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Farewell Norman Pollack, 1933-2017

This past week we lost one of our most tenacious, prolific voices. Norman Pollack, after a long, arduous battle with cancer, passed away on June 11 at his home in Michigan with his wife Nancy by his side. He was 84.

Norman’s legacy stands tall, from his days in the civil rights movement to his tenure at Yale and Michigan State University, he never stopped fighting for social justice. He was not only an author and well-respected scholar, he was also a loving father, husband and a genuine friend of CounterPunch. I will greatly miss our frequent email exchanges that ranged from theater outings with his wife Nancy to his daily battles through multiple rounds of chemotherapy.  I never experienced Norman as a professor, but I imagine he would have been dynamic, yet challenging. He often spoke fondly of his former students, especially those who carried on the torch of an activist life.

While Normam’s politics were complex, they were also clear-cut. He believed in real left-wing populism, writing several books on the topic over the years. He advocated for building opposition from the ground-up, at all costs. Most importantly, he remained steadfast in his belief that the working class has the spirit to engineer a genuine progressive transformation of society. And if this didn’t transpire, he argued, the US would fall into a fascist spiral, indeed he believed we were already on that treacherous course.

Norman was an outspoken, radical Jew who defended the rights of Palestinians and other indigenous peoples. He was a fierce critic of the Bush and Obama administrations, especially extraordinary rendition, drone warfare and US policy in the Middle East, yet he left plenty in his cannon to blast the spectacle of Donald Trump.

Marxists in academia are few and far between these days, and Norman was perhaps the last of his generation. He openly credited his pal Gabriel Kolko as a prime influencer on his political thinking, and like Kolko, Pollack’s writings will continue to impact our political discourse for decades to come. I recall Norman telling me how much he missed Kolko when he died, and I can say the same of Pollack now. He’ll be deeply missed.

I return often to Pollack’s words, especially his condemnation of Israel’s domination of Palestinians. Few have written on the issue with more passion and contempt. Here’s a snippet from an essay he wrote for us in 2015 titled Israel’s Defamation of Judaism: The Rape of the Palestinian People:

“The bombardment of Gaza last summer, a replay of Guernica as a lengthier exercise in domination, artillery replacing the dive bomber, was merely an example of the stored-up hatred and contempt Israelis displayed toward the Palestinians, a twisted mindset crossing the line from punitiveness to outright psychosis as though squashing an ant hill. Israelis do not concede the humanity of their victims, and perhaps do not even see them as victims but mere objects to be pushed around and, as a useful object lesson to them, swept aside, their houses bulldozed, their land taken away, the science of humiliation raised to a fine art.”

May we all stay as vigilant as Norman, who, right up to his final days, while he struggled through hospice care, worked alongside Nancy to finalize his forthcoming book Capitalism, Hegemony and Violence in the Age of Drones, which is currently being prepared for publication.

Farewell, Norman. We’ll do our best to keep the fight alive. Your spirit will forever live on.

For a full list of Norman’s many articles on CounterPunch, please visit his author page.

More articles by:

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank

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