Against the Current, No. 158, May/June 2012

Against the Current, No. 158, May/June 2012

What Choice in 2012?

— The Editors

THE OUTCOME OF the November 2012 election is clear: It will be the most vicious and racist in modern U.S. history, and by far the most expensive of all time. Are critical issues at stake in this political year? Absolutely, yes — but not the questions we’ll get to vote on.

Heading up the Republican side with his trusty Etch-A-Sketch, presidential candidate Mitt Romney will be trying to simultaneously erase both his “moderate” past, and his ties to a party platform that will be crafted to appease the hardcore religious and don’t-tax-the-rich right wing....

The Murder of Trayvon Martin

— Malik Miah

POPULAR ANGER, MASS protests and leadership from Trayvon Martin’s parents, the African-American community and its organizations have exposed the racial divisions that run throughout U.S. society.

Marches, rallies and the defiant wearing of hoodies are forcing the authorities to take actions that would not have occurred only months ago with the murder of a young African American male — and the demand for justice has become an international campaign....

The War on Women--And Us All

— The Editors

THE WAR ON women’s reproductive rights is being fought in the U.S. Congress, in state legislatures and in the courts, and played out in the media. This war seeks to restrict women’s ability to control their reproductive lives — with each law more outrageous than the last — under the excuse that they are “protecting the unborn.”

The war on women’s rights begins in the reproductive arena, over abortion and even contraception. But the goal of the right wing is to roll back equality for women across the board — both in practice and in law....

The Takeover of Motor City

— Dianne Feeley

IN EARLY APRIL the Detroit City Council, by a 5-4 vote, and Mayor Dave Bing signed a “consent agreement” with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder that essentially turns over the city’s financial management to an appointed board. City officials maintain they avoided the imposition of Michigan’s draconian Public Act 4 (Emergency Manager Law), but in effect agreed to stay in office with their hands bound — as the language of the agreement states that they agree “to restrain their respective exercise of their powers, privileges and authorities….”

Residents and city workers, angered by the impending takeover and the stripping of union contracts, had turned out in force at public hearings, urging council members to reject the agreement....

Campaigning for A Millionaires Tax

— Bill Balderston and Claudette Begin

IN FEBRUARY 2012, the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) launched a simple, clear initiative to raise taxes on Californians with incomes greater than $1,000,000 per year. The folding of this campaign for the California Funding Restoration Act of 2012, better known as the Millionaires Tax (MT), following a compromise with the governor, has been felt as a seismic shock for many activists in California.

The following account will attempt to assess both the particulars of the significant effort around this initiative, which went beyond simply an electoral project, and the broader context of progressive taxation organizing, the meaning of such revenue-generating measures for a transformative political program, and its interface with the rise of radical populism both on the right and left (including the varied manifestations of the Occupy movement)....

"Occupy Everywhere"

— James Clark

THE DECISION BY Time magazine to name “the protester” its Person of the Year was largely a response to the two major events that bookended 2011: the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement.

While the scale of popular revolution in the Middle East and North Africa easily surpasses that of the Occupy protests based primarily in North America and Europe, the two movements are clearly related and continue to influence each other’s politics, composition and trajectory.

As the increasingly widespread use of “Occupy” suggests, however, there is a much broader history underpinning today’s movements, stretching as far back as the Palestinian Intifada in 1987 (if not further),...

Resistance After Foreclosure

— Dave Burt

IN 1973, IN the class- and race-polarized city of Boston, City Life began as a socialist collective fighting against evictions and gentrification in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. Over the years, it has evolved into a radical non-profit organization with a long history of doing tenant organizing and tenants’ rights work all across the city. City Life was able to avoid sectarian debates to maintain itself as a radical center for housing organizing.

Using Banker and Tradesman magazine to identify buildings in foreclosure, we’re able to canvass door-to-door to talk to those living in foreclosed buildings. City Life/Vida Urbana has worked with almost 2000 families who are defending their homes....

A Diversion We Don't Need

— Kevin Laird

NOBODY LIKES HAVING their meeting hijacked. Meetings are meant to be utilitarian affairs, venues to determine the best course of action to meet a goal. Nonetheless, the frustration of having one’s meeting taken over by someone with an ulterior agenda is nearly a universal experience.

With that frustration in mind, I am pleased to announce that I intend to provide a conclusive end to the Diversity Of Tactics argument. For those who have never experienced this particular argument, I am referring to a disagreement among radicals over the appropriateness of actions defined as “violent,” by the radical milieu and others....

Egypt's Year of Revolution

— an interview with Carl Finamore

CARL FINAMORE WENT on a reporting trip to Egypt for ten days in 2011. He arrived on February 11, 2011, the day President Hosni Mubarak was deposed. He visited for another ten days in 2012, on the one-year anniversary of the 18-day revolt that began on January 25, 2011. On both occasions, he travelled to Egypt with letters of introduction from his union and the San Francisco Labor Council. He is former president (retired), Air Transport Employees, Local Lodge 1781, IAMAW and current delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council. He can be reached at

Against the Current: Most of us have never witnessed the kind of revolutionary people’s mobilization you saw up-close in Tahrir Square....

Portuguese Workers vs. Austerity

— Joana Mortágua

THE GENERAL STRIKE of March 22, 2012 was the second called by the Portuguese trade unions since the IMF/European Commission/European Central Bank (“Troika”) intervened a year ago to impose austerity measures that almost forced the country to its knees. This is the third strike since the financial crisis took hold.

Austerity is a strategy to attack our wages and benefits, and transfer part of them straight into the financial markets through the public debt. Rather than a redistributive tax policy that builds a strong network of social services, tax revenues now feed financial speculation....

Perspectives on Putin's Russia

— Alexei Gusev

“Every generation needs a new revolution.” — Thomas Jefferson

“The most dangerous thing is to create a system of permanent revolution.” — Vladimir Putin

THE DEMONSTRATIONS OF December 10 and 24, 2012 in Moscow, in which tens of thousands of people took part, show clearly that the period of social passivity in Russia is nearing its end. The last time such large demonstrations took place in Moscow was in 1990-91 at the height of the democratic wave directed against the domination of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Then, as a result of these mass actions, the whole party-state system of the USSR began to crumble. Those who participated in those events 20 years ago are feeling the same atmosphere again....

Flag, Fetish and Illusory Community

— Bertell Ollman

PATRIOTISM IS USUALLY understood as “love of country.” With the help of Marx’s theories of the state and of alienation, we explore what is meant by “love” and “country” in this definition. By viewing society as a contradictory relation between a social community, based on the cooperation required by the existing division of labor, and an illusory community dominated by the interests of the ruling economic class, it will become apparent that the “country” which patriots love (the social community) is not the country they actually live in (the illusory community).

The “love of country” that patriots feel is akin to a yearning for the solidarity and mutual concern that exists within the social community, but has no place in the illusory one....


A Wisconsin Idea Resurgent

— Allen Ruff

It Started In Wisconsin
Dispatches from the Front Lines
of the New Labor Protest
By Mari Jo Buhle & Paul Buhle, editors
London & New York: Verso, 2011, 181 pages,
$14.95 paperback.

Wisconsin Uprising
Labor Fights Back
By Michael D. Yates
New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011,
304 pages, $18.95 paperback.

MORE THAN A year has passed since the mass protests of February-March 2011, at Madison and elsewhere across Wisconsin, erupted in response to Republican Governor Scott Walker’s effort to bust the state’s public employee unions....

Melting Into Air?

— Sheila Cohen

The Crisis and the Left
Socialist Register 2012
Leo Panitch, Greg Albo and Vivek Chibber, editors
Merlin and Monthly Review Press, 2011, 306 pages, $25 paperback.

WE SHOULD BEGIN by celebrating the glories of the Socialist Register, which has been presenting overviews of capitalism and its discontents since 1964 — even longer than Against the Current. Yet precisely because Socialist Register is a voice of “the left,” its contents can often reflect the frustrating obfuscations of that ill-defined body.

Diagnosing what is wrong with the existing system is not, as they say, rocket science, particularly for “the left.”...

Power and Pitfalls of Historical Fiction

— Mavuso Dingani

We are All Zimbabweans Now
by James Kilgore
Cape Town, South Africa: Umuzi, 2009,
Swallow Press, 2011, distributed in the United States by Ohio University Press, $22.95 paper.

WHEN JAMES KILGORE’S We are all Zimbabweans now first came out in 2009, the world economy was facing a deep recession. My first impression was that the book’s title referred to the globalizing of Zimbabwe’s 10-year economic crisis. In fact, Kilgore’s novel was referring to Zimbabwe’s attempt at reconciliation between white and black Zimbabweans after a brutal liberation war that killed 30,000 people....

Building Identify Through Struggle

— Charlie Post

Forging Political Identity:
Silk and Metal Workers in Lyon, 1900-1939
By Keith Mann
New York: Berghahn Books, 2010. xiv +
264 pages, $95 hardcover.

SOCIALISTS SEEKING TO win support among working people in the United States today face twin obstacles. A conservative, pro-business officialdom, tied to the capitalist Democratic Party and opposed to any manifestation of working class militancy, dominates the labor movement....

Looking Back and Forward at Cuba

— Frank Thompson

Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959:
A Critical Assessment
by Samuel Farber
Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2011, 291 pages + notes & index, $24 paperback.

SAMUEL FARBER’S BOOK Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment takes its place among definitive works on Cuba alongside Hugh Thomas’s monumental 1971 Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom (1971), which (in 1700+ pages!) surveyed the island from its prehistory until the early period of The Triumph of The Revolution....

In Memoriam

Remembering David Montgomery

— Alice Kessler-Harris

WHEN THE ORGANIZATION of American Historians met in Milwaukee in April, its program schedule included one very special session: a memorial tribute to David Montgomery. David, historian and political activist, died of a brain hemorrhage on Dec 1, 2011. He was 84 years old.

There have been other memorials for David Montgomery this winter. Yale University, where he taught for many years, organized a service at Battell Chapel in January. There David’s sons and some of his oldest friends remembered the Montgomery’s family life....