Against the Current, No. 182, May/June 2016

Politics of the New Abnormal

— The Editors

IN THIS STRANGEST of U.S. election seasons, the capitalist class appears to have partially lost control — temporarily at least — of its trusted political parties. The Bernie Sanders insurgency, which was expected to fizzle out by now, has instead gained strength as the Democratic primaries proceed. The outpouring of support for Sanders’ message reveals the chasm separating that party’s institutional elites from its voting base that’s been brutally affected by the capitalist crisis and neoliberal politics.

After New York, conventional punditry is announcing that the nomination race is “over.” But for Sanders’ activist supporters the fight remains very much on, as they organize to carry “the political revolution” all the way to Philadelphia, both inside and on the streets outside the Democratic convention — and beyond. This is a movement about issues that vastly transcend one primary season....

Why Blacks Vote for "Pragmatism"

— Malik Miah

MANY AFRICAN-AMERICAN progressives — and liberal whites — wonder why the Black population voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party primaries, particularly in the Southern states. Although the numbers were lower in the North and West, they were still a majority for Clinton. Why?

It is easy to assert that the reason was strong support for Clinton by the establishment Black leadership, from the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee to the traditional civil rights groups, church and community leaders.

Charles Blow, a Black columnist for The New York Times, charged those who back Sanders as “condescending” toward African Americans and their decisions....

"This Deportation Business": 1920s and the Present

— Emily Pope-Obeda

WHILE THE MACHINERY of deportation has reached an unprecedented scale in recent decades, its roots are both deep and critical for understanding its place in modern U.S. society. The massive infrastructure for removal that looms over the nation’s immigrant population has its underpinnings in the early 20th century.

This article will examine the growth of the deportation regime during the 1920s, and explore the enduring ramifications of early deportation practice and the renegotiation of the state’s coercive power over migrants. It will particularly emphasize how deportation and migration control evolved to serve the interests of the modern capitalist nation-state, both in controlling the flow of precarious labor, and in the direct service of private profit through immigrant removal....

Trouble Down in Texas (and elsewhere)

— Dianne Feeley

THE U.S. SUPREME Court, on March 2nd, heard arguments in the case of Whole Women’s Health vs. Hellerstedt. The judges will be deciding the constitutionality of a 2013 Texas bill (HB2) that places restrictions on clinics where abortions are performed — most within the first eight weeks of pregnancy.

Before the law was passed, Texas had 41 reproductive health clinics where abortions, contraceptives and tests for identifying cervical or breast cancer were offered. When the law first went into effect half shut down.

While the requirements were motivated by anti-abortion organizations and politicians, they were justified on the lying pretext of supporting women’s welfare.

Since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision established that women have the legal right....

Disasters in Syria and Yemen

— an interview with Gilbert Achcar

GILBERT ACHCAR IS the author of the forthcoming book Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising. A longtime Marxist analyst of Middle Eastern social movements and politics, he currently teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London. A recent interview on the status of the “Arab Spring” is online at Against the Current editor David Finkel interviewed him by phone on March 3, 2016 to discuss the current crises in the region as well as the impact of the horrific refugee crisis.

Against the Current: What does the recently announced “cease fire” in Syria mean, and what are the chances it will hold?...

Russia's Intervention and Syria's Future

— Gilbert Achcar

[The following is excerpted from an extensive interview with Gilbert Achcar by Ilya Budraitskis. The text is online at]

THE INITIAL OFFICIAL reason for [Russia’s] intervention was designed for Russia to get a Western, and especially American, green light. Before Russian planes started bombing, the statements from Washington were welcoming Russia’s contribution to the fight against ISIS.

This was completely illusionary, of course — a pure deception. But I would really be surprised if, in Washington, they really believed that Russia was deploying forces to Syria....

Fatema Mernissi: A Pioneering Arab Muslim Feminist

— Zakia Salime

Zakia Salime is associate professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University. This tribute is to Fatema Mernissi: mentor, insightful teacher, organic intellectual, incisive feminist, powerful voice, charismatic presence, craftswoman, generous host, and friend. It appeared at and is reprinted here with the permission of the author and Jadaliyya.

FATEMA MERNISSI, WRITER, professor, sociologist and a central figure of Arab feminism, passed away at the age of 75 on Monday, 30 November, in Rabat, Morocco. Mernissi was a professor at the Mohammed V University of Rabat and a research scholar at the Institut Universitaire de Recherche Scientifique (IURS) in the same city.....

Destroying Detroit Schools

— Dianne Feeley and David Finkel

p>THE DETROIT PUBLIC School system (DPS) has been under state control for 15 years, the last decade under the direction of a series of Emergency Managers.

The result has been a staggering debt, now more than half a billion dollars, with a 50% decline in the number of students served. More students attend charter schools than the public system, but as there is no oversight over charters, poorly run schools continue year after year.

Over the past decade 160 Detroit schools of various types have opened or closed. In some neighborhoods there is no public school, only charters or the Education Achievement Authority (EAA), the disastrously failing system set up by Governor Rick Snyder....

U.S. Labor -- What's New, What's Not?

— Kim Moody

WE ALL KNOW that there’s something different about today’s working class. One obvious difference is that today’s working class produces fewer things “you can drop on your toe,” as The Economist famously put it, and more that you can’t. What’s actually changing in capitalist production in the United States?

While Marx mostly spoke of industrial workers who extracted or made goods he did not, in fact, define the proletariat by what commodities it produced. As he wrote in Capital, “capital is indifferent to the particular nature of every sphere of production.”(1) For Marx social classes were defined by their relations to capital. Capitalist production produces not only “commodities, not only surplus value, but it also produces and reproduces the capital-relation itself, on the one hand the capitalist, on the other the wage-laborer.”(2)...

Auto's Permanent Temporaries

— Dianne Feeley

THE OVERALL PERCENTAGE of temporary workers in the U.S. economy may not have changed much over the past quarter century — but the use of workers who have no job security has invaded the bastions of manufacturing. As a result of this employer offensive, workers feel an insecurity that my generation rarely experienced.

In the auto industry, temporaries were once students who covered auto jobs over a clearly defined summer vacation period. Today temps can work a full week year after year, never becoming permanent workers. The 2015 Big Three/UAW contract reflects the fragmentation of the work force.

Even though autoworkers fought and won an end to two-tier wages and benefits, the contract lays out an eight-year “in progession” status that doesn’t equalize benefits. The contract also allows for permanent lower wages in certain Big Three parts plants,...

The Murder of Berta Cáceres

BERTA CÁCERES, CO-FOUNDER of the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), an internationally acclaimed environmental activist and among that country’s leading opposition figures, was assassinated in her home shortly before midnight on Thursday, March 3.

Less than two weeks later, a fellow leading activist Nelson Garcia was similarly gunned down.

COPINH reported that in recent weeks “violence and repression toward Berta Caceres, COPINH and he communities they support had escalated. In Rio Blanco on February 20, Berta Caceres, COPINH and the community of Rio Blanco faced threats and repression as they carried out a peaceful action to protect the River Gualcarque against the construction of a hydroelectric dam by the internationally financed Honduran company DESA.”...

Free Oscar Lopez Rivera Now!

— Steve Bloom

AN INTERNATIONAL CALL has been issued for actions on Monday, June 20, demanding Freedom for Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera.

That’s the first day of testimony this year being held by the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization in New York. A public demonstration in support of Rivera is planned at UN headquarters. The goal is to have some kind of action (“candlelight vigil, an educational forum, a letter-writing tabling effort, creative street theater, meetings with government officials, or whatever makes most sense given your political context and capacity”) in 35 countries on the same day, one for every year that Rivera has been in prison....

Homonationalism and Queer Resistance

— Peter Drucker

I ARRIVED IN the United States prepared to talk about why and how queers need to fight Islamophobia: the fear and hatred of Islam and of Muslims. But [on November 13] the day after my plane landed, Paris was hit by a wave of terrorist attacks. So I can’t give quite the same talk that I prepared.

There’s no way I can talk about Islamophobia today without talking about events like these, events that fan the flames of Islamophobia. I feel that one of my tasks today is to try to make sense of what seems senseless.

Making sense of these horrors requires understanding that although the hundreds of dead and wounded people in Paris were innocent victims — inappropriate and wrongful targets — it’s not true that their country has nothing to do with the dying and suffering today in the Islamic world....

An Introduction to the Life of James Connolly

A FULL LIFE: James Connolly the Irish Rebel (PM Press, $4.95) is a powerful portrayal of the life and martyrdom of the great Irish revolutionary, with text and comic art illustration by Tom Keough, edited with an Afterword by Paul Buhle, and selections from Connolly’s writings. Marking the 100th anniversary of the Easter Uprising in Dublin that was crushed by the British occupation but paved the path for Irish independence, it’s a fitting tribute to a visionary of national liberation and working-class socialism.

Paul Buhle's introduction and the accompanying two pages illustrate some of the lessons Connolly learned in the United States, where he lived from 1903-1910. Key were the need for one big union open to all workers — including Blacks, Chinese and women — and of mass direct action.

May/June 2016, ATC 182

James Connolly and the Easter Uprising

— Paul Buhle

PERHAPS THE 2014 Ken Loach film “Jimmy’s Hall” brought back to hundreds of thousands of art house viewers the popular iconography of Irish martyr James Connolly, his photo prominently displayed in the community space of a returning exile of the 1920s. In this fine film, we do not learn much more about Connolly, and indeed the memory of the socialist and Wobbly revolutionary had been buried successfully in the martyr for national independence.

The ironies were still deeper because the prospects for a successful national uprising on Easter, 1916, had never been great, and Connolly’s commitment to nationalism conflicted with his stated belief that without socialism, Irish independence would ring empty. And yet . . . the brilliant autodidact, labor organizer, editor and formulator (in Labour in Irish History) of a genuinely anti-imperialist doctrine, had made his decision on fair grounds....

American Literature and the First World War

— Tim Dayton

GIVEN THAT THE United States entered the First World War much later than any other major belligerent, declaring war on Germany in April, 1917 — over two and a half years after the war began — one might expect that the war had less impact here than on other countries. American literature, however, argues otherwise.

Not only did the war spawn an enormous literature during and after the war, it also led to a reaction against the war and the culture that supported it. This response to the war contributed significantly to two different outcomes: first, the radicalism of the 1930s, and second, a shift in literature that widened the gap between popular and high literary culture.

When the war began in Europe, Amer­ican writers expressed opinions about it ranging from pacifistic opposition to the very idea of war to passionate support for U.S. intervention on the side of....

Review Essay on Haymarket

The Contested Haymarket Affair: 130 Years Later

— Allen Ruff

ON MAY 4th, 1886 someone threw a bomb into a file of Chicago police dispatched to break up a workers’ protest rally at the city’s Haymarket Square. The blast and ensuing gunfire killed seven cops and at least four civilians, and wounded many more.

The entire workers’ movement immediately came under attack, and eight anarchist labor activists were charged with conspiracy for the act. Following a speedy and controversial trial, the men were found guilty. Four were hanged the following November, while one mysteriously died in his cell the night before. Three others were imprisoned.

Chicago in the post-Civil War decades became a major railroad hub, center of industrial production and heartland engine of unrestrained capitalist development....

Messer-Kruse's Haymarket History

— Rebecca Hill

The Trial of the Haymarket Anarchists:
Terrorism and Justice in the Gilded Age
By Timothy Messer Kruse
NY: Palgrave McMillan, 2011, viii 236 pages,
$37 paperback.

The Haymarket Conspiracy:
Transatlantic Anarchist Networks
By Timothy Messer Kruse
Champagne-Urbana: University Press of Illinois,
2012, 256 pages, $32 paperback.

HISTORIANS HAVE BEEN known to remark that we write history in the context of present concerns. Timothy Messer-Kruse’s recent revisionist histories of the Haymarket anarchists are written in a time when reality is framed by what many scholars call the carceral state,...


Water in a World in Crisis

— Jan Cox

The Price of Thirst:
Global Water Inequality and the Coming Chaos
By Karen Piper
University of Minnesota Press, 2014, xii + 289 pages, $26.95 hardcover.

MANY BOOKS ON global water issues have appeared in recent years as the world struggles with population displacement, drought and massive storms and floods, but none have as thoroughly documented the connection between aggressive worldwide water privatization efforts and colonialism as Karen Piper does in this work.

A professor of postcolonial studies in English and an adjunct professor in geography at the University of Missouri, Piper has personal experience with the issue of water and its appropriation by powerful interests....

Standing Against Counterrevolution

— David Finkel

The Two Trotskyisms Confront Stalinism
The Fate of the Russian Revolution, Volume 2
Edited & with an introduction by Sean Matgamna
London, UK: Workers’ Liberty, 2015,
790 pages, $30 paperback.
Order from www.workersliberty/org/books.

ON JULY 23, 1939 the foreign ministers of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed an agreement that would be known to history as the infamous Stalin-Hitler Pact. A week later, pursuant to secret clauses in the deal, German troops smashed into Poland and on September 17 the Soviet Union invaded from the east.

The impact on global politics was overwhelming; in essence it marked the beginning of the Second World War....

Inside/Outside the Campus Box

— Michael E. Brown

The Cutting Edge
By David Lansky (George Snedeker)
Xlibris LLC, 2014 (200 pages). This book can be ordered by phone at 1-888-795-4274; or by email at

THIS SATIRICAL NOVEL brings to mind our present reality: It may be that what is happening to universities around the country is so bold in its neoliberal modeling of the corporate enterprise, and its neoconservative tendency to condemn anything remotely connected to critical thinking, that it can only be made comprehensible in a work of fiction.

This has partly to do with the cultural marginalization of education itself in favor of the STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math) curriculum and consequent administrative demands that all disciplines establish quantitative, computable standards for judging....