Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 19, 2006

Rotten Timber

Filed under: Academia,cruise missile left,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 1:48 am

A couple of months ago a recent graduate of Columbia University–an East Asian by birth and Marxist by affinity–wondered why I was bothering writing comments to academic blogs like Crooked Timber and Cliopatria. I explained that I began reading Crooked Timber because it was touted as an important liberal group blog and I felt obligated to give it about the same thirty seconds I give each day to slate.com and salon.com. I didn’t want to miss anything important in the world of parliamentary cretinism.

For about a year I would check in on Crooked Timber and say absolutely nothing. Mostly there was no reason to say anything since the typical blog entry is something John Holbo’s “Jenny and the Ess-Dog” that begins:

I had a nice night. Before that, I chased two kids around for six hours (ages 2 and 5). That was ok. Then I went to pick up Indian take-out. Waiting, I … relaxed. A beer. Watch the Australian tourists talk to each other.

Holbo is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. I am glad that I dropped out of the New School philosophy program 39 years ago if this what the discipline leads to.

John Holbo

In February 2005, I finally found something worth posting about. Along with the rightwing blogosphere and the “decent” left (Marc Cooper et al), Crooked Timber opened up an attack on Ward Churchill. Since I was familiar with his work and got to know him personally (not an easy task), I jumped in to defend him. As you might imagine, this led to a series of heated exchanges. Ward should have learned to get along in the academy like John Holbo and saved himself the trouble of clashing with Republican governors and Fox-TV.

The only other time I made my presence felt was when the subject of Yugoslavia came up. One of the Crooked Timber contributors is a character named Chris Bertram who is a Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy, University of Bristol and who is nearly as banal as his fellow philosopher John Holbo.

Chris Bertram: Crooked Timber, Crooked Smile

Bertram is a member in good standing of the Cruise Missile Left who used to be on the editorial board of New Left Review. Although I am not exactly sure of the reasons for his departure, he was joined by fellow board members Branka Magas and Quentin Hoare (the parents of the howling Serbophobe Attila Hoare), and the ineffable Norm Geras. Showing that he understands the need to subjugate the barbarians further east as well, he penned an article titled “Afghanistan: A Just Intervention” for “Imprints, a journal of Analytical Socialism” in 2002. Basically it is the same argument that Michael Bérubé made around the same time, namely that George W. Bush could be an agent of progressive change despite his sleazy past. Needless to say, such arguments were shaped by the prevailing mood of the time that was not dissimilar to that described by Rosa Luxemburg in the Junius Pamphlet:

Violated, dishonored, wading in blood, dripping filth – there stands bourgeois society. This is it [in reality]. Not all spic and span and moral, with pretense to culture, philosophy, ethics, order, peace, and the rule of law – but the ravening beast, the witches’ sabbath of anarchy, a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it reveals itself in its true, its naked form.

Since Serb-bashing is fairly well entrenched at Crooked Timber, I was surprised to discover that one of the contributors by the name of John Quiggin had a change of heart–sort of. He wrote something called “Second Thoughts on Kosovo” that expressed misgivings over the lack of a UN Security Council fig-leaf to legitimize the war. Since the Security Council is widely understood to be dominated by the USA and its lackeys, one can reasonably ask what the big deal is. He frets that ignoring international law might have led to the Iraq disaster. Obviously, the war in Iraq and NATO’s war in Yugoslavia had exactly the same causes, the drive of the USA to establish and maintain global hegemony in pursuit of profit. Some people like Christopher Hitchens are consistent in their support of both wars, while Quiggin and company quibble over the law. The law, as someone once said, is an ass and so is he.

I should add that Quiggin teaches economics in Australia and exhibits the same kind of genial superficiality as Holbo. I guess standards are laxer in Australia than they are elsewhere in academia.

John Quiggin after orderlies removed his razor

In the course of the discussion on Quiggin’s piece, I posted four times. For most blogs that is considered fairly normal. After I tried to post a fifth comment, Quiggin announced:

Louis, I think your defence of Milosevic has been put forward at sufficient length. I;ve deleted your last comment and anything further from you on this thread will be deleted.

To everyone else, please don’t feed the trolls by responding further to pro-Milosevic apologists – the answers already given are adequate. On the same topic, don’t bother responding to “Steve” either. Anything from him will be deleted.

This is par for the course. Over on Cliopatria, I had to withdraw after blog-meister Ralph Luker made an ominous remark about me wasting my employer’s money by posting on the job. As soon as I heard that, I beat a hasty retreat. Having a job is more important to me than arguing with ill-tempered reactionary professors.

That’s it for me as well on Crooked Timber. I imagine that there are some young people who have read my comments there and who enjoy watching a sans-culotte like myself making fools of tenured professors, but I won’t put up with censorship–not from the government and not from a bunch of liberal professors.


Apparently Quiggin is not finished censoring other commenters on the Crooked Timber blog:

Deleted. I’ve previously advised Dan Simon that his comments add nothing of value, and will be deleted. His latest gives me no reason to change my view. As with other trolls, could I ask readers not to bother responding JQ

He jumped on Simon so quickly that I didn’t even have a chance to see what Quiggin considered trolling. Simon’s blog even includes a link to Crooked Timber, so he obviously is friendly to them–unlike me. God knows what he wrote. A recommendation to read Miranda Vickers? A suggestion that the KLA were drug-dealing terrorists who have turned Kosovo into a hell for all non-Albanians? Who knows. He has dropped into the memory hole of this misbegotten swamp of Cruise Missile Leftists.


  1. Why blog if you won’t allow debate?

    Comment by Renegade Eye — August 19, 2006 @ 3:35 am

  2. Basically it is the same argument that Michael Bérubé made around the same time, namely that George W. Bush could be an agent of progressive change despite his sleazy past.

    And why blog if you’re going to write such remarkable horseshit?

    Comment by Michael Bérubé — August 19, 2006 @ 2:55 pm

  3. For people like me with a morbid fascination with the Cruise Missile Left can review Berube’s tortured defense of the war in Afghanistan here:


    For U.S. leftists schooled in the lessons of Cambodia, Libya, and the School of the Americas, all U.S. bombing actions are suspect: they are announced by cadaverous white guys with bad hair, they are covered by seven cable channels competing with one another for the catchiest “New War” slogan and Emmy awards for creative flag display, and they invariably kill civilians, the poor, the wretched, the disabled. Surely, there is much to hate about any bombing campaign.

    Yet who would deny that a nation, once attacked, has the right to respond with military force, and who seriously believes that anyone could undertake any “nation-building” enterprise in Afghanistan without driving the Taliban from power first?

    And don’t you love the business about “nation-building”? It conjures up the image of Berube and Hitchens in pith helmets, drinking tea on the veranda while natives in white jackets attend to their every need.

    Comment by Louis Proyect — August 19, 2006 @ 3:16 pm

  4. That Michael Bérubé, an otherwise decent and witty fellow, has fallen uncritically into the anti-Serb crap and joined early on the pro-Afghanistan war brigades, demonstrate that social democrats (in the European mold) and liberal internationalists — also known in the U.S. as the “humanitarian left” — have lost total intellectual credibility.

    His attacks on Chomsky (not an idol of mine) and his virulence against Ed Herman are worthy of contempt. There is nothing witty or decent in them. There is nothing in them based on reason and facts. It’s all about ad hominem attacks and flimsy rhetoric.

    His blog has become an ode to himself — little, smarty professor who’s trying real hard to reach the Hitchens of this world in the big punditry league.

    A waste of time.

    Comment by Gilles d'Aymery — August 19, 2006 @ 10:46 pm

  5. Well, there is much to hate about any bombing campaign. That’s true. But saying so is not the same thing as saying “George W. Bush could be an agent of progressive change despite his sleazy past” — unless, of course, you’re one of those postmodernists who thinks anything goes. You’re not, though, are you, Louis. You’re one of those contemptible people who don’t care one way or the other what happens to actually existing Afghans, which is why you’d be more than happy to leave them to the Taliban.

    And if it’s a witty response to Chomsky / Herman you want, be careful what you wish for, M. d’Aymery. I can do the kind of parodies I’ve done with David Horowitz, but I bet you wouldn’t like that.

    And I’m not “little.”

    OK, enough for now. I’ll let you guys get back to building Greater Serbia.

    Comment by Michael Bérubé — August 20, 2006 @ 12:19 am

  6. Michael Berube: “I can do the kind of parodies I’ve done with David Horowitz, but I bet you wouldn’t like that.”

    I’ve tried to read them myself out of a sense of responsibility to keep track of the “culture wars” but I could never quite get through them. Why? They seemed to willfully defy these words of wisdom:

    It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what other men say in whole books – what other men do not say in whole books.

    ~Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

    Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
    And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
    I will be brief.

    ~William Shakespeare, Hamlet

    The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.

    ~Thomas Jefferson

    Comment by louisproyect — August 20, 2006 @ 1:08 am

  7. Is it really necessary to have three literary epigraphs making exactly the same point – namely, not to repeat yourself?

    Comment by jholbo — August 20, 2006 @ 4:12 am

  8. Careful, Holbo. I might have to delete your comments. Trolling is not permitted under any circumstances, especially from pro-war professors. I might even be forced to fly to Australia and cut off your balls, if you had any.

    Comment by Louis Proyect — August 20, 2006 @ 1:01 pm

  9. Michael Bérubé writes: “I’ll let you guys get back to building Greater Serbia.”

    I thank Michael for confirming so clearly and quickly the point I made on his usage of ad hominem attacks.

    Now, allow me to challenge him: I’ve written some 45 essays, columns, opinions, and analysis on the Yugoslav tragedy. They can be accessed at http://www.swans.com/library/subjects/yugoslav.html

    I am willing to bet $500 that he won’t find one instance of advocacy for a Greater Serbia in all of my writing. Not one instance. Does he want to bet? I could use the money.

    By the same token, could Michael point me to any writing by Louis Proyect that has advocated a Greater Serbia? Have Noam Chomsky, Ed Herman, Diana Johnstone, Michael Parenti, or Peter Handke ever advocated a Greater Serbia?

    Slander is the last refuge of people who stand on a poor and fragile footing. They use sophistry and guilt by association to avoid facing their own (historical) ignorance and their cerebral blindness.

    Certainly, I have no doubt Michael can use his mordant wit with flair, but it’s decency, intellectual decency, that is direly missing in his discourse.

    Comment by Gilles d'Aymery — August 20, 2006 @ 3:31 pm

  10. No, Gilles, an “ad hominem” attack would be something like “X is smelly and never changes his clothes.” Characterizing Milosevic’s defenders as builders of a Greater Serbia is just ordinary hyperbole. You can look up these technical terms on the Internets.

    Louis’s comment 8, by contrast, is the epitome of decency.

    Comment by Michael Bérubé — August 20, 2006 @ 3:56 pm

  11. I don’t care about people making rude remarks. I wouldn’t censor myself or anybody else here. I believe in free speech. What’s disgusting about the Rotten Timber crew is that they blather sanctimoniously on about how much they hate the dictator Milosevic, but censor me. Indeed, one can understand why Quiggin was moved to censor me. A partisan of the KLA had dredged up some comment made by a Serb ultra-nationalist from 1937 backing the ethnic cleansing of Albanians and likened the Serbs to the Nazis. I pointed out that on a percentage basis the Serbs came right after the Jews in terms of ethnic groups being exterminated. And what role did the Albanians play?


    The 21st SS Division Skanderberg was a Waffen SS division set up by Heinrich Himmler in March 1944, officially under the title of the 21st Waffen-Gebirgs Division der SS Skanderbeg (albanische Nr. 1). The names of 11,398 recruits were submitted to Berlin. Of these, 9,275 were deemed suitable for drafting, and 6,491 were actually drafted into the Waffen SS. The final division was formed up by these recruits, three hundred ethnic Albanians transferred from the 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar and some German veterans from Austria and Volksdeutsche officers, NCOs and enlisted men. The final total strength of the division was at 8,500 to 9,000 men, consisting of two infantry regiments, a single artillery regiment, a reconnaissance battalion, a mountain combat engineer battalion, a signals battalion and an anti-tank battalion.

    Many Albanians in Kosovo saw the invasion of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia by Axis Powers as an opportunity to secede from the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (who treated Albanians as citizens of the second hand in the kingdom), and eventually merge with Albania. In 1941 Albania, Western Macedonia, and majority of Kosovo were under Italian control. Following the surrender of Fascist Italy in 1943, the territories under consideration inhabited largely by Albanians were occupied by Nazi Germany. The 21st Waffen SS Mountain Division was the only fully ethnic Albanian division to be recruited during the Second World War. It was established originally to combat partisans with the promise that the territories with majority Albanian population were to become an independent and unified state to include Albania, Kosovo and Western Macedonia or what Albanian nationalists called it “natural Albania”.

    (Quiggin deleted this.)

    Comment by Louis Proyect — August 20, 2006 @ 4:16 pm

  12. To “go back to building Greater Serbia” is not a slanderous smear in Michael Bérubé’s mind; it’s “just ordinary hyperbole.” To associate one’s defense of Milosevic to one’s advocacy for a Greater Serbia must also be, I presume, “just ordinary hyperbole.” No ad hominem attacks, here; not at all.

    Would I characterize the defenders of “progressive” wars (Krajina, Kosovo) and “defensive” wars (Afghanistan) — what about Iraq and the Palestinian OT and Lebanon? — as ethnic cleansers and economic pilferers, it should then be viewed as merely and suavely “just ordinary hyperboles,” according to our linguistic master.

    How ordinary indeed, intellectually speaking…

    As to ad hominem attacks one can check the Internet (and not the “Internets”). I suggest to Michael the following entry:

    Then, perhaps he could re-read the Sophists before attemting pale imitations.

    Comment by Gilles d'Aymery — August 20, 2006 @ 9:52 pm

  13. Shucks. Sometimes I wonder if the “ethical turn” bypassed the American “left” altogether. For my own part, I side wholeheartedly w/ the non-liberal (aka “radical”) Marxist left. But it is clear to me that both American liberals and leftists desire more equitable wealth distribution, social justice, health care, reduced (or no) capitalist exploitation, and so on.

    The ideological commitments may be nearly irreconcilable, but the end goals are not. I think liberals are totally misguided, but if, unlike the right-wing, they actually believe in eradicating poverty and “uneven” distribution, why not speak to one another w/ respect? I *know* that sounds naïve, and that the negative dialectic must be maintained in order that tautological liberalism be confronted w/ historical-materialism and *difference*, but this sectarian bickering is so tiresome, unproductive and unethical in my view.

    And the ad hominem obviously goes in both directions (and I honestly never considered Holbo might so fully embody the effete-yuppie, liberal nerdboy part). Oh no. I should delete that.

    But seriously. I think Marxists’ have the combative rhetoric in spades (Lenin’s Tomb), but how about a less ego-driven and less self-valorizing rhetoric?

    Would it be utterly despicable to begin partisan attacks by throwing over a bone of some sort, at the very least?

    NO ONE’S mind changes in these exchanges. Not even a smidgeon. Only a child would think it helpful. I’m sorry, but it seems pure egotism on both sides to me (although the liberals are worse b/c wrong!).

    This is the bottom line. Everyone digs her trench a little deeper. Whoopty Woo.

    I think Berube and Holbo, et al, want a more equitable arrangement of resources and power than what exists and is thought possible. That is so much more than could be said for 40-95% of Americans. Why not try—EVERY TIME—to start there?

    Comment by Andrew — August 21, 2006 @ 5:10 am

  14. I missed the para to which you referred, Louis, as it was buried in a long post about contemporary issues, whereas yours was entirely concerned with imputing collective guilt to ethnic groups for past crimes.

    On the general point “What’s disgusting about the Rotten Timber crew is that they blather sanctimoniously on about how much they hate the dictator Milosevic, but censor me” you seem to misunderstand the way the Internet works. It’s our site and we can
    blather on as long as we like about how much we hate dictators like Milosevic, Pinochet and so on, then publish comments if we feel like it. You have your own site here – you can praise dictators in general, or particular dictators as you see fit, then adopt your own comments policy.

    Comment by John Quiggin — August 21, 2006 @ 5:42 am

  15. We announced our comments policy recently:


    Your claims of censorship are ill-judged. You have not been censored, as you continute to have the capacity to disseminate your views on the internet and elsewhere. We are under no obligation, however, to provide a forum for you at our expense, or to engage in any kind of conversation with you. As it happens, we rarely delete comments, but discretion to do so is entirely in the hands of the the CT member who wrote the original post in question. If you comment on another thread and on another topic, we may choose to tolerate you. Or perhaps not (it is up to us). I hope you continue to derive comfort from your fantasy that you present a “fundamental challenge” to our “conventional ideas”.

    Concerning my Afghanistan article (note, btw, that I opposed the Iraq war and so can hardly be considered a member “in good standing” of the “Cruise Missile left”). You write:

    Basically it is the same argument that Michael Bérubé made around the same time, namely that George W. Bush could be an agent of progressive change despite his sleazy past.

    Anyone who follows the link will see that I mention Bush in one para of the article and that what I actually say is:

    It is also worth adding to the reasons for the left’s hostility [to the Afghan war] the fact that a Republican administration was in power at the time of the attacks, and, moreover, one headed by a President, George W. Bush, whose alignment with Big Oil and whose unilateralist attitudes rightly arouse the hostility of anyone who cares about social and global injustice. Since September 11th, the Bush administration, with its absurd ‘axis of evil’ rhetoric and its underwriting of Ariel Sharon, has confirmed this negative opinion. But unpalatable though the Bush administration may be, the question of which party is in the White House is, strictly speaking, irrelevant to the issue of whether the United States is justified in using military force to respond to such an attack. If Clinton, Gore or even Ralph Nader had been in the Oval Office, the issues of justice and injustice would arise in exactly the same way.

    Comment by Chris Bertram — August 21, 2006 @ 9:29 am

  16. To “go back to building Greater Serbia” is not a slanderous smear in Michael Bérubé’s mind; it’s “just ordinary hyperbole.”

    He is correct: this tactic is not out of the ordinary at all. For example, people who criticize Israel are often described as Hamas supporters, those who opposed the war against Afghanistan were Al Qaida-loving lefties, and everybody who opposed the invasion of Iraq is objectively pro-Saddam.

    Comment by qlipoth — August 21, 2006 @ 12:59 pm

  17. To Quiggin and Bertram,

    Yes, you are absolutely right. Crooked Timber is your little playground and you are entitled to it. However, I resent being called a troll. Trolls are generally anonymous and get their kicks by disrupting a mailing list or a newsgroup through the interjection of provocative and off-topic material, like somebody arguing against abortion rights on a feminist mailing list, etc. You brought up the topic of Kosovo and I presented my own views. This is not trolling. It is called a debate. But that’s the end of it. I had all I had to say about your creepy tinpot dictator ways here and will not waste another word about your hypocrisy. As I have discovered from your fellow “decent” Marc Cooper, you blather on ceaselessly about Communist dictators but are anxious to jump all over any commenter who steps out of line. If you creeps had any real power, it would force Amnesty International to double its staff.

    Comment by Louis Proyect — August 21, 2006 @ 1:18 pm

  18. qlipoth says with some irony that Michael Bérubé “is correct” in regard to the use of “ordinary hyperbole.”

    And Andrew, earlier, laments the absence of willingness on the part of some of us to meet the lib-labs midway, since they too want a more humane society.

    Well, I speak for myself here and not on behalf of Louis. Each and every time I’ve engaged the lib-labs I’ve only received “ordinary hyberboles” in return. Their use of logical fallacies and rhetorical attacks is their almost immediate line of defense.

    I once dissected their technique through an analysis of a Hugo Chavez dissing by Marc Cooper. Take a moment and read it:

    I’ve tried once upon a time to have a civil exchange with Michael Bérubé. It led nowhere for he was generalizing time and again and refusing to dig deeper. (I still have the entire e-mail exchange in my archives and can therefore easily prove the point.) There’s a time when, like Noam Chomsky often does, the assertion is that it’s time to move on…you know, there are more serious matters to deal with…

    Time and again they avoid a real debate, and most often resort to name-calling.

    To me, the intellectual paucity — even, sadly, depravity — of so-called American intellectuals “du bon genre” — the “bien pensants” — is the most regrettable characteristic that I have experienced in my almost 25 years living in this sorry place called the USA.

    One cannot, literally cannot, have a debate with these people — and I include Chomsky — without them resorting to negative rhetoric.

    It’s not a matter of style: Louis’s is evidently harsher than mine and more rooted into activism (he also, obviously, masters the language better than I do). I can go out of my way to remain civil and mild and even try to meet them half way, to no avail.

    The fundamental difference is that they are market-driven and see us as a threat — remember, we are “fringe radicals” defending all the dictators in the world — to, when all is said and done, their notoriety, however limited it may be, and in the final analysis, their bank accounts. Ask Michael Bérubé whether he would spend time going into a lengthy debate with me or rather write a piece for the NYT magazine… Ask him. Louis would debate me to death first…

    Real hard to have any constructive exchanges with people who use “ordinary hyperbole” as a motus operandi, think about themselves first, and constantly join the guard dogs of the Citadel, no?

    Finally, please note that having smeared me (and Louis), Michael Bérubé carefully avoided my challenge.

    I rest my case.

    (Note to qlipoth: Anonymity is not conducive to respect.)

    Comment by Gilles d'Aymery — August 22, 2006 @ 10:12 pm

  19. Argh, I forgot something I absolutely wanted to say. Michael Bérubé’s attack on Chomsky was not only spiteful and demeaning, it was a demonstration of sheer ignorance. Would Michael have taken the time to read about Chomsky’s position in 1999 and beyond he would have found that it was very close with the line taken by ZNET, or the French PC for that matter: “Neither Milosevic nor NATO.”

    For what’s worth my relative disdain for Choamky and his followers has cost me dearly — e.g. Ed Herman stopped contributing to Swans; a much regretfull loss to our collective work. And we lost a bunch of readers…

    This said, if I had to choose between Chomsky and Bérubé, I would undoubtedly choose the former.

    Fortunately, I do not have to choose. Keeps me sane and sound, readers notwithstanding.

    Comment by Gilles d'Aymery — August 22, 2006 @ 10:30 pm

  20. But who wants respect?

    I just pointed out that Bérubé’s remarks on “building Greater Serbia” are part of a great intellectual tradition that ranges all the way from The Corner to Andrew Sullivan. This is true independent of my respectability.

    Comment by qlipoth — August 29, 2006 @ 10:09 am

  21. […] As I have pointed out in the past, Crooked Timber is useful for keeping track of the latest talking points of the liberal professorate. It is where you will find equal amounts of venom hurled at George W. Bush and Ward Churchill in the spirit of Phil Ochs’s lyric: […]

    Pingback by Euston Lite « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — October 20, 2006 @ 8:19 pm

  22. […] As I have pointed out in the past, Crooked Timber is useful for keeping track of the latest talking points of the liberal professorate. It is where you will find equal amounts of venom hurled at George W. Bush and Ward Churchill in the spirit of Phil Ochs’s lyric: […]

    Pingback by nihil novum sub solem » Blog Archive » Euston Lite — October 21, 2006 @ 3:36 pm

  23. […] Yugoslavia that did not fall within their State Department liberalism parameters. Here’s what I had to say about it at the […]

    Pingback by Crooked Timber censors me « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — May 21, 2009 @ 6:56 pm

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