They were enthusiasts of what their son has described in his
autobiography, Radical Son, as a "political romance," thinking of themselves as "secret agents" of the Soviet future.1 Phil and Blanche Horowitz
were humble schoolteachers who probably never broke a law, but did hope and work for a Soviet victory in the Cold War.For many Party members, like the Rosenberg spies, their identity as secret agents was, in fact, "a fantasy waiting to happen."2
Horowitz's early years were spent in a communist enclave in Queens called Sunnyside Gardens.As a child, he
attended the Sunnyside Progressive School
, a pre-kindergarten program the Party
had set up and, as an adolescent, spent summers at a Party-run children's camp called "Wo-Chi-Ca," which was short for "Workers' Children's Camp."In 1956, when Horowitz
was seventeen, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev delivered a secret speech about the crimes of Stalin
to the Soviet Communist Party.
was a college freshman at Columbia University
when these events took place.A young man who did not have to make political choices, he
devoted himself to literary studies without drawing any hard conclusions from the Khrushchev-inspired political debate.In 1959 he graduated from Columbia, married his college sweetheart, and moved to California where he began graduate studies in English literature at the University of California at Berkeley.
Meeting up with other "red diaper" babies on the Berkeley campus, he
began to reignite the passions of his
youth and actively joined in the effort to create a new left.
While becoming more and more immersed in radical politics, Horowitz
studies for a master's degree in English literature.He was an editor of a new magazine the activists created called Root and Branch, which was one of three publications that would help launch the 1960's left.3 In 1962, he became one of the organizers of the first campus demonstration against the Vietnam War, and in that year he published Student, the first book to express the political vision of the emerging New Left.4
In this book, the young author portrayed the university as the symbol of an oppressive corporate culture, foreshadowing the New Left critiques and campus eruptions to come.In dedicating his
book to Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black and stressing his
commitment to democratic politics, he
also crystallized a difference between the fledgling New Left and the old communist vanguard.Horowitz criticized the Soviet invasion of Hungary and equated it with America's intervention in Cuba, and he broke with economic determinism and the idea that socialism had to follow a centralized plan.5 These deviations from the Communist line prompted an attack on the new book from the reviewer in the People's World, the Party's west-coast organ.
Horowitz's intellectual work in these years reveals some of the roots of his
ultimate rejection of socialism.His
1965 book Shakespeare: An Existential View,6 for example, expresses some profoundly anti-utopian ideas.
In this essay, Horowitz
follows the Hegelian idea that human existence is defined not just by what actually is, but also by what is potentially real.
This amounts to a rejection of Marxist materialism, even though at the time and in the flush of enthusiasm created by the notion of a "new" left, Horowitz
was not aware of the implications of his
After publishing Student, Horowitz
left California, taking his
young family (the couple had a son in 1961 ) to England and then Sweden.Spending almost a year in Sweden, he
wrote The Free World Colossus, a "revisionist" history of the Cold War.It was one of the first expressions of the New Left's view of an American "empire," and like all his
leftist books was translated into several languages.8 In America, The Free World Colossus became a handbook for the growing anti-Vietnam War movement, providing a litany of America's "misdeeds" abroad-the coups in Iran and Guatemala, the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam-that became a staple of leftwing indictments thereafter.9Horowitz
spent the years 1964-1968 in London, where he
worked for the philosopher Bertrand Russell's "Peace Foundation
" and came under the influence and tutelage of the Marxist biographer of Stalin and Trotsky
, Isaac Deutscher.In this environment, Horowitz's
writing career as a New Left Marxist flourished.
...Returning to America in 1968, Horowitz became an editor at Ramparts magazine, the largest publication of the New Left.He
also published a collection of his
writings titled The Fate of Midas and Other Essays, which spanned a period of almost ten years in his
intellectual development.11 The essays attempted to integrate Keynesian economic theory with traditional Marxist analysis, develop Marx's theory of social class, and assess the impact of the "corporate ruling class" on American foreign policy and intellectual life.
These three books placed Horowitz
at the intellectual center of the New Left, but a careful reading of The Fate of Midas reveals that he
already stood outside radical orthodoxy in significant ways.Writing about Deutscher, Horowitz
referred to "The Message of the Non-Jewish Jew,"12 an essay in which Deutscher describes rejecting his
orthodox upbringing and how he
became a heretic to communism as well.Horowitz
would eventually reprise his
mentor's alienation.As Deutscher had become a heretic to communism, Horowitz
would become a dangerous heretic to the New Left.
was gradually coming to realize that social engineers could not reshape human nature.But his
loyalty to the cause prevented him from recognizing the implications of his
This event had a traumatic impact on Horowitz
, changing him and his
The discovery of Betty Van Patter's bludgeoned body adrift in San Francisco Bay threw Horowitz
into a state of despair that was to last nearly a decade.
own inquiry into the murder, Horowitz
was forced to confront three stark facts: his
New Left outlook was unable to explain the events that had overtaken him, his
lifelong friends and associates in the left were now a threat to his
safety, since they would instinctively defend the Panther vanguard, and no one among them really cared about the murder of an innocent woman (even though they were people who made a point of their "social conscience") because the murderers were their political friends.14
considered how insignificant Betty's life was in the eyes of his
recognized a familiar historical reality being played out in the events of his
own.Real human flesh and blood had been sacrificed on the altar of utopian ideals.A collusive silence had followed.
Having been forced to face the sordid reality of a political movement to which he
had dedicated himself, Horowitz
began to ask whether there was something rooted in Marxism or in the socialist idea that had led to socialism's worldly horror.In so doing, the repentant revolutionary made a leap that others could not.He
faced the possibility that his
entire life until then had been based on a lie.He
was willing, further, to connect what had happened to him to the crimes his
parents' generation of the left had defended, and thus to accept the fact that there was no "new" left, and that his
generation of radicals had repeated their parents' guilt:
had previously believed, everything he
had built his
political life on now crumbled before him.Like Whittaker Chambers, a figure of the previous generation, he
began to experience a conversion.In a vignette that Horowitz
wrote for the New York Times Magazine
(which they predictably failed to print16 ) he
recounted the stages of his
In pursuing answers to Betty's death, Horowitz
discovered that the Panthers
had murdered more than a dozen people in the course of conducting extortion, prostitution, and drug rackets in the Oakland ghetto.And yet, to his
growing bewilderment, the Panthers
continued to enjoy the support of the American left, the Democratic Party, Bay Area trade unions, and even the Oakland business establishment.
began to realize that the establishment that shaped the culture and determined the parameters of political discourse was sympathetic to the left rather than to the ruling class interests that Marxism had postulated.
Notwithstanding the media blackout and the silence of the Panthers' supporters, the details of their crimes have surfaced over the years principally as a result of Horowitz's
efforts.The first notice of what had happened was a courageous article in New Times magazine
by a leftwing journalist named Kate Coleman, whom Horowitz
had approached and provided with information.19 In a 1986 piece in the Village Voice, Horowitz
himself identified the