After Empire essay / Colonialism / Caution in Iraq

geege geege at
Wed Apr 16 22:06:47 PDT 2003

you were pro-war, yesh?

The irony behind the demise of the Partisan Review.
By Sam Tanenhaus
Posted Wednesday, April 16, 2003, at 3:40 PM PT

Depending on your point of view, or Weltanschauung, as Partisan Review
contributors (and readers) used to say, it is either a supreme irony or a
hilarious coincidence that the greatest of all Trotskyist publications
should have announced its demise at the very moment that a belated species
of Trotskyism has at last established itself in the White House.

The connection is not as tenuous as you might think. A number of
commentators-Ian Buruma for one, Michael Lind for another-have recently
observed that the architects of the Iraq war, and several of its most
articulate supporters, seem transfixed by Trotsky's idea of a "permanent
revolution," orchestrated on a very large scale. Yesterday it was decadent
capitalist democracies that looked on the brink of transformation. Today it
is the billion people held captive by "fascist" tyrants in the Middle East.
In both instances the agent of change is an idea-the idea of oppositionism.

The original Partisan Review, founded by William Phillips and Philip Rahv,
was born in 1934 as an outgrowth of the John Reed Club, the arts branch of
the American Communist Party. The pair envisioned an alternative to the New
Masses, the party's monthly showcase, where new talents might flourish. But
the quarterly found its true identity later in the decade, when
disillusionment with the Soviet Union took the form of a fierce critique of
Stalinism in all its guises, political and cultural. To align yourself with
PR was to oppose the defenders of the Moscow trials and to deplore Stalin's
cynical pact with Hitler, which cleared the way for the Nazis to begin World
War II. It was also to oppose the debasement of art into the low propaganda
of proletarian novels (Clara Weatherwax's Marching! Marching!) and agitprop
plays (Clifford Odets' Waiting for Lefty).

It's no surprise that a journal founded on these rarefied principles
attracted only 15,000 subscribers at its peak. Who cared? Every initiate
knew that revolutions are created not by the untutored mob but by the
vanguard, who see with clarity "what is to be done," in Lenin's famous
phrase, and know when the moment is ripe to do it. Bertram D. Wolfe's
history of the Bolshevik Revolution-the best one to come out of the New York
intellectual scene-was titled Three Who Made a Revolution. Three was enough,
as long as they were the right three.

You didn't even need that many people to put out a "little magazine" (the
phrase was a term of honor)-just a typewriter, a mimeograph machine, and a
mailing list. Dwight Macdonald's politics, a pinnacle of journalism in the
1940s, was a one-man operation. So was analysis, Frank Chodorov's four-page
broadsheet, which helped inspire William F. Buckley to create the National

Today's organs of influence are a lot richer but not much bigger and not
much flashier. The combined circulation of Commentary, the New Criterion,
and the Weekly Standard is 100,000, if that. Even the tony New York Review
of Books still has the stripped-down news-sheet look of the old journals.

All but the last is a conservative publication. But for a quarter-century
now, the most cogent oppositionist thinking has come from the right, thanks
to the likes of Irving Kristol and more recently Christopher Hitchens,
one-time Trotskyists who still know a good revolution when they see it.

Last fall, there was a memorial service in Manhattan for William Phillips,
who died in September at age 94. The speakers-Cynthia Ozick, Norman
Podhoretz, Roger Straus (one of the founders of Farrar, Straus, and
Giroux)-were impressive. So was the audience-Susan Sontag, John Patrick
Diggins, Daphne Merkin. Everyone agreed the great days were long gone. The
question was whether they could be revived. Edith Kurzweil, PR's last
editor, has given us the answer. It is no. Some wish she'd waited a little

They miss the point. The announcement is a classic exercise in political
theater, exquisitely timed. The Partisan Review is finished, but its vision
has triumphed. Yesterday's vanguard is today's "coalition of the willing."
The "permanent revolution" moves apace, with Syria its next target. The
oppositionists haven't just won. They are in charge.

-----Original Message-----
From: fork-bounces at [mailto:fork-bounces at]On Behalf Of
Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2003 5:39 PM
To: fork at
Subject: After Empire essay / Colonialism / Caution in Iraq

Lots of good things here.  Author has a great book "Life at the Bottom"
which is a good book to read when you are also reading "Nickled and

After several years in Africa, I concluded that the colonial enterprise
had been fundamentally wrong and mistaken, even when, as was often the
case in its final stages, it was benevolently intended. The good it did
was ephemeral; the harm, lasting. The powerful can change the powerless,
it is true; but not in any way they choose. The unpredictability of
humans is the revenge of the powerless. What emerges politically from
the colonial enterprise is often something worse, or at least more
vicious because better equipped, than what existed before. Good
intentions are certainly no guarantee of good results.

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