Letters to the Editors: What Are You For? Democracy Vs. Politics

Perry Cartwright; Paul Buhle

I’VE BEEN READING Against the Current for a long time. I agree with 99% of it, because we’re against the same things. But what are you for?

Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh and Castro were all for something — l and to the peasants. They didn’t just critique the feudal landlords, but then say we don’t have any solution to the problem. Socialists have to have something positive to offer.

The above Marxist leadership correctly sought to industrialize their agrarian economies. They all set up totally planned and totally controlled economies. These economies grew for a while. But then due to the inherent limitations of totally controlled economies, all stagnated and began to decline.

China and Vietnam changed course. They set up market socialism, which keeps basic industry in public hands but allows small private producers to supply the consumer market. China has grown at over 10% per year, Vietnam at over 8%, for 30 years.

Russia started too late and collapsed into mafia capitalism. Cuba started recently to move toward market socialism, and seems to be making some progress. But it is too soon to predict Cuba’s future. Venezuela seems to be evolving toward some form of market socialism, but we must wait on the verdict of history.

Setting up market socialist economies in the advanced industrial countries will require a different scheme of things. May I suggest that you study David Schweickart’s books? Alternative plans for market socialism are offered as well by John Roemer, Leland Stauber, and myself.

Some of the best writing on the progress of China and Vietnam can be found in the socialist journal Nature, Society, and Thought, edited by Erwin Marquit.

So, ATC editors, read up on these things and tell us what you are for.

—Perry Cartwright, Chicago IL

On “Democracy Against Politics”

NEW IDEAS ARE rare anywhere, including the social movements and intellectual currents of people who have long believed themselves to be on the cutting edge of history. In that light, Joseph Grim Feinberg’s essay on Latin America (ATC 136, September-October 136) is to be applauded.

In a short space, he has a lot to say, much of its shrewd, useful and really innovative. By way of dialogue, I wish to offer a few amendments or reservations.

First and most important, in his overview of revolutionary movements in Latin America, Feinberg has left out one very large case that is not going away: Liberation Theology. For a time during the 1980s, this trend made a strong bid to replace Communist parties and guerilla focos alike. It was repressed from Rome as its followers were drowned in blood. But the spiritual realm remains crucial, even as the urban middle classes turn increasingly secular.

In fact, Latin America is arguably the test case for a potentially revolutionary syncretism. The alternative is especially foreboding: the evangelical Right.

Second, and this is mainly a historical footnote, the trends and personalities associated with C.L.R. James in the Anglophone Caribbean can be seen usefully as precursors of the trends that Feinberg illuminates. They sometimes found themselves trapped in political circumstances of the independence period contradicting their own basic ideas. But their views coincide broadly with today’s developments beyond the State and its institutions, and their history (as well as their writings) remains valuable for a wider exploration.

Third, there is a caution. Very frequently in Latin American history, populist-nationalist trends opposing U.S. and U.S.-based corporate control have been destabilized with the assistance of those claiming (and sometimes believing themselves) to be on the Left. The Venezuelan labor leader speaking to an AFL-CIO gathering near the moment of the CIA-organized, attempted military coup — and very much in support of the coup — called himself a syndicalist.

Thus: those who speak at once of both autonomy and reconciliation with U.S. interests (i.e., overthrow of any government critical of Washington) must be suspect. This is not a recipe for Chavism or any other “ism.” But it is a useful warning.

—Paul Buhle, Madison, WI

ATC 138, January-February 2009