Against the Current, No. 181, March/April 2016

Against the Current, No. 181, March/April 2016

An Extraordinary Moment

— The Editors

THE 2016 ELECTION is turning into an extraordinary campaign in a moment of accelerating crisis in the United States and globally. The massive economic insecurities facing working-class America, the horrific situation confronting African-American communities, and capital’s blind march toward ecological destruction are forcing themselves onto the agenda — and are dramatically reflected in Bernie Sanders’ Iowa dead heat and smashing New Hampshire victory. At this writing, he’s polling nationally within two percentage points of Hillary Clinton.

In the end, the one sure prediction about the 2016 election is that the power of corporate capital will not be touched. That’s the nature of what’s called “bourgeois democracy.” But almost everything else is up for grabs.

What’s happening to this society can be seen most intensely....

Making Race Disappear

— Malik Miah

“If anyone doubts that the mainstream media fails to tell the truth about our political system (and its true winners and losers), the spectacle of large majorities of black folks supporting Hillary Clinton in the primary races ought to be proof enough. I can’t believe Hillary would be coasting into the primaries with her current margin of black support if most people knew how much damage the Clintons have done — the millions of families that were destroyed the last time they were in the White House thanks to their boastful embrace of the mass incarceration machine and their total capitulation to the right-wing narrative on race, crime, welfare and taxes. There’s so much more to say on this topic and it’s a shame that more people aren’t saying it. I think it’s time we have that conversation.” — Michelle Alexander, Facebook comment, January 28, 2016. Alexander is the author of The New Jim Crow, in the Age of Colorblindness.....

Hip-Hop Ain't Dead

— Alice Ragland

Everybody sound the same, commercialize the game
Reminiscin’ when it wasn’t all business
If it got where it started
So we all gather here for the dearly departed
Hip hopper since a toddler
One homeboy became a man then a mobster
If the guys let me get my last swig of Vodka
R.I.P., we’ll donate your lungs to a rasta
Went from turntables to mp3s
From “Beat Street” to commercials on Mickey D’s
From gold cables to Jacobs
From plain facials to Botox and face lifts
— Nas, “Hip Hop is Dead,” 2006

HIP-HOP HAS revolutionary roots. Created in the late 1970s by impoverished Black youth,...

Our Guns, Our Rights

— Hunter Gray

A NATIVE PERSON and a Northern Arizonian, I have always been a gun person and thus a strong defender of gun rights. In what seems in retrospect to have been a halcyon period in my life, I had my first “real gun” — a Winchester .22 pump rifle — when I was seven.

I hunted small game with my father; by eight and nine I was hunting by myself; and, a few years later, I had an old 44/40 Winchester lever action for big game. (Lever action rifles and revolvers are my much preferred genre.)

As I entered my teen years, I was a regular hang-out at Gene’s gun store at Flagstaff, shooting the breeze with Gene and the resident gunsmith, Casey....

Florida Today: "Worse Than Mississippi"

— Paul Ortiz

PAUL ORTIZ IS associate professor of history at the University of Florida. This article is adapted and newly updated from a presentation at a plenary, “Making Emancipation: From a Black Reconstruction to a Black President,” sponsored by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Jacksonville, Florida on October 5, 2013.

WELCOME TO THE Sunshine State. A place where we are — to borrow from Brother Walter Mosley — always outnumbered, always outgunned.

This is the perfect time to think about and to debate the meaning(s) of Emancipation. This is the perfect place to think about the meaning of freedom. Because, brothers and sisters: in Florida, every year is the year of the Ballot or the Bullet. Florida is not only the new Mississippi of America, we are worse than Mississippi....

Fukushima After Five Years

— Chie Matsumoto

TIME WILL HEAL, some people say. The prospect of that looks bleak, however, for the people affected by the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

In the five years since the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, at least 100,000 people remain displaced; 80 people have committed suicide in Fukushima alone over the loss of their families, assets and hope for the future (as of December 2015, according to the Reconstruction Ministry and the Cabinet Office); radiation contamination continues to spread; and people still gather from across and outside Japan to chant anti-nuclear slogans at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Tokyo every Friday.

The Japanese government seems to have forgotten about the major nuclear cleanup....

China: Slowdown and Crackdown

AS CHINA’S ECONOMY slows down, it appears that worker discontent is growing and the regime is responding with sharper repression against the labor rights movement. The movement’s activities are legal under Chinese law, but always under threat when they become effective.

Under as a system where the “official” trade union functions essentially as a government front, small organizations defending workers’ rights are viewed by the regime and employers as threats that could become seeds of an independent labor movement.

According to a report by Julia Song in Epoch Times,...

Women in the Struggle

Lessons of the Egyptian Struggle

— Mahienour al-Masry

EGYPTIAN POLITICALPRISONERS expressed their feelings about the fifth anniversary of the Tahrir Square democratic revolution that toppled the Hosni Mubarak regime — now replaced by the even more brutal military-presidentialist dictatorship of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The report is online at

Mahienour al-Masry, a member of the Revolutionary Socialists and a feminist activist who’s been called an “icon of the revolution,” is serving a 30-month prison term for her struggle against the dictatorship. The Arabic text and English translation of her letter from prison is at

Rosa Luxemburg for Our Time

— Nancy Holmstrom

DOES ROSA LUXEMBURG leave feminists a theoretical and political legacy? That is, does she give us any theoretical guidance as to how to understand women’s oppression? If so, what is it?

Certainly Rosa Luxemburg is a model for feminists of all times in her passionate commitment both to understanding the nature of our oppressive system — and most important, to changing it — and for pursuing her own political and personal life without concern for what women were and were not supposed to do.

But what if anything would she have to say about theoretical debates among socialist feminists today? Was she even a feminist in this sense? Was her position on women’s oppression similar to her position on national oppression [opposing Lenin’s embrace of the right of nations to self-determination, which she saw as a diversion from class struggle — ed.]?...

Women's Monumental Struggle

— Barbara Winslow

Director Sarah Gavron, Screenwriter Abi Morgan. Starring Helena Bonham Carter, Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, Ben Whishaw, Brendon Gleeson.

AGAINST THE CURRENT asked Barbara Winslow and Alison Baldree for responses to the acclaimed and controversial 2015 film Suffragette. We hope they will pique our readers’ interest.

Barbara Winslow is the founder of the Shirley Chisholm Project at Brooklyn College and author of Sylvia Pankhurst: Sexual Politics and Political Activism (1996).

THE MOVIE SUFFRAGETTE is the first feature film dramatically depicting the monumental struggle for women’s right to vote in pre-World War One England....

Thinking About Suffragette

— Alison Baldree

SUFFRAGETTE FOCUSES ON rank-and-file women rather than on the leadership of the suffragette movement — a perspective not often told. Though women won the right to vote, many of the oppressive conditions facing working-class women remain.

Slowly the layers of Maud’s life are peeled back as we see her becoming more aware of the political system. Having the right to vote would provide an opportunity for change. She sees the suffragette movement as a way to fight for a better future.

Suffragette portrays scenes in Maud’s home and work life. In a moment of reflection she asks her husband what he thinks life would have been like if they had a daughter, not a son. He dismisses Maud, leaving her to think about the would-be future of a daughter.

Maud has a suffocating work experience....

Reading & Returning to Denise Levertov

— Sarah Ehlers

A Poet’s Revolution:
The Life of Denise Levertov
By Donna Hollenberg
University of California Press, 2013, 532 pages, $44.95 hardcover.

THE AUTHOR OF more than 20 volumes of poetry and four books of prose, and seen by many as an outstanding model of the politically committed poet of the Left, Denise Levertov (1923-1997) came to national attention in the 1960s and ’70s when she was active in the War Resisters League and Resist, and poetry editor of The Nation.

Throughout her long career, Levertov used the word “revolution” with all the weight it should carry. In her 1970 anti-Vietnam War poem sequence “Staying Alive,” Levertov wrote of how Robert Duncan, her close friend and a key figure....

Women of Dada and Their Times

— Penelope Rosemont

THIS YEAR IS the centennial of the birth of Dada, an anti-bourgeois movement in literature and art with profound Left-wing associations, especially in relation to anti-colonialism. Cabaret Voltaire was a nightclub in Zurich, Switzerland where the movement was launched by the poets Emmy Hennings and other artists. This reflection by Penelope Rosemont is a contribution to both our Women’s History feature and our ongoing centennial retrospective on World War I. — The Editors

YES, THERE WERE Dada women!

One hundred years of Dada this year. Cabaret Voltaire lasted less than six months from its opening, February 1916 in Zurich, Switzerland. Who would have guessed that its obscure beginning would herald a world-rocking negativity that was at the same time an ardent demand for renewal?...

Salvadoran Women Combatants

— Diana C. Sierra Becerra

Women in War:
The Micro-processes of Mobilization in El Salvador
By Jocelyn Viterna
New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013, 304 pages, $26.95 paperback.

IN WOMEN IN War: The Micro-Processes of Mobilization in El Salvador, sociologist Jocelyn Viterna investigates the wartime experiences of women combatants and the differences in postwar gains between men and women. Her study is based on 230 interviews with former combatants from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a peasant insurgency composed of five distinct guerrilla groups.

Founded in 1980, the FMLN revolted against the Salvadoran state after decades of military repression of non-violent movements....

Crisis and Apartheid in Israel/Palestine

Jerusalem: Colonized City

— an interview with Thomas Abowd

THOMAS ABOWD IS the author of Colonial Jerusalem. The Spatial Construction of Identity and Difference in a City of Myth, 1948-2012 (Syracuse University Press, 2014). Against the Current interviewed him about his research and observations on the present crisis. — David Finkel for the ATC editors

Against the Current: Your book connects the post-1967 Israeli occupation with the earlier pre- and post-1948 periods. But if we can start with the present situation: the attacks by individual Palestinians and the large numbers killed by Israeli soldiers, police and vigilante, Netanyahu’s threat to cancel residency for East Jerusalem Palestinians, etc. — how do you see the present crisis connecting up with the recent past and older history?

Thomas Abowd: I argue that colonialism is a process, a continual process of human rights abuses, land theft, and racial exclusion....

Mahmoud Darwish, A Poet's Complex Trajectory

— Gayatri Kumar

Mahmoud Darwish:
The Poet’s Art and His Nation
By Khaled Mattawa
Syracuse University Press, 2014. 196 pages, $24.95 hardcover.

MAHMOUD DARWISH: THE Poet’s Art and His Nation is a difficult book to categorize. Part biography, part literary criticism, and part reception study, it is perhaps best described as an interpretive overview of the life and work of Palestine’s iconic national poet Mahmoud Darwish (1942-2008).

Khaled Mattawa, a well-established poet and translator in his own right, takes on the monumental task of charting the evolution of Darwish’s oeuvre: 25 books of poetry, five books of what Mattawa terms “experimental writing” (16), and many collections....


Raising Hell for Labor

— Steve Downs

Raising Expectations (And Raising Hell):
My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement
By Jane McAlevey
Verso Books, 2012 and 2014, 332 pages, $19.95 paperback.

IN 1995 JOHN Sweeney, the head of the SEIU (Service Employees International Union), was elected president of the AFL-CIO in the first contested election (voting was limited to delegates to the AFL-CIO’s convention) in the federation’s history.

The New Voices slate, which Sweeney headed, was drawn from the leadership of unions who had concluded something new had to be done to reverse the decline of U.S. labor unions. They seemed to be serious about organizing large numbers of workers into unions and in building up labor’s capacity to wage political fights at the grassroots level....

A Word Warrior for Freedom

— John Woodford

Word Warrior:
Richard Durham, Radio and Freedom
By Sonja D. Williams
University of Illinois Press, Champaign, IL, 2015. 181 pages plus notes and images, $26 paperback. Word Warrior is in the University of Illinois’ New Black Studies Series edited by Darlene Clark Hine and Dwight A. McBride.

“There are times when any man may be written as humble, but with the Negro it’s simply overworked — phony — and in some cases a perversion. A good many white people have cushioned themselves into dreaming that Negroes are not self-assertive, confident, and never leave the realm of fear or subservience — to portray them as they are will give a great[er] education than a dozen lectures....”

Long Distance High Tech State Terror

— David Richardson

Kill Chain:
The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins
By Andrew Cockburn
Verso Books, 2015, 320 pages, $12.96 paperback from Amazon.

ON A COLD Afghan night in February 2010, two small SUVs and a four-door pickup carrying 35 men, women and children, including four under age six, were traveling toward Kandahar on the way to Kabul. It was a slow trip with stops for engine trouble and a flat tire.

On the seemingly deserted highway, unknown to the group, a United States Special Ops raiding party had landed nearby and a reconnaissance drone circled overhead. Backing up the drone was a ground crew including the pilot, intelligence analysts, and communications officers in Nevada and Florida. Instead of people, what they saw on their screens were blobs on the ground....

Towards Workers' Climate Action

— Traven Leyshon

Workers and Trade Unions for Climate Solidarity:
Tackling climate change in a neoliberal world
By Paul Hampton
Rutledge, 2015, 211 pages, $54.95 kindle.

For Workers’ Climate Action:
Climate Change and Working-Class Struggle
By Paul Hampton, 54 pages, £4.

[The workers had] “done more for the future of green energy and green jobs in the UK in two weeks than the government has done in 12 years.” — National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers President Bob Crow speaking of the Vestas factory occupation.

The Promise of A Revolution

— William Smaldone

Working-Class Politics in the German Revolution
Richard Müller, the Revolutionary Shop Stewards, and the Origins of the Council Movement
By Ralf Hoffrogge
Leiden, 2015: Brill, $141 hard­cover; Haymarket Books 2015, $28 paper.

WHEN THE BOLSHEVIKS took power in Russia in October 1917, they expected that their action would unleash parallel, working-class revolutions across Europe. While they did not believe that building socialism was feasible in economically backward Russia, they bet the ranch that the Russian Revolution would spark proletarian upheavals in the advanced western states that had the economic power to promote an international socialist transformation.

Looking back almost 100 years later,...

In Memoriam

Ellen Meiksins Wood (1942-2016)

— Robert Brenner

A BRILLIANT MARXIST historian and theorist, Ellen Meiksins Wood passed away January 14, after a long battle with cancer. As a friend and colleague Vivek Chibber stated, “Wood was a thinker of extraordinary range, writing with authority on Ancient Greece, early modern political thought, contemporary political theory, Marxism, and the structure and evolution of modern capitalism. But even more importantly, she was one of those few from the New Left who never relented in their commitment to socialist politics.” Ellen Wood is survived by her loving husband Ed Broadbent, a former Canadian MP and leader of the New Democratic Party, as well as two brothers, Peter and Robert Meiksins.

The following tribute is abridged from a presentation last November by Robert Brenner, an editor of Against the Current, longtime co-thinker and close friend of Wood, at an informal conference held by Verso Books to mark the re-publication of three of Ellen’s books....