World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Gabriel Kolko

Article Id: WHEBN0010552652
Reproduction Date:

Title: Gabriel Kolko  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Ngo Dinh Diem, Project for the New American Century, Decentralization, Vietnam War, Business history
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Gabriel Kolko

Gabriel Kolko
Born (1932-08-17)August 17, 1932
Paterson, New Jersey, USA[1]
Died May 19, 2014(2014-05-19) (aged 81)
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Occupation Historian, writer, educator
Language English
Nationality USA
Education PhD, Harvard University (1962)
Period 1955–2014 (writer)
Genre History
Subject Progressive Era, Vietnam War, Corporate liberalism
Literary movement Historical revisionism
Notable works The Triumph of Conservatism, The Limits of Power (co-author w/ Joyce Kolko)
Notable awards Transportation History Prize from Organization of American Historians, 1963; Social Sciences Research Council fellow, 1963–64; Guggenheim fellow, 1966–67; American Council of Learned Societies fellow, 1971–72; Killam fellow, 1974–75, 1982–84; Royal Society of Canada fellow.
Spouse Joyce Manning (m. 1955)

Gabriel Morris Kolko (August 17, 1932 – May 19, 2014) was an American-born Canadian historian and author.[2] His research interests included American capitalism and political history, the Progressive Era, and US foreign policy in the 20th century.[3] One of the best-known revisionist historians to write about the Cold War,[4] he had also been credited as "an incisive critic of the Progressive Era and its relationship to the American empire."[5][6] U.S. historian Paul Buhle summarized Kolko's career when he described him as "a major theorist of what came to be called Corporate Liberalism … [and] a very major historian of the Vietnam War and its assorted war crimes."[7]

Background and education

Kolko was of Jewish heritage,[8] and was born in Paterson, New Jersey, son of Philip (a teacher) and Lillian (a teacher; maiden name, Zadikow) Kolko.[9] He married Joyce Manning (a writer) on June 11, 1955.[9] Kolko attended Kent State University where he studied American economic history (BA 1954). Next he attended the University of Wisconsin where he studied American social history (MS 1955). Later, he received his PhD from Harvard University in 1962.[10]

During these years, Kolko found himself active in the Student League for Industrial Democracy (SLID). By the time his first pamphlet, Distribution of Income in the United States, was published by SLID in 1955, Kolko had already completed a stint serving as the league's national vice chairman.[11] Following his graduation from Harvard, he taught at the University of Pennsylvania and at SUNY-Buffalo. In 1970, he joined the history department of York University in Toronto, remaining an emeritus professor of history there until his death in 2014.[12]


According to internet activist Eric Garris, Kolko first established his reputation as a historian writing about the "close connection between the government and big business throughout the Progressive Era and the Cold War […] but broke new ground with his analysis of the corporate elite's successful defeat of the free market by corporatism."[13] Early in his career, beginning with his books The Triumph of Conservatism and Railroads and Regulation, Kolko used a revisionist approach as a way of analyzing history.[9] Soon he was considered a leading historian of the New Left,[14] joining William Appleman Williams and James Weinstein in advancing the so-called "corporate liberalism" thesis in American historiography.

This was a thesis that disputed the "widely held view that government regulates business, arguing that instead, business steers government."[9] and Kolko used it to analyze how America's social, economic, and political life was shaped beginning with the Progressive Era (1900-1920). But for Kolko, a social policy of "corporate liberalism" (or what Kolko preferred to call "political capitalism") shaped the mainstream agenda of all that was to follow afterwards in American society, from The New Deal (1930s) through to the post-World War II era of the Cold War (1947-1962), and onwards. Kolko's argument that public policy was shaped by "corporate control of the liberal agenda" (rather than the liberal control of the corporate agenda), revised the old Progressive Era historiography of the "interests" versus the "people," which was now to be reinterpreted as a collaboration of "interests" and "people." So too, with this revised version of recent American history, came the tacit recognition that this fulfilled the business community's unspoken, but deliberate, aim of stabilizing competition in the "free market."[15]

This was an idea summarized by journalist and internet columnist Charles Burris when he argued that:
Rather than “the people” being behind these “progressive reforms,” it was the very elite business interests themselves responsible, in an attempt to cartelize, centralize and control what was impossible due to the dynamics of a competitive and decentralized economy.[16]
In retrospect, Kolko summarized this phase of his career when he wrote that:
"As I have argued elsewhere, American “progressivism” was a part of a big business effort to attain protection from the unpredictability of too much competition, [See my book The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916, New York, 1962].[17]

Kolko argued that big business turned to the government for support because of its inefficiency and inability to prevent the economy veering between boom and bust, which aroused fears that the concomitant discontent amongst the general public would lead to the imposition of popular constraints upon business. Its embrace of government led to their intertwinement, with business becoming the dominant strand.[18]

Historian of the "Progressive Era"

Kolko, in particular, broke new ground with his critical history of the [18] Former Harvard professor Paul H. Weaver uncovered the same inefficient and bureaucratic behavior from corporations during his stint at Ford Motor Corporation.[21] Free market economist Murray Rothbard thought highly of Kolko's work on the history of relations between big business and government.[22] As one profile, published in The American Conservative, put it:

Historian of US foreign relations and the Vietnam War

Having published on the US domestic scene, Kolko next turned to matters international, beginning in 1968 with The Politics of War, "the most thorough and extensive of the 'revisionist' views of American foreign policy during World War II."[23] Next up was The Roots of American Foreign Policy (1969), a book that, according to Richard H. Immerman, "became must reading for a generation of diplomatic historians."[24] In this work, Kolko contended that the American failure to win the Vietnam War demonstrated the inapplicability of the US policy of containment. The Limits of Power (1972), co-authored with his wife, Joyce, looked at US foreign policy in the crucial postwar years, when American power was at its peak, one without historical precedent.[25] Limits is described by The Cambridge History of the Cold War (2010), as "[a]mong the most important analyses of US policy and the origins of the Cold War".[26] "Even among more traditionally-minded scholars," noted one unsympathetic historian, "the Kolkos have been credited with considerable insight and praised for the breadth of their research."[27] Arch-traditionalist John Lewis Gaddis, for example, conceded that The Limits of Power was "an important book."[28]

Kolko next moved on to his country's war in Vietnam, a conflagration with which he and Joyce were deeply preoccupied at home and abroad; the couple were in [29] Regarding his nation's war in Vietnam, Kolko wrote that "[t]he United States in Vietnam unleashed the greatest flood of firepower against a nation known to history".[30] One sympathetic reviewer notes that Kolko's work on Vietnam has been relegated to the margins of the Vietnam War literature.[31] Vietnam: Anatomy of a Peace (1997) cast a look back at developments in Vietnam in the wake of the war, and how the Vietnamese communists ran the country. Kolko's assessment of their efforts was rather less than positive.

Kolko was not, of course, without his critics,[32] with Gaddis Smith once describing him, along with Williams, as at "the forefront of revisionist scholars" and yet "essentially pamphleteers".[33] Others said his leftist political sympathies had a "distorting" effect on his work.[34]

Political views

Kolko was a self-declared Leftist and an anti-capitalist.[35][36] Nonetheless, Kolko's revisionist historical accounts gained favor with several libertarian capitalists from the United States, often to the chagrin of Kolko who, at least as early as 1973, actively tried to distance himself from connections to that particular strain of libertarian thinking as it developed in the U.S.[6][37]

Regarding socialism, Kolko wrote in After Socialism (2006) that, both as theory and as movement, it is "essentially dead"; that its analysis and practice have both been failures; and that it "simply inherited most of the nineteenth century's myopia, adding to the illusions of social thought". He maintained, however, that capitalism is neither a rational nor a stable basis for a peaceful society: "Given its practice and consequences, opposition to what is loosely termed capitalism—the status quo in all its dimensions—is far more justified today than ever. Precisely because of this, a more durable and effective alternative to capitalism is even more essential."[38]

Kolko was described as one of those historians who "wriggle out from the tortuous corridors of history the reasons why humanity behaves in certain ways, usually unwisely."[1] As sociologist David S. Painter similarly wrote that, "while very critical of Marxist and Communist movements and regimes, Kolko also counts among the human, social, and economic costs of capitalism the 'repeated propensity' of capitalist states to go to war."[40] Kolko was a strong supporter of North Vietnam,[41][42] though he was opposed to Lenin and Stalin, and was scathingly dismissive of Mao Zedong and his thinking.[43]

His Jewish heritage did not prevent Kolko from being harshly critical of Zionism and Israel. Kolko regarded the result of the creation of Israel as "abysmal". According to Kolko, Zionism produced "a Sparta that traumatized an already artificially divided region", "a small state with a military ethos that pervades all aspects of [it]s culture, its politics and, above all, its response to the existence of Arabs in its midst and at its borders". Overall, his conclusion was that there is "simply no rational reason" that justifies Israel's creation.[8]

"The US has never been able to translate its superior arms into political success, and that decisive failure is inherent in everything it attempts", remarked Kolko in the context of the Mission Accomplished speech. He predicted that Iraq's "regionalism and internecine ethnic strife will produce years of instability."[44] Similarly for Afghanistan: "As in Vietnam, the US will win battles, but it has no strategy for winning this war."[45]

Personal life

Kolko married Joyce Manning in 1955.[10] She had been a collaborator in his writings, e.g. The Limits of Power, up until the time of her death.[25][46] Upon retirement, Kolko emigrated to Amsterdam, where he had a home and continued to work on his historical assessments of modern warfare, particularly the Vietnam War.[47] He was a regular contributor to the political newsletter CounterPunch during the final 15 years of his life.

Kolko died at his home in Amsterdam on May 19, 2014.[36][47] He was suffering from a degenerative neurological disorder and chose euthanasia, permitted under Dutch law.[34]

Selected publications



  1. ^ a b Langer, Emily (17 June 2014). "Gabriel Kolko, historian who skewered U.S. economic and foreign policies, dies at 81". Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  2. ^ McKean, Matthew (13 June 2014). "Gabriel Kolko: A leftist academic who saw things differently".  
  3. ^ Diggins 1977, p. 578.
  4. ^ Linden 1996, p. 68
  5. ^ a b Hales, Dylan (1 December 2008). "Left Turn Ahead".  
  6. ^ a b Walker, Jesse (20 May 2014). "Gabriel Kolko, RIP".  
  7. ^ Editorial (20 May 2014). "Gabriel Kolko 1932–2014". Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Gabriel Kolko (25 August 2009). "Israel: A Stalemated Action of History".  
  9. ^ a b c d Gale Reference Team, ed. (2003). Biography - Kolko, Gabriel (1932-). Contemporary Authors (Biography). 
  10. ^ a b Contemporary Authors: First Revision, Volumes 5–8, p. 655.
  11. ^ Kolko 1955.
  12. ^ "Gabriel Kolko Revisited, Part 1: Kolko at Home The Future of Freedom Foundation". 2013-09-01. Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  13. ^ a b Garris, Eric (20 May 2014). "Gabiel Kolko, RIP".  
  14. ^ Gaddis 1972; Immerman 1987, p. 134.
  15. ^ Novick 1988, p. 439.
  16. ^
  17. ^ "The New Deal Illusion » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names". CounterPunch. 2012-08-29. Retrieved 2014-05-23. 
  18. ^ a b Chandler & Licht 2000, p. 65.
  19. ^  
  20. ^ Kolko 1976, p. 12.
  21. ^ Weaver 1988.
  22. ^ Bradley & Donway 2013; Rothbard 1965, pp. 13–6.
  23. ^ Keohane 1974, p. 869.
  24. ^ Immerman 1987, p. 134.
  25. ^ a b c Journal of Contemporary AsiaJoyce Kolko: Obituary, - Volume 42, Issue 3, 2012, page 349. Published online: 13 Jun 2012, DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2012.690561
  26. ^ Leffler & Westad 2010a, p. 515.
  27. ^ Stueck 1973, pp. 537–8.
  28. ^ Gaddis 1972.
  29. ^ Hunt 1997, p. 405.
  30. ^ Kolko 1985, p. 200.
  31. ^ Hunt 1997, pp. 402–3, where Hunt justifies this assessment, and also writes that, "[s]oon after its appearance, I argued that Anatomy of a War was the best book on the subject".

    Kolko is not mentioned in the relevant bibliographical essay in The Cambridge History of the Cold War (Leffler & Westad 2010b, pp. 549–551).

  32. ^ Diggins 1977.
  33. ^ Mirra 2006, p. 100 n102.
  34. ^ a b Yardley, William (11 June 2014). "Gabriel Kolko, Left-Leaning Historian of U.S. Policy, Dies at 81". Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  35. ^ See his forthright letter to Manuel Klausner of Reason, in which he writes: "I have been a socialist and against capitalism all of my life".
  36. ^ a b Pollack, Norman (21 May 2014). "In Memoriam, Gabriel Kolko". Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  37. ^ Kolko, Gabriel (29 September 2012). "The New Deal Illusion". Retrieved 23 September 2013. Libertarians argued years later that Hoover's economics were statist, and that he belonged in the continuum of government and business collaboration that began around the turn of the century. I must agree with them. 
  38. ^ Kolko 2006, pp. 1–3.
  39. ^ Furedi, Frank (3 June 2014). "RIP Gabriel Kolko, a true free thinker".  
  40. ^ Painter 1995, p. 495.
  41. ^ Cook 2014.
  42. ^ "Gabriel Kolko – obituary". 3 September 2014. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  43. ^ Kolko 1990, pp. 240–1.
  44. ^ Kolko, Gabriel (May 2003). "The age of unilateral war: Iraq, the United States and the end of the European coalition". Retrieved 2 October 2013. 
  45. ^ Kolko, Gabriel (23 September 2009). "Escalation is futile in a war in which complexity defies might".  
  46. ^ Boyd 1999, p. 653
  47. ^ a b St. Clair, Jeffrey (16 May 2014). "Gabriel Kolko, 1932–2014". Retrieved 8 December 2014. 


Further reading


About the author (book reviews)

  • American Historical Review, April 1997, review of Century of War: Politics, Conflicts, and Society since 1914, p. 430.
  • Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March, 1990, review of Confronting the Third World, p. 42–43.
  • Canadian Forum, May, 1969.
  • Canadian Historical Review, June, 1991, review of Confronting the Third World, p. 229.
  • Commonweal, February 20, 1970.
  • Contemporary Southeast Asia, April, 1999, Ramses Amer, review of Vietnam: Anatomy of a Peace, p. 146.
  • Educational Studies, fall, 1995, review of Wealth and Power in America, p. 185.
  • Guardian (London), May 29, 1997, John Pilger, "Victims of Victory, " review of Vietnam, p. 10.
  • Journal of Contemporary Asia, May, 1998, Renato Constantino and Alec Gordon, review of Vietnam, pp. 254, 256.
  • Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2002, review of Another Century of War?, p. 1012.
  • Nation, October 6, 1969; April 12, 1986, Saul Landau, review of Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience, p. 530; November 3, 1997, Nhu T. Le, review of Vietnam, p. 30.
  • New Republic, April 24, 1971.
  • New York Times Book Review, April 13, 1969; February 27, 1972.
  • Political Science Quarterly, winter, 1995, Charles Tilly, review of Century of War, p. 637.
  • Progressive, March 1989, review of Confronting the Third World, p. 45; February, 1995, Michael Uhl, review of Anatomy of a War, p. 40.
  • Publishers Weekly, August 5, 2002, "September 11: Recollections and Reflections (Books about World Trade Center, Pentagon attacks), " review of Another Century of War?, p. 63.
  • Review of Politics, winter, 1996, review of Century of War, p. 199.
  • Science and Society, fall, 1991, review of The Politics of War, p. 379.
  • Times Literary Supplement, September 11, 1969.

External links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.