Against the Current, No. 224, May/June 2023

Against the Current, No. 224, May/June 2023

Desperate Journeys. Sick System!

— The Editors

Central American asylum seekers deported from El Paso to Mexico, March 2021.

THE CONVERGING CATASTROPHES of global capitalism have landed on multiple communities, peoples and nations — but nowhere harder than on displaced populations, refugees and asylum seekers. There are by now an estimated 100 million people globally who have fled their homelands or become internally displaced by war, political repression or ethnic violence; by environmental destruction or economic collapse; or in many cases, by lethal combinations of these modern plagues....

In Defense of Being Awake

— Malik Miah

WE LIVE IN a surreal reality. Those of us who argue for truth-telling about history are attacked as practicing a nonexistent “wokeism” as described by Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and followers of former president Donald Trump.

“Anti-Wokeism” is attack on both racial justice and gender equality. It ignores the genocide of Native peoples, violence against gays and lesbians (Florida passed a “Don’t Say Gay” law last year), and scores of state legislation against Trans youth....

Strange Career of the Comstock Law

— Dianne Feeley

Robert Minor's cartoon, making fun of Anthony Comstock: "Your honor, this woman gave birth to a naked child." The Masses, September 1915

WHAT DOES AN 1873 “anti-obscenity” law have to do with women’s rights today? It may be a zombie, but the Comstock law lives on.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, in his April 4, 2023 decision, cites the law half a dozen times when challenging the Federal Drug Administration’s rule that medication abortions are safe and certified pharmacies can mail the prescriptions. The FDA, having loosened restrictions during the pandemic, determined it is unnecessary to pick up the prescription in person....

Anti-Trans Legislation, a Form of Reproductive Injustice

— Shui-yin Sharon Yam

ON MARCH 4 at the Conservative Political Action Conference, right-wing commentator Michael Knowles called for transgenderism to be “eradicated from public life entirely.” His violent remark dehumanizes trans people and promotes gendercide. Knowles’ deeply transphobic speech came on the heels of a slew of anti-trans bills introduced by the G.O.P.

Frank Hamilton, the People's Musician

— David McCullough

Left to right on guitar, banjo and guitar the three vagabonds who hitchhiked through the South collecting songs in the 50s: Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Frank Hamilton, and Guy Carawan. Taken at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, TN. Coal miner Lee Tom plays fiddle. Perry Horton, father of the founder of Highlander, Myles Horton, listens in.

“DON’T THINK,” Frank Hamilton said when asked how to improvise a jazz solo.

How did a man who co-founded the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago 65 years ago, which remains today the largest folk music school in the country with 13,000 students a year; a man who knows as much music theory as any Juilliard graduate; a man who likes to rearrange and reharmonize both folk and jazz tunes come up with the advice “Don’t think?”...

Earthquake Aftermath in Turkey

— Daniel Johnson

In the aftermath of the Gaziantep-Kahramanmaraş earthquakes, Hatay. Hilmi Hacaloğlu,

ON FEBRUARY 6, 2023,an earthquake with a magnitude 7.8 struck the southeastern Turkish province of Kahramanmaraş. About nine hours later, a M 7.5 quake hit about ninety miles north. At the time of writing the quakes have killed close to 50,000 in Turkey and more than 7,200 in northwestern Syria. Millions have been displaced.

The affected region is an earthquake zone, a triple junction between Anatolian, Arabian and African tectonic plates....

Peripheries of Chinese Imperialism: Belt & Road Initiative in Jamaica

— Robert Connell

Maroon community and visitors celebrate in Accompong, 2017. Robert Connell

SINCE ITS FOUNDING in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a global infrastructural development project of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that stands as a major plank of its diplomacy, has been at the center of debates about the Chinese government’s political orientation and intentions.(1)

For socialists, these debates cut to the heart of the class nature of the Chinese state and its implication....

Police Revolt & Hastings Street Tent City

— Ivan Drury

Police start a right outside Carnegie Community Center, Vancouver, Canada, August 9, 2022. Ben Neims / @cbcnewsbc

BY THE HEIGHT of summer 2022, as fires burned a record number of residential hotels in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, sidewalks along the three core blocks of Hastings Street were jammed with tents....

New Labor

Another Restructuring: A Challenge for the UAW

— Dianne Feeley

The 2023 UAW Bargaining Convention signaled new changes with Shawn Fain sworn in as the new president just the day before. Jim West

WITH THE NEW UAW International Executive Board (IEB) sworn in and the 2023 UAW Bargaining Convention concluded, the union must focus on the upcoming negotiations for its Big Three auto contracts.

For their part, Ford, General Motors and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler) are gearing up as the industry pivots toward electric vehicle (EV) production. The 2023 contract will set a pattern for this new world of vehicles.

By 2025, in order to restructure their corporations, GM will spend $35 billion and Stellantis $35.5 billion....

The Future of Academic Unionism Will Play Out at the University of California System

— Barry Eidlin

The UC strike was a struggle for dignity and equity. Xinhua

ACADEMIC WORKERS ARE on the move. Just in the past year, academic workers at 25 campuses including over 25,000 workers unionized, including MIT, Northwestern, Yale, Johns Hopkins, University of New Mexico, and Boston University.

After decades of haggling over whether they were actual workers or just trainees learning their craft,...

The Struggle for Self-Determination

Songs and Flowers for Ukraine

— Oksana Briukhovetska

MY HEART IS bleeding for my country Ukraine, and searching for mourning, for the possibility to bring flowers of my grief to infinite graves that emerge every day on Ukrainian soil. The question “Why war?” was discussed by intellectuals a century ago in between the two World Wars, and was not resolved neither then nor now. Destroyed buildings in Ukraine today remind us of Ukraine in flames during the Second World War. New wounds hurt on top of old ones.

My grandmother Halia survived an...

A Discussion with Eyewitnesses: People's War in Ukraine

— Suzi Weissman interviews Vladislav Starodubtsev & Jeremy Bigwood

Ukraine is on fire. Oksana Briukhovetska, Stamps MFA Thesis Exhibition.

SUZI WEISSMAN conducted this interview for broadcast on her program “Beneath the Surface” on Jacobin Radio, March 9, 2023. It has been edited and abridged for publication here.

Suzi Weissman: This is Jacobin Radio. Russia’s war in Ukraine marked its first anniversary on February 24th. It’s a brutal, horrible, destructive disaster causing human suffering and economic devastation not just in Ukraine, but also in the lives of ordinary Russians who are cannon fodder in Putin’s war. The war has also had an impact on global hunger and energy supplies and the world environmental crisis. It’s no exaggeration to say that this war changed the trajectory of the 21st century.

From Ukraine to Palestine: The Poisons of Denialism

— David Finkel

Palestinian and Ukrainian flags Embassy of Palestine in Ukraine

EXPLODING OVER THE past year, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Israel’s escalating violence and ethnic cleansing in Palestine have become two centers of a deepening global crisis. For the international left, the Ukraine war and Palestine catastrophe, both on their own and together, pose very big tests of theory and more importantly, of politics.

A question has bedeviled the left: Is it possible to support both the Ukrainian and Palestinian struggles, and oppose imperialism, at the same time? Actually, the question should be reversed: How is it possible for a genuinely internationalist left not to support both of these struggles for self-determination and national survival?...


Exploring White Supremacy

— Bill V. Mullen

A Field Guide to White Supremacy
Edited by Kathleen Belew and Ramón A. Gutiérrez
University of California Press, 2022. 424 pages, $24.95 paper.

IT’S A WELCOME thing for the Left when a University press publishes a book on racism intended to influence “journalists, activists, policy makers and citizens.”

Kathleen Belew and Ramón Gutiérrez are scholars on a mission to make a dent in public discourse about the scourge of white supremacy that has beset the United States from inception to present. Their edited book, A Field Guide to White Supremacy, has the flavor of a call to arms, put together in the incendiary period between George Floyd’s murder in 2020 and the January 6th, 2021 Capitol riot....

The Price of Slavery

— Christopher McAuley

The Price of Slavery:
Capitalism and Revolution in the Caribbean
By Nick Nesbitt
Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2022, 274 pages, $35 paperback.

IN THE PRICE of Slavery: Capitalism and Revolution in the Caribbean, Nick Nesbitt continues his exploration of “Black Jacobinism” or the “political deployment of the idea of undivided equality in defense of popular sovereignty,” inspired by C.L.R. James’ classic study of the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins.

A professor of French and Italian at Princeton University, Nesbitt began his focus on Caribbean studies in Universal Emancipation: The Haitian Revolution and the Radical Enlightenment (2008) and followed with Antillean Critique (2013)....

No Mercy Here

— Alice Ragland

No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity
By Sarah Hayley
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019, 260 pages,
$35.95 paperback.

WRITTEN BY Sarah Haley, No Mercy Here provides a sociohistorical account of Black women under the penal control of convict camps, parole, and chain gangs in the early 20th century.

It delivers detailed descriptions of the gendered violence perpetrated against Black women by state penal institutions during that era. It also describes the back-breaking labor that Black women were forced to do once trapped in the system of carceral control, which contributed significantly to the creation of the modern infrastructure of the U.S. South....

Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster

— Guy Miller

The Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster: Public Betrayal, Justice Denied
By Bruce Campbell
Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 2018,
190 pages plus endnotes & index. $24.95 paper.

IN THE MIDDLE of The Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster are 17 photos. Three of these photos tell a graphic story of what happened to that town one July night in 2013.

The first photo is of downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec on what looks to be a warm summer evening not unlike the fatal evening of July 5-6, 2013. The street lamps, stores and bars paint a warm, inviting picture suitable for a brochure meant to lure tourists, or a charming postcard sent to envious families back home....

The Working Class in Turkey Today

— Daniel Johnson

The Condition of the Working Class in Turkey:
Labour under Neoliberal Authoritarianism
Edited by Çağatay Edgücan Şahin and Mehmet Erman Erol
Pluto Press, 2021, 320 pages, $31.95 paper.

ON MAY 13, 2014 an explosion in the Eynez coal mine in the town of Soma in western Turkey killed 301 miners. In response to angry protests over deadly working conditions from miners and their supporters, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan “went back to British history” to examine 19th century mining disasters. He concluded that such accidents are “usual,” and that “these things happen.”(1)

The workplace deaths in Soma and Erdoğan’s history lesson, together with Friedrich Engels’s 200th birthday, inspired the title for The Condition of the Working Class....

In Memoriam

Frank Thompson, 1942-2021

— Dianne Feeley

FRANK THOMPSON, LONGTIME socialist activist and scholar, succumbed to lung disease on October 15, 2021. Throughout his adult life he focused on social justice issues, both in his labor activism and in his teaching.

He encouraged students, including his daughters Heather Ann Thompson and Saskia Thompson, to probe beneath the surface of society to discover its systematic inequality. His dry wit, interest in philosophical debates, generosity and internationalism were all central to his personality....