Against the Current, No. 138, January/February 2009

Changing for Real

— The Editors

THE UNITED STATES changed forever on November 4, 2008. It will undoubtedly change even more during the next four years — although just how remains to be determined. There has never been such a convergence of yawning crises facing an incoming U.S. government, including a collapsing credit system and the near-death spiral of the North American auto industry. It’s an entirely open question whether the sheer scale of the objective emergency might impose serious structural changes on the way capitalism is administered in this country....

Keeping Independent Politics Alive

— The Editors

IT’S IMPORTANT FOR us on the left at least to salute the most courageous candidacy of 2008: Cynthia McKinney (former Georgia congresswoman) and Rosa Clemente (Puerto Rican hip-hop cultural activist), the presidential and vice-presidential candidates of the Green Party....

What Obama's Victory Means About Race and Class

— Malik Miah

THERE WAS EUPHORIA in every Black community household November 4. High fives and tears of joy. No one could believe it. It didn’t matter Obama’s politics. A Black man had won! The election of the first Black president of the United States has a dual meaning: social and political.

Not just African Americans cheered: The crowd at Chicago’s Grant Park was multiethnic — whites, Blacks, Latinos and Asians, all together. Obama’s victory was overwhelming (two to one in the Electoral College) and more than seven million votes over his Republican challenger....

Bailing Out Banks, Smashing Unions

— Dianne Feeley

WHEN GENERAL MOTORS and Chrysler received pre-Christmas bridge loans of $17.4 billion, President Bush specified that the unionized work force had to become “competitive” with non-unionized workers in wages, benefits and work rules. This blatant attempt to destroy an already weakened United Auto Workers (UAW) illustrates how, in the midst of an economic crisis, U.S. capital is bailed out as working people are fleeced.

Victory in Chicago: Republic Workers' Occupation

[The following report was written for Against the Current by an anonymous correspondent, with assistance from Jerry Mead-Lucero. You can find Jerry’s blog at Also check out for “Labor Express, Chicago’s only labor news and current affairs radio program for working people, by working people,” Sundays at 7:00 pm on 88.7 FM in Chicago or live on the web at]  

“FOR ONCE IN our lives we had the perfect storm. Usually we don’t get any support from politicians or any coverage from the mass media...but this time, everything came together,” said Tim Curtin, International Representative for United Electrical workers (UE)....

Twenty Million Jobless by the End of 2009

— Jack Rasmus

THROUGHOUT THE PAST year, U.S. government statistics have consistently underestimated and underreported the extent of joblessness. The techniques by which this has been done were described in prior articles on the subject by this author.  With November 2008’s Department of Labor report of 530,000 additional workers losing their jobs, it would appear that the government was finally reporting the true extent of rising unemployment in the United States....

Reading, Writing and Union Building

— Steve Early

THE UNITED STATES changed forever on November 4, 2008. It will undoubtedly change even more during the next four years — although just how remains to be determined. There has never been such a convergence of yawning crises facing an incoming U.S. government, including a collapsing credit system and the near-death spiral of the North American auto industry. It’s an entirely open question whether the sheer scale of the objective emergency might impose serious structural changes on the way capitalism is administered in this country....

Letters to the Editors: What Are You For? Democracy Vs. Politics

— Perry Cartwright; Paul Buhle

I’VE BEEN READING Against the Current for a long time. I agree with 99% of it, because we’re against the same things. But what are you for?

Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh and Castro were all for something — l and to the peasants. They didn’t just critique the feudal landlords, but then say we don’t have any solution to the problem. Socialists have to have something positive to offer....

African-American History and Politics

Segregation and Black Labor Before the CIO

— Paul Ortiz

Capital needs no legislation in order to provide for its use. Capital is strong enough to take care and provide for itself, but corporations are a dangerous power, especially large or consolidated corporations, and the American people fear them with distrust...We want no Tom Scotts, Jim Fisks or Vanderbilt’s in this State to govern us by means of which they would influence legislation tending to advance personal interests. —African American State Legislators, Tallahassee, Florida 1872

C.L.R. JAMES URGED listeners at a 1971 Institute of the Black World event in Atlanta to study W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction as a way to understand the meaning of Marxism, the Civil War, and emancipation....

On Richard Wright's Centennial: The Great Outsider

— Alan Wald

IN THE SPRING of 1940, Richard Wright’s Native Son was published to such acclaim that Black Marxist C.L.R. James decreed the novel “not only a literary but also a political event.”(1) By means of a riveting naturalist fictional technique, depicting the world through the eyes and ears of a 20-year-old unemployed African American named Bigger Thomas, Wright evokes the volatile brutality of poverty and segregation on Chicago’s South Side during the latter part of the Great Depression....

Cutural Warriors of the Freedom Struggle: Miriam Makeba and Odetta

— Kim D. Hunter

IT FELT LIKE the end of an era to realize that South Africa’s Miriam Makeba and our own Odetta died within weeks of one another, having been born only months apart, these twin pillars of the struggle for justice on opposite sides of the Atlantic....

Long Before "Boondocks"

— Brian Dolinar

Jackie Ormes:
The First African American Woman Cartoonist
by Nancy Goldstein
The University of Michigan Press, 2008,
240 pages, 164 illustrations including 18 pages color strips. $35.00 cloth.

DURING THE 1930s, 1940s and 1950s Black newspapers presented a picture of African-American life rendered invisible by the white media. Like white newspapers, they carried a funnies page where Black readers faithfully followed the foibles of cartoon characters like Ollie Harrington’s “Brother Bootsie,” Samuel Milai’s “Bucky” and Wilbert Holloway’s “Sunny Boy Sam.”

Afro-Asian Collaborations

— Manan Desai

Afro Asia
Revolutionary Political and Cultural Connections Between African Americans and Asian Americans
edited by Bill Mullen and Fred Ho
Durham and London: Duke University Press,
2008, 404 pages, $23.95 paper.

AT A MOMENT when the national media are abuzz with predictions of a new era of post-racial politics, Fred Ho and Bill Mullen’s anthology on the intersections of African and Asian Americans remind us of the complex ways that race has shaped and continues to shape our lives in this country. Afro Asia compiles a diverse set of essays that illuminate a repressed tradition, spanning the early 19th century onwards, of “creative political and cultural resistance grounded in Afro-Asian collaboration and connectivity.” (15)...


Is Anti-Capitalism Enough? The New Crisis & the Left

— Howard Brick

The New Spirit of Capitalism
by Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello
translated by Gregory Elliott
Verso Books 2006, paperback edition 2007,
656 pages, $39.95.

WHETHER OR NOT the current economic crisis and a historic presidential election open up hidden potentials for renewed popular protest and collective action, it is obvious that the radical Left has lost a great deal of its size, visibility, élan and influence since the 1970s.

U.S. & Israel: Dog Wags Tail Wags Dog

— Allen Ruff

Israel and the Clash of Civilizations
Iraq, Iran, and the Plan to Remake the Middle East
by Jonathan Cook
London & Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2008,
204 pages, $24.95 paperback.

A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT of ink and energy has been expended interpreting the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel. The debate over Israel’s influence on U.S. Middle East policy has engaged critics across the political and ideological spectrum....

Long March to Revolution

— John McGough

Revolutionary Horizons
Past and Present in Bolivian Politics
by Forrest Hylton and Sinclair Thomson
Verso Books, 2007, 177 pages, $22.95 paperback.

REVOLUTIONS AT FIRST appearance may seem sudden or spontaneous events.  But they are also built over the long-haul, through generations of resistance and the preservation in collective memory of traditions of struggle and solidarity....

Jews of All Colors

— Chloe Tribich

The Colors of Jews:
Racial Politics and Radical Diasporism
by Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz
Indiana University Press, 2007, 320 pages, $24.95 paperback.

IN THE COLORS  of Jews: Racial Politics and Radical Diasporism, Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, a long-time feminist activist, disabuses the Jewish left of its most common assumptions: that Jewish culture is Ashkenazi culture and that Jews are white people. [“Ashkenazi” refers to Jews of eastern, central and northern European origin — ed.]...

A Magical Moment

— Michael Löwy

Dreams & Everyday Life
André Breton, Surrealism, Rebel Worker, SDS & the Seven Cities of Cibola, in Chicago, Paris & London. A 1960’s Notebook.
by Penelope Rosemont
Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 2008, 248 pages, $17 paperback.

PENELOPE ROSEMONT, POET, artist and essayist, is the well known author of Surrealist Women. An International Anthology. Her new book is a lively and fascinating document, based on her personal notes from the 1960s, a time when a window to the impossible seemed to open....

In Memoriam

My Studs Terkel, and Yours

— Frank Fried

WHEN AGAINST THE Current asked me to write a piece on Studs Terkel, I wondered why me? But after I pondered the idea, I thought, of course me. And you. All readers of his books, Against the Current and other magazines, large and small that serve as a mouthpiece for those with the desire for a better world and anger against the hypocrisy of our times....

Utah Phillips 1935-2008

— Brad Duncan

BRUCE “UTAH” PHILLIPS, who died in May 2008, was a living, singing museum of radical working-class culture. Through his songs and stories he connected three generations to the living memory of class struggle martyrs, hobo lore and life, and the pacifists and anarchists of the early 20th century. In addition to being a world beloved folksinger and performer, Phillips spent time as a peace campaigner, a freight train hopper, and a union organizer. Phillips will be best remembered for his countless renditions of the songs of Joe Hill and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the Wobblies.

Ron Carey, Militant Union Reformer

“RON CAREY WAS the nation’s most charismatic and successful labor leader as the twentieth century was coming to an end. He will be remembered as a major figure in American labor history on the basis of just two of his accomplishments: In 1991, running as a reformer with the backing of Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), he was elected general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. In 1997, he led the successful 15-day strike against the giant United Parcel Service, the biggest victory organized labor had experienced in at least three decades.”...