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Undernews: Michael Kelly's Washington Post Libel

Michael Kelly's Libel


A Response To “Marching With Stalinists” – Washington Post Jan 22
By Undernews Editor Sam Smith

THE DESPERATION OF THE HAWKS came out in a column by Michael Kelly much like something Richard Nixon or Joe McCarthy would have written in the 1950s:

"The marches in Washington and San Francisco were chiefly sponsored, as was last October's antiwar march in Washington, by a group the [NY] Times chose to call in its only passing reference 'the activist group International Answer.' . . . International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) is a front group for the communist Workers World Party. The Workers World Party is, literally, a Stalinist organization. . . This is whom the left now marches with. The left marches with the Stalinists. The left marches with those who would maintain in power the leading oppressors of humanity in the world."

Since the overwhelming majority of those marching had absolutely no connection with ANSWER, Kelly's remarks were not only tawdry and tacky, they were libelous, and bring to mind the mischievous thought of 300,000 innocent souls filing individual actions against Kelly and the Washington Post.

These are times for smears, however, because the establishment has run out of arguments, defenses, and excuses. Kelly's tantrum, and he does seem to have them, is the product of a mind that - as with, say, Communists and Christian fundamentalists - places excessive emphasis on theoretical assumptions and too little on actual facts. Like others of his ilk - such as David Horowitz and Christopher Hitchens - he learned too much in college and too little since.

Shoving all of life's experiences into theory is an ultimately unsatisfactory business and one of the things that causes such phenomena as wars and bad economics.

While I wasn't as lucky as Ring Lardner Jr, who missed Marx because that segment of his economics course conflicted with the opening of the Red Sox season, I did find Marx boring, perhaps because I had already some experience with real politics, including being a gofer in a couple of campaigns that had ended 69 years of Republican rule in Philadelphia. No one in those campaigns had ever mentioned Marx to me, or even Locke, and I quickly concluded that political science courses were perhaps not the best place to learn about politics. Besides I could never figure out who was meant to run the restaurants in Utopia.

People in real politics - even Communists - don't sit around talking about theories like Horowitz, Kelly or Hitchens. They do things, like opposing wars or trying to get someone elected. And one of the first principles of doing things, as opposed to just thinking deeply about them, is to find others who feel the same way. This can lead sometimes in surprising directions.

In the 1980s, DC elected delegates to a convention at which a constitution was drafted to be used when and if we ever became a state. Among the delegates in an 80% Democratic town were some Republicans, Statehood Party members, and at least one Communist. I was covering a session, sitting right behind one of the Republicans and enjoying how often he voted with the Commie, whose predilections he had clearly not surmised. At one point, he turned to me and said, "Now we'll see how the hard left votes on this one." I replied, "I hate to tell you this, but you've been voting with the hard left all night."

A historical rather than a ideological assessment of American communism can lead in surprising directions as well. For example, as Eric Foner has noted, about the only predominantly white group in the 1930s that made civil rights a priority was the Communist Party. Marvin Caplan, later director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, quotes an anti-civil rights activist at the time as saying, "Integration is the southern version of communism."

The Communist Party, buoyed by people with nowhere else to go, fools, ideological partisans, and FBI infiltrators, survived in no small part because the rest of the political system wasn't doing what it should. There were traitors in their midst, but the record suggests that the subversives within the party probably did less damage to the country than, say, the double agents within the CIA. For the most part, the Communist Party provided a home for idealistic but shelterless activists who in better times would have been somewhere else.

To superimpose the whole Cold War ideological conflict on top of this peculiarly American phenomenon is to miss much of the story, in particular the role played by radical socialist Jews and by blacks struggling for basic rights.

Alfred Kazin described it this way:

"When I was growing up on the Socialist religion, among the most excited messianic believers since primitive Christianity, it never occurred to me that there might be Jews who did not believe in socialism. Or that a time would come when Communists would so harden this religion that it would produce suicidal fanatics like the Rosenbergs and then equally vehement ex-radicals who, in their hatred of their past, became far right extremists. . . "

During the 1960s, many of the movements for change had Communists in their coalition, in part because of the organizational skills they had developed. When you're planning a march, you don't have much time for ideology. A union organizer in the early part of the last century recalled going to Arkansas and forming a coalition that drew from two remarkably disparate sources: the black church and the KKK. Why? Because these were the two groups in the state that knew how to get things organized.

If you're in the midst of action, and not just writing about it from afar, you learn to cope with the fact that the world doesn't all look like you. And what matters is what you believe, not what everyone with whom you are marching believes. Once you have this core of self-understanding you don't have to run and hide under the table just because Ramsey Clark walks into the room. And you learn, based on experience and not theory, when to work with someone and when to get the hell out.

I have known a few Communists, just as I have known a few libertarians, black nationalists, greens, creationists, single taxers, liberals, and Washington Post op ed columnists. I have found the Commies to be rhetorically redundant and sometimes tedious but on the whole less trouble in an organization than, say, police infiltrators, another subspecies you meet if you're active long enough. I have never heard a single one mention Stalin, perhaps because they know I might argue with them, but more likely because Stalin is about as relevant these days as the Free Soil Party or the Know Nothings, even though Kelly wishes it otherwise.

One of the reasons that Kelly may be upset is that nothing terrifies the establishment more than people coming together who shouldn't by all rights be together. And when you have Republicans and "Stalinists" and soccer moms and the previously apathetic all in the same march, there's plenty to be worried about

- SAM SMITH

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