[Marxism] Sean Wilentz's Pop-Gun Attack on Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Feb 15 08:33:12 MST 2013

On 2/15/13 10:25 AM, Mark Lause wrote:
> While I don't follow the ins and outs of Gotham publishing history,
> this is a solid response to Wilentz, making all the key points.  I
> don't think the Wilentz piece was capable of persuading anyone who
> wasn't already persuaded. It wasn't intended to do so.  It was simply
> a ritual repetition of the character assasination of Henry Wallace and
> a silly revisitng of the Cold War liberal tropes.
> For anyone younger than we are, I suspect it seems no more relevant
> than Warren G. Harding's views on gun control.

Yeah, Jeff St. Clair, who is probably young enough to be my son, 
wondered if anybody reads the NYR. Here's some background on that:


New York Review of Books

posted to www.marxmail.org on May 21, 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 
Shachtman-Burnham fight?

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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