Against the Current, No. 199, March/April 2019

Against the Current, No. 199, March/April 2019

Whose "Security" -- and for What?

— The Editors

“SECURITY” BECOMES THE catchword of the moment. Donald Trump’s “big, beautiful wall” will, or won’t, enhance border protections from drugs, trafficking, and all manner of brown people with or without prayer rugs. The threat of repeated government shutdowns might end when the two houses of Congress figured out a deal for “securing the border” that Rush Limbaugh would give Trump permission to sign. Or not.

Meanwhile, there are millions of people without security, whose lives are made worse and more insecure by Trump’s antics — and by the cynical manipulations of imperialism, in this hemisphere and globally. Where is “security” for the people of Venezuela, or Honduras, or Yemen, or in African and Asian countries already devastated by effects of climate change?...

MLK in Memphis, 1968

— Malik Miah

“Something is happening in our world. (Yeah.) The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee, the cry is always the same: ‘We want to be free.’ (Applause.)”

—“I’ve been to the mountaintop,” address delivered at Bishop Charles Mason Temple, Memphis, Tennessee, by Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968)

THE ABOVE PASSAGE comes from Martin Luther King’s famous speech given the evening before his assassination on April 4. King was expressing his own mortality — and why the struggle for justice in Memphis and around the world couldn’t be stopped, whether he lived or died...

California Burning, PG&E Bankrupt

— Barri Boone

PACIFIC GAS & ELECTRIC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy at the end of January 2019. PG&E stock plunged 64% after the 2018 Camp Fire destroyed the entire city of Paradise in northern California, killing 86 people.

California is now known for being on fire — and having the deadliest wildfire in the United States in a century. In southern California there were also those at Woolsey and Hill fires. Altogether the fires destroyed more than 20,000 structures, double the 2017 totals....

PG&E Bankruptcy

— Barri Boone

AS PACIFIC GAS & Electric (PG&E) goes into bankruptcy court, TURN (The Utility Reform Network) is demanding a voice for customers. It is joined by AARP, Public Advocates, the Farm Bureau Federation, Sierra Club and Greenlining Institute, who are campaigning for stricter oversight and for “policymakers to prioritize protecting Californians from this criminal company.”

Otherwise the court, which has sole jurisdiction, might  put the “rights” of PG&E creditors over those of ratepayers. This would enable creditors to sell off PG&E assets and ignore the public needs. Creditors include megabanks with ties to Wall Street....

What Los Angeles Teachers Won

— Peter Olson

¡Los maestros unidos jamás serán vencidos!
¡Los estudiantes unidos jamás serán vencidos!
¡Los padres unidos jamás serán vencidos!
¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!

The teachers united will never be defeated!
The students united will never be defeated!
The parents united will never be defeated!
The people united will never be defeated!

IT’S 1:30 PM in Los Angeles and our crew of teachers, students and parents has gathered for some much-needed rest before our afternoon picket. We’re back in Boyle Heights, one of the oldest barrios in LA, after marching, chanting, drumming and whistling our way through a rally of over 50,000 people downtown....

The UTLA Victory in Context

— Robert Bartlett

THE UNITED TEACHERS of Los Angeles (UTLA) have won a big, although limited victory, as detailed in Peter Olson’s on-the-ground account in this issue of Against the Current. The strike is part of a nationwide teachers’ upsurge that began with, and was largely made possible by, the 2012 strike of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU).

Before that pivotal strike, teachers and their unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), had become stuck in a spiral of concessions, as corporate privatizers — supported by both Democrats like Barack Obama and Republicans — expanded the growth of charter schools in major cities across the country....

Chicago Charter Teachers Strike, Win

— Robert Bartlett

LAST DECEMBER 4th educators at the Acero charter chain in Chicago became the first charter teachers in the country to go on strike. This was both stunning to the charter industry, which was created in part to avoid the inconvenience of unionized educators, and revelatory to educators across the country.

After picketing four days, the unity and enthusiasm of the charter teachers, along with widespread sympathy and solidarity among parents, forced the Acero leadership to capitulate. This led to a major step in closing the gap between charter and Chicago public school teachers on compensation, hours and working conditions....

Turkey in 2019: An Assessment

— Yaşar Boran

IN A SNAP election on June 24, 2018, Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdoğan received more than 52% of the vote for president. The rightwing “People’s Alliance” that brought together Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) obtained over 53% of the vote, giving the coalition a solid majority in parliament.

In Erdoğan’s view, the election was an endorsement of his decade-plus rule (he was prime minister between 2003 and 2014); and the ushering in of a new executive system greatly enhancing his powers as president. After the election he triumphantly declared Turkish democracy was “an example for the world.”...

Betraying the Kurds

— David Finkel

MILITARIST HAWKS AND liberal pundits alike are up in arms (figuratively, of course) over Donald Trump’s “victory” proclamation and announcement of U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Syria. What does it actually mean for the cascading disasters in the Middle East?

It’s certainly true that a couple thousand U.S. troops can’t resolve the Syrian civil war and destruction of that country, and that U.S imperialism has no legitimate business intervening there or anywhere else....

The Strange Career of the Second Amendment, Part II

— Jennifer Jopp

[The first part of this essay, in our previous issue (ATC 198,, explored the 18th and early 19th century origins of the conflict between “the importance of a militia to a free state” and the individual right to own and carry guns.]

AS STATES MOVED to ban concealed weapons and eventually to criminalize the possession of certain kinds of weapons, courts struggled to articulate which view of the right to bear arms — civic or individual — held sway. Court decisions articulating the view that the right encompassed an individual right were often met with consternation, and in general the public expressed the view that “the people’s right to be free from the threat of violence took precedence over the individual’s right to arm himself.”(1)

Yet the articulation of an individual rights conception had been voiced and would gain adherents over time. Arguments in favor of an individual rights interpretation came from two opposing — yet interrelated — quarters: a growing critique of slavery and its endemic violence and the growing grip of cotton production on the slaveowning southern states....

Who Is Responsible?

— David Finkel

A POLITICAL CRISIS has been unfolding in Guatemala since president Jimmy Morales announced last summer he would not renew the mandate of the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. On September 20, 2018 tens of thousands of Guatemalans participated in a national strike, demanding Morales’ resignation.

Guatemala’s courts have “formally recognized that the state enacted genocide against the Ixil people” in the 1980s....

A Note of Thanks

— The Editors

YOU’RE THE BEST! Our readers’ contributions to Against the Current’s fund appeal came to a total of $5511 — a terrific boost to the magazine’s financing and morale.

We look forward to an exhilarating as well as turbulent year ahead for the social justice and socialist movements. Watch for our coming May-June issue, which will be our 200th!

The editors extend a special thanks to our volunteer proofreaders around the country, who help us to avoid all manner of typographical...

Socialist Feminism Today

Women's Oppression and Liberation

— Soma Marik

DOES KARL MARX have any relevance for today’s struggles for women’s liberation? Do his theories of society and revolutionary transformation present us with tools that in any way continue to be useful?

These and related questions come up repeatedly — as I will argue — for two very different reasons. I will exclude here the arguments, if they can be called that, of the extreme right, which are opposed to human liberation in any form, from class exploitation, from racial, gender and sexual oppression and discrimination. Rather, my focus is on forces and ideas within what we can call the center and the left....

Marx for Today: A Socialist-Feminist Reading

— Johanna Brenner

CONSIDERING HIS WORK as a whole, Marx had little to say directly about women’s oppression or the relationship between patriarchy and capitalism.(1) And some of what he had to say was, well, misguided. Yet Marxist feminists have drawn on his thought to create a distinctive approach to understanding these issues.(2)

Marxist feminists begin, where Marx does, with collective labor. Human beings must organize labor socially in order to produce what we need to survive; how socially necessary labor is organized, in turn, shapes the organization of all of social life. In The German Ideology, Marx articulated this foundational starting point:...

Angela Davis: Relevant as Ever After Thirty Years

— Alice Ragland

ANGELA DAVIS DESERVES a shoutout this Women’s History Month, and every month. Active and influential in international freedom struggles for nearly six decades, her speeches and writings have valuable lessons to teach us about the major injustices that we face in this era of heightened racism, xenophobia, and reactionary violence.

Women, Culture, and Politics, a compilation of speeches shedding light on struggles that Black women face in a white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist world, was published (NY: Random House) in 1989. Yet Davis’s words remain as relevant today as they were back then. They should be revisited by anyone interested in engaging in and learning more about global struggles for justice....

The Activism of Angela Davis

— David Finkel

FIVE DECADES AGO, a brilliant young African-American professor of philosophy and Communist, Angela Davis was the United States’ most prominent political prisoner, on trial for her life in a notorious frameup murder trial as a supporter of the Black Panther Party. She won that case with brilliant legal defense, and the help of a mass outcry of international and Black community support.

Times change. When the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) was intimidated into cancelling the 2019 Fred Shuttlesworth award it had announced for her, the charges hurled at Angela Davis weren’t that “she’s a lifelong revolutionary and a communist,” or “she supported the Panthers,” or “she wants prison abolition!” — all of which are true — but that “she’s antisemitic,” which is absolutely 100% false....

White Women and White Power

— Angela E. Hubler

Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy
By Elizabeth Gillespie McRae
New York: Oxford University Press, 240 pages, $34.95, hardback.

Bring the War Home:
The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America
By Kathleen Belew
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 239 pages, $29.95, hardback.

DECADES AGO, IN my capacity as director of Women’s Studies at Kansas State University, I received an anonymous, xeroxed letter in which our program was accused of encouraging “Negro men” to dance with “white women.” Sickened, my academic proclivity to document and preserve was overcome by revulsion, and I threw the letter in the garbage....

Lots of Scurrying But No Revolution in Sight

— Sandra Lindberg

Why Women Will Save the Planet, 2nd Edition
By Friends of the Earth and C40 Cities
London: Zed Books, 2018, $14.95 paperback.

FRIENDS OF THE Earth, an environmental activist organization claiming two million supporters and five thousand member groups, offers its second edition of Why Women Will Save the Planet.

This edition, focused on cities, includes contributions by C40 Cities, a network of 96 cities working to address climate change. C40 Cities self-reports that it represents “650+ million people and one-quarter of the global economy.”...


A Call to Action

— Patrick M. Quinn

We Can Do Better:
Ideas for Changing Society
By David Camfield
Halifax and Winnipeg, Canada; Fernwood Publishing, 2017, 168 pages, $25 paperback.

DAVID CAMFIELD’s WE Can Do Better represents a significant contribution to the literature of the Left. A Canadian academic and activist, Camfield has written an eminently readable and accessible book aimed at a broad readership.

While relatively short, its 132 pages of text are packed with historical, sociological, psychological, economic, political and cultural analysis....

Orbán: Strong Man, Authoritarian Ideology

— Victor Nehéz

Orbán — Hungary’s Strongman
By Paul Lendvai
Oxford University Press, 2017, 224 pages, $28.45 hardcover.

PAUL LENDVAI’S STUDY Orbá — Hungary’s Strongman won the prestigous European Book Prize for 2018, earning him €10,000. His book was originally published in Hungarian and, because Viktor Orbán is a really extraordinary personality in European politics, is now available in English. At the moment Orbán is serving his third consecutive term as prime minister (2010, 2014, 2018). Assuming his government lasts its full term, he will become the longest-serving Hungarian prime minister in history....

A Sympathetic Critical Study

— Peter Solenberger

Before Stalinism:
The Rise and Fall of Soviet Democracy
By Samuel Farber
Verso, 1990 and 2018, 221 pages + notes, bibliography and index, $24.95 paperback.

VERSO, A NEW LEFT Books imprint, has republished Samuel Farber’s Before Stalinism: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Democracy, originally published in 1990. In the Introduction to the book, Farber describes his aim in writing it:

“[T]his study should be seen as an attempt at synthesis focusing on the theme of revolutionary democracy and its fate in the early years after the October Revolution... In other words, this book is an attempt at a political reflection on history, an inquiry into what alternatives existed and might have worked at the time, as well as what can we learn for today, particularly in light of recent developments in the Communist and Western capitalist worlds.” (13...)

Further Reading on the Russian Revolution

— Peter Solenberger

In addition to Before Stalinism: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Democracy, Samuel Farber has written four books on Cuba taking up the theme of socialist democracy there: Revolution and Reaction in Cuba, 1933-1960 (Wesleyan University Press, 1976), The Origins of the Cuban Revolution Reconsidered (University of North Carolina Press, 2006), Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment (Haymarket Books, 2011), and The Politics of Che Guevara: Theory and Practice (Haymarket Books, 2016). See my review of The Politics of Che Guevara in ATC 185.

E.H. Carr’s three-volume The Bolshevik Revolution (Norton, 1985) is a sympathetic history of the period covered in Before Stalinism. Its main limitation is that in recounting what happened it can seem to argue that what happened must have happened. Readers must add their own critique....