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New Ground 57

March - April, 1998


  • Bye-Bye M.A.I.? by Bill Dixon
  • ...Well, Not Quite by Bob Roman
  • Official Position of the Democratic Socialists of America on the Use of U.S. Military Force Against Iraq
  • DSA Youth Section Winter Conference by Charity Crouse
  • Greater Oak Park DSA Hosts Candidates Forum by Ron Baiman
  • Home Rule for the District of Columbia by Bill Mosley and Mark Weinberg
  • Ecology and Democracy by David Williams
  • Socialism and Environmentalism by Rodger C. Field
  • Socialist Theory Project: A Prospectus by Ralph Suter
  • Letters

  • Bye-Bye M.A.I.?

    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 economic treaty.

    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 or later....

    ...Well, Not Quite

    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 are unclear.

    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 by 2010.

    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 uber alles.

    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 matter.

    Official Position of the Democratic Socialists of America on the Use of U.S. Military Force Against Iraq

    · Adopted by the Steering Committee of the National Political Committee on February 18, 1998 ·

    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 unaccountable gendarme.

    DSA Youth Section Winter Conference

    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 early forties.

    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.

    Greater Oak Park DSA Hosts Candidates Forum

    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.

    Home Rule for the District of Columbia

    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 ceremonial officials.

    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.

    Ecology and Democracy

    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 problems.

    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 socialism.

    These two books are complementary and should be read together in our continuing struggle to fashion a socialist road-map to the 21st Century.

    Socialism and Environmentalism

    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 suburbs.

    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 politicized.

    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 area.

    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.

    Socialist Theory Project: A Prospectus

    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 Theoryproj@aol.com.


    Dear Editor,

    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" (pp 237-8).

    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

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