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Letters to the editor

January 23, 2004 | Page 4

Message of Cold Mountain
Step forward on gay marriage
Justifying Israel's barbaric occupation

Taking an honest look at the Zapatistas

Dear Socialist Worker,
A recent letter by a reader named Lukas (SW, January 9) goes to great lengths to distort what SW has said about Mexico's Zapatista movement. First, the Zapatistas' struggle against the Mexican government deserves the unconditional support of all socialists and fighters for social justice.

But does this mean the Zapatistas are above criticism? No movement is--our struggles grow and strengthen through criticism and debate.

Lukas argues that the EZLN are "indigenous socialists." But in a recent interview in the Mexican magazine Proceso, Subcommander Marcos stated, "We believe that free enterprise can learn to relate to us...We are not planning the return of primitive communism, nor the ruthless implementation of equality...The powerful of this country do not realize that their days are numbered, and not because...the people will rise up and install a socialist republic, but rather because their own fortunes are in the sights of the large capitalists of other countries."

Lukas also praises the EZLN's "refusal to try to seize power." Many see this as a step forward for the left internationally. But this is actually a step back.

The EZLN's refusal to put forward a program of social change for Mexico as a whole, and a way to get there, means that they have retreated from even the revolutionary nationalist goals of past guerrilla movements in Latin America, such as Che Guevara's 26th of July Movement, or the Sandinistas of Nicaragua.

Lukas also accuses SW of depicting Marcos as "ruling over the EZLN and the support communities" because he is a "European-looking male." This is an odd accusation, not just because it has no basis in fact, but also because Marcos is the EZLN's internationally recognized spokesperson, and his public statements are generally accepted by as reflecting EZLN policy.

Ultimately, SW argues that the working class, united with the peasantry, has the power to bring revolutionary change in Latin America from below, and build a socialist society. This is not rule by a "select elite"--which guerrilla struggles in the past have produced--but democratic rule by working people themselves.

If "vanguardism" means arguing for revolutionary change and trying to win people to a broader struggle against the whole system, then SW is guilty as charged.

Stuart Easterling, Pittsburgh

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Message of Cold Mountain

Dear Socialist Worker,
Donny Schraffenberger's review of Cold Mountain (SW, January 9) is a misrepresentation of the film. The movie does not "glowingly portray the 'righteous' Southern cause" but, rather, demonstrates how poor Southern whites were used to fight a rich man's war.

The wartime fervor that Inman and the other young men from the backcountry North Carolina town of Cold Mountain initially fall prey to quickly gives way to disillusionment in the face of the horrific realities of warfare.

In Charles Frazier's book, the class nature of the war is even clearer than in the film. The reason that the life of Southern Blacks is largely absent is that the poor whites in Cold Mountain do not own any. Yet they are expected to fight a war to defend the institution of slavery that Frazier makes clear they do not benefit from.

Both the book and film also make it clear that the rich slaveholding class that lives in places like Charleston (which Ada and her minister father leave due to their disgust with these very people) callously sent poor backcountry whites to be slaughtered by the North.

Schraffenberger uses the examples of the attempt of Union soldiers to rape a defenseless Southern woman and the refusal of a group of "runaway slaves" to share their eggs with Inman as proof that the movie is pro-Confederate and racist. These two scenes can be seen in another light.

One of the three Northern soldiers actually tries to protect the woman and child, but is killed nevertheless. And why expect the runaway slaves to trust a random white stranger, let alone share their meager food stores with him? Wouldn't it be far more problematic to portray them as meek and giving?

The point of Cold Mountain is not to celebrate the victory of the North in the Civil War. Rather, it is to illustrate the humanity and resilience of the other victims of the Southern system--poor Southern whites who, as Frazier himself puts it, were "caught in the crossfire of two incompatible economies."

Sarah Hines, New York City

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Step forward on gay marriage

Dear Socialist Worker,
I wanted to add a couple of points to the ongoing discussion of the issue of gay marriage in Socialist Worker. Jeff Bale's original article ("Behind the furor over gay marriage," SW, December 5) argued that the gay movement's focus on the right to marry reflects a shift to the right from its revolutionary politics in the 1970s. This is wrong on two counts.

First, gay marriage has been put on center stage nationally by the initiative of the right wing, not because of any coordinated pressure by mainstream gay organizations. Mainstream gay lobbyists have been timid about even raising the demand for equal marriage rights.

Recently, the Washington Blade reported that even now, some D.C. activists want to wait to win gay marriage--in a city where most city council members and the mayor say that they would support it--for a "more favorable" environment in Congress and the White House.

Second, comparing where we're at today to the state of gay politics at the height of a wave of mass struggle is disorienting. A real movement for gay marriage would be a phenomenal step forward from the passivity that has gripped the gay movement since Clinton moved into the White House.

Winning gay marriage would be incredibly important for working-class gays and lesbians--not only for the crucial rights it would bring, from immigration to health benefits, but also because of what such a victory would do to change popular consciousness on questions of gay rights. The fight for gay marriage is one socialists should embrace without hesitation.

David Thurston, New York City

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Justifying Israel's barbaric occupation

Dear Socialist Worker,
I was sick to my stomach while reading an interview with historian Benny Morris in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. Benny Morris was known for years as a "left" Zionist writer who exposed the crimes of the Zionists during the 1948 war that first terrorized, and then expelled, the Palestinians from their land.

After coolly describing rapes and massacres that the Israeli forces committed against the Palestinians, he goes on to say, "I don't think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands...There are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing."

He then goes on to say that the problem was not that too many Palestinians were "cleansed" from their land and exiled, but too few. As for the massacres of hundreds of innocent civilians, Morris shrugs them off and dismissed them as "peanuts" and "chicken feed" in comparison to other massacres.

Tragically, I think that Morris is not alone among so-called soft Zionists who believe that the barbarism of the Holocaust justifies any manner of oppression of the Palestinians. This interview, which can be found at, should be used by activists mobilizing against the war and occupations in Iraq and Palestine to help sway those who are unclear about the real origins and aims of the Israeli state.

Sherry Wolf, Chicago

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