Jan 152011

FOR PEOPLE TRYING to understand the bankruptcy of American liberalism, there is probably no better place to start than The Nation magazine. I first began subscribing to The Nation in the 1980s when Reagan was in the White House. As a general rule of thumb, the magazine is more readable when a Reagan or a Bush is president. During the Clinton presidency, The Nation directed most of its fire at “threats” to his presidency from the likes of Newt Gingrich rather than seeing the war on the poor as a joint Democrat-Republican project.


By Louis Proyect Nov. 17, 2008  [print_link]

In 2003, after seeing one too many attacks on the radical wing of the antiwar movement in the pages of The Nation, I decided to write a rebuttal to what I described as its “tainted liberalism.” My research revealed that from the very beginning, the magazine was hostile to the kinds of grassroots radical movements celebrated in Howard Zinn’s history — especially under the stewardship of the founding publisher and editor E.L. Godkin (left). In 1978, an unstinting biography of Godkin written by William M. Armstrong appeared but The Nation understandably decided not to review it. After having read Armstrong’s book, I have a much better handle on where the magazine came from.

Like the demented uncle or aunt kept secluded in a Victorian attic, The Nation has kept mum about E.L. Godkin. The last time an article about the founder appeared in its pages was back on July 22, 1950. Written by Columbia University historian Allan Nevins, “E.L. Godkin: Victorian Liberal” is a mixture of fact and fancy. It is notable for its patronizing attitude toward black Americans, a trait strongly identified with The Nation’s tepid brand of abolitionism in the 1860s.

For Nevins, among the tasks confronting Godkin in 1865 was how to deal with “four million ignorant, destitute Negroes.” Along with fellow founding board members including Frederick Law Olmstead (the architect of Central Park), they gathered money to launch a new magazine with the “bewildered black man at heart.” While Nevins was critical of Godkin’s “denunciation” of trade unions seeking an eight-hour day, he was still considered more “truly liberal” than other followers of John Stuart Mill and the Manchester school. Specifically he “desired Washington to do more for the education, economic betterment, and political training of the Negro.” Reading Nevins, one cannot suppress the feeling that he is talking about convicts in need of training programs to help prepare them for life outside of prison.

One has to wonder how Nevins’s brand of bloviation found itself into a magazine that ostensibly upheld progressive traditions. While the subject of this article is Godkin rather than Nevins, it is of some interest that his book on John D. Rockefeller was described thusly by Matthew Josephson, author of the muckraking classic “The Robber Barons”:

It was in the course of doing work for the five Rockefeller books that Nevins developed the interesting thesis that the American corporate adventurers to whom Matthew Josephson gave the enduring name of “The Robber Barons” were in fact American heroes, builders of the American civilization and democracy. He invited other historians to follow in his footsteps in this thesis, but so far nobody has conspicuously accepted. And if anyone does, one will be able to see the American intellectual horizon further muddled. I have given writers like Nevins the sobriquet of “counter-savants.” A savant, or man of learning, is devoted to increasing knowledge. And knowledge has the function of deepening understanding. A counter-savant, however, is a man of knowledge who uses his knowledge, for reasons known only to himself, to obfuscate understanding, to confuse readers. The fact is that Nevins’ corrective portrait of Rockefeller is not only false with respect to the central character, but frustrates understanding with the unsophisticated reader.

After filling in some background on E.L. Godkin in the first four chapters (he was born and raised in Ireland, a follower of John Stuart Mill, and aspired to the lifestyle of a country gentleman, and even owned a horse in New York City), Armstrong gets down to brass tacks in chapter five titled “Founding the Nation.”

The men (as was expected to be the case in the Victorian era) who provided start-up capital for The Nation in 1865 were abolitionists who expected it to promote “the removal of all artificial distinctions between [the black] and the rest of the population.” Godkin, whose opposition to slavery was based more on a liberal preference for markets than anything else, was simply not that interested in empowering former slaves.

After lining up the necessary funding from prominent members of the Radical wing of the Republican Party, The Nation magazine began publishing in 1865. However, the magazine took people by surprise since it criticized some of the most respected Radicals including Benjamin Butler as it equivocated on black rights. Radical leader Charles Sumner wrote a letter to other investors complaining that the magazine “does more hurt than good… An argument to show that Equality is not essential to the Republican ideas is in the worst vein of copper-headism.” (The copperheads were Northern Democrats who opposed the Civil War.)

Two of the abolitionist founders of the magazine, Wendell Phillips and George L. Stearns, called for Godkin’s dismissal, but the majority reluctantly decided to go along with him. Eventually Godkin lined up the necessary funds to buy out the more radical-minded investors and The Nation was now free to pursue an approach that Armstrong describes as follows:

In his hard-hitting political and social articles, Godkin directed his fire impartially at anyone who violated the “laws of trade” as well as his elevated notions of culture. He deplored Irish-American politicians, labor reformers, the “Western type of man,” evangelical clergymen, the growing “servant problem,” the eight-hour day, the failure of Americans to dress for dinner, “sentiment,” untutored immigrants, universal manhood suffrage, popular journalists, noisy patriots, reactionaries, and reformers of all hue.

Godkin struck Progressive historians Charles and Mary Beard as a Brahmin “mainly pleading for good manners” while Armstrong describe his personal letters as revealing a “veritable snob” who complained incessantly about “the democratic plan of doing everything” in the United States.

Just one year after The Nation began publishing, Godkin admitted that he had veered so far from the original abolitionist intentions of the investors that he was “afraid to visit Boston this winter, lest the stockholders of The Nation should lynch me.” Ironically, it was lynching in the South and other assaults against blacks that Godkin grew inured to. Just as President Andrew Johnson began to sabotage efforts at Reconstruction in the South against the objections of Radical Republicans and open the door to KKK lynch mobs, Godkin rushed to defend Johnson. When attempts to oust the racist President Johnson failed, Godkin pronounced this as a vindication of the law.

As the 1870s began, Godkin openly broke with the Radicals, assailed carpetbaggers, and called for the restoration of white power in the South. In an 1874 editorial he advised The Nation’s readers that he found the average intelligence of blacks “so low that they are slightly above the level of animals.” He longed for the return of southern conservatives to power in 1877 eagerly, writing Harvard professor Charles Eliot Norton and fellow adversary of democratic rule that “I do not see . . . . the negro is ever to be worked into a system of government for which you and I would have much respect.” Suffice it to say that people such as E.L. Godkin, Charles Eliot Norton, and Allan Nevins were virtual symbols of American liberalism for over 100 years. The only reason that their polite (and not so polite) racism has become antiquated is that black people themselves would not tolerate it.

A combination of Godkin’s Manchester school liberalism and his innate crudeness as a human being allowed him to write an editorial in 1877 explaining why slavery would not come back. The whites would find no gains in it from the cold logic of the marketplace:

Their minds are really occupied with making money . . . and their designs on the negro are confined to getting him to work for low wages. His wages are low — forty cents a day and rations, which cost ten cents — but he is content with it. . . . On one [Virginia plantation] there were, before the war, about one hundred and fifty slaves of all ages. The owner, at emancipation, put them in wagons and deposited them in Ohio. His successor now works the plantation with twelve hired men. . . . He laughs when you ask him if he regrets slavery. Nothing would induce him to take care of one hundred fifty men, women, and children, furnishing perhaps thirty able bodied men, littering the house with a swarm of lazy servants, and making heavy drafts on the meat-house and corn-crib, and running up doctor’s bills.

As I tried to explain in a Swans article on Jesse James, the racist attacks on Reconstruction first appeared in the state of Missouri under the auspices of the Liberal Republican Party. While the party only lasted for a brief time in the 1870s, it had a major impact on American history by coalescing racist opposition to black rights. Among the early supporters of the Liberal Republicans was E.L. Godkin of The Nation magazine, who agreed strongly with their desire for rapprochement with the South as well as their free trade policies that jibed with his Manchester school liberalism. Godkin subsequently broke with the liberals, but not over any principles. He simply preferred Charles Francis Adams as a presidential candidate to Horace Greeley.

After Godkin passed on, the job of running The Nation fell to Oliver Garrison Villard, who was something of an improvement. His father Henry Villard had bought the paper in 1881 and he decided to give his son Oliver a job. Oliver got his middle name from his mother’s side of the family. She was the daughter of William Lloyd Garrison, Jr., the country’s best known white abolitionist, who introduced her to Villard.

Henry Villard, born Heinrich Hilgard in Bavaria, came to the United States to launch a career as a journalist but eventually wound up as a railroad entrepreneur working alongside robber baron Jay Cooke, who sought his help in increasing German immigration to land owned by his Northern Pacific Railroad. Meanwhile Garrison, The Nation’s literary editor, set up a meeting between Villard and an Englishman named William Lawson, who was seeking an agent for some very large stock transactions. With the Gilded Age in full swing, Villard’s relationship with Lawson “brought him experience in stock brokerage, some tidy profits, and growing insight into the upper reaches of high finance.” So writes his granddaughter Alexandra Villard Borchgrave, the wife of ultrarightist journalist Arnaud Borchgrave, in her biography of Henry Villard. She adds:

When other workers refused certain tasks or demanded rates that he considered exorbitant, Villard turned to cheap labor, particularly Chinese coolies, whom he imported by the boatload — he boasted of having as many as fifteen thousand of them in the field when Northern Pacific construction was at its peak — and who offered employers inestimable advantages: they worked harder and more efficiently than their Caucasian counterparts, often performing jobs that others found too hazardous, and they did so for less money.

Between Godkin’s ideological support for slavery and Villard’s super-exploitation of Chinese workers, there’s not much to choose between.

While The Nation would never be as bad as it was under Godkin, it would never challenge the system that produced the kinds of ills that it has criticized for well over 100 years. It has always been funded by “enlightened” members of the capitalist class like Henry Villard or the current crop of investors who feel the need to point out its shortcomings but who can’t conceive of alternatives to the system that has blessed them with riches beyond imagination.


LOUIS PROYECT who would be branded (and dismissed) by countless ignorant and cowardly liberals as “far left” (thus beyond the pale) is one of America’s finest political analysts.  His essays can be found at The Unrepentant Marxist. 

Works cited in this article: 

William A. Armstrong, E. L. Godkin: A Biography, State University of New York Press, 1978. 

Alexandra Villard Borchgrave, Villard: The Life And Times Of An American Titan, Doubleday, 2001.


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Jan 152011

By Stephen Lendman January 14, 2011

LIKE ALL POLITICIANS, Obama shills for power, plays to the crowd, and hides ugly truths the public has a right to know. His Tucson remarks were no different, displaying intellectual bankruptcy by invoking scripture, heroism, and patriotism, while avoiding what most needed saying – the real cause of January 8th’s violence. A previous article discussed it, accessed through the following link: http://sjlendman.blogspot.com/2011/01/roots-of-arizonas-violence.html
   America’s longstanding culture of violence deserves blame. A deranged gunman is merely systematic of a society off the rails, malignant from imperial wars, extremist politicians, demagogic media hosts and pundits, the proliferation of guns, a faux democracy, and deep-seated lawlessness and corruption too far gone to fix.
   Not on January 12 for Wall Street Journal editorial writers headlining, “Consolation in Tucson,” saying:
“President Obama rose to the occasion yesterday evening at the memorial ceremony for the victims of Saturday’s murders in Tucson, not least because he spoke to the better angels of our democracy. To an audience seeking consolation, the President honored the lives of the slain, praised the heroism of those who saved lives….and wisely explained that some acts of violence are not subject to easy blame, much less partisan explanation.”
   Tucson’s violence is easily explained, but Journal writers ducked it, opting instead for false reasons and praising presidential deception, their usual journalistic methodology.
   A same day New York Times editorial was no better, headlined, “As We Mourn,” saying:
It is a president’s responsibility to salve a national wound. President Obama did that on Wednesday evening at the memorial service in Tucson….It was one of his most powerful and uplifting speeches. (He) called on ideological campaigners to stop vilifying their opponents….He rightly focused primarily on the lives of those who died and the heroism of those who tried to stop the shooter and save the victims. He urged prayers for the 14 wounded….(His) role….was to comfort and honor, and instill hope.”
   Wrong! His obligation was to level with the public, explain ugly truths, and air America’s dirty linen in plain sight. He failed on all counts as he has throughout his presidency. He betrayed his constituents who deserve better, never got it, and won’t over what many hope will be his final two years, leaving office shamed, disgraced, and with any justice indicted and prosecuted for grievous war crimes, besides what he’s done to working Americans, leaving millions impoverished and abandoned.
   A two-part year two assessment (with links to a one year one) examined the mass misery he’s inflicted globally, accessed through the following links:
   They’re tough reading but true, what major media reports won’t explain, nor do they ever. Mainstream editorial deception provides clear evidence.
   So did numerous commentaries, including Nation magazine writer John Nichols in his January 13 article headlined, “Don’t Tone It Down, Tone It Up: Make Debate ‘Worthy of Those We Have Lost,” calling Obama’s speech “remarkable,” then adding:
“We are a better nation when we are undimmed by cynicism and vitriol. And for a few minutes on Wednesday night, we dared with our president to answer cynicism with idealism, to answer tragedy with hope, to answer division as one nation, indivisible.”
Phew! And it applies to Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, titling his January 12 op-ed “Obama: consoler in chief” at a time we need hard truths, not soothing. Yet Robinson praised a speech “from the heart” by a president exposed as soulless who never grieves for imperial victims – tortured, murdered or exploited for profit and global dominance.
   In fact, Tucson’s Wednesday night atmosphere was surreal, including remarks by Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, also invoking scripture, not truth, leaving root causes unexplained, notably America’s culture of violence. Why it’s called a “rape culture.” 
   Why killing is as commonplace at home as abroad. Why young children are conditioned by television, films, video games, music, online material, and real time violence at home, at school, and at play. 
   Why one estimate puts annual gun related deaths at 30,000, (82 on average daily) plus 70,000 injuries, including 3,000 children and teens. Why Chicago alone had 509 homicides in 2008, mostly gun related. Why most go unreported because largely they affect people of color, not prominent residents.
   Why America is the only industrialized country that hasn’t responsibly addressed gun violence, causing, on average, eight times more fatalities than in other developed nations. For children under age 15, it’s 12 times higher. Yet despite the current uproar, no congressional measures will restrict accessibility, including for semi-automatic assault weapons. When used as intended, they fire off multiple rounds in seconds.
   It’s why homicide-free days in many US communities are exceptions, not the rule, and why dissidents are attacked. Why students and others at Virginia Tech in April 2007, and high schoolers in Columbine, CO in April 1999. 
Columbine, in fact, culminated an 18 month shooting spree in Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas and Oregon, causing 15 deaths and scores of injuries. Yet the National Rifle Association wields inordinate power over Congress to assure continued proliferation and accessibility of assault weapons that should be banned.
   Why Florida criminologist Gary Kleck estimates between 16,000 and 17,000 children carry guns to school daily, usually for protection from others there with them. Of those who do, 10% commit handgun related crimes. Recently, seventh grader Seth Trickey used one to injure five children. Kip Kinkel, aged 15, fired 51 shots from a .22-caliber Ruger semiautomatic rifle in his Springfield, OR school cafeteria, killing two and injuring 22 others.
   In March 1998, Mitchell Johnson, aged 13, and Andrew Golden, aged 11, killed four girls, a teacher, and injured 10 others at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, AK. Numerous other cases are similar, children killing classmates, teachers or others at school, at play or on neighborhood streets because handgun accessibility is easy, even for them. Firearms, in fact, are the number one weapon of choice for American youths, some not yet teenagers. 
   According to Shay Bilchic, administrator of the Federal Juvenile Justice Office:
The accessibility of firearms to children shows “the devastating impact (they’ve) had on the lives and well-being of America’s youths.” Studies show minors can obtain handguns easily. In fact, 70% of juvenile criminals said they could get them in the District of Columbia where they’re illegal and possession almost entirely prohibited. Even though the 1968 Gun Control Act banned firearm sales to minors, children and teenagers easily get them, and in some states, like Arizona, obtaining them legally is almost as simple as buying toothpaste. 
A Final Comment
   Clearly better gun control laws are needed, but won’t be forthcoming even after Tucson, a tragedy America’s media will tire of covering and fade, but not gun related homicides across America, mostly out of sight and unreported. 
   Yet Obama ducked the issue, ignored America’s violent culture, absolved right wing extremists, and, besides other scripture, invoked the Book of Job saying: 
“Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. (None) of us can know what triggered the attack or what could have been done to prevent it.”
In fact, clear explanations exist, and plenty can be done to reduce gun related bloodletting. When used as intended, guns kill, maim or injure. Sympathy, empathy grieving, and invoking scripture won’t stop it. It’s high time something did, but don’t expect it from Washington where politicians are bought like toothpaste.
STEPHEN LENDMAN lives in Chicago and can be reached at Email address removed. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.
Author’s Bio: I was born in 1934, am a retired, progressive small businessman concerned about all the major national and world issues, committed to speak out and write about them.
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Jan 152011


posted to www.marxmail.org on March 1, 2003 | [print_link]


This article is an attempt to get to the roots of the yearlong attack on the antiwar movement by figures associated with the Nation Magazine, both within and outside its pages. While this campaign has chiefly been directed at Ramsey Clark and the ANSWER coalition, there is little doubt that what is driving it is animosity toward the radical movement in general.

There has been a tendency, especially at the website of our friends at Counterpunch, to understand this in terms of character flaws. Whether you are dealing with Christopher Hitchen‘s alcoholism or Marc Cooper‘s creepiness, it is understandable that one might assign a disproportionate weight to such factors. While these are certainly repugnant characters, we are obligated to get at the ideological roots of this 128-year-old liberal institution, which in many ways are far creepier than any individual journalist’s tics or vices.

Largely owing to the well-oiled public relations machinery of the Nation, nearly anybody who has heard of the magazine knows that abolitionists founded it in 1865. Naturally this would lead the average informant, including myself until this investigation began, to assume that the magazine was on the barricades fighting all sorts of injustice.

We get a hint of the real Nation from an article that was included in the 1990 anthology titled “The Nation 1865-1900: Selections from the Independent Magazine of Politics and Culture.” When my eyes first spotted editor and founder E.L. Godkin‘s “The Execution of the Anarchists”, I assumed like any normal person that this piece was a 19th century version of “Free Mumia”. In the preface, however, we learn that “Godkin wrote several pieces calling for the hanging of the Chicago anarchists; the magazine, under his editorial control, also opposed trade unions and attacked socialists.” Why this was the case appeared to be of little interest to the anthologist who is content to reflect that certain pages of Godkin’s Nation make for “strange reading.”

In his characteristic take-no-prisoner prose, Godkin states, “The notion that we must tolerate speech the object of which is to induce people to break up the social organization and abolish property by force, is historically and politically absurd.”

Since editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel (below, right) states that Godkin’s magazine was “claiming for itself the right of citizens in a democracy to carp, protest, condemn, revile, applaud, celebrate, prophesy and otherwise give themselves to the articulate of their circumstances,” one must wonder why she omitted the qualification “except for anarchists.”

Indeed, throughout the Nation Magazine’s first 35 years or so, you would be hard-put to find a challenge to the gathering dark clouds of reaction against black rights, the labor movement, woman’s suffrage or other causes. The magazine spoke out against women having the vote (the speeches of people like Victoria Woodhull were “shrill, incoherent, shallow and irrelevant”) and warned that the eight-hour day would “diminish production.”

I.F. Stone deftly sized up the editorial outlook, which can best be described as laissez faire 19th century liberalism, in an earlier anthology published in 1965 titled “One Hundred Years of the Nation.”

“But to advocate laissez faire consistently and honestly, as The Nation and Godkin did, was to adopt a lonely and ineffectual attitude— hostile to the capitalist trend toward monopoly, hostile to the agrarian cry for regulation of railroads and business, hostile to the workers’ attempts at collective action. In England the advocate of laissez faire marched in the triumphant ranks of the merchants and manufacturers; in America he fought a hopeless rear-guard action in the retreating forces of small business men, rentiers, and the Adams family. The Nation under Godkin attacked the Grangers, the Populists, the trade unions, the single-taxers, and the Socialists, as well as the trusts, the railroad barons, the tariff log-rollers, and the stockjobbing financiers. But the second group was to transform our economy and the first our politics until laissez faire liberalism, once a revolutionary and liberating force, became the slogan of reactionaries.”

Eventually Oswald Garrison Villard (abolitionist and Nation editor William Lloyd Garrison’s nephew) took over from Godkin and pushed the magazine in a progressive direction. In contrast to Godkin who complained that the Paris Commune was expelling “the literary or educated class from all places of trust and dignity,” the magazine was favorably disposed to the October 1917 Revolution in Russia although refracted through the prism of native progressive roots rather than a class perspective.

Drawing from what some might consider an anti-intellectual tradition in the USA, the Nation has tended to approach the class struggle from the standpoint of morality rather than any kind of systematic methodology based on social science, Marxism or otherwise. This has often been reflected as a kind of championing of the underdog, which reached a pinnacle in Carleton Beal’s travels with Nicaraguan rebel leader Augusto Sandino in the 1920s. This genre, which began with John Reed’s “Insurgent Mexico”, is one part partisan reporting and one part National Geographic travelogue:

“On the following morning we ascended the Coco River, breakfasted at the river settlement, and then forded directly into the ‘reten’ of Colonel Guadalupe Rivera, a grizzled soldier and wealthy ‘hacendado’ who had turned his place, Santa Cruze, into a Sandino outpost.

“More jungle then—humid, reeking. A soldier plucks twenty dollars worth of purple orchids (New York quotation) and sticks them in the band of his sombrero. Troops of screaming monkeys swing past, stopping occasionally to grimace at us. From the depths of the forest, mountain lions roar. [By the time I got to Nicaragua in 1987, the lions had disappeared. Lots of goats remained, however.] Huge macaws wing across the sky, crying hoarsely and flashing crimson. We ford and reford the north-flowing tributary, for endless hours we toil across the Yali range, and finally drop down into Jinotega in another night of driving rain over a road where the horse roll pitifully, up to their bellies in mud.”

(“With Sandino in Nicaragua, 3/14/1928)

Unfortunately, the class struggle does not always pit a plucky guerrilla band in white hats against a villainous Uncle Sam in some kind of latter-day version of Robin Hood. Far more often you end up with a much more complex drama involving shades of gray. If your sole criteria for offering solidarity to those struggling against imperialism is morality blended with esthetics, it is very easy to lose your way as editor Lewis Lapham points out in the March 2003 Harper’s:

“Reading Ignatieff [the reference is to a Jan. 5, 2003 NY Times Magazine article by Harvard professor and "human rights" expert Michael Ignatieff, where he advises that "Imperial powers do not have the luxury of timidity, for timidity is not prudence; it is a confession of weakness."] I was reminded of a dinner-table conversation in Washington in the middle 1980s at which an authoritative syndicated columnist explained that he was ‘depressed’ by ‘the quality of the regime’ in Nicaragua. Judging only by the tone of his voice, I might have guessed that he was talking about a second-rate wine or a Caribbean resort hotel gone to seed and no longer fit to welcome golf tournaments. He wasn’t concerned about Nicaragua’s capacity to harm the United States; the army was small and ill equipped, the mineral assets not worth the cost of a first-class embassy. Nor did the columnist think the governing junta particularly adept at exploiting ‘the virus of Marxist revolution.’ What troubled him was the ‘indecorousness of the regime.’ Nicaragua was in bad taste.”

One wonders if Lewis Lapham might have been referring to Michael Massing, who wrote an article titled “Hard Questions On Nicaragua” in the April 6, 1985 Nation Magazine. It is a catalog of alleged Sandinista misdeeds ranging from press censorship to tilting toward the Soviet bloc. Showing a naiveté about the Carter administration that borders on outright maliciousness, Massing states that “Unlike Allende’s Popular Unity government, the Sandinistas came to power at a time when the United States seemed prepared to live with revolution in Latin America.” With such good-will coming from the grinning Georgia farmer, the ideology-driven Sandinistas had to go and spoil the whole thing by tilting toward the Kremlin.

Stunned and appalled by Massing’s piece, Alexander Cockburn offered the following rejoinder in his April 20 “Beat the Devil” column:

“Standing side by side with Reagan, Massing charges that Nicaragua provoked the United States by forging military ties with Cuba and the Soviet Union, as though Nicaragua had no cause to look for external support. -He proposes that ‘progres­sives in this country need to develop a more nuanced analysis of the United States’ role as a superpower.’ What is this nu­anced analysis? Massing explains that the left should recognize that, ‘however unjustly, the United States regards the Carib­bean Basin as its backyard and stands ready to enforce that claim. Accordingly, revolutionary governments would, re­nounce any military relationship with the Soviet bloc and pledge not to assist revolutionary forces in the region. In return, they would receive a pledge of nonintervention.’”

Cockburn described Massing’s proposal as “among the most shameful and silly” ever to appear in The Nation.

With all due respect to Alex, whose column was shortened to one page after repeated outbursts of this kind, Massing’s proposal was in line with the magazine’s foreign policy punditry for most of the century. Except for those rare instances where you are dealing with sainted martyrs like Sandino, the Nation has tended to view world events far too often from the angle of State Department liberalism. (It should be pointed out however that these same movements can often lose favor with their liberal well-wishers after taking power and being forced to rule draconically under siege-like conditions produced by US economic blockade and military intervention. This in fact was what happened with the latter day followers of Sandino.)

In contrast to a figure like Augusto Sandino, who never tasted power, Juan D. Perón not only exercised power, but also had a huge impact on the daily lives of working people in Argentina. Since the US State Department had labeled the populist leader as the Adolph Hitler of Argentina, it was no surprise to discover an article in the February 26, 1946 Nation titled “Perón: South American Hitler.”

Written by Stanley Ross, who was a correspondent for the AP in Buenos Aires from 1943 to 1945, the article finds Nazis under every bed. For some reason, the Hitler of Argentina seems inexplicably popular with the workers. Ross reports that, “The most recent decree, ordering all concerns to raise wages approximately 30 percent, was received with wild acclaim even by those workers who hate the Colonel.” One supposes that he would have earned their love by slashing their wages in half, as was the custom in Latin American countries not groaning under fascist rule.

Meanwhile, another progressive Colonel over in Egypt was also getting on the magazine’s shit-list. Now for a consistent anti-imperialist, the confrontation between Nasser and the West over control of the Suez Canal might have seemed a straightforward deal. Apparently, the Egyptian people did not pass the Nation Magazine’s litmus test for in a January 5, 1957 editorial titled ” The Statue Is Not For Bombing” they are censured like wayward children:

“The Egyptian mob that dynamited an eighty-foot statue of Ferdinand de Lesseps that marked the entrance to the harbor at Port Said might have been better advised to build a new and loftier monument to this imaginative adventurer. Had it not been for de Lesseps, and the backers of his daring project, the future of the Egyptian people might be less bright than it is today. The bright promise of this future can be lost, if the Egyptians and their dictator, Colonel Nasser, fail to exhibit the wisdom, self-restraint and good sense that alone can preserve the fruits of a victory which, they did not win for themselves. Victories that have been won unassisted usually command a, price that has a sobering effect on the victors; those that come cheaply often have the opposite effect. If Colonel Nasser pushes his luck too hard, too fast and too far, he will forfeit the gains the Egyptians have registered to date. Much depends, however, on the guidance and tact which the world-community can bring to bear on Cairo through the U.N. and its agencies and officials. The Egyptians are negotiating a treacherous waterway, with dangerous shoals and currents, which leads from a freedom without power to a position of responsibility based on power and achievement. Having intervened in Egypt’s behalf, the world community has a special obligation to prevent the Nasser regime from succumbing to vagrant daydreams of dominion or empire.”

The careful observer will of course notice that just like today’s liberals the Nation is anxious that the “world-community” and the U.N. civilize the Iraqis of their time. If diplomatic pressure did not suffice, they of course could depend on old-fashioned bombing and shooting, sanctified by the blue-helmeted men who had taught the ornery North Koreans their lesson only a couple of years earlier.

It is not too hard to figure out how the Nation Magazine might have developed such an antipathy to one of the greatest anti-imperialist struggles of the 1950s. If the most important criterion is the stability of world commerce and the continuing availability of natural resources, obviously you would view Colonel Nasser and similar figures as a threat.

In 1952, shortly after Mossadegh had been voted into power in Iran, the Nation took it upon itself to persuade the secular nationalist to pay proper respect to Western powers. In the aptly titled “A New Deal for the Middle East” (the magazine was an institutional pillar of FDR’s 4 term presidency), long-time editor Freda Kirchwey describes the Godfather like deal being put forward by London and Washington. The US would grant a $10 million loan and Britain would withdraw the economic sanctions imposed a year earlier in exchange for a favorable deal involving Shell and all the other gangsters. “But,” Kirchwey wrote, “reports from Teheran give little reason for optimism.” He might be better advised in fact to cut a deal where he gets part of the pie rather than the whole thing. Missing entirely from this equation is the right of the Iranian people to decide to do with their own resources. Within a year Mossadegh, whom the Nation would eventually dub a “dictator”, would be overthrown by a young leader they characterized as “well-meaning” and “progressive.” His name? Reza Shah Pahlevi.

On June 25, 1955, Sam Jaffe, their “roving correspondent” in Southeast Asia, filed a report on “Dilemma in Saigon: Which Way Democracy” that is filled with the kinds of self-flattering illusions satirized in Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American” as well as fulsome praise for the dictator Ngo Dinh Diem:

“In Saigon there is one man with a solution. But he admits it must be put into effect quickly or all will be lost. I am not permitted to give his name, but he is an American official who works around the clock attempting to whip the Diem government into shape. He has a deep belief in America and its great past, which, he reminds you, was the result of its success in throwing off colonial rule. He also has a deep belief in the Asians. He feels strongly that our Asian foreign policy should not be to support any one group or government but the will of the Asian peoples.

“He speaks of concrete plans now under way in Vietnam for the reconstruction of the country. These include the resettling of over 800,000 refugees. Land will be granted them and money given them to build new homes—if needed, more money can be obtained through a low-interest loan. He speaks with enthusiasm, of the work being done by TRIM, the American Training Relations and Instructions Mission under the able command of Lieutenant General John W. O’Daniel, in helping the Vietnamese build and maintain a strong military force. He hopes for much from the teams of Americans under USMO, the United States Operations Mission, who go into the Vietnamese countryside to ascertain the wants of the people. Their reports are filled with the need for schools, bridges, communications, hospitals, sanitation, and the many other necessities of life that might stem the tide of communism.”

Perhaps it would be too much to expect the Nation Magazine to have simply recognized the USA had no business in Indochina whatsoever in 1955. But one would think that by 1966, when the antiwar movement had reached massive proportions, that they would have gotten out of the business of meddling in the affairs of the Vietnamese people, even under the auspices of that fabled “world-community” alluded to in the dressing down of the Egyptian masses above.

While the Nation no longer wrote puff pieces for the Vietnamese puppets, it was not above suggesting that solutions to the country’s problems could be imposed from the East River of Manhattan. In Russell Leng‘s February 28, 1966 “Vietnam: What Role for the UN? Strategy of a Truce”, we learn that peace is possible if the Security Council can get its act together. Leng is forced to admit that the cash-strapped world body may not have the authority to do the sorts of things it once did: “What was possible in Korea, and even in the Congo, will not be possible in Vietnam.” Considering the fate of Lumumba and the four million Korean casualties (out of a total population north and south of 40 million), perhaps that was not such a bad thing.

And what would be the concrete aim of the United Nations? Leng suggests that a workable peace settlement might include “the successful integration of the Vietcong into the political structure of South Vietnam.” In other words, the Nation Magazine was suggesting that the UN would be a better agency for accomplishing the goals of the Johnson administration, but without once considering the possibility that the goals themselves were colonial in character.

That very same year a huge anti-Communist bloodbath took place in Indonesia. For reasons unfathomable to anybody familiar with the country’s sorry history subsequent to that terrible event, the Nation Magazine found a silver lining in that dark cloud. Alex Josey, a “free-lance correspondent in the Far East for the past eighteen years, filed an article in the November 28, 1966 Nation titled “Hope After Massacre.” It concludes on the following Panglossian note:

“As I flew back to the efficiency, the modern comfort and the comparative security of Singapore, I tried to imagine what role Indonesia could be expected to play in Asian affairs in the foreseeable future This country of 100 million people is potentially among the richest in the world, but it is encumbered with a run-down, state-controlled economy, with between 2 million and 5 million civil servants (nobody really knows), and with more than halt a million in its armed forces It desperately seeks a domestic political formula and economic sanity. If there is to be progress in these fields, the generals and the politicians will have their hands full for some lime to come. Relations with China will probably deteriorate, those with the Soviet Union and the West, including the United States, will most likely improve, Japan will move much closer. The non-Communist world may be relieved that Indonesia has been rescued, on the brink, from communism And, by now, thanks to Radio Jakarta and the controlled papers, most Indonesians may share this view without knowing exactly why. But the truth is that the abortive coup, whatever if was, the awful massacres, Sukarno’s containment and the new army regime have left Indonesia very much as it was before. With, however, one important difference: there now is hope.”

Let us conclude with a brief observation. For many of us in the radical movement who were introduced to the Nation Magazine in the early 1980s as part of a search for a reliable source of information and analysis that was not tainted by dogmatism, the recent drift into red-baiting and anti-antiwar advocacy might at first seem like a departure from the Nation’s anti-imperialism track record. I was prompted to look into the Nation Magazine’s archives only after repeated assaults on the peace movement by figures such as David Corn, Christopher Hitchens, Marc Cooper and Eric Alterman who has stated openly that he would support a USA invasion of Iraq, even under terms dictated by Bush. This is not a magazine we can rely on. The most urgent task for the left is to develop a mass-circulation alternative to the Nation Magazine that relies on the grass roots rather than liberal millionaires. Such alternatives are taking shape right now with the Counterpunch web and print editions, but much more is needed with the survival of the human race at stake.

LOUIS PROYECT‘s protean intellectual interests cover an astonishing array of topics and fields. Still unknown to a broad segment of the left, he is easily one of the most reliable analysts of the American (and world) political scene. He maintains a personal blog, The Unrepentant Marxist, noted for its iconoclastic and highly didactic essays.

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Jan 152011

By Patrick Martin 

15 January 2011  [print_link]

President Obama’s Wednesday night speech at a memorial service for the victims of the Tucson massacre has been hailed by all sections of the corporate-controlled media, both liberal and conservative. Its main theme—opposing any political analysis of the attempted assassination of Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords—has become the official line.

The right-wing media celebrated the Obama speech because he whitewashed the role of the political right in providing the ideological impulse for the mentally disturbed gunman, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner. The liberals celebrated the Obama speech because they fear nothing more than provoking the right wing and sense that any serious examination of the shooting rampage would lay bare the putrefaction of American capitalism itself.

Both sides of the political establishment agreed that Obama’s remarks should close the door on any further discussion over the political nature of the January 8 attack, the first attempted killing of a US representative on American soil in at least 50 years.

Press accounts of the political reaction to the Obama speech cited favorable comments from a host of prominent Republicans: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, former presidential candidate and ultra-right pundit Patrick Buchanan, and many others.

The ultra-right pundits were equally effusive. A writer for the National Review declared, “Obama has never been more presidential than he was tonight.” Neoconservative John Podhoretz of Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post called the speech “a pitch-perfect response to the disgusting national political debate over the past couple of days.”

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer called the speech a “remarkable display of oratory and of oratorical skill, both in terms of the tone and the content.”

Another right-wing Washington Post contributor, Jennifer Rubin, devoted her column to a lengthy citation from Obama’s speech, in which he invoked religion to preempt any serious analysis of the Tucson massacre.

“’Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding,’ he said, then quoting the Book of Job, and continuing, ‘Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.’”

Rubin concluded: “It was pretty close to a rebuke to his liberal supporters. He was telling them, and everyone, that the entire process of casting blame for a lunatic’s crime is foolhardy and simply wrong. He deserves credit for that. This sounded like much of what I and others have been writing since Saturday.”

In the Wall Street Journal, columnist Peggy Noonan, a former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, said that Obama’s speech “reminded me, in fact, of part of the speech Ronald Reagan gave when he first announced for the presidency…”

Noonan cited the same passage quoted by Rubin, declaring, “In saying this, the president took the air out of all the accusations and counteraccusations. By the end of the speech they were yesterday’s story.”

As Rubin and Noonan demonstrate, the praise from these spokesmen of the right was clearly mixed with a sense of relief that the Obama speech marked an end to any effort to hold them morally or politically responsible for the conceptions that animated the assassin.

Loughner’s Internet postings include political notions that echo those of Glenn Beck (an obsession with gold and silver backing for currency), the Tea Party (hostility to the post-Civil War amendments to the US Constitution), and various Patriot and anti-immigrant groups (his musings on English grammar and language).

Noonan also placed the Obama speech in its broader political context, noting that after his surrender on extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich and the appointment of millionaire banker William Daley as White House chief of staff, “the Tucson speech marks the third time since the election that the president has in effect reached toward the center.”

Liberal pundits were equally effusive, but sought to conceal the real content of Obama’s speech and his repudiation of those liberals who have criticized the vitriolic attacks and incitements to violence by talk radio pundits and Republican politicians.

Glenn Thrush of Politico.com turned on the purple prose, describing Obama as “an electrifying campaign performer who is finally mastering the intimate, idiosyncratic language of the American presidency: a passionate and pared-down delivery that grounded his usual soaring rhetoric with expressions of straightforward patriotism, neighborly decency and raw grief.”

Liberal columnist Eugene Robinson wrote in the Washington Post: “Listening to Obama’s speech brought back memories of Obama the candidate, a mesmerizing orator with the power to summon visions of a better America. He seemed almost to transcend politics.”

Gail Collins of the New York Times gushed, “Maybe President Obama was saving the magic for a time when we really needed it.”

Perhaps the most absurd description came from Jonathan Freedland in the liberal British newspaper, the Guardian, who wrote, “[T]he address he gave at last night’s memorial service for the victims of the Arizona shootings was elegiac, heartfelt and deeply moving. It both rose to the moment and transcended it: after days of noise and rancour, he carved out a moment of calm.”

Like the conservative commentators, Freeland noted that Obama “spoke less like a politician than a pastor or priest,” and like them, he hailed the substitution of religious blather for a political assessment: “This is part of the US presidential job description that sets the office apart: more than mere head of government, an American president is required to be almost a spiritual leader to his nation.”

Actually, the First Amendment of the US Constitution lays down the separation of church and state as one of the most fundamental principles of American politics. It is only in the last few decades, a period of triumphant political reaction, that the president-as-televangelist has become a regular practice.

Several liberal media commentaries deliberately disguised the political significance of Obama’s speech, which was an abject surrender to the arrogant demands of the ultra-right that there should be no accountability for the Tucson events.

E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post claimed that Obama “pointedly took no sides on the controversy over the role of vitriolic politics in the tragedy.” This is flatly untrue, and the columnist knows it. Obama provided an amnesty for the right and effectively repudiated his own liberal supporters.

Even more duplicitous was the language of the New York Times editorial on the Tucson speech, which claimed: “Mr. Obama called on ideological campaigners to stop vilifying their opponents… It was important that Mr. Obama transcend the debate about whose partisanship has been excessive and whose words have sown the most division and dread.”

Obama, however, did not “transcend” this debate. He attempted to shut it down, and in so doing rendered a great political service to the ultra-right.

PATRICK MARTIN is a senior analyst with the World Socialist Web Site.



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Jan 152011



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