Against the Current, No. 43, March/April 1993

Against the Current, No. 43, March/April 1993

"Humanitarian" Intervention?

— The Editors

SHORT-TERM HISTORICAL AMNESIA is a wondrous thing. The government that gang-raped Nicaragua and sponsored death-squad murders across Central America, while pouring weapons into the Shah's and then Khomeini's Iran, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Haile Selassie's Ethiopia—and Siad Barre's Somalia—is now hailed for a "humanitarian mission to feed the starving children of Somalia." It is putting the bullies, warlords and drug-dealing gangsters of Somalia in their place as an act of charity and world leadership, untainted by mere considerations of military or political interest Right.

A hundred thousand civilians are dead in Iraq from disease and deprivation caused by U.S. sanctions. Every day 40,000 Third World children under the age of five die from malnutrition and disease that simple access to dean water would save. The allocation of ten percent of the military budget of the major capitalist powers would fund the prevention of these deaths within a decade....

Dedication to Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

This issue is dedicated to the memory of Audre Lorde, who died last November after a fourteen-year bout with cancer. She described herself: "I am a Black, Feminist, Lesbian, mother, warrior, woman, lover, poet doing my work" Part of her life's work was speaking for progressive causes.

Labor Under Clinton

— Kim Moody

YOU COULD ALMOST hear the collective sigh of relief that swept through organized labor when George Bush conceded defeat to Bill Clinton. True, Clinton had stiff-armed labor as he ran toward his election touchdown that captured the imagination of fans the world around. But he was some kind of Democrat, and any labor leader knows that's better that any kind of Republican.

Furthermore, his policy papers promised good things like jobs, training, infrastructure projects and health care reform. In any case, the twelve-year nightmare was over. Soon labor leaders were off to little Rock to discuss the transition and later to participate in the economic summit. They were being consulted again and on a first name basis. It seemed like old times....

TDU Faces Major Challenges Ahead

— Nick Davidson

TEAMSTERS FOR A DEMOCRATIC UNION (MU), the rank-and-file reform caucus within the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), is at a turning point in its history. With the victory of the Ron Carey Slate in 1991, several 1DU members have moved into high-ranking positions within the union as elected officials and field staff. Long accustomed to being dissident "outsiders" far removed from the levers of power, reformers are struggling to make the most of their new role in what has been America's most corrupt and conservative union.

At the same time, =having focused much of its energy over the past few years on its campaign to democratize the union, 1DU is now having to turn more of its attention back to its roots: fighting Corporate America.

The recent 1DU Convention in St Louis, held last October, was the most successful in 1DU's sixteen-year history....

Somalia: Operation Restore Hegemony, Part I

— Andy Pollack

"OPERATION RESTORE HOPE," far from being a humanitarian mission to end starvation, was a calculating attempt to reassert U.S. dominance and funding for its military. The Operation benefitted from the moral veneer, painted by the media, which an examination of the timing, method and background to the Operation enables us to strip away.

In the first place, Washington's record on the whole African continent is clear and brutal enough that it should have fostered much more inquiry, public exposure and activism on this invasion. What the left has learned about the nature of imperialism—and Washington's role in Africa in particular, such as the funding of the slaughter of hundreds of thousands in Angola through its allies in UNITA and its complacent lack of concern over the South African-sponsored slaughter by RENAMO in Mozambique—should have provoked many more progressives to question Bush's intervention. Alexander Cockburn, as usual, hit the right note of skepticism when he quoted W.H. Auden's "Epitaph on a Tyrant"....

The Problem of Reformism

— Robert Brenner

I WAS ASKED to talk about the historical lessons of revolution in the twentieth century. But since we are primarily interested in historical lessons that are likely to be relevant to the twenty-first century, I think it would be more to the point to consider the experience of reform and reformism.

Reformism is always with us, but it rarely announces its presence and usually introduces itself by another name and in a friendly fashion. Still, it is our main political competitor and we had better understand it.

To begin with, it should be clear that reformism does not distinguish itself by a concern for reforms. Both revolutionaries and reformists try to win reforms. Indeed, as socialists, we see the fight for reforms as our main business....

The Features of German Racism

— Gerd-Rainer Horn

THREE RECENT WAVES of racist attacks on refugees in Germany have once again catapulted the newly-unified nation onto the front pages of newspapers around the world. Within the international media—and within portions of the German left—these outbursts of anti-foreign violence have led to thinly veiled speculations regarding the existence of ominous parallels between the new, united Germany and the Germany of sixty years ago.

What is the substance of these accusations? What is the character and nature of the racist attacks in Germany? How does Germany compare to other European states in view of this renaissance of far-right violence?

In theory, Germany has one of the most liberal asylum policies of any country in the world....

Israel: Demand International Sanctions

— an interview with Lea Tsemel

LEA TSEMEL is an Israeli attorney working in defense of the 415 Palestinians expelled by the Israeli occupation authorities from their homes in the West Bank and Gaza. Part of the following interview appears in the January 1993 issue of News From Within, published by the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem. The final four questions were faxed by Against the Current. Lea Tsemel's answers were translated from French to English by Joanna Misnik.

News From Within: What really happened on that memorable night when 415 Palestinians were being deported into Lebanon?

Lea Tsemel: There were rumors the morning before about a possible deportation, which was being executed solely to pacify public opinion which =been shaken by the kidnapping and killing of Sergeant Toledano [an Israeli border policemen killed allegedly by Islamic militants—ed.], but of course no one imagined....

Random Shots: Kampfer Goes Hollyweird

— R.F. Kampfer

MINA, IN THE latest version of “Dracula,” is more assertive than she is usually portrayed, but still shows a regrettable tendency to fall for men who take advantage of her. As for the Count, after waiting 400 years to find Mina, why did he go after Lucy first? At least the current Dracula is considerate enough, however, to bring home a takeout for the wives back at the castle.

The line that really belongs in "Alive" is: "That takes care of the food supply, but what are we going to smoke?”

Wasn't it annoying back in the '50s when an actress would step out of a bubble bath and slip into a robe without rinsing the soap off?

Since everything in "The Crying Game" is so full of symbolic meaning, why does the character of Jude disguise herself as the cult-figure Betty Page? Is Neil Jordan telling us that her politics....

Women in the Struggle

Is Feminism Out of Fashion?

— Elissa Karg

AS I READ Susan Faludi's bestseller, Backlash, I found myself doubting her thesis: instead of going forward, as women have been all of my adult life, are we now going backwards? Did feminism go out of fashion in the '80s?

As I was mulling over these questions, I picked up a copy of the magazine section of the Sunday paper and came across one of those personal testimony" type articles describing a woman's decision to give up her career after the birth of her baby. She concluded that her husband was constitutionally unable to do housework or learn to cook, and the baby's firsts too precious to miss, so she would stay at home. None of this bothered me, except the article's clincher. Isn't this, after all, what women's liberation means?

I turned back to Faludi with more interest....

Hollywood and the Backlash

— Betsy Esch

IN THE SECTION Fatal and Fetal Visions: the Backlash in the Movies Faludi sets out to prove that (late) eighties film was the larger than life reflection of what the '80s media had already said about women: that our very "success" was what now was making us miserable; that the women's movement promised us lives that it didn't deliver, that the real route to happiness and fulfillment was through motherhood. This is, in short the essence of the backlash.

It seems to me that before we can think about the backlash theory as it applies to popular film we have to have some idea or method for looking at pop culture in general I think the most productive and interesting way to do that is to look at the dialectical relationship between those who consume pop culture and those who market it....

Beauty and the Backlash

— Sharon Feldman

TWO CHAPTERS IN Susan Faludi's book that deal specifically with the beauty and clothing industry and how the backlash has been an integral part of each. "Dressing the Dolls: The Fashion Backlash" and "Beauty and the Backlash" are filled with powerful examples of how the industry has manipulated women through the press and advertising. The goal: keeping women in their place. The reason: money and control.

Faludi points to surveys by the Kinsey Institute to explain that U.S. women have more negative feelings about their bodies than women in any other culture studied. Given that negativity, it's not surprising shopping is our culture's number one hobby.

Advertisements assure us that we can become someone valued. Shopping is our hobby: we can become what we buy....

Backlash in the Workplace

— Jane Slaughter and Dianne Feeley

SUSAN FALUD! MAKES a passionate case for the 1980s as the decade of backlash against women. Women made gains during the 1970s—thanks to the feminist movement—that, she says, were then derailed or reversed during the Reaganism of the 1980s. But she fails to situate the struggle for women's rights in the political context of the Reagan era. How far did the African-American community advance? What about working people as a whole? How can we evaluate women's success without using a yardstick that gauges women's struggle within the context of other social and political fights? Social movements take strength and courage---and learn—from other movements for social justice.

Most American women work for pay, if not all their lives, then a large chunk of their lives. Yet Faludi devotes only thirty-seven pages of her 460-page book to a chapter on working women's issues (plus seventeen pages on reproductive rights in the workplace)....

For International Women's Day

The Rebel Girl: Our Proud Legacy of Struggle

— Catherine Sameh

EVERY MARCH FOR the past three years, I have written about International Women's Day for my local radical paper. I study its origins each time with the same admiration for the 15,000 garment work-era who marched in 1908 through the streets of New York.

They were young women, most of them immigrants who spoke little or no English. The cards were clearly stacked against them. But they took to the streets anyway. They marched to protest and demand an end to sweatshop conditions and child labor, and they called for the right to vote and to organize.

I also recall each year that those courageous women workers did not struggle in vain....

The Philippines: The Making of a Feminist Physician

— Delia D. Aguilar interviews Dr. de la Paz

IN SEPTEMBER 1992 a federal court in Hawaii found the late Ferdinand Marcos, Philippine President and dictator for twenty years, guilty of human rights violations in his country. Interpreted by justice-minded people as a warning to all potential despots, the verdict constituted moral victory for the 10,000 Filipino victims in whose behalf the suit was filed. Among the testimonies presented during the trial was that of Dr. Sylvia de La Paz, former Executive Director of Medical Action Group (MAG) for the victims of human rights abuses and widow of Dr. Roberto de La Paz, an activist physician who lost his life to military gunman's bullet in 1982. Delia D. Aguilar attended the trial, where she interviewed Dr. de La Paz.

Delia D. Aguilar: Perhaps you can begin by talking about the recent hearings in Honolulu pertaining to the human rights violations of the Marcos administration in the Philippines, its significance and your participation in it....

The Roots of Gabriela

THE FORMATION IN 1984 of Gabriela, a militant federation of women's organizations, marked the formal launching of the women's movement in the Philippines. Emerging at an historical moment when cross-class protest against the U.S.-supported Marcos dictatorship was at its peak, Gabriela assumed the awesome task of articulating feminism in the nationalist struggle.

Since that time feminism in the Philippines has flourished, particularly in the past two years when a large number of new organizations were set up, many of them targeting specific areas of concern. Gabriela remains a critical force by providing an integrative framework for these women's groups....

Beyond Mothers and Colleens

— Allison Rolls

WOMEN IN IRELAND appear before the world as sacrificing mothers, lovely and helpless colleens, or even heartless, repressed terrorists. It's not so much that Irish women have bought into these representations as that they are bound to them by the legal strictures that describe and proscribe their lives. The 1937 Irish Constitution—the constitution that still outlaws divorce and abortion in Ireland —enshrines the role of women in Article 41.2.1:

"In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common goodcannot be achieved ... The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home....

Gender, Sexuality & Liberation

What Is Queer Nationalism?

— Peter Drucker

THIS IS REALLY about two years late to be giving a talk on queer nationalism. The first Queer Nation group, Queer Nation New York, was founded in April 1990. In some places, like New York and San Francisco, Queer Nation may even have peaked before the end of 1991, with hundreds of core activists in both places. Some of us socialists were distracted from the new phenomenon that year, particularly by the Gulf crisis which began in August 1990.

But better late than never, especially with something important While some Queer Nation groups have already split, shrunk drastically or even folded since the trend began, in some big cities like Chicago Queer Nation has been on the rise. In other places the rise of queer nationalism may still be ahead. In any event the ideas of queer nationalism continue to strongly influence people in the lesbian/gay community, even where Queer Nation groups have declined....

Lesbian Organizing in the '90s

— Ann Menasche

WITHIN THE LESBIAN/GAY movement, the women's movement and the left, there has been an ongoing struggle for recognition of the needs of lesbians for self-organization and visibility. We demand that our lives and our issues be taken seriously.

In the conservative political climate of the past decade, lesbians have suffered some setbacks. In particular, lesbian-feminism as a distinct political current of radical-feminist activism has been itself increasingly pushed onto the margins. That is true not only within the larger society, but within the broader progressive movement as well.

Despite their political importance—and the participation of some lesbians—the most well-known gay/ lesbian groups, like ACT-UP and Queer Nation, remain overwhelmingly male in composition and leadership....

ACT-UP and the AIDS Crisis

— Kimberly Smith

TWO YEARS AGO, thousands of demonstrators flooded the halls of Grand Central Station. The domed room, with its cavernous ceilings, was designed to dwarf city dwellers in its magnificence, but ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) members poured into the center, halting pedestrian traffic, closing ticket counters and staging a "die-in" across its marble floors.

Wherever participants looked they saw faces of people they knew. With its roots in the lesbian and gay community, four-year old ACT-UP had won important inspirational victories in the area of drug research. But while much of the media still found ACT-UP's clever graphics and pithy slogans entrancing the pattern of governmental reforms was beginning to ebb—just as the crisis was worsening....


Dialogue: Drifting with the Current

— E. Haberkern

I WAS DISAPPOINTED but not surprised to see Against the Current join the Hate Week campaign against "the Serbs." What I did find shocking in your editorial of November-December 1992 ("In Defense of Bosnia," ATC 41) was the casual way in which the anti-imperialist tradition of the left was dropped.

For some inexplicable season the editorial opposed a U.S. ground invasion—which doesn't seem to be in the works anyway—while blaming the Europeans for not making a "decisive response" by bombing Serbian warships. This makes no sense. If you accept the right of the European powers to intervene and impose a settlement why not the power best equipped for the job?

What if tomorrow Clinton takes your advice along with that of Anthony Lewis, Anna Quindlen, Newsday and the other liberal hawks and just bombs the bejeezus out of Serbia—presumably with smart bombs....

Dialogue: The Issues in Bosnia

— David Finkel

THE ISSUES RAISED in E. Haberkern's letter have become even more urgent at the beginning of 1993, as the imperialists of the United States and Europe indeed appear closer to a massive military intervention in the former Yugoslavia. The opportunity to clarify Against the Current's views on these issues, and to engage in a vitally important dialogue among socialists regarding them, is therefore a particularly welcome one.

To briefly review, our editorial opposed imperialist military intervention, including the actual form that intervention has taken: the arms embargo that deprived the republic of Bosnia of the means of self-defense against the annexationist and "ethnic cleansing" war which the Milosevic government of Serbia unleashed against it.

We stated that "the Bosnians have the right, first, to weapons and ammunition from any possible source;" and we opposed the introduction of foreign combat troops....

Letters to Against the Current

Family Values?

— Ravi Malhotra, response from Stephanie Coontz

ALTHOUGH STEPHANIE COONTZ'S article "'Family Values'—For Real?" (ATC 41) thoughtfully addresses many important issues surrounding family issues which those on the left must face, as a disability rights activist I am deeply disturbed by her comment that "[poverty, decay of the urban infrastructure and 'deinstitutionalization' of the mentally ill have deprived children of safe places to play or go to school." (9)

While the impact of the first two causes is obvious, I find it distressing that Coontz makes such a sweeping statement with respect to those with mental disabilities. Of course, a certain percentage of people with mental disabilities may pose some sort of threat to children or society at large. I hardly think, however, that is sufficient reason to dismiss the entire deinstitutionalization process as her comment implies...

Keep Up the Good Work

— David Linn

I AM WRITING in part to encourage you to keep up the good work Justin Schwartz's essay Revolution and Justice" in ATC 42 was a minor masterpiece, and Cecilia Green's three-part essay on women in Caribbean slavery in ATC 4042 was a major one. I'd like to see you print more letters, so here goes one now.

In Mike Zielinski's piece on "Bill Clinton in the World" (ATC 42) he makes the curious comment that “during the 1980s, a broad movement-for the first time in U.S. radical history--went beyond an antiwar agenda to build a conscious identification and 'solidarity' with liberation movements like the ANC and the FMLN.”

It is clear to me that there is nothing new about the "conscious identification and solidarity" of 1980s movements I think the point is important to make, because a number of liberal historians of the Vietnam era....