Putting the pink in Pinkham

Sophie Pinkham

When we wrote on Tuesday about a recent New York Times piece praising the Soviet Union’s space program for its supposed sensitivity to questions of sexual and racial equality, we frankly didn’t know much of anything about the piece’s author, Sophie Pinkham. So we looked up her archive at The Nation. Wow.

In a 2015 piece, she wrote about commemorations in eastern Ukraine and Moscow of the 70th anniversary of Germany’s 1945 surrender to the Soviet Union. Her point of view on matters Ukrainian and Russian was crystal clear – and downright appalling. Pinkham cited with obvious sympathy a comment made that day by Aleksandr Zakharchenko, then head of the “Donetsk People Republic,” a part of eastern Ukraine that declared its “independence” in 2014 after being “liberated” by Russia: “Seventy years ago, Soviet heroes had defeated the fascists, he declared, and now their children and grandchildren were fighting fascists once again; the generation of victors had raised a generation of heroes.”

Vladimir Putin

Meanwhile, in Moscow, Vladimir Putin “was surrounded by veterans and foreign dignitaries from China, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Zimbabwe, Cuba, and Egypt,” but “[m]ost European leaders skipped the parade to protest Russia’s actions in Ukraine.” Here’s the key part: “For many Russians, it looked as though the once-Allied nations had forgotten that it was the Soviet Union that rescued them from Nazism, at the cost of tens of millions of Soviet lives.”

Again, wow. Pinkham, plainly, is one of those Soviet sympathizers who always love casting the USSR as a “liberator” of Europe and as having played a far more crucial war in the Allied victory than the US or UK. In fact, of course, Stalin and Hitler – or, more specifically, Molotov and Ribbentrop – signed a cynical 1939 pact in which they agreed to carve up Poland, and Stalin didn’t go to war against Germany until the Nazis violated the agreement by invading Soviet territory. Stalin’s subsequent conquest of the countries that became the Warsaw Bloc wasn’t a war of liberation; it was a war of defense that ended up turned subjects of one kind of totalitarianism into subjects of another. Finally, despite the sheer size of the Red Army that admittedly made a huge difference in the victory over Hitler, the best historians of the war agree that if America hadn’t invested so much of its resources in providing massive supplies of materiel to Stalin, the Western Allies would have made it to Berlin before the Soviets, and it would have taken the Soviets a lot longer to push back the Wehrmacht on the Eastern front.

But hey, don’t get Pinkham wrong. She’s no Putin fan. Putin, she complains, “is continuing the process of privatization that began with Yeltsin. Even as the Russian government insists on its symbolic association with the Soviet past, it is moving toward a neoliberal social model antithetical to Communist ideals.” Don’t rush past that one: “Communist ideals”! Pinkham also takes seriously all the Soviet-era rhetoric about “friendship” between Soviet republics (“Stalin died in 1953, but the friendship of the peoples lived on”).

Vladimir Lenin

Likewise, she buys all the bushwah about the dictatorship of the proletariat. In a 2017 piece, Pinkham wrote that after the Bolshevik Revolution, “Lenin was virtually alone in his insistence that power pass into the hands of the workers immediately.” Her whole understanding of the early history of the USSR, indeed, is founded on the rock-solid belief that Lenin was a supremely good guy, devoted to “a utopian philosophy that sought to eradicate human suffering.” How, then, she wonders, could he have taken such an “insouciant attitude toward mass death”? Even after a century during which Communism has been put into practice all over the world, and always with disastrous results, Pinkham has still somehow failed to grasp that it’s not about eradicating human suffering but about eradicating humans.

Later in 2017, Pinkham reviewed Red Famine, Anne Applebaum’s history of Stalin’s deliberately engineered famine in the Ukraine. The book, complains Pinkham, “is distorted…by [Applebaum’s] loathing of communism.” Imagine writing that sentence! Imagine a graduate student at Columbia University (that’s what Pinkham is) complaining in a respectable publication that some book is marred by its author’s “loathing of Nazism.” But needless to say, Pinkham is hardly an exception to the rule in the academic history field. Her number is legion. This is the kind of history that is being taught to college kids nowadays. And it’s a big reason why they react to far-left presidential candidates not with horror but with hosannahs.

More idiocy from Joe Stiglitz

How do you destroy a country’s economy? Well, here are a few ideas. Hike taxes. Overregulate. Ratchet up government spending. Increase welfare entitlements. Make it your goal not to achieve greater prosperity for everyone but to achieve greater income and wealth equality.

Joseph Stiglitz

This, after all, is how the chavistas ran Venezuela, once one of the world’s most prosperous nations, into the ground. And, believe it or not, these are the prescriptions offered by economist Joseph Stiglitz, whom we profiled here at some length in October 2015 and whom we’re revisiting now because of a characteristically wacky article by him that appeared in the Guardian on May 30.

But first, a reminder: this, as we noted four years ago, is a man who has taught at Yale, Oxford, Stanford, Princeton, and Columbia; who served as chief economist at the World Bank; who was a top advisor to the United Nations; who was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine; and who, yes, won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001.

Paul Krugman

How, you may ask, did a man with such cockeyed economic ideas win a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics? Well, remember, Paul Krugman won one too. And Yasir Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize. Not every decision they make in Stockholm or Oslo is a brilliant one.

If you think it’s unfair to compare the economic philosophy of a Nobel laureate with the cockeyed socialist ideas that ruined Venezuela, consider this: Stiglitz is a socialist – an actual member of the Socialist International who, in 2008, headed up a Socialist International commission charged with figuring out a solution to the global financial crisis. He’s an enemy of the nation-state and particularly of American-style democratic capitalism, and would replace the current world order with a socialist global government, complete with a new global currency and a global income tax.

Georg Papandreou

But while we still have nation-states, Stiglitz isn’t above profiting from some of the more poorly run ones in ways that call into question his professional integrity. For example, he weighed in repeatedly in places like Time magazine on the Greek financial crisis, which he blamed entirely on Germany, not on Greece; what he failed to mention was he was a paid advisor to Greek prime minister George Papandreou. In 2014, when New York judge Thomas P. Griesa ordered Argentina to pay its creditors, Stiglitz badmouthed the judge, called the creditors “vultures,” pronounced that “America is throwing a bomb into the global economic system,” and passionately defended Argentinian president Cristina Kirchner; again, he omitted to inform his readers that he had long been on the Kirchner payroll, supposedly serving as an economic advisor, although to many observers it certainly looked as if he was selling his name and reputation to whitewash a kleptocracy.

Cristina Kirchner

Which brings us to Stiglitz’s recent piece for the Guardian. There’s not really anything new in it; what’s remarkable is the timing. Here’s the headline: “Neoliberalism must be pronounced dead and buried. Where next?” And here’s the subhead: “For decades the US and others have pursued a free-market agenda which has failed spectacularly.” An incredible thing to say at a time when the American economy is stronger than it has been in decades and is the world’s most competitive, with record employment and income levels for pretty much every population group and every category of job.

Donald J. Trump

Many people credit President Trump for this extraordinary boom. Not Stiglitz. He not only pretends that the boom isn’t happening; he smears Trump as an avatar of “far-right nationalism,” which to him is even worse than plain old neoliberalism or the “centre-left reformism” of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. In Stiglitz’s view, all three of these approaches should be junked in favor of a “radically different economic agenda” that he calls “progressive capitalism,” under which free markets would be a thing of the past and state-run economies would be the order of the day.

Stiglitz’s picture of what “progressive capitalism” would look like and how it would work is heavy on abstractions and light on specifics. “Governments have a duty to limit and shape markets…. government [should take] a more active role than neoliberalism prescribes.” Yet by the end of the article it’s clear what he‘s calling for. To be sure, he’s careful not to use the word Communism or even socialism, but those are the generally accepted names for what he prefers to call “progressive capitalism.”

Again, how weird to encounter a brief for socialism at a time when the chavistas’ Venezuela is dying and Trump’s America is thriving! But that’s old Joe for you.

Horrible Hamid

Hamid Dabashi

How vile an apologist for tyranny is he? So vile that in February 2017, we spent a full five days on him. We’ve discussed a good many professors of Islam or Arabic or Middle East Studies who have incredibly ugly things to say about Israel and Jews, but even in that crowd Hamid Dabashi stands out. A protégé of Edward Said and a longtime Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Said’s own longtime academic home, Columbia University, Dabashi was named by fourteen Columbia students and recent graduates in a 2004 video as one of the three most anti-Semitic professors they’d had. In a 2005 article, he wrote that Jews possess “a vulgarity of character that is bone-deep” and that “a systemic mendacity…has penetrated the deepest corners of what these people have to call their ‘soul.’”

Afar Nafisi

In 2006, he savaged Azar Nafisi’s widely praised book Reading Lolita in Tehran, about literature classes that she taught secretly to women in post-revolutionary Iran, calling her a postcolonialist tool and likening her to Lynndie England, the U.S. soldier notorious for mistreating inmates at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. In 2007, when the Iranian tyrant Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was asked to speak at Columbia, many observers criticized the university’s president, Lee Bollinger, for issuing the invitation, but what outraged Dabashi was Bollinger’s introduction, in which he called Ahmadinejad “a petty and cruel dictator.” Bollinger, wrote Dabashi, was a “white racist supremacist.” In 2011, he accused ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warraq of having “demonized their own cultures and societies” “to advance their careers” and “justify US carnage.”

Lee Bollinger

You’d think that at some point Dabashi’s job at Columbia would have been in danger. Nope. Complaints have been made over the years, but Dabashi has never even been rebuked, let alone disciplined, by any of the higher-ups at Columbia. Far from being a pariah in the academic community, in 2015 it was reported that Dabashi, after giving a series of talks in Germany in which he smeared Israel and minimized the Holocaust, was now “the darling of German academe.”

And we’re here to report that he’s still at it. On March 30, he took to Twitter to react to the U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel had captured in the 1967 Six Day War and formally annexed in 1981. “What’s the difference between ISIS and ISRAEL?” Dabashi asked in his tweet. The answer: neither has a claim to the Golan Heights. “All of Syria belong to all Syrian people, not an inch it either to ISIS or to ISRAEL.” He also wrote that if ISIS doesn’t enjoy U.S. support, it’s because “ISIS does not have a platoon of clean shaven and well coiffured columnists at the New York Times propagating the cause of the terrorist outfit as the Zionists columnists do on a regular basis.” Unusually for Dabashi, he later deleted the tweets. It’s hard to imagine why, because they were hardly any more offensive than many of his other public statements about Israel.

Oh no, there’s another one

Somebody figured out how much one of Ocasio-Cortez’s outfits cost

We had just about gotten used to the phenomenon of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the proudly socialist Democratic candidate for the U.S. Congress from New York’s 14th District, which covers the east Bronx and some of the cooler parts of northern Queens. What Ocasio-Cortez lacked in actual understanding of the issues and of the basic facts of economics (even though she majored in the subject at Boston University) she made up for with talk-show-ready attractiveness, charisma, stylishness, and charm. When it turned out that her stories of being raised in grinding poverty in the Bronx were nothing but spin – in fact, she grew up in Yorktown Heights, a leafy suburb in Westchester County – nobody cared.

Julia Salazar

Now along comes Julia Salazar, who on September 13 won the Democratic nod for the New York State Senate race in the 18th district, which covers most of northern Brookyn, including parts of the super-hip neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Like Ocasio-Cortez, she’s a Latina who belongs to the Democratic Socialists of America, calls for the disbanding of ICE, and supports the anti-Israeli BDS movement.

Cynthia Nixon

Her primary victory came on a day that was otherwise disappointing for the far left in the Empire State: Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon lost the gubernatorial primary and Zephyr Teachout was a washout in the race for attorney general. In The New Yorker, which doesn’t usually devote a lot of space to state-legislature primaries, Masha Gessen spent a couple of thousand words recording for posterity the thrilling night of Salazar’s win: at her victory party in an East Williamsburg bar, the atmosphere was “incredulously triumphant,” with a young, largely white crowd “celebrating, hooting and clapping, each group to its own beat. They sang a union song, “Solidarity Forever,” one verse of which, sung to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” goes like this:

Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might?
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
For the union makes us strong

Gessen acknowledged that in the weeks before the election, Salazar had “come under scrutiny: she self-identified as a working-class immigrant from Colombia and as a Jew, although she was born in Miami and was known as an evangelical-Christian anti-abortion activist during her time as an undergrad at Columbia University….There was also a bizarre incident involving Keith Hernandez’s ex-wife, an arrest for attempted identity theft (the charges were dropped), and a subsequent lawsuit that added fuel to the tabloid interest in Salazar.”

Masha Gessen

A more critical journalist might have paused to ponder the significance of Salazar’s wholesale misrepresentation of herself. Is she a compulsive liar? Is she a sociopath? Does she have any real core beliefs at all? But Gessen put her own special spin on Salazar’s systematic distortions of the truth: the young candidate’s campaign, wrote Gessen, “discovered something that the American President has known for a long time: communicating with people directly, whether by Twitter or by going door to door, takes precedence over anything that’s reported in the media.”

The real face of socialism

A curious take indeed: unlike Donald Trump, Salazar has not been the target of media bias, the subject of “fake news.” On the contrary, as Gessen’s own article exemplifies, mainstream journalists in the Big Apple are so enamored of her radical politics and her sexy-young-Latina-firecracker image that they’ve mainly been very eager to minimize, find excuses for, or tiptoe around her blatant falsehoods. The truth about Salazar’s primary win is that it represents a triumph of personality and trendy ideology over fundamental honesty and sound political thinking. Above all – and Gessen, who was born in the Soviet Union, should have recognized this and called it out – Salazar’s victory is one more lamentable proof that many young Americans are perilously ignorant of the tragic reality behind the word socialism. 

Don’t confuse Joseph Massad with Mossad. Very different.

Joseph Massad

Columbia University has a lot to answer for, but Joseph Massad, whom we wrote about here last year, has to be near the top of the list. Born in Jordan, he earned his Ph.D. at that New York institution and now holds a tenure-track position there. Nothing has halted his rise, and nothing has brought him down – even though he routinely says staggeringly ugly things about Jews, Israel, and America, and paints pictures of Jewish and Palestinian attitudes, and of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that are utterly unrecognizable to clear-eyed observers of the real world. For him, Jews and Israelis are always bigots and aggressors, America uniquely and almost exclusively imperialist, and Muslims and Arabs are consistently nothing more than innocent victims.

Massad’s most recent book

But that’s only the beginning. Massad is one of those loathsome creatures who claim that it’s the Palestinians, not today’s Jews, who are the descendants of the ancient Hebrews. While erasing from history well-documented acts of Arab violence against Jews, he invents acts of Jewish anti-Muslim brutality. He has routinely equated Israel with Nazi Germany, described America as a primitive and barbaric sinkhole of “violent racism,” and whitewashed Islamic mistreatment of women while depicting the West as Ground Zero for misogyny. Whereas in fact Arab and Muslim leaders were friendly with Hitler and admired the Final Solution, Massad erases this history and invents a new one in which Zionist Jews were allied with the Nazis. Even though he’s gay, moreover, Massad approves of the abuse of gay people by Muslim individuals and governments, defending it on the grounds that homosexuality is a Western social construct and that Islamic authorities have the right to punish it vigorously in order to protect their culture and its values from being polluted by this alien form of immorality.

Jeremy Corbyn

Massad’s latest masterwork is an essay that appeared on the viciously anti-Israeli website The Electronic Intifada on August 24. Entitled “Anti-Semitism vs. Anti-Colonialism,” it was yet another effort on his part to twist facts and torture logic. “Much of the ongoing acrimonious and toxic debate in Britain about allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party,” Massad wrote, “centers on expressions of opposition to Israeli laws, policies, ideologies, actions and declarations.” He might have added that much of it also involves the articulation by Jeremy Corbyn and other Labour politicians of explicitly anti-Semitic sentiments. “When Palestinians resist Israeli colonialism and racism,” Massad goes on to assert, “they are not resisting the ‘Jewish’ character of Israel but its racist and colonial nature.”

Here, as throughout much of his oeuvre, Massad deep-sixes the systematic inculcation of Jew-hatred in Palestinian chilidren and the routine broadcasting by Palestinian media of blood libels, faked footage of non-existent IDF atrocities, etc. No, to believe him, the poisonous and irrational hatred for Jews that can be found among many people in Gaza and on the West Bank, and especially among Palestinian “leaders,” is merely a principled rejection of Zionism on the grounds that it is nothing more or less than a form of Western colonialism.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper

Asked about Massad’s essay, Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center dismissed him as “a denier of reality.” True enough. A writer at the Elder of Zion website also noticed that Massad, in the essay, played fast and loose with a quote from Winston Churchill in an effort to paint him as an anti-Semite. But so what? Massad is so far out there – so shameless a salesman of wholesale historical distortions – that it hardly makes sense to get very worked up at yet another Big Lie from this vile enemy not only of the Jews but of basic decency and truth itself.

Yet more anti-Semitism at Columbia University

Hamid Dabashi

In February of last year we wrote about Hamid Dabashi, a professor at Columbia University who had attained the distinction of being – in the eyes of students – one of the most anti-Israeli professors in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC). He has accused Israel of committing “incremental genocide” of the Palestinians (in reality, the Palestinian population is steading climbing) and equated Gaza with Ausckwitz. He has called Israel a “miasmatic mutation of human soul into a subterranean mixture of vile and violence,” and after a visit to the country he wrote:

Half a century of systematic maiming and murdering of another people has left its deep marks on the faces of these people…the way they talk, walk, the way they greet each other….There is a vulgarity of character that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of its culture. A subsumed militarism, a systemic mendacity with an ingrained violence constitutional to the very fusion of its fabric, has penetrated the deepest corners of what these people have to call their “soul.” No people can perpetrate what these people and their parents and grandparents have perpetrated on Palestinians and remain immune to the cruelty of their own deeds.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali


Just a few highlights from his professional history: in 2011, he condemned ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warraq who have risked their lives to speak out about the lack of human rights in Islam. For Dabashi, however, these people are not heroes but traitors who “have demonized their own cultures and societies…to advance their careers.” In 2012, after Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad gave a lecture at Columbia University, Dabashi savaged university president Lee Bollinger – not for inviting the barbarian to speak at his college, but for including a few critical words in his introduction. (Bollinger’s remarks, wrote Dabashi, oozed “mind-numbing racism.”)

Lee Bollinger

In 2015, Clemens Heni noted that Dabashi, as the result of a speaking tour of German universities, had “become the darling of German academe,” where his readiness to “defame Israel and downplay the crimes of the Holocaust” found a receptive audience. In 2016, after the terrorist attack on the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando drew attention to Islamic gay-hatred, Dabashi was quick to respond – namely, by equating “Islamophobia and homophobia,” by trying to blame the massacre on the U.S. government, and by arguing that other religions are antigay, too. (Of course, there is a slight difference between committing a massacre in a gay club and refusing to bake a same-sex wedding cake.) 

During all this time, and despite all these outrages, Dabashi has kept his job at Columbia. There has not really ever been any question about him keeping his job, not even after he published those comments about Jews that might just as easily have been written by Goebbels. But he has continued to attract notice. On May 31, the Jewish Journal reported that Columbia was “facing pressure to discipline Professor Hamid Dabashi for referring to Zionists as ‘hyenas.” On May 8, Dabashi had written a post on Facebook that included the following statement: “Every dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious happening in the world just wait for a few days and the ugly name ‘Israel’ will pop up in the atrocities.” In the same post, he called critics of President Obama’s Iran deal “Fifth Column Zionists working against the best interest of Americans and for the best interests of Israelis.”

In response to this Facebook post, a group called Alums for Campus Fairness wrote to Bollinger asking him to do four things: “denounce Dabashi’s comments, make it clear that Jewish and pro-Israel students are welcome on campus, discuss how campus climate can be improved and not allow Dabashi to continue teaching at the school until he ceases his ‘anti-Semitic rhetoric.’” The letter was signed by several members of the Columbia faculty and staff, among others. At this writing, Bollinger has yet to respond to the letter. We will follow the story closely. We will not hold our breath, and we will not be betting any money that the despicable Dabashi will be disciplined, let alone fired.   

Top three stooges of 2017

It’s not clear what, if anything will happen to Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding now that its founder, benefactor, and namesake is under arrest in his Saudi homeland for bribery, extortion, and money-laundering, but chances are good that the current director, Jonathan A.C. Brown, will land on his feet. Allah knows there are plenty of other magnificent job opportunities in the Western world for top-flight apologists for radical Islam, and Brown is at the very tip of the top. Since converting to the Religion of Peace in 1997, as we wrote in March, he’s been an ardent apologist for Islamic slavery (which, he’s explained, is “kinder and gentler” than other kinds of slavery, because it’s not “racialized”), a defender of Koranically sanctioned child marriage, and a whitewasher of the sharia-imposed death penalty for gays.

Which brings us to Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, an assistant editor at Foreign Policy who, after Brown came under legitimate attack for his disgusting views, dismissed the criticism as Islamophobia. This, it turned out, was not a one-off: Allen, who’s married to a Muslim, had previously written an article in the Washington Post suggesting that her family was Islamophobic for serving non-halal food on Thanksgiving, and has since painted U.S. government terror probes as acts of bigotry. Yes, as we noted in May, Allen skirted the fact that these probes have uncovered widespread terrorist links, but never mind: in her world, Muslims are always innocent and concern about terror always a front for hate.

Then there’s Jordan-born Columbia University professor Joseph Massad, who consistently paints Israeli Jews as racist oppressors who’ve never felt a benign impulse and Palestinians as innocent victims who’ve never known a bigoted thought. In this regard, of course, he’s barely distinguishable from Brown and any number of other contemporary academics. What singles Massad out is that he’s a gay man who, on the grounds that gay identity is a Western construct, considers campaigners for gay rights in Muslim countries tools of colonialism and takes the side of their oppressors. When Egyptian cops arrested and brutalized 52 gay men in 2011, then, Massad approved, responding to U.S. congressmen who sought to help the victims by serving up this heartless comment: “It is not the same-sex sexual practices that are being repressed by the Egyptian police but rather the sociopolitical identification of these practices with the Western identity of gayness and the publicness that these gay-identified men seek.”

Happy New Year.

Vivian Gornick’s eternal Stalinist nostalgia

Vivian Gornick

We last discussed Vivian Gornick a couple of months ago, when we took note of a piece she’d written for the New York Times romanticizing Stalinism. Gornick’s exercise in nostalgia, we observed, was pretty much a boiled-down version of her repulsive 1978 memoir The Romance of Communism. In her piece, as in her book, she portrayed American Communists as superior souls, driven by convictions that the non-Commie rabble were too ignoble to possess.

When we weighed in on Gornick’s Times essay, we hadn’t yet caught up with another recent item bearing her byline – namely, an article for the Nation entitled “Getting Even.” The subject was Diana Trilling (1905-96), the occasion a new biography of Trilling by Natalie Robins entitled The Untold Journal.

Diana Trilling

Who, you ask, was Diana Trilling? She belonged to a circle of midcentury Manhattan writers who went by various names – sometimes the New York intellectuals, sometimes the Partisan Review crowd, and sometimes (by insiders) The Family. Among her fellow Family members were Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, William Phillips, Dwight Macdonald, Philip Rahv, Delmore Schwartz, and, not least, Trilling’s own husband, Lionel, who was a professor of literature at Columbia University and a highly respected literary critic.

Most of the New York intellectuals were leftists, but none of them were, like Gornick, Stalinists; several of them would have identified, for a time anyway, as Trotskyites, although the Trillings were more moderate in their politics, pretty much personifying the mainstream liberal anti-Communism of the day. Lionel’s most celebrated book, indeed, was a collection of essays entitled The Liberal Imagination.

Lionel Trilling

And Diana? She started out reviewing fiction for The Nation and went on to write social and cultural criticism and to publish three collections of essays, a biography (of a famous murderess), and a memoir. During her marriage to Lionel (who died in 1975), she also, as Gornick puts it, “kept house, organized their increasingly busy social life, and took an active hand in aiding her husband with his work.” That aid was by no means inconsiderable: Lionel was a subtle thinker but not a fluid writer, and Diana, by all accounts, edited him heavily and made him readable.

She called herself a “family feminist.” Any reasonable person would admire her as a model professional woman, one who managed to combine a respected career with a responsible family life. But this doesn’t do it for Gornick. In Gornick’s view, Diana Trilling wasn’t enough of a feminist – or, perhaps more accurately, wasn’t the right kind of feminist.

But even more troubling for Gornick than Diana’s take on feminism was her (and Lionel’s) view of Communism. Now, for any sensible person, the Trillings’ rock-solid anti-Communism is self-evidently admirable, especially given the tendency of many members of the New York crowd to look fondly on the Soviet Union (or, at the very least, to refuse to judge it harshly). Diana’s later distaste for the New Left and all its epiphenomena (hippies, student revolts, sit-ins, campus takeovers, the Black Power movement) also seems sane, mature, and prescient – especially, again, when viewed alongside the desperately puerile efforts by Family members like Norman Mailer to become a part of the youth movement and thus be seen as au courant, hip, with-it.

Joseph Stalin

It’s no surprise that Gornick, an old Stalinist, has a problem with Diana’s politics. Here’s what Gornick has to say on the topic:

Communism in the United States was the great bugaboo of Diana’s life. From the mid-’30s on, she saw it as a threat to American democracy worthy of the highest moral outrage. Making no distinction between communists in the Soviet Union and those in the United States, she described the Communist Party USA as the evil within that operated under a “chain of Communist command” and that was bent on “the entrapment of innocents.”

Whom does Gornick think she is fooling? It has long since been established that the American Communist Party’s every move was indeed directed by the Kremlin. Its members were, in a very real sense, in the service of evil. They were the tools of a monstrous totalitarianism. There was no operative distinction between Communists over here and over there. Diana Trilling understood that more than half a century ago; Vivian Gornick, now in her eighties, is still in some perverse kind of denial about it. Gornick’s indictment of Diana’s politics continues:

The Trillings

She often thought it more important to fight this evil within than to secure and protect civil liberties, and she could truly never understand why this made others see her as a reactionary. To read her today on communism (with either a lowercase or capital “C”) is jaw-dropping, alternately ludicrous and frightening. Not once in all of her red-baiting diatribes does an insight emanate from anything that might resemble an emotional imagination.

What is Gornick criticizing Diana Trilling for here? She’s criticizing her, apparently, for seeing Communism precisely for what it was, for looking at it with unblinkered eyes, for refusing to buy into any of the rose-colored propaganda that filled so many of the intellectual and literary journals of the time, for seeing through the efforts of American Communists to hide behind freedoms they had sworn to destroy. Gornick, whose view of Communism has been befogged by sentiment throughout her adult life, is criticizing Trilling for not sharing her own repellent delusions. Good for Trilling. Shame on Gornick. 

The Communist Party isn’t radical enough for Johnny E. Williams

During the last two days we’ve been looking at sociology professor Johnny EricTrin Williams, who, in June, over two decades after earning his Ph.D., finally did something to attract notice beyond the Hartford, Connecticut, campus of Trinity College, where he teaches: he wrote a couple of tweets in which he basically called for race war.

Johnny Eric Willams

One thing that’s interesting about working on this website is how you keep running into the same people. Googling away for clues to Williams’s past, we found very little – let’s just say he’s not exactly ambitious or prolific – but one thing we did run across was a document that linked Williams to a couple of our old pals on this site, namely world-class race hustler Cornel West, who is currently on the Harvard faculty, and Bob Avakian, head of the Communist Party USA. The document was a statement by an organization calling itself “Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal.”

Mumia Abu-Jamal

Mumia, of course, is a former Black Panther and cop-killer who was sentenced to death in 1982, whereupon bien pensant types around the world rallied to his support, presenting his conviction as a symbol of American injustice and racism and campaigning to have his sentence commuted to life imprisonment. That effort eventually bore fruit in 2001; Mumia is now serving a life sentence in a Pennsylvania prison.

Bob Avakian

But on to the statement by the “Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal,” or EMAJ for short. The statement was critical of a November 15, 2014, event at New York’s Riverside Church, where Avakian and West discussed “Revolution and Religion: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion.” EMAJ, which noted that it had “supported the event beforehand,” was nonetheless unhappy with the discussion because of its “singular focus on one predominating voice, of its disrespect for black radical leadership and all leaders of color, and of its failure to uphold the radical democratic values needed in revolutionary movements.”

Cornel West

In other words, West and Avakian, the latter of whom, at least, is an advocate of violent, murderous totalitarian revolution in the United States, were not radical enough for the members of EMAJ. The EMAJ statement went on to quote an essay by Mumia and Angela Davis, who, as we’ve seen on this site, was an accessory to murder. The essay envisioned “a socialist future” that would involve “the abolition of institutions that advance the dominance of any one group over any other”; in writing their essay, they drew on “Black, indigenous and other traditions.”

Avakian and West at the Riverside event

This, complained the EMAJ, was something that West and Avakian, but mainly Avakian, had failed to do at the Riverside event. In the view of EMAJ, Avakian, who is white, had taken up too much time, which “was disrespectful of Dr. West,” who is black. To EMAJ, this amounted to “an implicit racism” and a sense of “white privilege and white supremacy.” EMAJ condemned “what we witnessed at Riverside: one white revolutionary lecturing for more than two hours while a Black revolutionary sat on the stage. This is not what revolution looks like in the U.S.”

The EMAJ statement was signed by fifteen individuals, most of whose listed affiliations with academic institutions – among them Evergreen State College, Columbia University, and Union and Princeton theological seminaries. Williams was one of them. This, then, is the kind of nonsense in which he has been involved in recent years when he might have been engaged in serious sociological research.

Matthew Hughey

Oh, well. The good news is that on June 26, the president of Trinity College put Williams on a leave of absence for his racist Facebook and Twitter posts. The bad news: the American Association of University Professors criticized Trinity for violating Williams’s “academic freedom” we suspect he’ll be back soon enough. Colleagues, too, rallied around Williams. From Inside HigherEd: “Matthew Hughey, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut and friend of Williams’s, said he ‘was merely the latest target of a campaign by the right-wing white supremacist outrage machine with the goal of silencing academics’ working to eliminate oppression.” (We’ve previously discussed Hughey on this site, by the way.) Our guess: Williams will be back in the classroom soon enough, likely doubling down on his hatred and infecting heaven knows how many students with it.

The Weathermen: from terrorists to professors

We’ve been looking at the Weather Underground, or Weathermen, described by Arthur M. Eckstein in his book Bad Moon Rising as “the most notorious American radical group committed to political violence in the late 1960s and early 1970s.”

14 Oct 1970 --- Washington: Replacing one woman with another, the FBI, October 14, added to its 10 Most Wanted list of fugitives, Bernardine Rae Dohrn, (shown in FBI flier), a self-proclaimed Communist revolutionary who advocates widespread terrorist bombings. In putting her on the list in place of the captured Black militant, Angela Davis, the FBI described Miss Dohrn, 28, as a reputed underground leader of the "Violence-Oriented Weatherman Faction of Students for a Democratic Society". --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

As we’ve noted, J. Edgar Hoover was desperate to bring them down. Yet when President Nixon tried to get him to employ illegal means to gather intelligence on the organization, Hoover resisted. Eventually, however, at White House urging and with Justice Department approval, Hoover’s men bugged the homes and phones of Weathermen friends, relatives, and supporters. Yet all their efforts proved to be unavailing. The Weathermen had gone underground, and the FBI couldn’t find them.

Job Talk
L. Patrick Gray

Hoover died in May 1972 and was replaced by L. Patrick Gray; before the month was over, the Weathermen set off a huge bomb in the Pentagon. (Today, the ease with which they managed to do it seems mind-boggling: “A female member of Weather had simply walked into the vast building along with crowds of civilian employees to scout a suitable location for a bomb, then had returned the next day, again simply walking in. She placed the bomb in a women’s restroom.”) No one was hurt, but the bomb caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage. “Under Gray,” writes Eckstein, “capturing the Weathermen became the main task of the Bureau’s entire Domestic Intelligence Division.” Though hampered by a June 1972 court ruling that effectively forbade most of the Weathermen wiretaps, the war on the Weathermen continued. Yet, in Eckstein’s account, it was a clumsy war, fought against a kind of enemy the FBI had never faced before.

kathie-boudin-fbi-posterIn the end, indeed, the downfall of the Weathermen was the result less of effective field work by the FBI than of “an aspect of traditional Marxist-Leninist political life that had bedeviled the American far Left from its origins: ideological division and disagreement, combined with savage factionalism.” What happened was this: in the mid 1970s, with the radical counterculture rapidly evaporating and the mainstream culture itself becoming more accepting of far-left ideas, Weathermen top dog Bill Ayers and others tried to steer the group away from violent underground revolution and toward open community organizing – toward, that is, the “education” (read: radicalization) of the working class and an emphasis on addressing practical political issues. The goal – Leninist revolution – was the same; only the method was different.

van
Clayton van Lydegraf

But other members of the group, under the leadership of an old Stalinist named Clayton van Lydegraf, revolted, declaring themselves to be the real Weather Underground and returning with new brio to the business of planting bombs. They began by planning a deadly attack on the office of California state senator John Briggs. But they turned out to be as careless as they were violent. Unlike the earlier incarnation of the Weathermen, this one proved to be much easier for the FBI to penetrate. The Bureau even managed to plant an undercover agent in Lydegraf’s home – as a roommate. Before the Weathermen could carry out their bombing of Briggs’s office, then, the FBI managed to arrest its five top leaders – an action that, in one fell swoop, cracked the back of the national Weather Underground.

kathy-boudin
Kathy Boudin today

Some of them went to prison, but not for long. And thanks to the entry of leftist counterculture values into the mainstream of elite American culture (especially the academy), many former Weathermen enjoyed successful post-terrorist careers and, in time, came to be treated as heroic veterans of the legendary Sixties. Bill Ayers became a professor of education at the University of Illinois – Chicago; Bernadine Dohrn is a law professor at Northwestern; Cathy Wilkerson teaches math in Brooklyn; Mark Rudd is a professor of math in New Mexico; and Kathy Boudin who was in that house on West 11th Street when it exploded in 1971 and who was later convicted of felony murder in connection with a 1981 Brink’s truck robbery in Nyack, New York, in which two police officers and a security guard were killed is now an adjunct professor at Columbia University.