Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 21, 2010

Marty Peretz’s emptiness and the corruption of Harvard

Filed under: Academia,zionism — louisproyect @ 2:55 pm

Ordinarily I don’t crosspost from other peoples’ blogs, but this one by Alan Gilbert is sublime:

Harvard has named a professorship for Marty Peretz in Yiddish studies and proposes to honor him at a 50th anniversary of the Social Studies program this coming Saturday. 4 undergraduates have sent a pointed letter below, featuring three racist citations form Marty about Muslims, blacks and Chicanoes. If the tradition of the jews is to stand for internationalism and against bigotry, Marty is not a jew. That there is such a letter is a true and sad comment on Marty’s career, despite the largely purchased honors, and a deep one about Harvard.

I was an undergraduate in Social Studies in 1962, the second year of the program. It could be quite lively. As a senior I wrote a thesis with Barrington Moore on why there was a peasant-based Communist revolution in China but not a working-class based socialist evolution in Germany. Though I often receive information about class reunions (I also have a Ph.D. from Harvard, and the Government Department does not fail to request contributions), I received no notice of the 50th year anniversary. I would have been happy to have heard Robert Paul Wolff, whose work I have known for years. Social studies was then a multidisciplinary, social theoretical program which encouraged students to go their own way. Its leading spirit was Stanley Hoffmann, a lecturer of wonderful eloquence and irony and an exemplar in collegiality (he has also led the West European Studies program). In 2000, Hoffmann wrote a short letter to the New York Times on the Supreme Court selection of George W. Bush as President, saying presciently that darkness had fallen over America. There is little memorable in the Times of that time. But what decent person these 10 years later, here and abroad, would not agree?

I saw Marty around in Social Studies. I was in the first anti-Vietnam War movement, the May 2nd Committee, that had rallies on campus when President Lyndon B. Johnson bombed North Vietnam. I spoke at one, and was later nominated by the group to debate National Security Advisor and former dean, McGeorge Bundy, one of 6 questioners, on a panel at the end of the year. I asked Bundy how he expected to win a war against a successful peasant revolution by fighting to restore the landlords. See poem: Sanders Theater here. Most of the 800 people in the audience cheered. Saying something that is true to the powerful, even if it is attacked ferociously just then, tends to stand up over time. I had run into Marty the evening before. He encouraged me in speaking out – he opposed the war – and wished me well. I have always remembered Marty for that.

I was in Widener library around the same time and ran into John Rubinstein, a European history graduate student and social studies tutor who had a table piled high with books on early 20th century German social thought, mostly in German, some in translation – Sombart, Weber et al. I asked: “John what are you working on?”

“Oh”, he said, a little embarrassed, “death in German social thought. I’m helping Marty with his thesis.”*

“Gosh,” I said, “I thought you were supposed to write your own thesis.” On his blog, Wolff refers to Marty as a “wannabe leftist” below. Among students and junior professors, everyone knew that Marty was not quite real.

Later, Marty married a wealthy woman and purchased the New Republic. He changed it, siding with the Contras in Nicaragua – a CIA-sponsored, murderous attempt to overthrow a decent radicalism. Michael Parenti once compared the 1984 elections in Nicaragua and the United States, with equal funding and air time for 8 political parties, as opposed to the inegalitarian, two party duopoly, the Republican surge of money and in the commercial media, favorable publicity for Reagan. The Sandinistas were the “dictatorship” Reagan needed to fund the Contras to overturn. The Contras were mainly led by adherents to Somoza, the tyrant imposed by the United States to succeed the clerk in an American company brought to power by Woodrow Wilson in an aggression in 1913. If the US is friendly to nonwhite democracies, what would it mean to be inimical?

read full article


  1. when the elites openly honor racists, can we be surprised when many in the middle and lower classes organize themselves around similar doctrines?

    Comment by Richard Estes — September 21, 2010 @ 6:31 pm

  2. Doctrines such as those that won many admirers in the latest Swedish elections.

    Comment by sk — September 21, 2010 @ 11:03 pm

  3. It’s a fine essay. Some quibbles: “If the tradition of the jews is to stand for internationalism and against bigotry, Marty is not a jew.” But that’s not THE tradition of the Jews–like all peoples, the Jews have many traditions. This argument is weak in the way “The 9-11 hijackers weren’t true Muslims” is weak, and it attempts to do away with history by definitions. I’ll take history.

    And Judaism didn’t “start” with “the prophets who spoke up against the king’s oppression. The prophets stood for truth against power. They stood with slaves who freed themselves from Egypt.” It started with Abraham transplanted from “Ur of the Chaldees” (Iraq) to Canaan, and there were lots of kings and tyrants and genocides in that Jewish chronicle, along with the prophetic tradition.

    Incidentally, that wonderful quotation from Amos, which was also a favorite of MLK (“righteousness flows down like waters and justice like an everlasting stream”)has a specifically Canaanite/Palestinian/Israelite force: most streams there, US southwestern arroyos, dry up, and precious few run all the time.

    Comment by Jim Holstun — September 22, 2010 @ 12:32 am

  4. Why are we supposed to be impressed that someone went to or taught at Harvard ? It’s a thoroughly vile institution and always has been. For the most part students who slobber to get into the Ivy League just want to be part of the club… Every state has a highly ranked public university with world class teachers where you will meet a much wider cross section of people, though you might not be tracked for a role in the US ruling class.

    Comment by purple — September 23, 2010 @ 3:01 am

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