Against the Current, No. 86, May/June 2000

— The Editors

NEW YORK CITY and Los Angeles have become the model for life under capitalism in general, and in late-twentieth century urban America in particular.  For the affluent are the booming stock and real estate markets; for the poor, a vista of injustice piled on injustice, atrocity on atrocity, serial police murder with impunity.  After Amadou Diallo, Malcolm Ferguson; then Patrick Dorismond: If you are Black in New York you can be shot dead if you stand still, run away, or refuse an offer to sell drugs to undercover cops.

— Malik Miah

I RECENTLY RECEIVED two surveys in the mail. The first came from the U.S. Census Bureau, asking me a number of personal questions-some relevant, others intrusive.

For the first time, however, the census offered me more options than the "normal" white, Black, Hispanic and other categories for race. I could now identify myself by checking as many ethnic groups as I liked.  Progress?  Maybe.

— Steve Bloom

MARCH 22, 2000 -- As this article is written the movement to win justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal is gearing up to mobilize for his first day in Federal District Court.

The date, unknown at this point, is crucial and could well determine the future of Mumia's appeal for a new trial. The key issue, of course, is the lack of elementary due process during both the original trial and Mumia's appeals through the Pennsylvania state courts.

— Elimisha K. Marubuci

NOW THAT PUBLIC outrage slowly diminishes regarding the Amadou Diallo case, this essay shares some of the immediate feeling and reaction that occurred at the time of the verdict. Furthermore, this essay tries to imagine salient possibilities for re-education in policing methods within communities of color.

"Justice is incidental to law and order." --J. Edgar Hoover

IT'S LATE AFTERNOON -- a rain dreary Friday afternoon -- just after 5:00 pm. The verdict is in -- NOT GUILTY. I am numb, but in truth not surprised. The television blares incessantly....

— Louise Cooper

When it became clear early on the evening of March 7 that California's Juvenile Crime Initiative (Proposition 21) had passed by a wide majority, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of San Francisco, converging outside the Mission district police station.  Earlier that day, more than 500 protesters shut down San Francisco's Hilton hotel, protesting at the hotel's support of the Initiative.

— Jamie Owen Daniel

Just a few days before Christmas, the Chicago Tribune ran an article under the whimsical title, "Another Can of Worms for CHA." (CT 12/23/99) This report described how, in its rush to force a group of recalcitrant residents to move from one poorly maintained building in the Robert Taylor Homes public housing complex to another before the holidays, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) had cut off power to the building.

— Henry A. Giroux

"It's almost ten years after the wilding in Central Park, and what people had stigmatized as a black criminal mentality they now have to look at in Colorado and Arkansas. When white youths display the rage of what they'd panned off as black pathology, they now have to look at it as an American pathology<197>as a country diseased at its core when children step out to kill. They're literally using their lives as revenge against the culture. And I don't think that we can ignore that and keep saying it's an individual pathology or it's because of the family. The country creates the family. People, for the most part, don't create their own values; the culture gives values -- that's the purpose of culture." --Sapphire(1)

— Rae Vogeler and Harry Richardson

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. . . Power concedes nothing without a demand. . ."
- Frederick Douglass, 1857

These words aptly describe recent events at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  At 2:00 PM. on Wednesday, February 16, 2000, seven students walked into UW-Madison Chancellor David Ward's office in Bascom Hall. The students-Brendan O'Sullivan, Molly McGrath, Mark Brakken, Sarah Turner, Riza Falk and Adam Klaus, chairperson of the Associated Students of Madison-demanded that the university change its sweatshop practices.

— Henry Phillips

One of James Hoffa's first initiatives after assuming the office of Teamsters General President was-no giggling please-to announce that he was launching a "self-policing" anti-corruption effort called Project RISE (Respect, Integrity, Strength, Ethics).  A few months later, to lend his effort sorely needed anti-corruption credentials, Junior Hoffa hired former U.S. prosecutor Ed Steir and ex-FBI official James Kossler to front for Project RISE as "advisors."

— Alan Wald

The Cry Was Unity: Communists and African Americans, 1917-1936 by Mark Solomon (Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1998) 403 pages, $17 paperback.

Old Negro, New Left: African-American Writing and Communism Between the Wars by William J. Maxwell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999) 254 pages, $17.50 paperback.

Popular Fronts: Chicago and African-American Cultural Politics, 1935-46 by Bill V. Mullen (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999) 242 pages, $16.95 paperback.

The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African American Poetry, 1930-1946 by James Edward Smethurst (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) 288 pages, $45 hardcover.

William Maxwell's 254-page New Negro, Old Left: African-American Writing and Communism Between the Wars (including a handsome thirteen-page insert of photographs and illustrations), puts cultural flesh on the organizational and political scaffolding constructed by Mark Solomon.  It also reconfigures in startlingly new ways the entire terrain of 1920s-'30s left-wing cultural production.

Maxwell's focus is on the movement of a number of African-American writers from a background of "New Negro" and "Harlem Renaissance" experiences toward the Communist movement in the interwar period.  His unique orientation emphasizes a mutual indebtedness, a two-way channel "between radical Harlem and Soviet Moscow, between the New Negro renaissance and proletarian literature." This interchange is the reason why the explanation for such a development "cannot be pursued without acknowledging both modern Black literature's debt to Communism and Communism's debt to modern Black literature."

— the editors of Chelovechnost

[The following appeal was issued by the Editorial board of the anti-fascist newspaper Chelovechnost in Moscow.  We present it here both for the information of our readers and to salute the courage of Russian internationalists who dare to speak out against the destruction of a people-eds.]

— Suzi Weissman and Hillel Ticktin

BEHIND VLADIMIR PUTIN'S election are the accoutrements of Russia's 21st century democracy -- a controlled media which smears opponents and lies about the war in Chechnya, journalists who publish their price to regurgitate government propaganda (the going rate is $4000 for a laudatory article), unbridled patriotism and just in case none of this works, filling the voter roster with dead souls....

— Catherine Sameh

SOME AMERICAN ICONS just never die. Take Barbie, for instance. The most famous American doll turned forty last year, which is pretty old in doll years. In the newest Avon catalog, the forty-something Barbie looks fabulous, still all flowing hair, unblemished skin, not an ounce of fat on her body. How does she do it?

Having rich parents sure helps keep Barbie fit and adorned. Mattel, Barbie's maker, just keeps raking it in, in part because of hefty sales, in part because it has a clever fundraising strategy: it sues other companies for trademark infringement....

— R.F. Kampfer

BETWEEN GORE's SLAVISH loyalty to Clinton's trade policies and John Sweeney's slavish loyalty to Gore, the Democrats and the unions just handed a chunk of working class votes to Pat Buchanan....

— Martin Glaberman

I WAS SURPRISED and disappointed at the publication of Facing Fascism in Europe, a book review by Bill Smaldone in ATC 84. It is impossible to indicate all the review's errors and distortions in a letter; but two points need to be made....

— Bill Mullen
Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams & The Roots of Black Power
by Timothy B. Tyson
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999)
$29.95 hardcover.

PRIOR TO THIS excellent book, the life of Robert F. Williams was the covert epic of African-American male radicalism....

— Laura Hapke
Burning Valley
by Phillip Bonosky, with an introduction by Alan Wald
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997) $16.95 paper
(a volume in The Radical Novel Reconsidered series edited by Alan Wald).

IN AN INTRODUCTION to the reissued Burning Valley, Alan Wald observes: “The existence in the early 1950s of working-class novels advocating social revolution in the United States is often missed because it is unexpected.” (vii)...

— Louise Cooper
Lockdown America, Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis
by Christian Parenti
(London/New York: Verso, 1999) 290 pages, $25 hardback.

THE MILITARIZED RESPONSE to WTO protests in Seattle, as well as the New York police killing of Amadou Diallo, has prompted concern even in mainstream circles about growing police brutality....

— Joe Auciello
"The West Wing" has become the season's best, most absorbing, most ambitious series (despite an unrelenting mushiness in the form of its sappy fictional president . . .) --Caryn James, The New York Times, December 26, 1999

THE DAILY FARE of television is so bland and boring, such an insult to the intelligence, that "The West Wing" sparkles by comparison. Created by writer Aaron Sorkin ("A Few Good Men," "The American President"), "The West Wing" is a rarity -- a shrewdly written television show that places national politics, political leaders, and their senior staff into the center of a weekly drama....

— The Editors

WE ARE PLEASED to present to our readers the following exchange on some questions pertaining to political "vanguards" and working-class power. Fred Bustillo is a federal prisoner whose copies of Against the Current have been confiscated, and is engaged in litigation to force the prison system to honor First and Fourth Amendment rights of inmates. Sam Farber is an editor of this magazine and author of Before Stalinism (Verso Press)....

— Fred Bustillo

IN THE SEPTEMBER-October, 1999 issue of Against the Current (#82), Sam Farber's review of Daniel Singer's book Whose Millennium? deserves a few comments.

Like Farber, Singer and numerous other revolutionaries, I also reject the Leninist concept of the "vanguard party." As you probably know, it was not Lenin who authored the concept that working people can attain only trade union consciousness as a result of their own practical activity, the material basis of the vanguard concept as defined in What Is To Be Done?...

— Samuel Farber

I AM GRATEFUL to Fred Bustillo for the opportunity to expand on the necessarily brief comments on political leadership in my review of Daniel Singer's Whose Millennium? (Against the Current 82, September-October 1999).

If we consider the working class and its allies, not abstractly and schematically but in concrete historical and political terms, we find that they do not constitute homogeneous social forces, nor are they likely to become homogeneous even on the eve of revolution. In other words, these social groups are and will likely remain uneven, whether in terms of political consciousness or organizational experience, and with divergent but reconcilable interests....