A Few Tasteless Words about Irving Howe

By Cockburn, Alexander | The Nation, June 14, 1993 | Go to article overview

A Few Tasteless Words about Irving Howe


Cockburn, Alexander, The Nation


The slush about Irving Howe is ankle-deep. Tributes have run in The New York Times (Michael Weinstein, the salesman of "managed competition"; also Leon Wieseltier), The New Republic, Newsday, The New Yorker and The Nation itself, by Ted Solotaroff ("He leaves the vivid air around him, in Stephen Spender's words, signed with his honor"). This is not to mention a column on Howe in The Washington Post by E.J. Dionne, surely the most overrated political commentator of the late twentieth century, except for Sid Blumenthal, Joe Klein, Michael Kramer, Mark Shields and Charles Krauthammer, who, be it noted, is against intervention in Bosnia.

Howe's prime function, politically speaking, in the last thirty years of his life was that of policing the left on behalf of the powers that be.

A glance at the obits tells the whole story. In the 1960s Howe "was . . . denouncing the violent, authoritarian strains of the New Left" (Weinstein). "About the authoritarian tendencies of the New Left, and the shabbiness of many of its notions, nobody was more withering" (Wieseltier). "Howe rejected the New Left cults of youth and expressive violence in the '60s, the cults of Castro and Ho Chi Minh and Mao" (Dionne). "He vigorously scolded the student Left for its intellectual laziness, authoritarian arrogance and occasional barbarism" (Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune). Get the idea?

In other words, Howe was an assiduous foot soldier in the ideological Cointelpro campaign to discredit vibrant political currents electrifying America and supporting liberation movements in the Third World, the only significant general mobilization of a left in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century. One of Howe's particular contributions was promulgation of the libel on the New Left, or "the Campus Left" as he affected to call it, as enemies of Israel and, ergo, anti-Semites. …

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