Against the Current, No. 24, January/February 1990

Against the Current, No. 24, January/February 1990

Where the Cold War Lives On

— The Editors

IF THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION took an attitude toward Central America similar to that adopted by Mikhail Gorbachev, for his own reasons, toward Eastern Europe, then revolutionary and democratic social and political change would be very much on the agenda throughout Central America—through social movements of a massive and largely non-violent character. Instead, while the peoples of Eastern Europe take the first steps toward a hopeful albeit uncertain future, the peoples of Central America—most visibly today in El Salvador, but in the other states of the region as well—confront escalating U.S. military and political intervention. Washington and its European allies may be proclaiming the end of the Cold War, but they clearly aren't referring to the region a distinguished U.S. Secretary of State once referred to as "our little region that never bothered anyone."

In Eastern Europe, police state apparatuses are forced to negotiate with their opposition. In El Salvador, the prospects for dialogue were buried in the rubble of the National Federation of Salvadoran Workers (FENASTRAS) office, shattered by a death-squad bomb on October 31. This fourth bombing of the FENASTRAS office in the past eighteen months was also the deadliest, killing FENASTRAS' talented and charismatic leader, Febe Elizabeth Velasquez, and nine other unionists, in addition to wounding dozens more....

New Stage in Salvadoran Struggle

— Susan Weissman interviews Marc Cooper

Marc Cooper, a journalist with many years’ experience in El Salvador and a producer of several documentaries on the struggle there was interviewed by Susan Weissman on the "Midweek" program on KPFK-FM, the Pactfica radio station in Los Angeles. The program aired November 30, 1989, two weeks after the murder of six Jesuit priests and two women at the rectory of Central American University in San Salvador. Weissman is an editor of this magazine and a broadcaster at KPFA. This interview was edited and excerpted by ATC.

Marc Cooper. The offensive (by the revolutionary forces in El Salvador) is a definite new phase in the conflict, for two reasons. First, this civil conflict, as we sometimes call it —but what we're really dealing with in El Salvador is a revolution, much more than a civil war — is now going to express itself in military terms. The possibility for expression in political, if by that we mean non-military, terms is virtually non-existent. Of course, if we understand war to be an extension of politics, then we're looking at the logical conclusion of a political conflict.

Second, in a strict military sense, we see the rather dramatic shattering of all the whistling in the dark that the U.S. administration and the Salvadoran government have been doing over the past five years, ever since the election of Jose Napoleon Duarte in 1984....

Pittston: Class War in the Coalfields

— Phil Kwik

CLASS WARFARE in Southwestern Virginia," is how United Mine Workers (UMW) Vice President Cecil Roberts describes the strike by 1,700 miners against the Pittston Coal Group, which began on April 5.

Indeed, this strike resembles 'class warfare' more than it does a typical labor-management dispute of the 1980s. On one side are the strikers, their families and their communities, fighting for the very existence of their union. They are displaying a level of militancy and innovation not seen since the labor struggles of the 1930 that led to the creation of the large industrial unions....

Students Organize for Reproductive Rights

— Karin Baker

ANYONE WHO IS familiar with reproductive rights organizing today is aware of the large numbers of young women active around this issue As is often pointed out, these young women have grown up taking for granted their right to legal abortions. The threat to this right has led many young women with no previous political experience to join local abortion rights groups.

Young women's dismay at the possibility of losing their right to legal abortion was apparent at the Mobilizing for Women's Lives rally in Washington, D.C. on November 12. Many remarked on the youthful appearance of the crowd. Statistics about the turnout for the last national abortion rights march on April 9th claimed as much as one third of the crowd was students and young people, and the proportion at the recent demo may have been even higher....

From Abortion Rights to Feminism

— Camille Colatosti

THE CURRENT mobilization to maintain legal abortion is exciting—really exciting. Young people—and especially young women, some of whom have never worked as political activists before—are involved in this work.

Our weekly meetings in Ann Arbor, at the University of Michigan campus where l go to school, range from thirty-five to fifty people, most of whom are working hard. We organized a Reproductive Rights Awareness Week about a month ago, featuring three forums—one of which focused on reproductive rights for women of color, and one of which was led by teenage women....

Marching with Beit Sahour

— Betsy Esch

The West Bank village of Beit Sahour, a predominantly Christian community near Bethlehem with a formerly conservative image, became a symbol for the lntifada this last fall when residents organized a tax resistance campaign. Under sage and then blockaded by the Israeli army, its residents' automobiles, business assets and personal belongings confiscated, the people of Beit Sahour nonetheless persevered, partly as a consequence of the tremendous support they received from all over Palestine and internationally.

Betsy Esch, an Opinion page editor for The Michigan Daily, participated in an international solidarity delegation to Belt Sahour on November 5. She had previously visited the Occupied Territories last summer on a delegation exploring the prospects of a sister university relationship between the University of Michigan and Bir Zeit University. This is her first-hand account of the day of the march and the sit-in by the American delegation to protest the conduct of the occupation soldiers....

Solidarity with Michel Warshawsky

MICHEL WARSHAWSKY was convicted by an Israeli Court in November. Warshawsky, the director of the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem and a leading anti-war and anti-occupation activist, was first charged when the Center was raided three years ago.

After widespread outrage in Israel, the harsh sentence imposed by the court was suspended pending appeal of the conviction.

An Alternative Information Center statement, dated Nov. 10, 1989 reads:

The Beginning of History

— Noam Chomsky

THERE IS LITTLE need to comment on Francis Fukuyama's illusions ["The End of History—ed.] about contemporary history and American society. But in the background, there lie real issues that do merit attention.

The libertarian ideals of the Enlightenment confronted serious obstacles. They are inconsistent with basic structural principles of capitalism, for familiar reasons. They are negated outright by modem totalitarianism, in its Bolshevik or fascist variants. The same barriers stood in the way of the socialist currents that were one prominent expression of these libertarian ideals.

The Bolshevik coup of 1917 quickly destroyed all working-class and other popular organizations, including soviets, factory councils and the constituent assembly. Since that time, both of the major world propaganda systems have described this destruction of socialist elements as a victory of socialism. For western capitalism, the purpose is to defame socialism by associating it with Moscow's tyranny; for the Bolsheviks, the purpose was to gain legitimacy by

Soviet Miners Stand Up

— Susan Weissman interviews Boris Kagarlitsky

Susan Weissman: Welcome to “Portraits of the USSR.” Today my guest by telephone is Boris Kagarlitsky. He is the author of The Thinking Reed: Soviet Intellectuals from 1917 to the Present, published in English by Verso Press, for which he received the 1988 Isaac Deutscher Prize, and of The Dialectic of Hope yet to be published. He is a leading activist in the Moscow Narodni Front or the People's Front. Welcome to “Portraits of the USSR,” Boris. I understand that you've come...

The Disintegration of Gorbachev?

— Hillel Ticktin

IT IS NOW close to five years since Gorbachev came to power. Yet only now is it possible to begin to understand the logic of Soviet disintegration and the regime's response to it.

Gorbachev's strategy is one of pragmatic movement in the most successful direction politically and economically. In other words, he began with no pre-determined direction, other than one of saving the elite. He has said, very explicitly, that the integrity of the USSR is not in question, that reforms must proceed gradually to avoid disruption, and that there can be only one political party.

He has never at any stage criticized privilege, unlike Boris Yeltsin, who has virtually made it his platform. He favors higher prices, greater differentiation of incomes, workers working harder and managers managing better. He stands for pluralism of opinions among the intelligentsia. No one has proposed genuine trade unions or working-class clubs. It is too dangerous....

What Glasnost Is--and Isn't

— John Marot

IN JULY 1999 the greatest strike movement in the Soviet Union since the 1920s caught the bureaucracy by surprise—but not unprepared. Half a million miners, from Siberia to the Ukraine, downed tools to protest bureaucratic oppression and exploitation. Gorbachev at once declared the mass movement of the miners a most serious threat to glasnost and perestroika. The general secretary's first thoughts turned to the army. He magnanimously promised not to use it—this time.

Gorbachev is right. The miners did jeopardize glasnost and perestroika. Gorbachev's policies are incompatible with any and all independent activity of the organized, mobilized working class....

The "Revolution from Above" Fallacy

— John Marot

IF THE ANALYSIS presented here is correct, glasnost is not a discrete "policy," among others. Rather, glasnost is more in the nature of a ”general ether" in which definite and specific policies, collectively known as perestroika, are being elaborated and implemented. Glasnost is the expression of more self-confident and sophisticated bureaucratic rule. The structured processes through which the bureaucracy reproduces itself as a class are becoming increasingly visible to the public, as are the internal conflicts expressed there.

At the same time these structured processes assure the rule of the bureaucracy over the immediate producers and continue, as before, to set strict, immanent limits to Gorbachev's or any other bureaucrat's freedom of action. This is rarely acknowledged and integrated in accounts that characterize the Gorbachev era as one of "revolution from above."...

Common Interest or Class Politics?

— Justin Schwartz

GORBACHEV's “new political thinking” in foreign policy invites an encouraging but ambivalent response.(1) Soviet disavowal of war as an instrument of policy is a hopeful sign; and renunciation of the “Brezhnev doctrine” in Eastern Europe is exhilarating.

Even more heartening is Gorbachev's backing the big talk with unilateral action, like the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the concessions leading to the INF missile treaty. Most extraordinary is the new tolerance for democratization and popular action in Eastern Europe....

Wheelbarrow Socialism

— Don Fitz

IN JUNE 1917, midway between the two great Russian Revolutions, the Sampsionevskaya textile mill owner refused workers' request for the same wage increase that neighboring workers had received. The mill workers revived a Russian tradition of direct action as they threw the owner in a wheelbarrow. He humbly asked them not to put the customary sack over his head and the women showed unusual mercy by tying it to his feet. Ignoring warnings from male apprentices to halt their spontaneous outburst, they wheeled and shouted through Petrograd's Vyborg district.

For several decades, many of us received our basic knowledge of that revolution from books such as Trotsky's The Russian Revolution, John Reed's Ten Days That Shook the World or Isaac Deutscher's historical biographies. Valuable though this literature is, it leaves a gnawing feeling that its emphasis on the leaders of the revolution tells us very little about what was happening on the shop floor....

Nicaragua: An Economy Under Siege

— Katherine Gonzalez

THIS ARTICLE ON the Nicaraguan economy is a continuation of the symposium that begun with contributions by Keith Griffin and John Weeks in ATC 22. Further responses will appear in our next issue. The continuing effort of the United States to wreck hopes for economic recovery in Nicaragua, and to subvert the election campaign underway there, harmonizes with Washington's lavish sponsorship of the Salvadoran military engaged in the murder of priests and wholesale repression of church, human rights and union organizations, as discussed in Marc Cooper's interview elsewhere in this issue. —The editors

FROM JANUARY 1982, when the first coffee pickers were kidnapped, tortured and murdered, until the signing of the El Salvador agreements in March 1989, Nicaragua has been continually under attack. The economic costs have been enormous. Forrest Colburn is wrong when he states that in post-Revolutionary Nicaragua "the areas in which the fighting has taken place are relatively marginal to the economy. The bulk of the GM' is generated in the Pacific region which has been free from fighting." Over 70% of Nicaragua's corn and beans is grown in the mountainous northern zones that were hit hardest by the contras. By 1984, 120,000 peasants had fled the region.(1)...

Random Shots: Ringing in the 1990s

— R.F. Kampfer

NINA USED TO grab other children's food or toys and shriek "MINE! MINE! MINE!" in a voice that would shrivel slugs. We sent her to a Montessori school. Now when she grabs something she yells "SHARE!"

The Animal Liberation Front (Invertebrate) has struck another blow against the nuclear power industry. Several million fresh water mussels staged a sexual orgy in the cooling pond of the Cattenom Plant on the Moselle River in France, multiplying in such numbers as to force the shutdown of the reactor. Surely we human environmentalists would be eager to follow their example....

"Roger and Me"

— R.F. Kampfer

PUT DOWN A “3,” add four zeroes, and call it "Laid-off Flint auto-workers." See that in the newspaper and it has a certain impact Look into some of the faces behind those numbers and see what it does to their community, and those five digits take on a whole new meaning.

It was this idea that led alternative journalist Michael Moore to embark on a three-year crusade to take General Motors chairman Roger Smith to Flint to show him the results of his policies and to record the campaign on film in "Roger & Me."

Moore, former publisher of the Flint Voice, had never produced a film before, although the opening scenes indicate that home movies were a family tradition. Despite the inevitable mistakes that come with on-the-job-training (an interview with Jesse Jackson was lost because the audio wasn't switched on), he succeeded in creating a masterpiece that will make you laugh, cry and think....

Revolution, War and Feminism

— Janet Siskind

And Still They Dance: Women, War, and the Struggle for Change in Mozambique, by Stephanie Urdang. New York Monthly Review Press, 1989, $11.

AND STILL THEY DANCE by Stephanie Urdang is a remarkable book, combining a socialist consciousness with a feminist perspective to present a powerful description of today's Mozambique. A South African, who left the country she still thinks of as home in 1970, Urdang has been actively engaged ever since in writing, speaking, and working for progressive change in southern Africa.

Her first book, Fighting Two Colonial-isms (1979), was full of the hope of the newly liberated colonies. Her first visit to Mozambique in 1980 was during this time of hope. Her fourth visit in 1987, after seven years of South Africa's relentless attack, is a time of "hardship, of war and hunger, of devastations." Yet the picture she paints shows also the real progress and the strength of people....