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Betty Friedan's secret Communist past
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Why has this feminist icon continued to cover up her years as a party activist?

What is it with progressives? Why do they feel the need to lie so relentlessly about who they are? Recently Rigoberta Menchú's autobiography was exposed as a complete hoax. Now it's Betty Friedan's turn to be revealed as a feminist fibber.

In a new book, "Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique", Smith College professor Daniel Horowitz (no relation) establishes beyond doubt that the woman who has always presented herself as a typical suburban housewife until she began work on her groundbreaking book was in fact nothing of the kind. In fact, under her maiden name, Betty Goldstein, she was a political activist and professional propagandist for the Communist left for a quarter of a century before the publication of "The Feminist Mystique" launched the modern women's movement.

Professor Horowitz documents that Friedan was from her college days, and until her mid-30s, a Stalinist Marxist, the political intimate of the leaders of America's Cold War fifth column and for a time even the lover of a young Communist physicist working on atomic bomb projects in Berkeley's radiation lab with J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her famous description of America's suburban family household as "a comfortable concentration camp" in "The Feminine Mystique" therefore had more to do with her Marxist hatred for America than with any of her actual experience as a housewife or mother. (Her husband, Carl, also a leftist, once complained that his wife "was in the world during the whole marriage," had a full-time maid and "seldom was a wife and a mother").

It is fascinating that Friedan not only felt the need to lie about her real views and life experience then, but still feels the need to lie about them now. Although Horowitz, the author of the new biography, is a sympathetic leftist, Friedan refused to cooperate with him once she realized he was going to tell the truth about her life as Betty Goldstein. After he published an initial article about Friedan's youthful work as a "labor journalist," Friedan maligned him, saying to an American University audience, "Some historian recently wrote some attack on me in which he claimed that I was only pretending to be a suburban housewife, that I was supposed to be an agent."

This was particularly unkind because Friedan's professor-biographer is such a fellow-traveler himself that he bends over backwards throughout the book to sanitize the true dimensions of Friedan's past. Thus he describes one character in the book, Steve Nelson, as "the legendary radical, veteran of the Spanish Civil War and Bay Area party official." In fact, Nelson was an obscure radical but an important apparatchik (later notorious for his espionage activities in the Berkeley Radiation Lab) who was in Spain as a Party commissar to enforce the Stalinist line.

Professor Horowitz also bends over backwards, and at length, to defend Friedan's lying as a response to "McCarthyism." When she makes the ridiculous accusation that he is going to use "innuendoes" to describe her past as a justification for refusing to grant him permission to quote from her unpublished papers, he is all-too understanding. The word "innuendoes," he explains, was often used by people "scarred by McCarthyism."

Reading this reminded me of a C-Span "BookNotes" program on which Brian Lamb asked the president of the American Historical Association, Eric Foner, about his father, Jack. Foner claimed that Jack Foner was a man "with a social conscience" who made his living through public lectures and who, along with his brothers Phil and Moe, was persecuted during the McCarthy era. When Lamb asked Foner why they were persecuted, Foner responded that his father had supported the loyalist side in the Spanish Civil War. But no one was actually persecuted for siding with the Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War. The Foner brothers, on the other hand, were fairly famous Communists, one a Communist Party labor historian and another a Communist Party union organizer and leader. It is a fact that, on orders from Moscow, Communist-controlled unions in the CIO opposed the Marshall Plan's effort to rebuild Western Europe. The Marshall Plan, it should be recalled, was in part designed to prevent Stalin's empire from absorbing Western Europe as it had its satellites in the east. That's why socialists like Walter Reuther purged the reds from the CIO and also why Communists like Foner's uncle came under FBI scrutiny -- i.e., why they were "persecuted" in the McCarthy era.

That Communists, like the Foners, lied at the time was understandable. They had something to hide. But why are their children lying to this day? And why are people like Friedan lying long after they have anything to fear from McCarthy committees and the like?

N E X T+P A G E +| Revealing your Communist past can be very lucrative

  

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