The Young Radicals: A Symposium

The Young Radicals: A Symposium

As there are at least twelve different questions raised by this symposium, all to be answered in four or five pages, I have decided to limit myself to a few ideas. Roughly, there are two separate themes posed—the individual’s private mystique about politics, and his response to day-to-day issues. The rub, for intellectuals, is to correlate them.

I don’t consider myself a radical. One reason is that I am not continually looking at all ideologies with true candor. I know what I feel about the Soviet Union; but how can I honestly say that I am examining all the implications of Communism when I know in advance that I won’t accept it? Recently, while working on a novel in which one of the characters was a rather sympathetic Communist (not an ex), I paused. My mind drifted off the novel on to the Communist Registration Act, what I had done and not done. I feel no compunction about using four letter words, or describing freaks or aberrations, but because there was one moment when I hesitated to show a Communist as a human being, I know I am not free. Even in the privacy of my own mind, I’m not free.

This symposium on radical thought asks what I feel for an older socialist generation. Why not ask me what I feel toward an older Communist generation? Of course Communism—its essence, what it could have been—had an enormous impact, yet during my entire adulthood this whole area has remained in the realm of the unspeakable, it has been buried underground. It is hard for me to separate those liberals who became honestly disillusioned from those who became expediently disillusioned. What has influenced me is not so much what I thought of the radicals in the thirties—but what I thought of them in the early fifties when so many of them, at the first sign of true “hard times,” reacted with such terrible silence. We demand of liberals in other countries that they storm the barricades and fight until death, but at home … how many of us have ever served a prison sentence for our political beliefs? I remember those who acted with personal dignity, like Mary McCarthy, Arthur Miller, but I also remember the niggling article Murray Kempton, socialist, wrote on Remington’s death, the countless demeaning confessions, and the smart-alecky Leslie Fiedlers, the whole mealy-mouthed crowd with their lofty anti-Communism. The issue behind the Communist Registration Act is the loss of constitutional liberty —free minds in a marketplace of ideas—and not the fact of Soviet crimes. Many liberals have begged the question. Until these laws are repealed, until treason again means treason in the real sense of the word, and until we have an above-ground Communist party, political thought left of center will continue to be muddied and evasive. In fighting against this intolerable law, radicals have been strangely unresponsive.

The silence McCarthy imposed on discussions of Communism is obvious, but it h...