Jewish World Review May 5, 2003 / 3 Iyar 5763
Taking On The Neo-Coms, Part II
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | I have argued that the contemporary left, which opposed the American war and opposes the America peace, which denounces American corporations and the global capitalist system, should be called "neo-communist," a term to denote anti-American leftists who demonize the American economic system and identify it as a "root cause" of global problems. An objection to the term is that some members of this left - perhaps many - no longer advocate a Communist future sensu strictu. Many in fact call themselves anarchists and would be eager to denounce (costless as that might be now) the late Soviet state.
I have already provided one answer to this objection. There is no group that identifies its politics as "neo-conservative," either. There are no "neo-conservative" organizations (official or unofficial) and there is no "neo-conservative" policy or plan. Yet there is little objection to the use of "neo-conservative" to describe what others consider a readily identifiable political position.
The resistance to the term "neo-communist," derives from a misunderstanding of the nature of a political left that is proud of its Communist heritage - gulags aside -- (as this left mainly is) and still clings to socialist "solutions" and the revolutionary idea (as this left mainly does). There are always (and inevitably) two sides to the revolutionary coin. The first is negative and destructive, since it is necessary first to undermine the beliefs, values and institutions of the old order which must be destroyed before a new one can be established. The second is positive and utopian, a vision of the future that condemns the present and encapsulates the idea of a redemptive fate.
For half a century now, ever since Khrushchev's revelations about the crimes of Stalin, the left has been exclusively driven by its negative agendas. (This has become even more the case since the pathetic implosion of the socialist system.) Leaders of the contemporary left have put forward no serious plans for the post-capitalist future. More importantly, none of the energies that drive them are inspired by such plans. The left's inspirations are mainly negative and nihilistic, and have been so for nearly fifty years.
For even in its innocent beginnings, the new left defined itself by negatives, as "anti-anti Communist." It was a "new" left because it did not want to identify with communism. But it also did not want to oppose Communism either, because then it would have had to support America's Cold War. "Anti-anti Communism" was the code for its anti-Americanism. What the left wanted was to oppose America and its "sham democracy."
There is a sense, of course, in which the left has always been defined by its destructive agendas. Its utopian vision was just that - utopian, a vision of nowhere. In practice, socialism didn't work. But socialism could never have worked because it is based on false premises about human psychology and society, and gross ignorance of human economy. In the vast library of socialist theory (and in all of Marx's compendious works), there is hardly a chapter devoted to the creation of wealth - to what will cause human beings to work and to innovate, and to what will make their efforts efficient. Socialism is a plan of morally sanctioned theft. It is about dividing up what others have created. Consequently, socialist economies don't work; they create poverty instead of wealth. This is unarguable historical fact now, but that has not prompted the left to have second thoughts.
Because its positive agendas are unworkable, to characterize the left by its negative critiques and destructive agendas is perfectly appropriate; everything else, everything it claims to intend, everything it does in fact intend is so much utopian air.
In a previous, article titled, "Neo-Communism: The Forty Years War," I identified several exemplars of the neo-communist left, one of whom has since responded. Maurice Zeitlin is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the co-author of a faculty resolution condemning the United States' liberation of Iraq -- after the fact. Because the resolution was drafted and passed after the liberation of Baghdad its agendas are clearly aimed at America and not the reality in Iraq.
I have known Maurice Zeitlin for more than forty years since we were both new left radicals in the Sixties. In my article, I pointed out that Zeitlin, speaking at an academic conference, had recently hailed the late Cuban Communist, Che Guevara, as "a leader of the first socialist revolution in this hemisphere." He had also said, "[Guevara's] legacy is embodied in the fact that Cuban revolution is alive today despite the collapse of the Soviet bloc," and also that, "No social justice is possible without a vision like Che's." I concluded that it was Zeitlin's neo-communist agenda, and not any specifics of the war that had inspired the post-hoc UCLA faculty resolution against the U.S. action.
Zeitlin has responded to this article in a terse and angry email, which he sent to my assistant, Elizabeth Ruiz, referring to me in the third person. This email affords a further look into the mind of the neo-communist left.
In my article I had mentioned that Zeitlin and Robert Scheer, an L.A. Times columnist with similar politics, had written one of the first books celebrating the Communist revolution in Cuba. In his email Zeitlin is irritated because I didn't mention in the article that I had edited this book. ("You can tell Davey for me that he might have mentioned in this column that he edited the book by myself and Scheer on Cuba -- and we thanked him in the acknowledgments.")Zeitlin appared to think that this fact implicated me in his radical politics in a way I had not already written about in my autobiography Radical Son. He continues: "To think that I saved him from an enraged audience and protected his right to speak at the LA Times Festival of Books a few years ago." I have also written about this incident. "Saved" is a little over the top for the remarks Zeitlin made in defense of my right to express myself. Book readers are not the most violent of audiences and in any case the event was being televised on C-Span. The point Zeitlin seems to want to make is that since he defended my free speech at UCLA, he cannot be called a "neo-communist."
Why not? Didn't Communists defend the principle of free speech in America when they stood up to Senator McCarthy? Communists are great defenders of freedom in the democracies they want to overthrow. It enhances their powers to subvert the system. Didn't Lenin himself defend the right to vote in democratic Russia before abolishing it as soon as he took power?
In the second brief paragraph of his email, Zeitlin makes his objection clearer, and makes explicit the defense of good intentions: "[David] knows damn well that I have long opposed execrable regimes like Hussein's, years before, indeed, Bush even knew who Hussein was. He also knows that I wrote severe criticisms of the restrictions on rights in revolutionary Cuba in Ramparts, when he was its very editor and still gung ho for Fidel;…"
This cri de coeur begs the most important question: What does it mean to oppose Saddam Hussein's "execrable regime" and at the same time oppose the effort to change it? Or to condemn the regime change after the fact when Iraqis are rejoicing in the streets? What are intentions worth when actions contradict them? Are Zeitlin's critiques of Castro harsher than Khrushchev's criticisms of Stalin? Did Khrushchev cease to be a Communist because he criticized Stalin? Zeitlin's attempt at self-exculpation does not provide answers.
Zeitlin was indeed critical of the Cuban revolutionary regime, and was critical even earlier than he indicates. He is correct as well that as a fellow leftist I did not want to see such criticisms aired. (However I would not describe myself at the time as exactly "gung ho for Fidel). The fact is that I published his critique. But Zeitlin could have cited a much more impressive instance of his new left independence from the Communist past.
In 1960, long before the creation of Ramparts, Zeitlin had visited Cuba and interviewed Che Guevara, who was then the second most powerful man in the dictatorship. We published the interview in the first issue of our Berkeley magazine, Root and Branch, which one of the political journals that launched the new left (Robert Scheer was also an editor). The rest of us were both shocked and impressed when we read the interview and realized what Maurice had done.
He had not just interviewed Guevara, already a radical legend. He had challenged Guevara's policies and in effect called into question his revolutionary credentials. Maurice had asked Guevara about the role he thought the trade unions should play in a socialist country, specifically Cuba. Should they be independent - as new left socialists like us wanted - or would they be appendages of the state, as Lenin and Stalin had made them? Maurice reminded Guevara that the elimination of independent unions, the organizations after all of the revolutionary class, had paved the way for the Soviet gulag. Guevara was angered by the question and by Maurice's temerity in raising the question, would not criticize the Soviets and abruptly changed the subject.
Zeitlin had put Guevara to the test and Guevara had failed. The interview revealed that Guevara was a Stalinist himself. We all recognized the significance of what he had said. Yet to our shame, we continued to support the Cuban regime anyway, knowing that it was destined to be a totalitarian gulag - because that was the intention of its creators. Maurice did write a subsequent critique for Ramparts. But like us, he continued to support the regime and to attack the United States and its efforts to restore freedom to Cuba. Later, when I had second thoughts about my political commitments and left the political left and comrades like Maurice Zeitlin, I wrote about my regrets for defending a regime that has become the most sadistic dictatorship in Latin American history. Except for Ronald Radosh and other "second thoughters" who have also turned their backs on the left, I don't know of any new radicals who have done the same.
The left's silence over these unforeseen consequences of its political commitments underscores the pitiful impotence and ultimate irrelevance of good intentions however good they may be. What does it matter that we wanted to create a "new" left or a "democratic socialism," if we did not put our actions behind these desires, if we did not apply the same standards of judgment (and action) for socialist tyrannies as we did for others? What were our "critiques" worth if we were prepared to continue our support for such regimes, or to remain part of a movement that actually defended them? What are Zeitlin's critiques worth if he preserves the myth of Che's leadership and the viability of the socialist idea?
Forty years later, the results of our defense of the Cuban revolution are indisputable. Cuba is an island prison, a land of regime-induced poverty, misery and human oppression (greater by far than the old regime it replaced). Yet despite his criticisms, Maurice Zeitlin is still defending the Cuban "revolution" - along with its patron saint, Che Guevara. As a UCLA professor he is now teaching a new generation of college students who have no memory of this past to idolize the Communist predator he criticized forty years before, calling him an inspiration for the future! ("No social justice is possible without a vision like Che's.") In view of this record, what do Zeitlin's parenthetical condemnations and critical asides matter?
Zeitlin's political career reminds me of a short story by Irwin Shaw titled, "The Ninety-Yard Run," about a college football star who makes a ninety-yard run in his senior college year, which turns out to be the high point of his life. It's down hill all the way for him from there.
In defining the term "neo-communist" as applied to leftists like Zeitlin, I was careful to be specific. I defined a neo-communist as "a political radical and a determined opponent of America and its capitalist democracy." What I had in mind in this description was not just a political outlook, but an outlook reflecting a profound feeling of alienation from America and a hostility towards it that only someone who was or had been a radical himself could really understand.
In attempting to describe this attitude, I have elsewhere employed as an example a line we once used in Ramparts magazine, the flagship publication of the new left. On the cover of our issue we had placed a photograph of a seven-year-old holding the flag of the Communist enemy in Vietnam. The cover line said, "Alienation is when your country is at war and you want the other side to win." That was the way we felt, and we felt that way because our outlook had led us to look at the United States as the imperialist leader of world reaction, which meant that anything that caused America's defeat would be a benefit to mankind.
In the 1980s, I was provided a personal insight into Maurice Zeitlin's own profound alienation from his country - a country that had provided him intellectual freedom, a six-figure income, and opportunities to travel all over the world doing research and writing Marxist tracts at American taxpayers' expense. When the incident in question occurred, I had not seen Maurice nor heard from him in more than twenty years, since our days together in the radical Sixties. I had no idea whether he had had second thoughts like mine or whether he was still on the left. Our paths crossed, so to speak, because of a newspaper report about another Sixties radical named Margaret Randall who was applying for the reinstatement of her American citizenship. She was supported by a chorus of radicals, who claimed that in resisting her request the State Department was trampling on her civil rights.
This news item so outraged me that I promptly wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Times urging the authorities to deny her request. The reason Randall no longer had her citizenship was that she had joined a movement of local terrorists in Mexico City who were attempting to obstruct the 1968 Olympic games. When the street battles were over and many lay dead, she publicly renounced her American citizenship and attacked her homeland as a "fascist" state. She then went to live in Communist Cuba and work as a teacher, indoctrinating Cuban schoolchildren in the Communist creed. In my letter to the Times, I urged officials to demand that Randall apologize to her country before returning to her the citizenship she had renounced. Being an American, in my view, meant accepting a social contract that included a commitment to democracy and individual freedom. I thought Randall should be treated like a new citizen-applicant, and required to make a formal commitment to her country and its principles before being receiving her citizenship back. What is America if it is not a nation of citizens committed to these common ends?
Maurice read my letter to the Los Angeles Times. His reaction, which I learned about through a mutual friend was, "I wonder how low Horowitz will sink next?" This came as a shock to me, because I remembered Maurice's bold defense of freedom to Che Guevara years before, and was unaware of his political evolution since. This remark told me more about Maurice's political commitments than I wanted to hear.
The purpose of the term "neo-communist" is to identify a segment of the left that regards the United States as the root cause of international evil because it is the guardian of the international property system. In the eyes of radicals, this makes America the bulwark of the prevailing system of "social injustice" in the world. These propositions have profound implications for one's political loyalties and commitments, and explain how individuals who claim to honor peace, justice, equality and freedom, can interpose themselves between America and a fascist like Saddam Hussein.
In my previous article on this subject, I referred to Nicholas DeGenova, the Columbia professor who recently made himself notorious at an "antiwar" teach-in by wishing for "a million Mogadishus" -- a million American military defeats. The outrage at his remarks was a response to the image of American troop casualties. But this was to miss the forest for the trees. As DeGenova himself explained in defending his remarks afterwards, what he meant was not that a lot of Americans should be killed (the left always imagines it can separate support for America's troops from support for America's wars) but that a defeat for America would be a victory for humanity. This is the way DeGenova put it:
What I was really emphasizing in the larger context of my comments was the question of Vietnam and that historical lesson….What I was intent to emphasize was that the importance of Vietnam is that it was a defeat for the U.S. war machine and a victory for the cause of human self-determination. 
DeGenova might have added "for social justice."
This is the essence of the neo-communist vision. It explains how leftists like Maurice Zeitlin can condemn America's liberation of Iraq, despite the fact that they recognize that Iraq's regime is "execrable" and that the Iraqi people have been freed from a tyranny. "The analogy between Mogadishu and Vietnam," DeGenova elaborates, "is that they were defeats for U.S. imperialism…. The analogy between Mogadishu and Iraq is simply that there was an invasion of Somalia and there was an invasion of Iraq."
A key to the mentality of the left is that it judges itself by its best intentions, and judges its opponents -- America chief among them -- by their worst deeds. Or by the fantasies of what their worst deeds might be. By imagining a perfect world of social justice that leftists (unopposed) will surely create, even America's most positive achievements can be made to look bad. If a world can be made in which everyone will be fed and have shelter and medical attention, then the fact that they don't can attributed to America, because America is the guardian of the international "status quo."
Therefore, every good that America has achieved can be seen in its reality - from the point of view of social justice -- as a social obscenity. It may be the case, for example, that America has raised unprecedented millions out of the ranks of poverty into a comfortable middle-class existence. But a neo-communist sees this achievement as one that is realized at the expense of a million greater achievements. A historical good that America has accomplished is thus turned into a malevolent deprivation or an evil deed. By extension, when the left acts to weaken America or defend America's enemies, it is really advancing the cause of social progress. This is the neo-communist creed.
Therefore, let us call such radicals neo-communists, or neo-coms (or small "c" communists) for short. They are neo-communist because in the past the Communist left was driven by the illusion that the Soviet Union was actually a "workers paradise" and that true socialism had been achieved. Communists who defended Stalin's oppressive state believed that Russia was really a paradigm of human freedom. Consequently, they experienced none of the problems of cognitive dissonance such as their political heirs do today. Neo-communists know the execrable nature of regimes like Iraq's but defend them against American arms nonetheless. Yet, unlike Moscow, Baghdad is not their socialist mecca. In order to sustain their antagonism to America's intervention to liberate Iraq, they must disconnect their intentions from their actions and their actions from the results.
Neo-communists survive on bad faith. In the past, Communists believed in what they did; today, neo-communists justify their deeds by invoking the excuse of good intentions. But isn't this just what all utopians do? If you believe in a future that will redeem mankind, what lie will you not tell, what crime will you not commit to make the future happen? Which is why progressives have committed every crime in the last half century and lied to all, especially themselves. The Communist mantra that "the ends justify the means," is exactly the rationalization that neo-communists use to defend their alliances with reactionary Islamic radicals and fascist regimes. But after all, using good intentions to justify bad deeds is the first requirement of a utopian bad faith.
 Argiris Malapanis, UCLA Symposium, "LA Symposium Debates Che and the Cuban Revolution," The Militant, November 24, 1997  Ramparts Magazine, April 1969  Ibid.
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05/01/03: Taking On The Neo-Coms
 Argiris Malapanis, UCLA Symposium, "LA Symposium Debates Che and the Cuban Revolution," The Militant, November 24, 1997
 Ramparts Magazine, April 1969
Enjoy this writer's work' Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
05/01/03: Taking On The Neo-Coms