At the close of the old year this magazine lost three contributors, all distinguished and influential public intellectuals who brought passion and erudition to the search for a better world.
RICHARD J. BARNET
With Marcus Raskin he co-founded in 1963 the Institute for Policy Studies, which has produced the research and analysis that nourish campaigns for economic and social justice, environmental preservation, civil rights and disarmament. Dick Barnet brought intelligence, wide-ranging curiosity and moral commitment to his work and was a superb popularizer. According to the writer Peter Kornbluh, who had once been his research assistant, he “could take rocket science and, very very quickly, translate it into something we all could understand, appreciate, debate and mobilize around.” In the 1974 book Global Reach, according to IPS colleague John Cavanagh, he “provided the first road map to the international corporations who drive economic globalization,” framing the issues that would bring thousands into the streets in the 1990s. Today his writings in our pages read like Globalization 101. In 1994 he warned: “‘Competitiveness’ is the mantra of this new economy, and the winning strategies involve ‘downsizing’…. About a third of the jobs in the United States are at risk to the growing productivity of low-wage workers in China, India, Mexico and elsewhere.” In a 1996 article he said that “international terrorism serves as the successor myth to international Communism” and noted that “in the post-cold war world, terrorism is being privatized.”
A professor of industrial engineering at Columbia University, he was a thorn in the side of the military-industrial complex, exposing the false rationales and economic absurdities of the arms race. The title of one of his books–The Permanent War Economy–entered the progressive lexicon, along with his term “overkill.” In later works he exhaustively analyzed methods of disarmament and economic conversion. In one of several articles for The Nation, he warned against the militarized state capitalism now dominant in America. Under it, he wrote, “the drive to expand managerial power leads to sustained international violence, as state managers bring their military assets into play”–examples being the Vietnam War (to enforce US credibility) and Gulf War I (to suppress competition from Iraqi military managers in Kuwait). Regarding that war he prophetically said that US managers’ ambitions include the “establishment of large permanent bases in the Middle East to replace the Western European bases ‘lost’ with the wind-down of the cold war.”
In 1963, still an ingenue on the New York intellectual stage where she would later become a diva, Sontag led off a Nation essay with cool aplomb: “The only thing to be regretted about the close-up of limp penises and bouncing breasts, the shots of masturbation and oral sexuality, in Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures is that it makes it hard simply to talk about this remarkable and beautiful film, one has to defend it.” She proceeded to talk about the underground classic with eloquence, articulating the aesthetic that she expatiated on at greater length in her famous essay “Notes on Camp,” one of the seminal artistic manifestoes of the 1960s. She went on to write other books and essays of profundity and originality, as well as several novels, including The Volcano Lover, that integrated ideas and narrative. In 1982 she stirred a sensation at a rally in New York for Poland’s Solidarity movement when she criticized the left for being weak on Communism. Indeed, she said someone who had read only the Reader’s Digest between 1950 and 1970 would have been better informed on “the realities of Communism” than a person who read only The Nation. Her speech was reprinted here with spirited rebuttals (“Communism and The Left,” February 27, 1982). We had our occasional differences with Sontag over the years, but these faded against our admiration of her forthright stands–her work in besieged Sarajevo, her support for Israeli soldiers opposing the occupation, her stand against the political exploitation of 9/11, her opposition to the Iraq War. Her political life amply displayed moral courage, a phase she eloquently parsed here in “Courage and Resistance” (May 5, 2003).
We must also note the passing of the fearless Shirley Chisholm, the first black Congresswoman and first woman to seek the Democratic nomination for the presidency, a fighter for the poor and excluded.
We commemorate Anthony Sampson, who wrote the authorized biography of Nelson Mandela, probed the anatomy of the British political and class system and uncovered the power of the oil oligopoly known as the “Seven Sisters.” He was a friend of this magazine and instrumental in the founding of InterNation, an effort to expand our own global reach.