Another “Low Dishonest Decade” on the Left
We first became involved with the New Left—that movement which eventually degenerated into the devious and dishonest Left of today—at the end of the 1950′s, a time when McCarthyism was dying and a new radical movement was struggling to be born in demonstrations against the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The “end of ideology” had ended; Khrushchev had admitted that what a previous generation of leftists had regarded as “anti-Soviet lies” about Stalin’s crimes had actually been true. What attracted us to this new political atmosphere was the opportunity to be leftists in a new way: not as the servile agents of a foreign power, but as members of an indigenous radical movement. Along with other early New Leftists, we regarded members of the Old Communist Left as figures to be scorned—people who were (in both meanings of the term) boring from within: intriguers with a discredited intrigue who always lurked on the fringes of our meetings, trying to find a group, any group, they could infiltrate.
The New Left saw itself as a movement which would design its own future—a sort of activist American-studies curriculum. The phrase “participatory democracy” captured its intention to make the promise of America real. Its first campaign—for civil rights—was based on a belief in this promise. Ultimately the Vietnam war provided the occasion for this optimism to ferment and then to sour. The speed with which the New Left became disaffected from the country and from its own early ideals, and the fact that this happened with so little resistance, suggests that the movement had a split personality from the outset—one part believing in America and the other not believing in anything. Ruminating about the instant alienation of the New Left, Paul Goodman, one of its earliest mentors, thought that its leading characteristic was a “loss of patriotic feeling.” He wrote: “For the first time . . . the mention of country, community, place, has lost its power to animate. Nobody but a scoundrel even tries it.”
That loss of patriotic feeling led the New Left to declare war against America, matching every escalation in Vietnam with an escalation of its own in the conflict at home. Sympathy for America’s alleged victims developed into an identification with America’s real enemies. By the end of the 60′s participatory democracy was a language no longer spoken on the Left. The slogans changed. “Bring the boys home” became “Bring the war home.” The organizations changed, too. In 1969, a year after Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)—the heart of the New Left—had converted to Marxism-Leninism, its convention broke into various factions chanting the names of Chairman Mao and Uncle Ho, dictators of China and North Vietnam who had become its household gods.
In its later, rococo phase some members of the New Left dallied with the Soviet Union, revising our earlier revisionism. (Deep in his Black Panther period, Eldridge Cleaver claimed that Stalin was “a brother off the block,” while Trotsky was a “white bourgeois intellectual.”) But for the most part this dalliance was nothing more than rhetorical posturing, and the Soviets remained stigmatized.
Not so the romantic revolutionaries of the Third World. SDS delegations met with the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front (NLF) in Cuba and Czechoslovakia as well as North Vietnam, and agreed to collaborate with their war effort by providing propaganda advice and orchestrating a campaign to demoralize American troops in the field and to create disorder and disruption back home. Anti-war activists with Old Left politics like Cora Weiss and guilty liberals like Reverend William Sloane Coffin went to Hanoi to second the cause. After visiting American POW’s whom the Communists had tortured, they assured the world that American prisoners were being treated well. In 1969 a group of radicals, including the SDS leader Bernardine Dohrn and the prominent Castro apologist Saul Landau, traveled to Cuba where they met with Vietnamese officials and also launched the “Venceremos Brigades.” The ostensible reason for this effort was to help with the Cuban sugar harvest. The real reason was to map out strategies for war in America, the “other” war which would ultimately defeat the United States in a way that the battlefield situation in Vietnam never could have done.
As editors of Ramparts, then the most widely read magazine of the New Left, we were dubious about the totalitarian enthusiasms of people like Weiss, Landau, and Dohrn. When confronted with these tendencies we argued against them. One almost amusing “struggle session” occurred when, shortly after the return of the Venceremos Brigades, members of the pro-Castro North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) came into our offices with an article. It purported to be a report on the progress of “socialist democracy” in Cuba, focusing on the recent passage of an anti-laziness law as evidence of the “people’s rule” and claiming that some three million Cubans, about half the population, had actively participated in the making of this law. We asked the obvious question: if the civic involvement was this high, why was the law necessary? In the confrontation that followed, NACLA members told us that, because of our “white skin privileges,” we had no right to question anything Third World revolutionaries did. In the words of one of the NACLA spokesmen, “You should do your revolutionary duty. Print the piece and shut up about it.”
But while we rejected the crude propaganda of people we regarded even then as Castro’s agents, we did provide a platform in 1969 for the more sophisticated apologetics of Susan Sontag, who catechized our readers on “The Right Way (For Us) to Love the Cuban Revolution.” The issue of Ramparts in which this piece appeared accurately captured the ethos that had come to prevail in the New Left. Over the cover photograph of a wholesome six-year-old carrying a Vietcong flag were these words: “Alienation is when your country is at war and you want the other side to win.”
Like most of the Movement, we presumed that a Vietcong victory would mean a peasant utopia in Southeast Asia. But we were less concerned with what happened in Vietnam than with making sure that America was defeated. A fundamental tenet of our New Leftism was that America’s offenses against Vietnam were only a fraction of its larger imperial sins. We shared with most others on the Left its most implausible and destructive myth: that America had become rich and powerful not by its own efforts but by making the rest of the world impotent and poor.
To force America’s global retreat had become for us the highest good and we were willing to accomplish this end, in one of the odious catch phrases of the day, “by any means necessary.” Our most significant opportunity came when we developed a contact with a young man who had just quit a job as a cryptanalyst with the National Security Agency (NSA) because of his disillusionment with the Vietnam war. At the time, few people knew anything about this top-secret agency which processed some 80 percent of the intelligence the U.S. gathered. Prodding our “defector,” we developed an article that described the operations of the NSA in detail and also revealed its capabilities for deciphering Soviet codes, then one of the most deeply embedded of all American intelligence secrets and one whose revelation would have profound consequences.
Although we gave scarcely a second thought to the moral implications of printing the article, we did worry about the legal risks we faced. The defense team working for Daniel Ellsberg (who was on trial for the theft of the Pentagon Papers) recommended that we talk to Charles Nesson, a Harvard professor of law and an expert on the Constitution. Nesson advised us that if we printed the article, and in particular the secret code words it contained, we would be in clear violation of the Espionage Act. But he added that in order to prosecute us, the government would have to reveal even more information about the NSA’s secrets than was contained in the article itself, and for this reason it was extremely unlikely that we would ever be indicted.
We thus learned the lesson other radicals would learn: the freedoms of America could be used to subvert American freedom. We printed the article. We were not prosecuted. Instead we were rewarded with a good deal of media attention, including a front-page story in the New York Times. It was our biggest scoop. We had considered ourselves “better” than the Castroite hacks at NACLA and the Weatherman crazies trying to work themselves up to acts of terrorism. But like others present at the creation of the New Left who had begun the 60′s asking America to be better, we had ended the decade committing acts of no-fault treason.
The government we had sought to undermine might be unable or unwilling to punish us, but history would not be so kind. After America’s defeat in Vietnam the New Left was presented with a balance sheet showing the consequences of its politics. New Left orthodoxy had scorned the idea that the war was at least partly about Soviet expansion, but soon after the American pullout, the Soviets were in Da Nang and Cam Ranh Bay and had secured the rights to exploit the resources of Indochina in unmistakably imperial style. Other things we had claimed were impossible were also now happening with dizzying velocity. Far from being liberated, South Vietnam was occupied by its former “ally” in the North. Large numbers of “indigenous” revolutionaries of the NLF whom we had supported were in “political reeducation” camps set up by Hanoi or taking their chances on the open seas with hundreds of thousands of other Vietnamese refugees fleeing the revolution in flimsy boats. In Cambodia two million peasants were dead, slaughtered by the Communist Khmer Rouge, protégés of Hanoi and beneficiaries of the New Left’s “solidarity.” It was a daunting lesson: more people had been killed in three years of a Communist peace than in thirteen years of American war.
For some of us, these events were the occasion for a melancholy rethinking which ultimately led to our retirement from the Left. But for many of our former comrades, there were no second thoughts. For this group, the Communist victory in Indochina provided an opportunity to prove the mettle of their faith and to rededicate themselves to the long-term objectives of a struggle which they believed had only just begun.
Two years after the fall of Saigon, in fact, an event took place that marked the passing of the torch of revolution from one generation of the Left to another. Appalled by the ferocity of the new rulers of Indochina, Joan Baez and other former anti-war activists reentered the political arena with “An Appeal to the Conscience of Vietnam.” In criticizing Hanoi and calling for an end to the repression, the signers of the “Appeal” challenged the remnants of the New Left to live up to the standards of social justice it had advocated for so many years.
Rejection of this plea was swift and decisive. A counter-ad in the New York Times paid for by Cora Weiss, the heiress who had come to function as a sort of bankbook for Left causes during the 1970′s, was signed by a list of former anti-war notables, including figures like Dave Dellinger of Liberation magazine and Richard Barnet of the Institute for Policy Studies, who reaffirmed their solidarity with the Communists by subscribing to phrases such as this one: “The present government of Vietnam should be hailed for its moderation and for its extraordinary effort to achieve reconciliation among all of its peoples.”
To outsiders, the appearance of these two statements might have seemed a prelude to a struggle for the soul of the Left. But as insiders we recognized that the issue had already been decided. The chastened radicals who signed the Baez “Appeal” were defeated; there was no longer any ground on the Left that they could occupy. Those who stood ready to support Communist Vietnam and, by implication, similar governments elsewhere in the Third World, had won almost by default. Their declaration was thus more than a rebuff of the attempt to hold revolutionary movements accountable for their deeds; it was a manifesto for the successors to the New Left. Sympathizing with and supporting America’s enemies, only a tendency before, would become the dominant characteristic of the post-Vietnam Left.
The personality of this reconstituted Left was further adumbrated in the late 1970′s by the rehabilitation of the American Communist party. Books such as Vivian Gornick’s The Romance of American Communism and film documentaries like Seeing Red remembered Stalin’s most servile followers as admirable old warriors who had fought the good fight and stayed the course, and who thus might be worthier models in the long struggle ahead than the New Left, which had burned itself out with its theatrics and its need for immediate gratification.
This romanticizing of Stalinist hacks was counterpointed by the return of Stalinist fronts to the American political scene. By 1979 the World Peace Council, originally created by Stalin in 1949, was once again operating on the American Left. Its American offshoot, the U.S. Peace Council, was holding conferences attended not only by what was left of the Left but also by Senators and Congressmen. The pro-Soviet sycophancy of the Communist party kept its numbers small; but the new spirit of acceptance allowed its influence to grow. Communists became stylistically influential, reintroducing the linguistic and organizational deviousness of the Popular Front period of the late 1930′s that made it hard to know what words meant and harder yet to identify the allegiances of those who spoke them.
While the New Left had announced its birth from a university campus, its post-Vietnam successor seemed almost to trumpet its intrinsic hypocrisy by organizing itself in New York’s Riverside Church, built by John D. Rockefeller fifty years earlier as a headquarters for liberal Protestantism. Among the architects of the declaration with which the reconstituted Left was launched were William Sloane Coffin, newly appointed minister of Riverside, and his patron, the ubiquitous Cora Weiss, head of the Church’s Disarmament Program.
Sloane Coffin had become a representative figure in the effort to forge an alliance between the churches and the Third World, one of those who brought the gospel of “liberation theology” and its notion of a Marxist God enjoining the faithful to establish a Communist heaven on earth by supporting revolutionary movements, defined as the “essence of Christian faith.” Defending his own covenant with the dictators in Hanoi, for example, Coffin advised an interviewer that “Communism is a page torn out of the Bible” and that “the social justice that’s been achieved in . . . North Vietnam [is] an achievement no Christian society on that scale has ever achieved.”
While Coffin articulated the “new morality” of the post-Vietnam Left, Cora Weiss was in a sense more typical as well as far more influential than he. Drawing on a $25-million family fortune inherited from her father Sam Rubin (in his own time an old-line Communist), she had helped fund NACLA, which was continuing to promote the cause of Castro. In addition, she was the leading backer of the Institute for Policy Studies which by the late-1970′s had become the heart of a secondary system of institutional lobbies whose programs had elicited the sponsorship of more than fifty members of Congress and whose influence spread from Capitol Hill to the Carter administration itself.
As head of the Riverside Church Disarmament Program, Weiss played a leading role in the opposition to American efforts to neutralize the vast Soviet military build-up of the 70′s. Her work focused on exposing the “myth” of a Soviet threat. Richard Barnet, a co-director of the Institute for Policy Studies and its resident “expert” on strategic affairs, called the idea of such a threat “the big lie of our times.” In May 1979 Weiss herself described it as a “hereditary disease transmitted over the past sixty years.”
Barely six months after this aperçu was delivered, the Soviets assassinated the head of state in Kabul and launched a massive and eventually genocidal invasion of Afghanistan. Weiss’s Disarmament Program at the Riverside Church responded by declaring: “Any form of U.S. intervention, escalation of a military presence or an increase in the defense budget is unnecessary and inappropriate. . . . Russia’s challenge continues to demand restraint, study, and understanding.” In other words, the invasion was merely a “defensive” response to American pressure. Instead of focusing their attention on the Soviet action in Afghanistan, members of the “peace movement” should look at what the U.S. had done to “poison relations between the two superpowers.”
This failure to oppose Soviet aggression or recognize the Soviet threat showed the distance traveled since the early days of the New Left when the malignity of the USSR was a given. It also showed how far the Soviet Union had come in rehabilitating itself since the revelations of Khrushchev, which had destroyed the orthodoxy that held party vanguards in line and controlled the popular fronts. The post-Vietnam era had become a time of new opportunities for the Soviets, an extended school at which Fidel Castro, although dependent on them for a subvention of some $10-billion a year to keep his island afloat, became their most important political teacher.
Castro saw that the American Left, still wary of the USSR, could be made to promote Soviet aims indirectly because of its ties—affective even more than political—with him, ties that would survive his support of the invasions of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and of Afghanistan a decade later. At the same time he was making Cuba’s economy an appendage to the USSR’s and its intelligence service and military forces instruments of the Soviet state, Castro began the creation of what amounted to a new version of the old Communist International, a new Comintern.
A revolution throughout the hemisphere had always been Castro’s ambition, but through the mid-60′s the cautious Soviets had been wary of what they regarded as “reckless adventurism” sure to provoke an American response. Two events changed their attitude. The first was the American defeat in Indochina and the crucial role which internal opposition had played in forcing the U.S. withdrawal. Second were changes in the American Left itself, foremost among them the establishment of a Fidelista cadre. The Soviets saw that Castro’s charismatic hold over elements of the American Left was such that his adventurism might be less reckless than it had seemed earlier in his career.
Within months after the fall of Saigon, the Soviets began an unprecedented flow of arms to Cuba. By 1980 the flow had become a flood—ten times more military supplies in a single year than the total sent during the entire first decade of the revolution, when Castro presumably faced his greatest external threat. The massive arms buildup had only one purpose—to make Cuba the forward base of a new stage in Soviet expansionism. Castro played his part by dispatching 30,000 troops to anchor Soviet influence in Angola and Ethiopia.
But if Africa was the first front for the new offensive, Central America was always the ultimate prize. Castro had long been the patron of tiny guerrilla bands in Nicaragua and El Salvador whose leaders had been trained in Havana and Moscow and sometimes at PLO terrorist camps in Lebanon. Because he had survived U.S. animosity so long and studied American weaknesses so carefully, Castro better than anyone else understood the “Vietnam equation” which defined the new criteria for revolutionary success. It was not necessary for the Communists to win; it was necessary only for America to lose; and losing was defined by what went on in the domestic politics of the United States rather than on Third World battlefields.
When the Carter administration took office in January 1977, the Soviet bloc was faced with unanswered questions. How much weight could be given to the new President’s expressions of regret for American interventions of the past, or his determination to avoid “another Vietnam”? How vigorously would he pursue his new human-rights policy with regional dictators like Somoza who relied on U.S. support?
Factoring the answers to these questions into the “Vietnam equation” would determine revolutionary options and risk, and there was no Communist leader in the world who had better intelligence for arriving at an answer than Fidel Castro. In creating the Venceremos Brigades in 1969, Castro had placed them under the control of Cuban intelligence with results that were revealed later in the testimony of a Cuban defector: “The Venceremos Brigades brought the first great quantity of information through American citizens that was obtained in the United States, because up to the moment when the brigades came into existence . . . the amount of information that we had on American citizens came from public sources, and it was confusing.” In the changed political atmosphere after Vietnam, the networks which Castro’s loyalists had created now permeated the American political process. The co-founder of NACLA had even been appointed to the Carter administration as a member of the team that was shaping its policy on human rights.
As Jimmy Carter took office, Castro’s favorite Sandinista, Humberto Ortega, unveiled a new political strategy from his Costa Rican headquarters which bore the imprint of the master himself. An immediate Marxist revolution would be deferred in favor of a broad coalition with non-Marxist democrats whose announced goal was replacing the Somoza dictatorship with a pluralistic government. At the moment this tactic was adopted, the Sandinistas had been a minuscule force, barely 200 members and split into three antagonistic factions. But now, as part of a democratic coalition, they were able to launch a mass movement that soon challenged Somoza for power in Nicaragua.
By early 1979, when it was apparent that Somoza could not last, Castro summoned the guerrillas, still feuding among themselves, to Havana. There he created the nine-member comandante directorate with each of the three Sandinista factions represented. The Sandinista command unified, Castro made arrangements to provide them with the arms and military support that would allow them to defeat Somoza and, even more important, allow them also to steal the revolution from the mass movement they had ridden to success.
Once his protégés were firmly established in Managua, Castro turned his attention to El Salvador. Six months after the Sandinista victory, a new summons brought the heads of the five Salvadoran guerrilla factions to Havana where Castro persuaded them too to form a unified command. The new force that Castro created was called the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), after an agent of Stalin’s old Comintern. Until then, the Salvadoran guerrillas had been too isolated and weak to open a revolutionary front. But with Castro behind them, they laid plans to move from sporadic actions to a full-scale guerrilla war. In July 1980, the chairman of the Salvadoran Communist party, Shafik Handal, a Salvadoran of Lebanese descent with strong ties to the PLO, embarked on a journey to Moscow and from there to Vietnam and other way stations in the Communist bloc. He returned with pledges of some 200 tons of arms to be shipped through Cuba with which the guerrilla forces could begin a “final offensive.”
But as the “Vietnam equation” had shown, organizing the guerrilla forces was only a part, and perhaps the smallest part, of what was required. It was also necessary to assemble what Trotsky had once described as the “frontier guards” of the revolution. Since Castro was preparing to unify the Sandinista command, his American allies had to rush to set up the guerrillas’ support system in the United States, using the “peace movement” as a base. Even before its founding had been officially announced, for example, the Communist-dominated U.S. Peace Council had joined forces with NACLA to stage a National Conference on Nicaragua in Washington. The purpose was to mobilize opposition against a potential U.S. “intervention” in Nicaragua. While claiming that they wanted to prevent “another Vietnam,” the organizers’ real purpose was precisely to achieve another Vietnam—by undermining any U.S. effort to counter the already massive Cuban investment aimed at turning Nicaragua into yet another Communist state.
The Nicaragua conference proved to be the first step in a long-term plan: the creation of an organizational shield behind which the cause of Communist revolution in the hemisphere could advance. The conference put a stamp of respectability on an organization called “The Network in Solidarity with the People of Nicaragua.” Started on U.S. college campuses by two Nicaraguan nationals acting for the Sandinistas, the Nicaraguan Network soon became a national organization with chapters in hundreds of American cities and on campuses across the country. Its efforts led to a “Pledge of Resistance” signed by 70,000 Americans who declared themselves ready to undertake illegal actions to defend the Communist regime.
Acknowledging the importance of this activity, Sandinista Minister Tomás Borge declared: “The battle for Nicaragua is not being waged in Nicaragua. It is being fought in the United States.” But the Nicaragua Network was only one of an array of “issue-oriented” organizations from which—in true popular-front style—the friends of violent revolutions could speak to other Americans in the language of pacifism and humanitarianism. While the Nicaragua Network lobbied against aid to the anti-Communist contras to prevent “another Vietnam,” its movement comrades, working in allied organizations, were able to mobilize even greater support as champions of “human rights.”
One of the most potent of these “human-rights” groups was the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), created by Christian “liberationists” after the 1973 coup against Salvador Allende in Chile. WOLA’s director, Joe Eldridge, had been active in Chile as an Allende partisan, and WOLA’s first concerns about human-rights abuses were aimed squarely at the Pinochet regime. But in 1977, when Castro and his protégés began launching their new strategy in Nicaragua, WOLA also shifted its attention to Nicaragua, sponsoring public-relations tours to the U.S. by the Sandinista priests Ernesto Cardenal and Miguel D’Escoto, who rallied many Catholics here, including members of the Maryknoll order, to the cause of the “hemispheric revolution” and also to the attempt to convert Christ to Marxism. Led by its Nicaragua coordinator Kay Stubbs, WOLA also stepped up its campaign against human-rights abuses of the Somoza regime and lobbied the Carter administration to withdraw its support. After the Sandinista victory, Stubbs, who all the time had been a secret member of a Sandinista cell in Washington, D.C., left WOLA to join the new Marxist regime and the organization’s interest in human-rights abuses in Nicaragua all but disappeared. WOLA now began to focus on El Salvador, where its investigations into human rights were directed by a woman named Heather Foote, an American Marxist with strong political ties to the FPL faction of the guerrilla forces.
Although it had shifted its critical gaze elsewhere, WOLA’s solidarity with the Sandinistas remained as strong as ever. When contra aid lost in the Congress in 1984, a major factor was the report entitled “Human Rights Violations by the Contras” circulated under the auspices of WOLA to Congress and the press. However, WOLA had used its reputation as an independent “human-rights” organization to provide cover for a Sandinista stratagem. The investigation had been initiated—and the investigator Reed Brody selected—by the law firm of Reichler and Applebaum, registered representative of the Managua regime. Brody’s housing and transportation were supplied by the Sandinistas while he was in Nicaragua, and “witnesses” to contra atrocities were supplied by the security police. Before he departed with his report, Brody was provided with a photo opportunity which resulted in a snapshot showing him hugging Daniel Ortega.
The deception practiced by organizations like WOLA in behalf of the Sandinistas is also practiced against the Duarte government in El Salvador. In the spring of 1980, while the Salvadoran guerrilla leader Shafik Handal was traveling to Soviet-bloc countries in search of the weapons with which to begin his final offensive, his brother Farid arrived in New York to organize political support for the FMLN war. As Farid later described it, his mission was “the creation of the International Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador.” CISPES, as the American branch of this international committee would be called, was to be modeled on the Nicaragua Network and would have direct links with the guerrilla forces and with parallel “solidarity committees” which the World Peace Council had created in sixteen countries around the world.
After touching base at Cuba’s UN Mission, Farid Handal went to Washington to meet supporters at the Institute for Policy Studies and WOLA. As he recorded in his journal (which was later found by authorities in Salvador in a captured guerrilla safe house), members of the Communist party in Washington, D.C. introduced him to Congressman Ron Dellums of California, who in turn arranged for him to meet with the congressional Black Caucus. Dellums provided other services. “Monday morning,” Handal wrote in his journal, “the offices of Congressman Dellums were turned into our offices. Everything was done there. The meeting with the Black Caucus took place in the liver of the monster itself, nothing less than in the meeting room of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.” Understanding that the opportunities laid before him would vanish if he spoke in the language of his brother Shafik, Farid noted that the guerrillas’ cause “should be presented with its human features, without political language, and, most importantly, without a political label.”
After Farid Handal had left the United States, CISPES was formally created by his American supporters. One of the organization’s first acts was to disseminate a “dissent paper” allegedly drafted by disaffected experts at the State Department and National Security Council who believed that further military aid to El Salvador would eventually force the U.S. to intervene there militarily and who had a “consensus” in favor of the Democratic Revolutionary Front, the political arm of the FMLN guerrillas. Although the State Department denied its authenticity, the report was accepted as legitimate by several journalists, among them Anthony Lewis who wrote about it in the New York Times. Even after it had been established that the “dissent paper” was a forgery (there is evidence that it was one of many Soviet “active measures” planned by the KGB to create disinformation in the U.S.), CISPES continued to distribute it.
During the early 1980′s, CISPES held press conferences and marched Salvadoran refugees allegedly fleeing “U.S.-sponsored terror” through Washington. The organization has also been effective in Congress. In the spring of 1985, its lobbying efforts enabled its congressional supporters on the House Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs to schedule hearings on the “air war” in El Salvador. The object of the hearings was to determine whether the strikes against the guerrillas hit civilian populations in violation of congressional certification conditions, which would be a cause to cut off U.S. aid. Eyewitness testimony was presented for this claim. One witness was Gus Newport, mayor of Berkeley and also vice chairman of the Soviets’ World Peace Council. Newport’s observations of the Salvadoran air war were supported by a written report submitted by Carlottia Scott, chief aide to Congressman Ron Dellums (who had shaped Newport’s mayoral career). Both Newport and Scott got their insights during a visit they had made to Berkeley’s “sister city” which was located inside the guerrilla zone.
Despite its tainted origins and its deceptive politics, CISPES has been able to mobilize support on hundreds of campuses across the country. Congressmen Dellums and Mervyn Dymally of California have written fund-raising letters for the organization, while Congressmen Edward Markey and Gerry Studds of Massachusetts and others have provided endorsements and moral support. With this kind of backing CISPES has become the most influential lobby against U.S. aid to the Duarte government—not only military aid, but food, medicine, and agricultural assistance. When it is not lobbying against aid to the Duarte government, CISPES is raising money to send to the FMLN guerrillas. The strategy of CISPES, in the words of one of its internal documents, is “to challenge U.S. policy; to disrupt the war effort, to polarize opinion, to inspire people to refuse to cooperate; to create divisions within Congress and every other institution. . . . Each escalation of the war must bring a response more costly than the one before, precisely the Vietnam war phenomenon the administration is trying to avoid.” One of the slogans at a recent CISPES rally expressed the intention more succinctly: “Vietnam Has Won, El Salvador Will Win.”
We find it hard not to be ashamed of some of the things in which we were involved in the 1960′s. Yet New Left radicals had a certain candor, reveling in their outlaw status and not trying to seem something politically they were not. That is not true today. W.H. Auden once called the radical 30′s a “low dishonest decade,” and the 80′s are turning into another “low dishonest decade” on the Left. While the 60′s Left took its case to the streets, where its commitments could at least be examined, the members of today’s Left, exploiting the political process and the vulnerabilities of the two-party system, posture as respectable liberals who only want to make sure that there are no more Vietnams. “Liberal,” in fact, is the way the establishment media invariably describe the activities of organizations like CISPES and WOLA, and the coterie of Congressmen who consistently support Communist advances in the Third World.
Ron Dellums, whom we ourselves helped elect in 1970, is perhaps the most characteristic of these Congressmen. When his bill prescribing sanctions against South Africa was recently adopted by the House, for instance, a profile in the Washington Post portrayed him as “the outspoken liberal he has always been,” noted that a colleague had called him a “moral force for reordering priorities,” and quoted Dellums himself as asking, “If you carry controversial ideas in a controversial personality, how can you ever get anything done?”
His persona has changed somewhat from the days when he stood beside Black Panther party leaders Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver and harangued audiences with revolutionary rhetoric. When he was attacked in the early 70′s as a radical, Dellums did not shrink from the charge: “I am not going to back away from being a radical,” he said. “My politics are to bring the walls down.” But in the 80′s Dellums has changed the words if not the tune. He now speaks in the name of “peace” and “democratic values,” which in practice always seem to dictate attacking the United States and apologizing for the USSR and other enemies of this country. Thus he travels abroad as an ornament for functions of the World Peace Council. Thus, too, when Carter sought to raise the defense budget after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Dellums was alarmed by the specter of a resurgent American “militarism” in response to an action taken by the Soviets “to protect their borders.” In a speech about this issue he said: “This is the capitalist, monopoly capital structure at work, preparing now to draft eighteen-year-olds to go and fight to protect their oil while every one of them are taking in billions of dollars in profits. . . .”
In his role as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Dellums is a passionate opponent of the use of American force. But he has different criteria for Communist dictatorships. When he traveled among the Marxist-Leninists of Grenada a few years ago, he did so as an open admirer of their revolution. His congressional office offered the Grenadan revolutionaries advice and encouragement. Writing strongman Maurice Bishop, for instance, Dellums’s administrative assistant Carlottia Scott described the Congressman’s attitude as follows:
Ron has become truly committed to Grenada, and has some positive political thinking to share with you. . . . He just has to get all his thoughts in order as to how your interests can be best served. . . . He’s really hooked on you and Grenada and doesn’t want anything to happen to building the Revo[lution] and making it strong. He really admires you as a person and even more so as a leader with courage and foresight, principles and integrity. Believe me, he doesn’t make that kind of statement often about anyone. The only other person that I know of that he expresses such admiration for is Fidel.
When the Reagan administration became concerned by the presence of large numbers of “advisers” from the Soviet bloc on the island and by what seemed the military dimensions of the new airport the Cubans were constructing there, Dellums went off to Grenada to make his own observation. Upon his return he defended Grenada before the House Subcommittee on Inter-American Affairs:
President Reagan characterized [Grenada] as a totalitarian Left government and . . . stated that Grenada “now bears the Soviet and Cuban trademark which means it will attempt to spread the virus among its neighbors.” Based on my personal observations, discussion, and analysis of the new international airport under construction in Grenada, it is my conclusion that this project is specifically now and has always been for the purpose of economic development and is not for military use. . . . [I]t is my thought that it is absurd, patronizing, and totally unwarranted for the United States government to charge that this airport poses a military threat to the United States’ national security.
When American troops landed in Grenada the year after Dellums made this statement, they discovered a cache of official documents from the Marxist regime. Among them were the minutes of a Grenadan Politburo meeting which took place after Dellums had made his “fact-finding” trip, but before he had submitted his report to Congress. The minutes of this meeting state:
Barbara Lee [a Dellums aide] is here presently and has brought with her a report on the international airport that was done by Ron Dellums. They have requested that we look at the document and suggest any changes we deem necessary. They will be willing to make the changes.
At the same time Dellums was giving his report to the Marxist junta to edit before he presented it to Congress, an official of the Grenadan revolutionary government was disproving the Congressman’s central thesis. Another document retrieved after the liberation of Grenada was the notebook of Defense Minister Liam James. In an entry dated March 22, 1980, James had written: “The Revo[lution] has been able to crush counterrevolution internationally. Airport will be used for Cuban and Soviet military.”
In the 1960′s the New Left colluded with totalitarian movements. But it was clear and candid, sometimes painfully so, about what it was doing. The post-Vietnam Left which has succeeded it not only colludes with totalitarianism but tries to delude people about its aims. It is always ready to believe the official Soviet lie, give the Soviets the benefit of the doubt, or, where the abuses are too great, at least to “understand” horrific Soviet acts as a legitimate reflexive fear of American power. On the other hand, it has an inexhaustible cynicism about American motives and a perpetual inability to locate America’s virtues. It is an “us/them” mentality in which “us” are the dictators in Cuba, Nicaragua, and elsewhere in the Third World, while “them” is the United States. Thus, for example, to the Nation, a magazine which exemplifies this mentality, the hundredth birthday of the Statue of Liberty was “Imperial Weekend”; but the seventh anniversary of Daniel Ortega’s Marxist coup a few months later was a moment to celebrate hemispheric “hope” and an occasion to engage in yet another solo performance of the Sandinista anthem, “The Yankee is the Enemy of Mankind.”
The post-Vietnam Left is effective because of its deceitful layering of the apparatus through which it works and also because it has has found a way to support totalitarian movements while appearing to be interested only in improving America’s international morality. Its techniques of dissimulation and disinformation have worked. The Sandinistas’ lies about their intentions may be obvious enough when studied in retrospect, but their support network in the United States has been remarkably effective in promoting these lies in the nation’s political forums. The aims of the revolution that has seized control in Managua are not Nicaraguan in origin; the power that guides it lies in Havana and Moscow. The revolutionary ambition in Central America is not nationalist but imperialist in nature, with the goal of overthrowing the hemispheric system and substituting for it a gulag of interlocked Communist regimes. It is a goal shared by those who work in, and furthered whether wittingly or unwittingly by those who support, organizations like WOLA or CISPES. These people may use the language of American democracy, but for them, democratic politics is only a means; Vietnam has taught them that the neutralization of American power and the victory of Communist revolution comprise a single symbiotic act.
These “secret agents” of the revolutionary cause (to use Conrad’s term) fend off inquiries about their political attitudes by accusing their questioners of “red-baiting,” which suggests once again that the embalmed corpse of Joe McCarthy lies in state in the Left’s consciousness just as Lenin’s does in Red Square. But tolerance for unpopular ideas does not require ignoring political commitments that undermine our republic and strengthen its enemies. The time has come in the life of this nation to name these attitudes for what they are and to eliminate the taboos that prevent discussion of the dangers they pose.