Revolution #47, May 21, 2006
Close Encounters of the Horowitz Kind: Part 1
There were some surprises in store for me when I heard David Horowitz speak recently at the University of Chicago. For one thing, I didn’t necessarily anticipate ending up being encouraged by a Republican student into an impromptu debate with Horowitz himself—which I’ll tell about later. But even beside that, there were surprises in store. I've been writing in Revolution about how Horowitz is a self-described “battering ram” for an agenda that would turn academia in the U.S. into a deathly reactionary, airless vacuum. I've been among those raising the alarm that Horowitz has powerful backing from the White House, a dangerous cadre of campus brownshirts dedicated to turning in professors who make an “off topic” comment in class. I’ve been exposing his racism and his efforts to forbid some well-established truths about this society and its history from being taught—or even discussed—on campus.
So, I know some things about Horowitz. But it was an eye opener to see him “live,” and to observe (and interact with) the response he got at an “elite” university. Surveying the audience—something like 300 people, almost all UC students—was interesting in its own right. The guy in front of me wore a shirt saying “But does it work in THEORY?” Not exactly a hotbed of good ol' boy pragmatism! Next to me, a row of five or six students had all opened the current issue of Revolution to the first installment of the series, “The Basis, The Goals, and The Methods of the Communist Revolution,” by Bob Avakian. And they filled the twenty-minute wait for Horowitz by reading through it. I learned during and after the event that at least most of them were far from radicals. Quite a few other students were reading the article on Horowitz in the last issue of Revolution (and at least one drew on the articles to confront Horowitz during the Q & A that followed his talk).
But Bob Avakian wouldn’t be the only one talking about communism that night. I actually wasn't quite prepared for how much anticommunism figures into Horowitz's spiel. Horowitz began his one-hour talk with an updated version of the “I Was A Commie Dupe” ’50s movie confessional. It starts with a young David Horowitz, idealist, activist, Marxist, and supporter of the civil rights movement, who thought that Black people were oppressed. Ah...those values don't sound so terrible...at first! But as we follow the “reefer madness”-like story, it ends with Horowitz's bookkeeper, who he says he had assigned to assist a Black Panther program, being murdered. “I knew that the Black Panther Party had murdered her,” Horowitz asserted to his audience.
Do you find it intolerable, or at least very disturbing, that Black people are living in oppressive conditions in this country? Well, once upon a time, David Horowitz did too—and then “they” killed his bookkeeper. “Everything I believe about social justice,” Horowitz summed up, “about oppressed people in inner cities, everything I said...about the Panthers, that the police were fascists and were attacking them...was a lie.” No, instead the Panthers were a “murderous gang.” You don’t believe it? Well, “I was there,” claims David Horowitz.
A few things have to be said here. First, no criminal charges were ever brought against anyone associated with the Black Panther Party for the death of the woman Horowitz refers to. Second, the Black Panther Party—in the face of incredible repression and with tremendous personal sacrifice—put revolution on the agenda in this country for millions of people. Several dozen members of the BPP were killed—including, in the very city where Horowitz was speaking, Fred Hampton. Hampton, as Horowitz ignores, had been drugged by a police informant and then slain in his bed by police while he slept. And many more were framed up for long terms in prison, with some—like Geronimo Pratt—only released decades later when active government frame-ups were brought to light. Third, the Panthers, for various reasons, could not sustain their revolutionary direction; by the time this incident took place they had long since given up on revolution and were involved in opening shoe factories, and their strategy for change had gone from revolutionary to relying on and working within the system. To impute anything they did or did not do in this period to revolutionary ideology is conscious distortion.
But as I surveyed the room while Horowitz told this story, the atmosphere reminded me of experiences as a kid at camp, when the counselors would scare the shit out of us with stories of young campers who wandered off into the woods to be eaten alive by some monster, ghost, or dead former-camper. Over two million people in jail, a majority of them Black or Latino or other oppressed nationalities? The epidemic of police murder and brutality, with the stories of Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, or Rodney King concentrating the experience of millions? The whole shameful history of slavery and Jim Crow and the terrible inequality and oppression that exists today, as exemplified in what happened after Katrina? “Don't go there! Stop thinking about that! Black thugs will kill you,” says counselor Dave. To say that Horowitz had a subtext is almost giving him too much credit—it was a very blatant attempt to get his audience to identify with Horowitz’s younger, white liberal self and to walk them into a very ugly, very racist place. And this became even more clear later.
From Racism to Anticommunism in a Single Bound
But first Horowitz went somewhere else. His experience of momentarily aligning himself with the Black Panther Party, he told us, was part of a much greater horror: “All my leftist writers and prophets were telling me that there was going to be a revolution in the world and on the other side of that rainbow was going to be what? ‘A future of social justice. Equality. No more poverty. No reason for war, because people would have gotten rid of private property, which of course is the root of all evil.’ That's why I devoted my services to a street gang.”
And, where does that all lead? “The utopias of the left, the illusion which every leftist who is a faculty member of this university put their energy behind, ended up in absolute catastrophe. One hundred and twenty million people slaughtered since 1917 in the name of social justice. Billions made poor, poor behind anyone's imagination, artificially poor.”
Let me turn around here, and address readers who do have some sense of what Horowitz is about. To you, there is a challenge to confront, one that was driven home to me by both Horowitz's opening tirade, and the widespread confusion this seemed to create in what is, after all, a very well-educated audience. There is a critical need for a scientific atmosphere of investigation and debate about the actual experience of the world communist revolution on college campuses, and on opinion-making, influential campuses in particular. You can't evade that. Fundamentally, you can't evade it because it is an experience that represents the highest achievements of humanity so far, by far, and if you flush it down the toilet, you give up all that. That’s the main thing. But in addition, unless the hegemony of lies, distortions, and a ruling out of scientific inquiry into this experience is challenged, very broadly, Horowitz and those he represents will pound this into people's heads, and in the process, by “logical extension,” rule any questioning of or opposition to the status quo out of order.
The Set the Record Straight project is sponsoring Raymond Lotta's speaking tour “Socialism is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be a Far Better World.” Revolution has been serializing that talk, and it is interesting that the very excerpt in the issue students were reading as they waited for Horowitz's act to start addresses the lie of the “100 million deaths” issue, exposing that if the same methods and standards were applied to deaths in capitalist countries, and countries dominated by imperialism, then the “democratic capitalist experiment” in India alone killed more people since 1947 than all the deaths anti-communists (falsely) claim were caused by communism.
But Horowitz had a “scared straight” type impact with the anti-communist horror stories. During the Q & A period, at least a couple of students who wanted to challenge Horowitz felt compelled to preface their objections to his talk by disassociating themselves from communists and their alleged misdeeds.
Channeling George Wallace
Once Horowitz had linked any concern for the oppression of Black people to an inevitable murder of innocents, he spent a substantial portion of his talk attacking Black people.
Particularly ugly was his attack on the progressive Black intellectual Cornel West. Here he combined the old Dixiecrat race-baiter George Wallace's attacks on “pointy headed intellectuals” and Black people. Of West, Horowitz sneered, “There isn't an idea in that head. And yet he charges like $35,000 a speech.” That stupid comment was met with a disturbing amount of laughter, as well as visible anger on the faces of the small number of Black people in the room. There was less applause, and some murmurs of disagreement when Horowitz called West “lazy,” and awkward silence when Horowitz called West an “overpaid, underworked fool.”
I have to say that my blood boiled. It shouldn’t need to be said—but evidently it does—that Cornel West is remarkable for the breadth of his scholarship and his thinking, his concerns for justice, and his continual attempts to link up with masses of people who are locked out of the world of ideas by this system. No ideas? I don’t have to agree with everything Cornel West writes to find him provocative, engaging, and challenging. To be called someone with “no ideas” by a demagogue like Horowitz, who specializes in hackneyed and recycled McCarthyism, would almost be a compliment—if it were not the fact that Cornel West has been under attack from numerous quarters in recent years in an attempt to deprive him of his platform, and if it were not for the fact that Horowitz is not some iconoclast but a very highly connected and well-supported ideological hitman of the rulers of this country. On top of that, to descend into the most ugly racist stereotyping, to pander to and stir up whatever resentment might exist in his mostly white audience, was even more ugly. It is frankly only a step or two, if that, to the demagogue in the movie “Rosewood,” who whips up a lynch-mob against a Black man because the man has “taken on airs” and owns a piano!
Just as there is an intolerable amount of ignorance about what communism is about, there is also a tremendous amount of ignorance—even on an elite campus like UC, and in a crowd like this—of the reality of national oppression and white supremacy. Horowitz told the story of the lynching of Emmett Till, only to contrast it with a fabricated account of how Kobe Bryant was supposedly treated as a hero for being charged with raping a white woman (a Latino student later challenged and refuted this in the Q & A). Horowitz claimed that “In America, in the 21st century, a Black man accused of rape, or a big Black man accused of rape by a little white woman will get his day in court, and innocent until proven guilty.” And, on the other hand, Horowitz claimed that white Duke students charged with raping a Black woman got “hung in the media.” “You have a better chance,” Horowitz claimed, “if you're accused as a Black person, in certain settings, than you do if you're white.”
To take just a very brief reality check, the following from the Rush Limbaugh show is typical of the way the victim and the Duke Lacrosse team have been treated in the media:
LIMBAUGH: “[Al Sharpton is] trying to figure out how he can get involved in the deal down there at Duke where the lacrosse team—
LIMBAUGH:—uh, supposedly, you know, raped, some, uh, ho’s.
One could find similar examples, including going back to the hysteria created around the case of the “Central Park jogger” in New York in 1989. A white woman was brutally raped, and a group of Black and Latino teenagers, ranging in age from 14 to 16 years old, were seized by police, interrogated (in some cases without lawyers or parents present), and tricked and coerced into videotaping false “confessions.” Intense racist hysteria against Black and Latino youth was whipped up and Donald Trump spent nearly $100,000 on full-page ads calling for the youth to be executed! Though there was no physical evidence and the youths' “confessions” did not match known details of the case, they were convicted and one youth served nearly 13 years in prison. Not until 2002 did the truth come to light when another man confessed to the rape—it turns out he had raped another woman in similar fashion only two days before. There was good evidence that the police themselves knew about this, had refused to investigate it, and instead proceeded with their frameup. The state was finally forced to expunge the youth's records.
But there is method to the madness. On the other hand, Horowitz wants to utterly distort the history of communism and lump it together with any progressive impulses at all, in order to rule out of order any dreams of a better future. All in the service of shutting down critical thought on the campuses. Nothing less than the truth can answer this—and we have to fully master and muster that truth.
In part 2 of this article, I’ll talk about what happened when I began to bring out some of the truth to his followers—and ended up confronting Horowitz himself.
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