Against the Current, No. 188, May/June 2017

Against the Current, No. 188, May/June 2017

What Kind of Opposition?

— The Editors

DONALD TRUMP’S WAY to “drain the swamp” is evident: Put the swamp creatures in the cabinet. But one example in particular, the appointment and confirmation of Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., shows as much about the opposition as it does about Trump.

Ross is indeed a special piece of work. As reported by the Washington Post, Ross was “(d)ubbed the ‘king of bankruptcy’ for his leveraged buyouts of battered companies in the steel, coal, textile and banking industries.” He “has generated a fortune of $2.5 billion, ranking him among the wealthiest 250 people in America.” At the Rothschild investment bank, Ross “represented Trump’s failing Taj Mahal casino and helped forge a deal that allowed Trump to retain ownership. In the early 2000s, Ross purchased some of America’s largest steel mills, including Pennsylvania’s Bethlehem Steel and Cleveland’s LTV Corp....

Learn from Malcolm X

— Malik Miah

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” —Malcolm X

WE LIVE IN strange times. A white, nationalist, billionaire businessman has been elected president. His 24-member cabinet is made up primarily of wealthy white men, many former Goldman Sacks executives, that Trump’s most extreme nationalist ideologues call “New York liberals.” Trump has appointed the fewest number of women and minorities to his cabinet since Ronald Reagan. (Obama’s first cabinet had eight white men compared to Trump’s 18.)

Angry whites are happy with the change,...

Trump and the Middle East

— David Finkel

IT’S AMAZING TO see what 60 or so Cruise missiles (price tag $1.6 million apiece) and one $16 million 22,000-pound “Mother of All Bombs” (MOAB) can do for a floundering White House.

Suddenly Donald Trump’s image became so very seriously “presidential.” Overshadowed at least for the moment were the Republicans’ internal civil war over health care, infighting between the Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner power centers in the West Wing, Trump’s “budget blueprint” wiping out every government program that actually helps people, and ”tax reform” to stuff the pockets of the rich and super-rich at the expense of everyone else.

Many peace activists, understandably, were horrified by Trump’s twin display of military muscle in Syria and Afghanistan. Republicans, with the exceptions of Rand Paul and a few hardline....

Regulation -- Who Needs It?

— Dianne Feeley

SURROUNDED BY CEOs and autoworkers bused in for the event, Donald Trump made it clear during his March 14th appearance in the Detroit area that he was going to get rid of a federal regulation in order to free up the industry so it could “make thousands and thousands and thousands of additional cars.” For him it was a simple decision: “If the standards threatened auto jobs, then common-sense changes could have and should have been made.”

Trump sees regulations for higher fuel efficiency burdens auto manufacturers and drives up the cost for potential buyers. In Trump’s vocabulary, regulations are ALL bad. (Of course Trump sees regulations around reproductive rights as good, but consistency isn’t one of his characteristics.)

Trump talks as if regulations were designed by federal bureaucrats to give them greater power over corporations and consumers....

Rasmea Odeh Accepts Plea Agreement

THE RASMEA ODEH defense campaign issued a statement on Thursday, March 23rd, 2017, announcing that “Rasmea Odeh, the 69-year old Palestinian American community leader who was tortured and sexually assaulted by the Israeli military in 1969, is bringing to a close her battle to win justice from the U.S. legal system.”

The statement is online at The following is an excerpt.

“After living in this country for over 20 years, Rasmea was charged in 2013 with an immigration violation that was always just a pretext for a broader attempt to criminalize the Palestine liberation movement. She has spent the last three and a half years leading a powerful battle to resist this attack,...

What is Reproductive Justice?

— Angi Becker Stevens

YOU ARE ALL here today because you realize what a vital time this is for building a feminist resistance. It is also a crucial time to build the type of truly intersectional feminist movement we need, one that speaks for the rights of all women and not just a few. And one essential way to build that movement is by moving beyond pro-choice politics which center on abortion and contraception, to a more complete picture of what full reproductive justice means.

Reproductive justice is a framework conceived of by women of color, defined by the core belief that every woman has the right to decide if and when she will have a baby, to decide if she will not have a baby, and to parent the children she already has in a safe environment and healthy community, without the threat of either interpersonal or state violence....

A Note on Terms

THE WOMEN’s MOVEMENT of the ’60s and ’70s had two different strategies around reproductive issues:

• The pro-choice movement focused on the legal battle of ending restrictions on abortion and birth control, framing these rights as a woman’s choice.

• The left of the women’s movement maintained that women’s reproductive issues didn’t stop with legalization but raised interrelated reproductive issues: access to birth control, “free abortion on demand,” opposition to forced sterilization and the right to have and raise children with the necessary social supports.

For socialist women a broader reproductive rights approach....

Latin America: A Conservative Restoration?

— Marc Becker

AS MUCH AS some of us would like to deny the reality, over the course of the last year or so the Latin American left has suffered irrefutable reversals of fortune. After a decade of the left’s near-hegemonic control over government structures throughout Latin America, previously discredited conservative politicians who favor a return to the capitalist neoliberal polices of privatization and austerity are staging a comeback.

The strong resurgence of a neoliberal and oligarchical right dedicated to an upward redistribution of resources now has become a depressing reality. The rapidity with which conservatives are able to undo a decade of progressive reform is stunning.

How this occurred, how the left could have avoided this development, and the lessons that we should extract from it are by no means obvious....

Science for the People with the EZLN

— John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto

LIKE MANY PREVIOUS revolutionary movements, the Zapatistas in Mexico have their share of conventions, encounters, protests and the like. It is not unusual to celebrate the contribution of the arts to revolutionary fervor. Yet something different, and to us unique, happened this past December 25-January 4.

Following a conference on the role of art in the revolution last year, they held a large conference on the role of science in the construction of a new society. Called ConCiencias (literally “with science,” with the double meaning of the Spanish “conciencias” meaning consciousness), it was a large meeting to begin the process of incorporating science into the revolutionary process.

Scientists from across Mexico and the rest of the world (82 scientists from 11 countries) were invited to present....

The Russian Revolution and Workers Democracy

— Suzi Weissman

THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION of February and October 1917 opened up a new historical epoch, and was greeted with enthusiasm by workers around the world. Never before had workers come close to winning power, though many participated in political life in the Social Democratic parties of Western Europe.

Suddenly, in Russia, revolution was an actuality, not simply a hope or a threat. Victor Serge described the intoxicating power of that moment as one where “life is beginning anew, where conscious will, intelligence, and an inexorable love of mankind are in action.”

The unique element at the heart of the Russian revolutionary process was its revolutionary working class — and the democratic form of self-organization that it created in struggle that made the idea and reality of power possible. Urban workers led and dominated the opposition to the old order and ultimately brought into being — ....

Baba Jan, Pakistani Prisoner

— Farooq Tariq

AWAMI WORKERS PARTY Workers Party Gilgit-Baltistan (GB, formerly known as the “Northern Areas” — ed.) regional leader and Federal Committee member Baba Jan is serving a lengthy term in jail. He is pictured here with AWP Hunza District party leaders (left to right) Muhammad Ramazan, Engineer Amanullah, Ikram Jamal, and Akhon Bai after appearing in a lower court in Hunza on Wednesday, March 8.

While this great son of the mountains is incarcerated for raising his voice for the rights of the people of GB and all working-class people of Pakistan, the stooges of imperialist neocolonial powers and some elements in the religious and communal institutions, at the behest of the Establishment, have once again launched a smear campaign against Baba Jan and his party....

Time has long passed that you could rob the fattest bank in america

— Kim D. Hunter

time has long passed that you could rob the fattest banks in america
and spread the money and names
of true criminals
where either would do the most good

we have lost every secret place
where the wind could relieve you of your name
where electricity does not swallow light
and gently vomit motor noise
invisible and deafening....


Franz Kafka: In His Times and Ours

— Alan Wald

Franz Kafka:
Subversive Dreamer
By Michael Löwy
Translated by Inez Hedges
Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2016, 156 pages, $27.95 paperback.

FRANZ KAFKA: SUBVERSIVE Dreamer provides bracing corrections to much fuzzy thinking about the German-speaking writer Franz Kafka (1883-1924) as an anguished misfit.

In seven chapters as compact and elegant as they are erudite and engrossing, the French-Brazilian Marxist Michael Löwy delivers a crystalline appraisal of an imagination in rebellion. His thesis is that Kafka’s oeuvre expresses a coming together of double insurgency: a revolt against paternal authority and a libertarian socialist challenge....

C.L.R. James and His Times

— Anthony Bogues

Every Cook Can Govern:
The Life, Impact and the Works of C.L.R. James
A Worldwrite documentary
Order the DVD at, email

C.L.R. JAMES WAS a revolutionary thinker. Born at the beginning of the 20th century (1901) in the Caribbean island of Trinidad, he lived in Britain, the United States and the Caribbean. At his death in May 1989, he was widely acknowledged as one of the most important radical writers and theorists of the 20th century.

His political and intellectual life spanned and was deeply committed to the international Marxist movement, the radical anti-colonial movement of Africa and the Caribbean, the radical struggles for Black liberation in the USA; the Pan-Africanist movement....

E.P. Thompson's Socialist Humanism

— Dan Johnson

E.P. Thompson and the Making of the New Left:
Essays & Polemics
Edited by Cal Winslow
Monthly Review Press, 2014, 288 pages, $23 paper.

THE ENGLISH WORKING class “did not rise like the sun at an appointed time. It was present at its own making.” In frequently quoted lines from the preface to The Making of the English Working Class (1780-1832), E.P. Thompson endeavored to “rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the ‘obsolete’ hand-loom weaver, the ‘utopian’ artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity.”

More broadly, Thompson sought to elucidate class as a historical phenomenon that involved changing human relationships over time,...

Detroit Radicals' Odyssey

— Bill V. Mullen

In Love and Struggle:
The Revolutionary Lives of James & Grace Lee Boggs
By Stephen M. Ward
University of North Carolina Press, 2016, 464 pages, $39.95 hardback.

STEPHEN M. WARD has written what is likely to be the definitive joint biography of the Detroit-based political activists and organizers, Grace Lee Boggs (1915-2015) and James Boggs (1919-93). Ward, an associate professor at University of Michigan, and board member of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership, offers a compelling, well-researched, accessible and politically nuanced book, excavating the Boggses’ singular place in 20th century U.S. radicalism.

Their combined life story, even in outline, is by itself remarkable:...

Race and the Real California

— Seonghee Lim

The Nature of California:
Race, Citizenship, and Farming since the Dust Bowl
By Sarah D. Wald
Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016, 312 pages, $30 paperback.

SARAH D. WALD in The Nature of California examines how meanings of citizenship, labor and farming have been contested and represented in literature since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Although the “ideal images” about the farmer have changed over time, they have been closely related with claims of who deserves substantial citizenship or who belongs to this nation and has rights to its resources and landownership.

For Wald, the ideas about who are “natural” citizens cannot be understood without examining the dimensions of race and gender....

Market Uber Alles

— Kim D. Hunter

Knocking the Hustle
Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics
By Lester K. Spence
Brooklyn, NY: Punctum Books, revised edition 2016, xxv +164 pages. $19 paperback.

EXPLORING NEOLIBERALISM FROM commercial Hip Hop to education policy, Lester K. Spence has penned a short yet fairly comprehensive work on how the ethos of the marketplace has permeated and damaged the nation in general and the Black community in particular. In fewer than 200 pages, Knocking the Hustle leverages everything from rap meister Jay Z’s lyrics to a recent Chicago Teachers Union strike to compare and contrast the effects of greed versus the alternative vision of collective action for communities.

In between, Spence takes a hard look at Black culture,...

Leonard Weinglass in History

— Matthew Clark

Len, A Lawyer in History
A Graphic Biography of Radical Attorney Leonard Weinglass
By Seth Tobocman (Author & Illustrator);
Paul Buhle & Michael Steven Smith (Editors)
AK Press, 2016, 200 pages, $19 paperback.

LEONARD WEINGLASS WAS the consummate movement lawyer. A brilliant, handsome, Yale-educated attorney who could have lived in privilege and comfort, he chose instead a humble life devoted to the movement, defending some of the great leftwing activists of his time in court against prosecution — what he called “the machinery of the state.”

Following Weinglass’ death in 2011, radical comic book artist Seth Tobocman created Len, A Lawyer in History (edited by Paul Buhle and Michael Steven Smith) a graphic biography highlighting his life and work.....

In Memoriam

Reflections on Tom Hayden

— Howard Brick

I’VE GONE BACK and forth on the Port Huron Statement, the 1962 foundational document of Students for a Democratic Society. Decades ago, I took the opening lines of the Statement literally (and pejoratively): “We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities.”

Clearly, I thought, this was a “middle class” (petit-bourgeois) movement of intellectuals whose reformist imagination couldn’t go beyond the “realignment” of the Democratic party that Max Shachtman’s right-wing social democrats advocated at the time.

Later, I was surprised to learn that James P. Cannon, no friend of “realignment,” had enthusiastically embraced the Statement when it first appeared as the sign of a new radical youth movement....

Seymour Kramer (1946-2017)

— Patrick M. Quinn

SEYMOUR KRAMER, A founding member of Solidarity, and longtime labor union activist in the San Francisco Bay area, died of complications of diabetes in Berkeley, California, on January 20, 2017 at the age of 70.

I first got to know Seymour in the mid-1960s when we were both members of the Young Socialist Alliance (the youth organization of the Socialist Workers Party) in Madison, Wisconsin, and were actively involved in the movement against the war in Vietnam. Seymour, originally from New York, had come to Madison as a student at the University of Wisconsin.

Seymour and I became friends soon after I met him. It was immediately evident to me that he was a bright, outgoing, friendly, independent-minded person, highly articulate and a very good public speaker....

Remembering a Friend

— Mike Davis

Seymour Kramer’s longtime friend Mike Davis wrote the following tribute for the memorial meeting.

FOR SEVERAL YEARS in the 1970s Seymour and I were the smallest political party in the world. I forget whether he was Lenin and I was Trotsky; or perhaps it was Abbot and Costello; but in any event we considered ourselves to be the apostles of regroupment to the Trotskyist left.

As Seymour once said, it was “like St. Francis trying to preach to the crows.” But as thankless as our project was, we nevertheless had lots of fun, drafting manifestos and circulating tracts by a certain Belgian economist. Staying up all night arguing about the Portuguese Revolution or the politics of the New Left Review....

Regina Pyrko McNulty (1923-2016)

— Dianne Feeley

BORN IN DETROIT’S working-class Poletown neighborhood on Grandy Street, Reggie McNulty grew up in a household where her parents were free thinkers. Her father worked at Ford and later at Packard; her mother cleaned homes. Although money was scarce, Reggie’s mother “could make soup out of anything that grew.” At night her father would read to her mother as she mended socks or ironed. Or they would listen to the radio. But by the time Reggie was in high school, her mother died.

Reggie graduated from Northeastern High School in 1941 and went to work in a defense plant for General Motors. Marrying right after World War II, she was a single mother of two (Kathleen and Kevin) by the 1950s. She worked as a clerk at the city of Oak Park District Court. In those years she kept a tight rein over her limited funds, walking to and from work....