Against the Current, No. 186, January/February 2017

Against the Current, No. 186, January/February 2017

Fighting Back for Survival

— The Editors

ON NOVEMBER 8, some 135 million U.S. voters chose between the two least popular capitalist party candidates in the country’s modern history.  By a margin of close to 2.7 million votes — concentrated, to be sure, in huge majorities in California and New York — they opted for the choice that seemed less frightening, if hardly inspiring. She did not, however, win the election. By virtue of a relic of slavery-era federalism called the Electoral College and narrow victories in Midwestern battleground states, Donald J. Trump emerged as the president-elect.

Instead of the widely anticipated result, which for progressive hopes would have been dismal enough — the stagnant neoliberalism of a Hillary Clinton administration — a con man with a well-earned frightening reputation, uniquely unfit to hold any responsible office, will now assume power on January 20 as probably the most reviled incoming U.S. president in history....

Obama's Legacy & the Rise of Trump

— Malik Miah

“We fight for our collective liberation because we are clear that until black people are free, no one is free.” — from Black Lives Matter statement after Donald Trump’s election

SO MUCH HAS been written about why Donald Trump won the presidency and the anger of the white working class. White supremacists are overjoyed by his victory. White Americans who believed that they had suffered so-called “reverse discrimination” from Blacks, Latinos and undocumented immigrants proclaimed the defeat of “identity politics.” Many now feel confident to strike out verbally and at times physically against Muslims and others.

Much less is written or discussed about the failures of liberalism and the Obama presidency for Blacks and other minorities who voted for Hillary Clinton as a lesser evil....

The Black Lives Matter Response to Trump

OUR MANDATE HAS not changed: organize and end all state-sanctioned violence until all Black Lives Matter.

What is true today — and has been true since the seizure of this land — is that when black people and women build power, white people become resentful. Last week, that resentment manifested itself in the election of a white supremacist to the highest office in American government.

In the three years since Black Lives Matter organized, we’ve called for more safety. Not less. We’ve demanded an end to anti-black state violence. We’ve asked white people to organize their communities, to courageously help their loved ones understand the importance of solidarity and to show up for us, for themselves and democracy....

Eyewitness at Standing Rock

— an interview with Rebecca Kemble

REBECCA KEMBLE IS an alder (representative) on the Madison, Wisconsin Common Council. She organized the Council to pass a unanimous resolution on September 20, 2016 expressing solidarity with the Indigenous resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Rebecca and her husband travelled to deliver the petition to Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman David Archambault II. They were at Standing Rock for three days. She spoke with David Finkel from the ATC editorial board on November 23 about what she witnessed and experienced. Thanks to Ann Finkel for assistance with transcribing the interview; photos by Rebecca Kemble.

Against the Current: Please describe what you saw, especially how the protectors were organized, and what happened.

Rebecca Kemble: We arrived there on Sunday, October 9th, and slept in the car with our dog. Early next morning October 10 — Indigenous Peoples’ Day — there was a sunrise prayer ceremony....

Canada's State of Reconciliation

— Gayatri Kumar

“WATER VERSUS OIL: life versus death:”(1) Across Canada, Indigenous peoples continue to resist Canada’s ongoing disregard for treaty rights and the subjugation of environmental welfare to capitalist extractivism. The brutal suppression of water protectors at Standing Rock, North Dakota and their ongoing resistance has also galvanized Canadian conversations about Indigenous land rights and environmental welfare.

Many non-Indigenous Canadians have stood in solidarity with Indigenous peoples at marches and rallies organized across the country — Manitoba, Montreal, Hamilton, Toronto — to protest the pipeline and the major Canadian banks financing it: TD subsidiary TD Securities has given a project-level loan of $360 million to the pipeline, while RBC and Scotia Bank finance the Energy Transfer family companies.(2) (Canadian energy company Enbridge is also directly financing the Dakota Access Pipeline.)...

New Trial for Rasmea Odeh

RASMEA ODEH, THE Palestinian community activist in Chicago who was convicted in 2015 for “fraudulent procurement of naturalization” when she obtained her U.S. citizenship in 2004, has won a new trial. (For some background on the case and trial, see

This is an important victory for Odeh and her defense team, who successfully argued on appeal that the Federal Judge Gershwin Drain hadn’t properly considered the admissibility of testimony about her torture under Israeli interrogation in 1969, and her expert witness, Dr. Mary Fabri, regarding post-traumatic stress that affected her memory of what happened.

When an appeals court panel in Cincinnati sent the case back to the trial judge for review,...

MA Stops Charter School Expansion

— Dan Clawson & John Fitzgerald

FOUR YEARS AGO, corporate “reformers” came after public education and teachers unions and found that the leadership of the Massachusetts Teachers Association was unwilling or unable to fight. The result was the end of seniority for teachers in Massachusetts.

Emboldened by their success, the same forces once again came after what are widely acknowledged to be the best schools in the country, and the teachers who work in them, with an attempt to lift the cap on charter schools. This time, however, the “reformers” encountered a very different union, a union with a far stronger rank-and-file movement and a president, Barbara Madeloni, who is a member of the rank-and-file movement, Educators for a Democratic Union (EDU).

In Massachusetts this year the corporate attack, focused on expanding charter schools, was backed by $24 million in dark corporate money....

Chicago Teachers Settle Contract

— Robert Bartlett

AFTER MORE THAN a year without a contract, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) members voted by 14,388 to 5,585 in favor of a proposal reached hours before a strike. (For an account of the runup to the last-minute settlement, see from our previous issue, ATC 185.)

While an almost 3-1 vote in favor is decisive, the vote against is significant in showing both dissatisfaction and anger among teachers. Who voted against the contract?

One group campaigning against the contract were a segment of Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) members. Opposition centered around anger at abusive conditions in schools that have been imposed by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education, the insecurity of teachers’ jobs as over 50 schools have been closed since 2012,...

When the Alt-Right Hits Campus

— Angela D. Dillard

IN FALL 2016, the University of Michigan officially rolled out its strategic plan for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI), an initiative over a year in the making and aimed at creating an equitable and inclusive environment for all students, faculty and staff.

Over the course of the year of campus-wide DEI-plan making, the Ann Arbor institution has become an especially compelling target for bigotry and racism in the now famously toxic atmosphere that led up to and has continued after the 2016 presidential election. Under the auspices of the “Alt Right” and its wannabe hipster version of white nationalism, the university community was subjected to a bombardment of racist hate that many of us thought relegated to the pre-Obama past.

It’s hard to fully understand the Alt-Right attack without reference to the effort to bring the campus environment into line with a 21st century vision of equity and community. I offer this reflection....

Putting the Racist Flyers at University of Michigan in Context

ON MONDAY MORNING, September 26, students arrived to the U-M campus to find racist flyers plastered in Haven Hall, Mason Hall, and several other buildings. University leadership quickly issued a clear statement that, in the words of President Schlissel, “Messages of racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination have no place at the University of Michigan.”

These flyers, posted widely and anonymously are neither isolated to the Univer­sity of Michigan nor represent new ways of disseminating racial bigotry. Over the past few weeks, explicitly hostile, racist messages have appeared at neighboring EMU and many other universities and colleges around the country. These kinds of images and assertions are based in falsehoods that have a long and unsettling history. They are most often used by groups whose manifestos include violence against minorities as a means of “purifying” the nation. While such vicious and blatantly racist rhetoric was in decline for several decades....

Faculty & Staff Statement Against Racism

WE STAND WITH the hundreds of students who have organized in protest to condemn the recent anti-Black flyers circulated on U-M’s campus by the Alt Right group,, and the racist KKK graffiti found on EMU. We stand against white supremacy, scientific racism, and all forms of racism and discrimination. We want to underscore that Black students and colleagues are integral members of this campus community and make vital contributions to the life of the institution.

We want to emphasize the urgency of the situation as African Americans are regularly killed by police violence. We call on the University administration to join with us to find more effective means to help ensure that the objectives of establishing an inclusive, diverse, compassionate and safe campus are realized....

Creating a Socialism that Meets Needs

— Sam Friedman

THERE IS A growing suspicion among many people involved in movements against war, for social justice, and for an ecologically sustainable society that capitalism can only create a world of war, injustice and environmental destruction. There is widespread and growing understanding that the current social order cannot continue without catastrophe occurring —yet we lack a vision of what might replace it.

Karl Marx wrote relatively little about what he saw as a viable post-capitalist society. What he did write, however, has considerable value (Hudis 2012). Since Marx wrote his Critique of the Gotha Programme (1938) in 1875, we have had 140 years of additional experience, including watching the transformation of both the Russian Revolution and social democracy into the opposite of what was hoped for.

In addition, capitalism has had an equal number of years both to develop new technologies and to bring humanity....

A Better World in Birth

— Karin Baker

I READ PLENTY of articles, short and long, on all sorts of topics, but — I hesitate to mention this to ATC readers — I rarely read full length nonfiction books. But those by Michael A. Lebowitz, including his recent The Socialist Imperative: From Gotha to Now (Monthly Review Press, 2015), have been an easy exception. It is a pleasure and a relief to read theory that has such practical application to the questions socialists must address in our work to transform the world.

While not attempting to draw a blueprint for socialism, often scorned as impossible because an alternative system can only emerge through the struggles of those who bring it into being, still Lebowitz’s writing provides both glimpses of another world that could be, and some guidelines about how to get there and make it work.

These ideas are relevant to what we do today,...

US Politics After November

Who Put Trump in the White House?

— Kim Moody

THE MEDIA STORY in the days following the 2016 election was that a huge defection of angry, white, blue-collar workers in the Rust Belt from their traditional Democratic voting patterns put Donald J. Trump in the White House in a grand slap at the nation’s “liberal” elite. But is that the real story?

While he didn’t actually win the popular vote, Trump did carry the majority (58%) of white voters. Furthermore, he won the key “battleground” states in the Rust Belt that are the basis of the media story, which raises serious questions. Who were these white voters? Was this the major shift that sent Trump to victory?

Exit polls taken during the primaries, when the Trump revolt began, showed that the whole election process was skewed toward the better-off sections of U.S. society, and that Trump did better among them than Clinton. Looking at those voters in the general election....

The Green Party After the Election

— Howie Hawkins

THE POLITICAL DYNAMIC augured well for a progressive third party challenge in 2016. With the two most unpopular major party candidates in history, and a large progressive vote mobilized for Sanders in the Democratic primaries, hopes were high that the Greens could do much better, perhaps reaching five percent or more to secure general election federal funding for the 2020 Green presidential campaign.

But lacking a large, well-organized membership base to provide local legs for the campaign and a sizable cohort of Green elected officials to give the Green Party political weight, the campaign was marginalized by the media and discounted by the voters. So the limited gains for the Greens should not be surprising at all.

Until the Green Party has built a real power base of well-organized, dues-paying members and elected Green caucuses in city councils, state legislatures and the U.S. House, it will not be taken seriously....

Stein-Baraka Ticket

— Howie Hawkins

THE STEIN-BARAKA TICKET tripled the Green Party presidential vote from 2012 to nearly 1.4 million, or 1.0%. That is up from 469,627 votes (0.4%) in 2012 but still well below Ralph Nader’s 2.9 million (2.7%) in 2000.

The campaign kept aloft the banners for popular progressive reforms that both corporate parties reject, including a job guarantee, single-payer health care, 100% renewable energy by 2030, free public college and student debt relief, police demilitarization, a scaled-down military and surveillance state, and a pro-democracy and human rights foreign policy. The increased lists of donors and volunteers developed can be put to use right away in issue and electoral campaigns....

Hope in Dark Times

— Chris Maisano

DONALD TRUMP’S ELECTION shocked me and all of my comrades. While a Trump win was never outside the realm of possibility, all signs pointed to a close but decisive victory for Hillary Clinton. She never trailed in national polls, seemed to have a built-in advantage in key battleground states, and enjoyed the support of the vast majority of the ruling class.

These advantages, plus the widespread revulsion at Trump’s open racism and misogyny, would have propelled Clinton to the White House in any normal year. But it turns out that 2016 was not a normal year — far from it. As the editors of Salvage put it the morning after, in these times “the algorithms do not work, the machines are broken, and politics prevails over technique and personality cult.”(1)

It would be wrong to read the results as unalloyed proof....

Trump Not "Exceptional"

— Jeff Wilson

Trump: A Graphic Biography
By Ted Rall
Seven Stories Press, $16.95 paper.

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “state of emergency” in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism. One reason why Fascism has a chance is that in the name of progress its opponents treat it as a historical norm. The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are “still” possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge — unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable. — Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History

OVER THESE PAST few months I keep coming back to the above quote from Walter Benjamin....

Actually, I am Anti-Police

— Alice Ragland

“I’M NOT ANTI-POLICE, I’m anti-police brutality.”

I’ve heard this phrase or some variation of it from Beyoncé, Al Sharpton, Marilyn Mosby, and countless activists who feel the need to clarify the fact that their condemnation of police brutality does not mean they are anti-police.

I have even made this statement a few times while talking to people about my reasons for being active in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. That was before I realized that policing is brutality.

The I’m not anti-police stance would work if, and only if, police brutality could be separated from the nature of policing. But it can’t....

Black History Retrospective

Birth of the Abolitionist Nation

— Derrick Morrison

The Slave’s Cause
A History of Abolition
By Manisha Sinha
Yale University Press, 2016, 784 pages, $25 paper.

“‘Our Country is the World — Our Countrymen are Mankind’ was the motto that adorned the Liberator’s masthead from 1831 to 1865. As [William Lloyd] Garrison’s adoption of Thomas Paine’s slogan indicated, abolitionists, especially Garrisonians, developed a transnational appeal seeking to harness progressive international forces against slavery.” (Manisha Sinha, The Slave’s Cause, A History of Abolition, 339. All page references are to this title unless otherwise cited.)

“African Americans invented a popular transnational....

"The Slave-Holding Republic"

— Jennifer Jopp

Confronting Black Jacobins:
The United States, the Haitian Revolution, and the Origins of the Dominican Republic
By Gerald Horne
New York: Monthly Review Press, 2015, 424 pages, $29 paper.

READERS OF AGAINST the Current will no doubt have long suspected that the traditional history of the United States in no way accounts for its complexities. And for someone whose original copy of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States long ago fell apart, new revelations of duplicity and rapacity are no longer shocking.

The Haitian Revolution, by far the most radical of the late 18th and early 19th century revolutions that transfixed and transformed the Atlantic world, is less frequently the subject of academic study than its immediate precursors. Likewise, there is a dearth of....

How "Race Neutral" Policy Failed

— Prudence Cumberbatch

Managing Inequality:
Northern Racial Liberalism in Interwar Detroit
By Karen R. Miller
New York, NY: NYU Press, 2014, 331 pages, cloth, $55, paper, $28.

KAREN MILLER’S MANAGING Inequality: Northern Racial Liberalism in Interwar Detroit provides a critical intervention in the literature on the origins of “colorblind racism” by identifying this idea as present in the contestations over race in Detroit in the years between the two World Wars.

Miller uses the interpretive paradigm “northern racial liberalism,” describing this as the idea that “all Americans, regardless of race, should be politically equal, but that the state cannot and indeed should not enforce racial equality....


Survival Is the Question

— Michael Löwy

Facing the Anthropocene:
Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System
By Ian Angus
Monthly Review Press, 280 pages, $19 paper.

Green Capitalism:
The god that failed
By Richard Smith
World Economics Association,, 115 pages, $21.50 paper.

CRITICAL ECOLOGY PUBLI­CA­TIONS are finding a growing audience in the United States, as is evident in the success of Naomi Klein’s  book This Changes Everything. Within this field there is also an increasing interest in ecosocialist thought, of Marxist inspiration, of which the two authors reviewed here are a part....

Macaroni & Cheese and Revolution

— Ursula McTaggart

The Anarchist Cookbook
By Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe
See Sharp Press: Tucson, 2015, 154 pages, $19.85 paper.

LABOR NOTES PUBLISHES its Troublemaker’s Handbook series as a practical guide to bottom-up union organizing. Keith McHenry and Chaz Bufe’s The Anarchist Cookbook, released by the anarchist See Sharp Press in 2015, envisions itself as a similar text — a manual that belongs on the shelf of any committed activist.

McHenry is a long-time activist who co-founded prominent projects Food Not Bombs, Indymedia, and Homes Not Jails while Bufe helped found the See Sharp Press in 1984 and is known for his writings in anarchist theory. Their collaborative text takes its name from the 1971 Anarchist Cookbook, written and since denounced by William Powell, which gave readers tools to make home-made drugs and bombs....