Monday, October 20, 2014


I never liked comedienne Joan Rivers who died recently. But her famous one-line introduction to talk show interviewers and stand-up performances is a powerful reminder that certain subjects might be dangerous to discuss in polite company. Whether the United States political system is a democratic one is such a subject.

Everything we Americans have learned since infancy suggests that the United States is a democracy. In fact, the United States political system, we are told repeatedly, is the gold standard for the world. Distinguished data source Freedom House claims that freedom can only exist in democratic political systems. Democratic systems are those in which governments are accountable, the rule of law exists, and associations and speech are guaranteed to all. Polity IV, another data-based source of information about governments, has a more refined definition of democracy: procedures by which citizens can express their preferences about leaders and policies and there exists both constraints on executive power and guarantees of civil liberties.

University of Iowa Political Science Professor William M. Reisinger prepared a chart summarizing the key components of democracy reflected in the writings of political philosophers (such as Aristotle), politicians (John C. Calhoun), skeptics (H. L. Mencken), and a variety of contemporary political scientists. He appends to his chart 25 quotations that illustrate variations in the understanding of the concept “democracy.” Reisinger identifies five emphases in most writings on the subject. 

“1)it is a dangerous form of government; 2)it includes genuine competition for power; 3)it permits mass participation on a legally equal footing; 4)it provides civil and other liberties that restrict the sphere of state power within the society; or 5)it promotes widespread deliberation about how to make and enforce policy so as to promote the common good” (William M. Reisinger, “Selected Definitions of Democracy,”

Reflecting on these five elements of democracy might lead to a more sober understanding of the United States political system than what most people learned in school (from kindergarten through graduate programs in political science). Particularly looking at Reisinger’s last four features might suggest that the United States does not meet broadly endorsed criteria for a democracy.

Does the political system afford “genuine competition for power?” The answer is no for a variety of reasons. Campaigns for office from local through federal positions require enormous amounts of money. Supreme Court decisions have enshrined the right of the wealthy (often the one percent) to pour unlimited financial resources into elections. Koch Brothers affiliates have even invested in local school board elections to influence school curricula and give support to the privatization of education. 

Funding of elections is reinforced by rules and regulations limiting political participation to two parties. Also states, from Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan to the South and Southwest, have imposed rulings making it harder for citizens to vote. Some voter suppression laws, sometimes overturned by courts because of their egregious violation of constitutional principles, have survived serious challenges (such as the Supreme Court decision to allow the Texas disenfranchisement of an estimated 600,000 minority voters) at least for the next election. In the end money, institutionalized procedures, state laws, and judicial decisions have undermined the possibility of competition for political power.

Everything that has been said above limits equal and mass participation in politics. Money, power, institutions, and media propaganda conspire to limit political participation and the entire weight of the political system works to impair workers, minorities, young people, and the elderly. In the 1970s, Political Scientist Samuel Huntington wrote a paper for the then influential foreign policy organization, The Trilateral Commission, warning of the “danger of democracy.” The danger he identified all across the globe was the “excess of democracy.” In other words, in the 1970s, (and one would only surmise the condition is worse today) too much participation in politics would challenge the status quo and stability.

Reisinger pointed out that some definitions of democratic states (on his chart six of 25 entries) highlight “civil and other liberties that restrict the sphere of state power within the society.” There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that local police have garnered vastly increased power to arrest, charge, kill, and incarcerate more citizens on a per capital basis than most countries in the world. The most overrepresented targets of the expanding police state are young, African/American males but the class character of the criminal justice system has been prevalent as well. In addition federal government surveillance, criminal conduct by the National Security Agency, and long-standing practices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to undermine and crush dissent have been significant features of the historical landscape.

Finally, Reisinger has found some references in discussions of democracy to “deliberation” on public policy to “promote the common good.” Less than ten media conglomerates control most of the information consumed by the citizenry and think tanks generating “expert” analyses are bought and paid for by corporations, government agencies, billionaires, and political parties. 

Two recent stories have been ignored in the mainstream media. First, the German government has decided to provide free college education to all its citizens (and thus eliminating crippling student debt). This is a policy that should warrant discussion. Second, Cuba has transported a delegation of 160 Cuban health care professionals to Sierra Leone and expects to provide another 260 for Liberia. The first delegation was sent before President Obama announced a U.S. program of medical aid to West Africa. It could be that if Americans were aware of the special training received by medical personnel in Cuba, particularly in Third World settings, they might suggest that United States and Cuban collaboration would increase the effectiveness of ending the threat of a spreading Ebola epidemic in Africa. These are just two policies worthy of conversation in the United States. (To its credit the New York Times on its opinion page on October 20, 2014 published an editorial entitled “Cuba’s Impressive Role on Ebola”). 

In sum, the Joan Rivers one-liner is critical now. We need to talk about the reality that the United States is not a democracy. And as a few commentators have pointed out, democracy is dangerous. It is dangerous because the people will be able to participate in the decisions that affect their lives; class, race, and gender will not exclude participation in politics; and the whole reason for democratic institutions is to “promote the common good.” As Pennock put it the ideal democracy is one characterized by:

“Government by the people, where liberty, equality and fraternity are secured to the greatest possible degree and in which human capacities are developed to the utmost, by means including free and full discussion of common problems and interests.” (Roland J. Penncok, Democratic Political Theory, Princeton Press, 1979, 7).

To be clear the United States is not a democracy. Progressives who believe it is fool themselves at the peril of the country. BUT, rather than disengagement, they should struggle all the harder “inside and outside” conventional political processes to achieve it. And struggles for equality, justice, and a sustainable environment are also struggles for democracy.

Friday, October 10, 2014


Harry Targ

Excerpts from a commentary about the Ken Burns documentary, “The Dust Bowl,” September 24, 2014, Purdue Libraries

The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck was one of the most prolific and, in my view, significant American novelists of the twentieth century. He was influenced by and synthesized his own politics and personal experience with the political culture and movements of the 1930s. He is most known for his iconic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, 1939, which described in detail the migration of the Joad family from their dust storm devastated farmland to California seeking work and eventually, they hoped, to accumulate enough money to buy land in that presumed mecca. Their travels involved encounters with thousands of other migrants, called “Okies,” desperately leaving their homelands in several Southern and Midwest states to find a livelihood. The metaphor that shapes our consciousness of the suffering of the Great Depression of the 1930s, scholar Michael Denning suggests, is a natural disaster, the Dust Bowl. 

But the natural disaster is in fact a part of a long history, political economy, politics and culture. New agricultural technologies shifted how crops were grown and what crops were produced. These changes made small farming obsolete. This and a debt system that kept tenant farmers in bondage created an inextricable connection between a crisis-prone capitalist political economy and the delicate balance of the natural environment.

Corporate land owners demanded that tenant and small farmers produce more cotton and wheat from land that had been overworked and when those farmers could not produce enough to pay their debts, tractors came and plowed under fences, farmhouses, and ways of life. In fact, the new mechanized agriculture did not require as many tenant farmers to grow the crops that fed the nation. So between the erosion of the land, the huge winds that blew the dusty soil all across the sky, the new agriculture, and the debt system millions were set afoot. The deeply indebted tenant farmers forced off their land and enticed by advertisements promising work and wealth in California began the long migrations from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and elsewhere via old dilapidated trucks and cars to California.

We’re sorry, said the owner men. The bank, the fifty-thousand-acre owner can’t be responsible. You’re on land that isn’t yours. Once over the line maybe you can pick cotton in the fall. Maybe you can go on relief. Why don’t you go on west to California? There’s work there. And it never gets cold. Why, you can reach out anywhere and pick an orange. Why, there’s always some kind of crop to work in. Why don’t you go there? And the owner men started their cars and rolled away.[1]

Steinbeck powerfully describes the trek westward, the expenditures of life savings, the prejudices of gas station owners and other merchants against the “Okies” along the way, the inspiring desperate efforts of migrants to share their meager food with others and the shocking arrival in a California where migrant labor was cheap and expendable. Grandpa and Grandma Joad died along the way. Tom the second oldest son, and a recently paroled killer, joined a California labor struggle and killed a sheriff in a brawl after his friend Preacher Casey was killed. Tom, forced to flee his family, tells his mother of his decision (powerfully recited by Henry Fonda in the movie version) after she asks how she will know about him. Tom Joad responds:

Well, maybe like Casey says, a fella ain’t got a soul of his own, but on’y a piece of a big one-an’ then—

…..I’ll be ever’where-wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there….I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re made an’-I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build—why I’ll be there.[2]

Folk balladeer Woody Guthrie went to see the film, taken from Steinbeck’s novel and wrote in a column in the People’s World, the west coast paper of the Communist Party USA:

Seen the pitcher last night, Grapes of Wrath, best cussed pitcher I ever seen.
The Grapes of Wrath, you know is about us pullin' out of Oklahoma and Arkansas, and down south, and a driftin' around over state of California, busted, disgusted, down and out, and a lookin' for work.

Shows you how come us to be that a way. Shows the dam bankers men that broke us and the dust that choked us, and comes right out in plain old English and says what to do about it.

It says you got to get together and have some meetins, and stick together, and raise old billy hell till you get your job, and get your farm back, and your house and your chickens and your groceries and your clothes, and your money back.

Go to see Grapes of Wrath, pardner, go to see it and don't miss.

You was the star in that picture. Go and see your own self and hear your own words and your own song.[3]

One day shortly after seeing the film Guthrie bought a jug of wine, stayed up all night and penned the classic song depicting the story of The Grapes of Wrath called “Tom Joad.”

Tom Joad got out of the old McAlester Pen;
There he got his parole.
After four long years on a man killing charge,
Tom Joad come a-walkin' down the road, poor boy,
Tom Joad come a-walkin' down the road. 

Tom Joad, he met a truck driving man;
There he caught him a ride.
He said, "I just got loose from McAlester Pen
On a charge called homicide,
A charge called homicide." 

That truck rolled away in a cloud of dust;
Tommy turned his face toward home.
He met Preacher Casey, and they had a little drink,
But they found that his family they was gone,
He found that his family they was gone. 

He found his mother's old-fashion shoe,
Found his daddy's hat.
And he found little Muley and Muley said,
"They've been tractored out by the cats,
They've been tractored out by the cats." 

Tom Joad walked down to the neighbor's farm,
Found his family.
They took Preacher Casey and loaded in a car,
And his mother said, "We've got to get away."
His mother said, "We've got to get away." 

Now, the twelve of the Joads made a mighty heavy load;
But Grandpa Joad did cry.
He picked up a handful of land in his hand,
Said: "I'm stayin' with the farm till I die.
Yes, I'm stayin' with the farm till I die." 

They fed him short ribs and coffee and soothing syrup;
And Grandpa Joad did die.
They buried Grandpa Joad by the side of the road,
Grandma on the California side,
They buried Grandma on the California side. 

They stood on a mountain and they looked to the west,
And it looked like the promised land.
That bright green valley with a river running through,
There was work for every single hand, they thought,
There was work for every single hand. 

The Joads rolled away to the jungle camp,
There they cooked a stew.
And the hungry little kids of the jungle camp
Said: "We'd like to have some, too."
Said: "We'd like to have some, too." 

Now a deputy sheriff fired loose at a man,
Shot a woman in the back.
Before he could take his aim again,
Preacher Casey dropped him in his track, poor boy,
Preacher Casey dropped him in his track. 

They handcuffed Casey and they took him in jail;
And then he got away.
And he met Tom Joad on the old river bridge,
And these few words he did say, poor boy,
These few words he did say. 

"I preached for the Lord a mighty long time,
Preached about the rich and the poor.
Us workin' folkses, all get together,
'Cause we ain't got a chance anymore.
We ain't got a chance anymore." 

Now, the deputies come, and Tom and Casey run
To the bridge where the water run down.
But the vigilante thugs hit Casey with a club,
They laid Preacher Casey on the ground, poor Casey,
They laid Preacher Casey on the ground. 

Tom Joad, he grabbed that deputy's club,
Hit him over the head.
Tom Joad took flight in the dark rainy night,
And a deputy and a preacher lying dead, two men,
A deputy and a preacher lying dead. 

Tom run back where his mother was asleep;
He woke her up out of bed.
An' he kissed goodbye to the mother that he loved,
Said what Preacher Casey said, Tom Joad,
He said what Preacher Casey said. 

"Ever'body might be just one big soul,
Well it looks that a-way to me.
Everywhere that you look, in the day or night,
That's where I'm a-gonna be, Ma,
That's where I'm a-gonna be. 

Wherever little children are hungry and cry,
Wherever people ain't free.
Wherever men are fightin' for their rights,
That's where I'm a-gonna be, Ma.
That's where I'm a-gonna be."[4]

In Dubious Battle

In 1936, three years before his more famous novel, John Steinbeck published what would be a less discussed but powerful novel of labor strife in a California apple orchard. In Dubious Battle is about Communist organizers trying to mobilize super-exploited apple pickers to strike for higher wages and the right to form a union. In Dubious Battle takes place in the aftermath of large-scale strikes all up and down the west coast including a general strike by longshoremen in San Francisco. It was also at a time when the Communist Party USA was actively engaged in helping to build a new militant, largely industrial, labor movement. While the reader does not find out the outcome of the strike and the new young militant organizer Jim, working as an apprentice of the experienced Mac is killed by vigilantes, the narrative takes the effort and the party militancy seriously. It also addresses in depth the problematic tactical questions about how to build class consciousness, creating unity and willingness to struggle out of isolation and self-absorption.

Near the end of the novel Mac, the Communist leader, is called upon to give a eulogy for Joy, a hapless working class activist who spent his life protesting and getting brutally beaten by police. Joy arrived in a trainload of scabs and almost immediately is shot and killed by the same vigilantes who later would kill Jim. Mac tells the assembled mourners about Joy:

The guy’s name was Joy. He was a radical! Get it? A radical. He wanted guys like you to have enough to eat and a place to sleep where you wouldn’t get wet. He didn’t want nothing for himself He was a radical!...D’ye see what he was? A dirty bastard, a danger to the government I don’t know if you saw his face, all beat to rags. The cops done that because he was a radical. His hands were broke, an’ his jaw was broke. One time he got that jaw broke in a picket line….He was dangerous—he wanted guys like you to get enough to eat….What are you going to do about it? Dump him in a mud-hole, cover him with slush. Forget him.[5]

The Cultural Front

The heart of this cultural front was a new generation of plebeian artists and intellectuals who had grown up in the immigrant and black working-class neighborhoods of the modernist metropolis… a radical social-democratic movement forged around anti-fascism, anti-lynching and the unionism of the CIO.[6]

Michael Denning portrays the “cultural front” of the 1930s as a broad network of organizational connections constituting a mass movement. The Communist Party of the United States was a significant element of this network, expanding well beyond the orbit of the party to encompass performance artists, labor activists, civil rights workers, and varying anti-fascist forces in the United States. The cultural front was a mass movement, it was a cultural moment,  it was an ambience or atmosphere that attracted millions of people. For Denning the cultural front’s most visible manifestation was the massive mobilization of workers to demand the right to form unions. The Congress of Industrial Organizations or CIO was its organizing vehicle and below that, it should be added, the dogged Communist Party organizers who worked for years building support for industrial unions.
Michael Denning locates the two Steinbeck novels in the context of a decade of class struggle: textile workers in Gastonia, North Carolina; the wave of strikes in coal mining, steel and laundry work by Black militants; coal miners’ struggles in Harlan County Kentucky, uprisings in steel, auto, and other manufacturing facilities across the Midwest; as well as agricultural workers struggles against powerful landowning associations in California. Denning argues that a metaphoric “way out” of exploitation and racism was migration, “and the representation of mass migration became one of the fundamental forms of the popular front….With its biblical archetype and its historical centrality--the migration of southern whites and blacks to the North and West did reshape the society on the North American continent--the migration as exodus came to be one of the grand narratives, the tall tales, of the mid-century United States.”[7]  And, of course, The Grapes of Wrath and In Dubious Battle provide the popular front—Communists, CIO labor organizers, anti-racist activists, and farm labor organizers--with “the grand narrative” that will capture the interconnectedness of struggles for land, jobs, justice, and environmental sustainability.

Connecting the Dots from the 1930s to 2014

It is relevant to reflect today on the Dust Bowl migrations, the works of John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie, and the cultural front of the 1930s because: 

*there always is an intimate and inextricable connection between human travails; involving the environment, the economic system, class struggle, human misery, and the need for radical change.

*social movements from time to time come together to advocate for change. Sometimes they are successful, other times not. It is through the connectedness of peoples and issues that hope resides.

*artists, whether they are directly engaged in political campaigns or not, have always played an important role as chroniclers of the human condition, as articulators of alternative visions, and as inspirations to action. You can’t have a successful political movement without song, poetry, storytelling, and visual images.

*and during periods of social upheaval “layers of causation” affect the total ambience of a period. In the 1930s the dust bowl and the depression, linked to a capitalist system in crisis, generated radical political parties, the mobilization of militant workers, and a mobile and angry rural population. In addition many artists created a popular culture that broadly represented the vision and purpose of the social movements of the time. The great African American singer and actor Paul Robeson declared in 1937: “Every artist, every scientist, must decide NOW where he/she stands. He/she has no alternative.” That understanding is relevant to artists and all of us today.

[1] John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath. Penguin, London, 1976, 46.
[2] John Steinbeck, 572.
[3] Woody Guthrie from a column in People’s World, 1940, reprinted in Woody Sez, New York, 1975, p.133.
[4] Woody Guthrie, “Tom Joad,”
[5] John Steinbeck, In Dubious Battle, Penguin books, London,2000, 254.
[6] Michael Denning, The Cultural Front, Verso, London, 1996, xv,xviii.
[7] Michael Denning, 264.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Harry Targ

From Wartime Alliance to Deadly Global Conflict

I do not believe history repeats itself but I find myself looking back to the past for lessons which might be relevant today. For example, during World War II an “unnatural alliance” between the United States (the new imperial hegemon), Great Britain (the old one), and the former Soviet Union (the revolutionary challenger to capitalist hegemony) formed to defeat fascism in Europe. It was in the interests of all three nations to do so.

As the war was ending the leaders of the “big three” nations--President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin--met at Yalta in the Crimea to plan for a post-war world order. They made agreements on Eastern European borders, facilitating elections in Poland, administering a defeated Germany, defeating Japan in the Asian war, and planning for the first meeting of the United Nations. The three leaders returned to their respective countries declaring that a peaceful post-war world order would be established. “The spirit of Yalta” brought hope to millions of North Americans and Europeans, West and East.

In April, President Roosevelt died and a new more bellicose administration had come to power in Washington. Within three months the United States had successfully tested its new atomic bomb and dropped two of them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By the fall, 1945 US and Soviet disputes over treaties ending the status of war with former fascist regimes in Eastern Europe began to destroy the comity that had been built over the course of the war and codified at Yalta. In 1946 crises occurred between East and West over Iran and Greece. It is clear in retrospect that ever since its ascendency to power the new Truman administration had been working to achieve global hegemony in the post-war period, using its military and economic superiority as tools.

In the spring of 1947, the US decided to replace the British in Greece as the latter worked to crush a leftwing insurgency in that country’s civil war. President Truman was warned by the Republican Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he, Truman, better “scare hell out of the American people.” This was so because most Americans favored peace over more conflict in world affairs and many still perceived the former wartime ally, the Soviet Union, positively.

The announcement of the new global threat and the need to mobilize resources over the next several years to “defend” against the demonic Soviet Union led to the recommendations for action in the famous Truman Doctrine speech to Congress in March, 1947. These put the US on a war path that would cost more than 10 million lives, international and American, and at least $5 trillion by the twenty-first century.

So the decisions made between 1945 and 1947 presaged a dramatic shift in United States foreign policy that had enormous consequences for both its own citizens and the world. Decision-makers in the Truman administration who favored maintaining some semblance of cooperation with the former Soviet Union lost their influence. Even some of Truman’s hardline advisors like George Kennan felt the evolving policies went too far in terms of bellicosity.

From Global Conflict Management to Renewed Global Military Madness

Fast-forward some 65 years. President Obama, from 2008 to 2013, continued the Bush war in Afghanistan, ordered drone attacks on alleged terrorist targets in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and authorized covert support for destabilization of populist regimes in Latin America. In contrast, at the same time, he has tried to create a more “realist” panoply of policies based on diplomacy and modest recognition that there were limits to US power. During the President’s second term, the United States partnered with Russia to curb Syria’s brutal war on its citizens and Russia, Iran, and the United States began to make progress in arms negotiations.

But then, with the aid of undercover US operatives, rebels overthrew a Ukraine government in February 2014 that had close ties with Russia. The US and the new Ukraine government launched a diplomatic and military assault on pro-Russian Ukraine separatists and the government in Kiev began to maneuver itself toward joining NATO and the European Union.

And in June the Obama administration announced a new threat, not only to a particular geographic setting, the Persian Gulf, but to the civilized world. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was pronounced the new global monster (as was the Soviet Union in 1947). Beginning in August, 2014, the United States and selective allies initiated what became large scale bombing of ISIS targets in Iraq and, by September, in Syria. Massive air assaults and declarations of success have been coupled with announcements of the need for more bombing and more allies to engage in this common struggle. Since the bombing began influential foreign policy elites in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere have spoken of the need ultimately to send troops to the Persian Gulf to defeat ISIS.

In short, in just a matter of three months the United States, much of Europe, and Arab states have embarked on a seemingly insane escalation of war, enthusiastically endorsed by most of the media and foreign policy pundits. Whether it is Ukraine or the Persian Gulf, the emergence of crisis and war has intruded itself on an unsuspecting world the way the Cold War transformed the spirit of Yalta to possible hot war in just two short years. This time, the rush to war has occurred in just a matter of months.

Comparing the Pursuit of Global Hegemony: 1945-47 with 2014

The starkness of the shift in United States foreign policy and the unidimensional zealousness of media support for wars on Russia and ISIS have shifted political discourse away from domestic police violence, climate change, growing economic inequality, the toxic nature of gridlock in Washington politics, and sequester-based requirements to reduce military spending. All this has occurred in the domestic political context of off-year elections in the United States.

The transformation of United States foreign policy in 2014 is as dramatic as that of 1945-47 with as potentially dire consequences as the first period. But there are differences between 2014 and 1945-47.

First, the United States is not the emerging global hegemon today but rather a declining world power economically and militarily. To use an old analogy, a wounded and threatened animal is more violence prone and dangerous than a healthy and secure one.
Second, there emerged in the 21st century three vigorous counter-hegemonic tendencies in world affairs that the United States and some of its major allies oppose. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) are increasingly demanding a transformation of major global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and the United Nations system to better reflect the population size, wealth, and geography of the international system. In other words they reject the hegemonic economic and political order established at the end of World War II.

In addition, some nations, such as those in Latin America, are beginning to create counter-institutions, including a bank for the countries of the Global South. Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, and to some degree Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, Nicaragua, and, of course, Cuba are creating a Western Hemisphere international economic order that would be a major threat to the 150 year US domination of the region.

Perhaps the greatest perceived threat to an international order based on US global hegemony is the spread of grassroots mobilizations all across the world. Arab Spring in 2011 was followed by austerity protests in Greece, Spain, and Portugal, student mobilizations in Chile and Canada, pro-labor and anti-austerity movements in the United States, including the Occupy movement, and the spreading Moral Mondays campaigns in the US South. All these campaigns are inspired by older anti-globalization activism, including the Zapatistas in Chiapas, the World Social Forum, and endless campaigns against the IMF, the World Bank, for global climate change, the liberation of women and indigenous people. While the slogan, “the people united will never be defeated,” may be too optimistic in the short-run, it does represent a source of fear for global finance capital and its leaders in the United States, Europe, and among various Arab autocracies.

Third, additional anti-hegemonic movements or campaigns include brutal terrorists, various forms of fundamentalists, who will stop at nothing to combat what they see as the enemy. With growing worldwide poverty, social marginalization, and powerlessness, millions of dispossessed people are drawn to reactionary, militaristic forces which have no positive vision except offering the promise of defeating the enemies who bomb them with impunity.

Where Does the Peace Movement Go?

The task of the peace movement broadly defined is as complex as that confronting its ancestors at the dawn of the Cold War. Using the old labor slogan the peace movement needs to educate, agitate, and organize.

Educational campaigns require developing and communicating forthright analyses of the global political economy today. They should analyze the declining power of the traditional global hegemons, the rise of global resistance, and incorporate theorizing that includes the salience of non-state actors, from grassroots activists to terrorist extremists. Such an educational campaign should fuse issues of economics, politics, the environment, global inequality, domestic and foreign policies, and class, race, and gender on a global scale. Education requires historical understanding, sensitivity to cultural variations, and needs to challenge mass media stereotypes that distort reality.

Agitation should include mobilizing campaigns at home and across the globe around opposition to military spending, drone warfare, nuclear weapons, terrorism and anti-terrorism campaigns, and the oligopolistic global mass media that is a tool of those forces that seek to maintain global hegemony.

Organization should include finding ways to develop cross-national solidarity which makes connections between grassroots campaigns in one geographic space with those elsewhere. Virtually no issue--such as the environment, healthcare, labor and women’s rights, or police brutality—is unique to one country or city or town. The new technology makes the compression of time and space more feasible than in any prior period of history.

The qualitative shift in United States foreign policy from 1945 to 1947 made nuclear war more possible. The Cold War led to an atmosphere whereby escalation to nuclear holocaust was always a justifiable fear. While nuclear war did not happen, the Cold War adversaries fought their battles in countries of the Global South such as Korea, Vietnam, South Africa, and Cuba.

Today’s shifting United States foreign policy could bring global war, irreversible environmental devastation, starvation and disease, and terrorism on a scale new to human history. The global peace movement has an arduous but necessary job to reverse these possibilities.