Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 12, 2013

Eric Alterman: what an asswipe

Filed under: Academia,BDS,zionism — louisproyect @ 3:00 pm

Brooklyn College And The BDS Debate

by Feb 7, 2013 11:45 AM EST

The second, far more difficult question raised by the controversy was what should one’s position be with regard to BDS itself, and by extension, the political science department’s decision to lend legitimacy to a talk at which its arguments would be presented without opposition or clarification from its opponents. Because of the base threats made by the likes of a Brooklyn-based politicians like the demagogue state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, Assistant Majority Leader Lew Fidler, and the semi-supportive position taken of them by the famously argumentative BC alumnus, Alan Dershowitz, many people felt that the content of the BDS platform and the arguments that Barghouti and Butler were less important than the fact of the threats itself. Feeling a degree of heat that it perhaps did not anticipate when the department jumped into the BDS kitchen, political science chair Paisley Currah, sent out an email to all other department chairs asked them to support its decision by joining it as a cosponsor of the evening. That’s when the real debate amongst us began.

History may not repeat itself, but human behavior sure does. Ironically, given the central role that City University (and indeed, Brooklyn College) played in the debates over Communism and in the middle of the previous century, this debate—for BDS opponents—raised many of the same kinds of issues faced by liberal and democratic socialist opponents of the Communist Party and its allies during the McCarthy period. As Daniel Bell explained of their predicament, “What the Communists could have done was say, ‘Yes, I’m a communist, and I will go to jail for my opinions.’ In effect, justify themselves as people having beliefs. But they didn’t. And they were trying to manipulate the situation by scaring the liberals, by saying, ‘You see? We’re under attack, and then you’ll be under attack!’” And the liberals did not know what to do. Issue after issue arose during this period for which liberals had no ready response, given their confusion about principle versus political palatability, coupled with their understandable refusal to appear to be on the side of people who were arguing deceptively on behalf of a cause they found abhorrent, or the naïve idealists they had snookered into embracing their cause. Bell’s friend and ally Nathan Glazer admitted decades later, “we never managed to figure out a good position. By good I mean not one that was politically defensible but that was respectable and moral and responsive to all the complicated issues raised. And I still don’t think we have one.

full: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/02/07/brooklyn-college-and-the-bds-debate.html

* * * *

NY Observer April 13, 2003
The Avenging Alterman
By George Gurley

Eric Alterman, the liberal author of the new book What Liberal Media?, was standing in the middle of Michael’s restaurant, the liberal-media hangout on West 55th Street in Manhattan. After a warm embrace with lefty novelist E.L. Doctorow, he took a seat.

Mr. Alterman reeked of success. Forty-three years old. Four books under his belt, with bold titles like Who Speaks for America? Media columnist for The Nation magazine. A Web blogger who is paid by MSNBC.com to write whatever the heck is on his mind every morning. Degrees from Cornell, Yale and Stanford. Best man at his wedding? George Stephanopoulos. Divorced now, but living with a cool lady-who hasn’t insisted he marry her!-and their cute kid on the Upper West Side.

He’s the kind of guy whom even close friends call “arrogant,” “intolerable” and “asshole”-but always affectionately and always followed by praise.

He apologized for being late for lunch. A reporter for NPR’s All Things Considered had called to interview him. (By the way, according to Mr. Alterman’s book, NPR ain’t so liberal.) He ordered foie gras, the Kobe beef and a glass of pinot noir. Earlier, he’d said he liked his lunches “expensive.” He has a brainy-little-kid quality, with large fish-like eyes behind glasses and a neatly trimmed goatee. He has a distinctive laugh that begins at raucous and ends in high, whinnying hysteria.

He was wearing a gray blazer, a purple button-down shirt and faded jeans, which was dressy compared to his normal attire. That evening Justin Smith, publisher of the magazine The Week , was throwing him a dinner party, which would be attended by liberal pals like Mark Green, writer Calvin Trillin, The Nation’s Victor Navasky and even three ex-models.

Although his book is positioned as a counterweight of sorts to two best-selling books by right-wingers- Slander by Republican blonde Ann Coulter and Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News by Bernard Goldberg, which Mr. Alterman called “a long white-man’s whine”-not all of his targets are firmly on the right. Also coming in for criticism are New Republic editor in chief Marty Peretz, ABC comedian Bill Maher (“foolish”) and filmmaker Michael Moore (“Naderite”).

“I think what’s really valuable about the book is, it’s become such a given that the press is liberal. He’s poked some holes in that,” New York Times columnist Frank Rich told me. “And he’s done it with a lot of research and reportage. On both sides-the left and the right-there’s a tendency just to blather and use invective. On the right, you have an example like Ann Coulter-that The Times should be blown up because it’s such a left-wing den of iniquity. But the left can go over the top, too, about how right-wing the press is, and be driven too crazy by Fox News Channel, which is, most of all, entertainment. This book is a very reasonable , backed-up-by-argument case by someone who I think is a very sophisticated media critic.”

“I think a great many people were waiting for something like this to be said,” said Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker ’s senior editor and a friend of Mr. Alterman’s for 20 years. “It sure has struck a nerve. He’s moved up in weight class. He’s a light heavyweight at least, which is not bad-that’s what Sugar Ray Robinson was.”

Mr. Alterman told me he was “enormously gratified” by the reception to his book (good review in The Times ), but added that he was also disappointed because the book had “been crowded out by the war,” and thus it had been hard to get “traction.”

“I had a lot of reasons to be anti-war, and the book was a small one,” he said. “Everything was dominated by the war, and still is.”

On The Daily Show on Comedy Central, Mr. Alterman told Jon Stewart that he thought there was more diversity in the Soviet Union under Stalin than on American talk radio today.

“Come on now,” Mr. Stewart said. “Now, I may have a great leaning toward your point of view-but Stalin? Now you’re just throwing crazy stuff out there!”

But Mr. Alterman sees himself as battling a huge tide of “crazy stuff”-first and foremost, anything that comes out of Ann Coulter’s mouth or pen.

“Coulter’s book is evil,” he said.

(Ms. Coulter told me she’d “never read anything” by Mr. Alterman and added, “I hear he’s practically become my newest stalker.”)

Mr. Alterman looked around the restaurant.

“Truthfully, I don’t dispute that just about everybody in this room is pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-gay rights, pro-campaign finance,” he said. “I feel I’m allowed in here. I mean, I’m not exactly at home . There’s no perfect place for me in the media-I’m the most liberal person in it, or one of them.”

Why was it good to be a liberal in 2003?

“There’s two reasons,” he said. “One is, if you’re a liberal about most things, you’re more likely to be right than not. But here’s an interesting reason: The rest of the country agrees with you. It’s basically a liberal country.”

(Another good reason might be that casting directors from The Sopranos know your name: A few weeks ago, Georgianne Walken e-mailed Mr. Alterman and asked if he would audition; The Sopranos was looking for someone to play a TV reporter. “I said, ‘Sure-provided this is not an April Fool’s joke,’” he said. “They faxed me my lines the next morning.” He auditioned for Sopranos creator David Chase-as did New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier and journalist Philip Gourevitch. But the tweedy would-be thespians lost out to a writer from the show, who got the part.)

I told him I saw liberal bias all over the media. For instance, I said, The New York Times actually wants Bush to fail in Iraq.

“I don’t know that,” he said. “I agree that the editorial page is against Bush …. I’m against Bush. I don’t want the war to fail. I want Bush to resign in ignominy-and the war to be a great success.”

What was ever in The Times that could possibly bother a liberal? I challenged.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” he said. “They endorsed George Pataki ! Look at what this man is doing to New York City. I have a daughter in New York City public schools. He’s destroying them!”

After a few more mouthfuls of Kobe beef, I again asserted that The Times under executive editor Howell Raines was a liberal tool.

“Well, why did Howell hate Clinton so much, then?” Mr. Alterman said. “Why did he love Ken Starr and hate Bill Clinton? He liked Ken Starr. You can’t be a liberal and like Ken Starr. He loved Ken Starr. It’s like liking Idi Amin.

“Here’s my question for you conspiracy nuts about The Times, ” Mr. Alterman continued. “Why did Howell Raines ask Frank Rich to stop writing his column? Frank Rich is the most literate, eloquent liberal writer we have. Why would Howell go to the single best writer of all the liberal columnists and say, ‘Stop doing it’?”

Because people were complaining about him?

“Nobody was complaining about him-people loved him. This is New York; this is the Upper West Side! Because there’s no goddamn conspiracy -that’s why!”

Eric Alterman was born in Queens and grew up upper-middle-class in Scarsdale. His mother was a school psychologist, his father a salesman and engineer. Young Eric was a bookish athlete who by age 18 was smoking pot every other day after high school. Bruce Springsteen saved his life, according to a book he wrote in 1999 ( It Ain’t No Sin to Be Glad You’re Alive: The Promise of Bruce Springsteen ). The song “Born to Run,” he wrote, “exploded in my home, in my mind and changed my life.” Once, Mr. Alterman hurled a pair of his hightops onto the stage at a Springsteen show.

He attended Cornell-where he smoked pot once a week-and said he was “all set to be like a New York Jewish literary intellectual.” He did his honors thesis on Jewish intellectuals, including I.F. Stone. The two got to know each other.

“I can’t risk being accused of dropping names of famous people,” he said. “We were very close until he died. I felt enormously lucky for that. We used to go to the movies. I was friends with his wife. He would tell me stories about hanging out with Albert Einstein. He’s sort of my external conscience. I often ask myself, ‘What would Izzy do?’”

Mr. Alterman spent his 20’s between Washington, New Haven and Paris, where he tried to be a writer and attended graduate school at Yale. He did freelance writing for The Nation , Harper’s Magazine , Mother Jones , The New Republic and The Times Magazine , for whom he profiled the late Republican political strategist Lee Atwater.

“I never had any more fun than I had with Lee Atwater,” he said. “He had a genius for the jugular of American politics, and without Lee Atwater there would be no Karl Rove, and without Karl Rove there would be no George W. Bush, and hence we’re all a lot worse off for his influence.”

Mr. Alterman’s first book came out in 1992, when he was pursuing a doctorate in U.S. history at Stanford. It was titled Sound and the Fury: The Making of a Punditocracy . He said he’d expected that his book would make people like George Will “afraid to show their faces in public again, because I had so humiliated and revealed them for the charlatans that they were-but in fact, nothing changed at all. Everything went back to the way it was.”

To promote the book, he appeared on The Today Show and The Tonight Show .

“I was more famous then,” he said. “When I was still in graduate school, I had my 15 minutes. And now I’m not that impressed with myself.”

“I don’t think that he had a sophomore slump after Sound and the Fury ,” said a friend. “But I think he expected to be big and famous after it.”

In 1996, Mr. Alterman became a regular on MSNBC with Ms. Coulter. (“I seem to have made a greater impression on him then he on me,” she told me.)

In July 1997, The Village Voice published an article by Ken Silverstein, in which he called Mr. Alterman’s ascension to the punditocracy “hypocritical,” accusing him of such sins as summering in the Hamptons and fawning over Melanie Griffith in a piece he wrote for Vanity Fair .

“He is incredibly rude and arrogant,” one intern who had worked for Mr. Alterman told The Voice . “He constantly wants to remind you that he’s Eric Alterman, that he knows a lot of important people, and that you’re a lowly intern.”

But he also earned fans. Freelance writer Katie Rosman was an assistant at Elle magazine when she first got to know Mr. Alterman, who was then a contributing editor at the women’s fashion magazine.

“He would call and be relatively demanding about silly little things-messengers for this or car service for that,” she said.

Now they’re close friends.

“I’ll poke fun at him now and say, ‘You were just one of those snotty writers that assistants hate,’” Ms. Rosman said. “And he says, ‘I was just doing it on purpose . I thought I was being funny !’”

“He has shocked me with the things he’s done,” she said. “He’ll call me and his line is, ‘So, do you want to be arm candy tonight?’ I’ll ask him what the event is, and he won’t tell me-I have to decide before. And then he’s taking me to George Soros’ apartment or some New Yorker party, and he introduces me to everybody . So I really admire him for that. He takes me to good parties.”

Currently, Mr. Alterman lives in the tidy Upper West Side apartment he shares with Diana Silver, a research scientist at New York University. They met in high school and worked together at the Bronx Zoo, smoking dope around the corner from the apes. They married other people, divorced them, and had a daughter together in the late 1990’s. Her initials are the same as her father’s; Mr. Alterman calls himself “E.R.A.” and his daughter “E.R.A. 2.”

His place is decorated with the usual “New York semi-single male” stuff-photos of Sinatra, Babe Ruth at bat, Springsteen, arty naked-lady pics, Mets stuff. Hundreds of books arranged by subject. Once a month, Mr. Alterman and Ms. Silver host a salon in his apartment for fellow lefties and “chicks,” he said.

How ambitious is Eric Alterman?

“If my life were about ambition, I wouldn’t have my politics,” he said. “And I would have a reputation for being a lot nicer. I’m just not very political-I make all kinds of enemies that are stupid of me to make.”

One would be fellow Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn.

“We hate each other,” Mr. Alterman said. “I like George Bush and Dick Cheney better than I like Alexander Cockburn. I’m not kidding. They are at least honestly misguided. I just think he’s a disgraceful writer. I don’t think he’s an honest person.”

“He has some sort of obsession with me, which I suppose is flattering,” Mr. Cockburn said. “I’ve never known a fellow to unify so many otherwise mutually antagonistic people in dislike of him. Long ago, I concluded his stuff is worthless-one more bedraggled little plume on the funeral hearse of the Democratic Party. The furthest I’ve gone is to call him a twerp-part brown-noser, part cheeky chappy.

“Eric is difficult,” said Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel. “But behind that difficult, gruff exterior is someone who cares deeply about progressive ideas and democracy in this country.”

“He’s very hard to understand,” said a friend of Mr. Alterman’s who did not wish to be identified. “Because he really is an unbelievable asshole and a really, really great person. He is the worst name-dropper in the world-because he only uses first names. He’ll say, ‘Oh, I had dinner with Paul [Newman] and Joanne last night …. ‘ He is a huge literary starfucker.”

Mr. Alterman was finished with his Kobe beef.

“I’m done,” he said brusquely to a waiter. “I’m done,” he repeated-slightly impatiently, meaning: “Take the plate away.”

He ordered a cappuccino low-fat and bantered with the waitress.

“Another thing I do that liberals don’t do is, I admire the beauty of waitresses,” he said. “That’s a beautiful waitress.”


  1. Alterman? You left out the thirty-eight concerts he’s attended this week,as well as the seventy-four new boxed-set CD collections they’ve sent him because he has a media card. Also the name of the guest writers he gets to do his “Nation” column each week. And his friendship with Grover Norquist.

    Comment by kjs — February 12, 2013 @ 7:09 pm

  2. I think Mr. Proyect is correct and Eric Alterman is another status quo, for liberal war, pro zionist/racist, liberal douche bag.

    He makes some points that don’t possess any sense, such as when he states that, “Anti-Communist intellectuals in the 1950s had a more difficult decision to face than we do because many of them were forced to risk their careers in support of their principles and to do so on behalf of people whom they knew to be liars—and sometimes even spies.” What the hell is he talking about!? Is he saying it was hard to stand up for free speech but be anti communist? Oh it was so hard opposing communists in the 50s. McCarthy made it so difficult to say that I hate the Soviets!

    When Alterman states, “All of us at Brooklyn College supported BDS’s right to free speech. No departments agreed to join political science in co-sponsoring the talk. Never have I been prouder to be a member of any community, academic or otherwise,” I don’t see him making a case for free speech. From this logic no one should sponsor any critical views and no one should attend, BUT, those with views critical views should be allowed to have a room for the day. What’s the point of even having free speech if you are unwilling to hear out those that disagree with your position?

    And to end the piece by saying, “No doubt many if not most of the supporters of BDS are the naïve, idealistic types of people who were attracted to Communism in the thirties, the Black Panthers in the sixtiess, the Nader campaign in 2000 and who knows what will comes next. In certain respects, once upon a time, I was this kind of person myself.” Well this sums him up well. He does seem correct that the media isn’t liberal after all because after years of fine dining, great parties, and a cushy academic job he seems to have come to his sense, abandoned any left feelings he may of had (he ever really had any), and joined the media status quo. Either that, or he shows how inhuman liberalism can be. Wouldn’t be surprised if he’s gung-ho for Obama’s drone strikes.

    Comment by Sargasso — February 12, 2013 @ 7:24 pm

  3. “Eric is difficult,” said Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel. “But behind that difficult, gruff exterior is someone who cares deeply about progressive ideas and democracy in this country.”

    Everything you need to know about The Nation is one short quote.

    Comment by Richard Estes — February 12, 2013 @ 8:09 pm

  4. Regarding vanden Heuvel, another thing that tells all is her unwillingness to publish (after committing) David Noble’s critique of online learning in higher ed, not a chapter in Digital Diploma Mills. See the intro to that book.

    Bob McChesney had a show out my local NPR affiliate (Urbana) for a few years about the media; one more than one occasion, I think, Alterman never failed to make condescending comments about the Palestinians.

    I got curious and checked some of his books out of the local public library. I couldn’t find a bit of non-trivial substance in any of them. During the Bush era, you could get away among liberals with dining out on being anti-Bush, of course. It’s not just that he’s wrong. He’s also boring.

    Comment by David Green — February 12, 2013 @ 8:21 pm

  5. I meant “now a chapter in Digital Diploma Mills”

    Comment by David Green — February 12, 2013 @ 8:21 pm

  6. ‘Mr. Alterman was finished with his Kobe beef.

    “I’m done,” he said brusquely to a waiter. “I’m done,” he repeated-slightly impatiently, meaning: “Take the plate away.”

    He ordered a cappuccino low-fat and bantered with the waitress.

    “Another thing I do that liberals don’t do is, I admire the beauty of waitresses,” he said. “That’s a beautiful waitress.”’


    Now there’s someone I’d really like to punch in the face.

    Speaking of punching someone in the face, Ray Robinson was not a light heavyweight. He campaigned at welterweight and middleweight, and had one fight against the (then) light heavyweight champ, which he lost. The senior editor of the New Yorker can’t get that right?


    Comment by Robert — February 12, 2013 @ 9:49 pm

  7. I had the misfortune of meeting this high brow schmuck circa 2001 (that’d be pre-911) on a Mexican Riviera Cruise that I treated my late father, my mother, my female partner & myself to on my 40th birthday. Basically we crashed “The Nation’s” Annual Cruise Party (I think it was their second one) since I booked it on my own & saved a few grand.

    The first hour on the boat I sauntered up in swimwear with a cold beer in hand to a deck where there was a Jacuzzi and low & behold there was Mr. Alterman with a cocktail along with another fellow & a few young gals that seemed to be his guests. We struck up a Bon Voyage conversation and within a minutes the conversation turned political and then suddenly he red-baited me exclaiming” “What, are you a Communist?”

    Granted I get this this retort often in NY liberal circles so I instantly replied: “Sure — I’m for the ideal of from each according to their ability & to each according to their needs — aren’t you?” to which his jaw literally dropped & the subject quickly changed to the mundane, you know, the beauty of the surroundings & swell accommodations offered by Princess Cruise Lines.

    It was a great trip & turns out my parents, serendipitously, met old comrades (mostly CPers) they hadn’t seen in 20 years.

    I never talked with Alterman again but was thrilled to see him practically booed off the podium when he was giving a lecture about how embarrassed he was defending the welfare system, you know, people getting money without working for it, when cornered by adversaries at various cocktail parties. He complained it was a hard position to defend and didn’t everybody in the audience agree and that’s when all the boos drowned him out to the point he cut his speech short and walked away.

    You see what that young punk schmuck didn’t get until that day is that more than half of “The Nation’s” subscribers (and certainly more than half on that Cruise) were grizzled old retired CPers. That’s right. He was surrounded by Communists and hadn’t a clue of what the “The Nations” real subscriber base was until then. Predominantly Jewish, old and ex-CPer retirees is what his audience was and they booed him right off the stage! He was humiliated and it was splendid but he learned a big lesson as it seemed to me his columns changed in tone slightly thereafter, particularly his anti-communism.

    True enough these were the same CPers that voted for Clinton & Gore and are for gun control, anathema to my own politics and identical to Alterman’s, but nevertheless the red-baiter got booed off his own god-damned stage!

    Bottom line is if you gave an obnoxious & cowardly red-baiting twerp like Alterman an enema you could fit his body in a bread box.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 13, 2013 @ 2:51 am

  8. BTW: If anybody want to hear the conclusions to important political questions drawn by other big shots on that cruise, namely, Hitchens (who I got drunk with) and K. Vanden Hueval, Cockburn, Navasky & others I’ll be glad to share a synopsis.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 13, 2013 @ 3:07 am

  9. I feel that I’ve read this post before, comments included. But then I am going insane. No-one has to tell me that.

    Comment by godoggo — February 13, 2013 @ 7:28 am

  10. See, that’s why I love reading down in the hinterlands of the leftish comments sections – I’ve kind of given up on the post sections, due to over-familiarity, my own boredom, tendentiousness (not necessarily the proprietor here, but the overall leftoblogosphere) – but Karl Friedrich gives the Nation Name the ol’ what-for here, brilliantly.

    Comment by Martin — February 13, 2013 @ 9:35 pm

  11. I neglected to mention the 2 hour conversation my late father & I had with Jonathan Schell out on the Promenade deck one fine afternoon on some steamer chairs we formed in a circle with some cold rounds of beer steadily coming. What a hopeless pacifist. He had all the non-violent spirit of Gandhi and Martin Luther King but not an iota of their courage.

    Later that night I shared a bottle of wine in the library/smoking lounge with A. Cockburn, Katrina V., & Victor N. After a lackluster toast I got their attention and asked what did they think, a decade after the collapse of the Soviets — “is the world a better place without the USSR as a counter-hegemonic force?”

    They all stared at me with a polite mixture of shock & disbelief, whereby Katrina replied: “That’s a very good question” and Cockburn quickly changed the subject with another mundane question to Navasky.

    The next night after a late dinner I stumbled into Christopher Hitchens entering a cocktail lounge for an after dinner libation around 10pm. I introduced myself and we struck up a good political conversation after ordering a round of Scotch on the rocks for him and a Vodka & cranberry for me.

    I mistakenly said in the last comment that this Nation Cruise was pre-911 but turns out it was a mid December 2001 — a couple days before my 40th birthday — so it was about 60 days AFTER 9-11, meaning Hitchens’ worldview would soon change, although it’s debatable how radically that change would be given his putrid position on the bombing of the Serbs (which was ironic given his hatred of Clinton.)

    After some worthy praise I gave him regarding his exposition of the criminal turpitude of a grizzled old douche-bag like Mother Theresa, the subject changed to the Vietnam War where he rightly still held the view that the prosecutors were all degenerate war criminals and the Vietnamese resistance perhaps the most righteous & heroic in all of human history.

    Next I broached the subject of the USSR’s collapse and what did he think of the progressive significance of the Bolshevik Revolution? He squirmed just a little but unlike the other Nation big-shots at least he came right out with an answer: there was none left! I begged to differ citing among other things the first society with atheist education, full employment, free medicine & education, subsidized food & housing, etc. — to no avail.

    Then after our 4th round of the hard stuff I asked him about the Cuban Revolution and his eyes kind of lit up. He reiterated a special undying fondness for that Revolution but with a disturbing caveat. He claimed that unless Fidel allowed UN monitored elections the legitimacy of the Revolution was doomed.

    A fifth round arrived, interrupting us and I said: “What, you mean like the UN monitored elections in Nicaragua that I witnessed in 1989 with a Contra party press backed by the CIA?”

    “Yes.” he said.

    And so the conversation degenerated evermore drunkenly into the Cuban situation and how only the legitimacy of bourgeois inspired UN sanctioned elections would save the Cuban Revolution.

    I told my poor old dad (who was Murdered by Capitalism a few years later — just before the outset of the invasion of Iraq) this story the next morning over breakfast and he kind of looked at me like Lenin’s interview with H.G. Wells as described in Trotsky’s book: “Portraits: Political & Personal” — fingers shrouding eyes muttering “what a Philistine!”

    My old dad rightly predicted: “This guy’s being is determining his consciousness and his drift is wandering far right along with a lot of erstwhile leftists after the collapse of the Soviets & triumphant imperialist reaction.”


    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 14, 2013 @ 2:54 am

  12. A few more details of the conversation with the late Hitch that should be added — we went back & forth from 10 PM until 2 AM when that lounge closed and he said he was tired and needed to go to bed. Of course I was just getting started picking his brain but cordially acquiesced to his wishes and thanked him for a memorable conversation and asked him if he could write down his email address on this cocktail napkin I handed him and asked the waitress for a pen.

    He wrote it down on the napkin which I stuck in my wallet and I immediately emailed him when I got back home lest he forgot who I was.

    He never replied. I tried again a week later and then a month later and he never ever replied.

    Perhaps this is why. Re: His praise of the heroic Vietnamese struggle I reminded him that as a Trotskyist he was admiring an essentially Stalinist regime. His eyes got a bit wide & screwed up for a moment and he uncharacteristically stammered: “Sure, but nobody’s arguing that Stalinists couldn’t fight!”

    I said of course but that means you backed a Stalinist regime, meaning you’d have backed the chant in the 60’s: “Ho, Ho Ho Chi Mihn — The NLF is Gunna Win!”

    “Yes, I suppose so” he said.

    “You can’t suppose,” I said: “You either did or you didn’t?”

    “I did,” he said.

    “Good. So did I as a 10 year old” I replied: “But now how is the onslaught the Cubans have endured different than the Vietnamese except less bombs & bloodshed?” “They were both Soviet backed” I said.

    “True but the Cubans haven’t been Soviet backed for a decade” he said.

    “You mean the class character of the Cuban revolution has changed in the last decade?’ I said.

    “Yes, it’s now a Stalinist State.”

    He then kept insisting that although “if elections were held that very day Fidel would win” but it’s ever increasingly not the case and that without elections soon “in the eyes of the world” it would cease to be a legit regime.

    “So,” I said, “in an apparent abject irony of history when the Stalinist USSR prevailed & supported Cuba materially then Cuba wasn’t a Stalinist state but now that the USSR is gone Cuba has transmogrified into a Stalinist state from which only UN elections can save the progressive significance of that revolution? That sounds like a Catch 22 line out of a Joseph Heller novel doesn’t it?”

    “It is what it is” he said.

    I told him he was drunk and full of shit and he said history would prove me wrong and we left it at that and I must confess that I was a bit worried when I went to bed until my dad reassured me the next morning that he was indeed full of shit.

    Poor old Hitch. I must confess I miss the charming old drunken bastard.

    Ask not for whom the bell tolls for the bell tolls for thee.

    As Omar Khayyam said in his Rubaiyat, drink the wine now — for a little talk with me & thee & then no more of me & thee.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 14, 2013 @ 7:48 am

  13. Great “feets o’ clay” reportage, again KF, but you’ve got to get that “It is what it is” line out for posterity. That was the Official cliche of 2011 – no way the future Laura Ingraham groveler was that far ahead of his time.
    It is what it is.
    It ain’t what it ain’t.
    Really? (the Official cliche of 20120.
    Where’s Todd the Comments Avenger? Damn, son, the world needs you.

    Comment by Martin — February 14, 2013 @ 10:57 am

  14. Karl: Great stuff!

    Comment by David Altman — February 14, 2013 @ 4:56 pm

  15. Martin: He said it, or something much like it, for after all cliches in the popular lexicon are cyclical like the width of neckties, they come back after a decade or two.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 14, 2013 @ 8:17 pm

  16. Karl, appreciate your stories about the cruise. Funny that Cockburn was silent on the question about the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR. Maybe, he didn’t want to embarrass Katrina and Victor.

    Comment by Richard Estes — February 14, 2013 @ 9:15 pm

  17. Yes, Richard, I was very dissapointed I couldn’t get any of them to go there or maybe concede that probably the Panama Invasion & definitely the First Gulf War would have been unthinkable with the Soviets around.

    Indeed it was in fact the First Gulf War, with its US Air Force base planted in Saudia Arabia that was ultimately responsible for 911 — so one could make the case that 911 wouldn’t have happened if the USSR existed at that time.

    Now we have lighted Winston cigarette ad billboards on every other corner in Moscow while prostitutes hang out underneath them and grizzled old WWII veteran amputees sell their war medals to tourists and beg for change with tin cups in Gorky park.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 15, 2013 @ 12:28 am

  18. I’ll add that the thing that really embitters me about the collapse of the Soviets is the lack of any intellectuals I’m aware of adequately dealing with it. Despite all of its considerable ills, the almost total lack of recognition of Bolshevism’s progressive significance smacks of conceding that a B-movie actor like Reagan was the real impetus of its downfall.


    Where was the recognition of Trotsky’s analysis of the dual nature of the Soviet state which he rightly classified as a giant trade union that had managed to seize state power?

    While the world bourgeoisie feigned surprise at the implosion of the USSR under Perestroika why didn’t anybody acknowledge that Trotsky wouldn’t be surprised?

    If the hallmark of science is predictive success why didn’t Trotsky get any sociological credit, particularly since the science of people & society is so much more elusive than the hard sciences, that is, tailless apes with 2 bee bees fighting each other in their head is the most difficult animal to predict.

    I mean every leftist intellectual understands the duality of the trade union bureaucracies in the USA & Europe so what the fuck was so hard about applying that logic to the leadership of the USSR?

    The answer is because the conclusions that Trotsky drew in books like “Terrorism & Communism” and his writings on “Kronstadt” and “Revolution Betrayed” as well as “Their Morals & Ours” were so utterly terrifying to the security (that is, the “being”) of institutional leftists, trade union bureaucrats, & academics with their papers, symposiums & petty journals that their “conscience” couldn’t allow such a cage rattling.

    Fact is virtually every progressive accomplishment of working people, minorities & women achieved in the 20th century would have been almost unthinkable without the Bolshevik Revolution.

    Does anyone really imagine the white male Congress of 1920 (the same people that jailed Debs a few years earlier for a speech) that allowed women the right to vote would have acquiesced to that pressure without the gains of Soviet women?

    And why was Debs also released in 1920 by Harding some 8 years short of his original 10 year sentence? Would that have happened if the White Guard won the Russian Civil War?

    Didn’t the existence of the USSR significantly influence the right to organize unions in the USA in 30’s insofaras 9 out of 10 of the most active organizers were CPers?

    Didn’t the USSR decisively contribute to the Chinese Revolution & the fattening of babies there along with the elimination of foot-binding for women?

    I was at a Dentist’s office lobby circa 1999 and there was this old National Geographic magazine dated from a dozen years earlier featuring great old Chinese railway rides which drifted into this diatribe about how some Chinese locomotive plant most of the workers were lazily reading newspapers instead of working and sure enough there were these full page beautiful pictures of dozens of workers amidst the dank sparks & grease & fumes of this plant with half-tinkered embryos of locomotives sitting on wooden chairs with one calf atop the other knee reading an old broadside newspaper and the author was complaining how inefficient the communists were and I said to myself: fuck you Mr. asswipe punk Nat Geo writer, this plant looks like the goal of a freaking workers’ state.

    That’s right. The irrefraggable fact of capitalist society is the inviobility of the notion that an employee enters the workplace with their objective interest obtaining the most amount of wages for the least amount of toil — whereas the employer has the exact opposite goal, virtually a zero sum game, to extract the most amount of toil for the least amount of wages.

    Nobody of consequence can dispute this axiom which constitutes the elemental basis of all class struggle — the friction of which constitutes the most significant energy motoring history.

    This insight of Marx’s, as brilliant & enduring a trusim as Darwinian evolution, is the basis for the unwavering confidence of Unrepentant Marxists, the strength of which batters down all Chinese Walls, the unifying theme of all social science with legs, that is, fecundity, for it never fails to open new avenues inquiry and new lines of research, which is antithetical to dogma & religion.

    Didn’t the influence of the existence of the USSR inspire radicals sufficiently to organize the Civil Rights movement for Black & Latino people?

    Didn’t communists in the SWP objectively thwart the imperialist war in Vietnam?

    Didn’t communists in the WWP first recognize Gay/Lesbian & transgendered rights as part of the historic transitional demand?

    Weren’t communists of every stripe at the forefront of every freaking progressive movement the 20th century ever witnessed?

    The Eric Alterman’s of the world (and trust me bores of his ilk are a dime a dozen at Manhattan cocktail parties) would learn the hard way if they tried to red-bait somebody like me in an organizing rally in, say, Selma, Alabama or amongst Mexican farmworkers in California because, the fact is, red-baiting has NEVER worked amidst brown people. Think about it. Red-baiting never, ever in all of history gained any traction amongst historically oppressed peoples anywhere.

    That’s a significant observation. Since historically oppressed brown people make up 70% of the planet — that goes a long way towards bolstering the ultimate invincibility of communist ideology.

    Too bad the collapse of the Soviets have set the gains of those movements way back considerably. But from those ashes their dust births new stars, the brightest lately being the Occupy movement, which contrary to cynics, pessimists & doubters must inexorably rise again insofar as the objective conditions of a rotten to the core capitalism cannot even uphold its own contract laws let alone povide adeqaute employment for the toiling multitudes.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 15, 2013 @ 4:33 am

  19. If Eric Alterman is not on the payroll of the Feds, then he is missing out on a check.

    Fucking asshole.

    Comment by Brandy Baker — February 18, 2013 @ 10:27 pm

  20. Brandy raises a great point. Turns out, according to my late father, who was a Vets for Peace member for at least 30 years, he read a NYTimes article that disclosed through the FoI Act research that during the 70’s an Avg. of 50% of the Vets for Peace Members were police agents, even though at 10 years old in 1971 I remember half of them being legit shell shocked old grizzled soldiers from WWI & WWII who were basically pacisfists.

    Thuis there’s at least a 50/50 chance Alterman is on the PayRoll gathering infor (albeit worthless) for Uncle Sam & his Cheezy Minions.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 19, 2013 @ 1:10 am

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