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The Decadent Left: Still With Us By: Ronald Radosh
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, September 18, 2001


WE HAVE KNOWN for decades what the real agenda of the antiAmerican Left has been: to bring our country down, to support all Third World revolutionaries acting in opposition to "the Great Satan," as Islamic radicals refer to the USA; to weaken our nation’s resolve and its defense effort, which is always proclaimed as unnecessary, whose very existence is ascribed to the machinations of the "militaryindustrial complex;" to support the enemies of the United States, under the rubric of the slogan used by Malcolm X, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend;" to support those "socialist" and Communist nations whose foreign policy was based on destruction of what the Left called the American Empire, the imperialist monster whose oppressed citizenry were forced to live in the "belly of the beast." During the years of the war in Vietnam, the Left sought victory for Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Cong, or as it preferred to call them, the National Liberation Front of Vietnam.

As part of this effort, the tyrannical leaders of the totalitarian states were described by various euphemisms, such as "liberators" and "men of greatness." From the 1930’s through his death in the early 50’s, Communists and fellow travelers outdid themselves trying to find the greatest words of praise for the crazed tyrant Joseph Stalin who was referred to as one of the world’s wisest, most brilliant and at the same time most humble and humane of statesmen. In a later period, New Leftists joined their sycophantic comrades in China in finding similar words of praise for The Great Helmsman, Maotse Tung, who was proclaimed as the inheritor of the mantle of Lenin and Stalin and the one leader willing to bring true Communism into the modern world. Others, eschewing Mao, preferred to sing the praises of Fidel Castro the man who saw the possibility of defeating the United States from a small country so close to its own shores, only ninety miles away.

The figures they supported may have differed over arcane theoretical disputes, but they had one thing in common. They all subscribed to Lenin’s theory of imperialism, and all saw the United States as the main oppressor of the world, the capitalist monolith that stood behind oppression of the world’s peoples and that could only be rescued through the act of revolution whether it came from the industrial working class, the black American "lumpenproletariat," or revolutionary students was a matter of timing and tactics. But the aim was to destroy the United States, upon whose grave the peoples of the world would create the new revolutionary utopia.

Times have changed, and the 1960s are a long time away. Yet the mindset developed in those days lives on, as do some of the old players older in years, but not any wiser. Andrew Sullivan, writing for the London Sunday Times, calls them "the decadent Left [living] in its enclaves on the coasts." They have been put on the defensive, as the good, decent America has united behind the President in support of whatever measures have to be taken, including war, to defeat the new threat of global terrorism. Yet, they have not been quiet. Indeed, they have, sometimes hesitatingly, sometimes disingenuously, been counting the days until they seek to recreate what they managed to build in the years of Vietnam a new, antiAmerican and revolutionary mass movement.

How is this Left responding to the war the entire civilized world now understands it must wage? Its most extreme segment has one simple argument: the Moslem radicals and the Palestinian extremists have a just cause; they would not have engaged in such a dastardly attack on our nation if the US had not supported Israel; eliminate US aid to the only democracy in the Middle East, grant the Palestinian extremists their demands for a Palestine that all but obliterates Israel as a nation, and then and only then will the understandable wave of terrorism cease.

If you doubt my summary of this argument, turn to the analysis by Columbia University’s own stonethrowing Professor, a former member of the Palestinian National Council, Edward Said. Writing in The Observer (London) on September 16, Professor Said begins with the usual begrudging homilies about the "senseless destruction" which has produced a "sustained sense of outrage and shock." No one, including Said, wants to seem to be insensitive to the response of the majority of Americans. But read on. Before very long, he gets to his main point, to understand "America’s role in the world." He bemoans the way that Osama bin Laden is being made into a boogeyman, when what has happened is something he, like the Old and New Left, secretly cheers: Our nation, "an imperial power [has been] injured at home for the first time." What Said calls "rational understanding" will be that which resists George W. Bush’s "drumbeating," since all who are rational understand that "the official US is synonymous with arrogant power, [is] known for its sanctimoniously munificent support not only of Israel but of numerous repressive Arab regimes [by which he means those not sufficiently hostile to the United States] and its inattentiveness even to the possibility of dialogue with secular movements that have real grievances." Thus, Said writes, "AntiAmericanism in this context is not based on a hatred of modernity… it is based on a narrative of concrete interventions; specific depredations," such as "US support for the 34yearold Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories." His point could not be clearer: the antiAmericanism that motivated the terrorist attack is not only understandable; it is justified. And it could be over if the extremist radicals have their demands met.

To Said, terms like "terrorism" in contrast to "freedom" are simply "large abstractions," meant to hide what he calls "sordid material interests, the influence of the oil, defense and Zionist lobbies" which rule the Middle East once again, the old crude Marxism in which the ruling class along with Jewish interests uses false rhetoric of freedom to hide its mercantile interests. It is, indeed, the resurrection of what one smart old early 20th century socialist intellectual called antiSemitism, "the socialism of the fools." Of course Said, having made all the excuses, goes on to revert to his own stance as a Western intellectual "no cause, no God, no abstract idea can justify the mass slaughter of innocents." Of course, he has already provided just that justification, and his ending words seem like crocodile tears. What really bothers him is that these radical terrorists have "primitive ideas of revolution," not the sophisticated kind of understanding of a mass movement that could be built if only they had consulted Professor Said before they flew our planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

What Said and the rest of the Left want first and foremost is not defeat of the new terrorism but a halt in the American response, a reprieve in which instead of arming ourselves for the fight ahead, we disarm and plead for "peace and justice" euphemisms for the cause these terrorists have incorrectly represented. Thus Noam Chomsky, our nation’s most famous Left intellectual, in a widely circulated Internet statement after the attack, notes that what the attack shows is "the foolishness of the project of ‘missile defense,’" as if any form of defense is something Chomsky has ever supported. And of course, the attack is bad not because of what suffering it produced to our countrymen, but because it "is a gift to the hard jingoist right," who will now find support for an increased defense budget. And of course, he and Nation magazine writer Robert Fisk, whose words he quotes, cannot help but stress that this attack supposedly pales in comparison to "American missiles smashing into Palestinian homes."

Chomsky, of course, is considered so extreme by many that since the late 1960’s, he cannot even get his work into the pages of the very liberal New York Review of Books. Therefore, some will argue that he is hardly representative of a supposedly more sane leftwing. So perhaps it might be better to look at the words of John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s magazine. Writing for a Toronto newspaper, this "moderate" man of the Left is upset that our nation, "deluded by the Cold War," has itself supported "ungrateful thugs and terrorists" in the name of antiCommunism. If Bin Laden is evil, his evil is attributed to us and to a previous generation of policy makers, who supported Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion of their country. And once again, we are reminded of Vietnam, and that in that war, only Ho Chi Minh deserves praise. Like the New Left who spoke when MacArthur was in grade school, this new generation of Left intellectual tells us that Ho was "the liberator of Vietnam" who was rebuffed by FDR and Truman "when he asked for support to free his country." To this man, living in the 21st Century, he thinks that Ho Chi Minh valued something called freedom. Indeed, he even calls the Stalinist tyrant "an admirer of Thomas Jefferson," a fact he thinks was overlooked by our own leaders, who foolishly believed Ho’s "Communist rhetoric."

We may also turn to the Socialist Party’s remaining stalwart David McReynolds, who also functions as the top dog in a still existing 1920’s pacifistsocialist group, The War Resisters League. In his statement after the attack, McReynolds emphasizes the need to renew our attacks on US foreign policy, especially to condemn "the policy of assassination against the Palestinian leadership by Israel," and the "occupation by Israel of the West Bank and Gaza." The enemy as always is the "militarism" of the United States, which has even had "air strikes against Iraq" and itself engaged in "the starkest kind of terrorism." In other words, terrorism is bad but it is the USA that practices the worst kind of terrorism.

And of course, we have as yet one more constant refrain: War means that the US might once again resort to a McCarthyite reign of terror curbing our civil liberties and doing such horrible things as possibly wiretapping potential terrorist cells without sufficient cause, or even opening the luggage at an airport of a suspicious Arab passenger. Thus Harold Meyerson, now editor of The American Prospect, the major intellectual magazine of opinion of the Democratic Party’s leftwing, worries that in fighting terrorism which of course he sees as necessary we might develop a "garrison state" in which "dissent becomes more difficult and less audible." Indeed, he even heard General Norman Schwartzkopf say on a television interview that he might have to go after "people in this country" who aid terrorists. Perhaps we should just let them be. And as expected, nothing has taken place to interfere with his longstanding belief that "our defense budget is still indefensibly high." When, I wonder, has anyone on the Left ever said we even need a defense budget? (perhaps once: in the 1940’s, after the Soviet Union was invaded by Nazi Germany.) At least in the 60’s we used to be honest and yell "butter not guns," as if our nation could not have both. But we wanted to unilaterally disarm the United States an action that would allow America’s enemies, whom we supported, to easily win. So the Left, exemplified by Nation editor David Corn, makes the argument that the real danger is not that we might wage war to defeat the terrorists, but that the "national security cadre" will use the attack as an excuse to "bolster the military and intelligence establishment." And Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, once a voice for the LaFollette progressives in the State of Wisconsin but now another leftwing voice and sister publication of The Nation, warns of his real fear that the US will continue to "inflict needless suffering on hundredsmaybe thousandsof innocent people." The old refrain: the evil USA, which like the USA during WW II, might once again curtail civil liberties and detain opponents of the Left, just as it detained Japanese Americans on the West Coast. Rothschild is clear: no retribution, no attack, since the US is not a power that can be said to represent good over evil.

These dishonest Leftists, who begin by expressing sorrow for the victims of the terrorist attack, and who pretend to argue that they favor acting to stop them, continue to endorse the arguments of the terrorists and their friends, and to propose opposing any measures needed to guarantee the kind of military and intelligence capabilities we need to stop them. But they are on the defensive. Corn notes, sadly, that even Senator Hillary Clinton pledged to support President George W. Bush "in whatever steps he deems necessary." If even Hillary Clinton has sensed the tone of her New York constituents as being solidly behind the President and for once has said the right thing, perhaps Corn and his friends on the Left are finally on the road to complete isolation. But let us not underestimate their effort and their campaigns. They are only beginning to speak out. And we must do what we can to nip them in the bud. That too is a task as our nation prepares for war.


Ronald Radosh, Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, is an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute.


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