The New Republic TRB THE HERETIC. (John Judis on Ron Radosh)

Michael Pugliese debsian at
Wed Oct 11 09:05:25 PDT 2000

The New Republic: TRB: THE HERETIC June 17, 1996

TRB FROM WASHINGTON: THE HERETIC By John B. Judis When a British journalist asked me recently if I still considered myself part of the left, I replied that I still share its commitments to democracy and equality but don't feel any connection to the identity politics and post-structural obscurantism that seem to dominate it today. Out in the suburbs where I live, I'm usually not even aware that "the left" exists, but then something happens that reminds me how truly pernicious it can be. I first met Ron Radosh in 1974, when he wrote an article for a journal I helped edit called Socialist Revolution (now Socialist Review) on the formation of Michael Harrington's Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. It was a provocative article, believe it or not, because people in our corner of the left were not supposed to look kindly upon Harrington, who had castigated SDS in the early '60s for its ties to communists. Radosh's was the first article to suggest a rapprochement. In the mid-'80s, when I was in New York researching a biography of William F. Buckley, I used to see Radosh a lot, and in Maryland now we're almost neighbors. We don't talk politics that much because we have such different interests. (I still have trouble pointing out Nicaragua on a map.) But I've always maintained a grudging respect for his opinions. I say grudging because I don't usually agree at first but find out later--whether on the guilt of the Rosenbergs or the sins of the Sandinistas--that he was right. I think of him as the Cassandra of the American left. I haven't read Radosh's latest book, The Amerasia Case: Prelude to McCarthyism, but I am one of the few who have read his first two--American Labor and United States Foreign Policy and Prophets on the Right. These, along, of course, with The Rosenberg File, should have earned him a reputation as one of the foremost historians of twentieth-century America. I can't think of anyone who has had a greater impact on how we understand the clash over America's response to communism in the Truman era. But when I talk about Radosh with left-wing historians they tell me he's not a historian at all. One editor swore that Radosh was a CIA agent. I think this view results from the sectarianism of today's left. The radical left, like the radical right, is properly understood as an offshoot of early Protestant Congregationalism, with its witch trials and visible saints and its reliance on the interpretation of sacred texts. Radosh is hated because he is a heretic rather than a pagan. The left can dismiss someone like David Horowitz, who has simply abandoned the ideology of the left for that of the right. But Radosh is troubling because he has not repudiated the historic left of Eugene Debs, Norman Thomas, the CIO and the civil rights movement, even though he has nothing but contempt for its current claimants. One way to deal with heretics is to pretend that they are pagans--CIA agents or covert right-wingers out to subvert true faith. That way you don't have to confront their ideas. ("I wouldn't hire a redbaiter like Ron," pronounced one historian I know. Redbaiter? Because he identified Julius Rosenberg as a communist agent in 500 pages of scrupulous scholarship that has since been confirmed by National Security Agency intercepts?) Another strategy is to wish them dead. I still remember the reaction in 1974 when Radosh, after a trip to Cuba with other Fidelistas, revealed in Liberation that Castro was putting homosexuals in mental hospitals and authorizing lobotomies for mental patients. After the article appeared, I heard one movement leader in San Francisco proclaim that Radosh should be killed. Radosh has certainly paid a professional price for his heresy. While colleagues on the left were chairing departments at Columbia or CUNY and enjoying sabbaticals at Stanford's social science think tank or at the Rockefeller Foundation's villa in Bellagio, Italy, Radosh was teaching four classes a semester of fifty students each at Queensborough Community College in New York. He wrote his Rosenberg book on unpaid leave. At times, he was on the verge of being hired by a major university, but then I'd hear from one of my (gleeful) left-wing historian friends that Radosh had been blackballed because of his ideological deviations or because he was "not really a historian." In 1992, Radosh finally retired from Queensborough and moved here. He worked for a year at the American Federation of Teachers but then began commuting to teach at Adelphi University in Long Island in a position funded by the Olin Foundation. When Adelphi and its president became entangled in scandal, Olin withdrew funding. I feared Radosh would be out of a job, but then I heard that Olin would fund a position for him in the history department at George Washington University. I figured that, at long last, he was going to end up in a history department at a real university. But the left mounted a vigorous campaign against his hiring. Eric Foner of Columbia University, Roger Wilkins at George Mason and David Nasaw at the City University of New York weighed in. And an unsigned article turned up in the academic trade publication The Chronicle of Higher Education saying that "Mr. Radosh, a conservative scholar" was "courting" George Washington for a job in the history department but that "critics ... question his credentials." I knew then that the jig was up--not because Radosh had been branded a rightist by these guardians of virtue but because most academic institutions recoil from public controversy. The next week, Radosh heard from the history department that he would not be appointed, after all. When I called the reporter from The Chronicle, Courtney Leatherman, to find out why she described Radosh as a "conservative scholar" and who the critics questioning his credentials were, she wouldn't talk to me. "I do not want to be quoted in The New Republic," she said. I did talk to Stephen Trachtenberg, the president of George Washington, who had initially courted Radosh rather than the other way around. He told me he believed that Radosh had been done an injustice and said he was trying to find a position elsewhere in the university for him. That's good news, but, as any dispassionate observer would acknowledge, Radosh belongs in a history department. Radosh, as the historian Martin Sklar told me, is a victim of "left-wing McCarthyism." McCarthy attempted to discredit liberals by labeling them communists. He sometimes succeeded in getting them fired--not necessarily because their employers believed they were communists, but because they feared the publicity. It's an apt analogy but not one that would occur to the academic zealots of today's left, who, like their distant predecessors, are blinded by the light of their own self-righteousness. JOHN B. JUDIS (Copyright 1996, The New Republic)

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list