Against the Current, No. 189, July/August 2017

Against the Current, No. 189, July/August 2017

The Longest Occupation

— The Editors

DONALD TRUMP’S SPEECH to the regional potentates and dictators assembled for the occasion in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia was generally acclaimed as eminently presidential, and rightly so. That is to say, it was firmly in the tradition of U.S. presidential addresses on Middle East policy: utterly cynical, dripping with deceit, and above all, irreversibly tied to the United States’ leading role as the chief arms merchant to some of the world’s most brutal regimes.

Unlike some of his predecessors, of course, Trump paid no lip service to human rights or democracy, both of which he despises — as do his Saudi royal hosts, who understood perfectly that the way to treat him is with limitless pomp and flattery. The audience also included the rulers of Bahrain, perpetrators of brutal violence and repression against human rights and democracy protest, and certainly emboldened by Trump’s proclamation of an “anti-terror” alliance targeting Iran....

One-Half Cheer for Trump?

— The Editors

ON FATEFUL THURSDAY, June 1, Donald Trump announced that “The United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord,” setting off alarm bells and outraged protests in U.S. cities and around the world. We would suggest that under present circumstances, he chose the better — well, less bad — of the existing options.

To be absolutely clear, we are not adopting a stance of “the worse the better.” Not at all. What socialists and all environmentalists actually want is a U.S. government committed to implementing the inadequate Paris accord, and rapidly surpassing it. But the kind of U.S. commitment that the situation demands wasn’t on Trump’s desk, or anywhere near his brain.

Trump overrode the pleas of his main corporate advisors, including many fossil fuel executives....

Marching for Science and Humanity

— Ansar Fayyazuddin

I WANT TO use two anecdotes to briefly illustrate the chilling yet defiance-inducing effect that Donald Trump has had on the community of scientists since he took office.

In January of this year, I attended a physics conference that happened to coincide with Trump’s launch of the first version of his Muslim ban. The announcement had an immediate and electric effect on the conference attendees.

Over and over, in lectures that had nothing to do with the ban, speakers spoke out against it. It wasn’t just that the ban went against the international nature and principles of science, but that it had direct personal and professional repercussions for the attendees, their colleagues, students and collaborators....

California Science Marches

— Claudette Begin

WOMEN AS LEADERS blazed the scene in a massive way with the January 21, 2017 Women’s March. A protest movement was launched, energizing new and old activists in support of so many progressive issues and implicitly against the myriad aspects of the Trump agenda. It was no accident then that a woman scientist, a woman post-doc in a university lab, spoke up on social media: “We need a march for science!”

There was such a response from scientists all over the United States that the March for Science was announced in February, with marches set for Earth Day. They used the same model as the Women’s Marches: open and decentralized. This model enabled the first massive political response by scientists all over the world.

One of the first participants of the organizing committee for the San Francisco Science march was UAW 5810....

Confederate Monuments Down

— Derrick Morrison

INTOLERANCE. RACIAL INTOLERANCE. At age 21, Dylann Roof had plenty of it. The symbolic expression of his hatred was the flag of the former Confederate States of America, CSA.

Roof acted out his hatred one night in June, 2015. He killed nine African-Americans worshiping at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. His action set off a swift reaction.

Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, demanded that the Confederate flag flying on the Capitol grounds in Columbia, the state capital, be taken down. Others like the NAACP had demanded its removal for many years, but never previously the governor.

Both legislative chambers met — the SC Senate and House of Representatives — and after a debate of over 12 hours in the latter chamber, voted the necessary two-thirds majority....

Theresa May's Katrina

— Sheila Cohen and Kim Moody

WE LIVE IN a north London street which, despite its impressive 19th century architecture is peopled mainly by “council tenants” (public housing residents). This is largely due to the left-of-center politics of the local council (government), which bought up large areas of such housing in the 1970s, limiting “development” and gentrification, and preserving much of the working-class population.

Perhaps as a result Labour MP Emily Thornberry, a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, was re-elected with an increased majority of over 20,000 votes — 63% against the Conservative’s 21%. Nationally, Labour won 30 new seats and increased its vote by 3.5 million and the Conservatives lost their majority.

Despite this, one working-class neighbor was disappointed that Corbyn had failed to lead Labour to victory and become Prime Minister....

USAID in El Salvador: The Politics of Prevention

— Hilary Goodfriend

THE U.S. AGENCY for International Development (USAID) frames its work in El Salvador in the sterile, technocratic language of neoliberalism. The Agency is devoted to fostering “prosperity, security and good governance” in the small Central American nation. Notions of non-partisanship and apolitical, post-ideological action are key to this discourse.(1)

“When I see the concern and the actions of Salvadorans from all sectors of society, who regardless of their political affiliation, are determined to make El Salvador a safe and prosperous country, I feel more motivated and honored to work at USAID/El Salvador,” said USAID El Salvador Mission Director Larry Sacks as he was sworn in to the position in 2015.(2)

China's Ancient Labor Party

— Au Loong-yu

Au Loong Yu is a longtime activist based in Hong Kong. He is the author of the book China Rise: Strength and Fragility. The Chinese original of this article has been posted on the Borderless Movement, Hong Kong and it was distributed on May Day. The English translation is by Bai Ruixue.

BY “CHINA’S ANCIENT Labor Party” I am referring to Mozi and his group. Although his group disappeared entirely from history at the latest during the end of the Warring State period (475-221 BC), his book, also called Mozi, although largely forgotten was able to survive through millennia. He was an outstanding thinker and what is more a militant, grounded on a well-defined program, who fought on behalf of the toilers in ancient China.

Mozi is worth remembering because he represents the highest form of political consciousness of craftsmen and other lower classes....

Sweatshop Shoes for Ivanka

THE FACTORY PRODUCING shoes for Ivanka Trump’s brand has come under scrutiny for exploitative workplace practices, and for the arrest and disappearance of three labor rights activists who were investigating the place for China Labor Watch. The following information is taken from a report written by Zheping Huang, posted May 31, 2017 on the Quartz Media website ( A June 7 report aired on “Democracy Now” is online at The China Labor Watch website is

Police arrested labor rights activist Hua Haifeng on suspicion of “illegal surveillance,” his wife reported....

Fifty Years Ago

Detroit's Rebellion at Fifty

— Malik Miah

DETROIT FOR MUCH of the 20th century was a center of Black intellectual radicalism and militant agitation against white racism. From the days of the Marcus Garvey nationalist movement in the early decades of the century, to Malcolm X, revolutionary autoworkers and the Black Power movement in the 1960s, Detroit was front and center in debates on strategy and tactics to win Black freedom.

African Americans did not practice quiet acceptance of the status quo. Many even turned to socialist ideas.

For five days in July 1967, a spark lit the fuel of deep anger that shook the city, state and country. Some 43 people, a majority Black (33), were killed as the city cops, state National Guard and Federal troops used tanks and war weaponry to suppress the community....

Roots of the Rebellion

— Kim D. Hunter interviews Melba Joyce Boyd

For Against the Current’s discussion of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit rebellion, poet and cultural activist Kim L. Hunter interviewed Melba Joyce Boyd, Distinguished Professor in African American Studies at Wayne State University. Boyd She is an award-winning author of 13 books, nine of which are poetry. Her activism in a struggle against police abuse is referenced by Heather Ann Thompson in Whose Detroit? (Cornell University Press, 2004), 150.

Against the Current: Let’s talk about the language used to describe what happened in Detroit in July 1967, “riot” versus “rebellion.” People broke into stores and took things, pretty much at random and people consciously, intentionally set themselves up in buildings and shot at law enforcement. Over all, something pretty deep has to be happening when people set fire to hundreds of buildings. Both terms are being used with regards to the 50th anniversary....

Murder at the Algiers Motel

— Danielle L. McGuire

Danielle L. McGuire is an associate professor of history at Wayne State University and author of the award-winning book At the Dark End of the Street, a study of the struggle against the rape of Black women in the 1940s South that brought together the key figures, including Rosa Parks, who would spearhead the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. The following account is abridged from an anthology, Detroit 1967, just published by Wayne State Press. McGuire has uncovered material that hadn’t previously come to light. Thanks to the author for permission to publish this excerpt.

IT WAS THE early morning hours of July 26, 1967, the third night of the Detroit rebellion. A flurry of Detroit policemen, National Guardsmen and State Police officers, led by David Senak, a 23-year-old vice cop who normally worked the late night cleanup crew or the “whore car,” and two of his colleagues, raided the Algiers Motel after hearing reports of heavy “sniper fire” nearby....

A Tale of Two Detroits

— Dianne Feeley

COMPARING DETROIT TODAY to Motown half a century ago, we find a resource-strapped city with about two-fifths of its peak population (now estimated at around 670,000). Eighty-two percent is African American, 12% white and 6% Latino. In 1967 Blacks were 38% of the residents and made approximately three-quarters the wage of white workers; today wages have slipped to half of what a white earns.

Then official unemployment stood at 6.2%; now it is 8.4%. However the rate of participation in the work force (16-64 year olds) is among the lowest in the country. Today Black men are three times more likely than white men to be unemployed; the rate for young Black men is closer to 50%.

Forty percent of Detroit is living in poverty, but for children the rate is 20% higher. They also suffer from high rates of asthma and lead poisoning, affecting their physical and mental growth....


Birth of the "Open Shop"

— Patrick M. Quinn

Reform or Repression:
Organizing America’s Anti-Union Movement
By Chad Pearson
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016, 312 pages, $55 cloth.

THE FINAL TWO decades of the 19th century, beginning with the great strike wave of 1877, and the first two decades of the 20th century were a period of intense class combat in the United States. The industrial working class struggled with the financial and industrial employing class in a bitterly fought battle that established an initial relationship of forces between the two emerging classes.

Chad Pearson’s new book recounts a critical component of that momentous struggle — the efforts of the employing class to establish an “open-shop” (i.e. non-union) movement,...

Teachers as Change Agents

— Marian Swerdlow

Educational Justice:
Teaching and Organizing against the Corporate Juggernaut
By Howard Ryan
Monthly Review Press, 2016, 287 pages, $19.55 paperback.

IN HIS INTRODUCTION to Educational Justice: Teaching and Organizing against the Corporate Juggernaut, Howard Ryan states that he and his coauthors “offer theory, strategy and organizing case studies to inform and inspire those who are working to rebuild public education and put an end to the corporate occupation of our schools.” This is an apt description, and the reason anyone interested in that work should read this book. Ryan’s motivation for writing this ambitious book was his conviction “that the fight to defend public schools had particular potential for energizing larger movements for democracy and social justice.” The focus is on K-12 education.....

The World and Its Particulars

— Luke Pretz

The Ways of the World
By David Harvey
Oxford University Press, 2016, 384 pages,
$27.95 hardcover, forthcoming paperback $19.95.

DAVID HARVEY’S THE Ways of The World is an excellent collection of essays from an academic who has contributed significantly to Marxist theory and its popularization. Harvey is the acclaimed author of many works on geography, capitalism and politics, among the best-known of which is A Companion to Marx’s Capital (Verso, 2010).

The Ways of the World works on two levels. First it gives a survey of the author’s self-selected work, highlighting his early work in the field of geography and later writings on ecology and crisis theory.

The second level deals with the relationship between the local....

The Unraveling Middle East

— Kit Adam Wainer

Shifting Sands:
The Unraveling of the Old Order in the Middle East
Raja Shehadeh and Penny Johnson, editors
Olive Branch Press, 2016, Northampton, MA, 261 pages, $17.95 paperback.

RAJA SHEHADEH AND Penny Johnson have made a valuable contribution with a collection of brief and easy-to-read essays. These outline some of the main contours of the Arab Spring and place modern events in historical context.

The authors, who live in Ramallah in the West Bank, are deeply involved in the struggles of Palestinian life under occupation, although that is not their focus here.

Raja Shehadeh, a leading Palestinian writer....

The World Through African Eyes

— Anne Namatsi Lutomia

Securing the Base:
Making Africa Visible in the Globe
By Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Seagull Books, 2015, distributed by University of Chicago Press, 130 pages, $25 cloth.

THE ESSAYS IN Securing the Base are united by a concern for the place of Africa in the world today. The iconic Kenyan writer and former political prisoner Ngugi wa Thiong’o maintains that any discussion of the continent must take into account the depths from which Africa has emerged.

From the struggle against the odds posed by the slave trade, colonialism and debt slavery, the author maintains positives have emerged. (ix) In the preface he clearly outlines his objective: “Underlying all the essays is a call for a visionary,...

Poland's Solidarity and Its Fate

— Tom Junes

Seeing Through the Eyes of the Polish Revolution:
Solidarity and the Struggle against Communism in Poland
By Jack Bloom
Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014, 428 pages, $28 paperback.

IN 1980, HUNDREDS of thousands of workers challenged the foundations of the communist regime in Poland and won the right to form an independent self-governing trade union. It was an unseen first in the Soviet bloc, and these events played their part in precipitating the demise of communism in Poland and elsewhere in the bloc.

There have been many journalistic accounts and academic studies of the rise of Solidarity in Poland, which poses the question whether another book could bring something new to the relatively vast amount of literature on the topic. In this respect, Jack Bloom’s book certainly stands out in bringing the story of Solidarity....

The Russian Revolution: Workers in Power

— Peter Solenberger

October 1917:
Workers in Power
Fred Leplat and Alex de Jong, editors
London: Resistance Books, IIRE and Merlin Press, 2016, 256 pages, $23 paperback.

THIS YEAR IS THE centenary of the 1917 Russian Revolution. In February 1917, by the Russian calendar of the time, workers in Petrograd, starting with women textile workers, began a series of strikes and demonstrations demanding bread, peace and freedom.

The Petrograd garrison came over to their side, the Czar abdicated, and the revolution spread across the empire. Peasants, the large majority of the population and of the army, joined the uprising, adding their demand for land....