On the evening of February 6 at Town Hall in New York City, various elements of the American left (spanning Gore Vidal and PATCO and including E.L. Doctorow, Kurt Vonnegut and Pete Seeger) came together to show support for Solidarity in Poland and to condemn the martial law regime in Warsaw. The secondary purpose of the meeting was, however, to transcend the hand-wringing platitudes of the Reagan Administration and to create some distance between radical Americans and the evident hypocrisy of “Let Poland Be Poland.” This duality was most eloquently expressed by Carlos Fuentes, who sent a long message culminating in the admonition: “Let Poland be Poland–yes. But let El Salvador be El Salvador.”
This broad consensus was abruptly–some have said rudely–disturbed by a speech by Susan Sontag. With her permission, we reprint her version of the speech so that readers can form their own opinions of it. But those attending the meeting, as well as the Soho News, which reprinted the speech without obtaining the author’s permission, agree that she also said the following:
Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader’s Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or the New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of Communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?
Unlike the Reader’s Digest, we are happy to enter the lists about this or any other period of modern history (even periods of history that took place before Sontag was born, and that are thus not covered by her own personal experience and confessional). We also welcome the spirit in which she challenged the left to examine its own record. If the comments beginning on page 231 are any indication, there are few takers for the equation she makes between Communism and fascism, however these overworked terms are defined. But the left should not make the mistake of attacking Russian despotism purely for the sake of symmetry.
The issue of “double standards” is an exceptionally difficult one. Our contributors take up the challenge, both implied and overt. –The Editors
Susan Sontag has written many books of fiction and nonfiction, and directed three films. Her most recent books are I, etcetera, a collection of stories, and Under the Sign of Saturn, a collection of essays.
We meet here tonight to express our solidarity with the people of Poland, now languishing under the brutal oppression of what one can only call–if that word has any meaning–a fascist regime. To protest the infamy of the Jaruzelski junta is not a difficult position to take. No sentiment could be more mainstream. “Solidarity with Poland, solidarity with Solidarity” is a call launched by dozens of governments in the rich world, a call that has resounded in public meetings held since mid-December in every major city in Western Europe and a few in North America. It is legitimate to ask: What is the point of our meeting? To add our voice to the chorus of indignation? I do not offer this hypothesis with irony. That may be indeed just what we are doing–and quite rightly so. But it is my understanding that those who have organized tonight’s meeting, and most of those who are speaking here, have a somewhat different purpose. It is, of course, to express our condemnation of the crushing of the democratic movement in Poland. But it is also to distinguish ourselves from others in the chorus of virtuous indignation, to stake out a different kind of support for Poland than that tendered by, say, Reagan and Haig and Thatcher.