"Oh, dear Fred, your history is skewed": David McReynolds responds

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Thu Sep 12 12:28:46 MDT 2002


The only substantive point on which David McReynolds responds is the
historical point about the split among the pacifists between Muste-Dellinger
with Rustin and the other rightists.

 I didn't say anything about
McReynolds' role because I didn't know anything.  I was aware that he ended
up on the right side in the fight against the Vietnam war.

He adds some details I didn't know about the dispute and adjusts my time
frame a bit..  My information came
from reading back issues  of Liberation magazine, and excellent pacifist
journal that Dellinger frequently contributed to, and  Fred Halstead's Out
Now!, an
indispensable history by a prominent participant t published by Pathfinder
Press.

Nothing McReynolds says here requires any modification in the political
points I was trying to make, including about the earlier dispute.

 The first national anti-Vietnam war
demonstration  I participated in -- and the first that took place as far as
I know -- was on May 2, 1964.  It was called by the Progressive Labor Party,
a Maoist group with which I probably had close to zero political agreement
on any other issue

I was on the right track then as far as fighting the imperialist war and I
think I still am.

I just got back from the demonstration neart the United Nations, with about
400 people -- gathered just about entirely by internet messages and word of
mouth  --  protested  Bush's marching orders to that body, demanding that
they help him prepare the war because he's attacking Iraq one way or the
other.

At the rally,  singer-songwriter Patti Smith made a brief speech, where she
compared the modest beginnings of the anti=Vietnam war movement to what is
happening today, pointing out how a fight began with demonstrations of 35
developed into protests of 350,000 and more.

In fact, I think we're much stronger today than the fight at that time
because of  changes that have occurred ranging from the consequences of the
Vietnam victory, the destruction of Jim Crow segregation, and deepgoing
changes in the thinking and political outlook of tens of millions of working
people.

Smith concluded her speech by calling for everyone to take the next big
step -- marching on Washington October 26.  She's on the right track, too.
Fred Feldman

 Message from:<DavidMcR at aol.com>
To: <107disc at yahoogroups.com>; <620peace at yahoogroups.com>;
<ffeldman at bellatlantic.net>
Cc: <carmentrotta at yahoo.com>
Sent: Thursday, September 12, 2002 11:52 AM
Subject: [107disc] Response to McReynolds on whether to endorse...


> Oh dear, Fred, your history is skewed. (I'm not on the
> 620peace at yahoogroups.com - if Fred wants to post my response on, that
would
> be helpful and perhaps fair - not good to find myself under attack on
lists
> where I can't respond).
>
> I hadn't meant to ignore your letter but rather was trying to respond to
> three at the same time when I wrote.
>
> Let me take ancient history first, back in 1965. I was in the room with
> Bayard Rustin, A.J. Muste, Ralph DiGia, and Bob Gilmore when the
discussion
> took place over the SDS rally in Washington which had involved the
Communist
> Party's youth group. (Dave Dellinger was not at this meeting, which was
held
> in Gilmores town house on West 11th St. in Manhattan).
>
> Some of us grew up in a tradition which, based on many years of experience
> with the Communist Party, had led to us oppose a "united front" with them,
> for many of the same reasons we have questions about Workers World. A
> statement was drafted which Muste and Rustin signed and Ralph and I
didn't,
> which urged SDS not to include the CP youth group. I would have signed
it -
> let me not take any accidental "honors" - if only the statement had
included
> a very clear demand for US withdrawal from Vietnam, which it didn't. So I
> was, "by accident of wording", on the right side. The statement was then
> released to the press (probably by Rustin), leaving Muste feeling
betrayed.
>
> He was wrong on this issue, I was wrong, (even though in this case I
hadn't
> signed the statement), the time had come for non-exclusion and the door to
> that was opened by the student movement which wanted to break with the old
> Left. By 1966 I had moved to the "non-exclusion" position and worked
closely
> with ALL segments until the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (the parent
> group from which Workers World split in 1956, when the founders of Workers
> World supported the Soviet invasion of Hungary) led a split in the
movement
> in about 1970. That was tragic, similar to Workers World split in our
> movement over the first Gulf War. During the Vietnam War I was on very
close
> terms with Gil Green, the Communist Party's representative to the
coalition.
>
> So Fred, I was saved from signing a bad statement by accident - it hadn't
> come out for US withdrawal - but only later changed my basic position.
Muste
> had been mouse trapped and regretted it and went on to lead the
> non-exclusionary Vietnam peace movement.  A broken clock is right twice a
> day. Those of us who are involved in daily work often are wrong, but
rarely
> in exactly the same place.
>
> I would be happy - would rejoice - if Workers World wanted to work in a
> genuine coalition, but thus far that isn't the case and without going into
> April 20th, my concerns apply to that rally as well, and to their tactics.
> This all opens a very useful discussion. I hope this note corrects at
least
> one error from the past.
>
> Peace,
> David McReynolds
>
> << Subj:     Fw: [107disc] Re: [620peace] Response to McReynolds on
whether
> to endorse October 26 antiwar
>  Date:  9/12/02 7:43:56 AM Eastern Daylight Time
>  From:  ffeldman at bellatlantic.net (Fred  Feldman)
>  Reply-to:  107disc at yahoogroups.com
>  To:    620peace at yahoogroups.com
>  CC:    107disc at yahoogroups.com
>
>  David McReynolds has not responded directly to my letter, but he has
>  responded to others who agreed with me to one degree or another.  I
attach
>  an excerpt from one of his letters below.
>
>  His argument against supporting a demonstration called by groups
supported
>  by the Workers World Party is not a new one.
>  Despite his assertions that Workers World has never cooperated with a
united
>  front, he is arguing against a united front with Workers World. He makes
no
>  concrete suggestions for how we should "do better" in the next few
months,
>  aside from not supporting the October 26 action.
>
>   The thinking, it seems tgo me, basically amounts to this: the only way
to
>  avoid a narrow, ineffective, "leftists"-only movement is to bar
Stalinists
>  or those he regards as Stalinists, "advocates" of violence or those he
>  regards as  "advocates" of violence, siupporters of the current
Palestinian
>  intifada and others he regards as too far from or alien to  the American
>  political mainstream from the movement.
>
>  His argument is part of a debate that has been taking place since two
>  demonstrations (one by the International Action Center and ANSWER for
April
>  27 and another, somewhat more broadly sponsored one, for April 20)
against
>  the "war on terrorism."
>
>  Unity was finally achieved for a common march and rally on April 20, but
not
>  without resistance, including from people who held views similar to
>  McReynolds.
>
>  The argument was renewed in the wake of the turnout of 75,000 for that
>  demonstration, including some 25,000 people from the Arab community -- a
>  blow not only to the war drive but to the Patriot Act which was aimed,
among
>  other things, at silencing this community.
>
>  Some claimed that the massive Arab outpouring and the radical tone of the
>  demonstration resulted primarily from the manipulations of the Workers
World
>  Party. Of course the turnout of Arab antiwar protesters was an
achievement,
>  not something for which blame should be apportioned.
>
>  But those who agreed with the view that McReynolds is supporting today
>  misread the mood among the students and other activists who had initially
>  supported the April 20 demonstration before it was unified. This
sentiment
>  was intensified after the U.S. government threw itself openly and
publicly
>  behind the Israeli government's escalating assaults on Palestinians.
>
>  Back in 1965, a debate opened up among pacifists over whether they should
>  join the united-front  protest initiated by Students for a Democratic
>  Society.  SDS had declared a policy of nonexclusion of the Communist
Party
>  and others.  The debate took place over whether this policy was
acceptable,
>  and also over whether a broad united front of antiwar fighters or a broad
>  coalition  with liberal Democrats, would be preferred.
>
>  As I remember David Dellinger and  AJ Muste led the wing that favored a
>  nonexclusionary fight against the war, and
>  Robert Pickus and Bayard Rustin argued for the other point of view.
Rustin
>  and Pickus ended up in the prowar camp.
>
>  I don't see McReynolds as headed toward that camp or even toward the
>  Democratic Party today, but for fighters against the war the strategic
>  questions he is raising are similar.
>
>  The choice is simply whether to place the fight against the government's
war
>  at the center of our considerations.  If we do, we cannot now reject the
>  opportunity posed by the October 26 demonstration for a sizable united
>  protest.
>  If we accept McReynold's stance, we are turning away from the course of
>  building the broadest and most united protest possible in irreconcilable
>  opposition to the war(s), and moving in a different political direction.
>
>  There is no danger at all -- none whatever -- that Workers World will
>  "capture" the movement that is beginning to take shape (assuming, purely
for
>  the purposes of argument, that they want to capture it).  If they or
anyone
>  else try to impose a sectarian course, I am confident their mistakes will
be
>  overcome, just as  I am confident that the mistakes in David McReynolds'
>  argument will be overcome today.  And overcoming them will end up
producing
>  broader and more inclusive unity, not exclusion of any kind.
>  Fred Feldman >>
>
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