by Bill Dixon
Nineteen ninety-eight has not been good to global capitalism.
Collapsing markets, flaky third world tyrants, hostile public
opinion, a jittery IMF... and the bad news just keeps coming.
Even as international investors struggled to shake off the Asian
flu, negotiators announced in late February that attempts to rescue
the embattled Multilateral Agreement on Investment had failed.
After three years and countless rounds of negotiation, the MAI
finally seems to be as dead as Esperanto.
The MAI, a treaty designed to provide sweeping protections
for foreign investment against government regulation, was to be
the next great leap in the epic journey toward worldwide "neoliberalism".
Begun under the auspices of the Organization for Economic Cooperation
and Development (OECD), a twenty-nine member network of the world's
leading economic powers, the hope had been to do for foreign investment
what NAFTA, GATT, and the EU had done for "free" trade.
Get governments out of the way, went the premise, and let business
do what business does.
Yet something seems to have happened on the way to transnational
laissez-faire. As negotiations broke down, rumors began to circulate
that neither Europe nor the US remained particularly interested
in reviving them. Clearly, the planning of the global marketplace
had somehow gone radically awry.
Part of the problem was the ever widening disagreements among
MAI negotiators themselves. The European Union balked at American
demands that the US be allowed to use investment bans as an instrument
of foreign policy, as in the Helms-Burton sanctions against Cuba.
The US, in turn, opposed the EU's demand for special exceptions
for foreign investment in the EU. France and Canada pushed strongly
for controversial protections for cultural property rights. And
of course there remained the sticky issue of whether and how to
provide for labor and environmental standards. Meanwhile, many
third world countries, excluded from the OECD sessions, united
in their criticism of both the process and the content of the
negotiations, threatening a rocky future for the agreement's extension
out of the Northern hemisphere.
Many on the Left would also like to claim credit for the MAI's
demise, and probably deserve at least some of it. Shut out of
the negotiations from the beginning, a number of important labor
and environmental groups swore their opposition to the agreement
early and often.
When a draft of the treaty was leaked in 1997, the worst fears
of MAI critics were confirmed. As drafted the MAI was poised to
undermine an enormous range of government policies, all supposedly
in the name of fair play for big business. In response a small
but spirited international campaign against the MAI got under
way, sounding the alarm against the great menace posed by a complex
new legal apparatus of, by and for multinational corporations.
Even when later drafts penciled in vague references to "core
labor standards" and other lofty sounding commitments to
the greater good, the anti-MAI crowd still stuck to its guns.
Soon press reports and editorials started to trickle through the
US and European media, many of them expressing grave concerns
over the details of the mysterious, yet to be finalized new agreement.
The MAI also seems to have become a victim of what it was supposed
to prevent, namely a nervous international economic climate caused
by the domino effects of investor flight and collapsing crony
capitalisms in Asia. With the very unpopular and very expensive
IMF bailout currently using prodigious stores of both political
and economic capital among the Western powers, few OECD leaders
would look forward to campaigning for yet another controversial
In the US, some say the MAI's political fate was sealed with
the downfall of fast-track authority last autumn. After all, the
AFL-CIO, a handful of public interest groups, and a Democratic
minority overcame a united business community, the Republican
Congressional leadership, and a determined Democratic White House.
This did not bode well for the passage of the MAI, which as drafted
was far more aggressive in its curtailment of government sovereignty
than either GATT or NAFTA. And, obviously, an MAI without the
US wouldn't be worth much.
Does the end of MAI as we know it signal even a modest sea
change in the politics of globalization ? It's probably too soon
to say. Already there has been talk of breaking up the MAI's provisions
into smaller chunks, which then might be more easily introduced
through the World Trade Organization established under GATT. On
the other hand, the WTO might be an easier arena for the MAI's
opponents. The agreement was sent off to the OECD in the first
place only to save it from it's critics in the WTO in 1995.
Either way, the real issue for the Left isn't really tactical;
it's ideological. If the Left has any hope of entering the globalization
debate, it must begin to put forward a vision for a different
kind of international future, a clear and compelling alternative
to a global economy organized on behalf of transnational capital.
Until then, the Right's bad luck will remain the Left's only luck,
and we'll be sure to see the MAI again, in whole or in part, sooner
by Bob Roman
While the Clinton Administration has concluded that an agreement
on the MAI is unlikely by the OECD's self-imposed April 28 deadline,
and while representatives from the European members of the OECD
are resisting U.S. attempts to extend the deadline, the proposed
pact won't be dead until negotiators officially give up.
If the negotiators realize that the political realities are
not auspicious, the concepts behind the MAI retain a powerful
attraction. If MAI itself is unlikely, the ruling wealthy elite
is still actively seeking ways of accomplishing the same, half
a loaf or less at a time. Working people may have dodged the MAI
asteroid, but the stones keep falling.
The most recent attempt in the U.S. was HR 1432, the "African
Growth and Opportunity Act". The bill was introduced by Illinois'
very own Phil Crane. HR 1432 was touted as a way of increasing
trade with and investment in Sub-Sahran Africa; however, the bill
had a specific ideological and imperial agenda. Participation
was limited to those African countries that could be "certified"
as making progress toward having a "free market" economy.
The U.S. Information Agency would have been mandated to disseminate
propaganda in support of these reforms.
The bill was defeated, 193 to 224. I'm happy to say that DSA
member Major Owens voted against the bill (Dellums did not vote),
but many otherwise good, liberal Representatives such as Abercrombie,
Gutierrez, Waters and Yates voted for the bill. And why not? Absent
any ideological alternative that illuminates the class dimension
of bill's costs and benefits, the consequences of such legislation
Not all these initiatives are originating in the U.S. On March
11, the European Commission of the E.U. unanimously proposed to
open negotiations with the U.S. to form a "New Transatlantic
Marketplace". While the proposal is hardly more than an idea
at this point, the intent is to eliminate all industrial tariffs
Given the primitive state of our labor legislation, the E.U.
would probably suffer from this pact more than we would. The proposal,
in resembling the AFL-CIO's suggested "North Atlantic Free
Trade Agreement" alternative to NAFTA, could easily cause
another split among U.S. progressives. Absent class analysis,
special interest rules.
And if all this were not enough, the North American Free Trade
Agreement threatens to metastasize. On April 18, the "Summit
of Heads of States of the Americas" will be meeting in Santiago,
Chile, with the specific intent of coordinating efforts at expanding
NAFTA to all the Americas.
The choice of Santiago is symbolically appropriate. When Allende
nationalized Chile's telecommunication industry in 1973, William
F. Buckley ominously rumbled that this was not a "purely
internal" matter because it was theft. When the generals
destroyed Chile's legally elected government that fall and began
a program of slaughter and terror, many conservatives explained
that freedom of speech and assembly were unimportant if you were
unable to move your money where ever you please. Property rights
So while it is vital that people mobilize against these
proposals, mobilization is not enough. People need and politicians
need to understand both the material costs and benefits
to these proposals and their consequences to future society. Ideas
The Democratic Socialists of America
is opposed to the use of military force by the United States to
resolve the present impasse over the inspection of Iraqi weapon
sites by the United Nations.
Our opposition is based on three principles.
On political grounds, the Clinton Administration
has embarked upon a unilateral policy of military punishment of
Iraq that has no support from any major power except Britain,
and is in defiance of the stated policy of the United Nations
for a negotiated settlement to this impasse. It is high time that
the Clinton Administration learn that international cooperation
in the pursuit of peace including the possible use of U.N. sponsored
military force is the only defensible policy in today's interdependent
world. Today, the United Nations is the prime institutional arena
in which to seek and secure such international cooperation. The
present policy of the Clinton Administration, which bypasses the
United Nations and ignores the will of the great majority of nations,
is therefore indefensible. Ironically, the probable result of
the military action against Iraq will be a loss of U.S. credibility
around the globe.
On military grounds, the Clinton Administration
has embarked upon a strategy that is deeply flawed, with little
likelihood of securing its objective the full inspection of all
suspected Iraqi weapons sites. This is not simply the assessment
of democratic socialists in the U.S. It is even the assessment
of the Pentagon officials responsible for planning and carrying
out military action. For example, the headline of the Wall
Street Journal of February 17th states: "Pentagon Doubts
the Raids Will Bend Saddam's Will or Destroy Key Weapons."
Later in the article, Secretary of Defense Cohen "worried
whether inspectors would ever be allowed to resume their work.
The only way to get Saddam Hussein was to send in ground troops
and no one wanted that." The problem is the there are many
political leaders in the United States who want to go beyond the
stated objectives of the Clinton Administration. Speaker Gingrich
and Majority Leader Lott have expressly called for the elimination
of the Hussein regime and its replacement by a U.S.-friendly puppet
regime. Not even during the height of the Cold War were we witness
to such brazen and frankly imperialist rhetoric. The real danger
from the present military strategy is that it will be totally
unsuccessful in securing the stated political objective the full
inspection of all weapon sites and will simply provide justification
for those political leaders who are calling for further military
action including an invasion of Iraq.
On humanitarian grounds, the Clinton
Administration has embarked upon a course of action that is sure
to result in significant civilian casualties and severe damage
to non-miliary facilities. Even if the Administration's policy
had broader international support and had a more credible military
strategy, there would still be no moral justification for massive
bombing of "suspected" weapons sites because it would
surely endanger thousands of innocent Iraqis. Under the present
circumstances, the Administration policy is not only morally indefensible,
it is truly reprehensible.
As an alternative, the Democratic Socialists
of America continues to support the policy of the United Nations
for a negotiated settlement. In particular, we favor the further
relaxation of economic sanctions while continuing complete military
sanctions as an inducement toward full inspection of suspected
weapons facilities. We admit that pursuing the U.N. policy may
not guarantee Iraqi compliance. But, it has a better chance of
succeeding than the Administration's military action which, by
its own admission, will make compliance all but impossible. At
the same time, the U.N. policy will not result in the loss of
civilian lives inevitable with miliary action. Moreover, the relaxation
of economic sanctions will allow more medical supplies and basic
necessities to enter Iraq and curtail the ongoing civilian deprivations,
particularly among Iraqi children.
The present undemocratic government
in Iraq is, to be sure, a regime with a long record of political
and social abuses against its own citizens, and clear violations
of international law. We recognize, of course, that it is only
one of several such regimes around the world. What sets the Hussein
regime apart is its invasion of Kuwait, and the continuing apprehension
on the part of the Clinton Administration that Iraq may, in the
future, instigate further military actions that violate the sovereignty
of other nations. But, in truth, since the implementation of U.N.
resolutions pertaining to Iraq, there have been no such violations.
Moreover there are no indications that any such violations of
other nations' sovereignty will take place in the future. We can
only note with great chagrin that any unilateral military action
by the United States against Iraq would, in the eyes of many people,
constitute a violation of Iraq's national sovereignty, and would,
in effect, transform an aggressor nation into an aggrieved one.
So, the international sympathy for Iraq following this military
action may constitute a setback for the cause of democracy and
human rights around the world. And, it would again remind many
that the U.S. government is often to willing to be the world's
by Charity Crouse
Delegates from the University of Chicago DSA-Youth Section
drove 12 hours to the city of brotherly love for the annual Winter
Youth Section Conference on February 28 through March 1. The two
day event occurred on the campus of Bryn Mawr College, outside
Philadelphia. It provided young activists with the chance to acquaint
themselves with others members of the Youth Section, participate
in several informative workshops, and learn from long-time progressive
and socialist activists.
One of the main features of the conference was the "Activism
Through the Ages" panel discussion. The panel featured testimonials
from four brave souls who can take pride in their commitment.
Ruth Spitz, an original member of the New American Movement
and DSA, a feminist activist and an exemplary inspiration to women
activists everywhere, spoke candidly about her involvement in
the Young People's Socialist League during the late thirties and
Civil rights attorney and National Lawyers Guild founder Victor
Rabinowitz spoke about enduring as a principled radical during
the dark period that characterized the onset of the Cold War and
the damning scourge that was McCarthyism in America.
"Eternal Youth Section member" Joe Schwartz, from
the National Political Committee and Philadelphia DSA, spoke with
engaging wit about coming of age as a socialist in the late sixties,
early seventies, and the evolution of the New Left.
Jessica Shearer spoke of her journey through the period that
most Youth Section members have traveled through, her political
maturation, and demonstrated the strength of character that gives
the youth section confidence in supporting her as DSA-YS Co-Chair.
Additional panel discussions featured Chris Riddiough from
the National Political Committee speaking on the Progressive Challenge
and Rashid Henshaw from the Community Justice Center speaking
on the prison/education paradox.
More than ten workshops, on subjects ranging from radical ecology
to web page design to globalization, gave participants a chance
to inform themselves on current issues and discuss possibilities
for action, while meeting with activists from several political
arenas. Additionally, group discussions allowed Youth Section
members to share experiences with their own environments and voice
their thoughts on the future of DSA.
by Ron Baiman
On Feb. 18, the Greater Oak Park branch held a candidates forum
for Lydia C. Williams running for the State Senate for the 4th
District which includes most of Oak Park (North of the Eisenhower)
as well as Austin and Maywood. The meeting was held at my house
on a Saturday morning. About 10 people participated including
DSA member and Oak Parker Larry Shapiro, who was Lydia's Campaign
manager, and several comrades from the West Suburban branch.
As we were about to start Congressman Danny Davis (7th Congressional
District including Oak Park and Austin and loop areas) appeared
at the door with Lydia Williams, who has worked for many years
with his 29th Ward People's Assembly. Danny Davis gave an eloquent
talk on his admiration for DSA and what it stands for and on how
he came to back Lydia Williams.
Ms. Williams than began speaking describing her life of activism,
which goes back to Martin Luther King, and her motivation for
running. She was tired of electing people who back off of the
progressive agenda that got them elected once their in office.
A single Mom from Austin who worked her way through Northwestern
University, she spoke as one who also knows what personal struggle
is about. Questions from the participants were pointed and substantive.
We talked about taxes, welfare reform, school funding, and other
key issues of state government.
by Bill Mosley and Mark Weinberg
Last November's DSA Convention adopted a resolution urging
DSA locals to help the District of Columbia in the struggle to
defend local institutions against continued assault on home rule.
Chicago DSA members should be aware of the background on the struggle
for democracy in the District of Columbia and of a few small things
they can do for this cause.
Last summer Congress passed a bill, signed by President Clinton,
that effectively dismantled the last remnants of local government
accountable to the people of the District of Columbia. This city
of a half million people enjoyed limited home rule between 1974
and last summer, with an elected mayor, city council and school
board. Congress could and did veto District legislation and impose
measures on the city over the heads of the elected government.
Conservative legislators imposed their regressive social policies
on the District, requiring a vote on the death penalty (which
voters overwhelmingly rejected) and banning benefits for unmarried
partners of city employees. In addition, lawmakers from Maryland
and Virginia choked off the city's attempts to equalize the growing
urban-suburban resource gap, such as proposed taxes and fees on
suburban commuters, funding sources upon which many U.S. cities
rely. The District, with only a non-voting "delegate"
in Congress, had no leverage to block such punitive measures.
The movement for statehood, supported by DC/MD/NOVA DSA, gained
momentum after a constitutional amendment to give the district
voting representation failed. Under statehood, only the portion
of the District containing Federal establishments would constitute
the "federal district"; the rest of the 67 square mile
city would become the 51st state, dubbed "New Columbia"
by statehood advocates. It is possible and would be ironic for
Puerto Rico to gain statehood before the District of Columbia
secures home rule. The statehood movement drafted a constitution
which was overwhelmingly approved by D.C. voters, yet in 1993
Congress voted 153 to 277 against statehood.
With the Republican takeover in Congress in 1994, Newt Gingrich
and his minions wasted no time in attacking the home rule movement.
Almost immediately, Congress established a control board with
expansive powers in city affairs. The board included no local
elected officials. The mounting city budget deficit was used to
justify spending cuts and contributed to a further deterioration
in city services. Congress did nothing to generate new revenue.
The final blow came last August when Congress, in the dead
of night and without warning, inserted into a "financial
rescue package" for the city a measure expanding the powers
of the control board. The mayor, city council and school board
still occupied their offices and drew salaries but were largely
Just recently, an outsider with a questionable reputation was
given city manager duties. Gingrich's contingent wants to make
D.C. a "laboratory" for Republican ideas. Under consideration
are vouchers for private and parochial schools, outlawing funding
for reproductive choice for poor women, and an arbitrary cap on
welfare benefits that is not applicable to the states.
These latest outrages have caused a grassroots movement to
catch fire overnight, with support from national organizations
such as the NAACP, the Rainbow Coalition and the National Council
of Negro Women. A coordinating committee, Stand Up for Democracy
in D.C., led a successful march on Congress and weekly demonstrations
at the Capitol or the White House. The local movement, although
divided between supporters and opponents of Mayor Marion Barry,
is multiracial and multi-class and united in the view that suspending
local home rule will not solve the District's problems.
Race is no small part of the equation. The District is majority
African-American while its self-appointed Congressional overseers
are white and predominately Southern. Many chafe at the prospect
of a black-led local government in the "federal city".
The first part of building a pro-democracy movement is well
underway: building the local grassroots movement. The second part
is carrying the struggle beyond the District's borders to the
rest of the United States and the world. There has been progress
here as well. Already the Human Rights Commission of the United
Nations, in a little reported story, found the status of the District
a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights. In January a Federal appeals court ruled that the control
board overstepped its authority when it usurped the power of the
elected school board.
As the expansion of democracy is the central tenet of DSA,
we should be involved. What is to be done? As a start, Chicago
DSA members and friends are encouraged to make phone calls and
write letters to their members of Congress. We should place op-eds
in local papers in support of self-rule for D.C. If you need a
sample letter of phone script or other information, please call
Mark Weinberg at the Chicago DSA office: (773) 384-0327. Senator
Durbin's Chicago number is (312) 353-4952 and Senator Moseley-Braun's
Chicago number is (312) 353-5420. Also, please send Mark Weinberg
copies of Congressional responses and published letters and articles
to pass on the DC/MD/NOVA DSA.
by David Williams
Toward an Inclusive Democracy: the
Crisis of the Growth Economy and the Need for a New Liberatory
Project. by Takis Fotopoulos.
Cassell, 1997, 401pp, $24.95 paperback.
The Conserver Society: Alternatives
for Sustainability. by
Ted Trainer. Zed Books, 1995, 246pp, $19.95 paperback
With the collapse or retreat of various forms of state socialism
ranging from former Eastern bloc communism to social - democratic
welfare capitalism, the political left everywhere has been debating
the meaning of socialism and the very possibility for humane and
democratic alternatives to global capitalism. In recent decades
various manifestations of the green movement have emerged internationally
to augur possible third ways between market capitalism and the
bureaucratic pitfalls of state socialism. While traditional adherents
of democratic socialisms have been debating such issues as plan
versus market, left green theorists have been grappling with similar
The two books cited above offer, in my opinion, the most developed
blueprints to date on how to fashion a nonmarket, nonbureaucratic
alternative to global capitalism that is democratic and ecologically
sustainable. Both begin with sharp critiques of the inhumanity
and ecological unsustainability of the industrial growth economy
in its capitalist and socialists forms then proceed to lay out
concrete economic and political alternatives.
Ted Trainer is an Australian environmental thinker and activists
at the University of New South Wales who authored an earlier version
of his thinking in the widely read book Abandon Affluence!
(also published by Zed in 1985). His strengths lie in being able
to offer tangibly concrete models at the neighborhood or community
level on how to reorganize housing, energy, food production, light
industry, etc., in ways that can sustain people at a reasonably
comfortable material basis while engaging them in democratically
cooperative work and governance. While he does not ignore the
problems of how to link such partially self-sustaining communities
in a broader economy as well as integrating inescapably large-scale
manufacturing or high-tech industries and enterprises into this
model his vision sometimes imparts a certain understandable sketchiness.
On the other hand, as a professional economist (transplanted
from Greece to the U.K.), Takis Fotopoulos seems to simply assume
much of what Trainer lays out in terms of the "techno-ecological"
substructure of a future sustainable economy while going into
great detail on the institutional workings of what could be termed
a "municipal confederal democracy" or (Takis's formulation)
"a confederal inclusive democracy". Those familiar with
the writings of Murray Bookchin will find much that is familiar
here, and until recently Murray served on the editorial board
of Society and Nature (now renamed Democracy and Nature).
As the international editor and chief theorists of Democracy
and Nature, Fotopoulos has developed many of his economic
and political conceptions in its pages since its inception in
the early 1990s. Here they are all brought together in a brilliant
tour de force which qualifies as a major contribution to
the ongoing debate over left alternatives to capitalism. While
the first half of the book is an in-depth critique of "the
crisis of the growth economy" in its market capitalist and
socialist statist forms, the second half presents in exquisite
detail the institutional mechanics of how to develop a popular
and workable democracy from the local up to the regional and to
the national levels. Through an innovative system of basic and
non-basic vouchers combined with democratic decision making in
the community and in the workplace, Fotopoulos offers a plausible
solution to the problems which have bedeviled the plan versus
market debate for most of the 20th Century (see diagram for an
inkling of his intriguing model).
Towards an Inclusive Democracy is a book which deserves
to be examined and critiqued in far more depth by those who have
been involved in the plan versus market debate and especially
by those with a solid grounding in economics. Although Fotopoulos
describes himself as an anarchist, his vision, in my opinion is
entirely compatible with the best elements of democratic or libertarian
These two books are complementary and should be read together
in our continuing struggle to fashion a socialist road-map to
the 21st Century.
by Rodger C. Field
For most Americans, the beginning of the environmental movement
can be pinpointed with uncommon precision: Earth Day, April 22,
1970. In the small New England town where I was teaching at the
time, school children and townspeople showed support by picking
up trash along Route 201. Ten million others were reported to
have participated in one form or another, including large rallies
in New York and Washington D.C. and a special message from Richard
Nixon. The media caught the spirit with stories about the "new
environmentalism"; the "dawning of the Environmental
decade" and the like.
It's hard to believe that the almost festive atmosphere of
Earth Day occurred at the height of the anti-war protests in the
United States. Within weeks of Earth Day, four student protesters
were killed at Kent State and six others at Jackson State in Mississippi.
It is probably not surprising that a movement which was born
with this de politicized attitude has failed to articulate an
adequate political vision. Instead, we have a mainstream environmental
movement which relies by and large on individualized action (e.g.,
recycling) and on technological controls over large pollution
sources. Until recently, environmentalists have had very little
to say about the systemic causes of pollution or the methods which
will be necessary to address the excesses of our current means
of production, let alone about racism, poverty or other significant
issues of our troubled times. Indeed, some environmentalists make
a virtue of this failure in such slogans as "Neither left
nor right, but straight ahead".
One important reason for this lack of political critique is
the unexamined acceptance of the assumption that there is one
environmental movement and that it was born, full-grown on Earth
Day. In fact, there are a number of environmentalisms in this
country: wilderness preservation, animal rights and the like.
But it is in the rich, class-based struggle to control the excesses
of unrestrained industrialism where environmentalism and socialism
can most easily be seen to meet. It is this history we must now
recapture and learn from. In the United States, this history dates
back at least to Jane Addams and her fellow urban reformers (some
of whom were labeled "sewer socialists"). This is the
history of the Factory Laws which regulated business activity
and of the first Smoke Laws enacted in the early industrial cities
of Chicago and Pittsburgh, and of the struggle for workplace health
and safety protections.
Urbanization may be the most significant phenomenon of the
20th century, and the urban reformers who endeavored to improve
conditions for the urban poor during the first part of the century
were nothing if not environmentalists. Alice Hamilton, long-time
resident at Hull House, a settlement house in Chicago founded
by Jane Addams in the 1890's, was a pioneer industrial environmentalist.
She reported on lead contamination, suggested changes in the production
of matches to reduce the use of white phosphorous, and investigated
the connection between sewage and typhoid. Jane Addams herself
was garbage inspector for the 19th ward in Chicago.
The problems endemic to the period of Jane Addams parallel
those of today: water quality, sewage and sanitation, solid and
hazardous waste, air quality. Urban reformers of the 19th century
learned that to improve the living conditions of poor neighborhoods,
they had to engage in what we would now call environmental struggles.
This is similar to what Frederich Engels observed about 1840's
Manchester: that dirty air, dirty water and dirty industries are
invariably located in poor neighborhoods far removed from middle-class
These are lessons which remain important today. For many city
dwellers, especially those in poor neighborhoods, the environment
has come to be a distant, middle-class "amenity" issue.
In the same way that the symbols of open spaces and wild nature
are distant from the lives of most urban dwellers, the environment
as a political issue has also become distant, abstract and de
But this need not be the case as the history of urban reform
demonstrates. We need to relearn that the environment is not only
about preserving wilderness in some faraway place, but as Dana
Alston told the delegates to the first national People of Color
Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991, the environment is "where
we live, where we work and where we play".
This is exactly the message that comes increasingly from grass-roots
organizations all over the United States. These organizations
comprise what is sometimes called the Environmental Justice movement.
Some of the most vibrant of these organizations are located within
the Chicagoland area: People for Community Recovery, headed by
Hazel Johnson (the "mother" of the environmental justice
movement) who is located in the Altgeld Gardens housing project
on the Southside and the coalition of groups which have recently
come together to advocate with great success designating portions
of the Calumet area in Southeast Chicago as a National Heritage
The issues which spark these organizations are intensely local
and varied: opposition to a proposed land fill or incinerator,
cleaning up a local waterway, reclaiming an abandoned lot. Yet
there are two themes which emerge again and again: (1) the need
for greater community control over the local environment; and
(2) the need to prevent some communities (usually poor or minority)
from bearing disproportionate risks of environmental harm from
our industrialized system of production.
The implications of this struggle are profound. The Environmental
Justice movement calls into question environmental regulations
which over rely on pollution control rather than pollution prevention.
Take, for example, lead contamination, probably the most significant
urban environmental issue. The sources of lead pollution (lead
in gasoline, lead in paint and lead in plumbing fixtures) cannot
be addressed by controlling lead emissions from factories. Addressing
lead contamination, then, requires changing the way we produce
gasoline and paint and how we install piping. In short, it calls
for greater community control over the economic decisions which
affect people's lives.
When our understanding of what constitutes an environmental
issue expands to include the whole range of community concerns,
the environmental movement can begin to speak to the most profound
issues of our times. Why, in the United States, are three out
of four hazardous waste sites located in minority communities;
or why do nearly 70% of all inner-city African-American children
have blood-lead levels higher than established trigger-levels;
or why are our cities pock-marked with unused lots which have
been abandoned and trashed?
It is well-established that health correlates to race and income.
For the first time this century African-American life expectancy
actually declined during the 1980s. Age-specific death rates are
higher for Blacks in all age groups from 0-84 compared to Whites,
and death rates from cancer are 33% greater for Black males and
16% greater for black females. Two examples are particularly illustrative.
Asthma is on the rise in the United States among all children,
but African-American children have the greatest impairments from
asthma and the most frequent hospitalizations. Death rates from
asthma are far greater for Blacks than for Whites.
These questions beg for a systemic analysis - not only of industrialization
and the economic sphere, but the relationship between environmental
degradation and capitalism. These are large issues which hold
the potential for reconsidering the basic structure of our environmental
laws. Not only does this force us to expand our notion of environmentalism,
but, by becoming conscious of who benefits and who suffers from
our industrialized economy, it promises a re politicized environmentalism
which should be a the heart of any socialist vision.
by Ralph Suter
DSA members around the nation are guided, influenced, and motivated
by many different and sometimes sharply conflicting theories about
how best to understand and respond to society's problems.
Many DSA members remain active in the Democratic Party. But
others have decided to become active in the New Party, the Labor
Party, the Socialist Party, the Green Party, etc.
There are also many who have soured on electoral politics and
believe that other kinds of activism are more promising right
now for example, involvement with a non-party multi-issue organization
such as the Alliance for Democracy or efforts to form a new mass
membership organization of the kind that National Political Committee
member Joe Schwartz has proposed.
Others continue to believe in the importance of electoral politics
but think that much more energy should be put into achieving major
campaign finance reform or into reforming the U.S. electoral system.
And of course, DSA members are involved in all kinds of "single
issue" activities, from local labor, welfare, environmental,
health, and social justice issues to name a few.
In addition, there are DSA members who believe socialists should
begin putting a lot more energy and resources into forming alternative
economic institutions aimed at serving needs that capitalist enterprises
are not serving well (including the need for humane workplaces)
and even challenging capitalist enterprises in the marketplace.
The fact that DSA tolerates so much diversity of theory is
surely a healthy thing. What DSA lacks are adequate means for
enabling its members to confront this diversity with the aim of
increasing the areas of agreement, reducing the areas of disagreement,
and developing promising new ideas and proposals for advancing
the cause of socialism.
The Socialist Theory Project is a proposed response to this
lack. Its purpose would be "to encourage and facilitate the
development, critical discussion, testing, and publication of
well-reasoned and well-grounded theories about socialism and related
subjects, particularly capitalism and democracy." Despite
the name, the project would focus as much or more on concrete
strategy as on abstract theory. And it would be aimed not only
or even primarily at academic theorists but also at activists
interested in developing practical proposals for changing society.
Assuming there is sufficient interest in the project, its co-organizers
want to get it off the ground quickly. A preliminary project description
which argues for it's need and explains its proposed name will
be distributed both as a printed brochure and by email. Among
the first places the brochure will be distributed will be the
Socialist Scholars Conference being held March 20-22 in New York.
Everyone who is interested in learning more about the project,
particularly potential co-organizers and supporters, is invited
to contact the co-organizers at (773) 743-6130 or by email at
I use the term "market socialism" as a short-hand
designation to indicate socialized ownership of large firms but
rejection of sweeping detailed planning of the Soviet type, use
of market competition in a greater part of the economy, but with
whatever extensive exceptions, restrictions, and regulation
are necessary to keep market forces subordinate to social purposes,
through a large role of government, and also other modes of decision-making.
I refer readers to my proposals in the Journal of Comparative
Economics, September, 1977.
My conception includes a sector (A), to provide "a special
degree of government control for purposes of regulation or economic
planning", including "conventional nationalization",
and a sector (B), a "market socialist" sector, with
the stipulation that "the proposed conception is not concerned
to prejudge where, in the circumstances of a given country, the
demarcation between sectors (A) and (B) ought to be drawn"
To control oligopoly, my proposals provide for "disaggregation
of excessively large firms", through several routes, including
"special antitrust and divestiture legislation applying to
particular industries" and "provisions that would prohibit
conglomerate firms altogether" (pp. 250-1).
In order to provide incentives for the proposed local investment
banks to play the market game, local communities would be allowed
to benefit from periods of superior performance by their bank,
on a temporary basis, but national tax measures would trim back
these per capita disparities over time (p. 247). I also favor
extensive per capita general revenue sharing out of national taxation,
parallel to the proposed investment system.
There has been a long history of American socialists reacting
to the term "market socialism" by attributing
to authors a position of laissez-faire utterly contrary
to their actual views.
Ron Baiman continues this visceral tendency in a recent
letter to New Ground. Relying simply on a brief description
of my views by Perry Cartwright, Baiman declares that I would
allow "very large" inequities between communities and
"do nothing" to control oligopolistic power.
Baiman has jumped to conclusions utterly contrary to my actual
views and published proposals.
Leland G. Stauber