Click on the title to link to the Partisan Defense Committee Web site.
This comment originally was placed as a note on a "Defend the Evergreen State College" blog dated June 7, 2008. I think that the that note I made there about an aspect of class struggle defense can be of general use to the radical public and so have reposted it here as a separate blog.
A Lesson For The Unwary
As I have explained before this site is, among others things, committed to trying to pass on some of the lessons of the international labor movement and other struggles of the oppressed. Sometimes that takes the form a review of someone else’s struggles, now or in the past. Sometimes it takes the form of personal comment, many times on some sin of omission or commission from which the writer has ‘learned’ something. This situation with the struggling students out in Evergreen State College in Washington brings up just such a situation. Some of the students there are in deep legal trouble over some incidents that occurred last winter. The details can be found in the article above or by going to their website which I have listed.
Here is a little nugget about what not to do when writing in to the authorities in defense of fellow militants. I will leave out names of persons, places and organizations on the off-hand chance that the government may still want to make something of it. The cases of the ex-Black Panthers of the San Francisco 8 this past year graphically bring that thought to mind.
Many years ago, back in the early 1970’s, I, at the urging of some defense organization (not the Partisan Defense Committee because it was not around then) urged me to write to a Midwestern prosecutor on behalf of a well-known defendant in a criminal case. There were a range of charges alleged, some serious, some not. Moreover, I had personally worked on a few occasions with this person. However, here is the sticking point. That defendant’s politics (black nationalism mixed with anarchism) had drifted far from mine (drifting toward Marxism).
Despite those differences, as I had been committed ever since my youthful liberal days to the old labor slogan- ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’ I duly sent off my letter. (I believe that I also made a donation but do not hold me to that.) Of course the letter spoke of the injustice of the charges, the implication of a frame-up and the need to free the defendant immediately. So far, so good. But then I got on my high horse and started to berate the obvious limitations of the defendant’s political perspective and that while not accusing him of being a counter-revolutionary I might have well have. Here is the kicker. At trial the prosecutor, in his own screwy way tried to make something of it to- on the basis of something I wrote – put the defendant's political views outside the realm of rational politics and therefore to validate the need to incarcerate him. The defendant eventually got off on all counts-the frame actually was on- but that is not the point.
The point though is why was I, in essence, telling an agent of the bourgeois state- a state that I, moreover, was in the process of seeing needed to be changed fundamentally- of the disputes within the working class movement. The gap between us (the defendant and I) and that state was far greater than the differences between us. A chasm. I latter mentioned this story to an old communist who is the source for this piece of wisdom that I have just imparted to you about the class divide here. He further stated that the state did not have political defendants put on trial because of their bad leftist politics but because they represented some kind of perceived threat to that state.
So when you write letters of support to the authorities in Washington, or elsewhere, just state your outrage at the injustice of the charges, your solidarity with the defendants, the call for their freedom and leave it at that. Then come back here and talk about the political shortcomings of the defendants’ political positions. See my May 1968, Student Power and the Working Class, for example.