Tags: Cockburn | Flanders | Lenin | left

Alexander Cockburn Celebrated in Brooklyn

By    |   Thursday, 17 October 2013 02:04 PM

The PowerHouse Arena in Brooklyn, N.Y., recently hosted a memorial program to celebrate the writing of Alexander Cockburn, a writer for The Nation who died a year ago. (The name is pronounced "Coburn," so many or all of the Coburns, such as James Coburn and Rep. Tom Coburn, probably have ancestors named Cockburn.)

The program included personal recollections by family members and friends, as well as readings from his last, posthumously published book, "A Colossal Wreck: A Road Trip Through Political Scandal, Corruption and American Culture." The format was different from conventional book presentations, but it served to introduce readers to some writers engaged in the enterprise of agitprop on the left.

Laura Flanders of GRITtv, Cockburn's niece, opened with an enthusiastic welcome, "Are you ready to greet the day with unbridled optimism?" This was a favorite way for Cockburn to start his day.

A cynical viewer might think of other greetings, such as the one in Washington Post job ads: "Another day. Not another day!" Another might be, "Another day of aggravation and provocation!" For the musically inclined, there is, "Rainy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down."

Flanders might remind viewers of a better looking Katherine Hepburn, and she referred to high cheekbones running in the family. She mentioned that Cockburn had worked with Jeffrey St. Clair on the website counterpunch.org and had made a career as a full-time column writer who stood up for underdogs. Together Cockburn and St. Clair wrote "The Politics of Anti-Semitism," a counterattack against critics of their strident opposition to the policies of Israel. (For an alternative view, one might consult the work of University of Pennsylvania's Alan Kors, who has documented the case that anti-Semitism is predominantly a phenomenon of the left.)

Andrew Cockburn, a brother who writes for Harper's, voiced the discontent on the left with President Obama, and he quipped that Obama's support for the rebels in Syria has finally succeeded in bringing the policies of the White House and Al Qaeda into alignment. He also referred sarcastically to "the political excesses of the Clinton era," a view very much out of fashion as Hillary Clinton positions herself for another presidential run in 2016. Andrew Cockburn also complained that politics had become boring and tranquil, duller by the day. (Conservative writers could identify with that sentiment.)

Doug Henwood, a friend of Cockburn who has concentrated on writing for Left Business Observer since the brokerage firm he worked for went under, spoke of Cockburn's contributions to the Village Voice, The Nation and Rock and Roll Confidential. He also recounted that Cockburn feuded for many years with St. Clair and then renounced the feud. (Perhaps there should be a course for participants in movement politics on when and how to conduct feuds and purges and when and how to abandon them.)

He observed that Cockburn would seek refuge from time to time in the works of Lenin and that Lenin had advocated that all the banks be merged. (Lenin would probably have been pleased with the course of banking regulation in the United States.) Henwood quoted Lenin as saying, "We can be as radical as reality itself." Finally, Henwood noted Cockburn's derision of MSNBC as a bourgeois media outlet.

In a similar vein, Connor Kilpatrick, editor of Jacobin, attributed to Cockburn a "joyful hate." He blasted liberals for having been "transformed into stupidity" and denizens of red states as "racist, theocratic, neo-fascist bastards."

He concluded about Cockburn, "He wanted us to win." A conservative might lament that the left has won and recall that Whitaker Chambers mused that when he abandoned communism and joined the cause of freedom, he was probably moving to the losing side.

Flanders returned for a closing comment and called Cockburn a writer who "looked at who would be on the receiving end of the government hatchet and regulation." She described him as acerbic and contrarian, but not cynical.

Perhaps cynics are the last oppressed minority who can be vilified in public forums without eliciting sympathy or outrage — not that cynics would want, or even accept, sympathy.

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The PowerHouse Arena in Brooklyn, N.Y., recently hosted a memorial program to celebrate the writing of Alexander Cockburn, a writer for The Nation who died a year ago.
Thursday, 17 October 2013 02:04 PM
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