Against the Current, No. 48, January/February 1994

Against the Current, No. 48, January/February 1994

Those Giant Sucking Sounds

— The Editors

WHAT THE RULING class wants, it gets. That's why the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed the House of Representatives by a 34-vote majority, to the professed amazement of the pundits and counters who, until the moment the debate opened, tabulated enough committed votes against to ensure NAFTA's defeat This conventional NAFTA-math was all wrong, for one reason: On this issue, to a degree highly unusual in legislative battles, corporate capital knew what it wanted. Not only for narrow economic reasons but for ideological and global strategic ones, capital wanted NAFTA. This explains why elite editorial opinion across the board supported the agreement, regardless of the irrelevant wishes of the U.S. population. It also explains why Democratic President Clinton was so zealous in support of the former Republican President Bush's deal that he was willing to ram it down his own party's throat.

It further explains why President Clinton could brazenly....

Voucher Mania: Will It Spread?

— Joel Jordan

THE OPPONENTS OF private school vouchers can breathe somewhat easier after California voters overwhelmingly defeated Proposition 174 on November 2. The California vote, however, represents only one battle in the right wing's war against public education—a war of historic importance for the future of education throughout the United States.

If passed, the ballot initiative would have given parents a $2,600 voucher to pay for private or parochial school tuition for their child, including children already attending such schools.

From the beginning of the election campaign, it became obvious that Prop 174 was in big trouble. The opposition outspent the proposition's proponents over 5-1, with the lion's share coming from the California Teachers Association (CTA) alone. Pro-174 TV commercials appeared only three weeks before the election,...

The Unmaking of Mayor Dinkins

— Andy Pollack

THE DAY AFTER David Dinkins, New York's first Black mayor, lost his bid for re-election, a press conference held by prominent Black politicians encouraged New Yorkers to consider formation of a third progressive party. The Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and State Senator David Paterson criticized the Democratic Party for securing the election of white candidates Mark Green and Alan Hevesi to citywide posts while failing to pull out all the stops for Dinkins. While Giuliani beat Dinkins 51 to 48% (903,000 to 859,000), Dinkins' running mates Hevesi and Green beat Giuliani's slate by 15 and 24% respectively over Herman Badillo and Susan Alter. Since the press conference, several meetings of Black politicians and community activists have been held to throw around this idea, and more are scheduled.

Adding insult to injury for Blacks in New York, speculations in the media about potential challengers to Giuliani in 1997 mention only whites. Manhattan liberal Ruth Messinger—who succeeded Dinkins....

The Illusion of Middle East Peace

— Nabeel Abraham

OUR SUPPORT FOR the Palestinian cause shouldn't blind us to the new realities created by the Oslo Agreement or its implications for the future. Nor should we succumb to the triumphalism of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) leadership or to the blandishments of the news media. Instead, honesty dictates that we take a sober look at the Arafat-Rabin agreement.

No one doubts that the Oslo agreement and the subsequent mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO represent an "historic breakthrough" in the Israel-Palestinian conflict Or, that it will result in some immediate and tangible benefits to the population in the Occupied Territories. The doubts are more concerned with the substance of the breakthrough and their implications for the future.

These doubts can be summed up by a number of questions....

An Information Center for the Russian Workers' Movement

— Alex Chis and Susan Weissman

AS WE GO to press, the early results of the Russian elections show the reactionary, ultra-nationalist party of Vladimir Zhirinovsky getting the highest vote total—approximately 25%, compared to about 15% for Russia's Choice, the party of First Deputy Prime MinisterYegor Geidar, the architect of Russia's "shock therapy" march to capitalism, and 11% for the reconstituted Communist Party.

The results, while certainly a dose of "shock therapy" for Yeltsin and his "reformers," require a fuller analysis, which we will present in the next issue. In another undemocratic maneuver, it appears that Yeltsin won't let early presidential elections take place. According to Nikolai Ryabov, chair of Yeltsin's Central Election Commission, "The question of the early election of the president automatically becomes irrelevant," since the constitution that was passed includes a clause allowing the incumbent to finish his term. News reports just before the election indicated that up to 75% of voters had not read....

Defend Human Rights in Russia!

THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT, signed by Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Daniel Singer, Ernest Mandel, Robert V. Daniels, Manning Marable, Alexander Cockburn, Dave Dellinger, Bogdan Denitch, Miriam Braverman, Jane Slaughter, William Kunstler, Annette T. Rubinstein and many others appeared as a two-page ad in the December 13 issue of the Nation magazine. Funds are urgently needed to carry out educational work and solidarity activities.

We, the undersigned, protest the recent attacks on civil liberties, trade union rights and freedom of the press and assembly by the Yeltsin government in Russia

Contrary to the impression given in the U.S. mass media, among those arrested during the October 4 crisis were many sincere democratic activists; several organizations and newspapers were arbitrarily banned by executive order....

On Mythology and Genocide

— Branka Magas

THE WAR IN former Yugoslavia began under the sign of a myth—the Kosovo myth. Its historical reference point is the 1389 Battle of Kosovo Field, whena multinational Christian force was defeated by its Ottoman foe, in the course of a sustained military effort by the Porte (Ottoman empire—ed.) that was eventually to expend itself at the gates of Vienna some three centuries later.

What actually happened in the Battle of Kosovo, or how crucial was its outcome for the consolidation of Ottoman power in the Balkans, is a matter of dispute. But one cannot doubt its importance for the population of this region—Bosnians, Serbs and Albanians—all of whom commemorated it in their folk songs.(1)...

Behind the Turmoil in Italy

— Jack Ceder

p>AN UNEXPECTED POLITICAL upheaval has occurred in Italy. To begin with, over half of the parliament members in the ruling coalition are under indictment for taking bribes. As 'a consequence, an American-style winner-take-all electoral system will shortly replace the former proportional representation system. Moreover, the most powerful leader in the Christian Democrat party (DC) and seven-time premier, Giulio Andreotti, is under indictment for collusion with the Mafia in the murders of anti-mafia judges and journalists. The DC, which has dominated Italy since the end of the war, is now in shambles and its junior partner, the conservative Italian Socialist Party (Psi), has virtually disbanded.

What Happened?

To begin with, Italy has had an unrestricted proportional representation system (PR) in both houses of government....

The Rebel Girl: Having A Bobbitt Sort of Day?

— Catherine Sameh

The headlong stream is termed violent
But the river bed hemming it in is
Termed violent by no one.
The storm that bends the birch trees
Is held to be violent
But how about the storm
That bends the backs of the roadworkers?
—Bertold Brecht, "On Violence"

LORENA BOBBITF DID not know she would become a national heroine figure when she took a knife to her. husband's penis. That her act would inspire a raging debate about rape, violence, self-defense and the "appropriate" display of anger by women—like Thelma and Louise, except this time all characters and incidents were real.

I'm certain she didn't think much about the consequences....

Random Shots: The Spirits of the Season

— R.F. Kampfer

GORBACHEV MUST BE FEELING, these days, like a passenger who got bumped off the Titanic.

If Clinton is so middle-of-the-road, why doesn't somebody just run him over?

What's the difference between Ronald Reagan and orgami? Orgami is fold art

Post-Modernist Cinema: Mini-review

THE PIANO LEAVES so many unanswered questions that each viewer has to provide her/his own interpretation. Does this indicate that director Jane Campion is a genius, or just lazy?...

Chronic Fatigue Demonstration

LAST OCTOBER 25, seventy-five people, mostly people with Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS), demonstrated in front of the American Public Health Association Convention in San Francisco, protesting its failure to include even one session on CFIDS.

Misnamed the "Yippie flu,' the disease strikes people of all races, ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. Although males and children are attacked by the disease, the overwhelming majority are women. CFIDS is characterized by significant and long-lasting immune disregulation, creating a host of problems including flu-like symptoms, disabling exhaustion, neurological problems, chemical hypersensitivities, muscle and nerve pains, balance problems and cognitive difficulties. Many people with CFIDS are unable to work, perform ordinary household tasks, or even get out of bed. But they are often unable to collect government or private disability insurance because their claims are denied....

Working-Class Vanguards in U.S. History

— Paul Le Blanc

"VANGUARDISM" AND LENIN's conception of a revolutionary party are not popular on the left today, being identified in the minds of many with Stalinism, sterile sectarianism and manipulative power-tripping. Often "the self-activity of the masses" is offered as the alternative. A careful examination of the actual upsurges of workers and other oppressed groups suggests, however, that the realities are more complex.

Labor's Giant Step in the Turbulent Years

In James R. Green's valuable history The World of the Worker, Labor in Twentieth Century America, we are provided with an image of a powerful working-class insurgency during the Great Depression:

“the gains [U.S.] workers made in the 1930s were enormous. During the decade, when powerful workers' organizations fell....

Puerto Rico's Plebiscite

— Rafael Bernabe

THE NOVEMBER 14 PLEBISCITE in Puerto Rico was held, allegedly, for the electorate to express its preference regarding Puerto Rico's political relationship with the United States—what on the island is normally referred to as the "status question." Although described as a plebiscite or referendum and presented by its promoters as an act of self-determination, the results of this exercise, organized by the Puerto Rican government, were not to be binding on Congress, on any agency of the U.S. government or even on the Puerto Rican government itself.

This fact led many critics to argue that the plebiscite was in fact a very expensive poll and no more. This may be true. Yet the plebiscite's consequences and effects should not be taken lightly.

The electorate was given an opportunity to vote for one of three options: independence, statehood or an enhanced version....

Section 936: A Corporate License to Steal

— Working Group on Section 936

SINCE PRESIDENT CLINTON's proposed modifications to Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Code in his 1993 State of the Union address, there has been a great deal of controversy around the future of Puerto Rico's economy. Specifically, debate has focused on Section 936, which provides tax-incentives for U.S. corporations operating in Puerto Rico. On one side is the U.S. Treasury, which sees the tax benefits to U.S.-owed corporations as excessive, particularly during a period of fiscal restraint. On the other side are the corporations, who want to maintain the high profits they receive from their island operations.

Puerto Rico's Commonwealth Party (PPD) has always been a strong defender of Section 936. But, this time, the local government was headed by the Statehood Party (PNP), which saw the retention of Section 936 as an obstacle to their goal of statehood. Nonetheless, the lobbying effort on the part of the corporations—and their threat to eliminate their operations on the Island—has been so strong....

Confronting Anti-Choice Forces in Puerto Rico

— Ruth Arroyo, Rafael Bernabe and Nancy Herzig

THROUGHOUT THE TWENTIETH century a considerable number of colonial administrators—both North American and Puerto Rican—have considered Puerto Rico to be overpopulated. For them, how to control Puerto Rico's "population problem" has been a central concern. In the post-World War II period, one "solution" to this problem was openly promoted by the colonial government: the massive emigration of Puerto Rican workers to the U.S. mainland. Furthermore, at least since the 1930, another "solution" to the "overpopulation problem" was pursued: the massive sterilization of Puerto Rican women.

By 1985 it was estimated that 39% of all Puerto Rican women of child-bearing age had been sterilized—one of the highest rates of sterilization in the world. Investigations by Peta Henderson Murray and others have conclusively demonstrated what many women knew already:...

Al Norte

— Ruben Auger

Al Node
by Dennis Noldín Valdés
(Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991) paperback, $14.95.

DENNIS NOLDÍN VALDÉS presents his book At Norte as one focused primarily "on the class struggle between capitalist employers and seasonal farmworkers." His account of the history of the experiences of agricultural workers in the Great Lakes region is certainly a powerful presentation of the development of an important sector of the U.S. working class that has been much neglected in many historical works.

As Valdés himself states, this sector of our working class presents a rich and varied experience of labor struggles that should be the object of more attention by both activists and scholars....


THIS ISSUE includes a focus on some struggles of Puerto Ricans on the island and the U.S. mainland. Special thanks to César Ayala, who served as a member of the editorial board preparing this material, and to the comrades of the Taller de Formación Politica in Puerto Rico for their contributions. Also included here are two reviews on the wider issue of Latinos in the United States and the emerging Latin/Chicana feminist literature.

IN MICHAEL SMITH's review of Gigs in ATC 47, a computer error chopped off the final few words of the last sentence, which should read: "Musicians get showcased in the clubs, but they make a living playing in Europe where they are not confined to saloons and restaurants and where, ironically, their music, 'American classical music,' is afforded the respect it hasn't always gotten here." Our computer apologizes for the mistake and absolves the staff and proofreaders of all responsibility....

Latinos: One Group or Many?

— Samuel Farber

A Biography of The People
By Earl Shorris
New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1992, 520 pages, $25 hardcover.

THERE ARE NOW more people of Latin American background residing in the United States than in most Latin American countries. Major cities like New York and Los Angeles have acquired marked Latino features, while Miami has become a bilingual and bicultural bridge to Latin America and is currently controlled by a partly Cuban economic and political power structure.

Earl Shorris is a writer who grew up in the border city of El Paso, Texas with family links to the traditions of Sephardic (fifteenth-century Spanish) Jewry and close friendship ties....

Latina Writers Defying Borders

— Norine Gutekanst

Woman Hollering Creek and other stories
By Sandia Cisneros
New York: Random House, 1991, $10 paperback.

Essays from the Land in the Middle
By Pat Mora
Albuquerque: New Mexico Press, 1993, $18.95 hardcover.

CHICANAS—.U.S.-BORN women of Mexican ancestry—have been all but invisible in U.S. popular culture—TV, film, print media, entertainment and politics. They are, as Pat Morn calls them, "legal aliens---expected to conform to Anglo cultural norms yet subtly (and not-sosubtly) devalued for their "otherness."

In the decade of the ‘70s African-American women writers....


Socialism as Self-Emancipation

— Justin Schwartz

Socialism from Below
By Hal Draper; edited by E. Haberkern
New York: Humanities Press, 1990, 282pp+xvii. $45 hardback.

AFTER A CENTURY and a half, Marx remains a closed book This is not just due to failure to master his thought—fifty often abstruse volumes in the collected edition. Hal Draper, who mastered it in a way that few could rival, says the problem is that Marx's central message has not been grasped by his critics or most of his followers—and where it has, it has largely been rejected. That message, stated in the Rules of the First International, is "that the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves." (246)(1)

Marx conceives of socialism as what Draper calls "Socialism-from-Below." The emancipation of subordinate groups requires....

Remembering E.P. Thompson

E.P. Thompson: 1924-1973

— Michael Löwy

E.P.THOMPSON left us in August 1993. He was not only the most gifted historican of his generation, but one of the most powerful, creative socialist authors in the second half of the twentieth century. His style had a passionate, sardonical eloquence that sharply distinguished him from the usual academic stuff.

Perry Anderson described him in Arguments About English Marxism (1980) as "our finest socialist writer today—certainly in England, possibly in Europe." And Eric Hobsbawm, in a posthumous homage (The Independent, August 31, 1993), emphasized that he was the only of all historians known to him that was able to produced qualitative new ideas: "Let us simply call this genius, in the traditional meaning of the word." One should not be astonished that he was, according to the Catalogue of Quotations in Arts and Letters, one of the 250 most quoted authors of all times....

E.P. Thompson as Historian, Teacher and Political Activist

— Barbara Winslow

EDWARD PALMER IHOMPSON, dissenter, poet, peace campaigner and arguably the most important historian of the second hail of the twentieth century, died peacefully after a long illness, August 28th, 1993.

Much of his life is known to readers of Against the Current. His parents, Anglo-American missionaries, liberals and anti-imperialists instilled in Edward intense radical and democratic impulses. Thompson's radicalism was further influenced by the communism of his older brother Frank, also a poet, scholar and activist. Edward joined the Communist Party while a student at Cambridge.

Edward was proud to have fought in Africa and Italy during the Second World War. In the countless arguments and discussions we revolutionary students had with him in 1%9 about the importance of "armed struggle,"...