As we write, U.S. bombs are once again flying, this time with no end in sight. The war is in many ways a logical extension of priorities long embraced by Washington, but it is clear that the September 11 attacks on U.S. territory have, at least for now, strengthened domestic support for the official posture. Other implications of the new situation are still very much a matter of debate — as much within the Left as between the Left and other sectors. As a result, there has not yet developed any massive popular protest. The issues will require our continuing attention. In the meantime, we give space in this issue to some of our individual responses, but we do not propose to let such partly conjunctural reflections preempt our continuing attention to long-term themes of the socialist project.
The value of such an insistence is confirmed by the opening words of Brecht’s epic “The Manifesto,” which we publish here in full, in the insightful and eloquent translation of Darko Suvin: “Wars are destroying the world…” If Brecht could say this in 1945, just as World War 2 was ending, how much more alarmingly true does it appear in the context of a war now undertaken by the world’s mightiest power, at the expense of all constructive social and environmental agendas, and in the name of a proclaimed goal “the elimination of terrorism” which can only recede as the pursuit of it intensifies. Brecht’s mid-20th century adaptation of the Communist Manifesto reminds us, among other things, of the manifold paths by which people’s critical awareness¾their class consciousness may develop. But Suvin himself, as a translator steeped in every aspect of his subject, invites us (in his commentary) to go deeper, and to consider the poetic rendering of political ideas as a uniquely effective instrument of popular education. Taking Brecht as a model but drawing on a wide range of literary examples, Suvin sheds new light on the whole issue of form and content as it relates to political expression.
Frigga Haug takes up the longstanding question of the relation of Marxism to feminism, and of capitalism to patriarchy. Using the writings of Marx, Engels, Althusser and Gramsci, and indeed, reading between the lines of these texts, she seeks to describe how gender and gender relations are at the heart of modes of production, rather than being a separate system. This vantage point allows her to incorporate and account for the changes in gender relations represented by Fordism and neoliberalism, including (by implication) the flourishing of feminism as an intrinsic feature of late monopoly capitalism. Regarding Marx and Engels, Haug suggests that despite their early focus on the family as the original locus of domination and private property, they were unable to see how gender relations undergird the capitalist mode of production, because they assumed uncritically that the private sphere was a natural, rather than a social, creation.
Less widely discussed in recent times, though no less central, is the question of the actual feasibility of reducing social inequality. Robert Weil, drawing on statistical data, presents a worldwide overview of inequality, focusing on the comparative incomes of distinct social strata, as between countries (or categories of countries) and also as between the periods before and after the almost universal collapse of the regimes of “actually existing socialism.” Ironically, the positive achievements of those regimes emerge all the more sharply in light of the conditions that have replaced them. By comparing strata rather than national aggregates, Weil is able to show that the benefits offered to a majority of the population even by a flawed socialism, are more considerable than has been generally recognized. Those gains, insofar as they were recognized at the time, might have appeared to be offset not only by the political defects of the regimes, but also by the assumption that at least partial redistributive reforms could be accommodated by capitalism. With capital now on the offensive, however, such progressive options have seemed to evaporate. Polarizing tendencies take on an air of inevitability, making reminders of an alternative practice all the more timely.
The historical context for any new redistributive thrust is yet to be fully defined, but one of its strongest expressions at the present time is the worldwide movement to repair the ravages of racism. In the particular setting of the United States, this movement is crystallizing as a demand on the part of African Americans for reparations for slavery (along with slavery’s institutional offshoots). Yusuf Nuruddin, in his essay introducing our special section, makes clear that this demand is only secondarily concerned with individual entitlements. It is above all a call to compensate an entire community (many of whose members regard themselves as constituting a nation). Within this understanding, as Nuruddin explains, a wide range of approaches is possible, reflecting diverse priorities and interests within the community and, we might add, having different implications for other popular constituencies. What is clear in any case is that the scale of the documentable “debt” is of truly vast proportions proportions which, considering not only the numbers of the victims but also the time-span of the outrages, dwarf any of the commonly cited precedents for reparations-settlements. This very fact endows the reparations-demand of Afroamerica with potentially explosive structural implications. To the extent that the demand gains support and threatens to exact material concessions, it will force other popular sectors to confront their own stake in the existing order. Will they back a repressive response on the part of the ruling class, or will they perhaps begin to ask whether they, too, might not have some legitimate claims against the same order?
Adding force to this nascent movement is its international character, as embodied most recently in the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa, August 31-September 7, 2001. Our reports from that conference, by Frances M. Beal (of the Black Radical Congress) and by Onaje Mu’id (of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, N’COBRA), make clear the prevailing recognition, at least outside official circles, that racist practices have been, from the outset, closely bound up with imperialism and capitalism. The fight against racism thus appears to offer distinctive promise for building a mass anti-capitalist constituency. In the effort to create a grassroots movement for reparations, an important step was the convening of the first Reparations Education and Mobilization Conference, attended by 300 people in New York, in November 2001. We publish here the closing plenary address to that conference, by Amiri Baraka. A major national demonstration, “Millions for Reparations,” is being planned for August.
If the Durban conference significantly deepened the movement against global capital, the attacks of September 11 just as surely threw it, at least temporarily, into disarray. The implications of those attacks, and of the U.S. military and political campaigns that ensued, will surely confront us for a long time. The essays in our “After 9/11” section represent only a series of first attempts to come to terms with them. The varying angles and concerns of the authors suggest something of the range of issues that will continue to demand our attention. Underlying all the specific questions, however, is our longer-term commitment to the kind of “different world” evoked at Porto Alegre. In September of this year, South Africa will again be the scene of a major U.N. conference addressing urgent popular concerns: Earth Summit II, in Johannesburg. Though the immediate issues may appear different, the underlying constituencies and antagonisms will be largely the same. If we can contribute to an understanding of this commonality, we will be moving in the right direction.The Editors