No need to gloss over disagreements

May 30, 2008

STUART EASTERLING'S letter ("Too hard on Reverend Wright") criticizing Socialist Worker's editorial on Barack Obama and Rev. Jeremiah Wright ("Dumping Wright to move to the right") misreads the intent of the editorial and overlooks the need for Marxists to put forward a clear line on race and racism during an election in which these issues will dominate the political terrain.

First off, Stuart wrongly describes the editorial as simply a "defense of Jeremiah Wright." The main point of the article is to expose Obama's opportunistic shift to the right in response to the attacks on Wright and Obama by both the racist media and the Clinton campaign.

It attempts to explain what has changed in U.S. politics from when Obama would defend Wright (although half-heartedly) not too long ago, to where Obama now is willing to abandon him. This tells us a lot about the direction the Obama campaign will take as it prepares to vie for political power on the national stage.

Socialist Worker does defend Wright for consistently exposing the imperialist aims of the U.S. in its military adventures and for exposing the many manifestations of racism. That is the political basis for the criticism of Obama for abandoning Wright.

It would be a mistake, though, for SW to equate our "defense of Wright" on these positions with agreement on the roots of racism. In fact, it is important to distinguish what Marxists say about racism with what other sections of the left have to say if we are to clarify these issues for our readers.

Wright's biological determinism explaining the different learning styles of Blacks and Whites is non-Marxist and has nothing to do with explaining the intersection of poverty and racism in under-educating youth of color in the U.S. Furthermore, these sort of arguments, if adopted by the left, can be used to justify re-segregating schools to accommodate the supposedly different learning styles of different races.

Finally, SW's criticism of Wright for not being critical of Farrakhan's anti-Semitic remarks is not just quibbling. Wright has taken a position in support of Palestine and in opposition to Israel's Zionist project. That is good. Still, the right wing in this country will attempt to isolate supporters of Palestinian rights in this country by equating our anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

It would be a mistake for us to gloss over a mistake that Wright makes, and it misses the role we hope SW can play in clarifying the political issues of the day and bringing Marxist politics to life for our audience.
Andy Libson, San Francisco

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