26: The Great Recession’s legacy; Daphna Thier on Israel’s working class

This week we speak to Daphna Thier on the theme of “What’s the matter with the Israeli working class?” 

That’s the provocative title of Daphna’s new article in the International Socialist Review, and she talks to us about how Israel’s Zionist history and present have prevented the development of any current among its non-Palestinian workers that challenges the country’s racist undemocratic order. 

Daphna is a Brooklyn-based socialist who grew up in Jerusalem, and she talks about the work of Moshe Machover and Akiva Orr, Israeli anti-Zionist socialists who in 1969 argued, as Daphna puts it in her article, “that the Israeli working class has a vested material interest in precisely the same policies that weaken workers in other countries.” 

She then explains her attempt to update the path-breaking analysis of Machover and Orr to cover the changes in Israeli society during the past four decades, when the country embraced anti-worker neoliberal reforms but also became an even more central lynchpin of U.S. imperial domination of the Middle East. 

In our opener, we look back at the global financial crash that began 10 years ago this week with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. We take stock of the enormous ways the Great Recession has changed the world, from the massive increase in economic and racial inequality to the political polarization that is driving the declining influence of centrist parties while both socialists and the far right have seen their forces grow.

Links for this episode:

·     Daphna’s article “What’s the matter with the Israeli working class?” (http://bit.ly/Israelworkers)

·     Zachary Lockman’s vital history, Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1906-1948(http://bit.ly/ComradesEnemies)

·     “The Class Character of Israel” by Moshe Machover and Akiva Orr (http://bit.ly/IsraelClassCharacter)

·     Socialist Worker’s 2013 editorial about the financial collapse, “The market meltdown we’re still paying for” (http://bit.ly/TheMarketMeltdown)

Music and audio for this episode: 

The Boy & Sister Alma, “Lizard Eyes”(Dead Sea Captains Remix)

Kid Cudi, “Pursuit Of Happiness”ft. MGMT

Edwin Starr, “War”

Leyla McCalla, “Little Sparrow”

Racquet Club, “New Granada”

25: Attack on Jeremy Corbyn; Justin Akers Chacón on Radicals in the Barrio

This week we bring out a bonus conversation with author and immigrant justice activist Justin Akers Chacón (who talked with us about border politics in episode 18) about his new book Radicals in the Barrio: Magonistas, Socialists, Wobblies, and Communists in the Mexican-American Working Class, published by Haymarket Books. 

Justin is a San Diego-based professor of U.S. History and Chicano Studies. In addition to Radicals in the Barrio, he’s the author of No One is Illegal: Fighting Racism and State Violence on the U.S.-Mexico Border, which he has recently updated and republished with Haymarket.  

Jen was out of town for this conversation, so Lupita Romero (our Episode 4 guest) joined Danny to talk with Justin about the under-appreciated legacy of Mexican and Mexican-American socialists and anarchists in the formation of the U.S. left. Justin talked about the legacy of the Mexican Revolution on both sides of the border, and some of the inspiring victories and devastating defeats of farmworkers, miners and factory workers in the first half of the 20th century, who faced the threat not only of mass firings and police violence but also deportation.

In our opener, we talk about the smear campaign and attacks on Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. Corbyn is the enormously popular leader of the Labour Party and has been responsible for bringing hundreds of thousands of young activists into Labour and helping to revitalize the left. But he is hated and feared by the British establishment and has come under sustained attack. Zionists have attacked him over accusations of anti-Semitism. This week we discuss a turning point in this campaign, one that represents a threat to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in solidarity with Palestine.

Links for this week’s interview: 

·     Justin’s new book: Radicals in the Barrio: Magonistas, Socialists, Wobblies, and Communists in the Mexican-American Working Class (http://bit.ly/RadicalsBarrio) 

·     Justin’s updated version of No One is Illegal: Fighting Racism and State Violence on the U.S.-Mexico Border (http://bit.ly/NoOneIllegal)

Links for this week’s opener:

•  Socialist Worker interview with Scottish socialist Neil Davidson about Confronting the lies about Jeremy Corbyn (http://bit.ly/SWDavidson

Music and Audio for this episode

The Boy & Sister Alma, “Lizard Eyes” (Dead Sea Captains Remix)

Narcicyst ft. Shadia Mansour, “Hamdulilah” (Gaza Remix) 

Omar Al-Abdallat, “We Shall Not Be Moved” 

El Teatro Campesino, "El picket sign" (Luis Valdéz) 

El Poder del Norte, “Carabina 30/30” 

La Rondalla Amerindia de Aztlán, "No nos moverán” ("We Shall Not Be Moved") 

Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, “Matador" 

24: Capitalism’s Climate Catastrophe; Marx and Colonialism with Pranav Jani

In a wide-ranging conversation, we talk to Pranav Jani about Marxism and colonialism. Pranav is an associate professor of English at Ohio State University and a long-time activist and organizer with the International Socialist Organization (ISO). Pranav describes his evolution from an apolitical college student to his first encounters with the writings of Marx on India—and how he went beyond a few selected excerpts to a deeper engagement with Marx’s thought and its evolution. We also talk about postcolonial theory, and Pranav explains what insights he gained from that field of study as well as the limitations he ran up against working within it.

Another theme running throughout our interview is the importance of combining activism and theory for Pranav’s understanding of and commitment to socialism. He talks about how it was the anti-colonial revolt against the British that began to shift Marx’s own ideas about India. In Pranav’s own life and political outlook, the importance of struggle is paramount. We talk about his experience as an Indian revolutionary moving from the East Coast to Columbus, Ohio, and what he learned from helping to build a strong presence for the ISO in Ohio.

One of the themes of our discussion about his work in Ohio is a critical examination of some of the punditry about “red-state America” and the 2016 elections. Pranav describes the political picture in central Ohio and the importance of a more nuanced understanding of the working class as well as the socialist commitment to fighting both exploitation and oppression.

In our opener, we talk about a major opus on climate change published recently in the New York Times Magazine, titled "Losing Earth," whose conclusions we deem essentially reactionary. The author, Nathaniel Rich, has compiled a dense history of a decade of climate summits, high-level boardroom meetings and political hearings, but somehow concludes that human nature—and our failure to sacrifice for long-term needs—is to blame for the failure to act to prevent climate catastrophe. We reach a different conclusion: that capitalism is to blame.

Links for our interview with Pranav Jani:
*Pranav developed his ideas on Marxism, revolution and colonialism more deeply for a talk he presented at Socialism 2018. You can listen to the audio at We Are Many: bit.ly/PranavS18

*Pranav also wrote a feature article for Socialist Worker describing in more detail “What the Indian rebels taught Marx” (bit.ly/MarxIndiaSW)

*The International Socialist Review (ISR) review of Vivek Chibber’s book on postcolonialism can be found here: (bit.ly/PranavISR)

Links for our intro on climate catastrophe:
*The NYT Magazine piece on Losing Earth (bit.ly/LosingEarth)

*Naomi Klein had a good rejoinder to this article in the Intercept (bit.ly/KleinLosingEarth), and we engage with her material in this episode as well. We also recommend listening to our interview with Klein in episode 14 of this podcast (bit.ly/Ep14Klein).

Music in this episode

The Boy & Sister Alma, “Lizard Eyes” (Dead Sea Captains Remix)
Radiohead, "Idioteque" 
Beck, "Gamma Ray"
Junoon, “Meri Awaz Suno"
MIA, "Paper Planes"
Karmacy, “Blood Brothers”

23: We love nurses; we hate fascists

This week we interview two badass nurses who are on the cutting edge of one of the most dynamic sectors of the labor movement. Tristin Adie is a nurse practitioner at University of Vermont Medical Center and one of the rank and file leaders of a recent two day strike by members of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. Elizabeth Lalasz is a nurse at Cook County Hospital in Chicago and a member of National Nurses United who helped organize the #RedforMed solidarity campaign with the Vermont strike.

Tristin and Elizabeth talk to us about the daily pressures facing health care workers who face the crushing daily pressure of being responsible for patients’ lives even as understaffing and budget cuts make it harder to do their jobs, what the collision between providing quality care and the priorities of a for-profit health care system look like from the inside, and why nurses are increasingly turning to unions and strikes.

In our opener, Eric discusses his experience traveling to Berkeley as part of a counter-protest against a far right rally, and Jen talks about her experience the same weekend defending a Planned Parenthood clinic from bigots at a local church.


Music in this episode

The Boy & Sister Alma, “Lizard Eyes” (Dead Sea Captains Remix)
Social Distortion, "Don't Drag Me Down"
Elvis Costello, "Night Rally"
Billy Bragg, "Help Save The Youth Of America"
Peggy Lee, "Fever"
Fugazi, "Waiting Room"
Aretha, "Respect"
Rebel Diaz, "Which Side Are You On" (remix)

Special thanks to John Snowden for producing this episode.

22: Kevin Cooper Live From Death Row

This week we interview Kevin Cooper, who has lived for more than three decades on death row in San Quentin prison for a quadruple homicide, despite clear evidence that he was framed by the San Bernadino Country Sherriff’s Department. 

Kevin talks to us about his long fight for freedom--including the darkest moments on February 9, 2004, when he came within four hours of being murdered by the state of California. He was saved that night by a last-minute court decision that was the result of a nationwide campaign of protests and “Live from Death Row” events in which Kevin spoke to thousands of people across the country. 

Listen to this interview and you’ll quickly understand why Kevin Cooper was able to inspire so many people to get involved in the fight for his life and, as he always insists, the life of every single person threatened by the death penalty. Kevin also talks to us about his intellectual and political awakening over the long course of his fight, and in particular the role played by comrades in the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, a group we at Better Off Red worked closely with during those years.

It’s a moving, heartbreaking and inspiring conversation, and it didn’t seem right to follow our usual format of having an opening segment on an unrelated topic. Instead, we begin with a quick introduction to give context about Kevin’s work with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

If you like this episode as much as we hope you do, please spread the word to your friends on and offline and consider giving us a review on iTunes so that as many people as possible learn about Kevin Cooper and his case.

As always, if you want to make a financial contribution to help make Better Off Red sustainable, go to www.patreon.com/BetterOffRedPod.

Links for this episode

· Nicholas Kristof’s massive New York Times expose of Kevin’s case (http://bit.ly/KristofCooper)

· Socialist Worker’s 2004 account about the dramatic stay of execution (http://bit.ly/2004stay)

· Kevin’s essay “Occupy Death Row” (http://bit.ly/OccupyDeathRow)

· Visit savekevincooper.org to read Kevin’s essays, see his artwork and learn more about his case.

Music and audio for this episode

The Boy & Sister Alma, “Lizard Eyes” (Dead Sea Captains Remix)

Stevie Wonder, “They Won’t Go When I Go”

Public Enemy, “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos”

Gil Scott-Heron, “Lady Day And John Coltrane”

The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar, “Pray For Me”

Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”

21: Tariffs and racism: Héctor Rivera on AMLO's México

Jen is off this week so our producer Eric Ruder joins Danny to speak with Héctor Rivera about the momentous election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO) as the new president of Mexico. Héctor is a California-based socialist who writes for Socialist Worker about protests and politics inside México, and this election gave us a lot to talk about. Not only did AMLO’s MORENA party destroy the country’s three main parties en route to winning power at the federal and local level, but his election is a historic victory for the longstanding democracy movement that has fought against one-party rule and rigged elections in México.

Héctor talks to us about the factors that led to this historic election, especially the devastating policies of privatization and “free” trade that enriched the Mexican elite while impoverishing millions, and then the catastrophic drug war, both of which have greatly accelerated longstanding patterns of Mexican migration to the U.S. 

We also talked about the contradictions in AMLO’s plans to take on what he calls the “Mafia of Power” and the important tasks facing Mexican socialists and activists. Héctor tells us about some of the social movements not often covered by the U.S. media, including a feminist movement that has touched all corners of Mexican society and that formed an important part of AMLO’s campaign, even as he partnered with reactionary evangelical forces.

In our opener, we continue a conversation started last week about how socialists should understand and counter the growth of the far right. This week we take a step back to look at the role that Trump’s MAGA nationalism has played in giving fascists a toxic sea in which to swim. 

We look at how tariffs and protectionism, which many in the labor and progressive movements wrongly favor, are a disastrous strategy for U.S. workers that undermine international solidarity and cede ground to xenophobes and far-right nationalists. And we make the case for why our approach to stopping fascism has to combine direct confrontation with the building of socialist and labor movements that can show the angry and alienated a different model of collective power.

Links for the interview with Héctor Rivera

•    Listen to the presentation given at Socialism 2018 by Héctor, Luis Rangel and Josie Chávez (http://bit.ly/MexicoSocialists)

•    Héctor’s Socialist Worker article about AMLO’s election (http://bit.ly/AMLOelection)

•    Héctor’s two-part interview with Mexican socialist Edgard Sánchez Ramírez: “The making of neoliberal México” Part 1 (http://bit.ly/NeolibMexico1) and Part 2 (http://bit.ly/NeolibMexico2)

Links for our opener on right-wing nationalism

•    Fortune article on how many Americans make less than $15 an hour (http://bit.ly/Fortune15)

•    Kim Moody’s book On New Terrain, which argues why globalization isn’t the main source of working class decline (http://bit.ly/OnNewTerrain)

•    Ahmed Shawki’s classic 1983 article against protectionism, “Don’t Buy ‘Buy American’” (http://bit.ly/DontBuyBA) 


The Boy & Sister Alma, “Lizard Eyes” (Dead Sea Captains Remix)
Run The Jewels, “Hey Kids (Bumaye)”
Stevie Wonder, “Pastime Paradise”
Control Machete, “Sí Señor”
Calle 13, “Latinoamérica”
Control Machete, “Cumbia Sobre El Río”
Lila Downs, “Urge

20: Stop the far right; Danny Katch on American (un)democracy

This week we turn the tables on one of our co-hosts and interview Danny about his latest book, Why Bad Governments Happen to Good People, published by Haymarket Books. 

Danny talks about how Trump’s election shows the way U.S. democracy tilts rightward, blocking the moderate social democratic platform of Bernie Sanders while allowing an erratic racist who flirts with fascists to assume the most world’s most powerful position. From there we get into the larger contradictions of democracy and capitalism, and how in many ways democracy under capitalism is less about empowering the people than winning our consent to the way things are going to be.  

We then move on to the exciting success of socialist candidates since Bernie’s campaign, most notably Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory in New York City. Danny talks about the way some of these campaigns have helped to popularize demands of Medicare for all and Abolish ICE, but also about the historic dangers socialists face when they start building their project inside a Democratic Party that is ultimately hostile to our interests.   

In our opener, we talk with Bay Area socialist Ragina Johnson about the horrific murder of Nia Wilson in Oakland and why so many people in the Bay are connecting her death with the growth of white supremacy in Trump’s America. She describes protest that took place on one day’s notice in response to the murder—which linked up with another protest against a plan by the far-right Proud Boys to meet up in a downtown Oakland bar. 

Ragina put Nia’s death and the rise of the far right in the context of continued police murders, relentless gentrification and the overall state of rising inequality and scapegoating—and stressed the importance of building the largest possible protest against the far right’s “No to Marxism” rally on August 5 in Berkeley. 

We encourage Better Off Red listeners to come out against the fascists that day—and those on the East Coast to join the mobilization against the disgusting “White Civil Rights” rally being held in Washington D.C. on August 12—the anniversary of last year’s horror in Charlottesville. See the links below for more information.

Links for this episode: 

•    Get a copy of Danny’s book Why Bad Governments Happen to Good People (http://bit.ly/WhyBadGovernments)

•    Danny’s Socialist Worker article on the potentials and pitfalls of electoral strategies for socialists (http://bit.ly/ElectoralIdeology)

Links for our intro on Nia Wilson and fighting the right:

•    Nicole Colson’s article on Nia’s murder and the subsequent protests (http://bit.ly/NiaWilsonMuder)

•    Alpana Mehta on why we need to fight the right (http://bit.ly/WhyFighttheRight)

•    Information on how to join with socialists in Berkeley protesting the far right on August 5 (http://bit.ly/AntiFascistBerkeley)

•    Information on how to join with socialists in Washington D.C. protesting the far right on August 12 (http://bit.ly/AntiNaziDC)

Music and Audio for this episode

The Boy & Sister Alma, “Lizard Eyes” (Dead Sea Captains Remix)
Alicia Wilson, mother of Nia Wilson
Billie Holiday, “Strange Fruit”
Josh White, “Freedom Road” (https://folkways.si.edu/anti-fascism-and-racial-struggle-in-song/music/playlist/smithsonian)
Rapsody, “Power” ft. Kendrick Lamar
Street Dogs, "Working Class Heroes

19: SCOTUS vs Roe; Sharon Smith on intersectionality

This week, Sharon Smith joins us to talk about a Marxist approach to intersectionality, why socialists should embrace the concept, and what Marxism has to offer activists who want to fight all forms of oppression and exploitation. Sharon is the author of Women and Socialism: Class, Race and Capital (http://bit.ly/WomenandSocialism) and Subterranean Fire: A History of Working Class Radicalism in the United States (http://bit.ly/SubteranneanFire).

Sharon begins her discussion with us by rooting the concept of intersectionality in the long history of Black feminism -- going back to Sojourner Truth -- and tracing its evolution through the Combahee River Collective. We go on to discuss the different theories that have deployed the concept of intersectionality -- contrasting postmodern politics of difference with the emerging politics of solidarity today.

We then talk about why Marxism is important for understanding where the power lies to challenge exploitation and oppression. Sharon also talks about how many working class struggles in recent years have directly addressed issues of oppression. She talks about how this new instinct towards solidarity is creating a potential for a much stronger working class and socialist movement. 

In our intro, we talk about the announcement by Justice Kennedy that he will be retiring from the Supreme Court and the threat that a new Trump appointment poses for Roe v. Wade and the fight for abortion rights. We talk about Trump’s top pick, Brett Kavanaugh, and how he has been endorsed by the Federalist Society. We talk about why it’s important to wage an all-out fight against any Trump nominee, but also why we need to rebuild a militant abortion rights movement regardless of who is on the Supreme Court. Finally, we discuss the history of how Roe was won in the first place -- under Nixon and with a Republican-dominated Supreme Court.

Links for this episode

Sharon’s article in Socialist Worker on the Marxist case for intersectionality (http://bit.ly/SharonSW)
Sharon’s talk at Socialism 2015 on Marxism and intersectionality (http://bit.ly/SharonSocialism)
Video of a panel at Socialism 2017 on the 40th anniversary of the Combahee River Collective, featuring Demita Frazier, Barbara Ransby, Barbara Smith, Sharon Smith and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (http://bit.ly/CombaheeS17)
How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective (Haymarket Books), edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (http://bit.ly/HaymarketCombahee)

Links for our intro on the Supreme Court and Roe:
Socialist Worker article, Without struggle, there is no Roe by Michelle Farber and Elizabeth Schulte (http://bit.ly/RoeSW)
Report on plans for a protest to pressure Susan Collins to vote no on Kavanaugh (http://bit.ly/CollinsProtest)
Episode 13 of this podcast, on abortion without apology (http://bit.ly/AbortionNoApology)

Music for this episode

The Boy & Sister Alma, “Lizard Eyes” (Dead Sea Captains Remix)
Cat Power, “Nude As The News”
Digable Planets, “La Femme Fetal”
Beyoncé, “Freedom” (International Day of the Girl)
Sam Dew, “Victor”
Queen Latifah, “U.N.I.T.Y.