Against the Current, No. 25, March/April 1990

Against the Current, No. 25, March/April 1990

Eastern Europe and Ourselves

— The Editors

A MULTINATIONAL DEMOCRATIC and anti-bureaucratic revolution is sweeping Eastern Europe. Its forms are multiple and novel, its destination as yet undetermined and—most of all—the degree to which the working class will succeed in imposing its own leadership and interests in the struggle remains to be seen.

Nonetheless, for all its uncertainties, this democratic movement is a positive development, creating a qualitatively new situation from a socialist point of view. The shattering of Stalinist rule presents enormous opportunities, if properly understood and acted upon, for a new socialist left. It has established, at least for the moment, broad liberties of speech, association and the like, as well as formal democracy. These are precious conquests in themselves and crucial enabling conditions for further mass struggle for socialist transformation....

Introduction to ATC 25, March-April 1990

NELSON MANDELA’S FREEDOM AFTER 27 YERS IN South African prisons was won shortly before this issue went to press. Against the Current salutes the indomitable spirit of Mandela and the South African liberation movement that achieved this historic victory, which we hope soon to see followed by even greater strides toward the destruction of apartheid and capitalist rule in South Africa.

This issue includes, among other features, a symposium on perspectives for social movements and radical politics in the 1990s, beginning a dialogue that we hope will be taken up by other activists as well. In view of the historic transformations in Eastern Europe and the much debated “crisis of socialism” associated with these events, we think the views of socialism and the market offered by Aleksei K. Zolotov and James Petras should also provoke comment and controversy.

March-April 1990, ATC 25

Panama--After the Coup

— Mike Fischer and Matt Schultz interview Eric Jackson

Eric Jackson is an attorney from Ypsilanti, Michigan, and grew up in the Panama Canal Zone. He visited Panama from Dee. 31, 1989 to Jan 19, 1990. Mike Fischer and Matt Schultz interviewed him for Against the Current on January 23. The accompanying background article was written by Jackson before he left for Panama.

ATC: The mainstream media has reported that 400 people were killed during the invasion and that everything was more or less orderly except for the Dignity Battalions. Yet Ramsey Chat and some Latin Americans claim that the casualty figures were much higher. Can you explain this disparity?

Eric Jackson: Having been down in El Chorrillo, I don't believe this line of only a couple of hundred civilians being killed is possible. Tens of thousands lived in that neighborhood, which was just flattened. Moreover, the lies and coverups that the Southern Command has already been caught at undercut their credibility....

Panama, Not for Television

— Eric Jackson

THE VILIFICATION OF Manuel Noriega predated his 1988 drug indictments by at least two years. One John Poindexter, himself reputed to have overseen a considerable cocaine operation in his supervision of contra aid, met with Noriega in 1985, demanding an end to the Panamanian-sponsored Contadora peace talks, overt Panamanian support for the U.S. war against Nicaragua and changes in Panama's government Noriega's refusal elicited threats of severe consequences.

Noriega was already in trouble. Though assuming the posture of heir to Torrijismo, Noriega had moved significantly to the right of positions taken by the late General Omar Torrijos [the nationalist-populist military leader wider whom Noriega served before Torrijos' death—ed.] and pushed aside most key members of Torrijos' entourage....

Whose Declaration of War?

— Donald W. Bray and Marjorie Woodford Bray

FROM THE FIRST day of the invasion, the mainstream U.S. press has made a point of reminding us that it was General Noriega and the Panamanian National Legislative Assembly, with their "declaration of war" two days before the invasion, who initiated hostilities and consequently precipitated the Bush administration's response.

But Panama's declaration was simply a belated recognition of the war that the United States had been waging against Panama for almost two years. To call the recognition of this hostile situation a "declaration of war" was, in the words of an information officer of the Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) on the night of the invasion “Infantile.”...

"Protecting American Lives"

— Donald W. Bray and Marjorie Woodford Bray

PRESIDENT BUSH CLAIMED that the invasion was necessary to "protect American (U. S.) lives." But U.S. citizens in Panama on the verge of the invasion were more secure than those in our major metropolitan centers. While we were in Panama, we accidentally hailed a PDF car, thinking that it was a taxi It made a U-turn, and we were asked what we needed. Apologizing, we said that we wanted to return to our hotel. They took us there - hardly the act of a force menacing U.S. citizens.

The U.S. officer killed in the celebrated incident just before the invasion was in a highly sensitive area, which no one familiar with the city could stray into inadvertently, given that U.S. SEALS and Delta force personnel were infiltrating Panama City to position themselves for the attack....

The Border, the Law and Peace

— Michel Warshawski

Michel Warshawski, a prominent Israeli antiwar, anti-occupation and socialist activist, was convicted in November and sentenced to twenty months imprisonment for the crime of providing typesetting services for a Palestinian organization. An interview with Warshawski on the trial, and his analysis of the accomplishments of the Palestinian intifada, appeared in ATC 21. Widespread outrage in Israel regarding the harsh sentence has caused it to be suspended pending an appeal to be heard this spring. That is now in the courts.

Michel Warshawski addressed a solidarity meeting in his honor on November 12, 1989, shortly following the verdict The text of his talk partially reprinted here, appeared in News From Within, November 29, 1989.—The Editors

I WOULD LIKE to dedicate the available time to one concept that appeared again and again throughout my trial and also occupies a central place in the court's decision, namely the concept of "the border." I myself coined it and only later did my judges begin making use of it....

On Being a Marxist in the Soviet Union

— Boris Kagarlitsky

AT THE END of the 1970s, the “crisis of Marxism” theme had become a fad in the Western press. The Parisian "new philosophers" solemnly proclaimed "Marx is dead." The Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, anticipating victory at the polls, hastened to delete that outdated term—Marxism—from its statutes. Soviet emigres flatly declared that Marxists no longer existed in the USSR Meanwhile, Western leftists lamented that Stalin had “assassinated Marx.”

In truth, after innumerable crimes committed under the cover of pseudo-Marxist slogans, socialist ideologists had become very defensive. In order to criticize a hopeless situation dominating the contemporary world, leftists morally and politically felt duty bound to first condemn the Stalinist terror of 1937, the excesses of the Chinese "cultural revolution" and the "normalization" of Czechoslovakia....

Radicalizing Earth Day's Managed Mobilization

— Bill Resnick

EARTH DAY 1990 will be one extravagant moment—a managed though not entirely empty mobilization—in an intensifying and protracted struggle.

Environmental degradation is threatening life on this planet, and will force transformation of systems of production and social relations. But in what direction? Towards technocratic solutions controlled by ever bigger corporate conglomerates, with accompanying expansion of police and regulatory apparatuses? Or towards an ecological society managed democratically by associated producers living harmoniously with nature in human scale communities?

Who Will Save the Forest?

— Alexander Cockburn

I THINK THE battle for El Salvador has a lot to do with the battle to save the Amazon. The Jesuits in El Salvador were murdered by the soldiers of the government because they were calling for negotiations with the FMLN. The FMLN, of course, has land reform as a central plank.

Some of you may have seen a pamphlet put out by the Environmental Project on Central America (EPOCA) on ecological destruction in El Salvador, probably the most ecologically destroyed country in the Americas. It shows how ecological destruction goes hand in hand with political oppression. And this is true in the Amazon as well as El Salvador, as we'll see when we look at the murder of Chico Mendes, the rubber tapper leader who was killed a year ago, December 22....

Perspectives in the Twilight of the Cold War

— The Editors

The revolutions in Eastern Europe and the decline of the Cold War raise pressing questions about the fate of international socialism and the new terrain of global politics. But these profound changes will also have dramatic impact on U.S. domestic politics, challenging the left to respond. ATC solicited the following short “think-pieces,” to start the dialogue.—The Editors

"the collapse of Stalinism means that capitalism must confront itself"

— Paul Buhle

AS JOEL KOVEL observes,* American "anticommunism" is not and has never been primarily the cr1tique of Stalinism (or Bolshevism), even while receiving considerable secondary reinforcement from the realities of Communist rule. "Communism" as ideology reputedly alien to Americans has been conceptually frozen in time and space—Kovel calls it the "black hole effect"—of an evil against which all points of analysis, all differentiations, effectively disappear.

If this is so, the end of Stalinism does not necessarily mean the end of anticommunism; but it poses problems more difficult, in sustaining the maneuvered dynamics, than anticommunism has faced in seventy years. According to a poll released in 1961, asking respondents to choose between all-out nuclear war and living under communist rule, 81% chose war and only 6% communist rule; taken again in 1989, the poll turned up only 47% to 32%. Unprecedented....

“three challenges to peace and disarmament activists in the U.S.”

— Frank Brodhead

THE PROFOUND CHANGES occurring in Central and Eastern Europe appear to be having an equally profound impact on the prospects for peace and disarmament. Are these prospects real or illusory? And how can peace and disarmament activists in the United States respond creatively to these changes?

The cumulative impact of the changes in Central and Eastern Europe is to undermine the credibility of the "Soviet threat," the rationale for our huge military apparatus. Longstanding corollaries of the "Soviet threat" are also jeopardized. For example, some substitute must now be found for the "Soviet military buildup," which has justified military Keynesianism in the United States since the late 1940s. Nor can “Soviet expansionism” still serve to underwrite counterrevolution in the Third World. Even NATO and the “Western Alliance”—and indeed the "West"—begin to lose definition in the face of a retreating "Soviet threat."...

"...that's the opportunity: to engage in a struggle for the power to produce new cultural and political meanings"

— Marcy Darnovsky

THE COLD WAR AS guarantor of political stagnation and ideological paralysis has been a central theme of the new and later lefts in the United States. Here, as one among many possible examples, is a rendering of the theme from the 1962 Port Huron Statement "Political debate is restricted, thought standardized, action inhibited by the demands of 'unity' and 'oneness' in the face of the declared danger."

A quarter of a century later, the declared danger has finally lost its grip. Uprisings that take "democracy" as a key word have toppled governments, demonstrating that political and social systems are not inevitable but rather inevitably changeable. The end of the Cold War produces important openings for political opposition and ideological challenge in the United States—but it guarantees nothing. There is nothing automatic about the onset of non-conformist debate, thought or action....

" class war will not only continue but increase ... future Invasions may be done by one well-dressed agent with a briefcase"

— Shafik Abu Tahir

Questions We'd Pose

Rather than attempt any in-depth analysis of the events taking place throughout the Eastern bloc, we'd like to pose a few questions: Is the Cold War over? Is peace at hand? Will there be a radical reduction in military spending creating a vast reserve for social spending? How do we as social-change advocates approach the new period? What should we be doing?

Let us state from the very beginning that we welcome many of the changes that are taking place in the Eastern bloc, but we caution people to remember that these changes are taking place there, not in the United States. Furthermore, we take the position that there will be no real changes here based on changes in Eastern Europe; there is no such thing as capitalism or imperialism with a human or peaceful face. In our excitement we must not forget this reality....

"...the global economic impact of cold war chill-out will put strong pressure on U.S. capital... [and] intensification of competition on a world scale"

— Kim Moody

SO FAR, THE debate over the domestic economic and political effects of the fading Cold War has focused on the division of the future "peace dividend." That is, as the defense budget gradually shrinks to a merely outrageous proportion of the gross national product, who will reap the savings?

Capital hopes that declining interest rates resulting from budget relief will stimulate more investment, making the 1990s a decade of growth. In particular, capital hopes to devote a larger proportion of the nation's surplus value to industries that can vie in global competition. The demise and devaluation of some defense-oriented businesses will not be mourned by firms out there in the world market and the unemployment of numbers of skilled workers will be welcomed. The different sectors of capital will squabble over the degree of defense reductions, but the days of the ever-growing war chest are over....

" openings will bring more rank-and-file activism and create opportunities for socialist-feminists"

— Johanna Brenner

AS THE COLD war winds down, the battle over the peace dividend will include a struggle to name the enemy. The "war on drugs" has opened a window of opportunity for diverting resources to the apparatuses of state repression (not to mention one or two small interventions in Central America). But social-service advocates also use the "war on drugs" to justify claims. You want a neighborhood center? Claim it will cut down on crack use. You want to expand drug treatment for poor women? Focus on crack babies.

The issue is new, but the method isn't Middle-class reformers and social-service entrepreneurs have always defended the welfare state in terms of protecting society from danger--class/race warfare, disease or criminality. Conservatives and liberals differ primarily in how their programs construct the danger and balance repression, social control and real benefits....

“… the left [will] see that the major contradiction In a market economy is the collision with the natural world"

— Sandra Baird

THE DEMISE OF the Soviet empire will force the left to reassess its analysis and goals as the twentieth century becomes the twenty-first More than any other fact, and linked to the new wheelings and dealings in China, the end of the Soviet empire could result in a capitalism that is more stable and stronger than ever, leaving the left to see that the major contradiction in a competitive, market economy is the collision with the natural world.

While it is still too soon to predict the fates of the nations formerly of the Russian bloc, and while movements there differ from each other and contain many tendencies, from monarchy to fascism to anarchy, a main impulse in throwing off Soviet hegemony has been the establishment of some form of capitalism. Sick to death of shoddy goods, endless queues, shortages and mean lives of little comfort the citizens of the Eastern countries rightfully have thrown off the state socialism that promised the world, gave little and bureaucratized and regulated every inch of their existences....

"...there are two sorts of radical demands we should be raising: peace conversion and ecological industrial conversion"

— Howard Hawkins

THE EXPLOSION OF the pro-democracy movements across the core region of Stalinist statism from China to East Europe raises the big question for the Western revolutionary left: Can we build pro-democracy movements that challenge capitalism as the 1990s proceed?

The medium-to-long-term potential for radical pro-democracy movements in the West is exciting, but immediate prospects are not good. Despite the best efforts of third camp socialists, anarchists and more recently Greens, decades of official U.S. and Soviet propaganda have successfully associated "the left" and "socialism" with the repressive statism of the East bloc.

For a while anyway, this biggest of big lies will hold sway. Apparently emerging is a world in which almost all politicians pay homage to the virtues of parliamentary "democracy" and a market economy with mixed forms of ownership. The right will rant with dire warnings of creeping socialism, while the reformist left will embrace a strategy of creeping (market) socialism....

"... movements in the West, East and Third World [need] to make deep connections"

— Jill Benderly

THE NEW WORLD situation has many and profound implications for activists' work. For me, an important one is the need for movements in the West, East and Third World to make deep connections. We need to explore together the shortcomings of all existing systems, and to take seriously the values raised by Greens and feminists, as well as the needs of workers, minorities (both racial and ethnic), women, and lesbians and gays.

At the same time that I'm jubilant to see movements for new democracies winning in Eastern Europe, I'm also concerned that the alternatives proposed by new social movements will be put aside by the newly created opposition parties and coalition governments....

Socialism, Markets and Restoration

— Aleksei K. Zolotov

THE COLLAPSE OF Stalinist economic centralization promises to beget the greatest crisis in the history of the international left. The outcome of the concomitant debate on the theory and practice of socialism will determine whether socialism will survive into the next century as a significant historical current.

Marxists should not delude themselves with the mixed glories of putatively socialist past triumphs. However much Russian, Chinese and other left upheavals dominated the history of the twentieth century, it may well be that the momentum of these epochal processes is spent Just as the American "Movement" of 1965-70 vanished overnight into nothingness, the far more substantial revolutionary socialist processes of our century may also soon vanish. It is possible that the U.S.S.R and People's Republic of China will not exist in the year 2000. It is possible that world globes in the year 2010 will show “Russia” and “China,” as they did in 1910....

Restoration & Revolutionary Transformation

— James Petras

TWO EVENTS dramatically illustrate contemporary reality. One involves Lech Walesa m the U.S. Congress pleading for loans and investment, offering up for sale Polish industries, resources and labor. The now media and the political class celebrated the event as marking the "end of socialism," noting that the working class of the East had pronounced itself as a partisan of free enterprise as the road to progress, growth and democracy.

At precisely the same moment that Walesa was addressing Congress, the Salvadoran people were engaged in a national insurrection: workers and peasants were fighting in a life-and-death struggle against the U.S.-financed death squads and generals—unwilling to submit to a regime of free enterprise and machine guns. The massive armed uprising clearly underlines the failure of capitalism to deal with the most fundamental social, economic and political needs of the vast majority of the people in Central America.

Nicaragua: from Revolution to Stabilization

— Joseph Ricciardi

IN 1988 AND 1989, Nicaragua experienced its deepest economic crisis since the insurrection. The revolutionary euphoria of July 1979 gave way to the cold logic of stabilization as the country confronted three serious economic problems: hyperinflation, unprecedented “peace-time” levels of negative real growth and severe external imbalance.

The revolution's 10th anniversary was celebrated while in the grips of one of the most thoroughgoing IMF-style austerity programs found in the developing world. Workers and peasants, while most certainly empowered politically, had little to show for it economically as private per capita consumption plummeted 70% from prerevolutionary (1976-77) levels and real wages evaporated to a mere 7% of 1981 levels.(1)...

The First Follies of 1990

— R.F. Kampfer

SOME FILM CRITICS have charged that Michael Moore was unfairly selective in his movie portrayal ("Roger And Me') of General Motors chairman Roger Smith's devastation of Flint This is like complaining that a World War II movie didn't reveal Adolph Hitler's fondness for his dog Blondi The whole job of a writer or director is to select what they will show us. Otherwise you wind up with James Joyce's Ulysses.

Speaking of movies, the video 'Heavy Petting' contains some hilarious excerpts from sex-education films of the 1950s. One segment suggests that teenage girls should try to deflect the attention of horny teen-age boys by talking about sports....

Fabricating the Past

— Ellen Poteet

The Fabrication of Ancient Greece, 1775-1875
Volume 1 of Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization
By Martin Bernal
Rutgers University Press, 1987 (575 PP.), $15 paper.

ALMOST ANY SURVEY of Western literature, art, polities or ideas—from almost any place on the political spectrum—will inevitably begin with ancient Greece. Martin Bernal's Black Athena is no exception. But its claim that ancient Greece was influenced by and the successor to Egyptian and Semitic civilization and that, consequently, Western Europe has its roots south and east of the Mediterranean as well as in an idealized Aegean, marks a major break with standard models of ancient Greek history....

Men and Women of Letters

— Mary McGuire

Men and Women of Letters:
An Anthology of Short Stories by Letter Carriers
Edited by John Yewell
Distributed by Singlejack Books, Miles and Weir, Ltd., Box 1906, San Pedro, CA 90733, $8.95.

IN THE INTRODUCTION to Men and Women of Letters, editor John Yewell writes that “The general public has a very precious, quaint notion of the dedicated, selfless ‘mailman’ braving the elements to see that the mail goes through. Much of that impression is deserved, but the fact remains that carriers, just as other blue-collar workers, are not expected to display any intellectual or creative prowess. The public's expectations become the public's stereotype” (x)....

The House that Montgomery Built

— Martin Glaberman

The Fall of the House of Labor
By David Montgomery
Cambridge University Press, 1987 (494 pages), $13.95 (paperback).

THE PUBLICATION OF David Montgomery's latest book, The Fall of the House of Labor, has quite properly been treated as a major event. Montgomery is the preeminent historian of American labor both for his own work and the growing accumulation of the work of his students. With David Brody and the late Herbert Gutman, he helped to form and give direction to the "New Labor History," abandoning the overwhelming concern of older labor historians with the institutions of the labor movement and moving in the direction of writing the history of the class, rather than its institutions and leaders....

In Memoriam--Hal Draper

— Ernie Haberkern

ON JANUARY 26, 1990, Hal Draper, the leading international spokesman for the Third Camp socialist position and an active participant in and theoretician of the revolutionary socialist movement for over fifty years, died at the age of 75 in Berkeley, California.

Hal Draper first rose to prominence in the socialist movement in the 1930s. As national organizer of the Young People's Socialist League, he led the left wing of the Student Strike Against War....

Rube Singer Remembered

— Archie Lieberman

RUBE SINGER, a lifelong socialist, died December 23, 1989. Much more died than a comrade and long-time friend. Rube was a rare breed, a worker-socialist leader without which no socialist movement can survive. The crisis of all the socialist sects in existence today is their failure to win the thousands of potential Rube Singers in the working class.

No dilettante socialist, Rube was the open socialist leader of the rank and life in General Motors Hyatt Ball Bearing plant in Clark Township, New Jersey. They elected him to the local union presidency and many other positions in which he consistently defended them....