Against the Current, No. 190, September/October 2017

Against the Current, No. 190, September/October 2017

The War Is At Home

— The Editors

WHILE DONALD TRUMP monopolizes media coverage with schoolyard bluster that he’s “locked and loaded” against North Korea, and Venezuela too; while not only Vladimir Putin but Kim Jong-un of all people has Trump’s administration tied up in knots; and while Congressional investigations and the “special counsel” circle the Trump bunker where whatever secrets of his campaign collusion and financial entanglements with Russian agents and criminals may be hiding — amidst all this, the more important war is raging at home.

A question often arises whether Trump is a genuine representative of the aims of the capitalist ruling class in general and the Republican right wing in particular, or a self-centered rogue with serious and potentially dangerous personality disorders. The answer is that he’s actually both, and it can be difficult amid the daily “breaking news” frenzy to simultaneously grasp the comical and deadly dimensions of the political situation we face....

When White Supremacists March

— Michael Principe

THE FIRST IMAGES to emerge from the violent white supremacist “Unite the Right” gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia were of mostly clean-cut, young, white men marching, carrying torches and chanting “We will not be replaced” and “Blood and soil.”

The rally, featuring white nationalist groups such as the Nationalist Front and the League of the South as well as white supremacist “superstars” like Richard Spencer and David Duke projected violence from its first moments.

This was part of its point: Intimidate the Black community, the people of Charlottesville, and everyone who disagrees with them through a show of paramilitary force. This led to the callous murder of Heather Heyer, the brutal beating of Deandre Harris, and other injuries....

Choices Facing African Americans

— Malik Miah

“Black humanity and dignity requires Black political will and power. Despite constant exploitation and perpetual oppression, Black people have bravely and brilliantly been the driving force pushing the U.S. towards the ideals it articulates but has never achieved. In recent years, we have taken to the streets, launched massive campaigns, and impacted elections, but our elected leaders have failed to address the legitimate demands of our Movement. We can no longer wait.” —Opening paragraph, Platform of the Movement for Black Lives

“WE CAN NO longer wait.” What does that imply? Does it mean breaking with the Democratic Party and building a new political party of African Americans — a new Freedom Now Party? Does it mean going all in to try and take over the left of the pro-free market capitalist party? Does it mean mass actions to make the country ungovernable until full equality is the reality?...

How the UAW Lost at Nissan

— Dianne Feeley

IN EARLY AUGUST the UAW’s union recognition campaign at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi ended in a disastrous 63% “no” vote — 10% greater than the loss at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tennessee three and a half years earlier.

From the beginning of the decade-long campaign at Nissan the UAW sought community support, stressing that “Workers’ Rights = Civil Rights.” This was a particularly effective strategy given that 80% of the workers are African American, and Canton is 80% Black. And given the 6,000-strong march held this spring in support of the unionization drive, it seemed like the UAW was headed for victory.

But that was outside the sprawling plant. Inside management took an aggressive anti-union stance, holding captive meetings, blaring anti-union videos in the break rooms, and in the days just before the vote holding mandatory large group meetings and even one-to-one sessions,...

Did Scandal Tip the Balance?

— Dianne Feeley

p>IN 2014 A rumor circulated in UAW plants even beyond the Detroit area that UAW Vice President General Holiefield had been “on the take.” He suddenly resigned, his administrative assistant was let go and within months Holiefield died from cancer. Then silence.

Late this July, shortly before the vote at Nissan, the FBI issued criminal indictments charging Holiefield’s widow, Monica Morgan, and former Fiat Chrysler executive Al Iacobelli of pilfering more than $2 million dollars’ worth of funds earmarked to train Chrysler workers. Jerome Durden, a financial analyst at FCA who allegedly worked to conceal the fraud, was also indicted.

What impact did this scandal have on tipping the vote at Nissan? Nissan immediately broadcast the news and in his post-election analysis, President Williams surmises it made quite a difference....

NSA's Cyberwarfare Blowback

— Peter Solenberger

IN MAY AND June, hackers took over thousands of computers around the world, encrypted their contents, and demanded ransom to decrypt them. They used tools developed by the National Security Agency (NSA) to exploit vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Windows operating system.

China suffered most from the May attacks, and Ukraine from the June attacks, but both attacks spread worldwide, including to Russia and the United States.

Some cybersecurity experts thought the May attacks came from North Korea; others thought they were made to look as if they came from North Korea. Why would North Korea target its ally China?

Some thought the June attacks came from Russia. Some thought they came from Iran. Others thought they were made to look as if they came from Russia or Iran....

The Murder of Kevin Cooper

— Kevin Cooper

AS I WRITE this to you, I am in a 4 1/2 by 11 foot long cage, with two feet between the side of the bed and the wall for me to walk in. I have been in a cage like this for most of my adult life for murders that I did not commit. I eat prison slop for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the guards look up my butt at least once a day to make sure that I don’t have contraband when I leave this cage.

I, Kevin Cooper, have been on death row in the state on California for 32 years, going on 33. I came to this place in May of 1985, and I have been fighting for my life ever since.

This modern day plantation that I am forced to live in is a very dirty and inhumane place for any human being. On February 9, 2004 I came within three hours and 42 minutes of being strapped down to the state’s death gurney, tortured with lethal poison, and murdered by the volunteer executioners who are prison guards working for the state....

Attica from 1971 to Today

— interview with Heather Ann Thompson

HEATHER ANN THOMPSON’S Pulitzer prize-winning book Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Revolt of 1971 and its Legacy was reviewed by Jack Bloom in Against the Current 187 ( ATC interviewed the author by email to get some additional perspective on the still-untold part of the story, and her ongoing work.

Against the Current: Your book talks about the years of work, and lucky breaks, that went into getting the documentary record of what happened during the Attica revolt, the bloody aftermath and the coverup. What parts of the story do you think remain secret and still need to be unearthed?

Heather Ann Thompson: As long as my book on Attica is, I suspect that I tell only a fraction of the story that is actually there to be told....

The Trial of Sacco and Vanzetti

— Marty Oppenheimer

IT WAS A pleasant spring day in South Braintree, Massachusetts on the afternoon of April 15, 1920. Two men, a paymaster named Frederick Parmenter and his guard Alessandro Berardelli, walked rapidly down the sidewalk of the main street carrying a $16,000 cash payroll to a nearby shoe factory.

A black Buick drew to the curb. Two men leaped out. Several shots rang out. Two strongboxes containing the cash were grabbed by the men who then leaped into the waiting car and were driven off. Berardelli lay dead on the street. Parmenter died of his wounds a day later.

And so began the case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, the two Italian immigrant anarchists who were convicted of the murders. On April 23, 1927 they were executed in the electric chair at Charleston Prison, Boston. Celestino Medeiros, a career criminal guilty of killing a bank clerk during a robbery, was also executed that day....

Mourn Liu Xiaobo, Free Liu Xia

— Au Loong-Yu

WE HOLD THE Chinese Communist Party government responsible for Liu Xiaobo’s premature death. No one should be thrown into prison, let alone left to rot there, simply for exercising the right to free speech. The CCP even went so far as to intervene in Liu’s family’s arrangements for his funeral, scattering Liu’s ashes into the sea without the genuine consent of Liu’s wife, Liu Xia.

It is even more outrageous to see the regime continuing to hold Liu Xia under house arrest, just to make sure that Liu’s legacy cannot be visible.

Anyone who still thinks that the CCP government somehow carries some degree of a “socialist legacy,” as certain “new leftists” do, should think again. What we have now in Beijing is one of the most barbaric far right regimes in the world. It is this regime which should be tried by the people....

Under Attack at San Francisco State University

— Saliem Shehadeh

[THE FOLLOWING IS a brief excerpt from an extensive account written by student activist Saliem Shehadeh online at, which we urge our readers to check out in detail, regarding smear tactics by a consortium of Zionist organizations. We also note that San Francisco State University Professor Rabab Abdulhadi is a longtime target of anti-Palestinian campaigns and threats to her job and her physical safety.

In view of the historic importance of the struggle for Third World Studies at the university, veterans of the late ’60s student movement and strike have launched a support letter calling on the campus administration to stand up for her. Other statements and articles on her case can be found on the websites of Electronic Intifada, Palestine Legal, Jewish Voice for Peace and Black for Palestine. — The ATC editors]...

Dawn of "Total War" and the Surveillance State

— Allen Ruff

UNITED STATES ENTRY in World War I a hundred years ago set in motion a series of domestic transformations that continue to reverberate. In its efforts to mobilize society for “total war,” a still nascent corporate liberal state expanded its scope and authority and in doing so laid foundations and set precedents for the expansion of executive power and the rise of the national surveillance state.

That “war at home” was waged on numerous fronts as a federally coordinated ideological campaign shaped a hyper-nationalist climate of anti-foreign and anti-radical intolerance, coercion, extralegal violence and state repression that hammered all dissent. A brief survey of that early war period tells us much about how ugly, indeed dangerous, it can become for those deemed “disloyal,” “subversive,” “illegal” or “alien” in times of “national emergency” when conformity becomes a test of loyalty....

Solidarity Message to Egyptian Website

— The Editors

[The following message was sent to the editors of the recently banned Egyptian website “in-red” ( This repressive act by the al-Sisi regime is yet another backlash against the democratic hopes of the 2011 revolution.]

AS EDITORS OF the U.S. bimonthly publication, Against the Current, we protest the shutting down of the Egyptian website “in-red.” It is an independent website that publishes necessary analyses and dialogue about the Middle Eastern region and the world. The world needs more dialogue, particularly dealing with the politics and culture of the Middle East...

Fifty Years Ago

Detroit's Rebellion & Rise of the Neoliberal State

— Jordan T. Camp

THE FOLLOWING ACCOUNT of the Detroit uprising of 1967 is occasioned by the 50th anniversary of the events. It describes the suppression of the revolt as being symptomatic of a broader counterinsurgency against radical social movements in the United States. In turn, it considers how the repression accelerated punitive and authoritarian carceral policies. Through an examination of the cultural products of these social movements, it also suggests that alternative outcomes have been and continue to be possible. This account is abridged from Incarcerating the Crisis.

IN 1967 HUNDREDS of uprisings circulated across U.S. cities with unprecedented power and intensity. Almost always the provocation was racist police violence — ranging from arrests to beatings to shootings....

Chronicle of Black Detroit

— Dan Georgakas

Black Detroit:
A People’s History of Self-Determination
By Herb Boyd
NY: Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publications, 2017, 418 pages, illustrated, $27.99 hardcover.

HERB BOYD HAS written a masterful account of the experience of African Americans in the city of Detroit. He begins in 1701 with the slaves who arrived when Cadillac founded the city as a French colony, and ends with the shakers and movers of a distressed contemporary Detroit.

A columnist for Harlem’s Amsterdam News, Boyd has developed a highly readable prose style that allows him to engagingly combine forgotten history with famed events such as the Ossian Sweet armed resistance case of 1925 and the Great Rebellion of 1967. The resulting saga establishes that the history of Black Detroit is one of resistance,...

For Mike Hamlin

— Michele Gibbs

Michael’s hands convinced me,
Those great well-articulated
fingers spread wide
to welcome/not divide.
Workers’ hands
equal to the demands
of Mississippi cotton field quotas
and the wheel of Detroit steel,
embodiment and inheritors
of generations of black struggle
opening to greet me, gathering me up
in the Movement building here....

Mike Hamlin (1935-2017)

— Dianne Feeley

BORN IN A sharecropper’s shack in central Mississippi, Mike Hamlin became a key organizer in the struggle for Black empowerment during the 1960s and ’70s in Detroit. A Korean War veteran whose experience taught him the brutality of the U.S. Empire, he linked that history of war and intervention to the history of the country’s slavery and the sharecropping system he knew as a boy, before the family moved to Detroit.

Returning to Detroit, he worked as a jumper on the Detroit News delivery truck and — outside of the janitorial staff — was the third African American hired. On the job he met up with a group of young workers who talked politics, collected food and money for the Southern civil rights struggle and organized meetings and demonstrations against police brutality. The leadership that emerged was John Watson, Ken Cockrel and Hamlin....

Suggested Readings on/about Detroit's 1967 Rebellion

Abandon Automobile: Detroit City Poetry 2001 edited by Melba Joyce Boyd & M.L. Liebler Wayne State Univesity Press (2001).

Algiers Motel Incident by John Hersey, Alfred A. Knopf (1968).

Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination by Herb Boyd, Amistad (2017).

Detroit 1967 edited by Joel Stone, Wayne State University Press (2017).

Detroit: City of Race and Class Violence by B.J. Widick, Wayne State University Press (1972).

Detroit: I Do Mind Dying, A Study in Urban Revolution,,,,


BLM: Challenges and Possibilities

— Paul Prescod

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
By Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
Haymarket Books, 2016, 270 pages, $17.95 paperback.

IT HAS BEEN almost three years since Michael Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson in the small suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. The protests that erupted in Ferguson and across the nation afterwards reached such depth and intensity that they spawned a more generalized movement against police brutality.

Black Lives Matter emerged as the name to capture this moment. The slogan was originally from the hashtag created by Black feminist activist Alicia Garza after vigilante George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin. One after another, more cell phone footage emerged of police officers murdering Black people with impunity....

The People vs. Big Oil

— Dianne Feeley

Refinery Town
Big Oil, Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City
By Steve Early
Foreword by Bernie Sanders
Boston: Beacon Press, 2017, 222 pages, $27.95 hardback.

REFINERY TOWN TELLS the story of how a small, formerly industrial city — with a population just over 100,000 — attempts to fight its way out of the hell that segregation, joblessness, pollution and violence have imposed.

Richmond, California’s one remaining major industry, Chevron’s sprawling refinery, can produce 240,000 barrels of crude daily. Six-hundred-ton oil tankers unload at its dock. In 2013 alone the plant generated $20 billion in annual revenue and about two billion in profit....

Immigration's Troubled History

— Emily Pope-Obeda

Immigration and the Decline of Internationalism in the American Working Class, 1864-1919
By Charles R. Leinenweber
Center for Socialist History, CreateSpace Publishing, 2016, 274 pages, $15 paperback.

THE ASCENDANCY OF Donald Trump has highlighted a number of deep fissures within the labor movement, providing a sharp view of the ideological distance between various segments of the American working class. One of the clearest sources of this division has been the idea of internationalism. Labor’s most conservative, protectionist elements have applauded the nativism and chauvinism of the new administration’s “America First” attitude; its mainstream has presented a willingness to capitulate and stay silent in the face of increasingly xenophobic rhetoric; and its left has sought to create a counternarrative of inclusion and solidarity....

Paradoxes of Infinity

— Ansar Fayyazuddin

How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World
By Amir Alexander
Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
Paperback edition, 2015, 368 pages, $16.

MATHEMATICS CONCEIVED AS a closed logical system, based on a set of axioms, may suggest that its history would be an account of the inevitable logical development of these axioms. The pace of this history would then be a function of the abilities of the actors engaged in carrying out these logical steps.

Yet mathematics is decidedly not like that. It is not a closed logical system, and its history is like the history of any discipline — far from the sequential unraveling of truths immanent in its logical structure, it is a narrative of contingent goals and programs,...

Mourn, Then Organize Again

— Michael Löwy

Left-Wing Melancholia:
Marxism, History, and Memory
By Enzo Traverso
New York: Columbia University Press, 2017, 312 pages, $35 hardback.

THIS BRILLANT BOOK seeks to recover a hidden, discreet tradition: that of “left-wing melancholia.” This melancholia is a state of mind that does not belong to the left’s canonical narrative, which is more inclined to highlight glorious triumphs than tragic defeats. Yet the memory of these defeats — June 1848, May 1871, January 1919, September 1973 — as well as solidarity with the defeated, irrigates revolutionary history like an unseen, subterranean river....

Making Their Own History

— Ingo Schmidt

A People’s History of Modern Europe
By William A. Pelz
Pluto Press, 2016, distributed by University of Chicago Press. 256 pages, $28 paperback.

MORE THAN HALF a century ago, E. P. Thompson pioneered a new approach to labor history in The Making of the English Working Class. Thompson was dismayed with the bourgeois idea that history is made by great men, and the occasional princess or queen, but also frustrated with socialist histories that replace statesmen and business moguls with wise, if not infallible, party leaders and union bosses allegedly executing the iron laws of history.

Thompson shifted his focus to diverse groups of working people who, by defending their moral values and dignity against their bosses, would morph (or “make themselves”) into a working class with,...

The Wheel Has Come Full Circle

— Mike Gonzalez

What Went Wrong
The Nicaraguan Revolution: a Marxist analysis
By Dan La Botz
Brill, Leiden/Boston, 2016. (Haymarket paperback edition forthcoming, Fall 2017)

THE MID-1970S WERE a difficult time for socialists. The euphoria of the sixties, and its promise of revolution, came to a sudden and dramatic stop on September 11, 1973.

The military coup that overthrew the government of Salvador Allende in Chile ended the promise of a non-violent “Chilean road to socialism.” The Chilean Communist Party, just days before the coup, had condemned “the violence of left and right,” as if the two were equivalent. Pinochet (Chile’s military dictator) demonstrated how devastatingly wrong they were....