Against the Current, No. 26, May/June 1990

Against the Current, No. 26, May/June 1990

The 1990s: A Socialist Agenda

— The Editors

WITH THE COMING of the new decade, many U.S. socialist newspapers and journals have engaged in discussions concerning "The Crisis of the Left." For the most part, there seems to be agreement on the "objective conditions" producing this significant political rethinking as well as the "crisis" of some previous left perspectives. The familiar features of our political landscape are now joined by some extraordinary new ones.

*In the United States, we continue to live with an unstable economy that every day brings relentless attacks from government and business on the rights of the population: brutal racist assaults, efforts to limit women's reproductive rights, attempts at union-busting in the mines and the airlines, unprecedented social service cutbacks at a time of great hopelessness, a repressive and futile "war on drugs" that does nothing to address the consumption of drugs as an escape from despair, the treatment of AIDS patients as pariahs, the continued massive degradation of the environment....

How the Pittston Miners Won

— Phill Kwik

WHEN RANK AND file members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) voted to accept a contract with the Pittston Coal Group on February 19, they won a major victory against a corporation bent on busting their union.

They did this with a display of militancy rarely seen in the U.S. labor movement since the mid-1930s. For ten months, thousands of miners, their families, and supporters—dressed in camouflage, signifying what one UMWA official called "class warfare"—sat down in front of coal trucks, occupied company buildings and plants, took "direct action" on company property and scabs' trucks, and marched to courthouses and capitals to preserve their union. They inflicted huge loses on Pittston's coal operations—$25.2 million in the fourth quarter of 1989—and forced the company to back down....

New Hope for Guatemala?

— Patti McSherry

IN RECENT DAYS, dramatic new steps toward negotiation between the Cerezo government of Guatemala and the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG), the insurgent movement, have taken place Also in the recent period the U.S. government has apparently been changing its policy towards Guatemala. These intriguing developments may signal a new stage in Guatemala's long civil conflict.

On March 3O, four days of talks were concluded between representatives of the URNG and Guatemala's National Reconciliation Commission (CNR), a body set up after the 1987 Esquipulas II accord. The goal was to begin the search for a path toward peace, reconciliation and democracy in Guatemala, as well as an end to the internal armed conflict....

Introduction to the Nicaraguan Elections--And Afterwards

— The Editors

THE DEFEAT OF the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in the February 25 Nicaraguan election came as a bitter and deep shock to all supporters of the Nicaraguan revolution. With the setback however, also comes the realization that the struggle to defend the revolution's achievements will continue, and that the fight in North America to stop U.S. intervention in Nicaragua and Central America as a whole must be intensified. We present here three perspectives on the meaning and some of the causes of recent events. It will be obvious that, within a framework of support for the revolutionary process, the following articles differ m their analyses and political conclusions. The discussion of the issues raised here will undoubtedly continue not only in the pages of Against the Current but through the left and solidarity movements.

The Elections--And Afterwards

— Dianne Feeley and David Finkel

WITH HINDSIGHT WE can see how surprising it was that the Sandinistas—holding elections under conditions of such catastrophe that workers' wages purchase roughly one-tenth what they did ten years earlier—could come anywhere near winning re-election.

Few governments in history have even held elections under those circumstances; none, to our knowledge, has survived the vote. The fact that the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) received 4l percent of the vote for president and holds 39 seats in the National Assembly—over the 40 percent needed to preserve Nicaragua's Constitution—is a remarkable, if not miraculous, result. Precisely for that reason the United National Opposition (UNO) is contesting several of the FSLN seats....

Roots of the FSLN's Defeat

— James Petras

THE NICARAGUAN ELECTIONS were decided in the boardrooms of the banks and in strategy sessions in Washington, New York, London, Zurich and Bonn, though the votes were cast in Managua.

Nicaraguans voted with a boot on their chest and a gun to their head. For committed activists, the war and embargo solidified and deepened their opposition to U.S. imperialism and its local clients. For the less committed, the unorganized poor, U.S. violence and shortages were blamed on those who transformed Nicaraguan society and provoked the ire of the patron....

Rejoinder: Why the FSLN's Policies Failed

— Keith Griffin

A DEBATE ON economic policy in Nicaragua is important. We need to know what went wrong not only for the sake of the long-suffering people of Nicaragua but also for the sake of social transformations to come in other parts of Latin America. The experiences of the ten years of Sandinista government have much to tell us and we must try to learn from them. I therefore welcome the contributions from John Weeks, (ATC 23), Katherine Gonzalez and Joseph Ricciardi (ATC 24).

I differ with much that John Weeks says, and our differences concern many of the central issues, so my response will focus on his remarks, and I will refer only in passing to the views of Gonzalez and Ricciardi. John Weeks begins by overstating the difficulties the Sandinistas confronted after deposing Somoza and he ends by understating the serious consequences of the policies they introduced. In between he thrashes about blaming everyone for what happened except the government that actually was in power....

Childcare: Unfinished Agenda

— Dianne Feeley

ON AUGUST 26, 1970, in celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of woman's suffrage, thousands of women demonstrated in cities across the country. We raised three central themes: equal pay for equal work, free abortion on demand, and federally funded, locally controlled, quality childcare available around the clock. Looking through the prism of these demands, we can roughly measure the gap that, twenty years later, still exists between women's need to control our bodies, our work and our lives—and the reality.

Over that twenty-year period women have continued to pour into the paid work force. Today women earn 60% of men's salaries, and we have won legal abortion, although access is limited and the attack against women's reproductive rights continues....

NYC: Koch Goes but the Crisis Stays

— Andy Pollack

IT WAS HARDLY surprising that millions of New Yorkers, especially Blacks, would be enthusiastic over the prospect of the election of David Dinkins as New York's first Black mayor, despite the explicitly moderate tone of his campaign. The Koch administration's open racism, police brutality, kowtowing to financial and real estate interests, and general social suffering fueled hopes for something better.

Dinkins said openly in the campaign that he would be a "healer,` not only of the wounds suffered in interracial strife, butbetween all social sectors in the city. His acts in the first few months in office have begun to define the terms on which the reconciliation will take place. As always happens when a politician tries to achieve a rapprochement between groups with different material interests, that accord comes on the terms set by those with the power....

For D.C., The Worst of Times

— John Willoughby

MOST OF THE African Americans I meet in D.C. are aware that this is a city with a tradition, history and unique culture. Many of the whites who are in, or who are desperately trying to attach themse1ves to, the professional and policy-making circles of Washington are only dimly cognizant of the local traditions and structures in which they operate.

This ignorance is a paradoxical expression of economic power. Most white professionals need only concern themselves with housing prices and property taxes. Their lives are relatively secure. For decades now, Montgomery County, Maryland, and Fairfax County, Virginia have been two of the most affluent economic regions in the world....

Untitled Poem (for Bird)

— Kim D. Hunter

That Charlie Parker had died Playing
in the city
of your choice
You knew who he was
In reality
Would you have gone
Attended the pre-corpse
Of a funky funky stone cold junky
Could you have struck up a conversation between sets
What would you have said:
"Oh ... uh ... Bird, I think your wings are burning"
In this nation of images...

A Fight for Treaty Rights

— Zoltan Grossman

WHEN FRENCH EXPLORERS arrived in northern Wisconsin in the seventeenth century, they came across Chippewa (Anishinabe) Indians spearing fish from canoes at night. The Anishinabe used torches to attract the fish, leading the voyagers to dub one village, “Lac du Flambeau” (Lake of the Torch).

Today in Wisconsin, spearfishing has become the focal point for a major crisis involving racism, resources and violence. When the Anishinabe ceded land to the United States in the mid-1800s, they signed treaties retaining off-reservation harvesting rights for fish, deer and timber. Article Six of the U.S. Constitution identifies treaties as part of the "Supreme Law of the Land," superseding state laws....

Racism Over Three Decades

— Samuel Farber

Black Lives, White Lives:
Three Decades of Race Relations In America
By Bob Blauner
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989 (347 pages). $10.95.

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, in the Spring of 1965, I audited one of the most stimulating courses of my graduate-school years at University of California, Berkeley. This was a sociology course on race relations taught by Bob Blauner. A good number of the department's leftists took the course at the same time I did, and this greatly contributed to the political and intellectual excitement surrounding our discussions....

The Soviet Crisis Today

— Boris Kagarlitsky

BORIS KAGARLITSKY, a leader of the New Socialists in the Soviet Union, spoke in March 1990 at an educational conference sponsored by Solidarity in Los Angeles. Introducing Kagarlitsky, Susan Weissman commented:

“Victor Serge, a Left Oppositionist, on the eve of his arrest in Moscow in 1933 wrote that the left did not pay sufficient attention to the question of liberty, to the defense of truth and the defense of thought—and he called for institutional guarantees for basic rights: the rights of every human being including 'class enemies.' He wrote that socialism can only win 'not through imposing itself, but by showing itself superior to capitalism, not in the fabrication of tanks but in the organization of social life: if it offers to man a condition better than capitalism: more material well-being, more justice, more liberty and a higher dignity.' In other words Serge echoed the sentiments of revolutionary Marxism which held that socialism without liberty and democracy is not and cannot be socialism; that socialism is a superior system that cannot be more retrograde than bourgeois society in terms of the rights of individuals to freely think, speak, and organize....

New Socialist Voices in the USSR

— Suzi Weissman interviews Boris Kagarlitsky

Susan Weissman, an editor of this journal and host of “Portraits of the USSR” on KPFK in Los Angeles, interviewed Boris Kagarlitsky during his recent visit.

Susan Weissman: What are the results of your running in the March 4 elections on the New Socialist Party ticket?

Boris Kagarlitsky: I came first with 45 percent of the total vote in my constituency, but according to a Soviet law I have to face a run-off with the second highest (out of a total of ten) candidate....

A Russian Socialist's Perspective

ACCORDING TO Boris Kagarlitsky, a leading Soviet socialist dissident, the anti-Armenian pogroms “were stopped two days before the entrance of the Soviet troops into Baku. And there it was stopped mostly by the efforts of the Azerbaijani Popular Front Then troops moved in and killed no less than three hundred civilians and we have evidence to prove that We know that the troops shot into the windows of the houses where people lived and troops were shooting into the ambulances.

“There was a mutiny in one of the companies sent to Baku; some of the soldiers were killed during its suppression. Reports about the brutalities of the Soviet troops in Azerbaijan were banned from the press. Why does the Soviet liberal intelligentsia—so active in protesting the massacre in Tbilisi a year ago—remain silent on the massacre in Azerbaijan? The main reason is that Georgians in Tbilisi were Christians, traditionally connected to Russia, European culture and soon. The people killed in Azerbaijan were mostly Moslems....

Economic Prospects for Paralysis

— Nigel Harris

THE END OF history, the end of socialism; the source of a great new period of growth for Europe; the impoverishment of the Third World through a diversion of capital—the heroic inferences drawn from the collapse of the iceberg of Soviet power never cease to dazzle. But the economics look very different.

Politically, the events are momentous. A section of the world's people has acquired the prospect of political choice. Whatever the right thinks about the left being defeated, in fact the removal of the albatross of Stalinist tyranny from the necks of the socialists is a tremendous act of liberation. No more equivocation—or straight lying—is required....

The Crisis in the Caucasus

— Suzi Weissman interview Ronald Suny

RONALD GRIGOR SUNY, Alex Manoogian Professor of Modern Armenian History at the University of Michigan and a specialist in Soviet history, was interviewed by Susan Weissman on the “Portraits of the USSR” program on KPFK-FM shortly after troops moved into Azerbaijan. Suny is the author of two important books pertaining to the subject of this interview: The Baku Commune (Princeton University Press) and The Making of the Georgian Nation (Indiana University Press). He is currently working on a biography of the young Stalin. This interview was edited and excerpted by ATC.

Susan Weissman: Could you give us some background on the nationalities crisis in the Soviet Union; an idea of what the tensions are all about; why this almost inexplicable level of violence that we saw on our nightly television newscasts?

Ronald Suny: This conflict goes back deep into history. To begin with, there are the religious differences that have existed between the two peoples ever since the first Turkish tribes entered the plains of Azerbaijan—until then controlled by a number of Christian Armenian kingdoms—in the eleventh century....

KMU Working for Labor Unity

— David Finkel interviews Ernesto Arellano

Ernesto Arellano is deputy general secretary of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), the May First Movement Labor Center of the Philippines. This interview was conducted in Detroit by David Finkel from the ATC editorial board while Arellano was on a U.S. tour organized by the Philippine Workers Support Committee. Arellano is also vice-president of the National Federation of Labor (NFL), the second largest of thirteen federations that make up the KMU.

ATC: There have been six attempted military coups against President Corazon Aquino, the latest of which might have succeeded if not for U.S. air support for her government. What is the attitude of KM U and the popular movement toward the coup and possible future ones—what would happen if Aquino were overthrown?

EA: The December coup was the most serious so far. This came about because of a series of betrayals by the Aquino government of what -the 1986 uprising has meant for the oppressed of the Philippines. The “peoples’ uprising,” as it was called, involved various people's organizations in the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship....

[Philippine] National Federation of Labor's Statement on China

— National Federation of Labor (Philippines)

The National Federation of Labor, through its National Executive Board meeting on July 14, 1989,

• Condemns the killing of great numbers of students, workers and sections of the civilian population in early June and the subsequent crushing of the democracy movement;

• Decries the recourse to repressive measures by the state to contain social unrest rather than its facing up to the challenge of systemic reforms;...

New Statement on Beijing Incident

— National Executive Committee, KMU

THE NATIONAL EXECUTIVE Committee of the Kilusang Mayo Uno retracts the KMU statement last June 11, 1989 on the Beijing incident.

Seriously concerned over the fast unfolding events last June 34 in Beijing, the shock it created in the world, and the malicious attacks imperialists were hurling at socialist China, we issued a statement in defense of the historic achievements made by the Chinese people.

However, the reference to “the able leadership of the Communist Party of China” in our statement of support to the Chinese people....

South Africa: New Stage of Struggle

— Editors of the South African Labor Bulletin

THE UNBANNING OF the African National Congress (ANC) and the Communist Party (SACP) is an enormous victory for the people of South Africa Many years of struggle and suffering have paved the way for this moment There will be celebrations throughout the country—and outside it.

The moment holds great opportunities for further progress to freedom. But it also holds great dangers.

Opportunities. The unbanning of the ANC, SACP, and the United Democratic Front (UDF) and other organizations opens tremendous scope for reorganizing and strengthening the mass democratic movement. The widened political space will create opportunities for deepening and broadening militant now struggle for the end of apartheid.

Dangers. Nonetheless the moment holds great dangers....

Random Shots: Them Perrier Blues

— R.F. Kampfer

YUPPIES SUFFERING from Perrier withdrawal can shake a little lighter fluid into their tap water.

Despite the U. S. invasion, Panamanian banks still refuse to take steps against laundering drug money. Bush has decided not to insist.

One would think that Poland had a greater right than France to participate in the German re-unification talks: the Polish People's Army contributed twelve divisions to World War II while DeGaulle could only raise two....

Politics and Popular Culture

— Annette T. Rubinstein

“My Song is My Weapon”:
People's Songs, American Communism and the Politics of Culture, 1939-50
By Robbie Lieberman
University of Illinois Press, 1989, $23.95 hardcover.

ONE OF THE most interesting developments in recent U.S. historiography is the large number of competent, imaginative, energetic younger scholars who are exploring the origins and effects of radical organizations during the thirties and early fort, a period when almost the entire left was deeply influenced by the CPUSA (Communist Party of the United States).

These historians are refuting conventional assumptions that had stood unquestioned since the "American Inquisition" of the fifties and, more important, are focusing attention in new directions and asking totally new questions....

The Unnatural Fate of the Forest

— Marsha Rummel

The Fate of the Forest:
Developers, Destroyers and Defenders of the Amazon
By Susanna Hecht and Alexander Cockburn
London and New York Verso, 1989, 266 pages, $25 hardcover.

THE U.S. LEFT has begun to grapple with questions about the environment, and an emerging Green movement offers itself as the new force for social transformation. Many Greens argue that the Left's focus on the working class as the primary agent for social change is outmoded, that industrial "progress" has escalated environmental degradation to the point where we face extinction and not the promised prosperity and leisure of a better world.

Many Marxists have tended to accept the exploitation of nature without considering the carrying capacity of air, land and water. ...