Monday, 30 July 2012

Alex Cockburn - Death of a Reactionary Radical

Progress Was Back to the Past

Counterpunch - A Mockery of his Communist father Claude Cockburn

Cockburn - His radicalism deserted him

I promised not to write any blogs on my vacation.  Kids and all that plus lack of adequate facilities.  This is a blog without graphics as the Gottenberg youth hostel's computers have only installed the Internet. 
The youthful Cockburn became increasingly attracted to fascism
As Kipling remarked, when all around are losing their heads it's a good idea to keep one's own.  In snatches of the Internet over the past few days I have been astonished that a reactionary and it would appear, corrupt buffoon, has been lauded by much of the Left.
The internet magazine Cockburn founded became a test bed for what has been called the Brown-Red alliance
The paper I am closest too, the Weekly Worker has it would appear abandoned its Marxist analysis (or at least its columnist Jim Creegan has) and comrades like Mick Hall, who authors the excellent Outrage blog, seem to lost their bearings.

There is a whole genre of 'the left' who, having no confidence in the working class, mouth radical slogans.  Gilad Atzmon is one such creature.  Cockburn was another.
Cockburn abandoned socialism for nationalism
I must confess I was stunned by the Jim Creegan's Obituary of Alex Cockburn's 'A Radical for all Seasons'.  He was described as an anti-Zionist no less.  I accept that in American terms Cockburn took up what would be described as radical postures but he did it as a caricature of true progressive and socialist politics.
Cockburn was never a Marxist
Cockburn made common cause with the whole galaxy of Atzmonites and other fake progressives. He was a part of that reactionary gaggle of conspiracy theorists who, not understanding capitalism, reached back into the cesspit of pre-capitalist society.  Instead of looking for the obvious, the control of the resources of this planet by a thin crust of the ruling class, their prostitute regimes and military, he reached for conspiracies as an all embracing answer.  This put him on a par with the neo-fascist survivalists and idiot blogs like Veterans Today.  The fruitcakes and loony tunes of the 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

I have done a quick google search on the Counterpunch site and it lists no less than 304 articles by Gilad Atzmon, no doubt some of them are duplicates.

What is worse is that this garbage site Cockburn set up, Counterpunch, has constantly reprinted the articles of the medieval anti-Semite Israel Shamir who believes that the Blood Libel, whereby Jews murdered non-Jewish children to use their blood to make matzot (unleavened bread) for Passover, is true. Countless Jews died the most horrible deaths, victims of Christian inspired pogroms at Easter because of this. Julius Streicher, editor of Der Sturmer and Gauleiter of Franconia, who was hanged at Nuremburg, revived this blasphemy in his pornographic paper.

This was the extent of Cockburn's radicalism, reaching into the sewers of the most barbaric anti-semitism.  Nor was this the only example.  In the print edition of Counterpunch was an article by Shamir 'Dreyfuss Case Revisited' . 'Was he really a victim of anti-Semitism' Shamir asks about the royalist-military-clerical frame up of the Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfuss. It was precisely the defeat of these reactionaries that led, 40 years later to the resistance to the Nazis and the remarkable survival of 75% of French Jewry in the holocaust.

I also have a personal-political axe to grind. When Mary Rizzo, Atzmon's collaborator (before she found out he was a mysoginist) printed a particular article attacking me  and Jews Against Zionism. Roland Rance and myself replied.  Cockburn not only refused to publish it but he, despite many emails and phone messages, refused to even acknowledge it.

If his father, the redoubtable Claude Cockburn, had seen what and who his son had aided in the cause of 'anti-imperialism' he would have turned in his grave. That Alex Cockburn started off as a radical is not doubted but he died a reactionary racist who believed that conspiracies explained all.

Tony Greenstein


  1. This was far too subjective, and even tasteless.

  2. Pathetic obit. You ought to take up the sax - you might make nicer noise.

  3. "“ruthless criticism” are the words I will always see as his epitaph." Louis Proyect on Alexander Cockburn.

    Much of what Cockburn published in Counterpunch went way beyond "subjective and even tasteless". Your own uncritical obit came close to ceding the moral high ground to some of the most reactionary blogs on the web.

  4. Tony:

    Although somewhat hastily penned, I can’t disagree with you.

    It took a Zionist to point out to me Cockburn's (and Counterpunch’s) association with Atzmon. Quite embarrassing and I stopped reading it [CP] altogether after that admonishment.

    Very sad that quite a few on the ‘Left’ tend to fall for antisemitic tropes as an explanation for Zionism’s rather banal colonialism. Zionism remains at least partly to blame for this sorry state of affairs. Continue to equate Zionism with Judaism and child believe it, unfortunately… Cockburn clearly did.

  5. Mark, when you say my own uncritical obit surely you mean jim creegan's?

  6. "A Mockery of his Communist father Claude Cockburn"

    The same Claude Cockburn, who wrote in the "Daily Worker" on 11th May, 1937:-

    "There is a specially dangerous feature about the situation in Catalonia.
    We know now that the German and Italian agents, who poured into Barcelona ostensibly in order to "prepare" the notorious 'Congress of the Fourth International', had one big task.
    It was this:
    They were - in co-operation with the local Trotskyists - to prepare a situation of disorder and bloodshed, in which it would be possible for the Germans and Italians to declare that they were "unable to exercise naval control on the Catalan coasts effectively" because of "the disorder prevailing in Barcelona", and were, therefore, "unable to do otherwise" than land forces in Barcelona.
    In other words, what was being prepared was a situation in which the Italian and German governments could land troops or marines quite openly on the Catalan coasts, declaring that they were doing so "in order to preserve order".
    That was the aim. Probably that is still the aim. The instrument for all this lay ready to hand for the Germans and Italians in the shape of the Trotskyist organisation known as the POUM.

    More like a chip off the old block, I would have thought.

  7. Yes, I agree with Louis that this was far too subjective, and did not consider the totality of Cockburn's life and work. It was therefore a political attack, not an obit, and attacking the dead IS tasteless.

    On the other hand, the absence of this perspective in all the obits, including that of Louis, is unjustifiably fawning and uncritical. It represents in miniature the drift that swept Cockburn to the right.

    Another point that nobody noted was that Counterpunch often had really no fact checking standards. This is another major break with the principles of the radical left, which includes the idea that understanding the world is essential to changing it. You can't understand much if you don't distinguish between fact and fiction.

    Here is a quote from Cockburn from the Village Voice Days:

    "We all have to go one day, but pray God let it not be over Afghanistan. An unspeakable country filled with unspeakable people, sheepshaggers and smugglers, who have furnished in their leisure hours some of the worst arts and crafts ever to penetrate the occidental world. I yield to none in my sympathy to those prostrate beneath the Russian jackboot, but if ever a country deserved rape it's Afghanistan. Nothing but mountains filled with barbarous ethnics with views as medieval as their muskets, and unspeakably cruel too . . ."

    And here is his obit, praising his American genes, at the white supremacist Vdare:

  8. I noticed this immediately, though personallly I was originally offended by Cockburn's generally kind words for Marine Le Pen.

    Here are the comments of somebody less than impressed by Counterpunch (Tendance Coatesy).

  9. I was addressing Louis Proyect. Sorry, I can see now that that wasn't clear.

    Louis, in an uncritical obituary, said that "ruthless criticism" should be Alexander Cockburn's epitaph. At the same time, he (Louis) seems to think that your criticism of Cockburn was out of order, possibly inappropriate for an obituary.

    I'm surprised that Louis Proyect is so tolerant of Counterpunch. It looks to me like a right curate's egg in the sense that it is good in parts but so rotten in other parts that the good gets spoiled by association.

  10. Feck, I keep forgetting to tick the notification box.

    I've done it now.

  11. I seem to have stirred up a veritable hornet's nest.

    My comments were not an obituary they were an attempt to balance what was a totally uncritical obituary.

    Yes Claude Cockburn was an inveterate Stalinist who subscribed to the lie that Hitler and Trotsky were hand in hand, unlike the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of course.

    There were many good articles on Counterpunch but one has to look at its overall impact.

    I didnæt know about his support for Mme Le Pen, which proves my point entirely.

    His consistent support for Shamir & Atzmon was therefore par for the course.

    I don't accept the concept of 'speaking ill of the dead'. I would hope that when my time comes people will be honest, honestly critical. Let us not be bourgeois hypocrites.

    In searching for Shamir's contributions I was genuinely stunned by an article seeking to justify the clerical-militarist conspiracy against Dreyfuss.

    The attack on Dreyfuss was from those who wanted to reverse the French Revolution - Liberty, Fraternity and Equality. If Cockburn had known anything of Zionism, other than as a catchphrase of abuse, then he would have known that the starting point of Zionism was its REJECTION of the Emancipation and the French Revolution. To the Jew as an individual everything, to the Jew as a nation nothing said Clermont Tonnere. This was poison to Zionism and all the early Zionists, Herzl included, rejected it.

    In fact Herzl never once spoke out about the Dreyfuss Affair which is one reason by Bernard Lazarre broke from him. To print such garbage demonstrates for me absolutely that Cockburn was a reactionary whose opposition to US imperialism consisted of a backward glance at society - "half lamentation, half lampoon; half echo of the past, half menace of the future”, as Marx put it in the Communist Manifesto.

    Some people won't like what I wrote but telling the truth is the purpose of this blog.

  12. Anonymous

    I think it shows how bad Cockburn had allowed Counterpunch to become when someone like Andrew Coates (Tendance Coatesy) can criticise it without having to resort to hasbara smears.

    Here's the same Tendance Coatesy on Ben White:

    BTW, here's Cockburn on Marine le Pen.

  13. I bet you will love it......
    looks like your friend is not such an great musician as you ignorant think.....

    Sunday, July 29, 2012 Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble World Village
    By Critical Jazz

    The bad news being there is yet another Gilad Atzmon record to sit through. The good news being that it seems to only be available on import in the United States so if you have about 25 bucks itching to give you a headache and buyers remorse than check your normal on line sites. As a critic one of the perks of uh..."connections" is the only price I may pay in this case is a supreme waste of time.

    Long story short Atzmon has now marked ten years with The Orient House Ensemble doing a middle eastern riff somewhere between John Coltrane and Ivo Perelman minus of course the genius and supreme talent these two icons bring to the saxophone table. The seventh piece of shiny sonic sedation on disc is The Tide Has Changed (why not subtitle it "Hope And Change"?). Gilad played in a band called the Blockheads and while fitting it is certainly a precursor of things to come here. With his wife Tali opening the set with a new age on acid type of Middle Eastern vocals, things proceed downhill fast.

    Atzmon can wail there is no doubt...A cat does too when you step on it's tail. Of course any Atzmon project would be incomplete without his attempt at clarinet so naturally this effort is no different. More distorted and distortion of sound that makes one long for the relief death will bring and permeates throughout the recording.Listening to this particular release is the reason god gave man the ability and knowledge to ferment grapes. Sadly there is not enough wine in all of Rome to make this release remotely palatable.
    To be fair, I have listened and reviewed 3 or 4 Atzmon releases ( they all run together after a while ) and during that time I have heard 3 or 4 tunes that were tasteful and brimming with talent. Sadly they were also dry politically oriented jabs designed to make one "think." While I appreciate the effort I believe I can handle my political decisions.

    While receiving rave reviews in Britain, this American writer finds the release forgettable as my sister's Thanksgiving dinner...
    Pass...The tunes as well as the musicians are simply not worth mentioning.

  14. Ah but Atzmon isn't my 'great friend' but I have always said that I'm not qualified to judge a style of music which I don't particularly like or know much about.

    If you are saying that Atzmon is now washed up and has little more to contribute musically, I am happy to accept your point of view.

    I do think though that this is a bit tangential to the topic of the thread!


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