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Gabriel Kolko

Gabriel Kolko (born 1932) is an American revisionist historian and author.

Kolko received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1962. Following graduation he taught at the University of Pennsylvania and at SUNY-Buffalo. He joined the York University History Department in 1970 and is now an emeritus professor of history there.

Kolko's research interests include American political history, the Progressive Era, and foreign policy in the twentieth century.

Kolko was considered a leading historian of the early New Left, joining William Appleman Williams and James Weinstein in advancing the corporate liberalism idea whereby the old Progressive historiography of the "interests" versus the "people" was reinterpreted as a collaboration of interests aiming towards stabilizing competition [Novick, 439]. According to Grob and Billias, "Kolko believed that large-scale units turned to government regulation precisely because of their inefficiency" and that the "Progressive movement - far from being antibusiness - was actually a movement that defined the general welfare in terms of the well-being of business" [Grob and Billias, 38]. Kolko, in particular, broke new ground with his critical history of the Progressive Era. He discovered that free enterprise and competition were vibrant and expanding during the first two decades of the twentieth century; meanwhile, corporations reacted to the free market by turning to government to protect their inherent inefficiency from the discipline of market conditions. This behavior is known as corporatism, but Kolko dubbed it "political capitalism." Kolko's thesis "that businessmen favored government regulation because they feared competition and desired to forge a government-business coalition" is one that is echoed by many observers today [Grob and Billias, 39]. Former Harvard professor Paul H. Weaver uncovered the same inefficient and bureaucratic behavior from corporations during his stint at Ford Motor Corporation (see Weaver's The Suicidal Corporation [1988]).

Gabriel Kolko is also an important contributor to the historiography of the Vietnam War. In The Roots of American Foreign Policy (1969), Kolko contended that the American failure to 'win' the war demonstrated the inapplicability of the US policy of containment. Later, in The Anatomy of a War (1985), Kolko became, along with writers such as George Kahin, a leading writer of the postrevisionist, or synthesis, school, which suggested, among other things, that the revisionist school was wrong in speculating that the United States could have won the war.


[edit] Political Views

While describing himself as a Leftist and anti-capitalist, Kolko is withering in his criticism of the undemocratic, authoritarian strands of Socialism espoused by Stalin and Mao. Kolko writes, in his Politics of War, a memorable passage criticizing the shallow, power-hungry duo of Stalin and Mao:

What Mao called theory, with the intense vanity which made him manipulate the [Chinese Communist] party into passing encomiums to him, was nothing more than tactics, tactics designed to lead a national revolution of a reformist character. What is less important than the superficiality of the thought is its intent - designed to make a coalition and victory politically possible. Mao was a great strategist and tactician in the acquisition of power, but in fact below even Stalin as a thinker. His ideology was derived, intellectually crude, and strictly relegated to this desire and passion to use the dynamics of China in chaos to attain power. He never rose to even Stalin's sterile level of generality and abstraction, or above homilies that took more from Sun Yat-sen than Lenin. He always knew what was right for the moment, and in this regard he was a genius... [Mao]'s obsession with being confirmed as the Great Sage made him dogmatic about a theoretical line so nebulous and pragmatic that it was always successful as a tactical armory.[1]

Kolko is a regular contributor to the political newsletter CounterPunch.

[edit] References

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943-1945, Chapter 10

[edit] Bibliography

[edit] External links

Related topics in the Connexions Subject Index

Alternatives  –  Left History  –  Libraries & Archives  –  Social Change  – 

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