Renegades and ex-radicals from Mussolini to Christopher Hitchens

The radical who is transformed into a conservative is a common theme in political history. Benito Mussolini, the Italian socialist who became a fascist, is the best-known example, but there have been many others, including the numerous American Trotskyists and Marxists who later emerged as neo-conservatives, anti-communists or, in some instances, McCarthyists.

The politics of betrayal examines why several one-time radicals subsequently became parts of the establishment in various countries, including the former Black Panther Party leader turned Republican Eldridge Cleaver, the Australian communist Adela Pankhurst who became an admirer of the Nazis, and the ex-radical journalist Christopher Hitchens, whose defection to the camp of George W. Bush’s neo-conservatives following 11 September 2001 offers one of the most startling examples of the phenomenon in recent times.

How and why do so many radicals betray the cause? Is it simply a reaction to political defeat? Were their politics always problematic, even as radicals? Were the ex-radicals psychologically flawed to begin with? What implications does it have for left politics? This book, the first of its kind, answers these and more questions.

in The politics of betrayal
in The politics of betrayal
in The politics of betrayal
Abstract only

Insofar as one is not a complete structuralist who excludes a priori the role of the subject in making history, then the capacity for the actor’s psychology – as a factor affecting the subject’s actions – to come into play must be considered. For our purposes, therefore, we are required to take into account the psychological contributors to the behaviour of renegades who have made history, for better or worse. There is a significant psychohistory, or psychobiographical, literature. We simply ask in this chapter whether their psychological and personality characteristics – as they present themselves as adults – might have shaped the course their political lives take.

in The politics of betrayal

Among the renegades who embraced a wide range of movements and causes – in some instances, so many that the break with radicalism appears as just one step in a long series – probably the most egregious is Arthur Koestler, the Hungarian born communist and novelist who became an equally dedicated anti-communist. His biographer Cesarani has warned of the need to exercise caution in relation to Koestler’s own self-serving interpretation of his life. This chapter surveys the evidence for a psychological motivation for the renegacy of Koestler and numerous other renegades.

in The politics of betrayal
in The politics of betrayal
Abstract only

Renegades are omnipresent figures throughout political history. They differ in kind rather than in substance: the circumstances and examples vary from period to period, but the essence of the renegade – the one time radical opponent of the system who negotiates a rapprochement with existing political-economic institutions – stays largely the same. This chapter summarises the arguments and evidence presented and reasserts the need for the importance of both structure and agency in understanding the phenomenon of renegacy.

in The politics of betrayal
Abstract only
A road well travelled

The corpse of the radical turned renegade is strewn across the battle plains of political history. Perhaps the best-known example since the rise of organised party politics in the early twentieth century is the man who distinguished himself as a rambunctious editor of a socialist newspaper only to emerge later as the ruler of fascist Italy, Benito Mussolini. But a similar fate befell numerous other radicals around the period of WWI and during the interwar years, including the French anti-militarist transformed into a warmonger Gustave Hervé, the Belgian Marxist cum Nazi collaborator Hendrik de Man, and the British Labour Party politician Oswald Mosley who eventually founded his own fascist movement. Numerous former 1960s radicals, too, subsequently were to find themselves ensconced in parts of the establishment in various countries, as the whiff of tear gas and the blow of the truncheon faded from memory. This chapter defines some of the terms used and outlines the approach adopted in attempting to explain the phenomenon of the renegade in politics.

in The politics of betrayal
in The politics of betrayal