Against the Current, No. 176, May/June 2015

Against the Current, No. 176, May/June 2015

Middle East Imperial Meltdown

— The Editors

FROM STATE MELTDOWNS in Libya and Yemen to the overwhelming nightmares in Syria and Iraq, the spreading chaos in the Middle East today presents the most extreme examples of a core reality: Imperial overreach creates problems for which it has no solutions, and the horrific human costs are paid by people who bear no responsibility for creating the mess. We’ll briefly look here at some of the key situations in the Middle East, pointing to how a relentless U.S. drive for “stability” produces the opposite, in increasingly brutal consequences — some deliberate and some unintended — and how these crises feed back into the peculiarities of U.S. domestic political culture.

The rise of the grotesquely named “Islamic State” is the direct consequence of the Bush-era neoconservative delusion that U.S. power would “transform the Middle East.” In Syria, the destruction of society by both the formerly U.S.-allied Assad regime and ISIS, the genocidal massacres of minority religious and ethnic communities, the mass dislocation of refugees with nowhere to go or anywhere to return, and the loss of priceless cultural legacies, are largely irreparable....

The Murder of Walter Scott

— Malik Miah

NORTH CHARLESTON, SOUTH Carolina became the latest example of an unarmed Black man murdered by a white police officer. It happened on April 4, and the “normal” scenario of blaming the victim of his own death played out in the local media for several days.

The cop, Michael Slager, told the typical lie that he “feared” for his life after an alleged scuffle with Walter Scott, age 50. Scott was running away from his car that was stopped for a broken brake light when he was shot multiple times in the back. Slager then placed an object, evidently his own Taser gun, beside Scott’s body.

What happened next, however, was totally unexpected....

University of Wisconsin's "Budget Crisis"

— Chase Erwin

ON FEBRUARY 3, Governor Scott Walker — the same governor who has just signed right-to-work legislation, and who likens his 2011 confrontation with public sector workers to fighting the Islamic State — announced over $300 million in cuts from the University of Wisconsin system.

Walker claims that, in exchange for this latest budget reduction, he is offering to convert the UW system into a “public authority,” a move he says will give administrators the legal “flexibility” to radically reduce their overhead.

Just one in a long line of funding cuts the system has faced over the last decade, Walker’s latest is by far the largest, at once eliminating 13% of its total revenue.

To put this in perspective,...

Rasmea Odeh's Sentence/Appeal

— David Finkel

RASMEA ODEH, A Palestinian activist and Chicago community leader who turns 68 in May and has lived in the United States for the past 20 years, faces 18 months in federal prison and deportation, following her March 12 sentencing in Detroit for “unlawful procurement of naturalization.”

Odeh was convicted for not disclosing on immigration and citizenship applications her imprisonment in Israel in the 1970s for a fatal Jerusalem supermarket bombing in 1969. (For an account of the sentencing and for background on the case, see Ali Abunimah,, and David Finkel,

Bibi Netanyahu's War Dream

— an interview with Moshe Machover

SUZI WEISSMAN INTERVIEWED Moshe Machover, a founder of the Israeli Socialist Organization (Matzpen) in the 1960s, for her program “Beneath the Surface” on KPFK Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles, March 30, 2015. An edited transcript is online at The following brief excerpt discusses the reasons behind Israel’s campaign against the Iran nuclear deal.

Moshe Machover: You may have heard some commentators saying that (Netanyahu’s) appearance at Capitol Hill was a ploy in order to win the elections. (Rather) I think he provoked the elections in order to be able to appeal in this performance on Capitol Hill, and make a pact — an overt pact with the extreme right of the Republican Party — in order to scupper the deal with Iran....

Doublethink Squared

— David Finkel

IN THE BAD 1980s under Ronald Reagan, the United States encouraged the dictator Saddam Hussein to invade Muslim fundamentalist Iran, while partnering with Saudi Arabia in arming Afghan Muslim fundamentalists and Osama bin Laden to fight the godless Soviet Union, and on the side secretly selling weapons to the Iranian regime and using the proceeds to arm counterrevolutionary armies to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.

This was obviously a murderous and destructive policy that led to multiple disasters. Fortunately, under Barack Obama things are much better now.

Today, the United States has allied with Iran to defeat the “Islamic State” (the mutant offspring of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and Saddam’s military) in Iraq,...

El Salvador Feminists Fight for Justice

— Kathy Bougher

GUADALUPE, PREGNANT AT the age of 18 in El Salvador as the result of a rape, suffered obstetrical complications before she gave birth in the home where she worked as a domestic employee. The fetus did not survive. After hours of hemorrhaging, her employer took her to the public hospital.

There, medical personnel accused her of abortion, illegal under all circumstances in El Salvador, and turned her over to police. Prosecutors upgraded the charges to aggravated homicide, and the judge sent her to prison for 30 years.

 With the support of the Salvadoran feminist group La Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion), Guadalupe was granted a pardon and freed from prison....

The Frameup of Purvi Patel

IN A CASE worthy of medieval Europe – or, it turns out, 21st century Indiana — a woman who suffered a miscarriage was sentenced on March 30 to a 20-year prison term. As reported by Jennifer Chowdhury (, Purvi Patel, went to the emergency room at St. Joseph Hospital in Mishawaka in July 2013, bleeding heavily. She had miscarried at home, delivering a stillborn fetus at 23-24 weeks of pregnancy, panicked and threw the remains in the dumpster.

She was convicted of “feticide and neglect of a dependent” under Indiana’s barbaric anti-abortion law. Prosecutors charged....

Soft Power and the Case of Iraq

— Purnima Bose and Laura E. Lyons

FOLLOWING THE U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, pundits have touted the desirability of pursuing “soft power” as a supplement to military action in Iraq and other parts of the Muslim world. The term “soft power” is often attributed to Joseph S. Nye Jr, who explains it as “getting others to want the outcomes that you want” by coopting people rather than coercing them.(1)

For Nye, soft power ideally moves beyond simple persuasion to also encompass desire, having the “ability to entice and attract” people in other countries to embrace U.S. values, thus functioning as the ideological arm of the national-security state.

Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Homeland Security, advises of the necessity of such a strategy to combat Islamist extremism....

Tribes, Rights and Justice in India

— Sara Abraham interviews Shashank Kela

SARA ABRAHAM SPOKE with Indian writer and commentator Shashank Kela in December 2014. Kela has published A Rogue and Peasant Slave: Adivasi Resistance, 1800-2000 (Navayana Publishing, 2012), which attempts to put contemporary struggles in India in historical context. He writes occasionally on contemporary Indian politics in and Seminar.

Sara Abraham: Can we begin with you, firstly, introducing to us the adivasi or tribal populations of India. What is ‘tribe’ in the Indian social and cultural context?

Shashank Kela: There is a debate on this on two levels — in academia, and in struggles and movements, and the discourse, as one might expect, is contradictory. Some academics question the very notion of tribe as a category....

Feminism a Crime in China

A MONTH-LONG international outcry was apparently influential in winning release for the five detained feminist activists in China — Li Tingting, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, Wu Rongrong and Zheng Churan (pictured above) — held since International Women’s Day on charges of “picking quarrels and creating a disturbance.”

The alleged disturbance? The five were organizing leaflet distributions in Chinese cities to denounce widespread sexual harassment and groping of women. This kind of thing — not the harassment, but the public leafleting — is definitely frowned upon by the Communist Party authorities, especially during the annual meeting of the handpicked national legislature....

What's Next for Cuba?

— an interview with Janette Habel

This interview with Janette Habel was conducted by Jerome Latta and published online by the Left Front in France, December 26, 2014. Janette Habel teaches in the Institute of Latin American Studies at the Sorbonne in Paris. Translation for Against the Current by Keith Mann.]

Left Front: Although the recent developments regarding U.S. policy towards Cuba have been presented as being a surprise, haven’t they been a long time coming?

Janette Habel: We know that there had been informal discussions and negotiations. The handshake between Raul Castro and Barack Obama during Nelson Mandela’s funeral, not long ago, didn’t just happen.

LF: So what was the big surprise?...

Cuba: A New Era

— Janette Habel

TO UNDERSTAND THIS major diplomatic shift which has historical ramifications for all of Latin America, one has to go back to the origins of the Cuban Revolution, a popular revolution driven by the will to break with North American domination and to fulfill the aspirations of the struggle for national independence, beginning at the start of the twentieth century.

The revolution‘s slogan Patria o Muerte meant that national sovereignty would not be negotiable. And it was not negotiated. The political line that the leadership followed unfailingly for half a century was shared by a majority of the population, which is why it was victorious in spite of exceptionally difficult historical and geopolitical conditions. Without mass support, Fidel Castro’s policies would have failed.

This doesn’t mean that the revolution was a walk in the park....

Inside the European Cataclysm

— Enzo Traverso

WRITING ON A century of violence since the Great War, as World War I was once called, could easily turn into a gallery of horrors or an awful, monotonous succession of wars and genocide, from the battle of Verdun to Baghdad, from the Armenian to the Rwanda genocide, passing through Auschwitz and the Gulag.

Many scholars have already accomplished this exercise in anthropological pessimism, illustrating the deep roots of evil in human beings. My approach will be different. I will try to detect and describe some significant features of the violence of the last century starting from one of its matrices: the cataclysms of Europe between 1914 and 1945, with some references to its developments in the following decades.

Between 1914 and 1945, Europe experienced a second Thirty Years War. This age of violence mirrored a global European crisis:...

The Two-Party System, Part IV

— Mark A. Lause

THE POWER STRUCTURE in the West and its institutional translators hailed the implosion of the USSR and its allies as the ultimate vindication of capitalism — as though the failure of one thing proves anything about another. Some even resurrected assertions about the end of ideology and the end of history.

As after 1945, the loss of its primary enemy forced an economy and society geared for war to find new enemies. The 1980s launched an international “war on drugs,” and 20 years later, the United States declared its “global war on terror.” Since both adversaries are endemic to the modern world — indeed to some extent byproducts of American policy — these amount to waging an undeclared but terribly lucrative and useful war without end.

The U.S. emergence as the world’s dominant superpower changed everything....

The Crisis of World Labor

— Marcel van der Linden

BOTH THE SIZE and composition of the world working class have changed dramatically over the past four decades. But these massive shifts are not reflected in the strength of workers’ organizations.

In what was traditionally called the global South, capital accumulation has resulted in the fast growth of the number of wage-earners in industry, building, services, and transport. A recent International Labor Organization (ILO) study revealed that in the period 1980-2005, the labor force in the Middle East and North Africa region had grown by 149%. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean it had roughly doubled, in South Asia it had increased by 73%, and in East and South East Asia by 60%. (Kapsos 2007)

Simultaneously, enormous shifts are taking place within separate regions....


Capitalism as Robbery

— Charles Williams

Stop, Thief!
The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance
By Peter Linebaugh
PM Press, 2014, 304 pages, $21.95 paperback.

PETER LINEBAUGH TAKES the title of his book from a gag used by Wobbly soap-boxers to draw in a crowd. “Stop thief!” the speaker would cry, waiting for the audience to assemble before delivering the punchline: “I’ve been robbed. I’ve been robbed by the capitalist system.” (1)

In that spirit, Stop, Thief! collects 15 essays that range over Linebaugh’s historical scholarship to explore the crimes of enclosure as a form of capitalist property accumulation....

The Courage of Cooperation

— Michael J. Friedman

Collective Courage:
A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice
By Jessica Gordon Nembhard
Penn State University Press, 2014, 328 pages, $39.95 paperback.

DETROIT HAS BECOME something of a national symbol of the growing trends of economic inequality, and something of a laboratory challenge as to whether they can be reversed.(1) The impetus for economic development fostered by both governmental and private initiatives in Detroit has focused on the downtown and midtown areas, and the development of high-tech start-ups that depend significantly on younger, better educated, and primarily white entrepreneurs....

Diary of Prison and Torture

— Cliff Conner

Guantánamo Diary
By Mohamedou Ould Slahi
Edited by Larry Siems
Little, Brown and Company, 2015, 379 pages, $29 hardcover.

THIS IS A book I initially did not want to read. I don’t think of myself as hypersensitive, but the recent official U.S. Senate report admitting and detailing CIA torture practices nauseated me to the point that I felt incapable of further outrage.

Nonetheless, the more I heard about Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantánamo Diary, the more I wanted to read it. Glenn Greenwald said, “Every American with a shred of conscience” should read it now, and I agree. The ongoing crime against humanity it exposes — representative of so many others like it — is being carried out in the name of the American people....

Non-Movements as Social Activism

— Navid Pourmokhtari

Life as Politics:
How Ordinary People Change the Middle East
By Asef Bayat
Stanford University Press; 2nd edition, 2013, 392 pages, $22.95 paper.

THE MASS MOBILIZATIONS and political contestation of the Arab Spring brought a paradigm shift in perceptions of the social and political character of the Middle East. The inspiration for these uprisings can be traced to the Iranian Green Movement of 2009, the first mass mobilization of the new millennium, coming as a complete surprise to Middle East observers and the world.

The great, unexpected and sustained populist fervor unleashed by the Green Movement rocked the Islamic Republic of Iran to its foundation....

Social Movements and the Left

— Midge Quandt

Social Movements and Leftist Government in Latin America:
Confrontation or Cooptation
Edited by Gary Prevost, Carlos Oliva Campos, Harry E. Vanden
Zed Books, 2012, 192 pages. $34.95 paperback.

EVER SINCE LEFTIST governments were installed in Latin America in the late 20th century, much of the political commentary and political science literature has focused on them, while largely ignoring the social movements. In fact, these movements not only played a big role in the 1990s as advocates of social justice and democracy, but their protests were instrumental in getting the progressive leaders elected.

In this collection of essays, Social Movements and Leftist Governments in Latin America, the editors right the balance by turning their attention to the movements....

Cartoonists and Revolution

— David Finkel

In an era of wars and revolutions
American socialist cartoons of the mid-twentieth century
By Carlo and others; edited by Sean Matgamna
London, England: Phoenix Press, 2013, 314 pages, $15 paperback.

Capitalism Must Die!
A basic introduction to capitalism: what it is, why it sucks, and how to crush it
By Stephanie McMillan
Fort Lauderdale, FL: Idees Nouvelles, Idees Proletairiennes, 2014, 241 pages, $12 paperback.

HEAVILY MUSCLED, BLACK and white, mostly (although not all) male proletarians confront profit-bloated moneybag (all white male) capitalists, Jim Crow racism, the war industry, and the grim visage....