Against the Current, No. 196, September/October 2018

Against the Current, No. 196, September/October 2018

Where to Begin?

— The Editors

WITHOUT LOSING ANY of the outrage that the present situation demands — highlighted by the sheer sadistic brutality of the Trump regime’s crimes against humanity perpetrated on refugee families — it’s also necessary to analyze it carefully. Donald Trump did not arise from a vacuum. Riding retrograde trends that have been developing for decades, he’s emerged in his grotesque way as a kind of “transformational” president, promoting a set of programs that the right and far-right in U.S. politics have long envisioned.

These forces have consciously encouraged and exploited well-known factors including the growing respectability of white racial resentment, Christian religious fundamentalism, and above all the profound erosion of the labor movement and decline of real wages and job security, fueling and reinforcing fear and anger within much of the white electorate. Similar ominous trends have grown internationally. They are expressed in racist anti-immigrant hostilities and in a real, although distorted, revolt against the global ravages of neoliberalism....

The White World and Black Reality

— Malik Miah

RESISTANCE TO WHITE supremacists is on the rise. African Americans are the loudest voices, logically, given that it’s common for Blacks to be stopped by cops or harassed by “citizen whites” for walking, eating, driving — merely existing.

African Americans historically have been willing to join and lead the battle for real equity and against white supremacy. It’s a fight they can’t win alone. Allies are needed.

Will white Americans, then, step up or accept the status quo? If not, it is a delusion to expect the far right to be defeated by an electoral strategy based on new compromises with the conservative movement....

Who Killed Marielle?

MARIELLE FRANCO, A Rio de Janeiro city councilwoman, was shot to death in downtown Rio last March 14 but her assassination remains unsolved. Elected in 2016 after serving 10 years on Rio’s human rights commission, Franco was a black lesbian socialist from one of the city’s favelas. She was on her way home after participating in a meeting at the Black Women’s House on “Black Women Changing Power Structures.”

So far we know that the 13 bullets that were fired into her car, killing her and her driver, Anderson Gomes, came from ammunition issued to the federal police. Rio’s Homicide Division concluded that the shooters “knew what they were doing.” Witnesses identified two cars involved, again indicating a well-planned execution of a fierce critic of governmental repression....

Worldwide "Moment of Madness"

— Gerd-Rainer Horn

“If you want to synthesize a student revolt in your laboratory, proceed as follows. Take several thousand students of sociology and make them attend lectures in a hall that holds a hundred. Tell them that, even if they pass their examination, there will probably be no job for them. Surround them with a society that does not practice what it preaches and is run by political parties that do not represent the students’ ideas. Tell them to think about what is wrong with society and how to put it right. As soon as they become actively interested in the subject send the police to beat them up. Then stand well clear of the bang and affect an attitude of confused surprise.” — The Times (London), June 1, 1968(1)

THE YEAR 1968 marked one of those exceptional “moments of crisis and opportunity” that periodically occur throughout history and leave a lasting mark on societies. They are characterized by a rapid succession of turbulent events, frequently taking place in multiple countries and not limited to one specific calendar year.

Other such “transnational moments of change”(2) are the years 1848-9, 1917-1923, 1943-1948 and last but not least 1989-90. But 1968 was the first truly transcontinental “moment of madness,”(3) although Western Europe certainly played a crucial role as one of the epicenters of this revolt. What, then, happened in Western Europe to catapult 1968 into such iconic status that even fifty years later, major academic and journalistic attention is bestowed on the analysis and commemoration of this particular transnational moment of change?...

European Communist Parties and '68

— Gerd-Rainer Horn

IN MORE WAYS than one, 1968 shook up the world of the European Left  — perhaps most of all the universe of Communist Parties.

For some time already, some Western European Communist parties had begun to loosen the umbilical cord tying them to the Kremlin, most prominently so the Italian Communist Party (PCI). But for Communist Parties tentatively striking out in the direction of at least some degree of autonomy from Moscow, it was the Prague Spring [the reform movement in Czechoslovakia, which was crushed by the Soviet invasion — ed.] that constituted the crucial event — and only to a lesser degree, the massive social movements occurring all throughout the world to the west of the Iron Curtain....

Fascist Attack in Chile

IN THE FACE of the attack by fascist groups on Chile’s feminist movement, we, the undersigned, state:
On July 25, fascists violently attacked the 6th National March for the Right to Free, Legal Abortion on Demand in Santiago, Chile. Shouting slogans calling for the mass sterilization of women activists, they stabbed three women in a cowardly, undoubtedly concerted, attack.

This attack confirms the impotence of the ultraconservatives in the face of Chile’s advancing feminist movement, which has currently become an undeniable social actor of primary political importance against all the forms of violence capitalism exercises against our lives and our bodies....

UPS Update

A RANK-AND-FILE organizing effort to reject a substandard contract at the giant United Parcel Service hangs in the balance as we go to press. Following the completion of contract supplements and local, meetings, ballots will be mailed and dates set for the completion of voting and announcement of results.

As Labor Notes editor Alexandra Bradbury reports ( “The tentative contract that covers 110,000 UPS workers, released July 10, is unpopular among Teamster activists.”

Other contract concessions, accepted by the Teamsters’ leadership of James Hoffa, “would undercut the full-time drivers who deliver packages by allowing UPS to create a second tier of drivers at a much lower wage.” So-called “hybrid drivers,” working five days including weekends at straight time, would combine package delivery and inside hub work, with salaries $6 per hour less than the current full-time drivers....

Update on Syria

Syria's Disaster, and What's Next

— Joseph Daher

MORE THAN SEVEN years after the beginning of the Syrian popular uprising, which was gradually transformed into a deadly war with an international character, the situation in the country is catastrophic at all levels. The popular classes are the most affected with continuous suffering.

At the end of 2017, some 13.1 million people in Syria required humanitarian assistance. Of these, 5.6 million are in acute need due to a convergence of vulnerabilities resulting from displacement, exposure to hostilities, and limited access to basic goods and services.(1) More than half the population was displaced internally or outside the country, forced to leave their homes as a result of the war.

More than 920,000 people have been displaced in Syria during the first four months of this year, a record number since the conflict began. And life for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries means poverty, exploitation and discriminatory policies....

Karl Marx at 200

Janus and My Ode to Capital

— Juliet Ucelli

FORTY YEARS OF studying and teaching Marx’s Capital Volume I (through the New York Marxist School/Brecht Forum and its successors) have left me with an ever-renewed appreciation for the book’s many facets, and tracings of how the lives and needs of the activists who study it have changed.

Current events evoke for me new applications of Marx’s concepts. For example, the Supreme Court Janus decision re-inspires my ode to Capital. When Janus came down, with its blather about workers whose rights were infringed by having to pay fees to labor unions, I thought of the sentence that concludes Chapter 10 on “The Working Day,” one of the most concise and pointed summaries of the dynamics and dilemmas of the fight for legislative reforms:...

Historical Subjects Lost and Found

— Cecilia A. Green

MY FIRST ENCOUNTER with Marx was as a “recognition” of something old and familiar, not so much as a “discovery” of something new and interesting. I remember scouring a great multi-volume tome in the relatively sparse library of my childhood by Edward Gibbon Wakefield on the subject of colonies and colonization (A View of the Art of Colonization, 1849) and straining to find some thread of familiarity in its encyclopedic panorama regarding my own, dimly but hauntingly and naggingly experienced, ontological positioning in the world as a “colonial.” Of course, I found none: Gibbon was championing settler colonialization as a way of solving the problems of British political economy.

I spent the critical years of my dawning consciousness in Sixth Form, a level in the British schooling system that we, the colonials, had inherited. It comprised a two-year program roughly equivalent to the first year of college in the U.S. system. At Convent High School in Dominica, West Indies, I discovered “historical and dialectical materialism” as the formal philosophical term for an understanding of the way in which — I agreed in my own relatively class-privileged and untested consciousness — the world worked. Little did the (European) nuns who taught me suspect that their eclectic library might yield such revelations. In this unlikely setting, I had my first “Aha” moments. If I could not find us, as historical subjects, in the great written record of human civilizations and achievements, at least I had stumbled upon the tools to understand why we had gotten lost and to locate the cracks through which we had fallen....

Review Essay

Marx Turns 200: A Mixed Gift

— Rafael Bernabe

A World to Win
The Life and Works of Karl Marx
By Sven-Eric Liedman
Translated by Jeffrey N. Skinner
Part of the Marx 200 series
Verso Books, 2018, 768 pages, $40 hardcover.

AMID AN OUTPOURING of discussion and new works marking the bicentennial of Karl Marx, Sven-Eric Liedman’s imposing A World to Win. The Life and Works of Karl Marx is a mixed offering. The “life” part is a success; the “works” portion is not.

The author is professor emeritus of the History of Ideas at Gothenberg University. Marx emerges from Liedman’s presentation as an intellectual giant deeply committed to social justice, whose need to ground his conclusions in thoroughgoing research made him the “master of the unfinished work.”

Marx's Capital

On the "Transformation Problem"

— Barry Finger

PAUL BURKETT’S REVIEW of Fred Moseley’s Money and Totality (ATC 195, well captures the logic of Moseley’s refutation of the standard critiques of Marx’s “transformation” problem. This can also be approached somewhat differently.

The price of any given good, and the sum total of goods, is the outcome of the manifold intersections of two schedules: demand and supply, which reflect the intersection of quantities of output and price. Let me emphasize: price not labor-time. So in order to understand the relationship of price to labor-time, there must be an intermediary link — money — the pricing unit, which is reducible to a given quantity of time....


— Fred Moseley

THANKS VERY MUCH to Paul Burkett for writing an excellent review of my recent book Money and Totality (with a long subtitle: A Macro-Monetary Interpretation of Marx’s Logic in Capital and the End of the Transformation Problem) and also to Barry Finger for writing a substantial comment on Burkett’s review and my book.

I will reply to three of Finger’s points. It’s hard to tell sometimes if he is criticizing Marx’s theory or my interpretation of Marx’s theory; it seems to me that he is mostly criticizing Marx’s theory and me for following Marx.

Finger’s first criticism is that I uncritically accept Marx’s theory that surplus-value-flows between sectors“ in the transformation of values into prices of production, as if surplus-value is some kind of liquid that can be poured from one industry to the next....

Marx, Engels and the National Question

— Peter Solenberger

WITH THE RETREAT of the workers’ movement in the 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ebbing of national liberation struggles, sections of the left concluded that classes and nation-states were no longer relevant to an understanding of the global order. Hence, Marxism was no longer relevant, or at least less so.

In their 2000 book Empire, post-Marxist philosophers Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri postulated that imperialism, centered on nation-states, was being replaced by “Empire.” The rulers were the United States and the rest of the G8, NATO, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and other international organizations, with the collaboration of multinational corporations and subordinate governments. The ruled were no longer the working class and oppressed nations but the “multitude,” the collection of individuals oppressed by Empire, whose resistance would bring it down....

Revolutionary History

Nicolas Calas: The Trotskyist Time Forgot

— Alan Wald

NICOLAS CALAS (1907-88) may be the most visionary poet, art critic, museum curator, cultural historian, and lifelong Trotskyist of whom you have never heard. Writing decades before Fredric Jameson’s classic The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (1981) declared, “Always historicize!,”(1) Calas embodied this precept in every dimension of his multifaceted career.

He was a revolutionary cultural worker living in the United States since 1940 who blended Marxism and psychoanalysis along with the ideas of Wilhelm Reich, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Ludwig Wittgenstein — all in the years before Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt School succeeded in renovating the boundaries of historical materialist discourse....


Struggling for Justice

— Cheryl Higashida

Louise Thompson Patterson:
A Life of Struggle for Justice
By Keith Gilyard
Durham: Duke University Press, 2017, 282 pages + index, $26.95 paperback.

I FIRST STUMBLED upon Louise Thompson Patterson as a Ph.D. student in the 1990s researching Richard Wright. I had been astonished to learn that canonical African-American writers and artists had been involved with the international Left — and that anti-Communism and racism had effectively erased this history.

After encountering Thompson Patterson in William Maxwell’s New Negro, Old Left: African-American Writing and Communism Between the Wars (1999), I was further amazed by the rich, suppressed history of Black women’s radicalism predating the “golden age” of the civil rights movement....

The Power of Story, the Evidence of Experience

— Sarah D. Wald

Chasing the Harvest:
Migrant Workers in California Agriculture
By Gabriel Thompson
Verso, 2017, 320 pages, $24.95 paperback.

“The dark side, the horrible side of working in the fields, is the abuse. To be afraid of the person who has power, the person who insults us, who threatens us, who can fire us whenever they want. I want to share what happened to me to help find a solution, to prevent this from happening again.”
— produce truck driver Maricruz Ladino

“Most days it was just me and the animals out there together. There were a lot of restrictions, and the bosses didn’t want workers socializing much. ...

An Unrepentant '68er's Life

— K. Mann

An Impatient Life
By Daniel Bensaïd
Translated by David Fernbach
Foreword by Tariq Ali
Verso Books, 2013 and 2015, 392 pages, $19.95 paperback.

AN IMPATIENT LIFE is part of the burst of literary production by French Marxist writer and activist Daniel Bensaïd in the years preceding his death in 2010.

Bensaïd was an early leader of what would become the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR), French section of the Fourth International. He became widely known in France as one of the leaders of the student revolt of May 1968 that preceded the June general strike in which over seven million workers participated....

In Memoriam

Martha (Marty) Quinn, 1939-2018

— Patrick M. Quinn

MARTHA QUINN, A founding member of Solidarity, passed away in San Leandro, California on Monday, June 25th. She was 79 years old.

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1939, she attended New Trier High school in Winnetka, Illinois for two years and graduated from Ela-Vernon High School in Lake Zurich, Illinois in 1956. She attended Beloit College for one year before transferring to the University of Wisconsin in Madison where she became a well-known folksinger.

Martha became a socialist in 1967 in Madison, and joined the Young Socialist Alliance there. She later joined the Socialist Workers Party. In Madison she was a founder of the Women’s Action Movement and was a leader of WAM’s campaign for free, 24-hour childcare....

Joel Kovel (1936-2018)

— DeeDee Halleck and Michael Steven Smith

JOEL KOVEL WAS not a ’60s radical. He was something more unusual. He was a ’50s radical. He developed his values, his critical thinking and worldview in a time when nonconforming was rare.

Joel and his younger brother were from a Jewish Ukrainian family who moved from Brooklyn to what Joel called “the purgatory of Baldwin“ on Long Island. His father was a right-wing patriot, his mother a Zionist.

Joel was as he described himself, “a whizbang student” at Yale (1955-1959), where he was an “ace” especially in the hard sciences, including math. He hung out with a sympathetic group of young men, mostly Jews. Yale had a 10% Jewish quota....