Keep Up the Good Work

Against the Current, No. 43, March/April 1993

David Linn

I AM WRITING in part to encourage you to keep up the good work Justin Schwartz’s essay Revolution and Justice” in ATC 42 was a minor masterpiece, and Cecilia Green’s three-part essay on women in Caribbean slavery in ATC 4042 was a major one. I’d like to see you print more letters, so here goes one now.

In Mike Zielinski’s piece on “Bill Clinton in the World” (ATC 42) he makes the curious comment that “during the 1980s, a broad movement-for the first time in U.S. radical history–went beyond an antiwar agenda to build a conscious identification and ‘solidarity’ with liberation movements like the ANC and the FMLN.”

It is clear to me that there is nothing new about the “conscious identification and solidarity” of 1980s movements I think the point is important to make, because a number of liberal historians of the Vietnam era (notably Todd Gitlin and Tom Hayden, among others) have chosen, for reasons pertaining to their own current personal and political ambitions, to downplay, derogate or just plain ignore the solidarity aspects of earlier movements.

Gitlin, Hayden and some of the others were major participants in those movements, and thus have considerable authority as historians for later generations who were not themselves there to witness events. Ziellnski’s comment therefore tends to perpetuate an historical falsehood.

Isolationism in the U.S. left, like isolationism in the United States generally, was for the most part a casualty of World War I. Thus by 1920 there was already an appreciable solidarity movement here in support of the new Soviet Union, which coincided with official U.S. intervention against that government But even in the nineteenth century there were radicals in eastern cities who worked against U.S. anti-Native genocide, in direct solidarity with indigenous nations. In the 1930s sizeable numbers of people not only biked about solidarity, but actually went to Spain to risk their lives practicing it.

However, the current coverup of former solidarity movements is concerned mainly with those in the Vietnam era. NLF flags were common at antiwar demonstrations by 1967, and by 1968 identification with the NLF was an important segment of opinion within the antiwar movement Che Guevara’s “belly of the monster” speech was a strong impetus to anti-imperialism in this country, and “one struggle, many front” became a catechism.

By 1970 there were strong solidarity movements here, not only with Indochina and Cuba, but also with Dominica, Guatemala, Bolivia, Palestine, Korea, Indochina and Chile, not to mention revitalized solidarity movements with BIack Chicano, Puerto Rican and Native nationalism, it is fairly safe to say that by 1971, solidarity (or “fifth columnism” as it was called by the right) was the dominant strain of thought among fulltime, non-electoral antiwar activists.

This is embarrassing now to those leaders who have since rejoined the Democratic Party or worse. This, however, is no reason for us or Zielinski to forget it.

March-April 1993, ATC 43