Against the Current, No. 143, November/December 2009

Against the Current, No. 143, November/December 2009

Reform Is Not A Tea Party

— The Editors

THE NOBEL PEACE price notwithstanding, Barack Obama’s presidency, contrary to the hopes of many, has not produced a big political space for the left, let alone “a seat at the table.” Most visibly, it has been the right wing that succeeded in seizing the initiative, in some truly grotesque ways that have thrown a spotlight on the deep paranoia — and straight-up old-style white racism — that persists in this society, and on the ways it can be opportunistically pandered to and manipulated. The tea-party mob phenomenon, however, cannot be dismissed as merely a freak show created by rightwing talk media and massive covert corporate funding, although that is certainly part of the story....

Right-Wing Assault, Liberal Retreat

— Malik Miah

THE HEAT IS on the Obama administration. The energized conservative base has taken over town hall meetings on health care. There are “birthers,” “deathers” and just pure haters. President Obama has been personally attacked as a racist, socialist, communist, Stalinist, fascist, Nazi, Pol Potist, foreigner and every other name the right finds in its vocabulary.

Senior citizens are panicked by accusations that Obama’s attempt to bring about near universal heath coverage as a threat to their own — government-run — Medicare program....

Mexico's PATCO Moment?

— Dan La Botz

THE MEXICAN ELECTRICAL Workers Union (SME), made up of approximately 43,000 active and 22,000 retired workers in Mexico City and surrounding states, is fighting for its life. The union’s struggle has rallied allies in the labor movement and on the left in Mexico and solidarity from throughout the country and around the world, but if it is to survive the union and its supporters have to take stronger actions than they have so far, and time is not on their side.

On the night of October 10, President Calderón ordered federal police to seize the power plants....

South African Workers Tackle Neoliberalism

— Patrick Bond & Azwell Banda

“A sound banking system, healthy fiscal position, credible monetary policy and appropriate foreign exchange regulations will continue to limit our exposure to the international downturn, while serving as key building blocks in financing future growth and development” (former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, February 2009)

“I am not sure the Numsa march was helpful. It is not a household tactic to march because you are actually pushing them not to drop rates... It may be counter productive” (Gwede Mantashe, ANC General Secretary, May 2009)....

A Critical Defense of Charter '08

— Au Loong-yu

LAST NOVEMBER, DOZENS of well-known Chinese intellectuals launched the Charter '08 to call on Chinese government to respect basic civil and democratic rights. Soon afterwards the core leader of the appeal, Liu Xiaobo, was arrested and remains in custody until now.

Anybody who claims to be a defender of civil rights should protest against the arrest, since no one should be treated as a criminal simply for what they have spoken or written. We have reservations about parts of the Charter, but we condemn Liu’s arrest and the authorities' repression of the document....

On Darwin's 200th Anniversary

— Ansar Fayyazuddin

THE YEAR 2009 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, as well as the 150th anniversary of the publication of his celebrated book On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Darwin left an indelible mark on our understanding of the world we live in and our place in history.

Darwin is the subject of vast amounts of scholarly research, including much writing appearing in this anniversary year. Here I want to touch on a few aspects of Darwin’s life and work that I find interesting....

On Nelson Algren's Centenary

— Nathaniel Mills

“American literature is the woman in the courtroom who, finding herself undefended on a charge, asked,  ‘Isn’t anybody on my side?’”
— Nelson Algren(1)

2009 MARKS THE anniversary of three events whose coincidence Nelson Algren might have appreciated. First, it is the centenary of Algren’s birth in 1909 in Detroit (in 1913, the family would move to Chicago, the setting of Algren’s fiction, where he is still a local hero). Second, it is the 60th anniversary of the 1949 publication of The Man with the Golden Arm....

Spain's Revolution and Tragedy

Introduction to Spain's Revolution & Tragedy

— David Finkel, for the ATC Editors

THE YEAR 2009 marks a tragic 70th anniversary, not only globally – the beginning of the Second World War, which would claim the lives of tens of millions and give rise to a whole new lexicon that includes “genocide” and “nuclear weapons” — but also the final defeat of the Spanish Revolution and the onset of 26 years of fascist rule under Francisco Franco....

Remembering Spain's Revolution

— Jane Slaughter

ON THE SECOND page of Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell's memoir of the Spanish Revolution, he writes, “I had come to Spain with some notion of writing newspaper articles, but I joined the militia almost immediately, because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do. The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing….it was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle.”...

A Classic Study Revisited

— Gerd-Rainer Horn

The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain
By Pierre Broué and Émile Témime
Chicago: Haymarket, 2008 reprint edition. $50 paperback.

PIERRE BROUÉ (1926-2005) was one of the few Trotskyist historians who carved out a niche in academia, though this career choice had to overcome many obstacles....

Chronicles from the Front

— Reiner Tosstorff

Letters from Barcelona
An American Woman in Revolution and Civil War
By Lois Orr with some materials by Charles Orr
Edited by Gerd-Rainer Horn
Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2009. 209 pages,
$75 hardcover.

THIS VOLUME CONSISTS of carefully edited contemporary texts from the two U.S. socialists Lois and Charles Orr, who joined the revolutionary events in Spain after the outbreak of the Civil War, from fall 1936 to spring 1937. Two newlywed activists from the left wing of the U.S. Socialist Party, they had been traveling through Europe on their honeymoon when the news of the military revolt under General Franco reached them....

The Journey of James Neugass

— Alan Wald

War Is Beautiful:
An American Ambulance Driver in the Spanish Civil War
By James Neugass, edited by Peter N. Carroll and Peter Glazer
New York: The New Press, 2008, 314 pages,
$26.95 hardcover.

AT THE AGE of 32, Isidore James Newman Neugass (1905-49), a lesser poet of the Lost Generation crowd who published as “James Neugass,” departed New York City to spend six months mostly on the front lines of the Spanish Civil War. In late 1937 and early 1938, Neugass, serving as a volunteer ambulance driver as part of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, was present at Teruel....

Introduction to The POUM's Seven Decades

— The ATC Editors

WE PRESENT THIS leading participant’s account of the Party Of Marxist Unity (POUM) as an historical document. The POUM was the most important organization of the revolutionary left in the Spanish Revolution of 1936-39. Its historic role is twofold: as a critical political and military force in the struggle against fascism, and as a target of the murderous Stalinist campaign that ultimately destroyed the revolution from within....

The POUM's Seven Decades

— Wilebaldo Solano

THE PARTIDO OBRERO de Unificacion Marxista (The Workers Party of Marxist Unification, POUM) was founded in Barcelona on September 30, 1935 in a small house in the Horta district. That was 70 years ago. The event was not public, since we were still in a phase of relative clandestinity imposed on the movement after October 1934, so we felt it prudent to limit the number of delegates.

Nevertheless, the delegates were very representative and included Joaquin Maurín and Andreu Nin. Their mission was to elect an Executive Committee and prepare a Congress of the new organization....


Fighting Lynch Laws in America

— Gerald Meyer

Anti-lynching and Labor Defense in U.S. Radical History   
By Rebecca Hill
Duke University Press, 2008, 424 pages,
$24.95 paperback.

Rebecca Hill’s ambitious book highlights a major theme of American radical history. It brings together the history of labor defense campaigns with the concurrent movement to prevent the lynching of African Americans. In six individual studies from John Brown to the Black Panther Party, Hill achieves two notable goals: a substantive reinterpretation of these cases and a heightened recognition of their commonalities....

Chronicling Labor's Crisis

— Dan Clawson

The State of Working America 2008/2009
By Lawrence Mishel, Jared Bernstein, and Heidi Shierholz
Economic Policy Institute/ILR Press/Cornell University Press. Ithaca, NY. 461 pages, $24.95 paperback.

THE STATE OF Working America is the Bible of liberals, labor, and often of the left. Like the Bible, few people read it from cover to cover; like the Bible, it is often consulted to back up an argument. The latest, 2008/2009, edition contains a host of useful facts, statistics, analyses, and arguments, essentially all of it based on pre-crash information but with an awareness that some kind of crash was coming upon us....

Tearing Down the Gates?

— Debby Pope

Tearing Down the Gates:
Confronting the Class Divide in American Education
By Peter Sacks
University of California Press, 2007, 388 pages,
$17.95 paperback.

PETER SACKS DESCRIBES Tearing Down the Gates as a work about the staggering injustices in the American educational system. Sacks utilizes a seldom-employed tool to analyze the educational system in the United States: the role of class....

The Politics of Surrealism

— Amanda Armstrong

Morning Star:
surrealism, marxism, anarchism, situationism, utopian
By Michael Löwy
University of Texas Press, 2009, 174 pages,
44 line drawings. $55 hardcover.

IN THE FIRST notebook of his Grundrisse, composed in 1857, Marx predicted that the “romantic viewpoint” would “accompany [capitalism] as its legitimate antithesis up to its blessed end.”(1) He believed that romanticism, with its celebration of the richness — real or imagined — of pre-capitalist life, would remain a perennial reaction to the reification of social life....

Looking at Che Guevara

— Kit Adam Wainer

Che Guevara:
His Revolutionary Legacy
By Olivier Besancenot and Michael Löwy
Monthly Review Press, 2009, 176 pages, $16.95.

THAT CHE GUEVARA’S silhouette has found its way onto walls and T-shirts around the world is nothing new. A traveler through Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s would have seen Che’s face spray-painted onto walls in working-class neighborhoods. In revolutionary Nicaragua Che graffiti was officially sanctioned, as was the massive outpouring of pro-Sandinista, anti-contra wall art....

Theories of Stalinism

— Paul Le Blanc

The Marxism of Leon Trotsky
By Kunal Chattopadhyay
Kolkata: Progress Publishers, 2006, 672 pages, including index, $25 paperback.

Western Marxism and the Soviet Union
By Marcel van der Linden
Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2009, 379 pages, including index,
$20 paperback.

KARL MARX AND his comrades deemed their own approach “scientific,” as compared to “utopian” intellectual efforts on behalf of socialism, because they believed that practical efforts to challenge and ultimately replace capitalism with something better must be grounded....

In Memoriam

Leon Despres, Chicago Rebel

— Frank Fried

ICONIC CHICAGO ALDERMAN Leon Despres died at the age of 101 on May 6, 2009 in the city he lived and loved. A little frail in stature, Len had a broad intellect that was fully intact to the very end. He fought much of his adult life for a progressive vision of Chicago that “Machine” politics was never ready to accept. After his 1955 election as alderman, and in the first decade of his two-decade term, many city council votes were recorded 49-1. Despres was the lone dissenter....

Indy's Lucas Oil Stadium Revisited

— George Fish

“INDIANAPOLIS WATCHES THE [Indianapolis] 500 one day and sleeps 364.” This quip is attributed to Kurt Vonnegut (he later denied it, although not convincingly).

Two corrections and an update are in order to my article “The Indianapolis Colts’ Extortion Dome: Taxpayers Blitzed, Thrown for Loss, which appeared in Against the Current 135 (July/August 2008). It will be readily apparent that this is much more than an Indianapolis or Indiana story. Although I develop the particularities of the Indianapolis Colts’ new toy and its cultural setting, and its social and economic impact specifically on Hoosierdom, this is really an Every City story....

Letters to Against the Current

A Letter on Cuba

— Barry Sheppard

I APPRECIATE THE articles on Cuba from various viewpoints in ATC issues #141 and #142. They provide food for thought for socialists with different analyses of Cuba.

I would like to comment on the article by Frank Thomson in #141 on the Cuban economy, which I think gives a false picture. Thompson acknowledges that per capita Gross Domestic Product is a poor measure of a country’s economic wellbeing. I’ll return to that -- but since he largely utilizes this measurement, I want to start there....

A Brief Rejoinder

— Frank Thompson

I AVOID LIKE like the plague likely unproductive exchanges, so I will be brief (and I hope, not unproductive) in my response to Barry’s response to my brief article.

To be sure, I used comparisons based on market prices. For better or for worse, these are the prices that most of us have to pay. And yes, these prices are poorly related to the labor embodied in commodities. (A first task for any latter-day Marxist economist is to understand what labor theories of value try to achieve and how they fail.)...