FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

In Memoriam, Gabriel Kolko

by

I called Gaby Friday morning (May 16), we chatted about old times, picketing on Boston Common in front of the State House on Friday afternoons, against nuclear testing and the absurd effort to move the state capitol to Framingham in the bedlam of an attack, he on a soap box, we marching around him, FBI informants taking our pictures as we passed, and then, on Saturday mornings, in Harvard Square, picketing in front of Woolworth’s for lunch counter desegregation in the South, this in the period about 1957-61. As we talked, my wife Nancy was playing a Bach prelude and fugue in the living room, and I brought the phone in so Gaby could listen, Gaby who loved Bach (probably as much if not more than he loved Marx and Trotsky) and seemed transfixed, finally blurting out, “Bach was the greatest composer that ever lived.”

That was Gaby, his recordings, his closeness to his wife Joyce, romantically, intellectually, politically inseparable. When Joyce died, Gaby’s world darkened. And he had also a degenerative neurological disorder that was becoming progressively worse that would ultimately attack the brain. This was the Gaby of the last several years, after Joyce’s death pretty much alone in Amsterdam, not what I knew of my friend (proud to consider him that, even through long lapses of our not seeing each other—far too long), a veritable Man Mountain of protest against and criticism of American ruling circles, most especially intervention, war, capitalist expansion, covert operations, crimes against humanity, at one point incisively focused on Vietnam, but even then, always thinking, shared by Joyce, of the global context of US operations and policy. (Although we were impressed by Harvard, not having been the prep school route, and all that it entailed, Gaby had Kissinger’s number from the start, and the fledgling policy wonks anxious to prove their mettle as Strangelovians.)

I honestly have not kept up with all of his writings. He came by his Man Mountain qualities through a prodigious capacity for work and the absence of fear in going where his convictions and the evidence led him, leaving behind a body of writings, unified in development as he peeled away layer after layer of American power, inequality, foreign aggression, and yes, idiocy as well as criminality and mendacity at the top. His first book, Wealth and Power in America, did far more than Michael Harrington’s sudden “discovery” of poverty to reveal the US’s gross maldistribution of wealth, a topic held in suspension for some time since Progressivism and TNEC studies in the New Deal—a real breakthrough integrating bare statistics with radical analysis and interpretation. This was followed by The Triumph of Conservatism, perhaps my favorite, which defined and gave historical flesh and bones to the all-important framework of government-business interpenetration. Monopoly capital was significantly advanced via public policy, government protection not only of the business order, but the giant firms and banks, specifically by the elimination of competition, allowing business self-regulation through government auspices to favor their consolidation, writing their own ground rules in the process. Thus Gaby’s damning indictment of Theodore Roosevelt as a “trust buster,” and instead, by means of the Bureau of Corporations, the staunch friend of the House of Morgan. (TR incidentally could and did combine the consolidated economic base with the Battleship Navy, to strike out as a formidable world power.) Gaby’s discussion of the Federal Reserve System, under Woodrow Wilson, laid out how the USG served to rationalize (in Max Weber’s sense) the banking industry, the stabilization of financial power confirming US capitalism as a structure of concentrated wealth ever desirous of further economic expansion.

Then, of course, the foreign-policy studies, whether instinctively, I do not know, for we never discussed it, but however working his mental processes, Gaby was led from the domestic/internal foundations of American capitalism to its foreign complement—and soon obsession. I’m not sure whether he and Joyce used the phrase “global hegemony,” at least until after 1970, but his understanding of policy-direction was razor sharp, so much so that in The Politics of War, a magnificent volume on World War II, which, unlike practically all other historical works of the conflict, went into the nuts-and-bolts of American Empire as actually evolving through the course of the war itself—and, as planning looked ahead to the postwar period, at the expense of the Allies (as dismembering the British Empire for purposes of achieving American trade and investment opportunities). In a way, Bretton Woods was as important to FDR as Yalta, Gaby placing FDR’s own capitalistic realpolitik into play (and insufficiently followed through by others). This was followed by The Limits of Power, with Joyce, which, among other things, worked through the intricacies of currency-and-trade domination on a world basis.

There is much more, his writings on Vietnam in particular, but let me stop this account with a Kolko specialty: the short, tight analysis covering a huge accumulation of evidence, words if not chiseled in stone then at least the pounding that came from the early days on the soapbox. I have in mind, The Roots of American Foreign Policy, which has for its dedication what I think best reveals Gaby’s own heart and mind:

To the victims
Those who resist,
And to the future!

The scholar and activist, yes, but the man also—his devotion to Joyce, their strength in solidarity with each other, in the face of the usual, instead of being celebrated for his work, spiteful denigration by academics on-the-make; his love of Bach, and baroque music in general (also early music); and as we talked on the phone last Friday, when I told him about the Gilmore Piano Festival in Kalamazoo weeks ago, he said, “Oh, yes, Michigan. Norm, did you ever search for the morel mushrooms, they’re famous in Michigan.” Gaby, the mycophile. We all shall miss you terribly, rest in peace.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
Charles R. Larson
Review: Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail