The political devolution of Alexander Cockburn

rayrena rayrena at
Sat Oct 24 21:19:37 PDT 1998

Louis wrote:

>It's taken me a day to get over the initial shock of reading Alexander
>Cockburn's advice to Cherokee activist/scholar Ward Churchill's who is
>preoccupied with genocide against the North American Indian.[...] And
>Cockburn's >advice? He says that Churchil should "Get over it" because
>gambling casinos have >reinvigorated theAmerican Indian.

It has taken me a while to get over it as well. I read it on the subway, and I spent so long staring at the last line that I missed my stop.

>What in the world could have gotten into this famous radical journalist to
>come up >with such an insensitive and reactionary comment?

I don't know for sure, but here is the (admittedly charitable) interpretation, er, justification, that I came up with: Maybe Cockburn is trying look at the positive and say that Native-Americans should get away from the particulars of that genocide and concentrate on the present and the future, that they should quit worrying and obsessing about the past and put their energies into the "now." This is similar to how I look at the families of murder victims who constantly cry out for "justice" for the death of their loved ones, saying that they can't move on until justice is done: sometimes I want to shake them and say, "Justice" is not going to bring your loved one back; forgiveness and letting them go is the only thing that will make *you* feel better. Maybe Cockburn's point was this: Stop worrying about the past and start using your energies to better your situation in the present. Of course, he gives no contextual support for this; his "Get over it" barb comes out of nowhere and, to my mind, is the projection of a personal beef with Churchill onto a complex issue. Cockburn's comment is inexcusable, but I think it deserves more reflection than the immediate knee-jerk Mr. Proyect gives it.

[snip, some stuff about the failings of superstar leftists, Proyect's commie cred, etc]
> Any fool could
>have explained to Cockburn what the problem was. The American militias were
>primarily composed of xenophobes, who not only hated the federal government
>but blacks, American Indians and immigrants as well. Their goal was to
>return the US to its constitutional roots, a dubious prospect for all those
>disenfranchised peoples that the founding fathers had little use for,
>including the slaves and the indigenous peoples.

True enough, that characterization of the militias. But there was something else at work here, something deeper than just what the militias espoused. This is: What caused them to become xenophobes, immigrant-haters, etc? I believe--and think I can support this, if asked to--that a lot of the militia members' hate came from having lost their jobs. I mean, these were good old boys who grew up believing that if GM hired them then they had a job for life. (It's not just coincidence that one of the biggest militia movements happened in Michigan.) So what happens when they got fired? Well, like any good brain-washed American, they blamed it on those they have been told to blame it on: immigrants, gays, blacks etc. Yes, their hate is reprehensible. But it's nearly as reprehensible to dismiss someone's entire experience because you can't understand all that they have been through, because you can't see beyond the one-dimensional reportage in The Nation.

>Actually, Cockburn's not the journalistic superstar he once was. The Wall
>Street Journal dropped him, and the Nation Magazine cut him back to a
>single page.

I hate being contrarian as much as the next guy, but I think I would almost take it as a source of pride if I got fired by the WSJ.

>For the past year or so he has been writing a weekly column for the NY
>Press, where his attack on Ward Churchill just appeared. A word or two is
>necessary on this newspaper.
[snip, a great and accurate critique of NYPress]
>This milieu has had an effect on Cockburn. He has become great pals with
>the Mugger, even though their politics would seem to be at odds.

And their politics are at odds, a fact that Cockburn reminds his readers nearly every week. You state that Cockburn "lacerates" Gitlin and Miller, but either you dont know or it's not convenient for you to admit that in his column Cockburn lacerates Mugger just as frequently and just as brutally. This is true and this is why I think that NYPress is one of the best reads in the city. Sure, their entire editorial outlook does not march lock-step with Comrade Proyect's beliefs, but at least there is something approaching debate going on in that paper: Cockburn and David Corn vs. Christopher Caldwell and Mugger; a healthy selection of reader mail that dogs on all the paper's writers. It beats the hell out of the Voice, which writes these two-thousand word articles full of phrases like "according to documents obtained by the Voice," all to prove to us that Khallid Muhammad is a racist asshole, or that it was a conspiracy by the mayor to shut down the sex shops, or some self-evident shit like that. Besides, what's this crap about becoming great pals? You can't become friends with someone who does not follow your exact intellectual and moral compass?

>More to the point, Cockburn and the Mugger have a regular tag-team going
>which attacks well-known left/liberal figures, from Todd Gitlin to Mark
>Crispin Miller. The Mugger complains about their "political correctness"
>while Cockburn lacerates them for taking money from liberal foundations.

No he doesnt. Justified or not, Cockburn lacerates them for the quality and relevance of their actions and words.

I am not defending the beliefs of Cockburn; I too think he has slipped. But I can't sit back and let someone analyze him in a one-dimensional, black-and-white way.

Speaking of which, here are some quotes:

>You send me private mail basically warning me that Ward Churchill is some
>kind of agent-provocateur. This is your idea of what the revolutionary
>movement needs more of? You disgusting piece of ------.

>All I can say about you is that you are the sort of person who
>likes to put the snitch-jacket on people. Usually the snitch-jacket is used
>to smear people with alleged FBI connections, but in your case you go for
>the big-time, the CIA. You haven't hear the last of this.

>This nut just wrote me that I was unprincipled and blames it on my
>"Trotskyist roots". That forces me to go public. No fucking idiot has the
>right to mail me this kind of shit and get away with it. Just look me up
>sometime in NYC, "Comrade" Lawrence and I'll let you insult me to my face,
>you punk.)

These, of course, are from our boy Louis. I gotta respond. Let me see the logic here: Someone wrote you a PRIVATE EMAIL and because of that you had to announce it to THE LIST. I'm confused. Why couldn't this remain private? Why did he "force" you to go public? Did he hurt your pride? If so, you would be the only one that would have known...if you had kept it private. What is forcing you to go public? Nothing that I can see, except probably your wounded Male Ego. "You havent heard the last of this"? Jeez, Louis, take it easy. The email seemed pretty harmless and unthreatening to me. If it wasn't, well then let's remember made it public.

This reminds of something. I am borrowing from Orwell here, but what the hell. During the Spanish Civil War, when the Communists had no intellectual or moral ground to stand on they resorted to lies, rumors, innuendo, and even threats against their enemies; all this was in order to convice the people of the Republic of the wisdom of their policies. Lies, innuendo, and threats were their only hope, and they used it brilliantly. Mr. Proyect is like those Communists. The difference here, though, is that he does have some ground to stand on; apparently, though, he would rather result to the easy name-calling and threatening than defend himself intellectually.


ps sorry about the bad writing; this was written after my first sips of alcohol in three weeks.

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list