Destructive Generations by Peter Collier & David Horowitz, Encounter Books, 2006 edition of the1989 original
For the baby-boomer generation, the Sixties remain a watershed––a time of deep personal, social and political change that lingers for many as the best years of their lives. The decade began symbolically with the election of John F. Kennedy whose inspirational inauguration speech many baby-boomers still recall, but the 60s ended in flame with violence, not hope, dominating the headlines.
Like Peter Collier and David Horowitz, former editors at Ramparts magazine and co-authors of Destructive Generations, I was caught up in the optimistic belief that the American dream could no longer be withheld from those who had been denied equal rights solely due to the color of their skin. I joined the NAACP in college, and after graduating joined VISTA—the domestic peace corps. I spent a year serving in Atlanta where I marched with Dr. King to protest Julian Bond’s removal from the Georgia State Legislature for opposing the war in Vietnam.
Vietnam Divided the Civil Rights Movement and Undermined Non-Violence
Vietnam stirred up a generation of young men who were faced with being drafted to fight a war that seemed more about imposing America’s will on a Third-World country than being on the side of liberty. The war also splintered the Civil Rights Movement with militants Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael (of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) rejecting Dr. King’s commitment to non-violence, asking why should young black men fight for a country that did not grant them basic rights at home?
By the end of the decade, the movement for equal rights had morphed into a movement that sought to “bring the war home”––i.e., aid the North Vietnamese drive the U.S. out of “their” country. The movement’s goal was no longer fulfillment of the promise of the American Revolution. New Left radicals envisioned a different kind of revolution, one based on the belief that America was the source of poverty, racism, and environmental degradation at home and abroad. Those who took up the call for a new revolution were increasingly willing to engage in “direct action” including bombing service recruitment offices and police stations to accomplish their goals.
Following the Black Panthers, the Left Invited Its Own Demise
Unfortunately to disastrous results, these activists viewed militant blacks like the Black Panthers as role models for their revolution. They believed like Vladimir Lenin that they could activate the masses by performing random acts of violence against dominant social institutions.
And what had once been a unified movement splintered into competing organizations based on hair-splitting interpretations of Karl Marx and his successors, including descendants of the Soviet Union-affiliated American Communist Party, followers of Leon Trotsky, and admirers of Chairman Mao. At times, it seemed each of the above groups hated their Marxist competitors more than they hated capitalism.
Like many, I was attracted to the notion of “scientific socialism”, but it wasn’t long before I realized the neo-Marxists preached their own form of economic determinism––one that failed to hold water like Marx’ original predictions. Each year, the New School Marxists revised their predictions of when capitalism would collapse until the robust economy of the 1980s robbed them of their few remaining followers, long after I’d put an end to my flirtation with socialist theory.
The Collapse of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)
Having been a leader of a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society at the university where I obtained my graduate degrees, I knew many of the people involved in the break-up of that once democracy inspired organization, including Mark Rudd, leader of the Columbia University Sit-in, and SDS national leaders Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers.
But, as SDS’s leaders became more militant and the logic justifying their confrontational behavior became more convoluted, I stepped back, hoping a remnant of the earlier movement would emerge seeking an American style “democratic socialism” based on a commitment to core American values.
That hope, however, also floundered after the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam, as the Left corkscrewed through love affairs with the militant blacks like Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, mixed in with the drug/rock culture, radical feminism and radical environmentalism.
Today, while many who lived through the ‘Sixties still long like John Lennon for a world without religion, country or possessions, others––myself included––remain true to the original ideals that resulted in our becoming activists.
The 60’s Early Ideals Remain My Ideals
I still believe that America can be a beacon on a hill in a world where the rights of the individual are sacrificed to the will of dominant political autocracies as is the case in China, Russia, Iran, the oil rich Arab states, and many third world nations. While the latest threat to the American ideal is Jihadist Islam rather than Marxist Communism, the later remains prevalent in American universities where the professoriate indoctrinate young people into hating America and advocating wholesale reform.
I reject the Liberal Left’s desire to replicate a system of government where a minority of enlightened leaders are in command and continue to advocate for policies that protect the rights of those who are out of power––including those awakened for the first time in decades by Donald Trump’s 2016 candidacy.
While there are aspects of President Trump’s personality that rub many the wrong way, I believe his election has given this country a chance to return to policies that put the people before the government, protecting the rights of the individual as well as freedom of association, speech and religion.
One of the reasons I recommend people read Destructive Generations, even though the core content is almost thirty years old, is that the authors document so eloquently the corrosive impact of the Left ideology that undermined the democratic ethos of the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements. For example, Collier and Horowitz document the disastrous consequences of those consumed by white guilt in a chapter about Fay Stender, the white lawyer who sacrificed her life for black radicals, including Huey Newton and George Jackson, both of whom betrayed her as their true nature as drug dealers and murderers emerged.
The authors further explore the fraud perpetrated by Newton’s Black Panther Party on the New Left. Learning the truth about the Panthers is not just important to understand their role in the destructive post MLK, Jr. years, but also to combat today’s black nationalists who hope to revive the Panthers as a symbol of resistance to white authority.
Socialism in One City Shows Its True Colors
Destructive Generations should also be read by followers of Bernie Sanders who think socialism is an idea worth supporting. In particular, the chapter “Slouching towards Berkeley,” can help Sanders’ followers understand the harm done by those who try to implement an ideology that fails to take human nature into account.
To wit, Collier and Horowitz quote a Berkeley liberal who experienced the decades long attempt to install socialism in one city. “They’ve divided this city right down the middle . . . set whites against blacks, landlords against tenants, students against long-term residents . . . And in the process they’ve also done something I thought nobody could ever do––they made me into a conservative.”
From Revolution to Popular Front Communist Party Tactics
After their plans crumbled, the New Left radicals, who in their arrogance appointed themselves the vanguard of the revolution, returned to the approach invented by the American followers of the Soviet Union. The Communist Party justified lying about who they were and what they sought as the means to achieving their goal of upending society and establishing the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Recognizing the “popular front” tactic of the Left in all of its formulations is an essential lesson documented among so many others in Destructive Generations.
Finally, it will prove instructive to read each author’s personal story about how they came to see the critical flaws of the New Left and how they emerged as conservatives which David Horowitz defines as “respect for the accumulated wisdom of human traditions; regard for the ordinary realities of human lives; distrust of optimism based on human reason; caution in the face of tragedies past.” (334)
The Panthers Showed their True Colors After Years of Leftist Support
The 1960s began with young Americans committing themselves to bring about a better world, but by linking that hope to dead ideologies and personal ascendance, they opened the gates of hell. The authors document one particular tragic example when they encouraged a friend to help the Black Panthers with some bookkeeping. Unfortunately, she discovered funds donated by the Panthers’ supporters to educate ghetto children were being used for drug deals and they killed her. The price of arrogance can be very high. The price of not understanding the past and remaining romantically linked to utopian ideals is often the death of innocent people. Look at Russia, China and Cuba for examples.
I hope some of my former New Left friends will find the courage to read Destructive Generations and break the links to that unfortunate time in our personal histories.