One can change political parties as a matter of conviction or convenience. Convenience usually means holding on to a place at the public trough when the destination happens to be the majority party in the associated jurisdictions.
Abe Lincoln was a major player in the Whig Party but dropped out of politics before joining the new Republican Party. This entailed principles. Phil Gramm was elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat and his party was the majority party in his district. After being punished for his support of Reagan’s economic policies, he made the most principled of party switches. He resigned his seat and then ran for it as a Republican in a special election. The ‘party switcher of convenience’ (Jeffords, Specter) does not take such a risk.
There has been another sort of conversion that involves more than mere party label but a total ideological switch. These involve the abandonment of the criminal enterprise known as Marxism. Radical ideological extremes are often (to crib from Lenin) infantile disorders. Lenin’s radicalism may have been triggered by the execution of his brother for what was truly a terrorist act. Others may adopt a radical stance as a form of rebellion of parental authority. Some radicals may have followed the examples of their parents and become what is known as Red Diaper Babies.
One famous convert went by the pseudonym George Orwell. He was a committed radical when he fought on the losing side in the vicious Spanish Civil War. Both sides were guilty of atrocities but Orwell was disturbed by the actions of the leaders of his side. The socialist scales fell from his eyes and he wrote two masterpieces against communist statism. He even hinted of the struggle between Stalin and Trotsky with the fictional Goldstein in 1984.
Another convert was Whittaker Chambers. Like Orwell, he was a talented author with brilliant flair for learning languages. The troubled Chambers became a dedicated member of the CPUSA. He was a spymaster and a friend of the clever Alger Hiss. Many ‘progressives’ chose to ignore the offenses of the Soviet regime, the genocide in Ukraine, the staged ‘Purge Trials’. The Soviets were seen as the potential bulwark against fascism as practiced in Germany and Italy as well as in Japan. Yet a thieves bargain between Hitler and Stalin brought some back to reality. Chambers abandoned the Party and espionage and urged his friends to do likewise. He did so at great personal risk in an era when defectors were murdered by Soviet hit men. Chambers soon became a Senior Editor at Time when that publication was in its glory days. He attempted to expose his unrepentant former colleagues as CPUSA members and not as spies. This would remove them from Government service but not threaten them with prosecution. His warnings went unheeded during the war years and the espionage and treachery continued. A postwar libel suit forced Chambers to reveal the espionage of Establishment Golden Boy Alger Hiss. The fallout of the extended trial long registered on the domestic political scene and efforts to exonerate Hiss lasted even after his death.
Arthur Koestler was a dedicated Communist with a strong aversion to Fascism. As with many other ‘progressives’ he was repulsed by the Soviet ‘Purge Trials’ in which the defendants confessed to ludicrous crimes and were quickly executed. The defendants were not Tsarist counterrevolutionaries but dedicated Bolsheviks who were seen as a threat by Stalin. Koestler served in the French Foreign Legion and wrote a number of books exposing the evils of Communism.
A more recent convert was David Horowitz. He documented his evolution from a politically-indoctrinated Red Diaper Baby to a committed radical to a dedicated anti-Marxist in a well-crafted and moving autobiography. As with Orwell, the viciousness of some on his side persuaded him to abandon his childhood follies. For him, the proximate monsters were the Black Panthers and their torture and murder of an accountant he has suggested as an employee. The murder victim was a dedicated ‘progressive’ whose death can be attributed to a paranoia of Stalinist flavor. Before his conversion, Horowitz was a favorite of Hollywood Glitterati with an affinity for radical causes. The old welcome mats may have been withdrawn for him as a result of his heresy.