Against the Current, No. 183, July-August 2016

Against the Current, No. 183, July-August 2016

Political Revolution -- What Is It?

— The Editors

THE “POLITICAL REVOLUTION” proclaimed by Bernie Sanders refuses to fold its tents in the wake of the Democratic primary season. Although Hillary Clinton is the Democratic presidential nominee, Sanders and his movement promise to carry the fight to the Philadelphia convention, and beyond — in some form (or several) still very much remaining to be determined. We’ve solicited several perspectives in this issue of Against the Current which appear in the section on “Bernie and Beyond.”

At the same time, the horror of the Orlando massacre — and the toxic poison spread by Donald Trump seeking to exploit it — shockingly reminds of us all of how sick a society this really is, and how desperately “a true revolution of values,” in Martin Luther King’s memorable phrase, is needed to cure the diseases of homophobia, Islamophobia and so much else....

Muhammad Ali: Free Black Man

— Malik Miah

“I ain’t got no quarrel with the Viet Viet Cong ever called me nigger.”

EVERYONE HAS A story about Muhammad Ali. For me it was as a young high school student in Detroit. I had already seen the wrongs of imperialism and its wars, and of course the racism Blacks faced in Detroit.

Ali as a Black man and Muslim was a powerful symbol of courage. His willingness to give up his boxing career to stand with the Vietnamese against the U.S. government reflected the stirrings of militant Black pride and militancy that was growing in Detroit.

As a son of a Bangladeshi Muslim father and Black mother, I understood this deeply and personally. I remember in 1969 we organized an antiwar protest at Wayne State University....

Orlando: Home-grown Terror

— David Finkel

DOMESTIC TERROR AND hate crimes in the United States are as old as the country. That’s what mass killings of Native Americans and lynching of Black people have been all about. Immigrant communities, labor organizers and of course gay, lesbian and transgender people have been targeted.

In today’s America, women’s health clinics, Black churches, mosques and a Jewish community center have been assaulted by terror and hate attacks. The perpetrator in almost every case is a male with some kind of individual pathology, obsessive hatred and often a violent history. That’s how it’s understood when the criminal is white and drawn toward one or another neo-nazi, skinhead or racist ideology.

But when the perpetrators aren’t white or Christian — e.g. the Tsarnaev brothers in the Boston Marathon bombing,...

Time for an Independent Party

— Howie Hawkins

THE PERENNIAL DREAM on the left of a mass breakaway of progressives from the Democrats to a left third party has been stillborn since the days of Eugene Debs, who made this appeal to progressive Democrats in 1904:

“Where but to the Socialist Party can these progressive people turn? They are now without a party and the only genuine Democratic Party in the field is the Socialist Party, and every true Democrat should thank Wall Street for driving him out of a party that is democratic in name only, and into one that is democratic in fact.”

That’s the kind of appeal that Jill Stein of the Green Party ( is making in 2016 to Bernie Sanders supporters who are chilled at the prospect of voting for Hillary Clinton. More than in most presidential cycles, there is reason to hope for a mass breakaway in 2016....

What Is the Next Left?

— Johanna Brenner

AT THIS MOMENT I find myself swinging between optimism fueled by the previously unimaginable appeal of Sanders’ “socialism,” the energized base of young people attracted to his campaign, this evidence that the neoliberal consensus is dead, and despair about the HUGE gap between this political opening and the organizational capacity of the revolutionary socialist left. Like many others, I’m asking can anything be done?

Mainstream forces are already organizing to pivot Bernie supporters to a “STOP TRUMP” campaign (Van Jones). The broadly progressive “left” (e.g. National Nurses United, ex-Occupiers, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance) hope to capture the momentum of the Bernie campaign to build a more permanent national organization around a social-democratic platform (The People’s Summit, Chicago June 17; The People’s Revolution, Philadelphia, July 27)....

Whither the "Political Revolution"?

— Traven Serge

THIS IS AN extraordinary time as we could be at a turning point in American political life. Bernie Sanders is receiving mass support for the message of Occupy — the 99% versus the 1%. He has used his candidacy to popularize key radical demands: $15 and a union, an end to mass incarceration, universal healthcare, free public higher education, legalizing millions of immigrants, a carbon tax and banning fracking, to name a few.

Even if articulating these ideas within a social democratic framework, Sanders is impacting millions who were unfamiliar with or had dismissed them as impossible.

Sanders says there is a billionaire class who benefit from the status quo, and we need to take them on....

Electoral Strategy After Bernie's Campaign

— Neal Meyer

THE MERITS OF Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president have been debated ad nauseam. Rather than rehash this debate, those who supported Sanders’s candidacy (including myself) can better contribute to debates on electoral strategy by assessing our own work and laying out the lessons we have learned.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders wagered that his campaign would be the most important event in the development of socialist politics in decades. There is at least some evidence to suggest that this prediction was correct.

Millions of left-leaning voters, especially young and working-class people, are now sympathetic to some notion of socialism. And after a nasty campaign by Hillary Clinton, a sizeable minority of Sanders’s supporters are disillusioned with the Democratic Party and interested in alternatives....

Converging on Philadelphia

— Robert Caldwell

THE BERNIE SANDERS campaign represents a breakthrough on the U.S. left — not because the insurgency within the Democratic Party represents any new opportunity to transform the graveyard of social movements, but primarily because the campaign has surfaced a growing desire of millions for a left program and opened a much larger space to talk about socialism, while also exposing the limitations of the Democratic Party.

The last of the Cold War mental barriers against socialism have been breached. The youth of the United States raised in the global downturn have been frustrated with their lack of options under capitalism and are attracted to Bernie’s social democratic domestic programs, and increasingly eager to learn about socialism.

At the same time, the U.S. left is far too weak to provide a meaningful pole of attraction for those newly radicalizing....

Refugees and Capitalism

— Shahrzad Mojab

THE IMAGES ARE heart-wrenching. The numbers are extreme, the living conditions appalling. I am speaking of Syrian refugees: women, men, and children who are fleeing the fire of war to face the ravage of sea, deserts, barbed wire, border patrols, beatings, imprisonment, encampment and condemnation.

An abundance of reports with sophisticated and well-presented statistical graphs depict the enormity of this human calamity. Stories are told, music and plays are performed, photos taken, paintings exhibited, and feature films and documentaries made — all to tell and show us the suffering, resiliency, creativity and resistance of this displaced and disposed population.

Rarely, if ever, will these informational and artistic productions help us, the readers and viewers, to fully understand the cause and depth of this human tragedy....

Terrifying Prospects

— Noha Radwan

This Muslim American Life:
Dispatches from the War on Terror
By Moustafa Bayoumi
New York University Press, 2015, 309 pages, $19.95 paperback.

WHEN DONALD TRUMP proposed a ban on Muslim travel to the United States last December, many dismissed the proposal as absurd and untenable. Others more apprehensively saw it as a real threat, one of the new evils that would be visited upon the United States should Mr. Trump become the next president.

Moustafa Bayoumi’s This Muslim American Life tells us that the threat is real and, unfortunately, nothing new. Bayoumi is a professor of English at Brooklyn College, CUNY, and his book combines first-hand experience with scholarly research to deliver a sobering account....

Rasmea Odeh's Appeal Gains

— David Finkel

PALESTINIAN ACTIVIST AND Chicago community leader Rasmea Odeh is gaining ground in her struggle for a new trial, following her 2014 conviction for “unlawful procurement of naturalization.” (For some background on the case, see “The Trials of Rasmea Odeh,”

In 2015, a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Cincinnati ruled that the exclusion of testimony at her trial about torture and post-traumatic stress she suffered under Israeli interrogation in 1969 had denied her a fair trial. The case was returned to federal trial judge Gershwin Drain to consider arguments on the admission of expert testimony on torture and PTSD.

Hatem Abudayyeh of Rasmea’s defense committee reported:...

An Appeal for Homa Hoodfar

PROFESSOR HOMA HOODFAR, a prominent Canadian-Iranian anthropologist at Concordia University in Montreal specializing in issues of reproductive rights, the role of women in politics, as well as the intersections of gender with development and public health, traveled to Iran in early 2016 for a family visit and scholarly research.

As reported by Middle East Report Online, Hoodfar “was scheduled to depart the country on March 10, but on the preceding evening Revolutionary Guards officers went to her home and confiscated her passport, as well as her personal computer, cellular phone and other items. Since mid-March she has been repeatedly interrogated, apparently with the aim of tying her scholarly work and research to political activity of which the state disapproves....

Reactionary Tide in Latin America

— Michael Löwy

SINCE THE BEGINNING of the 21st cen­tury, the Left has won elections in most Latin American countries, in a powerful wave of popular rejection of the disastrous neoliberal policies of the previous regimes. One must however distinguish between two quite different sorts of left governments:

1) Social-liberal coalitions, which do not break with the fundamental “Washington Consensus” but implement several progressive social measures. The basic principle of this sort of government is to do what is possible to improve the situation of the poor — on the condition not to touch the privileges of the rich. The left, or center-left governments of Brazil, Uruguay and Chile are the most obvious examples.

2) Anti-oligarchic, anti-neoliberal and anti-imperialist governments, who set as their historical horizon....

Rainbows and Weddings

— Mehlab Jameel

JUST THREE DAYS  before the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision to legalize same sex marriage, president Obama ordered that an undocumented transgender woman be escorted out of the White House Pride celebration because she interrupted the President to raise her voice against the state-sanctioned torture and deportation of LGBT people.

 “You are in my House…you should be ashamed of yourself,” scolded the President as gay people in the audience cheered “We love you Obama!” This single event represents everything that went wrong with the gay rights movement in the United States. As a queer person from Pakistan, I wonder today: what happened that a potentially radical movement ended up in assimilationist notions of Pride parades and Marriage Equality?

Let’s begin with some contextualization. Historian of gay rights John D’Emilio argues that gay men and women have not always....

Jasmine Richards' Conviction

JASMINE RICHARDS, A leading Pasadena, California Black Lives Matter activist, was sentenced to 90 days jail time and three year probation following a conviction for what was called, until last year, “felony lynching” — a law written to stop lynch mobs from seizing their victims from police protection — now retitled “unlawfully removing someone from police custody.”

In an Orwellian twist worthy of the U.S. justice system, Richards was convicted for allegedly trying to rescue a Black woman from an altercation with Pasadena police. There no Black jurors in the trial, but one did write to judge Elaine Lu that “I feel sick for upholding a law in which I do not believe.”...

Reimagining the Harper's Ferry Revolt

— Ursula McTaggart

The Good Lord Bird
By James McBride
New York: Riverhead Books, 2013.

NOVELIST AND JAZZ saxophonist James McBride earned a National Book Award for his 2013 novel The Good Lord Bird, a farcical telling of John Brown’s 1859 anti-slavery battle at Harpers Ferry. The author is acclaimed for his earlier work The Color of Water, a tribute to the community that raised him, and a newly published study of the “Godfather of Soul” James Brown.

According to the novel’s conceit, a 1966 fire at a historically Black church uncovered notebooks containing “a wild slave narrative” penned by the fictional former slave Henry Shackleford. (1, page references will be to this text where not otherwise identified.) These imagined notebooks,...

Leonard Peltier's Appeal

LEONARD PELTIER, THE Native American activist who has been imprisoned for over 40 years — even though the U.S. government admitted decades ago that it doesn’t know who killed the two federal agents for whose murder Peltier was falsely convicted — has appealed for executive clemency.

Designated a political prisoner by Amnesty International, Peltier is the highest profile American Indian prisoner incarcerated in the United States. James Anaya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, visited Peltier two years ago and called for his release.

Peltier has always maintained his innocence. As the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee explains, “Prosecutors and federal agents manufactured evidence against him…hid proof of his innocence; presented false testimony obtained through torturous....

Review Essays on World War I

Fascinating Antifascism

— Alan Wald

Fire and Blood:
The European Civil War, 1914-1945
By Enzo Traverso
Translated by David Fernbach,
London: Verso, 2016. Pages +293, $26.95 hardback.

ENZO TRAVERSO HAS pulled off the rare reconstruction of a past epoch that pulsates with electric immediacy. Fire and Blood fashions events happening seventy-five-to-one-hundred years ago to feel as lively and pertinent as political debates taking place at present. His principal topic is the hell that was the center of Europe’s two world wars climaxing in a deluge of totalitarianism and genocide, and the devil is back today.

The most menacing revenant from this “Age of Extremes” (as Eric Hobsbawm called it)  comes to us in the shape of a....

Understanding the Cataclysm

— Allen Ruff

Cataclysm 1914 —
The First World War and the Making of Modern World Politics
edited by Alexander Anievas
Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2015, 412 pages + bibliography,
Haymarket Books edition, 2016, $36 paperback.

WITH THE CENTENARY of World War I well underway, numerous books and articles on the causes, conduct, and consequences of the “Great War” have appeared. Outstanding among them is Cataclysm 1914, the collection of new perspectives and reappraisals on the war’s origins and outcomes, edited and introduced by the Cambridge-based Marxist historical sociologist Alexander Anievas.

The First World War, truly global in scope and impact, brought to an end 100 years of relative European peace,...


Turbulent 1970s Revisited

— Brad Duncan

Amiri Baraka and the Congress of African People: History and Memory
By Michael Simanga
Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, 160 pages, $30 paperback.

Heavy Radicals:
The FBI’s Secret War on America’s Maoists: The Revolutionary Union/
Revolutionary Communist Party, 1968-1980
By Aaron J. Leonard and Conor A. Gallagher
Zero Books, 2015, 356 pages, $29.95 paperback.

THESE NEW BOOKS investigate two of the important revolutionary groups to emerge in the United States during the 1970s. Both books are written by veteran former members of their respective organizations, adding richness and authenticity to both works....

The Domestic Workers' Movement

— Cheryl Coney

Household Workers Unite
The Untold Story of African American Women Who Built A Movement
By Premilla Nadasen
Beacon Press, 2015, 220 pages + notes, $27.95 cloth.

THE EXPLOITATION OF Black labor becomes even more apparent when we study the roles of Black women and work. Premilla Nadasen focuses on women domestic workers during a period of time when between one-third and one-half of all Black women were employed as domestics. Isolated in the individual home, they could not use traditional union tactics to organize. Yet they developed strategies through which they built sustainable networks.

As the author writes, “The domestic workers’ rights movement brought a new dimension to black working-class struggles....

Rape as Colonial Legacy

— Giselle Gerolami

The Beginning and End of Rape
By Sarah Deer
University of Minnesota Pres, 2015, 232 pages, $22.95 paperback.

THE BEGINNING AND End of Rape marks an important contribution to growing scholarship around issues of gendered violence. Sarah Deer’s contribution is unique and pathbreaking: While much has been written on legal issues surrounding rape on developing tribal law, there is virtually nothing on tribal legal response to rape.

Sarah Deer is a citizen of the Muscogee Nation. A law professor at the William Mitchell College of Law, she has spent over 20 years working as an advocate for survivors of sexual violence. Her recent engagement has focused on tribal and federal law with regard to sexual and domestic violence. She was instrumental in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act....

A Response to Rebecca Hill

— Timothy Messer-Kruse

Author’s note: I would like to thank the editors of ATC for extending an invitation to respond to Hill’s review of my books. It is a credit to this publication that it encourages such an open and free exchange of ideas.]

LIKE SO MANY academic radicals before her, Rebecca Hill (“Messer-Kruses’s Haymarket History,” ATC 182, protects the false memory of the Haymarket martyrs against my charge that they were just what they said they were, namely armed revolutionaries who acted on their beliefs, not just debated them.

Hill makes false claims about my books, employs double standards, and suppresses the most significant evidence my research has uncovered....