Letter from the Editors

Against the Current, No. 3, May/June 1986

The Editors

CAN THE CLOCK be turned back to pre-Vietnam? That is the issue being tested in the American bombing of Libya-the kind of imperial action that was the nuts and bolts of post-war U.S. foreign policy before Vietnam, that became politically unacceptable as a result of the popular opposition to that war, and that is now being rehabilitated in the name of “stopping international terrorism.” The struggle is over whether the U.S. population can be brought to accept the high-tech destruction of other nations’ cities and territories as a routine American prerogative, or can come to recognize such acts for the criminal terrorist behavior they are.

Reagan and Co. make no bones about equating terrorism with revolution. As recently as February 1986, the Vice-President’s Task Force on Combatting Terrorism officially defined terrorism as “the unlawful use or threat of force against persons or property to further social or political objectives.” The Administration, then, has no illusions that its bombing of Libya would succeed in “stopping terrorism,” as normally understood. But it was no coincidence that Reagan chose to bomb Libya the day before aid to the contras was once again to come before the House of Representatives. The Administration’s real target was the American people, who according to an April poll of the New York Times opposed contra aid by 62 %-25%.

Libya represented the easiest target since Grenada. It is a regime without friends or protectors. Not in the Arab world, where Khadafi’s rhetoric and gestures are an embarrassment, nor in the West more generally, because it is a state with little strategic significance since the oil glut has removed Europe’s dependence on Libyan oil. Nor in the Eastern bloc, since Khadafi — for all his pseudo-revolutionism and anti-American theatrics — remains both by economic necessity and political choice part of the West. In terms of geopolitical calculation, then, there was no motivation for the Soviets to defend Khadafi because he was never “theirs” to being with. Thus, Soviet military intelligence in Tripoli which detected the coming attack did not bother to notify the Libyans.

Of course, neither this bombing nor the one before had anything to do with international law or the rights of navigation. Indeed, as Noam Chomsky explains in the course of his talk published in this issue, from the international legal standpoint Libya was entirely correct according to standards the U.S. employs with regard to airspace surrounding its own territory. The stakes are not legalities, not terrorism, nor even Libya, but rather the parameters of the exercise of imperial power to force the Third World into line.

The bulk of Chomsky’s presentation deals with the use of that power, historically and today, in the Central American inferno. It is a particularly important statement today, at a time when the “right” of the United States to overthrow the elected government of Nicaragua  and bomb the countryside of El Salvador is taken for granted by the media and political establishment, and only the “wisdom” or tactics of doing so are presumed to be topics for legitimate debate.

In the concluding half of his two-part analysis of the politics of U.S. economic decline. Robert Brenner explains that the absence of a viable long-term solution to the problems of manufacturing decline in the U.S. dictates a policy of labor-bashing at home and vigorous political and military intervention in the Third World. Arguing that the stepped-up intervention and militarism to stabilize developing capitalism in the Third World is actually accelerating the erosion of U.S. industry and therefore U.S. living standards, Brenner urges that the anti-intervention movement focus its long-term attention on building this understanding among workers.

Against The Current #2 included a critical dissection by Christy Brown of the “colonial pastoral” Out of Africa. In this issue, we focus on a part of the literature and culture that reflects a movement of resistance to colonialism and apartheid. Alan Wald’s tribute to Nadine Gordimer’s Burger’s Daughter explores how this novel expresses both the dilemma and ultimate necessity of political commitment. Dennis Brutus, the South African poet and activist in exile, contributes several poems honoring the martyrs of the anti-apartheid revolutionary struggle.

At home, social struggle continues as the anti-labor and right-wing offensive escalates. The dramatically successful pro-choice mobilizations called by the National Organization for Women on March 9 and 16 highlight the underpublicized reality that support for the right to abortion is a majority movement. Ann Menasche’s interview with organizers of the March 16 rally and Dianne Feeley’s analysis illustrate how the pro-choice movement has put itself in the forefront of resistance to Reaganism. In Austin, Minnesota, the nearly year-long battle of Local P-9 against Hormel continues, in the face of not only a brutal employer and compliant state government, but the undisguised assault on the local by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International. Roger Horowitz and Kim Moody suggest how the example of P-9 and the debate it has sparked may transform the consciousness of sectors of the U.S. labor from the bottom up.

Finally, the dynamics and politics of the Cold War are discussed by Samuel Farber in a comment on James Petras’ analysis of summit politics and the Third World in ATC #2 as well as Mike Davis’ essay on “Nuclear Imperialism and Extended Deterrence” which appeared in the old series of this journal.

May-June 1986, ATC 3

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