Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 9, 2010

Tony Judt: an appreciation

Filed under: antiwar,cruise missile left,middle east,swans — louisproyect @ 1:07 pm

(Swans – August 9, 2010)   Tony Judt, a courageous and principled social democratic intellectual, died on August 6th after a two year struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Despite being almost totally paralyzed in his last few months of life, he continued to write about his illness and political beliefs, which had been growing more and more critical of American capitalism and the Zionism of his youth.

In his next to last essay that appeared in the New York Review, Judt referred to the final stages of his paralysis that would effectively rob him of his ability to communicate with the world — his voice:

I am more conscious of these considerations now than at any time in the past. In the grip of a neurological disorder, I am fast losing control of words even as my relationship with the world has been reduced to them. They still form with impeccable discipline and unreduced range in the silence of my thoughts — the view from inside is as rich as ever — but I can no longer convey them with ease. Vowel sounds and sibilant consonants slide out of my mouth, shapeless and inchoate even to my close collaborator. The vocal muscle, for sixty years my reliable alter ego, is failing.

Now that he is gone it is appropriate to assess the legacy of “the view from inside” that Judt externalized over a lifetime of writing.

Judt came of age intellectually as a Cold War intellectual after the fashion of Albert Camus, a natural outcome of his scholarly concentration on French radical politics. As has often been the case, identification with Albert Camus has gone hand in hand with “humanitarian interventions” of the kind supported by other self-styled Camus disciples such as Paul Berman and Christopher Hitchens. In a New York Review piece on Ronald Steel’s Temptations of a Superpower, Judt made the case for war in the Balkans, comparing the Serbs to pre-WWII fascists:

In the Thirties this was preceded by the effective end of the League of Nations on the occasion of its inability to punish or even inhibit Mussolini from his brutal occupation of Abyssinia; today the death toll of the United Nations has perhaps already been rung in Srebrenica and Zepa, where the UN forces first promised security to thousands of refugees, then betrayed them to the Serb forces.

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art16/lproy63.html


  1. I came across Judt’s recent book about the post-war era, and, out of curiousity, thumbed through the index to see if Fassbinder was mentioned. Indeed, he was, and that was enough to give me an appreciation of his cultural insight.

    Comment by Richard Estes — August 9, 2010 @ 6:30 pm

  2. […] in media sources ranging from mainstream liberal publication  The Nation to the New York Times to this piece by Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist. Judt’s work for the New York Review can be found […]

    Pingback by Tony Judt « Studies in Social & Political Thought — August 10, 2010 @ 2:03 pm

  3. judt also courageously defended n. finkelstein

    Comment by jp — August 10, 2010 @ 8:37 pm

  4. ‘today the death toll of the United Nations has perhaps already been rung in Srebrenica and Zepa, where the UN forces first promised security to thousands of refugees, then betrayed them to the Serb forces.’

    Did Judt believe the US invasion of yugoslavia was a just war? was he just recycling pentagon propaganda? ‘Serbenica’ as holocaust keeps getting repeated…but did he bother to do any investiagtion of the claims aganist he serbs?

    Maybe he should have read Diana Johnstone:

    ‘As for Srebrenica, certainly any execution of prisoners is a war crime and deserves punishment, even if the figure of 8,000 is certainly exaggerated, since it includes men who died in ambush while trying to escape, or even men who actually did escape. But whatever the number of victims, a single massacre of military-age men while sparing women and children cannot in my opinion be correctly described as “genocide” – unless the term “genocide” is redefined to fit the single case of Srebrenica. And this is precisely what was done by the International Criminal Tribunal on former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. In order to convict General Radislav Krstic (who was not even present at the scene) of complicity in “genocide”, the ICTY judges ruled in August 2001 that killing a large number of Muslim men from Srebrenica was “genocide” because of the “patriarchal” nature of their society. Women and children survivors were too insignificant in such a patriarchal society to matter! This preposterous verdict simply confirmed the obvious fact that ICTY is working for those who set it up, choose its judges and pay its expenses: that is, essentially, NATO. It is there to justify the NATO interpretation of the conflicts in former Yugoslavia, by putting the entire burden of blame on the Serbs. Unless an Orwellian future bans free historical inquiry, I am confident that my critical appraisal of ICTY will be justified by history.


    or Parenti:

    Comment by BRIAN — August 11, 2010 @ 10:50 pm

  5. [a courageous and principled social democratic intellectual]

    What? That should read “unprincipled gutlessness” since it doesn’t take much courage or priciples to back the Pentagon’s imperialist disinformation & war machine in the Balkans.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 13, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

  6. Judt was a social democrat, not a revolutionary. Given his political outlook, he stands head and shoulders over his co-thinkers. Also, you have to accept that some people on the left did not grasp the nature of the Balkans war and still do not. The Democratic Socialist Perspective in Australia had a tendency toward Serbophobia during the wars and still does. But they are still an important Marxist organization.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 13, 2010 @ 10:34 pm

  7. I just stumbled upon Judt’s work and while I don’t agree with all of his views, I concur entirely with Louis Proyect’s characterization of him as an honest and principled intellectual whose heart was in the right place. With so many formerly radical intellectuals becoming corrupt philistines of the likes of Christopher Hitchens, it is heartening to see someone like Tony Judt receive some deserved recognition in the mainstream media.

    Comment by Tom Quinn — December 30, 2013 @ 7:25 pm

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