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Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left Hardcover – June 1, 2001

4.1 out of 5 stars 81 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 Publishers Weekly

Radosh was once a communist and is now a conservative; this is his engrossing story of that transformation. Born into the insular world of New York Jewish radicalism, with its own high schools, summer camps and plenty of odd and romantic characters, Radosh took being left-wing for granted. Moving on to Madison, Wis., and college in the 1950s and then back to New York and teaching in the 1960s, Radosh fit easily into and became a leading spokesman for the burgeoning New Left. But doubts were forming about what he later came to view as the left's "reflexive hatred of the American system." These doubts were hardened by the attacks and rebukes he faced by former friends and colleagues upon publication of his book The Rosenberg File (written with Joyce Milton), which concluded that the couple were indeed guilty of espionage. Finally, as the left his left refused to see the dark side of the Cuban revolution and later the totalitarian tendencies of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, Radosh made a clean break with his past. He had, he writes, "ended my long exile from America," and finds the left today to be no more than a "collection of postures and grievances" and as arrogant and thoughtless as ever. It's quite a story, and Radosh captures well the times and personalities of his journey. Some may find his brush too broad. Others will admire the courage of his journey. All will acknowledge that he both entertains and engages in this unusual, heartfelt memoir. (June 1)Forecast: Readers who enjoyed David Horowitz's similar trajectory in Radical Son will appreciate Radosh's volume. The author will be signing books on June 1 and 2 at BEA, after which he will make stops in Washington, D.C.; Madison, Wis.; New York City and San Francisco. Supported by a $40,000 marketing budget, this book will draw media attention and should sell well.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 205 pages
  • Publisher: Encounter Books (June 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1893554058
  • ISBN-13: 978-1893554054
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,456,495 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Ronald Radosh was born to proud communist parents. He attended red elementary and high schools (whose curriculum could match any modern-day college campus) and even spent his childhood summers at socialist camp. His life story reads like the perfect description to yield a grown-up replication of Hillary Clinton or Bella Abzug. But something went right along the way.
From a very young age, he embodied a devotion to the truth (or at least, like his parents, what he honestly believed was valid), and this veracity eventually lead him astray (or home depending upon one's point of view.) Ironically, the term "fellow travelers" has become cliche in communist circles, and Mr. Radosh uses it generously throughout this work, but he, the ex-communist, is the one who "traveled" away from a dead-end philosophy, while the so-called "travelers" continued to ram into brick walls, getting nowhere at all.
The drive to satisfy his inquisitive nature lead to many disappointments with communist ideals, but three incidents seemed to cement his conversion from the failed mindset. Along with a select ruck of fellow travelers he was invited to spend a month in Cuba--an offer he joyously accepted. However, touring the island prison, he painfully learned that the Cuban reality was a far cry from communist lure. Despite communism's promise of complete equality, he encountered a nation where the ruling class lived like kings while the working class lived in hopeless squalor and dissenters and eccentrics were subject to arbitrary institutionalization, torture, and execution. Touring a mental hospital where innocent dissidents routinely underwent lobotomies tore Mr. Radosh's heart.
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Format: Hardcover
Ronald Radosh is a first-rate historian who has travelled a well-worn political path from the Marxist left to the heterogeneous coalition devoted to the defence of liberal democratic values and processes. There are some fine autobiographical accounts of that journey - which many of us have also taken - extant, most notably the 1950s collection The God That Failed; Radosh's book is a valuable and often moving modern example of this literature.
The early chapters of the book evoke a distant world of Communist youth camps and Jewish radicalism. The author's insights into the nature of the Communists' exploitation of these movements (for example, protesting against the supposed anti-Semitic 'frame-up' of the atomic espionage agents Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, while being silent over the ferocious anti-Semitic pogroms practised by the Soviet Union) make scandalous reading, while his account of the naivete of the 1960s counter-culture draws out the rather pathetic nihilism of that movement. But the story really gets going when Radosh depicts his gradual disillusionment with 'the Movement' from the early 1970s, dating from a trip he made to the prison-state of Cuba and continuing through his seminal research demonstrating the guilt of the Rosenbergs. His conclusion at the end of the book - articulating the premise of those who subscribe to Madisonian principles of deliberative democracy and thus who know that democratic politics can have no pre-defined 'end-state' - about the relative merits of western societies relative to the tyrannies that Marxism has always and everywhere established is so true, and so apt an epitaph on the bloody course of much 20th century history, as to be poignant.
There are minor quibbles to be had with the book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Radosh is one of those former lefties who, like the prolific David Horowitz, had "second thoughts" about his communist upbringing and the political certainty it inculcated. He is loathed by academics and radical theorists to whom he is a turncoat of the worst order. But for a recovering victim of academic indoctrination this was a revelatory book, one of the best among many. This one names names, all the ones still assigned by professors of history, political science, women's studies, etc. in our major institutions of higher learning. They write their history with a Marxist bias so the US is always guilty, always criminally wrong; they care not about facts but about race, class, and gender. Thirty years of this has successfully fractured America's once proud melting pot. Intolerance has replaced the tolerance for which the country was meant to stand. Radosh gives the reader a view of the old, new, and leftover left from the inside early in the game. It's often very funny but, in the end, a sad commentary on the intellectuall quality of people who we all know as academic stars and political pundits. The key to his main theme is the chapter on the Rosesnbergs; many old lefties knew they were guilty but chose to stick to the lie for the "good of the party." This is the stuff of comtemporary politics--the truth has long been undervalued, deconstructed to the point of being inconsequential.
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Format: Paperback
This book is both an autobiography and a history of Leftist ideology in America. It is a history that Ronald Radosh knows well, having grown up during its origins as a "Red-diaper baby" and subsequently lived most of his life under its influence. The book traces the evolution of the Marxist inspired ideas of an egalitarian utopian movement in the U.S. from the early 1900's, to the present - as seen through the author's eyes and experiences.

Radosh's memoirs read like a Who's Who of leftist thinkers and personalities. It is fascinating to read of his associations with such people as Pete Seegar, Paul Robeson, W.E.B Dubois, William Appleman Williams, Bob Dylan, Robert Scheer, and a host of others. Over the years Radosh has hung out with just about everyone that has been associated with the Left in America, whether as a major or minor figure.

Radosh's break with communist utopian ideology did not occur all at once. It was at times a gradual disillusionment, then at times a more abrupt shock to his senses. For instance in 1956 when Krushchev revealed the crimes of Stalin and in the same year Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary he was deeply disturbed. But he remained true to what he believed was the hope for a better world, and joined the Communist Party U.S.A. as a full-fledged member.

Then came the "New Left" of the 60's. The Old Left ideas were being refurbished by historians such as Williams, who argued that the economy of America was a managerial form of predatory democratic capitalism. There was an invisible totalitarianism that acted through America's corporate and civic structure to mold thought and stifle dissent. The Old Left name "Communism" became "Democratic Socialism" for the New Left.
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