Against the Current No. 204, January/February 2020

— The Editors

LOOKING AT A string of popular revolts, we wrote in our September-October issue (Against the Current 202): “These are part of a wave of democratic mobilizations challenging repressive, authoritarian systems. In a world that seems dominated by vicious reaction, these are signs of hope for a better future, even though in most cases the struggles outcomes remain unclear…”

If that observation was germane then, in the brief subsequent time those upheavals have proliferated and the confrontations have become even sharper. As this is written, a mass strike is sweeping France against so-called pension “reform.” The costs of struggle and brutality of repression must not be ignored: hundreds of demonstrators fatally shot in Iraq and Iran, dozens killed and many blinded by police and military snipers in Chile, and that’s only the beginning.

The common theme in these diverse movements is identified by Gilbert Achcar....

— Bret Gustafson

ON OCTOBER 20, 2019 Bolivians went to the polls to vote in presidential elections. Evo Morales of MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo), already in office for 13 years, was running for an unprecedented fourth term.

Many questioned Evo’s candidacy. His re-election had been questioned in 2016, when he narrowly lost a national referendum that would have abolished term limits. In 2017, a constitutional court overruled the vote , allowing Evo to run. Even so, several opposition parties participated in the...

— Paul Kellogg

LED BY PRIME Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada’s governing Liberals were re-elected in a national (federal) election October 21, but reduced from majority to minority status. This means that issue by issue, they will need to seek alliances with one or more of the other major parties — Conservative, Bloc Québécois (BQ, a Quebec sovereigntist party), the social-democratic New Democratic Party (NDP), and Green.

Climate, energy and economic policy were major campaign issues. But a pretty good lens through which a non-Canadian audience can understand politics in this country is how two of these parties, the Liberals and NDP, have responded to the coup in Bolivia — ongoing as of this writing....

AT THE END of last November, at the initiative of the Student Action Committee, Solidarity Marches were organized in more than 50 cities in Pakistan (and the territories it administers) by the Student Action Committee, a young movement in the midst of radicalization and supported by teachers. The SAC brings together many organizations, some of which have been joined by other local movements and unions.

Their demands were directed at the government and university administrations. Following the mobilizations, the police selected several leftwing figures to arrest and charge with “subversion.”...

— Alan Wald

H. CHANDLER DAVIS (b. 1926), a world-renowned mathematician and noted science fiction author, is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto. In 1954, Davis was one of several faculty members suspended from the University of Michigan (U-M) in Ann Arbor after refusing to co-operate with the hearings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities that were held in Lansing.

When Davis further declined to answer questions about his personal political views to U-M committees, he was one of those summarily fired. Inasmuch as Davis had pleaded the First Amendment rather than the more common Fifth Amendment, he served a federal prison sentence for Contempt of Congress....

— H. Chandler Davis

LET ME MAKE a case for urgency of defense of academic freedom.

I’m not addressing the whole University community. Surely there are some who don’t have any concern for academic freedom as the AAUP (American Association of University Professors — ed.) understands it. Some who think, for example, that it was honorable and right in 1954 that the President of the University at that time fired Mark Nickerson and myself for perceived disloyalty....

— Dianne Feeley

EXCEPT FOR THE oldest strikers I met on the picket line during the UAW-General Motors negotiations, autoworkers did not remember a time when, if you passed a 90-day probationary period, you earned full pay and benefits. Back then, temporary workers were only hired during the summer months in order to cover vacations.

But since the economic crisis of the early ’80s every contract negotiated has required the membership to accept concessions. The union explained this was necessary in order to keep the Big Three afloat. Once the companies got back on their feet, members would be able to win back what had been given up. Despite the billions the corporations have made over four decades, that moment never came.

— Alan Wald

THE COMMUNIST TRADITION in the United States needs a better publicist. The year 2019 was the 100th anniversary of the movement’s founding; the idea of socialism is urgently in the air, thanks in part to Bernie, while splendid new books about Karl Marx are popping up like spring flowers. And yet the riddle of Communism, its amalgam of earnest commitment to social justice and Soviet-centered realpolitik, remains as disquieting as ever.

Who among us has the qualifications to accurately mine the tragic, comic, and complex forces that coincided to create this beguiling, contradictory and elusive movement?

Those who truly care about rebuilding a Far Left — this time with a vibrant and intellectually heterodox spirit — have many complaints about partisans of the CP-USA....

— The Editors

THIS ARTICLE BY Linda Thompson and Steve Bloom continues our series of opinion pieces on socialist perspectives for the 2020 elections. Previous contributions appeared in ATC 202, by Dianne Feeley on the openings created by Bernie Sanders’ campaign; and in ATC 203, by David Jette on defeating Trump and by Howie Hawkins on the Green Party’s Green New Deal. We invite additional opinions.

January-February 2020, ATC 204

— Linda Thompson and Steve Bloom

PROSPECTS FOR SOCIALISM are off in the future. The 2020 presidential election is here and now, and confronts us with a right-wing menace unlike any that has been faced before.

When asked what our goals are in the 2020 elections the majority of left activists in the USA will say: “to defeat Donald Trump.” Many are even more specific: “We are Bernie or Bust.”

If we are honest with ourselves, however, we must acknowledge that many of these will also end up urging people to vote for the eventual Democratic nominee. We would like to suggest an alternative: Support the positive choice of the Green Party candidate for president in 2020....

— Donna Murch

IN MARCH 2018, President Donald Trump delivered a 40-minute speech about the crisis of addiction and overdose in New Hampshire. Standing before a wall tiled with the words “Opioids: The Crisis Next Door,” Trump blankly recited the many contributors to the current drug epidemic including doctors, dealers, and manufacturers.

Trump droned on mechanically until he reached a venomous crescendo about Customs and Border Protection’s seizure of 1,500 pounds of fentanyl. He brightened as he shifted focus to three of his most hated enemies, first blaming China and Mexico for saturating the United States with deadly synthetic opioids, then moving seamlessly to what he considered one of the great internal threats....

— Paul Ortiz

THE SAMUEL PROCTOR Oral History Program embarked on our twelfth annual Mississippi Freedom Project (MFP) field work trip this summer. I have been taking University of Florida (UF) students to the Delta and other counties of the Deep South to interview civil rights movement veterans since 2008.

MFP originally focused on learning from local people and civil rights activists who were involved with Freedom Summer in 1964. Increasingly, however, we have worked with Black History tour operators and museum curators, labor unionists, immigrant rights activists, educators and others who strive to use the lessons of the Black Freedom Struggle to infuse civic engagement and organizing in the Deep South....

— Paul Ortiz

THE HORRIFIC WAVE of anti-Black riots and pogroms that took place between 1917-23 were part of a violent response on the part of capital to Black economic and political gains in landownership, education, and political organization in the era of the Great Migration.

Seizing the opportunities afforded by rising cotton prices during World War I, African American farmers across the South — tenants, sharecroppers and small farm owners — began organizing....

— Julian C. Valdivia

IF YOU GREW up in the United States it’s unlikely that you were taught local histories in school. It’s more probable that you learned national history from a top-down perspective. I’d wager this included elements of great-man history where you learned about one figure who led the masses towards some form of progress.

This model for American history is problematic because it generalizes the experiences of hundreds of millions of Americans who have different racial, ethnic, gender, regional and class backgrounds. Unfortunately this has been taught in place of local histories which are crucial to understanding struggles like the Civil Rights Movement....

— Omar Sanchez

WE WENT TO many places on the Mississippi Freedom Project Trip this summer — from Tallahassee, Florida to Glendora, Mississippi to Elaine, Arkansas, and many places in between. But there is one stop that stood out to me: Montgomery, Alabama.

From our college history lessons we know that Montgomery was in the center of the Civil Rights Movement with moments like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Martin Luther King’s march to Montgomery from Selma, and the Freedom Rides. Though we did get to experience the different landmarks around Montgomery, our main stops were the Equal Justice Initiative’s “From Slavery to Mass Incarceration” museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice....

— Scott McLemee

[This reprint of Richard Wright’s 1948 Paris speech appeared in the fourth print issue of the revolutionary arts journal Red Wedge (www.redwedge.com) in 2017. Richard Wright (1908-1960) was an acclaimed author and novelist whose works are regarded as some of the most important on themes of race and racism in America. Scott McLemee’s introduction, which puts the speech in biographical and political context, has been revised and somewhat expanded for Against the Current.]

THE ENGLISH TRANSLATION of Richard Wright’s address to the Revolutionary Democratic Assembly in Paris in December, 1948 seems to have escaped the notice of the biographers and literary scholars who have otherwise been extremely thorough in documenting the author’s life and work.

That neglect is all the more remarkable given the speech’s substance. A major defense of radical political and cultural principles at a moment when the Cold War was turning downright arctic, it is also a credo, a statement of personal values, by the preeminent African-American literary artist of his era....

— Richard Wright

MY BODY WAS born in America, my heart in Russia, and today I am quite ashamed of my two homelands. The American State of Mississippi gave me my body; the Russian October Revolution gave me my heart. But today these two giant nations — symbols of the nationalistic scourge of our times — rival each other in their efforts to establish projects for the debasement of the human spirit.

They are guilty of degrading humanity, guilty of debasing the culture of our times, guilty of replacing the value of quality by the value of quantity, guilty of creating a universe which, little by little, is revealed as the gas chamber of humanity....

— Malik Miah
How to be an Antiracist
By Ibram X. Kendi
One World Press, 2019, 320 pages, $27 hardcover.

IBRAM KENDI IS director of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center at American University. The thesis of his book, How to be an Antiracist, is that in a system fundamentally shaped by racism, Black people who have suffered from racist ideas also hold racist views themselves.

Whites also hold such views. To combat “racist ideas,” Kendi argues, requires recognizing that all previous Black leaders — the Black elites — including those who espoused militant nationalism, or more radical anti-capitalist theories, accepted white ideas of racism....

— Derrick Morrison
Moving Against the System
The 1968 Congress of Black Writers and the Making of Global Consciousness
Edited and introduced by David Austin
London, UK: Pluto Press, 2018, $14.50 paperback.

WHAT WAS THE October 11-14, 1968 Congress of Black Writers?

Sponsored by Black students at McGill University in Montreal and aided by their counterparts at the Sir George Williams campus, it was a conference that brought together leading African diaspora militants of the Left.

— John Woodford
Jazz and Justice:
Racism and the Political Economy of the Music
By Gerald Horne
New York: Monthly Review Press, 2019, 456 pages, $27 paperback.

RIGHT UP FRONT, the prolific historian Gerald Horne of the University of Houston describes the contradiction that underlies this work:

“(T)here are terribly destructive forces — racism, organized criminality, brutal labor exploitations, battery, debauchery, gambling — from which grew an intensely beautiful art form, today denoted as ‘jazz.’ It is the classic instance of the lovely lotus arising from the malevolent mud.”...

— Folko Mueller
Making the Revolution
Histories of the Latin American Left
Edited by Kevin A. Young
Cambridge University Press, 2019, 318 pages, $30 paperback.
Voices of Latin America
Social Movements and the New Activism
Edited by Tom Gatehouse
Monthly Review Press, 2019, 300 pages, $32 paperback.

LATIN AMERICA HAS been subject to oppression and exploitation for over 500 years. Naturally, this has continuously spawned resistance on both individual and collective levels. Some of the earliest rebellion dates back as early as the 1500s....

— Ashley Smith
Syria After the Uprisings:
The Political Economy of State Resilience
By Joseph Daher
Haymarket Books, 2019, 386 pages, $29 paperback.

PERHAPS MORE THAN any other recent question, the Syrian Revolution confused and divided the international left. Many dismissed the revolt as a “color revolution” orchestrated by the United States, and some became willing spokespeople for Bashar al-Assad’s regime, recycling its talking points and conspiracy theories.

Syrian revolutionaries, principled leftists, and honest journalists have countered these lies in countless articles and books. Among this vast literature, Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami’s Burning Country, Yassin Al-Haj Saleh’s The Impossible Revolution, Gilbert Achcar’s two volumes, The People Want and Morbid Symptoms, and most recently Sam Dagher’s devastating account of Syria’s sadistic dictatorship, Assad or We Burn the Country, should be considered essential reading....

— Kit Wainer
Money, Markets, and Monarchies:
The Gulf Cooperation Council and the Political Economy of the Contemporary Middle East
By Adam Hanieh
Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK. 2018, 269 pages + references and index, $32.99 paper.

ADAM HANIEH HAS produced a compelling and well-documented account of the modern evolution of capitalism in the Persian Gulf. Skillfully utilizing the Marxist categories of class, state, and mode of production he situates the role of Gulf capitalists, organized around the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), within the larger global capitalist economy. His concluding chapter ties the economic trends he details to an analysis of the political crises of the past decade.

In the first two chapters Hanieh shows how hydrocarbon wealth has tied the five states of the GCC — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman — to various sectors of the world economy....

— Barry Sheppard
Lawyers for the Left
In the courts, in the streets, and on the air
By Michael Seven Smith
OR Books, New York/London, 2019, 258 pages, $18 paperback.
Order from orbooks.com.

THIS IS A timely book. As Heidi Boghosian writes in her Foreword:  “America is in a constitutional crisis. A haughty executive branch flaunts the rule of law. Nine jurists comprise a politicized Supreme Court that churns out cases along party lines. Lawmakers have lost what little backbone they had. Meanwhile, locally, law enforcement officers seem to gun down African American men and boys with complete impunity. It’s no wonder that the public has lost faith in the justice system. Our system of checks and balances is in disarray.

“Lawyers for the Left is an antidote for those disillusioned by the rule of law’s demise. It offers up a series of engaging and intimate profiles in integrity. The stories in these pages will give readers hope: they bring to life a healthy resistance by a special breed of lawyers actively taking on seemingly intractable problems.”...