Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The last word on abortion

Well, you won't find it here. Which is, I think, the whole point, the crux, in fact, of the current Rebick-May controversy.

Actually there shouldn't be a controversy. A woman's right to choose is not up for discussion. May, certainly, favours safe, legal abortion, and wants access to it improved. She doesn't want the choice debate re-opened.* That's the pro-choice position. Keep the state, the courts and angry boyfriends out of it. The decision is solely up to the woman. Period.

That doesn't mean, however, that on the abortion issue itself there isn't a full range of opinion. There is no, and can be no, last word. I've heard misgivings like May's expressed by staunch pro-choicers in my time. But she made the political rookie's mistake of thinking out loud. In our current political culture, that's a rash and foolish act.

One might have expected better of our own progressive ranks, but 'twas not to be, in quite a few cases. Judy Rebick, for whom I have the greatest respect, rushed into print to denounce May without, it seems, even talking to her first. And a horde of bibble-babblers soon joined the pile-on (no links to Babble will be provided here; I feel badly enough having posted at that struck site, but readers can soon find what I'm talking about). EnMasse, meanwhile, had its own separate show trial. The correct position, it seems, is not only that abortion is a woman's decision, but that said woman should have no misgivings about it, not the slightest qualm, and if she does she should darn well keep it to herself.

For the gender Stalinists around, there is only one position on anything permitted. The word "pro-choice," in their hands, is fast becoming a cultish password to determine who is an in-group purist and who is the enemy. Such people are fond of their black and white, and I treasure the words of one debater over at EnMasse who sums up this approach perfectly: "Life isn't nuanced."


Signaling the commencement of the Sino-Soviet split back in the 'sixties, Peking Review published a lengthy article which, among other things, criticized then Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev for being too hard on Comrade Stalin. He did a lot of good things, wrote the commentator, although "he did not always distinguish between contradictions among the people and contradictions between the people and the enemy."

Leaving aside the truly breathtaking understatement here, one might make the same observation of some of the disputants today. Having begun their feeding frenzy on Elizabeth May, their appetites merely increased. For trying to inject the notion that one could be pro-choice and anti-abortion into the debate, I was immediately denounced as a fraud, a poser, a red-baiter, anti-choice and a young member of the Old Boys Club. (I am not young. So there. Nyah, nyah.)

All of the bad old polemical encounters in my life flashed before my eyes. Hell, that's the way I used to talk, back in the day. You'd read a page or two of Lenin to get the flavour, and then go out and denounce people, usually inhabitants of competing groupuscules who were equally eager to denounce you. It was all great fun, and we never got a damned thing done. We spoke for "the people," but I'm reminded of what one commentator said of Leon Trotsky: "He had a deep love for a human race not yet born." A few of us remained loftily above the sectarian "tendencies," calling ourselves "independent socialists." We were perhaps the worst sectarians of the lot.

In any case, some of us got serious about social change, and soon realized that allies and coalitions were the only way that was going to happen. Our styles became different: we stopped the ritual denunciations and public humiliations, and began to talk to people, in all of their complexity, contradictions and diversity--and, with differing degrees of success, to listen to them too. I would recommend a few years in the labour movement--my beat for nearly a quarter-century--for anyone who is seriously interested in the art of working with people of all stripes to achieve positive results. (Not that things can't get heated there, too, but it's a different kind of heated.)

But maybe some of us didn't learn, or maybe the lesson needs to be continually learned: you don't make allies by filtering them through the fine mesh of dogmatic, rigid and simplistic ideology and junking whoever gets caught. Look, it's been tried before. It doesn't work. Stop doing it. It kills people.

And any right-wingers reading this--don't take heart from it. I'm not referring to a widespread difficulty in progressive ranks, only to a tendency that must be named and confronted when it arises. Christ had his Paul, and Marx had his Stalin, and the results, left unchecked, are a matter of historical record. This is not an attack on feminism or the Left. I'm talking about the correct handling of contradictions among the people, here. You're the enemy.

UPDATE: (December 27) Meanwhile, over at EnMasse and Babble, a number of the people I have speaking about are busy being...silenced. :)

1) Are you in favour of restricting abortions to therapeutic abortions through legislation? Elizabeth May: NO.

No comments: