[Marxism] NY Review of Books
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri May 21 14:32:49 MDT 2004
In the winter of 1962-63, during a strike of the NY Times, Robert
Silvers and a few close friends decided to launch the New York Review of
Books (http://www.nybooks.com/), which is considered the premier
intellectual print journal outside of academia.
When I first joined the SWP in 1967, I was a regular reader of the New
York Review. Once when I was sitting at party headquarters thumbing
through its pages, an old-timer named Harry Ring raised an eyebrow and
said, "Oh, you're reading the social democratic press." Of course, I
practically took the magazine out and burned it after hearing that. As I
began shamefacedly apologizing for reading it, Harry reassured me that
if he had the time, he'd read it too since it is important to keep track
of the social democracy. These words were hardly reassuring. Did I have
so much time on my hands because I was one of those half-digested
petty-bourgeois elements that James P. Cannon railed against during the
This is not to say that the New York Review of 1967 was something like
the rancid Dissent Magazine of today. It regularly featured Noam
Chomsky, Gore Vidal and even ran a famous article by Andrew Kopkind
backing Chairman Mao's dictum that "morality, like politics, flows from
the barrel of a gun." This was accompanied by do-it-yourself diagram of
a Molotov cocktail on its cover.
Like nearly everything else that was going on in the 1980s and 90s, the
NY Review of Books began a steady shift to the right. To a large extent,
this was a function of the growing commercial success of the magazine.
It also reflected a general malaise of New Yorkers that something was
deeply wrong with their beloved city, which was under siege from
homeless beggars, crack-inspired violence and other threats to a perfect
urban tableau lifted from the latest Woody Allen movie.
So instead of printing articles on the need for armed struggle, they ran
countless articles by Felix Rohatyn, the investment banker/philosopher
who was the George Soros of his day. Anxiously warning his upscale
readers about the crisis of the system, his recommendations included the
need for a more enlightened management in politics and a willingness on
the part of the masses to accept austerity. During this period, Rohatyn
was a frequent guest at a salon run by Robert Silvers and his literary
and academic pals.
Around this time, novelist William Styron said, "I don't regard it any
longer as a journal with a specific point of view." John Leonard, editor
of The New York Times Book Review during the early 1970s and a
respectable liberal, said, "I don't think anyone would describe it as
left-wing politically." Citing The New York Review's preference for such
contributors as Felix Rohatyn on economic issues and Stanley Hoffman on
foreign policy topics, Leonard commented, "It's a lot closer to
Commentary than it is to The Nation." (The Washington Post, October 27,
The magazine became just the place for intellectuals to write an open
letter about the treatment of some writer in a Communist dungeon, but
not the sort of place to read a truly trenchant analysis of what was
wrong with American capitalism. It was also a kind of command center for
the wars in the Balkans with Tim Judah writing a flood of articles
defending plucky Bosnian Muslims against murdering Serb hordes.
Considering this background, I was somewhat startled (but not too much
so) to discover the magazine championed in the latest Nation by a chap
named Scott Sherman. Titled "The Rebirth of the NYRB"
(http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20040607&s=sherman), it advises
the reader that the magazine is once again "a powerful and combative
actor on the political scene." Why? It seems that it published the
resignation letter of Brady Kiesling, a career US diplomat, which stated
among other things that: "Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is
driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been
America's most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days
of Woodrow Wilson.... Our current course will bring instability and
danger, not security."
I don't know how to quite break it to comrade Sherman, but at this stage
of the game just about everybody in the USA except Bush, Rush Limbaugh
and Donald Rumsfeld are beginning to feel exactly the same way. This
morning, the 80 year old publisher of "USA Today", a bland periodical
that defends US interests nearly blindly, called for immediate
withdrawal from Iraq. As Willy Loman said just before his suicide, "The
woods are burning."
Sherman is cheered by Bard professor Ian Buruma's scathing review of
Paul Berman's "Terror and Liberalism," a liberal call for war on
Wahhabism. Perhaps Sherman did not grasp that Buruma might have seen
Berman as competition in a field that he was carving out for himself.
Buruma's own "The Origins of Occidentalism" makes practically the same
arguments as Berman's, although ostensibly with less pomposity. I
suppose anything is an improvement over the wretched Paul Berman, but
hardly worth crowing about in the Nation Magazine.
In trying to explain the New York Review's alleged shift to the left,
Sherman calls upon Mark Danner, another Bard College public intellectual
and frequent contributor to the magazine after graduating from Harvard
in the early 1980s. According to Sherman, Danner "has recently produced
some searching essays in the Review about Iraq".
Just like "plastic" was a key word in "The Graduate", Danner has a one
word explanation for the New York Review's return to the barricades:
"Vietnam." Danner is quoted as saying that, "If you look back over the
Review's history, you'll find that periods of crisis bring out the best
editorial instincts of the leadership of The New York Review. It
certainly happened with Vietnam and Iran/contra. It gets the juices
Characteristically, what Sherman fails to see is that despite all the
"searching" in Danner's articles, he remains a supporter of the war as
should be clear from a recent New York Review article:
"President Bush's audacious project in Iraq was always going to be
difficult, perhaps impossible, but without political steadfastness and
resilience, it had no chance to succeed. This autumn in Baghdad, a
ruthless insurgency, growing but still in its infancy, has managed to
make the President retreat from his project, and has worked, with
growing success, to divide Iraqis from the Americans who claim to govern
them. These insurgents cannot win, but by seizing on Washington's
mistakes and working relentlessly to widen the fault lines in occupied
Iraq, they threaten to prevent what President Bush sent the US military
to achieve: a stable, democratic, and peaceful Iraq, at the heart of a
stable and democratic Middle East."
I supposed beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but this just strikes
me as apologetics for the same old shit.
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