Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 4, 2016

The Descent of the Left Press: From IF Stone to The Nation

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,journalism — louisproyect @ 4:28 pm

The Descent of the Left Press: From IF Stone to The Nation

Just about fifty years ago when I was becoming politicized around the war in Vietnam, I began searching desperately for information and analysis that could explain why this senseless war was taking place. After taking out a subscription to I.F. Stone’s Weekly that an old friend had recommended, the scales began to fall from my eyes. Isidor Feinstein Stone, who died at the age of 81 in 1989, began publishing his newsweekly in 1953 during the depths of the cold war and witch-hunt. Actually, the cold war had recently become hot in Korea and Stone had the courage to write antiwar articles that conceivably could have landed him in prison.

A year later, I let my subscription to Stone’s weekly lapse since I had joined the Trotskyist movement, whose newspaper The Militant brooked no competition. When you joined a group like the Socialist Workers Party, you felt like you were a chorus member in “West Side Story”:

When you’re a Jet,
You’re a Jet all the way
From your first cigarette
To your last dyin’ day.

You’re never alone,
You’re never disconnected!
You’re home with your own:
When company’s expected,
You’re well protected!

As it happened, I eventually felt so disconnected that I severed my ties in 1978 and began a two or three-year process getting my bearings. Part of that involved looking for leftist analysis that did not bear a sectarian stamp (I.F. Stone had stopped publishing in 1971). That led to a subscription to The Nation magazine that I found essential to my deprogramming. When a new issue arrived in my mailbox, the first page I always turned to contained Alexander Cockburn’s “Beat the Devil”. With the wars in Central America heating up, his blistering attacks on Ronald Reagan were as valuable to me as Stone’s on Vietnam.

As I became more deeply involved with Central America solidarity, it seemed to make sense to contribute to The Nation as a sustainer. Over a two or three-year period, I must have sent in over $500 but found my enthusiasm waning after Bill Clinton became president in 1993. Three years after his election, I cancelled my subscription having grown tired of how The Nation tailed after him, just as they are doing today with his wife and presumptive next president.

As iconic periodicals, the two are the subjects of documentaries I looked at this week. Directed by Fred Peabody, “All Governments Lie” is a tribute to Stone and to the men and women who follow in his footsteps (ostensibly) and that opens tomorrow at the Cinema Village in NY and the Laemmle Music Hall in LA. It is a survey of leftist electronic and print publications with which most CounterPunchreaders are probably familiar, ranging from Democracy Now to TomDispatch. For some reason, the one publication that is arguably more rooted in the I.F. Stone tradition than any other is omitted: CounterPunch.

Hot Type: 150 Years of The Nation was made in 2015 and can now be seen on iTunes for a mere $4.99. Directed by Barbara Kopple, who has come a long way since her first film “Harlan County USA”, has essentially made the kind of film that big corporations commission as a public relations outreach—something like Bill Gates would have paid Ric Burns to make. If your idea of film entertainment is listening to Katrina vanden Heuvel, Eric Alterman, Rachel Maddow and Rick Perlstein telling you how great the magazine is for 93 minutes, it is just what you asked for. I suffered through it because I think that the left has to contend with The Nation baring its fangs on behalf of a Hillary Clinton vote. It helped me to understand how such a reactionary politician can be endorsed by a magazine that has such an exaggerated view of its progressive credentials by seeing its principal personalities preen in front of Kopple’s camera. To call them lacking in self-awareness would be the understatement of the year.

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  1. “Rolling Stone is not exactly a bloodied but unbowed radical voice. It is basically a lifestyle magazine that aspires to be the college freshmen’s Esquire.”

    As you probably know, Jann Wenner and Ralph Gleason deliberately refused to adopt the radical politics of the underground left when they launched Rolling Stone. The subsequent publication of Hunter Thompson’s articles can thus be considered an effort to retain the allure of an underground press publication without the politics.

    “Reaching the bottom of the barrel is Michael Moore, who states that there is a direct line between him and I.F. Stone notwithstanding this millionaire’s deep embedding within the Democratic Party and his most recent slavering over Hillary Clinton in the feckless documentary “Michael Moore in TrumpLand”.”

    Moore really is becoming the Don King of the left.

    “When a new issue arrived in my mailbox, the first page I always turned to contained Alexander Cockburn’s “Beat the Devil”. With the wars in Central America heating up, his blistering attacks on Ronald Reagan were as valuable to me as Stone’s on Vietnam.”

    The relationship between Cockburn and The Nation is worth a documentary all its own, particularly as the relationship soured as a consequence of The Nation’s accommodation with Clinton and the Democratic Party.

    “I suffered through it because I think that the left has to contend with The Nation baring its fangs on behalf of a Hillary Clinton vote.”

    Yes, The Nation will be in the vanguard of defending a President Clinton, especially her probable neoconservative, militaristic foreign policy. Melissa Harris-Perry’s defense of Obama’s drone strikes is a foreshadowing of it.

    But, I.F. Stone. I remember him from my childhood. It is impossible to overstate his journalistic bravery and integrity. Actually, if there is a publication that most closely aligns with his values, it is Shadowproof, launched by Kevin Gosztola and Brian Sonenstein, among others. Gosztola is the closest thing to a contemporary Stone.

    Comment by Richard Estes — November 4, 2016 @ 6:53 pm

  2. Dave Zirin, sports editor for the Nation, is a long-time member of the International Socialist Organization.

    Comment by Lonnie Lopez — November 4, 2016 @ 8:51 pm

  3. I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton wants to start a war with Russia. Her “militarism,” IMHO, is just more of the same crap we’ve been getting from Obama. This is worrying, but what worries me is the neoliberal austerity agenda that she will put forth while Sanders and Warren stand motionless like two wax dummies so the Democrats can say “We listened” as they proceed to ditch the so-called “progressive” DP platform in which Sanders naively purports to set so much store.

    I think Clinton is going to “reform” Social Security the same way her husband reformed welfare.

    The whole thing will be a repeat of the disingenuous maneuvering whereby Obama and Rahm Emanuel lied about their support for single-payer health care while they conspired with the health insurance companies to put in place the current boondoggle that has just let to a 25% upjack in the already predatory rates being charged for all forms of health insurance. Including Medicare and its fucking supplementary plans, which have gone up by comparable amounts.

    At the same time, it should be obvious–and even the usually imbecilic Mike Whitney sees this with astonishing clarity–the Comey maneuvering over the phony email scandal is a clearcut power grab by right-wing political elements of the FBI who I believe quite clearly see what a weakling Donald Trump is and how easy it would be to wrest state power from his tiny, tremblng fingers. (http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/11/04/memo-to-comey-keep-your-damn-hands-off-our-elections/) The Putin-loving Whitney is anything but a Clinton supporter.

    One can only speculate what Faustian bargain Clinton will strike, if elected, to gain decisive support in the military and the national police agencies. It won’t be pretty for anyone on the Left–or for the unemployed miners in Southwest Virginia who are grasping desperately at the Trump straws.

    The weaknesses of The Nation and Rolling Stone alas, only underline the depth of the political crisis into which we may be tumbling–over and above the underlying economic situation.

    A fat lot of good rock music and so-called “progressives” are going to do us if this thing gets rolling the way it looks as if it might.

    Comment by Pete Glosser — November 5, 2016 @ 12:06 am

  4. RS published a ridiculous hagiography of Clinton and the entire history of the DP by Sean Wilentz. In any event, Amy Goodman is worth a mention in this context. She has promoted Moore’s latest work, and probably should not be trusted to cover HRC with much critical fervor, in spite of her coverage of DAPL. Her positive spin on identity politics has become ingrained in her perspective.

    Comment by David Green — November 7, 2016 @ 11:45 pm

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