Against the Current, No. 47, November/December 1993

— The Editors

IN AUGUST 1991, an anti-democratic putsch failed in Moscow. In October 1993, an equally anti-democratic and extremely dangerous coup took place—and succeeded. Not only did it succeed, but the leader and organizer of this coup—Russian President Boris Yeltsin—received the effusive thanks and congratulations of the governments and media propagandists of the West for "the salvation of democracy."

Behind this smokescreen of democratic rhetoric lies a tragic reality: the fire of repression consuming the seeds of actual Russian democracy. In this issue of Against the Current we offer some perspectives on what has really occurred, relying as much as possible on eyewitness accounts and the voices of Russian democratic activists themselves—some of whom have been arrested and severely abused in an attempt to silence them....

— David Finkel

TO PROPERLY EVALUATE the stunning developments of September, when Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) declared and signed their mutual recognition and agenda for a negotiated settlement, we must begin by asking the right question.

Starkly put, that question is: Does this accord point a new direction away from Israel's construction of a full-fledged apartheid system in the Occupied Territories? Or does it, rather, point toward the consolidation of the apartheid structures?

There are two reasons for posing the question this way, both directly relevant to the responsibilities of U.S. activists for peace and Palestinian rights First, the term "apartheid" is important here, not as a dramatic metaphor but as an accurate description of the framework of economic and political Jewish supremacy and privilege that the Israeli state has erected in the West Bank especially "Greater Jerusalem,"...

— Milton Fisk

THE DEBATE ON health care reform presents an opportunity that shouldn't be squandered. With much at stake, it is vital to use the opportunity to mobilize for a single payer alternative to Clinton' managed competition. Not only would managed competition have expensive corporate medicine as its legacy. But also it is of a piece with Clinton's neoliberal agenda for deficit reduction, labor law reform and NAFTA. The common threat is competition, privatization and cuts.

Defeating Clinton's health plan in favor of a single payer plan would be setback for this neoliberal offensive against working people. The opportunity can easily be missed. The press and the White House are trying hard to get us to miss it. They are billing the debate as one between a variety of special interests versus the courageous Clinton team, with it insistence on financing employee's health care by an employer mandate and on putting a cap on the rate at which health insurance premiums can rise....

IN THE SPACE of less than two weeks, the coup d'etat that began on September 21 has reached its logical conclusion. The fresh shoots of Russian democracy have been drowned in the blood of the guilty and innocent alike.

The responsibility for this rests with the president's entire political course to date--a course which has brought about the deepening of the general crisis in the country.

Yeltsin could no longer implement his policies of "shock without therapy" through democratic methods and in the presence of an opposition.

For the introduction of a dictatorship, a pretext was needed. Using the amoral union of Rutskoi's supporters with extremist and fascist forces appealing to people's dark instincts,...

— Justin Schwartz

AS THE ARTILLERY opened up on the Moscow White House, where in 1991 Boris Yeltsin had defended the same parliament he dissolved two years later, he justified the attack on the barricaded parliamentarians as a suppression of a "fascist-communist rebellion." Foreign leaders, especially Bill Clinton, have lauded Yeltsin's destruction of the parliament, and Yeltsin's version of events has been repeated uncritically in the Western media—with parliamentarians described as "rebels" and the like.

In fact, whatever our view of the now-extinguished parliament, Yeltsin's action was an attack on Russian democracy. It puts at risk the one solid gain of Gorbachev's glasnost and the August 1991 revolution: the foundations of democratic struggle over the future of Russia.

Condemnation of Yeltsin's high-handedness does not mean support for this parliament or its programs....

— Susan Weissman

THE TRAGIC SPECTACLE in Moscow is not without historical parallels, however imperfect. The bombing of the Russian White House [parliament building—ed.] and the September 11, 1973 bombing of La Moneda [the presidential palace in Chile—ed.] evoked similar images of democratic processes going up in smoke with deadly consequences.

But there the similarities end. In Russia there is no need, as there was in Chile, for the further "mopping up" of the majority of the population who supported the parliamentary process. The supporters for both sides of the Russian governmental crisis were remarkably anemic. In a city of nine million, barely 15,000—Yeltsin's backers and opponents combined-—gathered outside the White House at the height of the activities of Sunday the 3rd. The explanation for that reveals how little most Russians felt the outcome will influence their lives....

— David Finkel

"I BELIEVE THAT one of the main lessons of the events of September and October," says Boris Kagarlitsky, "is what we have learned about the total moral collapse of Western political elites."

Kagarlitsky spoke by phone with Suzi Weissman on October 8, for a radio interview broadcast the following day on KPFK in Los Angeles. Although still clearly feeling the effects of severe beatings he suffered in detention at the police station a few days earlier, the Russian socialist activist and elected member of the Russian city soviet (council) dissolved by Yeltsin expressed his outrage at the support of Western governments for Yeltsin's massacre at the Parliament.

"Even for those of us who never had extreme illusions regarding Western democracies, it's kind of striking how hypocritical and basically undemocratic Western leadership is. This is a matter to be discussed by the Western public....

— Kit Adam Wainer

BORIS YELTSIN'S OCTOBER putsch is but one more episode in a major battle whose roots are quite deep and whose end is nowhere in sight.

The ruling layers in Russia, like their counterparts in Yugoslavia and many former Soviet bloc republics, are agonizing over their own disintegration. No internal faction is capable of scoring a decisive victory, and no outside force is yet able to destroy them.

The old guard has demonstrated its eagerness to sell out, if only there were buyers! Thus the would-be quitters of the deposed Communist bureaucracy frantically reorganize, subdivide and reassert authority. They are less concerned with preserving their system of rule than they are with their power and privileges. To maintain both, however, is a difficult trick-—especially in an economy in ruins, and in a global climate that hardly favors the development of new Russian businesses....

— John Vandermeer

THE VERB JODER (pronounced ho-der, with an accent on the der) is central to the Nicaraguan vocabulary. Much like the Mexican chingar, immortalized in the film El Norte,joder enjoys an extremely diverse usage. No me joddás [quit buggin me], están jodiendo [they're just flicking around], Oye jodido! [hey you bastard—-to a friend], Este jodido! [that asshole), Pa' joder [because I damn well feel like it] are some examples.

On a recent trip to Nicaragua, a friend told me (I'll paraphrase), 'First the gringos invade, they put in a dictator, then they attack with the contras, now they're jodering us again. Why can't they stop their joder and leave us alone. What do those jodering people want?" And that's the sense of it The gringos are "flicking us over again," because they "damn well please," to "screw us over" because we won't get down on our knees....

— Midge Quandt

FOR THREE DAYS in January 1992, some 800 women met in Managua to explore gender issues in a space free of male control. After a decade of subordinating women's needs to the goals of the revolution and the prosecution of the contra war, the Nicaraguan women's movement was declaring its independence from the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). "We want a movement where women choose their leaders and their lines of work. We don't need a bunch of men telling us what to do," declared one conference participant.

Since the FSLN's electoral defeat in 1990, the feminist movement has emerged from the tutelage of the party. Conditions which bred a hierarchical mode of organizing—-the capture of state power and the contra war—-were replaced by ones which favored the growth of civil society and its autonomous social movements. Without the apparatus of the state, the FSLN could no longer control or co-opt them, the women's movement included....

— Ann Ferguson
Gathering Rage:
The Failure of 20th Century Revelutions to Develop a Feminist Agenda
by Margaret Randall
New York-Monthly Review, 1992, paper $12.

THIS BOOK BY Margaret Randall, a well-known author of more than fifty works of oral history, political theory, poetry and photography, theorizes about the relation between the ideals of socialism and feminism from her experiential base of a United Statesian who has lived in Cuba and Nicaragua for many years.

It is always a pleasure reading Margaret's books because she is a gifted writer who has the invaluable capacity to entrance the reader with her wealth of lived expertences in socialist-oriented countries. Unlike many academic writers, the theoretical lessons that she draws never seem pretentious or forced....

— Carol McAllister

MALAYSIA IS A complex society composed primarily of people from three distinct ethnic groups Malays, Chinese, and Indians. The population of the eleven states of Peninsular Malaysia (excluding the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak) is approximately 12.5 million, a little over half of whom (55%) are of Malay descent The rest of the Peninsula's population is made up of people who are descendants of immigrants from China (34%) and hum India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka (10%).

The Malays, who are considered the indigenous population of Malaysia, were an almost completely rural people until the most recent generation. British colonialism not only left the Malays on the land but to a large extent relegated them to the economic role of food producers for the rest of the society. Although Malays are now being drawn in large numbers into industrial wage-work, they are still concentrated in rural villages in the rice growing regions of the Peninsula....

— Carol McAllister

WHEN INTRODUCING STUDENTS, at the University of Pittsburgh, to the situation of women in Malaysia, I often show them a slide that depicts a woman standing in a rice field. She is holding a handmade hoe, which she is using to repair the dikesbefore planting the rice crop that will supply much of her family's staple food for the coming year The woman in the photograph, whom I will call Asmah, was one of my neighbors and Mends during the year and a half I lived in a rural village in the area of Malaysia known as Negeri Sembilan.

I urge my students to look closely in the upper right-hand corner of the slide where they can see the power lines that supply Asmah's village with electricity as well as draw her and other subsistence farmers more fully into the cash economy. Standing beside Asmah is her young son, wearing only a T-shirt since he is being gently introduced to toilet-training. A close-up shot reveals that his shirt features a picture of Donnie and Marie Osmond,...

— Catherine Sameh

IT'S NOTHING NEW to write about women's bodies. You know, how women continue to be measured in terms of the one rigid type of look popular at the time. it's all been said before. We've been up, down and around it since the birth of feminism.

But I can't keep it up.I mean, just when I had finally come to terms with this image of woman as buff—perfectly in shape, hard and strong—along comes a new image. Well, not entirely new. Like all good fashion, recycled from the old.

I was ready to accept this superwoman, buff as hell, kick-ass thing. At least women are in tennis shoes, not pumps, I concluded. At least women are biking, not beautifying. It's a lot of pressure, but there are rewards in the end. We feel good. We can do and be more. Go harder and longer....

— Michael Steven Smith
Gigs:
Jazz and the Cabaret Laws in New Yokr City
by Paul Chevigny
New York and London: Routledge, 1991, paper $14.95.
"I'd rather drink muddy water, sleep out in a hollow log
Than be up here in New York treated Ike a dirty dog."
—-Jack Teagarden, trombonist and vocalist

I REMEMBER HEARING the late, great Chet Baker twice. He was playing in a tiny neighborhood joint on LeRoy Street and Seventh Avenue, near where I lived in the Village. As I listened a crime was being committed.

It was 1975. What Baker was doing was against the longstanding laws of New York City. His crime? Playing trumpet....

— R.F. Kampfer

THE DECADENT ROMAN Empire was ravaged by barbarian nomads who would pillage one province after another, moving on whenever the loot grew scarce or they encountered resistance Today, we have multinational corporations treating the whole world like that

Like NAFFA, the Israel-PLO accord has provoked a spectrum of opposition who have nothing else in the world that they agree about.

Some of Andrea Dworkin's books have been barred by Canadian Customs officials as "offensive to women," under the provisions of a law that she herself helped to pass.

The only reason Rush Limbaugh got married is that sheep can't cook.

Most sensible leftists wouldn't have any problem....

— John Daniel

FOR OVER THIRTY years, the United States government has attempted to isolate the Cuban revolution. This summer U.S. citizens successfully confronted Washington's hostile position towards Cuba, by organizing a massive grassroots educational and material aid campaign that struck at the heart of the illegal trade embargo and travel ban.

Organized nationally by Pastors for Peace and locally by an estimated ten thousand U.S. citizens in hundreds of cities, the second U.S.-Cuba Friendshipment successfully delivered 100 tons of material aid to Cuba in direct violation of the ban.

Three hundred drivers in ninety-two vehicles started out in July along ten separate routes to deliver the humanitarian aid. They visited scores of cities along the way and spoke to tens of thousands of people through fundraising events, interviews in local newspapers, TV stations and radio talk shows....

— Loren Goldner

PAUL BUHLE's LETTER to the editors (ATC 46), in zeroing in on my assertion of the dynamism and superiority of early (16th and 17th century) Western capitalism to its main rivals at the time (and especially its immediate rival the Ottoman empire), points to, and objects to, the central point of my article "Post modernity and World History" [ATC 45]. For the rest. Buhie's letter is based on a misreading of my article. I would like to respond to both his objection and to his misreading.

I will say it again, and even more clearly: the European capitalist society which appeared in the post-1450 Renaissance and Reformation eras, prior to and during the early phase of Western world ascendancy, was a revolutionary society without precedent which posed as a (still unfulfilled) potential the realization of a kind of human freedom, indissolubly social and individual, superior to and more truly humane than anything realized in previous or then-contemporary Old World state societies (Islam, India or China) or in New World state formations....

— Marc Viglielmo

SAMUEL FARBER's REVIEW of Janette Habel's book, Cuba The Revolution in Peril ["Cuba and The Left Today,” ATC 45) is a good example of the problems plaguing many socialists who have criticisms of the Cuban Revolution. It seems that there really is no middle ground for supporters of the Cuban Revolution.

There are those who will not discuss questions concerning lack of workers' democracy, or political pluralism, hiding behind idiotic rationalizations such as "it's not for us to criticize" or "we don't really have all the information," etc., etc. And then there are those who use legitimate criticism of Cuba as a launching pad for their own rather strident attacks on the revolution, attacks which usually give the impression that these critics are washing their hands of the whole business of Cuba, having demolished all the arguments of those poor unfortunates who are so stupid as to believe the "Castroist-Guevaraist" nonsense pouring out of Havana....

— Samuel Farber

IN RESPONSE TO the most important of the large number of issues raised by Marc Viglielmo regarding Cuba, North Korea and many other countries, I want to make the following points.

(1) I did not in any way address the question of popular support for the Cuban regime in my review of Janette Habel's book, because this was not relevant to a structural analysis of the Cuban socioeconomic and political system. The degree of popularity of rulers such as Stalin, Hitler, Khomeini, Peron by itself tells us nothing about the socioeconomic and political characteristics of the societies over which these people ruled.

Did the Soviet Union become less Stalinist during World War II ("The Great Patriotic War") because Stalin's popularity undoubtedly rose during this period of national resistance against the Nazi invaders?...