A Fellow Traveling
Many left-liberals, including Irving Howe (rightly, in my view), rebuked Radosh for taking an exaggerated position, pointing out that the Sandinista leadership included many democrats as well, and that in any case, the Sandinistas should not be publicly criticized while "under attack" by the American empire. Radosh replied, with some justice, that the same adamant advice (and ostracism) had been handed out by American leftists fifty years earlier to those who, like Emma Goldman, pointed to the betrayal of the Russian Revolution.
Not wanting to rely solely on my own limited knowledge of Central America, I asked the respected expert Laird Bergad, director of the CUNY Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies, to read over a few of Radosh's pages on the Sandinistas. "Fundamentally," Bergad told me, "Radosh is right. There were too many Stalinists among the leadership. By following the Castro model they did submerge democratic impulses, and their attack on the Miskito Indians was a huge blunder."
Bergad also felt, however, that although some of Daniel Ortega's acts were regrettable, Radosh overuses Ortega as the personification of the Sandinista regime. And we would do well to remember, Bergad added, that the Sandinistas were responsible, after all, for overthrowing the feral Somoza regime--a dictatorship far worse than that of the Sandinistas.
We should also add, on Radosh's side, that he has valuably reminded the left in this country that we have all too often in the past greeted insurgent movements uncritically and turned a blind eye to mounting evidence of repression; when the evidence could no longer be dismissed, we've sometimes resorted to ethically dubious slogans like "you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs" or "the revolution may be less than perfect but we have to maintain solidarity with those resisting the encroachments of the American Empire."
As for the Rosenbergs, Radosh's name has been centrally connected to their case for some twenty years. The 1983 book The Rosenberg File, which he wrote with Joyce Milton, billed itself as a disinterested, scholarly "search for the truth," and indeed the book's conclusions could be considered moderate--that is, when measured against the inflamed rhetoric surrounding the case in the early 1950s, when the Rosenbergs (who were executed in 1953) were denounced for having "stolen the secret of the atom bomb" and given it to the Soviets--"the crime of the century," J. Edgar Hoover called it.
By the time the Radosh/Milton book appeared, public views had become less apocalyptic. It was understood by then that there hadn't been any single secret central to making the bomb, that the Soviets' own scientists had already made headway toward producing atomic weapons--and the spy who had most helped them was not Julius Rosenberg but the British physicist Klaus Fuchs.
In general, The Rosenberg File confirmed those views. It insisted that Julius had run a spy ring, but that the evidence of Ethel's complicity was weak; that a scientific sketch obtained by David Greenglass (Ethel's brother) and passed through Harry Gold to the Russians was in fact of low-level importance and certainly not the secret for making an atomic bomb; that both the prosecutorial and defense lawyers--indeed, almost everyone involved with the case--had behaved badly, depriving the Rosenbergs of a fair trial.