Against the Current, No. 36, January/February 1992

Against the Current, No. 36, January/February 1992

1992: Seize the Time!

— The Editors

NEO-NAZI DAVID DUKE gets the majority of the white vote as Louisiana's Republican candidate for governor. Hundreds of fascist skinheads drive immigrants from the east German town of Hoyerswerda. In France, the National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen dominates electoral districts formerly controlled by the Communist Party. In the Swedish elections, the racist New Democracy Party's electoral breakthrough helps topple the Social Democrats ... Are the extreme racists and the far right, then, the inheritors of the "end of history"?

Not necessarily: There are openings for the left also. In Canada, three recent provincial elections (Ontario, Saskatchewan, British Columbia) have been won by the mildly social-democratic New Democratic Party. In Pennsylvania, George Bush's attorney general is defeated for U.S. Senate by a nearly unknown Democrat running on the issue of health insurance—even at the moment that New Jersey voters are sweeping Republicans into the legislature as a right-wing revolt against taxes. Bush's own popularity begins to fall from both the right and the left....

Old Nazi in a New Suit

— Scott McLemee

LONG BEFORE HIS recent national prominence, David Duke was a familiar figure in the South. Growing up in Texas during the 1970s, I used to see Duke on TV regularly—on Tom Snyder, or with his "Klan Border Patrol," or demonstrating against Vietnamese fishermen.

But his use of the press goes beyond arranging publicity stunts. He will appear on a talk show advocating the sterilization of welfare recipients with calmness and joviality of a senior government official discussing a trade agreement And he manages somehow to act as if everyone else in the world but him is stirring up racial conflict....

The Future of Reproductive Freedom

— Angela Hubler

WOMEN'S RIGHT TO abortion is under attack—on the streets and in the courts. To defend ourselves and to take back the initiative from the right wing, the women's movement has to rethink both our strategy and our premises.

This past summer, as the national media informed us, women seeking abortions and routine gynecological care were harassed by the zealous fundamentalists of Operation Rescue, who were determined to halt godlessness in Wichita. According to Operation Rescue member David Buck, who left his home in St Paul, Minnesota in order to blockade Dr. George Tiller's clink in Wichita, this summer police arrested 2600 Operation Rescue members, while the organization "saved" thirty "babies."(1)...

Women Under Chamorro's Regime

— Barbara Seitz

IN JANUARY 1991 it was apparent in Nicaragua that certain people were quickly becoming wealthier, while the vast majority were becoming poorer.

By August, when I made my eighth trip to Nicaragua since 1987, the difference had evolved dramatically: Masses of Nicaraguans are experiencing serious hunger or are close to it. Poorer nutrition is leading to poorer health. The sagging economy has meant a deterioration in basic services, and the availability of both water and electricity has eroded for lack of money to complete repairs as old equipment fails. Telephone service has worsened also.

Combined rates of unemployment and underemployment, estimated at about 50% in November (New York Times, Nov. 22,1991:A4), have more than doubled since the change of government At least 35% of professionals are without work, including the majority of doctors....

Rebel Girl: Women, Sex and Disease--II

— Catherine Sameh

NOTHING HAS COME to represent the U.S. social crisis quite as vividly as AIDS. The word conjures up not only images of individuals dealing with illness, but major urban centers in rapid decay and social institutions unraveling at the seams. The extent to which illness operates as metaphor in this country has only been furthered with the dawning of this new and puzzling disease—perceived as a disease with no cure insight in a society with no sure future.

For centuries, life-threatening diseases have been steeped in harmful metaphors that serve to isolate them and their victims from the "healthy" rest of the world. Those with these diseases have then been blamed for "acquiring" their disease The very word "acquire" creates the image of people seeking out disease, as if to add to their private collection.

Sexually transmitted diseases come specially packaged in extra guilt, given the fact that sexual contact is not only a choice in behavior, but is the most "indulgent" behavior there is.,,,

End the Blockade of Cuba!

IN CUBA TODAY, the combination of the U.S. embargo—which has continued for thirty years—and the drastic reduction in trade with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has created a dramatic situation. There are growing shortages. The undoubted gains in matters of health and education are likely to come under threat.

Criticisms are made of Cuba's shortcomings in terms of democracy, in the name of human rights. But this criticism does not give the right—in the name of human rights—to economically suffocate a country....

Cornucopia Isn't Consumerism

— Jesse Lemisch and Naomi Weisstein

WE'RE RED DIAPER Babies and New Leftists, and we grew up thinking that having too many pairs of pants was wrong. We expected our comrades to share this belief, as do ordinary, decent change-your-pants-onSunday folk. But every once in a while, it seems, the people betray and abandon us, leaving us marooned, angry, crying.

Look at what they're doing to us right now in the USSR—or have they changed its name, too?—and Eastern Europe: a bunch of, let's face it, fascists and anti-semites, or at best, people without consciousness, hyped up on Western rock and other excrescences of decadent capitalism in its final stages, looking for stuff: king-sized beds, cars with too much power, large-screen color TVs, stereos and CDs, glossy magazines, motorized cameras, day-of-the-week designer jeans, athletic shoes, all kinds of food—stuffed olives, curried salmon mousse, chocolate molded in the shape of automobiles—Pizza Huts and Baskin Robbins, with their thirty-one flavors. For God's sake, who needs thirty-one flavors? Next thing, they'll be wanting MN It's consumerism run wild. Better they should have stayed Communists....

Random Shots: Thoughts on Rivethead

— R.F. Kampfer

THE BEST PARTS of Ben Hamper's Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line (Warner Books, 1991) are those that provide us with a shop-rat's view of General Motors. The behavior of the corporation seems ludicrous to the most dim-willed: What fiction writer would have dared to invent Howie Makem, the "Quality Cat"? The image of a man in a big-headed cat suit, wandering around the plant to inspire better workmanship, is enough to start the most incurable optimist studying Japanese....

Campus in Crisis Introduction

— 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

Labor and the Fight for Diversity

— Andy Pollack

WHILE IN HIGH school and college I began to learn about the working-class history of my hometown, Pittsburgh—not through the official curricula, but by references stumbled upon through my political involvement.

The Homestead Steel strike, the Steel Workers' Organizing Committee, miners' struggles in the tristate Ohio-Pennsylvania-West Virginia region, all inspired me and renewed my political commitments. A decade after I left Pittsburgh, however, I stumbled upon two incidents from that history which made me bitter about how the school system in the region had denied me this knowledge:...

From Campus to the Unions

— Nicholas Davidson

CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS were just starting and tensions between the union and company were growing. The union was seeking significant wage increases, changes in work rules, and greater union control over hiring and job selection.

The company was demanding a three-year wage freeze, the transfer of a large percentage of health care costs to the workers, and a change in contract language which would void the union contract if the company was sold or taken over in a merger.

The work force was majority women, 70% African American, 20% Latino, 10% White and Asian, and their full-lime wages barely kept them above the poverty line....

Higher Education on Auction Block

— Phil Cox

MASSACHUSETTS LED NEW England, which led the nation, into the current recession. Now the Commonwealth has a great shot at being the top of the Rust Belt heap in dismantling the social welfare initiatives it inherited from the 1960s and 1970s.

Public funding for higher education was just the first to take the hit. Massachusetts has the fourth highest per capita income in the nation, yet is the only state, for the fourth year now, to cut funding for public education. State appropriations for education are down over $200 million from 1987 levels. (A proportionate cut in defense spending, for instance, would leave the Pentagon a three-and-a-half-sided building.)...

A Proposal to Organize Non-Tenured Faculty

— Tom Johnson

FOR THE PAST quarter century, using the word "competitiveness” as a labor relations bludgeon, corporate managers have demanded—and often won—"flexibility" in their dealings with what is called "the new workforce." Flexibility has come to mean hiring, manipulating, and firing of labor at will; thereby decreasing the standard of living for working people across the board.

The consequences have been devastating. Job security has become a vague memory; wages and benefits decline—or disappear altogether Families and communities are destroyed. The public tax base is eroded; the labor movement has been staggered....

How to Read Cultural Literacy

— Richard Ohmann

WE HAVE HAD literacy "crises" at fairly regular intervals since the 1890s, when the word "literacy" itself first gained currency—the first time when it was possible, and I'd say necessary, to conceptualize an individual's attainment of specific elementary skills, and the average level of such skills among an entire population.

That was also (no coincidence) the time when U.S. high schools and colleges began to expand rapidly, and assume a major role in cultural reproduction. The 1890s were the moment when monopoly capitalism first took shape, and came to depend on complex knowledge of various sorts. Finally—and in concert with these developments—that was when the new system of production called into being a new professional-managerial class (PMC), closely involved with schools, universities and the marshalling of knowledge for social purposes, both of its own and of the ruling class....

Introduction to Before Stalinism

— The Editors

"The extent to which Lenin's rule in Russia was responsible for the rise of Stalinism has recently become a live issue in the USSR,” writes Samuel Farber in the introduction to Before Stalinism: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Democracy (London and New York Verso, 1990). Clearly the controversy continues (even though the USSR doesn't!) This fact in itself would demand that socialists in the West come to grips with the issue—to say nothing of its importance in clarifying our own understanding of how revolutions may be won and lost.

In fact, Before Stalinism itself has become a provocative and controversial book within the left. The editors of ATC have invited a number of activists and writers, some though by no means all long-time students of the so-called "Russian Question,' to contribute to a symposium on Farber's book and the issues it raises for historical analysis and present-day political practice. We present here the first three responses. Others will be appearing in future issues and we invite our readers' responses as well.

January-February 1992, ATC 36

The Onus of Historical Impossibility

— Susan Weissman

THE CENTRAL INTERPRETATIVE question dividing Soviet studies has been that of the relation between Leninism (or Bolshevism) and Stalinism. For decades the "totalitarian" school of analysis has put an equation between Leninism, Bolshevism and Stalinism since for them the first two were synonymous with Marxism, the equation between Marxism and Stalinism became standard.

In Moscow at the height of glasnost, when Memorial (a group committed to preserving the memory of purge victims—ed.) was actively excavating the Stalinist past, I commonly encountered the attitude "we're tired of bashing Stalin, it's time to get onto Lenin."...

Between the Hammer and the Anvil

— Boris Kagarlitsky

IN 1989, WHEN the first elections to the Congress of People's Deputies were being held in the Soviet Union, and the Communist Party was the only legal political organization in control of the state apparatus, both the government and the opposition, each after their own fashion, repeated the slogan of 1917: "All Power to the Soviets!"

Two years later, with representatives of all parties now sitting in the Soviets and the Communists having been swept from power in the largest cities and in the most developed republics of the Soviet Union, Gavril Popov, president of the Moscow Soviet and chief ideologist of the new elite, spoke of the need to do away with the Soviets....

In The Grip of Leninism

— Tim Wohlforth

THE AMERICAN LEFF needs to begin its thinking processes with the fall of the Berlin Wall rather than with the storming of the Winter Palace. If we do not develop a socialism which Is a meaningful alternative in the post-Stalinist era, we will become totally irrelevant.

This requires a complete break with the Leninist tradition. We cannot, however, simply step around Leninism as if it were doggy dew. We need to study carefully the history of Leninism in power and think through the theory that has grown up as a defense of that practice. We must learn the lesson of the New Left in the 1960s which broke with its past by ignoring it, only to return to this past with a vengeance during its implosion.(1)...

Dialogue: On the Soviet Upheaval

— Ellen Poteet

The ATC LETTER from the editors, “A Turning Point in World History,” offers a provocative and broad-ranging basis for discussion among those on the left, and my answer to the editorial depends greatly on its synthesis of information and analysis, even where I have differences in position from it (Readers who haven't seen this statement can order it for $1. from ATC—.ed.)

With regard to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, you write that it “was neither communist nor a party, but the political machine of Stalin's counterrevolution and its bureaucracy.” I do not argue the distance that lay between the CPSU and communism or socialism, but we bum a mad behind us by blanketly condemning it....

On the End of Stalinism

— David Finkel

OF THE MANY important issues posed in Ellen Poteet's letter I would like to comment briefly on only a couple: the character of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and the relationship of the collapse of bureaucratic rule in the East to the class struggle and the left in the West.

When our editorial labelled the CPSU "neither communist nor a party, but the political machine of Stalin's counterrevolution and its bureaucracy," we meant two things in particular. First, the Communist Party had declared itself—through police repression, then through mass terror and totalitarian mobilizations, finally by an official monopoly on means of communication, organization and intellectual production—to be the only party in Soviet society....

Bette Midler's "For the Boys"

— Nora Ruth Roberts

"FOR THE BOYS" is more than a vehicle for Bette Midler and James Caan, although they both display handsome talents. The film isHollywood's most important statement about the relationship between discourse and the question of war and peace, between discourse and reality since the aborted attempt to make something filmable out of Catch-22. And in the character of George Segal's blacklisted gagwriter, there is something thrown in for the out and out radical.

The narrative structure is a discourse within a discourse about discourse. A young studio go-fer goes to the Hollywood apartment of fading has-been Dixie Leonard (Midler) to convince her to come to the studio extravaganza to accept an award from the President of the United States for her services entertaining the troops, along with co-star impresario Eddie Sparks (Caan)....