The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

2001: Ron Radosh Interview


Ex-red revelations
Radosh’s ‘Commies’ critiques far left

By Robert Stacy McCain
A visitor to historian Ronald Radosh’s home in suburban Brookeville would hardly guess that the occupant was once a Communist Party activist targeted for possible arrest by the FBI. The two-story brick home — where a yapping white poodle named Sam scampers across the green lawn to greet visitors — scarcely seems like the place to find a dangerous subversive who once plotted to bring Marxist revolution to America, but Mr. Radosh gladly confesses his former role in the worldwide communist conspiracy.
“I joined when everybody else was quitting,” says Mr. Radosh, who now laughs at his youthful exploits as a “full-fledged member” of the Communist Party U.S.A.
He was raised in a militant left-wing environment — one of his first baby pictures shows him being paraded by his parents in the Communist Party’s annual May Day parade in New York. But Mr. Radosh has long since renounced his early communism and is now a conservative and avowed anti-communist.
He is now “naming names” in his new book, “Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left.”
And what names he names: folk musicians Pete Seeger and Mary Travers, convicted Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, black leader W.E.B. DuBois, journalists Robert Scheer, James Weinstein and Sidney Blumenthal, historians Herbert Aptheker and Eric Foner, and Michael Lerner, the radical rabbi who inspired Hillary Rodham Clinton’s short-lived “politics of meaning.”
Small wonder Mr. Radosh, 63, has been called “the Zelig of the American Left” for his uncanny knack of being involved with so many major figures and in so many key events of the past 50 years.
A long-time member of the Communist Party’s youth group, the Labor Youth League, Mr. Radosh joined the party in 1956 after the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the so-called “Khrushchev report” condemning Stalin had caused many longtime communists to lose faith in the cause.
His FBI file, which he obtained through the Freedom of  Information Act, makes note of his status as a student communist leader at the University of  Wisconsin and his 1955 arrest for distributing the Daily Worker — the Communist Party newspaper — outside a factory gate in Madison, Wis. The FBI identified Mr. Radosh as someone to be detained “in case of a national security emergency.”
His radical past is a source of bewilderment to his youngest son, a junior at the University of Maryland. “He says, ‘I can’t understand how you ever fell for that,'” Mr. Radosh says.
But having lived so many years in what he describes as a “left-wing milieu” — he spent childhood summers at Camp Woodland, a communist-dominated resort for “red-diaper babies” — Mr. Radosh says it was hard to reject those early influences.
“It’s a whole world you’re in — it’s like a church,” he says. “You don’t want to leave that. You don’t want people who used to be your friends to call you ‘traitor.'”
He was first accused of betraying the communist cause in the  mid-1970s, after traveling to Cuba with a group of fellow leftists. Mr. Radosh wrote an account of the trip, including a visit to a Cuban mental institution where  the Castro regime had incarcerated homosexuals and where doctors boasted of having performed lobotomies on many inmates.
The accusations were leveled again in 1979, when his investigation of the Rosenberg case led him to conclude that Julius Rosenberg was guilty of espionage and that the FBI had prosecuted Ethel Rosenberg in hopes of getting Julius to confess.
Ironically, Mr. Radosh had been a defender of the Rosenbergs since childhood. As a member of the communist-front Youth Committee for the Rosenbergs, he traveled to Washington and picketed the White House on behalf of the Soviet spies. He even attended the same communist-dominated school as the children of the Rosenbergs — New York’s Elizabeth Irwin High School.
Mr. Radosh’s story of the Rosenberg case was spiked by the New York Times, printed in the New Republic and later expanded to a book, “The  Rosenberg Files,” co-authored by Joyce Milton.
The revelations prompted charges of betrayal. “Even if it’s  true,” one friend told Mr. Radosh, “you shouldn’t say this, because you’re helping the other side.” Other friends told him, “The facts are irrelevant. We need the Rosenbergs as heroes.”
It was not until the 1980s, however, that Mr. Radosh finally broke with his communist past after a visit to Nicaragua convinced him that the  Soviet-backed Sandinistas — contrary to the claims of their liberal defenders — were setting up a repressive dictatorship.
“You could see the Sandinistas were out there trying to do to  Nicaragua what Castro had done to Cuba,” Mr. Radosh says of the regime, which was defeated in a 1990 election he says was forced by the U.S.-backed “Contra” rebels. “If there had been no Contras, clearly the Sandinistas would never have agreed to an internationally monitored election.”
If his revelations about the Rosenbergs, Castro’s Cuba and the Sandinistas were not enough to make him an enemy of his former left-wing friends, Mr. Radosh is preparing to assault one of the left’s most cherished  myths, the Spanish Civil War.
In “Spain Betrayed,” Mr. Radosh and co-editor Mary R. Habeck collect dozens of newly discovered documents from Russian archives revealing the role played by the Soviet Union in the war that was a major left-wing cause in the 1930s.
The documents in “Spain Betrayed” — to be published in July on the 65th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War — show that  Moscow swindled the Spanish Republic out of millions of dollars and that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin aimed to turn Spain into a Soviet satellite state.
“All hell’s going to break loose” when the new book is published, Mr. Radosh predicts. “These documents are mind-boggling.  People are going to be stunned.”
Like so many other stories in his life, Mr. Radosh’s revelations about the Spanish Civil War are touched by irony. His uncle, Irving Keith, was killed fighting in Spain with the communist-backed Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and Mr. Radosh writes that he “grew up addicted to the romance” of the “authentic American heroes” who fought for the communist cause in Spain.
His career as a historian — he retired from New York’s City University system in 1992 — was something of an accident. “My ambition was to be a folk singer,” says Mr. Radosh, who as a child took banjo lessons from Pete Seeger. “He was my hero.”
But Mr. Radosh’s hero was a communist who, after the Soviet  Union and Nazi Germany signed a non-aggression treaty, issued an album of pacifist songs condemning President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a warmonger.
Shortly after the album was released, however, Germany invaded Russia and — being loyal to the Communist Party line — Mr.  Seeger recalled the album and destroyed all but a handful of copies, issuing a new record with pro-war songs.
Mr. Radosh still occasionally plays his banjo, tuning it up and singing — with irony — the old left-wing anthem, “Which Side Are You On?”
Observing the antics of the current left — such as the violent demonstrations against free trade in Seattle in 1999 — Mr.  Radosh knows which side he’s on.
“These people are parodies of a once-serious social movement,” he  says. “Anarchists . . . they’re really nihilists. They don’t believe in anything. They just want to smash and destroy.”