The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq mark a new level of brazenness in Washington’s defiance of world opinion. With it, media manipulation has surged, while the financial hurdles to dissident candidates remain daunting as ever. Every dimension of policy suffers an assault on democratic principles, as the unelected Bush administration, draping itself in the flag, tramples on decades of hard-won legislative gains in labor rights, environ- mental protection, civil rights, and civil liberties.
Socialism remains on the historical agenda, however, not only despite all this, but in part precisely because of it. While the goal may now appear more remote, the imperatives pointing in its direction have at the same time become more compelling. The regime of capital, which for a time seemed disposed-via the welfare state-to co-opt working-class and popular demands, has now decisively taken the offensive. No longer willing to accept even the most limited degree of power-sharing, it has shrunk both the political space and the ecological timeline for progressive measures. Under these conditions, the need for a critical analysis that is at once realistic in its grounding and sweeping in its vision becomes more vital than ever.
The case of Cuba is pivotal to the anchoring of such a critique. Embodying significant revolutionary social advances but constrained in their full implementation (by conditions we have explored at length [S&D #29]), Cuba stands as a lonely test-case for the possibility of establishing a small, partially capital-free zone within a global economy dominated by transnational corporations backed by the military might of the U.S. It is important to see Cuba’s role in these unadorned terms, so as not to hold Cuban society to standards of perfection which are unattainable in such a context. Cuban politics are, to a major extent, the politics of survival. Cuba’s 44-year defensive struggle, waged against multi-pronged U.S.-based assaults, has made life there more difficult than it would ideally be, and economic pressures from the capitalist world have brought a revival of two-tier practices. Nonetheless, most Cubans still enjoy levels of health, education, cultural expression, and political participation far superior to those of their counterparts in other Third World countries.
The current escalation of U.S. hostility to Cuba is examined by Philip Agee, whose analysis provides indispensable background for understanding the stern measures recently applied in that country: on the one hand, against three hijackers (who were put to death) and, on the other, against 75 persons sentenced to long prison terms for collaborating with the head of the U.S. Interests section, in the latter’s intensified drive to implement the “regime change” mandated by the 1996 Helms-Burton Act. Agee acknowledges the political risks-and fallout-of the Cuban response, but explains the reckoning behind the decision to accept these risks. In addressing the threat of terrorist attacks in particular (which Washington would neither curb nor discourage), Cuba’s longstanding preference for a preventive approach is shown in its effort to penetrate the Miami-based exile networks. The U.S. response to this effort is vividly described in the report by Leonard Weinglass, attorney for one of the five Cubans who received long U.S. prison terms for their intelligence activities (which, as was brought out in trial testimony, were purely defensive in nature and had nothing to do with any U.S. military secrets).
In resisting such contingent injustices, however, long-term visions remain vital to both sanity and solidarity. Here, building in part on issues raised in S&D #33 (“Radical Perspectives on Race and Racism”), we offer an array of views-with some degree of synergy among them-as to the kind of society that needs to be built. Paul Burkett takes up the challenge posed to Marxism by ecological thinkers (among others) who attribute to Marx an essentially productivist and instrumentalist approach to the natural world. He counters this interpretation with reference to a set of specific, widely accepted ecological standards, which he shows to mesh with Marx’s criteria. In the course of his discussion, he takes due note of the importance of traditional communal property systems as repositories of healthy human/natural interaction. This cultural emphasis intersects directly with the articles focusing on racial issues. Charles Verharen presents a wide-ranging philosophical overview, challenging exclusivist versions of Afrocentrism and instead adapting Molefi Asante’s concept of Afrocentricity into a comprehensive and inclusive approach grounded in a holistic worldview and embracing ecofeminism and socialism. Jesse Rhines explores literary utopias, exposing the unabashedly racist assumptions of classic works by Bellamy and Huxley, and counterposing to them the lesser known utopian fiction of George Schuyler and Edward Augustus Johnson, who not only reject white supremacy but also concern themselves with what must be done to overcome it. An important but insufficiently recognized exemplar of such activism was Hubert Harrison-a polymath and an engaging street-corner lecturer and journalist who was widely known during his lifetime as “The Black Socrates.” Jeffrey Perry describes the highlights of Harrison’s career in early 20th-century Harlem, focusing on his pioneering effort to link the race consciousness embodied by the Garveyites with the class consciousness of socialists, and evoking the popular resonance of such an approach.
Turning again to specific struggles, we explore the interface of racism and imperialism, both with each other-in the culture of domination and aggression discussed by Steve Martinot-and with public policy issues such as educational testing and AIDS-prevention, discussed respectively by Andrew Hartman and David Baronov. Hartman’s historical essay on standardized testing reform takes as its point of departure the tacit dominant-culture bias built into supposedly objective test-measurements. Within this setting, he traces an evolving search for balance between the concern for educational rigor and the requirements of justice, focusing on the important pedagogical work of Fanny Jackson Coppin (a former slave) and Anna Julia Cooper. The issues in formal schooling find close parallels in those affecting public health, as Baronov shows in his article on Puerto Rico. Drawing on first-hand observation, he demonstrates the negative effects of the official, essentially colonial approach to AIDS education and the positive potential of a democratically grounded approach.
In terms of present-day activism, we examine strategies involving both mass action and access to elective office. When the G8 leaders carried their annual gathering, in June 2002, to the remote Canadian Rockies, anti-corporate-globalization activists sought to follow them. Macdonald Stainsby gives a first-hand account not just of the demonstrations but also of the thinking behind them, addressing such questions as how to define the issues, how to link diverse constituencies, and how to maintain broad participation even in the face of official repression. The ultimate question, as he concludes, is how to move from an oppositional to a proactive role. Bill Smaldone takes up this challenge as he reflects on his own experience as an elected member of the Salem (Oregon) City Council, representing the Pacific Green Party. He has some encouraging observations about the popularity of progressive measures but also some sobering ones about obstacles to implementing them, including the enormous task of tapping the energy of those who would stand most to benefit.
Finally, we should mention our longest-ever section of book reviews, virtually all of which elaborate-often in considerable detail-on themes of the various articles, ranging from racism and imperialism to movement history, memoirs, and literary and philosophical reflection.