Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left

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9781893554528: Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left
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Commies is a brilliant memoir of growing up in the culture of radicalism. But it also about the hard decisions faced by those professing a radical faith. For Radosh himself, the crisis came when he concluded in his authoritative book on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg that the couple (in whose behalf he had demonstrated as a boy) had indeed been guilty of spying. Attacked as a traitor, Radosh began to question his political commitments. His disillusionment climaxed in the 1980s when he traveled through Central America as a journalist and historian and ran into his old comrades there still searching for the revolution.

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Ronald Radosh, the scholar who is probably most responsible for showing that Julius Rosenberg was indeed a spy for the Soviet Union, offers this honest memoir of growing up a red-diaper baby in New York and, many years later, falling out of favor with his fellow travelers. Born into a family that was both Jewish and Communist, Radosh spent much of his life orbiting these worlds (especially the latter) as an activist for all sorts of left-wing causes. The FBI even began keeping a file on him.

There's a certain amount of score settling on these pages, much of it amusing. What makes Commies fascinating, however, is Radosh's virtual banishment from left-wing politics for publishing The Rosenberg File, a book that definitively showed Julius Rosenberg was not the innocent martyr of liberal mythology but a traitor to his country. Radosh actually started the book believing he could vindicate Rosenberg; through the course of his research, however, he concluded the man was guilty, and set about saying so. This was too much for many of his friends, who soon refused to be seen with him in public. Here is a man who viewed the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 as very possibly a portent of "extreme reaction, if not fascism," suddenly blacklisted by the Left. He became disenchanted with how he had spent his life and "started to question the whole project of the Left." He even suffered professionally: in 1993, Radosh was denied a job in George Washington University's history department. "If I had still been a Communist writing left-wing history, I probably would have breezed in. But faculty members practicing a politically correct version of McCarthyism blackballed me."

Radosh is not a left-winger who has become a right-winger, like David Horowitz, but he is clearly a person who has had second thoughts about what he once believed. America, he writes, is "a country where I was born but didn't fully discover until middle age." Commies is a valuable document describing radicalism in the 1950s and 1960s from the inside. --John J. Miller

From the Inside Flap:

Ronald Radosh's earliest memory is of being trundled off to a May Day demonstration on Fifth Avenue by his communist parents. His boyhood heroes were his uncle Irving Keith (his Party name), who fought in the Spanish Civil War and his cousin Jacob Abrams, a famous Jewish anarchist who lived in "ëxile" in Mexico City and was a friend of Trotsky.

Educated at Elisabeth Irwin, New York's famous Little Red School House, and passing his summers in the Catskills at "commie camp," Radosh grew up in the parallel universe of American communism. When he entered the University of Wisconsin in the late 50s he became a founding father of the New Left and was on center stage during the 60s.

Radosh has been called "the Zelig of the American left-seen everywhere and knowing everyone." Indeed, Commies is filled with memorable portraits of the people he met in his unique journey-schoolmate Mary Travers, later of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary; Pete Seeger, who taught him the banjo and the Party's musical line; young Bob Dylan who played folk music with him at Radosh's apartment in Madison. Michael Harrington, Tom Hayden, Michael Lerner, William Appleman Williams, Irving Howe, and all the others who made the Movement are also actors in Radosh's drama.

But if Commies is an intimate social history of the American left over the past half century, it is also a compelling story of a crisis of radical faith. In the early 1980s, Radosh published his groundbreaking work, The Rosenberg File. Having demonstrated at the Rosenbergs' deathwatch as a boy, he began the book (with co-author Joyce Milton) intending to prove the martyrs were innocent. But after examining government files he became convinced of the Rosenbergs' guilt. Attacked as a "traitor" by his former comrades for telling the truth, Radosh began to question his past commitments and the anti Americanism of the movement he had helped lead. His long road to Damascus took him as a journalist and historian through Central America's war zone in the 1980s, where he saw many of his old comrades still trying to create the revolution there they had failed to force on America twenty years earlier.

Filled with anecdote and personality and also with hard won insights into the destructive nature of the radical project, Commies is a moving story of growing up in the other America of the left and finding the way home at last.

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