Abortion Rights: Marxists and Liberals

Apsken at aol.com Apsken at aol.com
Mon Feb 8 06:27:39 PST 1999

Alex is not a sympathetic character, Frances. He's spent the past six months (at least; that's about where I subscribed) whining that no worthwhile political activity is possible for him, all the while cynically trashing others' activism. He thinks dedication consists of defending Noam Chomsky's worst lapse of judgment, and fails to see that Saint Noam might have been saved from that ignominy if he had joined the mass movement with which he claims agreement.

Now Alex has taken a turn for the worse. Anyone who professes adherence to Marxism, but who needs a "Marxist" justification for struggling against oppression, is seeking one of two things: charitably, he's looking for true religion; malignly, he's groping for the "Marxist" reason NOT to struggle against oppression, like the RCP's hateful campaign against gay rights. Either way, he deserves a thrashing, not tender understanding, if he's ever going to amount to anything.

Frances Bolton wrote, "Today's activists don't have stories that are as glamorous, or as historically important, as those of activists who were active in the 60s. There is simply nothing like that going on, at least in the States. The sharing of one's experiences during those also seems to have the effect of reminding younger activists and would-be activists that they will not measure up, that their activism will be puny in comparison. It tells them that they are the 'pygmy children of a giant race.' (Kushner). So, in certain respects, it might be seen as power-tripping."

I regard that as a false accusation, and as evasive of the point under discussion. First, anyone who regards stature on an e-list as "power" is deluded beyond cure. Second, this awesome and starstuck fiction fortifies contempt for experience and commitment that typifies today's propaganda assault on activism, and it regards knowledge, ignorance, engagement, and abstention equally. In the sixties, no one knew it was The Sixties.

In any event, my outlook has always been the opposite. When I became active in the fifties, there was no abundant glory in joining up with leftwing causes. I had to search for radical activists who were willing to share their experiences, at a time when most were weary of hard times, many were frightened, and some were concealing their beliefs. Precisely for that reason I was eager to learn all I could from those who had experienced and participated in the earlier waves of insurgency, and eagerly anticipated the day when I'd have an opportunity to engage in a similar wave of activism. Challenging young socialists to engage in struggle, even when involvement often seemed futile and doomed to failure, was their greatest gift to those of my generation.

Suppose instead of shouldering my picket sign I had sneered, "You folks are just reliving the glorious thirties, but I want you to tell me why I should be concerned about atomic bombs. Why should I petition for open housing? Why should I march and hand out leaflets to free Jomo Kenyatta? What do those issues have to do with the sacred process of production?" That is a perfect parallel to Alex's taunt, which ought not be indulged -- ESPECIALLY against his preposterous refrain that there's nothing worth struggling for in Lynchburg.

But suppose Alex is right -- Lynchburg is bourgeois heaven where everyone is rich from clipping coupons, nearby proletarians have been anesthetized, no one is exploited or oppressed, and there is no struggle. Well, Marxists and radicals are the most mobile cosmopolitan people on earth, always going where the action is, as I've done so often and continue to do [i.e., this isn't nostalgia, Alex; that's just your pretext for denial.]. But is Alex telling us the truth? I doubt there is a community in this country that lacks protests to free Mumia. I write today from the most prosperous point in Pennsylvania; there is more radical activity here than any one person could engage.

Frances again: "Perhaps before trying to teach younger, less experienced activists a lesson, you might show them the respect of asking them if they want you to be their teacher, or be open to the possiblity that you haven't learned everything and there might be things they could teach you as well."

I am not Alex's teacher, and would not attempt to be. I did not initiate this thread; Alex did. I merely expressed my disgust that anyone professing to march under the banner of Marxism could hold the view that women's right to abortion is debatable. The learning process never ends for me, and I have learned much from younger comrades and my own children. That is not the issue on the table. Instead, we are challenged to justify our most fundamental convictions by one who holds our precious traditions in contempt.

Finally, it simply isn't true that activism today is unrewarding. But you can't learn to appreciate those rewards by standing outside, jeering at and insulting those who commit themselves.

The workers' flag is deepest red. It shrouded oft our martyred dead.

And e'er their limbs grew stiff and cold, their life's blood dyed its ev'ry fold.

Then raise the scarlet banner high, beneath its folds we'll live and die.

Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, we'll keep the red flag flying here.

It well recalls the triumphs past, it gives the hope of peace, at last --

The banner bright, the symbol plain, of human right and human gain.

It waved above our infant might, when all ahead looked dark as night.

It witnessed many a deed and vow, we will not change its color now.

Then raise the scarlet banner high . . . .

That's as much religion as any Marxist could want, maybe too much. But at least it honors the traditions from which we draw inspiration, the very ones that Alex regards as unworthy.

Ken Lawrence

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