Against the Current, No. 116, May/June 2005

Against the Current, No. 116, May/June 2005

Debating Labor's Future

— The Editors

NEWS FLASH TO those among us from another planet: Unions in the United States are in crisis.  Declining membership, weakening bargaining clout, concessionary bargaining, the ravages of lean production, and a sustained assault on the limited workers' rights that were won in the past add up to a decidedly ugly picture (painted in further detail by Jerry Tucker elsewhere in this issue of Against the Current.)

A Military Resister and Conscientious Objector

— ATC Interviews Camilo Mejia

Sgt. Camilo Mejia, the first active-duty U.S. military resister to be imprisoned for refusing re-deployment to Iraq, spoke at a Detroit antiwar rally Friday, March 18, the day before attending the founding convention of Iraq Veterans Against the War in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Rebellions and Black Wealth

— Malik Miah

WHAT IS A working-class family’s most valuable asset? What does every family seek to own?

It is the family home — not just for security but also for retirement. This is true for all ethnic groups, all racial groups, all citizens, all new immigrants — whites, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos.

In fact, the fastest road to wealth, to increase net worth, is to own property, especially home ownership. Those of us living in California have seen double-digit increase in home values for many years.

Personal Reflections: Saving Social Security

— Dianne Feeley

MY DAD DIED when I was 15. I was going into my junior year of high school, my younger brother was still in grammar school. From then on my mother received a Social Security check for each of us until we graduated from high school, and — since I went to college — until I was 21. Unlike so many students today, I finished college debt free.

(It’s true I lived at home and attended a state college, which in California at the time had only a minimal student body fee. Each semester I’d spend about $100 on books, and that would total more than my fee.)

Witch Hunt vs. Academic Freedom

— Joseph Massad

Joseph Massad is assistant professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University, and has been among the prominent targets of a vicious campaign by right-wing and Zionist organizations against Middle East scholars. This is an excerpt from his March 14, 2005 statement to the Ad Hoc Committee of investigation formed by the Columbia University administration. For further background on the witchhunt against Middle East studies, see Joseph Massad, “Policing the Academy,” published in Al-Ahram Weekly, No. 633, 10-16 April 2003 (; and Joel Beinin, “The new American McCarthyism: policing thought about the Middle East,” Race and Class, v. 46 no. 1, July-September 2004.

I APPEAR BEFORE you today because of a campaign of intimidation to which I have been subjected for over three years. While this campaign was started by certain members of the Columbia faculty, and by outside forces using some of my students as conduits, it soon expanded to include members of the Columbia administration, the rightwing tabloid press, the Israeli press, and more locally the Columbia Spectator. Much of this preceded the David Project film “Columbia Unbecoming,” and the ensuing controversy.

Palestine: Victims of Violence

— Nurit Peled

[NURIT PELED DELIVERED this speech to the European Parliament on International Women’s Day. Nurit Peled is an Israeli peace activist (her father Gen. Mati Peled was instrumental in founding the Israeli peace movement in the 1970s). She and her husband work with Bereaved Families (Palestinian and Israeli). This text was posted on the website of Women in Black (

THANK YOU FOR inviting me to this day. It is always an honor and a pleasure to be here, among you.

However, I must admit I believe you should have invited a Palestinian woman at my stead, because the women who suffer most from violence in my county are the Palestinian women. And I would like to dedicate my speech to Miriam R’aban and her husband Kamal, from Bet Lahiya in the Gaza strip, whose five small children were killed by Israeli soldiers while picking strawberries at the family’s strawberry field. No one will ever stand trial for this murder.

Using the Holocaust

— Amira Hass

THE CROWD OF world leaders visiting the new Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem attests to the strength of Israel’s position in the West. Israel is often  criticized in the home countries of these leaders, but many Israelis and Jews will, as usual,  attribute such criticism to anti-Semitism.

Palestinians and left wingers, including Jews, will discover that the knowledge in these countries about the Israeli occupation is meager, and the public’s interest in it is weak.

The Rebellion in Bolivia

— Jeffery R. Webber

FROM THE INSPIRING rebellion of the indigenous and popular classes of the Bolivian altiplano (high plateau),(1) the eruption of the 690,000-strong shantytown of El Alto, and the popular neighborhoods in the hillsides of the capital La Paz in the “Gas War” of October 2003, emerged the “October Agenda,” a list of popular demands to remake the country in the name of the poor and the indigenous majority.(2)

Bolivia Postscript: Tensions Building

— Jeffery R. Webber

SUNDAY, MARCH 27, 2005 — According to one of Bolivia’s most famous reactionary social scientists, Roberto Laserna, there have been 3,020 events of social conflict in Bolivia between 1994 and 2004.(1) Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that much has happened since the early weeks of February of this year, when I wrote “The Rebellion in Bolivia” (see pages 13-15). Nonetheless, while some social forces have shifted, the basic polarization between Left and Right national projects has not changed.

Fifth World Social Forum

— Chloe Tribich & John McGough

THE FIFTH WORLD Social Forum convened this year from January 26th through 31st in Porto Alegre, Brazil in the wake of the Bush inauguration and intensifying violence in Iraq, but also some victories for progressive movements in the global south and particularly Latin America.

Nearly 50,000 delegates from over 120 countries presented and attended 2,500 discussions ranging in theme from the expected (“Voices from the U.S. Antiwar Movement”) to the academic (“Construction of Didactic Pedagogical material on the Gender Thematic”) to spirituality workshops focusing on aromatherapy.

WSF Youth Camp

— Sheila McClear

FIRST, A PICTURE of the World Social Forum’s Youth Camp in Porto Alegre, Brazil: Imagine an unending sea of tents and tarps, hammocks hanging from the trees-all of it baking under the sun. Dirt paths divide the camp and are lined by a colorful array of vendors hawking soap, food (“Refri, agua!” was the constant chant), marijuana plants, and jewelry.

Celebrating the Revolutionary Centenary

Wobblies on the Southern Home Front

— Abra Quinn

MOST READERS OF Against the Current know the Industrial Workers of the World by their imaginative and daring radical tactics and campaigns in the Northeast and the West  — the Free Speech campaigns; the Lawrence, Massachusetts Bread and Roses textile strike, made colorful by its propaganda, and especially the pageants and children’s evacuation that brought the strike publicity; their organizing of itinerant workers and hoboes; and the Wobblies’ clarion calls for direct action and sabotage on the job, as well as loudmouthed boasts of violent action in response to the bosses’ violence.

Einstein's 1905 Revolution: New Physics, New Century

— Ansar Fayyazuddin

ALBERT EINSTEIN HARDLY needs an introduction.  A popular culture icon, his name, his disheveled appearance in late life, his theory of relativity are synonymous with genius.  It may be hard to imagine a physicist as a popular culture icon, Time's Person of the Century (for heaven's sake); yet no other figure of the 20th Century comes to my mind, with the possible exception of Picasso, whose legacy is so indisputable as to qualify for the position of something so improbable as Person of the Century.

Labor in Crisis

The Defeat of Post-USSR Labor

— David Mandel

THE NASCENT SOVIET labor movement played an important, perhaps crucial, role in shaking the foundations of the Soviet system, which proved remarkably fragile beneath its impressive totalitarian superstructure. But this movement failed to develop the organizational and ideological independence that would have allowed it to influence the subsequent course of events.

This article briefly examines the role of “social partnership” in the defeats suffered by the labor movements after the demise of the Communist regimes in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, the three predominantly Slavic and the most industrialized countries of the former Soviet Union.

U.S. Labor in Crisis

— Jerry Tucker

THERE IS TODAY a rare open debate going on within the U.S. Labor Movement over its future. Rarer still is the fact that much of it appears on competing internet blogs. The current debate, provoked by some within Labor’s national leadership, has been almost exclusively focused on “restructuring” and resource reallocation. But the leader-led debate has failed to discuss the more fundamental question of the “culture” of unionism in America today.

Can the present debate really make a difference if it avoids an objective examination of what the labor movement should stand for — its larger social purposes; the education and activism of its base; and the democratic principles that must underpin its governance?

Letters to Against the Current

On the Wobblies, on the Philippines and on Disability Rights

— Phillip Colligan, E. San Juan, Jr. & Ravi Malhotra

I’VE JUST READ the informative articles on the IWW (Wobblies) in the March-April issue (ATC 115). Although mention was made of several prominent Wobbly balladeers, you fail to note “Haywire” Mac McClintic who wrote many Wobbly songs including “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum” and “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” He also served as Grand Secretary of the IWW. This information is gleaned from the excellent CD of Wobbly songs, “We Have Fed You for a Thousand Years”...


The Future of Life: Hope for Life's Future?

— Joel Kovel

I was reluctant to turn to this 2002 study of biodiversity and species loss given the bad taste left by Edwin Wilson's 1975 Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, a work redolent with reductionist and Social Darwinian implications and therefore odious to every good leftist.

Shorter Hours Now!

— Mike Parker

The bumper stickers say, "Unions: the folks who brought you the weekend."  For almost a century, the success of workers' drive to shorten working hours and increase leisure time was considered a sign of progress and humanity.  After all, "we work to live," not "live to work."

A Massive Destruction of Nature: China's Ecological Crisis

— George Fish

Elizabeth C. Economy, C.V. Starr Senior Fellow of the Council on Foreign Affairs, opens her book on China's ecological crisis with a graphic first chapter depicting the late July, 2001 pollution crisis affecting the Huai River.  This major waterway in central China runs through the city of Nanjing and empties into the East China Sea by Shanghai.

Education in the Lean University

— Robert Hollinger

Retooling The Mind Factory: Education in a Lean State
Alan Sears
Garamond Press (Aurora, Ontario, Canada), 2003.
283 pages, $26.95 paper.

IN RETOOLING THE Mind Factory, Alan Sears employs a Marxist analysis to explain developments in education — especially the corporate university — as a manifestation of the neoliberal agenda. As he puts it:

"Educational reform does have a logic.... I will analyze this logic through the lens of the Marxist approach to the state, labor processes and culture. Specifically, I will relate education reform to a broad-ranging strategy that aims to recast the relations of citizenship in light of the process of capitalist restructuring that has been underway since the 1970s. This broad-ranging strategy is often referred to as 'neo-liberalism,' indicating a renewed approach to the 'free  market' strategies of the 19th century associated with classical liberalism." (2)

In short, “The mind factory is being retooled to bring it more in line with state of the art production systems that have been developed in other fields of work.” (3)

This lively and clear book provides the most systematic and enlightening analysis of the rise of the corporate school system, from kindergarten through grad school and beyond, that has appeared to date.

There have been few serious studies of the corporate university, its cultural, economic and political roots and implications, and the role it plays in Empire. Relatively few authors have written significant books on the topic, although they are imbued with various and even conflicting approaches, ideologies, analyses and assessments: Cary Nelson, Bill Readings, Stanley Aronowitz, Henry Giroux, Lyotard, Derrida and — from a very different angle — Alasdair MacIntyre.

Alan Sears needs to be added to this short list of writers. Retooling The Mind Factory is an enlightening and provocative book, clearly written and defended, lucid and I think more accessible than most of the books by the writers just mentioned.

Sears’ work is particularly interesting for its use of events in Ontario to illustrate the very real issues that we all must face and, hopefully, deal with politically and individually.

Problematic Alternatives

Instead of educating students for citizenship — a notion that we on the Left need to talk more about — the corporate system educates students to be good consumers and corporate team players: cooperative and obedient. (In my view, this is one of the most worrisome and dangerous things about many “learning communities”. Computer education, which instills no sense of judgment, only adds to the problem.)

The most eye-opening part of Sears’ argument, which interprets the ongoing development of corporate educational ideology and practices from kindergarten to graduate school and beyond, shows how the usual alternatives to the corporate ideal — whether liberal education or postmodernist and deconstructive analyses — are also very problematic.

Indeed, liberal ideals of education — education for citizenship in the corporate state — are not all that different, either in theory or educational practice, from the corporate educational system.

Further, Sears gives the lie to the notion that the corporate university is good for democracy, will promote greater racial, gender and class equality and opportunity, and promote the well being and success (in economic terms, of course!) of students and societies.

Employing Marxist categories, Sears is able to critique this entire ideology in a clear, convincing and systemic fashion, while also enriching our understanding of these developments by putting them into a wider cultural, political and historical context, and exploring the wider ramifications of corporate education.

It is interesting to note that a recent editorial in Business Week, of all places, was titled “Should Public Universities Behave Like Private Colleges? They’re Hiking tuition and becoming more elitist — ducking a key social role” (“Commentary” by William C. Symonds, Business Week, Nov. 15, 2004: 57, 100).

Flagship state universities, the University of Wisconsin, Michigan and so on, now have 70% of their undergraduate students who come from families with incomes of $100,000/yr and up, and are also getting more funds from private sources, effectively loosening their connections and obligations to the citizens of the state they are in existence to serve.

I think Sears’ analysis can provide an insightful explanation of these and other trends. But this leads me to my main complaint about the book, namely the last chapter, “Learning Freedom.” In this chapter, Sears leans more heavily on Freire and Brecht than I would.

Both of these important writers and their followers, such as Giroux, have taught us much about “the pedagogy of the oppressed.” Brecht’s “Five Ways of Writing the Truth” [the Appendix to Charles Laughton’s edition of Galileo] is insightful and provocative.

But I’m not convinced that the strategies and tactics that they may suggest, even when combined with those of social movements, is going to be enough.

What more is needed? I wish I knew. This is one issue that Marxists and other politically progressive and concerned people need to address as we continue to grapple with the emerging Empire of global capitalism. But Sears has provided one important, indeed, necessary document to stimulate our thoughts, our dialogues, and our collective and individual actions. For this we are all in his debt.

In Memoriam

Sexing Susan Sontag

— Yoshie Furuhashi

THE DEATH OF Susan Sontag, one of the most acclaimed intellectuals of her time, on December 28, 2004 immediately inspired controversies about her sexuality. Many writers rightfully questioned major newspapers’ studied silence in their obituaries on her relationships with women.