It's a pity that Chronicles chose a shallow and vindictive reviewer like Justin Raimondo ("David Horowitz and the Ex-Communist Confessional," June) to vet Radical Son for the Chronicles audience. Justin's animus toward me (based on a public clash we had some years ago) is transparent enough, but his reading of my text is so bizarre that the Chronicles audience is offered little clue as to the contents of my book, let alone insight into its place in the literature of anticommunist memoirs, which is the pretense under which his review is written.
To set me up for invidious comparison, Raimondo praises the ex-communist Benjamin Gitlow for writing "nary a word of criticism" of his parents, nor attributing any aspect of his career to "parental influence." (Raimondo makes no attempt to justify why this should be praiseworthy in any writer of autobiography.) Then Raimondo turns to my text: "Contrast this with the victimological whining of Horowitz":
What was my own choice? In the beginning I hardly had one. I understood early that my parents' political religion was really the center of their moral life. This meant that the condition of their parental love was that I embrace their political faith.
The passage in which this offending comment occurs actually forms the prelude to my entrance into a communist-run nursery school at age 18 months. But this does not phase Raimondo; "It would never have occurred to Gitlow to blame his father and mother for his political mistakes, but the Oprahization of American culture makes it possible for Horowitz to demonize his parents."
Readers of Radical Son will know that I do nothing of the kind. Other reviewers have described my account of my relationship with my father, for example, as "poignant" and "poetic." Raimondo is so determined to demonize me that he winds up defending the communist community I grew up in. Thus, at another point in the text I observe that the people in this community were "permanent conspirators in a revolutionary drama" who posed as "progressives" to disarm the unsuspecting public while "their real politics were conducted far from view." Raimondo offers this as a further example of unfair attacks on my parents. Defending them, he writes: "Horowitz does not deny that people such as his parents were operating under the constant surveillance of government agencies, including the FBI and local police departments, and . . . yet he writes, 'what else could they have expected?' After all, they 'wanted to overthrow existing institutions.' In other words, they deserved it." Well, yes.
Raimondo's defense, of course, is the Communist Party's own explanation of its deceptions and Fifth Amendment demurrals—the FBI and the government red-baiters made us do it. In other words, if we (communists) refuse to answer honestly as to what our real politics are, it is because we will be persecuted for our ideas. Au contraire, Justin. It was the conspiratorial activities of the communist movement that made them dishonest and made it necessary for the FBI to surveil them.
Because Raimondo's agenda is to attack me personally rather than to review my book, he manages to get everything wrong, even its central drama, which is my involvement with the Black Panthers. "Typically, when he discovers that his Black Panther heroes are murderers and thugs, he blames other people":
Anger welled inside me. Why hadn't Joel said anything before? Why hadn't Charles? Or Troy? Why hadn't they warned me? The answer was clear: they did not want to be accused of betraying the Left.
Readers of Radical Son will know that I am not exculpating myself here but only explaining why all leftists, myself included, were so ready to cover up the crimes of the left. On the page before this passage I wrote: "[My parents'] political ideals had embarrassed them, making them complicit in others' crimes. I had resolved that I would not repeat their mistake. Now I was guilty myself." Get it, Justin? Guilty myself.
There is not a substantive statement I have made that Raimondo doesn't question, unless it suits his prosecutorial purposes. Raimondo refers to a passage in my text where I am approached by a KGB agent, who invites me to a series of lunches. Raimondo: "These discussions were always held at the best restaurants [as though I had chosen them!], and on such occasions Horowitz claims to have argued against Soviet repression." [Emphasis added.] On one of these occasions, the agent stuffed an envelope in my pocket. Raimondo: "Horowitz says he 'knew instinctively what was in the envelope,' but claims to have been 'so frightened that I didn't dare remove it until I reached home.'" [Emphasis added.] At home, I opened it and discovered that it contained 150 one dollar bills, and returned it.
Raimondo: "Although he says [my emphasis] he returned the money 'at our next meeting,' a question arises. Why did he open the envelope? If he 'instinctively' knew it was money, then he must have wanted to know how much." In fact, the reaction I had to the money was not delayed and was this: "I was not so much surprised [by the money] as dumbfounded. How could these people be so stupid in their own interest, and so reckless with mine? . . . they thought nothing of putting my work (to say nothing of my life) in jeopardy by attempting to recruit me as an agent. The thought enraged me."
Now I ask the reader of this passage 1) Why would I report this incident if I was actually tempted by the offer and only haggling over the price, especially if I wanted to conceal that fact? 2) Why would I recount another incident in which I actually did commit treason, if I was intent (as Raimondo implies) on covering up a mere flirtation with treason earlier? In fact, my account is exactly the way it happened, and Raimondo's attempt to prosecute me for allegedly failing to admit what I freely admit a few pages later only shows how relentless is his determination to put me in a bad light, and how pathetic his execution of that task.
There is really no point in going further, but I cannot resist one additional comment. With typical reckless disregard for the facts, Raimondo accuses me of being an opportunist: "Horowitz . . . swims with the tide, not against it, and breathlessly announces, at this late date that . . . the Black Panthers were not Boy Scouts." Readers of Radical Son will know that I risked life and limb, lost family and friends, to bring the story of the Panther murders to light—over a 20-year period—and have been punished professionally by the liberal literary culture for doing so. If it were not for my efforts, no one—not even Justin Raimondo— would know about the Panther murders described in Radical Son.
Center for the Study of Popular Culture
Los Angeles, CA
Mr. Raimondo Replies:
It is truly odd to be called vindictive by a man who celebrates the persecution of his own parents. This unattractive theme is further illustrated when Horowitz defends the firing of his father from his job as a teacher because he refused to deny that he was a member of the Communist Party: after all, "what actually happened to my father" wasn't all that bad. American Communists "were neither executed nor tortured, and spent hardly any time in jail." In Horowitz's book, his father should have been grateful to his persecutors instead of defiant: Radical Son is a case study in the distortion of personality by ideology—in this case, neoconservative ideology.
In spite of his strenuous attempt to wriggle out of it, Horowitz never explains just why he didn't simply hand that money-filled envelope back to the KGB agent right there on the street. Horowitz reports an incident that raises questions he is not prepared to answer because, in works of this kind, vanity trumps common sense: after all, the KGB had deemed him important enough to recruit.
Horowitz justifies police state methods and the virtual outlawing of the Communist Party on the grounds that its members were engaged in "conspiratorial activities" and that it was therefore necessary to "surveil them." Like so many of those who have made the odyssey from left to right, Horowitz has merely changed the color of his flag, while retaining the statist core of his beliefs. At a time when it is the right that is under attack from government agencies, and when the threat of government surveillance is quite real in an atmosphere of anti-"extremist" hysteria, how long before Horowitz is calling for the same methods to be used against his enemies on the right?
As for any personal "animus" on my part, I should state for the record that its genesis had nothing to do with his enraged response to my attack on Martin Luther King, Jr., at a 1993 National Review conference, for at the time I hardly knew the man. But Horowitz should know that one of the risks of autobiography is that the author will inadvertently reveal himself to be a thoroughly disagreeable and even contemptible person.