Letter from the Editors

Against the Current, No. 10, September/October 1987

The Editors

THE SPREAD OF AIDS is one of the Reagan era’s most monstrous legacies. Whatever the origins of AIDS, prompt funding for education and research might have contained the disease in its first years. The tight-fistedness of the Administration and Congress in those years makes them responsible for thousands of deaths. The blend of moralism, ignorance and repression that they are now propagating is the best formula to make sure AIDS will haunt and decimate an entire generation.

The measures that would be effective against AIDS are clear enough by now. AIDS is not very contagious. If the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in an infected person’s body does not enter another person’s bloodstream almost immediately, the virus dies and no one gets infected. There are therefore only a few ways you can be exposed to AIDS: some kinds of sex (almost any kind of sex is relatively safe with a condom); sharing intravenous needles; and blood transfusion. Testing the blood supply has virtually eliminated transfusions as a source of infection. Safe sex can also stop sexual transmission, as gay men have shown in New York and San Francisco: the rate of new infections among gay men there dropped from fifteen to twenty percent in 1984 to one percent in 1987. Transmission of AIDS can be drastically reduced by making safe sex education universal, distributing free condoms and giving free needles to intravenous drug users.

Meanwhile, between one and two million people in the U.S. alone have already been exposed to AIDS. Without new medical breakthroughs an estimated ten to fifty percent of them will get full-blown AIDS and die in the next five to ten years. Nothing can be more important for this country than saving these people’s lives. Yet the thousands who already have AIDS and many more thousands who have ARC (AIDS Related Complex) are falling through the cracks of our crazy-quilt, free-enterprise health-care system.

The bloated insurance industry is lobbying furiously to shirk as much as possible of the cost of AIDS; and the cost is staggering. Supplying the drug AZT to one person with AIDS for one year costs $18,000. People with AIDS who have this kind of money see their life savings go to swell the drug industry’s profits; those who don’t die sooner. The billions of dollars going to Star Wars and death squads must be diverted now to pay for quality medical care for people with AIDS and for a crash medical research program to find a cure.

Instead of carrying out this practical program, the government is heading down the road from preaching to scapegoating to mandatory testing to detention camps. The Right wing must know that browbeating will not roll back the sexual freedoms won over the past thirty years or stop the drug use spawned across the capitalist world by despair. But the Right (and some on the Left who mimic its moralism) are prepared to see drug users and people having sex outside marriage die by the thousands as a moral object lesson, and spread AIDS further, rather than countenance sex education, condoms and free needles. The Right refuses even to acknowledge the decisive evidence that education and free needles do not encourage drug use and in fact lead many users to seek treatment.

In its rush to find and punish scapegoats the Right has already managed to impose mandatory testing on prisoners, people in the armed forces and immigrants (although as of late May 1987, 36,000 of the 51,000 AIDS cases reported worldwide were in the U.S.). New initiatives for mandatory testing, reporting, monitoring and firing-like the fascist LaRouche’s initiative beaten back last year in California and the Republican Doolittle’s package that has already passed the California Senate-crop up every month. Targets range from marriage license applicants to prostitutes to mental hospital inmates to students to restaurant workers.

The ultimate step in this march toward surveillance and coercion is quarantine: confining people exposed to HIV (maybe just the most “irresponsible” ones, the most stigmatized, the most powerless) in their homes or detention centers. Several states have already passed laws authorizing quarantine. Florida has already quarantined a fourteen-year-old boy.

None of these measures can actually slow the spread of AIDS. They can frighten people out of learning whether they have been exposed, out of seeking help, out of participating in research. They can lull people into complacency, slow the process of education and speed the pace of transmission. They can divert funds from pro­ grams that serve some useful purpose. They can leave behind bitter memories to shame us for decades.

Republican and Democratic politicians show every sign right now of heading further down this road. Millions of people will have to mobilize to turn U.S. policies from insanity to sanity. The lesbian/ gay movement has been organizing this mobilization. The climax of the organizing so far will be the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights on October 11, 1987, which will be the high point of five days of activity in Washington, D.C. from October 9 to 13.

Against the Current believes everyone who can should join in and help organize the March. We ask the Left to make this March a top priority.

Although AIDS has devastated the lesbian/gay community (three-fourths of the people in the U.S. with AIDS have been gay men) and risen to first place on the lesbian/gay movement’s agenda, it is not the only issue addressed by the March on Washington. March organizers understand that the moralism that has poisoned the nation’s discussion and policies around AIDS is only one symptom of this society’s sickness. The fight against AIDS should not lead to deferring the struggle for full lesbian/gay liberation. On the contrary, AIDS shows how urgent that broader struggle is.

The March demands do include a massive funding increase for AIDS research and education, an end to discrimination against people who have AIDS or ARC or are HIV positive, and opposition to mandatory testing and quarantine. But the March also demands that all “sodomy” laws that restrict consensual sex be repealed, and that the Supreme Court’s blatantly homo­ phobic Hardwick decision upholding these laws be overturned. It calls for federal, state and local lesbian/gay rights laws. It at­ tacks the roots of lesbian/gay oppression in the structure of the family, by demanding equal recognition for lesbian/gay relationships, services for lesbian/gay youth, and equal rights to child custody, foster parenting and adoption.

Many Americans have acquiesced in the government’s blame-the-victim AIDS policies partly because most people with AIDS are gay. But many Americans have also gone along partly because they see that drug users with AIDs are disproportionately people of color. AIDS has helped bring home to the lesbian/gay movement the interconnectedness of homophobia, racism and sexism. The March reflects this awareness. Abortion rights, passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, an end to racism in the U.S. and apartheid in South Africa are prominent among the March demands. Since women and people of color are not only the lesbian/gay movement’s indispensable allies but also a majority of the lesbian/gay movement itself, this stand makes excellent sense.

A single March, however successful, will not stop AIDS or end gay oppression. Still less will next year’s presidential election, which promises to be a non-event for lesbians and gays. But this March on Washington could turn the movement decisively toward a new period of mass action and political assertiveness. It could lead to the founding of a strong, militant, national lesbian/gay organization, which the movement badly needs.

The March could also mark a new beginning for unity in action between the lesbian/gay movement ·and the socialist Left. The deadly synergism of AIDS and the ruling-class offensive has shown both how important a radical, class-conscious politics is for lesbians and gays and how the fight for lesbian/gay liberation must be a central component of any movement for progressive change.

Socialists who join in building the October 11 March can help the lesbian/gay movement begin to turn the U.S. away from disease and despair, toward life and liberation.

* * *

THE NOMINATION OF Robert Bork to the Supreme Court has justifiably alarmed civil rights, labor and especially feminist forces. His confirmation (which appears almost certain, given the well-established spinelessness of the Senate Democrats) will give an institutional expression to the rightist backlash which has shaped intellectual and elite opinion in the 1980s. A Rehnquist court with Bork added will make it far more difficult for the social movements to expand or even protect earlier gains through legal channels. Undoubtedly, in the face of this prospect mass action by the movements will be an increasing necessity.

At the same time, Bork or no Bork, it will be essential for the feminist movement and the Left to have an intransigent, consistent and principled argument for the right to choose. The debate between Milton Fisk and Jeffrey Reiman in this issue of Against the Current concerns not whether women’s right to choose must be defended, but rather how most effectively to do this. Fisk advocates a “group liberationist” approach which derives a pro-choice position from the need for collective women’s self emancipation in a sexist society, whereas Reiman maintains that the right to abortion is fundamentally rooted in the concept of “individual natural rights” (in this case, an individual woman’s natural right to control her body).

Another area of current controversy among Leftists concerns the centrality of class relations and class struggle to the socialist perspective. To be sure, the strike wave in South Korea and the three-week miners’ strike in South Africa give the answer to the claim that the working class has been somehow bypassed by history. Nonetheless, in the so-called advanced capitalist countries where labor’s past decade has largely been one of setback and retreat, it is natural that theories should arise that the workers’ movement has failed, that some new agency for socialism must be found or that socialism must be subsumed into a broader moral imperative. Ellen Meiksins Wood’s contribution in this issue, a talk presented at the 1987 Socialist Scholars Conferences, confronts the arguments of the “New True Socialists.” The roots of American radicalism lie in a tangled interpenetration of class and culture, immigrant and native, religious and secular politics. Paul Buhle’s provocative essay suggests that the growth of religious radicalism in the 1980s represents both a return to earliest American traditions, and a prefiguration of a final crisis of both U.S. and world capitalism. Allen Hunter’s sympathetic but skeptical response points out possible limitations of both theological and class-based perspectives. A second response, by Loren Goldner, argues that the weakness of socialist politics in the U.S. working class may reflect, paradoxically, the absence of feudal remnants which the movements of European socialism confronted from their inception. For Goldner, a complex fusion of Afro-American and other indigenous cultural forms, including the early religious radicalism cited by Buhle, is key to understanding the uniqueness of American dissident politics.

In the early 1980s the upheaval of Polish Solidarnosc infused the anti-Stalinist Left with the hope of self-managed working-class socialism in the Eastern bloc. “While Solidarnosc was defeated-a fact that does not vitiate our confidence that the Polish working class will rise again — today Mikhail Gorbachev’s “glasnost” has again fixed attention on Eastern Europe.

Do the Gorbachev reforms represent a continuation of the reform movements that in the past twenty years have taken root in Czechoslovakia and Poland before being overtaken by external or internal suppression? Or is Gorbachev’s effort to reform the bureaucratic system from above, in the last analysis, an anti­working-class productivity drive? Alexei Zolotov offers the former perspective, while Hillel Ticktin and Susan Weissman present the latter. This exchange is supplemented by a letter from Justin Schwartz, responding to Michael Lowy’s essay on Marxism utopianism in ATC #8, and Lowy’s rejoinder. We emphasize that this dialogue on glasnost represents only the beginning of a discussion, which we hope to carry on in greater depth in future issues.

Johanna Brenner and Bill Resnick’s consideration on the issues in the Baby M/surrogate motherhood controversy in ATC #9 has elicited several response. In this issue we are publishing comments by Leslie Reagan, Marian Swerdlow and Julia Wrigley. The next issue will include further comments, along with Brenner and Resnick’s rejoinder to these critiques.

As this issue of Against the Current illustrates, dialogue and debate among socialist perspectives on numerous issues is a staple of the magazine. ATC is sponsored by the socialist organization Solidarity but in no sense represents a party-line publication; it reflects the view that the socialist-feminist, Mar ist and revolutionary-democratic Left needs a vehicle for the open discussion of perspectives unconstrained by organizational boundaries. The first two years of publication have been highly rewarding as regards the diversity and high quality of the articles we have published, but frustrating inasmuch as the quantity of worthwhile pieces submitted continually outstrips the available space. We cannot continue with the antiquated and labor-intensive method of producing ATC we currently employ. So we have begun the process of raising $10,000 for improved equipment that will streamline our typesetting and production process. Tax deductible contributions to the Center for Changes, earmarked for this purpose, will be our readers’ investment in a livelier and more effective Against the Current.

September-October 1987, ATC 10

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