Against the Current, No. 155, November/December 2011

Against the Current, No. 155, November/December 2011

Three Years After "Yes We Can"

— The ATC Editors

NO, HE DIDN’T. That’s the epitaph on the tombstone of liberal and left-wing hopes that greeted the historic election of Barack Obama in November 2008. Did anyone imagine then that the election itself, more than anything he’d do in office, would be the high point of the Obama presidency? Or that three years later, the power of “Yes we can” would be the eruption of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) spreading to one city after another — essentially nothing to do with president Obama?

The much weakened “change you can believe in” President faces a year of daunting challenges: a difficult reelection campaign with high longterm unemployment, a demoralized Democratic base and a far-right-controlled Congress....

The Obama Reality Disconnect

— Malik Miah

THERE IS A sharp reality disconnect in the Black community. On the one hand, the Black population continues to support the first African-American president, Barack Obama, by more than 90%.

Yet the plight of the Black communities is at its worst condition in three decades. Official unemployment is over 16% —twice that of whites — and in the high 30% for young African Americans. Black household income is in decline and the lowest of the five major ethnic groups. Poverty is at the highest levels in 30 years....

Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline!

— Kathryn Savoie

THE KEYSTONE XL is a proposed 1700-mile pipeline that would transport tar sands oil (also called oil sands) from Alberta, Canada into the United States, crossing six states from Montana to Texas and Louisiana. The proposed pipeline, which has a price tag of $7 billion, would add to the extensive existing network of oil pipelines, carrying tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

TransCanada, the company that would build it, needs the approval of both the U.S. State Department and president Obama, who must grant a “certificate of national interest” for the project to go forward....

Big Three Auto Contracts: Lowlights of 2011

— Dianne Feeley

BY THE END of October, autoworkers at the Big Three will have approved their 2011-2015 contracts. Since Ford was the most profitable corporation, and one that had avoided bankruptcy, it was the logical corporation for the UAW to target. During the economic crisis Ford workers voted down a round of concessions that would have suspended their right to strike until 2015, so by bargaining first at Ford the union could have maximized its potential power to put an end to the concessions.

United Auto Workers President Bob King stated that each worker had lost between $9,000-30,000. But Ford was put on the back burner while the UAW entered negotiations with the two corporations that had emerged from bankruptcy, GM and Chrysler, where the workers did not have the legal right to strike....

Dollarization, Democracy & Daily Life in Zimbabwe

— K.D.

SATELLITE TV IS big in Zimbabwe; owing to the limited and propagandistic programming on state-sponsored Z-TV, and the travails of night travel on a decaying road network, just about every house in Harare, from the poor/working class Mbare township to the luxury suburb of Burrowdale, sports a dish that brings South African soapies, Al Jazeera and, most importantly, the latest in reality TV to living rooms across the land.

On my last trip to Zimbabwe all eyes, it seemed, were glued to the latest season of Big Brother Africa, a reality show in which participants from various African countries compete to be the last man standing by winning the votes of television viewers....

The UN & the Future of Palestine

— David Finkel

“YOU CAN’T MAKE this stuff up,” the Prime Minister of Israel lectured the UN General Assembly. Binyamin Netanyahu was referring to the history of Libya under Qaddafi, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, chairing UN Commissions on Human Rights and Disarmament respectively.

Something else you can’t make up: A visiting foreign head of government receives a rare invitation to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress, where he proceeds to mock U.S. policy as stated by the President of the United States. In response, virtually the entire Congress explodes in rapturous applause, jumping up and down — members of the president’s party and the opposing one alike, with perhaps fewer than a dozen exceptions — like 525 trained chimpanzees in front of the television cameras....

The Boomerang Is Almost Home

— Jimmy Johnson

“It should never be forgotten that while colonization, with its techniques and its political and juridical weapons, obviously transported European models to other continents, it also had a considerable boomerang effect on the mechanisms of power in the West, and on the apparatuses, institutions, and techniques of power. A whole series of colonial models was brought back to the West, and the result was that the West could practice something resembling colonization, or an internal colonialism, on itself.” — Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended

THE UNITED STATES, on orders from the Obama Administration, killed Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan in Yemen on Friday, September 30, 2011....

Crisis in the EU: From the Periphery to the Center

— Catherine Samary

[“THE CRISIS OF 2007-2009, coming from the U.S. core of the globalized system, the crisis that threatens the weak links of the euro, and the third crisis that started to affect Eastern Europe in 2009 have a major common point. Whether we are talking about the United States, Greece or the Baltic States, these crises are the repercussions of profoundly unbalanced growth.”

[This article by Catherine Samary is edited, and abridged for publication here, from a chapter of Capitalist Crises and Alternatives, edited by Ozlen Onaran, Resistance Books, London to be published at the end of 2011. Although it was written prior to the eruption of sovereign debt crises and imminent default of Greece, Spain and Italy that threatens the survival of the Eurozone, its discussion of the Eastern European “periphery” helps put this immediate crisis in a broader perspective. Her previous books include Yugoslavia Dismembered (Monthly Review Press, 1995) — The ATC editors]....

Has Europe's Crisis Peaked Yet?

— an interview with Eric Toussaint

[THE FOLLOWING DISCUSSION with Eric Toussaint, president of the Committee for Abolition of Third World Debt (CADTM) in Belgium, conducted on September 24, is the sixth installment of a multi-part interview that appears in full on the organization’s website This interview was translated by Christine Pagnoulle and Vicki Briault in collaboration with Judith Harris.]

CADTM: In July-September 2011 the stock markets were again shaken at the international level. The crisis has become deeper in the European Union, particularly with respect to debts. Has the crisis peaked yet?

Eric Toussaint: The crisis is far from over....

Bolivia's Growing Crisis

A CONFRONTATION BETWEEN the government of Bolivian president Evo Morales and a part of his indigenous social base is leading to a serious political crisis.

Following a violent police assault on indigenous community protests against a road being built through their self-governed Isiboro Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS), the main trade union federation COB called a 24-hour strike on September 28,...

On Troy Davis

— Theresa El-Amin

[THE FOLLOWING LETTER to the editor, written by Theresa El-Amin, regional director of the Southern Anti-Racist Network, appeared in the Columbus, Georgia Ledger-Enquirer. It appeared the Sunday following the state of Georgia’s judicial murder of Troy Davis on September 21, 2011. The Sunday edition has a circulation of 43,000 in conservative communities in southwest Georgia and southeastern Alabama.]

ALL OF THE prayers for Troy Davis have been answered. And the answer is: “Troy Davis is a martyr in the struggle to end the death penalty in Georgia.”

As a veteran of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee I will do all that I can to honor Troy and the millions around the world who worked to save his life....

Remembering SDS

A Theater for the Poor

— Alan Wald

EACH PHASE IN the nine-year-history of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) now reads like a chapter from a cautionary tale for future generations of young radicals. In 1960, SDS elected its initial president, Alan Haber (b. 1936).(1) Two years later the first convention adopted a manifesto with lasting scriptural authority, “The Port Huron Statement.”(2) SDS membership was soon zooming toward one thousand, with a strong base at nine colleges.

In March 1963 Haber received a $5000 grant from the UAW (United Auto Workers) to study economic issues by establishing ERAP (Economic Research and Action Project). But he then lost a political struggle to Tom Hayden (b. 1939) over the prioritization of on-campus work....

Memories of [my] Syndicalism

— Paul Buhle

A HANDFUL OF friends, old and new, have asked me about the path that my ideas and activities have taken me, some 50 years after I happened across a civil rights picket line in my hometown of Champaign, Illinois in the summer of 1960. The following is a radical memory unusual in some ways, but with many similarities to the memories of my New Left contemporaries in the outcome.

Most self-identified radical activists from the early 1920s to the early 1960s were influenced deeply by the effects of the Russian Revolution — which was for them the defining event of the century. Not so the New Left that emerged by the middle 1960s, more influenced by the civil rights and peace movements, the counter-culture, feminism, environmentalism and the search for some kind of synthesis beyond previous models....

In Memory of Carl Oglesby

— Ross Altman

Ravens in the Storm:
A Personal History of the 1960s Anti-War Movement
Carl Oglesby
Scribner, 2008, paperback reprint 2010,
352 pages, $22.

[Carl Oglesby died on September 13, 2011. We present this review as a memorial tribute. -- The ATC Editors]

FORTY-SIX YEARS ago this November, then-SDS president Carl Oglesby stood on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and told those assembled to protest the war in Vietnam that the men who were responsible for that war were not evil, they were “trapped in a system.” They were, like Antony had told the crowd of those who had killed Caesar, “all honorable men.” Indeed, they were all liberals....

Carl Oglesby: A Mentor & Leader

— Mike Davis

IN MY LIFETIME I’ve heard two speakers whose unadorned eloquence and moral clarity pulled my heart right out of my chest.  One was Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, speaking from the roof of the Busy Bee Market in Andersonstown in Belfast the apocalyptic day that hunger striker Bobby Sands died.

The other was Carl Oglesby, president of SDS in 1965. He was ten years older than most of us, had just resigned from Bendix corporation where he had worked as a technical writer, and wore a beard because his face was cratered from a poor-white childhood. His father was a rubber worker in Akron and his people came from the mountains....


Bolivia's Uncertain Revolution

— Dawn Paley

Los ritmos de Pachakuti:
Levantamiento y movilización en Bolivia (2000-2005)
Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar
Bajo Tierra Ediciones, D.F., México. 2009.

Dispersing Power:
Social Movements as Anti-State Forces
Raul Zibechi. Translated by Ramor Ryan
AK Press, Oakland, 2010, 163 pages, $15.95 paper.

From Rebellion to Reform in Bolivia:
Class Struggle, Indigenous Liberation, and the Politics of Evo Morales
Jeffery R. Webber
Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2011, 236 pages + notes and index. $19 paper.

BOLIVIA UNDER THE presidency of Evo Morales has become a favorite topic among progressives and social democrats, who have likened his ascendency to the nation’s highest post as nothing short of revolutionary....

A Revolution's Heritage

— Marc Becker

Bolivia’s Radical Tradition:
Permanent revolution in the Andes
S. Sándor John
Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009, 320 pages, $55 cloth.

S. SÁNDOR JOHN’S Bolivia’s Radical Tradition explores in detail the emergence in Bolivia of what became the strongest Trotskyist tradition in the Americas, thanks in large part to militant tin miner unions.

The emergence of Trotskyism in South America’s poorest country is a bit of a curiosity. Trotsky never wrote on Bolivia, and initially the country where his views found their most fertile ground was marginalized from the Fourth International....

A Family, A Tragedy, A Movement

— Karin Baker

People Wasn’t Made to Burn:
A True Story of Race, Murder, and Justice in Chicago
By Joe Allen
Haymarket Books, 2011, $22.95 hardcover.

THIS BOOK IS a gripping account of a fire and a shooting. Yet it is so much more. The lives of James and Annie Hickman, the tragic death of their four children, and James’ trial after shooting their landlord, form the center of Joe Allen’s book. But Allen constructs his narrative with the vivid stories of those who came together around the Hickman tragedy as his building blocks....

Class & Race in A Modern Catastrophe: Lessons of Katrina

— Derrick Morrison

The Sociology of Katrina
Perspectives on a Modern Catastrophe
edited by David Brunsma, David Overfelt and Steve Pico
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 288 pages, new edition 2010,
$29.95 paperback.

“HURRICANE KATRINA WAS a catastrophic disaster that resulted in over eighteen hundred fatalities, the displacement of at least 1.2 million people, and economic losses that are not yet finally accounted, but may approach $100 billion. Approximately 2.5 million residences were damaged by the category three storm that made landfall across Plaquemines Parish on the morning of August 29, 2005. With sustained winds approaching 135 mph, the storm moved inland just east of New Orleans and proceeded north along the Louisiana-Mississippi border. The eastern eye wall passed over Bay Saint Louis and Waveland, Mississippi....

Looking North for Labor Revival?

— Barry Eidlin

Canadian Labour in Crisis:
Reinventing the Workers’ Movement
David Camfield
Winnipeg: Fernwood Press, 160 pages, $19.95, paper.

IT ISN’T NEWS that the U.S. labor movement is in profound crisis, and has been for some time. Readers of this magazine are by now all too familiar with the symptoms: waves of concessionary contracts, eroding labor laws, vicious government and employer attacks, defeated strikes, the precipitous decline in union membership....


Wrestling with Ellison

— Paul M. Heideman

NATHANIEL MILLS’ REVIEW of Barbara Foley’s Wrestling With the Left (ATC 152, May-June 2011) raises a number of very important issues for understanding the politics of Ralph Ellison’s masterpiece, and by extension 20th-century African-American literature as a whole. In particular, Mills’ criticisms of Foley’s neglect of potentially liberatory moments in the text foregrounds the crucial issue of how revolutionary critics should go about the task of investigating novelistic politics.

Though Mills is surely right to raise this issue, his criticisms of Foley and his alternative reading of Ellison ultimately evade the dominant political ideology of the novel, rendering hollow any attempt to claim emancipatory moments within it....

History, Theory, Politics & Invisible Man

— Nathaniel Mills


PAUL HEIDEMAN’S SPIRITED critique of my review of Barbara Foley’s Wrestling with the Left testifies to the reach of Foley’s study. That the politics of Ellison’s novel would be up for debate in a journal like Against the Current would be unthinkable without Foley’s efforts. In multiple articles going back more than a decade, and culminating in Wrestling, Foley challenges the consensus critical position that Invisible Man was made possible by Ellison’s clean break from the left, and that the novel offers an objective and accurate critique of U.S. Communism.

Foley has established what before her intervention would have been a bizarre proposition: that a writer long associated with literary anticommunism, vital-center liberalism, and conservative American nationalism is a writer the left can and should read....