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<nettime> Gabriel Kolko RIP (Portside Obit)
Patrice Riemens on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 14:17:55 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Gabriel Kolko RIP (Portside Obit)

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Gabriel Kolko, Left-Leaning Historian of U.S. Policy, Dies at 81

Gabriel Kolko, an influential left-leaning historian who argued that
American domestic and international policies have long been driven more by
the interests of big business than by the interests of the people, died on
May 19 at his home in Amsterdam. He was 81.

He had a progressive neurological disorder and chose euthanasia under
Dutch law, said Pim van den Berg, a longtime friend.

In a series of books on turning points in American history, from the
westward expansion of the railroads in the 19th century to the Cold War,
Vietnam and the war on terrorism, Professor Kolko carved a distinct and
sometimes groundbreaking path. He made the case that alliances between
government and business, rather than between government and the people,
were the essential drivers of regulatory policy, social programs and
foreign affairs ? an idea that came to be called corporate liberalism.

He was regarded as a cage-rattling New Left historian in the 1960s, and he
was active in leftist causes, but over time he provoked thinkers of
various stripes. By his late 30s, he had established himself as
unconventional. The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Herbert Donald
called him ?a lonely figure among radical historians.?

?Rarely appearing at historical conventions, rarely contributing to the
little magazines of the left, Kolko is an impressively productive
scholar,? Mr. Donald wrote in The New York Times Book Review in July 1970
in an overview titled ?Radical Historians on the Move.?

?Though most historians have written of Progressivism as a movement of
middle-class reformers to regulate corporate monopoly,? Mr. Donald
continued, ?Kolko argues that it was business itself that sought federal
regulation, partly to escape Populist legislation by the state
legislatures, chiefly to rationalize its own economic order.?

Professor Kolko had already written two of his most notable works, ?The
Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History,
1900-1916? (1963) and ?The Politics of War: The World and United States
Foreign Policy, 1943-1945? (1968). In them, he argued that much of
American policy at home and abroad was meant to suppress the left and
preserve corporate power and peace.

His books generally did not reach popular audiences. His prose was often
described as wooden. Some critics saw conflict in the high standards to
which he held the United States while seeming more forgiving of other
countries? shortcomings. Some spotted factual errors. Some saw his leftist
bias as distorting. But many acknowledged his rigor and originality of

?This book is simultaneously original and dogmatic, perceptive and blind,
clearly reasoned and clogged by ambiguity and awkward prose,? Gaddis
Smith, the Yale historian of American diplomacy, wrote in a review of ?The
Politics of War? in The Times. ?It is also the most important and
stimulating discussion of American policy during World War II to appear in
more than a decade.?

Professor Kolko wrote many more books, moving through history in the
approximate order in which it unfolded. With his wife, Joyce, he wrote
about the early Cold War in ?The Limits of Power: The World and United
States Foreign Policy, 1945-1954? (1972). In 1985, he wrote ?Anatomy of a
War: The United States, Vietnam and the Modern Historical Experience.?
Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story
Continue reading the main story

In the 1950s, Professor Kolko wrote pamphlets for the leftist Student
League for Industrial Democracy. In the 1960s, he supported the North
Vietnamese, and he testified at the tribunal organized by the philosopher
Bertrand Russell in 1967 to investigate war crimes in Vietnam. He also
criticized his employer, the University of Pennsylvania, for allowing
research on Agent Orange, the toxic chemical used by the United States in
Vietnam ? an act that played a role in his decision to leave the
university in the 1960s.

Gabriel Morris Kolko was born on Aug. 17, 1932, in Paterson, N.J. His
father, Philip, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, was a Yiddish scholar who
struggled to find work in the United States. His mother, Lillian, was a
schoolteacher. When Gabriel was a boy, his family moved to Akron, Ohio,
where he became interested in the city?s active labor movement.

No immediate family members survive. Professor Kolko?s wife of 57 years,
the former Joyce Manning, a historian, died in 2012.

In 1954, Professor Kolko received a bachelor?s degree in economic history
from Kent State University. The next year he received a master?s in
American social history from the University of Wisconsin, where he was
influenced by the revisionist leftist historian William Appleman Williams.
He received his doctorate from Harvard in 1962.

Professor Kolko taught at Penn and the State University of New York at
Buffalo (now the University at Buffalo) before joining the faculty of York
University in Toronto in 1970. He remained an emeritus professor at York
after he moved to Amsterdam in the 1990s.

In recent years, Mr. Kolko wrote for the left-wing journal CounterPunch.
In one of his final posts, during the 2012 presidential campaign, he
sought to dispel what he called ?the New Deal illusion.? Alluding to his
earlier work, he wrote that President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his fellow
Democrats had simply extended or recast many policies of Roosevelt?s
Republican predecessor, Herbert Hoover.

?The New Deal illusion survives because it is a very useful to today?s
Democratic Party,? he said. ?It needs myths, but if one knows the truth
about it then we have the basis for understanding the essentially
conservative nature of today?s Democratic Party.?
Posted by Portside on June 11, 2014

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