A Letter from the Editors

Against the Current, No. 1, January/February 1986

The editors

WITH THIS ISSUE Against the Current inaugurates a new magazine of socialist theory and strategy. Three American socialist journals have fused to contribute their resources to creating a publication which is broader and livelier than any of them alone could have hoped to be. The new Against the Current editorial board includes Johanna Brenner and Robert Brenner from Against the Current, Leslie Evans and Dianne Feeley from Socialist Unity, and David Finkel and Linda Manning Myatt from Changes. With future issues, new editors will be joining the editorial board, from a variety of movement and political perspectives.

The new magazine is also establishing an activist editorial advisory board. Editorial advisors will meet to develop the magazine’s perspectives, be asked to contribute at least one article annually to the journal, and be requested to help identify potential contributors. The initial members of the advisory board are listed on the masthead.

The left today faces a paradoxical situation. Over the past 15 years or so, our predictions of economic crisis and the decay of capitalist society have come to pass. And yet, the left in the 1980s may be no more deeply rooted in American life than it was in the 1960s.

Since 1970, as many on the left expected, each succeeding business cycle has brought lower growth rates and higher unemployment. Profit rates worldwide declined sharply during the later 1960s and the 1970s. By 1982 unemployment had reached the highest levels since the 1930s. And today at the height of the recovery, unemployment at 7% is higher than at the depth of any previous downturn, except the last one.

The system exacts ever-greater human costs. An intensified employers’ offensive reduces living and working standards. Poverty in the U.S. has increased dramatically for the first time since the 1950s, and hunger and homelessness, thought to be things of the past, are once again common in American cities. Programs for environmental protection and safety at work have been explicitly sacrificed to the needs of profitability.

The U.S. government has launched a campaign of armed counterrevolution, from Angola to Central America, unseen since the height of the war in Vietnam. Central to this campaign is the dirty war against the Nicaraguan revolution. Finally, a new arms race designed to secure U.S. power throughout the world threatens the future of humanity.

Nevertheless, the left’s predictions have proven only half right. There has not been a rising workers’ movement to accompany the deepening crisis. The once­promising Black liberation and women’s liberation movements have seriously declined. True, the capitalists’ increasingly vicious attacks generate sporadic protests-the long succession of strikes against concessions, the struggle for rent control, the farmers’ assaults on the banks, and similar defensive battles. Still, there is a huge chasm between the well-planned and systematic offensive by the employers and the ill-prepared, episodic, and largely non-political response by workers and the oppressed. Any serious attempt to understand the recent evolution of the American left and to rebuild it must recognize this disparity and face it head on.

Failing to do so, and disoriented by the absence of the expected mass upsurge, many leftists have sought substitutes for the mass movement. They have looked especially to trade union officials, middle-class Black leaders and left Democratic Party politicians-the traditional core of official reformism in the United States. By the end of the 1970s, large sections of the left had embraced the electoral road; by 1984, most of the left had moved sufficiently rightward to be actively working for one or another Democratic candidate in the presidential elections.

The consequences of this move into the Democratic Party have created a reaction against the reliance on a declining politics of liberalism. Unable to exert any influence of their own in the absence of mass movements, leftists who entered the Democratic Party have found they have no choice but to follow their trade-union, Black leadership and left-Democratic Party allies in chasing the party even further to the right. Repelled by this, many left activists-without rejecting electoral campaigns altogether-have begun returning to the view that only mass struggle can make possible a new period of political gains. They also see that, given the coordinated and politically conscious character of the attacks by capital and the state, the left needs to build a more unified and political counter-offensive.

While the left certainly faces crisis and difficulty, we also have real opportunities. A generation of activists, influenced in part by the renascence of Marxism and in part by their own experience in monolithic political sects, has broken with dogmatism and is seeking new directions. Oppositional movements, albeit local and fragmented, continue to radicalize new people and activate the 60’s generation. Voices of radical dissent and alternative media challenge the status-quo.

The new Against the Current aims to be part of this opposition. We will respond to activists’ concerns about how to build a struggle that is both militant and political. We seek to provide a forum for discussion and debate around the strategies and tactics for best strengthening existing movements-against concessions, cuts in social spending, attacks on women’s rights and minorities, and U.S. intervention abroad-and to stimulate exchange of ideas for bringing movements together in unified action. This goal requires a commitment to original analysis of the present situation, especially in the United States, with both a respectful and a critical attitude toward our predecessors on the Left in the U.S. and around the world. We are for greater attention to the cultural aspects of the movement for socialism; however, we oppose the evaluation of literary and artistic achievements by political criteria.

The resources we need to develop new theory and fresh interpretations already exist among the movement activists, the organizers, and the serious scholars of the left. Against the Current hopes to realize this potential by creating the conditions for increased collaboration and exchange.

We believe, however, that more is needed. This journal is dedicated to critical analysis and the development of revolutionary-democratic socialist politics. We bring to the movements for social and political change a vision of a new society, controlled from below by mass collective institutions of working people. Briefly stated, the basic principles of our editorial policy are these:

• We are for a socialist transformation based on working class democracy and for the self-emancipation of all the oppressed.

• We are in uncompromising solidarity with all democratic and working class movements against bureaucratic regimes in the USSR, Eastern Europe and China. Within this framework we will openly debate alternative theoretical and strategic perspectives on these societies.

• We are for rebuilding a militant and democratic U.S. labor movement, a crucial task to which the trade union bureaucracy is a great obstacle.
• We are for Black liberation, and for all struggles against racial and national oppression.

• We are feminist, for women’s liberation and for all struggles for the right of sexual preference, reproductive rights and equality.

• We are anti-imperialist, against all forms of U.S. colonialism (as in Puerto Rico) and intervention. We are internationalists, in solidarity with the revolutionary movements of Central America, with the struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination, with the anti-­ apartheid revolution in South Africa and with the Polish workers’ movement, Solidarnosc.

• We are for independent politics. Trapped inside the Democratic Party, social movements die, as we have seen in the case of the once massive women’s movement and the more recent Rainbow Coalition; the weak and poorly-organized left will die there even more quickly.

We give special attention to the growth of consciously socialist forces-not because they are presently large in this country, but because they try to imagine and bring about fundamental reorganization of society to break capital’s stranglehold on American life. Perhaps what is needed resembles a cross between the broad working-class democracy of Polish Solidarity and the militant resistance to injustice of the Sandinista revolutionaries of Nicaragua.

The new Against the Current is made possible by a small step forward in creating a socialist pole in this country. Three small socialist organizations have also succeeded in breaking down the walls that separate them. At the end of March in Chicago a conference will be held to unite the three: the International Socialists; the Workers Power group, which played an important role in initiating Against the Current in 1980; and Socialist Unity, a group of former members of the Socialist Workers Party. In addition, several local radical and socialist groups are considering joining the new organization.

Far from seeing themselves as the nucleus of The Party, all three groups are committed to the view that viable socialist organization will emerge only as a result of a long-term regroupment process of protracted discussion and debate, the experience of common work in the mass movements, and many realignments and mergers. All three groups are well aware that many of the left’s most cherished theories, strategies, and political organizations have proved, in recent years, inadequate to the test of practice.

But the rethinking, the theorizing, research and discussion we need cannot be carried out successfully within the bounds set by sectarian divisions. Therefore, as one of their common projects, these three groups will sponsor Against the Current, not in any sense as a party organ, but to provide a forum for the broadest possible debate and discussion within the left.

One reader of the old Against the Current called it “the thinking person’s alternative to social democracy.” That captures the aspiration of the new Against the Current. We aim to promote discussion within the left while serving as a vehicle for the regroupment of leftists seeking to build a revolutionary and democratic socialism, whatever their organizational attachments. All three of the publications merging into this new one did their best to create a wide-ranging dialogue. But it was Against the Current which had the most success. To an important extent this achievement is owed to the dedication of the late Steve Zeluck, whose contributions will be greatly missed by us all. In taking the name, Against the Current, we express our continuity with this project and our determination to carry it forward.

January-February 1986, ATC 1

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