Against the Current, No. 144, January/February 2010

Against the Current, No. 144, January/February 2010

The Road from Copenhagen

— The Editors

THE HANDWRITING ABOUT the long-anticipated Copenhagen climate change conference has been on the wall for months, and its message is not promising for our human civilization or the thousands of species we may take down with us. By the time of that frantic final day of backroom arm-twisting, blackmail and president Obama's lead-balloon speech, it no longer really mattered whether the conference's failure would be openly admitted, or thinly disguised behind a “political framework statement” without serious mechanisms for implementation, measurement or enforcement....

Climate Crisis Hits Pakistani Women

— Bushra Khaliq

PAKISTAN IS AMONG the countries that will be hit hardest in the near future by effects of climate change, even though it contributes only a fraction to global warming. The country is witnessing severe pressures on natural resources and environment. This warning has recently come from the mouth of Pakistan’s prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, who alarmed the countrymen by disclosing that Pakistan is the 12th most vulnerable country in the world to environmental degradation....

Pakistan on the Brink? The Real Threat from Within

— Adaner Usmani

THE AMERICAN ANTIWAR movement must understand that what is unfolding in Pakistan bears no resemblance to the “failed-state” proclamations of establishment hacks the world over. The danger is not at all that the country will fall to the Pakistani Taliban, drowned in a tidal wave of instability said to be cascading eastwards from Afghanistan. While sham elections in Afghanistan have hopefully helped clarify the venal, corrupt character of NATO’s efforts there, at times an unhealthy haziness still afflicts the Left’s thinking on Pakistan....

The Poisoned Pill of Obama's War

— The Editors

THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION looked into the abyss of endless war in Afghanistan, considered all its options, pondered the consequences — and jumped. This is a war without honor, or purpose, or hope.

To sell the 30,000-troop “surge” to the increasingly skeptical American public, the government has deployed its diplomatic and military corps, along with the rhetorical powers of Barack Obama himself. The stories they tell aren’t fully consistent — like, is the administration’s time frame for ending the “surge” a commitment, a target or a politically motivated wish? — but the main point is clear enough....

Rise of the Left Party: Germany's Election and Beyond

— Bill Smaldone

ON SEPTEMBER 27, 2009 the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) suffered its worst electoral defeat since 1945. After four years of governing as a junior partner in a “Grand Coalition” with the right-of-center Christian Democrats (CDU), the SPD garnered only 23% of the vote (down from 33% in 2005) and now appears to be a shadow of the party that had taken the reins of government in 1998....

German Auto Workers in the Crisis

— Dianne Feeley

GERMAN AUTO WORKERS, unlike their U.S. brothers and sisters, were somewhat sheltered from the economic crisis in 2009. Given that it was an election year, the government passed a law last March that supplemented their wages when they worked a “short” week. Between what they were paid by their employer and the government supplement, they earned 65-90% of their usual wage. The government also had a version of “cash for clunkers” so some auto plants were at full production....

The Saga of Stella D'oro, Inspiration and Lessons

— Micah Landau and RenĂ© Rojas

THE POWERFUL LABOR struggle at the Bronx-based Stella D’oro Biscuit Co. recently came to an abrupt end after 14 long, hard months. The 136 workers at the plant, all members of Local 50 of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers (BCTGM) International Union, withstood 11 months on the picket line before winning a court order in July that returned them to work under the terms of their previous contract. But the workers and their supporters were unable to prevent the factory’s closure....

Race and Class: Blacks Still Taking the Hit

— Malik Miah

IT TOOK TEN months before the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) stood up and challenged President Barack Obama. In a surprise move, 10 CBC leaders refused to participate in a key House financial committee vote in December until some more relief is provided to Black businesses.

Black politicians and civil rights leaders have been understandably careful about criticizing the first Black president. Yet facts on the ground, especially the super high unemployment in the Black communities, forced their hand. While their challenge is mild, it is significant....

African-American History and Politics

Post-Katrina New Orleans: A Third Reconstruction?

— Derrick Morrison

WHEN UNION ARMY troops under the command of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler entered and occupied New Orleans in April of 1862, so began the first Reconstruction of the city and the state of Louisiana. The rise and then the defeat of the historic democratic struggle known as the first Reconstruction — discussed in the accompanying sidebar [as well as reviews by Robert Caldwell and Jim Toweill elsewhere in this issue] — sets the context in which we find today’s New Orleans, four years after the levee collapse....

From Reconstruction to Capitalist Crisis

— Derrick Morrison

THE OUTCOME OF the Civil War registered the defeat of the Army of the Confederate states, the defeat of the army of the slaveholders, and a victory for the army of the owners of the railroads and big industrial enterprises committed to free, or wage labor. The political party of the big property holders, the Republican party, was supported by the mass of small farmers, urban workers, small business owners and the abolitionist movement....

Mass Murder at Colfax, The Bloody Death of Reconstruction

— Robert Caldwell

The Colfax Massacre:
The Untold Story of Black Power,
White Terror, & the Death of Reconstruction
By LeeAnna Keith
Oxford University Press. 240 pages, $24.95 cloth.

The Day Freedom Died:
The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court,
and the Betrayal of Reconstruction
By Charles Lane
New York: Henry Holt and Co. 326 pages, $17 paperback.

ON APRIL 13, 1873, white supremacists laid siege to a Black Republican stronghold in rural north Louisiana, brutally slaying freedmen and altering the course of the United States....

Democracy Seized -- and Lost

— Jim Toweill

Capitol Men:
The Epic Story of Reconstruction
Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen
By Philip Dray
Houghton Mifflin, 2008, 480 pages, $20 cloth.

RECONSTRUCTION WAS AMONG the messiest, most complex periods in U.S. history, and certainly one of the most emotionally exhausting to revisit. Accounts of the period resonate with hope of almost millenarian proportions and are tainted by tragedy — not the kind of tragedy that brings release, but the kind that leaves one sick with incredulity....

African-American Socialist Pioneer

— Clarence Lang

Hubert Harrison:
The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918
By Jeffrey B. Perry
New York: Columbia University Press, 2009, 624 pages, $37.50 cloth.

IN HOLDING ALOFT the Banner of Ethiopia: Caribbean Radicalism in Early Twentieth-Century America, Winston James singled out Hubert Henry Harrison for his “pioneering role in what became known as the New Negro radicalism of the 1920s.” Yet, James noted, Harrison remained an understudied figure who had not been the subject of a major biography....

Inspired by Injustice: Scottsboro in History

— Bill V. Mullen

Remembering Scottsboro:
The Legacy of an Infamous Trial
By James A. Miller
Princeton University Press, 280 pages, $27.95 paperback.

“IN MANY RESPECTS this is an archival project,” writes James A. Miller, Chair of the American Studies Department at George Washington University, at the end of his introduction to Remembering Scottsboro: The Legacy of an Infamous Trial....

World War II and Ethnic Conflict in LA

— Daisy Rooks

The Shifting Grounds of Race:
Black and Japanese Americans
in the Making of Multiethnic
Los Angeles
By Scott Kurashige
Princeton University Press, 2007, $29.95.

IN THE SHIFTING Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles, Scott Kurashige provides new insights into the struggle for racial equality in Los Angeles by focusing on collaboration, and competition, between African-American and Japanese American residents of the city....

Genius At Work in Struggle

— David Finkel

Thelonious Monk
The Life and Times of an American Original
By Robin D.G. Kelley
New York: Free Press, 2009, 462 pages + notes and index,
$30 cloth.

Monk’s Music
Thelonious Monk and Jazz History in the Making
By Gabriel Solis
University of California Press, 2008, 218 pages + bibliography
and index, $23.95 paperback.

THE IMAGE TRANSFORMATION of Thelonious Monk and his music, from leading symbol of avant-garde weirdness to provider of background for Public Radio stock market reports, can surely be counted among our contemporary consumer capitalism’s triumphs of cultural incorporation....


Where Is Venezuela Going?

— Jeffery R. Webber

Rethinking Venezuelan Politics:
Class, Conflict, and the Chávez Phenomenon
By Steve Ellner
Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008, 257 pages,
$25 paperback.

STEVE ELLNER’S LATEST book, Rethinking Venezuelan Politics, is an important contribution to our understanding of Venezuela under Hugo Chávez. It brings a deeply historical perspective to the topic, something almost universally lacking in the growing number of short-sighted texts on the country’s politics....

Leonard Bernstein's Tragedy

— Peter Drucker

Leonard Bernstein:
The Political Life of an American Musician
By Barry Seldes
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009,
276 pages, $24.95 cloth.

FOR SOMEONE LIKE like me who attended Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts in the 1960s, he summed up almost everything my family admired. As director of the New York Philharmonic he was a high priest in a temple of music. Yet far from being a stuffed shirt, he was handsome and fun, irresistibly communicating his infectious enthusiasm....

Do Workers Lose Their Rights?

— Nancy Holmstrom

Freedom in the Workplace?
By Gertrude Ezorsky
Cornell University Press, 2007, 104 pages,
(with appendix), $13.95 paperback.

GERTRUDE EZORSKY’S FREEDOM in the Workplace? is a unique and highly useful book. Unique, because it combines sophisticated philosophical analysis with compelling examples from the lives of low-wage workers and an Appendix on 20th century U.S. labor law — all in a text of 77 easy-to-read pages! — and highly useful, because it refutes a central myth about capitalism....

Every Woman for Herself

— Jane Slaughter

Factory Girls
From Village to City
in a Changing China
By Leslie T. Chang
Spiegel and Grau 2008, Random House paperback edition 2009, 448 pages, $16.

FACTORY GIRLS SHOWS the reader what it’s like to live inside the largest human migration in history. It feels, apparently, pretty lonely. Leslie Chang’s subjects are the young women who’ve left tiny farms throughout China for a chance at making money in the big city. Their lesson and mantra is that each person can depend only on herself. “The easiest thing in the world was to lose touch with someone,” Chang notes....

Scottish Workers in History

— Paul Buhle

The Rousing of the Scottish Working Class 1774-2008
By James D. Young
Glasgow: Clydeside Press (, 2009, 277 pages, 10 pounds 50 pence, paperback.

SO MUCH HAS happened to the world’s working class in the last 30 years that we oldtimers may, perhaps, be forgiven for losing focus on the deeper histories of industrial life and struggle. Thanks to the publish-or-perish academic reality, ever more studies in social history actually appear, but fewer treat the labor movement as an important part of that history....

Letters to Against the Current

A Letter on Che

— Peter Drucker

NOW THAT I’VE read Olivier Besancenot and Michael Löwy’s book on Che Guevara, I’m disappointed with Kit Wainer’s review (ATC 143, September-October 2009).

It’s not that I mind Kit’s criticisms of the Cuban regime; I’m no fan of it myself. But I think that his characterization of Guevara’s late politics as “a kind of hyper-voluntarism somewhat reminiscent of ‘third period’ (1928-1934) Stalinism” doesn’t do justice to the evidence in the book he was reviewing....