Against the Current No. 202, September/October 2019

— The Editors

HONG KONG, SUDAN, ALGERIA, Puerto Rico — and more. 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, the political leadership vague at best, the internal contradictions often complex.

This isn’t the place to produce a comprehensive list or detailed analysis, but rather we’ll hit some of the leading examples — and discuss some features they have in common as well as their diverse qualities. (Note: We’re not taking up the case of Palestine, which is discussed in depth in Bill V. Mullen’s presentation in this issue.)...

— Suzi Weissman interviews Myrna Santiago & Alicia Rusoja

ON HER JACOBIN radio show in late July, Suzi Weissman interviewed Myrna Santiago and Alicia Rusoja, just back from the U.S.-Mexico border. Myrna Santiago is a professor teaching Latin American history and director of the Women & Gender Studies program at Saint Mary’s College of California. Her research focuses on environmental history, and specifically the oil industry in Mexico. She’s working on a history of the 1972 earthquake that destroyed Managua in Nicaragua.

Alicia Rusoja teaches immigrant rights and social justice at Saint Mary’s. Her research focuses on the intergenerational literacy teaching and learning practices for Latino/a immigrants. This is an edited version of their discussion....

— Dianne Feeley

BERNIE SANDERS’ CAMPAIGN of four years ago put socialism on the U.S. political agenda for the first time in generations. He’s on the trail again, explaining what a “democratic socialist” vision means, beginning with building mass movements and supporting unions and union organizing.

Bernie distinguishes his vision from others running in the Democratic primary in several ways. First, Sanders doesn’t accept corporate funding. Bernie has built a funding model based on small donations and continues to build that base. No one thought that could be done until he did it!...

— Steven Carr

THROUGH MUCH OF July, Donald Trump and his supporters have targeted four progressive congresswomen of color — Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley — with repeated calls to “send them back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

As a U.S. citizen, I believe someone who so dislikes both democratic governance and being president to all Americans should be the person who needs to go.

Or, as presidential candidate Kamala Harris put it, he “needs to go back from where he came from and leave that office.” But as director of the only academic center in Indiana devoted exclusively to the study of the Holocaust and genocide, I view such statements — and the Republican Party’s desultory response to them — with alarm....

— Malik Miah
When They See Us
four-part mini-series
created, co-written and directed by Ava DuVernay, premiered on Netflix, May 31, 2019.

WHEN THEY SEE Us is a powerful film by Ava DuVernay (director of Selma and 13th). It brilliantly dramatizes outrageous events that began 30 years ago in New York City.

The miniseries was hard to watch because the frameup victims’ suffering and humanity, and the disrespect and manipulation by the police and prosecutor, were vividly shown. This was not just a reflection of “normal” racism in New York City at the time but structural racial injustice that is common across the country....

— Margaux Wartelle interviews Wissem Zizi

ON MARCH 8th, during the third act of the Algerian uprising, Wissem Zizi and her comrades unfurled a huge banner: “Abrogation du code de la famille” (“Repeal the Family Code”) — a message applauded by some, though not well understood by everyone.(1) “We’ve still got work to do,” sighed the founder of the Collectif libre et indépendant des femmes de Béjaïa (Bijayah), in Smaller Kabylia.

At 25 years old, Wissem Zizi is a militant with the Parti socialiste des travailleurs (PST; a Trotskyist organization) and participates in the Collectif des Femmes d’Aokas, in her parents’ village, 30 kilometers from Béjaïa. This interview, conducted by Margaux Wartelle, appeared in the July-August issue of the Marseille-based CQFD, which describes itself as a monthly journal of critique and social experimentation. The interview has been edited by ATC.

Margaux Wartelle: You’ve just taken part in two days of national meetings organized by women’s collectives. What came out of it?...

— Bill V. Mullen

WELCOME, COMRADES. AT the Demo­cratic Socialists of America (DSA) 2017 National Convention, delegates voted to endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement for Palestinian rights.

BDS, as it is commonly known, is an international human-rights-based campaign calling for the return of stolen Arab lands, refugees’ right of return to their homeland (specified under United Nations Resolution 194), for equal rights for Arab Palestinians living in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and the removal of the Apartheid Wall that runs across the West Bank.

The BDS vote represented a significant step forward for DSA in its support for Palestinian human rights. It also represented a significant step forward for the growing socialist movement in the United States....

— Suzi Weissman interviews Daniel Finn

SUZI WEISSMAN INTERVIEWED Daniel Finn, deputy editor of New Left Review for Jacobin Radio last July. Finn has written for the London Review of Books as well as Jacobin. His book, One Man’s Terrorist: A Political History of the IRA, will be published by Verso Books this November.

Suzi Weissman: On July 10 the British Ambassador to the United States, Kim Darroch, resigned after his secret diplomatic cable messages about Donald Trump were leaked to a British tabloid and Trump reacted with intense criticism. The immediate cause for his resignation was that apparently Boris Johnson, then the far-right leading candidate to be prime minister, made clear that he had to step down. Can you explain Johnson’s motivation?...

A MICHIGAN COURT of Appeals panel has unanimously overturned the May, 2018 assault conviction of Detroit environmental activist Siwatu Salam-Ra. The conviction, which shocked the activist community, resulted in a two-year prison sentence.

Despite a high-risk pregnancy, Siwatu was jailed for nearly seven months, giving birth to her son while chained to a hospital bed. Now 28, she was separated from him, and not permitted to nurse when her family came to visit.

— Howard Brick

WRITING IN 1942, the conservative economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) remarked that capitalism was doomed to decay — not by means of economic breakdown, he said, but rather under assault from a variety of social, cultural and political forces. Among those, he highlighted the temper of modern intellectual life, which he believed encourages relentless criticism and thereby erodes the authority of wealth and power — or as he put it more elegantly, “rubs off all the glamour of super-empirical sanction from every species of classwise rights.”(1)

It would have been hard for New Leftists in the 1960s, looking back across the experience of academic life through the Cold War and Red Scare of the 1950s, to give much credence to Schumpeter’s conviction that postwar intellectuals made up a subversive force. Instead, the complicity of academic institutions with the bulwarks of wealth and power seemed more to the point....

— Kim Moody
Persistent Inequalities:
Wage Disparity Under Capitalist Competition
By Howard Botwinick
Haymarket Books, 2018, 370 pages, $28 paper.

PERSISTENT INEQUALITIES, BY former union organizer and continuing workplace and political activist turned political economist Howard Botwinick, was first published in 1993. Then, in the United States socialism and Marxist theory were still largely confined to academia and a small socialist movement on the defensive.

With the revival of socialism, the green shoots of worker self-activity by workers in (commodified and state-provided) social reproduction and communications, and rising resistance to racism particularly in the criminal justice system, the book’s re-publication in an affordable edition by Haymarket Books is timely and badly needed....

— Marian Swerdlow

Red State Revolt:
The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics
By Eric Blanc
Verso, 2019, 224 pages, $19.95 paper.

THE TEACHER STRIKES that swept through “Red States” in early 2018 demonstrated how suddenly powerful upsurges can arise within the working class. The fire was lit in West Virginia and spread through half a dozen such states, surprising observers because the social conservatism of these states’ populations seemed at odds with the politics of the rising.

These educators challenged sacred cows of social conservatism such as cheap small government, and the privatization and discrediting of public education, and they did so often with the widespread support of their communities. Their rising breached and weakened the austerity regimes in their states, and drowned out the narrative that educators are to blame for the weaknesses of public education....

— Matthew Beeber
A History of American Working-Class Literature
Nicholas Coles and Paul Lauter, editors Cambridge University Press, 2017, 504 pages, $105 hardcover.

ON APRIL 26, 1935 proletarian author Edwin Seaver addressed the American Writers’ Congress, assembled in New York City’s Mecca Temple. The topic of his speech was the fiercely debated definition of the term “proletarian literature.”

Seaver spoke of the need to “eliminate the sorry confusion that has prevailed and still does prevail [when one] assumes that a proletarian novel must be written by a worker, or must be about workers, or must be written especially for workers.”(1)

— Steve Downs
Building the Great Society
By Joshua Zeitz
Viking Press, 2018, Penguin Randomhouse paperback, 2019, 400 pages, $18.

BERNIE SANDERS, IN his June 11, 2019 speech about democratic socialism and the centrality of “completing the New Deal,” gave a nod to the Great Society programs of the 1960s. Coming amid all the mentions of FDR and his programs, most people listening to this speech probably missed it.

It’s not unusual for political activists on the left today to try to connect the policies they promote to the New Deal. It’s pretty rare for any of them to make a connection, as Sanders did, to the Great Society....

— Martin Oppenheimer
The Coming of the American Behemoth
The Origins of Fascism in the United States, 1920-1940
By Michael Joseph Roberto
Monthly Review Press, 2018, 413 pages plus 33 pages of notes, $20 paperback.

THE HEADING OF Michael Joseph Roberto’s first chapter, “Fascism as the Dictatorship of Capital” summarizes the book’s central thesis: This Capitalist dictatorship will purportedly end the chaos of laissez-faire capitalism through a complete synchronization of state and private institutions (Gleichschaltung in the German). Today “the fascist reordering of government is underway under Trump…as a bona fide American fascist.” (407-8, 410)

This approach to understanding fascism is not new. It has been debated within the left since the early 1930s. Roberto, a Greensboro, N.C. activist and retired academic historian, intends in this book to convince us of its continued viability....

— Marc Becker
The Five Hundred Year Rebellion:
Indigenous movements and the decolonization of history in Bolivia
By Benjamin Dangl
Chico, CA: AK Press, 2019, 220 pages, $18 paper.

BOLIVIA HAS LONG been one of the most politicized countries in Latin America, perhaps rivaled only by Cuba, with a population intimately aware of its role in a global capitalist environment. Furthermore its inhabitants are able to critique that situation and willing to act against it.

That understanding emerges out of a long history of extractive economies. Cuba was Spain’s initial and most long-lasting foothold in the Americas. The island’s economy boomed with the collapse of sugar production in neighboring Saint Domingue in the aftermath of Haiti’s slave revolt, which led to United States domination of the Caribbean during the first half of the 20th century....

— Promise Li
From Commune to Capitalism:
How China’s Peasants Lost Collective Farming and Gained Urban Poverty
By Zhun Xu
New York: Monthly Review Press, 2018, 154 pages, $25 paperback.

TODAY CHINA’S GEO­POLITICAL ambitions grow as quickly as its own contradictions. With the Jasic worker-student strikes last year and Hong Kong’s anti-extradition bill protests earlier this summer, it is time to consider the economic and political alternatives to neoliberal globalization from the perspective of the Chinese working class.

Zhun Xu, now an assistant professor of economics at Howard University, argues that the key might be in China’s past. From Commune to Capitalism disputes the long-established claim that the decollectivization of Maoist-era peasant communes was better for the economy and an initiative wholly championed by the peasantry....

— Patrick M. Quinn

JAMES COCKCROFT WAS an historian, sociologist, political analyst, poet, and bilingual award-winning author of 40 books and countless articles on Latin America, and particularly on Mexico. His study, Intellectual Precursors of the Mexican Revolution, first published in 1968, became an instant classic.
Above all he was a political activist from the days of the war in Vietnam. And I knew him best as an activist.

Jim had already become a figure of note on the Left before I first met him. He had been a Humanities Fellow at Antioch College for 1967-68. While there, he had become an informal mentor of the Antioch chapter of the Young Socialist Alliance, many of whom lasted long on the Left, including my longtime friend, Alan Wald, who today is an editor of ATC....