Cockburn, Etc. (was Re: Answering Jose)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Fri Nov 12 17:24:37 MST 1999

>And as he embarks on this career, you question everybody but him. Cockburn
>might have his own problems, but he is right on one thing.

Allow me to repost our exchange on lbo with regard to Cockburn, Butler,
etc.  I agree with Carrol that being soft on racism is far, far worse than
being soft on Butler, relatively speaking.  After all, Butler has basically
zero influence in the non-academic world in the USA -- nothing to worry
about, except postmodernism does make discussion on some e-lists rather
difficult sometimes.   Yoshie

Date: Thu, 11 Nov 1999 17:10:48 -0500
To: lbo-talk at
From: Yoshie Furuhashi <furuhashi.1 at>
Subject: Re: Henwood vs. Cockburn

Carrol wrote:
>Here is Cockburn's reply to Doug. In it, I notice, Cockburn does
>explicitly express his "hopes of a populist coalition of left
>and right on basic issues of liberty." It seems to me this is
>as much a pipedream as Chris Burford's hopes for an alliance
>with progressive elements of the big bourgeoisie and
>far more of a pipedream than Doug's illusion that the admittedly
>derivative Butler has anything to say about the initiating or
>organizing of collecive action.
>The point about *all* populist dreamers is their nationalism. There have
>been interesting debates on marxism about the dangers and progressive
>potential of nationalism in imperialized nations (e.g., Argentina), but
>to believe that anything progressive whatever can emerge from any position
>even remotely tinged with u.s. nationalism is insane. Whether such
>populists are hairy-chested he-men or progressive women journalists
>from  Texas, they stand in the way of serious organizing.
>Cockburn's reply:
>Recently you
>were quavering to me nervously about my hopes of a populist coalition of
>left and right on basic issues of liberty. I berated you for timidity
>and said you'd jump at your own shadow.

I agree wholeheartedly with Carrol on the stupidity of Cockburn dreaming of
"a populist coalition of left and right on basic issues of liberty" and the
impossibility of 'progressive nationalism' in the USA.  Cockburn's
daydreaming makes him part of the "pwoggies marginally to the left [or to
the right, for that matter, depending on issues] of the mainstream."  In
fact, on this question, Cockburn is more blind than Fred Pfeil, who at
least takes note of (while severely underestimating) the real dangers
presented by those who are complicit in a desire for a _Herrenvolk
Democracy_ in the USA that Adolf Reed Jr., et al pointed out.  Fred Pfeil
writes in "Sympathy for the Devils: Notes on Some White Guys in the
Ridiculous Class War" (from _Whiteness: A Critical Reader_, ed. Mike Hill):

*****   Finally, I believe that there is something to do with gender and
race at the source of all these misperceptions and half-truths [dreamed up
by those who rail against the "New World Order" withtout recognizing the
need to abolish capitalism and to build a socialist society], however much
it may differ from active racism and sexism.  It is these men's bafflement,
grief, and rage at the breakdown and/or removal of a profoundly
undemocratic patriarchal and neofeudal hierarchy into which they once
believed they fit organically, with their own zones of autonomy and
deserved privilege, no matter how small....

...For those upscale men's movements to become movements and for militiamen
to stop being chumps for the Right, both must muster the strength and
wisdom to call their foremost enemy by its correct name, corporate
capitalism [Yoshie: Well, Fred Pfeil's qualification "corporate" makes the
name less than correct -- why not simply say "capitalism"?], the enclave of
those (largely) white men who really own the field and call the shots.  But
it is hard to imagine either group's ever overcoming its internal
resistances to taking this plunge in the absence of any encouragement or
invitations to do so from outside their ranks, from other communities
suffering as much and, in most cases, more than these men are....  Could
such efforts bear fruit?  I don't know, but I think I know what will happen
if progressives keep lumping together and writing off all white men as
being welcomed by reactionaries as an inherently racist sexist tribe
[Yoshie: Which "progressive" does Pfeil have in his mind?  I fear that if
fascism arises in the USA, it will be feminists and anti-racists who will
be blamed for "driving white guys over the edge," given the ease with which
such sentences as this can be written, giving ammunitions to the likes of
Alex Cockburn].  The old homeless black man I was walking with up to the
state capital to protest the newest proposed cuts in general assistance and
aid to the state's shelter facilities put it just right: "You know what's
gonna happen if this shit keeps up?" he said.  "There's gonna be class war
-- and it's gonna be _ridiculous_."  Until we -- all the rest of us,
disaffected white males included -- get the names and the sides right,
that's what we'll get: ridiculous, obfuscated, unrecognized class war
[Yoshie: the kind that Alex Cockburn has been rooting for]....

...Postscript, June 1996

...For leftist analysts of the Buchanan phenomenon, the key question was,
first, how much the white working-class votes he got in Iowa and New
Hampshire had to do with this addition of a pinch of economic populism to
the basic recipe and, second, whether the appeal of that rhetoric would or
could under different circumstances retian its power to move voters if
separated from the bigotry and chauvinism of the rest of Buchanan's message
[Yoshie:  Well, why should such a silly speculation be "the key question"
at all?  "Economic populism" -- whatever Pfeil means by it -- without an
opposition to U.S. imperialism _is_ bigotry and chauvinism!  That's the
problem of "populism" to begin with!]....

Before that spring melt, though, two articles appeared side by side in the
April issue of _The Progressive_, whose diametrically opposed views of the
potential of economic populism as a galvanizing force in American political
life today still seem relevant.  In "Ebony and Ivory Fascists," Adolph Reed
Jr. claims that this potential has virtually disappeared, that "what we
want to interpret as economic populism could just as easily be resonance
with a _Herrenvolk democracy_ -- a political assertion of white, male,
nativist entitlements as the only truly legitimate citizenship -- that has
a long history in American politics."  But in "Buchanan Fodder," Jim
Nichols, backed by quotations from Ralph Nader, Jim Hightower, and Ronnie
Dugger, contends that "progressives" can and must "enter that court [i.e.,
of economic populism], grab hold of the economic message, cleanse it of
Buchanan's bigotries, and use it to advance positive social change."...

...[T]heoretically I believe in the possibility and potential of a
clarified and inclusive economic populism for white men among others,
because I believe in the possibility and necessity of what Gramsci speaks
of as the long, grinding labor of _counter-hegemony_ [Yoshie: That's a
misuse of Gramsci, who spoke of the war of positions necessary for the
working class and the Communist Party to win hegemony to build _socialism_,
not an economic populism (which fascism was, as a matter of fact)] and
Althusser [Yoshie: A misuse of Althusser -- whatever his faults, Althusser
never broke with Marxism], Stuart Hall, and Laclau/Mouffe [Yoshie: Duh!]
speak of as _disarticulation_ -- albeit not as a mere twist of rhetoric but
as the hard, slow political work of building organizations, parties, and
constituencies; work, that is, that takes into account the shadows cast by
historical divisions of race and gender [Yoshie: the very things that Alex
Cockburn refuses to take into account] in its efforts to create new and
different citizens and communities, in order to redeem the time that is
now....   *****

To sum up, Alex Cockburn dreams of winning the right-wing white guys to a
"left-populist" vision *without them learning to fight against sexism and
racism*.  How stupid can he get???  Even Fred Pfeil knows such a dream is
not only an impossibility but a real danger.  Moreover, while Alex Cockburn
fancies himself to be "tougher" than and superior to "pwoggies" like Fred
Pfeil or Laclau/Mouffe, his inability to clearly argue for socialism (and
against sexism, racism, & nationalism) from his platform, and hence his
dreaming up an impossibility such as "a populist coalition of left and
right on basic issues of liberty" as a substitute for communism, basically
make him not only a vicarious warrior in a "ridiculous, obfuscated class
war" but just another late modern "pwoggie" who has resigned himself to the
"world without a hope for communism."  No Future, indeed.  I'll dedicate T.
S. Eliot's "Gerontion" to Alex Cockburn.

no sympathy for a bitter old man,


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