Last week we ran a piece about a fawning profile in the New York Times of neoconservative Robert Kagan and his family in which Kagan argued that the U.S. has an imperial role to play in a “world order built around American economic, political, and military power.” The piece mentioned that Kagan’s wife Victoria Nuland is an assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Michael Smith, co-author of the new book, Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA, offered this footnote. A dialogue ensued.–Phil Weiss.
Nuland is the daughter of the recently deceased Dr. Sherwin Nuland, a most wonderful man. He was a surgeon and a medical historian who taught at Yale. He wrote a number of books including the very fine “How We Die.” His humanism came from early childhood, growing up as a first generation Jewish immigrant in the Bronx. His daughter you may remember bragged about United States spending 5 billion dollars to accomplish the violent overthrow of the elected government in Ukraine, and put in place, for the first time since 1945 a number of ministers who are openly Fascists. How ironic that his daughter and son-in-law turned out to be monsters. Only in America.
Weiss: What I sometimes wonder is, Was the socialism of our grandfathers a predictable Jewish response to their conditions, as empire neoliberalism is a predictable Jewish response to ours? I am not putting your socialism in that category, Michael: It is an intellectual and spiritual commitment that would survive any test. But when my grandmother was praising the Rosenbergs, I wonder how much of it was simply tribal; her grandchildren are as materialistic a group as any other Americans.
I think my grandfather’s generation, which lived around the time of the first world war and the greatest antiwar movement of them all, the Russian Revolution, was shaped by and responded to their world. Both Jews and non-Jews alike covered the spectrum from being apolitical, to tribalistic, to socialists.
My grandfather came here as a teenager in 1916. He became a tailor in Chicago. He was the president of an organization called United Chicago Jews of Hungarian descent.
He was not particularly political.
The Jews of Eastern Europe and Russia had varying responses to their oppression. A small minority were Zionists. Others were in the Bund which, as you know, was a socialist organization with tribalistic leanings. Others became revolutionaries whose primary identity was not Jewish but socialist. The most famous Jew to carry forward this tradition was of course Leon Trotsky.
Jews in America were exceptionally successful. I think materialists in your family are an example of that. Kagan Nuland and Kristol are other examples, successes in the political/intellectual world. And successful because they advanced the ideology of American imperialism in a quite a successful manner. So they were embraced.
I would suggest your reading Isaac Deutscher. Particularly his three volume biography of Trotsky which is a good history of the times, as well as his singular essay “The Non-Jewish Jew,” which is available online.
I think it is significant that the Jewish radical tradition has carried forward for the last 100 years. Yes, there are materialistic successes, but there also are Jewish Voice for Peace and folks at Mondoweiss, etc. Young Jews were heavily and disproportionately represented in the generation of 60s radicals and are in the current generation.
When the Rosenbergs were framed up, tried, and convicted and sentenced to death it was very brave for people to come forward and support them given the atmosphere of the times. Good for your grandmother, who identified herself as a Jew with the Rosenbergs who were vilified as Jews. In fact, the perfidy of this government was such that they used a Jew as a prosecutor, judge, and main witness against the Rosenbergs. Your grandmother’s understanding this trickery and still identifying and supporting the Rosenberg’s was extraordinary and commendable.