The Morning After
Intellectuals and the collapse of the Soviet empire.
Oct 16, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 05 • By RONALD RADOSH
Hence the strange case of the novelist Howard Fast. Fast first left the movement after Khrushchev's 1956 secret speech, and wrote a book about his disenchantment, The Naked God (1957). But decades later he rewrote it and published Being Red (1990), in which Fast reconsidered his early defection and emphasized instead what Hollander calls his "persecution as a Communist in the United States." The second time around Fast attacked what he called "the stream of anti-Communist lies"--which he had earlier demonstrated were anything but lies, thus revealing "the difficulty of making a total, definitive break with a cause and a belief system" in which he had a large emotional investment. The reader comes away with a greater respect for the achievement of other Hollander subjects, such as Eugene Genovese, Doris Lessing, David Horowitz, and other onetime young Communists who had the courage to rethink their early commitment.
These writers were able to avoid the trap of worrying about what Hollander calls "the abiding apprehension about becoming inadvertently associated with enemies of the left"--a trap, he shows, that affected the late Susan Sontag. Sontag bravely spoke up in defense of Solidarity during the years of the Polish repression, but later backed away from developing her critique for a projected essay because, as she explained, she did not want to give "aid and comfort to the neoconservatives." Even 9/11 failed to move her.
Most of the Western individuals who refused to reevaluate their beliefs did not have the excuse of saying they did not know the truth about life in the Communist regimes. What gave them pause was their ability to rationalize and ignore discrediting experience and evidence, all in the service of resisting disenchantment. The most important of these was the fixation of long-term goals. Like Eric Hobsbawm, they still believed that these goals were valid and achievable, hence the ability (Hollander writes) to "overlook the moral quality and degradation of the means, the human costs exacted in the course of striving for the long-term goals."
Hollander's contribution to our understanding of all this is marked by the attention he gives to those who refuse to question their assumptions, people like William Kunstler, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Bill Ayers, Tony Negri, Ramsey Clark, and Alexander Cockburn. This comes at the book's end, leaving readers with a sense of despair at how many influential figures of our day maintain the ability to hold onto myth--out of a feeling, Hollander suggests, that "objects of dislike or hatred are far more important than what they liked or admired."
Ronald Radosh, adjunct senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, is working on a book about the Truman administration and the creation of Israel.