Against the Current, No. 169, March/April 2014

— The Editors

LIKE MOST OF president Obama’s pronouncements, the State of the Union reflected a signature basketball move as well as his governing method: quick head-fake left, then drive to the right. The rhetoric soars, while the poverty of its substance is obscured by the rapturous applause of the Democrats — and of course by the knowledge that the Republican alternative is a combination of racist-fueled social savagery, misogyny and fiscal lunacy. Yet the policies of the right wing and Tea Party represent an “outlying” expression of the actual form of capitalism developing in the United States today.

Consider the big “dramatic pronouncement” of the president’s speech, signaling no more patience with Congressional dallying: President Obama will raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for workers in companies employed under new federal contracts....

— Malik Miah

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S STATE of the Union speech January 28 confirmed that the rulers’ war on the poor will continue with little resistance by government. Obama barely referred to the poor, and when he did so it was in the typical conservative “pull yourself up” discourse. He did mention raising the minimum wage for new federal contracts in 2015 to $10.10 (with the inclusion of people with disabilities pending).

There are some 50 million Americans living in official poverty (based on income only). The problem today is not a “declining middle class” but a growing working poor. The working poor are disproportionately African American and other minorities....

— Dianne Feeley

THREE YEARS AGO Tamesha Means was rushed to Mercy Health Partners Hospital in Muskegon, Michigan after her water broke 18 weeks into her pregnancy. The hospital diagnosed a premature rupture of membranes but sent her home, saying there was nothing to be done at that stage.

The next day she returned with painful contractions, bleeding and elevated temperature. She was given two Tylenols and, after her temperature went down, sent home.

Later that night, in excruciating pain, she returned for the third time. Once again she was told nothing could be done.

As staff prepared the papers for her discharge, she began to deliver. Only then did they deal with her miscarriage....

— The Editors

THE CONTROVERSY ERUPTING around the American Studies Association’s resolution for the “academic boycott of Israeli institutions” is an indicator of the growing power of the broader Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) movement in support of the Palestinian people’s struggle. Regarding the ASA’s action, the editors of Against the Current look forward to further dialogue around the complex issues raised in this article by Alan Wald....

— Alan Wald

In Memory of Edward Said (1935-2003)

IMAGINE MY SURPRISE. For decades I have passively endured ritualistic sneering about the irrelevance of nerdy scholars in ivory towers, derision at the notion that we who toil in the archives might have an impact on anything of national significance. Then, on December 16, 2013, the membership of an almost unknown and relatively petite professional organization to which I belong, the American Studies Association (ASA), ratified a convention resolution to participate in an “academic boycott” of Israeli universities to bring to light discrimination against Palestinians.

A Vote Heard Round the World

Starting with headlines in the New York Times

— Noha Radwan

ON JANUARY 14 and 15, Egypt held a referendum on a new constitution, drafted following the ouster of president Morsi on July 3rd of last year. The constitution will replace the one promulgated previously, in 2012.

It was a foregone conclusion that, since the referendum was presented as a vote of confidence in the leadership of General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the country’s minister of defense and vice prime minister for internal security affairs, it was guaranteed to produce a wide majority of “Yes” votes. The official 98% approval, however, must be considered with an eye to the 38% turnout.

Constitutions are at times important and crucial to the success of future governments, but this will not be the case in Egypt....

— Lorenzo Estébanez

“I had hoped that the…moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,“Letter From A Birmingham Jail”

EVER SINCE CAPTAIN America punched-out Hitler during World War II, superhero texts promise the fantasy of invincibility and moral certitude. This promise has been particularly appealing given the last several decades, and the results of America’s actions as the global master.

Our empire’s dominance has produced tremendous violence....

— Johanna Brenner

IN THE 21st century, women of the working classes — employed in the formal economy, the informal economy, working in the countryside or doing unwaged labor — have entered the global political stage in an astonishing array of movements. Sparked by the capitalist war on the working class, the enclosures sweeping peasants and farmers off the land or devastating their livelihoods upon it, and the consequent crisis and intensification in patriarchal relations, these movements are creatively developing socialist-feminist politics — with much to offer the left as it gropes toward new organizational forms and organizing strategies.

In the global south, as women find themselves displaced, employed in precarious work, heading households, struggling to survive in informal settlements and urban slums, they are not only crucial participants in movements....

— Kate Boyd and Cristien Storm

EVEN IF YOU’VE never been to a Race for the Cure, you can picture it…

There’s a party goin’ on right here
A celebration to last throughout the years
So bring your good times, and your laughter too
We gonna celebrate your party with you
Come on now…

“Celebration” by Kool and the Gang blasts from giant black speakers throughout the park. A sea of women wearing pink Yoplait! t-shirts drink free bottles of Honest Tea emblazoned with pink ribbons. They wander past tables stacked with Avon sample kits and limited edition pink Red Bull for women. Smiling volunteers hand out free pink pompoms and Energizer bunny ears....

— Noha Radwan

DE FACTO: THE spectacular and significant presence of Egyptian women among the rank and file as well as the leadership of the revolutionary movement since 2011 is a fact. This is in spite of the horrific and often gender-specific forms of repression, including harassment, assault and defamation hurled against them by all agents of the counterrevolution. Just a partial roster of female organizers and spokespeople, let alone participants includes Leila Soueif, Aida Seif al-Dawla, Mona Seif, Nawara Nigm, Mona Mina, Nazli Hussein, Mahinour El-Badrawi…

One only has to look at the pictures, articles, tweets and other documents to see this and to follow the remarkable ways in which organizations have developed, aimed at the protection of female participants against sexual harassment....

— Haideh Moghissi
Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here
Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism
By Karima Bennoune
New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013, 402 pages,
$27.95 hardcover.

THE POST-9/11 “war on terror,” and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, have provoked more interest in Islam. To some people Islam has come to represent the ideology of liberation from the yoke of Western imperialism; to others it is a backward and inherently violent faith targeting innocent individuals indiscriminately.

Many questions are also raised as to what is distinctive about Islam that so powerfully define the life choices of so many people within and outside the Muslim-majority countries:...

— Moshé Machover
Lineages of Revolt:
Issues of Contemporary Capitalism in the Middle East
By Adam Hanieh
Haymarket Books 2013 273 pages, paperback, $19.95.

This book ought to be read — or better, studied — by every socialist interested in the Middle East. On second thought, cut out the last five words; that part of the world is of vital interest to every socialist. As the author puts it in the book’s final paragraph:

“The Middle East remains a core zone of the world market, and the successes and failures of its social struggles will be a major factor in determining the nature of global capitalism in the years to come....

— Jan Cox
State of the World 2013:
Is Sustainability Still Possible?
WorldWatch Institute
Island Press, 2013, 441 pages, paperback, $22.

THIS COMPILATION IS the latest in the annual State of the World Series issued by the WorldWatch Institute, a widely respected environmental think tank, is also closely associated with and supported by United Nations and international governance institutions and many private foundations.

Those facts underlie both the strength and the weakness of WorldWatch Institute publications and reports as resources or references for radical and socialist environmental activism. This review will attempt to highlight the contributions in this volume that are the most relevant in that regard....

— Sam Friedman
Marx’s Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism
By Peter Hudis
Brill, 2012: Historical Materialism Book Series.
Haymarket Books, 2013,$28 paperback.

PETER HUDIS HAS written a valuable analysis of what Marx said on a critical issue. In this sense it reminds me of Hal Draper’s volumes on Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution.

Hudis’s subject matter differs from Draper’s in that it deals with what comes after the revolution, rather than with how we get there. It also differs in method: While Draper was centrally concerned with Marx’s politics, Hudis, writing in what’s called the Marxist-Humanist tradition,...

— Kim D. Hunter

WHO DOESN’T LOVE the narrative of a life that proves what we believe? The recent passing of Nelson Mandela gave us all a chance to celebrate one such life. The life of the recently passed Amiri Baraka is a little more complicated.

 Baraka created monumental work in a variety of genres — essays, theater and fiction. But he could also pack a room full of people who wanted to hear poetry, arguably the least popular and most neglected form of literature. He both assailed and proclaimed “high art” over the years, castigating it and those he identified as its Black practitioners, such as the great Robert Hayden, as being disconnected from the trials and tribulations of the masses, this despite such Hayden works as “Middle Passage” and “Those Winter Sundays.”...

— Ravi Malhotra

DISABILITY RIGHTS ADVOCATE Marta Russell died in mid-December 2013 in Los Angeles, a few days short of her 62nd birthday. A working-class journalist and frequent commentator about issues affecting disabled people as well as a film industry worker for many years, Russell was best known for her landmark and pioneering 1998 book, Beyond Ramps: Disability at the end of the Social Contract (Common Courage Press), which was reissued in 2002.

She was also a frequent contributor to both the left press (Monthly Review, Counterpunch) and the too often ignored publications of the disability rights movement such as Ragged Edge and Mouth magazines. Her “Disablement, Oppression and the Political Economy,” in the Journal of Disability Policy Studies sets an example in straddling the very different and sadly sometimes conflicting worlds....