Against the Current, No. 23, November/December 1989

The Collapse of Socialism?

— The Editors

When Boris Yeltsin took Manhattan, the ideologues of the Cold War could no longer contain their euphoria. Victory was at hand. The bullet train of events of the summer of '89 in China, Eastern, Europe and the USSR gave rise to an orgy of self-congratulation and high-flying metaphysical speculation in the pages of the mass circulation periodicals and the highbrow “opinion-shaping” journals. Celebrating the "Collapse of Communism" in the Eastern Bloc, US News and World Report (6/19) rhapsodized over "a system ... victimized, in Hegel's formulation of history, by none other than the consciousness of freedom."

Strikingly convergent and no less exuberant, New Republic and other such serious publications have been hailing the theses of one Francis Fukuyama, who advances the breathtaking proposition that Hegel was indeed right in foreseeing the End of History and that, as Hegel predicted over and against Marx, History has today reached its End with the imminent universalization of free enterprise liberalism, proven to be the best of all possible social systems and rendering henceforth superfluous any politics based on moral principles or political ideologies....

A Salvadoran Fighter's Testimony

— Kathryn Savoie interviews Margarita

MARGARITA IS A 21-year-old fighter who originally comes from Morazan province in El Salvador. Kathryn Savoie, a member of Solidarity and an activist from Ann Arbor who visited El Salvador with a delegation earlier this year, transcribed this interview that the delegation conducted with Margarita at a cooperative in the countryside. Margarita spoke through an interpreter.

Margarita: War has been part of my life for as long as I've been conscious of things. All my life since I was =years old, we've been in war, and the war has affected me in ways I will describe to you.

Recently I was among those captured by the military in the office of CRIPDES (Christian Committee for the Displaced of El Salvador). I was released after three days. I'll tell what they did to me....

Free Cuban Human Rights Activists!

— ATC Editors

WHILE THE NICARAGUAN government prepares the country's second genuine national elections, the Cuban government—under far less unfavorable objective conditions than those of Nicaragua—is moving in exactly the opposite direction.

On July 13, after a trial that clearly did not meet internationally recognized minimum standards of due process—in which, for example, government-appointed defense attorneys only engaged in the most perfunctory efforts on behalf of the accused—four high ranking officials of the Cuban armed forces and Interior Ministry accused of drug trafficking were executed....

New Directions for Auto Workers

— Peter Downs

IMAGINE, IF you will, an office; not the cramped shabby office of clerk or junior executive, but a large, richly furnished office on an upper floor of a handsome office building. Thick, new carpet shields the floor. Acceptably artistic drawings and photographs grace the walls. Several overstuffed, leather easy chairs occupying the center and one side of the room face the area's dominant presence: a massive but gleaming mahogany desk.

Now, imagine the people in this office. Men: middle-aged, white, probably clean shaven with neatly trimmed graying hair. The kind of men who wear conservative gray or blue business suits and see their barbers once a week....

Eastern: What Should Be Learned?

— Steve Downs

WHEN THE STRIKE of ground crews, flight attendants and pilots at Eastern Airlines began on March 4, 1989, it was widely viewed within the labor movement as a decisive struggle that could reverse the tide of defeats and concessions and begin to move the labor movement forward again.

Lane Kirkland, president of the AFL, CIO, pledged the "maximum degree of support that is legally possible," while Kim Moody of Labor Notes, who rarely agrees with Kirkland, wrote that this strike "could draw the line on the downward spiral of wages, benefits and conditions in this changing industry."...

Eastern Strikers Down, Not Out

— Andy Pollack

THIS WAS GOING to be the one that would turn labor around, the one that would end the long streak of defeats since PATCO. To listen to the promises of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy on behalf of the Eastern strikers, this time there would be–to paraphrase a slogan coined in Austin, Minnesota—no excuses, no surrender.

As of early October the strike, after months of withering on the vine, appears headed for defeat under the combined assaults of Frank Lorenzo and his friends among the creditors' committee, the Wall Street banking and insurance community; and the courts, which continue to chop away at Eastern airline's assets. The pilots are beginning to drift back to work in alarming numbers, and a movement among the more militant appealing to the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) to call an industry-wide poll on a one-day pilot strike of all the carriers was undercut by the ALPA leadership....

Pro-Choice Agendas After Webster

— Marlene Fried

ON JULY 3, the Supreme Court gutted the constitutional protections for abortion with its decision in Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services. Ironically, the willingness of the Supreme Court to seriously curtail abortion access may have been the spark needed to prevent further erosion. The public has been galvanized. The same polls that were used before the Supreme Court decision to "prove" that most Americans favor restricting abortion rights are now described as a groundswell of pro-choice support.

Thousands of women, many of whom have never been active before, have become involved; the membership of groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), as well as of independent grassroots groups and coalitions, has soared. And money both from foundations and individuals is available for organizing....

Compulsory Heterosexuality & Lesbian Existence

— Ann Menasche

All the top tunes fell us we need guys.
We're nowhere without them they emphasize.
All the TV movies, books and magazines,
They gives us the same old dance, the same old routines.
It's boy-girl, boy-girl--sure it gets tedious,
Heavy-handed hetero harangue from the medias,
And they go on and on about it ad nauseam.
They con us, bully us, guilt-trip, lie.
They ignore us, ridicule, trivialize us.
Why boys? What's the story?
What's the REAL story?
—"Boy-Girl Rap" by Alix Dobkin

PEOPLE ASSUME THAT women are innately, biologically sexually oriented toward men. Many believe the slander that women become lesbians out of hatred of men. Lesbian feminists, above all Adrienne Rich, have been putting forward a radically different perspective.(1) We see compulsory heterosexuality as a political institution, a beachhead of male dominance, that crushes, invalidates and forces into hiding love between women.

The purpose of this institution is to assume male access to women sexually and economically and to ensure the perpetuation of the heterosexual nuclear family....

Crisis & Control of Soviet Labor, Part II

— Susan Weissman

IN THE FIFTH year of Gorbachev's perestroika, the lack of any economic progress is now publicly decried and the critics say it can no longer be blamed on the "era of stagnation."(1) Economic reform is still a slogan. The leadership appears to be floundering without dear direction.

This is not simply an intellectual paralysis. There are more social scientists per capita in the Soviet Union than in any other country in the world, and judging by the press, they seem to know where they are going, but not how to get there. Articles in the newspapers call for measures to introduce the market, but progress is stymied. There is no blueprint that tells the leadership how to get to the market without meeting the working class head on....

Nicaragua: Observations on Economic Policy

— Keith Griffin

“What is new for our revolution at the present time is the need for a 'reformist,' gradual, cautious and round-about approach to the solution of the fundamental programs of economic development. The greatest, perhaps the only danger, to the genuine revolutionary is that of exaggerated revolutionism, ignoring the limits and conditions in which revolutionary methods are appropriate and can be successfully employed.”—V.I. Lenin(1)

THE SANDINISTA REVOLUTION of 1979 transformed the polity and economy of Nicaragua. Dictatorship was replaced by a more democratic and participatory political system and the “repressive agro-export model” of development of the previous three decades(2) was replaced by a model based on socialist principles.

No one concerned with justice, equality or the alleviation of poverty should weep over the passing of the Somoza regime. The Nicaraguan version of an agro-export model of development resulted in peasants being forced off the land and an increasing proportion of the cultivated area being held by large estates. The process of polarization went so far that by 1910 it is estimated that the poorest 50% of the population consumed less than 1800 calories per capita per day....

Nicaragua: Observations or Fallacies?

— John Weeks

THE NICARAGUAN REVOLIJIION provides fertile ground for misunderstanding based on predilection and prejudice, particularly if knowledge of the Sandinistas is largely second-hand. Since the Sandinistas use terms such as socialism, many are those eager to measure accomplishments and failures by that abstract yardstick.

This is the case with Keith Griffin's observations. The Nicaraguan economy has suffered a severe decline, but neither for the reasons he suggests nor during the period he focuses upon. His mistakes of analysis derive from three fallacies.

The first fallacy is that as a consequence of the triumph over Somoza and U.S. imperialism, the Sandinistas were left in control of the economy. “Central planning was introduced,” Keith Griffith writes....

Family Policy and Social Welfare

— Julia Wrigley

STEPHANIE COONTZ ("The Pitfalls of Family Policy," ATC22) incisively argues that tie left should not develop a family policy. She points out that programs designed to prop up families don't get at the roots of poverty. They deflect attention from structural inequalities, such as massive unemployment, that create hardship for families and individuals alike. Coontz also reminds us that families themselves can be oppressive, a feminist insight that has almost been forgotten in the conservatism of the 1980s.

Yet there is another, more provocative, theme in Coontz's article. This theme is not always consistently stated, and Coontz seems to back away from it at points, but it underlies her case against a family policy.

Coontz expresses grave doubts about government social-welfare programs. She develops an argument that the modern privatized family arose jointly with the capitalist slate....

Family Policy--A Brief Rejoinder

— Stephanie Coontz

I CAN AGREE with most of what Julia Wrigley writes about education and welfare without feeling compelled to change my own argument. Social-welfare programs have been an important resource both for the working class in general and for women in particular. Public education was an important, progressive reform that represented a victory for the working class.

I expect Wrigley and I are equally in agreement, however, that education and social services would not just be funded better but would be organized in an entirely different manner in a socialist democracy. Capitalism's grudging partial concessions to social-service and welfare needs have always been shaped by the system's requirements for social control and its refusal to challenge the property or power relations of capitalist production. That is why the programs have been so top-heavy, so full of red tape and catch-22s....

Random Shots: Kampfer's Consumer Guide

— R.F. Kampfer

BRITISH AIJ11-IORfl1ES are worried about the growth of psychedelic Psilocybin mushrooms on the Shetland Islands off Scotland. Apparently the local sheep have been eating them and tripping out Given normal sheep behavior, one wonders how they could tell if they were stoned or not In any case, once the word gets around, the influx of tourists should make up for any loss of mutton.

The Medellin cartel's declaration of war against the government of Colombia indicates that management may have been dipping into the product a little too heavily.

Children's first books can have lasting effects on their development Kampfer first read "Horton Hatches the Egg” back in 1946, and is still a stone fanatic about meaning what he said and saying what he meant....

China: The Roots of Worker Revolt

— Kim Moody

Smashing the Iron Rice Pot:
Workers & Unions in China’s Market Socialism
By Trini Leung
Hong Kong Asia Monitor Resource Center, 1988, 233 pages, $5.

ONLY DAYS AFTER the massacre at Tiananmen Square, the government of the People's Republic of China arrested the leaders of the fledgling independent trade unions that sprouted during the pro-democracy movement.

Compared to the hundreds of students arrested, the dozen or so labor activists may have seemed insignificant But when, in Being and Shanghai, the government began publicly executing workers who had thrown stones or burned tanks, just as countless students had, the message became clear. Student opposition was intolerable, but worker opposition was terminal.

On a Revolutionary Agenda

— Michael Löwy

Fire in the Americas:
Forging A Revolutionary Agenda
By Roger Burbach and Orlando Nunez
Verso, 1987,$9.95 paperback.

FIRE IN THE AMERICAS, which won the first Carlos Fonseca prize in 1986, is testimony to the vitality and creativity of the Sandinista revolution. The antithesis of 'official" texts that are often issued by some of the countries of 'actually existing socialism,' it fearlessly challenges left dogmas in seeking to understand—and transform—reality. Published in Spanish and English, the book has been passionately devoured and discussed throughout the two Americas....

C.L.R. James--1901-1989

— Kent Worcester

C.L.R. JAMES died May 31 at the age of 88 of a chest infection in his Brixton, London, home. A child of the Enlightenment, "Nello" (short for Lionel) stands as one of the most engaging and clever personalities of the socialist camp. James may be described variously as a radical historian, Leninist party builder, and old-fashioned literary critic; as author of The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938), Marine’s, Renegades and Castaways: Herman Melville and the World We Live In (1953), and Beyond a Boundary (1963); and as a theorist of popular emancipation in the overlapping realms of culture and politics.

In the area of politics James should be remembered for his significant essays on the movement for West Indian self-government (1933); on the autonomous struggles of Black Americans (1945 and 1948); on the meaning of democracy in Ancient Greece (1956); and on the Atlantic slave trade (1970), as well as for the many books and documents written with political collaborators in the 1940s and 1950s. These include Invading Socialist Society' (1947), State Capitalism and World Revolution (1950), and Facing Reality (1958)....