Against the Current, No. 32, May/June 1991

Against the Current, No. 32, May/June 1991

From the Ashes of Victory

— The Editors

VICTORY: ON THE ROAD north from Kuwait City, a helpless fleeing convoy of Iraqi soldiers, no longer a fighting force by any definition, probably intermingled with Kuwaiti civilian hostages, lies shattered by U.S. bombers and gunships. How many are dead in that single massacre-10,000? 20,000? They died after the war was in every military sense over, but before George Bush's cease-fire proclamation.

Victory: The physical infrastructure of the cities of Iraq lies in ruins, pulverized by the laser-guided smart bombs and the fifteen thousand pound dumb bombs of the United States. Ten thousand or more Iraqi civilians are dead, hundreds of thousands are threatened by plagues on the scale of the Dark Ages. Total Iraqi deaths are guesstimated at well over 100,000, heavily concentrated among the "front-line” cannon fodder who were barely-trained teen-aged conscripts and over-aged remobilized reservists....


— The Editors

THIS ISSUE OF ATC is dedicated to the memory of Tommy Myatt (1981-1991), the son of Arthur Myatt and Linda Manning Myatt Linda produced ATC from 1985-87, leaving our staff in order to care for Tommy, who developed leukemia. We shall miss his curiosity, his music, his smile.

Reports of racist violence and intimidation have grown recently in the context of a decaying capitalist society—the unbelievable, but not uncommon, beating of African-American motorist Rodney King by the Los Angeles police being the most highly publicized horror....

Black Workers Organize for Justice

— Camille Colatosti

"YOU'VE GOT TO have a contract and a union before you can have any power in the plant," concluded Ashaki Binta, an organizer for the North Carolina-based Black Workers for Justice (BWFJ) at a recent Workers Unity Council meeting in Rocky Mount. An organization of African-American labor and community activists founded in 1981, the BWFJ seeks to build a labor movement in the South. They begin by developing proto-union workplace committees that fight around immediate issues while preparing the way for potential union drives—a difficult task in a state with the lowest union density in the country.

Organizing the South has long been a declared goal of the labor movement, civil rights organizations and the African-American community. And for good reason. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1965: “The widespread, deeply rooted Negro poverty in the South weakens the wage scale for white as well as the Negro. Beyond that a low wage structure in the South becomes a heavy pressure on higher wages in the North.”...

Defend Ina Mae Best!

— Phil Kwik

AT THE DECEMBER Workers' Unity Council meeting, fired textile worker Ina Mae Best declared: “When you have a union, you're blessed. Without one you can hang it up.”

Of course, hanging it up is not something in which Sister Best or the BWFJ have any interest When, on July 16, 1990, she was fired from Goldtex, Inc., she didn't take it lying down. Instead, she and the BWFJ organized a campaign to get her job back and to help unionize the South at the same time....

White Supremacy on Trial

— Christopher Phelps

IN OCTOBER 1990, an Oregon jury returned an 11-1 decision against white supremacist Tom Metzger, his son John and their organization, the White Aryan Resistance (WAR).

The verdict awards $12.5 million to the family of Mulugeta  Seraw, a Portland man killed by fascist skinheads in November 1988. Of the $10 million in punitive damages, Tom Metzger must pay $5 million, John Metzger $1 million, WAR $3 million and Ken Mieske and Kyle Brewster, two of the skinheads who murdered Seraw, $500,000 each. The court also directed the defendants to pay about $475,000 to Seraw's family for unrealized future earnings and $2 million as compensation for loss of his company....

Rebel Girl: Who's in Control Here?

— Catherine Sameh

LAST DECEMBER 10, the medical and feminist communities were abuzz with the arrival of "-awaited news. The newest contraceptive to hit the United States in thirty years had finally been approved by the Food and Drug Administration after twenty years of testing.

The device is called Norplant and consists of six matchstick-size capsules filled with the female hormone progestin. In a fifteen-minute procedure under local anesthesia, the capsules are implanted beneath the skin of the woman's upper arm.

The device continually releases small doses of progestin into the woman's bloodstream, protecting her against pregnancy. Once in place, Norplant can be removed only surgically and must come out after five years. It is estimated that by the end of this year its use throughout the United States will be commonplace. The cost $350-500....

Gorbachev's Authoritarian Turn

— David Mandel

HAVING SUCCESSFULLY beaten back a conservative assault at the 28th Communist Party Congress last summer, Gorbachev appeared ready to fully embrace the liberals' reform program, thus completing his slows but steady evolution to the “left” begun six years ago.

By the end of January 1991, however, Gorbachev had been abandoned by virtually all his liberal colleagues and advisors. In the intervening four months he had rejected the liberals' “500-Day Plan” for the rapid transition to capitalism, including sweeping privatization made a series of top-level conservative appointments; accorded the KGB broad powers to investigate economic crime, especially in the burgeoning private sector, applied lethal force against the Baltic independence movements; placed joint police-army patrols mover eighty cities; and taken measures to rein in the mass media....

Nicaragua Solidarity Now

— Midge Quandt

AFTER THE DEFEAT in February 1990 of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), the Nicaragua solidarity movement in the United States went through a period of confusion and disarray.

Some people left the movement, especially those whose concerns had been mainly humanitarian. Many sister cities organizations faced with Nicaraguan municipal governments now controlled by UNO (the victorious U.S.-backed electoral coalition of Violeta Chamorro), were adrift. Funding fell off.

Although problems of money and morale have not disappeared, the mourning period is clearly over and the movement has entered a new and challenging phase. Activists are regrouping with a renewed sense of commitment; most sister cities projects are finding ways to do their work and everywhere debate is taking place about where we have been and where we are going.....

Guatemala at the Crossroads?

— Deborah J. Yashar

RECENT ELECTIONS HAVE ushered in a new civilian government headed by Jorge Serrano Elias of the MAS (Movement for Solidarity Action). The presidential elections that took place in two rounds (November 1990 and January 1991), were historically significant they marked the first time in Guatemala's history that a civilian president, Marco Vinicio Cerezo Arevalo, handed over the executive position to another civilian candidate, Jorge Serrano Elias. It is also only the third time in Guatemala's history that a civilian president has been elected and allowed to take office. The elections, however, have only served to provide a civilian veneer to a counterinsurgency state.

Serrano assumed office in January 1991, having won 68.08% of the vote against Jorge Carpio Nicolle (UCN-Union of the National Center) according to the Supreme National Tribunal. Although Serrano clearly won the overwhelming majority of the votes cast, 54.78% of the registered voters stayed at home on election day. (Out of a total population of ten million, only 3.2 million are registered voters.) Abstention was so prevalent that out of fifteen polling places in Uspantán, Quiche, not one person cast a ballot....

Immediate Response & Long-term Transformation

— Alan Wald

THE NATIONAL PRESS is slowly acknowledging what the radical press has warned for some time:(1) The end of the twentieth century is characterized by a dramatic increase in reported racist assaults on people of color in the United States, a fact confirmed by police surveys and documented by research foundations.(2)

For the left, this has meant a general recrudescence and reorientation of anti-racist movements during the past several years—a further movement away from the early demands for "Civil Rights" for African-Americans, and more toward a campaign "against racism" that affects all people of color. The change is quite noticeable on university campuses where vile racist attacks appear to many people to be incongruous with the ethos of "liberal education," and where the tradition of political activism remains stronger than elsewhere in society....

Racism Vs. Academic Freedom

— Elizabeth Anderson

RECENT UNIVERSITY-BASED anti-racist activities have prompted a media backlash: Attacks on campus racism are derided as assaults on freedom of speech, as left-1st attempts to enforce "politically correct" views on everyone else.(1) Mainstream publications offer little, if any, space to anti-racist activists to rebut these charges.

This is not the first time oppositional groups have been denied the opportunity to present their own case in the mass media. Although such bias is incompatible with the news media's purported commitment to objective inquiry, it is defended by claiming that media access is, after all, a commodity, and so available only to those rich enough to pay for it or powerful enough to influence it....

Defeat Racism, Don't Censor It

— John R. Salter, Jr.

I'M COMPLETELY AGAINST any efforts to ban racist or sexist speech, or any other speech, on college or university campuses—or anywhere else. I speak as both activist and academic and as one who has been involved in social justice pursuits and teaching since the 1950s.

American Indians have, traditionally, recognized the right of everyone to be heard—no matter how unpopular or even noxious the verbiage. (And critics of some things said have certainly never felt inhibited about disputing things!) Whatever its limitations, my native state of Arizona has never deteriorated—despite the presence of copper bosses and the farming magnates, among others—into the sort of closed society once exemplified by Mississippi. In part, at least, this has been because of the libertarian traditions of a far-ranging frontier where "things open out instead of in" and where free speech has generally, however grudgingly, been respected or at least tolerated....

Eurocentrism and Its Discontents

— Ellen Poteet

By Samir Amin
New York: Monthly Review Press, 1989,152 pages, paperback  $11.

SAMIR AMIN'S Eurocentrism follows by two years Martin Bernal's Black Athena. Although an economist in scholarly training, Amin, like Bernal, has helped define the cultural issues of Eurocentrism. An Egyptian and a Marxist already well-known on the left for his analyses of Third World economies under capitalism, Amin begins from a position critical of European and capitalist assumptions of history's culmination in the West. Nevertheless, Eurocentrism is dedicated "to the intellectuals of the Western left." (150)

Using the model of the relation between a political, cultural and economic center and its periphery, Amin contrasts the pre-capitalist tributary mode of production (associated with royal states supported by the tribute of subject peoples) with the capitalist mode.

The Patriot

— Hasan S. Newash

A message to my friend,
Dances with the Wolves,
The American.

Dear Dances with the Wolves,

Among the thunderous deafening sounds
of relentless death,
I call upon myself
and find it pinned in wreckage,
Muttering in delirium:
Geronimo, Nelson Mandeta, Ali bin
Abi Talib, Palestine, Dances with the Wolves....

Was the Red Flag Flying?

— Janice J. Terry

Was The Red Flag Flying There?
Marxist Politics and the Arab-Israeli Conflict in Egypt and Israel, 1948-1965
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.317 pages, paper $12.95.

IN WAS THE Red Flag Flying There? Joel Beinin has provided a well-researched, incisive study regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the Marxist parties in Egypt and Israel during a crucial era in the development of both nations. On the context of this work, "Marxist parties" means the pro-Moscow Communist party of the region.)

The book is extensively footnoted and includes a useful index, glossary of key terms, bibliography, and a historical chronology, thereby making it a useful resource....

East Timor: On Principals & Pretexts

— Alexander George

THERE IS MUCH outraged talk nowadays about the moral unacceptability of aggression in the international arena. To put such appeals to principle to the test, it is worth recalling that over fifteen years ago (December 7, 1975), Indonesian troops invaded the Portuguese colony of East Timor. Their conquest was extremely brutal, far more devastating than anything Saddam Hussein wrought on Kuwait Often quoted estimates for deaths, through massacres, bombardment and starvation, range from 100,000 to 200,000 East Timorese. This represents one-sixth to one-third of the pre-invasion population of 600,000, making the invasion and its consequences one of the most substantial holocausts of the twentieth century. With the Timorese terrorized, abuses have naturally abated.

But they continue: the Indonesian occupation is regularly singled out and condemned by human and legal rights groups for its brutality. In a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations, the head of the East Timor Catholic Church, Bishop Belo, recently summarized the status quo: "We continue to die as a people and as a nation."...

Iran: The Oil Workers' Strike

— Ali Javadi

TENS OF THOUSANDS of oil industry workers throughout Iran took joint strike action from December 29, 1990 until January 13, 1991. Beginning with a hunger strike by workers in Isfahan and Abadan refineries, the strike soon spread to refineries in Tehran, Tabriz and Shiraz.

Four days into the strike, receiving no response from the authorities to their demands, the workers decided to go on nationwide strike. The strike included all employees from the oil, gas, pipeline, petrochemical and communications to the distribution workers.

This strike's extent is comparable only to the strikes of October and November 1979 that led to the overthrow of the Shah's regime. It also took place despite the Gulf crisis, which provided a pretext for the government to suppress labor action....

Lech Peron? Polish Politics Today

— Samuel Farber

ERNIE HABERKERN'S "What Happened to Solidarity?" (ATC 30) did a good job at unmasking the Mazowiecki government and its foremost intellectual spokesman Adam Michnik, a man enjoying near saintly status in certain liberal circles such as the editors and many readers of the New York Review of Books. Polish voters have also expressed their "Criticism" of Mazowiecki’s group by humiliating them at the polls. Mazowiecki came in third behind Walesa and even the right-wing mystic Stanislaw TyminskI, a man without any record of support or participation in the democratic struggle against Stalinism.

Ernie's article outlined many of the reasons why Mazowiecki's group deserved its fate. Yet the article was one-sided in that it did not do as good a job in exposing Walesa. Ernie stated that "Walesa and the others who attempt to articulate the anger of the Solidarity rank and file have no policy of their own" and further referred to Walesa's "mostly nonexistent program.” This is odd because Walesa did and does have a program. In fact, his program is, in regard to the single most important question, identical to Mazowiecki's; namely, the privatization of state enterprises and development of capitalism in Poland, but at an even greater speed than it was contemplated by the outgoing government!...

A Brief Rejoinder to Polish Politics Today

— Ernie Haberkern

SAM FARBER, IN his reply to my article What Happened to Solidarity, seems to be most disturbed by my description of KOR as "reformist" He reacts almost as if I were using the term as a swear word: an epithet like fascist pig," only not so rude. It is, of course, true that many would-be leftists use the term that way. I do not.

By reformist I mean someone who consciously rejects the notion that the fundamental social and economic relationships of society have tobe confronted if meaningful change is to occur. In particular, in any modern industrial society, that means someone who rejects the idea that the working class has to establish its power in the state and the economy by radically democratizing both.

Since I am not a reformist, I think that anyone, however courageous, principled and humane who accepts the limitations imposed by the existing system will, in any serious crisis, have to be the one to defend the existing society against the movement that he or she leads. In a serious crisis, only the most principled and courageous of reformists is in a position to betray the movement. Either that or cease to be a reformist, which sometimes happens....

Poland: An International Appeal

— Józef Pinior

THE DEMOCRATIC DREAM that arose in Poland with Solidarnosc in 1980-81, and which sustained us through the long years of struggle against the military dictatorship, will not come true automatically. It was an organized, mass labor movement that was able to introduce the first elements of democracy into the society; to create and protect a democratic political culture today also requires continuing to struggle for working people's rights.

Those of us making this appeal come from the democratic and egalitarian wing of Solidarnosc—the current representing the struggle for independent information instead of bureaucratic lies, the fight to liberate humanity from the tyranny of privileged elites, the idea of developing workers' self-management....

Socialism and Individual Rights

— Ernest Mandel

THE INTERESTING EXCHANGE between Harry Brighouse and Milton Fisk on socialism and individual rights in ATC 29 (November-December 1990) suffers from a mechanical counterpoising of socialism—better, workers' power—and individual rights.

We shall argue here that far from being contradictory (at least partially), collective social power and the fullest possible realization of individual rights are complementary for the whole transition period between capitalism and communism....

The Ethics of Socialist Praxis

— Tom Smith

IN ATC 29, Milt Fisk and Harry Brighouse consider the question of the proper ethics, and political forms, for socialism. Fisk, in the Leninist tradition, argues for an ethics of class-relativism. Once the working class takes power through a council state, it should use this power without any fixed principles with regard to individual or minority rights.

Brighouse, in the tradition of Rawls and Dworkin, argues for an ethics of abstract rights based upon a contractual model of society. Because non-economic, socio-cultural antagonism will always occur, some "minimal" version of the contemporary, liberal bureaucratic state will be required to "disinterestedly' ensure the protection of rights. I disagree with both views profoundly and wish to present to socialists an alternative ethic, one I call the ethics of praxis...

Leninism Revisited

— Tom Twiss

Lenin and the Revolutionaryy Party
By Paul Le Blanc, introduction by Ernest Mandel
Humanities Press International, 1990, $55 hardcover.

THE DEMOCRATIC UPHEAVALS in Eastern Europe and the USSR have elicited from the media a barrage of retrospective evaluations of the Bolshevik experience.

Typical is the account in Time magazine of how the “malign genius" of Lenin was responsible for the construction of a small, conspiratorial party which sought to be the vanguard of the working class “but no more than a vanguard."...

Random Shots: Of Politics, Religion & War

— R.F. Kampfer

ALL THOSE FUNDAMENTALISTS who identified Iraq with Babylon and Desert Storm with Armageddon have some explaining to do.

The biggest fringe benefit to serving in the Gulf was that the Saudis didn't allow any SPAM into the country.

Israeli Religious Affairs Minister Abner Shaki was called upon to decide whether it was permissible for the Orthodox to listen to the radio for missile alerts during the Sabbath. He ruled that they could turn it on prior to the start of shabbos and leave it at low volume. "If there is a real alarm you can turn up the volume, but in a non-conventional manner, with a stick or with your elbow....

We're Winning--Don't Ask Where!

— Foss Tighe

WE NOW TAKE you live and direct to a news briefing during a future U.S. military action.

Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, I'll be making a short statement, then Admiral Hirtrigger and myself will entertain your questions.

During the last twenty-four hours of Operation White Hat massive air assaults continue on all types of enemy targets including troop concentrations, bridges, roads, air bases, as well as command, control, communications and intelligence facilities....

George Rawick, Socialist & Historian

— Martin Glaberman

GEORGE RAWICK died in St. Louis on June 27, 1990. He had been confined to a nursing home after suffering two strokes and other ailments. He was a close and dear friend since the early 1960s, when he came to Detroit to teach at Wayne State University and later came to a be a supporter of Facing Reality and the ideas of C.L.R. James. Recently he was a supporter of Workers Democracy.

Relations with George were not always easy. He could lose his temper and blow up at friends and comrades. But friendship with George was always something special.

There was his brilliance. George Rawick knew a lot of stuff—a lot more than was involved in his academic specialties of history and sociology—but more than that, George understood a lot of stuff. Knowledge was not simply the accumulation of facts; it was understanding relationships, causes, connections....