Editor’s Note: Beginning today the NRB feature “From the Writings of David Horowitz” is getting an upgrade. From now on we’ll be republishing full-length articles from David’s archive instead of just quotes. We hope you enjoy it.
This essay was first published on July 23 2002 and can be found here.
Forty years ago, I wrote a book about the New Left, which was in fact the first book about the New Left and a kind of manifesto of what it intended. In the same year, a much more famous document appeared, called “The Port Huron Statement,” which was the founding manifesto of the Students for A Democratic Society. This was an organization that began by agitating for “participatory democracy,” became the largest organization of the left and ended up, a bare seven years later, calling for war against “Amerikkka” and creating the Weather Underground — the first terrorist political cult. As it happens, the most famous of the two principal authors of the Port Huron Statement, Tom Hayden, was one of the loudest voices calling for a “war of liberation” in Amerikka and formed his own little guerrilla army to achieve that goal.
Not surprisingly, Hayden does not care to remember or explain this political devolution, even though it was actually predicted at the time by dissenters from Port Huron, notably the late Irving Howe. Even in 1962, Howe understood that Hayden and his comrades were totalitarians in the making. Now, Hayden and his co-author Dick Flacks have written a feature story for the August 5th issue of The Nation, called “The Port Huron Statement at 40,” in which they celebrate its longevity and influence as though the seeds of malevolence they sowed (and the rest of the nation reaped) were something to be proud of.
The picture the two activists paint — rosy by even the most generous standards — is made possible by a selective forgetting of the kind Milan Kundera has explored in his writings on the totalitarian delusion. Thus Hayden describes himself in those early days as a “a Midwestern populist by nature, rebelling apolitically against the boring hypocrisy of suburban life — until the Southern black student sit-in movement showed him that a committed life was possible.” This is the purest eyewash, which any reasonable reader can detect by asking how this description can explain the fact that Hayden found himself in the leadership of asocialist organization (SDS was an offshoot of the League for Industrial Democracy) surrounded by Marxists like his co-author, Dick Flacks, whose members were self-consciously working out the problems they had inherited — as socialists — from Stalinism. The key battle at Port Huron (not even addressed in the Hayden-Flacks nostalgia piece) was whether to include actual members of the Communist Party in the coalition that would become SDS.