Against the Current, No. 168, January/February 2014

— The Editors

PENSION THEFT: IMPORTED from Detroit? In giving the state-appointed Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr the green light to take the city into bankruptcy, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes’ December 3 ruling opens up a national offensive to loot public sector workers’ pension and health care benefits.

Within a week Forbes magazine, aimed at audiences who don’t rely on public sector pensions for their secure retirement, published an article proclaiming “a silver lining” to be found in the ruling. The author, Martin Fridson, believes this teaches public sector unions that it will be safer to negotiate 401(k)-type plans, which “belong” to the worker and would not figure into future municipal bankruptcies....

— David Finkel

A POLITICALLY WEAKENED U.S. president is pulled by a powerful domestic lobby and influential foreign governments toward launching a war that U.S. imperialism right now doesn’t want, that the world doesn’t want, and that the large majority of the American public doesn’t want — what will be the outcome?

It’s an interesting, if dangerous and scary, test of how U.S. politics actually work. The initial results, at least, are in: The unleashed fury of the Israeli government and the “pro-Israel” lobby, the monarchy of Saudi Arabia, the neoconservative warmongers and the much-feared religious right weren’t able to block the Obama administration and European partners from reaching a six-month interim agreement with Iran over that country’s nuclear enrichment program....

— Chris Vials

SINCE THE PUBLICATION of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism in 2007, the American right has cried “fascism” as never before. Tea Party ideologues are not the first rightists to use the word — but they are the first to use it as more than a passing smear, and to invent an elaborate history in which fascism appears as a left-wing, even liberal movement.

Before conservative radio took up this chant, liberals and the left may not have “owned” antifascism, but they defined its terms to a greater degree than any other player on the scene. During the Cold War, even individuals such as Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley assumed fascism to be a right-wing phenomenon.(1)...

— David Finkel, for the ATC editors

[The following excerpt is from an article by Julius Falk (Jacobson), “McCarthy and McCarthyism. The New Look of America’s Post War Reaction,” which appeared in the January-February 1954 issue of the New International, the journal of the Independent Socialist League, pages 26-38. The article is online at http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/ni/vol20/no01/v20n1-w163-jan-feb-1954-new-int.pdf.
— David Finkel for the ATC editors]

“THERE IS A…distinctive aspect of McCarthyism and one which bodes perhaps the greatest ill. For the first  tiime we have a powerful force which operates within the framework of bourgeois democracy, yet in defiance of and against it. McCarthyism has achieved sufficient power in and outside of government to attack and at times devitalize institutions of government and state....

— Marc Becker

ON OCTOBER 3, 2013 after a marathon 10-hour debate, the Ecuadorian National Assembly approved the extraction of petroleum from the ecologically fragile Yasuní National Park. That decision was a dramatic reversal of a signature program of leftist president Rafael Correa to preserve the park. It also highlights ongoing debates within the South American left over how to balance urgent needs for economic development with environmental sustainability.

Since taking office in 2007, Correa has pursued economic policies designed to grow Ecuador’s economy and lower poverty rates, and succeeded admirably in these goals.(1)

Although canceling the Yasuní preservation initiative was the most unpopular decision in his years in power,...

— Ashwin Desai

NELSON MANDELA’S BEST-SELLING autobiography, published in 1994, is titled Long Walk to Freedom. It tells the powerful story of the journey of a rural Transkei boy who was a cow-herd and son of a deposed tribal chief, to guerilla fighter to decades-long prisoner on an island fortress and then to the first Black and democratic president of his nation, South Africa.

This story came at a time when the world was witnessing the collapse of the Soviet Union, the toppling of statues of many socialist icons and the quagmire of many post-colonial states in Africa. Mandela’s story was rightfully seen as one example of vindication for resistance, righteousness, principle and steadfastness. With the African National Congress’s victory seen as a rare move forward during the 1990s, it reminded us all that to sacrifice for justice will finally find redemption....

— David Finkel

MUCH HAS BEEN said in tribute to Nelson Mandela, some of it by self-serving politicians not fit to speak his name, who called Mandela a terrorist when he was buried alive by the apartheid regime for 27 years. It might be a moment to think about some other still-serving political prisoners.

Think about Palestine’s living Mandela, Marwan Barghouthi, sentenced to five life terms in an Israeli prison. (The first Palestinian Mandela, Yasir Arafat, was almost certainly murdered on orders of Ariel Sharon.) From his prison cell, Barghouthi issued this tribute to the life of Nelson Mandela: http://english.pnn.ps/index.php/prisoners/6333-marwan-barghouti-to-mandela-our-freedom-seems-possible-because-you-reached-yours....

— Sheila Cohen

THIRTY PAGES INTO my re-reading of The Making of the English Working Class, it dawned on me why Thompson’s masterpiece is so loved: it celebrates (almost entirely) the movement aspect of the institution/movement dialectic, the direct dynamic of working-class democracy as opposed to the formalised “representative” antics of the powers-that-be.

Yet this masterpiece opens with a highly contentious pair of statements: “The working class…was present at its own making;” and “I do not see class as a ‘structure’…but as something which…happens…in human relationships.” (9)

This appears to leave class without, so to speak, any material substance....

— Manuel Yang

MY FATHER SHIH-LIN Yang died on August 14, 2013. He was born in 1920 — E.P. Thompson’s senior by four years — and, like EPT’s father Edward John, a Christian missionary and minister who cut his historical consciousness in the crucible of war and imperialism (the Japanese military suspected him, a Taiwanese colonial subject, to be an anti-Japanese dissident and imprisoned him for more than a year in 1943-44).

When I first read The Making of the English Working Class in mid-1990s Austin, Texas, EPT had already been dead by a couple of years and the Zapatista uprising was underway 1300 miles south of the U.S.-Mexican border....

— George Scott

This article was originally developed as a presentation on the realities of police brutality and the character of organized opposition in the city. The author is a member of the New York City branch of Solidarity.

I WANT TO explore a political question around the role of current police repression in the United States. I think we’d all agree that capitalists will use various state apparatus to accomplish their goals. But actually I’m looking for a more thorough, more complete, and nuanced answer to explain some of our experiences in NYC over the past dozen years.

I’m not really talking about the surveillance net being dropped on our heads (thanks for the details, Snowden),...

— Marty Oppenheimer

IN 1962 A socialist writer, Michael Harring­ton, came out with a book called The Other America.(1) It was about poverty in the United States, a subject getting little attention in the media, in the academic world or in social policy circles at that time.

True, a handful of sociologists and social workers had been concerned with poor neighborhoods at least since the 1920s. They were primarily interested in such “deviant behaviors” as hoboes, prostitutes, taxi dancers, juvenile gangs and the like, although some also described how slums develop. But their studies did not address the wider social system....

— Xiomara Santamarina

MANY HAVE DESCRIBED the visceral experience of viewing “12 Years as a Slave,” Steve McQueen’s film, as harrowing. But as a longtime teacher of 19th century U.S. slave narratives, I think the best term that describes the film is “uncanny.”

Resisting an impulse to leave the theater during the scene of Solomon Northup’s violent initiation into slavery, I was taken aback by its on-the-nail dramatization of tropes that 19th century abolitionists — white and Black alike — employed in their anti-slavery pitches to national, racist audiences.

Even as critics of the film — many in the Black media — chastise McQueen for aestheticizing Black suffering with its graphic violence,...

— Malik Miah
A Freedom Budget for All Americans
Recapturing the Promise of the Civil Rights Movement in the Struggle for Economic Justice Today
By Paul LeBlanc and Michael D. Yates
New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013, 245 pages, $16.95 paperback.

This new book, A Freedom Budget for All Americans, by Paul LeBlanc and Michael Yates looks back at a piece of history from the Civil Rights Revolution that gets little if any mention today. It’s a time worth revisiting as the proposals offered in the Freedom Budget remain unfulfilled.

The Freedom Budget for All Americans was issued at a broadly endorsed conference in 1966. It was initiated by civil rights leaders A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin,...

— Bill Chandler
Jackson, Mississippi:
an American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism
By John R. Salter Jr.
University of Nebraska Press, 2011, 272 pages, $18.95 paperback.
Coming of Age in Mississippi
By Anne Moody
Bantam Dell, 1968; Delta paperback edition, 2004, 424 pages, $16. Also available in audio CD from Tantor Media.

ON SATURDAY, AUGUST 24, a national march commemorated the 50th anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington, conceived and organized by A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin.

The 2013 march was planned as a celebration of the civil rights advances made during the past half-century. However, the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, gutting much of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, changed the theme from one of remembrance to March of Fight Back.

The two memoirs reviewed here vividly remind us that the 1963 March on Washington, and the Freedom Rides and Sit-Ins preceding it, were not just events that happened spontaneously as impatient protests against gross injustice in the South....

— Dianne Feeley

The Making of Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford
By Beth Tompkins Bates
Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2012, 344 pages with photographs. Paperback edition forthcoming in February 2014.

THE MAKING OF Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford attempts to map the transition from the Detroit Black community’s idolization of Henry Ford to its support of the UAW’s successful 1941 campaign to represent the workers at Ford. While General Motors, Chrysler, Packard, Briggs and other auto companies were unionized in the 1936-’37 strike wave, Ford maintained its anti-union stance until the eve of World War II through the use of the carrot and the stick.

Beth Tompkins Bates weaves her story of Ford’s success....

— Matthew Garrett
Black against Empire:
The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party
By Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013, 539 pages, $34.95 hardback. Paperback edition January 2014, $27.95.

JOSHUA BLOOM AND Waldo Martin, Jr. have written a remarkable partisan history of the Black Panther Party, concerned, above all, to provide an account of the Panthers’ political program, insurgent practice, and conditions of possibility. It is also an openly political history: the authors have avoided retrospective accounts of the party and its history, drawing instead primarily on Party publications (especially the Black Panther newspaper) and contemporary accounts of events....

— Robert Caldwell
The Amistad Rebellion
An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom
By Marcus Rediker
New York: Viking/Penguin, 2012, 288 pages,
$27.95 hardback, $17 paper.

MARCUS REDIKER’S THE Amistad Rebellion embarks from Stephen Spielberg’s 1997 film “The Amistad,” a subject with which most readers will be familiar. But Rediker’s Amistad is not centered on the 1841 Supreme Court case, or the white elites on either side of the courtroom barrage.

Retelling the story from a bottom-up perspective, and re-centering it on the actions of the African protagonists at both sea and land on both sides of the Atlantic,...

— Derrick Morrison
The Black Count:
Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
By Tom Reiss
Crown Publishers, New York, 2012, 414 pages, $27 hardback.

“THOMAS-ALEXANDRE DUMAS Davy de la Pailleterie, 14, stepped onto the dock in Le Havre on August 30, 1776. He was listed in the ship’s manifest as ‘the slave Alexandre,’ belonging to a ‘Lieutenant Jacques-Louis Roussel.’ This was a necessary ruse, because a young mulatto could not simply walk off a boat into France by himself. Antoine had bought back his son’s freedom from Captain Langlois and paid for his safe passage to Normandy in the company of an ‘owner.’” (55)....

— Charlie Post
In the Steps of Rosa Luxemburg:
Selected Writings of Paul Levi
Edited and introduced by David Fernbach
Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012, 349 pages, $28 paperback.

FOR RADICALS AND revolutionaries engaged in rebuilding an anti-capitalist movement in the early 21st century, the 20th century appears to be a record of disaster. Capitalism survived two great economic crises (1914-1934 and 1966-1982) that many on the left believed spelled the end of this form of class society.

The cost to humanity of capitalist recovery was enormous — the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy,...

— Jesse Lemisch

[On December 9, we received this note from Ellen Goldensohn: “Dear Steve died at 7:09 this morning. To him, all were equal — even those society had cast out.” We present this tribute by his longtime friend Jesse Lemisch, Professor of History Emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. We note that a celebration of his life will be held on Saturday, February 8, 2014 at 4:00 p.m. at the Murphy Center/ CUNY Labor Studies Department, 25 West 43rd Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues, in New York — ed.]

DECEMBER 5, 2013 — Steve Kindred, my friend, brilliant SDSer, organizer with Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a leader of the struggle to keep the Stella d’Oro factory in the Bronx open — all this, and a thousand other causes — Steve is, for lack of a better word, “gone,” in a New York hospital, suffering from abdominal cancer, which has spread.

Having been close to Steve and having admired....

— Dan LaBotz
Come on, let’s stop and say good-bye,
Steve’s leaving on his trip, on the road again.
See him standing there
in his hunter’s vest,
the pocket’s bulging
with notebooks and pens,
a small magnifying glass,
and a miniature flashlight,
miscellaneous papers
held together
with clips and rubber bands,
a couple of old maps,
his cigarette papers and tobacco.
He’s holding a small bag....