Magazine article The Nation

Also in Attendance

Magazine article The Nation

Also in Attendance

Article excerpt

The African-American scholars, activists and leaders who recently answered the Rev. Ben Chavis's call for a conversation ore wisely excluded the press from most of their exchange. So instead attention went to the sideshow - the inclusion of Louis Farrakhan.

Attacking Ben Chavis for the sins of Farrakhan is shortsighted. The conference started a valuable dialogue at a time of great economic desperation and racial hostility. Chavis invited not just the usual headliners like Princeton's Cornel West but also the often-overlooked community and fraternal organizations, like the Prince Hall Masons and the National Dental Association, which stand at the heart of the enduring African-American tradition of mutual aid. They have quietly sustained and empowered their constituencies from the days of Jim Crow and could play a crucial role in a renewed black political movement.

Those who would delegitimize the summit because of their fears of Farrakhan may be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. As historian Gerald Horne has pointed out, anti-racialist black leaders like Paul Robeson and W.E.B. Du Bois were red-baited out of influence in the McCarthy era, leaving a vacuum into which rushed Elijah Muhammed's original Nation of Islam and other nationalist, reactionary forces. It would be ironic if Chavis met a similar fate. In a full-ranging black community dialogue Farrakhan plays at most a marginal part; but if Chavis and his conciliatory efforts are shot down, Farrakhan will stand stronger than ever.



At the risk of appearing thin-skinned, I want to reply to the May 23 Edward Sorel cartoon "Saturday:" Sorel tells the sad tale of going to lunch after "Norman's" presentation at the Socialist Scholars Conference, his encounter there with a "smug young man named David" who "had a book coming out in the fall that would prove the validity of Marxism" and who defended Marxist dictatorships. He was so "much like the Communists I remembered from my twenties" that "I should have stayed home." I think it fair to conclude that I am that "smug young man."

In a sense I'm flattered to be called a smug young man and to be given a head of thick curly hair. (I'm a 52-year-old professor quite thin on top.) I'm a nonsectarian Marxist who has been a card-carrying member of Amnesty International since 1978. I know it's not fashionable these days to identify with Marxism, but intellectual integrity requires that I do so. …

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