Against the Current, No. 192, January/February 2018

Against the Current, No. 192, January/February 2018

Open and Hidden Horrors

— The Editors

EVEN BEFORE DONALD Trump dynamited the corpse of the “peace process” with his December 6 pronouncement of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the full horrors of the United States’ wars in the Middle East and Africa were beginning to emerge from the fog of official obfuscation. The furor over Trump’s speech on Jerusalem has reduced the coverage of calamities unfolding in Yemen, in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan, in Mali and in places we don’t yet know about. It bears mentioning that these interventions were inherited from the Obama administration, even if the Trump presidency has escalated them to new levels of atrocity.

To begin with a simple exercise in translation, which applies almost without exception to modern warfare: When military officials proclaim that “our forces take extreme care to avoid civilian casualties, even when this risks the safety of our own soldiers,” it means “we are killing lots of civilians, particularly to avoid casualties to ourselves....”

The #MeToo Revolution

— The Editors

THE REVELATIONS JUST keep coming. They began at the top, as actresses charged the powerful Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey and comedian Louis CK of rape and various forms of sexual harassment. They soon implicated major TV network personalities, corporate executives and political figures from both capitalist parties.

In the past, when a woman came forward she stood alone, facing a barrage of interrogators. This time, within 24 hours of #MeToo being re-launched on Facebook, 4.7 million people around the world responded with their stories of how men used their position to intimidate and bully women and even children — especially in workplace and prisons, but also within the family.

Will this be different than all the other moments in which sexual abuse was revealed?...

Black Nationalism, Black Solidarity

— Malik Miah

IN THE PREVIOUS issue of Against the Current I discussed the ideology of white nationalism and white supremacy ( The contrasting ideology of Black nationalism must be understood in the framework of the Marxist analysis of nationalism of oppressed peoples.

Blacks would be happy to drop the hyphenated “African-American” and redefine the term “American” as meaning all of its peoples. Most whites, however, don’t support that change if it means seriously coming to grips with the legacy of slavery, genocide and persistent racism.

Even more than 150 years after the Civil War, Confederate monuments still occupy prime property in southern states. “American” and “white,” to many, are implicitly equivalent with no hyphen required....

Harvey's Toxic Aftermath in Houston

— Jennifer Wingard

WAKING UP ON August 29, 2017, with news of failing levees and reservoirs in Houston, the city I’ve called home for the last ten years, was emotionally trying. Even though Hurricane Harvey was on track to end its constant deluge of rain on the Houston metro area and move east, there was a consensus that Houston, with its high density of petrochemical plants, was not yet out of the woods.

So on that day, the very anniversary of Hurricane Katrina — another devastating hurricane whose effects were felt for years after the event — Houston was quite clearly revealed as another example of the devastating results of neoliberal economics’ neglect on state municipalities and local governments.

As Harvey moved toward the east and lost its momentum, the city’s problems were just beginning....

Florida Students Confront Spencer

— Aliya Miranda

ON THURSDAY OCTOBER 19th, I sat shotgun to my dad in a minivan filled with my co-workers and interns from UF’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program.

On any other Thursday, we would have been in the SPOHP office promoting events, archiving interviews, and working on digital production projects, and my dad would have been at work. Instead, we’d organized to carpool from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to a Winn Dixie parking lot, maneuvering around blockades and rereading detailed safety instructions, to document the No Nazis at UF Protest against Richard Spencer.

This was the situation we found ourselves in after the University of Florida agreed to receive the Alt-Right lobbying group the National Policy Institute upon their request to rent out the Phillips Center....

How the UAW Can Make It Right

— Asar Amen-Ra

MY NAME IS Asar Amen-Ra, I am a UAW member (Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America) and a Chrysler (FCA) employee with over 22 years of experience in the auto industry, as a worker, elected union representative and as an organizer.

Moreover, I have over 26 years' experience as a grassroots community organizer dedicated to the social, economic, and political change in this country. I was a UAW organizer in the South from 2011-2014 with assignments in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi.

What Went Wrong in Mississippi

As you might have read in prior articles, there are many factors in why the UAW lost the vote at the Nissan plant in Mississippi. These ranged from the failure to build a larger and stronger organizing committee to Nissan’s....

The Kurdish Crisis in Iraq and Syria

— Joseph Daher

THE KURDISH STRUGGLE in Syria and Iraq has witnessed number of recent changes, with clear contrasts in each country. The broad victory of the “yes” in the Iraqi autonomous Kurdistan region’s independence referendum on September 25 was rooted in the long historical will of the Kurdish people to establish a state. It was also the consequence of a violent history of oppression inflicted upon the Iraqi-Kurdish population by various previous Iraqi nationalist authoritarian regimes.

The massacre by chemical weapons against the Kurdish population of Halabja in 1988 by Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime [then supported by the U.S. and other Western governments — ed.] is particularly remembered. About 5000 Kurds perished in this massacre. This attack was part of Operation Anfal launched by the authorities in Baghdad during this period, which killed 182,000 people and destroyed more than 90% of the Kurdish villages....

Kurds at a Glance

— Joseph Daher

KRG—Kurdish Regional Government in autonomous area of northern Iraq since 1992

KDP—Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Barzani family

PUK—Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by Talabani family

peshmerga—fighters affiliated with the KPD and PUK

PKK—Kurdistan Workers Party, leftwing Kurdish Party in Turkey

PYD—Democratic Union Party, which is ideologically and politically affiliated with the PKK

YPG—the armed wing of the PYD....

Clarion Alley Confronts a Lack of Concern

— Dawn Starin

SOME WALLS KEEP us out. Some walls keep us apart. Not these walls. Clarion Alley’s walls of art invite us in. Creating a dialogue, they shout out in both full glorious Technicolor and in stark shades of black and white, “Come in and look at our history, read our words, come in and appreciate what we must always remember, what we have lost, what we have found, what we must stand for and what we must treasure.”

Clarion Alley’s thought-provoking, provocative, clever and often political art was created by those determined to leave a record of their existence and experience and to give voice to marginalized and disenfranchised communities.

This small passageway, just 560 feet long and 15 feet wide, runs between San Francisco’s Mission District’s 17th and 18th streets and connects Mission Street with Valencia Street....

Catalunya: "Only the People Save the People"

— Bayla Ostrach

“Like the time of the dictatorship, like Fascist times of Franco, we return to having political prisoners. Without a single shot being fired, without a single drop of blood, for no more than going out to the street to demand that they let us leave. Without doing any type of violence they receive this. This will only instill in us more hatred for the Spanish government, but it will not make us take one step backward.”

— Arnold (a pseudonym), a comrade from a historically working-class, immigrant Barcelona neighborhood, hearing that leaders of grassroots cultural and political organizations had been “preemptively” arrested in mid-October

WITH MANY OTHERS from his neighborhood, Arnold defended polling places during the October 1, 2017 self-determination referendum in Catalunya. That high-adrenaline weekend during which Arnold, his neighbors,...

Catalunya: Organizations at a Glance

— Bayla Ostrach

ANC – Assemblea Nacional di Catalunya, grassroots, neighborhood-level, community-led independentist leadership organization. A key leader was “pre-emptively” jailed without bail by the Spanish governmentt as part of the coup in October 2017.

CiU – Convergencia i Unió, center-right coalition formed by former Catalan President Artus Mas (2011-2016).

CUP – Candidatura d’Unitat Popular, farthest-Left Catalan political party, characterized by some as anarchist, most militant grassroots party in recent years. Barcelona’s “activist mayor,” Ada Colau, came from the CUP.

ERC – Esquerra Republicana di Catalunya, traditional Left workers party of Catalunya, history traces back to the Spanish Civil War....

Catalunya: Abbreviated Timeline

— Bayla Ostrach

1978-1979 Spanish Constitution recognizes Catalunya as “autonomous” (little real effect).

2003 Catalan political parties propose to reform the 1979 Autonomy Statue of the Spanish Constitution; parties supporting autonomy win 88% of Parliamentary seats and popular vote; future (Socialist) Prime Minister Zapatero commits to Autonomy Statute reform effort.

2005 Catalan Parliament sends proposal for new Autonomy Statute to Madrid to recognize Catalunya as a nation, prevent Madrid’s interference in devolved powers, give Catalunya full control over finances [akin to the Basque Country's autonomous status]. Would have required validation by Spanish Parliament; confirmation in a Catalan referendum.

2006 Spanish Partido Popular begins to actively campaign against Autonomy....

Egyptian Activists Jailed

EGYPT’S PRESIDENTIALIST DICTA­TORSHIP continues its suppression of human rights lawyers and activists. Mahienour el-Massry and Moatasem Medhat have been jailed pending a December 30 hearing where they will be tried, along with several other activists, for “illegal gathering, insulting the president, and thuggery” for protesting against president al-Sisi’s contested transfer of the Tiran and Sanifir Islands to Saudi Arabia.

Mahienour el-Massry in particular has been a target of the repressive regime since the 2014 military coup that brought al-Sisi to power, and was previously jailed for over a year in a 2015 case. She’s an award-winning human rights attorney and fighter. Follow the Free Mahienour Facebook page for updates and action appeals.

January-February 2018, ATC 192

On the 100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution

The October Revolution: Its Necessity & Meaning

— David Mandel

A HUNDRED YEARS later, the question of the historical legacy of the October 1917 Russian Revolution is not an easy one for socialists, given that Stalinism took root within less than a decade after that revolution and the restoration of capitalism 70 years later met little popular resistance.

One can, of course, point to the central role of the Red Army in the victory over fascism, or to the rivalry between the Soviet Union and the capitalist world that broadened the space for anti-imperialist struggles, or to the moderating effect on capitalist appetites of the existence of a major nationalized, planned economy. Yet even in these areas, the legacy is far from unambiguous.

But the main legacy of the October Revolution for the Left today is, in fact, the least ambiguous. It can be summed up in two words: “They dared.” By that, I mean that the Bolsheviks,...

Theorizing the Soviet Bureaucracy

— Kevin Murphy

Trotsky and the Problem
of Soviet Bureaucracy
By Thomas M. Twiss
Haymarket, 502 pages, 2018, $36 paperback.

ACADEMIA HAS NEVER been very kind to Leon Trotsky. As part of its mandate to demonize the entire revolution, the totalitarian school from its inception portrayed Lenin and Trotsky as no better than Stalin.

What currently passes as “scholarship” suggests that recent standards still are not very high. Geoffrey Swain asserts that Trotsky, who was surely the foremost contemporary authority on the rise of fascism, “had absolutely no understanding of European politics.”(1) At the launch of his Trotsky biography in London, Robert Service declared: “There’s life in the old boy Trotsky....

Reviewing Black History & Politics

Race and the Logic of Capital

— Alan Wald

Class, Race, and Marxism
By David Roediger
London: Verso, 2017, 198 pages, $26.95 hardback.

TODAY’S ANT-RACIST LEFT is roiled by at least four absorbing controversies about racism and resistance: “Afro-pessimism,” recurrently taken up in relation to journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates and literary scholar Saidiya Hartman;(1) the “New History of Capitalism,” fostered by Harvard historians Sven Beckert and Walter Johnson;(2) contrasting versions of “Identity Politics,” pitting the burgeoning movement of Black Lives Matter against liberal scolds such as political scientist Mark Lilla;(3) and disagreements as to whether the “Alt-Right” epitomizes a genuine fascist threat to the system or is a populist expression of the racism characteristic of U.S.-style democracy....(4)

Black History and Today's Struggle

Racial Terror & Totalitarianism

— Mary Helen Washington

Race and the Totalitarian Century:
Geopolitics in the Black Literary Imagination
By Vaughn Rasberry
Harvard University Press, 2016, 496 pages, $45 hardcover.

THE COVER OF Vaughn Rasberry’s ambitious and compelling study Race and the Totalitarian Century features a cartoon by leftwing African-American political cartoonist Ollie Harrington, titled “American Crackerocracy and the Polish Ghetto: Sikeston, Missouri, and Germany.”...

The cartoon, published in 1942 in the Black left U.S. newspaper The People’s Voice, shows two images side by side. On the left lies an apparently anonymous Polish woman, her lifeless body slumped against a bullet-ridden wall under a flag bearing the Nazi swastika;...

Portrait of an Icon

— Brad Duncan

Becoming Belafonte:
Black Artist, Public Radical
By Judith E. Smith
University of Texas Press, 2014, 68 pages, $24.95 paperback.

EVEN THOUGH HIS name is synonymous with standing up against injustice, the extent to which Harry Belafonte’s political commitments have their roots in the radical left of the 1940s and 1950s has been largely obscured.

The story of how a young man born in Harlem to a Jamaican mother came to be involved with Black leftists, the most radical labor unions, militant antifascists, anti-colonial activists and Communist folksingers has never fully been told. Nor has Belafonte’s meteoric rise to pop stardom in the mid-1950s or his years making Hollywood films been subject to the kind of critical examination that Judith E. Smith gives us with Becoming Belafonte: Black Artist, Public Radical....

Lessons from James Baldwin

— John Woodford

James Baldwin: The FBI File
edited by William J. Maxwell
Arcade Publishing, New York, 2017, 430 pages,
$22.99 paperback.

I Am Not Your Negro
documentary film directed by Raoul Peck
Magnolia Pictures, 2017 release, 93 minutes.

“Milton! Thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters . . . .”

SO BEGAN WORDSWORTH, in his sonnet “London, 1802,” wishing for the return of a great artist of moral and political courage....

New Orleans' History of Struggle

— Derrick Morrison

Development Drowned and Reborn
The Blues and Bourbon Restorations in Post-Katrina New Orleans
By Clyde Woods
Edited by Jordan T. Camp and Laura Pulido University of Georgia Press, 2017,
376 pages, $34.95 paperback.

“According to several accounts, the populist movement in the state began with formation of the Louisiana Farmers’ Union by white small farmers from Lincoln and five other northern parishes [counties] in 1881. By 1890 this organization had joined the three-million-member Farmers’ Alliance. The latter began in Texas during 1877 as the National Farmers’ Alliance and Industrial Union before spreading throughout the South and to the Great Plains. This populist movement was allied with the one million members of the Colored Farmers’ Alliance, which also spread from Texas to encompass the South. The latter had fifty thousand Black farmers as members in Louisiana,...

Claude McKay's Lost Novel

— Ted McTaggart

Amiable with Big Teeth
By Claude McKay
Jean-Christophe Cloutier and Brent Hayes Edwards, editors
Penguin Hardcover Classics, 2017, 352 pages, $28.

ON NOVEMBER 25, 1922, the African-American revolutionary activist and writer Claude McKay (1889-1948) spoke before the Fourth Congress of the Communist International on the Black struggle and the tensions existing between white and Black socialists in the United States.

He spoke as a representative of the African Blood Brotherhood, an organization founded in 1919 dedicated to “absolute race equality — political, economic, social” as well as liberation “from the crushing weight of capitalism....”(1)


Language for Resisting Oppression

— Robert K. Beshara

Revolutionary Keywords for a New Left
By Ian Parker
Alresford, UK: Zero Books, 295 pages, $29.95 paperback.

IAN PARKER WEARS many hats, being “the Co-Director (with Erica Burman) of the Discourse Unit, Managing Editor of Annual Review of Critical Psychology, Secretary of Manchester Psychoanalytic Matrix, member of the Asylum Magazine editorial collective, and supporter of the Fourth International” (Parker,

His new book, Revolutionary Keywords for a New Left, is published in the context of the centennial of the October revolution, and should be read in tandem with similarly themed books recently published by Verso (e.g. Ali, 2017; Miéville, 2017; Žižek, 2017)....

In Memoriam

Estar Baur (1920-2017)

— Dianne Feeley

A LONGTIME SOCIALIST activist, Estar Baur died less than a year after her lifelong comrade and husband, Erwin. They met at a 1930s Socialist Party dance in Cleveland, where Estar was born and grew up. She quit John Adams High School, where she enjoyed playing the piano and being active in the Young Peoples Socialist League, to run off and live with him.

Erwin was blacklisted in the aftermath of the 1937 Little Steel strike, when the smaller steel companies crushed the union and dismissed union supporters. They were married the following year — but also expelled from the Socialist Party as Trotskyist supporters. Both were founding members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Their daughter Sonia was born in 1939.

During the war the couple moved to Detroit, where Erwin went to work at Budd Wheel Company as a tool-and-die maker. In 1944 their second daughter, Ingrid, was born....

William ("Bill") Pelz

— Patrick M. Quinn and Eric Schuster

BILL PELZ, A well-known socialist activist and prolific scholar in the field of European and comparative Labor History, died at the age of 66 in Chicago on Sunday, December 10, 2017 following a heart attack. Bill was born into a working class family on the South Side of Chicago. After graduation from high school he became a bus driver, aspiring to make as much money as his father had as a union machinist, “but later,” he said, “I lowered my expectations and became an academic historian.”

He joined the Chicago branch of the International Socialists (IS) at the beginning of the 1970s and soon became one of the best known leaders of the Left in Chicago. He was a founding member of the Red Rose Collective along with the historians Mark Lause and David Roediger, and a member of the New World Resource Center. Both Red Rose and New World were radical book stores and important local organizing and information centers. He helped organize Chicago’s first Rock Against Racism concert, and later joined Solidarity, the Socialist Party,...