“… movements in the West, East and Third World [need] to make deep connections”

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

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.

In Hungary, the ecology movement to stop the damming of the Danube River was the most sustained channel for opposition politics since 1956. Last spring, its pressure on Parliament led to the scuttling of the dam. But a leading theoretician of the opposition Free Democrats, Miklos Haraszti (who was once a New Leftist) told me, “In this period of creating a politically viable transition in the ‘normal’ Western European way, [Green] values will fade into the background.”

In Poland, Solidarity’s rise so far has led more visibly to austerity than to workers’ self-management Meanwhile, fundamentalist Catholics tried to make abortion illegal. This threat led to the founding of Poland’s first feminist organization. And the bill was eventually shelved—with the help of the Communist Party.

You’d never know about these conflicts from the New York Times. The alternative movements aren’t so big, but I believe they’re influential, especially in this transition period. Figuring out the similarities and differences between women’s oppression in each kind of system will teach us an incredible amount Women will have to envision and fight for reproductive rights—and for autonomy—in any system. I’m no Cassandra. I’m not saying that the new democratic trends in Eastern Europe will automatically lead to liberal parliamentarism and welfare capitalism, or will necessarily overlook self-determination for workers, for women, for national minorities. Or that “quality-of-life” issues will be shelved. But it is our job to find and keep in touch with those folks who want to create something different and to exchange ideas of what that might be.

I believe Marxism is still a solid critique of capitalism, but! wonder about its vision of socialism and how to get there. To me, this period has to be one of opening our eyes and our communication links. We should let our East European friends know what the effects of advanced capitalism have been. We have to be willing to listen to their experiences and criticisms of existing socialism and of -Marxist theory and practice.

I suspect that common values will emerge: nonhierarchical direct democracy, autonomous organization, need for personal space, a less industrial society, human and individual rights as well as economic rights. Those are some of the ideas I’ve shared with independents in Eastern Europe. That’s the kind of convergence of systems we want to see.

March-April 1990, ATC 25

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