Against the Current, No. 173, November/December 2014

The Middle East's "World War"

— The Editors

“WE SEEM TO be setting out on an uncertain mission with unclear objectives on an unknown timetable using ambiguous methods with unreliable allies.”  Those are the words of a supporter of president Obama and a prominent advocate of what’s called humanitarian intervention, columnist Nicolas Kristof (New York Times, September 18).

Kristof is hardly the only one among Obama’s friends who feels that way. Meanwhile, from the right wing, which wants to destroy this president, come demands for full-scale war complete with those infamous “boots on the ground” — as if the last U.S. invasion of Iraq, and Afghanistan before that, hadn’t already left enough boots under the ground.

In case you weren’t aware that U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan, Yemen etc. have been governed by a doctrine of avoiding civilian....

Why a Killer Cop Is Not Arrested

— Malik Miah

NEARLY TWO TIMES a week in the United States a white police officer kills a Black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012, according to the most recent accounts of justifiable homicide reported to the FBI.

 “While the racial analysis is striking, the database it’s based on has been long considered flawed and largely incomplete. The killings are self-reported by law enforcement and not all police departments participate, so the database undercounts the actual number of deaths…(T)he numbers are not audited after they are submitted to the FBI and the statistics on ‘justifiable’ homicides have conflicted with independent measures of fatalities at the hands of police.” (USA Today, August 15)

Darren Wilson, the killer of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9....

Two Years After the CTU Strike

— Robert Bartlett

IT HAS BEEN two years since the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) struck for the first time in over 20 years and changed the discourse on education in the United States. The strike was historic in making issues of race and class central to a contract struggle and in garnering public support to defend public education.

The CTU strike confronted the attack on public education championed nationally by Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education, and the national forces in favor of privatization, from the hedge fund-backed Democrats for Education Reform to billionaires like Bill Gates and Eli Broad.

Still, the strike amounted to only one battle in a continuing war against public education....

Mass Incarceration and the Left

— Heather Ann Thompson

FINALLY, EVEN IF three decades too late, America’s politicians are beginning to take notice of the fact that we have become the country on the planet locking up more people than any other.

It would be nice to think that these elected officials are now discussing our historically unprecedented rates of incarceration because there has been some sort of moral awakening — some new degree of discomfort if not outright dismay that the United States now has more than seven million people, an overwhelming disproportion of whom are Black and Brown people, under some form of correctional control and more than 65 million marked permanently by a criminal record.(1)

It would be as gratifying if they were now reconsidering current justice policies because mass incarceration has orphaned millions of children....

What September 21st Showed

— Dianne Feeley

THOUSANDS OF US who traveled to New York City to participate in the People’s Climate March and the activities surrounding the Sunday, September 21st action have now returned home, organizing reportbacks and thinking about how this event pushed the movement forward.

Some have complained — both before the march and afterwards — that it was a symbolic action without official demands and heavy corporate funding, while others objected to the fact that we even marched away from the site of the one-day UN conference on climate change. However the march brought together something on the order of 400,000 people and more than 1500 participating organizations, all opposing the ineffective policies of governments, beginning with the United States.

Above all, the marchers called for stopping the policies that subsidize fossil fuel production....

Family Planning and the Environment

— Anne Hendrixson

THE LANDSCAPES ON are conspicuously lacking in people: a spacious meadow, a desert stretching to a distant mountain range, and a calm expanse of water.

The Washington D.C. non-profit promotes a troubling message against this bucolic backdrop. They claim that national and international laws encourage irresponsible childbearing and overly large populations. Population growth, they argue, is responsible for environmental degradation, as well as other societal problems:

“Whether the average person alive today has between 1 and 2 children, or between 2 and 3 children, will largely determine whether our children live in a world that is safe, healthy, and sustainable, or crowded and polluted, with little if any nature, fewer resources and more crime.” (,,,

Egypt: Protesting Injustice

— Noha Radwan

“WE DO NOT like prisons, but they do not scare us,” says Mahienour al-Masry, Egyptian lawyer and human rights activist who was serving a three year prison sentence for violating anti-protest laws before her recent release.

In the latest of numerous campaigns seeking justice within the Egyptian judiciary system, more than sixty of Egypt’s political prisoners began hunger strikes in August. Tens of other activists and public intellectuals are also partaking of the strikes in solidarity with the prisoners as part of the campaign that has been dubbed “gibna akhirna” or “we have reached the end of our rope.”

The precarious and therefore particularly courageous nature of this wave of hunger strikes is easy to see in light of the case of Mohamed Soltan....

Mahienour al-Masry: Icon of a Revolution

— Noha Radwan

IN 2011, TAHRIR SQUARE was a space where Egyptian women found empowerment to reject the two models that previously limited their social role. In the Tahrir sit-in, women rejected the pseudo-liberation that invites women to only fight for their individual and personal freedoms, and opted to demand that they become active members of a society that continues to be based on exploitation and injustice, where freedom can only mean the freedom to be exploited, to exploit others and to consume to the best of our abilities.

They also rejected the patriarchal model that aims to transform women into domesticated dependent members of a repressive family structure and reduce their social roles to being good wives and mothers. The result was an abundance of women who were full participants in all the activities that transpired between January 25th and February 11, 2011 and led to the ouster of Mubarak....

The Purge of Steven Salaita

IN A CASE that has sent shock waves through academia, the University of Illinois peremptorily cancelled the appointment of professor Steven Salaita to a tenured position in the American Indian Studies program at the university. After Salaita had resigned his previous position at Virginia Tech and uprooted his family, U-Illinois chancellor Phyllis Wise notified him that she would not present his appointment for approval to the Board of Trustees.

Wise took this action without any consultation with the American Indian Studies program, which has expressed outrage over this act of disrespect.

The reason?...

From Sykes-Picot to "Islamic State": Imperialism's Bloody Wreckage

— Yassamine Mather

WHEN THE JIHADIST group Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS) changed its name and declared the establishment of the Caliphate, it did so with the release of a promotional video entitled “The End of Sykes-Picot.” This was a reference to the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement that marked the end of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of two zones of influence, British and French.

The current civil wars in Syria and Iraq, decades of conflict between Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria and the central government in these countries, the establishment of the state of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can all be traced back to that era. To understand the present situation in the Middle East we need to remember that with the exception of Egypt, most Arab states are recent creations, less than a century old.

Although the mass media are keen to blame....

LGBT Activism in Mainland China

— Holly Hou Lixian

THE 21ST CENTURY has witnessed the rapid growth of the LGBT movement in mainland China. A bigger and more diversified LGBT community has emerged along with a more tolerant attitude from both government and society. This article aims to delineate this complicated development.

Before 2000 homosexuality was still an extremely sensitive topic in mainland China. [Editors’ note: While the term “homosexuality” is anachronistic in contemporary Queer discourse in the West, we are retaining here the language that’s current in the Chinese context.]

Gay and lesbian organizations were quite undeveloped and there was little visibility within the general public or in the mass media. Thanks to the development of the internet, however,...

Hong Kong's Umbrella Upheaval

AS AGAINST THE Current goes to press, the confrontation between the Hong Kong democracy movement and the Beijing-backed authorities remains unresolved.

The government’s various attempts to end the occupation — to wait the students out, to rout them with pepper spray and clubs, to unleash criminal gangs in the guise of “angry citizens” — have failed. Protesters remain determined. Negotiations are scheduled for October 21, but whether they’ll actually occur or produce any positive outcome is uncertain.

The struggle demanding genuine elections for Hong Kong’s chief executive, beginning with a September 22 student boycott of college and university classes and a September 24 sit-in in front of government buildings,...

The Two-Party System, Part I

— Mark A. Lause

STARTING WITH THE foundations, the American political system, like its social order and economic structure, began as a New World variation of that in Britain. The United States constituted a republic of sorts, though the representative features of its government remained inherently weak, allowing coequal status to deliberately unrepresentative and unelected branches of government.

Almost immediately, a party system appeared, promising to deepen these representative features by offering voters input into the decision-making processes in giving them options at the polls. These parties would accomplish much of what they hoped, until the people cast ballots for serious and radical change — precipitating the fatal crisis of the 1860s.

Despite a tumultuous 17th century, the British made arrangements that permitted their rise to global prominence....


Literature in the Shadows

— Bill V. Mullen

The Other Blacklist:
The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s
By Mary Helen Washington
New York: Columbia University Press, 2014, 368 pages, $35 hardback.

MARY HELEN WASHINGTON’S brilliant, intimate and highly readable new book capstones an important era of post-Cold War scholarship of the legacy of American Communism and African-American literature.(1)

More than 12 years in the making, fortified by a passionate dedication to setting records straight, Washington’s book tells us many new things about the Leftist sympathies of African-American writers we thought we knew. The book also reorders the canon of African-American literature, recovering the lives and careers of writers....

Anti-Imperialist Dreamwork

— Matthew Garrett

Geographies of Liberation:
The Making of an Afro-Arab Political Imaginary
By Alex Lubin
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014, xiii, 233 pages, $29.95 paperback.

INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY HASN’T had a particularly good run recently, at least viewed from North America. The energy of the Occupy movement still circulates, but the sequel of the 2011 events remains uncertain, and the yield of the Arab Spring — never really a trans-hemispheric movement, in any case — is perhaps more ambiguous than ever.

Despite the glowing circuits of transnational social media,...

AIDS Then and Now: A Blood-Drenched Battlefield

— Peter Drucker

Hold Tight Gently:
Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill, and the Battlefield of AIDS
By Martin Duberman
New York: The New Press, 2014, 368 pages, $27.95 hardcover.

FOR HALF A century, historian Martin Duberman has been chronicling Black and LGBT lives and struggles from a radical left perspective. Several of his books, notably his masterful biography of Paul Robeson,(1) have linked anti-racism and sexuality in unexpected and illuminating ways.

Now Duberman has brought his skill as a storyteller and his political insights to bear on a dual biography, of white gay activist/singer Michael Callen and Black gay activist/poet Essex Hemphill. Both Callen and Hemphill fought valiantly against AIDS in the 1980s....

Documenting European Socialism

— Ingo Schmidt

European Socialism —
A Concise History with Documents
By William Smaldone
Rowman & Littlefield, 2014, 362 pages, $29.95 paperback.

THE WRITING OF this book, the author tells us, was inspired by public debate about socialism, which had been triggered by the Great Recession and subsequent state intervention. Smaldone refers to one contribution to this debate in particular; a Newsweek article suggesting that “we are all socialists now.” By this, the article’s author Jon Meacham meant the transformation of U.S. capitalism into a European-style regulated economy.(1)

Obviously, this was the perfect assist for a progressive academic whose work focuses on European socialism....

Louis Althusser & Academic Marxism

— Nathaniel Mills

Louis Althusser, On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses
Edited by Jacques Bidet
Translated by G.M. Goshgarian
London: Verso, 2014, 288 pages, $29.95 paperback.

Althusser and His Contemporaries:
Philosophy’s Perpetual War
By Warren Montag
Durham: Duke University Press, 2013, 256 pages, $23.95 paperback.

WHEN TEACHING MARXIST theory in a university, one sometimes encounters impatience among students otherwise favorably disposed to the subject. Why, they ask, are we philosophizing in the ivory tower rather than agitating in the streets?...

In Memoriam

Ruby Dee, 1922-2014

— Judith E. Smith

RUBY DEE WAS a marvelously expressive actor, and a lifelong risk-taking radical committed to challenging racial and economic inequality. She made history as part of an extraordinary group of Black Arts radicals — including Paul Robeson, Lorraine Hansberry, Harry Belafonte, John O. Killens and Julian Mayfield, as well as her husband Ossie Davis — who actively protested white supremacy and thought deeply about the political implications of conventional racial representations, creating new stories and introducing new Black characters to convey deep truths about Black life.

In small parts and choice roles, Dee’s presence lit up stage and screen. In her work as an actor and at rallies and on picket lines, Dee stood with working men and women, Black and white, and dedicated her talents to righting the wrongs articulated by the Black and labor left....

Claudia Morcum, Civil Rights Righter

— Dianne Feeley & David Finkel

RETIRED JUDGE CLAUDIA Morcom died August 21 at her Detroit home, following a battle with recurring brain cancer. She was revered in Detroit as a pioneer not only in the African-American freedom struggle, but also for women in the legal profession.

We were privileged to interview Judge Morcom earlier this year for our 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer. A young attorney at the time,...

Notes to Our Readers

— The Editors

“I AM CONVINCED Socialism is the only answer and I urge all comrades to take this struggle to a victorious conclusion. Only this will free us from the chains of bigotry and exploitation.”

— Malala Yousafzai, campaigner for girls’ education and winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize

Update on Detroit: The bankruptcy process is nearing completion, as holdout vulture creditors Syncora and Financial Guaranty Insurance Company (FGIC) settle for longterm future revenues from city-run parking lots and the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. Things look less bright for residents affected by the resumption of water shutoffs....