Against the Current, No. 195, July/August 2018

Against the Current, No. 195, July/August 2018

Endless War, Swirling Chaos

— The Editors

THE SINGAPORE SUMMIT happened, and both principals got what they were looking for. Kim Jong-un received an important measure of international recognition, apparent suspension of U.S.-South Korean war exercises, and implicit promises against tighter sanctions; Donald Trump’s prize was a well-orchestrated photo-op and press conference in the wake of his disastrous G-7 conference performance. (To our knowledge, plans for a Trump Tower in Pyongyang haven’t crystallized.)

As our readers well know, it’s unusually confusing and difficult to discern elements of policy within the swirling chaos of scandal, nationalist bluster and Trumptweet emanating from the administration. Furthermore, the string of war threats — with North Korea before the summit, and more menacingly with Iran — can’t be neatly separated from the vicious reactionary, racist and ecocidal domestic agenda of Trump and his Republiconmen....


— Malik Miah

IN A SINISTER development, the FBI is targeting Black Lives Matters and what Justice Department head Jeff Sessions calls “Black identity” extremists. It has the looks of a new COINTELPRO (“Counter Intelligence Program”), the infamous secret program directed by J. Edgar Hoover to infiltrate and destroy the Black Liberation Movement in the 1960s and ’70s and murder many of its leaders.

CONTELPRO came to light only when a group of heroic resisters broke into FBI offices and found the incriminating documents. Is a similar program underway today? “Democracy Now,” a progressive radio and television news broadcast, has been pursuing the story. An article by Amy Goodman and Dennis Moynihan discussed the evidence. (

Just Transition: Let Detroit Breathe!

— a talk by William Copeland

I’M SO GLAD to see so many people here. We know that many Detroiters that we talk to have work, child care, or other responsibilities and are unable to make it downtown for this press event. So for every person you see here, we have dozens more supporters.

Breathe Free Detroit is a campaign supported by a variety of groups and residents. Our goal is to help Detroiters win their right to breathe clean air. It doesn’t get much more basic than that and we see the role of responsible leaders to support such basic rights....

Breathing in Detroit

• The incinerator is a health risk for a community that is already overburdened by air pollution.

• A Detroiter is three times more likely than other Michigan residents to be hospitalized for asthma, with children living near the incinerator five times more likely. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services calls Detroit the “epicenter of asthma.”

• The Detroit municipal waste incinerator on the city’s near east side receives trash from 10 Michigan counties as well as Illinois, Ohio and Canada....

Rev. Edward Pinkney Freed After 30 Months

ON MAY 1 the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Berrien County Prosecutor improperly charged activist Rev. Edward Pinkney with five felony counts of election forgery. The court ruled that the statue he was accused, tried, convicted and sentenced for violating did not create any substantive criminal offense at all, but was merely a sentencing provision of other election forgery offenses for which he was not convicted....

State of the UAW

— Dianne Feeley

COMING OUT OF the economic recession of 1979-81, United Auto Workers officials convinced the union membership that it was necessary to make massive concessions to the Big Three in order keep auto plants open. They said that as the economy rebounded, the union would be able to win back what it was giving up. Never happened!

Since that time, auto workers’ Cost of Living increases disappeared, skilled trade programs have been decimated, the idea of a reduced work week with no loss in pay is never discussed and multitier wages and benefits along with permanent “temporary” workers are standard in UAW contracts....


AN ENVIRONOMENTAL JUSTICE and community activist in Detroit since she was a teenager, Siwatu-Salama Ra represented Detroit in the Paris climate talks. But today she is in prison.

Although Michigan has a Stand Your Ground Law that covers those acting in self-defense, Siwatu was convicted for pointing her unloaded, registered gun at a woman who rammed her car while Siwatu’s two-year-old was inside. The police branded her as “the aggressor” because the woman filed the police report first....

Letter to the Editors

— Dan Georgakas

I WAS PUZZLED by aspects of your account of a new book titled Finally Got the News in ATC 193. Although the book’s focus is on printed matter and images of the 1970s, I am troubled that neither the interviewer nor the interviewee spoke of the famed film of the same name (released in 1970) that celebrated the views of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.

I believe the slogan “Finally Got the News How Your Dues Are Being Used” which is featured in the film was originated by General Baker, a leader of the League. The film is currently available as a DVD issued by Icarus films....

Karl Marx at 200

A Birthday Bash for Marx

— The Editors

AGAINST THE CURRENT continues our birthday party to mark the bicentennial of one of our favorite thinkers, Karl  Marx (1818-1883). Beginning in our previous issue and running through 2018, we’re asking a number of writers for brief pieces on some of Marx’s most important and relevant contributions to the theory and practice of revolutionary human emancipation. In view of the incredibly wide range of Marx’s interests and involvements, we can’t hope to touch on them all —....

Marx, Our Contemporary

— Tony Smith

NO ONE SHOULD underestimate the changes in the social world occurring since Marx’s day, or overestimate to what extent we find ready-made answers to contemporary issues in his writings. Nonetheless, Marx’s analysis uncovers essential features and defining tendencies of capitalism far better than alternative frameworks.

So long as capitalism remains in place, Marx will remain our contemporary. Five examples will be sketched here:

Gender, Race and Marx's Whiskers

— David Roediger

IN HIS 1938 preface to the first edition of The Black Jacobins, C. L. R. James wrote famously that “great men make history, but only such history as it is possible for them to make.” James riffs, of course, on birthday boy Karl Marx’s 1852 remark that “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please.” Instead they change the world “under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”

James’ remark implies more emphasis perhaps on the ways that the unfolding present — not just what Marx called the “tradition  of all dead generations [that] weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living” — set the limits of revolutionary leadership and provide the terrain from which leaps of revolutionary thought occur....

Exploitation, Alienation and Oppression

— Abbie Bakan

AS WE REFLECT on the influence of the life and work of Karl Marx (1818-1883), one of the major challenges is distinguishing Marx from “Marxism,” or rather multiple “Marxisms,” that have claimed the legacy.(1)

The variations of Marxisms are commonly associated with historic divisions in the world socialist movement, for example: between the major adherents to the Russian Revolution of 1917 (Trotsky vs. Stalin); between the Second and Third Internationals (Social Democracy vs. Communism); or between geopolitical allegiances (USSR, China, Cuba, etc.). Perhaps unsurprisingly, in the two centuries since Marx’s birth, numerous competing governments and political parties, and related public intellectuals, have claimed to be the “true” followers of Marx....

Marx and Organization

— Mark A. Lause

KARL MARX JOINED and helped to lead various organizations, although he never chose to be an “organizer.” He emerged with an academic degree to a terribly tight job market further crimped by the political restrictions imposed by the authorities.

In 1842, he took up a pen at Cologne for a frustrating attempt to sustain a severely censored radical newspaper Rheinische Zeitung. When the Prussians banned it, he assumed editorial responsibilities in Paris, working on the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, an attempt for German and French radicals to engage each other....

India's Freedom Struggle Influenced by Marxism

— Prasenjit Bose

FRIEDRICH ENGELS, WHILE informing a common friend about Marx’s death in March 1883, wrote “...mankind is shorter by a head, and the greatest head of our time at that.” Few would have agreed with Engels’ appraisal at that time. By the turn of the century, though, the ideas of Karl Marx had started capturing the imagination of millions across the world.

After the Russian revolution of 1917, Marxism emerged as one of the most influential political ideologies which shaped world events throughout the twentieth century. It not only inspired socialist revolutions in countries like China, Cuba and Vietnam but also influenced the national liberation movements against colonial rule in Asia, Africa and Latin America....

Marx's Capital

On Economic Madness

— Luke Pretz

Marx, Capital, and the Madness of Economic Reason
By David Harvey
Oxford University Press, 2017, 252 pages, $24.95 hardcover.

ONE HUNDRED AND fifty years after Capital Volume I was first published, David Harvey returns to the classic text and its posthumously published adjuncts, Volumes II and III. He does so in the hope of challenging the notion that Marx’s political economy is stuck in the 19th Century.

Marx, Capital, and the Madness of Eco­nomic Reason presents a systemization of Marx’s thought that demonstrates the continued relevance of Marx’s work. Harvey also shows how it can be recontextualized in light of the massive technological, social and industrial changes that have taken place since Marx wrote....

Transformation Problem Unraveled

— Paul Burkett

Money and Totality:
A Macro-Monetary Interpretation of Marx’s Logic in Capital
and the End of the “Transformation Problem”
By Fred Moseley
Historical Materialism book series; Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016, $28 paperback.

ANYONE FAMILIAR WITH the literature on Marx’s Capital knows about the “transformation problem.” The “problem” here is Marx’s purported failure to develop a consistent theory of long-run equilibrium prices on the basis of his labor theory of value. The standard interpretation, dating from the work of Ladislaus von Bortkiewicz in 1906-7, says that in deriving “prices of production” that equalize profit rates across industries, Marx forgot to transform input values into prices of production.

 Once Marx’s derivation is corrected by simultaneous pricing of the inputs, so the story goes, it is no longer true that the sum of prices = the sum of values and that total profit = total surplus value; only one of these two equalities can hold, but not both. Moreover, under the corrected transformation the aggregate or average rate of profit in price terms is not regulated by the value rate of profit, and the latter becomes redundant....

Russia & World Revolution

Communism and Self-Management

— Catherine Samary

“He who controls the present controls the past.
He who controls the past, controls the future.” — George Orwell, 1984

COMMUNISM, DANIEL BENSAÏD said (2009), is “neither purely an idea, nor a dogmatic social model.” It remains “the name of a movement that continuously surpasses and suppresses the established order” and challenges all relations of domination and subordination. Such a communism has nothing to do with regimes where single-party, self-proclaimed socialist or communist parties have appropriated emancipatory aspirations and egalitarian mass movements, repressing them or coopting them in order to maitain their power and privileges.

As Enzo Traverso (2016) has pointed out, “(u)nlike other counterrevolutionary periods such as France after June 1848 or after the Paris Commune, the period opened up by events of 1989 could offer the vanquished only the memory of a disfigured socialism, the totalitarian caricature of an emancipated society....”

The Soviets and Tsarist Debt

— Eric Toussaint

THE FEBRUARY 1918 repudiation of the Russian Tsarist debt by the new Soviet government shocked international finance and sparked off unanimous condemnation by the governments of the great powers. The struggles that followed are of both historical and present-day interest for nations crushed by international debt.

Repudiation of the debt was raised by the revolutions of both 1905 and 1917. The initial revolutionary uprising was caused by the conjunction of many factors, including the debacle in Russia’s 1904 war with Japan, the wrath of peasants demanding land, the popular rejection of autocracy (Tsarist dictatorship), and workers’ demands....

Review Essay

BDS Versus Settler-Colonialism

— Alan Wald

Against Apartheid:
The Case for Boycotting Israeli Universities
Edited by Ashley Dawson and Bill V. Mullen
Chicago: Haymarket, 2015, 258 pages, $19.95 paperback.

The Academy and Justice for Palestine
By Sunaina Maira
Berkeley: UC Berkeley Press, 2018, 172 pages, $18.95 paperback.

REPORTS OF THE death of internationalist idealism among millennials have been greatly exaggerated. These two recent books, the feisty anthology Against Apartheid, from a leading radical publishing house, and the concise primer Boycott!, from a major university press, are rollouts for the ascending embargo of academic and cultural collaboration with the Israeli state.

They suggest that the pro-Palestinian political activism of today known as BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) could well be en route to becoming the emblematic global solidarity campaign of the early 21st century....


Understanding Appalachia Inside and Out

— Bob Hutton

Ramp Hollow:
The Ordeal of Appalachia
By Steven Stoll
New York: Hill & Wang, 2017, 432 pages, $17 paperback

RAMP HOLLOW IS largely a synthetic history, and author Steven Stoll’s findings will be familiar to those who have read, as he has, Ronald Eller, Ronald Lewis, Altina Waller, and other scholars who began the first critical historical conversation in the 1970s and 1980s. This is the most ambitious history of Appalachia since John Alexander Williams’ Appalachia: A History (2002)....

Revising Class: Lumpen in Literature

— Keith Gilyard

Ragged Revolutionaries:
The Lumpenproletariat and African American Marxism in Depression-Era Literature
By Nathaniel Mills
Amherst & Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2017, 208 pages, $27.95 paperback.

“LUMPENPROLETARIAT” HAS HAD a hard life in critical circles. The term was not much embraced by Marx and Engels, the very authors who coined it. They did not theorize much about the social formation other than to portray it negatively, and generations of commentators have remained wary of the construct.

The lumpen, dregs and outlaws of society, existing outside the forces of economic production, went the argument, could not be counted upon to engage in anticapitalist struggle because they had no investment in labor, had no commitment beyond their individual interests, and were susceptible to being co-opted by reactionary forces....

The Making of C.L.R. James

— Jason Schulman

The Young C.L.R. James:
A Graphic Novelette
Illustrated by Milton Knight
Edited by Paul Buhle and Lawrence Ware
PM Press, 43 pages, $6.95 paper.

THERE’S LITERALLY NO reason for any socialist to not pick up this illustrated novellete, even if you’ve already read all of C.L.R. James’ writings and have read the biographies and studies of his works written by Paul Buhle (the novellete’s co-editor), James D. Young, Kent Worcester, Frank Rosengarten and others.

This pamphlet is a delight, a charming caricature drawn in a whimsical style by Milton Knight, an artist who’s worked on everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics to World War 3 Illustrated....

Disabling Barriers

— Giselle Gerolami

Disabling Barriers:
Social Movements, Disability History, and the Law
Edited by Ravi Malhotra and Benjamin Isitt
Vancouver, Canada: UBC Press, 2017, 244 pages, $32.95 (Canadian) paperback.

DISABLING BARRIERS: SOCIAL Move­ments, Disability History, and the Law represents a unique contribution to growing literature in the area of disability studies, an area long neglected by scholars. Editor Ravi Malhotra is a professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa who has written extensively on disability and the law. Co-editor Benjamin Isitt is a historian whose research and published work has focused on the history of labor and the left in British Columbia....

In Memoriam

Myron Perlman, Z"L: Working-Class Jewish Radical

— Benjamin Balthaser

I MET MYRON Perlman at the 25th Ward Socialist campaign in Chicago. He was one of the leading coordinators of an attempt, a year after the city council election of Kshama Sawant in Seattle and several years before the presidential bid of Bernie Sanders, to elect an open socialist to the city council.

It was Myron’s name that first caught my attention (even more than Perlman, Myron might as well be a type of marker for its commonness among Jewish men of a certain generation). I then heard this tall, soft-spoken, curly-haired man in his mid-sixties discuss how he approached members of his carpenters’ local who lived in the ward. A working-class Jewish socialist, I thought, and felt an immediate affinity....