Against the Current, No. 191, November/December 2017

Against the Current, No. 191, November/December 2017

Open Letter to the People of the United States from Puerto Rico, a month after Hurricane María

— Manuel Rodríguez Banchs and Rafael Bernabe


By now you have surely heard about the catastrophic impact of Hurricane María in Puerto Rico, as well as the slow and still inadequate response by U.S. federal agencies, such as FEMA.

A month after María, dozens of communities are still inaccessible by car or truck. Close to 90 percent of all homes lack electricity. Half lack running water. Many of Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million residents have difficulties obtaining drinking water. The death toll continues to rise due to lack of medical attention or materials (oxygen, dialysis) or from poisoning caused by unsafe water.

The failures of U.S. agencies might come as no surprise, since the federal response (including FEMA’s) to other disasters, such as for Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, was as slow and inadequate....

Resisting Capital's Disasters

— The Editors

AS THE CATASTROPHES pile up — natural and unnatural — each new one tends to knock the previous out of the news cycle. In the wake of Hurricane Maria’s near-destruction of Puerto Rico, how much endless “breaking news” coverage is left for Florida and Houston after Irma and Harvey? By the time this issue of Against the Current reaches our readers, Puerto Rico and the devastated Caribbean islands may be mostly relegated to the archives by California wildfires and new calamities and scandals. One disaster at a time, if you please!

Each of these appalling events, however, while creating new levels of human misery, also generates whole new opportunities to profit from them. Hurricane Katrina set in motion the dismantling of New Orleans’ public schools and their replacement by corporate charters. In Puerto Rico, rebuilding the destroyed power grid is likely to be a publicly subsidized but private for-profit project. As Congressman Luis Gutierrez aptly put it,...

White Supremacy/Identity Politics

— Malik Miah

“According to Edison Research, Trump won whites making less than $50,000 by 20 points, whites making $50,000 to $99,999 by 28 points, and whites making $100,000 or more by 14 points. This shows that Trump assembled a broad white coalition that ran the gamut from Joe the Dishwasher to Joe the Plumber to Joe the Banker. So, when white pundits cast the elevation of Trump as the handiwork of an inscrutable white working class, they are being too modest, declining to claim credit for their own economic class. Trump’s dominance among whites across class lines is of a piece with his larger dominance across nearly every white demographic. Trump won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white people with college degrees (+3) and white people without them (+37). He won whites ages 18–29 (+4), 30–44 (+17), 45–64 (+28), and 65 and older (+19).”

—Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The First White President. The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy” The Atlantic, October 2017,

The Ghosts of St. Louis Future

— William J. Maxwell

THE DECISION OF Missouri Circuit Court Judge Timothy J. Wilson in the case of Jason Stockley, a white former St. Louis police officer charged with the first-degree murder of Anthony Lamar Smith, a 24-year-old African American, was issued early on a Friday morning — a time calculated to avoid economically disruptive, start-of-the-work-week looting (it never came). But little about the case, decided on September 15, 2017, was prompt, or marked by successful foresight, or even rooted in the present tense.

What Judge Wilson described as the “factual events at issue” had unfolded nearly six years earlier on December 20, 2011, when a silver Buick driven by Smith pulled into the parking lot of a Church’s Fried Chicken on the city’s long-suffering North Side. Despite persistent efforts by Smith’s family and by veteran Black St. Louis activists Anthony Shahid and the Reverend Philip Duvall, more than five years dragged by before Stockley was charge....

Punitive Neoliberalism in Puerto Rico

— Rafael Bernabe

BEFORE HURRICNE MARIA smashed into Puerto Rico with devastating force, the previous Hurricane Irma caused relatively manageable damage compared to its horrific impact in much of the Caribbean. Even so, the island’s electrical grid — before Maria utterly destroyed it — had already suffered outages leaving up to 300,000 people without power. Staffing cuts of 50% had left the system without badly needed maintenance and repair capacity, as discussed by journalist Juan Gonzalez on the broadcast of “Democracy Now,” The following article by Rafael Bernabe of the Partido del Pueblo Trabajador-Puerto Rico (Working People’s Party of Puerto Rico) explores what lies behind these events. It’s story also familiar to residents of cities like Detroit — ed....

Honduras Since the 2009 Coup

— Victoria Cervantes

ON NOVEMBER 26, 2017 national and local elections are scheduled in Honduras. This will be the third election since the U.S.-supported coup of June 28, 2009. Although more than eight years have passed, both resistance and repression continue. In fact the current coup regime led by President Juan Orlando Hernandez has hardened and tried to institutionalize dictatorship.

As this is being written, news arrives of arrests and serious charges filed against 14 community members of a poor area of Choluteca for opposing land grabs to build a solar energy plant; 28 small farmers in the northern Agujn Valley criminalized for trying to keep and work their land; and 31 university students and three human rights defenders facing jail after government attacks on student protests in Tegucigalpa.

This is not unusual, as repression and even violence including assassinations are a weekly if not daily occurrence....

The Philippines: War Against the Poor

— Alex de Jong

THE PHILIPPINES ARE going through a double, mutually reinforcing crisis. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is responsible for a so-called “war on drugs” that is costing thousands of lives and is increasingly concentrating power in his own hands.

Meanwhile, in the south of the country Islamic fundamentalist violence has taken on a qualitative new dimension. The attack on Marawi City provided Duterte with the opportunity to declare martial law, while the violence of the government army creates new breeding grounds for fundamentalist groups.

Campaigning for the elections that made him president, Rodrigo Roa Duterte promised to eradicate crime. He promised to be ruthless and kept his promise. One year into his presidency, thousands have been killed in his “war on drugs.” The victims of this war are either killed “resisting arrest” or are murdered by unknown assassins....

Trump and Duterte

— Alex de Jong

PHILIPPINES PRESIDENT DUTERTE presents himself as a nationalist who is especially opposed to the continuing strong influence of the former colonial power, the United States. After Barack Obama voiced pro-forma concern over human rights violations in the Philippines, Duterte called him a “son of a whore.”

Duterte referred to U.S. atrocities committed during its colonization of the Philippines, and said U.S. troops should leave the country. While campaigning he promised an “independent foreign policy.” The high point of this rhetoric came in October 2016 when Duterte declared “sep­ar­ation from the U.S.” and the intention to join the “ideological flow” of China and Russia.

But the ferocity of Duterte’s rhetoric has not been matched by acts. Joint U.S. and Philippine exercises continue, construction of facilities for use by the U.S. military continues,...

Toxicity and Resistance

— Elaine Emmerich

THE VARIOUS THREATS posed by the Trump administration — diminishing access to healthcare, the normalization of racism and xenophobia, environmental degradation, mass deportations, voter disenfranchisement, military conflict, and so many more — range from unnerving to paralyzing.

We are told to “resist,” but the sheer volume of items on the What-to-Resist List is daunting, and constantly growing. It is disempowering and discouraging to feel pitted against a seemingly endless deluge of disaster.

In a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, residents living near the West Lake Landfill are all too familiar with this strain. Yet for these residents, who have been betrayed by their government for far longer than Donald Trump has been a politician, community power and the daily practice of solidarity transcend hopelessness....

Theodore W. Allen's Legacy

— Jeffrey B. Perry

THEODORE W. “TED” Allen (1919-2005) was an anti-white supremacist, working-class intellectual and activist, whose work on the centrality of struggle against white supremacy is growing in importance and influene 98 years after his birth.

With its focus on racial oppression and social control, Allen’s two-volume The Invention of the White Race (1994, 1997: Verso Books, new expanded edition 2012) is one of the 20th-century’s major contributions to historical understanding.

Allen’s study presents a full-scale challenge to what he refers to as “The Great White Assumption” — the unquestioning acceptance of the “white race” and “white” identity as skin color-based and natural attributes rather than as social and political constructions....

Theodore W. Allen: Working-Class Scholar

— Jeffrey B. Perry

THEODORE W. ALLEN WAS an independent, anti-white supremacist, working-class scholar when he pioneered his “white skin privilege” analysis in the mid-1960s and when he wrote The Invention of the White Race in the 1990s. He was also a self-avowed Marxist and historical materialist who believed that class struggle was the driving force of history.

Starting in the 1960s he began an important 40-years-long study and reflection on white supremacy, racial oppression and the class struggle in American history. In this he was informed by the civil rights, anti-colonial and national liberation struggles; by his prior experience as a communist, labor activist and student of history; and by close readings of W.E.B. Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction and Marxian political economics.

An organizationally independent working-class intellectual....

World War I & Afterward: Upheaval, Repression & Terror

— Allen Ruff

FOLLOWING THE APRIL 1917 U.S. entry into World War I, a massive months-long strike wave occurred as workers in those industries, booming with wartime orders demanded improved conditions and better wages that were rapidly being outstripped by war-bred price increases. In that climate of whipped-up nationalist fervor, xenophobia and racism, such worker militancy along with all antiwar  activity was successfully cast by the state, the corporations and a compliant mainstream press as a “pro-German” threat to the war effort and national security.

Then, in the midst of ongoing labor agitations and following Russia’s “October Revolution” (November 7th), wartime propaganda mills advanced the claim, widely held by war’s end in November 1918, that Germany had deliberately fomented, even engineered the Bolshevik seizure of power to undermine allied Russia’s war effort. In that way, an ideological line defining “the enemy....

Palestine - The Occupation and Geneva

One Hundred Years of the Balfour Declaration

— Rabab Abdulhadi

ON NOVEMBER 2, 1917, the British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour writes to Lord Walter Rothschild, who was a major figure in the Zionist movement:

Dear Lord Rothschild, I have much pleasure in conveying to you on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet.

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object,...

Identities and Solidarity

— David Finkel

On Anti-Semitism
Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice
Essays curated by Jewish Voice for Peace
Foreword by Judith Butler
Haymarket Books, 2017, 224 pages plus notes, $19.95 paperback.

THE RAPID GROWTH of Jewish Voice for Peace has seen its emergence as a major force in the U.S. Palestine solidarity movement. JVP is certainly the leading Jewish organization embracing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, initiated by Palestinian civil society organizations, against the Israeli occupation and the racist laws and practices inside the Israeli state (see

The organization’s dynamism and national outreach over the past few years is a reflection of the breakdown of unquestioning Jewish....

A Response to the Anti-Defamation League

— David Finkel & Don Greenspon, co-chairs Jewish Voice for Peace, Detroit

[THE FOLLOWING LETTER was submitted to Detroit Jewish News following its publication of a piece from the Anti-Defamation League attacking Jewish Voice for Peace, which appears on the ADL website ( This response has not been published.]

THE ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE statement published in Detroit Jewish News (July 24, 2017, “Jewish Voice for Peace Increases Anti-Israel Radicalism”) contains numerous distortions, which can’t all be addressed in detail in the limited space available to us here. To learn about JVP’s real views, we suggest that interested readers visit the organization’s website as well as an important book On Antisemitism (Haymarket Books, 2017),...

On the 100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution

Sweden's Potato Revolution

— Håkan Blomqvist

IT SEEMS UNEXPECTED — but the effects of the February 1917 revolution in Russia were first felt in neutral Sweden. Together with the other Nordic countries Sweden was spared from the First World War but suffered food shortages and other hardships due to the surrounding conflicts.

The conservative Swedish government in 1914 didn’t organize the country’s food supply until it was too late. Meat, fat, livestock, potatoes and other crops together with leather, clothes, shoes and everything needed by a war economy were exported to Germany with mounting profits for Swedish tradesmen and wealthy farmers.

From 1916 the food situation of the Swedish working class deteriorated and rationing was introduced through a complicated system of state organs. As real wages had fallen since the outbreak of the war, strikes broke out among steel workers and social unrest spread....

Iran: The Impact of October

— Yassamine Mather

THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION had a profound influence on the revolutionary movement in the countries neighboring the new Soviet Republic, and Iran was no exception.

Towards the end of the Qajar dynasty in Iran (1785 to 1925) a number of international treaties had established Iran’s position as the subordinate partner, or the semicolony, of great powers. As far as Iran-Russia relations were concerned the Turkmanchai Treaty (signed 21 February 1828) marked peace between tsarist Russia and the weaker Qajar dynasty.

Beyond state relations, the long border between Iran and Russia allowed the movement of people (for work, trade and pleasure) and goods (for the purpose of trade and food supplies), but also of ideas. This was a period of change, and Iranian intellectuals were eager to find out about Western politics and philosophy....

Power to the Soviets

— David Cohen

The Story of the Russian Revolution
By China Miéville
Verso Books, 2017, 384 pages, $26.95 hardcover.

“The first purpose of the book is to tell the story for readers who don’t necessarily know anything about the Russian Revolution, who want to know what happened when, the stakes, the rhythms, the events. This is not a history of the Russian Revolution for leftists, but for everyone; it is, though, a history of the Russian Revolution for everyone by a leftist.” — China Miéville interview with Eric Blanc,

CHINA MIÉVILLE, THE award-winning science fiction/speculative fiction writer, accurately describes his history of the Russian Revolution “for everyone.” This is a well-paced, detailed but readily readable account of the Russian Revolution,...

Russian Revolution Revisited

Trials of the Russian Revolution

— Dick J. Reavis

The Dilemmas of Lenin:
Terrorism, War, Empire, Love, Revolution
By Tariq Ali
Verso, New York, London, 373 pages, $27, cloth.

The Russian Revolution:
When Workers Took Power
By Paul Vernadsky
Phoenix Press, London, 374 pages. $14 paperback.

The Russian Revolution:
A New History
By Sean McMeekin
Basic Books, New York, 445 pages, $30 cloth....


Higher Education for Hire

— Michael Principe

The Capitalist University:
The Transformations of Higher Education in the United States since 1945
By Henry Heller
Pluto Press, 2016, 252 pages. $35 cloth.

THE CAPITALIST UNIVERSITY is an ambitious work. In it, Henry Heller announces a twofold task: to investigate the connection of higher education with “the evolving political economy of the United States after 1945,” and to “acknowledge and celebrate” its accomplishments. (viii)

Writing from an openly Marxist perspective, Heller focuses on three different periods: “The Cold War (1945-1960),” “The Sixties,” and “The Retreat from History (1980-2008).” The justification for the project comes through Heller’s claim....

How Imperialism Works Today

— Mel Rothenberg

Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century
Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis
By John Smith
Monthly Review Press, 2016, 382 pages, $24 paper.

THE FIRST 25 years of the 20th century saw an extremely rich output of analysis by Marxist thinkers on imperialism. With the rise of an imperialism based on capitalism, the resulting conflict among the leading capitalist states, which resulted in the carnage of World War I and its profound impact on the workers movement, imperialism became the central international phenomena confronting Marxist political forces.

The writings on imperialism of Hilferding, Kautsky, Bukharin, Luxemburg and particularly Lenin, influenced by the non-Marxist but profound analysis of Hobson, were the deepest, most original....

In Memoriam

Geri Allen: A Tribute

— Geoffrey Jacques

BY THE TIME Geri Allen, the pianist, composer and Detroit native who died June 27 at the age of 60, arrived in New York City in 1984, she had finished one of the most rigorous formal educations then available for an aspiring jazz musician, and it showed.

That year she made three recordings, one as a leader and two as a side musician.(1) The musicians who played on these records included Don Cherry, Oliver Lake, Andrew Cyrille, Frank Lowe, Kevin Eubanks, Grachan Moncur III, Fred Hopkins, Charles Moffett and Pheeroan akLaff; all of these were top-tier musicians active at the time. It seemed that Allen had arrived as a kind of jazz star.

During a prolific and exciting career, she would do more than make good on that early promise. She would exemplify, perhaps as much as any jazz artist of her generation, how the challenges of being a jazz musician in the latter part of the 20th and early part of the 21st....