Reply to a redbaiter
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 25 07:44:28 MST 2002
Although most comrades are more familiar with the wretched behavior of
people around the Nation Magazine and Todd Gitlin, there is another
figure who has been working overtime to build up the anti-antiwar
consensus to speak in terms of what Lillian Hellman once called
I speak here of the Penn State professor Michael Berube, who was better
known in an earlier period for defending the academy's right to produce
unreadable prose against such critics as the New Criterion's Roger
Kimball. He has also written some eloquent articles dealing with
disability rights that focus on the challenge of raising his son, who
has Down's Syndrome. Despite these worthwhile efforts, he has now
mounted his anti-Communist steed, lance in hand, to do combat with those
un-American masters of deceit who are preempting the right of good
American liberals like himself to lead the masses against a war with
Iraq. Of course, I find this stance somewhat laughable in the light of
the yawning gulf that stands between the masses who want to take action
and people like Michael Berube and Todd Gitlin, who probably haven't
ever participated in a phone-tree in the first case, and since the 1960s
in the second.
Berube wrote a nasty red-baiting attack on the antiwar movement that
appeared in the Boston Globe about a month ago. He has followed up with
a identical stink-piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a rather
elitist publication that is read by professors and administrators to
keep track of intellectual trends on campus and job openings. It is
probably not read by the average undergraduate who wants to protest the
war with Iraq, since a subscription costs more than a month's worth of beer.
Citations from the Berube piece are followed by my reply:
Twenty years later, the left has begun organizing mass demonstrations
against a war in Iraq. But who's doing the organizing? For the October 6
rally in New York, a group called Not in Our Name, behind which one can
find Refuse and Resist!, which in turn has ties to the Revolutionary
Communist Party. For the October 26 rally in Washington, a group called
Act Now to Stop War & End Racism (ANSWER), run out of Ramsey Clark's
International Action Center, itself a front for the Workers World Party.
The groups involved in the demonstrations thus carry some heavy far-left
The Workers World Party was formed in 1959 to support the Soviet
invasion of Hungary and protest Khrushchev's revelations of Stalin's
crimes. The Revolutionary Communist Party is known for its support of
Peru's Shining Path and of the Chinese Communist Party's 1989 massacre
of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. Ramsey Clark
himself, of course, has become notable in recent years for being
co-chairman of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic,
and his International Action Center is a strenuous supporter of North
Korea. Suffice it to say that these people aren't just sitting around
listening to Jackson Browne.
How do you know what Jackson Browne is listening to? Has the FBI been
sending you their dossiers on him as well as the material on WWP that
you are disseminating? When did you decide, by the way, when you wanted
to become a snitch? Was it after watching "On the Waterfront". Tsk-tsk.
But does that mean that the anti-war-in-Iraq rallies themselves are
tainted by association with groups so bizarrely far left as to be
friendly to far-right mass murderers? Most antiwar protesters say that
only far-right hawks like David Horowitz would think so. All the same,
many liberals and progressives I know have refused to have anything to
do with any event organized by ANSWER or Not in Our Name; many other
liberals, and many people farther left, have decried the politics of
such organizations but have argued either that (a) extremist groups
naturally leap to the fore at the outset and then are superseded by
more-mainstream forces; or that (b) it doesn't matter who organizes a
rally so much as who attends it.
Surely, they say, the 100,000 people who thronged the National Mall in
Washington on October 26 were a more powerful voice against war than the
two or three dozen Milosevic/Shining Path fans in their midst. And who
else is doing the labor to get 100,000 people in one place?
Sheer idiocy. One can imagine Berube writing similar tripe in an earlier
"Are the people who came out yesterday in Union Square to demand a fair
trial for the Scottsboro Boys aware that the organizers take yearly
trips to Moscow where they meet personally with a bloody tyrant who not
only starved the Ukraine into submission but was personally responsible
for forcing a legion of Soviet artists into painting landscapes set on
Personally, I find it disingenuous to argue that the politics of a
sponsoring organization are immaterial to the nature of the event. Quite
apart from the tactical questions of whether a group like the
International Action Center or Refuse and Resist! will alienate
mainstream Americans who are skeptical about a war in Iraq, and whether
the antiwar movement will lack credibility as a result, it is hard to
imagine that serious leftists and liberals would make that kind of
argument if, say, a group called Nudists Against War were sponsoring
major rallies (you know, with slogans like "Say NAW to Bush"). Certainly
any antiwar demonstration headed by NAW would lack a certain, how shall
I say, gravitas -- and yet the major difference between the nudists and
the Workers World Party, I think, is that the nudists would be rather
more benign and, of course, would carry far less baggage.
I have an idea. Why don't you, Todd Gitlin, and Ron Rosenbaum organize
something called Nudniks for Peace. I would be sure to chip in ten
dollars to pay for the cost of a couple of reams of paper for leaflets,
not that you long-winded mandarins would know what to put on it.
Then again, antiwar activists don't always have the luxury of waiting
around until the right organizing committee comes along. On college
campuses, especially, groups like ANSWER are sometimes the only antiwar
game in town, and it's hard to convince 21-year-old leftists -- versions
of my younger self -- that they should shun their local antiwar
organizers because cousins of the great-uncles of the organizers'
ancestors supported the Soviet crackdown on Hungary in 1956. Campus
leftists thus find themselves caught between two competing and
compelling injunctions. On one hand, antiwar veterans like the
sociologist Todd Gitlin have argued persuasively that alliances with
ANSWER and Not in Our Name will only damage the antiwar cause beyond
repair. On the other hand, hardcore leftists like the writer Ron Jacobs,
in an article in CounterPunch, have argued that "Mr. Gitlin and his
compatriots, who, whether they like it or not, are today's liberal
establishment, are replicating the sins of their fathers in their rebuke
of any group with a red tinge in the antiwar movement."
Actually, I would qualify my friend Ron's comments only to say that you
are to the first generation of redbaiters like Irving Howe and Michael
Harrington as farce is to tragedy. People like Irving Howe actually had
spent the early years fighting for social change. As far as I can tell,
you and Todd Gitlin have spent most of your adult life building up a CV.
Most of the antiwar advocates I know are patriots who sincerely believe
that unilateral war with Iraq is deeply inimical to the United States'
short-term economic interests and long-term national security, and none
of us want to relive the fate of the fence-sitting social democrats of
the 1960s, who divided their time between denouncing the war in Vietnam
and denouncing the denouncers of the war in Vietnam. Like Kafka's hunger
artist, the anti-antiwar left of the 1960s never did find a food it
would deign to eat. We do not want to make the same mistake.
As I said, if you want to avoid the fate of the hunger artist, it is
rather simple. You and the windbag Gitlin should put out a call for an
radicalism/anti-Hussein/anti-Milosevic/anti-Shining Path conference in
the midwest somewhere. I know of a phone booth in Chicago that is available.
(additional blather clipped)
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