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Ron Radosh

When the New Left Shilled for North Korea

March 7th, 2013 - 9:17 am

The DPRK is beautiful, Clean, honest, free, and totally revolutionary. It is a new civilization called Socialism. … A new potent force is beginning to emerge in the Third World — The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea under the leadership of Comrade Kim Il-Sung [who is] refocusing the perspective of the Revolutionary Peoples of the Whole World who are not already liberated, powerful and secure. This is a historic development and the revolutionary peoples … must take heed of it.

– Eldridge Cleaver diary entry, 1970.


When North Korea was still being led by its original founder, Kim Il-Sung, the visitors from the United States to the horrendous Communist regime were not the likes of Dennis Rodman. Today, the founder’s grandson, Kim Jong-Un,  has inherited the mantle of leadership, thereby carrying on the dynasty that rules in the name of Marxism-Leninism, as modified by the founder’s philosophy of juche, or self-reliance, autonomy, and independence.

How far the North Korean Communists have fallen. Back in the day of the old fellow-travelers’ tours to the various communist paradises, the regimes had their praises sung by the likes of the African-American baritone Paul Robeson, who regularly went to the USSR and told the world how great Comrade Stalin was and how the Soviet Union had the only real democracy on Earth. At least Robeson was an All-American football quarterback and the most well-known black American actor and singer in the 1930s and 40s. He also received a law degree at Columbia University. That a man so intelligent could function as a dupe for Stalin was far more worrisome than seeing Rodman do the same today. No one would call Rodman intelligent. He is both a useful idiot as well as a real one; Robeson only filled the first category.

Bruce Bawer hits it squarely on the head when he notes that Rodman gives an impression of “utter foolishness and ignorance,” so much so that Bawer wonders if he ever has read any book at all. Bawer also points out that the attention given his view of North Korea is an indication of how the modern cult of celebrity “has taken root even in the presidential palace in Pyongyang.” And how many of our fellow countrymen might be influenced by the hosannas to both the late Hugo Chavez and the soon to be late Fidel Castro by showbiz stars like Sean Penn, Danny Glover, Tim Robbins, Harry Belafonte, and of course, Oliver Stone. The list goes on.

So let us turn to the reign of the founder of the hermit kingdom, Kim Il-Sung, who one thinks would never have welcomed Dennis Rodman to his lair. That Rodman is welcome there today is the result of Kim wanting a good education for his children and grandchildren, with the result that the current ruler learned to love basketball and Rodman while a student in one of the most elite schools in Switzerland. When a Red ruler sends his kids for a good education out of the homeland, one never knows what might be the result.

We now know, thanks to the enterprising scholarship of a young M.A. student at The College at Brockport, Benjamin R. Young, about the hitherto unknown ties of the American New Left with Kim Il-Sung’s North Korea, which it seems these major New Left activists hoped to have replace both the Soviet Union and Communist China as the model for socialism in their own day and age.

Now, Young’s findings and documents are online for all to see at the website of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and its division, the Cold War International History Project.

Young writes:

From the autumn of 1969 to the winter of 1971, the Panthers identified Kim Il Sung’s Juche Idea, rather than the teachings of Mao Zedong, as the most effective application of Marxism-Leninism. The Panthers utilized the slipperiness of Juche as a way to evade the Chinese and Soviet lines of Marxism-Leninism — much in the same way, some argue, the North Koreans used Juche.

So infatuated was Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panther Party’s minister of information, that he sent his wife Kathleen to North Korea when she was pregnant so that she could receive “the proper rest and medical care necessary at the time.” She gave birth to their daughter on July 31, 1970, in Pyongyang, which fortunately means that she can never be president of the United States. They named the baby Juju Younghi, to make her name sound Korean. Later, Cleaver claimed that in North Korea she got “the most excellent and thorough medical attention in my life,” as well as “the most pleasant and comfortable living conditions for myself and my family.”

And you thought Cuba was the favorite place for health care among New Leftists — I anxiously await a Michael Moore film about how wonderful North Korea is.

The delusionary view of North Korea was also stated by Panther leader Elaine Brown, who wrote that North Korean farmers “live at a much higher standard than the average person in the United States who would be involved in farming work, or even a worker.” The average North Korean had good health care, medical facilities, a housing and clothing allotment, and free education through college.

As for South Korea, the Panthers called it an oppressive puppet regime of the United States, led by a “running dog of U.S. imperialism” in a country in which the people lived in poverty and near starvation. “In North Korea,” she wrote, “ … the people are getting everything they need, while … in the South, people who speak the same language are starving.”

I was not unaware of the fascination of the New Left with North Korea. Those of you who have read my memoir, Commies, A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left, might recall a few pages on the left-wing journalist Robert Scheer, who now edits his own webzine (

In the summer of 1970 on a trip to San Francisco, I went to see Scheer, who was then living in the Red Family Commune and working at its kindergarten: the Blue Fairyland. During the visit, I taped Scheer for a weekly radio program that my friend Louis Menashe and I had on New York’s WBAI, the flagship station of the leftist and counter-culture Pacifica radio network. I wanted to talk to him about the state of the Left, the nature of the radical movement, and his work in journalism.

All Scheer agreed to talk about, however, was his recent visit to North Korea, and his view of its leader, Kim-Il Sung.

For two hours, Scheer regaled me about the nature of the paradise North Korea had created under the great Kim, and how juche was the ideology necessary for the building of socialism. He had successfully one-upped his other American comrades, who were still touting Fidel Castro and Cuba as the homeland for revolution.

Much to my surprise, though, I did learn from the newly released documents just how much Scheer was involved with North Korea.

Living in California, Scheer — like other New Leftists in the Bay Area — was drawn to the communist Black Panther Party and its volatile leader, the late Eldridge Cleaver. The movement’s newspaper, The Black Panther, always portrayed North Korea as an “earthly paradise,” and viewed it as the first nation “to bring the U.S. imperialists trembling to their knees.” They were the very first group, as Benjamin Young points out, to make a formal connection with North Korea — called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

When Eldridge Cleaver was facing arrest, he eventually fled to the isolated communist state and was given sanctuary there by Kim Il-Sung.

Scheer visited Cleaver in North Korea, and in a documentary film about Cleaver, is shown talking to the Black Panther Party leader about the paradise they were privileged to be in. In 1970, Cleaver invited Scheer to an “anti-imperialist” conference for journalists to be held in Pyongyang. Writing to the DPRK authorities, Cleaver told them: “I regard him as a Comrade.” He continued: “It would be advantageous to the struggle against fascism and imperialism, particularly U.S. imperialism, for him to visit … and to write about what he sees and learns and thinks.”

To put it bluntly, Cleaver told Kim Il-Sung’s cadre that Scheer could be depended upon to say how wonderful North Korea was, and to spread their propaganda line once he returned home. My interview with Scheer — which even the left-wing Pacifica network thought too strange and sectarian to broadcast — proved that Cleaver’s promise was fulfilled.

Cleaver informed the DPRK leaders that Scheer “is a very influential voice for the New Left Movement inside the U.S.,” whose “writings are widely known and read inside the U.S. and in England and Europe.” Here, he stressed Scheer’s previous writings after his return from South Vietnam in 1965 and 1966. He was, he noted, “selected as the spokesman for the anti-war forces in California” and was running for Congress in a “Progressive campaign.”

There was one problem Cleaver felt he had to note: Scheer was then not opposed to Israel. He hoped, however, that he would be capable of “articulating a Progressive political position on the question of Palestine.”

To the Bay Area left, North Korea was more of a model for the revolution they sought and for the path to destroying the American imperialist hegemon than Soviet Russia or Mao’s China. Using the papers of Eldridge Cleaver, which include memos, letters, and diaries, the fascination of Cleaver and his followers with Kim Il-Sung’s regime can be fleshed out as never before. The regime, Cleaver wrote after going to North Korea in 1969 and 1970, was “a beacon in the vanguard of the struggling masses of the world.”

Cleaver hoped to adopt Kim’s theory of juche as a tool for the revolution he hoped to lead in the United States. He wrote:

The revolutionary forces inside the United States must be supported by the revolutionary peoples of the whole world because the people outside of the United States will slice the tentacles of the hideous octopus of U.S. oppression. The revolutionaries inside the United States will cut out its imperialist heart and give the decisive death blow to U.S. fascism and imperialism. … Comrade Kim Il Sung is the most relevant strategist in the struggle against U.S. fascism and imperialism in the world today and he has put the correct tactical line for the universal destruction of fascism and imperialism in our time.

While the people in North Korea are suffering under the greatest hardship, and are near starvation — which today is well-known — Cleaver believed that the people “have no worries about food, clothing, lodging, education, medicine” and work to their “heart’s content leading a happy life.”

To herald North Korea to the wider public, Cleaver sponsored two different conferences for journalists. In the call to one of them, the sponsors who would attend included a writer for the major American radical magazine Ramparts, of which Scheer had been an editor; two members of the radical film collective Newsreel (including one woman who was a classmate of mine at the left-wing high school I attended in New York City); and Elaine Brown of the Black Panther Party.

The documents make clear that the American New Left — like its predecessors in the old Communist Party, U.S.A. — were not indigenous American radicals seeking to build their own movement in response to the needs of the American people, which is what they claimed at the time. Rather, they too were seeking the leadership and inspiration from foreign revolutionary leaders whose forces had already taken control of other nations, and had begun to create totalitarian monstrosities that often exceeded that created in Russia by Lenin, Stalin, and their successors.

Like the radicals of yesteryear, the New Left issued false positive reports about the nature of life in the revolutionary country of North Korea, using their own outlets to spread the propaganda of Kim Il-Sung’s Communist country. And the North Koreans not only got the New Left to spread their propaganda abroad, it is suspected that they sought, as Young’s article suggests, “to reach, develop, penetrate, and influence dissident groups in the United States” by placing agents in the U.S. and Canada who used phony South Korean and Japanese identities.

In addition, reading through Eldridge Cleaver’s fascinating notes and diary entries, one has new evidence about how his time in North Korea effectively, if we can use a 1950s term, brainwashed him. Cleaver came to believe that Kim Il-Sung was the leader of the world revolution and that the New Left had to take orders from him. There are many entries about how Comrade Kim taught him to pick up the gun against oppressors, and fight to the end until victory. One fascinating diary entry from 1969 starts with a discussion of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg:

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for giving Soviet Union atomic bomb secrets of imperialist U.S.A. In the name of the blood of the Rosenbergs, in the name of the blood of the Vietnamese people, in the name of humanity, I demand that the Soviet Union use its hydrogen bombs to force the United States out of Vietnam. Now is the time, while the American people are sick and tired of the War. If Stalin were in control of the Soviet Union he would do it. If there were Marxist-Leninists in the Soviet Union they would do it.

The H-bombs, he added, belonged not to the U.S. but “to the International Proletariat.”

In an official statement addressed to “Esteemed Mr. Eldridge Cleaver and Madame” and “Esteemed Mr. Robert Scheer,” an unnamed North Korean official — most likely Kim Il-Sung himself — wrote to his “Comrades,” greeting the “Anti-Imperialist Delegation of the American People.” The statement thanked them for their solidarity “in the struggle against U.S. imperialism, the common enemy.” The American system, it continued, was “headed by war-maniac Nixon” and was “running amuck to find a way out of their acute crisis” by waging a war “for aggression and war externally,” and carrying out “plunder and repression of the people internally.”

It ended with a toast “to the health of Eldridge Cleaver and his wife” and “to the health of Mr. Robert Scheer.”

No wonder they received such a toast. Cleaver and Scheer came back filled with enthusiasm, and dedicated to spreading North Korea propaganda back home in the United States. As a lengthy statement says, perhaps written by either of the two:

It will be with the greatest joy that we will tell the American people of the glorious victories of your socialist revolution, of the miraculous economic construction that has built a paradise … In the capitalist United States, technology is highly advanced, but serves only to exploit and murder people … But in [North] Korea we have seen and felt how socialist technology works for the liberation of people.

The statement ends quoting the “brilliant, iron-willed commander, Marshal Kim Il Sung,” who told them that his country was not afraid of war, should the imperialists unleash it against them.

Today, the New York Times reports that Korean officials have said:

Now that the U.S. is set to light a fuse for a nuclear war, the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will exercise the right to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors and to defend the supreme interests of the country.

With Kim Jong-Un threatening a nuclear attack against the United States if the new UN sanctions against North Korea are put into effect, and with his announcement that his regime will abrogate the 1953 truce with South Korea, the grandson is following in his ancestor’s footsteps.

What new-generation Robert Scheer and Eldridge Cleaver will follow their example and organize a new trip to defend the socialist paradise against American imperialism?

Will Michael Moore rush to North Korea to make a new film telling the truth about their wonderful medical care?

Or will even Dennis Rodman prove he knows how to read, look over Eldridge Cleaver’s diary entries and letters, and realize he is providing the evil regime with a post-modern version of Cleaver’s earlier homage?

What really would be wonderful: if, at Mr. Scheer would own up to his embarrassing past and apologize publicly for his foolish early years of revolutionary bravado. I look forward to such an article.

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Top Rated Comments   
Kim and his henchmen had an unerring instinct for getting things wrong. Cleaver was always a cockamamie con artist who later and quickly caved and cut a deal with Uncle Sam who forgave him his sins and permitted him to return to America without significant consequence. He essentially dropped out of politics to pursue various forlorn get-rich-quick schemes, including the manufacture of his so-called Cleavers, pants with pronounced cod pieces, which pretty much sums up the man's essential irrelevance.

As for Scheer's vaunted "influence," WBAI wouldn't air Radosh's own interview with him. I don't think Scheer ever thereafter wrote anything on North Korea. Indeed his subsequent writings steadily questioned the entire cult of idolatry of charismatics that has so often deformed the left project: see Scheer's denunciation of the so-called Rev. Jim Jones and his praise of John Stuart Mill, published in New Times in the issue of Jan. 8, 1979. He titled it "Zombies of the Left," and later reprinted it in his 1988 book, "Thinking Tuna Fish, Talking Death: Essays on the Pornography of Power." It is worth recalling as it amounts almost to a personal credo and a de facto verdict on his own past peregrinations through the maze of left rationalizations and conceits. He wrote, apropos of the People's Temple horror-show, that "People's Temple is just the latest in a series of movements that aim to create zombies in the name of establishing some social utopia. It can never make any sense. It is like fancying the fruit of a diseased tree. The process perverts that which is most healthy about the human spirit--our individual capacity for growth, development, mystery, and passion--and would turn us into uniform mush. If reading Marx and Mao can give rise to that, then it is necessary to temper them by reading John Stuart Mill, Bertrand Russell, and Martin Luther King, Jr. But perhaps that is too simple. What the crazies have in common is their distortion of ideas, and indeed history, in order to leave themselves at the center of our attention. They have a contempt for ordinary life, for the right and the ability of individuals to make rational decisions. They become humorless, fanatical 'saviors' of our souls. It finally doesn't matter if they claim to be of the left or the right, for Christ or against Him--they are inevitably the destroyers of life."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (14)
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Radosh's mewlings are as ignorant as they are inaccurate. For the record, I have not had any contact with Scheer about Radosh's calumnies. His writings are easily found on the web. No special effort is needed to do one's homework before rushing into print. What is required is a decent respect for facts. I urge readers to do so while keeping an open mind, but not so open, as the old adage warns, that your brains fall out.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A final answer to Steve. First, we have strayed afar from why Scheer does not own up to or apologize for his earlier views on North Korea, to Israel and the Middle East.
I sent the column to Scheer. He did not reply, or see fit to post any comments of his own. I suspect he asked you to be his surrogate, and supplied you with earlier columns. Clearly, he does not want to address the issue of the column- the New Left and North Korea.
I have addressed the issues concerning Israel many times, in earlier columns. The quote you offer--"within borders that permit a viable Palestinian state," means nothing. Read Ben Birnbaum in the new issue of TNR. The Palestinian leadership never accepts Israel's offers, even the generous won made by PM Ohlmert to Abbas a few years ago, as Birnbaum reveals.
I do not support every act or policy made by Israel. That is a canard that won't wash, but one that attempts to clear Scheer, who is no defender of Israel, but one who is to the left of J Street. To accuse Israel of "the drug of militarism" is something that should be addressed instead to the PLO, Hamas and Hezbollah.
It is Scheer and you, not me, who are coarse, crude and politically correct.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Dear Steve,
If you and Scheer cannot recognize that Hamas is a Nazi party whose goal is the extermination of the Jews, and that therefore there is no viable Palestinian actor to negotiate with, then your moral compass is in need of repair. There is no morally acceptable view of Hamas or the Palestinian Jew-haters that is nuanced, anymore than there was of the Hitlerites whom they openly admire.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Even a cursory familiarity with Scheer's writings reveal more complex views than the caricature favored by Radosh. Scheer, for example, has written (in a column of June 19, 2007) of Hamas' origins as "a creation of the Egyptian-based Muslim Brotherhood" and of how "religious zealots" came to dominate. He points out what others ignore: "that some elements in the Israeli government initially supported the rise of Hamas as a desired alternative to the PLO." He, like many Israelis, supports "Israel's right to exist within borders that permit a viable Palestinian state." So far, so reasonable. What perhaps bothers Radosh is Scheer's refusal to enroll himself in the claque that applauds every act of the Israeli state, no matter how egregious or self-destructive. "Those who mindlessly support Israel, right or wrong, betray the security of the Jewish state," he writes (see his column of Aug. 1, 2006). "They are enablers who have encouraged Israel's dependency on the drug of militarism as a false escape from the difficult accomodations needed to bring peace to the Middle East."
The charge that Scheer has ignored the depradations of the many depotisms that are to be found in the Middle East, is a canard. To choose one of many examples, he called (in his column of March 23, 2011) Gadhafi "a reprehensible ruler" and a "nutty dictator" whsoe regime was guilty of "considerable crimes"--a ruler who "was exposed by defections from his own armed forces to be akin to rotten fruit destined to drop." Scheer has written in support of the democracy advocates in Bahrain, denounced Yemen's dictator, and had the temerity to point out that it is "the Sunni monarchies that were most closely identified with the problems that gave rise to al-Qaeda." To be sure, Scheer is keen, as any fair-minded observer ought to be, to "expose the deep hypocrisy of [the U.S.] continuing to sell huge amounts of arms and otherwise supporting Saudi Arabia and its contingent tyrannies."
I'm afraid, however, that this is a dialogue of the deaf. Sadly, Radosh is hostage to the conceits and litmus tests of a certain political correctness that is as foolish as it is coarse.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Steve, I am so impressed by your prodigious research. I had no idea that Bob criticized the Saudi regime. This obviously was so risky and courageous that it proves he is not just another dictator-loving leftist. He actually stood up to a powerful king!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Sol Stern wonders whether there is even one instance of Robert Scheer specifically denouncing "any of the monstrous Arab and Muslim tyrannies." As it happens, there is. See Scheer's Los Angeles Times column of August 9, 2005, in which he calls the House of Saud a "corrupt spawning ground of violent extremism." He writes that "it shares none of our values and supports our enemies" and brands it a "repressive kingdom that spawned Osama bin Laden" and "lavishly funds extremist religious schools throughout the region that preach and teach anti-Western jihad." Scheer goes on to condemn Saudi Arabia's "tyranny, religious intolerance, corrupt royalty and popular ignorance." He concludes: "This is a country where women aren't allowed to drive and those who show 'too much skin' can be beaten in the street by officially sanctioned mobs of fanatics. A medieval land where newspapers routinely publish the most outlandish anti-Semitic rants. A place where executions are held in public, torture is the norm in prison and the most extreme and expansionist version of Islam is the state religion." Finally, Scheer castigates the Saudi despotism as "a brutal theocracy."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Stop kidding us. You combed through all Scheer wrote and all you can come up with is an attack on the Saudis, undoubtedly written because Bush was President and Scheer wanted to show him up for the kind of allies he courted.
The only problem is that every US administration, including the Obama one, guards our relations with Saudi Arabia and does not challenge them when such challenges are desperately needed.
What Scheer says is correct. So where are his comments on Assad and Syria, his attacks on Al Qaeda and Khadaffi, his condemnation of Hamas and Hezbollah, and the control of Lebanon, etc. etc. etc.? Where is his defense of Israel against its many enemies?
Most important, where is his attack on the Islamists, or as Hitch used to call them, the Islamo-fascists? Did he ever support Christopher in his many brave attacks on fundamentalist radical Islam? I'm waiting to hear.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This reminds me of my vist to Wall Street and the Occupiers in October 2011.
A snipit of my post is:
"... The first fellow I challenged was one who struck me as being a Marxist, I don’t recall why but it struck me that way. As he struggled with formulating a response to my second question, I tried to help him along by suggesting that what he was describing might look a lot like North Korea. He jumped on that in a very enthusiastic way and started describing the perfect society of North Korea where there is universal freedom, education, jobs for everyone and everyone is taken care of. ..."
You can read the rest of my "trip report" at
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
For goodness' sake, you guys, stop trying to attach broad-sweep social conditions and social phenomena to named people. Is it the prison/guilt culture or the celebrity culture that needs to turn everything into (surname)ism?

Start looking at what techniques and methods of control and administration work or don't work well for society, and which groups seem to want to dominate others, stuff like that.

If you manage this transition REALLY well, you might even live long enough to move from there onward to diagnose what is wrong with the psychology within these groups, to make them like that.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I particularly noted this: "Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for giving Soviet Union atomic bomb secrets of imperialist U.S.A."

As I've said before, it was an open secret on the Left that the Rosenbergs did what they were accused of. (How else would Cleaver come to believe that, as he clearly did?) That makes the posturing of old Reds like Irwin Corey even more ludicrous.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Scheer is a fraud, a congenital liar and a patsy. If that psycho squid ever came clean he would dissolve.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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