Against the Current No. 209, November/December 2020

USA on the Brink?

— The Editors

BY THE TIME this editorial statement reaches the readers of Against the Current in print, there may or may not be a result of the 2020 presidential election. There may — or may not — be wildly chaotic legislative and court battles in multiple contested states. There may — or may not — be street battles involving white-nationalist armed mobs, fueled by conspiracy theories, mobilized to preserve a defeated presidency.

In this Trumpster fire of a political year, the difficulty of prediction....

Aiding & Abetting U.S. War Crimes: Great Britain & Julian Assange

— Clifford D. Conner

NOVEMBER 25,2020 UPATE: OVER THE LAST couple of weeks, both the defense and the prosecution have served their closing submissions to the court, which can be accessed here:

• For the defense, on behalf of Julian Assange

• For the prosecution, on behalf of the United States

The U.S. Criminal Legal System

— Malik Miah

A Black Disabled Lives Matter protest in Detroit. Jim West:

THE DECISION OF a Kentucky grand jury, a secret body, not to file murder charges against the two white cops who killed Breonna Taylor in Louisville shows that the United States criminal legal system is unjust and needs to be abolished and replaced....

Can Schools Really Reopen Safely?

— Debby Pope

WHY OPEN SCHOOLS when everyone who believes in science knows it is unsafe? As soon as schools began to open in August, closings began — in some cases within days — due to spikes in coronavirus cases. When we examine why, we need to look at the big picture: capitalism and the prioritization of profits over people.

Because our cities and states barely tax the rich or major corporations (as has been noted recently with the President’s tax writeoffs), most school districts are overly dependent on property taxes....

We Protect Us -– U-M GEO Strikes Back

— Kathleen Brown

September 11 march by GEO members and their supporters. Photo by Sahil Kumar

THE GRADUATE EMPLOYEES’ Organization of the University of Michigan represents over 2000 graduate student workers. Between September 8-16, 2020, GEO members led an explosive abolitionist strike for a safe and just campus, the culmination of months of organizing against the University’s opaque and unsafe reopening plans and the University’s expanding investment in policing....

Education, Not School-to-Prison Pipeline

THE UNITED TEACHERS of Los Angeles (UTLA) in late June endorsed a call for the Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD) to eliminate its $70 million contract with the city police department. This contract paid for 400 police, representing the country’s largest independent school police force. Instead the money should be shifted to providing for student needs such as counselors, psychologists, psychiatric social workers, and pupil services and attendance counselors....

The McCloskeys as Keynoters

— Dianne Feeley

ALTHOUGH IT DID seem bizarre to invite the gun-waving couple Mark and Patricia McCloskey to give a four-minute address on the opening night of the Republican National Convention, in truth they were Exhibit A in Trump’s re-election strategy to “protect” the suburbs.

The couple are facing felony charges for brandishing their guns at protesters marching by their St. Louis mansion....

Bolivia Coup Repudiated

REPUDIATING THE RIGHT-WING coup that brought down the government of Evo Morales a year ago, Bolivia’s voters decisively elected his ally Luis Arce of the MAS (Movement Toward Socialism) party in the October 18 presidential election. MAS is also expected to gain seats in the Senate.

Rightly proclaiming “we have reclaimed democracy,” with 52 or 53 percent of the vote and a 20 point lead over his main conservative opponent Carlos Mesa, Arce will take office without requiring a second-round runoff election....

Firestorms and Our Future

— Solidarity Ecosocialist Working Group

FIRESTORMS IN THE western states, hurricanes pounding the Gulf and East Coast, rising water along the ocean shore and Great Lakes along with the pandemic blanketing the United States all starkly reaffirm that humans are part of nature — and can only attempt to subdue it at our own peril.

Hopefully, more and more people recognize that the scientific predictions....

Johnson Crashes Britain Toward the Abyss

— Phil Hearse

LESS THAN ONE year after its resounding electoral victory over the Labour Party, Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is in turmoil — and crashing the country towards a social, health and economic disaster of unprecedented proportions. Combining incompetence with neoliberal myopia, Johnson is allowing a second wave of COVID-19 to explode....

José Carlos Mariátegui: Pioneering Latin American Marxist

— Marc Becker

WRITING IN THE 1920s, the Peruvian Marxist José Carlos Mariátegui introduced a uniquely Latin American perspective on revolutionary socialist movements and theories. He famously noted, “we certainly do not want socialism in America to be a copy. It has to be a heroic creation.”(1) This political dynamism is what made him into an intellectual force with lasting relevance.

Mariátegui’s voluminous and perceptive writings as well as extensive political activism left an unmistakable and lasting impression on the political, social, and intellectual landscape of his country. Nevertheless, even as he has retained central importance for revolutionary socialism in Latin America, in the United States few people are aware of his contributions....

Legacy of Struggle

On Jewish Revolutionary Internationalism

— Alan Wald

I. The Prisoner in the Dock

THE JEWISH REVOLUTIONARY Internationalist commitment to the indivisibility of justice was on full display in palpable if muted form on April 26, 1964. That day, in Pretoria, South Africa, a tall, handsome man stood boldly in the prisoner’s dock of the Supreme Court.

Well built, and photogenic with a majestic bearing and nicely groomed hair parted in the middle, this regal-looking fellow was also identifiable as a revolutionary anti-apartheid activist. Accused of the crime of sabotage against the state on the grounds of his preparation of explosives, he was almost certain to receive a guilty verdict and the expected penalty would be death....

Fragments from a Past

— Jeffrey L. Gould

MY POLITICAL ACTIVISM began in 1964 when I passed out SDS leaflets, “better a crook than a fascist” (Johnson over Goldwater); it effectively ended by the late 1980s. Although I consider my scholarly re­search and writings and especially my films to be a continuation of my earlier activism, I can’t speak to activists as one in the trenches. Yet today’s political moment is too charged to remain silent....


Lea Tsemel, Advocate for Justice

— Lisa Hajjar

Lea Tsemel preparing a case. Courtesy Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaïche

LEA TSEMEL IS an angry optimistic woman. That is how she describes herself to a journalist on the phone, as she races to the Israeli Supreme Court to appeal two major political cases that she just lost.

Advocate, by filmmakers Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaïche, offers an intimate portrait of this Jewish Israeli lawyer who has made a career defending Palestinians in Israeli courts....

The Relevance of Marxist Critique

— Matthew Beeber

Marxist Literary Criticism Today
By Barbara Foley
Pluto Press, 2019, 272 pages, $27 paperback.

IN 2001, THE late Argentinean philosopher Ernesto Laclau and Belgian political theorist Chantal Mouffe, foundational proponents of what would become known as “post-Marxism,” asserted the following premise:

“In the mid-1970s, Marxist theorization had clearly reached an impasse. After an exceptionally rich and creative period in the 1960s, the limits of that expansion — which had its epicentre in Althusserianism, but also in a renewed interest in Gramsci and in the theoreticians of the Frankfurt School — were only too visible....

Studying Petrograd in 1917

— Ted McTaggart

The Petrograd Workers
in the Russian Revolution: February 1917-June 1918
By David Mandel
Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2018, 522 pages, $25.20 paperback.

THE LEADING ROLE of the workers of Petrograd in the victory of the Russian Revolution has been well documented. Despite this, most historians have focused primarily on the writings and actions of Lenin, Trotsky and other individual leaders, leaving the workers as an abstract idea.

The masses may be the force making history, but beyond the knowledge that a certain percentage of workers support Bolsheviks, a certain percentage Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, the internal dynamics remain obscure.

David Mandel’s The Petrograd Workers in the Russian Revolution: February 1917-June 1918....

The Political Economy of Struggle

— William Bryce

Early 20th century Southern Black farmers. Library of Congress

Class, Race, and the Civil Rights Movement
By Jack M. Bloom
Indiana University Press, 2019,
Second edition,
380 pages, $32 paperback.

THE SECOND EDITION of Jack Bloom’s book is a welcome addition to the huge body of work documenting the Civil Rights Movement, its actions and history. Bloom’s book has been in print since first published in 1987, a rare feat in the competitive world of academic publishing.

The book is widely used in college classes and is among the works most cited by other scholars. Its quality is acknowledged by two prestigious awards, the C. Wright Mills Second Award Winning Book 1987....

Facing Our Dangerous Moment

— Steve Leigh

Environmental Justice in a Moment of Danger
By Julie Sze
University of California Press, 2020, 160 pages, $18.95 paperback.

ECOLOGICAL COLLAPSE THREATENS all of humanity. Civilization and perhaps the continued existence of the human race is at risk — yet we are not all threatened equally.

Julie Sze’s short new book outlines the connection of racism to the ecological crisis. Those who are most oppressed in general are also most threatened by each social evil. This book presents the need for environmental justice as part of the general movement to save the earth.

Julie Sze is professor and the founding chair of American Studies at UC Davis....

A Brief Interview with Julie Sze

— Steve Leigh

Steve Leigh had this short interview with Julie Sze as he was writing the review of her book Environmental Justice in a Moment of Danger that is in this issue.

Steve Leigh: What do you think of the work of Naomi Klein?

Julie Sze: I like her work! She is a great popularizer of left-wing ideas around ecology. She is a gateway to deeper considerations, like Rebecca Solnit....

Education in Indigenous History

— Sergio Juarez

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People
By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza
Beacon Press, 2019, 272 pages, $18.95 paperback.

IN ROXANNE DUNBAR-ORTIZ’s wildly popular An Indigenous People’s History of the United States (Beacon Press, 2014), she builds a historical narrative that challenges the one commonly taught to U.S. students. The book sheds light on the major doctrines that shaped modern United States policy and how the architecture of oppression was built by white supremist values during its formative years. It particularly focuses on how modern Indigenous nations and communities are societies shaped by their resistance to colonialism.

This work, which has been adapted for young people, uses sidebars and exercises to ask the reader to reflect....

In Memoriam

Nettie Kravitz, 1921-2019

— Peter Glaberman

ONE OF THE last members of a small socialist organization, Facing Reality, Nettie Kravitz was part of a group that made an important contribution to Marxist theory and practice. Reporting about working-class resistance to capitalism, these socialists had an intersectional perspective. While some accuse Marxists of failing to see gender and race, Nettie was attracted to a socialist tradition that prioritized the Black and women’s struggles.—The editors.

NETTIE KRAVITZ WAS born in Philadelphia in 1923. Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine. Her mother came from a politically leftist family. This was in contrast with her father, unhappy that Nettie....