Reflections of a Red Diaper Baby

Posted: May 26, 2001 12:00 AM
If ever a man was destined to become a communist, it was Ron Radosh -- a classic Red Diaper baby. Both of Radosh's parents were members of the Communist Party, and Ron, at age 18 months, participated in his first May Day parade in 1939. Though welcomed, Radosh had not been planned by his parents -- both in their late 30s -- because "those in charge of preparing for 'the revolution' could not afford the frivolity of having children." Still, enough communists, socialists and fellow travelers succumbed to the biological imperative that Ron had plenty of like-minded playmates growing up in New York City. His recollections -- and they are juicy reading -- are now available in his autobiography, "Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left." Most of those with whom Radosh grew and was indoctrinated have altered their political views only slightly -- and these include a healthy number of leading journalists, professors, writers and musicians. Radosh, to his credit, has one trait that proves deadly to ideologies -- he is open to evidence. Though Radosh remained very radical throughout the 1960s and most of the 1970s (he and his wife Allis volunteered for the McGovern campaign, but reluctantly, since they regarded him as "too right-wing"), Radosh, a professor of history at the City University of New York, felt the first stirrings of doubt about his religion when he became one of the thousands of political tourists who trooped to Havana to see the future and how well it worked. What he saw had the opposite effect. "While the Cubans were trying to squeeze into overcrowded buses in the August heat to get to jobs where they had to work an average 12-hour day, my comrades and I enjoyed a lobster and shrimp luncheon in the best hotel in Cuba." The group, consisting of American and European communists and fellow travelers, toured a refrigerator factory. "The air in the plant was fetid, stinking of fumes and chemicals. The appliances were built with fiberglass insulation, and the workers wore no masks or protective devices to protect them from the fumes and fibers, which could potentially cause cancer. The fiberglass residue was so heavy that it came down like snowfall. When we told the manager of our concern ... he told us: 'If it were dangerous, Fidel would have informed us. Masks would cut down production, and we are certain that what we are doing is safe.'" Later in the trip, the group toured the Havana General Psychiatric Hospital, a well-maintained and well-appointed showplace of the revolution. Cuban guides circulated photos of the way the hospital had looked before the revolution, "a facility akin to that in the famous movie 'The Snake Pit.'" At first, the group was suitably impressed. But then Radosh noticed a vigorous young man teaching art to some of the inmates. "I asked him how he was able to deal with those patients who were clearly mentally unbalanced. He laughed nervously and replied, 'I'm a patient myself.'" Radosh didn't understand. "'I'm a homosexual, and that is why I'm confined here.'" Along with political prisoners, Radosh also noted that many of the patients seemed "glazed and drugged out." When the hospital director was questioned about this he explained, "We are proud that in our institution we have a larger proportion of hospital inmates who have been lobotomized than any other mental hospital in the world." This boast caused consternation even among some of the Castrophiles who were Radosh's traveling companions. One New Jersey therapist grumbled that it was a "horror." But another member of the group, Suzanne Ross, glared at him and pronounced the perfect motto of the communist sympathizer: "We have to understand that there are differences between capitalist lobotomies and socialist lobotomies." In time, Radosh would finally see that most of what he had believed was based on lies. After examining the Rosenberg case and concluding that Julius was clearly guilty, he broke ranks with his former colleagues. Later, he would drift even further away by failing to support the Stalinist Sandinistas. Radosh is an honest man -- a rare commodity in any age. And in "Commies," he offers a tale not just of his own awakening to the truth, but also of the continuing foolishness of many people you know.