David Horowitz's Long March | The Nation


David Horowitz's Long March

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Some Horowitz-watchers beg to differ, and they attribute his rancor to a complex ideological journey that began in Sunnyside, Queens, in the fifties. His parents were Communists who taught Negro history in their spare time, and he recalls a boyhood home filled with prints by William Gropper, back issues of the Communist Party newspaper the Daily Worker and books like Stalingrad and Scottsboro Boy. In 1952 his father, a high school English teacher, came under attack for his political views. When he refused to answer the question of whether he was a Communist, he was fired for "insubordination," despite his twenty-eight years of service to the school system. His relations with the party were poisoned, and he quit shortly thereafter. But he remained a fellow traveler, and David grew up in a milieu of red summer camps, Paul Robeson concerts and May Day parades. In 1953, at the age of 14, he was present at the Union Square Park death vigil for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. When the execution was announced, mounted police moved in to quell the demonstration. In his compelling, infuriating memoir, Radical Son (1997), Horowitz recalled, "I scrambled with the others to avoid the hoofs of the oncoming beasts, thinking: This must be fascism."

Research assistance was provided by the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.

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Scott Sherman
Scott Sherman (scottgsherman.com), a contributing writer to The Nation,  is at work on a book about the New York...

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Following his graduation from Columbia University, Horowitz began graduate work at UC-Berkeley, arriving just in time for the anti-HUAC protests in San Francisco, which ended in massive police violence against the demonstrators. Horowitz chronicled those events in a slender 1962 book titled Student, which was one of the first texts of the New Left. It begins with a line from Ingmar Bergman's The Magician: "I have prayed just one prayer in my life: Use me." Student contained some Howl-like riffs against the conformity and ennui of the fifties, and it sold 25,000 copies. In 1982 Mario Savio, leader of Berkeley's Free Speech Movement, told Horowitz that he devoured the entire text standing in a New York drugstore, and it inspired him to go to California because "Berkeley is the place."

In 1962 Horowitz and his young family moved to Europe, spending most of the next six years in London. He became affiliated with the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation; fell under the spell of Ralph Miliband, the socialist intellectual, and Isaac Deutscher, Trotsky's biographer; and wrote several bombastic and forgotten volumes whose ambition was "the reconstruction of socialist theory after Stalin."

In 1968, at the behest of his old Berkeley comrade Robert Scheer, Horowitz returned to California to work at Ramparts, which, under Scheer and Warren Hinckle, had become one of the New Left's most vibrant publications. But internecine conflict quickly erupted, and Scheer was ousted by Horowitz and Peter Collier. Today, Scheer attributes his removal to the fact that he wasn't "left enough" for the fiery insurgents. In Radical Son, however, Horowitz argues that Scheer was expelled in a popular revolt by beleaguered staff members. In the fall of 1969 Horowitz and Collier took over Ramparts, but they lacked their predecessors' journalistic and literary imagination, along with their ability to raise funds from wealthy individuals. The magic was gone, and the New Left's flagship publication perished in 1975.

In early 1974 the French writer Jean Genet phoned the Ramparts office and got Horowitz on the line. Genet, who had taken up the Black Panther cause in the Bay Area, needed a translator. Might Ramparts provide one? One thing led to another, and it wasn't long before Horowitz found himself in the Oakland penthouse of Panther leader Huey Newton, who had just returned from China. A heated argument about the revolutionary virtues of Maoism erupted between Horowitz and Newton, and the latter concluded the debate on a conciliatory note. Horowitz was delighted: "I had found a political soul mate," he recalls.

Horowitz's intellectual seduction by Newton constitutes some of the most fascinating pages in Radical Son. Newton made Horowitz his confidant, took him to glitzy parties and published his essays in the Panthers' official newspaper. When Newton asked him to raise money for a new Panther school in Oakland, Horowitz eagerly obliged by creating a tax-exempt foundation that eventually netted more than $100,000 for the project.

Attaching himself to the Bay Area Panthers in 1974 was, it turns out, a colossal mistake: Their heyday was over, and the leadership had become increasingly violent and deranged. The educator Herbert Kohl, who was then involved in several Panther education projects, warned Horowitz that Newton was abusing cocaine. ("He had a cold," Horowitz replied.) Uncomfortable being a white man in the upper ranks of the Panther hierarchy, Horowitz attempted to recruit qualified blacks to replace him, so he invited Troy Duster, a sociologist at UC-Berkeley, to meet Newton. But Duster was suspicious of Newton's mercurial behavior and fled. Horowitz then denounced Duster as something of a bourgeois "Uncle Tom." "I must have been insufferable," Horowitz says, reflecting on his younger self.

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