Against the Current, No. 141, July/August 2009

Against the Current, No. 141, July/August 2009

Obama and War(s)

— The Editors

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA’S Cairo speech electrified the international media and public opinion, particularly in the Muslim world. Whether it will initiate a profound shift in America’s stance toward Iran, Israel/Palestine and the broader Middle East, whether it will prove to be mostly style rather than substance — or whether, perhaps, it’s more of a return to traditional policies than a truly new direction — will be topics for speculation and subjects for struggle for the rest of Obama’s first term and perhaps longer. To understand the issues at stake, it’s important to begin with some recent history.

Race and Class: The Agenda of Pure Racism

— Malik Miah

THERE IS A sinister aspect of the attacks by the far right against President Barack Obama that does not sit well with me, and with a vast majority of African Americans and other ethnic minorities, no matter our political or ideological point of view.

To be sure, many people are routinely smeared and attacked by the right wing — name calling is common on Fox News and the rightist radio talk shows. What’s emerging today, however, is the virulent use of race and bigotry in a time which many believe to be a “post-racial” environment....

Support Builds for Troy Davis

— Isaac Steiner

FOLLOWING A MAY 19 Global Day of Action, the forces aligned against Troy Davis, who has spent nearly two decades on Georgia’s death row, have become increasingly isolated. The hard work of a grassroots movement has lifted the case into the national spotlight: sympathetic editorials in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a petition by 27 former judges (including pro-death penalty conservatives like Bob Barr and William Sessions, a federal judge, and a deputy U.S. attorney general) have raised the pressure to re-open the case....

The NUHW Revolt

— Meredith Schafer

THE LARGEST BATTLE within the U.S. union movement in decades is happening right now. It is an organizing campaign to leave the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for the newly formed National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

Like many fights within U.S. labor, the struggle within SEIU is being widely characterized as a battle between stubborn men — Sal Rosselli (ousted leader of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West) and SEIU national president Andy Stern. To understand what’s at stake, however, is to look beyond the personalities, rhetoric and ideological dispute among the top leaders. The actual goods democracy can deliver should be discussed concretely....

Attack on William Robinson

— Edwin Laing

UPDATE: NEARLY FIVE months after opening an investigation of University of California sociology professor William I. Robinson for alleged faculty misconduct, university officials abruptly announced June 24 that they have dismissed all charges and terminated the case.

An Ad Hoc Committee set up by the Academic Senate to investigate the allegations had already reached the conclusion on May 15 that the charges against Robinson were without merit. The Committee is "unanimous in finding that his sending the email is in accord with the principles of academic freedom, especially when teaching a class whose content is the sociology of globalization," stated the report....

Concerned Members of UCSB Academic Community

CONCERNED MEMBERS OF the UCSB academic community set up the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB and the following website, which has full details on the specifics of the case:

Sri Lanka: Behind the Massacre

— an interview with Ashok Kumar

ASHOK KUMAR IS a 2008-2009 Fulbright Research Scholar in Sri Lanka. He was interviewed by email for Against the Current by Dianne Feeley and David Finkel shortly after the crushing of the “Tamil Tigers” by the Sri Lankan military offensive.

Against the Current: What are the fundamental grievances of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka?

Ashok Kumar: The escalation of Tamil demands directly correlates with an increase in state terror and repression against the Tamil population. Ethnic self-identification in Sri Lanka has historically preceded peoples’ identification as “Sri Lankan.”...

Dancing with Death: "Waltz with Bashir"

— Paul Abowd

(“Vals im Bashir” in Hebrew)
an animated documentary film written and directed by Ari Folman, 2008.

IT TOOK ARI Folman 25 years to make “Waltz With Bashir,” his animated film about Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. First, he had to remember the war....

Exploring the Roots of the Crisis

— Charlie Post

ON SEVERAL POINTS there is general agreement among most, if not all, radical and revolutionary anti-capitalists and socialists regarding the current economic crisis:

(1) The crisis is not simply the result of the neoliberal deregulation of the financial sector. While there has been plenty of greed, ineptitude and just plain stupidity among corporate executives and government policy makers, the crisis reflects the deeper dynamics of capitalism as an economic system....

"Illegals" of the World Unite?

— an interview with David Bacon

THIS INTERVIEW WAS conducted on April 10, 2009 by Star Murray and Charles Williams on behalf of the Against the Current editorial board. Photojournalist David Bacon spent 20 years as a labor organizer and immigrant rights activist. He hosts a show on KPFA-FM in Berkeley, CA, and his writing and photographs are online at His book, Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants was published by Beacon Press in 2008.

ATC: Why don’t we start with the title of the book?

David Bacon:  Well, I debated with the publisher a lot about it....

Against the Politics of Tolerance: Islam, Sexuality and Belonging in the Netherlands

— Paul Mepschen

WHAT COULD BE wrong with tolerance? Would I perhaps prefer intolerance?

Of course not -- but if we take a harder look at the concept and the way it was employed, we are able to see that “tolerance” has a paradoxical meaning in present day society. It is accompanied, in fact, by virulent forms of intolerance and exclusion. To illustrate, we may have a look at the debate about Islam in the Netherlands starting in 2001....

"Climate Justice" and the Left: The Necessity of a Mass Movement

— Nick Davenport

THE CLIMATE CRISIS -- a crisis not of civilization, as some commentators would have it, but of capitalist production -- requires a political response that is long overdue, and is finally stirring. Now that the movement against global warming is brewing, socialists must get involved.

A Letter to the ATC Editors

— George Fish

A BRIEF LETTER doesn’t allow much space to speak on markets and planning under socialism, but perhaps these few notes will help clarify the issues.

When we specifically address the economic concerns of socialism, we come right back to what the advocates of “market socialism” have so pointedly made about Soviet-style economic planning....

Can We Build Socialist-Anarchist Alliances?

— Ursula McTaggart

LAST SUMMER I delivered a talk on primitivist anarchism at a conference devoted to Marxist literature and culture. The participants were mostly academics engaged with Marxist criticism, and most came out of university English departments. For many in this group of self-described Marxists, my attempt at bemused critical appreciation for this admittedly problematic group of anarchists was not welcome. Anarcho-primitivists, critics insisted, are not activists, and they certainly have no place among committed Marxists. Worse, they are misanthropic, individualistic terrorists — perhaps even genocidal in their overall aims to destroy civilization....

A Struggle in Solidarity with Others: Lessons from a Student Campaign Battling a Giant Corporation

— By Sayan Bhattacharyya

I AM A graduate student from India, studying at a university in Michigan. Some time ago, I became involved in a campaign to kick the Coca Cola company off the campus because of their treatment of workers and the surrounding community at their plants in India and Colombia.

Doctors Under Attack

— The Editors

ON MAY 31, 2009, while handing out church bulletins, Dr. George Tiller was shot to death by an anti-abortion activist. The Women’s Health Care Services clinic Dr. Tiller operated in Wichita, Kansas was one of three in the United States that performed late-term abortions. His clinic, his home and the homes of his staff have been picketed for years....

Views on Cuba

Introducing "Views on Cuba"

— David Finkel

ON THE OCCASION of the 50th year of the Cuban revolution, the editors of Against the Current asked several contributors for brief contributions on how they view Cuban society, politics and culture today. Each statement represents the views of its author. Just as we published a set of diverse perspectives on the imprisonment of dissidents in Cuba six years ago (ATC 105, July-August 2003), the positions taken here cover a wide spectrum of attitudes toward the Cuban regime. We remain committed to opposing...

Cuba in Search of Renovation

— Janette Habel

ON JANUARY 1, 1959, the rebel Army entered Havana and brought down the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Fifty years later, Fidel Castro has given up power, but his brother Raúl has relieved him. Far from being characterized by paralysis, this transition period has witnessed the emergence of an intense debate about the future of socialism, both among opponents as well as those who defend it with the desire to see it evolve....

The Economy After A Half Century

— Frank Thompson

THE OBJECT HERE is to evaluate the current state of the Cuban economy, but for this no insightful perspective is possible without considering its performance historically, especially over the last sixty years and most especially over the half century since the triumph of the Revolution.

A fundamental determination for such an evaluation is what metrics of economic performance to use. The usual primary focus for such studies is the path of real per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a statistic with profound flaws as a general measure of economic welfare. But more adequate measures are available, most importantly (since 1990) the Human Development Index (HDI) regularly compiled by the United Nations Development Program....

The Transition to Socialism

— James D. Cockcroft

IN HIS JANUARY,2009 speech commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, President Raúl  Castro, known popularly as Raúl, repeated Fidel’s oft-quoted 2005 speech to University of Havana students: “This nation can self-destruct… those who can’t destroy it are them [the U.S. imperialists]; we, yes, we can destroy it and it would be our fault.”

The Cuban Five--Injustice Prolonged

— The Editors

THE U.S. SUPREME Court has refused to hear the final appeal of the “Cuban Five,” who were convicted in 2001 and are serving prison terms ranging from 15 years to life for “espionage conspiracy” and acting as illegal agents for the Cuban government. Their appeal had received widespread international support, including 10 Nobel laureates Indeed, according to their lawyer Leonard Weinglass in an interview broadcast May 14 on Radio Havana, the Cuban Five “probably have more support internationally than any case that has come before the court.”...

Political Controls from Above

— Samuel Farber

WHEN IN 1961 Fidel Castro proclaimed “inside the revolution everything; outside the revolution, nothing,” he left out the key question of who decided what was and who qualified as being “inside the revolution.” The slogan was immediately followed by repressive measures directed not against right-wing counterrevolutionaries but against non-Communist leftists....


Emma Goldman: Voice of a Rebel

— Rebecca Hill

Emma Goldman: A Documentary History of the American Years.
Volume 1 Made for America 1890-1901.
Volume 2, Making Speech Free, 1902-1909.
Candace Falk, editor,
University of California Press, 2003 & 2004.
Each volume $60 hardcover. Paperback edition University of Illinois Press, 2008. Each volume $35.

EMMA GOLDMAN’S NAME for many is synonymous with Anarchism. Indeed, as we can see in the first two volumes of the Documentary History of the American Years from the Emma Goldman Papers Project, now out in a welcome paperback edition, she did much to define anarchism to Americans.


Ecuador's Indigenous Socialism

— Joanne Rappaport

Indians and Leftists in the Making of Ecuador’s Modern Indigenous Movements
By Marc Becker
Durham: Duke University Press, 2008; Series: Latin America Otherwise; 303 pages, $22.95 paperback.

FOR SEVERAL DECADES now, national elites in Latin America have accused the left of acting as a ventriloquist for indigenous movements: allowing Native leaders to speak, but pulling the strings behind them.

An Abortion Doctor's Jailhouse Journal

— Claudette Begin

Jailhouse Journal of an OB/GYN
By Dr. Bruce S. Steir
AuthorHouse, 2008. 344 pages. $18.

WITH DR. TILLER’S death, we are painfully reminded of how “abortion doctors” are subject to ongoing harassment and even death. The question of what motivates such doctors to continue to provide abortions is once again front and center.

Dr. Bruce Steir’s memoir, written while he was serving a sentence for murder, brings home both the level of harassment doctors performing abortions go through but also explains....

In Memoriam

Franklin Rosemont (1943-2009)

— Michael Löwy

POET, ARTIST. HISTORIAN, editor, labor militant, musician, amateur ornithologist and surrealist activist Franklin Rosemont, who died on April 12 at age 65 refused the limitations that civilization, especially under capitalism, attempts to imposes on us all. Not a “one dimensional man,” he was inspired by Charles Fourier’s ideas of what humanity could aspire to. He wrote, “All I know defiance and dream, the rest just comes naturally. A ‘Success in Life’? Don’t make me laugh! If you’re looking for me there, you’ll have to look elsewhere.”...