Announcing the March 1999 issue of Communist Voice:
Kosovo: No to NATO and Milosevic;
Habibie's reforms fail to quell Indonesian struggle;
Zyuganov's anti-Semitism; Mao vs. left in cultural revolution;
Postmodernism versus materialism, Sokal's critique, and
dialectical materialism

The twentieth issue of CV, vol. 5, #1 (March 28, 1999, 62 pages total, 57 pages of text)
contains the following articles:

Briefly on these articles:

The following excerpts provide a glimpse into the content of the articles:

No to Milosevic, NATO, and the big power Contact Group!
by Joseph Green

. In the last few days the Serbian state-capitalist government has stepped up the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, burning villages and towns, and massacring Albanian Kosovars. This is their long-expected spring offensive, and it is a horrible crime against Humanity.

. Clinton and NATO have also begun bombing military facilities in Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). They are demanding an end to the massacres. But they also have their own agenda.The Rambouillet agreement they are seeking to enforce, like the Dayton agreement for Bosnia, is an unprincipled and unworkable mess which will leave the big powers the arbiters of the region.

. The war between Serbia and NATO is based on disagreement over the fate of Kosovo, but neither side stands for the democratic rights of the Kosovan people.

. So long as the question of Kosovan independence isn't solved in a democratic way, there will be turmoil and bloodshed of one sort or another. Peoples will be incited against each other, and the conditions for new wars will be created.

. The conflict between Serbia and NATO is one example of how the oppression of the Albanian Kosovars can lead to a wide war.

. Progressive activists should denounce both the Serbian government and NATO. We must demand the right for self-determination for Kosovo (and the rights of national minorities); it is the only progressive way to resolve the national question in Kosovo and it would also give the best chance to avert a wider tragedy in the Balkans. We must also support the development of class-conscious proletarian trends in Kosovo and Serbia.

INDONESIA: Habibie's reforms fail to quell the struggle of the masses!
by Mark, Detroit

. In May 1998 a mighty upsurge of the Indonesian masses toppled the 32-year reign of terror of the U.S.-backed Suharto regime. But the May 1998 uprising did not uproot the repressive institutions of the Suharto tyranny. Suharto's protege, B.J. Habibie, came to power with the close backing of General Wiranto, a top general of the Suharto era.

. Suharto is gone, but the period of upheaval continues. Behind this lies the struggle of classes, each fighting to determine the outcome of the post-Suharto democratization process. The Habibie regime, which represents the capitalists most favored by Suharto and the system of semi-military rule, has tried to change as little as possible. Besides Habibie's ruling Golkar party, there are the parties of the bourgeoisie which weakly advocated some minor reforms under Suharto, led by figures like Megawati Sukarnoputri of the Indonesian Democratic Party, and Amien Rais, of the national Mandate Party, who has a power base in one of the largest Muslim organizations. They have their quibbles with Habibie, but, since Habibie is offering them more power, and since they too support class exploitation, they are generally satisfied with the pace and scope of reform under Habibie. But the oppressed masses are of a different mind. They want the fullest freedom and are striving to use this period to intensify the struggle for their social demands and building organizations to fight on their behalf.

On recent remarks of Gennady Zyuganov,
leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation:
by Mark, Detroit

. The Russian working masses have suffered greatly under the reign of Boris Yeltsin. His headlong dash to replace the former economy run by the old state-capitalist bureaucracy with a privatized market-capitalist economy has been an unqualified disaster.

. In this situation, the so-called Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), led by Gennady Zyuganov, has put itself forward as the alternative. It has become the most powerful party in the Russian parliament, the Duma. The CPRF even has ministries in the Primakov government. Meanwhile, around the world various leftists are preaching faith in the CPRF. For them the growth of the CPRF means the workers will have a powerful champion. But these hopes are misplaced. The CPRF is rotten to the core. It is so politically bankrupt that its main source of notoriety in the past few months has been the virulent anti-Semitic outbursts of its legislative representatives in the Duma and the defense of these atrocities by the party's leader, Zyuganov. The CPRF have reduced the critique of Yeltsin's neo-liberalism to disgusting chauvinist garbage scapegoating `the Jews' for the problems caused by market capitalism. Thus, Zyuganov and company are dragging Russian politics back to the days of the Czarist pogrom.

. How is it that a supposedly "socialist" party could descend to such depths? The trend that gave rise to the CPRF long ago betrayed the class interests of the workers. The CPRF was formed in 1993 from the tattered remnants of the so-called Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).The CPSU was the ruling party of the former system which masqueraded as socialism while, in fact, the high government and party officials lorded over the workers, denied them their rights, and grew fat by treating the state economy as a treasure chest for the elite. The present CPRF, like the former ruling CPSU, cloaks itself in the mantle of socialism and communism, but its leadership has no more to do with these things than the former ruling party. Today the CPRF does not oppose private capitalism per se, but merely wants to reform the present system of wanton exploitation a bit. They demagogically denounce the government while they themselves are in the government and their ministers merrily help shove pro-capitalist policies down the throats of the masses.

. The corrupt stands of Zyuganov thus flow from the corrupt former state-capitalist politics.

MAO VS. THE LEFT: The rise and suppression of the `ultra-left'
in the Chinese cultural revolution
by Pete Brown

. Assessing the Chinese cultural revolution is a complex undertaking. For one thing it is necessary to oppose the present-day rightist atmosphere that prevails in both the U.S. and China and that labels any movement of the masses as "insanity". But it's also necessary to oppose the diehard enthusiasm of the Maoists and "Gang of Four" cheering squads like the RCP,USA, who negate serious analysis of this period. Mao led the cultural revolution, and the cultural revolution spawned a mass movement that was to some degree a genuine expression of revolutionary sentiments. But it doesn't follow that Mao led, or wanted to lead, a genuine revolutionary movement. Such a movement would have smashed up the state-capitalist bureaucracy he headed and established a revolutionary-democratic regime based on the working class and poor peasantry who made up the vast, vast majority of the population. Far from trying to lead such a movement, Mao worked to suppress those who were striving to build it.

. From the standpoint of the struggle against revisionism, the most interesting feature of the cultural revolution was the rise and demise of the "Ultra-left," the movement *to the left of* Mao and the other leading Maoists (Lin Biao, the Gang of Four, etc.) The Maoists themselves were leading lights of the state-capitalist system that congealed after China's liberation in 1949. This is precisely the system that needed to be revolutionized. Mao, despite his calls against bourgeois elements in the party, essentially backed the system. Hence he ended up with a factional struggle against his enemies. As the cultural revolution went on, its sectarian character became more and more clear to everyone; which is why eventually the masses became disillusioned with the whole thing.

. But the interesting is that, beyond Mao's limited aims, the working masses did take up genuine struggles in the midst of the cultural revolution. They did fight for political and economic reforms. They did target revisionism and capitalism. They did strive to build their own independent political organizations.

. The Red Guard organizations that emerged in early summer '66 were composed of the children of cadres, the offspring of party and government bureaucrats. They actually came from relatively privileged backgrounds. But the "16-point decision" of August 1966 changed the character of the movement. According to the Central Committee, now ordinary people with suspect class backgrounds could heave a sigh of relief. They were not to be isolated and picked on by Red Guard contingents. Activists instead were supposed to be aiming their fire at party committees themselves. Many new elements came forward to join Red Guard contingents. And in fact a whole new stratum of organizations was formed, called "revolutionary Red Guards." This trend had a sharper, more leftist, political line than the original Red Guards.

. From now on the cultural revolution was marked by sharp clashes between competing groups of Red Guard contingents. From the outsides these often appear as senseless factional struggles (and some of them were). But there was a clear difference in membership and orientation between the original, more conservative Red Guards and the revolutionary Red Guards. Members of revolutionary Red Guard contingents were generally *not* the cream of the crop in Chinese society, generally not the children of party cadres, military officers, government bureaucrats, etc.they were not the most experienced and articulate political activists. But they came from strata with very definite and heartfelt grievances about the present system.


Book review: Alan Sokal's new anti-postmodernist book: Fashionable Nonsense
by Tim Hall

. Fashionable Nonsense, a book by the physicists Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont attacking postmodernism's misuse of science, has now appeared in English. Sokal reproduces lengthy quotes from pomo gurus who rely heavily on apparently scientific concepts to support their postmodernist conclusions. Devoting a chapter to each, Sokal asserts that these writers' use of scientific terminology is almost entirely false and inaccurate. Sokal's exposure of the fraudulent nature of these authors' use of science is a real blow the postmodernist current. Knocking a few bricks out of a foundation can destabilize a whole building.

. But Sokal's book, while a real blow to the pomo gurus and their relativism, seems to me to have weaknesses which leave unanswered a number of serious questions on the minds of progressive people. Engels, writing in 1886, pointed out that materialism "has to change its form with each epoch-making discovery in the sphere of natural science." This means that materialism itself cannot be satisfied with merely reasserting its old truths (though that does play a positive role, a role that Sokal is playing). Materialism must adapt its form to the new knowledge without throwing away its essence. In his parody of postmodernism (which is an appendix to his book), Sokal cites several of the major discoveries of quantum mechanics which I think are fundamental to recent science but which may seem to the lay person to confirm relativism, such as Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, and the quantum-mechanical "principle of complementarity or dialecticism". Sokal's book contains no explanation of these discoveries in light of a materialist world view. The world view of science, while largely materialist, has long been and, I think, remains, largely mechanical. While scientists may, in their specialties, deal with leaps, abrupt changes, flux and indeterminacies, they generally have an overall mechanical view of their fields and of science in general. This is why--in part--the discoveries of quantum mechanics were such a shock to the 19th century scientific world view. But Marx and Engels had long since challenged this mechanical materialism in the social sciences and in natural science with another materialism, one more flexible, more able to explain change, breaks, dualities. This is the change of form of materialism required by a scientific revolution of which Engels spoke. It is still only beginning to take place.

. In this situation it's not enough to simply reassert the centrality of empirical evidence. That's fine. Sokal does it well, and it dispenses with a lot of pomo garbage. But if the above-mentioned quantum discoveries still stand, here are examples of empirical observation seemingly contradicting science's previously-held view of material reality. If one does not want to abandon materialism, one can re-investigate materialism itself to see whether there is a need for a revolution of form.

. That revolution can be provided by dialectics.

On Sokal and Bricmont's book Fashionable Nonsense:
by Joseph Green

. The book Fashionable Nonsense centers on two subjects. Besides puncturing postmodernist windbaggery about science, it also sets forward some basic materialist views about the nature of science and its relation to the external world. Mind you, Sokal and Bricmont rarely use the word "materialism", although it is not clear whether they are simply bowing before the general prejudices of academic circles against such an allegedly crude doctrine as materialism or whether they themselves share these prejudices. They avoid the term "materialism" by instead emphasizing that they are attacking "a potpourri of ideas, often poorly formulated, that go under the generic name of `relativism' " They criticize the views on science of such "relativists" as T.S.Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend and Bruno Latour.

. It is long overdue that two scientists should demolish the scientific pretensions of the postmodernist philosophers; indeed, Sokal and Bricmont laughed at them. Their book will be welcomed by all those who have felt oppressed by the high-flown verbiage and double-talk with which postmodern has sought to silence criticism.

. But is it really possible that postmodernism doubts the existence of an external or objective world? Do they really believe that "reality" is simply whatever a group of people agrees to accept as reality (i.e., that reality is a "social construction" or a "social text")? Well, the editors of the postmodernist magazine Social Text published Sokal's spoof "Transgressing the Boundaries" (which is an appendix to Sokal and Bricmont's book) which starts out by attacking "the dogma...which can be summarized briefly as follows: that there exists an external world,whose properties are independent of any individual human being and indeed of humanity as a whole..." Bruce Robbins, an editor of "Social Text", insists that "truth can be another source of oppression". Meanwhile the "strong program" in the sociology of science insists that the development of science should be explained completely independently of whether scientific theories are true or false.

. Fashionable Nonsense writes that among the "principal negative effects" of postmodernism is "a weakening of the political left". Indeed, Sokal has consistently described his motive for attacking postmodernism as to help cure a sickness in the left. But Sokal and Bricmont lack any perspective for dealing with the crisis of the left and simply urge rational thought and for the Left to "reclaim its Enlightenment roots". But progressive thought has advanced quite a bit since those days. By no means were all Enlightenment figures materialists, and even the materialists of the Enlightenment were limited in their outlook:

. Thus the left has to do a lot more than simply reclaim its Enlightenment roots. The postmodernists call on people to go backwards from the Enlightenment, which is absurd; the reply of the left can't be to stand pat on the Enlightenment, but to go forward from it.

Postal workers: vote no! The tentative contract settlement is an insult!
by Detroit Workers' Voice (DWV)

. Last November, contracts for the three largest postal unions (clerks, mailhandlers, and letter carriers) expired. This DWV leaflet exposes the miserly contract agreed to by the sell-out leaders of the APWU (clerks) and NPMHU (mailhandlers) unions. It helped develop the atmosphere that led to a picket-line protest at the General Mail Facility in downtown Detroit. Since then the contract passed by about a 2 to 1 vote, but with a majority of workers not voting at all. (There is still no settlement for the letter carriers.) The widespread discontent mainly took the form of widespread cynicism rather than active opposition. The way out of this dilemma is the development of a trend based on the rank-and-file organizing independent of the union bureaucrats.

Denounce the bombing of Iraq!
by Seattle supporters of the CVO and by DWV

. After years of starving the Iraqi people through sanctions the U.S. government has once again unleashed a war which will only bring them more suffering. This is a repulsive fight between the late-20th-century super-bullies headquartered in Washington and the small and weak bullies of the Saddam Hussein regime.

. The mountain of lies and hypocrisy issuing from the White House and Pentagon needs to be exposed and denounced among the masses of American people, and the capitalist-dominated mass media isn't going to do it. All those revolted by the latest imperialist savagery must rely on world-of-mouth, leaflets, and other means to spread the truth. Moreover, a movement against imperialism which can sustain itself has to be developed if we are to ever be in a position to prevent new rounds of bombing and war in the interests of the oil and other monopolists. For this to take place we need to become clearer on how the capitalist system is the root cause of these wars, and clearer on how it is that the interest of the working class is not only to oppose them but to overthrow the system giving rise to them. This demands the study and development of revolutionary theory. We think that this theory is Marxism-Leninism, and that only by overthrowing the imperialist system can new and worse wars than the present one be prevented.

. Some workers feel that this war cannot be opposed because brutal power politics is just "the way it is." Yes, it is the way it is in the world of imperialist power politics, and this is the kind of politics that is dominant in the world today. But there is another kind of politics based on the resistance and struggle of the workers and other oppressed people.

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