Against the Current, No. 35, November/December 1991

Against the Current, No. 35, November/December 1991

PC-Bashing: A Vicious Frame-up

— The Editors

SINCE THE LATE 1980s, a nasty and unscrupulous ideological campaign has been fomented by the hardline right against reform movements on university campuses in the United States. This offensive grew to a crescendo and found a number of allies during the Gulf War in early 1991. At that time a barrage of new voices, including those of some one-time liberals and even a renowned "Marxist Scholar" who used to know better, decried what they claim is a new "liberal orthodoxy" at colleges and universities.

With a focus mainly on elite schools (Harvard, Yale, Berkeley, Duke and Michigan), these critics seek to arouse public outrage by charging that "left-wing storm troopers" and "thought police" are terrorizing naive students, moderate faculty and cowardly administrators into silence by threatening to stigmatize them as sexist, racist and homophobic; that is, for not being "P.C." (Politically Correct)....

The New Russian Revolution?

— The Editors

AFTER THE FIRST chilling news of August 19—a military coup in Moscow, which briefly appeared to portend a Soviet Tiananmen and perhaps a return to the era of mass terror—came events of truly revolutionary significance. Within days, not only had the coup disintegrated but the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had passed into history. The USSR itself was heading for a breakup or, at the very least, a thoroughly transformed confederation of sovereign republics. Developments that might have been expected to unfold over five, ten or twenty years were compressed into a week.

For socialists, many of these outcomes are cause for rejoicing without reservation. The Baltic nations' legitimate democratic aspirations for national independence have been fulfilled; the death grip of Stalinist rule and politics has been removed not only from the throats of the Soviet working class, but also from the international left; the door has been opened for a p05sible genuine democratic revolution. We have not the slightest nostalgia for the system that has collapsed, of which we always considered ourselves revolutionary opponents--a system created not by the Russian Revolution of 1917 but by the Stalinist bureaucratic counterrevolution....

The Crisis of the Campuses

— The Editors

We continue our discussion of the themes of multiculturalism, so-called "political correctness" and access to education that began with OUT "Campuses in Crisis" special issue ATC 35. The articles here also pose some of the questions of class, and organizing perspectives for students and faculty union activists, in a period of budgetary austerity.

January-February 1992, ATC 36

Multiculturalism As It Really Is

— The U-T Writing Group

WE PUBLiSH HERE an essay (slightly abridged by ATC) written by a group of University of Texas faculty members during the academic year 1990-91. First published as two pieces in the weekly cultural supplement to the U-T Daily Texan, they were written collectively in order to explain some of the perspectives and proposals on mu!ticulturalism under attack by conservative academics and media pundits. The authors sought to restore to the academic debate on multiculturalism some of the intellectual and political integrity that had been lost on the U-T campus to departmental disputes, administrative interference and personal invective—all glossed with an ideological veneer.

The U-T Austin campus, whose PhD English program in Ethnic and Third World Literatures had established its reputation, came to national attention in summer 1990 when an introductory writing syllabus, designed around argumentation and using readings on difference drawn in part from civil rights cases, was denounced by conservative critics as "political indoctrination" and cancelled by the U-T administration.

The collective authors are Brian Bremen and Ann Cvetkovich, assistant professors in the Department of English; Michael Hanchard, assistant professor in the Center for African and Afro-American Studies; Barbara Harlow, associate professor in the Department of English; Anne Norton, professor in the Department of Government; Gretchen Ritter, lecturer in the Department of Government; and Ramon Saldivar, professor in the Department of English....

CUNY's Springtime of Struggle

— Anthony Marcus

IN THE EARLY morning hours before dawn on Monday, April 8, 1991 a group of about thirty-five students at New York's City College of New York (CCNY) prepared a surprise for the roughly 60,000 students, faculty and staff who were returning from spring recess. They silently went through the New Academic Complex (NAC) building, a huge mall-like structure that houses over 80% of CCNY's classes, put glue in locks, chained doors shut, seized offices, telephones and other communications equipment, blocked off the underground entry tunnels shown in the building blueprints they had obtained, called up the local Pacifica radio station WBAI and declared the university liberated.

For most students who arrived that Monday a campus occupation was no surprise; virtually everyone knew it would happen, the question was when. Every year for the past three years the governor's proposed budget has called for more and more drastic cuts at the City University of New York (CUNY) system. Every year there have been attempts to raise the tuition and roll back the open admissions policy that guaranteed every New York City high school graduate the right to attend college. Every year has seen a struggle that started with lobbying and demonstrations and ended with rebellion and campus occupation. People jokingly refer to this tragic tradition as the rites of spring....

Multiculturalism in Brooklyn College

— Nancy Romer

RACISM, SEXISM, BIAS-RELATED violence and the efforts to challenge these on college campuses are a major media item today. From increased racist and sexist incidents throughout the country (from President Bush on down), to anti-racist efforts described by the media as "politically correct censorship," the focus has been on elite campuses.

The following is a report on how these issues have developed at a large, urban, working class college—Brooklyn College of the City University of New York What started out as a politically broad, faculty-dominated movement against bigotry has evolved into a more politically progressive and multiracial group, significantly led by students.

Campus Unionism at Twenty Five

— Milton Fisk

WHEN I BECAME the first president of American Federation of Teachers Local 2254 at Indiana University (IU) in 1973, my leftist friends laughed at me: "What do you want to get involved with the petty bourgeoisie for? Don't you know that it's the productive working class that's going to make the revolution?"

I was prepared for this; the latest idea from France was that there was a new working class, so it was easy to reply, "The technical/professional layer will play a major role in the coming revolution, so why go out of my way to ignore my own colleagues?"...

PC: A New McCarthyism?

— Ellen Schrecker

CONTRARY TO THE claims of such experts as George Bush, the so-called movement for "political correctness" on campus does not threaten to become the new McCarthyism.

For the past year conservative intellectuals and journalists have been charging that, in the guise of encouraging diversity and protecting students from racist or sexist, language, powerful groups within the academic community are challenging traditional values and repressing individual freedom in a manner disturbingly reminiscent of the worst excesses of the McCarthy era. In fact, however, it is these opponents of "PC" who have the real power, and who are exaggerating the alleged dangers of political correctness in order to divert attention from more serious social and political problems. Let us look at how they do this....

Wasted Minds and Wasted Lives

— Jake Ryan and Charles Sackrey

"A child without education is essentially a child without hope or opportunity. You take the United Negro College Fund motto ‘What a waste it is to lose one's mind or not have a mind as being very wasteful.' How true that is. - Dan Quayle, Vice President, U.S.A.(1)

1. Opening and Closing Heaven's Gates

IN 1900 LESS than five percent of the 18-24 year-olds in the United States were in college, almost all of them males from rich families. By 1930, the ratio was still only 10%; yet after World War II began to swell and included more and more working-class youth.

This opening resulted primarily from an expanding and rapidly changing economy, the private and public sectors of which were producing slots for college-trained people faster than they could be supplied from the usual college-goers.(2) The new opportunities were also spurred by federal and state scholarship programs urged by mass political movements in the 1960s....

Review: The Right's PC Frameup

— Mike Fischer

Tenured Radicals:
How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education
By Roger Kimball
New York Harper & Row, 1990; 222 pp. $9.95/paper.

Illiberal Education:
The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus
By Dinesh D'Souza
New York The Free Press, 1991; 319 pp. $19.95/hardcover.

IN SEPTEMBER 1990, in an essay titled "Thought Police Thrive on Campus," syndicated columnist George Will trained his guns on the right's latest straw target: the "PC," or "Politically Correct," manner in which an isolated band of professors and students is purportedly holding U.S. universities hostage to its own left-wing agenda.

Decrying the "subordination of instruction to political indoctrination" that has transformed campuses into "refuges for radicals who want universities to be as thoroughly politicized as they are," Will offered two examples....

Viewing "Berkeley in the '60s"

— Mike Parker

"Whoever thought the '60s would be called the good old days?"(1)

I LEAVE TO others the questions of production values and art of Berkley in the '60s. The massive work that evidently went into collecting materials and the participation of leading '60s Berkeley activists will likely make this impressive film the popular left historical record for the decade's political movements.

Unfortunately, despite many good moments, the film distorts the political developments of the '60s because it doesn't quite understand them. Subtly, if unintentionally, it reinforces today's defeatism, political confusion and marginalization of the left....

Three Views of the University

The Liberal View

"The University is being called upon ... to merge its activities with industry as never before. Characteristic of this transformation is the growth of the knowledge industry which is coming to permeate government and business and to draw into it more and more people raised to higher and higher levels of skill. The production, distribution and consumption of knowledge is said to account for 29% of the gross national product And knowledge production is growing at about twice the rate of the rest of the economy.” —UC President Clark Kerr

The Conservative View

"There were things that shouldn't be permitted on a university campus. Let me just read a few excerpts....

Russia: Toward a Party of Labor

— David Finkel

"THE CRISIS THAT has brought Boris Yeltsin into power will now undercut his position, and he has no positive alternative," says Boris Kagarlitsky, a long-time socialist democratic activist in the Soviet Union. "Yeltsin is going to face the same problems that confronted his adversaries, and he has no differences in any positive sense from them."

Kagarlitsky spoke from Moscow by phone with Suzi Weissman, host of the weekly program "Portraits of the USSR" on KPFK-FM in Los Angeles. The interview was broadcast September 5, 1991. During the 1980s Kagarlitsky was a founder of the Federation of Socialist Clubs, the Peoples Front and later the Socialist Party, and was elected in 1989 to the Moscow City Council....

Russia: A Fast Walk to Nowhere

— I. Malyarov

THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE by I. Malyarov appeared in the Soviet central trade union daily newspaper Trud on June 11, 1991. It paints a graphic picture of what privatization means in practice in the USSR and of the interests that are really behind this policy. It also speaks loudly of the proclaimed 'democratization' of the official trade unions.

Privatization is being sold to the Soviet population as the only way out of the economic crisis. The population itself, however, has never been consulte4 and even before the reform has become official a creeping quiet privatization is well under way....

Poland's Crisis and Solidarity Today

— Mark M. Hager

A WELL-PUBLICIZED electronic workers' strike and factory occupation in Lodz (pronounced, roughly, "Woodj") this past summer captured in microcosm much of the present confusion and frustration in post-Communist Poland. Deliberate policy and unplanned dislocations have fueled a deepening crisis that may portend searing struggles, productive stagnation and political impasse.

Steering his nation toward capitalism, President and former Solidarnosc leader Lech Walesa has remarked that Poland after Communism cannot afford to try another experiment, with some "third way” alternative to capitalism and state socialism. Current developments may indicate, however, that Poland cannot afford not to seek a third way....

Jan Josef Lipski

— David Finkel

JAN JOSEF LIPSKI, a central figure in the founding of the Workers Defense Committee (KOR) whose struggles led to the formation of Solidamosc, died in mid-September at age 65 in Krakow, of an anti-biotic-resistant infection of the cardiovascular system.

Lipski was also instrumental in the founding of the historic PPS, Polish Socialist Party. Among his many heroic acts, at the time of the martial law coup of December 13, 1981, Lipski, who was abroad at the time receiving treatment for his heart condition, immediately returned to Poland saying that he would not remain outside while the working class was suffering repression.

November-December 1991, ATC 35

Puerto Rico's Albizu Campos Centenary

— Héctor Meléndez

THE ENDURING IMAGE of Pedro Albizu Campos, whose 100th anniversary is celebrated this year, is a starting point for the pro-independence current of modem Puerto Rico, as well as a useful point of reference to analyze the present crisis of that current.

Puerto Rico embodies the contradiction in which nationalities exist in the capitalist world system: between the affirmation of the national identity by local forces, and colonization by the imperialist forces of capital that dominate the modern market where, contradictorily, the national-affirming local forces aspire to be inserted.

In Puerto Rico this contradiction becomes especially dramatic. The island's culture has been strengthened, whereas the country lacks any national sovereignty at the formal level....

C.L.R. James: Intellectual Legacies

— Kent Worcester

THE LIFE AND work of C.L.R. James (1901-1989) has attracted new interest in a variety of places. A provocative collection of essays, Tribute to a Scholar, was published in 1990 by students at the University of the West Indies; and Paul Buhle's recent biography has provided many readers with an overall sense of James's apparently disparate activities as a Caribbean historian, Marxist theorist, and literary critic.

In addition, over two hundred academics recently attended an international conference on James's Intellectual legacies" held at Wellesley College. A reevaluation of one of the century's major intellectual figures, the author of such classics as The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938), Mariners, Renegades and Castaways: Herman Melville and the World We Live In (1953), and Beyond a Boundary (1963) is now underway....

Random Shots: The East Is Read

— R.F. Kampfer

THE-SOVIET UNION may wind up with all the centralized authority of the British Commonwealth, with Gorbachev in command of a color guard and a marching band.

The new mass movements in the Soviet Union will probably make as many mistakes as the bureaucracy, but their errors will not be as institutionalized.

Meanwhile, Mick Jagger, who came out in support of Yeltsin before George Bush did, was reportedly invited to Moscow for a victory concert. Remember when we used to crank up the volume on "Street Fighting Man' to get ourselves up for a demo?...

The Rebel Girl: Women, Sex and Desire

— Catherine Sameh

WOMEN'S BODIES these days have become a collective battleground, individual mine fields harboring some of today's explosive issues: abortion, motherhood, drug use and AIDS. As women of color, working-class and poor women's sexual and reproductive lives become more and more regulated by an increasingly repressive state, the fight for sexual liberation becomes ever-pressing.

This fight has always had mixed meanings for women in a society still deeply entrenched in sexist and homophobic ways. Still,...

Anita Hill--and Ourselves

— Dianne Feeley

ANITA HILL IS Everywoman who has worked. When reporters asked "How could she have continued to work with him?" "How could she have kept quiet?" women knew the answer because so many of us have done the same. What were our reasons? We felt we had no choice. We needed the job. We accepted our humiliation as being "natural" or inevitable. We pretended we hear what was said, we words—or even the actions—and went on with our lives.

Sometimes the man was our boss. Sometimes he was a coworker. Sometimes it was limited to verbal harassment Sometimes we seemed to be the only woman targeted, other times every woman was fair game. Sometimes it stopped. In other cases we quietly jobs....