Against the Current, No. 38, May/June 1992

Against the Current, No. 38, May/June 1992

The Crime of the Centuries

— The Editors

CAPITALISM'S CRIMES AGAINST humanity follow each other with numbing daily regularity; but even in this era of routine atrocities, the United States' forced repatriation of the Haitian refugees sets a new standard of sorts. What is distinctive about this particular horror is not so much that it victimizes people whose countries the United States has destroyed, as has already been done to Vietnam, Grenada and Panama among others; nor that it sends them back to face death squads, which was standard policy throughout the 1980s in the large-scale deportation of Guatemalans and Salvadorans.

Nor is the deportation of the Haitians by any stretch of the imagination unique for its racism and class bias. The distinction is that the policy is so blatantly on display. For once there is nothing to expose, it is all in the open: Black refugees are labelled "economic" rather than "political" refugees, which is quite logical since it was the most desperately poor in Haiti who backed the elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide,...

The Democrats' Wasteland

— Peter Drucker

BILL CLINTON's emergence as the probable Democratic presidential nominee--barring one more too-juicy scandal--shows just how far U.S. politics has moved to the right. The man looks like the designer-made epitome of the New World Order Candidate.

ATC's previous "Letter from the Editors" (ATC 37) summarized Clinton's well-known pro-business, anti-labor record as Arkansas governor, and how his tax proposals mimic George Bush's right down to a capital gains tax cut.

Clinton's "toughness on crime"--one among several campaign themes drenched in subliminal racism--extends as far as military boot camps for first offenders, and approving the execution of a murderer suffering from irreversible self-inflicted brain damage. His campaigners turned up in Washington for the April 5 March for Women's Lives, yet he has pushed for every anti-abortion law short of an outright ban....

1992: A Palestinian View

— Yasmin Adib

THERE'S A DILEMMA that the Arab American community is faced with, one that probably confronts Palestinian activists and the peace and justice community in America too. In electoral politics the movement has relied a lot on the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, the wing clearly the most beholden to the Israeli political action committees. It has tended to be the most Zionist in its policies toward the Middle East, and the least receptive even to domestic concerns of the Arab American community.

That motivation does not necessarily motivate you to go with the Republican Party either. But there seems to be some confusion around that. We're at a point now, in American foreign policy and the Middle East in particular, when American interests are being redefined. The question is how much?

A lot of us who have been doing this work for a long time are not giving way to any kind of false euphoria about changes happening in leaps and bounds....

Reproductive Justice for All

— Ron Daniels

THERE MUST BE reproductive justice for all women.

Women of color--African American, Latino, Native American, Asian American--and poor women always suffer disproportionately when reproductive rights are restricted. In 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade, 64% of all women dying from illegal abortions were Women of Color. In Georgia, 80% of women dying from illegal abortions were African Americans.

Eighty percent of all forced C-sections are performed on African-American women. Eighty percent of women who have been charged, convicted and jailed for drug use during pregnancy have been African American or Native American, despite studies showing that the rate of drug use in pregnancy is the same for European-American women as for Women of Color.

White women are referred for therapy, not jail. These are just a few....

Why I'm Supporting Ron Daniels

— Sabrina Virgo

I WAS ASKED to talk about the Ron Daniels campaign this afternoon. But I'm not sure that Ron's campaign is the right starting point for this discussion. I don't think we can talk about whether we support the campaign of Ron Daniels in the same way we talk about whether we support the campaign of Tom Harkin, or whether we prefer the candidacy of Jerry Brown.

We're facing a broader and more fundamental question than that. I think the question we need to address today is how we approach electoral struggle.

If I were a Republican I would be deciding between Bush and Buchanan. If I were a Democrat I'd be deciding between Tsongas and Clinton or Harkin and Brown. But I am not a Democrat or a Republican, and I don't think that many of us here today are. Some of us may vote for Democrats, but voting for Democrats doesn't make you a Democrat any more than speaking in a church makes you a member of the congregation....

The Rebel Girl: Dow Bows, FDA Applauds

— Catherine Sameh

DOW CORNING, the infamous manufacturer of Napalm, aerospace chemicals and silicone breast implants, announced that it would cease production of the latter controversial devices--the ones being surgically inserted in the chests of U.S. women at the rate of 150,000 pair a year.

Running from a deluge of lawsuits, the company is forsaking that one percent of its profits derived from the implants in an effort to avoid further court battles. Furthermore, they see the future market for implants dwindling now that serious questions about their safety have been raised.

Dow Corning failed for almost thirty years to conduct adequate safety studies on the implants, even after scientists within the company demanded that they do so. Dow's disregard for women's health has cost thousands of women significant emotional and physical hardship, though the company continues to claim that the implants are perfectly safe....

South Africa: Towards Grassroots Socialism

— Patrick Bond

IT IS DEFINITELY NOT time to give up on South Africa; neither to put it safely to bed as a nation whose peoples' drive for democracy will soon be satisfied, nor to downplay the prospects for socialist transformation, even as withering compromises with the capitalist state and international capital are reported daily. No, South Africa is alive with radical ideas and prospects.

You know this if you listen, for example, to the political discourse of the enemy. They're worried. Top Johannesburg bankers gradually learn to utter "comrade" when appropriate. Industrial relations gurus prattle on about the benefits of a non-racial shopfloor cooperation--to the extent (in even the racist bastion of Pietersburg) of permitting workers to fire supervisors. And state bureaucrats in Pretoria actually speak of "empowerment" and sustainable development for impoverished black communities.

Of course, if you spend time in a Soweto shebeen (bar) with....

Letter to the Editor

— Val Moghadam, Helsinki, Finland

IN THE MARCH/APRIL 1992 issue of ATC, there was a link between two articles that was not explicitly noted. Colin Gordon's article, aptly titled "The Politics of Health Care Reform: Market Magic, Bad Medicine" states that the AMA's objection to the Canadian health-care system is that it is slow to provide elective or non-emergency surgery. This dovetails rather nicely with Catherine Sameh's article, "Implants, Identities and Death," which notes that fully 20% of breast implants are performed on women seeking enlargement of their breasts; the other 20% are reconstructive surgeries for women who have had mastectomies.

The unacknowledged link here is the much-vaunted "free market" where consumers have a range of choices and can make rational decisions. But what kind of rational and informed decisions do consumers make when they are deluged with the mendacity and exaggeration--usually in the form of advertisements--....

Letter to the Editor

— Dave Linn, Berkeley, CA

I WAS AMUSED by Jesse Lemisch and Naomi Weisstein's defense of commodity fetishism ("Cornucopia Isn't Consumerism ... " ATC 36). While I agree with them that the left must fight for roses as well as bread, I feel that they err in equating political values and cultural aesthetic.

They label those who oppose "the dominant contemporary media aesthetic--glossy, electronic, colorful, fast-moving"--as "puritanical." I think this is untrue, and unfair. One does not need to be a puritan or a socialist to find MTV (for example) overwhelmingly ugly.

Of course cultural values are to a large degree earned, and ethnic puritans and red-diaper babies are probably more apt to find MTV ugly than are other groups in the population. On the other hand, the majority of those who find MTV ugly are probably neither red-diaper babies or ethnic puritans....

Globalization and Resistance

Peru: A People Under Siege

— Socialist Challenge

AMONG THE FIRST targets of the April 5 anti-constitutional coup of Peruvian president Fujimori and the military were the political parties. Troops and tanks surrounded the headquarters of the parties and trade unions. Party leaders and elected members of the dissolved Peruvian parliament were detained, facing house arrest and worse.

Barrera Bazan, a leftist and vice president of the Chamber of Deputies, is being held on a ship off the coast by the highly anti-communist Peruvian navy. Those not arrested have gone into hiding; security was stepped up at airports to prevent their leaving the country.

By a twist of fate three central leaders of the Unified Mariateguista Party (PUM), the furthest left of the parties in the Peruvian congress, were abroad on an Asian tour at the moment of the coup. Senator Javier Canseco (previously interviewed in "Peru at the Brink," ATC 34)....

Our Roots, Our Revolution

— Hugo Blanco

RECENT HAPPENINGS IN Russia and in Eastern Europe are very important to the things going on in our part of the world. We are very happy for the overthrow of dictatorships in Eastern Europe, but the immediate effects are contradictory.

We can see that the end of the East-West Cold War is a significant moment for the "hot" war between the North and South. And the United States is the country that is attacking the South and particularly Latin America. Because of the threat coming from Japan and Germany, the United States wants to take care of its own "backyard."

The essence of the attack by the North on the South is the foreign debt and the neoliberal model, which complement each other. We can expose two particular cases in Latin America. One is the pending Free Trade treaty between Canada, Mexico and the United States. This undoubtedly will weaken the Mexican economy;...

Random Shots: The Revolution Looks Forward

— R.F. Kampfer

LEFT AND RIGHT both tend to assume that the collapse of the Soviet Union means that Washington will be able to call the shots for the whole world. The last time the U.S. was in such a powerful position, including a monopoly on the atomic bomb, was in 1945. The next decade brought the ejection of capitalism from Eastern Europe, revolution in China, a military stalemate in Korea and the revolt of the Third World. The best-laid plans ....

Congratulations, Teamsters. As Winston Churchill put it: "This victory does not mean that the end is in sight, or even the beginning of the end, but it definitely marks the end of the beginning."

Political Punditry

NOW WE CAN see why George Bush failed to finish off Saddam Hussein when he had the chance: He was saving him for the `92 elections....

Globalization and Resistance

A Hawaiian Activist's Fight

— Nancy Holmstrom interviews Haunani-Kay Trask

LIKE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE the world over, Hawaiians have come together in a struggle to reclaim their language, their culture and their land which were forcibly taken from them. In 1893, US. marines overthrew the Native Hawaiian government. By then, the Hawaiian population was only 5% what it had been in 1778 when Captain Cook came to the islands, bringing syphilis, gonorrhea and tuberculosis with him. Five years later Hawai'i was annexed to the United States against the wishes of the Native people.

Haunani-Kay Trask, Director of the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manca, is a Native Hawaiian and a leader in the Hawaiian struggle. In 1990-91 she was the center of a controversy on campus that drew national attention and seriously threatened her job. Her case raises important issues regarding racism (and sexism) at the university and academic freedom. ATC editorial board member Nancy Holmstrom interviewed her....

Guatemalan Women: Organizing Under the Gun

— Deborah J. Yashar

Since the much touted 1985 elections which ostensibly signalled Guatemala's transition to democracy, popular sectors have actively organized, seeking to regain the political space that this moment of political liberalization offered. Women were in the forefront of this movement. Indigenous and ladino women organized and participated in class-based associations as they had in earlier periods of popular mobilization. In contrast to the prior periods of popular organizing, women's groups--including women's unions, organizations of widows, feminist intellectuals and women's political auxiliaries--have come together not only to discuss and organize around class issues, but also to discuss and pursue issues that particularly affect women.

In Guatemala, popular movements have historically articulated a class-based agenda, calling for an end to the economic exploitation and political violence that the military and oligarchy have inflicted on their communities....

Native American Struggles Today

— Jennifer Viereck

WHILE MANY VIEW the issue of Columbus' invasion as 500 years in the past, there are about 1.4 million original North Americans today, facing a wide range of life and death struggles to which newer Americans are often blind. In a year which will hopefully bring many of these issues to our attention, we all have a chance, especially those of us of European origin, to take steps toward ending 500 years of genocide of indigenous people.

Several ongoing struggles (among hundreds of conflicts) from various regions are outlined below.

Big Mountain: Forced Relocation

Since 1974, the Dine (Navajo) people living on Black Mesa in northeastern Arizona have been targeted for removal from their ancestral homelands by the U.S. government. It is a dry but majestic land, dotted with hogans, sheep,...

Reflections on Socialism After the USSR

Nationalism at the End-of-Century

— Michael Lowy

THIS IS A strange end-of-century. At the moment when capitalism seems able, at last, to impose its rule on a world scale; when the economy has been internationalized to an unprecedented degree; when the multinational enterprises reign over the world market; when a transnational committee of bankers (the IMF) dictates its social and economic policies to two-thirds of humanity; when Europe moves rapidly towards supranational unity<197>at this same moment nationalism makes a spectacular return to the forefront, becoming in many countries (particularly in Europe) the only political movement able to mobilize the crowds and the only political value acceptable to a large part of the population.

There is no easy explanation for this upsurge, but it could be helpful to compare it with the parallel revival of religious feelings. The crisis of both capitalist accumulation and bureaucratic productivism--the existing models of (instrumental) rationality--favors the development of such non-rational,...

The Future of Marxism

— The Editors

WHAT IS THE future of Marxism--of revolutionary working-class politics--after the end of the Cold War system and the collapse of the USSR?

We present here three contributions to a critical ongoing discussion, offering varying perspectives on Marxism in relation to nationalism and other questions. Michael Lowy, a theorist and activist with deep roots in both the European and Brazilian struggles, was asked by the editors of ATC to discuss the problems of national liberation and nationalist thought in the new world situation. Mansoor Hekmat, the leader of an Iranian revolutionary workers' group in exile, spoke with ATC editor Suzi Weissman on her program Portraits of the USSR on KPFK in Los Angeles. Hillel Ticktin, whose personal and political roots lie in the struggle in South Africa and the analysis of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, argues that the "end of Stalinism" makes the rediscovery and purification of authentic Marxism both possible and essential for revolutionaries today....

Privatization and Russian Workers

— Milton Fisk

BOTH THE SOVIET hammer and sickle and the Russian tricolor were fluttering over the Kremlin as I left Moscow in mid-December. When the Union was formally dissolved shortly thereafter, the new Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) came into being, more as a memento of the Union than as a unified political force.

When the center yields, conflicting poles of attraction become rampant. This happens in economics as well as politics. The collapse of the centralized Soviet state went along with a rash of efforts for political independence. In the area of economics, the collapse of the centralized state has gone along with a polarization over views of property--about who should control productive facilities, work discipline, and investment decisions.

This "property question," which Marx said would be the leading question of socialist movements in the nineteenth century, has now become....

Socialism Is Not Stalinism

— Suzi Weissman interviews Mansoor Hekmat

Suzi Weissman: What does the end of the Cold War mean in the struggle for social justice in the other parts of the world?

Mansoor Hekmat: In the short term it has a basically negative impact on the socialist movement. I am among those socialists and communists who never believed that the Soviet bloc represented communism or developed a socialist economy and society. Nevertheless, the present offensive of the West turns primarily against every ideology that advocates social justice and human equality.

The socialism of the future will have the advantage of not being identifiable with the Soviet bloc. It is actually going to emerge in the shape of working-class movements in the same countries that are now victorious against the "socialism" of the Eastern bloc. It will have the advantage of emerging inside the structure of these societies.,,,

Worker-Communist Party of Iran

— Mansoor Hekmat and others

The Worker-Communist Party of Iran is a Marxist party, committed to organizing the social revolution of the working class to abolish the capitalist system and to establish a new society based on the economic and social quality of all, their political freedom and the realization of material and intellectual creative potentials for all persons.

The Worker-Communist Party of Iran (WPI) is an internationalist party. It struggles for the international solidarity of the working class and for the achievement of its world objectives. It is committed to defending the interests of workers the world over.

In the changing world conditions of today, and in the face of the ideological and political onslaught of world capitalism on the cause of socialism, heightened by the collapse of the Soviet bloc's false socialism, the Worker-Communist Party of Iran considers the defense of Marxism and of....

End of Stalinism, Beginning of Marxism

— Hillel H. Ticktin

THE OVERALL THESIS of this paper is that Stalinism was an unmitigated disaster for socialists, for its millions of unfortunate victims, for those who were so deluded as to believe in it, and for the world. It has set back history for many decades and possibly, in the view of some, centuries. It has served, therefore, to prolong capitalism beyond its natural life. It has done so both materially and ideologically.

Unfortunately, many socialists fell directly or indirectly under its spell. Its ramifications have been absolutely enormous and as yet little discussed. Conservatives and liberals can have no interest in considering the effects of Stalinism because it would imply that a genuine Marxism could exist and even succeed in understanding and changing society. Since most Marxists are afraid to reassess their own heritage, they prefer to revise their views in favor of the market or liberal thought, if they do not actually become conservatives....


Before Stalinism (a continuing symposium)

— The Editors

THESE TWO VIEWPOINTS continue a symposium which we began in ATC 35 on the topic of Samuel Farber's book Before Stalinism (Verso, 1990), a critical exploration of the politics and policies of the Bolshevik party regime in the early years of the Russian Revolution. The initial responses in that issue were by Susan Weissman, Boris Kagarlitsky and Tim Wohlforth, followed in ATC 36 by David Mandel and a comment by Ernie Haberkern in response to Tim Wohlforth on the "dictatorship of the proletariat." We publish here Tim Wohlforth's rejoinder to Haberkern, and an essay by Bernard Rosen, who, like Wohlforth, is a long-time socialist and writer. We feel that Rosen takes up questions central to Farber's book. The symposium as a whole will be summarized by Farber in a forthcoming issue.

May-June 1992, ATC 38

Rejoinder: Revolutionary as Conservative

— Tim Wohlforth

IT IS AMAZING how conservative a revolutionary can be. Today we witness the collapse of a social system, state socialism, which just a few years ago dominated one-third of the earth's surface and attracted significant support throughout much of the rest of the world. Yet many who claim to be revolutionary thinkers have discovered nothing in these momentous events which requires them to modify their previously held ideas.

Ernest Haberkern can claim credit to be among the most conservative of these "revolutionary" thinkers. He has devoted most of his comments ("On `Leninism' and Reformism," ATC 37) on my article, "The Grip of Leninism" (ATC 35), to a stirring defense of Marxism warding off the attacks of Edward

No, I have not discovered any "previously unknown or untranslated documents" which throw any new light whatsoever on the Bernstein matter....

Of Lenin and Leninism

— Bernard Rosen

TIM WOHLFORTH's "In The Grip of Leninism" (ATC 35) is actually in the grip of distortions and exaggerations on two accounts: what happened during the first six months or so of Bolshevik rule, and the identification of such happenings with the Leninist concept of a vanguard party and Lenin's (alleged) dictatorial nature with its proclivity "to carry out brutal repressive actions without feeling any moral qualms."

1. The Soviets (says Wohlforth) "had become rubber stamps for Bolshevik decisions." The facts: During the first year of the Soviet regime localism flourished in the Soviets.(1) Indeed, "the smallest soviets were examples of `direct democracy.'"(2)

By Autumn 1918, "these `basic' authorities [the soviets] started to disintegrate rapidly," partly the result of the White Terror which massacred Communists and the most active members of the soviets and suppressed the latter....


The Politics of Affirmative Action

— Aaron Brenner

Racism and Justice:
The Case for Affirmative Action
By Gertrude Ezorsky
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 140 pages, paperback $6.95.

AS THE ASSAULT on affirmative action reaches a fever pitch, it is heartening to read Gertrude Ezorsky's Racism and Justice: The Case for Affirmative Action. The book provides a powerful defense, in social, moral, and practical terms, for race-conscious employment programs, and demonstrates their historic effectiveness.

Ezorky's book is especially timely given that many people on the liberal left have joined with neo-liberals and conservatives to temper or even relinquish their support for affirmative action. It has become fashionable to see race-consciousness....