Against the Current, No. 180, January/February 2016

Against the Current, No. 180, January/February 2016

Crises, Craziness and "Security"

— The Editors

DONALD TRUMP’S CALL to ban Muslims from entering the United States set off a political and media firestorm that’s raging as we go to press. But Trump’s latest outrage essentially lit the match to underbrush that was ready to be ignited. Trump himself is not so important — a vicious demagogue, but not a mass organizer or leader. What matters, following the carnage of the “Islamic State” attack in Paris and the San Bernardino mass shooting, is the climate in which the priority target of opportunity for racist reactionaries has become Muslim refugees, immigrants, communities and mosques.

Harassment and sometimes physical attacks on Muslims in the United States can’t be understood separately from the hatred that produced the murderous attack at the Colorado Planned Parenthood office, or the racist attempted murder of activists in Minneapolis....

Bigotry vs. Black Lives, Muslims, Immigrants

— Malik Miah

HISTORICALLY, THE PRIMARY targets of bigotry and domestic terrorism in the United States have been Black people, who were considered less than human and definitely not as equals to whites. Native peoples were slaughtered by the settler colonists, removed from their tribal lands and put on “reservations.” Native Americans to this day suffer from the original genocidal crimes of the European colonists.

Today’s rightwing bigotry and quasi-populist appeals are based on an extension of the same ideology, targeting minorities who are seen by the white working and middle class as the source of their socio-economic decline and insecurities for their lives and futures.

Donald Trump and other Republican presidential candidates use hate and fear of these “others.” Could this strategy win the 2016 presidency?...

Chicago Coverup and Upsurge

— Malik Miah

“I’M SORRY. “ CHICAGO Mayor Rahm Emanuel uttered those two words December 9 that few elected politicians ever say.

His mea culpa, however, was not genuine. It occurred after mass protests demanding justice for Laquan McDonald, forcing the Cook County prosecutor to release a video showing the cop murder of McDonald. For 13 months the “Blue wall” of silence, the county prosecutor and mayor had joined together to hide the video and the truth.

The next day “dozens of medical students from area universities held a ‘die-in,’ laying on the ground for 16 minutes of silence in front of City Hall on Thursday morning. The number of minutes symbolizes the 16 shots that police officer Jason Van Dyke fired at McDonald, 17, in an October 2014 incident that has set off more than two weeks of demonstrations in the city.” (Chicago Tribune)...

Big Three Contracts: Who Won?

— Dianne Feeley

THE 2015 UAW/Big Three contracts took 67 days and multiple attempts to ratify, resulting in what most autoworkers see as a partial victory.

After confidently strutting during last summer’s bargaining convention, the UAW leadership never attempted to organize workers for a contract campaign. Having suspended their right to strike at the time of the 2008-09 financial crisis, GM and Chrysler/Fiat (FCA) workers were able to rejoin Ford workers this time around in being able to utilize their strike weapon.

But if the convention was drowned in “It’s Our Turn” and “Bridge the Gap” slogans, membership preparation didn’t go beyond taking formal strike votes. My local printed a “No two tier” T-shirt for us to wear at the Detroit Labor Day Parade but elsewhere....

Hungary: Politics and the Refugee Crisis

— David Pratt

HOUSED IN A time-worn but once-elegant villa in Budapest, the Applied Arts Museum collection includes pieces from Iran, Syria and other Middle-Eastern regions. In one room on the top floor, the collection includes two wooden panels from Syria: windows. Folk-art designs cover finely but simply constructed frames, cut and joined out of cedar. Above the window openings are hand-painted scenes of Syrian village life, peaceful and thriving.

If these windows somehow found their way back home today the view outside of them would be of rubble and disintegration. “The road from Aleppo, once one of the most beautiful cities in the world, south to Damascus is littered with destruction. Nothing is left, just piles of debris,” a Hungarian friend who had traveled in Syria remarked.

While similar levels of disintegration have been visited upon untold other peoples,...

California Drought and Global Warming

— Barry Sheppard

CALIFORNIA HAS WHAT’S called a Mediterranean climate, which means it has two seasons, wet and dry.

The wet one usually starts in November and lasts through the winter and early spring and is characterized by rain, and snow in the northern part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In the dry season, from mid-spring through October, there is little or no rain.

In recent years the wet season has become shorter and with less rain and snow, while the dry one has lengthened and grown hotter. This reached the point four years ago that the state was officially declared to be in a drought, which has continued to the present and become more extreme.

Global warming is not only exacerbating the drought, it has likely transformed the ecology of the state well into the future,...

Climate Change: A Radical Primer

— Michael Gasser

Capitalism & Climate Change:
The Science and Politics of Global Warming
By David Klein, illustrated and edited
by Stephanie McMillan
An ebook available for download at Gumroad, a site where people can sell their work directly to their audience: You choose your own price.

MOST BOOKS ON ecosocialism, while they may be of interest to those who already know something about socialism, especially those who already are socialists, are not particularly useful for those who want to be aware of both what climate change is and what capitalism is.

Naomi Klein’s best-selling book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism and the Climate, filled part of this gap,...

Alternatives to Neoliberal Capitalism

— Ingo Schmidt

[Author’s content warning: This text includes a certain amount of Keynes-bashing. Readers who find this offensive may take comfort from the Marxist self-critique offered at the end.]

NEOLIBERAL CAPITALISM TODAY has become unpopular, but imagining alternatives is difficult nonetheless.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the glitzy world of big money impressed not only people who were invested in it, but even many who were increasingly indebted to or sidelined by it. Even those who didn’t like it very much thought that there was no alternative to the neoliberal remaking of capitalism.

Widespread feelings of discomfort found voice in the Zapatistas’ “Ya Basta,” the World Social Forum’s “Another World is Possible” and Occupy’s “We Are the 99%.”...

Black History Retrospective

Racial Liberalism: The Case of Interwar Detroit

— Karen R. Miller

THIS PROJECT BEGAN in the Shaker Heights, Ohio of my childhood in the 1970s and 1980s. A self-consciously liberal, affluent and integrated inner-ring suburb, Shaker Heights was known for its good schools, winding streets and anti-white-flight programs: low-interest loans designed to integrate neighborhoods, robust busing, and ordinances against blockbusting. But the city’s liberalism and its pro-integration policies did not eliminate segregation or stratification, even locally. In spite of busing, elementary schools in the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods were majority white, and those that sat next to Cleveland were almost all Black. By high school, tracking by race and class was intense.

Available explanations felt inadequate: we were taught that racism was a relic left over from slavery, rooted in the American South, mostly a problem of the past, and already fading away. Or, it was a failing of individuals who had absorbed toxic ideas and needed them purged....

Black Women's Writing Recovered

— an interview with Mary Helen Washington

THREE DECADES AGO The New York Times Book Review observed, “Mary Helen Washington has had a greater impact on the canon of Afro-American Literature than has any other scholar.” The occasion was the arrival of yet another in her acclaimed quartet of editions of creative writing by African-American women.

Since then, Dr. Washington has only intensified her dedication to rebalance historical perspective and restore visibility through a miraculous retrieval of the radical Black past in pioneering research culminating in the 2014 publication of The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s (reviewed by Bill Mullen in ATC 173).

Born and raised in Cleveland, Washington received her doctorate from the University of Detroit in 1976 where she directed the Center for Black Studies before moving.....

Not Such A Lonely Crusade

— Graham Barnfield

The Black Cultural Front:
Black Writers and Artists of the Depression Generation
By Brian Dolinar
Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, Margaret Walker Alexander Series in African American Studies, 2012/2014, 288 pages, $60 hardback, $27 paperback.

BRIAN DOLINAR WANTS to know when and whether African-American cultural workers were able to combine politics and popular culture. A tantalizing conclusion to The Black Cultural Front: Black Writers and Artists of the Depression Generation treats contemporary author Walter Mosley and The Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder as present-day successes in this endeavour, both standing on the shoulders of giants.

Dolinar’s comprehensive and fascinating account sets out exactly how this legacy was established....

Snoops in the Reading Room

— John Woodford

F.B. Eyes:
How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature
By William J. Maxwell
Princeton University Press, NJ, 2015, 384 pages, $29.95 hardcover.

THE GREAT CONTRIBUTION of this book by William J. Maxwell, associate professor of English and African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, is its documentation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s practice of monitoring, disrupting, infiltrating, intimidating and occasionally indicting the leading writers who wielded their pens against racism in the 20th century.

In case such efforts to curb resistance (“subversion” in FBI lingo) were to prove ineffective in the eyes of the U.S. political establishment,...

Remembering Ahmad Rahman and Ron Scott

— David Finkel

AHMAD RAHMAN, AN educator and activist who served almost 22 years in a Michigan prison and subsequently became the 2013 Michigan Council for Social Studies “College Professor of the Year,” died unexpectedly on September 21, 2015 at the age of 64.

Just two months later, on November 29 Ron Scott, a leading activist of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality and its neighborhood “Peace Zones for Life,” died of cancer at age 68.

Both had been members of the Black Panther Party in Detroit. Along with General Baker, leader of the Detroit Revolutionary Union Movement, they spoke of their experiences at an ATC panel at the 2010 U.S. Social Forum to a packed crowd....


Rebuilding a Class Movement

— Daniel Howard

In Solidarity
Essays on Working-Class Organization in the United States
By Kim Moody
Haymarket Books, 2014, 332 pages + notes and index, $22 paperback.

IN THE SUMMER of 2000, the Solidarity National Office mailed me a copy of Kim Moody’s new essay “The Rank-and-File Strategy: Building a Socialist Movement in the United States.” I sat for hours on my couch, reading and studying this pamphlet that would change my life.

Moody asked why socialists today are so isolated from workers’ struggle. Surveying the history of U.S. socialism and labor, he argued that socialists need to link up with struggles in the workplace — and that we need to take on union officials when they get in the way....

Narrating American Antifascism

— Keith Gilyard

Haunted by Hitler:
Liberals, the Left, and the Fight against Fascism in the United States
By Christopher Vials
Amherst & Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2014, 280 pages,
$26.95 paperback.

BACK IN THE day, a dear friend of mine newly intrigued with the program of the Black Panther Party firmly declared to a group of us that he was against racism and fascism. He pronounced the latter term face-ism, instead of rhyming it with hashism, something with which a few members of our group were familiar.

We assisted our friend with pronunciation, but failed to help him articulate clearly to us what this fascism he opposed was all about....

Celebration and Fresh Inquiry

— Paul Buhle

Lineages of the Literary Left:
Essays in Honor of Alan M. Wald
Edited by Howard Brick, Robbie Lieberman and Paula Rabinowitz
Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing/Maize Books, 2014, 377 pages, $37.50 paperback.

THE “FESTSCHRIFT” SEEMS to belong to a vanishing scholarly past, as distant in the twenty-first century, at least in U.S. intellectual culture, as the manual typewriter and library card-catalogue. It was a tradition where scholars grown ancient in the classroom and their musty offices, earning the gratitude of former students and colleagues, basked in the essays around subjects connected or not quite connected to the work of the Master.

If there is a future for the festschrift, it must be very different from the ones of the past....

Debs for His Time and Ours

— Allen Ruff

Eugene V. Debs Reader
Socialism and the Class Struggle
Edited by William A. Pelz with a new introduction by Mark Lause, and an original introduction by Howard Zinn,
London: Merlin Press, 2014, 256 pages, $25 paperback.

THIS NEW RELEASE of selected writings and speeches by Eugene Victor Debs (1855-1926) could not be more timely. It’s especially salient for those on the socialist left engaged in discussions and debates regarding Bernie Sanders’ bid to win the Democratic Party nomination for president.

The most well known figure of early 20th century American socialism, Debs conveyed his class-conscious anti-capitalist message, most famously through his celebrated oratory, to countless hundreds of thousands during his years as labor militant....

Comintern Congress Revisited

— Ted McTaggart

To The Masses:
Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921
Edited and translated by John Riddell
Brill, 2015, 1299 pages, $517 hardcover.

IN LATE JUNE 1921, the Third Congress of the Communist International convened amidst great confusion and contradictory impulses within the international workers’ movement.

Soviet Russia had just emerged victorious from a protracted civil war against imperialist-sponsored forces of reaction. In the wake of this victory, however, the Communist Party had introduced the New Economic Policy, granting limited concessions to foreign capitalists and reintroducing elements of a capitalist economy into the workers’ state.