Against the Current, No. 198, January/February 2019

Against the Current, No. 198, January/February 2019

The Menace of Right "Populism"

— The Editors

CAN IT ALL really be Donald Trump’s fault? Do the antics of the worst, most malicious and willfully ignorant president in modern U.S. history serve to explain the spread of authoritarian regimes, racist and anti-immigrant parties, and rightwing fake-populism across much of the planet?

In some cases, to be sure, Trump is a direct enabler. The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on orders from Saudi Arabia’s “reform” ruler and Jared Kushner’s great friend, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was followed by a coverup so absurd that no one — except Trump — pretends to believe it, even while the U.S.-backed “Saudi-led coalition” war in Yemen assumes genocidal proportions.

But there are widespread and chilling examples of authoritarian rule from above supported by a popular rightwing base, attacking the most vulnerable groups in society. The Philippines president, Rodrigo Duterte, openly boasts of extrajudicial mass murders by his police forces. The incoming Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, promises to exterminate political opposition, revive torture, unleash the police and military on poor communities, and crush indigenous peoples’ resistance to “development” of the Amazon — with the potential to turn the world’s most ecologically vital rain forest into desert by mid-century....

Nationalism, Patriotism, Hate Crimes

— Malik Miah

FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL Macron’s November 11, 2018 speech, during the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, called rising nationalism across Europe a “betrayal of patriotism” and warned against “old demons coming back to wreak chaos and death.”

In rejecting claims that “nationalism” of states can be positive, Macron completely ignored the crucial distinction between the nationalism of oppressors and the oppressed.

“The lessons of World War I were not the same everywhere,” argues Walter Russell Mead in The Wall Street Journal (Nov. 12, 2018) in response to Macron. “In Eastern and Central Europe, the war demonstrated the value, not the dangers, of nationalism. It broke the transnational bureaucratic empires that denied Poles, Lithuanians, Czechs and many others their freedom.”

Disciplined for Acting with Integrity

— Alan Wald

IS THE WOLF of academic repression once more at the door of the University of Michigan (U-M)?

Since the exhilarating radical days of the founding of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1962 and the first Vietnam Teach-in in 1965, the 200-year-old educational institution in Ann Arbor is customarily recalled as a site for idealistic social protest and outspoken dissidence.

Yet a half-century after these historic events epitomizing the end of the McCarthy era and advent of “The Sixties,” an alarming political climate change is under way....

BDS: Repression and Progress

— David Finkel

IT WOULDN’T BE surprising for, let’s say, Fox News to fire a commentator for expressing support for the Palestinian struggle. But some fans of CNN, known for its 24/7 denunciations of all things Trump, might be taken aback that a “liberal” media outlet would take such action.

Professor Marc Lamont Hill was abruptly terminated by CNN not for on-air comments but for speech at the United Nations calling for a single democratic state in Palestine “from the river to the sea.” Not only can’t any such idea be discussed on CNN’s airwaves, god forbid, but no one associated with the network can be allowed to utter it in public....

Water as a Form of Social Control

— Julia Kassem

FROM DETROIT AND Flint, Michigan to Gaza and the West Bank in Palestine, those struggling against institutionalized racism and apartheid are no strangers to water struggles.

In Gaza, water infrastructure is bombed and water supplies are constrained. In Detroit, water is shut off from people who can’t pay, and along with Flint, poisoned by lead. In each case, water is sold back at ever increasingly unaffordable rates.

In Palestine, water struggles are the undercurrent of a colonialist and imperialist project. In Michigan cities, water struggles are inseparable from American chronicles of class and race....

GM Closures -- What's Next?

— Dianne Feeley

GENERAL MOTORS CAUGHT U.S. and Canadian autoworkers, their communities and their unions by surprise when GM announced five plant closings by the end of 2019 and projected closing two more, but undisclosed, plants internationally. The year 2018 is slated to be one of GM’s most profitable, with $3.2 billion’s worth of net profits in the third quarter alone.

In violation of protocol, GM publicly announced that these plants would be idled (meaning no product assigned) even before corporate officials talked to the workforce or union officers.

After workers in the Oshawa, Ontario plant received the news, they walked out, protesting the decision in the city’s streets. They, like the workers in U.S. plants, thought the concessions they’d made in their current contract had won them secure employment for its duration....

Europe's Political Turmoil -- Part II

— Peter Drucker

The first part of this article appeared in our previous issue, ATC 197. Peter Drucker is an advisory editor of Against the Current and an editor of its Dutch sister website Grenzeloos. Thanks to Alex de Jong for his help.

WE HAVE ALREADY seen examples of the havoc that the far right in power could wreak — against immigrants and refugees, against civil liberties, against vulnerable populations even within the limits of constitutional rule. But given Europe’s history, the question inevitably arises: would the far right in power stay within constitutional limits? Could further advances for the far right ultimately lead once more to the establishment of fascist regimes in Europe?

Answering this question requires clarity about the nature of fascism, and an ability to distinguish between different European political contexts.

Popular accounts of fascism on the left tend to focus on repression of labor and of popular movements. But Marxist theories of exceptional regimes in general, going back to Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire, stress that they are also responses to the bourgeoisie’s inability to sustain its direct class rule. In Marx’s words, “The bourgeoisie apotheosized the sword; the sword rules it.”(1),,,

Berta Cáceres Update

A SMALL MEASURE of justice in the 2016 assassination of Berta Caceres, the leading indigenous rights and environmental campaigner in Honduras, was reached on November 29, 2018 with the conviction of several perpetrators of the murder. The Honduran Criminal Court with National Jurisdiction indicated that the crime's ldquo;intellectual authorsrdquo; remain at large.

Sergio Rodriguez, the social and environmental manager of the DESA hydroelectric company, ldquo;used a network of paid informants to monitor Berta's movements, while DESA's former security chief, retired military officer Douglas Bustillo, recruited the top-ranking special forces intelligence officer, Major Mariano Diaz, and a criminal cell he managed to carry out the murder.rdquo; (, November 29, 2018)

Sard's Permanent War Economy

— Marcel van der Linden

“OUR MILITARY ORGANIZATION today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime,” wrote President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his 1956 farewell  message,” or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea. Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry.” (Quoted on the cover of The Permanent War Economy by Walter Oakes and T.N. Vance, ed. E. Haberkern, Center for Socialist History, 2008)

From differing vantage points, an American general turned politician and a perceptive Marxist economist noted that the emergence of a “permanent war economy” marked a new and ominous stage in society. Marcel van der Linden’s essay uncovers the development of this theoretical understanding — and who Vance and Oakes actually were.

The relevance of this discussion is only heightened by a glance at the situation today. For one thing, the post-World War II period is regarded by analysts of the “Anthropocene” as the time when human activity has become the dominant factor in environmental destruction and climate change, and war and weapons technology play no small part in this road to ruin....

The Strange Career of the Second Amendment -- Part I

— Jennifer Jopp

THERE IS PERHAPS no more compelling contemporary example than the Second Amendment(1) to the U.S. Constitution of the ways in which Americans fail to understand the complexities and ironies of their own history. We live a in a society steeped in violence that is elided from much of our history. Until we come to terms with this violent history, we will have little hope of solving the contentious debate on the Second Amendment.

Both sides of the debate on the Second Amendment in its current form express extreme frustration and can hardly fathom that they live in the same country as their interlocutors. Liberal commentators embrace a powerful role for the federal government in policing and regulating access to firearms. They lament the day that the country came into the hands of the supporters of the National Rifle Association (NRA) who stockpile weapons and resist all attempts at gun regulation....

The Ongoing Black Struggle

Our Movement, Our Lives

— William Copeland

Making All Black Lives Matter:
Reimagining Freedom in the Twenty-first Century
By Barbara Ransby
University of California Press, 2018, 240 pages, paper $18.95, ebook $16.95

AS A DETROIT movement activist and cultural organizer who has just entered my 40s, I was aware of Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives, but it did not play a significant role in my political development, nor I in its development and activities. I saw BLM as belonging to a younger generation, rather than my own.

For six years, I worked closely with Detroit youth ages 13-21, some of whom have gone on to be active in Detroit’s chapters of BLM and Black Youth Project 100 (BYP)....


CONVICTED FOR POINTING her unloaded and registered gun at a woman who rammed her car while her two-year old was inside, Siwatu-Salama Ra was received a mandatory two-year sentence March 1, 2018 for felonious assault — apparently the jury did not believe she was frightened by the incident.

Given that Siwatu was six months pregnant, the defense sought to delay the sentence until after the birth of her child. The judge refused to delay, pronounced the sentence, and she was taken immediately into custody....

Still Lonely on the Right

— Angela D. Dillard

Black Elephants in the Room:
The Unexpected Politics of African American Republicans
By Corey D. Fields
University of California Press, 2016, 296 pages, paper or ebook $29.95

Black Republicans and the Transformation of the GOP
By Joshua D. Farrington
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016, 328 pages, hardback $45

The Loneliness of the Black Republican
By Leah Wright Rigueur
Princeton University Press, 2014, 432 pages, paper $24.95

IT BEGAN WITH “Blacks for Trump” signs at rallies during the presidential campaign. More recently it was Kanye West’s bizarre October 2018 performance in the Oval Office. This was followed, a couple of weeks later, by what was billed as the largest gathering of young Black conservatives ever assembled at the White House....

Apocalypse of Our Times

— John Woodford

Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism:
The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy and Capitalism in Seventeenth-Century North America and the Caribbean
By Gerald Horne
New York: Monthly Review Press, 2018, 260 pages, paper $25

AN APOCALYPSE IS “damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale,” and Gerald Horne traces the transcontinental social devastation wrought in the 17th century both by the usual-suspect perpetrators — slave traders and owners — and by their unindicted co-conspirators, champions of mercantile and political freedoms in the British Isles and prerevolutionary American colonies.

Horne, professor of African-American history at the University of Houston, is an unusually multifaceted scholar, not only a historian but also a lawyer, and the prolific author of some 30 books. In this work he argues that profit lust and racialist ideology linked — and still link — the seemingly contradictory impulses of reactionaries on one hand and champions of democratic freedoms on the other....

Colorblind Law -- NOT

— Dianne Feeley

The Color of Law:
A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
By Richard Rothstein
New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 348 pages, paper $17.95, cloth $27.95

CONTRARY TO VARIOUS U.S. Supreme Court rulings that sidestepped or outright denied the role of local, state and federal governments in imposing racial segregation in America, The Color of Law recounts the many ways that bias has been, in fact, state sponsored. In a dozen chapters Richard Rothstein outlines the particular mechanisms that prevented African Americans from exercising their constitutional rights. Although his focus is housing segregation he discusses how that in turn leads to school segregation....


A Revolutionary Detroit Memoir

— Dan Georgakas

What My Left Hand Was Doing
By Joann Castle
Against the Tide Books, 2018, 334 pages, paper $22

JOANN CASTLE’S MEMOIR chronicles how a white, working-class mother of six children evolved into a revolutionary socialist involved with the Black Liberation movement. Her title comes from Walter Benjamin writing about the inadequacy of “competence” versus the strengths of improvisations. Benjamin concluded, “All decisive blows are stuck left-handed.”

Castle was brought up as a Catholic by conservative Irish-German parents. Three days after her high school graduation, she got a job in the personnel department of Ford Motor where she met Don Castle, her future husband. They lived in Taylor Township, which she describes as a predominately “redneck” community with little sympathy for nearby Detroit....

Class War on New Ground

— Barry Eidlin

On New Terrain:
How Capital is Reshaping the Battleground of Class War
By Kim Moody
Haymarket Books, 2017, 308 pages, paper $18, ebook $9.99

SOCIALISTS ARE IN a hurry these days. With the idea of socialism catching on among a widening swath of the U.S. population, and class conflict showing signs of heating up there can be little time for idle talk. Rather, there is an urgent need to diagnose the current political and economic situation, identify what is new and what is not about that situation, and propose a strategy for the way forward based on the diagnosis....

The FBI in Ecuador

— Kenneth Kincaid

The FBI in Latin America:
The Ecuador Files
By Marc Becker
Duke University Press, 2017, 336 pages, paper $26.95

MARC BECKER’S THE FBI in Latin America: The Ecuador Files is a fascinating account of U.S. involvement in Ecuador during the World War II years. It adds an important dimension to our understanding of U.S. interventions in Latin America, which are so much better known in the cases of coups and destabilization efforts of the Central Intelligence Agency (Guatemala, Brazil, Chile etc.). Further, it shows the strong historical continuity in U.S. actions in Latin America, going back well before the onset of the Cold War.

In 2013, while conducting research at the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland on social movements in Ecuador, Becker chanced upon a box of files titled “FBI in Ecuador.”...

Breaking the Impasse

— Donald Greenspon

Cracks in the Wall
Beyond Apartheid in Palestine/Israel
By Ben White
Pluto Books, 2018, 208 pages, paper $15, ebook $7.50

BEN WHITE’S NEW book Cracks in the Wall is on first impression a bleak account of the factual and political situation in Israel/Palestine. Yet in view of “cracks” developing among Israel’s traditional supporters and Palestinians’ growing militant and nonviolent resistance to Israel’s hard right policies, White optimistically envisions a just solution to the conflict. Those cracks in the pro-Zionist consensus are the heart of what the book is about....

Party for the Revolution

— Michael Principe

Crowds and Party
By Jodi Dean
Verso, 2016, 276 pages, 26.95 cloth

JODI DEAN BEGINS Crowds and Party with a vivid personal account of the New York City Occupy movement on October 15, 2011. Thirty thousand people demonstrated in Times Square that day. As police tried to contain the crowd, Occupiers chanted “We are the 99 percent.”

Afterward, a people’s assembly was held to decide whether to move the occupation from Zucotti Park, the home of Occupy Wall Street, to the larger, more centrally located Washington Square Park which was closed for the night. With police moving in and preventing newcomers from entering, each speaker urged the crowd to take the park....

In Memoriam

Nancy Gruber, 1930-2018

— Dianne Feeley

NANCY GRUBER DIED July 16, 2018 at the age of 88 in her New York apartment, surrounded by her loving family, from the complications of PSP, a neuro-degenerative disease.

She held degrees in both theater and library science and was literate in various languages. She did research in, and translated from, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Russian into English. She donated her time and financial resources to a number of socialist and other radical organizations throughout her life and was a founding member of Solidarity....

David McReynolds, 1928-2018

— Jason Schulman

DAVID MCREYNOLDS WAS the first “Old Leftist” I ever met, back in 1996, at one of a number of ill-fated 1990s meetings of representatives of socialist organizations in New York City hoping for some sort of “left unity” around a common project.

Strictly speaking, David wasn’t an “Old Leftist” — that label was affixed to members of the Socialist Party (SP), Communist Party (CP) or the Trotskyist groups of the 1930s and 1940s. David was in between the Old and New Lefts, joining both the SP and the radical-pacifist War Resisters League (WRL) in 1951....