Wow, it's come to this. A blast from 20 years ago, which is
unconsciously prescient about the author's own course:

The Nation - November 7, 1987

Christopher Hitchens

There was something implicitly smug about the naming of the Second
Thoughts Conference, just as there was something unmistakably
sinister about its deliberations. The presumption of the title was
that revisionism-in this case, post-New Left revisionism-is
necessarily more thoughtful. The discovery made by those attending
was that only one kind of thought is considered to be wholesome and

This came as a shock to those who had signed up with genuine second
thoughts about their former commitments. (Who believes everything
that he or she believed in 1968? Back then, the Democrats were trying
to save Vietnam from joining the Chinese empire.) In the category of
"genuine" I include David Hawk, a conscientious survivor of the
movement against the Indochina war; Jeff Herf, a former S.D.S.
activist turned cautious military strategist; and Fausto Amador, half
brother of Carlos Fonseca and an original member of the Sandinista
movement. These three were among the self-critical. But the tone was
set by those who are now able to be critical only of others.

David Horowitz and Peter Collier, former editors of Ramparts, have
come all the way from pink Pampers through Black Panthers to one-
dimensional Reaganism. With a bit of effort, they could succeed in
their current modest ambition, which is to become quite nasty. They
make a good fit with the diagnosis offered by Isaac Deutscher in his
1950 review of The God That Failed. Speaking of a certain kind of
former Communist, Deutscher wrote:

He is haunted by a vague sense that he has betrayed either his former
ideals or the ideals of bourgeois society; like Koestler, he may even
have an ambivalent notion that he has betrayed both. He then tries to
suppress his sense of guilt and uncertainty, or to camouflage it by a
show of *extraordinary certitude and frantic aggressiveness*. He
insists that the world should recognise his uneasy conscience as the
clearest conscience of all. [Emphasis added.]

This disordered mentality got a chance to reveal itself at its most
putrid on the afternoon of the first day. Ronald Radosh, announcing
dramatically that we all face "a massive Sandinista propaganda
machine" in America, gave a lengthy account of how he had personally
eavesdropped on a conversation in Managua between Alejandro Bentana,
director of the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry, and Professor William
LeoGrande of American University in Washington. Evidently thrilled by
his own prowess as a fink, Radosh told the crowd that the two men had
been discussing such dark matters as the political line of Michael
Harrington and the editorial policy of Tikkun. Then, he alleged,
LeoGrande had told Bentana not to worry; soon, Reagan would be gone
and the Sandinistas could do as they liked. At once David Horowitz
was on his feet to shout, "I know what I think of that! I say that's

It was a moment to savor. The spirit of Whittaker Chambers had
materialized in the hall, and a rite of passage had been
accomplished. "Treason." It has a good, resonant sound, doesn't it?
No matter that Professor LeoGrande (who has issued a detailed denial)
would never have said such a thing - for who believes that Nicaragua
will ever be allowed by the United States to do as it pleases? Nor is
it particularly relevant to point out that no formal state of war
exists between Washington and Managua. Nor does it make much
difference that Radosh, the patriotic eavesdropper, was on a trip
financed by the United States Information Agency. What is significant
here is the full-throated roar. Those who will not go the whole nine
yards with the latest defectors are guilty, not of naivete or useful
idiocy or the usual charges but of treason. Whittaker Chambers, as
some people forget, was a considerable and complicated figure who
actually urged William Buckley, in vain, to have nothing to do with
Senator Joe McCarthy. He would have been denounced as a faintheart
and advocate of half measures if he had made a spectral appearance at
this fervent gathering.

One sees the predicament in which Horowitz and Collier find
themselves. At the gala dinner of their event were Norman Podhoretz,
Irving Kristol, Martin Peretz, Hilton Kramer and William Phillips.
That makes five editors of five self-congratulatory neoconservative
magazines. It was an evening positively awash with pompous mutual
esteem, punctuated only by a witty and admonitory address from
Kramer. So who needs yet another set of breast-beating recusants,
this time accusing themselves of a past mired in terrorism, crime and
family maladjustment? In order to make their point and stake their
claim, Horowitz and Collier had to exaggerate the zeal of the
convert, intensify the hunt for heresy. I can offer a trivial and
amusing example, to take away the taste of the LeoGrande episode. In
private conversation the duo had suggested a debate between
themselves and your correspondent. They even proposed that I
contribute an article to the magazine that, with money from yet
another right-wing foundation, they propose to launch. But at the
above-mentioned dinner the toadying emcee, Marty (Hot Lips) Peretz,
tried a flailing attack on the "loathsome" Hitchens. (Peretz is one
of those tiresome, unctuous types who thinks he's a wit and who is
half right.) At next day's session, Horowitz took up this cry and
made it more extreme. It was obviously emotionally important for him
not to be outdone by anybody.

The line of the conference was that a person who opposes the contras
is, "objectively" of course, "anti-American " This must mean that the
contras and their network of Norths and Channells and Singlaubs are
in some essential way the United States. What could possibly be more
of an insult to America? But the revisionism goes further still.
According to the Horowitz-Collier-Radosh school (I hope these people
don't last long enough to need a more convenient name), Franco should
have won the Spanish Civil War, Cuba would have been better off
staying under Batista, the Sandinistas should have been stopped in
1979 or earlier, the Vietnam War should have gone on, presumably
forever, and the Chinese Revolution should have been aborted in
Shanghai before Malraux got hold of it. These positions, which I do
not caricature, are in the strictest sense idealistic as well as
reactionary. They reduce the study of history to a mere working-out
of conspiracies and betrayals.

Suppose one were to say that the Russian Revolution should have
occurred in 1905, that Rosa Luxemburg should have saved Germany from
the right in 1919, that Gramsci's forces should have vanquished
Mussolini's, that Sandino should have triumphed in 1929, that the
French empire should have been allowed to expire in Indochina in 1945
or that the Spanish Republic should have arrested the rebellious
generals and avoided the Civil War in the first place? One could
properly be accused of utopianism, though God knows I wish all those
possibilities had occurred. Instead, for refusing to indict the
course of events and for seeking historical as well as moral reasons
for the fate of revolution, one is accused of fellow traveling and
appeasement. Nice, unironic going. You would scarcely guess that it
is the Reaganites who now arm and endorse the Khmer Rouge.

Having rewritten it up to its present page, the H-C-R school now
flatly announces that history has come to a full stop. To talk of
change and evolution in the Communist world, for example, is to talk
of something that is axiomatically impossible, a position that even
Professor Leszek Kolakowski, who helped formulate it, now finds less
tenable than he was wont to. This deaf, boring, fanatical opinion
finds its ideal counterpart in the conviction that corporate,
consumer, military capitalism is civilization's last word in the West.

"Aha!" exclaim the new zealots, "You're ducking the question. Are
you, or are you not, sincerely anti-Communist? Answer yes or no!
Also, answer quickly!" In Stephen Ambrose's history of the political
career of Richard Nixon, I learned that in 1950 Nixon was accused by
Helen Gahagan Douglas of being soft on Communism in Korea. "On every
key vote," said this silly, opportunist progressive, "Nixon stood
with party-liner Marcantonio against America in its fight to defeat
Communism." More recently, on May 14 last, I heard Robert McFarlane
tell the Iran/contra hearings why he had never checked on the
legality of the Nicaragua policy: "To tell you the truth, probably
the reason I didn't is because if I'd done that Bill Casey, Jeane
Kirkpatrick and Cap Weinberger would have said I was some kind of a
Commie, you know." Yes I do know, and an auction in which Nixon and
McFarlane can be outbid is too much for me.

I will say for David Horowitz that he urged me to speak with Fausto
Amador. I did have a long discussion with Amador two days after the
conference ended. He was blooded early as a Sandinista, experienced a
great disillusionment in Cuba and became, successively, an ex-
Communist, an ex-Trotskyist and an ex-Marxist. But he has stopped
short of the full James Burnham apostasy. He now lives in Costa Rica,
where he leads a grass-roots movement of the poor and not long ago
was arrested for heading a demonstration in memory of the murdered
Archbishop Romero of El Salvador. He is passionately opposed to the
contras and will have nothing to do with any Nicaraguan who supports
them: "They have burned down the possibility of civic opposition and
become corrupted with American money. They are shit! " I asked him
why he had not said so at the conference: "Well, they cut my speech
short-the only time it happened to anyone all weekend. I like David,
but I don't know why he is getting involved with these people. He
will soon learn what they are like." I think Amador is an optimist.

A very different kind of former revolutionary was also at the
conference. Ndabaningi Sithole, the renegade black nationalist from
the old Rhodesia, was a prominent guest. I used to interview him back
in the days when he threw in his lot with Ian Smith and became a
zealous prosecutor of the war against his people's insurgent
majority. While in office he solicited the help of Idi Amin for his
own private militia. He now beseeches Washington for aid to the South
Africanorganized rebels in Mozambique. In the coming battle over
South Africa he will provide some pathetic black decor for the pro-
apartheid lobby. Is this what the Second Thoughters really want? All
the available evidence about their mentality suggests that it is. For
them, the demand to release Nelson Mandela and recognize the African
National Congress is a demand that opens the door to Stalinism. And
if Mandela dies in prison and the A.N.C. comes to power in blood, the
same geniuses will be on hand to say that they told us so. This is a
cheap three-card trick, which any fool can see through while it is
being played. The blacks who hate Mandela will meanwhile find good
company with the Jews who supported the torturers of Jacobo Timerman.
Who is traveling with whom?

Since I have never been a Stalinist, a Weatherman enthusiast or a
Black Panther groupie, I may lack the imaginative sympathy that is
required to analyze the H-C-R cult. But I know a dead end when I see
one. The cult has changed ships on a falling tide. Every precept of
Reaganism is coming to pieces before our eyes. And meanwhile in the
Soviet Union, which was unmentioned at the conference, nobody any
longer believes that glasnost is window dressing (though Norman
Podhoretz thoughtfully compared Gorbachev to Hitler in his most
recent column on the subject). Of all the times to sign up for a
simple-minded war on the socialist and revolutionary past, this must
be the least propitious. But the absurdity of the HC-R faction
doesn't necessarily define it as innocuous. There will be further
spasms of lunacy down the road, and fresh occasions for the paranoid
style to express itself. As Deutscher put it so aptly in speaking of
the penitent:

His former illusion at least implied a positive ideal. His
disillusionment is utterly negative. His role is therefore
intellectually and politically barren. He advances bravely in the
front rank of every witch-hunt. His blind hatred of his former ideal
is leaven to contemporary conservatism.

Reply via email to