Sunday, October 15, 2017


Harry Targ

Global Economic Context         

Looking at the last third of the twentieth century, Canadian economist James Davies, in a study prepared by the World Institute for Development Economics Research, wrote “income inequality has been rising for the past 20 to 25 years and we think that is true for inequality in the distribution of wealth.” In 2000 the study showed that the top 1 percent of the world’s population accounted for 40 percent of its total net worth, with the bottom half owning 1.1 percent. Edward Wolff, another economist participating in the study, wrote “With the notable exception of China and India, the third world has drifted behind.” (New York Times, December 6, 2006).

The starkest interpretation of this kind of data was reflected in a 2003 article by Egyptian economist Samir Amin. He asserted that the global economy is creating what he called “the precarious classes.” Both in agriculture and manufacturing they cannot count on day-to-day remunerative activity to survive. Amin estimated that 2/3 to 3/4 of humankind are among the “precarious classes.”

Relevance to the Middle East in the 21st Century

A financial publication entitled “Arab Banker” printed a summary of a 2007 World Bank study, “Two Years After London: Restarting Palestinian Economic Recovery.” The World Bank, the Arab Banker, and other sources presented the following alarming data:

-The percentage of Gazans living in poverty steadily increased from 1998 (21.6%) to 2006 (35%).

-Israeli policies barring imports and exports which isolated Gaza from the Israeli and global economy made matters worse; a 90 % decline in Gaza’s industrial operations occurred between the 2006 parliamentary election victory of Hamas and 2007.

-Industrial employment in Gaza declined from 35,000 in 2005 to 4,200 in 2007. 

During the first decade of the new century, comparative economic data on Israel and the occupied territories indicated that West Bank and Gaza gross national product per capita was about 10 percent of that of Israel.

More recently, the United Nations issued a report entitled “Socio-Economic and Food Security Survey 2012: West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestine.” This report was produced under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, and the World Food program. It documented a connection between food insecurity in Palestine and external constraints on the economies of the West Bank and Gaza imposed by occupation and blockades. Among their findings were the following:

-34 percent of Palestinian households, comprising over 1.5 million people, live in situations of food insecurity (19 percent in the West Bank and 57 percent in Gaza).

-Food insecurity increased since 2009, derived from growing unemployment, declining purchasing power, and slowed or abandoned aid thus decreasing jobs, income, and consumption.

-Food insecure households (often with larger families) are more likely to experience disabilities and chronic illnesses.

The report made three general recommendations: lift the embargo on Gaza, increase West Bank access to the Israeli economy, and support efforts to increase economic productivity in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Middle East Wars

The contested land of Palestine had been largely populated by Muslim peoples from the 7th century until the mid-twentieth century.  In 1947, the year that the United Nations recommended the partition of Palestine into two states, only 1/3 of the land’s inhabitants were of Jewish background. On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization and the chairman of the Jewish Agency in Palestine, declared the establishment of a new state of Israel, and the first Middle East war between the new Israeli army and Arab states ensued. Palestinians and Arab neighbors regarded the creation of the new state as an occupation of the historic residents of the land. Over the course of this first Middle East war and those that followed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians became a displaced population.

Subsequently wars occurred in 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, and intermittently from the 1980s until today. (In the 1967 war Israel occupied, the West Bank, Gaza, the Old City of Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights, formerly Syrian land). These wars were fought between Israelis, Palestinians and states neighboring Israel. Disputes involved multiple issues including the legitimacy of the state of Israel; Israeli expansion, particularly its continuing construction of settlements in the West Bank and the displacement of Palestinian people; the rights of Palestinians inside Israel, and control of water and land throughout the region. Various organizations challenging the Israeli state and land expansion emerged over the last fifty years including the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Several nations supported contending parties to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict such as the United States and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, former European colonial powers such as Great Britain and France, and neighboring Arab and other Muslim states.

The United States became Israel’s main ally during all these years. Since 1979 Israel has been the largest recipient on a per capita basis of foreign assistance from the United States of any of the latter’s clients. In addition, Israel has become the best equipped and most powerful military force in the region, largely due to the billions of dollars of US military assistance. Israel is the only state with nuclear weapons in the region. In a recent budget decision, the United States has agreed to provide military assistance totaling $3.8 billion per annum for ten years to Israel beginning in 2019.

Finally, pro-Israel lobby groups in the United States support continued military and economic aid to Israel. Israel, with United States support, opposes serious negotiations with what is now the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza. It is expected that recent West Bank/Gaza Palestinian agreements will harden Israeli opposition to serious negotiation.

Of course, Israel opposes initiatives from peace groups in the US and the international community. Currently, militant pro-Israel lobby groups as well as the Israeli government are pressuring Congress to pass legislation overturning Obama administration accords with Iran on nuclear weapons. Many also advocate US-led  military action against Iran.

Violence and instability in the region, the tragedy of 9/11, worldwide terrorism directed against US targets, and insurmountable and spreading conflicts have been directly related to Israel’s economic isolation of and military actions toward the Palestinian people and the continuing US support of Israel’s policies. Within the United States, critics of US support of Israel are excoriated and politicians are intimidated such that policy debate on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians inside Israel as well as economic embargoes and military attacks on interim Palestinian institutions and people in Gaza and the West Bank are largely censored from public discourse.

The particular mantra of rightwing groups, Republicans, Trump administration spokespersons, and many Democrats in 2017 is to label any critics of Israeli policy as “anti-Semitic.” Some of the strongest voices opposed to the total United States military and economic support for Israel come from progressives in the Jewish community. More Jewish people are becoming critics of Israel’s inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people. Many of these people proudly identify with their historical heritage of support for social and economic justice all around the world and are outraged by recent disingenuous claims of sympathy for the Jewish people from Conservative politicians in both political parties, think tanks and religious lobby groups, and sectors of the mainstream media.

Politics and Economics of the Middle East Today

Nar Arafeh, a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, challenges the idea that economic development in the West Bank and Gaza alone could bring peace to the region. She argues that unless economic change is coupled with increased Palestinian political rights in the region resistance to Israel’s political/military domination will continue.

As to economics, although Palestine is expected to experience 3.5% growth in GDP in 2017, that growth is largely based on construction, presumably rebuilding housing units destroyed by Israeli bombs. She points out that the boost in construction in recent years in the West Bank and Gaza is coupled with economic stagnation including low growth and inadequate wages, increased unemployment, and declining foreign assistance. Israel controls the flow of labor from the West Bank to production sites as needed and limits more substantially Palestinian labor from Gaza. Arafeh says that “The ‘Palestinian Economy is a political construct, shaped to serve the more powerful player: Israel.” (Nar Arafeh, “Palestine’s Economic Outlook-April, 2017. Al Jazeera).

And on the human rights front, an Amnesty International report entitled, “Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories Report 2016/2017” stated that:

Israeli forces unlawfully killed Palestinian civilians, including children, in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), and detained thousands of Palestinians from the OPT who opposed Israel’s continuing military occupation, holding hundreds in administrative detention. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained rife and was committed with impunity. The authorities continued to promote illegal settlements in the West Bank, including by attempting to retroactively “legalize” settlements built on private Palestinian land, and severely restricted Palestinians’ freedom of movement, closing some areas after attacks by Palestinians on Israelis. Israeli forces continued to blockade the Gaza Strip, subjecting its population of 1.9 million to collective punishment, and to demolish homes of Palestinians in the West Bank and of Bedouin villagers in Israel’s Negev/Naqab region, forcibly evicting residents.

What Does This Mean?

First, violence and political instability in the world is intimately connected to the absence of economic well-being.  The economic crises faced in recent years in the industrial capitalist world are small compared to the punishing crises of survival that some countries of the Global South still experience in the 21st century; countries and territories of the Middle East are prime examples.

Second, data suggests clearly that in the occupied territories (the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights, all conquered in the 1967 Middle East war) the notion of “precariousness” (joblessness, land theft, food insecurity, grotesque economic and political inequalities) is an apt way to describe the condition of the Palestinian people.

Third, shifting currents in Palestinian politics have been connected to patterns of economic growth and decay. In the 1950s and 1960s, secular leaders in the Arab world, including Palestinians, offered a vision of economic change and political autonomy for their people that was processed in Washington and European capitals as threatening to dominant economic interests. President Nasser of Egypt who opened relations with the Soviet Union and began to talk about Arab Socialism was a prime target of concern. Paradoxically, the US began to support political actors in the region with a religious agenda, countries such as Saudi Arabia and later in the 1980s followers of Osama Bin Laden who were fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan. In the 1980s also the United States supported Hamas in Palestine.

There is no easy solution but the United States and other wealthy countries have an obligation to participate in a disinterested economic reconstruction of the occupied territories and support for complete political autonomy of the Palestinian people. Only that will break the back of anger, hatred, and political instability. The United States should stop fueling the violence in the region by ending military aid to Israel. Economic reconstruction requires negotiation toward the creation of a viable secular Israeli state in which all participate or a separate Palestinian state with land repatriation and guarantees of security from Israeli military attack. In addition, Israeli settlements in the West Bank need to be dismantled. Economic development must be coupled with economic justice.

In the United States, the political climate needs to begin to change so that a resumption of frank dialogue can proceed concerning foreign policy toward Israel, ending the violence in the region, and supporting economic justice and political rights for the Palestinian people. For example, is it wise and humane for the United States to commit $3.8 billion annually in for military aid to Israel for the next ten years?

Labeling those who propose different United States foreign policies toward Israel as anti-Semitic do a disservice to peoples of the region and defame US activists, including Jews, who support peace and justice for the Palestinian people.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Harry Targ

Among the political difficulties in times like these is thinking coherently about theory and practice. What is happening? Why is it happening? What can we do about it? Random thoughts and experiences follow:

First, while an Indiana resident, I spent the last four months in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Much of my occupation (I teach political science) and my passion (progressive politics) lead me to participate in social movements. Also I have been in a socialist organization for years.

While in Milwaukee I attended meetings of the Milwaukee Coalition for Normalizing Relations With Cuba and the End the Wars Committee, an affiliate of Peace Action. I viewed a broadcast of a Milwaukee speech by Rev. William Barber during his recently created new Poor People’s Campaign. He called for organizing against the three evils articulated by Dr. King: militarism, racism, and poverty. One week later I attended the annual “Fighting Bob” celebration of the life and work of progressive Governor and Senator Robert La Follette. Speakers underscored La Follette’s struggles to democratize political institutions and to oppose the consolidation of corporate wealth.

Attendance at the Barber event, which occurred at St. Gabriel’s Church of God, was interracial and mostly middle aged. Short speeches were made by activists from Black Lives Matter, Fight for Fifteen, and Veterans for Peace. The Fighting Bob event featured Nation magazine contributor, John Nichols, Our Revolution spokesperson Nina Turner, and state legislator, David Bowen among others. About 200 people, mostly white but varied in terms of age, attended and about 20 tables circled the crowd with political literature on a variety of topics including local politics, peace, the environment, Cuba, and support for constitutional amendments.

Also, Wisconsin Peace Action’s End the Wars Committee, co-sponsored with the Milwaukee Coalition Against Trump (MCAT) and other organizations a panel discussion at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, on “Rebuilding the Peace and Justice Movements.” The panel was diverse including Lisa Jones, a leader of UBLAC, RidRacism and other justice organizations; Harry Targ, member of the End the Wars Committee and the Wisconsin Coalition to Normalize Relations with Cuba; Maricela Aguilar Monroy, Young People’s Resistance Committee; and Samir Moukaddam, a progressive advocate for Palestinian rights. About 40 mostly older white activists attended the event.

Over the summer the Milwaukee League of Progressive Seniors held two events: one luncheon seminar on Trump Care as a device to shift wealth to the super rich and another on the recent enormous tax breaks the state of Wisconsin contracted with Fox Conn, a Taiwanese electronics corporation. Speakers linked the Fox Conn giveaway to major cuts in resources for government supported projects such as Milwaukee senior centers. Most LPS members are retirees from social services, trade unions, and civic organizations, and continue to be activists.

In addition to these events, Milwaukee progressives marched, protested, and organized around a panoply of critical issues such as prison reform, police violence, the environment, single-payer health care, opposition to the above-mentioned Wisconsin state government tax giveaway to global corporation Fox Conn, and other issues. Progressive values pervaded music, film, drama, and street events during the summer.

The Greater Lafayette community, which includes Purdue University, is about one-quarter the size of Milwaukee. However, over the years it has seen episodes of activism not unlike other communities big and small around the country. Particularly, there has been a significant increase in grassroots political activity in the community since the November, 2016 election. These have included work around electoral, feminist, immigrant solidarity, redistricting, anti-racist and anti-fascist issues, paralleling political activism in Milwaukee. In both venues, groups that identify themselves with the political Left (communist, socialist, anarchist) are miniscule. Some more self-defined or externally perceived radical groups, such as Black Lives Matter, feminist, and immigrant rights groups are visible but small.

My guess is that the political maps of Milwaukee and Lafayette, Indiana are not too different from many other communities in the United States. It may be that the traditional centers of more radical politics (New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles) are the outliers in American progressive politics, not the norm.

My reflections are not to demean or criticize the political work being done in the two venues in which I have had some experience. To the contrary, I have been excited and inspired by the level of activity and the theoretical and practical sophistication of activists. But my long-standing frustration with progressive/radical politics in Indiana was reinforced by what I experienced in Milwaukee.

Lisa Jones, activist in the Milwaukee African American community and panelist at the UWM event, introduced a useful concept to articulate my frustration: “siloing.” In other words, radical/progressive politics in these locations is characterized by the existence of a multiplicity of very active groups which have limited connection with other groups working on different issues. And the “tragedy” of the silo problem is that the many groups engaged in their own issues would probably agree with the positions that others take. And while sometimes individuals in one group work in others, theorizing, strategizing, and action is divided up among ten or twenty or more groups. And within each silo there exists a dominate demographic as to age, race, gender, and personal background.

It may be that the task ahead, if the drift toward a heartless and environmentally devastated world is to be avoided, is to figure out a way to break down the silos, find some common theoretical narrative to explain the current period, identify core issues that interconnect the silos, and all hit the streets and the electoral arenas together. In addition, networks of activists should begin to work toward building new community institutions.

It is important to remember that such radical cooperation has occurred before. It can be done again.

Saturday, October 7, 2017


Originally posted August 2, 2015

Harry Targ

Not every conflict was averted, but the world avoided nuclear catastrophe, and we created the time and the space to win the Cold War without firing a shot at the Soviets.
Now, when I ran for president eight years ago as a candidate who had opposed the decision to go to war in Iraq, I said that America didn’t just have to end that war. We had to end the mindset that got us there in the first place. It was a mindset characterized by a preference for military action over diplomacy, a mindset that put a premium on unilateral U.S. action over the painstaking work of building international consensus, a mindset that exaggerated threats beyond what the intelligence supported. (Barack Obama, “Full text: Obama gives a speech about the Iran nuclear deal,” The Washington Post, August 5, 2015).

The peace movement has often been faced with a dilemma. Should it channel its energies in opposition to imperialism, including economic expansion and covert operations, or should it mobilize against war, or both. The problem was reflected in President Obama’s August 5, 2015 speech defending the anti-nuclear proliferation agreement with Iran.  On the one hand he defended diplomacy as the first tool of a nation’s foreign policy and on the other hand his defense included the argument that through diplomacy the United States “won” the Cold War, and thereby defeated a bloc of states that opposed capitalist expansion. The implication of his argument was that pursuing imperialism remained basic to United States foreign policy but achieving it through peace was better than through war.

The speech was presented at American University 52 years after President Kennedy called for peaceful competition with the former Soviet Union. In June, 1963, nine months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, which nearly led to nuclear war, and weeks after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s call for “peaceful coexistence,” President Kennedy responded by urging the use of diplomacy rather than war in the ongoing conflict with the Soviet Union. 

A small but growing number of scholars and activists at that time had begun to articulate the view that the threat of nuclear war, growing U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, and repeated covert interventions in Guatemala, Iran, Cuba, and the Congo, had to do with U.S. imperialism. The dilemma for the peace movement in 1963 then as it is in 2015 is how to respond to United States imperialism at the same time as supporting the use of diplomacy to forestall wars.

In the context of political discourse in 2015, dominated by “neoconservative” and “humanitarian interventionist” factions of the foreign policy elite, the danger of war always exists. Therefore, any foreign policy initiative that reduces the possibility of war and arguments about its necessity must be supported. The agreement with Iran supported by virtually every country except Israel constitutes an effort to satisfy the interests of Iran and the international community and without the shedding of blood and creating the danger of escalation to global war. 

Neoconservatives, celebrants of war, have had a long and growing presence in the machinery of United States foreign policy. James Forrestal, the first Secretary of Defense in the Truman Administration, was a leading advocate for developing a militaristic response to the Soviet Union in the years after World War II. As historian Andrew Bacevich pointed out, Forrestal was one of the Truman administrators who sought to create a “permanent war economy.” He was, in Bacevich’s terms, a founding member of the post-World War II “semi-warriors.”

Subsequent to the initiation of the imperial response to the “Soviet threat”--the Marshall Plan, NATO, wars in Korea and Vietnam, the arms race--other semi-warriors continued the crusade. These included the Dulles brothers (John and Alan), Air Force General Curtis LeMay, and prominent Kennedy advisors including McGeorge Bundy and Walter Rostow, architect of the “noncommunist path to development,” in Vietnam.

Key semi-warriors of our own day, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Elliott Abrams, Robert Kagan, and others who formed the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) in the 1990s, gained their first experience in the administrations of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. The PNAC view of how the United States should participate in world affairs is to use military superiority to achieve foreign policy goals. The key failure of Clinton foreign policy, they claimed, was his refusal to use force to transform the world. For starters, he should have overthrown Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

The neoconservative policy recommendations prevailed during the eight years of the George Walker Bush administration. International organizations were belittled, allies were ignored, arms control agreements with Russia were rescinded and discourse on the future prioritized planning for the next war. And concretely the United States launched long, bloody, immoral wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Humanitarian interventionists, more liberals than conservatives, argued that the United States should use force, but more selectively, to achieve various goals. These goals included interventions that allegedly defended the quest for human rights. Advocates of humanitarian interventionism argued that the United States must use all means available, military and diplomatic, to maximize interests and values. And force need not be the first or only instrument of policy. 

But in the end the humanitarian interventionists encouraged bombing Serbia, intervening in a civil war in Libya, funding rebels perpetuating war in Syria, expanding military training and a U.S. presence in Africa, and funding opposition elements against the government in Venezuela. In addition, with advice from humanitarian interventionists, the United States increased the use of drones to target enemies of U.S. interests in East Asia, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East.

Neoconservatives and humanitarian interventionists (and in earlier times anti-communists) have led the charge for war-making in the United States since World War II. Between the end of the war and the 1990s, 10 million people died in wars in which the United States had a presence. Hundreds of thousands of young men and women serving in the armed forces of the United States have died or been permanently scarred by U.S. wars. And the physical landscape of Southeast Asia, the Persian Gulf, Central America, and the Middle East has been devastated by war. And in the United States, foreign policy elites, politicians, and think tank experts still advocate violence to address international problems. 

Therefore, in the context of a huge arms industry and global economic and political interests, any presidential initiative that uses diplomacy rather than force, declares its opposition to unilateral action, and challenges the war mindset deserves the support of the peace movement. Given the long and painful United States war system, the battle to secure the agreement between the P5 plus 1 nuclear agreement with Iran is worthy of support.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Grass is Greener: A Radio Interview

A big thanks to Harry Targ for doing our show, the Grass is Greener on Riverwest Radio.

Text Box:

The Grass is Greener-2017-09-16 Harry Targ Returns by wxrw

The Grass is Greener-2017-09-16 Harry Targ Returns Purdue University professor and heartland radical Harry Targ...

Give a listen and feel free to share it around as much as you wish.

We did run out of time to announce the upcoming program this week. 

My apologies. Gary sends his too, but he just wanted to get his last two 

questions in. Well, enjoy. 



The Journal Gazette
Fort Wayne, Indiana
Tuesday, September 12, 2017 1:00 am

Harry Targ

Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University in West Lafayette.

Hurricane Harvey touched down on the coast of Texas on Aug. 25.
On Aug. 31, Indiana leaders – government, the corporate sector and higher education – issued a statement announcing establishment of the Applied Research Institute: “ARI will facilitate and manage collaborative research teams to pursue major federal grants and contracts and perform corporate-sponsored research that will generate technology transfer and commercialization in military defense and other sectors of Indiana's economy.”

ARI will have access to research facilities and personnel valued at $1 billion: laboratories and personnel from corporations, the military and the two major public universities, Indiana and Purdue.

The board of directors of ARI include the governor, the presidents of Indiana and Purdue, the president of Defense Aerospace at Rolls-Royce and the technical director of the Naval Surface Warfare Center. The project was launched in 2015, according to the article, with the help of a Lilly Endowment Grant of $16 million.The Lilly Endowment chairman said he was pleased ARI “...has assembled a board of directors of this caliber and distinction.”

The ARI announcement emphasized development of computer technology, products that would have commercial value and advances in military security. The news release listed initial projects including “trusted microelectronics technology and security; multi-spectral data fusion and security (cyber); high density power storage and management; and advanced material science.” ARI research will accelerate “technology commercialization that supports economic prosperity.”
In a related development, in a letter to the Purdue academic community, President Mitch Daniels celebrated the university's developing research collaboration with Microsoft, Eli Lilly, Rolls-Royce, the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division and Infosys. He also praised Purdue's acquisition of for-profit online Kaplan University and the creation of the new so-called “Purdue New U.”

Indiana workers
The Indiana Institute of Working Families issued its Labor Day report on Sept. 1. It found that there were parallel declines in union membership and Hoosier workers' income in the 21st century. Indiana workers' real income peaked in 1999 and has been in decline ever since. The Institute cited Advisor Perspectives, a market advisory firm, which called Indiana a “21st Century Loser.”

Compared to the other 49 states, Indiana has experienced the ninth-largest drop in mean income. Lowered incomes and wages have been exacerbated by declining union membership, passage of a right-to-work law in 2012, and the end to the common construction wage in 2015. The report said “Indiana's median household income grew so little compared to other states that our income ranking dropped from 34th to 36th in the nation. Indiana now has the lowest median wages of any of our neighbors, including Kentucky. If there are benefits to undercutting Indiana's labor standards, they aren't showing up in the average Hoosier's paycheck, or even in employers' ability to find a skilled workforce.”
Who benefits

These disparate reports were distributed while Texas was experiencing one of the worst hurricanes in U.S. history. Hurricane impacts were linked not only to climate change but also to unregulated growth in Houston. In addition, the announcement about ARI was made at a time that:
Gaps between rich and poor grow and smaller numbers of corporations and banks control more and more of the economy.

Major universities, such as Indiana and Purdue, have become extensions of big corporations and the military.

Racism and white supremacy have been fueled by opportunistic politicians and ignored by the rest. The tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia are just one recent example.
Massive wealth and power have become ever more concentrated in economic and political elites.

And all of these changes in American society are going on below the radar screen while the media and mainstream politicians concentrate on the follies of politics in Washington. To borrow from Naomi Klein's idea of the shock doctrine, the Trump presidency is the shock, while new institutions like ARI, mostly invisible, are creating a new American reality that does not address the real needs for economic and social justice in Indiana and the nation at large.
In sum, Hoosiers might conclude that the beneficiaries of projects such as ARI, are big corporations, universities and the military – not Indiana workers.

Saturday, September 2, 2017


Friday, September 2, 2016


By Harry Targ,

The original essay appeared in The Rag Blog / September 9, 2010

 (Since the issues and context of 2016 are uncomfortably similar to what was written about 2010, it seemed appropriate to repost this essay making revisions adapted to 2016. The essay substitutes the Trump campaign for the then, but not deceased, Tea Party movement. In addition, the call for a broad-based movement to elect progressive candidates at all levels of government in 2010 parallels the Sanders campaign and his initiation of a grassroots organization called Our Revolution).

The working class built this country: Now we must mobilize to transform it

I want to add my voice to the thousands of essayists and bloggers who have been contemplating the 2016 elections, the media “framing” of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, the role of progressives in the elections, and mobilizing for the last two months before the elections.

First, I think elections still matter. Since most people see politics and elections as equivalent and some of them actively participate in the electoral process, progressives need to be there as well.

In addition, in states and communities decisions will be made about how government money for local school corporations is to be allocated, about workers compensation for victims of asbestos related workplace injuries, so-called Right to Work laws, rules governing bargaining and organizing, support for women’s health,  and how congressional and state legislative districts will be redesigned.

At the national level, policy decisions about such critical issues as jobs, climate change, education, military spending, and judicial appointments will be affected by election outcomes.

Second, most of these issues have not been the main narrative. The media have framed the fall elections around personalities, particularly the inarticulate, bizarre, racist, and personality attacks of the Trump candidacy.

Third the “liberal” media, while more sophisticated and entertaining in its coverage of election year stories, over-emphasizes “making fun” of the outlandish Trump candidacy and his spokespersons and supporters.

In response, Trump staffers have decided to do two things: forget about trying to put together logical, coherent plans for an alternative set of policies. When they are occasionally challenged by enterprising reporters, they just walk away or the potentially embarrassing reporters are ejected from rallies.  Since the media is the enemy, for most Trump supporters, incoherence and evasiveness resonate well with a disillusioned public.

Fourth, part of the context for the unstable politics of the fall, 2016, is the continued economic crisis that grips working people. Unemployment, declining real wages, indebtedness, crumbling public services remain all too real, an actuality or a fear for the majority of Americans.

In addition, the Obama administration has failed to propose an economic stimulus program that could bring millions of un- and underemployed workers back to work, making livable wages. A massive green jobs program to create a well-paid workforce that would rebuilt the American infrastructure while shifting away from an economy based on fossil fuels never materialized as many had hoped. Meanwhile, the political system at all levels has failed to address institutional racism: police brutality, grotesque inequality, and political marginalization.

Having said all this, the administration since 2009 has forestalled return to depression with a modest economic recovery program, “saved” the U.S. auto industry, and has secured the passage of an inadequate health care reform bill but one which may stimulate movement toward a single payer system in the future.

A little history

A high level of distrust of government, low regard for politicians, and periodic active anger at our public institutions is a characteristic feature of American history often reflected in voting against political incumbents and supporting candidates who are most vocal against government programs.

For example, the American National Election Studies (ANES) prepared an index of Trust in Government made up of several questions reflecting the points just raised. Looking over time the level of trust in government was at a score of 49 in 1958, 52 in 1964, 27 in 1980, 29 in 1992, 36 in 2000, and declined to 26 by 2008. Only twice in the Johnson years, did the Trust Index reach a score over 60 and six times since 1958 the index score was below 30.

In addition, a constant feature of political life has been active and extremist politics. For example, the American Party of the 1850s, or “Know Nothing Party,” got its name from members being instructed when asked about the party to say “I know nothing.” While short-lived they elected several national and state office holders before the civil war.

Throughout U.S. history so-called “nativist” groups formed and mobilized against waves of immigrants: Catholics, Germans, the Irish, Chinese, Jews, and Latinos. Armed Klan organizations terrorized the South and the Midwest in the 1880s, 1920s and 1930s and dominated the political life in many states in these eras. The Klan and white nationalist groups have been reenergized in recent years.

Of course, extremist movements, often organized and funded by corporations and wealthy individuals, scared the American people during the dark days of anti-Communism in the 1940s and 1950s. Red Channels, a small but well-funded political organization, published lists of suspected Communists in the entertainment industry and pressured the new television corporations and advertisers to purge actors and actresses, with views supportive of labor, racial integration, and peace, from the airwaves. Their activism paralleled and reinforced Congressional reactionaries who used investigative committees to hound individuals and groups.

Alternatively, for all of Labor’s flaws, the history of the American labor movement has been central to social progress in the United States: from the demands for an eight hour day, skilled trades controls of the pace of work, health and safety at the work place, a fair wage, programs of health and retirement benefits, and, after much internal conflict, support for the struggles against racism and sexism. The civil rights, women’s, gay rights, environmental, and peace movements also have contributed to improvements in the quality of life in the United States.

There is no question that workers mobilizing in struggles such as “The Fight for Fifteen,” and young people of color in mobilizations like Black Lives Matter, represent the most powerful forces in today’s society resisting neoliberalism, state violence at home and abroad, the privatization of public institutions, deregulation of the economy, and attacks on the  environment.

A progressive campaign program

So what to do now? We live in a time of enormous distrust of government and corporate support for campaigns to undermine progressive government and pro-worker policies (the Koch brothers for example). In addition, racism, Islamophobia, and fear of foreigners run deep in American political culture and is being fueled by reactionary political candidates. Therefore, progressives have only one choice for the next two months: work to elect political candidates from the city council to the Congress of the United States who support an anti-racist “working people’s agenda.”

American political history tells us that the Tea Party and grassroots support for a candidate such as Donald Trump are not new. While the concern and anger reflected among those grassroots activists who participate in rallies and marches is usually sincere and motivated by fear of strange times and economic crises with no seeming resolution, its leaders offer no program, no vision, and no coherent agenda.

Progressives cannot argue with the Trump supporters. But, they can campaign, not just for individual candidates or just for a party but for an anti-racist “working people’s agenda,” that includes rebuilding America’s schools, roads, and energy systems; expands support for the maintenance of state and local public services; puts all people who want to work in jobs that need to be done; and regulates banks more effectively so that they are required to support local projects that create businesses which will create jobs. Also institutions at the local and state level must be controlled by the communities of people that these institutions are supposed to support.

Most important, progressives must work in their communities and in solidarity with workers, people of color, and youth to elect progressive candidates to public office and to monitor their conduct once they are elected. It must be made clear to all that the progressive majority is not engaged in politics to support candidates or parties but to transform America.