Against the Current, No. 184, September/October 2016

Against the Current, No. 184, September/October 2016

A Giant, Flushing Sound

— The Editors

IN A SURREAL and bitterly polarized election year, there is one issue on which the majority of voters, left to right, agree: Flush the Trans Pacific Partnership. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders ran against the TPP, and Hillary Clinton says she opposes it after she used to support it.

There is also one issue on which the established leadership of the Republican and Democratic parties, amidst all the infamous gridlock of Congress, agree: They want the TPP. And it’s just possible that in the “lame-duck session,” that interregnum between the November election and the January installation of the new President and Congress, they might try getting together to pass it and have outgoing President Obama sign it.

The twelve current members of the pending TPP are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

Support Chelsea Manning

THE CHELSEA MANNING Support Network reports: “Instead of providing Chelsea Manning with the mental health care she needs, Army officials are using Chelsea’s suicide attempt as an opportunity to charge her with ‘administrative offenses.’” These could result in a lengthy sentence of solitary confinement — worsening the conditions that drove her to a suicide attempt. Chelsea Manning is a hero who exposed U.S. war crimes in Iraq. She should be free, not serving 35 years in Fort Leavenworth. Contact the Support Network ( to learn how you can help.

September-November 2016, ATC 184

BLM Movement Grows Stronger

— Malik Miah

While police tactics and accountability measures are being examined, many black people are also questioning their safety and place in society. They worry about the next time they interact with police, and about the difficult conversations they must have with their children.

We’re just a bullet away from being a hashtag. — Mistah F.A.B.

Hearing my son say to the officer, “You shot me,” it pierced my heart. — Wanda Johnson

I’m 61 years old, and I have been stopped by police 53 times in my life. — John William Templeton

As a physician I watch these videos and I see health care infractions. — Dr. Tiffany Chioma Anaebere

I’m not ready to have the conversation with my daughters. — W. Kamau Bell, (The San Francisco Chronicle, 7/31/16)....

black bodies in the news

— Kim D. Hunter

chalk line coordinates prophesied
from anonymous data
black as space where
comet tails flash the sky before we can blink
reflections in a night of revolving doors

the science of statistics stands with a gun and club
between you and lottery heaven
but odds run heavy when it comes to
the nightstick chokehold
the taser tag team
the ballistics of resisting
misapprehensions of other....

Amnesty Now

PRESIDENT OBAMA HAS commuted the unjust prison sentences of hundreds of federal prisoners, mostly for nonviolent drug violations. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that he intends to take action to free prisoners in politically charged cases.

Leonard Peltier’s conviction in the 1975 deaths of two FBI agents, during a confrontation with the American Indian Movement, was highly dubious and the government admitted decades ago that it doesn’t know who the actual killers were. An Amnesty International petition for clemency can be found online at

It seems even less likely that the president will act to free Chelsea Manning, who was driven to a suicide attempt at Fort Leavenworth, or....

Victory in Shutting Down Oakland Coal Port

ON JULY 19, the Oakland City Council voted unanimously to turn down the application for export of coal to Asia through a bulk commodities terminal under construction at the city’s port. This followed an earlier June 27 vote at a special council meeting. The developers of the proposed coal export facility — who were offered $53 million by Utah coal interests — are expected to sue.

It’s an important victory for the residents of Oakland and the result of a popular mobilization. Under the developers’ plan, coal trains would have been rolling through town, spreading coal dust in already environmentally challenged communities.

Opposition to the coal export facility was organized for over a year by a coalition of environmental organizations, from the Sierra Club to System Change Not Climate Change....

The Queer Movement Today

— Donna Cartwright

A YEAR AFTER marriage equality was legalized nationwide, and two months since the June 12 massacre at a gay club in Orlando, the LGBT movement confronts a contradictory future.

Although Orlando dramatized that violence against LGBT people persists, fueled by rightwing politicians’ hateful attacks, great victories have been won, and public acceptance of queer people has expanded to levels that once seemed unimaginable.

But some of these victories have been constrained by the social structures of neoliberal capitalism — and by a misleading yet widespread public perception that with the achievement of marriage equality, the fight for queer liberation is largely over.

The LGBT movement has also undergone problematic changes,...

Abortion Victory

— Dianne Feeley

ON JUNE 27 the U.S. Supreme Court, in Whole Women’s Health vs. Hellerstedt, not only struck down key provisions of a 2013 Texas law restricting abortion, but also set a standard by which similar legislation can be measured. The 5-to-3 ruling swept aside the requirement that clinics providing abortion must be ambulatory surgical centers, staffed by doctors with admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.

The Texas legislature maintained that these restrictions were necessary for women’s health and safety,...

Detroit's Tax Foreclosure Crisis

— Dianne Feeley

WAYNE COUNTY AND Detroit are creating a human catastrophe by tossing thousands of homeowners into the streets for inability to pay unlawfully assessed taxes,” stated Michael J. Steinberg, Legal Director of the ACLU of Michigan at a mid-July press conference after filing a lawsuit in Third Circuit Court in Wayne County. “This short-sighted practice not only violates federal law, it destabilizes families, destroys neighborhoods and undermines the economic recovery of the region.”

This year the Wayne County Treasurer’s office sent out 38,000 foreclosure notices to homeowners who were three years behind in their property taxes. Half of these were for tax bills of $3,000. Another 5,500 homeowners owe less than $2,000 and 650 less than $500. Some have been able to scrape up the funds and pay at least 2013 taxes.

Homeowners with three years of back taxes face foreclosure,...

The RNC Comes and Goes

— Alice Ragland

I WAS BORN in Cleveland, Ohio. I attended Cleveland Public schools and briefly worked at a community development organization in the city after college. Cleveland is in my blood. It boasts a thriving arts and music scene, unique neighborhoods, wide range of interesting indie bookstores, mom and pop restaurants, shops, bars, festivals, concerts, museums and entertainment.

I love my city, but it has its problems. One is that Cleveland is a city of sprawl. The actual city of Cleveland has a population under 400,000, but the population of Greater Cleveland (the city combined with its nearest surrounding suburbs and counties, also known as the Cleveland metro area) exceeds two million.

Greater Cleveland consists of five counties and roughly 170 suburban townships, cities and villages....

Socialists Discuss During the DNC

— Johanna Brenner

ON THE STEAMY evening of July 27 in Philadelphia a raucous audience of close to 800 gathered to discuss electoral politics and movement-building. This was day three of Socialist Convergence, organized by a coalition of left organizations to create a socialist presence during the Democratic National Convention.

Our target participants were the Sanders delegates and supporters who had promised to challenge the party’s lack of democracy and to organize protests in and around the convention that would serve notice on the party establishment.

An early core of organizers quickly expanded to include representatives from many groups and organizations who worked together extremely well as we negotiated the rocky road of planning a very ambitious undertaking:...

Why "Lesser Evilism" Is a Loser

— Jill Stein

AGAINST THE CURRENT interviewed Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for president in 2016 following its convention at the end of July. The Green Party vice-presidential candidate is Ajamu Baraka.

Against the Current: How do you answer the question that the only thing that counts is beating Trump?

Jill Stein: That’s the question we get every election. It’s the question we get most in this election. It’s what the Democrats said in 1964 about Goldwater. “Part of the way with LBJ.” Goldwater lost in a landslide but the Democrats escalated in Vietnam and lost the War Against Poverty there.

Goldwater’s crushing defeat did not stop the victories of Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes....

Challenging Duopoly Candidates

NNAMDI SCOTT IS running as an independent candidate for a seat on the Baltimore City Council, representing the Seventh District. The West Baltimore district is home to Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray lived and Mondawmin Transit Center, where students’ response to a transit shutdown as school was getting out shortly after Gray’s death in police custody sparked citywide protests and a police crackdown.

District Seven is also the site of Coppin State University, one of Baltimore’s two historically Black universities.

With nearly 24% of the city’s population living in poverty and a 37% unemployment rate for Black males ages 20-24, Nnamdi Scott decided to challenge the duopoly candidates. When asked why his ballot access petition bid succeeded, he remarked:...

Turkey, A Human Rights Emergency

— David Finkel, for The Editors

ON JULY 15-16, an abortive coup in Turkey — of murky origin, to say the least — was staged and rapidly defeated, in part because the civilian population of all political stripes came into the streets opposing a military takeover. In the wake of these events, however, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime has launched its own coup with a massive, unprecedented crackdown on all opposition forces, real or alleged.

The lists of tens of thousands of people to be arrested or purged from military, police, civil service, academic and teaching positions could only have been drawn up well in advance. With this sweeping mass repression, the absence of any due process or protection of people’s rights and the imminent restoration of the death penalty, Turkey is careening into all-out presidential dictatorship.

The implications for human rights and democratic freedoms....

War Against the Kurds Renewed

— Sarah Parker and Phil Hearse

IN LATE JUNE 2015 a NATO meeting held at Turkey’s request gave the green light to a bombing campaign against “terrorists” across the southern borders in Syria and Iraq. The “terrorists” meant not only the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria but also the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) in its Iraqi mountain redoubt of Qandil.

For show, Erdogan’s airforce carried out a few symbolic raids against ISIS, but in reality the aerial offensive was against the Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq.

Turkey is unable to carry out bombing raids against Kurdish forces in Northern Syria because the airspace is effectively controlled either by the Russians or the Americans. But in addition to attacking the Kurds in south east Turkey and northern Iraq,...

China's Climate of Repression

WITH SECRET TRIALS and lengthy prison sentences imposed on human rights lawyers after forced and humiliating “confessions,” the abduction of Hong Kong booksellers under circumstances that remain obscure, and new legislation that sharply restricts the work of independent organizations, the climate of repression in China is clearly sharpening.

A number of factors may be at work: tensions arising from China’s rapidly slowing growth rate, which may be much lower than official statistics claim; possible conflicts between President Xi Linping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang; growing popular dissatisfaction and waves of labor protests; China’s conflicts with neighboring states over its annexationist claims in the South China Sea and disputed islands....

Was Brexit a Working-Class Revolt?

— Kim Moody

ON JUNE 23 the British electorate voted to leave the European Union (EU) by 17,4120,742 (52%) to 16,141,241 (48%) with a high turnout of 72%. The referendum gave voters the simple choice of whether the UK should “Leave” or “Remain” in the EU. It was called by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, as a result of pressure from “Eurosceptic” Tory (Conservatives) Members of Parliament (MPs) and the growing right-wing, anti-EU, anti-immigrant United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP, pronounced U-kip).

Although the Conservatives split between Remain and Leave factions, most of the other parties supported Remain.(1) Cameron and most politicians assumed a Remain victory. Instead a significant majority voted for Brexit (Britain + exit), as leaving the EU has become known.

From left to right, many have seen the large working-class vote....

Viewpoint: The Living Legacy of Cornel West

— Zachary R. Wood

THE FIRST TIME I met Cornel West I was 18. It was at Swarthmore College on February 10, 2014. The event was promoted as a conversation between two prominent scholars on opposite sides of the political spectrum, West and Robert George, on the importance of a liberal arts education.

But the reason I’d ridden the train all the way to Philadelphia from my home in D.C. was to hear West do what he does best. I was the first person in line an hour before the event began at Friends Meeting House, the building where West and George were scheduled to speak.

Roughly ten minutes before start time, security began letting people in. Hoping to be in West’s field of view as he spoke, I snagged the closest available seat, just behind the front row reserved for the president of the college, deans, and other distinguished faculty....

Memorial Essay

On Benedict Anderson

— John Roosa

BENEDICT ANDERSON, WHO passed away on December 13 last year, is best known as the author of the book Imagined Communities (1983), which remains today a must-read book on nationalism for university students all around the world. It sparked a wave of new studies on nationalism and became as much a phenomenon as Edward Said’s book Orientalism (1978).

Translated into 29 languages, the book has been one of the best-selling titles for Verso, the left-wing press based in London that has been partly managed by his younger brother, Perry Anderson.

The reception of Imagined Communities took its author by surprise. Anderson was like a person who posts a home video online and then discovers the next morning that she is an international celebrity....


Where Did Our Red Love Go?

— John Marsh

Red Love Across the Pacific
Political and Sexual Revolutions of the Twentieth Century
Paula Rabinowitz, Ruth Barraclough, Heather Bowen-Struyk, editors
Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, $100 hardcover.

IN THE ORIGINS of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1877), Friedrich Engels argued that the conditions that had given rise to monogamy and patriarchy — basically, the need to manage the inheritance of wealth — would soon pass away and take with them the prevailing forms of family and sexual life.

“We are now approaching a social revolution,” Engels wrote, “in which the hitherto existing economic foundations of monogamy will disappear just as certainly as will those of its supplement — prostitution.” (81) Crucially, Engels did not believe that this social revolution would mean the end of love,...

Early U.S. Communism Revisited

— Ted McTaggart

The Communist International and US Communism 1919-1929
By Jacob A. Zumoff
Harmarket Books, 2014, 400 pages, $28 paperback.

THE EARLY YEARS of the Communist movement in the United States present a number of challenges to the modern historian — even leaving aside the many deliberate attempts to falsify the historical record for one or another ideological agenda.

A brief review of archival materials reveals a tangle of rival organizations, factions and newspapers, often with identical names and few, if any, principled differences. In his classic work The Roots of American Communism, Theodore Draper gives a sense of this problem, summing up the year 1922 alone as follows:...

A Legless Veteran's Struggle

— Barry Sheppard

Discrediting the Red Scare —
The Cold War Trials of James Kutcher, “The Legless Veteran”
By Robert Goldstein
University of Kansas Press, 240 pages, 2016, $19.95 paperback.

THE ANTI-COMMUNIST witch hunt that reached its most virulent level in the 1950s but continued for many years after is usually referred to as “McCarthyism,” named for Senator Joseph McCarthy. Robert Goldstein’s extremely well researched book explains that the “Red Scare” in its title actually began earlier, with the passage of the Smith Act in 1940 and the 1941 conviction of leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and the Minneapolis Teamsters under that act, for “advocating the violent overthrow of the U.S. government.”...

When Chinese Labor Strikes

— Jane Slaughter

China on Strike
Edited by Hao Ren
English edition edited by Zhongjin Li and Eli Friedman
Haymarket Books, 2016, 224 pages, $19.95 paper

THE EDITORS OF China on Strike must be encouraged by July’s news from Walmart: not only did workers in at least five Chinese stores strike against flexible scheduling; they did so with the aid of the Walmart Chinese Workers’ Association, a loose cross-workplace group established in 2014 by two former Walmart workers (see

Cross-workplace organization of any kind is exceedingly rare in China, because the government normally cracks down hard on the whisper....

The Revolutionary Art of Failure

— Benjamin Balthaser

Vivas to Those Who Have Failed
By Martín Espada
New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2016, 96 pages, $15.95 paperback.

IN THE UNITED STATES we are accustomed to the idea of mourning as a private matter, a purely psychological event in which the public gaze and even more the political sermon have no place. “Politicizing” a tragedy is considered bad form, and we reinforce this idea by shielding the bodies of dead U.S. soldiers from the gaze of the camera, as well as the dying moments of executed prisoners — even as war and state-sanctioned murder are, one could argue, the most visible forms of public power.

This is equally true on the left. Unlike other countries, such as the Turkish practice of naming their children after socialist martyrs,...

Allen Ginsberg and the '60s Movement

— Steve Bloom

The Poetry and Politics of Allen Ginsberg
By Eliot Katz
Beatdom Books, 2016, 329 pages, $28 paperback.

ELIOT KATZ IS a political poet, presently resident in New Jersey, who was a student and close associate of the iconic poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) during the last period of Ginsberg’s life. This newly-published book is a consideration of three interconnected questions: 1) the relationship of poetry and art to social realities, specifically to political struggles; 2) an appreciation (literary critique) of Ginsberg’s poetry, in particular its role in the development of 20th century English literature, and 3) an appreciation of Ginsberg himself — his life and his place as both a literary and political figure....

In Memoriam

Requiem for a Black Trotskyist

— Alan Wald

NEWS OF THE death of former United Auto Workers staff member Ernie Dillard came by way of a phone call on Bastille Day 2016. The subsequent silence about his passing in the radical and mainstream press is an accusatory reminder of the extent to which the memory of the Left has been confiscated from those who require it most.

Dillard’s political career reverberates with markers of a vital era of revolutionary internationalism and interracial proletarian solidarity that cries out to be understood and assimilated by activists of the new millennium. Yet the man and what he represented are little known today.

In brief, Ernest C. Dillard (1915-2016) was among a hundred African Americans, mostly auto workers, recruited to the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) toward the end of World War II....

Michael Ratner

— Michael Steven Smith

MICHAEL RATNER WAS President Emeri­tus of the Center for Constitu­tional Rights and the Chair of the Board of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. He practiced law for 45 years, dying on May 11, 2016 at age 72.

One of the last times I saw Michael was via FaceTime. He was out of the hospital once again and back in the living room of his Greenwich Village home, sitting in a padded recliner. I was on the Upper West Side at our singing class with Michael’s son Jake, his companion Elena, his daughter Ana, our friend Jenn, and my wife Debby. We all took a class together called “Anyone Can Sing” from our singing teacher Elissa.

We connected with Michael over an iPhone and sang him “The Internationale,” his favorite song. We could see Michael laying back in his lounger....

Michael Ratner in Brief

OVER A 45-year career in defense of human and civil rights, here are some of the cases and causes for which Michael Ratner fought:

• Attica Brothers vs. Rockefeller was a federal lawsuit to force New York state to prosecute police for the killing of prisoners in the 1971 uprising.

• He fought for a federal injunction against U.S. aid to the murderous Nicaraguan contras, following the International Court of Justice ruling that the Reagan administration ignored.

• He sued the government twice over incarcerations at Guantanamo — in the 1990s when the Bill Clinton administration interned HIV-positive Haitian refugees there, and after 2001 over the George W. Bush regime’s detention policy....

Glenn Shelton

— Detroit Solidarity

GLENN SHELTON, A retired president of Michigan Mailhandlers Local 307 who never stopped fighting for the rights of working people, and a member of Solidarity, died March 24 after a battle with cancer. He was preceded in death by his wife, Rosemary Jackson-Shelton, only weeks earlier. We mourn these losses.

One of the speakers at the March 31 memorial service was Barbara Harvey, who served as Local 307’s attorney from 1986 through 1998 when Glenn led the local. She remarked “The highest office of any union presents many strong temptations for the abuse of official power. I’ve seen it happen, more than a few times. But not to Glenn Shelton — never! Not even a tiny hint of arrogance, or cockiness, or relish for his power.”

Quite the contrary! Glenn and Rose lived in a modest apartment and carefully calculated their purchases....