Against the Current, No. 185, November/December 2016

On Imperial Conundrums

— The Editors

THE SWIRLING CRAZINESS and bizarre entertainments of the 2016 presidential election sometimes obscure how much the outgoing U.S. administration — and the next one taking office in January 2017 — face a set of global crises on a scale that’s hard to recall in recent history.

There’s not a central “superpower conflict” as during the Cold War, but rather partially interlocking developments in a world of general turmoil. Some of these conundrums, particularly in the Middle East, result partly from ruinous imperial policies, creating problems for which the global masters have no solutions. At least one, an environmental crisis of staggering proportions, is deeply embedded in the dynamics of capital accumulation, accelerated by the drive for unlimited corporate power in the global economy....

Institutional Racism & the Thirteenth Amendment

— Malik Miah

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Formally abolishing slavery in the United States, the 13th Amendment was passed by the Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified by the states on December 6, 1865.

WHEN BARACK OBAMA was elected in 2008 as the first U.S. President of African descent, many believed that racism was on the decline. Some on the right wing argued that institutional racism was no longer an issue in modern U.S. life.

Nearly eight years later at the end of the Obama presidency, the issue of overt racist acts and institutional racism are at center stage. There is a steady rise of video-recorded police violence and murders of Black men....

The Enormous Profit of Thirst

— Josiah Rector

IN JUNE 2016, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a lawsuit against Veolia North America (a subsidiary of the French multinational Veolia) and the Texas law firm Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam (LAN). The lawsuit charged the two firms with “professional negligence, fraud, and public nuisance.”

The criminal negligence of LAN and Veolia should have come as no surprise. The Flint water crisis also fits into a larger pattern, documented by environmental justice activists and scholars for decades, of people of color and low-income whites being disproportionately exposed to toxic health hazards.

Beginning in 2011, a succession of three Emergency Managers (EMs) appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder hired LAN as an outside consultant to conduct feasibility studies on switching from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) to the Flint River....

Environmental Racism in Santa Cruz

— Michael Gasser

IN SANTA CRUZ, California a much-beloved community garden, tended by immigrant gardeners for 23 years, has been reduced to half its size, with the future of even the smaller plot in doubt.

The fight to save the garden has galvanized progressive Santa Cruzans, many of whom seem to be in this for the long haul. Even if insignificant in the larger scheme of things, this campaign has much to teach us about how different forms of injustice converge and about how to confront the environmental racism in our midst.

Santa Cruz is a city of 62,000 on the central California coast, known for its University of California campus (unofficially, the “alternative” UC campus), its surfing culture, its coastal and forest scenery, its restored Spanish-era mission and its Beach Boardwalk, one of the Pacific Coast’s oldest and most popular beach amusement parks....

AIDS: The Struggle Continues

— Sam Friedman

THE MEDIA RARELY discuss AIDS anymore, and when a news report does appear it usually is about a new drug that helps people stay alive longer or even about “the end of AIDS.” Many doctors and biomedical researchers think that findings in the last five years have opened the way to use antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV transmission and, in addition, see these drugs as prolonging the lives of the HIV-infected indefinitely.

The State of the Epidemic

Indeed, some evidence does suggest that life expectancy of the infected is beginning to resemble that of the uninfected. For some, this is true. For now.

But for millions of others, the nightmare of AIDS as an excruciating disease continues, and mass death continues....

Indiana: The Culpability of Politicians

— Sam Friedman

LAST YEAR THERE was extensive news media coverage of an HIV (and hepatitis C) outbreak in rural Scott County, Indiana. Rates of new HIV cases in Scott County increased from about five per year to about 30 per month in late 2014. Most of those getting infected were people who had become users of prescription pain relievers and then had changed over to heroin and to injecting their drugs — both of which reduce costs for someone with a drug problem.

Less reported were some of the political roots of this outbreak. Syringe exchange programs greatly reduce the risk of becoming infected for people who inject drugs. When New York City introduced large syringe exchange programs in the early 1990s, for example, rates of new HIV infection plummeted rapidly.

In spite of this fact, and despite many Federal review committees that recommended setting up such programs....

Fighting for "Schools We Deserve"

— Robert Bartlett

AS THE OCTOBER 11th strike approached, Chicago teachers set up a strike headquarters and distributed picket signs while parents and their children picketed the mayor’s house. After 18 months of bargaining — and over a year since their contract expired — the Board of Education blinked just before the deadline and came up with a significantly better contract offer that is now being debated within the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). Both the earlier January 2016 Board of Eduction proposal and the changes contained in the new tentative agreement are available online at

In the context of the attacks on public education in Illinois and across the country, the four-year tentative contract pushes back the latest attempts to force teachers and support staff to pay for the crisis in funding public education,...

Budgeting Disaster and Charters

— Robert Bartlett

TEACHERS ARE BELEAGUERED by unrelenting attacks on their jobs and security. All teachers feel vulnerable, but the risk is greatest in low-income areas of the city where neighborhood schools are targeted by the growth of charter schools.

Today there are approximately 394,000 students in both the public and charter sectors in Chicago. Both public schools and charters receive the same student-based funding and many charter advocates complain about the amount.

With 530 district schools and 130 charters, 58,000 students attend charter schools. Despite teacher and community protest, 53 public schools were closed after the 2012 contract was signed — seemingly the Board’s way of getting back at strikers and their supporters....

Review: Whose Education? Whose Control?

— Marian Swerdlow

The Prize:
Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?
By Dale Russakoff
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, 272 pages, $27 hardback, $15.95 paper.

Common Core Dilemma
Who Owns Our Schools?
By Mercedes Schneider
Teachers College Press, 2015, 240 pages, $68 hardback, $29.95 paper.

IN THE PRIZE: Who’s In Charge of America’s Schools? journalist Dale Russakoff takes a close look at Newark, New Jersey schools. In Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools? teacher and blogger Mercedes Schneider has a national prospective....

Bolivia's Extractive Economy and Alternatives

— Marc Becker

WHEN THE WORLD Social Forum (WSF) began in 2001 the possibilities of a leftist victory, either through elections or via an armed struggle, appeared remote in Latin America. In contrast, social movements were in ascendency in their battles against neoliberal capitalism. In this environment, the WSF embraced civil society as the best path forward toward a transformation of society.

Grassroots mobilizations quickly remade Latin America’s political landscape. Their successes led to a wave of leftist electoral victories across the region. With the notable exceptions of Colombia and Mexico, almost every country elected a leftist government.

Ironically, this development introduced a complicated dance between social movements and elected leftist governments, and one that has persisted ever since with both sides throwing ever-sharper barbs back and forth across a yawning divide....

Venezuela: What's Going On?

— an interview with Jeffery Webber

THE ECONOMIC COLLAPSE in Venezuela, and the appalling social crisis and desintegration of the “Bolivarian Revolution,” is widely reported but only thinly analyzed in the media. We explore here some of the background and dynamics of the disaster.

Jeffery R. Webber was interviewed by George Souvlis for the online journal ( The discussion is wide ranging, covering developments in Latin America from the 1970s including its use as a testing-ground for neoliberal restructuring, the subsequent rise of autonomous social movements and the Bolivarian “pink tide” of left governments and recent developments. Webber is Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London. We are publishing here the final set of questions in this part 1 of the interview, on the present crisis in Venezuela....

How Woodrow Wilson Entered World War I

— Allen Ruff

WORLD WAR I had already been raging across Europe and elsewhere for two and a half years when Woodrow Wilson went before a joint session of Congress on April 2nd, 1917 to request a declaration of war against Germany.

The President began his address with a casus belli indictment against the “Kaisereich” centered primarily upon the continued violation of U.S. neutrality that Wilson had declared at the very start of the war in August, 1914. Overriding limited but vocal opposition, the Senate and House quickly complied with his request and the United States formally entered the “Great War” on April 6th.

Despite heightened interventionist sentiment by that spring of 1917, there was diverse and widespread resistance against U.S. direct involvement. Wilson had been inaugurated to a second term less than a month before, having barely defeated his Republican opponent....

Oil Pipelines: Converging in Illinois

— Sandra Lindberg

It isn’t nice to block the doorways,
It isn’t nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail...

Yeah, we tried negotiations
And the token picket line,
Mister Charlie didn’t see us
And he might as well be blind;
When you deal with men of ice,
You can’t deal with ways so nice,
But if that’s freedom’s price,
We don’t mind...
— “It Isn’t Nice,” by Malvina Reynolds (1965)

TAMMY BREWER, THE great-granddaughter of a Keokuk chief, climbed a steep and wooded hill beside the Mississippi River and then crossed a rough fence to stand on a Bakken Pipeline work site. Across from her stood a young security guard,...


The Wikileaks Files

— Cliff Conner

The WikiLeaks Files:
The World According to US Empire
Verso: London & New York, 2015, 624 pages, $19.95 paperback.

WIKILEAKS TRULY NEEDS no introduction. Everyone with even the slightest degree of political awareness knows what WikiLeaks is. It was founded in 2006 and in its first year posted to its website more than a million documents leaked by whistleblowers.

In 2010, however, its importance took a qualitative leap forward. In July of that year it published more than 75,000 secret military and diplomatic communications about the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Three months later it followed up with the release of almost 400,000 more secret documents about the U.S. war in Iraq....

A Nation Behind Bars

— K. Mann

Understanding Mass Incarceration:
A People’s Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time
By James Kilgore
New York: The New Press, 2015, 264 pages, $17.95 paper.

UNDERSTANDING MASS INCAR­CER­ATION by James Kilgore is the latest in a wave of publications on mass incarceration spawned by Michelle Alexander’s highly influential 2009 book, The New Jim Crow. Alexander’s book and her speaking tours helped to make mass incarceration the object of intense public debate in the same way that the Occupy movement made income inequality part of the national debate on political and social policy.

Kilgore’s book covers some of the same ground as Alexander’s, particularly in educating the reader on the chilling statistics of mass incarceration, its heavily racist character,...

Weaponizing Modernist Culture

— Alan Wald

Cold War Modernists:
Art, Literature, and American Cultural Diplomacy
By Greg Barnhisel
New York: Columbia University Press, 2015, 322 pages, $40.

THE POLITICAL MANIPULATION of American culture in the 1950s by the Central Intelligence Agency has been the subject of enduring fascination for over 50 years. Using financial “soft power,” the CIA attracted and co-opted the work of abstract expressionist artists and jazz musicians for Cold War propaganda purposes.

Much absorbing background material about these episodes can be found in Serge Guilbault’s How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art (1985) and Penny Von Eschen’s Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War (2004)....

The Paradox of Che Guevara

— Peter Solenberger

The Politics of Che Guevara:
Theory and Practice
By Samuel Farber
Haymarket Books, 2016, 120 pages + bibliography, notes and index, $16.95 paperback.

IN HIS INTRODUCTION Samuel Farber explains why he wrote The Politics of Che Guevara: Theory and Practice. “To many of the contemporary rebels active in anticapitalist movements, Che is not only a radical, uncompromising opponent of capitalism, but — given his opposition to the traditional pro-Moscow Communist parties — also a revolutionary who shares their own ideals in pursuit of revolutionary and antibureaucratic politics. This is what makes Che's ideas and practices important, and this study relevant, in today’s world.” (xvii)...

South Africa: The Radical Thought of Rick Turner

— Alex Lichtenstein

Choosing to be Free:
A Life Story of Rick Turner
By Billy Keniston
Justseeds, 2015, 220 pages, $20 paper,

IF APARTHEID SOUTH Africa had its May 1968 or its Prague Spring, the moment came in January and February 1973, with the mass strikes that rocked the Indian Ocean port city of Durban and the surrounding province of Natal.

Marking an unusual confluence of Black Consciousness, white student radicalism and spontaneous shop-floor action by African workers, this “Durban Moment” (as it came to be called) helped make....

An Anti-Apartheid Class Revisited

— Billy Keniston

The Eye of the Needle:
Towards Participatory Democracy in South Africa
By Rick Turner
Seagull Books edition 2015, distributed by University of Chicago Press,
266 pages, $21 cloth.

“South Africa, everyone agrees, is a profoundly unequal society.

It is marked by inequality of power, of wealth, of access to the means for acquiring power and/or wealth, of education and of status.

This much is agreed upon…”(1)

Response: Does Being a Revolutionary Mean Being a Terrorist?

— Rebecca Hill

THERE IS LITTLE to be gained from debating anyone whose primary tactic is to distort what one has said in order to fight a straw-man of his own making. For the left audience of ATC, Timothy Messer-Kruse insists that he is seeking to restore the Chicago anarchists to their rightful reputation as revolutionaries, only because every other historian has “declawed” and “domesticated” them. (See his “Response to Rebecca Hill,” in the July/August 2016 ATC,

Again, this claim is simply not true.  Many other historians have written about the revolutionary ideology of the Haymarket anarchists. As important as his pattern of manipulating historical evidence, Messer-Kruse’s misrepresentation of what appear to be his own goals regarding the history of the Anarchists is even more egregious....