Against the Current, No. 197, November/December 2018

Against the Current, No. 197, November/December 2018

Supreme Toxicity -- Confirmed

— The Editors

HE’S CONFIRMED, ALL right: A confirmed liar, confirmed nasty-drunk sexual predator and hardcore reactionary hand-picked for his confirmed anti-worker judicial record, Brett Kavanaugh is now a confirmed Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The whole spectacle became one of those moments that brought the country face to face with the real condition of its political system — and the rage it has generated is the hope for the future.

While this was going on, much else was pushed to the outer fringes of the news cycle. North and South Carolina still wading hip-deep in polluted and hog waste-infested floodwaters of the latest climate change-driven hurricane. Refugee families seeking asylum in the United States piling up in detention centers, with some launching a hunger strike, and children shipped to desert concentration camps. The United States preparing new “crippling sanctions” on Iran, including attempting to reduce its oil sales to zero — a step going right up to the line of an act of war that could consume much of the Middle East. American bombs supplied to Saudi Arabia incinerating the nation of Yemen. And U.S. action deliberately setting out to reduce Gaza and Palestinian refugees to the point of starvation....

The Constitutional Root of Racism

— Malik Miah

I’VE BEEN ASKED many times, “What is institutional racism and when did it originate?” I generally respond with a litany of facts about Black unemployment (twice that of whites), housing discrimination (redlining and higher mortgage costs), Jim Crow-type de facto segregation (public education is worst in African-American communities), military and job discrimination (skilled jobs and tech openings).

Yet my answer is still incomplete. The source of institutional racism is rooted in the U.S. Constitution itself.

It is easy to argue that I’m being ahistorical. Look at the progress, even with the zigs and zags. Aren’t African Americans better off, even if their net wealth is only a fraction of white people’s?...

Trump and Science

— Ansar Fayyazuddin

WITH REAGAN AT the helm in the 1980s, I recall a sense that we had reached the nadir of U.S. political life. His unembarrassed ignorance and gaffes, his invention and frequent use of the “sound bite,” all represented instances of the general degradation of politics and political discourse.

Sadly, the intervening years confirmed them to not be the nadir but the beginning of a precipitous decline that continues to this day. The latest iteration has yielded a specimen who further confirms that Reagan and W. represented not the lowest points of politics, but stations on a downhill trajectory that shows no sign of coming to an end....

Europe's Political Turmoil (Part I)

— Peter Drucker

OVER THE PAST two years, European politics has seemed like an old-fashioned melodrama with a cliffhanger at the end of each episode. Virtually every election has kept observers on the edge of their seats asking, “Will a far right party be the biggest this time? Will it end up in government? Might it even head the government?”

Often the mainstream media act each time as if this roll of the dice will be decisive. Yet it never is.

Sometimes there’s good news, sometimes bad. In June 2016 the British referendum to leave the European Union (“Brexit”) produced a thin margin for Leave, after a campaign dominated by immigrant bashing and narrow English nationalism....

Ecosocialism or Climate Death

— Ecology Commision of the Fourth International

“NOT SURPRISINGLY, THE IPCC’s special report on global warming of up to 1.5°C confirms that the impacts of anthropogenic climate change are formidable and have been underestimated, both socially and environmentally.

“The 1°C warming [over pre-Industrial Revolution levels — ed.] we are already experiencing is enough to cause major tragedies: unprecedented heat waves, hurricanes, flooding, glacier and ice-cap dislocation. These give an idea of what awaits us if human warming is not stopped as soon as possible....

Realities of Labor

Is There a Gig Economy?

— Kim Moody

JOB SECURITY HAS never been a feature of capitalism. As competition drives accumulation from one industry or location to another in search of profits via the ups and downs of periodic crises, it necessarily alters employment patterns and the organization of work. Over the long haul, U.S. capitalism moved employment from agricultures to industry to often mislabelled service jobs.

For a brief period following World War Two until the mid-1970s, the system in the developed capitalist economies appeared to grant some security to sections of the working class, above all in manufacturing. This illusion was shattered with the increase in economic turbulence that characterized the neoliberal era, beginning in the early 1980s, as millions of manufacturing jobs were obliterated even as output continued to grow....

Karl Marx at 200

Karl Marx: Revolutionary Heretic

— David McNally

LET US CELEBRATE Marx the heretic. In a global moment in which “the old is dying and the new cannot yet be born” (Gramsci), let us embrace the Karl Marx who, fully immersed in his historical moment, treated every question as, at best, provisionally resolved. That Marx who calls to us in this moment is the prophet of permanent rethinking, insistent on revisiting old problems in light of new evidence and experience.

Our Marx is the anti-doctrinaire thinker who, in his “Confession” of 1865, proclaimed his favorite motto to be De omnibus dubitandum (Doubt Everything).(1)....

Marxist Theory and the Proletariat

— Rosa Luxemburg

IF IT MATTERED to express in few words what Marx did for the contemporary working class, then one could say: Marx has uncovered the modern working class as historical category, that is, as a class with particular historical conditions of existence and laws of motion.

A mass of wage-workers, who were led to solidarity by the similarity of their existence in bourgeois society and looked for a way out of their condition and partly for a bridge to the promised land of socialism, arguably existed in capitalist countries before Marx. Marx was the first who elevated workers to the working class by linking them through the specific historical task of conquering political power in the socialist revolution....

Marx and the "International"

— Vishwas Satgar

KARL MARX WAS was an intrepid traveller in the European context in the mid-19th century. Don’t imagine the bearded one moving around with a roller suitcase, tourist guides and staying at fancy hotels. Marx, the “red mole,” travelled around a tumultuous Europe out of political choice but also because of the strong-arm of ruling-class repression.

The frontiers of struggle and revolution were what kept Marx on the move. His “seditious” missives against aristocratic, religious and bourgeois classes and commitment to revolution earned him infamy amongst ruling classes in Europe. Marx was forced to leave various countries due to legal prohibitions issued by the Prussian Empire, the King of Belgium and the French authorities....

Karl Marx in the 21st Century

— Hillel Ticktin

ON HIS 200th anniversary, Karl Marx has received probably his best reception ever- for his birthday, in the English-speaking press, right wing as it is.* This is partly because he is no longer perceived as the same threat, but also because the time is propitious.

We are in a global crisis and the Soviet Union has ceased to exist. The Stalinist tragedy and nonsense is no longer dominant on the intellectual left. Even if center-left and center-right intellectuals do not agree with Marx, more of them accept the profundity of thought, the wide influence and the need to have a reply to Marxist ideas....

Marx's Capital as Organizing Tool

— Ingo Schmidt

MARX’S CAPITAL: THREE volumes, 2,500 pages. A tome as an organizing tool?

For leftists who really can’t do without Marx, there are a lot of his texts that are shorter and address questions of organizing directly. The Communist Manifesto comes to mind, but also the materials he wrote for the International Working Men’s Association (First International). Whether these texts remain relevant today is debatable, but there’s no doubt that generations of socialists read them as guides to working-class struggles.

Capital, on the other hand, points at recurrent crises that surely are a nuisance for capitalists but also offer them ways to reinvent and actually expand the rule of capital....

A Century Ago

The End of "The Great War"

— Allen Ruff

WORLD WAR I drew to a close a hundred years ago with the cease-fire on Europe’s Western Front, the Armistice of November 11, 1918. It then came to a formal conclusion with the German signing of the Allied-dictated “Treaty of Versailles” in late June, 1919 and subsequent Paris accords imposed upon Berlin’s co-belligerents, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Turkey and Bulgaria.

At its end, the war left old class-based social and political antagonisms and national grievances unresolved and created massive new ones. As such, it would have immense impacts on social and political currents down to the present — making the study of the war’s events much more than an academic pursuit....

Triumph and Tragedy

— William Smaldone

October Song:
Bolshevik Triumph, Communist Tragedy, 1917-1924
By Paul Le Blanc
Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017, 504 pages, $27.95 paperback.

THE HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY of the Bolshevik Revolution has generated a flood of new books on an event that shaped the global history of the 20th century and continues to reverberate today. Among these works, Paul Le Blanc’s October Song will surely endure as one most worth reading.

Over the course of his long career as a scholar and activist, Le Blanc has written at least 20 books on the history of the labor movement in Russia, Germany, and the United States and has focused extensively on Lenin and Bolshevism. This study brings his knowledge and excellent writing skills to bear in a wide-ranging analysis of the complex factors that transformed the inspiring Bolshevik triumph of 1917 into the Communist tragedy that culminated with Stalin. ...


The Making of Corporate Empire

— Jane Slaughter

The Color Line and the Assembly Line:
Managing Race in the Ford Empire
By Elizabeth D. Esch
University of California Press, 2018, 257 pages, $29.95 paperback.

AS I WAS reading Elizabeth Esch’s absorbing tale of Henry Ford’s 20th-century imperialist adventures from Dearborn to Brazil to South Africa, the announcement came: Ford Motor Co. was extending its empire to my corner of the world.

Ford officials aren’t shy to contrast their vision with the old, battered Detroit, where the company has had no factories since 1927. “It became a place where hope left,” Chairman William Clay Ford, Jr. told the press, calling the long-abandoned train station that Ford would now renovate as a tech center a “symbol of the city’s hard times.” Now, it “should be a great talent magnet.”...

The Saga of a City Rising

— Michael J. Friedman

Jackson Rising:
The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi
By Ajamu Nangwaya and Kali Akuno
Cooperation Jackson, Daraja Press, 2017, 312 pages, $29.99 paperback.

THERE HAS BEEN much interest among those who advocate for worker ownership and economic democracy in the organizing struggles that were undertaken in Jackson, Mississippi and led to the election of Chokwe Lumumba as Mayor of Jackson on June 4, 2013.

Building on years of grassroots organizing and running on a well thought-out program of cooperative economic development and participatory political action, known as the Jackson-Kush Plan,(1) this successful campaign to win office in a hardcore deep South city — Mississippi’s capital and the largest city in the state — appeared to augur the launching of a significant program that saw economic democracy as an essential component of the liberation struggle of the Black poor and working class....

Slavery and Capitalism

— Dick J. Reavis

Slavery’s Capitalism:
A New History of American Economic Development
Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman, editors
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016, 402 pages, $27.50 paperback.

SLAVERY’S CAPITALISM DOES not live up to its subtitle, A New History of American Economic Development. Rather, this is a collection of loosely-related chapters by a dozen scholars to the findings of its co-editor, Sven Beckert, in his 2014 masterwork, Empire of Cotton: A Global History.

Beckert’s book pictured slavery not as an inefficient, anachronistic or throwback practice, but as a cornerstone of the modern world. Before its publication, historians commonly regarded American slavery as Marx did. They pictured it as an inefficient method of production....

The Logic of Human Survival

— Barry Sheppard

A Redder Shade of Green: Intersections of Science and Socialism
By Ian Angus
Monthly Review Press, New York, 2017, 160 pages, $22 paperback.

THIS BOOK FOLLOWS the author’s previous one, Facing the Anthropocene, also published by Monthly Review Press, in 2016. (Michael Löwy’s review of that work is online at Ian Angus is the editor of the online journal Climate & Capitalism.

“Anthropocene” refers to a new geological period, where the activities of human beings have become the dominant factor shaping the planet’s changing geology, biology and climate, including effects on humanity. Angus, and increasingly geologists, are focusing on the period beginning around 1950, when humanity’s impact, which had been developing gradually, underwent a “great acceleration” — a dialectical transformation of quantity into quality....

Architects of Mass Slaughter

— Malik Miah

The Army and the Indonesian Genocide:
Mechanics of Mass Murder
By Jess Melvin
Routledge, 2018, 319 pages, $65 hardcover, $39 Kindle.

The Killing Season:
A History of the Indonesian Massacres, 1965–66
By Geoffrey B. Robinson
Princeton University Press, 2018, 429 pages, $35 hardcover.

JESS MELVIN ACQUIRED a massive trove of Indonesian army secret files in 2010 in Aceh, took them home to Australia, and they became the basis of her book. The Army and the Indonesian Genocide is one of two important new books on Indonesia and the U.S.-backed army coup and massacres of up to one million members, supporters and allies of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1965-66.

Melvin’s book along with Robinson’s The Killing Season are must reading. New research documents how the mass slaughter carried out by the army, and exposes the official big lies of why the PKI and the Left were destroyed. The terror was also systematically directed at ethnic Chinese and non-Muslims. The PKI, banned in 1966, remains illegal and denounced to this day....

Two Powerful Films on Indonesian Mass Terror

— Malik Miah

THE TRUTH IS sometimes hard to read, hear or watch. It is especially so when it comes to mass terror and horrific war crimes. What happened in 1965-66 and its aftermath in Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populated country, is a case in point.

After the fall of the brutal dictator, Suharto in 1998, the coverup persisted and truth was still denied. The killers continued to walk free and the survivors feared for their safety....

The Wars of Rich Resources

— Nancy Postero

Blood of the Earth:
Resource Nationalism, Revolution, and Empire in Bolivia
By Kevin A. Young
University of Texas Press, 2017, 288 pages, $27.95 paperback.

KEVIN YOUNG’S BLOOD of the Earth lays out a critical moment in the history of Bolivia’s long entanglement with natural resource extraction: the mid-20th century. He draws a complex and fascinating picture of the struggles over mining and oil from the Chaco War in the 1930s through the 1952 Revolution and the unraveling of the revolutionary state in the 1960s. The author is an assistant professor of history at University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Young argues that Bolivians’ desire for control over their resources, what he terms “resource nationalism,” has been a central logic visible across these periods, a “structure of feeling” that motivated both revolution and social protest. As an anthropologist of contemporary Bolivia, I found this history to be extremely helpful for understanding the debates and dilemmas of Bolivia’s current revolutionary period....

Latin America Crises and Contradictions

— Dianne Feeley

Crisis and Contradiction
Marxist Perspectives on Latin America in the Global Political Economy
Edited by Susan J. Spronk and Jeffery R. Webber
Haymarket Books, 386 pages, $28 paper.

THIS EDITED COLLECTION focuses on four Latin American countries — Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Venezuela — examining “the relationship between state and market in late capitalist development.” (11) The collection as a whole combines theoretical explanations with concrete analyses of specific social formations presented by important Marxist political thinkers.

As Marxist economists and sociologists, these authors seek to summarize the economic decisions that various political leaders made, from the days of rentier capitalism (particularly Bolivia and Venezuela) and import substitution industrialization through the period of neoliberalism and globalization. In the global economic crisis of the late ’90s, each of these governments was replaced....

In Memoriam

Jan and Carrol Cox, Political Activists

— Corey Mattison

JAN AND CARROL Cox, longtime organizers for social justice and members of Solidarity from Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, passed away within months of each other in summer 2018.  For over 40 years, they were well-known and respected for their political activism, beginning with their radicalization in the 1960s, and together were a bedrock for the local activist community.

Carrol was born July 22, 1930 in Benton Township, Michigan, a small town surrounded by farms. The son of Carrol and Lillian Cox, he served four years in the air force during the Korean War, working as a military analyst/cryptographer. There he met and married his first wife, Jessica Bowing. They had two children, Cathy and Laurie. In 1969 Jessica died from kidney disease....