Against the Current, No. 172, September/October 2014

Against the Current, No. 172, September/October 2014

Our Planet, Our Movement

— The Editors

THE SEPTEMBER 21 Peoples Climate March and related activities — notably, the September 19-20 NYC Climate Convergence Conference ( — make a timely occasion to look at the dimensions of the global environmental crisis and how to confront it.

If solutions are to be found, where to begin? Undoubtedly, all-out efforts in basic and applied climate research, conversion to solar and sustainable technology, and profound changes in agriculture and industry will be essential for human civilization — and a great many of our fellow species — to survive. Most urgent, however, is the need for mass environmental movements armed with both a clear-headed understanding of the crisis and a transformational program for survival with social justice....

Ferguson on Center Stage

— Malik Miah

TWO AMERICAS. TWO realities. Race matters. Us against them.

The mass media have swarmed all over Ferguson, Missouri for one reason: The Black community went into the streets after the police murder of Michael Brown, and refused orders to leave. They have inspired solidarity actions taking place all over the United States and internationally, including Latino, Asian and white young people along with African Americans.

“Don’t Shoot, Hands Up” spread across the country. It reflects a reality for African American boys and men when in contact with the police. There is genuine fear that any wrong move could lead to your death. Racial profiling is commonplace in cities small and big. Accountability for cop violence is not....

Is Water a Human Right in Detroit?

— Dianne Feeley

ON JULY 29, after national and international outcry against shutting off the water of thousands of Detroit residents, governor-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr turned over management of the Detroit Water and Sewage Department to mayor Mike Duggan. Under legislation that has been overturned by Michigan voters in the last election but nonetheless passed once again (this time with an appropriation attached so it cannot be challenged by another referendum vote), the Emergency Manager holds all power, and chooses what he delegates to the Mayor.

Previously the Mayor commented that the water issue had been badly mishandled. As criticism of the turnoffs mounted, Orr turned the department over to the Mayor as if it was a hot potato.

This March the water department had ordered....

Detroit: Your Pension and Your Life!

— Dianne Feeley

THE MICHIGAN CONSTITUTION guarantees that pensions earned by government workers will not be reduced. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes nonetheless ruled that federal bankruptcy law trumps the state constitution.

Each Detroit city worker with a vested pension was mailed a ballot to accept negotiated cutbacks, or face massive cuts of nearly 30%. Sensing that the outcome had already been decided, the majority of the 32,000 Detroit city workers and pensioners did not bother to cast a vote on “Your pension or your life.”

• Uniformed personnel — including 3,272 active police officers and firefighters as well as 9,054 retirees — who do not receive Social Security benefits and whose pension averages an annual $30,600 were demanded to allow....

September 21st People's Climate March

THE PEOPLE’S CLIMATE March, scheduled for Manhattan on Sunday, September 21, will take place just two days before world leaders attend an historic Climate Summit at the United Nations. Eddie Bautista,  executive director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, pointed out that “People are seeing this crisis unfold all around them, especially in low-income and communities of color. Our message to anyone anywhere concerned about the way the climate crisis will impact our jobs, health, children and communities is simple: join us.”

The New York march is expected to be the largest climate action in world history.  More than 700 organizations have endorsed the effort — bringing together over 50 labor unions, environmental justice and environmental groups. A number of conferences will take place beforehand and afterward....

Toward Energy Democracy

— Bill Resnick

ENERGY SYSTEMS ACROSS the planet are in accelerating transition towards sun and wind sourced production, driven by recognition of the catastrophic threat of climate change (caused by burning fossil fuels) and by the increasing cost advantages of renewable technologies.

As with many other emerging technologies with vast implications for profits and power, a great battle has erupted as to their integration into the productive system — under whose control, in whose interests? Indeed the “great game” of the 21st century, this time not between nations but within nations, will not be over control of Middle Eastern crude or any other deposit of plentiful but increasingly costly to exploit fossil fuel....

A Green New Deal for New York

— Howie Hawkins

IN JANUARY 2014, when we wrote the first draft of our election campaign plan for governor and lieutenant governor of New York, we set down what we thought were four ambitious goals. But as the campaign has unfolded, it appears we aimed too low. We have revised our goals upwards.

Goal 1: Retain Ballot Status

Our first goal was to receive at least 50,000 votes, which is the threshold for securing and maintaining a ballot line for the Green Party in all upcoming New York State elections. With ballot status, it is much easier for our candidates to run for local office. Currently two Greens hold elected office as village mayors and several more as town councilors....

Richmond Progressive Alliance Update

THE LAST-MINUTE entry of a new mayoral candidate has shaken up the electoral topography of Richmond, California, where the Richmond Progressive Alliance is taking on the money and political muscle of Chevron Corporation. Richmond resident and labor writer-activist Steve Early reports:

“(O)n the eve of the filing deadline for city candidates, a longtime city council member not up for re-election this year decided to throw his hat into the ring for mayor. Arkansas native Tom Butt, a 70-year-old architect, Vietnam veteran, and 41-year resident of Pt. Richmond seeks to replace Gayle McLaughlin, the well-known California Green and leader of the Richmond Pro­gressive Alliance (RPA), who is subject to a two-term limit as mayor.

“Butt is not part of the RPA but frequently allies....

Death in the Eagle's Shadow

— Jennifer Loewenstein

ON SUNDAY, AUGUST 9th at approximately 1:20 in the afternoon, Israeli military forces killed Anwar Za’aneen. They fired a missile at a water maintenance crew at work in Beit Hanoun, Gaza. Anwar, a resident of the town, had stood watching the crew as it attempted to reconnect the water supply to his home.

The U.S.-made Israeli drone wounded two crew members moderately, but critically wounded Anwar. An emergency medical team rushed him to Shifa hospital, the main hospital in Gaza City, where he was immediately put in the Intensive Care Unit but where, later that day, he succumbed to his wounds.

His five children are now fatherless; his wife is a widow; and his mother has lost her son. The small town of Beit Hanoun lost a neighbor and a friend to many people. That same afternoon, Israel fired more missiles into the town,...

Palestine's Unfolding Horror

— an interview with Hisham Ahmed

Suzi Weissman spoke with professor Hisham Ahmed, in the midst of the catastrophe in Gaza and the Israeli-Occupied West Bank, for the July 25, 2014 broadcast of her program “Beneath the Surface” on Pacifica radio KPFK in Los Angeles. We have abridged the interview for Against the Current. Obviously the numbers of casualties and other specifics have changed — very much for the worse — in the meantime. Thanks to Meleiza Figueroa for transcribing the discussion.

Suzi Weissman: Welcome to “Beneath the Surface,” I’m Suzi Weissman — and today we’re going straight to the West Bank to speak to Hisham Ahmed. He is a colleague of mine at St Mary’s College, and the chair of the Department of Politics there. He is formerly from Birzeit University and right now he’s in the West Bank with his family....

Resisting the New McCarthyism

— an interview with Rabab Abdulhadi

PROFESSOR RABAB ABDULHADI is founder and Senior Scholar at the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative (AMED) at San Francisco State University. A longtime scholar and a lifelong activist for Palestinian freedom, her account of “Living Under Occupation” was published in the July-August 2012 issue of Against the Current (

After leading a January 2014 academic and labor delegation to Palestine and Jordan, Dr. Abdulhadi has come under sustained attack from the rightwing McCarthyist AMCHA Initiative, which describes itself as “a non-profit organization dedicated to investigating, documenting, educating about, and combating anti-Semitism at institutions of higher education in America.”...

August 1914 and World War I

— William Smaldone

AUGUST, 1914 WAS truly a world-historical moment for European socialism. Forced to choose between its internationalist principles and the pull of nationalism, the movement collapsed as the latter sentiment revealed itself to be a much more powerful force than most socialists had expected. Their division over the war would prove of immeasurable importance to the future of Europe and the world.

At the beginning of the 20th century the European socialist movement appeared to be an unstoppable force. The establishment of parliamentary institutions in most countries during the last third of the 19th century had opened the door to the creation of new political organizations calling themselves “Socialist,” “Social Democratic,” or “Labor” parties, some of which soon had tens or even hundreds of thousands of dues-paying members and millions....

Open the Border Now!

— David Finkel, for the ATC Editors

WHENEVER HE GETS around to it, president Obama might or might not take “executive action” to slow down the machinery of destruction that has earned him the title of “Deporter-in-Chief.” Meanwhile, the new tide of desperate children and families fleeing Central America piles up at the U.S. border.

Why has this happened? It’s the legacy, first, of the much-praised Ronald Reagan whose administration sponsored Central American military dictatorships, death squads and contra armies in the 1980s. Civil wars substantially shattered those societies.

This crime was compounded by the Reagan gang’s insane “war on drugs,” which effectively put the multi-billion dollar drug trade in the hands of violent criminal....


One Step Up, Three Steps Down

— an interview with Barbara Garson

INEQUALITY HAS BECOME a heated political issue with the eruption of the Occupy movement, followed by the spread of minimum wage struggles — including the election of socialist candidate Kshama Sawant to Seattle city council — and union organizing efforts and strikes in the fast food industry and the infamous anti-union Walmart.

Against the Current interviewed Barbara Garson, author of Down the Up Escalator, How the 99 Percent Live (Anchor Books/Random House, 2013). Her latest book traces the economic meltdown through interviewing the laid off and dispossessed, who are making plans for their new reality. Her interviews reveal how corporations use the recession as a way to restructure themselves, develop just-in-time staffing to match their just-in-time inventory and end up “awash with cash.”...

Piketty on Capital and Inequality

— Charlie Post

Capital in the Twenty-First Century
By Thomas Piketty
Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2014, viii+ 685 pages, $39.95.

THE ISSUE OF growing inequalities of in­come and wealth in the advanced capitalist world over the past four decades has been the subject of both social scientific research and political struggle. On the one hand, there is an extensive literature that amply documents the growth of inequality globally since the mid-1970s. While ideologues of neo-liberalism have attempted to dismiss this evidence or diminish its importance,(1) there is a consensus among social scientists that inequality has been on the rise.(2)...

Spotlighting Inequality and Injustice

— Marian Swerdlow

Badass Teachers Unite!
Reflections on Education, History, and Youth Activism
By Mark Naison
Haymarket Books, 2014, 200 pages, $16.95 paper.

Giving Kids a Fair Chance
By James J. Heckman
MIT Press, 2013, 152 pages. $15.95.

Class Dismissed:
Why We Cannot Teach or Learn Our Way Out of Inequality
By John Marsh
Monthly Review Press, 2011, 328 pages, $20 paper.

THE ACHIEVEMENT OF Occupy Wall Street was to put U.S. inequality, and the discussion of how to address it, front and center. One potential solution receiving a lot of attention and debate is education. Three recent books, by an economist, an English professor, and an historian, explore this avenue of addressing this most pressing issue....


Military Emancipation

— Connor Donegan

The Fall of the House of Dixie:
The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South
By Bruce Levine
New York: Random House, 2013, 303 pages, Paperback edition $17.

Freedom National:
The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865
By James Oakes
New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013, 492 pages, $29.95 paperback.

“EASILY THE MOST dramatic episode in American history,” so begins W.E.B. Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction in America, “was the sudden move to free the four million black slaves in an effort to stop a great civil war, to end 40 years of bitter controversy, and to appease the moral sense of civilization.”(1)...

De-colonizing North America

— Robert Caldwell

The Inconvenient Indian:
A Curious Account of Native People in North America
By Thomas King.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
2012, 287 pages, $24.95.

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Boston: Beacon Press, 2014, 296 pages, $27.95.

TWO NEW BOOKS, Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, offer American Indian perspectives on the history of North America....

One Historian's Journey

— Dan Clawson

A Contest of Ideas:
Capital, Politics, and Labor
By Nelson Lichtenstein
University of Illinois Press, 2013, 336 pages, $25 paper.

NELSON LICHTENSTEIN REPORTS that “My real education came from Berkeley’s [1960s] radical student milieu, especially from my political sect of choice, then labeling itself the International Socialists.” (4) As a result of that, and his work on labor history in the 1940s (then only 25 years in the past), “it is not surprising,” he tells us, “that my academic career went nowhere in the years after I got my Ph.D. in 1974. I could not land a permanent teaching post.” (5)...

Making the Rulers Obey

— Diana C. Sierra Becerra

Until The Rulers Obey:
Voices from Latin American Social Movements
By Clifton Ross and Marcy Rein, editors
Foreword by Raúl Zibechi
PM Press, 2014, 528 pages, $29.95 paper.

UNTIL THE RULERS Obey: Voices from Latin American Social Movements, edited by Clifton Ross and Marcy Rein, is a collection of interviews of social movement participants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. While Marcy Rein has a labor and community organizing background, Ross is a filmmaker and writer with experience in Latin America....

In Memoriam

Fred Ho, Presente!

— Brad Duncan

SAXOPHONIST, COMPOSER AND revolutionary Marxist activist Fred Ho (1957-2014) was a dynamic and prolific force within Jazz and radical left movements for over 40 years. A baritone saxophonist inspired by the avant-garde currents in African-American music, Ho despised the term “Jazz,” considering it an insulting term for a powerful tradition. [An article by Fred Ho on the revolutionary content of jazz music appeared in Against the Current 159 and is online at]

As a Marxist Ho embraced and drew inspiration from the revolutionary movements against colonialism that swept the world in the 1960s and 1970s, from Vietnam to the U.S. Black Liberation Movement. He brought explicitly socialist and radical left politics to his performances like no other working saxophonist during the era of his wide-ranging music career,...

Allan Sekula, Against the Grain

— Fred Lonidier

ALLAN SEKULA, “photographer ,film-maker,  cultural theorist and political activist (and) one of the outrstanding Marxist intellectuals of his generation,” died August 10, 2013 in Los Angeles after a long battle with cancer. (See Steve Edwards, “Socialism and the Sea,” He was known among other things for his studies of the sea, which fascinated him from his years growing up in the port city of San Pedro, California.

We present here a reminiscence by his longtime friend and colleague Fred Lonidier, professor emeritus at the University of California-San Diego, whose work has focused on the application of photography in movements for social change. Lonidier is also an officer of UC/AFT Local 2034 there and a member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. — The ATC editors...