Comments on Dave McReynolds’s Comments on Jan. 18

by Fred Feldman

A few days ago I sent out some comments by Dave McReynolds on the Jan. 18 demo in D.C.—mostly because I see Dave’s observations of the demonstration as complementary to my own in some important ways, since hardly anybody who was not in a helicopter or on a rooftop really got a total picture of the crowd; it was that large.

As far as ANSWER goes, the things that caught me in McReynolds’s remarks were: (1) Despite his antagonism toward ANSWER he was there with enthusiasm. In other words, his priorities were right. (2) He recognized the progressive character of the work ANSWER put into building the demonstration.

In my opinion, there is no question that ANSWER has played, warts and all, a clearly progressive role in this struggle so far. I consider that a fact that is established beyond dispute for anyone who supports a fight against the war and who is not blinded by historical antagonisms or organizational irritations.

Is ANSWER “controlled” by Workers World? Well, Workers World is the initiator and the dominant political tendency in ANSWER. That is a fact, just like ANSWER’s progressive role overall so far is a fact. It follows that ANSWER’s positive role devolves in part to the credit of Workers World. This is fact, not opinion.

But it is also a fact that ANSWER has broadened out significantly in the past period. I have observed that the members of the relatively recently formed Student ANSWER who attend coalition meetings (and the very fact that ANSWER representatives more and more often attend these meetings is a sign of progress) are pretty representative. In their outlook, politics, and organizational role they are similar to the student activists who are associated with student coalitions sponsored by the International Socialist Organization, or Refuse and Resist, or student groups that have no political-tendency sponsorship at all.

I have certainly never heard one of these students get up and make a speech against the Hungarian revolution or in favor of the anti-Gorbachev coup. Do they already have firm opinions on these questions? Frankly, I have my doubts.

I don’t see much point arguing over the question of “control.” As an organization, ANSWER has a right to be controlled or not controlled as it pleases. I will say that I haven’t met any ANSWER people who struck me as having been sentenced to a slave labor camp rather than exercising their political free will.

I don’t think Dave McReynolds gives enough weight to the fact that ANSWER has already joined those building the February 15 mobilizations initiated by United for Peace and Justice. This is a step forward for and by the whole movement.

It seems to me that this step forward should be our starting point today, not disagreements or resentments built up in early stages of the movement or before the movement existed.

My impression of the political origins of Workers World is basically the same as Dave McReynolds’s, but so what? Whatever your views of the Hungarian revolution may be, the fact is that it is history today—important class-struggle history, but still history. I don't think that ANSWER activists should be required to study or debate the Hungarian revolution in order to determine their opinion of their organization or any other in this fight today.

My political origins and training came in the Socialist Workers Party [after Workers World had split from the SWP over the question of the Hungarian revolution], and there’s no doubt in my mind that many of my views and many aspects of how I try to function in the movement—for instance, very firmly advocating my own views while collaborating with others who disagree in order to carry out common action—have roots in that training and experience.

But, frankly, I would be irritated and I think rightly so by anyone who tried to criticize my opinions about what is happening today by dragging in the history of the SWP, about which there are bound to be many opinions, as well as many people who don’t see any need to have an opinion.

The past really happened, the future lies ahead, but all politics, and all class struggle, take place and can only take place in the present. And I think the debates over the outlooks we have formed should take place primarily in terms of and around their relevance and practical effects in today’s struggle.

I suggest starting from today, and in particular from the fact that we have before us the building of the first genuinely, fully united action in the young history of this movement—not forcing the ancient history to the fore today. I’m not going to forget ancient history any more than Dave McReynolds is—it’s a big part of the reason why I am who I am and why I do what I do—but let’s start from here and now. There is no other place in the real world from which we can start.