Against The Current No. 200, May/June 2019

— A Letter from the Editors

THIS MARKS THE 200th issue since the announcement in January, 1986 that with our new series, “Against the Current inaugurates a new magazine of socialist theory and strategy.” It’s an occasion to look back at where matters stood then, and how they look now. One contrast stands out sharply: In the middle 1980s, the socialist left at least in the United States was going through one of its driest and most difficult times. To be sure there were dynamic movements, especially in solidarity with the...

— A Letter from the Editors

THIS MARKS THE 200th issue since the announcement in January, 1986 that with our new series, “Against the Current inaugurates a new magazine of socialist theory and strategy.” It’s an occasion to look back at where matters stood then, and how they look now. One contrast stands out sharply: In the middle 1980s, the socialist left at least in the United States was going through one of its driest and most difficult times. To be sure there were dynamic movements, especially in solidarity with the...

THE WHITE-SUPREMACIST terrorist massacre at the mosques in Christchuch, New Zealand occurred as this issue of Against the Current was in preparation. Beyond the revulsion we share with everyone over this sickening crime, it’s necessary to reflect deeply on the conditions and social pathologies that produces killers who exult in gunning down people simply for being Muslims — or Jews, or members of another religious, cultural or national community. This slaughter, and others like the Pittsburgh synagogue and Charleston church mass shootings, are not “aberrations” so much as symptoms of a sick society. We join in mourning the irreplaceable lives lost, and pledge our participation in the struggle for a decent, democratic socialist future. An analysis and background discussion of this horrific event from activists in New Zealand is posted at https://fightback.org.nz/ and elsewhere, including at https://solidarity-us.org.

— Dianne Feeley

THE GREEN NEW Deal resolution introduced into Congress by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey is a manifesto that has changed the terms of the debate over the country’s future. Cutting through the Trump administration’s denials about who is responsible for the extreme weather we already face, it unites the issues of climate change with that of eroding workers’ rights, racism and growing inequality. (At the end of March, the Senate voted against the GND in what has been called a ceremonial stunt.)

The resolution affirms the overwhelming scientific consensus that these are human caused. Further, since the United States is responsible for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions, it demands that this society must take the lead in “reducing emissions through economic transformation.”...

— Jack Gerson

ON FRIDAY MARCH 1, a powerful seven-day strike by the Oakland teachers’ union (OEA) came to a sudden halt when the union's bargaining team agreed to a tentative contract settlement falling far short of the expectations of many Oakland teachers, their student and community supporters.

At cluster meetings the next morning, disappointed teachers made bitter accusations. Heated debate carried into the afternoon, when a divided Representative Council (delegate assembly) voted narrowly (53 to 50) to recommend ratification. On Sunday, OEA members ratified the contract, but with an unusually big “no” vote: 1141 to 832 (58% yes, 42% no)....

— Tim Marshall

I WANT TO talk to you about the political lessons of the seven-day strike that we just came out of — and first to thank everyone who contributed in myriad ways on the picket lines and in the marches — every aspect of what I consider to be a victorious strike, and let me explain why, even though some members voted against our contract agreement, and I respect that.

We might discuss that here, as there are probably teachers here who voted either way. Forty-two percent of our members voted against, and 58% in favor of the tentative agreement....

— David Finkel

“THE VICIOUS, DIRTY — and bipartisan — smear campaign against the first two Muslim women in the U.S. Congress, Ilhan Omar (MN) and Rashida Tlaib (MI), is just beginning.” That’s the opening of a statement by the Steering Committee of Solidarity, posted February 14, 2019 (https://solidarity-us.org).

That’s still true, following the big fight over a House of Representatives resolution that was first intended to isolate and humiliate Ilhan Omar, and potentially to lead to stripping her House Committee on Foreign Affairs assignment (where she already effectively grilled Elliott Abrams over his role in the U.S. genocidal Central American wars of the 1980s)....

— Julia Kassem

ON OCTOBER 22nd, 2018, the American University of Beirut’s Bashar Haidar, a philosophy professor, extended an invitation to Oxford University Professor and visiting Hebrew University advisor Jeff McMahan for a talk, “Rethinking the Ethics of War.” In view of McMahan’s capacity of service to an Israeli academic institution, the University’s leftist, Southern Lebanese and Palestinian student groups staged a protest.

In practice this invitation, which is in violation of the country’s academic boycott of Israel, highlighted the dispensation for Israeli discourse even in a country that has had an official ban against Israeli products, goods and services since the Lebanese Israeli Boycott legislation was enacted in June 1955. Indeed, it provides a shining example of how the rhetorical normalization of Zionism routinely finds its way into the discourse of academic institutions....

— an interview with Todd Gordon

AGAINST THE CURRENT interviewed Todd Gordon, co-author (with Jeffery Webber) of Blood of Extraction: Canadian Imperialism in Latin America about mining operations in Canada and internationally. He is a socialist activist in Toronto and a member of the Toronto New Socialists.

Against the Current: It seems that Canadian capital is involved in mining operations — and environmental disasters — around the Global South. Where are these operations located, and who are the main corporate players?...

THE BOYCOTT OF Israeli academic institutions is a subject of controversy, in terms of both principle and application. We refer our readers to two sources in particular. The website of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel is now located at http://bdsmovement.net/pacbi. For a detailed discussion of the argument in the U.S. academic context and some of the nuances involved,...

— Eric Touissant

FIFTY-FIVE YEARS after the overthrow of democratically elected President Joao Goulart, the new far-right President, Jair Bolsonaro has announced a celebration of the 1964 military coup.

There can be no doubt about the active support provided by the U.S. government, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. On 2 April 2014, a U.S. NGO, the National Security Archive publicized an impressive amount of declassified official documents that testify to Washington aiding and abetting the Brazilian army officers who had overthrown Joao Goulart’s democratic government (see https://bit.ly/1k2qGgc)....

— Qian Ben-li

LAST JULY, 2018, 89 workers at the Shenzhen Jasic Technology Co. Ltd. demanded the right to set up a workplace union. Although over the past decade there have been a growing number of disputes and strikes by Shenzhen workers, the Jasic case is unusual because it was openly supported by a group of self-proclaimed Maoists and Marxist university students and recent graduates.

The student activists came to Shenzhen and supported the workers’ demands for better working conditions, payment of back wages and social insurance along with severance pay through the establishment of a union. Coming from different parts of China, these supporters organized themselves into a “Jasic Worker Support Group” and went to stand with the Jasic workers who were battling police....

CHINESE WOMEN STILL face perilous conditions in society and the workplace, often falling victim to sexual harassment and discrimination of various kinds.

• Women are discriminated against in job applications. Research conducted by Human Rights Watch found that almost 20% of civil service positions released in early 2018 either required job applicants to be male or expressed a preference for male candidates, whereas only one job post indicated a preference for females....

— Suzi Weissman interviews Robert Brenner

Suzi Weissman interviewed Robert Brenner on February 10, 2019, for her “Beneath the Surface” (https://archive.kpfk.org/index_one.php?shokey=bts_Friday) broadcast on KPFK in Los Angeles, released on her Jacobin Radio podcast (https://bit.ly/2JjUfNu) on February 12. The transcript has been edited for publication here.

Suzi Weissman: Welcome to Jacobin Radio. Today we’re going to talk about the state of the economy. I’ve invited Robert Brenner back for the hour in conversation on politics and the economy, matters of great confusion if you read the business pages and hear the politicians all touting record low unemployment, rising wages, and the recovery of the stock market.

Yet the Federal Reserve has stopped raising interest rates, wages are stagnant, precarity and insecurity are the norm — and teachers are striking to force states to stop under-investing and save public education....

— Jason Schulman

IT IS ONLY appropriate, of course, that Klaus Gietinger’s The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg be published this year — 2019. It began with one of the saddest centenaries in socialist history, the event that provides his book’s title, as well as the murder of Luxemburg’s comrade Karl Liebknecht.(1)

The sadness arises not only because Luxemburg, within the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD), and finally the Spartacus League (Spartakusbund) and the German Communist Party (KPD), represented the democratic revolutionary socialism that informs the political perspective of Against the Current (as well as New Politics, which I co-edit)....

— Rosa Luxemburg

THE REVOLUTION HAS begun. What is called for now is not jubilation at what has been accomplished, not triumph over the beaten foe, but the strictest self-criticism and iron concentration of energy in order to continue the work we have begun. For our accomplishments are small and the foe has not been beaten.

What has been achieved? The monarchy has been swept away, supreme governing power has been transferred into the hands of the workers’ and soldiers’ representatives. But the monarchy...

— William Smaldone
A People’s History of the German Revolution
By William A. Pelz
London: Pluto Press, 2018, $24 paperback.

THE FLOOD OF new books that followed the centennial of the Russian revolutions of February and October 1917 reflects the continued widespread interest in those world historical events.

Paradoxically, the popular focus on Russia has also tended to obscure the revolutions sweeping across Central Europe just one year later in the fall of 1918, destroying the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires and, for a brief time, appearing to open the way to the socialist transformation of much of Europe....

— Samuel Farber
The Ebb of the Pink Tide:
The Decline of the Left in Latin America
By Mike Gonzalez
London, U.K.: Pluto Press, 2019, 199 pages, $29 paperback.

This is a welcome book by Mike Gonzalez, an historian and veteran contributor to International Socialism (Britain) and other publications, with a long record of writing about Latin America. Ambitious in scope, the book provides a valuable analytical synthesis of the left turn in Latin America, the so-called Pink Tide, its ascent and its decline, over the past two decades.

The author’s central focus is on Venezuela and Bolivia, the countries at the center of this turn, which for him is characterized by the adoption of an extractivist and developmentalist orientation as an alternative to neoliberalism....

— Meredith Schafer
Labor and the Class Idea in the United States and Canada
By Barry Eidlin
Cambridge University Press, 2018, 349 pages, $29.99 paperback.

WHY HAS UNION membership been on the decline in the United States since the early 1950s? Why is the dominant culture in this country one that values ideas of “free enterprise” and individual economic mobility rather than the idea of class interests and struggle? How can we build working-class power and reverse economic inequality and in the process change our political discourse and culture to one that is not hostile towards working class solidarity?

Barry Eidlin, a leftwing labor sociologist, tackles these questions by asking a different question: Why do fewer U.S. workers belong to unions compared to Canada, a country that has weathered some of the same industrial changes? Labor and the Class Idea in the United States and Canada investigates the different outcomes of the labor movements of the 1930s and 1940s by comparing the two countries over the course of the 20th century....

— Rick Feinberg
Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties:
A History of What Happened at Kent State and Why, Written by One Who was There
By Thomas M. Grace
University of Massachusetts Press, 2016, 384 pages. Photographs, appendix, acknowledgements, notes, index, $29.95 paperback.

MUCH HAS BEEN written about student protests of the 1960s and the fatal shooting of four students at Kent State University by Ohio’s National Guard on May 4, 1970. Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties fills an important niche by contextualizing antiwar activities and the Kent State killings in relation to other movements for political and social change. In doing so, it recounts key events dating to the 1950s and brings them forward into the present century.

Author Tom Grace is a historian, and his book is a thoroughly documented historical treatise; but it is equally an ethnographic and ethnohistorical monograph. Anthropologists, since the early 20th century, have relied on “participant observation” for data collection. They live in the communities they wish to study, take part in local activities, and learn to see the world from the perspective of their interlocutors....

— Matthew Garrett
What Kind of Creatures Are We?
By Noam Chomsky
New York: Columbia University Press, 2016, xxiv, 167 pages, $14.95 paperback.
Who Rules the World?
By Noam Chomsky
New York: Metropolitan Books, 2016, x, 318 pages, $18 paperback.
On Anarchism
By Noam Chomsky
New York: New Press, 2013, xvi, 170 pages, $15.70 paperback.
Optimism Over Despair: On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change
By Noam Chomsky and C.J. Polychroniou,
Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017, 207 pages, $16.95 paperback.
The Instinct for Cooperation:
A Graphic Novel Conversation
with Noam Chomsky
By Jeffrey Wilson
Illustrated by Eliseu Gouveia
Lettered by Jay Jaco
New York: Seven Stories Press, 2018, 112 pages, $13.95 paperback.
Decoding Chomsky:
Science and Revolutionary Politics
By Chris Knight
New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2018, xiv, 285 pages, $18 paperback.

NOAM CHOMSKY WOULDN’T like it, but let’s begin with dialectics. ...

How We Win:
A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning
By George Lakey
Melville House, 2018, 215 pages plus resource list and footnotes, $16.99 paperback.

HOW DO YOU slow down coal mining corporations that despoil the earth through mountain-top removal? You get a group together, invade the lobbies of banks that fund the corporations, and sit down. That’s what George Lakey’s Earth Quaker Action Team did when it got the PNC bank to stop financing the industry.

PNC’s change of heart followed sit-ins inside bank lobbies, disrupting business and at the same time educating the public about what this form of mining does to the environment and to nearby communities. This did not happen spontaneously....

— Joe Stapleton

ALASDAIR MACINTYRE (b. 1929), the renowned Scottish moral philosopher, began his career as a critic of modern capitalist morality when he was a young doctoral student active in the British Left. Beginning with the Communist Party of Great Britain in the mid-1950s, and adopting first orthodox Trotskyism as a member of the Socialist Labor League, then heterodox Trotskyism as a member of International Socialists in the early 1960s, MacIntyre finally took his leave from the Marxist organizing scene in Great Britain in the late 1960s.*

MacIntyre’s lifelong project was the discovery, and later recovery, of what he believed had been lost in modern society: some coherent idea of what it meant for humans to live a good life. At least one factor behind his abandonment of the Marxist discourse was his disappointment with Marxism’s inability to recognize the deficiencies of its own moral life....