Tribute to Norm Geras

I was saddened to learn on Sunday evening that Norm Geras, one of my favourite writers, died last week.

Norm was, for this reader, a “Sunday evening blogger”. Where many writers, journalists, and reports can be easily read while on a conference call or during a hurried droid-assisted walk through a train station, Normblog, as it was called, commanded one’s full attention and a dedicated sitting.

Norm Geras was a particularly rare kind of Marxist; like Karl Marx himself, he loved many aspects of the United States and – again like Marx – he could see how great power could and at times should be used for moral ends. Geras’ precision with language and logic, and his dedication to clear argument and coherent reasoning were matched by his enthusiasm for applying these rare and cultivated skills to the muddy debates of the day.

Here’s a simple, recent example that – with one obvious tweak – could double as an an anti-sectarian instruction manual for Northern Ireland:

Insult of colour

I’d sort of lost sight of this one: the controversy over the name of the Washington Redskins. But it’s still going strong. It seems that those defending the team’s hanging on to that name are appealing to the alleged fact that ‘only one in 10 Native Americans were offended’ by it, as well as to the more general consideration of ‘history and legacy and tradition’. Tradition it certainly is but it’s the wrong tradition.
As Dana Milbank argues here, racism isn’t OK even when ‘it polls well’. He tests out the following by analogy:
The Washington Wetbacks? The Houston Hymies? The Chicago Chinks? Or perhaps the New York Niggers?
Or, if one wants to make the link, those ‘Yids’ of White Hart Lane. It is constantly surprising how stuck people can be over the view that racist prejudice is simply a matter of what one intends; and how stubbornly they resist the obvious truth that words and symbols carry meanings associated with their history and which cannot simply be disowned by declarations of good will.
Posted by Norm at 12:28 PM | Permalink

Like many of his readers, I’ll miss Norm’s cogent writings very much indeed.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well said Ruarai. Norm was a blog uncle to many of us. I even got my own Norm profile (some time ago now): http://goo.gl/wnH59n

    Sorry to see another *good* soldier fall…

  • dodrade

    Some Unionists are accused of disrespect when they anglicise the names of republicans with gaelic names, saying people should respect the names they use themselves. If that is so then people should also respect the right of the Washington Redskins and the Yid Army to do likewise. If a Native American doesn’t want to be called a redskin that’s fine (though it seems white liberal journalists are more upset about it than they are) but they can’t stop others applying it to themselves. I suspect for most Americans today when you mention redskins it is the NFL team that first comes to mind rather than Native Americans, so in effect the word has already been redefined.

  • Perez

    No doubt a great guy

  • Tochais Síoraí

    Context. Yid Army is more a badge of pride, Spurs fans inverted the racist epithet which used to be thrown at them – the term is much more NWA, Queer Nation type of thing than Washington Redskins which is a different kettle of fish.

  • Greenflag

    Given the current trend of increasing income differentials between and within populations in western developed economies it’s only a matter of time before Marxist tomes are dusted off and re examined for their relevance in today’s democracies in decline .

    People forget that ‘capitalists ‘ and ‘capitalism ‘ were much more respectful and ‘ethical ‘ as regards their employees in the aftermath of WW2 and in response to the social legislation and reforms initiated by Aneurin Bevan and his fellow socialists

    We have seen in recent years many banksters going berserk with greed simply because they could ,and there was no hand to stop them -the politicians having thrown in the towel 20 year ago.

    We forget that the French Communists and Italian Communists came very close to taking power in those countries and the only reason the Germans (the West ) did’nt go the same way was the memory of Soviet atrocities committed against German civilians during the invasion . Even now the German Communists get almost 10% of the popular vote .

    Fear of communism may have kept red in tooth and claw capitalism in check in the west but those days are long gone . Ultimately if there is no reversal to the current trend of growing income differentials then what we call ‘democracy ‘ will have a reduced appeal for ever larger numbers of the population . The Germans gave up on democracy when their middle class was destroyed post the 1929 Great Depression .Does anybody believe that somehow Americans and British and Irish/French /Spanish are ‘ immune from tossing democracy overboard if it seems that it’s raison etre has become to make the rich richer at the expense of the rest of the population ?

    Norm Geras I believe saw that Marx was not dead but merely in suspended animation .Whether some of his ideas are ever reawakened to find more popular support will depend very much on how ‘destructive ‘ our modern day neo con ideologues can continue to be and how many more banksters will be able to afford to pay a 13 billion dollar fine while admitting to no wrong doing as they bribe their way to keeping out of jail .

    As to anti semitism or racism of any ilk the best defence is always attack . The Blackshirts never came to power in Britain because Trade Unionists and East End Londoners stopped the Blackshirts from marching through the Jewish East End . We forget that the British/London police were ordered to clear a path through the protesters to allow the Fascists to march through the East End . They failed due to the Londoners resistance to the fascists and street barricades . German Social Democrats were too pacifist and in any event too late to stop the Brownshirts .

    Todays neo corporate fascists use lobbyists (ex politicians ) and groups such as the Tea Party or UKIP etc to push their ideological extremism .

    The political polarisation in the USA today is greater than at any time since the American Civil War and it’s there that the income gap is greatest among western economies .Ironically the Germans who have experienced within living memory both Communism and Nazism now are looking at a coalition government between Conservatives and Social Democrats .Can’t see thatever happening in the USA or UK .