Against the Current, No. 147, July/August 2010

Against the Current, No. 147, July/August 2010

Bigger Slicks, Sicker Society

— The Editors

CORPORATE CRIME IS strikingly analogous to the BP slick. The visible stuff is the slime on the surface that gets most of the attention. You can see it, taste it, smell it. The bigger part stays underwater where it poisons and kills silently, out of view, gets caught in the currents and escapes containment — just like those oil “plumes” poised to swirl around the Florida peninsula and head up the Eastern seaboard.

The Massey Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion on April 6 was the kind of crime that’s easiest to spot once it’s happened — straight-up mass murder of 29 workers by a corporation that bought the state of West Virginia...

Arizona's Racial Profiling Push

— Malik Miah

ARIZONA GOVERNOR Jan Brewer is quick to blame the federal government for the economic and social ills of her state. Responding to a growing movement to boycott Arizona for its new “show me your papers” law (signed by her on April 23 and to become effective July 29) as “thoughtless and harmful,” she complained that the outraged response “adds to the massive economic burden Arizonans have sustained for years due to the federal government’s failure to secure its borders.”...

Louisianans, Oil & Petro-Addiction

— Brian Marks

THE DEEPWATER HORIZON oil horror has again focused the nation on South Louisiana. For the second time in less than five years, we are on the front pages of America’s newspapers. Again, this region is being misunderstood. Easy explanations miss the reasons why this area is so vulnerable, and why we in Louisiana are paying for the American economy’s dependence upon petroleum.

Our national media have a tendency to see things in the close-up focus of a telephoto lens; capturing the details but utterly missing the larger context. This disaster has not only been a long time coming, but it is only one of a series of disasters being experienced by the people of South Louisiana....

The Unfolding Epic Recession

— Jack Rasmus

THE DEPARTMENT OF Labor’s June 4 release of May 2010 U.S. employment numbers sent shock waves through the business community, erasing all doubt that U.S. economic recovery — much touted by business press and government policymakers in recent months — may not actually occur.

Front pages for June 4 and 5 in the Financial Times, New York Times and Wall Street Journal nervously headlined, “Markets Rocked as Jobs Data Disappoint,” “Job Data Casts Pall Over Economic Recovery,” and “Stocks Reel As Hiring Slows.”...

The Limits of State Intervention

— Barry Finger

THE NATION, AS befits the preeminent journal of left-liberal opinion, has run a series of articles by Robert Pollin and by James K. Galbraith that have sparked great attention. These, as well as numerous other arguments in a similar vein, mount a spirited defense of job generation through deficit spending as effective counter-cyclical measures.

My purpose here is not to argue whether socialists should or should not endorse specific measures relieving unemployment to stave off mounting poverty and economic insecurity that recessions entail. Clearly there are ways of intervening that are more socially beneficial, as well as those that are patently reactionary, and these judgments are usually noncontroversial in leftist circles....

After Obama's Health Care Law

— Milton Fisk

HOW CAN THE single-payer health care movement move ahead after Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act? The right wing wants to repeal the law, which it sees as “intrusive big government.” Single-payer activists are rightly angry that the bill fails to produce the universal national health insurance that our society desperately needs, and instead provides massive subsidies to the private corporate insurance vampires.

For our movement, however, mounting a push for single payer that starts with a call to repeal the new law would be political suicide....

The U.S. Social Forum in Detroit

UNDER THE THREEFOLD heading “Another World is Possible/ Another U.S. is Necessary/ Another Detroit is Happening,” the 2010 U.S. Social Forum (USSF) convened in Detroit June 22-26 for a celebration of resistance and strategic thinking to advance our struggles for justice globally and at home....

The Victory for Workers' Rights in Honduras

— Anthony Graham

PROGRESSIVE FOLLOWERS OF politics in Honduras have had little to celebrate recently. The June 28, 2009 coup that toppled president Mel Zelaya — a democratically elected reformer, though never the radical populist depicted by the mainstream media — was a terrible blow to democracy, echoing the worst chapters of Central America’s dark history.

For Honduran workers and their labor movement, the last several years have been particularly dark, as violence against labor activists had spiked even before the coup hastened a campaign of violence against popular leaders and sympathetic journalists....

World Cup Woes for South Africa

— Ashwin Desai & Patrick Bond

THE OVERSPENDING, CRONY capitalism and increased poverty the majority of South Africans now suffer are taking the fun out of the beautiful game, soccer. According to leading researcher Udesh Pillay of the SA Human Sciences Research Council, in 2005 one in three South Africans hoped to personally benefit from the World Cup, but this fell to one in five in 2009, and 1 in 100 today.

On the field, the national soccer team, appropriately named Bafana Bafana (“boys, boys”), has fallen in the global rankings from 81st in early 2010 to 90th today....

The 1960 Sit-ins in Context

— Marty Oppenheimer

WE THINK OF the Sit-In Movement as beginning on February 1, 1960, fifty years ago. In the minds of many this was the initiating event that led to many subsequent developments in the broader civil rights movement, indeed as a turning point in Black, and more generally, U.S. history. But the sit-ins, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s had their origins in vast social changes that began long before.

In the years immediately following World War II and the defeat of fascism, the U.S. South had more in common with South Africa than it had with the U.S. North. More than half of all Blacks were living in rural areas....

SNCC's 50-Year Legacy

— Theresa El-Amin

The SNCC 50TH Anniversary Conference was convened April 15-18, 2010 at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina — where the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was born on Easter weekend in 1960 —celebrating SNCC’s legacy and of course the historic sit-ins. About 300 people had pre-registered. In order to advance the “passing of the baton” intent of organizers, students were allowed to register without paying the $75 registration fee....

The Mexican Revolution at 100

¡Viva la Revolución!

— Dan La Botz

THE MEXICAN REVOLUTION, which began in 1910 and ended in 1940, transformed Mexico. During the course of those 30 years, tens of thousands of men and women fought in battles in many regions of the country to end the Porfirian dictatorship and to determine the course and goals of the revolution that had overthrown it. In a nation of 15 million, a shocking one million were killed while two million migrated to the United States to escape the violence (many of them subsequently returning), a movement which established the paths of future migrations.(1)

As a result of the revolution, the nation’s fundamental economic institutions were transformed....

Trotsky, Guest of the Revolution

— Olivia Gall

“INFAMOUS AND IMPOTENT handful of vile assassins and traitors!” “raging dogs that must be brought down with no pity!”(1) These were some of the words that Andrei Vyshinsky, the Soviet Prosecutor General, pronounced on August 24 1936, against four founding members of the Bolshevik Party, among them Zinoviev and Kamenev.

The great accused, in absentia, of this first and subsequent Moscow Trials was Leon Trotsky. August 1936 marked the rising anguish of Trotsky’s comrades, friends and sympathizers who filed petitions for asylum for Trotsky in many countries, only to be met with an international and absolute “NO.”...

Miners Protest Brutal Beatings

— Dan La Botz

[The following report is abridged from the May/June 2010 issue of Mexican Labor News and Analysis, a monthly collaboration of the Mexico City-based Authentic Labor Front (FAT) and the Pittsburgh-based United Electrical Workers (UE). Editor Dan La Botz can be contacted at Sign up for a free emailed subscription at].

FIVE THOUSAND MEMBERS of the Mexican Miners and Metal Workers Union and their families and other unions and social movements marched five kilometers May 24 to protest the brutal police beating....


African Americans' Forced Labor

— Heather Ann Thompson

Slavery by Another Name:
The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans
from the Civil War to World War Two
By Douglas Blackmon
Anchor Books, 2008, 496 pages, $17 paper.

AS AMERICANS WE are taught that slavery was abolished after the Civil War. A close reading of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution reveals, however, that this was not exactly the case. Although this amendment did outlaw slavery for the majority of American citizens, anyone convicted of a crime could still, quite legally, be kept in a state of bondage without claims on civil liberties and without remuneration for their forced labor....

Peace, Freedom and McCarthyism

— Mark Solomon

Anticommunism and the African American Freedom Movement:
“Another Side of the Story”
Edited by Robbie Lieberman and Clarence Lang
Palgrave Macmillan, 251 pages, $85, cloth.

THE TITLE OF this volume is a bit misleading. It has hardly anything to do with the ideological substance of U.S. anticommunism in its encounter with the African-American freedom movement.

Rather, this collection of essays, ably edited by Robbie Lieberman and Clarence Lang, does something more important for progressive readers and activists:...

Waging the War on Slavery

— Derrick Morrison

Race and Radicalism in the Union Army
By Mark A. Lause
Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009,
139 pages plus notes & index, $45, cloth.

THE SETTLEMENT OF Lawrence in the territory of Kansas, summer of 1856: Pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers are trying to colonize the territory. The former want a slave-soil, the latter a free-soil state. Armed pro-slavery gangs from Missouri are harassing and attacking the free-soil settlers. The U.S. government and U.S. Army are pro-slavery....

Fighters with Disabilities

— Chloe Tribich

Call Me Ahab
A Short Story Collection
By Anne Finger
University of Nebraska Press, 2009, 206 pages,
$17.95 paperback.

AT LEAST SINCE the mid-20th century, writers in the United States have publicly debated the place of politics in fiction. Plenty of great authors, Flannery O’Connor among them, warned against saddling fiction with political intent. That some renowned writers have produced work that reveals human truths that belie their detestable politics — Jorge Luis Borges and Ezra Pound are two examples — might support O’Connor’s point....

In Memoriam

Berta Langston, 1926-2010

— Alan Wald

BERTA LANGSTON (1926-2010), a founder and member of Solidarity, died of lung cancer at age 84 in Norwalk, Connecticut on June 23. Born Berta Green on the Lower East Side of New York City, she was one of four sisters. She joined the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the mid-1940s and throughout nearly four decades of activity she was widely esteemed on the Left as one of the party’s most devoted and capable militants, a person who could work with sundry individuals to develop coalitions and political defense committees of national and international import. From time to time she used the party name “Berta Graham,” and she received a Marxist education at the “Trotsky School” at Mountain Spring Camp in New Jersey. During the mid-1960s she served briefly on the SWP National Committee....

Barbara Zeluck, 1923-2010

OUR COMRADE BARBARA Zeluck died at her home June 5 in New York City. A memorial event is being planned for Saturday afternoon, September 18 and a fuller tribute will appear in our next issue.

Born in 1923 into a coal mine-owning family in Birmingham, Alabama, Barbara traveled far — socially, politically, and geographically — in her life. She joined the Communist Party while a student at Vassar in the early 1940s. Like many others, she left the CP following the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian revolution and the revelation of Nikita Khrushchev’s “secret speech” outlining Stalin’s crimes....

Recollections of Harry Press

— Carl Anderson, Arthur Brodzky & Dave Bers

HARRY PRESS, A veteran of the U.S. Trotskyist movement and the American Socialist current, died this year at age 94. In recent years he was a loyal reader and made several very generous donations to this magazine. These recollections of Harry Press were told to Carl Finamore for Against the Current. — David Finkel for the ATC editors

Arthur Brodzky is a former seaman, veteran socialist and close friend of Harry Press.

I WAS BORN in 1921 in New York City but grew up in London, England. I always liked the sea so when I had to go out and get a job at the tender age of 14, I started sailing....

Lena Horne & Her Times

— Kim D. Hunter

IF THERE WERE any doubt that the blues could be elegant, Lena Mary Calhoun Horne Hayton (as she signed her name) dispelled it. At age 26, she sang the title song to the film “Stormy Weather” and her sultry, silky voice branded the tune as hers forever.

Most of us would know her as simply Lena Horne. But she often signed all of her names and especially liked using Calhoun, as an ironic acknowledgement of her pro-slavery relative vice president John Calhoun....