Home / General / I Next Want to See A Debate Over Whether Henry Wallace Took a Strong Enough Position Against Leon Trotsky at an Early Enough Date

I Next Want to See A Debate Over Whether Henry Wallace Took a Strong Enough Position Against Leon Trotsky at an Early Enough Date


Last night, I followed an interesting conversation between Corey Robin and Michael Cohen on Twitter. Two people I respect a lot though they differ ideologically in places. The subject: whether Alexander Cockburn should be remembered fondly because he was seen as an apologist for Stalin early in his career as well as his late in life questioning of climate change (which is depressing but whatever, he was an old cranky dying dude). To be brief, Cohen thought the Stalin defense was a greater problem than Robin. Robin posits the debate within a larger problem he sees in modern American liberalism:

Why is he or she willing to make his or her peace with the American state—despite all its crimes (crimes acknowledged by liberals!)—yet never willing to make his or her peace with critics like Cockburn, whose only “crime,” if you can call it that, was to apologize for the Soviet Union long past its sell by date? Why so much room at the inn for Truman, JFK, or LBJ—all men with real blood on their hands—while people like Cockburn and Chomsky are denied entry?

I think Robin is fundamentally right here. The Serious Liberal (TM) in late 20th-early 21st century America must condemn those to left, whether old-school trade unionists, those who reject global capitalism, or those who take a hard left stance against American imperialism. Only then can the Serious Liberal be taken seriously by People Who Matter (TM). This all reminded me of so many discussions I’ve had over the past 15 years about Fidel Castro. Despite the horrors of Latin American history, it’s always Very Very Important for liberals to talk about how bad Castro is whenever Latin American issues come up. And sure, in some ways he’s a bad dude. But these conversations are always much more about distancing oneself from a leftist with old-timey ideology and being someone who is serious than placing Castro’s legacy within the checkered past of Latin American governance or the almost universally evil history of American involvement in the region. Where are those conversations between left intellectuals?

But I have a slightly different position on these questions overall. Applied to this specific debate, here it is.

Who gives a shit if Alexander Cockburn may not have condemned Stalinism consistently throughout his career?

I certainly do not.

I come to this conclusion for a number of reasons.

First, my top concern in this world is improving the everyday life of as many people as possible. Economic justice, social justice, sexual justice, etc. Does Alexander Cockburn’s position on Stalin matter for any of this? No. If Stalinism was somewhere even close to a legitimate option of governance in the West during Cockburn’s lifetime, I might say that he should have taken a stronger stance. But it wasn’t and so I don’t see how his position on the issue matters to the larger question of equality, even during his height of fame.

Second, this is a classic argument that destroys the left. While we can spend energy arguing whether an important but ultimately relatively powerless journalist condemned a monster harshly enough, conservatives continue to push their agenda against working people. They don’t have these debates. Dick Cheney not only supported apartheid, but was an influential congressman and then cabinet member with the kind of power Cockburn could only dream of. Whatever happened to that guy?

Third, is this 1972? Do young people today really care one way or another about these issues? Does taking the right position regarding people who have been dead for 60 years who ruled a government of a type discredited and never to return have any importance to, say, the people on the streets during Occupy Wall Street last fall? Does this address their lives in any important way? Does this address the lives of Americans struggling with debt, racism, or homophobia? Not that I can see. This debate is straight out of the post-60s left, more concerned with ideology and theoretical arguments than touching base with everyday people. I just don’t have time for it (despite the fact that I’m writing this post about how I don’t have time for it).

Now you may say that there are serious moral questions here. How could someone like Cockburn say anything good about Stalin? I don’t know–the times, the strains of marijuana he was smoking during the 70s, being contrary, needing a tool to beat the American imperialist monster with, etc. And given that Cockburn was a leftist in the comfortable West critiquing its excesses, racism, and imperialism, using Stalin as a tool to beat the capitalists probably had value to him. As I’ve said before, the left needs some kind of anti-capitalist alternative model in order to provide some kind of alternative, undesirable in actual fact as it may be. I’m not apologizing for Cockburn. I just don’t really care. The guy was there for a lot of good battles. As a whole, his life was dedicated to making other people’s life better. If he wasn’t ideologically perfect throughout his life, well, who among us can say that we have not made mistakes? And if we haven’t, have we made any difference at all?

Note that I have no real dog in this hunt. I rarely read Cockburn and he was not influential in my thinking. But do get sick of frequent debates about whether American leftists condemn bad guys in other countries with enough vigor.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • rea

    Stalin really was a monster in a way that Truman, Kennedy or Johnson weren’t, killing people by the tens of millions. Stalinism isn’t purely a phenonmenon of the left–modern day neocons are Stalinists. And Cockburn is in a different catagory from those who praised Stalin in the 30’s and 40’s–Cockburn remained a Stalinist to the end.

    • Estragon

      Agreed on the principle here, but that’s not what’s at stake – Erik is saying that LBJ, Truman, et al. remain members in good standing on the American Left, while those with even a slight stench of Soviet apologism (whatever the reasons) get written out. Surely we ought to be a bit more wary of actual murder than its putative defenders?

      • david mizner

        Right, here’s what I posed at Robin’s place:

        Good question, one I’ve posed at various fora — such as Lawyers, Guns, and Money — where, for example, most peeps have nothing but fury and hatred for Ralph Nader and blame him for the War in Iraq but exhibit no particular animosity for Hillary Clinton and others who actively pushed for the war. Don’t tell me who you love, tell me who you hate. Cynthia McKinney or Rahm Emmanuel? Dennis Kucinich or Larry Summers?

        Why would many liberals say McKinney and Kucinich? I think Occam provides the answer: because more liberals (progressives) than ever don’t believe in radical politics. They are deeply cynical (or “pragmatic”). They suffer from self-doubt and self-hatred. They have internalized the right’s critique of the sixties. (All those “excesses,” as President Obama puts it.) Hippies embarrass them. (Markos of Daily Kos actively opposed anti-Iraq war protests because, he said, they bring out the freaks.) They admire neoliberals because, say what you will about them, they’ve got power, and power is what impresses progressives. Their theory of change is to elect more and better Democrats. Any other theory is to them fantastical, naive. They say they support OWS, of course of course, but keep urging the movement to focus on legislation and elections. Their number one priority is to reelect President Obama — who, they claim and actually seem to believe — is pretty much the most liberal president we could hope to have.

        They have, in other words, lost hope.

        • Scott Lemieux

          where, for example, most peeps have nothing but fury and hatred for Ralph Nader and blame him for the War in Iraq but exhibit no particular animosity for Hillary Clinton and others who actively pushed for the war.

          1)Blaming Nader more than Clinton for the Iraq War is, of course, perfectly appropriate. There would have been a war in Iraq if Hillary Clinton had gone on a hunger strike to protest it. If Nader didn’t succeed in his goal of throwing the election to Bush, conversely, there’s no Iraq War.

          2)I didn’t support Clinton in the 2008 primaries because of her support for the Iraq War. Do I get my “radical with hope” card?

          • david mizner

            That’s not the point. The point is that you proudly exhibit a whole lot of anger for Nader (or Greenwald or anyone who in your view gives aid and comfort to Republicans) whereas you no similar anger for President Obama, or Hillary, or others who are directly responsible for many horrific policies.

            There’s no need to argue about Nader — I understand your anger for him even if I don’t share it. I’m wondering why you’re so soft on “liberal” pols who do horrific things.

          • DocAmazing

            There would have been a war in Iraq if Hillary Clinton had gone on a hunger strike to protest it.

            Ah, but how about if, instead of a hunger strike, she organized her fellow legislators to oppose it?

            Well, that didn’t happen, so we’re back to counterfactuals.

            • Scott Lemieux

              Ah, but how about if, instead of a hunger strike, she organized her fellow legislators to oppose it?

              There would have been an Iraq War, of course. You’re welcome!

              • DocAmazing

                Thank you for illustrating beautifully the relative worthlessness of the Democratic Party.

                • If failing to stop the Iraq War demonstrates worthlessness, what are we to conclude about the radicals?

                • Scott Lemieux

                  George W. Bush was a Democrat? Fascinating.

                • rea

                  George W. Bush was a Democrat?

                  Of course he was–just ask any present-day Republican.

                • mpowell

                  They were in the minority at the time. Don’t be a fool.

                  Anyways, we can all remember the Clinton v Obama debate. There were damn good left arguments to go either way. If Nader was actually in the running for the Democratic presidential primary, then we would be having a Clinton v Nader debate, not on the merits of the personal views, of course, but their merit as politicians.

              • Daragh McDowell

                Well maybe. If the Democratic party had united against the war it also might also have emboldened dissenters within the Bush administration like Powell, and possibly the British Labour party significantly raising the political costs of the war and possibly stripping Bush of any in Europe. A Democratic party that could plausibly say in the summer of 2004 ‘see, we told you the war was a dumb idea and its time to get rid of the guy who got us into it’ might have done better against W than the ambivalent one that a) nominated Kerry b) made it easy to portray him as a quivering jellyfish.

                • djw


                  In American politics, if a president wants a war, he’ll almost certainly get it. If the opposing party is in the minority, forget about it.

                  Your theory about the 2004 election might plausibly have some merit if the election had been held a year or even six months later, but while there was much frustration with execution, “the invasion was the right thing to do” was still polling over 50%.

                • Malaclypse

                  dissenters within the Bush administration like Powell,

                  Oh fuck me, does anybody still believe this self-serving crap coming from the guy who made his big career move my whitewashing My Lai?

                • Daragh McDowell

                  @djw Like I said, I still think its likely the war would have happened, I’m just pointing out areas where unified Democratic opposition would have raised the political costs of waging it. I think the potential removal of external allies is a big, and important one.

                  Additionally, those ‘invasion was the right thing to do’ numbers are at least partially due to the fact that the war had bipartisan support, and opposition to it was effectively delegitimised in 2003 by right-wing of the Democratic party. I don’t think its summoning up the bully-pulpit fairy to claim a unified, anti-war democratic party that embraced opposition to the invasion as a legitimate mainstream policy stance might have moved those numbers.

              • I find it funny that Bob Graham(a real DFH he was!!) told Hillary to read the various reports re: Iraq, and she didn’t. As a result, instead of becoming President, she became a forgettable Secretary of State.

          • noen

            “If Nader didn’t succeed in his goal of throwing the election to Bush, conversely, there’s no Iraq War.”

            Nader did not give the election to Bush. The numbers bear this out. The simple fact is that FLA voters vote more conservative in presidential elections than in off years. Bush would still have won without Nader.

            American is a moderate libertarian country. We like fiscal restraint and social liberty. Gore came off as an upper class twit with a stick firmly up his ass and Bush as a congenial moron.

          • Weldon Berger

            Blaming the 5 million or so Democrats who voted for Bush, including 200,000 in Florida, would be even more appropriate. Blaming the Democratic Party leaders for simultaneously jettisoning liberals and failing to recapture Nixon/Reagan Democrats would be even more appropriate. But hey, Nader.

        • I see Nader as sort of a left-wing Zell Miller. Nader was at one point a liberal Democrat and then became alienated by the party to such an extent that he felt the need to destroy it. Opposing Gore from the left is one thing, endorsing a Michael Bloomberg run is quite another. There’s no ideology that underlies both, only a hatred of the Democratic Party. Which I can sympathize with, though his way of reworking the two-party system was proven to be not that effective.

        • Don’t tell me who you love, tell me who you hate. Cynthia McKinney or Rahm Emmanuel? Dennis Kucinich or Larry Summers?

          Dick Cheney and the Project for a New American Century would be my answers.

          I hope you take a break from explaining which liberals I’m supposed to hate long enough to complain about hippy punching.

          • david mizner

            Well, the term hippie punching may be tired, but the more important question that Robin raises — and which my comment, I admit, probably obscures — is whether radicals are allies of liberals.

            • I would say that some radicals are, and some are not, and that it’s pretty much up to the radicals.

              Working to make sure the Republican wins the 2000 election? Not allies of liberals.

              Taking to the streets to highlight economic inequality and the outsized influence of the financial sector? Allies of liberals.

              In general, I’d say that radicals are allies to liberals right up until the point that the radicals attack the liberals.

              • FlipYrWhig

                And considering how prone radicals are to prove the degree of their radicalism _by bashing liberals_, I’m not sure why they whimper so much when they get bashed back.

                • Linnaeus

                  Radicals aren’t always the first to attack, though.

                • david mizner

                  Bashing liberals is part of the job of radicals. I mean, they’re radicals. And authentic radicals don’t whimper in the face of criticism from liberals but see it as validation. The country needs a strong radical left that views people like me as sellouts.

                • Bashing liberals is a legitimate thing for radicals to do in a circumstance in which the liberals are the obstacle to radical change.

                  In the midst of an even fight between liberals and conservatives, it is simply stabbing one’s allies in the back.

                • FlipYrWhig

                  At least online, “radicals” are IMHO waaaaay too hung up on this “validation” notion cited by david mizner and correspondingly little concerned with, you know, doing stuff. Way too much one-up-person-ship and point-scoring. If the Big Problem with American politics is the underperformance of the left-of-center part of the continuum, it seems like a spectacular waste of time for “radicals” to try to make themselves _more_ adversarial. And that was Cockburn, in spades.

              • Scott Lemieux

                Working to make sure the Republican wins the 2000 election? Not allies of liberals.

                Taking to the streets to highlight economic inequality and the outsized influence of the financial sector? Allies of liberals.


                • DocAmazing

                  Which is why one finds many putative liberals excusing police behavior in stomping on OWS demonstrators. If we’re going to go on about policing our ranks, we need to do it from both ends.

                • The left primarily policies its ranks from being too far to the left. The right also policies its ranks from being too far to the left. This has worked out very well for the left.

                • david mizner

                  And what about radicals (like many of those at the heart of OWS) who take to the streets to highlight economic inequality but who refuse to vote for Democrats?

                • Which is why one finds many putative liberals excusing police behavior in stomping on OWS demonstrators.

                  Many! You know, like…that guy. The one with the hair, who wrote the piece excusing the tactics of the police. His name escapes me, but he is a very big, important liberal.

                  Anyway, nice elision between “economic inequality and the outsized influence of the financial sector” and “police tactics.” Oddly enough, it was precisely when OWS went from being a movement about inequality to a movement about police tactics that it ceased to be relevant in American politics. Perhaps there’s a lesson there.

                  Some people can’t get out of bed in the morning without the bracing sensation of being attacked.

                • And what about radicals (like many of those at the heart of OWS) who take to the streets to highlight economic inequality but who refuse to vote for Democrats?

                  Dumb allies.

                • mark f

                  Which is why one finds many putative liberals excusing police behavior in stomping on OWS demonstrators.

                  Wait, what?

                • Scott Lemieux

                  Which is why one finds many putative liberals excusing police behavior in stomping on OWS demonstrators.

                  [cites omitted]

                • Scott Lemieux

                  The left primarily policies its ranks from being too far to the left.

                  I do not, in fact, concede that Gush-Borite radicals or swing-state Nader supporters in 2000 — who were, after all, cat’s paws of the Republican Party — are meaningfully “left” at all.

                • Oh absolutely. I don’t necessarily either. But the general point stands. I’d say that this comment thread is much more indicative of that than bashing Nader supporters which I think is right on. I bash myself all the time for that idiocy of my past.

                • DocAmazing

                  Some people can’t get out of bed in the morning without the bracing sensation of being attacked.

                  Gosh, why would Occupy feel as though they were attacked–police raids that were covered up by the media maybe?

                • DocAmazing

                  Yeah, nobody in the liberal city government of Oakland made excuses for the OPD’s raids on Occupy Oakland; nobody in LA’s Democratic city government made excuses for the LAPD; and, of course, all of New York besides Bloomberg came out against the NYPD.

                  If you can’t operate Google, you’ll have to wait until my patients go home before i do.

                • david mizner

                  Right, Scott, and Emma Goldman wasn’t part of the left either, because she said, “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”

                • I think perhaps he’s talking about mayors in Democratic cities also eventually wanting the parks back.

                  This is supposed to demonstrate something about allies not being allies. I’m not sure what.

                  There are no examples he can find of any prominent Democrats actually denouncing OWS or its message. In fact, we saw Democrats up and down the line taking on the 99% talking point, and dramatically changing their political message.

                  But that’s not supposed to matter, because Democratic mayors only allowed some of their public parks to be privatized for months on end, instead of indefinitely. Or something.

                • Yep, he was.

                  Good Lord.

                  Some people can’t get out of bed in the morning without the bracing sensation of feeling persecuted.

                  I’m talking about you, Doc. You, individually. Just so you’re clear.

                • And if you’re going to use deliberately-vague terminology to try to conflate and obscure, you really don’t get to do your Doctor Prick performance when it isn’t immediately apparent what you’re talking about.

                • DocAmazing

                  Gee, Joe, are you back to the “posturing” thing? Once again, you might wanna stay away from the “p” words–they tend to trip you up.. You might also try doing your own Googling when I’m busy working.

                • DocAmazing

                  Which is why one finds many putative liberals excusing police behavior in stomping on OWS demonstrators.

                  There are no examples he can find of any prominent Democrats actually denouncing OWS or its message.

                  One of these things is not like the other…

                  And hey, I didn’t write any thing about me being attacked–just OWS, which Jean Quan had no problem witn. You don’t seem to weither, but that’s all good, because the message is kinda getting across, except for the near-complete refusal to prosecute financial offenders.

                • Christ, what an asshole.

                  Imagine, someone accusing you of posturing. And after the all the seriousness you’re displaying here. Boy, you really got me there.

        • They suffer from self-doubt and self-hatred. They have internalized the right’s critique of the sixties. (All those “excesses,” as President Obama puts it.) Hippies embarrass them. (Markos of Daily Kos actively opposed anti-Iraq war protests because, he said, they bring out the freaks.) They admire neoliberals because, say what you will about them, they’ve got power, and power is what impresses progressives.

          Nobody ever actually disagrees with david mizner. It’s all a psychiatric disorder, or perhaps corruption.

        • noen

          “Don’t tell me who you love, tell me who you hate. Cynthia McKinney or Rahm Emmanuel? Dennis Kucinich or Larry Summers?”

          Cynthia McKinney is a clown 911 truther with the IQ of a houseplant. Dennis Kucinich is a UFO nutter who, like John Edwards, knows how to pander to the the addled minds of the Wealthy Left and separate them from their money like any good con.

          Rahm Emmanuel is a JEW, which is why the far Left hates him because knee-jerk antisemitism is their currency and Larry Summers had the audacity to burst feminist critical theory pseudo-scientific babble talk.

          I despise the Professional Left because the only people they hate more than the Right are Liberals such as myself. Why? Because we are more or less ok with the established order. We’d just like it to work better and for everyone to get a fair shake. The Left wants to burn it all down and try again because “true” Marxism can never fail, it can only be failed.

          I despise ideologues of all stripes because it matter little whether the nut case trying to kill me is waving a Gadsden flag or wearing a Che T-shirt.

          • BartletForGallifrey

            I agree with the “burn it down” crowd. But what they don’t get it that that’s exactly what we’re doing.


      • Craigo

        That’s probably because, morally, there is a world of difference between Harry Truman and Josef Stalin.

        You don’t see very many debates about why neo-Nazis are condemned, while garden-variety conservatives like Adenauer get a pass, because that’s a stupid thing to wonder about. They are not remotely similar. You have to be extraordinarily and blinkered or disgustingly amoral not to see that there is no comparison between liberal democrats (even liberal democrats who do not parrot your ideological line) and murderous totalitarians.

        • david mizner

          Well, sure to invoke Stalin is to stop the conversation. But the same dynamic extends to Cockburn (who, remember, wasn’t actually Stalin), Ralph Nader, Glenn Greenwald, Dennis Kucinich, etc. Robin’s not wondering why liberals don’t embrace these people as heroes — liberals think these people are often wrong, so why should they? He’s wondering why respectable liberals have such animosity for these people at the same time they tolerate, if not admire, people who are actually running the corporate-imperial state.

          • Scott Lemieux

            One of these things is not like the others!

            I don’t have any animosity whatsoever toward Dennis Kucinich or Glenn Greenwald. I certainly do have substantial animosity toward Ralph Nader, given that he was responsible for the election of George W. Bush. This really isn’t hard.

            • One of the Blue

              Liberals in gneral want a kinder, gentler version of the corporate imperial state. To the extent that any of these are still quarreling with Obama from the left, it is because his version of the corporate imperial state is insufficiently kind and gentle.

            • BobS

              That fucking Nader- purging thousands of black voters from the rolls before the election, designing the flawed butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County, convincing impartial jurists like Scalia and Thomas to stop the recount- he’s the Lex Luthor of American third party politics.

              • Nader didn’t do any of those things, of course.

                He just made sure that those things would succeed at flipping the election.

              • The SCOTUS-mandated count of the votes in Florida awarded the state to Bush by 537 votes. Nader got 97,488 votes in the state, so in order for him not to be what made the selection of Dubya possible, 99.449164% of the Nader voters in Florida that year would have had to have either voted for Bush or stayed home for him to have no impact on the race.

                But yeah, Nader bears no responsibility whatsoever…

                • I’ll say it again: Ralph Nader, Jeb Bush, and Antonin Scalia all had the same goal, and they all needed each other.

          • John

            Because, for all their flaws, people like LBJ have actually accomplished goals that mainstream liberals support. Alexander Cockburn has notably not. You can’t judge working politicians on the same basis as political columnists.

  • Estragon

    Also, whatever Cockburn’s (numerous) faults, his Stalin apologias were not a consistent feature throughout his career. Here he is in 2007, with an incredibly elegant and sympathetic review of Orlando Figes’s (since-discredited) oral history of the 1930s.

  • Cody

    You miss the most important point! If Cockburn didn’t really really hate Stalin, he was by default a commie. If Cockburn was a card-carrying Lefty AND a commie, then it follows all lefties are commies.

    This is of course, sound logic. You need to rewrite your post immediately and just apologize for having someone on the Left who vaguely didn’t hate communism enough.

    • Craigo

      Erik is mischaracterizing Cockburn, who didn’t fail to condemn Stalinism early enough or vigorously enough, but who actively supported it.

      • DocAmazing

        Hitler was TIME’s Man of the Year, as was Mussolini. Cancelling your subscription soon, or demanding that your dentist quit putting it in his office?

        • Scott P.

          Being selected Man of the Year isn’t a stamp of approval.

          And I should know, as I was Person of the Year in 2006.

        • Scott Lemieux

          I was so angry about Hitler being Time’s Man of the Year I haven’t subscribed before or since!

        • Hogan

          Those are far from the worst things Time magazine ever did.

          • DocAmazing

            Oh, the Luce family has a long shadow.

  • Scott Lemieux

    Cockburn was certainly all-in on the most important progressive struggle of the last decade: electing George W. Bush.

    • Bill Murray

      so you think Candidate Al “I agree with you on that Governor Bush” Gore was a progressive? or that Bush’s policies didn’t lead to two huge wave victories for the Democrats, which lead to some somewhat progressive legislation?

      • tonycpsu

        It’s actually worse than you let on — Al Gore stepped on a butterfly on his way to vote in 2000, and not just any butterfly, but a butterfly whose flapping wings would have set in motion a series of events that would have led to passage of single payer healthcare.

      • Scott Lemieux

        so you think Candidate Al “I agree with you on that Governor Bush” Gore was a progressive?

        Yes, clearly what Gore said in the second debate after he was savaged by the media after drawing sharp distinctions in the first one shows that there was no difference between Gore and Bush. Very astute! And, of course, throwing the election to Bush was a good thing because it was necessary to electing the Democrats in 2008 that you also hold in contempt. Can’t argue with any of that logic.

    • wengler

      That’s rather binary thinking and giving Cockburn way too much influence.

  • Corey

    (which is depressing but whatever, he was an old cranky dying dude)


  • Scott Lemieux

    I also don’t think this is quite the issue:

    Who gives a shit if Alexander Cockburn may not have condemned Stalinism consistently throughout his career?

    I don’t think failure to criticize Stalin is the problem. I think articles where he tried to assert that Stalin killed a fraction of people Stalin killed in the Ukranian famines alone are the problem. If there’s a difference between that kind of thing and Holocaust denial, it’s one of degree, not of kind. Finding that objectionable is different than saying that any left-wing writer is obliged to say that Stalin was really bad once an month.

    • Marc

      And the same trait feeds into global warming denialism. Cockburn had a tendency to casually accept conspiracy theories and to reject information that conflicted with his world view. These are serious intellectual flaws. I have much more respect for people who recognized their errors. This isn’t because I want to see some ritual; it’s because I respect people who change their opinions in the face of facts.

      • scott g

        Bingo, the both of you.

        What surprises me here is that so far I don’t read Erik cracking Cockburn on exactly this point: his gleeful rejection of facts the implications of which he resisted.

        I think a lot of us – certainly part of me – gave AC a kind of pass, because he was a furious and unassailable voice of the left at a time when we really needed bucking up. Even if he did stretch a point or get something specific wrong, it was all in the service of maintaining that essential possibility of politics beyond the dead Reaganite gaze.

        But like I said downthread somewhere, once I got to a point where I actually understood the nuances of a situation he was writing about, I saw he was trimming the facts to fit his ideas. The climate denial was the same sort of thing, but vastly worse and stupider, all bound up with Cockburn’s contempt for environmentalists and their silly reforming organizations.

        Point being, I guess, that it ill-serves an historian, environmentalist, and activist to honor Cockburn as a writer and fighter without reckoning his due measure of opprobrium.

    • Lee

      Defenses of Stalin are like defenses of Pinochet, it shows that a person is wrapped up in his or her ideology that they are operating with rose-colored glasses on.

      • Corey

        Yep. And that defenses of Pinochet are more common and more acceptable in the American discourse doesn’t excuse Cockburn. The Award Winning Blogger strikes again.

        • Walt

          Dude, you need help with your Loomis obsession.

          • Hogan

            No, I think he’s got it down pretty good.

    • Richard

      He was an apologist for Stalin, one of the great mass murderers of the 20th Century. And you say that this doesn’t matter? Would you say the same thing for an unrepentant apologist for Mussolini or Hitler? You can say that, despite this, Cockburn did more good than bad (I would vehemently disagree) but I find it truly offensive to argue that his defenses of Stalin don’t matter.

      • Stalin killed way more people than Hitler ever did. FWIW.

        • Richard
        • Matthew Stevens

          Before this discussion gets going, I just wanted to note:

          a) Hitler was in the mass-murder business for a shorter time; if he’d been at it for 30 years I have no doubt he would’ve matched Stalin’s body-count
          b) Remember that the 6-million number refers only to deaths in the Holocaust, and the Nazis killed millions outside the death camps as well; together the total could reach 15 million or so

          None of this is meant to excuse Stalin, just to preempt any “Stalin was worse than Hitler” arguments.

          • Hogan

            At that level of competition, the real honor is just being nominated.

            • Linnaeus

              Yeah, when the body count gets to a certain point, I think “who was worse?” arguments become rather silly.

            • You must get up VERY early in the morning!

          • david mizner

            But was Cockburn worse than Hitler?

        • david mizner

          What’s Bush at? He killed another 140 yesterday in Iraq.

        • lawguy

          What are you, in real estate?

        • wengler

          Mao killed more than both of them combined. FTW.

          I don’t understand the point of these conversations. None of these people were concerned with winning humanitarian of the year. US Presidents were approving the creation of firestorms that burned hundreds of thousands of people alive. People in position of state leadership do very bad things.

    • Scott, there was a serious debate among Sovietologists and demographers in the late 1980s about the number of Stalin’s victims. It involved people like Jerry Hough, Sheila Fitzpatrick, and (later) J. Arch Getty. All very serious scholars who questioned Medvedev’s and Conquest’s numbers. Cockburn reported on that — with what seems to have been a fair amount of factual accuracy, I might add — and while his reporting was driven, I’m sure, by his defense of the Soviet Union, what he actually said in that piece was not out of bounds. In reading that piece, I really don’t see any comparison to Holocaust denial. There are other statements Cockburn made about the Soviet Union that are far more morally noxious.

      • Scott Lemieux

        Corey — will look into it more carefully; I have been relying on second-hand accounts, so you could be right.

      • Daragh McDowell

        My only read on this so far was Tomasky’s very sympathetic obit where he claimed that Cockburn tried to argue Stalin’s death toll down into the 500,000 range. If this is even remotely like the case than what Cockburn said is certainly out of bounds. I’m aware of no serious demographic or historical examination of Stalin’s crimes outside the ten million range.

        I tend to agree with Scott that there is a valid analogue between holocaust denialism and what you might call Great Terror denialism, at least partially since so much of Stalin’s carnage was ethnically based (by the end the Jews were being targeted once again and would have faced another European massacre if Uncle Joe hadn’t suffered one of history’s most overdue strokes.) Effectively both accept the principle that human beings are effectively raw material, to be disposed with as the state wishes according to whatever ideological justification is your flavour. That’s not only morally abominable, its the kind of thinking that underpins really nasty regimes that take power in times of crisis (for instance, the Eurozone in six months times) making these crimes more likely in future.

        Nor is Cockburn an isolated extremist crank in this case. To whit Seamus Milne, a regular columnist for the Guardian – a newspaper that’s almost a caricature of the kind of liberalism Cockburn despised.

        • Lee

          Stalin revived the Russian Empire’s tactic of using anti-Semitism as a way to deflect criticism of the state. He and his successors waged a war against the Jews while simultaneously forbidding all forms of Jewish culture. At least the last two Tsars allowed Jews to be Jews.

        • Tomasky revised his piece to acknowledge that Cockburn argued that Stalin killed 3.5 million, not 500,000. That’s some defense of Stalinism!
          In fact, it is just a canard. Let’s, however, have a rousing discussion of terror famine policies: Stalin’s in the Ukraine in the 1930s, Churchill’s in Bengal in the 1940s. Might be interesting.

  • david mizner

    Well, I was a big Cockburn fan, but I do care that he was soft on Stalin, just as I care that there are other leftists who are soft on other autocrats and tyrants. This is not a right-wing lie, it’s a fact, and I don’t think acknowledging “destroys the left.”

    this is a classic argument that destroys the left. While we can spend energy arguing whether an important but ultimately relatively powerless journalist condemned a monster harshly enough, conservatives continue to push their agenda against working people.

    You say you want an alternative system, so do we all, and but to create it, we have to do some thinking about what it looks like, what and whose ideas it incorporates. As part of that, we can pay our respects to Cockburn but also say he was right here and wrong there.

    • rea

      David, he wasn’t “soft on Stalinism”; he didn’t just fail to condemn a monster harshly enough–he ws actively pro-Stalin.

      • david mizner

        Okay, fair enough. That would only bolster my point, which is: it matters, and I care.

      • lawguy

        rea, I have read Cockburn for yours. Can you direct me to the specific articles that defended Stalin? I’m being serious here as I do not remember any.

        • Aidan

          As the editor of Counter Punch he published and reprinted Stalinist propaganda from the Spanish Civil War (including by his father, who spent the Moscow Trials publishing slanders against Stalin’s soon to be executed political opponents). As a writer, he continually found ways to make excuses for Stalin’s behavior or ways to portray the horrors of communism in a better light.

          In 1991 he wrote “The Soviet Union defeated Hitler and fascism…it was the counterweight to US imperialism and the terminal savageries of the old European colonial powers. It gave support to any country trying to follow an independent line…Despite Stalin’s suggestion to Mao that he and his comrades settle for only half a country, the Chinese Revolution probably would not have survived either.” He wrote that to attempt to portray symmetry between the murders of Hitler and Stalin “is to do disservice to history and to truth.”

          It is perhaps too simplistic to declare him pro-Stalin – he does refer to Stalin as evil in 1989 (hey, better late than never) but the full context of the sentence is “Evil though he was, Stalin did not plan or seek to accomplish genocide.” Even if you’re skeptical that Cockburn was actively pro-Stalin, the man was no progressive and he apologized for Communist dictators and gave space to anti-semitic conspiracy theorists any chance he could.

          He denied the existence of institutionalized torture in Cuba, he supported the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (claiming “if ever a country deserved rape it’s Afghanistan”), he slimed Soviet refuseniks, he defended Mao and Castro, in 2009 he published an Alison Weir article and an article by an advisor to the Syrian dictator Assad, both accusing Israelis of harvesting organs, in addition to publishing a whole range of other anti-semitic nonsense.

          At some point I start to notice a trend.

          • lawguy

            Aidan, Well essentially, never having read Claud and having read Counterpunch for years I do not remember any stuff from Claud in it. Also, in the last few months I’ve tried to find something by Claud on the internet and can’t for under a couple hundred dollars so I guess since you don’t link to anything I’m to take your word.

            As to what he said in 1991, was he wrong? Would any of the anti-colonialist movements have survived without the Soviet Union to support them?

            Whatever his position on Soviet intervention in Afghanistan (something the Russians and English had been doing for quite sometime) doesn’t make him a Stalinist.

            • Richard

              Try this http://www.counterpunch.org/2004/04/10/the-greatest-radical-journalist-of-his-age/

              Alexander praising his father and posting one of his stories. The father could write, I give him that. If you want more links, they’re not hard to find. Also, any of the histories of the Spanish Civil War discuss Cockburn and Orwell

              Also do a search for Frank Pitcairn since most of his propaganda writing about the Spanish Civil War was under that name.

            • Lee

              Yes, the anti-colonialist movements would have survived without Soviet support. By the end of WWII, the colonial empires were closing down. India, most of the Middle East, and Japan’s colonies were more or less free by the late 1940s. North Africa followed in the 1950s. Africa and the rest of Asia by the mid-1960s.

              It was the Portugese Empire and Hong Kong that were the hold outs. Without Soviet support, imperialism might have dragged on for longer but there really was no energy for direct control anymore.

    • wengler

      Maybe I’m too young to have encountered anyone who was being ‘soft on Stalin’, I do see people that think that Lenin or Trotsky were saints compared to him. They just haven’t read enough about the Russian Civil War.

      Stalin was downright conservative in his application of violence compared to them(until WW2). It’s my opinion that Lenin, had he survived longer, would have engaged in liquidations and purges on an order much larger than that of Stalin.

      • Richard

        I agree with you about Lenin. But to say that Stalin was downright conservative about application of violence as compared to Lenin and Trotsky until WWII is wrong. Read the history of the show trials, totally Stalin’s doings, and the purges. Stalin personally selected who was to arested and killed and personally gave quotas numbers for the number of people to be arrested and tried/killed in each soviet.

        As far as the history of being soft on Stalin, neither the show trials, the purges or even the pact with Hitler caused all of the left to break with Stalin. There is an ugly strain of Stalinist softness all the way through until the end of the fifties. (If you ever want to see proof, see the Hollywood movie Mission to Moscow based on the memoirs of Joseph Davies, FDR’s ambassador to the Soviet Union, and which starred Walter Huston. An absolute love letter to Stalin. Even the show trials are presented as exercises in justice where the Fascist collaborators got their just rewards). That changed after Kruschev’s speech and the gradual deStalinization in Russia and Cockburn was one of the few who resisted the change (although I do admit that he later started referring to Stalin as “evil”).

        • lawguy

          Good god Richard, “Mission to Moscow” was a movie made during WWII when the government was trying to gather support for an ally in that war.

          • Richard

            It was pure Stalinist propaganda based on a book by Davies published before we entered the war. It goes much further than a prowar piece, it explicitly justifies the Hitler-Stalin Pact and actually criticizes our other ally, England, and the US as being naive as compared to the wise Stalin. Watch it. The fact is that there was a significant part of the left that refused to look at the facts about Stalin’s reign. Cockburn is part of that tradition.

            • wengler

              The Soviet Union fell when I was 7.

              It really shouldn’t be part of the discussion of ‘the Left’ anymore.

              • Richard

                The Soviet Union doesn’t become ancient history because you’re fairly young. And you can’t make it not part of the discussion because you don’t like it. To quote Faulker, the past isn’t over. It’s not even past

  • Lee

    I agree the the Left needs non-capitalist alternative model. However, this does not mean that members of the Left need to praise Stalin and Mao in the same way that Rightists look fondly upon Franco and Pinochet. Its really moronic to overlook massive oppression in the name of ideology.

    Counterpunch was a problematic website. It had lots of good articles but there was too much of the worse nonsense from the Far Left and Far Right about it. The gave a platform to people who really shouldn’t have been given one IMO.

    • Craigo

      You see this even today with apologism for left-wing autocrat Hugo Chavez. Any mention of anti-democratic acts like suppressing opposition parties, or ruling by decree, are shouted down with “The other side is just as bad!” Which may be true, but it is not a defense.

      Or “Who cares if he’s undemocratic, when he has the people’s support?”

      • Lee

        Not to mention that Chavez is basing the campaign against his rival on the fact that his rival had a Jewish grandfather as a salient campaign point.

      • wengler

        No one person is going to unfuck 500 years of oligarchical rule of Central and South America.

        The decree law was politically opportunistic due to the fact that the opposition boycotted the elections. It won’t help democratic progress in that country, but then neither does the filibuster in the US Senate. My problem is that the characterization of Chavez as some sort of horrible dictator by the corporate press is in fact wrong. Their elections adhere to international standards that are better than the US.

        It is very typical of an American liberal to find something wrong with someone like Chavez(which is quite easy) and then start parroting the same talking points as the corporate media, while of course conveniently ignoring the horrible leaders that get their marching orders from DC.

      • Rarely Posts

        I always view Americans criticizing Chavez with skepticism because it usually seems to be a pretext for arguing that the United States should support a coup or otherwise interfere with Venezuela’s government. And, I lack confidence that those efforts would result in a more democratic or fair government for Venezuela.

        Also, “the other side is just as bad” arguably is a defense when discussing foreign politics. It doesn’t mean that Chavez is good, but it may well mean that there is not a sound alternative.

    • Or Castro, for that matter. Instrumental in ensuring that a post-revolution Cuba would not be the liberal, democratic country he once desired it to be. I’m just as wary of authoritarianism of the left as of the right–in the case of Cuba there are certainly mitigating factors to be sure, and Batista was undoubtedly worse. But there’s not much to celebrate there.

    • DocAmazing

      You two have very neatly proved Erik’s point.

      Playing “both sides do it” remains a loser’s game.

      • It’s not a game. Sometimes there are no white hats.

    • wengler

      As opposed to what? Corporate cable news?

  • Davis X. Machina

    He didn’t suddenly get cranky….

    This is a guy who thought thirty years ago that Irving Howe and Michael Harrinton were patsies on a good day and witting tools of the plutocrats on a bad day….

    • Joseph Slater

      Co-sign. I went from just often disagreeing with Cockburn to losing any interest / respect for him after I read what he said about Irving Howe directly after Howe’s death. Not that there weren’t many other, sufficient reasons. . . .

    • scott g

      I, too, was a big Cockburn fan in the 80s and early 90s, at least for his style and verve, but also because his extravagant attacks on liberals in power were aimed at people who did need heat applied to their feet. But as I got to know more, and especially when I saw that Cockburn was more than willing to make shit up to carry whatever point he wanted to make, the joy of reading his columns turned sour in my stomach, and I found I could read no more.

      I don’t think he gets off so easy on climate change, either. I have not been following him closely since the mid-90s, but it is my strong sense that Cockburn was pounding on that drum since Al Gore made it liberal. This was not the unhinged thrashing of a dying old man, but the puerile and utterly contemptible contrarianism of a man for whom hating the right people was far more important than protecting future generations.

  • If Stalinism was somewhere even close to a legitimate option of governance in the West during Cockburn’s lifetime, I might say that he should have taken a stronger stance.

    If memory serves, the Italian Communist Party was Stalinist after the war, and even after Stalin’s death. IMHO there’s little justification, except being willfully contrarian, for anyone to defend Stalin since Khrushchev’s speech to the Politburo.

  • G. Angeletti

    Mr. Loomis put out two pieces of bait: A. Cockburn and Fidel Castro. No takers for the second? Are we admitting that Mr. Loomis is right in his assessment of the American Left’s way of condemning Castro?

  • Aidan

    This is an embarrassment and I’m getting pretty sick of Erik Loomis’s leftier-than-thou complex dragging down the otherwise excellent rest of the site.

    We’re supposed to avoid criticizing Cockburn for apologizing for one of the most brutal, mass murdering totalitarians ever because it “destroys the left”? When did Alexander Cockburn ever care about preserving left-wing unity? This is a guy who loved nothing more than burnishing his radical credentials by attacking people significantly to the left of any of the “Serious Liberals” Loomis mocks – Bernie Sanders, Irving Howe, Andre Schiffrin. Harold Meyerson put this better than me, but he’s one of those “Serious Liberals” who thinks that liberalism is a good thing and Stalinism is a bad thing: http://prospect.org/article/man-who-hated-liberals

    Loomis also really strains to come up with a justification for protecting the legacy of Stalin well into the 1970s (not that Cockburn stopped there). He apologized for Stalin because he was a Stalin apologist. The recognition that Stalin’s crimes were as bad as Hitler or any right wing dictator would be an admission that he spent his life (as his father did before him) defending an ideology that contributed to mass human suffering. It would make more attractive the case for democratic socialism or (gasp) moderate liberalism, two causes he loathed and attacked at any opportunity. So he sought to minimize Stalin’s death toll – see, it was a kindler, gentler form of state-sponsored evil! He was not a defender of liberal values. He was a defender of evil.

    What does it matter that Cockburn carried the torch for murderous totalitarianism long past the point where there was any doubt about the Soviet Union’s true nature? If that’s something than can just be waved away, then I can’t for the life of me figure out why Corey Robin and Erik Loomis would devote so much attention to Hayek’s relationship to Augusto Pinochet. And here I was thinking that all of that time spent arguing that embracing a dictator with blood on his hands.

    • Corey

      I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out, “+1”

    • Richard

      Well said

      • Richard

        And thanks for the link to the Meyerson article where he points out that the WSJ gave Cockburn space on its op-ed page because of their shared hatred of liberals. If Loomis had applied the same logic he applied in labeling Greenwald a libertarian, that fact should have branded Cockburn as a corporate collaborator.

        • david mizner

          Just imagine if there were a photo of Cockburn at the Cato Institute.

          • DocAmazing

            hee hee hee

        • Aidan

          He spent the 1990s trashing Clinton in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post and defending nativist militias. At least he wasn’t advancing an argument that destroys the left!

          • david mizner

            Trashing Clinton — how dare he?

            Why couldn’t he be a good radical and heap praise on the author of financial deregulation, NAFTA, and welfare deform?

            • Why not write about NAFTA, welfare reform, and financial deregulation? Why frame the issue in terms of damaging the individual who was – like it or not – the leader of Team Left?

              • david mizner

                That’s where you and I differ. In no way would I ever, or did I, view Clinton as the leader of Team Left.

                • We differ in whether American politics are aligned into a dualistic system, with a left side and a right side?

                  OK. I think that they are so organized, and you…you do not?

                • It’s funny, david: I keep writing comments about how the various expressions of liberal and leftist politics are actually part of a common effort.

                  You keep writing comments about how they are not, and how it is right and appropriate for the “true leftists” or whatever to attack plain old vanilla liberals.

                  And yet, this entire dispute, writ large, is continually presented in terms of vanilla liberals being big meanies who go after “true leftists.”

                • Robert Farley

                  Right. There’s something so absurd about a conversation premised on the question “Why won’t liberals accept Noam Chomsky and Ace Cockburn?” when it’s egregiously obvious that Chomsky and Cockburn neither want to be accepted by liberals nor view themselves as part of the same political movement.

                • DocAmazing

                  Team Left Over, maybe.

                • david mizner

                  It’s not about “accepting: it’s about whether liberals welcome the presence of a strong anti-capitalist left like we had in the 30s — one that opposes the Democratic Party. This isn’t about anyone’s feelings, it’s about competing theories of change.

                • wengler


                  I can’t imagine people with two more different writing styles than Chomsky and Cockburn.

                • Aidan

                  Boy, it sure seems to me like there was a lesson that should have been learned between the 1930s and today about the merits of the anti-capitalist left.

                • DocAmazing

                  Yeah, that there are always gonna be Red-baiters to spook the populace.

                • wengler

                  Liberal Fascism!

            • Aidan

              Tell me, did that decade spent stoking liberal disillusionment with the Democratic Party lead to great advancements for the causes held dear by Cockburn, Nader, Moore, etc? Was it successful in moving the country and the Democrats in their preferred direction? Lord knows the 1990s Democrats were deserving of a lot of criticism, but I don’t think the left wing Clinton haters (for the most part) went about it in a way that had an ultimately positive impact on the country.

              • DocAmazing

                Yeah, but the DLC was wholly praiseworthy.

                You’re a li’l deaf in the right ear.

                • Lord knows the 1990s Democrats were deserving of a lot of criticism

                  Yeah, but the DLC was wholly praiseworthy.

                  Submitted without comment.

                • Autotune your radicalism.

              • wengler


                The policies of the New Left or Clintonism are insidious. Reagan Lite led to the market deregulation that caused the current horrible economy. The abandonment of the New Deal destroyed the Democratic coalition and led to the most retrograde party since the 1880s to gain majorities in Congress.

                If someone didn’t point out that shit it would just make them stupid or negligent.

    • FWIW, I wasn’t arguing that Cockburn’s support for Stalinism could be waved away, as I made absolutely clear here: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/07/201272310391240304.html

      As for Hayek and Pinochet, there’s a world of difference. First, Hayek’s defense was in real time, Cockburn’s long after the fact. Second, Hayek’s stature was far greater and more influential — he had just won the Nobel Prize — which is why the regime and its supporters were so eager to trumpet his name (to the point of naming their constitution after one of his books). I don’t recall the Soviet leaders doing anything comparable with Cockburn, as well they shouldn’t have, given his lack of stature.

      • Richard

        Cockburn’s defenses of the Soviet Union, including effusive praise of Brezhnev and the worker’s paradise he was creating, were in real time. Yes, he was too young to have praised Stalin during his life but he certainly praised his successors and the work they were doing. Yes, Hayek’s praise was used by Pinochet and his supporters while the Soviets didn’t use Cockburn’s praise but its not because Cockburn would have objected to that.


      • Aidan

        Corey – I mostly lumped the two of you together because Loomis recently linked to one of your posts about Hayek/Pinochet. I thought your Al-Jazeera piece was much more willing to grapple with the issue, I didn’t mean to imply that you were trying to wave it away – some criticisms of Erik Loomis might have come across as criticisms of you too. My apologies.

        I’m also not claiming that Hayek and Cockburn are on equivalent levels. I think that there is a lot to criticize about Hayek’s relationship to the Pinochet regime, and I agree with you on the reasons why is was problematic. Since you’ve done a lot more investigating into the matter, did Hayek ever profess support for or attempt to minimize the figures of Pinochet’s torture, disappearing, murders, etc?

        Richard is correct that his defenses of Brezhnev were occurring in real time, when Cockburn had an extremely influential perch at the Village Voice – the Meyerson article mentions this point, but I am sure it is detailed more elsewhere.

        I’m not sure why Cockburn’s defense occurring long after the fact makes it morally superior. There were many on the left who were sympathetic to Stalinism at the time, but who rejected it once the true scale of the horrors it caused came to light. I don’t think that these people have been universally denied entry to the room at the inn. I think the situation is a little different with someone still defending Stalinism after the Berlin Wall fell.

        • Hayek mostly didn’t discuss the tortures, except to attack anyone who brought them up as somehow traducing the reputation of the Pinochet regime. Someone else brought up Amnesty in the context of this thread; Hayek made a point in a letter of dismissing them as kind of cranks who were trying to stick in his face all sorts of anti-regime propaganda. I think we can see why the comparison with Cockburn doesn’t quite work (or works against Hayek — though it hardly works in Cockburn’s favor) if we do a simple thought experiment: compare the results of Cockburn denouncing Brezhnev in the VV to Hayek denouncing Pinochet. In Cockburn’s case, it would have had zero effect mostly b/c virtually everyone on the left in the US and Britain had already long said goodbye to the Soviet Union. Hayek, on the other hand, was a spiritual leader to a movement in major ascendancy and ultimately power. He had many followers in Chile who hung on his every word and was also Margaret Thatcher’s intellectual godfather (she is said to have slammed down a copy of The Constitution of Liberty and declared “This is what we believe.” Would Hayek’s turn against Pinochet brought the regime down? Probably not. But it would have had more of an effect than if Cockburn had come out against Brezhnev. Again, that’s not a point in Cockburn’s favor, but it is a point against Hayek.

    • The Washington Generals

      Shorter Loomis: Gentlemen! We need to protect our phoney-baloney unity! I didn’t get a harumph out of that guy!

      I heard that a commenter on a Big Hollywood story just made a punctuation error. Get on that shit STAT.

    • The obvious difference between Cockburn and Hayek is that Hayek materially helped Augusto Pinochet.

      Regardless of the question over whether Cockburn was actually a Stalinist, which would then mean that people on this site are accusing The Nation, the most important left-liberal journal of the last 25 years, of having a Stalinist as one of its leading writers for decades, something that was a non-issue during most of his life.

      • FlipYrWhig

        Other writers for The Nation, including Eric Alterman and IIRC Katha Pollitt, ripped Cockburn for his Stalinism (and his Stalinism Lite defenses of Slobodan Miliosevic) repeatedly.

      • Aidan

        It would mean that, and it has been a great source of contention at The Nation. I don’t think his colleagues Eric Alterman and Christopher Hitchens were thrilled at his presence, and they could hardly have been the only ones.

        To summarize the difference between the Robin position and the Loomis position, Robin’s is basically “Cockburn took some morally indefensible positions, but when considering his legacy we should also look at the issues where he was a force for good,” while Loomis’s is “It doesn’t matter if Cockburn supported Stalin because it doesn’t address the lives of Americans struggling with debt, racism, or homophobia.”

        • Yes–spending this time talking about an intellectual’s relatively irrelevant ideas about a dead dictator is a waste of time that I wish I hadn’t engaged precisely because it takes us away from talking about debt, racism, or homophobia.

          • FlipYrWhig

            Maybe you should have taken a moment or two to look into who Alexander Cockburn was and how polarizing he was on the liberal-left continuum before declaring that he was of so little interest to you that you couldn’t spare another moment worrying about him, apart from a long post expressly on the subject.

            • Cockburn was not the subject of the post. Pointless debates like this that take us away from important issues in the present was the subject of the post.

              • FlipYrWhig

                This is kind of like saying, “who cares about Penn State? Apart from covering up child rape for years, Joe Paterno didn’t do anything so terrible. And now let’s discuss something of greater consequence, like rising sea levels. Wait, why doesn’t anyone want to talk about sea levels?”

        • John

          On what issues was Cockburn a force for good?

          • Even some of his critics, like James Fallows and Michael Tomasky, agree that his relentless reporting on Reagan’s Central America policies — and his critiques of the media on those and other issues — were a force for good.

            • Scott Lemieux

              Yeah, I think I’m inclined to see less value in Cockburn because by the time I started reading the Nation in the mid-90s he had little of interest to contribute (while being extremely wrong about a lot of things.) But he did seem to do a lot of good work in the 80s.

              • david mizner

                Well, maybe I didn’t know where else to find the good stuff, but when I started reading him in the early 90s, he struck me as an uniquely powerful (and funny) critic of empire and other crimes of the state. If I remember correctly, and I think I am, it was Cockburn who made an appropriately big deal about Clinton’s flying home to fry Ricky Ray Rector.

            • John

              Fair enough.

      • Matthew B.

        I’m not sure how to parse this. Do you think it’s unusual for leftists to remark that The Nation was harbouring a Stalinist? Other writers at The Nation like Eric Alterman used to comment on it regularly.

        • L2P

          Look at the mirror image.

          When was the last time you saw a conservative say “We must condemn Hayek because of his support for Pinochet?”

          Leftists spend a lot of time condemning other leftists for having supported Stalin, Castro, or whatever terrible communist we’re mucking with. Conservatives spend zero time on that.

          Does any conservative care that Hayek wrote in support of Pinochet? Or Milton Friedman? They don’t give a crap, except to maybe argue that Pinochet wasn’t that bad, or that these guys didn’t “really” support the bad parts of Pinochet’s regime. It’s a distraction from their real issues, so they ignore it (while occasionally condemning Pinochet’s “regrettable harshness”).

          Which leaves the question: why do liberals need to attack other liberals for supporting dictators?

          • Malaclypse

            Because we, unlike conservatives, don’t like dictators?

            • DocAmazing

              Which “we”? Clinton had no problem, for example, pushing Plan Colombia.

              • Malaclypse

                I’m not willing to call Clinton a shining exemplar of liberalism.

                But I see your point re actual Democrats in power.

            • Aidan

              I actually do think that Hayek and Friedman’s work in Chile was defensible. They both saw economic liberalization and a move towards freer markets as a worthy cause and an essential component of freedom. I know a lot of people here disagree with that belief but I don’t see it as morally cretinous.

              Keynes worked in the British Treasury for five years financing a war effort he was horrified by. That he resigned in disgust at the Treaty of Versailles is to his credit, that he strongly repudiated it in The Economic Consequences of the Peace even more so. I believe it is to their discredit that Friedman and Pinochet failed to properly denounce the police state tactics of the Pinochet regime, but I have no doubt that they believed that the reforms they saw as beneficial to Chile were impossible under Allende and possible under Pinochet, and that they were justified in seeking to push a repressive country in a liberalized direction. I don’t think Keynes is morally reprehensible for his active role in a government responsible for avoidable and indefensible human suffering on a massive scale. I would imagine that if I was a libertarian, I would feel similarly about Hayek and Friedman in Chile: they were trying to make a bad government less bad.

              I know this whitewashes a lot of active and repugnant support for Pinochet’s brutality, but I have a hard time believing that Hayek and Friedman themselves went to Chile because they were excited at a chance to advance the causes of torture, murder, and repression.

              I think the “we hate dictators/they like dictators” line is ridiculous. Hayek himself(not a conservative, but he seems to be one of your examples of conservatives) spoke out against totalitarianism on both the left and right as it was occurring and while there was still a significant threat that Europe as a whole could fall into totalitarianism.

              Something’s gone wrong when I find myself devoting a lot of energy to defending Friedrich Hayek.

              • Malaclypse

                but I have no doubt that they believed that the reforms they saw as beneficial to Chile were impossible under Allende

                And the solution to that should have been an election, not a murderous coup. Full stop.

                • Aidan

                  Did Milton Friedman plan a murderous coup while I wasn’t looking?

                • Malaclypse

                  No, he just saw the guy who did as a force for good.

          • DocAmazing

            Thank you. We’re so busy assmbling the cicular firing squad that we concede many, many yards of ground to the Right.

            Calling on leftists to repudiate Cockburn and similar problematic thinkers is merely another form of purity trolling.

            • Richard

              I didn’t hear anybody here, certainly not me, calling on the left to repudiate Cockburn. I had decided a long time ago, along with many others, that he was a fairly vile supporter of the Soviet Union. The fact that he agreed with me on certain issues doesn’t change that fact. What I’m taking exception to is Loomis’ view that his Stalinism doesn’t matter and that even thinking about it somehow stands in the way of progress for the working class.

            • Calling on leftists to repudiate Cockburn and similar problematic thinkers is merely another form of purity trolling.

              Who’s doing that?

              What mainstream liberals are even talking about Alexander Cockburn and his Stalin fetish?

              This conversation – this circular firing squad – is entirely being driven by the radicals.

          • L2P for the win.

            This is my fundamental point, stated better than I did.

            • Aidan

              That it’s wrong to criticize people on “your team” for supporting dictators but right to criticize them for not being left wing enough?

          • Richard

            First of all, Cockburn wasn’t a liberal. He was proud of the fact that he hated liberals. Secondly, my goal in life is not to emulate conservative behavior. I believe in attacking anybody – liberals, conservatives, radicals, etc – who support dictatorships and mass murder.

            • I agree with this. Reflectiveness is a political weakness the right wing doesn’t have, but I want it. You’ll have to pry my mirror from my cold dead hands.

              • DocAmazing

                Be sure to alienate as many possible allies asa you can, then. Who needs those leftists and weirdos anyway? We can carry Florida without them.

                • I accept the blame for alienating all leftists and weirdos and the Florida thing. Sorry about that.

                • Marc

                  You don’t care about alienating us.

                • This makes no sense, unless you don’t care about silly mainstream liberal concerns like human rights. To that extent, doing something like defending Stalinist repression actually is quite despicable and anti-leftist.

                  It seems to me that this conversation would be easier to have if it were focused on, say, Hugo Chavez or Latin American socialists as opposed to someone who actually was a mass murdering tyrant.

                • DocAmazing

                  Yeah, groups a fraction of your size with a tiny bit of your influence really need to watch what they say around you, or we’ll end up causing you great damage.

                  No one owes you anything. If you want us to quit doing your GOTV and voter registration and phone banking, just say the word.

                • DocAmazing

                  Sorry, that was a reply to Marc.

                • Could you at least make up your mind?

      • Richard

        Cockburn’s Stalinism was always an issue, with the Nation’s readership and also with the other writers on the Nation. You could read the Nation while still deploring the fact that it had a Stalinist on its staff.

    • Lee

      Oh my, this was a really good take down.

    • lawguy

      Aidan, the difference between Cockburn and Hyek is that Hayek supported Pinochet while Pinochet was in power.

      • John

        Cockburn supported Brezhnev while Brezhnev was in power. In what respects was Brezhnev less bad than Pinochet?

        • DocAmazing

          Death squads. Harboring Nazi fugitives. Killing and torturing people by the stadium-full.

          • Richard

            Siberia. The KGB. The conditions that led to Chernobyl.

            • DocAmazing

              The conditions that led to Chernobyl. Three Mile IslandFukushima.

              Lots of that going around, as we say in my line of work.

              • Richard

                you are aware that Fukushima was caused by an earthquake and tidal wave of epic proportion while Chernobyl was caused by no force of nature whatsoever?

                • And Three Mile Island (and Brown’s Ferry, and Enrico Fermi 1) were likewise unrelated to natural disasters.

                  You do have a point, besides nuclear fission being a bad way to generate electricity?

          • You’d think starting a war in Afghanistan would be a strike against you.

            • DocAmazing

              Yeah, you’d think so–and continuing one would also be a bad idea. Go figure.

              • I agree! But:

                Death squads. Harboring Nazi fugitives. Killing and torturing people by the stadium-full.

                Brezhnez did that stuff. Except for the Nazis of course.

                • Brezhnev, death squads? That’s a new one on me. Got a good article on that?

                • Daragh McDowell


                  Yes Soviet sponsored regimes and militant groupings throughout the third world used Death Squads during the Brezhnev era with Soviet approval. Not to mention in Afghanistan.

        • lawguy

          Actually, I’d suggest that Breznnev’s Russia was probably a fairly safe and secure place to live if you didn’t much consider politics very important as do probably 90% of people if they get enough to eat.

          • Richard

            It was very safe unless you said a word against the regime. Ask Mr. Sakharov. Or wanted to practice your religion or celebrate your heritage. Ask any of the Jewish immigrants in Israel< New York and Los Angeles. Cockburn praised the Brezhnev regime for its gains in the economic well being of the working class. Have you ever spoke to a Russian emigrant about economic times under Brezhnev? or read anything? The lines to buy food, the lack of anything in the stores? But Cockburn wrote that everything was hunky dory.

          • Richard

            And so was Chile a safe and secure place unless you were one those activist subversive leftists but there were relatively few of them (especially after the first stadium massacre)

  • Aidan

    I also would have thought that the same Erik Loomis who called climate change “the greatest problem of the 21st century” and repeatedly criticized climate change denialists on the right would have something a little stronger to say about a man who latched onto denial as a way to piss off and separate himself from liberals than “whatever.” I guess the rules are different for leftist opponents of decadent, Serious modern American liberalism.

    • Timb

      Erik does speak for all of us….Aidan, is that brush too broad for you to lift it?

      Still, Erik’s point about Cheney still stands. It’s okay for George freakin’ Will to right columns in praise of the coup which upended Allende. American politics has STILL, as this thread demonstrates, never fully escaped the Red Scare

  • Erik,

    I come to my condemnation of Fidel Castro not from having grown up in my Miami, but from doing extensive volunteer work for Amnesty International, including a great deal of work on behalf of what was then called their Caribbean Regional Action Network. I also had the pleasure of meeting some of Castro’s Cuban born critics from the left such as Jorge Valls and the great cinematographer, Nestor Almendros, whose two films Improper Conduct and Nobody Listened are essential viewing for anyone seriosuly interested in Castro’s Cuba. I’ve always felt that the increased literacy rates and free health care in the context of a dictatorship that does not let you read whatever you wish and requires exit visas to leave has as much relevance as saying Norman Bates was a skilled taxidermist and loved his mother.

    I believe it is essential to criticize human rights abusers from both left and right. It gives me far more credibility when condemning human rights abusers such as Suharto and Pinochet when I am just as capable of condemning the acts of Erich Honecker and Fidel Castro.

  • Robert Farley

    A few thoughts:

    1. “Only then can the Serious Liberal be taken seriously by People Who Matter (TM).”

    This is an old, tired, and ridiculously boring construct. Maybe it mattered in 2005, but now it’s just useless.

    2. “Why can liberals be at peace with Truman and not Cockburn” strikes me as a ridiculously useless question. Truman/Johnson/Carter et al face consistent strong critique from liberals on both foreign and domestic policy; especially Johnson on foreign policy but also the others. They are lauded by liberals because they actually accomplished something that liberals like in addition to undertaking problematic actions. I have to come to terms with the complexity of LBJ in order to have an informed, interesting opinion about the current state of American politics. I can (and do) give nary a fuck about a Stalinist climate change denier like Alexander Cockburn. I didn’t read him, gave no weight to his opinions, and don’t feel any more need to grapple with his legacy than Tommy Lasorda’s.

    3. I really, really wish that hippies (in the blogospheric sense of the term) would move beyond whining when they get “punched.” Seriously, who the fuck cares whether Michael Cohen didn’t like Alexander Cockburn, or doesn’t like Noam Chomsky? How could you possibly ever say something interesting about politics that wouldn’t piss someone off? Indeed, why the fuck would Cockburn ever (to use Robin’s term) want “room in the inn”?

    • Dave

      Pwned. Srsly, what’s the point of trying to have a “US left” if all you end up with is pricks like AC, and people who can’t see why he was a prick?

      • DocAmazing

        Gee, I dunno–opposing the US right?

        • wengler

          That’s good enough for me. Those people are nuts and hell-bent on destroying the world.

    • david mizner

      OK, fair enough — what living radicals do you read and admire?

      • mark f

        David Mizner.

        • mark f

          I’m afraid noting that I posted this in error adds unintentional insult to unintentional compliment. Conundrum!

        • david mizner

          Thanks for the nomination, but I can’t claim to be a radical, not least because I don’t walk the talk, but I do see radicals as crucial allies. Many liberals don’t.

          • wengler

            I’ve never had a good impression of American liberalism. Probably because growing up I saw them getting bullied and their defense was ‘I am so sorry for believing different than you. I will pay penance by adopting a majority of your policy proposals.’

    • The context of the comment and the post goes a bit further back than Cockburn’s death and has little to do with hurt feelings about Cohen or such. It goes back to whether liberals’ refusal to march against the Iraq War b/c many of the demonstrations against it were organized by ANSWER — not on tactical grounds (i.e., ANSWER is a pain in the ass to work with) but on moral, principled grounds (we refuse to associate with defenders of the North Korean regime, etc.) — made sense, given their willingness to support the American state when it pursued aims they supported. In the case of the Iraq War, these were liberals who opposed the war (or said they did, at any rate) but wouldn’t use one of the instruments available to them for stopping it (I recognize that the marches probably didn’t have a chance of doing that, but that was not the basis of liberal refusal to march.) I was springboarding from the reaction to Cockburn’s death to that point. I think you’re right that liberals are willing to grapple with the complexities of an LBJ or a Truman — I wasn’t suggesting they weren’t — but my point is that they’ve less willing to do so with the radical left. At times, like right now, that probably isn’t a pressing question, and to that extent I agree with you. At other times, it has been. Sometimes liberals have been willing to do that — working with CP organizers in the CIO, for instance, in the 30s and early 40s — and at other times not. I think liberalism on the whole has fared better — on its own terms — when it has been willing to do that than when it has not, and that’s why I thought it relevant to bring this up. The issue isn’t hurt feelings but what does liberalism need in terms of a radical left in order to succeed. I tend to think it needs something on its left; perhaps you don’t. But that’s the context for the discussion.

      • It goes back to whether liberals’ refusal to march against the Iraq War b/c many of the demonstrations against it were organized by ANSWER — not on tactical grounds (i.e., ANSWER is a pain in the ass to work with) but on moral, principled grounds (we refuse to associate with defenders of the North Korean regime, etc.) — made sense, given their willingness to support the American state when it pursued aims they supported.

        Equating a protest movement with the democratic government of your own society seems wrong.

        Yes, American liberals “support the American state.” We hope to run it someday, you know. It’s not the enemy – it’s the arena.

      • FlipYrWhig

        How big is this “radical left” and how much deference do you think it deserves?

        At any rate, the way I remember it, resistance to marching wasn’t about North Korea, it was being leery of getting shanghaied into other causes célèbres like “Free Mumia” and “Legalize It.”

        • DocAmazing

          Yes, because The Other Side has consistently been losing by getting shanghaied into othe causes celebres like Second Amendment absolutism and criminalizing abortion.

          Platforms are how you attract large groups.

          • FlipYrWhig

            In theory, but insofar as many people who agreed with the stated objectives of the march organizers opted not to join them, some kind of skepticism still remained. There’s something real that deters a lot of left-of-center people from participating in these kinds of actions.

            • DocAmazing

              Which is pretty much Robin’s point, nicht wahr?

              • FlipYrWhig

                I don’t see him suggesting what’s to be done about it. If it simply becomes one of these “Pfft, that’s not REAL punk” fandom squabbles, there’s no way to solve it.

                • DocAmazing

                  As long as you’ve got lots of people hewing to one definition or another of “punk”, radio stations play less Eagles. Soldarity may not be perfect, but it’s as good as we’ve got.

                • Malaclypse

                  radio stations play less Eagles.

                  Don Henley is, indeed, History’s Greatest Monster.

                • FlipYrWhig

                  But radicals don’t believe in solidarity. Cockburn enjoyed almost nothing so well as bashing social-democrat types. And pro and amateur pundits who claim the radical mantle do the same thing. Then they take offense at being “hippie-punched.” Solidarity cuts both ways.

                  The references are getting dated, but Minor Threat fans have MORE contempt for Green Day fans than they do for people who listen to Top 40. Pantera fans feel the same way about Bon Jovi. For solidarity to work, the purists have to see allies, not enemies, to their immediate “right.” But that’s really, really not what happens.

                • John

                  Malaclypse has finally gotten through to the heart of the matter.

                • “But radicals don’t believe in solidarity.”

                  Right. As Scott and JFL have taken to noting with increasing (and welcome) regularity, it’s the people like DocAmazing who constantly whine about “hippie punching” who are obsessed with criticizing others on the left and determining who the “bad liberals” are, not the ones supposedly doing the punching.

                • DocAmazing

                  Y’know, for a guy that doesn’t believe in solidarity, i spend an awful lot of my of-time working with unions (mostly the CNA), registering voters and doing Dem GOTV.

                  Maybe you could point out your similar efforts at outreach to, say, the Greens or socialists.

                  Meantime, your hurt feelings are really not the issue.

                • You also spend a lot of times bashing liberals anonymously on the internet. Which, incidentally, I’m actually aware of, as opposed to all of those other things which I must accept on faith. Fancy that.

                  Also projecting, as indicated by the idea that my feelings are somehow hurt as you spend approximately 35% of your posts bitching about hippie punching in one form or another.

                • DocAmazing

                  As opposed to bitching about liberal bashing, which is…what? Praiseworthy?

                • Who’s bitching about liberal bashing, outside of this thread that is about Alexander fucking Cockburn.

                • Soldarity may not be perfect, but it’s as good as we’ve got.

                  So let’s see some. That would be nice.

                • DocAmazing

                  Who’s bitching about liberal bashing, outside of this thread that is about Alexander fucking Cockburn.

                  And the thread about Harry Reid’s refusal to help out organized labor, and, well, pretty much any time you get the chance.

                • Sorry, the only butthurt I remember from that thread was yours.

                • DocAmazing

                  So let’s see some. That would be nice.

                  See above. On-line is pointless; action happens in the material world.

                • DocAmazing

                  the only butthurt I remember from that thread was yours

                  Why trust your memory when you can read? My computer locked me out of the conversation early, but your moaning went on for quite a while.

                • My moaning? In the thread where I said it was understandable a union would devote resource to contract negotiation at the expense of electioneering? Interesting.

                  [cites omitted]

                • DocAmazing

                  Still doing the “cites omitted ” thing while providing no citeations of your own? Or even looking aat your own commentary from that thread vis-a-vis liberal punching?

                  The moaning continues.

      • Robert Farley


        1. I marched against the Iraq War, radical presence notwithstanding. Do you have any data about how many people actually declined to march because of the presence of ANSWER?

        2. “Why so much room at the inn for Truman, JFK, or LBJ—all men with real blood on their hands—while people like Cockburn and Chomsky are denied entry?” Seems to me that this question has been asked, and satisfactorily answered.

      • Scott Lemieux

        It goes back to whether liberals’ refusal to march against the Iraq War b/c many of the demonstrations against it were organized by ANSWER

        As far as I can tell, the only people who cared about anti-war marches being organized by ANSWER were right-wing bloggers. Although I guess I’m to the left of the typical American liberal like Rob I marched against it several times. How many liberals opposed the Iraq War and refused to participate in protests because of guilt-by-association arguments?

        • Malaclypse

          Are their any liberals who opposed the Iraq War and refused to participate in process because of guilt-by-association arguments?

          Althouse maybe? I understand she used to be a liberal, and all…

        • david mizner

          There was actually quite a bit of discussion about the marches being affiliated with ANSWER — David Corn wrote a widely read piece http://www.laweekly.com/2002-11-07/news/behind-the-placards/ — and it had an effect on me. I remember heading down to DC for the February march wishing that it were being organized by a more mainstream group.

          • JoyfulA

            C-SPAN televised these antiwar rallies, and speaker after speaker had nothing to say about the approach of war. Some I agreed with; some seemed ludicrous. But it was not a powerful antiwar message for the viewing audience.

            • david mizner

              I believe it. You go to war with the antiwar movement you have.

              At the same time, though, and I think this point edges near the heart of this discussion here, in any mass left political movement there are going be images and messages that don’t play well in Peoria, especially through the lens of the nut-picking press. Conservatives fret not over how their radicals are perceived — they just keep charging. We need to do the same.

              • I’m pretty sure you missed the whole point of this critique.

        • “As far as I can tell, the only people who cared about anti-war marches being organized by ANSWER were right-wing bloggers.” No. David Corn, Marc Cooper, Michael Walzer, Todd Gitlin, Michael Berube, and all those who coalesced around the idea of a “decent left” took major issue with the demos and marches for precisely that reason. If it were easier to google ANSWER and not get anything on the web that has “answer” in it, you could find more. As I made clear in the original article to which I was referring, I was talking primarily about liberal writers and intellectuals.

        • Murc

          As far as I can tell, the only people who cared about anti-war marches being organized by ANSWER were right-wing bloggers.

          Speaking for myself, what I cared about was the fact that anti-war marches, rallies, and discussions kept getting highjacked by whackjobs.

          I was 20-22 during the Iraq War runup, the age when a lot of people have the passion, energy, and spare time to get politically involved. And I’ll admit I wasn’t as far to the left then as I am now. But I often would show up to a putative anti-war rally and find myself in the company of people advocating complete legalization of all drugs, or making explicit defenses of North Korea, or propagating bizarre pseudo-Bircher conspiracy theories about the Bush family, and they were often operating with the approval, tacit or otherwise, of the organizers.

          After awhile I just stopped going.

          • It’s the same damn thing every time, with the professional Socialist Workers Socialist Workers World Communist Social Party employees hijacking every single liberal/left protest movement.

            The first rally is about opposing the Iraq War.

            The second rally is about opposing the Iraq War, global warming, neo-colonialism, deforestation, misogyny, the imprisonment of Mumia Abu-Jamal, and global capitalism.

            The third rally is about opposing global capitalism.

            How OWS managed to avoid falling into this trap would make a hell of a book.

            • Murc

              And to be clear, I’d have no problems attending a rally about most of those things, and there’s something to be said about hijacking movements from within. If there’s any hope for the Democratic Party, it will come via being hijacked from the left, same way the Republicans were from the right.

              But I’d like things to be kind of organized, and I’d also like to be able to make informed decisions about whom to associate with.

              And I believe OWS managed to avoid that trap by adopting a consensus-based approach that basically boiled down to “organization without leaders.”

            • DocAmazing

              A combination of activism and discipline is how you get that sort of thing–pulling the agenda your way–done.

              Once upon a time, Democrats had that combination. Now, not so much.

              • Oh, did ANSWER pull “the agenda” their way during the 2002-2003 period?

                Donations, sure. Mailing list, sure. Attention, sure.

                Not so much with the agenda, though. All their hijacking seems to have accomplished, agenda-wise, was to make the anti-Iraq War activists look a little bit more lame.

                • DocAmazing

                  “The agenda” referred to the agenda of the rallies, the demos, and the media packages. They got that part right.

                  We kinda expect the national parties to pull the rest along, what with them having that as their, y’know, job and everything.

    • salacious

      Not to mention, Truman, LBJ, etc, were actual politicians with actual political constraints. That doesn’t absolve them of their sins, but it does make evaluating them a considerably more subtle endeavor.

      Cockburn, by contrast, was an intellectual and writer with essentially no responsibilities except to his own conscience. And he still chose to be an ass. That’s why he doesn’t get invited to the “inn.”

    • ““Only then can the Serious Liberal be taken seriously by People Who Matter (TM).”

      This is an old, tired, and ridiculously boring construct. Maybe it mattered in 2005, but now it’s just useless.”

      But hippie punching–that’s a construct fresh as the first flower of the spring!

    • FlipYrWhig

      In the blogosphere, at least, IMHO it’s far more likely for would-be radicals to use their being “punched” to prove their “hippie” credentials than for liberals to “punch hippies” to prove their “seriousness” to… somebody.

      • DocAmazing

        Yeah. Right. That’s why we get long threads like this.

        What unites Democrats and Republicans is their never-ending persecution at the hands of groups much smaller and less influential than themselves.

        • No, he’s pretty much exactly right. Consider the basic layouts of these threads here.

          You: Obama is the suxorz b/c OMGZ he didn’t get teh single payerz!!!!!!

          Me: Well, there was no meaningful Congressional support for that, so how was that going to happen?

          You: BULLY PULPIT!!! ARM TWISTING!!!! LBJJJJJJJ!1!!!1!

          Me: So you don’t have any actual ideas beyond fanciful views of how legislative politics work?


          • DocAmazing

            Aww, izzums fee-fees all bruised?

            You might want to actually go back and, y’know, read what I wrote. But hey, details aren’t your thing, i get it.

            • I’m sorry, did I take a wrong turn at second grade? I hate it when that happens.

            • Aww, izzums fee-fees all bruised?

              You don’t get to write this. Ever.

              You fee-fees being bruised by the mean liberals is the only topic you ever write about.

              • DocAmazing

                Right. Not about the gaping holes in the legislation, nor about the actual facts oh the ground.
                If that’s you, Joe, your self-awareness is even more challenged than anyone had imagined

      • wengler

        Mostly because rich people pay them, and they depend on that money to eat food and live indoors.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Indeed, why the fuck would Cockburn ever (to use Robin’s term) want “room in the inn”?

      Indeed, one thing to admire about Cockburn is that he didn’t care what liberals thought about him. I much prefer that to radicals who also seek the approval of liberals even when they’re actively working to elect conservative Republicans and are very agitated when they don’t receive it.

      • Like I already said (and David Minzer as well), this isn’t about anyone’s feelings. Don’t know why we’re talking about that.

  • I don’t think revising Stalin’s death toll downward necessarily makes one a fan of Stalin and I also strongly object to the comparison with Holocaust denial.

    The fact is that Stalin’s death toll was a point of legitimate debate in the 1980s, as Corey Robin stated earlier in this thread. I suppose you could chalk it up partially to the Soviets not meticulously documenting everything well as the Nazis did.

    • Richard

      I would agree with you there and if Cockburn’s only fault was to argue about death tolls attributable to Stalin, that is defensible and not comparable to Holocaust denials. But thats not what I found objectionable with Cockburn. He defended the actions Stalin took and the actions of his precessors in the Soviet Union, Brezhnev in particular.

      But Loomis’ point is broader -he concedes that Cockburn supported Stalin but argues that it doesn’t matter if Cockburn was a Stalin apologist. As long as he was on the right side of certain leftist positions, support for Stalin and denial of global warming and numerous other faults don’t matter.

      • I do not concede that Cockburn supported Stalin. In fact, I never read enough Cockburn to know. My point was the genre of liberal argument is annoying, pointless, and counterproductive.

        • See for instance that we are sitting here talking about this rather than, say, the Hyatt strike. Something that I’m going to bet not one of the people writing in outrage here actually talked about yesterday. Or did any other concrete action for that matter.

          My own fault for writing the post I suppose.

          • gmack

            My own fault for writing the post I suppose.

            Yeah, unfortunately I think this is pretty much right. I understand the point you think you were trying to make, but to my mind, your whole framing of the subject is done in a way to invite precisely the debate you say you don’t think is useful or relevant.

          • JoyfulA

            I tweeted about the Hyatt strike yesterday. That should count.

          • FWIW, I think you’ve got a reasonably salient point, but probably didn’t pick the best particular example with which to make it.

        • Richard

          Then read some more and you’ll find out. His father was a Stalinist – his false reports about the Spanish Civil War being the catalyst for Orwell writing Homage to Catalonia. Cockburn carried on the tradition. He praised Brezhnev, something almost nobody ever did, and praised the legacy of Stalin. I dont think it is counterproductive or pointless or annoying at all to point out that Cockburn was a Stalinist. It is part of his legacy even if you believe that the good outweighs the bad. It matters.

          • But I don’t really care. I’d rather read about working people’s struggles. Those are the debates we need to be having. Not whether a dead journalist was soft on Stalinism in 1972.

            • FlipYrWhig

              Did Alexander Cockburn champion working people’s struggles?

            • Richard

              You’re changing what you wrote. If what you said was that Cockburn supported Stalin in 1972, but then repented and that support shouldn’t change the way we think of him, I would agree. But Cockburn supported the Soviet Union his entire life, even after the collapse. You wrote that you didn’t give a shit if Cockburn was a Stalinist. I give a shit. I think it matters and matters a lot.

            • John

              Then why the hell did you post about Cockburn at all?

          • Mrs Tilton

            Indeed. In many ways I do not care about (or whether) Cockburn fils defended Stalin, because by the time he was old enough to do any defending Stalin was dead. And he might more than anything else have been defending Cockburn père, which is understandable from the man’s son, even if not quite forgiveable. I have far more contempt for old Claud, who as a faithful agent of Stalin did his bit to help that loathesome little Galician capon’s treasonous coup against the Spanish Republic succeed, damning Spain to two generations of misery, murder, superstition, tyranny and torture.

            • lawguy

              Well Mrs Tilton perhaps you can direct me to some writings by Claud that I might get for under several hundred dollars because I have looked. So how do you read him? Or are you just repeating what other have said?

              Your suggestion that Stalin assured the fascists to win in Spain is idiotic in the extreme. So if the other points are as well thought out as that one you know nothing.

              • Richard

                As I said above, you can do a google search for Claud Cockburn and find a Counterpunch article by Alexander attached to an article by Claud about Soviet agents.

                And if you search under his nom de plume of Frank Pitcairn at either Amazon or Abe’s Books, you can find his books on the Spanish Civil War and Algeria. Plus a google search for Pitcairn will direct you to an article he wrote about the Spanish Civil War for Foreign Affairs in 1937 which so incensed Orwell. Ordering a copy will set you back $2.

                I certainly dont buy any argument that Cockburn pere assured the victory of Franco but he was complicit in the Stalinists murdering their Trotskyite and anarchist allies

              • Mrs Tilton

                @lawguy (“lawguy”? Seriously?): A statement that “Stalin had assured the fascists to win” (sic) would indeed have been idiotic. How fortunate, then, that I did not make it. However, Stalin and those doing his work did indeed hamper the Republic’s war effort against the fascist rebels by opening up what amounted to a second front against the non-Stalinist Spanish left.

                And Cockburn senior, as I noted, did his bit to help. From a very safe distance, of course; he was just a squalid little propagandist. But help he did. As Richard notes, you could look it up.

                My friendly advice to you is to do so before commenting next time. Otherwise you’ll just end up looking stupid again. Also, you might learn to write in proper English. That would make reading your comments marginally less annoying.

        • Aidan

          You called him “the great journalist” in your original post, and now profess to know nothing of his work. His classic obituary of Christoper Hitchens also had nothing to do with the struggles of working people. Will we no longer be seeing such trivial things posted here?

          • Our entire goal in noting dead people around here is to alienate our readers. Are you not familiar with the Whitney Houston Obituary Wars?

            • Malaclypse

              I’m still mad you dissed Janis Joplin.

              • That’s a well I need to return to.

                • elm

                  To acknowledge your complete wrongness and accept the everlasting shame? Or to attempt to get a longer comment thread than this one?

            • Richard

              But you were the one who blogged about his death calling him a “great journalist” (and linking to his piece almost applauding the death of Hitchen) and when some people, including some of your fellow bloggers here, pointed out that he was a Stalinist and not deserving of much praise, you blog again claiming that any criticism of him is annoying and pointless since it isn’t related to the struggle for worker’s rights.
              And then whine when people people disagree with this position saying the disagreement proves your point.

              • You are missing the point yet again. This post doesn’t defend Cockburn. I have no strong feelings about that matter. The post attempts to argue that these endless discussions are distractions from things that matter much, much more and that this is a problem of the left.

                • This post doesn’t defend Cockburn.

                  Glenn Reynolds’ post don’t politicize the Aurora shootings. They’re just an attempt to argue something about discussion of the matter.

                • Richard

                  If thats the case, then dont defend him as a great journalist when he dies (I actually was unaware that he died before seeing your blog) and then dont criticize the people who take issue with your characterization of him.

                  I get your point. Leftists should stick together and not criticize other leftists because it distracts from other, more important things and is a weakeness of the left. For many reasons, among them the actions historically taken by the Stalinists when they take power, I don’t agree with that point.

  • Bloix

    It’s not whether Cockburn condemned Stalin. Cockburn was a Stalinist and like other totalitarian left-wingers his main enemies, the people he really, deeply hated throughout his life, were liberals.

  • The lesson of this thread–if liberals cared about, say, working-class issues as much as they cared about defining the limits of acceptable debate, we’d get a lot more done.

    • Aidan

      No, the lesson is that apologism for totalitarianism and state-sponsored murder and torture is unacceptable in modern liberalism and that if you want a comment thread discussing the Hyatt strike you should write a post about the Hyatt strike.

      • I wrote a post about the Hyatt action yesterday. Maybe you should read it and then do something.

      • Malaclypse

        if you want a comment thread discussing the Hyatt strike you should write a post about the Hyatt strike.

        You do realize that Erik did write a post about that, don’t you?

        • Richard

          That was yesterday and people read it and responded. I thought that article was good and will probably be boycotting Hyatt. But today he wrote about Cockburn and Stalinism but wants us to instead respond to the Hyatt boycott? What type of nonsense is that? If he doesn’t want us to respond to an article that says that Cockburn’s support for Stalinism and the Soviet Union doesn’t matter and that he doesn’t give a shit if Cockburn supported Stalin, maybe he shouldn’t write that article.

          • Malaclypse

            I assumed the point was that the Hyatt strike got far less attention than this post. Now, this post was deliberate bomb-throwing, so I’m not sure why Erik is surprised people are responding.

          • You are missing the point of the piece, which was probably a mistake to write precisely because we are talking about it instead of real issues. The point is that these types of debates are pointless and silly and irrelevant. Which includes my own piece but there’s no way to make that point without wading into the mire. The fact that this has 100 comments 2 hours after being put out while the Hyatt post or any of the other labor-related posts receive like 15-30 all day is quite telling.

            • Richard

              No. The relative silence to the Hyatt post was most likely the case that most of us agreed with it. I wasn’t going to argue with the evidence you put out about their anti-labor policies or argue against a boycott just to be contrary. But I vehemently disagree with your point about Stalinism and the implied argument that having an opinion on support for mass murder is “annoying” because it doesn’t help working people’s lives today.

              • Yeah, I don’t think length of comment threads tells you anything about a post other than how interesting a discussion everyone is having in those threads. I read the Hyatt post, learned something, and felt a healthy dose of disgust and revulsion when I drove past a Hyatt later on. I did not, however, leave a comment, because I didn’t have any interesting thoughts to share or responses to anything else said.

            • FlipYrWhig

              Do you think labor-related posts have fewer comments because they’re so challenging to the status quo that they become unpopular, or because the readership basically agrees with them and doesn’t think there’s much to discuss?

            • Seriously, it’s not telling at all.

              I don’t comment on a lot of the very best posts on this site – such as your “This Day in Labor History” posts, or Farley’s more wonkish military efforts – because feel I have nothing to add.

            • John

              What everyone else has said. People post in blog comments when they have something to say. Wholly unobjectionable posts that all of us agree with you about aren’t going to attract that many comments.

            • Murc

              Put me down as another in the “I have nothing to add to the labor posts, usually” camp.

              Especially since most people here agree with those posts. If Erik posts something and I say “well, I agree with this” and JFL goes “as do I” and Malaclypse says “let us celebrate our mutual concordance with the adding of chocolate to milk” then the thread ends after maybe ten posts.

              The reason posts like this one get 200+ comments is because they’re genuine points of contention about things that are important to peoples entire political outlook. They generate argument.

              • elm

                Yes, this. Long threads here tend to result from one of a handful of things:

                1. Brad or joe arguing with people.
                2. Everyone arguing with a troll.
                3. Everyone arguing with mizner.
                4. Baseball (and, ocassionally, other sports)
                5. Blog author arguing with readers (a la Scott and the Bully Pulpit, Paul and BMI, Scott or Rob and steroids, etc.)

                These are, of course, not mutually exclusive categories, as it’s not infrequent to have an epic thread of joe and Scott arguing with mizner about the bully pulpit.

                And, with the exception of baseball, none of the above reasons for long threads have much, if anything, to do with level of interest in the topic of the original post.

    • Marc

      The lesson of the thread is that you apparently don’t understand the difference between “defining the limits of acceptable debate” and “objecting to people who defend vicious dictators and endorse noxious conspiracy theories.”

    • FlipYrWhig

      Maybe the lesson of the thread is that some people think radicalism and condescending dickishness provide reciprocal confirmation of one another.

      • DocAmazing

        Thank you for providing such a tidy example.

        • FlipYrWhig

          Maybe I’m being a dick, but I’m not pretending that your finding me to be a dick only proves that I’m more hardcore/left than you are.

          • DocAmazing

            No, just more worthy of serious consideration.

            • FlipYrWhig

              I have a lot of respect for physical bodies-in-space activism, but I find the overwhelming majority of blogospheric would-be radical rhetoric to be an exercise in self-satisfaction. On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog square, and you can indulge your radical cosplay day after day after day. It gets a wee bit old. That’s the part whose “seriousness” I question. And not because I’m not a relatively comfortable wanker. I am. But most of us are. Even the ones who spout off about their uncompromising radicalism.

              • DocAmazing

                Absolutely, “Internet tough guy” has a political dimension as well. Guess I’ll se you down at Occupy or over at the union hall.

  • Looking over this thread, I realize that Corey Robin’s original post might distorting Cockburn’s critics as people motivated primarily by his nuanced writings on Stalin rather than his sunny view of Brezhnev, contrarian hatred of “liberals,” climate denialism, etc.

    • might [be] distorting

  • calling all toasters

    Third, is this 1972?

    No, it isn’t, and Cockburn matters not a damn now.

    Which is all to the good.

  • Anonymous

    I recall Cockburn’s writing on Reagan’s Central American adventures and remember it as outstanding and important work. On the other hand, it seems to me that if someone is a defender of electing George W. Bush, forced-birth policies, Milosivic, the 90’s militia movement, global warming denialism, AND Joseph Stalin, any overlap between their politics and my own is likely to be purely coincidental. Any leftist vision of politics that can be twisted to accomodate all of the above doesn’t seem particularly worthwhile.

    • djw

      He’s aalso makes common cause with right wing libertarians, inviting them to write at Counterpunch and endorsing one of them (Bob Barr) for president in 2008.

      My rejection of Cockburn wound not come form an assessment that his views are too far to the left. I would be that his views–left and right–are appalling.

      • DocAmazing

        Like many radicals, he was more interested in anti-government activity than the specifics of who is engaging in it.

        Comparing Greenwald to Cockburn is like comparing Steel Reserve to moonshine.

    • djw

      (Above was me as well)

    • It does sort of beg the question as to the extent to which we’re supposed to ignore someone’s bad views so long as they call themselves a leftist, doesn’t it?

      • DocAmazing

        As opposed to ignoring someone’s bad views (and votes)as long as they call themselves a Democrat?

        • [Cites omitted]

          • DocAmazing

            Right, ‘cuz it isn’t obvious.

            Try the Reid/labor thread for some recent examples.

            • [Cites omitted again]

              • DocAmazing

                This from the guy with the “look it up on Google yourself” link already programmed?

                Bestir yourself. It’s good exercise.

  • teraz kurwa my

    Any liberal can find stuff that they agree with with in the writings of Hayek, does that mean it is ridiculous that we criticize him for his support of Pinochet? And Pinochet was a model liberal (US meaning) compared with Stalin. As a liberal I don’t feel that a Cockburn was any more part of my ‘team’ than the people writing for WNN or Red State.

    And I’ve also had those discussions about Castro. I suspect that you’re thinking of people like me when you wrote that paragraph. I’ve got just as difficult a time taking seriously a Castro supporter’s concerns for human rights abuses by US backed regimes in Latin America as I do a Pinochet admirer’s concern about human rights issues and democracy in Cuba.

  • Barry

    “The Serious Liberal (TM) in late 20th-early 21st century America must condemn those to left, whether old-school trade unionists, those who reject global capitalism, or those who take a hard left stance against American imperialism. Only then can the Serious Liberal be taken seriously by People Who Matter (TM). ”

    I’m reminded of the purging of leftist from the union movement, back in the day. The guys who were the most powerful faction for unionization and against the elites were purged, leaving the remnant rather weak.

    Eliminate the Malcolm X, and the MLK as is not taken as seriously.

    • Jesus, we’re going to go into the “King was a pussy” theorem too?

      • FlipYrWhig

        I think there’s some merit to the idea that radicals and liberals reinforce some larger goals even through their tension, but I don’t buy that radicals are thus authorized to act like jerks because ultimately it’s all for the greater good, so stop complaining about it. Radicals aren’t abrasive because they’re trying to pull off a culture-wide good-cop-bad-cop routine, they’re abrasive because they believe in being abrasive. Heightening the contradictions and all that.

        • Well, in the specific context, I don’t buy that King wasn’t a radical. In important ways I think he’s more radical than Malcolm X.

          • DocAmazing

            You miss the point. Pacifism, while praiseworthy, doesn’t grab the attention like discussion of armed self-defense, for obvious reasons. King was saint, but saints are often easy tosmile at and then ignore. Malcom was an irritant and irritants always have everyone’s attention.

            • Right. Malcolm X is so much better known than King and got so much more attention than King and the activists at the lunch counters. Why Selma is a damn historical picnic compared to…that one thing Malcolm X did that’s seared into the national conscious.

              • DocAmazing

                “By any means necessary.”

                That quote, as much as any other, probably forced the issue/

                • I’d wager that you could poll ten random people with that quote and at least seven of them would look at you like you had four eyes, and one of them might even attribute it to George Bush.

                • Also, are you trying to argue that militarism and race riots were a beneficial thing to the civil rights movement or something?

                • DocAmazing

                  Forced people to pay attention. In my neck of the woods, the Black Panthers got more done to establish police accountablity than decades of polite requests.

                • DocAmazing

                  And I think the word you want is “militancy”, not “militarism”.

            • noen

              Pacifism works, armed resistance when you’re a distinct minority does not work.

              Foregoing strategies that are known not to work while ignoring those that do is pretty nearly the definition of an ideologue and seems to point to larger pathologies underneath.

    • Manju

      What’s this about? Cockburn’s dance with evil makes him Malcolm X now?

      He not Malcolm. He’s William F. Buckley…maybe even worse.

  • JoyfulA

    My top concern in this world is improving the everyday life of as many people as possible.

    I think I ought to tape that to my bathroom mirror and start every day with it in mind.

    • JoyfulA

      Well, the block quote works, but I see I did it backwards.

  • Pingback: The Ravings of Demented Rabbits » Re: Stalinism()

  • Ethan

    I think that there’s a significant category error in putting Cockburn and Chomsky in one column and comparing them to Truman, FDR and LBJ in another. I think a lot of people would see Cockburn and Chomsky, at the end of the day as simply doing no good to anyone directly. Not only did they not direct policy, they didn’t, say, distribute food and medicine to people in need, at least that’s not what they’re famous for. They’re intellectuals, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but at the end of the day all that they have is their ideas. You argue that support for Stalinism is inconsequential, because there was no chance of it leading to Stalinism’s resurgence. Well, how possible were all of the good things he supported? How much chance did Cockburn’s efforts have of changing the US policies in Latin America that he attacked? Why would he get a pass for futile bad stances while getting credit for futile good stances?

    • DocAmazing

      How does Chomsky keep getting stuck into this? Chomsky was the guy that tried to turn people’s attention to the CIA’s murderous wars in Laos and Cambodia (and the next guy who says he was a Khmer Rouge apologist gets a face full of Henry Kissinger and Margaret Thatcher actually running interference for Pol Pot) and who keeps pointing out that the political dialogue in the US is very restricted and corporate-driven. Not the same as Cockburn, though both are radicals.

      • It is possible that Chomsky was an apologist for Pol Pot AND that Henry Kissinger and Margaret Thatcher ran interference for him and the Khmer Rouge after Vietnam invaded. These are not facts that stand in logical contradiction with one another.

        In the mid-1970s, Chomsky and Herman defended the depopulation of Phnom Penh as the understandable reaction of a “peasant army” to urban oppression. What’s worse is that in Manufacturing Consent, published in 1988, they defended this.

        However, Chomsky is not a consistent Stalinist, while Cockburn certainly was.

  • Nancy_nyc

    I really like you Erik but you are way off base with this one. Stalin was in the same league as Hitler with respect to mass murder and to not admit this as late as Cockburn did was moral blindness. Alexander Cockburn may have been a good journalist but he was the equivalent of a Holocaust denier.

  • Hogan

    So that’s all settled then?

    • Malaclypse

      Yes, we are all finally in agreement that BMI is a useless measure.

  • What’s remarkable about Loomis is how clueless and contemptuous about history he is for someone who earns his living supposedly teaching it.

    On a literal level, Loomis seems unaware that Henry Wallace defended the purges aimed at Trotsky and all the other old Bolsheviks, so his headline is unusually obtuse. It makes no sense to criticize Wallace for failing to denounce Trotsky early enough, because in fact he spread Stalinist lies about him.

    Loomis thinks Stalinism is just a cute “old-time ideology” kind of like Social Credit or syndicalism. In fact, it remains the governing system of a number of countries — including albeit arguably in attenuated form, the largest one on earth. In contrast, there are actually no countries governed by people claiming continuity with historical European fascism, It is not cute at all, and its victims in the twentieth century number in the hundred of millions.

    What’s even more remarkable than the ignorance on display, is the assetion that history doesn’t matter and there should be no enemies on the left. Even though Cockburn was a moral monster, at least he would have had total contempt for those two propositions.

    • Ben

      In contrast, there are actually no countries governed by people claiming continuity with historical European fascism

      Well, no nations, but a few states are aspiring to go in this direction(read the TX GOP platform for an example of some neo-fascists).

  • Ben

    A 300+ long comment thread on a Communism topic and no Juche videos?

    I am disappoint.

  • Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you writing
    this write-up and the rest of the website is also really
    Hi, i think that i saw you visited my blog thus i came to “return the favor”.I’m attempting to find things to improve my web site!I
    suppose its ok to use a few of your ideas!\

It is main inner container footer text