about black folks. It's arrogant to think that white folks get up every morning thinking what can we do against black folks today. They'd be amazed that whites aren't thinking about black people at all."
Time magazine's editorial board apologized to Horowitz about the Aug. 30 column denouncing him as a bigot. But Horowitz says he's still stunned by the brazenness of White, who claimed in the column that he'd been told by Horowitz that Horowitz "had earned the right to talk down to blacks 'because of all I did in the '60s' for civil rights."
"White misrepresented and twisted my words," says Horowitz, who claims that he spoke with White only about wanting to talk with blacks with "respect and candor" in a racial dialogue where respect and candor are in short supply.
But the viciousness of White's column did support Horowitz's contention that the left is blinded to reality, common sense, and decency by its adherence to an outworn faith. Nowhere in Hating Whitey is this blindness clearer than when Horowitz brings up last year's Academy Awards when the present-day left demanded that Elia Kazan, director of such films as On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire, not be given special recognition for his great talent because he had "named names" during the investigations of Communist activity in Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s.
"The Old Left, the Stalinists, the people whom Kazan named," Horowitz writes, "betrayed their country and the real people who live in it, their friends, their neighbors.… They may have betrayed their country out of ignorance, or out of misplaced ideals, or because they were blinded by faith." But they nonetheless did betray their country, Horowitz concludes, and they and their supporters should "acknowledge that now by showing humility towards those, like Kazan, who did not."
Jennifer G. Hickey contributed to this report.
Copyright © 1999 News World Communications, Inc.