Struggle, vol. 11, #2-3,
Summer-Fall 1995 double issue:

Editorial: Our Literature and
Our Politics

by Tim Hall


. An English professor at Boston University, Roger Shattuck, is organizing a movement of his compatriots to oppose what they see as the intrusion of politics into literature. They want to eradicate the last vestige of the 60's struggles from the Academy and from contemporary literature. They are tired of people protesting the sexismof one author or the racism of another; they want a focus on "eternal" issues such as love, death, springtime and butterflies.

. The radical student or class-conscious worker can only laugh at this worn-out refrain. Politics, not the electoral puppet show but in its fullest sense as the clashes over the nature and direction of the central power of society, is the site of the most stirring, deeply significant and morally profound conflicts that face both the individual and the masses. Politics is interlocked with the "eternal" issues of love, death, grief, etc. , but it alone gives them their specific, and therefore full, flavor and importance. This is plain if you imagine how a Shattuck devotee, on the one hand, and a Marxist or radical leftist, might write a novel about the Viet Nam conflict:

* in a politics-free, Shattuckian version, a young man goes to a war somewhere, overcomes his cowardice, fights heroically but is killed by an implacable enemy, after which his family grieves miserably.
* version with revolutionary politics: a young Black worker, son of a local Southern civil rights leader, is drafted to fight for the government of the country that lynched his grandfather. He is sent to Viet Nam to destroy its independence so it can be a site of low-wage American and Japanese textile and electronics factories. But the poor farmer and worker youths of Viet Nam are not only motivated by a just cause which the Americans lack, but they ingeniously find ways to point out to Black soldiers that "No Viet Cong ever called you 'nigger. '" The young Black soldier deserts and joins the anti-war movement.

. In two words, the non-political approach is not only a LIE but it's also BORING. Or, to put it more analytically, the Shattuckian version evades the crucial specific questions which give comedy and tragedy their life and power and thus their ability to entertain and enlighten.

. So let's talk about the politics and artistic quality of the literature that we feature in our magazine. Struggle attempts to find and publish works which are political in the deeper sense, which give a critical view of capitalist society and depict struggle against it. We believe that it is this critical effort, in which the "eternal" themes are embedded in specific struggles of the oppressed, which makes these works interesting.

. A good example of a deeply political and powerful work is Tamar Diana Wilson de García's long poem "Only Chiapas?", which opens this issue. García's work is an eloquent poetic diatribe against the exploitation of Mexican and Mexican-American peasants and workers. It catalogues the heavy burdens these laborers have suffered under the yoke of Mexican and American capitalists and landowners. And, in its title and its last lines, the poem points to the Zapatista struggle in Chiapas as a symbol of hope. The world is in a period of low level of mass struggles of the workers' and progressive movements, and the Zapatista uprising is indeed a heroic and inspiring example of struggle. We support it and condemn the efforts of the Mexican government and its backers, U. S. imperialism and the international bourgeoisie, to put it down. García's poem brings to life for us the conditions which call for an uprising; thus it is both a creative and political act.

. But I would be remiss as an editor it I did not point out a few political "gaps," so to speak, which exist in García's poem and deprive it of some of the power it might have achieved. For one, it refers to exploitation of workers in the U. S. as only occurring "occasionally. " While it is true that the American capitalists extract super-profits from the extreme exploitation of low-wage workers in the Third World, these capitalists still maintain a considerable production base in the U. S. and they wouldn't do so, being capitalists, were it not profitable and thereby exploitative of American workers. In fact, this common exploitation, very much felt but not well expressed by large numbers of American workers, is the material basis of solidarity between us and our Mexican sisters and brothers. I wouldn't be producing this magazine if I didn't believe with all my heart that this basis exists. This exploitation and suffering is expressed in some of the other works in this issue. In all fairness, however, García's view is under- standable in a period when the struggles of American workers are at a particularly low ebb and it seems as if no outcry is being made against their exploitation. (Though the Labor Day weekend blockades in the Detroit newspaper strike are a hopeful sign. )

. There are two more aspects of García's poem that should be mentioned. In its chronicle of the struggles of generations of Mexican laborers, it describes the improvements of their lot solely as the result of unremitting personal labor. This travail is indeed heroic, but there were also the common struggles in which workers and peasants rose up together against the authorities: struggles in the Mexican auto plants, in the maquiladora plants, the farmworkers in the U. S. , the dry-wallers in L. A. , to mention a few.

. And, finally, there is García's use of Chiapas as the sole symbol of mass struggle for the Mexican workers and peasants. While we support this bold outbreak, a look at the program of the Zapatista leadership (see Communist Voice, Vol. 1, No. 2; an ad elsewhere in this issue gives ordering infor mation) shows that this program does not offer a path to liberation for the Mexican workers and peasants. The solution advocated by the Zapatista leadership for Mexican laborers is, essentially, land reform, improved rural cooperatives and a general democratization of the country. While land reform and improved rural cooperatives would temporarily improve the condition of poor peasants, these reforms would not prevent the growth of capitalism and class divisions in the countryside, nor do they offer much for the urban workers and poor, who are the growing sector of the Mexican population. Nor does the Zapatista demand for general democratization offer the urban workers anything beyond an opening in which to organize themselves but certainly not a program for social liberation. For Mexican and Mexican-American workers to really achieve their interests there must be revolutionary working-class (proletarian) organization and struggle in both countries.

. Ms. García's eloquent poem, despite a few weaknesses, stirs up the masses for struggle and creates internationalist understanding. My points have been made not to denigrate her work, which I greatly respect, but to contribute to honest dialogue on the nature of revolutionary and protest literature. It is Marxist, I believe, to give credit where credit is due but also to openly discuss differences and shortcomings, using as a standard what serves the forward motion of the working class and all oppressed, applying this standard in a flexible, not a dogmatic and rigid, way. A similar discussion could be held about several other works in this issue, but space does not permit. Literature is a complex and subtle field Struggle is trying to arouse its best practitioners to fight more and more effectively for the truth and the oppressed masses which it serves. And in this, Marxism is our guide, understood in its true dialectical sense and not in its clumsy distortions by the Stalinists, Trotskyists and later Soviet revisionists.

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