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A Eulogy for Martin J. Sklar, 1935-2014: Historian, Patriot, and Socialist

Livingston does not agree with Sklar’s analysis of the contemporary era. So he descends to name-calling, and accuses him of having “mutilated the intellectual legacy” of William Appleman Williams. This is not the time or place to discuss that legacy, but I would argue that much of what Williams wrote was quite wrong-headed. Take Williams’ now fortunately forgotten book on Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution, in which he moves from a critique of U.S. policy towards Castro -- a legitimate enterprise -- to apologia for Castro’s growing totalitarian measures and continuing lying about the dictator’s real agenda.

Livingston calls Marty Sklar “another reactionary utopian.” Were Marty still with us, I suspect he would use the same words to describe Livingston’s arguments. He, of course, faults Sklar for thinking highly of John Yoo’s books, and faults him for writing to him and engaging in dialogue. But it is Yoo himself who sees the relationship between Sklar’s early work and his present-day views.

Yoo wrote me the following in an e-mail, which he has given me permission to use.:

My basic view is that Sklar's evolution in thinking was not all that different from neo-conservatives such as Daniel Bell (one of my undergraduate professors), Irving Kristol or even Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who began by studying social problems like capitalism, distribution of wealth, etc. They did not think capitalism was perfect, but they saw that government intervention, despite its good intentions, often could make things worse. I think it is perfectly reasonable for Sklar, who studied the alliance of corporations and government during the progressive era, to worry about a similar unholy alliance taking place now. Many neo-conservatives also became worried about the weakness of the Left on foreign policy, and Sklar's evolution view seems no different. (emphasis added)

Yoo understands the continuity of Sklar’s analysis of the progressive era with his dissection of the statism of the Obama administration. The new unholy alliance Yoo refers to is evident in policies like the government handouts to “green” energy companies, the moves to shut down coal production, the auto bailout, and the like. If one reads Sklar’s e-book, they will find concrete discussion of Obama policy in which he spells this out in detail.

Let me end by citing some of the letters Sklar wrote to me only a short time before his passing. On February 20, he argued that his analysis of Obama in his letters had been confirmed by recent events:

Obama’s confirmed use of the IRS to suppress political opposition in general and GOP voters in particular (b) Obama’s FCC recent initiatives to suppress freedom of the press … indeed establish totalitarian control over the media … note that “researchers” sent by the FCC are analogous to the CP and Fascist commissars that dictated “the line” -- ditto the Obama “regulators” sent into the banks and Obama agents ... at various non-financial corporations.”

Sklar was also quite upset about journalist John Judis regularly endorsing his work and analysis, as late as a recent issue of Dissent and in many columns in TNR. He was most concerned with Judis’ writings about Israel, and reminded me that when he founded the socialist newspaper In These Times and wrote its editorials, he informed the staff that the paper would not, unlike the rest of the New Left, assume a stance of opposition to Israel.

Hence Sklar wrote that Judis’ claim that Israel was created against the opposition of its neighbors was foolish, since “so was the U.S., so was Poland, so was Germany, so was England, so was Italy -- indeed, so were just about all nations throughout history. So was Iraq, so was Syria, so was Jordan … Judis’s pretense is better described as ‘ahistorical selection,’ (aka propaganda). Such provincialism, and or ignoring of history. Such bias against Israel. The ‘scandal’ here is not just that Judis takes himself seriously as a ‘historian,’ but that so many ‘members in good standing’ of the intelligentsia … do also.”

Judis wrote, Sklar noted, that Israel always played a “destabilizing” role in the Middle East. Sklar added that this “self-avowed "Marxist" revolutionary is the champion of stability and the foe of  ‘instability’ … he’s pro-stability of reactionary tyrannies; both secular and Islamist … That kind of reactionary stability is ok.”

To Sklar, Israel was alone in the Middle East as nation that stood for “progress, democracy, and modernization and against reactionary states established by … imperialism.” He noted as well that Judis said not one word against the establishment of Arab states where none had existed before, singling out only Israel for condemnation.

The “Marxists,” “Progressives” and “Revolutionaries,” Sklar quipped, “forsake their own avowed basic principles in the face of their own deep-seated anti-Semitism … combined with their ‘Third-Worldism’ allegiances.”

Finally, Marty Sklar was a patriot and a proud American.

Writing to me about my remarks about Pete Seeger, Marty wrote this past February 5 that Seeger was “‘lucky’ to be an American --  anywhere else, his bad would have outweighed the good … it was America that made Seeger more good than bad -- something he’d probably not want to concede, seeing himself as ‘going against the American grain’ -- whereas in historical reality” he was part of it.

Unlike those self-proclaimed leftists, including James Livingston and John B. Judis -- who at various times tell readers to read and study Marty  Sklar’s writings -- Marty Sklar believed in America and its promise. We need more socialists like him.