Against the Current, No. 206, May/June 2020

Against the Current, No. 206, May/June 2020

A Crisis of Vast Unknowns

— The Editors

AS THE FULL scope and horror of the coronavirus pandemic unfolds, two realities confront us in the United States — which is now the world leader in confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths, even while emerging conditions are incomparably more horrific in much of the Global South. First, this is a public health, economic and environmental crisis that would seriously challenge the most competent, clear-sighted, effective and well-prepared national political leadership. Second, that’s not the political leadership we’ve got, by a long shot.

We are acutely aware that the rapidly moving situation as these lines are written will look enormously different by the time they’re in print. Our society and the world have entered a crisis of vast unknowns, potentially involving tens of millions of deaths and a global Depression....

Virus Is Color Blind, Not Humans

— Malik Miah

THE CORONAVIRUS IS color blind. It strikes whites, Blacks, Latinos, indigenous people, Asians, rich and poor. So why the higher number of cases and deaths for African Americans?

Structural inequality and racism explain why African Americans are dying at a much higher rate than whites in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Permanent color-based inequality is developed out of a system of white supremacy that predates the Revolutionary War in 1776. The colonies under English rule considered Africans, whether enslaved or “free,” as inferior to whites. After Independence, the ideology of white supremacy remained and persists to the present....

UC Graduate Student Workers Wildcat Strike

— Shannon Ikebe

ON DECEMBER 8th, 2019, the General Assembly of graduate student workers at University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) decided to begin a wildcat strike, demanding a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) of $1,412 a month for all graduate students, regardless of employment or citizenship status. By early March, the COLA movement took root in all University of California (UC) campuses, with wildcat strikes spreading to five campuses.

How did the COLA campaign lead to the most significant campus mobilization in California in many years, and what are its political prospects and lessons?...

Two-Tier Response to COVID-19

— Ivan Drury

THERE ARE TWO stories of Canada’s re­sponse to the novel coronavirus. One story, spoken in daily briefings by politicians, is bailouts and the warm embrace of state support. This is the story of $5.8 billion in federal monies for beleaguered oil and gas extraction corporations, and $500 million for property and homeowners in mortgage forgiveness.

The other is Iris’s story.

On March 22nd, three weeks into Canada’s immersion into the COVID-19 pandemic, I got a phone call from a young woman named Iris. She had gotten my phone number from a pamphlet about COVID-19 that she found on the street and she was calling for advice....

Producing Knowledge for Justice

— Rabab Abdulhadi

THIS IS THE first of a two-part interview that Against the Current editor Dianne Feeley had with Rabab Abdulhadi. Professor Abdulhadi initiated the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies program (AMED) at San Francisco State University (SFSU) 13 years ago in the College of Ethnic Studies. ATC was interested in learning what it had accomplished and how the right wing is so intent on harassing her and the AMED program.

I WAS RECRUITED to come and build this program as the fifth Department in the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State from my job as director of the Center of Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan Dearborn. Before I signed my contract, I insisted on several things, including that AMED Studies be housed in the College of Ethnic Studies.

I wanted to build AMED studies in the spirit of the student strike of 1968-69, led by the Black Student Union (BSU) and Third World Liberation Front (TWLF). The 1968-69 striking students demanded the decolonization of the curriculum and the creation of educational programs that reflect, legitimize and validate the lived experiences of marginalized communities....

On the Delhi Pogrom

— Radical Socialist, India

INDIAN PRIME MINISTER Narendra Modi, who recently hosted Trump, is a longtime member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an extreme Hindu-nationalist organization and its party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The ideology of the RSS is Hindutva (“Hindu-ness”), which defines Indian culture as solely composed of Hindu values. This statement by the Radical Socialist was written in response to the communal violence that occurred during the state visit. It was posted March 8, 2020 ( and has been edited for publication, with parenthetical explanations in Against the Current.

THE COMMUNAL VIOLENCE that erupted in the National Capital Region of Delhi on February 24th, and carried out for a week, marks another orchestrated step in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s strategy of deliberately polarizing the Indian public along Hindu-Muslim lines....

Class Struggle and the Pandemic

— Kunal Chattopadhyay

THE GRAVITY OF the corona­virus pandemic should not be understated, nor should we exaggerate. There have been other, significant pandemics in the late 20th and early 21st centuries: Ebola, SARS in 2003, the H1N1 influenza pan­demic of 2009.

The 2009 case is important for one particular reason: It started in North America. On June 11, 2009 the World Health Organization (WHO) raised its pandemic level to the highest level, Phase 6, indicating widespread community transmission on at least two continents. The 2009 H1N1 virus contains a unique combination of gene segments from human, swine and avian influenza A viruses.  But it was never called “the North American swine flu.” This bears stressing given the aggressive racist attacks on China in connection with the coronavirus.

The gravity of the current case comes from other factors. By the first week of May, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide has exceeded three million, with over 200,000 dead. The total is well over that because testing and reporting are so incomplete....

Introduction to William Z. Foster and the TUEL

— The ATC Editors

WE PRESENT HERE a retrospective on an important initiative in U.S. labor and radical history, the Trade Union Educational League of the 1920s organized and led by William Z. Foster.

In a previous issue of Against the Current November-December 2019, #203), author Avery Wear presented a detailed account of Foster’s earlier “syndicalist” period of the 1910s, pioneering the hard campaign for inclusive industrial and non-racial trade unionism which would ultimately bear fruit in the mass upsurge of the 1930s. We recommend that article for background....

TUEL and the Rank-and-File Strategy

— Avery Wear

BY THE END of the strike-happy decade of the 1910s, the small U.S. syndicalist movement led by William Z. Foster pushed the American Federation of Labor (AFL) to the threshold of mass industrial unionization in the Packinghouse and Steel campaigns. Yet the culmination of Foster’s remarkable efforts at revolutionizing the labor movement were still to come.

The Trade Union Educational League (TUEL), like the Syndicalist League of North America (SLNA) before it, sought to organize labor’s “militant minority” into an alternative leadership to that of the conservative “labor fakers.”...

A New Economy Envisioned?

— Dianne Feeley

WITH OVER 27 million jobs lost in five weeks and the economy crashing, Trump of course wants to “reopen America” to what existed just a couple of months ago. But that economy’s not coming back.

As so much production grinds to a stand­still, people are discovering that essential work is less about producing commodities than ensuring a place where they can safely shelter, with access to food and water, and health care....


A Bitter Class Grudge War

— Rosemary Feurer

The Long Deep Grudge:
A Story of Big Capital, Radical Labor, and Class War in the American Heartland
By Toni Gilpin
Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2020, 425 pages, $21.95 paperback.

TONI GILPIN’S THE Long Deep Grudge is a vivid story about the feisty radical union, the Farm Equipment Workers Union (FE) of the Congress of Industrial Organizations and how it took on International Harvester, which fought unions for generations.

The FE had distinct ties to the Commun­ist Party, and some scholars have argued that despite the cost of such affiliations, there was nothing much radical about these CP-dominated unions — that the forces of capital or Party policies tied to a materialist theory of change constrained them and directed them to the center despite the costs of their affiliations....

The GI Bill, Then and Now

— Steve Early

Grateful Nation:
Student Veterans and the Rise of the Military-Friendly Campus
By Ellen Moore
Duke University Press, 2019, 280 pages, $26.95 paperback.

Soldiers to Citizens:
The G.I. Bill and the Making of the Greatest Generation
By Suzanne Mettler
Oxford University Press, 2005, 252 pages.

When Dreams Came True:
The GI Bill and the Making of Modern America
By Michael J. Bennett
Brassey’s Inc., 1996, 335 pages.

TWENTY YEARS AGO a terminally ill Tony Mazzocchi, longtime union leader and founder of the Labor Party, was promoting a campaign he called “Free for All.”...

Vagabonds of the Cold War

— John Woodford

Of Vagabonds and Fellow Travelers:
African Diaspora Literary Culture and the Cultural Cold War
By Cedric R. Tolliver
University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 183 pages plus notes, 2019, $24.95 paper.

THE FOCUS OF Cedric R. Tolliver’s Of Vagabonds and Fellow Travelers is the bond between Anglophone and Francophone African-diaspora intellectuals, primarily the leading producers of radical literature. He observes that during the period after World War I and through the post-World War II “Cold War” between the USA-led capitalist countries and the Soviet-led pro-socialist/communist countries and movements, a group of critical intellectuals experienced “blacklisting, red-baiting, congressional subpoenas, passport revocations and deportations.” Thus he labels them “vagabonds.”...

A Problematic Diagnosis

— Michael Tee

Back to Black
Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century
By Kehinde Andrews
Zed Books, 2018; distributed by University of Chicago Press, 256 pages, $14.95 paperback.

“Black national oppression, based as it is on the slave trade and the enslaving of African Americans, has created an obvious and even ‘justifiable’ ground for Black nationalism. The fact that white supremacy has been the most easily defined instrument in that national oppression creates a situation where Black nationalism can flourish. But even so, the majority of African Americans are not nationalists.” —Amiri Baraka (1982 essay in Black Scholar)

IN A BOOK full of too many political contradictions and superficial “analyses” of deep, complex historical phenomena, author Kehinda Andrews — a native of Britain — writes in his sixth chapter, titled “Black Marxism:” “The Panthers always prioritized the issues of racism.”...

Hidden Deaths in a Long War

— Barry Sheppard

Sand and Blood:
America’s Stealth War on the Mexico Border
By John Carlos Frey
Bold Type Books, New York, 2019, 243 pages, $28 hardcover.

“I WAS SURE that if I had stayed in the desert, I would be dead.”

Much of the power of this book comes from the author John Carlos Frey’s personal narrative, as well as his work in interviewing many people including officials, immigrants on both sides of the border, humanitarian water providers in the desert, activists and many more with first-hand knowledge — even a few Border Patrol agents not cut from the same racist and cruel cloth as most of them.,,,

Hugo Blanco's Revolutionary Life

— Joanne Rappaport

Hugo Blanco:
A Revolutionary for Life
By Derek Wall
London: Merlin Press/Resistance Books, 2018, 143 pages, 9 plates. $25 paperback.

HUGO BLANCO IS probably best known for his work in the late-1950s and early 1960s in La Convención, a region near Cusco, Peru, where indigenous peasants eager for employment were allotted small plots of land to till in exchange for unrelenting labor and brutal mistreatment.

Blanco, who grew up speaking Quechua (the indigenous language of the Peruvian highlands), had embraced Trotskyism during several years as an urban activist. He signed on as a sub-renter on a large hacienda in La Convención at the invitation of local peasant unions who were already organizing against the abuses of the landlords by filing legal claims and organizing strikes....

Karl Marx in His Times

— Michael Principe

Karl Marx and the Birth of Modern Society:
The Life of Marx and the Development of His Work, Volume I: 1818-1841
By Michael Heinrich
Translated by Alexander Locascio
Monthly Review Press, 2019, 390 pages, $34 cloth

THE FIRST VOLUME of Michael Heinrich’s biography of Karl Marx, if any indication of the two volumes yet to come, signals a genuine event in the understanding of Marx and his work. With it, the terrain for understanding all aspects of Marx’s life has likely changed fundamentally....

Karl Marx in His Times

— Michael Principe

Karl Marx and the Birth of Modern Society:
The Life of Marx and the Development of His Work, Volume I: 1818-1841
By Michael Heinrich
Translated by Alexander Locascio
Monthly Review Press, 2019, 390 pages, $34 cloth

THE FIRST VOLUME of Michael Heinrich’s biography of Karl Marx, if any indication of the two volumes yet to come, signals a genuine event in the understanding of Marx and his work. With it, the terrain for understanding all aspects of Marx’s life has likely changed fundamentally....

In Memoriam

Gene Francis Warren Jr., 1941-2019

— Ron Warren

GENE WAS 21 months older than I, and because of this we were not only brothers but best friends and comrades, almost inseparable. Gene was my leader and mentor in the good and the bad while growing up.

Gene’s independence and wanderlust began at the age of three, when he and a neighbor girl took a couple of miles’ trek to Westlake Park (now McArthur Park). They were gone most of a day until a stranger brought them home. This was an early indication of the rebel life to be led....

Socialism as a Craft

— Mike Davis

GENE WARREN AND I became friends in the late 1960s when I returned from Texas to LA, where I had earlier been the first SDS regional organizer. From the beginning, Gene fascinated me because he was quintessential LA but from a different galaxy than the rest of my LA friends. A high school dropout and veteran stunt man, he was then in the process of becoming a master of illusion.

With the arrival of computerized special effects in the 1970s, most of the traditional Hollywood craft shops that built and used models to simulate scenes went out of business. Faced with this digital tsunami, Gene resisted and stayed old school, that is to say, analog — a decision that was richly rewarded when the industry discovered that computerization was not quite the miracle that been advertised....