To the editors:
Bill Martin's support for the ruthlessly violent, profoundly ideologically rigid Communist Party of Peru is, in my opinion, terribly ill-considered ("Defender of the Shining Path," January 22).
Martin's claim to have read "practically everything that's printed in English about Peru and the Shining Path" doesn't impress me very much. It reminds me of a well-known local conservative fiction writer and columnist who, after recently claiming (on WGN's Extension 720) to have long been a voracious daily reader of the New York Times, proceeded to make some amazingly simple-minded and ill-informed comments about global warming and other environmental issues, about which the Times regularly publishes lengthy and usually reliable reports.
Nevertheless, I can attest that Bill Martin is not, as Benjamin T. Rayner so irresponsibly stated (Letters, February 5), "an obvious pseudopolitical, neo-coffeehouse Marxist." I don't know Martin well, but I've attended one of his lectures and had a couple of brief conversations with him, and he struck me as quite a serious and capable academic philosopher and social theorist. Were he not, it's unlikely DePaul University would have hired him.
But neither is Martin "the liveliest spark Chicago leftism has produced in a lo-o-o-o-ong time," as Steven Woodard has so enthusiastically persuaded himself (Letters, March 5). After the lecture I attended, I pointed out to Martin that no variety of Marxism has yet proved especially successful in resolving any of society's major problems (nor has any variety of capitalism). I suggested that maybe it's time he threw that failed ideology "out the window" and started looking afresh for alternatives to capitalism that stood a better chance of succeeding.
My suggestion was perhaps a little intemperate. I should have suggested only that he put Marxism "on the shelf" for awhile and that he do some serious exploring of radical alternatives to Marxism. Unfortunately, Martin seems no more interested in engaging in such an exploration than are most other people who call themselves Marxists. The attachment such people have to the legacy of Karl Marx seems as often to be grounded in nostalgic emotion as in ongoing critical and self-critical thought.
Paul Wack (Letters, February 5) got it exactly right in saying that "what is needed is a perspective that recognizes movements such as Shining Path as the consequence of, rather than solution to, inherently unjust political and economic structures." Though I don't know Wack at all, PingDing Yu's characterization of him (Letters, March 5) as "another couch-potato American, bleeding-heart liberal," "a hand-wringing, self-professed do-gooder," and "a schmuck sitting in the comfort of his living room" is as irresponsible and as obviously ill-informed as Rayner's characterization of Bill Martin. Letters as thoughtful as Wack's don't get written by couch potatoes sitting in the comfort of their living rooms. My guess is that Paul Wack is a serious, clear-headed activist who is much better informed about the situation in Peru than either PingDing Yu or Steve Woodard.
The easy, lazy way to address difficult societal problems is to jump on some Marxist, Maoist, or other bandwagon and begin to stridently and self-righteously trumpet a set of ready-made, simple-minded slogans and "solutions." (Admittedly, that can be great fun.) Thinking seriously and independently about difficult problems and struggling to come up with (and then to help implement) innovative yet effective solutions is hard and often very frustrating work.
But if the solutions we need are ever to be found, they will most likely be found by those all-too-rare (in the U.S. and in Peru) individuals who are willing to commit themselves, without certainty of success or promise of monetary or other rewards, to just that kind of work.