Triangulation- Erwin, ScottS, Me

Chris Burford cburford at
Thu Jun 29 07:28:08 MDT 1995

Although I don't agree with Scott's suggested syllogism, I welcome
the recent contributions from him and Erwin.
As soon as the contradiction starts to be handled non-antagonistically
it seems to me it adds to the range of relevance of this list.

The key seems to me to avoid formulas aimed at belittling,
denigrating or totally discrediting the other person and to
clarify *exactly* what action or opinion you dislike etc from the other

It is the difference between acting out on this list and explaining in
a way so the rest of us have can see a wider relevance.

Both Scott and Erwin seem to me to have shown a lot of courage in these
events even though they seem surprised, each to find the other one
acting so "obnoxiously".

Erwin's account is a fascinating one, even if of course one-sided,
of the struggle to survive and open up space for left wing politics
in the academic world despite McCarthyism and the hegemony of capital.
There is something very admirable to my mind in this, even
if Erwin will have made his fair share of mistakes, and perhaps, he
concedes, over-reacted to the student group of which Scott was one.

Half way between them, I guess, in age, I also have a sneaking sympathy
for Scott. I recall at school a divinity teacher who gave every appearance
of being benign and wanting lively discussion about religion, then wrote a
letter of complaint to my parents because I said truthfully, that I did not
want a book about the New Testament at all. It seemed to me he
had behaved in an untrustworthy fashion and changed all the rules just
because I had been honest. I was naive to think you could be 100% honest
in this world without attention to power relationships. First lesson
on idealism.

I guess though between Scott and Erwin, there is something more. A
sense of grudging affection in the description of the old bear mingled
with irritation. My hunch, based really on my feeling about hundreds of
people who seemed to me to be aligning themselves with the official
communist party position is a sense of being controlled.

I experienced that in the Anti-Apartheid Movement from people who would
not openly say they were members of a communist party but would act
in a very inflexible albeit often very sensible way that excluded
discussion of a creative nature with other left wingers. Methods of
handling contradictions came over as organisational.

I am not lumping Erwin, who I do not know, with all this generalisation,
but just trying to get a clue as to why Scott should be so irritated that
Erwin wore a Jesse Jackson campaign button throughout the classes. On the
surface it does not make sense.

Leninist or semi-Leninist parties are efficient for organising against
fascism but are not so viable in conditions of complex bourgeois democracy.
However good they are, their claim to an exclusive vanguard role can make
the good intentions of their members a problem. And can create a vicious
circle for sub-hegemonic left wing organisations like the former Trotskyist
ones who too much were defined in terms of having to carp at the official
communist parties.

The concept of  "exclusivity" used by Andy Daitsman rings a bell for me.
I would rather that members of these organisations were more open in
arguing differences with others on an assumption of a plurality of views
on the left. My hunch is that it would be easier to co-operate with them
then without compromising other matters. A freer *non*-antagonistic
ventilation of contradictions might in fact make it easier to build wider
coalitions with less paranoia and more trust.

But to come back to the specific Erwin-ScottS contradiction. If this list
can contain people almost 50 years apart in age and make use of their
contrasting experience and knowledge then it has extended its robustness
and range of relevance considerably.

Chris Burford, London.

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