Where and maybe why the debate on ANSWER goes off the rails
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Nov 3 13:56:24 MST 2002
Jim Farmelant wrote:"I think that Proyect is concerned with the nature of
ANSWER's decision making process, and how accountable they are to the
broader left and to the broader antiwar movement " I think this passage
gets at the problem we are wading into and that has no positive exit that I
There is a simple answer to Jim's point. ANSWER is not accountable to the
broader left and to the broader antiwar movement, nor is there any
particular reason why it should be. Neither is this list or the Socialist
Workers Party or the Center for Constitutional Rights or any other
particular group or collection of groups. I guess it's okay to discuss
ANSWER's decision making process as long as we understand that ultimately
what decision making process they use is their decision and no one else's.
We have voice but no vote and are not entitled to any.
ANSWER is not the embracing antiwar coalition that does not exist and it has
no potential to be that coalition. That coalition is not going to be built
either by reforming or excluding ANSWER. It should include ANSWER but, when
such a coalition comes into being, it is ANSWER and noone else who will have
to determine its relation to the coalition, utilizing whatever decision
making process it has. Period.
It is a fact of life that, to some extent, an action called by ANSWER --
even if endorsed by broader forces -- is not going to reflect the broader
movement taking shape. I doubt, for instance, whether the speakers platform
adequately reflected the youth upsurge on the campuses, for example. (I
attended the Vieques Walkathon in New York City October 26 as part of an
informal division of labor within the antiwar group I have been working
with). I am not primarily talking about an opening to the right -- more
Jesse Jacksons and so forth -- but a real reflection of the movement. This
is not fully possible with the relatively narrow leadership that the
demonstration had. And it would not have been qualitatively better with any
other relatively narrow leadership. Under the circumstances, however, any
leadership that was up to calling this action and spreading the word was
better than none.
It was not ANSWER's fault that this demonstration was called by them and
not a nonexistent broad coalition. It was not their fault that it was not
called by the brand new student upsurge that largely took shape after the
call for October 26 was issued.
It is ANSWER's virtue that their consistency on the issue led them to call
an action for just about the date it was needed, one that might not have
been called otherwise.
ANSWER called a particular protest action that turned out to be what was
needed at a given moment. ANSWER has called other actions that were much
less successful because they less urgently met a need of large numbers of
people. In this sense, we all stand in judgement over ANSWER's proposals.
This time, not for the first time and probably not for the last time, their
proposal passed the test of meeting the basic need.
Of course, Louis Proyect is not Christopher Hitchens or even David Corn.
Their attacks on ANSWER are aimed directly at the whole spectrum of protest,
which is opposing the government's policy and so far esccaping the control
of the imperialist critics of that policy (Jesse Jackson being one). But the
frustration Louis expresses over the incapacity of ANSWER to act like or
create a broad, nonexclusive, consistently antiwar coalition --a coalition
that is anti-imperialist in the sense that it directs all its demands (stop
the bombing, end sanctions, no war) against the imperialist warmakers and
none ( such as "regime change" or elimination of weapons systems or
elimination of sanctions IF certain conditions are met) against the
oppressed, in this case particularly, the nation-state and people of
Iraq) -- leads, in my opinion, to fruitless debate that can fall into a
somewhat different, more intra-left kind of redbaiting.
I am parrticularly concerned that the debate has begun to revolve over a
member of the list being under discipline to an organization that claims
adherence to Leninism. This stuff doesn't sound any better to me today than
it did when I was under discipline myself-- quite voluntarily of course and
out of firm conviction. Debates with Paulsen should have the same
character as debates with anyone else -- they should be around the ideas in
dispute and not around the sinister forces supposedly pulling his strings
and making him act against his will and better judgment. If he learns
something in the debate that he feels morally obliged not to express here,
I assume he will take it and express it where it will do the most good, as I
often did way back when.
The absence of a broad coalition to fight the war is a product of
conditions that ANSWER is not responsible for and cannot be expected to
reverse -- the early stage of the student protests, the historical decay
of many left and working-class organizations, and the weakness of the
broader working class movement today which is still in the beginnings of
change. There is no broad antiwar coalition today for some of the same
reasons that there is nothing like the civil rights movement which had
shaken the country for years before the antiwar protests began in a major
way, and for some of the same reasons that there has been no new revolution
in the world with the kiind of leadership and success that the Cuban
revolution has had.
Everyone involved in this struggle knows that a broad coalition is
desirable, but I believe it will take time for that to come into being and
there is no sense tearing at each other in irritation over this
In my opinion, the best step forward that could be taken now in the
political-organizational realm would be the calling of a genuine, broad
national student conference -- uniting a number of the student networks that
exist today including the National Student Antiwar Network, a collection of
excellent campus groups in which the International Socialist Organization
plays a prominent role, and other networks as well and reaching out way
Of course, there is little I can do to advance this idea and I have no idea
whether it is realistic. I am 60 and haven't been on campus for 35 years.
But that's at the top of my Hanukah list right now.
Meanwhile we're going to have to muddle along, jump on any action we can,
and, frankly, cut each other some slack.
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