David McReynold's critique of DSA
Source Louis Proyect
Date 99/06/17/14:33

Date: Thu, 17 Jun 1999 11:34:51 -0400
Last Sunday I was in Philadelphia, speaking to the Brandywine Peace Center
- a peace and social justice group that has been doing good work there for
many years. Several old friends and members of Democratic Socialists of
America (DSA) came to hear me, fresh from a meeting of their own. Carl
Dahlgren, at 75, looked younger than I do - good Quaker living.

After the meeting, during the question period, Ann Davidon, an old friend
from WRL, asked about the chance of DSA and the Socialist Party merging. I
said there were problems - including the pro-war position DSA had taken. (I
didn't go into the other areas, where I tend at times to agree with DSA -
a less rigid position on electoral action than the SP takes, and its sound
position on class as a determining force). I was told at once by the DSA
folks present that "that is just Bogdan Denitch - he doesn't speak for DSA".

When I got back I sent out a note to some of the comrades in the Socialist
Party, saying the brief encounter helped remind me that, despite the
differences with the DSA leadership, there were strong and decent forces in
DSA with which we would be in wide agreement in local work. (I still think
this, and this letter is meant to explore a problem, not provoke one).

And then I brought home the DSA house organ - Democratic Left - which I
still get, even though my nominal membership in DSA lapsed many months
ago. It had, as always, some good material. Including a sharp review by
Jason Schulman of a bio on Irving Howe, some useful notes on MAI
(Multilateral Agreement on Investment) by Chris Riddiough. However it also
had on the cover three heads: Bombs / Books / Buds. This suggested perhaps
something significant on the NATO bombing. (And maybe on literature and
Budweiser beer).

Inside the front page was the April 21st Statement of the DSA Steering
Committee, and the shorter May 15th statement of the National Political
Committee. Then in the back, Bogdan Denitch, DSA's Honorary Chair, had
three pages for his own article. Sorting this all out was a little like
reading Pravda. The short, most recent statement by what I assume is the
more representative committee of DSA, began by strongly condemning the
NATO bombing. But the statement also said it "reaffirmed" the April
statement of the Steering Committee, which was much longer and only
opposed the bombing of Belgrade and other urban centers - not the bombing
itself, and not the civilian targets which were being hit. The NATO action
was not condemned, even though the statement said that "we have never
believed that NATO has the moral authority to carry out such missions".
(No comment anywhere in either statement that the US, which calls the shots
for NATO, was in violation of the UN Charter or that NATO was in violation
of its own Charter, so that not only was there a lack of moral authority,
there was also a clear problem of the NATO action being in violation of
established international law). There was a call in the April statement
for the War Crimes Tribunal to continue its work and specifically to
prosecute all those responsible for directing ethnic cleansing campaigns -
but this call for justice (which I support) did not suggest that perhaps
the United States and NATO had taken actions which should fall under the
jurisdiction of the War Crimes Tribunal. (Specifically the deliberate
hitting of civilian targets, including media and communications, power,
bridges, hospitals, factories, etc.).

I don't want to parse the politics of the two statements, except to note it
was obvious from reading them that they were a desperate effort to bridge
major disagreements. (At the bottom of this first page there was a
paragraph by the editors which noted there were serious problems, and many
issues, including the dissolution of NATO, which ought to be up for
discussion in the coming discussion bulletins).

Now we turn to the three pages from Bogdan Denitch. Denitch is not only the
honorary Chair, he is also the DSA rep to the Socialist International, and
Chair of the DSA International Committee, and has sold himself for years
to DSA and others (I gather from the two paragraphs introducing his
article, the "others" include various "European foreign ministries") as an
expert on Yugoslavia. Something I'd never guess from this botched article.

He begins with a denunciation of ethnic cleansing (very good, who can
disagree), but then, unless you read it carefully, it seems as if the
ethnic cleansing was in full swing BEFORE the NATO attack, when in fact it
was not. The horror of the ethnic cleansing came after the bombing. Nor
does Dentich discuss the role of the KLA in the past year or so until late
in the article, thus detaching it from any kind of "cause and effect", and
he doesn't note its role in shooting Serb police and troops - and Albanian
civilians. Here is Denitch, an expert on Yugoslavia, and all he can say of
the KLA is that they have no "visible democratic credentials". Christ, I
get more hard information from the N.Y.Times!

Denitch suggests this NATO action raises "at least two issues" - it turns
out neither issue has anything to do with whether NATO has the right to
replace the United Nations, or what the implications are when the "big
five" on the Security Council are split three to two in favor of the NATO
action. (Russia and China, both serious nuclear powers, sharply opposed,
while the two once powerful colonial states, now reduced to the level of
interesting, civilized, but minor third rate powers - France and Great
Britain - are all the US could count on). Nor, of course, does Denitch
question the value of NATO itself which, now that it expanded under
pressure from the US arms lobby, has managed to get into the first
shooting war in fifty years. Instead, Denitch worries about what will
happen if Clinton backs down "with all the consequent costs to both NATOs
credibility and US prestige". This, from a one-time Trotskyist? Are we
watching a "late in life transformation" of Denitch into the mold of his
once-mentor, the late Max Shachtman?

If I'm being harsh I offer no apoligies - for while the DSA committees
struggled and came up at least for some questions about the bombing (in the
first statement issued "no hitting Belgrade" and in the second statement a
clear demand for an end of bombing), the article, with no rebuttal, no
indication at all that Denitch was not speaking for DSA's leadership and
rank and file, rejected any bombing halt. This when it had become clear
that the bombing was destroying civil life in Serbia, as effectively as
the Serb military had destroyed the civil life of the Albanians in Kosov@.
I don't think you could separate the Denitch position on bombing Serbia
from that of the mouth that roared - Tony Blair - if you had a sharp knife.

If this was one of two or three positions, I'd say fine - DSA is like the
rest of us. The Committees of Correspondence and the Socialist Party, both
of which took clear positions condemning the NATO action (and, of course,
the ethnic cleansing) and which both took active part in providing
leadership to local anti-war actions, still had strong internal dissent to
the official positions. Why on so complex an issue would one be surprised?
On the contrary, a democratic organization should not find full agreement
over night on this kind of thing. Or possibly never find it. Yet the
impression given - for surely Denitch's three page article will carry more
weight than two complex and unclear resolutions - is that DSA supported
the bombing and the war and NATO.

I think of DSA as a fraternal organization, and believe that on many issues
(including, but not limited, to the trade union movement) we must work
together. But to those of you in DSA, please don't be offended too much if
I ask who speaks for the rank and file, for the membership? Denitch, who
supported the bombing until the last (my information is that NATO bombed
with great vigor on the verge of the settlement, long after it would have
been helpful, in the final two or three days, to just stop - bombing that
may have killed in one strike alone some 300 Serb troops and we know
killed some civilians) certainly has the right to belong to DSA or COC or
the SP or, for that matter, SDUSA (if he can find it - I think it now only
has a web site). But the leader and spokesperson for a democratic
socialist organization?

Fraternally, David McReynolds

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