Red Diaper Baby: A Boyhood in the Age of McCarthyism

Rose Burkoff

Young James Laxer prayed for a normal life. He grew up in a committed Communist household, an experience he describes in Red Diaper Baby: A Boyhood in the Age of McCarthyism (Douglas & McIntyre). Laxer’s parents were true believers and his father worked full time for the Party, a fact that had to be kept a secret from friends and teachers. The boy was pulled between the intense politics at home and his parents’ families: orthodox Jews on one side, wealthy WASPs on the other.

It’s the details that make this book engaging: Communist youth discussion groups, neighbourhood gangs, polio scares, socialist summer camp and young Laxer himself, a pint-sized skeptic who picks holes in Marxist theory and the vanguard of the revolution. There is a little too much of the adult Laxer (a professor of political science) in this memoir—the man who applauds his parents’ motives but still believes them to be hopelessly idealistic.

I admire the Laxers, who took their kids along to stare down police and help homeless families occupy abandoned buildings, and who continue to act on their principles.

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