Dick Howard: Turncoat


Posted to www.marxmail.org on June 14, 2006


For those who keep track of the Cruise Missile left, the online magazine Democratiya might be familiar. It involves the same cast of characters that crop up in the Euston Manifesto, the Henry Jackson Society, Dissent Magazine, etc. Most of the contributors to Democratiya are run-of-the-mill ideologues like Marko Attila Hoare and Harry Hatchett of the infamous Harry's Place blog, but I was somewhat surprised to discover that Dick Howard has an article in the latest issue titled " Marxist Misunderstandings: Perry Anderson and French Politics" that finds the NLR editor insufficiently "anti-totalitarian", a complaint ubiquitous to these circles.


Dick Howard, as it turns out, was a Marxist in good standing once upon a time. He, like fellow turncoat Norm Geras, seems to have had some kind of affinity for Rosa Luxemburg based on the evidence of having edited a Monthly Review collection of her political writings in 1971. This, of course, was when he was a young radical and before he had become all comfy and neutered in academia. He is now a Distinguished (ahem) Professor in Philosophy at Stony Brook.


If poor Rosa Luxemburg knew that people like Geras and Dick Howard had earned their credentials in the left-academy through her good name, she'd probably spin so rapidly in her grave that a generator attached to her toe would be able to satisfy the electrical power needs of Baghdad for the next couple of years.


Although I have not had the pleasure to read the Anderson article on some specialist concerns about French history that Howard is so hot and bothered about, it appears that its true function is to allow Howard to use it as a convenient peg to hang a red-baiting attack on:


"I had come to London fresh from the May 1968 'events' (as the French, in the good Marxist tradition, are want to call experiences that don't fit the given historical paradigm). Anderson had just returned from that workers' paradise, Enver Hoxha's Albania. He had been one of the first westerners to gain admission to Albania, the only ally of China's ill-named 'Cultural Revolution', about which New Left Review was wildly enthusiastic. The details of our encounter are not important (I don't remember them, nor, I imagine, does he). What counts is the symbolism: two paradigms, one trying to understand the new, in this case, a mutation of a democratic republic to what I would later come to call a republican democracy, the other seeking to restructure an old paradigm, the dream of a socialist society in which unity would replace division, the individual finding the meaning of life in a social calling."


You know the drill. Just make an amalgam between Noam Chomsky and Pol Pot or Perry Anderson and Enver Hoxha and you demonstrate your bona fides to polite liberal public opinion of the sort Dissent Magazine caters to. (Have you heard that Dissent and Commentary are planning to merge? The new journal will be called Dysentery.)


The hatred for the NLR is almost palpable in these circles, by the way. Just look at turncoat Fred Halliday's fulminations against Tariq Ali in Salmagundi (http://www.skidmore.edu/salmagundi/halliday1.htm) and its enough to make you want to shell out $52 for a subscription. I guess the reason that people like Dick Howard, Fred Halliday and Norm Geras are so bilious about the journal is that it reminds them of their youth. Too bad they can't turn back the clock and relive life as a member of the Labour Party or the Democratic Party rather than be tainted with all that socialism nonsense.


Howard, like Geras and Christopher Hitchens, seems to be just another 'leftist' who made a mad dash to the right after September 11th, 2001. In an article on his web page at Stony Brook titled "After September 11th: Chances for a Left Foreign Policy," he makes the case for forging a united front with the Bush administration framed in terms of Democratic Party centrism, with a truly disgusting abuse of Marxist jargon. It starts as follows:


A leftist (or “progressive”) American intellectual is expected to criticize his government. That seems to be the reason that many Europeans were astonished, for example, to find the name of a Socialist intellectual like Michael Walzer co-existing peacefully with people of rather different convictions on petitions supporting the Bush administration response to September 11th. And when the progressive American speaks foreign tongues, it is expected that he will go on to deplore American isolationism--or unilateralism, or both, as sins of equal evil. He will be expected, in short, to be more European than the Europeans. Hence, let me say at the outset, in French, that “tout comprendre n’est pas tout pardonner.” And let me explain myself by adding, in German, a sort of Feuerbachian Umkehrung of Marx’s famous 11th Thesis: “Die Politiker haben die Welt nur verändern wollen, es kommt aber darauf an, sie zu verstehen.”


Full: http://ws.cc.stonybrook.edu/philosophy/faculty/dhoward/articles/after_911.pdf


The 11th Thesis is best known to us in the English translation: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it." If poor Karl Marx knew that he was being quoted in order to justify a "war on terror" that would lead to hundreds of thousands of dead civilians, torture, kidnapping, suspension of civil liberties, press censorship, he'd probably join Rosa Luxemburg in a spinning context.