Vital Signs

David Horowitz and the Ex-Communist Confessional

The literature of recanting radicals has been with us since 1917: from the recollections of Russian Mensheviks, who rued the day they joined with Lenin, to Irving Kristol's "Memoirs of a Trotskyist," in which the neoconservative godfather fondly reminisces about his youthful dalliance with dissident communism. With each successive atrocity and betrayal—Kronstadt, the Moscow Trials, the Hitler-Stalin Pact, Khrushchev's admission of Stalin's crimes—library shelves grew heavier with the weight of accumulated mea culpás. At the height of the Cold War, a new subgenre grew up around the sensational revelations of ex-communists detailed in dozens of books, the most famous being Whittaker Chambers' Witness. This overpraised and overwrought work inspired many imitators, whose works became a staple of the anticommunist arsenal. With their lurid tales of a secret subworld of subversion, a hidden labyrinth of evil beneath the placid streets of postwar America, they thrilled their readers with a delicious fear.

The implosion of communism meant the end of the Cold War on the literary front. As the Berlin Wall was leveled and Lenin's heirs were deposed, an entire literary genre was wiped out, along with the Soviet Empire. With the publication of David Horowitz's Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey (The Free Press, 1997), a memoir detailing the author's involvement...

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