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From the Pen of David Horowitz: December 14, 2009

Posted on December 14 2009 4:49 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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Forty years ago, I wrote the first book about the New Left, which was also a kind of manifesto of our publicly proposed agendas for a more democratic and racially equal America. I say “publicly proposed” because as leftists we knew we could not announce what we really intended which was a socialist revolution in America. As “new” leftists, we retained the illusion that socialism was a workable future, and that we could avoid the “mistakes” the Soviets had made, which had tarnished and compromised the socialist agenda. We also told ourselves that we could not be candid about what we intended because of America’s repressive political atmosphere at the time. But, in fact, McCarthyism was already dead and the real reason it was so difficult for us to articulate our socialist intentions was because they had been so thoroughly discredited by the historical record.

In the same year, a much more famous (and equally disingenuous) document appeared, called “The Port Huron Statement,” which was the founding manifesto of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The Port Huron Statement did not admit to its socialist agendas, but called instead for “participatory democracy,” by which it meant a direct democracy (or “people’s democracy”) – a democracy that would embrace the economic order as well. This was exactly how Marx had described the Communist future, but the Port Huron statement prudently refrained from acknowledging that fact.

SDS quickly became the largest organization of the New Left enroling close to 100,000 members at its peak, and spearheaded the movement against America’s anti-Communist war in Vietnam. But a movement that had begun with slogans about “democracy” emblazoned on its banners, ended up — a bare seven years later — embracing totalitarian police states like Cuba and North Vietnam and genocidal Communist movements like the Cambodian Khmer Rouge. In its final spasms of revolutionary fervor, SDS spawned leaders like Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers who called for actual war against “Amerikkka” and went “underground” to lead the first political terrorist cult in this country.

As it happens, Tom Hayden, who was the most famous of the authors of the Port Huron statement was also one of the loudest voices calling for a “war of liberation” in “Amerikkka” and the creation of armed “zones of liberation” in American college towns. Although he didn’t go underground with the Weatherman, he gave their cause his moral and political support. Hayden even formed his own guerrilla foco (a term lifted from Che Guevara’s strategist, Regis Debray), called the “Red Family,” whose members trained at local firing ranges for the battle to come.

Not surprisingly, in the years that have passed Hayden has not cared to recall the details of these episodes or explain how this political degeneration might be connected to the principles he helped to draft at Port Huron. Nor have any of the New Left historians of this period. This failure is all the more striking in light of the fact that the disastrous direction in which he and others led the New Left was actually predicted at the moment of its founding by dissenters from the Port Huron consensus. These were notably the late Irving Howe and his disciple, Michael Harrington. Even in 1962, Harrington and Howe saw that Hayden and his comrades were totalitarians in the making.

—  Left Illusions

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