Web Letters | The Nation

What “Dialectics”?

Dialectics are all too rare to be found in The Nation, with its frequent prognostications about catastrophic election cycles. This lack was all to evident in Susie Linfield’s poorly executed essay on Fred Halliday. He is repeatedly described as possessing a “dialectical” mind, but she confidently quotes him as having claimed that communism’s “failure was necessary, not contingent.” That’s fatalism. (Linfield herself refers to the “fatal flaws of communism”). Dialectical thinking emphasizes that human thought and activity are conditioned by their unique historical moment; it also, necessarily, emphasizes the shaping of history (including our centuries-old communist history) by human beings—especially by those self-organized against the class system.

Carl G. Martin

Montpelier, VT

Jan 2 2013 - 12:46pm

The Journeys of Fred Halliday

Linfield replies

Mike Davis’s letter represents two tendencies that, I believe, Fred Halliday spent much of his life opposing: one, the downgrading of important political differences to personal conflicts; and, two, the recourse to insult. Halliday openly addressed his differences with New Left Review in a lengthy 2005 interview. Readers of that interview, and of his work in general, can assess whether or not substantial political questions, especially about human rights, were at stake.

New Left Review has published, and continues to publish, some brilliant writers. But its analysis of, and stances on, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been atrocious—or, as Halliday put it, “objectively on the Right.”

Susie Linfield

New York City

Nov 19 2012 - 4:03pm

The Journeys of Fred Halliday

Linfield looks in the mirror

I sympathize with Mike Davis’s letter on Susie Linfield’s review of Halliday's book, but then Linfield’s review is not really about Halliday but about Linfield and her longstanding ax to grind with the Palestinian cause.

Deborah Gordon


Nov 15 2012 - 3:06pm

The Journeys of Fred Halliday

Remembering Fred

Susie Linfield in her eulogy for Fred Halliday leaves the impression that his resignation from New Left Review in 1983 resulted from principled differences over politics, presumably vis-à-vis the Islamic world. In fact his resignation, along with those of some other senior members of the editorial committee, was driven by impassioned but esoteric office politics. I know because I was there and on the same side as Fred. As often happens following such schisms, participants tend to project subsequent political differences backward as first causes, which in this case is simply inaccurate. More annoying is Linfield’s David Horowitz–like slander that the NLR became a mouthpiece of jihadism. Nonsense. I miss Fred very much, but I hardly recognize my old comrade in Linfield’s canonization of him as a contrarian army of one.

Mike Davis

San Diego

Nov 8 2012 - 12:00am

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.