Against the Current, No. 167, November/December 2013

Against the Current, No. 167, November/December 2013

No Easy Victories

— The Editors

SHORTLY BEFORE THE Tea Party Republicans shut down the U.S. government over president Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the president’s unaffordable war act was shut down by the combined opposition of Vladimir Putin, the British parliament and the U.S. population. So no bombing of Syria, after all. Sometimes the world catches a break — and nobody got a bigger break than president Obama himself, rescued from risking what’s left of his presidency on an unpopular military intervention that was almost certain to fail.

Putin, of course, is motivated by purely cynical Russian state interests. We also recognize that the suspension of the Obama-Kerry-Clinton drive to bomb Syria does nothing to resolve the carnage resulting from the Assad regime’s determination to drown its population’s democratic aspirations in blood....

Obama, African Americans and War on the Working Poor

— Malik Miah

“So it’s time in 1964 to wake up. And when you see them coming up with that kind of conspiracy, let them know your eyes are open. And let them know you — something else that’s wide open too. It’s got to be the ballot or the bullet. The ballot or the bullet. If you’re afraid to use an expression like that, you should get on out of the country; you should get back in the cotton patch; you should get back in the alley. They get all the Negro vote, and after they get it, the Negro gets nothing in return. All they did when they got to Washington was give a few big Negroes big jobs. Those big Negroes didn’t need big jobs, they already had jobs. That’s camouflage, that’s trickery, that’s treachery, window-dressing. I’m not trying to knock out the Democrats for the Republicans. We’ll get to them in a minute. But it is true; you put the Democrats first and the Democrats put you last.” (From Malcolm X’s speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet,” given in Cleveland, Ohio, April 3, 1964)

MALCOLM X BY 1964 had broken with the Nation of Islam, a religious-centered Black Nationalist group. He remained an orthodox Muslim and Black Nationalist, but advocated a broader strategy to win Black freedom by supporting wider unity of all oppressed ethnic groups....

Which Way Out for Detroit?

— Dianne Feeley

AS A RETIRED autoworker active in pre­venting further home foreclosures in Detroit, I consider two of the most urgent issues to be unemployment (45.3% according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2012) and evictions. These indicators reflect the poverty of the city — where 35% live below the poverty line according to the 2009 U.S. Census.

Additional statistics include shocking infant mortality rates (13.5 per 1,000 live births, or twice as high as Michigan’s rate as a whole), along with high rates of industrial pollution and brownfields (an EPA report cited 45,000 separate places). Adults have an asthma rate 50% higher than anywhere else in Michigan; the rate is twice as high for children. Lead poisoning is still a major problem, particularly for the city’s youth....

Canary Islands vs. Big Oil

— Norma Wilow

BETWEEN THE CONTINENTS of Europe and Africa, and a running jump to the Americas, more than 12 million people visit the Canary Islands each year.

Three of the seven volcanic isles are world heritage sites, maintaining unique ecosystems, conservation land and a home for abundant sea life. They may also provide Europe with a renewable energy role model, stepping stones metaphorically to a sustainable future, as the archipelago aims for total self-sufficiency in 2025.

But in March 2012, the Spanish government approved prospects for oil exploration off the islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, both of which are UNESCO biosphere reserves,...

Museum of the Word and Image

— Diana C.S. Becerra

DURING MY THREE-month stay in El Salvador, I found oxidized AK-47 bullets in the countryside earth; I touched faint traces of military posters on building walls; visited marked and unmarked sites of military-led massacres; and listened attentively to new friends about the impacts of a Civil War (1980-1992) that came in the form of U.S.-funded and trained state terror: systemic disappearances, massacres, torture, sexual violence, and a death-toll of 75,000 people.

I confronted this history as a curator at the Museo de la palabra y la imagen (Museum of the Word and Image or MUPI, see, an institution dedicated to writing subaltern histories, from the participation of peasants, indigenous peoples, workers and women in social movements, to the everyday moments of urban and rural life....

A Militant, "Minority" Union?

— Steve Early

AT THE AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles in September 2013, the pros and cons of labor-management cooperation schemes were not much debated by the hundreds of union delegates, most of them fulltime union officials. But, on the opening day of their meeting, a small group of rank-and-file workers managed to alter the convention agenda — by threatening to protest the presence of Kaiser Permanente (KP), which happens to be their employer.

The AFL-CIO had scheduled two convention presentations featuring the California hospital chain and health maintenance organization (HMO) whose continuing drive for contract concessions triggered statewide strikes by 20,000 of its own workers in 2011 and 2012. The strikers included members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) and the AFL-affiliated California Nurses Association (CNA), before....

The Budget/Deficit Deal

— David Finkel

SOME SERIOUS RULING class intervention finally presented John Boehner an instruction he couldn’t refuse: Get the Harry Reid-Mitch McConnell Senate deal to the House floor for a straight vote to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling. Tell the Tea Party that you know where they’re coming from, and they need to crawl back under it. We run this damn country, and we don’t care enough about “Obamacare,” one way or the other, or about your Speakership for that matter, to risk our ill-gotten trillions over it.

Only after The New York Times reported that the Business Roundtable and other corporate heavies are so upset with the Tea Party that they might start funding primary challenges against them, and after the global financial press and leaders of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund opined....

The Passion of Richard Seymour

— Alan Wald

The Liberal Defence of Murder
by Richard Seymour
London: Verso, 2008 (paperback edition, 2012), 358 pages,
$29.95 hardback and $24.95 paperback.

UnHitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens
by Richard Seymour
London: Verso, 2013, 160 pages, $16.95 paperback.

THE CURIOUS WORLD of apostate radical intellectuals still awaits the irreverently absurd satire of a Woody Allen. In the meantime, we are fortunate to have the books of Richard Seymour to skewer the predictable platitudes and puncture the sanctimonious pretensions of the “Pro-War Left.”...

Support Edur Velasco Arregui!

— Richard Roman

MY COLLEAGUE AND co-researcher, Mexican intellectual and trade union activist Edur Velasco Arregui, has been expelled for political reasons from the SNI (National System of Researchers) in Mexico. This expulsion has many severe consequences for Edur (financial, job security, and health coverage) and is part of the effort of the Mexican government to intimidate those who oppose by actions as well as words its authoritarian, repressive and neoliberal path. {Note: This ATC issue contains a review by Dan L Botz of two books on Mexico, one of which is Continental Crucible, co-authored by Richard Roman and Edur Velasco Arregui.}

Edur’s history of opposition to the regime, his academic record, and circumstances surrounding the case are presented in the statement “Political Retaliation against a Mexican Intellectual: The Case of Dr. Edur Velasco Arregui,”...

Arab World Uprising

Introduction: Middle East Upheaval

— The Editors

WE PRESENT THE following contributions as the turmoil of the Arab uprisings continues. At the time when a U.S. bombing of Syria appeared imminent, we posed a few questions to some experts on the region. Val Moghadam’s responses to our queries, and Hisham Ahmed’s thoughts on the dangers of unilateralism, argue the case that bombing Syria in the name of protecting its people would have made a ghastly humanitarian tragedy even worse, while solving nothing. Kit Wainer reviews two important books on the Arab Spring and subsequent upheavals, which provide essential background to the events in Egypt, Syria, Bahrain and elsewhere. We will have further coverage, of course, in future issues.

On Syria Crisis and Prospects

— Val Moghadam

IF A U.S. bombing campaign against Syria takes place, what do you think would be its real objectives, and the likely consequences? And what would be the worst or most dangerous possibilities?

ONE CONSEQUENCE COULD be to hit the final nail in the coffin of U.S. global hegemony and legitimacy. Another could be the destruction of a once-stable country and the ascendancy of warring political factions — very much like the result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

For some decades, the United States has been undergoing a decline in its economic power relative to other countries in the world economy, and its global moral authority and political leadership have dissipated....

On the Perils of Imperialism

— Hisham H. Ahmed

IT IS QUITE obvious that president Barack Obama’s policy toward Syria is troubled at best. The President seems to have committed himself to postures which he does not seem able to effectively meet. The “red line” he had designated for attacking Syria if chemical weapons were used seems to have imposed more of a burden on Obama himself than on Bashar Al-Assad. Obama’s policy seemed to be more confused and confusing than ever for the American public.

The climax of this confusion came out in Obama’s September 10 address, originally meant to mobilize Congress in support of an authorization for using military force against Syria, but inevitably turned into a “life-saving” speech for Obama avoiding embarrassment and political defeat....

Roads to the Arab Uprisings

— Kit Adam Wainer

The Journey to Tahrir:
Revolution, Protest, and Social Change in Egypt
Jeanine Sowers and Chris Toensing, eds.
Verso, 2012, 320 pages, $29.95 paperback.

The Arab Revolts:
Dispatches on Militant Democracy in the Middle East
David McMurray and Amanda Ufheil-Somers, eds.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013,
272 pages, $28 paper.

TIMELINESS IS THE enemy of any analyst of the Arab Spring. The sharp conjunctural turns in Egypt and Syria during the summer of 2013 alone demonstrate how challenging it can be to produce a work of analysis that will remain relevant by the time of publication. Yet these two works find a way to remain meaningful....

Remembering E.P. Thompson

Introduction to Remembering E.P. Thompson

— The Editors

THE CLASSIC WORK of Edward P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, 1780-1832, viewed the violent transformation brought by the Industrial Revolution as it was experienced from below, in the lives of people being formed into a modern working class.

 Too often considered solely as the product of an objective economic process that produced “progress” despite the attendant difficulties, in Thompson’s view, this working class needed to be understood as an agent of its own formation and coming to consciousness....

E.P. Thompson: Feminism, Gender, Women and History

— Barbara Winslow

I READ THE Making Of the English Working Class in 1966 when I was on my junior year abroad at the University of Leeds, not realizing that E.P. Thompson was a lecturer in the Extramural (read adult education) Department at the very same university.

It was not until I studied with Thompson at the University of Warwick, in Coventry England in 1969, and reread his book that I began to fully appreciate its importance. It changed the way I looked at history. Its passionate, involved, activist historical and theoretical approach transformed the study of the formation of working-class identity in England in the late 18th and early 19th century and then elsewhere.

Those trying to look at a new way of looking at history from the bottom up embraced Thompson’s much quoted declaration on intent....

Thompson, William Morris and Ecosocialist Tasks

— Rafael Bernabe

AS I LOOK back on E.P. Thomp­son’s work and the impact it had on me, his biography of William Morris — William Morris, From Romantic to Revolutionary (1977) — stands out brighter than all other texts, including his deservedly acclaimed The Formation of the English Working Class.

It was the genius of William Morris to prefigure and express many concerns that today must be part of an ecosocialist synthesis, and it was the genius of E.P. Thompson to detect the originality and relevance of this 19th century poet, craftsman, designer, conservationist and socialist for the present.

Ecosocialism today, as the term indicates, implies a fusion of ecological and anti-capitalist perspectives....


Dream Worlds Here and There

— Jase Short

by Kim Stanley Robinson
Orbit Books, 2012, $26 hardcover.

REVIEWING A SCIENCE fiction novel in a political magazine requires some explanation, but the case of the Nebula Award-winning 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson writes itself. Robinson is a noted socialist science fiction writer, part of a list of contemporary greats including Ken MacLeod, China Mieville and the recently-passed Iain Banks. Furthermore, his previous works, including the celebrated Red Mars trilogy, have all dealt with political issues from social and political revolutions to ecology.

Finally, 2312 concerns the state of a world three hundred years from now....

The New "Politics from Below"

— Midge Quandt

Territories in Resistance:
A Cartography of Latin American Social Movements
by Raúl Zibechi, translated by Ramor Ryan, forward by Dawn Paley
AK Press, 2012, 363 pages, $19.95 paperback.

AS THE JULY, 2013 issue of Latin Amer­ican Perspectives makes clear, the reinvention of the Left from “below” is challenging the traditional approach to politics in the region. The old left emphasizes the state, political parties and the unions in a state-centered narrative of revolution. The debate centers on whether the state or the grassroots can best effect fundamental change.

Raúl Zibechi, a leading activist and writer (whose work is better known in Spanish), sides unequivocally with the new movements....

The Politics of Extractivism

— Devin Beaulieu and Nancy Postero

Geopolítica de la Amazonía:
Poder hacendal-patrimonial y acumulación capitalista
by Alvaro García Linera
La Paz, Bolivia: Vicepresidencia del Estado, 2012.
An English translation by Richard Fidler is online at

GEOPOLÍTICA DE LA Amazonía: Poder hacendal-patrimonial y acumulación capitalista (Geopolitics of the Amazon, Landed Hereditary Power and Capitalist Accumulation, 2012) is the latest defense of the politics and policies of Evo Morales’ leftist government by its premier intellectual, vice-president Alvaro García Linera....

Mexico in Labor's Crucible

— Dan La Botz

Continental Crucible:
Big Business, Workers and Unions in the Transformation of North America.
by Richard Roman and Edur Velasco Arregui
Halifax & Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing, 2013, 148 pages, references, index, $19.95 paperback.

The Collapse of Dignity:
The Story of a Mining Tragedy and the Fight Against Greed and Corruption in Mexico
by Napoleón Gómez
Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, Inc., 2013, 344 pages, photos, index, $26.95 paperback / Kindle $11.99.

THESE TWO QUITE different books both deal in important and interesting ways with the question of building a real labor movement throughout North America....

Forging the Capital Security State

— Allen Ruff

The Making of Global Capitalism
The Political Economy of American Empire
by Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin
Verso, 2013, 456 pages, $29.95 hardback.

THE MAKING OF Global Capitalism presents a sweeping history of the century-long U.S. ascendancy to the “commanding heights” of the global economy. Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin recount how the United States came to rule and continues as the primary architect, coordinator and essential guarantor of the present empire of capital.

This is an immense work, complex in its numerous themes and detailed arguments regarding the centrality of the U.S. state as the main bulwark and backer of accumulation on a world scale....

A Poet for Our Planet

— Alice M. Azure

A Turnpike Utopia:
Poems to Resist Environmental Destruction for Profit and War
by Sam Friedman
Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War,
46 pages, Available from the author at
Written as a fundraiser. Price: whatever you can afford
(at least $3 to cover costs).

BACK IN THE 1950s as a high school student, I had to read Edwin Markham’s “The Man with the Hoe.” What happened was exactly like Emily Dickinson described: the top of my head blew off!

Later, when a professor asked how I came to be involved with fair housing issues, American Indian activism, feminism and so forth, I gave him a copy of “The Man with the Hoe.”...