Gabriel Morris Kolko (August 17, 1932 – May 19, 2014) was an
American-born Canadian historian and author. His research interests
included American capitalism and political history, the Progressive
Era, and US foreign policy in the 20th century. One of the
best-known revisionist historians to write about the Cold War, he
had also been credited as "an incisive critic of the Progressive Era
and its relationship to the American empire." 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
1 Background and education
Historian of the "Progressive Era"
Historian of US foreign relations and the Vietnam War
3 Political views
4 Personal life
5 Selected publications
7 Further reading
7.2 About the author (book reviews)
8 External links
Background and education
Kolko was of Jewish heritage, and was born in Paterson, New Jersey,
son of Philip (a teacher) and Lillian (a teacher; maiden name,
Zadikow) Kolko. He married Joyce Manning (a writer) on June 11,
1955. Kolko attended
Kent State University
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). He
would receive his PhD from
Harvard University in 1962.
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. Following his graduation from Harvard, he
taught at the
University of Pennsylvania
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
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
Cold War […] but broke new ground with his analysis of the
corporate elite's successful defeat of the free market by
corporatism." 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. Soon he was
considered a leading historian of the New Left, 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" 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
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."
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
In retrospect, Kolko summarized this phase of his career when he wrote
"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
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
Historian of the "Progressive Era"
"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
Kolko, in particular, broke new ground with his critical history of
the Progressive Era. He suggested that free enterprise and competition
were vibrant and expanding during the first two decades of the 20th
century; thereafter, however, "the corporate elite—the House of
Morgan, for example—turned to government intervention when it
realized in the waning 19th century that competition was too unruly to
guarantee market share." This behavior is known as corporatism,
but Kolko dubbed it political capitalism, "the merger of the economic
and political structures on behalf of the greater interests of
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. Former Harvard professor Paul H. Weaver uncovered
the same inefficient and bureaucratic behavior from corporations
during his stint at Ford Motor Corporation. Free market economist
Murray Rothbard thought highly of Kolko's work on the history of
relations between big business and government. As one profile,
published in The American Conservative, put it:
For Gabriel Kolko, the enemy has always been what sociologist Max
Weber called "political capitalism"—that is, "the accumulation of
private capital and fortunes via booty connected with politics." In
Kolko's eyes, "America's capacity and readiness to intervene virtually
anywhere" pose a grave danger both to the U.S. and the world. Kolko
has made it his mission to study the historical roots of how this
propensity for intervention came to be. He was also one of the first
historians to take on the regulatory state in a serious way. Kolko's
landmark work, The Triumph of Conservatism, is an attempt to link the
Progressive Era policies of Theodore Roosevelt to the
national-security state left behind in the wake of his cousin
Kolko's indictment of what he calls "conservatism" is not aimed at the
Southern Agrarianism of Richard Weaver or the Old Right individualism
of Albert Jay Nock. In fact, Kolko's thesis—that big government and
big business consistently colluded to regulate small American artisans
and farmers out of existence—has much in common with libertarian and
traditionalist critiques of the corporatist state. The "national
progressivism" that Kolko attacks was, in his own words, "the defense
of business against the democratic ferment that was nascent in the
states." Coming of age in the '50s and '60s, Kolko saw firsthand the
destruction of the "permanent things" as the result of the merging of
Washington, D.C. and Wall Street. A sense of place and rootedness
lingers just beneath the surface of his work.
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." 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." 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. 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".
"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." Arch-traditionalist John Lewis Gaddis, for example,
conceded that The Limits of Power was "an important book."
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
Huế when North Vietnamese forces entered Saigon,
and were granted the privilege of announcing the event over local
radio. Kolko would publish two books on the
Vietnam War and its
aftermath. Anatomy of a War (1985) looked at the war itself, its
prologue and its effects. Anatomy would place its author alongside the
George Kahin as a leading writer of the postrevisionist, or
synthesis, school. This group of historians suggested, among other
things, that the revisionist school was wrong in speculating that the
United States could have won the war. In Anatomy,
Kolko became "the first American historian to establish a distinction
between Diem and Thieu, on the one hand, and the population of the
Saigon milieu on the other. It might even be said that he was the
first to insist that there was such a milieu and to attempt a
systematic study of its inhabitants." 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". One sympathetic reviewer notes that Kolko's work on
Vietnam has been relegated to the margins of the Vietnam War
literature. 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 without his critics.
Gaddis Smith once described
him, along with Williams, as at "the forefront of revisionist
scholars" and yet "essentially pamphleteers". Others said his
leftist political sympathies had a "distorting" effect on his
Kolko was a self-declared leftist and an anticapitalist.
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 US.
Regarding socialism, Kolko wrote in After Socialism (2006) that both
as theory and as movement, it is "essentially dead," its analysis and
practice have both been failures, and 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."
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." As sociologist
Frank Furedi has
argued: "[Kolko's] scathing condemnation of American foreign policy,
like his condemnation of the crudity of Maoist rhetoric, stand as a
testimony to his intellectual and political integrity." Georgetown
David S. Painter
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." Kolko
was a strong supporter of North Vietnam, but he was opposed to
Lenin and Stalin and was scathingly dismissive of
Mao Zedong and his
Kolko regarded the result of the creation of Israel as "abysmal". In
his view, 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.
"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 Iraq War, just
after George W. Bush's Mission Accomplished speech. He predicted that
Iraq's "regionalism and internecine ethnic strife will produce years
of instability." Similarly for Afghanistan: "As in Vietnam, the US
will win battles, but it has no strategy for winning this war."
Kolko married Joyce Manning in 1955. She had been a collaborator
in his writings, such as The Limits of Power, until the time of her
death. 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. 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. He was
suffering from a degenerative neurological disorder and chose
euthanasia, permitted under Dutch law.
World in Crisis: the End of the American Century. London: Pluto Press.
After Socialism: Reconstructing Critical Social Thought. Abingdon:
The Age of War: The United States Confronts the World.
Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers. 2006.
Another Century of War?. New York, NY: The New Press. 2002.
Vietnam: Anatomy of a Peace. London and New York, NY: Routledge.
Century of War: Politics, Conflicts, and Society since 1914. New
York, NY: The New Press. 1994.
Confronting the Third World: United States Foreign Policy,
1945–1980. New York, NY: Pantheon Books. 1988.
Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern
Historical Experience (rep. with new afterword ed.). New
York, NY: The New Press. 1994 .
Main Currents in Modern American History. New York, NY: Harper
& Row. 1976.
The Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign Policy,
1945–1954. (Co-author with Joyce Kolko). New York, NY: Harper
& Row. 1972.
Crimes of War: A Legal, Political-Documentary, and Psychological
Inquiry into the Responsibility of Leaders, Citizens, and Soldiers for
Criminal Acts in Wars. (Co-editor with
Richard Falk and Robert Jay
Lifton). New York, NY: Random House. 1971.
The Roots of American Foreign Policy: An Analysis of Power and
Purpose. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. 1969.
The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy,
1943–1945 (rep. with new afterword ed.). New York, NY: Random
House. 1990 .
Railroads and Regulation, 1877–1916. Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press. 1965. Based on his PhD dissertation.
The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History,
1900-1916. New York, NY: The Free Press. 1963.
Wealth and Power in America: An Analysis of Social Class and Income
Distribution. New York, NY: Praeger. 1962.
Distribution of Income in the United States. New York, NY:
Student League for Industrial Democracy. 1955.
^ a b Langer, Emily (17 June 2014). "Gabriel Kolko, historian who
skewered U.S. economic and foreign policies, dies at 81".
washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
^ McKean, Matthew (13 June 2014). "Gabriel Kolko: A leftist academic
who saw things differently". theglobeandmail.com. Retrieved 18 June
^ Diggins 1977, p. 578.
^ Linden 1996, p. 68
^ a b Hales, Dylan (1 December 2008). "Left Turn Ahead".
theamericanconservative.com. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
^ a b Walker, Jesse (20 May 2014). "Gabriel Kolko, RIP". reason.com.
Retrieved 8 December 2014.
^ Editorial (20 May 2014). "
Gabriel Kolko 1932–2014".
comehomeamerica.us. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
^ a b
Gabriel Kolko (25 August 2009). "Israel: A Stalemated Action of
History". counterpunch.org. Retrieved 15 November 2012.
^ a b c d Gale Reference Team, ed. (2003). Biography - Kolko, Gabriel
(1932-). Contemporary Authors (Biography).
^ a b Contemporary Authors: First Revision, Volumes 5–8, p. 655.
^ Kolko 1955.
Gabriel Kolko Revisited, Part 1: Kolko at Home The Future of
Freedom Foundation". Fff.org. 2013-09-01. Retrieved 2014-05-20.
^ a b Garris, Eric (20 May 2014). "Gabiel Kolko, RIP". Antiwar.com.
Retrieved 8 December 2014.
^ Gaddis 1972; Immerman 1987, p. 134.
^ Novick 1988, p. 439.
The New Deal
The New Deal Illusion » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names
the Names". CounterPunch. 2012-08-29. Retrieved 2014-05-23.
^ a b Chandler & Licht 2000, p. 65.
^ Sheldon Richman (3 February 2011). "Libertarian Left". The American
Conservative. Retrieved 15 November 2012.
^ Kolko 1976, p. 12.
^ Weaver 1988.
^ Bradley & Donway 2013; Rothbard 1965, pp. 13–6.
^ Keohane 1974, p. 869.
^ Immerman 1987, p. 134.
^ a b c "Joyce Kolko: Obituary". Journal of Contemporary Asia. 42 (3):
349. 2012. doi:10.1080/00472336.2012.690561.
^ Leffler & Westad 2010a, p. 515.
^ Stueck 1973, pp. 537–8.
^ Gaddis 1972.
^ Hunt 1997, p. 405.
^ Kolko 1985, p. 200.
^ 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,
^ Diggins 1977.
^ Mirra 2006, p. 100 n102.
^ a b Yardley, William (11 June 2014). "Gabriel Kolko, Left-Leaning
Historian of U.S. Policy, Dies at 81". nytimes.com. Retrieved 10
^ See his forthright letter to Manuel Klausner of Reason, in which he
writes, "I have been a socialist and against capitalism all of my
^ a b Pollack, Norman (21 May 2014). "In Memoriam, Gabriel Kolko".
counterpunch.org. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
^ Kolko, Gabriel (29 September 2012). "
The New Deal
The New Deal Illusion".
counterpunch.org. 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.
^ Kolko 2006, pp. 1–3.
^ Furedi, Frank (3 June 2014). "RIP Gabriel Kolko, a true free
thinker". Spiked. Retrieved 10 September 2014.
^ Painter 1995, p. 495.
^ Cook 2014.
Gabriel Kolko – obituary". telegraph.co.uk. 3 September 2014.
Retrieved 10 September 2014.
^ Kolko 1990, pp. 240–1.
^ Kolko, Gabriel (May 2003). "The age of unilateral war: Iraq, the
United States and the end of the European coalition". nthposition.com.
Retrieved 2 October 2013.
^ Kolko, Gabriel (23 September 2009). "Escalation is futile in a war
in which complexity defies might". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13
^ Boyd 1999, p. 653
^ a b St. Clair, Jeffrey (16 May 2014). "Gabriel Kolko, 1932–2014".
counterpunch.org. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
^ Pollack, Norman (21 May 2014). "In Memoriam, Gabriel Kolko".
CounterPunch. Retrieved 2 April 2016.
Boyd, Kelly (1999). Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing,
Volume 1. London and Chicago, IL: Taylor & Francis.
Bradley, Robert L.; Donway, Roger (2013). "Reconsidering Gabriel
Kolko: A Half-Century Perspective" (PDF). The Independent Review. 17
Chandler, Alfred D.; Licht, Walter (2000). "The Triumph of Capitalism:
Efficiency or Class War?". In Francis G. Couvares; Martha Saxton;
Gerald N. Grob; George Athan Billias. Interpretations of American
History: Patterns and Perspectives, Volume 2: From Reconstruction (7th
ed.). New York, NY: The Free Press.
Cook, Eli (25 June 2014). "Gabriel Kolko's Unfinished Revolution".
Jacobin. Retrieved 10 September 2014.
Diggins, John P. (1977). "History in a Kolko's Nest". Reviews in
American History. 5 (4): 577–589. JSTOR 2701415.
Fall, Bernard B. (1967). Last Reflections on a War. Garden City, NY:
Doubleday & Company.
Gaddis, John Lewis (1972). "Reviews of Books: The Limits of Power by
Joyce and Gabriel Kolko". Pacific Historical Review. 41 (4):
557–558. JSTOR 3638422.
Hunt, David (1997).
Gabriel Kolko and the Mainstream on the United
States and Vietnam. Science & Society. 61. pp. 402–408.
Hurst, Steven (2005).
Cold War US Foreign Policy: Key Perspectives.
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Iggers, Georg G.; Wang, Q. Edward; Mukherjee, Supriya (2008). A Global
History of Modern Historiography. Harlow: Longman.
Immerman, Richard H. (1987). "Revisionism Revisited: The New Left
Lives". Reviews in American History. 15 (1): 134–139.
Keohane, Robert O. (1974). "Book Reviews: The Limits of Power by Joyce
Kolko and Gabriel Kolko". American Political Science Review. 68 (2):
Leffler, Melvyn P.; Westad, Odd Arne, eds. (2010a). The Cambridge
History of the Cold War, Volume I: Origins. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-83719-4.
Leffler, Melvyn P.; Westad, Odd Arne, eds. (2010b). The Cambridge
History of the Cold War, Volume II: Crisis and Détente. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-83720-0.
Linden, A. A. M. van der (1996). A Revolt Against Liberalism: American
Radical Historians, 1959–1976.
Amsterdam and Atlanta, GA: Rodopi.
Mirra, Carl (2006). "Radical Historians and the Liberal Establishment:
Staughton Lynd's Life with History". Left History. 11 (1):
Novick, Peter (1988). That Noble Dream: The "Objectivity Question" and
the American Historical Profession. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Painter, David S. (1995). "Book Reviews: Century of War: Politics,
Conflict, and Society since 1914 by Gabriel Kolko". The Journal of
American History. 82 (2): 794–795. JSTOR 2082342.
Rothbard, Murray (1965). "Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty"
(PDF). Left and Right. 1 (1): 4–22.
Stromberg, Roland N. (1973). "The Kolkos and the Cold War". Reviews in
American History. 1 (4): 445–453. JSTOR 2701704.
Stueck, William (1973). "
Cold War Revisionism and the Origins of the
Korean Conflict: The Kolko Thesis". Pacific Historical Review. 42 (4):
537–560. JSTOR 3638137.
Weaver, Paul H. (1988). The Suicidal Corporation. New York, NY:
Simon & Schuster.
Divine, Robert, "Historiography: Vietnam Reconsidered" in Walter
Capps, ed., The Vietnam Reader (New York, NY: Routledge, 1990).
US Government 'White Paper' (February 1965)
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?,
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,
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,
Science and Society, fall, 1991, review of The Politics of War,
Times Literary Supplement, September 11, 1969.
Gabriel Kolko articles at Counterpunch
2007 interview with electricpolitics.com
2007 interview with Der Spiegel
2012 interview with Antiwar.com
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