Letters to the Editors

Against the Current, No 6, January/February 1987

JAMES PETRAS IS to be commended for his fine article, “Greece: The Crisis of a Crumbling Populism.” His analysis was vindicated within two weeks after we received the October issue which contained his article. PASOK, which had received about a 46% plurality in the 1981 elections, was reduced to 29 % of the votes cast in October 19th municipal elections in Greece’s largest cities: Athens, Salonika and Piraeus.

While the capitalist press will herald this news as further evidence that “socialism does not work,” Petras’ excellent analysis shows that Papandreou dissipated his support by failing to follow truly socialistic programs, and that Papandreou’s “failure” is the “failure of centerist-populist politics, not of socialist measures-which were never applied.” Again, congratulations!

N.C. Syracopoulos, Akron, Ohio

I AM PUZZLED BY Margaret Randall’s statement: “Sophocles was put to death in a terminal exercise in thought control.” Although the details of Sophocles’ biography are a bit fuzzy, the usual account is that he died at the age of ninety (give or take a year or two) as a highly-honored Athenian citizen. He had been taken to court a couple of years earlier, but that case represented the opposite of literary suppression: his son had charged the old man with incompetence, but Sophocles was able to convince the jury of the soundness of his mind by reading parts of his latest play. Or so the story goes.

Could your author possibly have confused Sophocles with Socrates?

Cliff Conner, New York City

>Editors’ Reply: Oops.

I WRITE TO take issue with sentence number one of Solidarity’s statement of principles: “Capitalism is an outmoded social system now deep in crisis.” Outmoded yes, deep in crisis no. Capitalist crisis means depression, a la 1929. By extension it might also mean hyperinflation, global war, or ecological disaster; in any case, far more serious trouble than anything happening now.

By assuming a deep crisis, you seriously mess up your economic analysis. Consider the decline of U.S. manufacturing, as discussed in Robert Brenner’s articles in ATC #2 and 3. This is caused mainly by investors chasing after better opportunities in other nations and other industries. It causes great suffering to the unemployed and the abandoned communities, who therefore have good reason to organize for a better economic system. But it produces great profits for the investors. And since profits are what capitalism is for, de-industrialization shows that the system is functioning normally. In a deep crisis, there would not be any opportunities for the investors to chase after. You may point to unpayable global debt, corporate merger mania, and similar facts to prove there is a crisis. And indeed, these are signs that a crisis may be coming. But they do not justify the hallucinogenic claim that there is a deep crisis now that started in the 1970s.

I think that “now in deep crisis” is part of the vanguard-party tradition which says that a revolutionary has to believe things that are politically “correct” even when they are not really true. Your group has managed to get rid of some of this tradition. In order to understand the real world, you need to get rid of all of it.

Ed Jahn, Newport News, VA

I APPRECIATE your printing in ATC #4-5 the speech of the Vermont socialist candidate for governor Bernie Sanders, which will give all of us food for thought regarding practical aspects of independent socialist electoral action. I was less positively impressed by the brief article “Bernie Sanders Campaign Offers Alternative to Two-Party Trap,” by Dianne Feeley and David Finkel. I can certainly agree with their criticism of those on the left who are “buried as invisible background drudges promoting liberals in the mainstream Democratic Party,” but the two authors then assert: “At the other extreme, small-party groups have run sectarian campaigns. These usually have made a principle of refusing to work with any other organization on the left, or formulating a platform divorced from reality. The actual aim of such efforts is rarely to build a socialist presence in American politics. The primary goal is to recruit a handful of members to the group.”

This haughty dismissal strikes me as a bit sectarian in its own right. I was a member from 1973 to 1983 of the Socialist Workers Party, which had a reputation for running more energetic socialist election campaigns than all of the others. One of the most dynamic and effective was the 1976 presidential campaign of Peter Camejo. Among Camejo’s many accomplishments was his debate with the leading spokesman for socialists in the Democratic Party, Michael Harrington–a magnificent confrontation of ideas which is well-worth reading today. (See The Lesser Evil? The Left Debates the Democratic Party, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1977.)

Camejo received close to 100,000 votes but, more importantly, introduced millions of voters and non-voters to well-articulated socialist ideas-including the notion of independent working-class electoral campaigns. He also stressed, however, that the decisive questions of our time are decided outside of the electoral arena through the independent social movements of working people and others fighting for labor rights, for the democratic and human rights of women and Blacks and other oppressed groups, against war, etc–struggles in which the SWP was very much involved.

Of course, this was not unique to Camejo’s campaign but was the thrust of all SWP campaigns. They were primarily educational campaigns to reach millions of people with socialist ideas (and also to encourage them to participate in social struggles), and they were largely effective in doing this.

Few would argue that SWP election campaigns were always above reproach. There was very often a failure to show the real interconnections between socialist ideas, as well as national and international issues, and the day-to-day problems of working people at the local level, which could have been (but too often were not) addressed practically and boldly by local SWP candidates.

It is extremely important to learn positive (as well as negative) lessons from such things as the Bernie Sanders experience, but it is foolish to exaggerate the negative and to deny the positive aspects of some of our earlier efforts. Socialist electoral efforts which have little chance of “winning” can also be quite important and effective. To build the kind of mass socialist movement that’s needed, we’ve got to take a more balanced approach and be prepared to learn from the full range of revolutionary socialist experience.

Paul Le Blanc, Pittsburgh, PA

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