Against the Current, No. 162, January/February 2013

Against the Current, No. 162, January/February 2013

Over the Climate Cliff

— The Editors

HUMAN CIVILIZATION IS heading over the climate cliff, with consequences even on conservative estimates that threaten the survival of the world’s coastal cities as well the viability of agriculture, fishing stocks and fresh water supplies — in short, essentially the natural base on which all of society is built. Within this century, a global temperature rise of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) is regarded as inevitable.

The consequences of that are serious enough — but beyond that point, the future of society is at severe risk.

We won’t review here the scary statistics on the Arctic and Greenland icesheet shrinkage, loss of glaciers critical to agriculture in South America and Asia,...

African Americans Ignored in the Age of Obama

— Malik Miah

WHO WOULD EVER have thought that after 400 years, African Americans would become an invisible community to most politicians and the ruling class? The community’s issues are barely mentioned by the mainstream media — and when they are, it’s usually in a way to criticize civil rights gains of the past.

The right wing media led by Fox News and talk radio use code words like “food stamps” and “takers” to denote the Black community. Their Orwellian attacks focus on so-called special racial treatment as undermining “freedom.”...

Back to the 1920s?

— Dianne Feeley

THE MICHIGAN LAME duck legislature was on a tear to pass as many anti-democratic laws as possible before ending its 2012 term. The centerpiece of this ideological thrust was the passage on December 11 of the so-called “right-to-work” legislation that allows workers in union-organized workplaces not to pay a fee for union services they receive under the contract. (For reasons of political opportunism, firefighter and police unions are exempted from the RTW bill.)

Mostly because of term limits, next year’s legislature — although still majority Republican — will be slightly less right wing. If there was to be an attempt to implement a radical right agenda, it had to be accomplished in the period following the November election....

Other Horrendous Acts

— Dianne Feeley

PASSAGE OF THE right-to-work-for-less bill is only one of several horrendous laws the Michigan legislature has enacted in the final days of its session.

The legislature had to find a way to overcome the November referendum’s thumbs down of the Emergency Manager legislation. Public Act 4, which had been passed by the legislature and signed by governor Snyder last March, allowed the state to take over school districts, as well as cities and towns under financial distress, at the Governor’s determination. Once installed, the EM could redraw districts, tear up union contracts, sell off assets and outsource work. It went down to defeat as Proposal 1 in November....

Walmart: Black Friday and Beyond

— Dave Kingman

THE “BLACK FRIDAY”strike at Walmart stores surprised and elated many on the left and activists throughout labor and allied movements. The basic facts of the strike and the organizing efforts which led to it have been well-covered in the left and progressive press. This brief commentary attempts to assess the significance of these efforts.

Black Friday did not resemble a conventional strike — the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union says that just several hundred workers (out of more than a million) walked off the job at some point during the action. The significance of Black Friday lies, primarily, in the fact that a core group of Walmart workers, backed by thousands of supporters who organized more than 1,000 actions in 46 states, has shown it’s possible to directly challenge a company that has long seemed impervious to worker organizing....

The Empire in Decline

— an interview with Gilbert Achcar

GILBERT ACHCAR IS professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London. His most recent book was The Arabs and the Holocaust. The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives (New York: Metropolitan, 2010). His next book, The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising, is scheduled for publication in June 2013 (Los Angeles: University of California Press). He was interviewed by David Finkel from the Against the Current editorial board.

Against the Current: From your vantage point both in Europe and the Middle East, can you describe how the U.S. election was viewed from abroad?

Gilbert Achcar: As you may imagine, reactions were different in Europe and the Middle East. In Europe, there was a kind of sigh of relief at the reelection of Obama....

Chile: Of Movements and Mayors

— RenĂ© Rojas

CHILEANS WENT TO the polls on October 28, 2012 to elect mayors and city councils from Arica, bordering Peru in the North, to Punta Arenas in southern Tierra del Fuego. Considering the student movement that unleashed what seemed like unstoppable waves of mass militancy over the past year and a half, one might have expected gains for popular and working-class forces. Yet while students and subsequent rebellions had shaken the previously stable foundations of the region’s model post-authoritarian neoliberal regime, election results are discouraging on many counts.

No left anti-regime force established itself on the national scene. Further, the overall distribution of formal institutional power remains essentially intact. Finally, the attempt by the Communists to shift national politics to the left from within the regime’s parameters has failed miserably....

A Life Beyond Imagination

— Bryan D. Palmer

“Searching for Sugar Man”
Director, Malik Bendjelloul, 86 minutes, (2012), PG-13

A SHY MAN dressed in black, guitar slung over his shoulder, walks the meanest streets of one of the meanest cities in the United States. Imagine this man, making his way to a waterside bar of questionable repute. Let us, for accuracy’s sake, call it “The Sewer.” He performs for a pittance, his audience a routinized, if motley, crew of down-on-their-luck, up-on-their-illusions, out-with-conventionality types. They sit in crumpled shirts, spinning tall tales, and “drinking the detergents/That cannot remove their hurts.”

Hailed by a select few as a poet of the people, a prophet in unpropitious times, this man sings of what he has lived....

A Letter to the Editors

— Clifford J. Straehley, M.D.

The following letter was submitted to Against the Current by Dr. Clifford J. Straehley, Professor Emeritus of Surgery at the University of Hawaii and retired Clinical Associate Professor of Surgery at Stanford Medical School. He lives in Walnut Creek, California. Since this letter was written, in the wake of the Colorado theater shooting, new massacres of course have occurred including the latest horror at Newtown, Connecticut, giving the issue ever greater urgency — The editors.

ON APRIL 20, 1999 a shooting massacre occurred at Columbine School in a suburb of Denver, Colorado. This horrible event moved me to write a position paper on gun control. I sent this message to all local newspapers and a selection of national magazines, none of which chose to print it. Now, in view of the present horror that occurred at the Century Theater in Aurora, I shall try once again to get my reasonable message published:...

Honoring Black History

SNCC Movement Worker Reflects

— Gloria House

Gloria House presented this talk, “African American Nationalism, the Concept of Internal Colonies, And Third World Solidarity: Reflections of a Movement Worker,” at the 50th anniversary Port Huron Statement Conference held at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, November 2, 2012.

THE YEARS 1965 TO 1967 mark my work as a SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) field secretary in Alabama, and the beginning of a lifelong commitment to the African-American liberation movement and the worldwide struggles for human rights. This was a period of fierce rebellions in major cities across the United States as African Americans expressed our rage at the continued oppression of our communities. It was also a period when many of us activists began to travel abroad, to Africa in particular, but also to other Third World countries....

Black Women and Anti-Rape Activism

— Angela Hubler

At the Dark End of the Street:
Black Women, Rape and Resistance —
A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks
to the Rise of Black Power
by Danielle McGuire
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2010, 416 pages, $16.95 paperback

IN AT THE Dark End of the Street, Wayne State University historian Danielle McGuire persuasively and powerfully argues that the history of Black women’s anti-rape activism must be understood as an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement, but that standard accounts of civil rights have neglected the significance of these women’s efforts....

Northern Freedom Chronicles

— Dianne Feeley

Sweet Land of Liberty
The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North
By Thomas J. Sugrue
Random House, NY, 2008, 588 pages, $20 paperback.

“WE MUST COME to see that the de facto segregation in the North is just as injurious as the actual segregation in the South.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr., from his talk at Detroit’s Walk to Freedom March, June 23, 1963

WHILE MOST HISTORIES of the civil rights movement are set in the South, Thomas J. Sugrue’s book outlines its Northern trajectory....

From "Triple Oppression" to "Freedom Dreams"

— Alan Wald

Black Internationalist Feminism:
Women Writers of the Black Left, 1945-1995
By Cheryl Higashida
Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2011, 250 pages, hardback $50.

Radicalism at the Crossroads:
African American Women Activists in the Cold War
By Dayo F. Gore
New York: New York University Press, 2011, 229 pages, paper $23.

Sojourning for Freedom:
Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism
By Erik S. McDuffie
Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011, 311 pages, paper $23.95.

HARRIET TUBMAN, THE former slave turned Abolitionist, once said: “Every great dream begins with a dreamer.”(1) The concurrent publication of three evocative and absorbing studies of the “freedom dreams” of African-American women associated with the mid-20th century Communist movement is something of an event.(2)

Through an examination of the archival record, combined with numerous oral histories and close readings of political and literary texts, Black Internationalist Feminism, Radicalism at the Crossroads and Sojourning for Freedom provide at their very best some compelling history with engaging portraits....

"Wilding": The Facts and Hysteria

— George S. in conversation with Asha

The Central Park Five,
a new documentary by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon,
119 minutes

“THE CENTRAL PARK Five” is a new documentary by famed director Ken Burns (of The Civil War and Jazz fame), his daughter Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon, based on Sarah’s book by the same title. I was able to see the film at one of its premier screenings in late November, at a small independent and loosely radical theater in Harlem. The theater was packed to capacity — as it was during the whole week it was showing — and was followed by a discussion with Sarah Burns and one of the “Five,” Yusef Salaam, who is now an IT worker at a nearby hospital....


Occupy the Workplace

— Norm Diamond

Ours to Master and to Own:
Workers’ Control from the Commune to the Present
Edited by Immanuel Ness and Dario Azzellini
Haymarket Press, 2011, 443 pages, paperback $19.

IN THIS CENTENNIAL year of the great Lawrence textile workers’ strike, let us remember that the “roses” they fought for in addition to “bread,” referred to dignity and control on the job, in the workplace, as well as in the rest of their lives.

It goes almost without saying that workplace organizing is difficult, all the more so when the objective is to generate motion from the workplace toward larger social change....

The Dialectic of Monstrosity

— Jase Short

Monsters of the Market
Zombies, Vampires, and Global Capitalism
by David McNally
Winner of the 2012 Deutscher Memorial Prize
Haymarket Books, 2012, $28.

FROM THE MEANINGS behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Karl Marx’s utilization of the grotesque as metaphor for market fetishism in Capital, and ending with a powerful reflection on African zombies in the age of globalization, David McNally skillfully traverses the landscape of fantastic horror, past and present.

Monsters of the Market constitutes the most ambitious analysis to date of this genre by a Marxist theorist....

Left Out History

— Barri Boone

Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels and Black Power
by Amy Sonnie and James Tracy
Melville House Publishing, 2011, 200 pages, $16.95 paperback.

“WHITE SUPREMACY IS a bill of goods sold like snake oil to all white people who grow up in the United States. So why then are the whites who benefit least from this system given the lion’s share of the blame for racism?”

James Tracy, interviewed along co-author with Amy Sonnie on their recent book, offered this comment in explaining their reasons for telling a mostly untold story from the New Left of the 1960s and ’70s — the participation of poor and working-class white people in the movement....

In Memoriam

Eugene Genovese (1930-2012)

— Christopher Phelps

AFTER HIS DEATH last year at the age of 82, most obituaries of Eugene Genovese — the historian of American slavery whose masterpiece, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, was published in 1974—stated that he traveled from left to right, from Marxism to conservatism.

While not incorrect, that characterization ignores the duality of reaction and revolution in Genovese’s thought, the conservative impulses that ran through his radicalism even at its high point, and the consistencies that underlay a life that began in the Communist Party and ended in the GOP.

In his approach to history, morality and politics, Genovese’s story bears comparison to a classical tragedy in which a strength becomes the basis for a hero’s unravelling....