Gilles d’Aymery with Jan Baughman, his wife and co-editor
This morning an old friend and–like me–a former contributor to Swans, an online magazine, informed me that a notice appeared on its home page announcing an uncertain future due to the incapacity of its founder and long-time editor Gilles d’Aymery:
Note from the Editors: Dear readers, contributors, and friends. We are sorry that we haven’t been able to publish since July 28, 2014. Gilles has suffered three cerebral concussions that have left him impaired. He’s lost most mobility. He cannot walk at all and moves on a chair. He’s lost much ability with his two hands and has a difficult time to type on the keyboard. On top of this he has suffered some brain damage. Therefore, it is a condition that makes it impossible to maintain Swans until his health improves. We apologize for the inconvenience. We will try to put together an end of the year review, but we certainly cannot promise that it will happen. Same for our Infamous Predictions.
I wrote for Swans between 2003 and 2011 but resigned after d’Aymery wrote an intemperate attack on Paul Buhle who had begun writing for Swans. Over the years I had never gotten used to his tongue-lashings at people who were writing for the magazine over trivial offenses. Since nobody was getting paid, it took some gumption to call them on the carpet as if they were your employees.
I had resigned from Swans once before, I can’t remember exactly when but I do remember why. Not long after I began blogging as the Unrepentant Marxist, d’Aymery wrote some rude comment about how I was wasting my time in some narcissistic enterprise or words to that effect. It was the first and last time he had been rude to me. He learned that I am more than happy to contribute articles but would not stand for verbal abuse. Other Swans contributors were much more willing to put up with it, possibly writing it off as “oh, that’s just Gilles blowing off steam”.
Of course, there was another side to Mr. Hyde. In a hundred different ways, d’Aymery was extremely warm and supportive to me over the years and to other members of the Swans “flock”. He was deeply appreciative of what I wrote and took great care in editing and offering suggestions to make the articles better. At his best, he could be a writer’s gift from heaven.
Despite his evidently professional skills as editor, d’Aymery’s background was in business:
Gilles d’Aymery was born in 1950 in France. Educated at the Universities of Economics & Law of Toulouse and Paris, and at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, he’s traveled extensively and speaks several languages. Aymery has worked in the international oil & gas industry, moved to the U.S. in 1982, eventually changed course to become a computer consultant to small US businesses, and created Swans in 1996. He has been dedicating his time to Swans since January 2001.
I knew little else about d’Aymery except that he had a bad motorcycle accident some years ago that resulted in serious injuries to his legs. When I learned about his round of concussions, I speculated that it might have been the result of this disability combined with old age lack of coordination that might have led to repeated falls. One of the reasons I was so anxious to lose weight and reduce my blood pressure was to avoid medications that could make me lose my balance and injure myself.
In August 2012 I began writing for CounterPunch, an act that d’Aymery considered a betrayal. He always saw CounterPunch as a rival even though I doubt that Alexander Cockburn and Jeff St. Clair viewed Swans in the same fashion. Swans had an approach that was much more rooted in print culture than the Internet. It came out on a biweekly basis and refused to allow articles to be crossposted elsewhere. D’Aymery was okay with a couple of paragraphs and a link to Swans but would get tough with anybody who violated his rules.
He approached me in 2003 because I had become a fairly high profile opponent of NATO’s war in Yugoslavia and the post-911 “War on Terror”. At the time Swans was a pole of attraction for people like Edward Herman whose anti-imperialism was based on cold war divisions. Since Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein were figures with long-standing ties to the Soviet bloc, it was natural to take your stand with them even if you were forced to admit that they violated human rights.
My background was different from Herman’s. As a Marxist, I would have had no problem backing individuals and movements that had the blessings of the US State Department. But in the intense propaganda war over Iraq that pitted us against “laptop bombardiers” like Paul Berman, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Bérube and Norm Geras, it was easy if not necessary to play down our differences with someone like Saddam Hussein.
After Putin invaded Chechnya, I began to part ways with the Edward Hermans of the world. My Trotskyist training kicked in, especially the article the Old Man wrote in 1938 titled “Learn to Think” that warned against Manichean politics:
If the French fascists should make an attempt today at a coup d’etat and the Daladier government found itself forced to move troops against the fascists, the revolutionary workers, while maintaining their complete political independence, would fight against the fascists alongside of these troops. Thus in a number of cases the workers are forced not only to permit and tolerate, but actively to support the practical measures of the bourgeois government.
In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign – this would make every sectarian a master strategist; no, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat. This rule applies just as much to the war period as to the period of peace.
Despite the preponderance of articles in Swans that did indeed automatically placing a minus sign where Samantha Powers put a plus, I never considered resigning. For that matter, I never would consider resigning from CounterPunch even though most articles follow the Edward Herman anti-imperialist methodology. Swans was important to me in the same way that CounterPunch became important. Both publications were stocked with well-written and interesting articles that could not be found elsewhere, especially those covering the cultural beat. I was always proud to share writing credits with Peter Byrne at Swans, a man who focused on the cultural and who was hip enough to describe himself in these offbeat terms:
Born in Chicago, Peter’s wandering has never lessened his affection for that American city par excellence. He had his anti-American period just after his bout of acne. But he was surprised to discover, as he changed addresses, that there were creeps and non-creeps in roughly equal proportions around the globe. Though curious about history, his own bores him. He was once heard to murmur, “Stuff your index cards and the assumption that the teacher always knows best.” The past is passed and he’s only concerned about what he’ll write tomorrow morning.
In the evening he may look into what the local thespians are up to or bolster the dwindling public at one of the fleapits. Sometimes he stays home and ponders the lives of all those other Peter Byrne’s that live in Google-land. He once thought about singling himself out by signing P. Tecumseh Byrne, but discarded the idea when it caused a laughing fit in Gabriella. In the small hours he’s prone to wrestle with his principal metaphysical problem: How to outwit the airline officials who insist on charging him excess baggage fees for all the books he brings back from abroad.
Peter, who is even older than me, stopped by my apartment six or seven years ago where we had a stimulating conversation. He reminded me a lot of the bohemians I ran with at Bard College and who were my kind of people long before I went through the largely unproductive experience of Trotskyist sectarianism. My politics, like many of my favorite writers at Swans and CounterPunch, is joined at the hip to art and culture. In a way I regret having lost my connection to Swans, a place that no matter how much Gilles d’Aymery got on my wrong side always made me feel at home.