Against the Current, No. 177, July/August 2015

Against the Current, No. 177, July/August 2015

Paradoxes of Politics

— The Editors

[NOTE: This editorial statement for the July-August Against the Current went to press before the Supreme Court rulings on health care and marriage equality, and Congressional approval of fast-track authorization for negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership.]

WHILE THE ROSTER of Republican presidential candidates seems to expand exponentially, on the Democratic side — with one Democratic candidate awaiting either coronation or token competition — Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has long identified as an “independent democratic socialist,” entered the Race in May.

We’ll discuss below what the Sanders candidacy might mean for the left and proponents of independent political action. It’s one of a number of paradoxes in U.S. politics as the presidency of Barack Obama, so disillusioning to so many of his supporters, creaks toward conclusion. And as the nasty, brutish and long 2015-16 electoral cycle cranks up, multiple interlocking crises are rocking domestic politics along with Europe, the global economy and the international state system....

Police Violence in the Spotlight

— Malik Miah

Our investigation concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that CDP [Cleveland Division of Police] engages in a pattern or practice of using unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. That pattern manifested in a range of ways, including:

• The unnecessary and excessive use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes with impact weapons;...

A Majority Black Police Force -- It's Not Enough

— Dianne Feeley

ALTHOUGH 61% OF Detroit’s police force is Black — and headed by a Black police chief — between 1995-2000 police shot 47 people; from 2009-14 there were 18 additional shootings. Perhaps the most publicized case has been the SWAT-like raid on a home that resulted in the death of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, killed as she lay sleeping on the couch next to her grandmother.

The officer who led the raid, Joseph Weekley, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and two lesser charges. But after a second hung jury in early 2015 Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, the first African-American woman prosecutor in the country, decided not to retry the case. The family is pursuing charges against the Detroit Police Department; since 2011 alone the city has paid out $12.2 million to settle 179 police cases.

Some maintain that at least in Detroit....

New Fight to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal

— Brad Duncan

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL is facing a potentially fatal health crisis brought about by medical neglect and abuse suffered inside State Correctional Institution — Mahanoy in Eastern Pennsylvania. In addition he has been held incommunicado and denied visits from his lawyer, wife or independent physicians.

In 2011, after years of international protest, Mumia’s 1981 death sentence (following his wrongful conviction for killing a Philadelphia police officer) was rescinded allowing him to enter the general prison population.

Although this was a major victory for the movement to win his freedom, it brought its own set of issues.

The current crisis started in January of this year when Mumia developed a very serious skin allergy,...

The Silencing Act and Mumia Abu-Jamal

— Daniel Denvir

AT THE BEGINNING of January, the Penn­sylvania ACLU filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn a Pennsylvania law that tramples on the free speech rights, not only of the incarcerated and journalists like me who report on the criminal justice system. The law is clearly unconstitutional, violating both free speech and due process rights.

The Revictimization Relief Act, which my lawyers at the Pennsylvania ACLU have appropriately dubbed the “Silencing Act,” allows victims of personal injury crimes (and family members or prosecutors acting on their behalf) to petition a judge to stop criminal offenders from speaking or acting if their speech or action “perpetuates the continuing effect of” that crime, including by causing “mental anguish.”

The law was passed in a hurry,...

Mass Incarceration for Profit

— Brian Dolinar and James Kilgore

MIGUEL SAUCEDO REMEMBERS as an eight-year-old the five-hour drive to visit his older brother, incarcerated downstate at Menard Correctional Center, a high security fortress in the town of Chester, Illinois which bills itself as the “Home of Popeye the Sailor Man.”

His family loaded into a rented van for a day-long trip from their Latino neighborhood of Little Village in Chicago. Now almost 30, Miguel recalls those journeys as traumatic, the family at times pulled over and harassed by local police along the way.

The expense and inconvenience of the visits has meant they’ve often relied on the phone to communicate with his brother. Miguel guesses his family, over the two decades his brother has been locked up, has spent an average of about $100 a month in prison phone charges....

A Recipe for Killing a School System

— Dianne Feeley

WHILE MAINSTREAM MEDIA paint Detroit as a city “coming back” — meaning that the gentrification strategy of remaking downtown will trickle down in benefits to the neighborhoods that comprise the majority of Detroit’s 140 square miles — this corporate-driven strategy overlooks the main issues that prevent vibrant neighborhoods.

High rates of poverty, lack of jobs, waves of mortgage foreclosures that blight neighborhoods, along with high tax assessments and water bills, as well as a deteriorating public school system, are the crux of Detroit’s crisis.

Following the killings by law enforcement officers of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and Terrence Kellom in Detroit, a Detroit News article on May 6th revealed that Detroit — which is 83% African American and 9% Latino — is poorer, has higher unemployment and crime rates,...

Detroit's Foreclosure Disaster

— Dianne Feeley

DETROIT — WHERE 85% of the working class once owned homes — has been suffering a waterless hurricane. Predatory mortgage practices that disproportionately targeted African-American homeowners and inflated mortgages resulted in foreclosure on 25% of all residential buildings in the city between 2005 and 2011. Vacancy escalated and blight blossomed.

While Detroit endures the highest poverty rate of any major U.S. city, where schools have been closed and services cut to the bone, developers have been given land and generous tax breaks for their projects. These include turning 8.3 acres of land over to Dan Gilbert, head of Quicken Loans, to develop the Brush Park area just above central downtown. It is also a short walk from where Mike Ilitch, with $485 million in state funds, is constructing a Hockeytown entertainment district....

Albert Woodfox, Gary Tyler

— David Finkel

AS IF TO show the world that the state of Louisiana is a human rights dead zone, the release of Albert Woodfox after 43 years in solitary confinement — what the prison system calls “cell restriction” — was delayed while the state attorney general appeals a federal judge’s order. His release was ordered by judge James Brady, who ruled that Woodfox cannot be tried a third time in the 1972 fatal stabbing of a prison guard at the infamous Angola state prison. Two previous convictions have been thrown out due to racial bias in grand jury selection.

Three prisoner activists and Black Panther Party members — Woodfox, Herman Wallace and Robert King, the Angola 3 — were convicted in a notorious frameup trial. King won his freedom in 2001 after 29 years; Wallace was released last year, days before his death from liver cancer....

Black Lives Matter

Introduction to Black Lives Matter

AT UCLA THE Center for Social Theory & Comparative History, the Bunche Center for African American Studies and the Gary Nash Chair in US History co-sponsored a forum on Black Lives Matter on May 4, 2015. Panelists were asked to address why the movement arose at this moment, what issues drive it and what forms it is taking. Speakers were Justin Hansford, from the School of Law at St. Louis University; Cheryl Harris, UCLA School of Law; Michael Brown, Black Lives Matter Long Beach; and Melina Abdullah, Pan-African Studies Cal-State Los Angeles. Robin D.G. Kelley, from the UCLA Department of History was a discussant and Shamell Bell was invited to speak about Black Lives Matter Los Angeles. We are printing four of the edited remarks and hope to print the remaining ones in the next issue. ATC thanks Meleiza Figueroa for her superb transcriptions.

July-August 2015, ATC 177

From Ferguson to Baltimore

— Justin Hansford

I CAME TO THIS conference from Baltimore, and on a Saturday in the evening the police in Baltimore engaged in some of the most racially divisive policing tactics I’ve ever seen — and I’m coming from Ferguson. I am going to start off with a short rundown of my involvement in Ferguson and Baltimore, and then talk about some of the lessons I’ve learned.

I used to start my lectures by showing a picture of what brought me into this movement, which was an image I saw on Facebook of Mike Brown laying in a pool of blood on the street in Canfield.

I stopped showing that picture when Mike Brown’s mother said it was a trigger for her. The idea of her child’s body being used for widespread imagery, and really the bodies of Black people in general, dead bodies of Black people being disseminated through the press over and over again,...

The Movement Has a History

— Melina Abdullah

WANT TO talk about how Black Lives Matter began, what it is we’re doing and how you can get involved. I always have an “ask” at the end, because I don’t think that there is very much point in doing these conversations to just engage in dialogue. I think it’s what you do when you get out of the room. So thank you all for inviting me and thank you for having this conversation; the energy that I’m feeling is that many of you hopefully will be inspired to engage after you leave here today.

I was born in the ‘70s in East Oakland. All of our parents are Panthers, or Black Power organizers, or organizers. We come out politicized. When I teach, we get into these conversations: “What was your first protest?” I do not know — because I was born on a picket line. When I moved to LA for graduate school, Maxine Waters was convening hearings about whether or not the CIA brought crack cocaine into South LA. I became involved in some of that work....

Moral Appeals Aren't Enough

— Robin D.G. Kelley

I’M GOING TO be brief. First of all, this is an excellent, amazing panel; I don’t actually need to add anything. Everything’s been laid out. So what I want to do is just amplify a couple of points and read a couple of quotes that I think are relevant for our discussion.

The first point is that all of these talks, and this movement in particular, speak to the disposability of Black life, of Black people being treated as refuse. Secondly, what this movement recognizes is that we cannot change ideology through moral appeals. When we talk about structural change, we’re not talking about tweaking a system, but completely destroying it and replacing it with something else. Right now, the current arrangement is unsustainable. You can’t reform your way out, you can’t politick your way out, you can’t respectabilize your way out. (I just made up a word.)...

The Black Infinity Complex

— Shamell Bell

HI EVERYONE, I’M Shamell Bell, I’m from BLM Los Angeles and I’m also from the Black Infinity Complex — and that would be myself, Thabisile Griffin, and Mark over there. And Johnny, this is my son. He’s four.

And there are history grad students here, and I’m in world arts culture and dance, and culture and performance. We sent about 50 emails out to all the Black organizations, and I’m not sure that everyone got them, but it looks like a lot of us are here, so we’re really proud of that.

So first of all, I want to really quickly do our mission statement so you guys can understand; and I also invited our elder here, just so we can have what we call radical dialogue. We’re doing this theory, theory, theory, throwing around these great concepts and kind of pontificating, but let’s actually get some action items....

Our Movement Is Global

— an interview with Alice Ragland

AGAINST THE CURRENT interviewed Alice Ragland, who has been central to organizing Black youth in Cleveland against the police murder of Tamir Rice, the 12-year old shot to death two seconds after the police arrived at the park where Rice was playing with a toy gun. The Movement for Black Lives National Conference will be held in Cleveland July 24-26. Groups scheduled to attend include Cleveland Action, Ferguson Action and Million Hoodies Movement for Justice. For registration information:

Against the Current: Black Lives Matter utilizes social media to communicate your message. How does that amplify your voices?

Alice Ragland: Using social media helps us get our voices to the millions (and billions) of people who are outside our city....

Reflections After Ferguson

— Bob Hansman

Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, “That’s their business, not mine.” Now I know how wrong I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all. — Mamie Till, 1955

I BEGAN THINKING about this article during the period between Mike Brown’s funeral (which I attended — one of a handful of white people) and the November 24, 2014 non-indictment of Darren Wilson. As each subsequent event unfolded, I found myself revisiting what I had thought, what I had planned to write. Some things became clearer to me, others less so. Some of my earlier thinking was reinforced, some was challenged — or it expanded to include more question and nuance, and even contradiction and paradox, until my thinking belonged to me, and only me, and matched no one’s ideology.

Marxism and Art

Art and Aesthetics on the Left

— an interview with Andrew Hemingway

ANDREW HEMINGWAY IS an art historian and Professor Emeritus at University College London. His books include Artists on the Left. American Artists and the Communist Movement 1926-1956 (Yale University Press, 2002) and The Mysticism of Money: Precisionist Painting and Machine Age America (Periscope Publishing, 2013). Alan Wald’s discussion of Artists on the Left is online at

Against the Current: What drew you to the subject of U.S. artists on the Left? Was this an area that you were able to pursue as a university student?

Andrew Hemingway: As a university student in the late 1960s and early 1970s I had no real opportunity to study 20th-century art....

John Reed Clubs and Proletarian Art--Part I

— Andrew Hemingway

I WANT TO address the theme of Proletarian and Revolutionary Art in the United States between 1928 and 1935; that is to say in the years of the so-called Third Period line in the tactics of the international Communist movement. Although the terms “Proletarian Art” and “Revolutionary Art” were often used seemingly interchangeably at this time — or even used in combination — they are not synonymous, and I will argue that the distinction points up tensions between different forms of art practice produced in the Communist Party’s orbit and to important intellectual confusions.

Before analyzing the theory and practice of this art and the reasons for its emergence and decline, something needs to be said about its genealogy.

The writings of Marx and Engels provide no support for the idea, frequently associated with Marxism,...


The Prophet Alarmed

— Alan Wald

The Extreme Center: A Warning
By Tariq Ali
London and New York: Verso, 2015, 200 pages, $10.17 paper (40% off).

A CHARISMATIC ACTIVIST, writer and speaker, British-Pakistani Marxist Tariq Ali stands out as an observant decoder of political trends and a passionate believer in the cross-pollination of ideas within the Left.

For half a century, Ali has been the kind of forward-looking thinker to whom reflective militants in many countries turn for assistance in ascertaining what the “orientation” should be when the political waters are murky. When necessary, he is willing to say to us what we don’t want to hear....

Drug War Winners and Losers

— Kevin Young

Drug War Capitalism
By Dawn Paley
Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2014, 279 pages, $16.95 paperback.

THE DISAPPEARANCE AND likely massacre of 43 leftist students in Mexico’s Guerrero state in September 2014 has cast a spotlight on the deep ties between high-level state personnel and violent criminal forces in Mexico, as well as U.S. knowledge of those ties. Since then, ongoing protests and revelations have further undermined official justifications for the militarized “war on drugs.”

Most independent analysts concluded long ago that the U.S. approach to fighting drugs was a failure from the perspective of curbing both drug production and drug-related violence....

A Window on Indigenous Life

— Waskar T. Ari-Chachaki

Intimate Indigeneities:
Race, Sex and History in the Small Space of Andean Life
By Andrew Canessa
Duke University Press, 2012, 344 pages, $26.96 paperback.

THIS BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN book is a very important contribution to scholarship on race and sex in Latin America. Andrew Canessa concentrates on a small and remote Bolivian indigenous village, yet his goals are broad and complex in understanding crucial factors in the making and trajectory of contemporary indigeneity.

The author works in dialogue with the most recent and innovative literature on the subject such as Race and Sex in Latin America by Peter Wade, and the essays in Histories of Race and Racism: The Andes and Mesoamerica from Colonial times to the Present edited by Laura Gotkowitz....

Boricua's Revolutionary Inspiration

— Antonio Carmona Báes

Black Flag Boricuas:
Anarchism, Antiauthoritarianism, and the Left in Puerto Rico 1897-1921
By Kirwin R. Shaffer
University of Illinois Press, 2013, 240 pages, $65 cloth.

AS PUERTO RICO falls deeper into economic crisis and political decomposition, radical activists are looking for well-documented historical references to feed their strategies and foster inspiration.

University students, independent union activists, striking public school teachers and environmentalists insist: There must be an authentic Puerto Rican tradition of struggle from which to learn — it must be anti-colonial, not tied to ruling political parties, internationalist and free of authoritarian leftism....

Capital Crimes of Fashion

— Sheila McClear

Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion
By Tansy E. Hoskins
Pluto Press, 2014, 264 pages, $16.99 paperback (40% off).

IN FEBRUARY 2013, 21-year-old Kayla Phillips — who happened to be Black — bought a bright orange leather bag costing $2,500 by Paris brand Celine. Then things went disastrously wrong.

The woman left the store, but the clerk notified the police. Apparently the clerk believed there was no way that a Black, working-class woman could have the means to buy such a bag legitimately. Undercover officers found her a few blocks away and she was charged with credit card fraud.

Two months later, Trayon Christian, 19, was followed by plainclothes officers outside the same store and accused of fraud after he purchased a $349 Ferragamo belt....

Pioneers of Women's Liberation

— Nancy Holmstrom

Women and Class: Toward a Socialist Feminism
Essays by Hal Draper
Alameda, CA: Center for Socialist History (, 316 pages paperback. Order online from the publisher (discount using the code 7BDEVRPS) or from Amazon.

HAL DRAPER (1914-1990) was both a master polemicist and an erudite scholar of Marxism and of socialist history, often combining these talents in withering critiques of alternative analyses. These qualities are fully manifested in Women and Class: Towards a Socialist Feminism, now released by the Center for Socialist History, a collection of essays some of which were written in connection with his multivolume Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution (Monthly Review Press)....

Life After Death for Labor?

— David Cohen

The Death and Life of American Labor:
Toward a New Workers’ Movement
By Stanley Aronowitz
Verso Books, 2014, 224 pages, $19.95 paperback.

IN HIS NEW book, veteran labor activist/academic Stanley Aronowitz offers a critique of what is wrong with the labor movement in the United States, as well as a 10-point manifesto for the steps “Toward a New Workers Movement.”

His analysis of the labor movement revolves basically around the following:

• Unions concern themselves with negotiating contracts with employers, a mistaken priority that began with passage of the National Labor Relations Act....