[Marxism] left-progressive historians under attack
markalause at gmail.com
Sat Feb 9 15:21:04 MST 2013
I hadn't seen the Wilentz piece. Thanks for alerting us to it.
A few preliminary thoughts . . . .
It is in the nature of the profession that we have to pick and choose
what we find relevent to discuss and what isn't. In that sense,
Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick were cherry-picking. So does Sean
Wilentz. So do I. The question is whether what we use the
information honestly to construct a general interpretation that holds
Wilentz doesn't directly accuse Stone and Kuznick of dishonesty, just
picking the cherries he finds distasteful.
It is certainly true that Stone and Kuznick have given us a piece
that's less an "Untold History of the United States" than an "Untold
History of the United States in the World." Is the objection that or
to the temerity of the two for telling what their critics prefer to
have remained "untold"?
It is also true that, as one might suspect from the emphasis of
Stone's film-making, the emphasis is very heavy on the presidency and
the personalities of the presidents. Still, given the central role of
the presidency in shaping America's role in the world, it isn't
Most tellingly, the substance of Wilentz's critique of the series
resolves itself into its discussion of Henry A. Wallace. Talk about
In discussing Wallace's role through the 1930s and 1940s, Stone and
Kuznick were making the key point that, it was not impossible for an
American political leader of that day to advocate equal rights
regardless of race or gender, justice for labor, and the construction
of something more than another world war after the one being waged
against the Axis. Acknowledging this rather shows up the rich white
ol' boy net at Washington for what it was, so Wallace is usually
simply ignored. The authors used Wallace to highlight this. Wilentz
faults them--and this is the punchline of Wilentz's article--without
discussing Wallace's 1952 recantation on peaceful coexistence with the
I agree that the decision not to introduce the distracting
complication was a judgement call, but its absence does not really
tarnish the main point they wanted to make.
It contrasts rather strongly with Wilentz's Schlesinger-esque
resurrection of Andrew Jackson as a fitting beau ideal of the
Democratic Party, despite the emphasis scholars have placed on the key
role of Indian-extermination and slavemongering in his ideology, his
politics and his coalition.
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