Marty Jezer wrote:
> With regard to the position that Humphrey would have ended the war had he
> won the election in 68, Jeremy is right that the movement had such
> antipathy towards LBJ, HHH, and the Democratic Party that supporting HHH
> was not an option. In my biography of Abbie Hoffman, I make a similar
> argument. But the idea of supporting HHH was not out of the ballpark as
> some on the left (the Irving Howe-Michael Harrington "negotiations now"
> social Democrats) took that position. Alas, there is a history to that too,
> and their mistake in the early 1960s of denouncing SDS left them with no
> credibility in 1968 when they may have been right on this issue.
Irving Howe and Michael Harrington and their organization, the
Democratic Socialists of America, had never made a clean break with the
Democrats and their wishy-washy liberalism was already contemptible
before they decided to support Humphrey. To say they were part of the
left or the anti-war movement is to muddy the history of the time.
> The role of leadership: Mandela and the ANC in South Africa were willing to
> make a historic strategic shift when they decided to enter negotiations
> with the white power structure. That took courage and foresight. Mao
> during the 1930s at the time of the civil war with the Nationalists
> abruptly ended that war to make common cause with the Nationalists against
> the Japanese, who he perceived as the more immediate threat to the Chinese
> people and the communist movement. That was bold leadership, looking at and
> acting on the basis of objective perception. Our leadership lacked that
> tough objectivity to make that kind of difficult decision. Many of the
> leaders even denied they were leaders rather than taking responsibility for
> their acts of leadership. Too often, we were too enamored of our
> self-created revolutionary mystique to willingly look at the tough reality.
First, without the Soviet Union ot any counter-balance to US hegemony,
Mandela was given little choice in making the compromise that he did,
one in which the white power structure retained and retains to this day,
the same control over the wealth and economy of So. Africa as it did
before while the murderers of the apartheid regime escaped Scott free,
something that never would have been tolerated had the victims been
Mao's decision to collaborate with the KMT Nationalists was a political
disaster as anyone who has studied the history of the Chinese revolution
will attest to. The KMT did nothing to aid in the struggle against the
Japanese and the deal caused thousands of Cbinese to lose their lives.
Chu Teh, the General who directed the Chinese 8th Route Army and was
second only to Mao reveals in Anna Louise Strong's excellent biography,
how the people resisted the deal and had to be convinced by the party
cadres to go along with it. In this case the people were right and Mao
dreadfully wrong. I remember while visiting Jordan in 1970, how young
Palestinians of Fateh who had been indocrinated by the opportunist and
later sell-out Yasser Arafat, to tell foreign visitors that the
rationalization for the PLO's alliance with Saudi Arabia was based on
Mao's alliance with Chiang Kai Shek.
That being said, there was no equivalent to either Mandela or Mao in the
US movement who could have made a deal with the Democrats as Jezer
suggests. Our movement didn't have any "leadership" per se, and while
that may be perceived in hindsight as weakness, it was also a strength.
With no leader, there was no leader to sell out.
> But that's hind site. What really counts is what we learned from it. And I
> sometimes feel that we've learned very little. Being a tiny minority we're
> still reading each other out of the movement, still focusing on our
> disagreements rather than building a movement around the issues on which we
> have agreement.
> The case of Gitlin is a good example. I can't comment on the Iraqi blood
> donation cause I never heard of it. But the anti-Israel ad: As a Jew I
> denounced the 1967 War in Win Magazine and my article cost us subscribers.
> I've been a public proponent of Palestinan statehood as long as I remember.
> I also opposed the invasion of Lebanon. But would I have signed Blankfort's
> ad? I dunno. I'd want to know how it was worded and who else signed it.
> (There was a lot of anti-semitism on the left in that period and there were
> people on the left who treated the PLO as worshipfully and uncritically as
> others on the left treated the Black Panthers). So Gitlin may have had good
> reason to refuse to sign an ad. For this he is denounced (not just by Jeff
> here on this list, but by Alex Cockburn regularly in The Nation) and purged
> him from the movement.
Gitlin's only reason for not signing the ad was that it did not condemn
the PLO as well, but our ad was not a pro-PLO ad but in opposition to a
bloody, unwarranted invasion of Lebanon by Israel which took 20,000
lives, most of them civilian and many of them children who lost legs and
arms from the use of US-provided cluster bombs. But it was not my ad,
per se. It was jointly written with Hilton Obenzinger, now a professor
at Stanford, and three other anti-Zionist Jewish colleagues. Years
later, at an occasion when I encountered Gitlin and was about to remind
him of his refusal to sign the ad in front of his friend Christopher
Hichens, Gitlin pre-empted me by turning to Hichens and saying that I
was the person he had told him about and that he was now sorry for not
having signed the ad. It was ruse, however, since he soon after went on
the offensive, attacking Muslim students at UC Berkeley for making a
comparison of apartheid in So. Africa with the apartheid against the
Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories, a subject that had
been well-covered by then by leading journalist in Israel's own
I would never have known that Gitlin had given blood for "our boys" at
the time of the Gulf Bombardment if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes on
NBC. Then he went on, with Michael Lerner, who supported the bombing,
to attack the movement against the war as being anti-Semitic which in
this country, more often than not, is the first refuge of scoundrels.
There were some, but not many, on the left who viewed the PLO
uncritically but I was not one of those. I supported the rights of the
Palestinian people who had been victimized by Israel and of the Lebanese
who were now added, once again, to the list of its victims (since Israel
had been bombing Lebanon since 1964 and had previously invaded Lebanon
in 1978). In fact, the PLO saw to it that an unabashedly pro-Palestinian
publication which I edited from 1988 to 1995, the Middle East Labor
Bulletin, was prohibited from distribution at the annual UN gathering in
NY of The Question of Palestine because of our failure to genuflect
either to Arafat or the PLO.
> It's the same old shit all over again. When is the movement going to learn
> that there are very few easy moral and political choices in the real world
> of politics (which differ from the politics of rhetoric and ideology).Ten
> people in an organization in the name of "the people" denounce five of the
> members because the five disagree on an issue. Now the organization has
> five members, but their purity is in tact. One thing I learned from the
> sixties is that "revolutionary purity" isn't worth anything in political
> currency. Better to compromise when necessary and eat crow and maybe have
> some effect than stand off on the sidelines smug, correct, and politically
Many mistakes were made in the 60s. I was not a part of SDS, being a few
years older, but I knew many members. I recall such stupidities as that
offered by Bob Avakian who, when I ran into him on Berkeley's Telegraph
Ave., responded to my question about what had happened at an SDS
conference in Chicago, by raising his fist in the air and shouting, "The
thoughts of Chairman Mao triumphed." That, of course, was purely
infantile as well as inane, particularly since there only the two of us.
But I would argue that if one has an understanding of how this country
works and has principles for changed based on this understanding, than
the compromise that Jezer and others suggest, i.e., suipport of a
warmongering Humphrey for president, becomes unconscionable. Nothing
that has happened since, and speculation without a shred of evidence,
has not convinced me otherwise.
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