VITAL SIGNSrnPOLITICSrnDavid Horowitzrnand thernEx-CommunistrnConfessionalrnby Justin RaimondornThe literature of recanting radicalsrnhas been with us since 1917: fromrnthe recollections of Russian Mensheviks,rnwho rued the day they joined withrnLenin, to Irving Kristol’s “Memoirs ofrna Trotskyist,” in which the neoconservativerngodfather fondly reminisces aboutrnhis youthful dalliance with dissidentrncommunism. With each successivernatrocity and betrayal—Kronstadt, thernMoscow Trials, the Hitler-Stalin Pact,rnKhrushchev’s admission of Stalin’srncrimes—library shelves grew heavierrnwith the weight of accumulated mearnculpds. At the height of the Cold War,rna new subgenre grew up around the sensationalrnrevelations of ex-communistsrndetailed in dozens of books, the mostrnfamous being Whittaker Chambers’rnWitness. This overpraised and overwroughtrnwork inspired many imitators,rnwhose works became a staple of the anticommunistrnarsenal. With their luridrntales of a secret subworld of subversion, arnhidden labyrinth of evil beneath thernplacid streets of postwar America, theyrnthrilled their readers with a deliciousrnfear.rnThe implosion of communism meantrnthe end of the Cold War on the literaryrnfront. As the Berfin Wall was leveled andrnLenin’s heirs were deposed, an entire literaryrngenre was wiped out, along withrnthe Soviet Empire. With the publicationrnof David Horowitz’s Radical Son: ArnGenerational Odyssey (The Free Press,rn1997), a memoir detailing the author’srninvolvement with the Black Panthers andrnthe New Left hothouse of Berkeley inrnthe 60’s, we are hearing the last echoes ofrnthe ex-radicals’ self-abnegation.rnThe twin themes of recantation andrnretribution dominate these works, fromrnthe earliest—Benjamin Gitlow’s I Confessrn(1940), This is My Story, by LouisrnBudenz (1947), Whittaker Chambers’rnWitness (1954), and several other worksrnby lesser-known figures—to their 60’srncounterparts, Phillip Abbott Luce, authorrnof The New Left (1966), and Horowitz.rnLike disappointed lovers, the authorsrnof these works testify to the cruelrnseduction they were subjected to: allrnwere innocent idealists led astray byrntemptation, but redeemed in the end.rnBudenz, like many of the ex-Stalinists,rnmade a beeline for the Church; others,rnsuch as Jay Lovestone and hving Brown,rnbecame right-wing Social Democratsrnand were instrumental in crafting thernCIA’s penetration of the European laborrnmovement. In time, many—Chambers,rnKristol, Luce, Horowitz—would join thernconservative movement.rnTaking Gitlow and Horowitz—thernfirst, and, likely, the last—as examples, arnbiographical pattern begins to emerge:rnboth were born into a family of Bolsheviks,rnNew York Jewish immigrants whorninstilled their progeny with devotion tornthe Cod Who Had Not Yet Failed. Yetrnthe biographical parallels also highlightrntheir vivid contrasts in character, tone,rnand style. In / Confess, for instance, Gitlowrnrecalls “the Socialist activities thatrnemanated from our house”; his parentsrnwere active members of the Socialist Party.rnWhile acknowledging parental influence,rnhe attributes his early conversion tornsocialism to a boyish spirit that wasrn”thrilled at the stories of the undergroundrnmovement, of the conspiring activities,rnhow deeds of violence againstrnthe Tsarist oppressors were planned.”rnYoung Ben was particularly impressed byrnthe story of “how they transmitted messagesrnin code by a system of telegraphicrnknocks upon the wall.” Gitlow’s fatherrnand mother are briefly and respectfullyrnportrayed in his book as poor but noblernimmigrants imbued with a passionaternsense of justice. Although he is recantingrna creed learned at their knee, there isrnnary a word of criticism of them. Norrndoes Gitlow attribute his subsequent careerrnsolely or even primarily to parentalrninfluence: in describing the series ofrnevents that led to his recruitment, hernmakes it clear that he chose his own destiny.rnContrast this with the victimologicalrnwhining of Horowitz: “What was myrnown choice? In the beginning, I hardlyrnhad one. I understood early that my parents’rnpolitical religion was really the centerrnof their moral life. This meant. . .rnthat the condition of their parental lovernwas that I embrace their political faith.”rnIt would never have occurred to Gitlowrnto blame his father and mother for hisrnpolitical mistakes, but the Oprahizationrnof American culture makes it possible forrnHorowitz to demonize his parents.rnWhile he prefaces each denunciation ofrntheir actions with a protestation of hisrnundying love, he spares them nothing.rnThese “permanent conspirators in a revolutionaryrndrama” are described as virtualrnpod people, their true selves deeplyrnembedded in an underground world ofrnsubversion. “Their real politics,” hernwrites, “were conducted far from view, inrnthe neighborhood cell meetings of thernCommunist Party. It was to this subterraneanrnactivity” that they owed theirrntrue allegiance. He likens them torn”agents of a secret service” for whomrn”secrecy enveloped everything that wasrnimportant to them.” His father maderncryptic references to “the Organization”rnand “the Party,” but rarely said thernC-word aloud.rnHorowitz does not deny that peoplernsuch as his parents were operating underrnthe constant surveillance of governmentrnagencies, including the FBI and local policerndepartments, and “the scent of inquisitionrnwas in the air. And yet,” hernwrites, “what else could they have expected?”rnAfter all, they “wanted to overthrowrnexisting institutions.”rnIn other words, they deserved it.rnWhile this point may be arguable, it isrnunsettling and unseemly that their ownrnson is the one to make it. While fingeringrnex-comrades and “naming names”rnwas a major motivation of Gitlow, Budenz,rnet al., none ever went so far as tornsingle out his own parents—at least, notrnuntil Horowitz.rnSince the era of Gitlow, the staturernof these recanters has slowly but surelyrnJUNE 1997/41rnrnrn