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From the Pen of David Horowitz: December 3, 2009

Posted on December 3 2009 3:49 am
David Swindle is the Managing Editor of NewsReal Blog and the Associate Editor of FrontPage Magazine. Follow him on Twitter here
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Antonio Gramsci once described the revolutionary temperament as a pessimism of the intellect and an optimism of the will. For the veterans of my radical generation, the balance was tipped when we sustained what seemed like irreparable injury to our sense of historical possibility. It was not even so much the feeling that the left would not be able to change society; it was rather the sense that, in crucial ways, the left could not change itself.

Above all, the left seems trapped in its romantic vision. In spite of the defeats to its radical expectations, it is unable to summon the dispassion to look at itself critically. Despite the disasters of twentieth-century revolutions, the viability of the revolutionary goals remains largely unexamined and unquestioned. Even worse, radical commitments to justice and other social values continue to be dominated by a moral and political double standard. The left’s indignation seems exclusively reserved for outrages that confirm the Marxist diagnosis of the sickness of capitalist society. Thus, there is protest against murder and repression in Nicaragua, but not Cambodia, Chile but not Tibet, South Africa but not Uganda, Israel but not Libya or Iraq. Political support is mustered for oppressed minorities in Western countries but not in Russia or the People’s Republic of China, while a Third World country that declares itself “Marxist” puts itself – by the very act – beyond reproach. In the same vein, almost any “liberation movement” is embraced as just that, though it may be as unmistakably atavistic and clerically fascist on first sight as the Ayatollah Khomeini’s in Iran.

This moral and political myopia is compounded by the left’s inability to accept responsibility for its own acts and commitments. Unpalatable results (e.g. the outcome of the Revolution in Russia) are regarded as “irrelevant” – and dismissed – as though the left in America and elsewhere played no role in them, and as though they have had no impact on the world the left set out to change. Or they are analyzed as anomalies – and dismissed – as though there were in fact a standard of achieved revolution by which the left could have confidence in its program and in its understanding of the historical process.

Left Illusions (This excerpt is from “A Radical’s Disenchantment,” Horowitz’s farewell essay to the Left written in The Nation in 1979.)

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