Against the Current, No. 34, September/October 1991

Against the Current, No. 34, September/October 1991

Abort the Court

— The Editors

THURGOOD MARSHALL'S RETIREMENT from the Supreme Court—coupled with his probable replacement by an ultraconservative—is the most dramatic event in the Court's turn to the right over the past two decades. Armed with a new ally on what Chicago Law School Dean Geoffrey Stone has aptly designated "the most monolithically ideological Court in the memory of any living person," Chief Justice William Rehnquist now commands a solid majority with which to dismantle what little remains of the Warren Court's liberal legacy. As The Wall Street Journal jubilantly proclaimed the day after Marshall's announcement, "All lingering doubt has been erased: Conservatives have locked up control of the U.S. Supreme Court."

The Court's right-wing trajectory raises serious and challenging questions for socialists advocating the necessity of a break with the Democratic Party. Marshall's replacement will mark the ninth consecutive justice chosen by a Republican president; Bush nominee Clarence Thomas—the second youngest nominee in 100 years—could be wreaking havoc on the Court for close to half a century. Those on the Left advocating an electoral strategy showcasing the Democrats as the lesser of two evils are arguably on their firmest ground when they suggest that a Carter, a Mondale, or a Dukakis would have nominated justices who were significantly more liberal than Justices O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter and —pending the results of the confirmation process–possibly Thomas....

Leonard Peltier: New Try for Justice

— Bob Robideau

ON JULY 29, 1991 Leonard Peltier was to appear to testify in his own behalf at a hearing in Fargo, North Dakota. Peltier is a Native American activist who has served more than fourteen years in federal prisons. [See accompanying article for update—ed.]

In April 1977 Peltier received two consecutive life terms from a conviction obtained fraudulently by the U.S. government Peltier was found guilty of the premeditated murder of two FBI agents, based on the government's theory that he personally shot them at close range during a June 26,1975shootout between a small number of American Indian Movement (AIM) members and a large FBI force on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota....

Update on Peltier's Case

LEONARD PELTIER'S hearing has been rescheduled for Wednesday, October 2, 1991. On July 24 Magistrate Karen Klein issued an official order staying the scheduled July 29 hearing.

Magistrate Klein's order is based on a government motion to dismiss two of the three issues of the writ of habeas corpus filed by Peltier last December 3 and to limit the evidence that could be presented at the rescheduled hearing.

The two issues the government has moved to dismiss are manipulation of the jury through fear and intimidation, and government misconduct The government refers to a recent Supreme Court case (McClesky vs. Zant) and argues that any issue which could have been—but wasn't—raised in an earlier writ cannot even be raised in a later writ....

Peru Hovering at the Edge

— Peter Drucker interviews Javier Diez Caseco Cisneros

Javier Diez Canseeo Cisneros is a longtime activist in the Peruvian student, workers' and human rights' movements. He was a founder in 1980 of the United Left—the coalition of Peru's legal flit Left organizations--and general secretary of the United Mariateguista Party (PUM) from its formation in 1984 until 1987. Since 1985 he has been a member of the Peruvian Senate; he is spoken of as a future presidential candidate. Peter Drucker interviewed him for Against the Current in New York on March 23, 1991.

ATC: From everything one hears, the social crisis in Peru is horrific—seventy percent unemployment or underemployment, twelve million people in extreme poverty, living standards down to what they were thirty years ago, the recent cholera epidemic that has hit 60,000 people. Does the United Left or the PLIM see a way out of this crisis?

Diez Canseco: The basic question now is whether or not the Peruvian nation is possible. We have a choice between building up an independent nation or further developing a neocolonial structure subject to the whims of U.S. policy. For PUM and most of the left-wing organizations, the struggle involves trying to construct a national project that would unite several social and political forces with the basic objective of making Peru a possible nation....

The Work That Kills--"Karoshi"

— Ben Watanabe

"KAROSHI" IS A Japanese word much used recently in English language newspapers and magazines, including those sold in Japan. It sounds strange, and actually represents avery painful phenomenon in Japanese society. Yet the word is not included in the latest editions of major Japanese dictionaries or other word books.

Just as "kaizen" (improvement) and "kamban system" are central words in the Japanese management system, "Karoshi"—a compound made up of "Karo" and "Shi," meaning respectively "overwork" and "death" and when combined "sudden death due to overwork"—is another central emerging social phenomenon that is the other side of the coin....

Dominican Workers' General Strike

— ATC interviews Barbara Harvey

Barbara Harvey is a Detroit labor and civil rights attorney. She visited the Dominican Republic during the last week in July as National Lawyers' Guild representative on delegation, organized by Local 1199, to serve a general strike called by the Centrale de Trabajadores Unitarios (CTU). Against the Current interviewed her after her return. As the interview demonstrates, workers in the Dominican Republic face a desperate situation and are urgently in need of financial assistance from U.S. unions and other supporters.

Against the Current: To begin, tell us about the issues in the strike and about the CFU.

Barbara Harvey: This latest strike began Monday, July 29. It was supposed to las three days but had to be called off 01 Tuesday when it became apparent i wasn't holding. An earlier general strike on July 9-10 was 99% successful, surprising even the union: Not only did all the workers refuse to report for work, but doctors closed their offices, consumer refused to shop and people even refuse to buy lottery tickets, costing the govern ment $20 million in lottery sales alone....

Pregnancy, Drugs & the State

— Iris Young

THE WAR AGAINST Iraq wiped out discussion about most domestic social problems for more than six months. In response to increasing pressure, we are now seeing the Bush administration address domestic problems by promoting programs to crack down on crime rather than expanding funding for existing and new social services. As the recent Supreme Court decision upholding life sentences for first-time offenders dealing drugs indicates, a renewed punitive offensive in the "war on drugs is part of this trend.

According to some estimates, as many as 350,000 babies born every year in the United States are affected by their mother's drug use during pregnancy.(1) The effects of such drug use usually makes the first few months—and sometimes years—of a baby's life uncomfortable with pain, fidgetiness, sleeplessness, and other disorders. Babies born of drug-using mothers sometimes have smaller bodies and brains than they would otherwise have. Sometimes they are permanently retarded or physically impaired.(2)...

Rebel Girl: The Sows of Summer (1991)

— Catherine Sameh

THELMA & LOUiSE Has everyone talking. And well it should. It is one of the most interesting mainstream films to come along for an eternity. But its forthright feminism has been a rather bitter pill for the popular press to swallow, and they've been spitting up their bilious criticisms all summer.

Ralph Novak of People magazine chokes, “Any movie that went as far out of its way to trash women as this female chauvinist sow of a film does to trash men would be universally and justifiably condemned. I wish he were right, but unfortunately, trashing women in films is commonplace and we've yet to see universal—.or even small-scale—condemnation....

A Festival of the Oppressors

— David Finkel

IF ONE TAKES seriously the stated aims of the United States in the Persian Gulf war, the situation in the aftermath of Operation Desert Slaughter is all but incomprehensible.

Saddam Hussein rules in Baghdad, with Iraq's military capacity against the outside world destroyed but with his regime's ability to crush internal opposition confirmed. The plight of the starving and freezing children of Kurdistan residing in isolated mountain camps commanded the standard fifteen minutes of media compassion before being "solved' by yet another benevolent U.S. military deployment and then disappearing into the same oblivion that previously swallowed up the Central American death squads....

Challenge for the Left

— James Petras

THE RISE OF neo-liberalism and the transformations of the 1970s and 1980s have created the conditions for a new round of wars, economic crises and social upheavals. World-historical changes are taking place at an accelerating pace. For the Left to successfully intervene, it must come to grips with the scope and depth of these changes and identify the weak links in the system propelling them.

"Neo-liberalism," as the term will be used here, means a general assault on the role of the state as a regulator of investment and as a productive economic factor, an attack on the social protection afforded by the welfare state; the politics of de-regulation (the dismantling of laws protecting home markets, labor, the environment, etc.); and a strategy for growth through the stimulation of investment rather than demand, concentrating on the formation of wealth at the top rather than its re-distribution toward the bottom of society....

Politics Under Socialism

— David Edelstein

RECENT WRITINGS in Against the Current have emphasized the need for a coherent vision of a workable socialist future. Given the increasing interest on the Left in theoretical and hypothetical models for a socialist economy, this piece can hopefully contribute to the beginning of a similar discussion concerning what an overall socialist political structure would look like in a large, modern society.(1)

In this discussion, I will take for granted that self-management at the workplace and community levels is the indispensable basis for a system that can meaningfully be called socialism; there is no socialism without such self-management But self-management in itself defines neither the economic nor the political basis for overall societal coordination and governance....

ACLU Policy Statement

The following “ACLU Policy Statement on Free Speech and Bias on College Campuses,” which we print here for our readers' information; was issued in response to several university policies. All footnotes are part of the ACLU's text.


The significant increase in reported incidents of racism and other forms of bias at colleges and universities is a matter of profound concern to the ACLU. Some have proposed that racism, sexism, homophobia and other such biases on campus must be addressed in whole or in part by restrictions on speech The alternative to such restrictions, it is said, is to permit such bias to go unremedied and to subject the targets of such bias to a loss of equal opportunity. The ACLU rejects both these alternatives and reaffirms its traditional and unequivocal commitment both to free speech and to equal opportunity.


1. Freedom of thought and expression are indispensable to the pursuit of knowledge and the dialogue and dispute that characterize meaningful education. All members of the academic community have the right to hold and to express views that others may find repugnant, offensive or emotionally distressing....

Theorizing Anti-Racist Struggle

— E. San Juan, Jr.

ALAN WALD'S ESSAY "Racist Speech: A Problem of Power" (ATC 32) is a powerful argument for transform-mg the isolated and sporadic antiracist mass actions throughout the country into a counterhegemonic cultural revolution. Whether it succeeds in showing how this can be done is an open question.

My own view is that aside from accumulating qualifications on the conditions under which socialists might conceivably support banning certain hate-epithets, Wald one-sidedly stresses the dangers of reformism and cooptation. In contrast I would argue for the antiracist movement's strategy of using every opportunity in existing institutions to extirpate all racist practices, at the same time as it empowers local organizations and raises consciousness in as many people as possible.

Stanford's Policy on "Hate" Speech

For the information of ATC readers, we reproduce here the Stanford University regulation drafted by law professor Thomas Grey, called “Fundamental Standard lnterpretation: Free Expression and Discriminatory Harassment.” The text is published in the Duke Law Journal, Vol. 1990, p.920, in the article “If He Hollers Let Him Go: Regulating Racist Speech” by Charles Lawrence.

Fundamental Standard Interpretation: Free Expression and Discriminatory Harassment

1. Stanford is committed to the principles of free inquiry and free expression. Students have the right to hold and vigorously defend and promote their opinions, thus entering them into the life of the University, there to flourish or whither according to their merits. Respect for this right requires that students tolerate even expression of opinions which they find abhorrent Intimidation of students by other students in their exercise of this right by violence or threat of violence, is therefore considered to be a violation of the Fundamental Standard....

Profiling Bechtel Group, Inc.

— Patti McSherry

AT THE CLOSE of the Gulf War, the name of Bechtel Group, Inc briefly surfaced in the news. In fact, the story of Bechtel is a striking example of the interdependent relationship of state and capital. Decisions that affect the lives of millions of people are made by non-accountable officials in the upper echelons of business and government, assured that their self-interests are synonymous with world order and prosperity, and at times contemptuous of laws that bind ordinary citizens. While this is hardly a startling revelation, it is one often seemingly forgotten in these days of the triumph of U.S. capitalism and democracy.

Bechtel is one of the companies with a contract for work in Kuwait, specifically for managing the rebuilding of that country's oil industry. In other words, Bechtel is one of the privileged few in the corporate scramble for Kuwait In fact, this secretive corporation is no stranger to the Middle East nor to the business of oil. And oil has long been considered a vital U.S. national security interest and the foundation of U.S. post-war hegemony, as graphically demonstrated from the 1953 CIA-sponsored coup against Iran's Mossadegh to the recent Gulf War....

Random Shots: When We Were Young

— R.F. Kampfer

GROWING UP in the Bronx, we learned that the way to get some heat in the apartment was to bang on the radiator. Some of us kept it up after we moved to our own homes—with no superintendent in the basement.

Most of us came to socialism out of solidarity for the oppressed. As the years roll by, our thoughts turn more to seeing the oppressors ground into the dust Hatred, like coffee, isn't good for us. But it keeps us going.

Having teenagers in the house makes you fat Any good leftovers will disappear before the next meal, so you might as well finish them now. Men develop a taste for things like head cheese and smoked tongue because these treats are usually safe from their families....

An Attack on Entitlements

— James Rytting

“IN WELFARE, iTS History and Politics” (ATC 31), Johanna Brenner argues that from a socialist-feminist perspective, the Family Support Act (FSA) of 1988 is preferable to the earlier Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Her reasoning is that the FSA's workfare schemes—because they allow women with dependent children to leave the home and become wage earners—promote women's equality and independence from both men and the state.

But the content of the FSA's Job Opportunity and Basic Skills Program (JOBS) and Community Work Experience Program (CWEP)—together with the reason legislators passed these programs and the political-economic context in which they must be implemented—make it hard to figure how the FSA advances women. It is more likely that persistent recessionary conditions plus a lack of universal (available to all regardless of ability toy) welfare schemes—such as national healthcare and childcare—will be a context in which workfare programs create a double burden for women with dependent children....

A Reply to James Rytting

— Johanna Brenner

JAMES RYTTING's RESPONSE to Johanna Brenner's article on the Family Support Act (PSA) of 1988 is shocking indeed. Who is this Brenner woman anyhow? A socialist-feminist who thinks that one of the most spineless and conservative Congresses in the post-war period has passed welfare reform legislation that is "in line with a politics of equality that advances socialist-feminist interests"? Could this be true?

Well, no, it's not the case that Brenner supports the FSA or thinks that it "signals a change in liberal democrats' political thinking, motivated by the AFDC's proven inability to reduce poverty." However, I am grateful to James Rytting for taking the time to reply so thoughtfully to my article. Evidently, I did not make myself clear on some important points....

Letter from Hartford

— Richard Greeman

CROWDS OF onlookers smiled, applauded and made peace signs as our small contingent of antiwar protesters marched through the streets of Hartford, Connecticut on May 27 as part of the traditional Memorial Day parade. Meanwhile, thirty miles south in New Haven, George Bush was greeted by protests and repeatedly booed during his commencement address at Yale University.

In Hartford, the marching bands and uniformed military began forming up on the grounds of the State Capitol at 1:00 p.m. for the first...

Forgetting Race in New York

— Samuel Farber

The Closest of Strangers:
Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York
by Jim Sleeper
New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1990, $21.95 hardcover.

DURING THE PAST several years, New York has witnessed outrageous white racism, manifested in numerous incidents of police brutality; the popularity among whites of Bernhard Goetz and Ed Koch; the killings in Bensonhurst and Howard Beach; and the at best indifferent attitude of the white population toward African-American and Latino communities plagued by long-term unemployment and declining living standards.

More recently, a drug epidemic and the accompanying violence of drug-trade wars over turf have significantly worsened living conditions in the ghettoes. Warring among drug dealers has led to the injury or death of many minority children hit by stray bullets. In addition, some thirty cab drivers were killed while at work in 1990 alone. Most of these drivers were 'gypsies" who have no access to the yellow medallion cabs and are, by and large, limited to servicing their own primarily Latino and African American communities....

Oscar Wilde: Rediscovered Radical

— Peter Drucker

Oscar Wilde
by Richard Ellman
London; Hamish Hamilton, 1987; New York, Vintage, 1988

The Soul of Man Under Socialism
by Oscar Wilde
Original edition 1891; many later editions.

OSCAR WILDE HAS been seen as an archetypal gay man by both gay people and their enemies. As an archetype, he has been seen almost exclusively as gay wit or gay martyr. He was both. But he was also a visionary radical.

His radicalism was somewhat hidden in his own time by the devices of fairy tales and riddles he resorted to. Like Bukharin and Lukács in Moscow in the 1930s, he used "Aesopian language to evade censorship. Richard Ellman's thorough biography now allows us to see the radicalism under the camouflage....