“Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, is one of this country’s most prominent historians.” Professor Eric Foner
The quote above is the first sentence on the homepage of Professor Eric Foner’s personal website. There is little doubt about who wrote this encomium, because footer of the homepage says “Copyright 2005 Eric Foner.”
Further down on the homepage the professor quotes another historian, who praises Foner in terms that would embarrass a more modest man. After praising Foner for his “voluminous scholarship,” Dr. Steven Hahn goes on to say that Foner “has had an enormous influence on how other historians, as well as a good cut of the general reading public, have come to think about American history.”
This statement is probably true, unfortunately. Dr Foner personifies everything that is wrong with academia in America, especially where history departments are concerned, and his influence is widely felt.
As Dr. Foner tells us on that same webpage, he is “one of only two persons to serve as president of the three major professional organizations: the Organization of American Historians, American Historical Association, and Society of American Historians, and one of a handful to have won the Bancroft Prize twice and the Bancroft and Pulitzer Prizes in the same year.”
He obviously holds a fair amount of status among his fellow historians. He also influences countless college students; not just those he instructs at Columbia, but the much larger number of collegians who get their introduction to American History from his shamelessly biased freshman textbook “Give Me Liberty.”
Even a cursory glance at Professor Foner’s writings makes it clear that he is a left wing radical, far outside the mainstream of American politics. The fact that his fellow historians keep electing him to lead their professional societies shows that Marxist politics are considered more or less normal among college history faculties.
Foner’s Crazy Politics
College professors in general tend to lean pretty far to the left, and history professors even more so. Professor Foner’s prominence among historians does not in any way imply that his political views are in line with those of the American mainstream. His views may be considered mainstream among history faculties, but they can only be viewed as radical when judged by the standards of ordinary Americans.
On October 4 of 2001, for example, Foner told the London Review of Books “I’m not sure which is more frightening: the horror that engulfed New York City or the apocalyptic rhetoric emanating daily from the White House.” He made these statements three weeks after the terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center, while working at a university just a few miles from the site where human remains were still being removed from the wreckage.
Foner is surely one of the very few New Yorkers who had any trouble making a distinction between the Bush administration and the 9/11 hijackers three weeks after the attacks.
In the same interview, Dr. Foner when on to warn his fellow radicals that the 9/11 attacks could cause a backlash against Marxism, saying that “just as the signs were growing of a renewed confidence in the world anti-capitalist movement, the attention of the world’s leaders is focused on a single, dreadful act that gives them the excuse they need to gun the engines of oppression.”
Over the next several years a healthy debate developed between those who tended to support President Bush’s anti-terror policies and those who opposed them, with large numbers of good Americans on either side of the debate; but no one anywhere near the middle ground of American politics would say that the worst thing about 9/11 is that it gave capitalists an excuse to resist Marxism.
Only a left wing screwball would say things like that. It is an unfortunate fact that most of the professors we trust to teach our young people about American history are left wing screwballs like Dr. Foner. It’s another unfortunate fact that the Marxist radicals who populate history department faculties are so fearful of contradiction that they tend to blacklist any potential colleague who does not share their left wing beliefs.
A Red Diaper Baby
Foner grew up in a family of leftist radicals, and his views reflect those of his family, his friends, and his family’s friends.
His father and uncle, Professors Jack Foner and Philip Foner respectively, were both Communist sympathizers who taught at City College of New York in the 1930’s. Both were fired during the anti-Communist backlash that followed Joseph Stalin’s 1939 cooperation pact with Adolf Hitler.
Despite being ethnically Jewish, the Foner brothers continued their support for the Communist Party during this period, when the Party was opposing FDR’s policy of support for England, and England was fighting for survival against Stalin’s partner in crime, Adolf Hitler.
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The Foner brothers were close friends with other Communist sympathizers, including singer and activist Paul Robeson and author W.E.B. DuBois. After losing their jobs in academia, the Foners made their living for a time as musicians, and performed frequently with Robeson.
In his textbook, the younger Foner depicts both Robeson and DuBois as great heroes of the civil rights movement.
“Josef Stalin was a Great Man”
Robeson and DuBois were both Communist sympathizers, and quite vocal in their support for Soviet dictator and mass murderer Josef Stalin. Both were proud recipients of the Stalin Peace Prize. Robeson even boasted about a his Stalin prize in a magazine article.
When the Soviet butcher died in March of 1953, Robeson sang Stalin’s praises in another article. When Philip Foner later put together a collection of Robeson’s writings, he included this obscene eulogy to Stalin, apparently thinking that it was a work to be proud of.
DuBois published a eulogy for Stalin that was even more worshipful than Robeson’s. It starts out with the words “Josef Stalin was a great man,” and goes on to praise the dictator for his treatment of the Russian “kulaks” (peasant farmers who owned their own small farms). Stalin “drove out the rural bloodsuckers,” said DuBois, because they “clung tenaciously to capitalism.”
Stalin’s slaughter of the kulaks was similar in every way to Hitler’s treatment of Jewish business owners in Germany around the same time. It started with the same class-envy-based justifications, utilized the same types of rhetoric (“cockroaches,” “bloodsuckers”), and ended in the same kind of mass murder. Yet it’s hard to imagine a modern day American history professor lionizing someone who believed that “Adolf Hitler was a great man,” and praised Hitler specifically for his tough treatment of supposedly greedy Jewish bankers and business owners.
In his textbook, Foner praises Robeson and DeBois without mentioning his family relationship to them. Dr. Foner’s ultra-left-wing political views are, perhaps, not surprising; given the way Communist leaders like Stalin were admired in the Foner household when the professor was a child.
Foner in Writing
Professor Foner’s far left views animate everything he writes, whether he’s writing for ultra-liberal fringe magazines like The Nation, or writing serious pieces for other scholars, or writing a textbook for gullible eighteen-year-old college freshmen.
The professor makes no pretence of being a political moderate when he’s writing for liberal magazines and websites. In one of his articles for The Nation, for example, he expresses his opinion that Hurricane Katrina was a “man-made disaster” inflicted on black Americans by President Bush and other racist white guys. In another article he complains that the last three Democrats to hold the White House were not liberal enough. In another, he uses very strong language to condemn the State of Texas’ recent efforts to insert a few observations from a conservative perspective into public school history books.
The Professor’s complaints about conservative bias creeping into history textbooks are amusing, given that he himself has written a history textbook designed to indoctrinate college students into his own radically leftist political perspective.
When the professor writes for other scholars he makes his views pretty plain. In one published article he uses the word “tragedy” to describe the failure of early twentieth century Marxists to gain control of the U.S. political system.
Marxist Propaganda as “History”
Dr. Foner’s textbook is similar to the texts other leftist historians have published, in that Foner slanders anyone and anything anti-Communist while using language that sounds balanced and reasonable. In that sense his textbook has a different feel from that of his magazine articles and scholarly works, where he uses stronger language and is more candid about his biases.
He admits in the textbook that the Rosenbergs stole nuclear weapon secrets for Stalin, yet somehow manages to portray their conviction and punishment as a miscarriage of justice. He depicts American GI’s who fought against Communism in Vietnam as nothing but rapists and murderers. He portrays Chinese leader Chiang Kai-Shek, who fought Communist leader Mao Zedong for control of China, as the villain; and portrays Mao as the heroic freedom fighter.
Throughout the book Dr. Foner disparages the free enterprise system, Judeo-Christian values, and Western culture in general. He praises the Communist Party USA for its supposed commitment to human rights, and depicts any expansion of government power as a triumph of Good over Evil.
Eric Foner, like most college professors, becomes indignant whenever he’s accused of having a leftist bias. He’s even engaged in public mud-slinging contests with conservative critics like David Horowitz. Yet even a quick scan of the things he writes for his fellow radicals will make it clear that his views are far to the left of the American mainstream.