Against the Current, No. 20, May/June 1989

Against the Current, No. 20, May/June 1989

Drawing the Line at Eastern

— The Editors

THE UNIONS AT EASTERN AIRLINES deserve maximum solidarity as they stand up to reverse U.S. labor's desperate downward spiral. Their inspiring struggle has attracted massive labor solidarity and substantial public support for several reasons. The extreme viciousness of Frank Lorenzo and his tactics is one obvious and important factor. Another is the representative cross section of the U.S. work force embodied in the Eastern unions, from the highly paid {almost all-white) pilots to e classic blue-collar machinists and baggage handlers to the “pink collar” flight attendants, who are miserably paid {as little as $12,000 a year) and whose union, the air transport division of the Transport Workers Union {TWU), pays them no strike benefits at all. The so-called Eastern family is a group with whom a wide spectrum of working people can immediately identify....

El Salvador After the Election

— David Finkel

THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION of March 19 in El Salvador produced the result most observers anticipated. With a very low 40% voter turnout -- about 900,000, even less than the one million who voted in last year's legislative assembly election -- Alfredo Cristiani of the ARENA (Republican Nationalist Alliance) party swept to first-round victory with a 54% majority. Fidel Chavez Mena of the splintered Christian Democrats, the once-dominant center-right party, limped in with 35%.

Some reports indicate the real vote total may have been even lower. Victor Rubio, a supporter of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) living in Detroit, has spoken with sources in Mexican news agencies who believe as few as 600,000 Salvadorans may have voted....

In Defense of Salman Rushdie

— Christopher Hitchens

THE CAMPAIGN against The Satanic Verses and the life of its author has been presented, both in the liberal and the conservative media, as a sort of confrontation between "the West" and the mysterious forces of Islamic fundamentalism, if not the mysterious force of Islam itself.

Never mind for the moment the annexation by "the West" of the assumed values of the Enlightenment and pluralism. Like all religious movements, the one directed at Salman Rushdie is the production of unresolved problems and contradictions in the material world. In other words, it has a pronounced political dimension....

The Right's Phony Abortion Racket

— an interview with Ann Menasche

Ann Menasche, a feminist attorney and activist who lived in San Francisco, recently won a big victory in a lawsuit against an anti-abortion group that masqueraded as a clinic in order to frighten or trick women into not having abortions.

She was interviewed by Linda Ray (a reproductive rights activist and nurse at a city clinic) and Peter Drucker for Against the Current.

ATC: How did this case get started?

Ann Menasche: Carla Abbotts phoned me to tell me about an experience she had in San Francisco with a so-called clinic...

The Deadly Health Care Crisis

— Peter Downs

IN OCTOBER 1983, doctors diagnosed Joe Allen Bennett of College Grove, Tenn., as having lung cancer. They referred him to the Park View Hospital in Nashville for the radiology treatment he needed.

Park View was owned by the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA). That company demanded $500 from Bennett before it would begin treatment. Bennett didn't have that much money. He lived on a fourteen-acre farm with his disabled wife. Together their monthly income totaled $328, and they had no medical insurance. Nor did Bennett's sister, Mattie Sue Owens, have $500....

Contradictions of Market Socialism in China

— James Petras

Question: How many workers have you fired over the last year?
Answer: None.
Q: Why? You have the backing of the party and the one-party state apparatus....
A: I don't want any trouble. We try to re-educate the worker.
Q: What if it doesn't work?
A: We transfer him.
Q: That's the old system before the economic reform.
A: It takes time to change workers’ attitudes.

THIS INTERVIEW with a factory manager gives a sense of the underlying "invisible" constraints that operate in a Chinese factory.

Sylvia Pankhurst and the Social Soviets

— Barbara Winslow

SYLVIA PANKHURST, the socialist-suffragette, is best known today on the left as the person on the receiving end of Lenin’s polemic, Left Wing Communism: An infantile Disorder.(1) Unfortunately little else is known about her ideas and activities as a suffragette who organized working-class women and as a communist feminist who built a revolutionary organization. Pankhurst was and remains today an enigmatic problem for socialists.

Some feminists believe that she was not "feminist" enough, saying that she abandoned her commitment to women's emancipation in favor of building a communist party. For traditional "Marxist Pankhurst's heresy began as a suffragette, when she put her energies into women's concerns, and continued through her now famous debate with Lenin....

Random Shots: Fat Rulers in Lean Times

— R.F. Kampfer

THE EMPEROR OF CHINA traditionally ate four meals a day, one for each province of China. If there was famine, civil war, or other disorder in any province, he had to skip that meal A system like that would eliminate the need for diet clinics in Washington....


The Left Press and Puerto Rico

— John Vandermeer

A CURRENT clarion call in the left media is the well-deserved criticism of bourgeois media. This phenomenon is witnessed by numerous articles and editorials in The Nation, the publication of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent, and much observation and analysis elsewhere.

One target of this criticism is the refusal to cover issues that are obviously challenging to bourgeois power. While forced invisibility of particular issues is not the only mechanism of press control, it certainly is a major one. From the Christie Institute to East Timor, there is always a surfeit of candidates for the most under-reported story-of-the-year award. The left critique goes something like this. A truly free press would cover issues in proportion to their importance to constituencies. The bourgeois press claims a constituency considerably broader than its coverage suggests, arguably reflecting a higher goal, not explicitly articulated to even its own practitioners. As power concentrates, this critique becomes ever more palpable, and few who have given the problem any thought would disagree....

Child Abuse and the System

— Linda Manning Myatt

In a short article such as Linda Gordon's historical survey of child abuse and family violence, "The Politics of Child Sex Abuse" (ATC 19), much detail is necessarily lost. Gordon's article did not fully convey the way in which the overall social system doubly victimized the abused -- not only in the reality of sexual abuse itself, but in the way the data were collected, the facts reported or unreported, and the class- and race-conditioned treatment inflicted by social workers and institutions.

In fact, Gordon has written a book, Heroes of Their Own Lives (New York: Viking, 1988, $24.95), which shows a much clearer picture of the system with which victims of child abuse and their families had to contend....

Perspectives on Perestroika

Conversations in Moscow

— Tom Twiss

I WAS IN Moscow for about three days last winter. It was all l had expected, except it is very different reading about a country and understanding it intellectually and actually seeing it. The disorder and inefficiency were maddening; the, black marketeers were everywhere and they were a nuisance; the city itself looked run down and seedy in a lot of areas; there were long lines for food; and the people were mostly very warm and generous and patient.

The most touching moment of the trip: I was looking for a metro station near the airport and l approached a young Soviet soldier. He spoke very little English so I asked him in Russian if he knew where the station was. He hesitated a second and then asked me to come with him. We got on a bus; he paid for the tickets, refusing to let me pay him back. We rode for maybe twenty minutes....

Perestroika and the Working Class

— David Mandel

“THE STATE OF our economy satisfies no one.”(1) With this undoubtedly true statement Nikolai Shmelev, an economist at the U.S.A. and Canada Institute, begins his analysis of the sickness that besets the Soviet economy and the medicine that is needed to cure it.

More open to question, however, is Shmelev's claim that the introduction of a market reform of the nature he advocates "has no hidden social or class underpinning. There is not even a hint of ideology here. It is a purely economic, even technico-economic, problem."(2) This is also the official point of view: Mikhail Gorbachev himself praised Shmelev's analysis, while distancing himself from some of Shmelev's more extreme recommendations, especially that unemployment be tolerated and even encouraged.(3)...

Gorbachev: An Appraisal in Human-Rights Terms

— Witold Jedlicki


TO UNDERSTAND Gorbachev, one needs to recall Jimmy Carter -- particularly in the matter of human rights.

Carter's human-rights extravaganza was at the time mostly greeted by nothing short of stupendous acclaim on the part of virtually everyone who counted. But following its inception in 1977, mild criticism was also occasionally voiced to the effect that “geostrategic” considerations would not allow the United States to duly ''punish" some of the worst human-rights offenders by halting the flow of American military or economic aid to them. Pre-revolutionary Iran and South Korea were then typically cited by such critics as cases in point....

Soviet Jewry's Unfinished Agenda

— Larry Magarik

MY COUSIN ALEXEI served a year and a half in a Soviet prison because he decided to teach Hebrew and emigrate from the Soviet Union. Alexei Magarik, reported to be the last "Prisoner of Zion" released from Soviet prisons, now lives in Israel. Alexei is a 29-year-old cellist and refusenik. He and his wife have a young child, Chaim, a little younger than my own son, Benjamin Grisha.

In March 1986, Soviet police arrested Alexei for alleged possession of a small quantity of hashish. Alexei had no prior record of crime or drug use and denied the charge, which has often been used against refusenik activists in recent years. Alexei was sentenced to three years in prison....

Dialogue on Afghanistan

A Further Comment on Afghanistan

— Chris Hobson

IT'S POSSIBLE THAT by the time these comments appear, the Najibullah regime will be history. Or, bloody and discredited, it may still be clinging to power, and David Finkel will be supporting it (see ATC 19). Either way, I shall be very glad to have taken, ever since1979, what I feel is the right stand, one of support for the Afghan resistance and total opposition to the Soviet Union and its agent, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA).

What I want to do in this comment is to clarify what Finkel's and my conflicting viewpoints mean in practice, not in words....

Who's Fighting for What?

— David Finkel

CHRIS HOBSON'S CONTRIBUTION raises exactly the right question about Afghanistan. The central question is: If there is going to be a viable social struggle for women's rights and other elementary democratic goals in Afghanistan, where will the forces for that struggle come from? I will explain why I don't have much confidence in the answer that Hobson offers with such great certainty.

For Hobson, and for Dan La Botz whose comment appeared in ATC 19, the answer is clear: such forces can come only from one camp in the existing conflict, "from inside the inevitable, progressive and democratic struggle for national independence" (Hobson) being waged by the anti-PDPA Mujahedeen. It follows then that "what revolutionaries in Afghanistan should have been doing since 1979 was building a secular, democratic, socialist force in the national resistance.”...

A Brief Response to Responses

— Val Moghadam

CHRISTY BROWN'S THOUGHTFUL discourse on the gender factor in the Afghan conflict and David Finkel’s balanced reflections on the complex dimensions of the revolution, the war, and the struggle for reforms and rights (ATC 19) contrast sharply with the comments by Chris Hobson and Dan La Botz (in this issue and in ATC 19).

The latter are far too simplistic and, particularly in the case of Hobson, evince the mechanical application of assumptions and "political lines" (which are themselves of questionable validity) rather than a thorough study of the specificities of the case in question....


1930s Women Writers: A Fresh Look

— Robbie Lieberman

Writing Red: An Anthology of American Women Writers, 1930-1940
Edited by Charlotte Nekola and Paula Rabinowitz
Foreword by Toni Morrison
New York: The Feminist Press, 1987, $12.95.

IN THE 1930s the communist movement helped many women find the belief in themselves necessary to write, yet it deprived them of much-needed support and recognition. This contradiction reflects the Communist Party's (CP) political approach to the “woman question” during the period.

While the CP acknowledged that women were oppressed, it focused only on the grievances of women in the paid labor force. The party expanded its approach during the Popular Front years, ...