[Marxism] Gabriel Kolko, Left-Leaning Historian of U.S. Policy, Dies at 81

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jun 13 09:21:15 MDT 2014

Jesse Lemisch was right. This is a rancid obituary. But it has one 
merit. It points readers to an article that Kolko wrote for CounterPunch 
on the FDR illusion: 

NY Times, June 13 2014
Gabriel Kolko, Left-Leaning Historian of U.S. Policy, Dies at 81

Gabriel Kolko, an influential left-leaning historian who argued that 
American domestic and international policies have long been driven more 
by the interests of big business than by the interests of the people, 
died on May 19 at his home in Amsterdam. He was 81.

He had a progressive neurological disorder and chose euthanasia under 
Dutch law, said Pim van den Berg, a longtime friend.

In a series of books on turning points in American history, from the 
westward expansion of the railroads in the 19th century to the Cold War, 
Vietnam and the war on terrorism, Professor Kolko carved a distinct and 
sometimes groundbreaking path. He made the case that alliances between 
government and business, rather than between government and the people, 
were the essential drivers of regulatory policy, social programs and 
foreign affairs — an idea that came to be called corporate liberalism.

He was regarded as a cage-rattling New Left historian in the 1960s, and 
he was active in leftist causes, but over time he provoked thinkers of 
various stripes. By his late 30s, he had established himself as 
unconventional. The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Herbert 
Donald called him “a lonely figure among radical historians.”

“Rarely appearing at historical conventions, rarely contributing to the 
little magazines of the left, Kolko is an impressively productive 
scholar,” Mr. Donald wrote in The New York Times Book Review in July 
1970 in an overview titled “Radical Historians on the Move.”

“Though most historians have written of Progressivism as a movement of 
middle-class reformers to regulate corporate monopoly,” Mr. Donald 
continued, “Kolko argues that it was business itself that sought federal 
regulation, partly to escape Populist legislation by the state 
legislatures, chiefly to rationalize its own economic order.”

Professor Kolko had already written two of his most notable works, “The 
Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 
1900-1916” (1963) and “The Politics of War: The World and United States 
Foreign Policy, 1943-1945” (1968). In them, he argued that much of 
American policy at home and abroad was meant to suppress the left and 
preserve corporate power and peace.

His books generally did not reach popular audiences. His prose was often 
described as wooden. Some critics saw conflict in the high standards to 
which he held the United States while seeming more forgiving of other 
countries’ shortcomings. Some spotted factual errors. Some saw his 
leftist bias as distorting. But many acknowledged his rigor and 
originality of thought.

“This book is simultaneously original and dogmatic, perceptive and 
blind, clearly reasoned and clogged by ambiguity and awkward prose,” 
Gaddis Smith, the Yale historian of American diplomacy, wrote in a 
review of “The Politics of War” in The Times. “It is also the most 
important and stimulating discussion of American policy during World War 
II to appear in more than a decade.”

Professor Kolko wrote many more books, moving through history in the 
approximate order in which it unfolded. With his wife, Joyce, he wrote 
about the early Cold War in “The Limits of Power: The World and United 
States Foreign Policy, 1945-1954” (1972). In 1985, he wrote “Anatomy of 
a War: The United States, Vietnam and the Modern Historical Experience.”

In the 1950s, Professor Kolko wrote pamphlets for the leftist Student 
League for Industrial Democracy. In the 1960s, he supported the North 
Vietnamese, and he testified at the tribunal organized by the 
philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1967 to investigate war crimes in 
Vietnam. He also criticized his employer, the University of 
Pennsylvania, for allowing research on Agent Orange, the toxic chemical 
used by the United States in Vietnam — an act that played a role in his 
decision to leave the university in the 1960s.

Gabriel Morris Kolko was born on Aug. 17, 1932, in Paterson, N.J. His 
father, Philip, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, was a Yiddish scholar 
who struggled to find work in the United States. His mother, Lillian, 
was a schoolteacher. When Gabriel was a boy, his family moved to Akron, 
Ohio, where he became interested in the city’s active labor movement.

No immediate family members survive. Professor Kolko’s wife of 57 years, 
the former Joyce Manning, a historian, died in 2012.

In 1954, Professor Kolko received a bachelor’s degree in economic 
history from Kent State University. The next year he received a master’s 
in American social history from the University of Wisconsin, where he 
was influenced by the revisionist leftist historian William Appleman 
Williams. He received his doctorate from Harvard in 1962.

Professor Kolko taught at Penn and the State University of New York at 
Buffalo (now the University at Buffalo) before joining the faculty of 
York University in Toronto in 1970. He remained an emeritus professor at 
York after he moved to Amsterdam in the 1990s.

In recent years, Mr. Kolko wrote for the left-wing journal CounterPunch. 
In one of his final posts, during the 2012 presidential campaign, he 
sought to dispel what he called “the New Deal illusion.” Alluding to his 
earlier work, he wrote that President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his 
fellow Democrats had simply extended or recast many policies of 
Roosevelt’s Republican predecessor, Herbert Hoover.

“The New Deal illusion survives because it is a very useful to today’s 
Democratic Party,” he said. “It needs myths, but if one knows the truth 
about it then we have the basis for understanding the essentially 
conservative nature of today’s Democratic Party.”

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