Thursday, January 21, 2021


Harry Targ

 The Peace Movement Today

 The history of the peace movement is complicated, with successes and failures. First, the history of peace movement solidarity has been intimately connected to anti-racist, pro-labor, women’s, and environmental struggles for decades. When Dr. King and Mohammed Ali connected the evils of Vietnam with racism and poverty at home proponents of peace and social and economic justice gained in strength.

 Second, the relative strength in number, message, and organization of the peace movement has varied significantly over time. Since the onset of the Cold War peace and solidarity activities have been most vibrant during the Vietnam War, the wars against Central America, Gulf War One, the bombing of Serbia, the Iraq War, Israeli bombing of targets in Gaza, and threats of bombing Syria in 2013.

 Today the movement is dormant because of peace activist energies being targeted against threats  to whatever remains of democracy by the Trump administration. Paradoxically, with the continuation of war and terrorism on the world stage, the systematic use of hybrid war techniques to starve populations in states defined as enemies, to the spread of new high technology instruments of slaughter, the danger of the return to big power conflict, and continuing increases in military spending, the voices of the peace movement have been dispersed and hence weakened. This is a dilemma not only for peace but for economic justice, saving the environment, and ending racism and sexism. 

During this disturbing period in world history the end of the Trump Administration and its replacement by the new President Biden with foreign policy influentials long associated with prior Democratic and Republican administrations, it is useful to step back and analyze “the time of day” on a worldwide basis: as to global class forces and their ideologies; contemporary techniques of empire and their consequences for the lives of billions; individual global crises; and where President Biden stands on issues of war and peace and foreign policy in general. Much of the material below was assembled in the summer, 2016 in anticipation of an electoral victory by Hillary Rodham Clinton.  While that prediction was incorrect, the issues involving the United States in the world remain remarkably (and sadly) the same today, 2021, as 2016.

 The Ruling Class Agenda for the United States Role in the World

 From a Washington Post editorial, May 21, 2016:

HARDLY A day goes by without evidence that the liberal international order of the past seven decades is being erodedChina and Russia are attempting to fashion a world in their own illiberal image…This poses an enormous trial for the next U.S. president. We say trial because no matter who takes the Oval Office, it will demand courage and difficult decisions to save the liberal international order. As a new report from the Center for a New American Security points out, this order is worth saving, and it is worth reminding ourselves why: It generated unprecedented global prosperity, lifting billions of people out of poverty; democratic government, once rare, spread to more than 100 nations; and for seven decades there has been no cataclysmic war among the great powers. No wonder U.S. engagement with the world enjoyed a bipartisan consensus.

 The Washington Post editorial quoted above clearly articulates the dominant view envisioned by US foreign policy elites for the years ahead: about global political economy, militarism, and ideology. (And there is not much evidence that this vision is different in 2021 from 2016). It in effect constitutes a synthesis of the "neocon" and the "liberal interventionist" wings of the ruling class. First, it is inspired by the necessity of 21st century capitalism to defend neoliberal globalization: government for the rich, austerity for the many, and deregulation of trade, investment, and speculation.

 Second, the Post vision of a New World Order is built upon a reconstituted United States military and economic hegemony that has been a central feature of policymaking at least since the end of World War II even though time after time it has suffered setbacks: from defeat in Vietnam, to radical decolonization across the Global South, and to the rise of competing poles of power in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and even Europe. In addition, despite recent setbacks, grassroots mass mobilizations against neoliberal globalization and austerity policies have risen everywhere, even in the United States. The Washington Post speaks to efforts to reassemble the same constellation of political forces, military resources, and concentrated wealth, that, if anything, is greater than at any time since the establishment of the US “permanent war economy” after the last World War.

 Historian, Michael Stanley, in an essay entitled “‘We are Not Denmark’: Hillary Clinton and Liberal American Exceptionalism,” (Common Dreams, February 26, 2016) points to the ideological glue that is used by foreign policy elites, liberal and conservative, to justify the pursuit of neoliberal globalization and militarism; that is the reintroduction of the old idea of American Exceptionalism, which in various forms has been used by elites since the foundation of the Republic. 

 The modern version, borne in the context of continental and global expansion, serves to justify an imperial US role in the world. Along with posturing that the United States is somehow special and has much to offer the world, American Exceptionalism presumes the world has little to offer the United States. The only difference between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy is whether the exceptionalism still exists and must be maintained or has dissipated requiring the need to “make America great again.” Leaders of both parties, however, support the national security state, high military expenditures, and a global presence—military, economic, political, and cultural. With the election of Joe Biden, the corporate media in the main has reiterated the idea that the United States remains the “indispensable nation” in the international system, despite temporary setbacks resulting from Trump foreign policies.

 Techniques of Empire Today  

 Although the imperial agenda, and the ideological precepts justifying it, has remained the same for two hundred years the techniques of empire have changed as growing resistance at home and abroad and new technologies dictate. Changes in warfare, other violence, and imperial expansion articulated in 2016 and still relevant today include the following:

 -Wars are internal much more than international and casualties are overwhelmingly civilian rather than military.

-The global presence of some form of the United States military is ubiquitous-between 700-and 1,000 military bases, in anywhere from 40 to 120 countries

- US military operations have been privatized. A 2010 Washington Post report found 1,911 intelligence contracting firms doing top secret work for 1,271 government organizations at over 10,000 sites. Ninety percent of such work is being done by 110 contractors.

-More “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” have been used to kill alleged enemies over the last eight years as the entire prior period of US military operations. Drones have come home as their use by the Dallas police recently showed.

-US agencies, such as the CIA, have been engaged in the increased use of assassinations and efforts to undermine governments. One report indicated that there are 13,000 assassination commandoes operating around the world.

-So-called “humanitarian assistance” is used to support United States policies in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. For example, a New York Times story reported that at least 40 American groups received $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade.

-The United States increasingly has used economic tools—economic blockades, trade sanctions, covert financing of pro-US politicians in other countries, and condemnations by some international organizations to undermine, starve, and ultimately, it is hoped, to entice people to overthrow their governments. These techniques, often labeled “hybrid war,” are being used against Venezuela, Cuba, and some thirty other countries.

 Some generalizations we can draw from the new techniques of war are the following:

-Imperial rule has become global.

-The Military/industrial complex has expanded beyond President Eisenhower’s wildest nightmares. Large sectors of military operations—from cooking and cleaning to killing—have been privatized.

-Military operations continue and expand without “boots on the ground.” Empires can kill with impunity.

 Nick Turse and colleagues reported  on data indicating that the United States has been engaged in secret military training of personnel in many countries, what they called ‘a shadowy network of U.S. programs that every year provides instruction and assistance to approximately 200,000 foreign soldiers, police, and other personnel.”  (Douglas Gillison, Nick Turse, Moiz Syed, “How the U.S. Trains Killers Worldwide,” Portside, July 13, 2016).

Their report is worth further quoting:

 “The data show training at no fewer than 471 locations in 120 countries….involving on the U.S. side, 150 defense agencies, civilian agencies, armed forces colleges, defense training centers, military units, private companies, and NGOs, as well as the National Guard forces of five states.” Perhaps most important for the peace movement is the following: Despite the fact that the Department of Defense alone has poured some $122 billion into such programs since 9/11, the breadth and content of this training network remain virtually unknown to most Americans.”

 Impacts of 21st Century Imperialism

 By any measure the pain and suffering brought by 21st century imperialism is staggering. US Labor Against the War reported that sources estimate 1.3 million people, mostly in the Middle East and South Asia, have died due to the war on terrorism initiated in 2001. They quote a research report that estimates that one million Iraqis have died since 2003 and an additional 220,000 citizens of Afghanistan and 80,000 from Pakistan. Other sources claim these figures are too conservative and remind us of the untold thousands upon thousands who have died directly from war and violence in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and elsewhere in the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa.

 These figures, of course, address deaths directly attributed to war and terrorism but do not include economic sanctions, massive flight of peoples from war zones, persecution by authoritarian regimes, environmental devastation and drone strikes and assassinations. Large areas of the globe centered in the Middle East and North Africa are ungovernable with foreign intervention and anomic domestic violence on the rise. In a troubling essay by Patrick Cockburn the author asserts that:

 “We live in an age of disintegration. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Across the vast swath of territory between Pakistan and Nigeria, there are at least seven ongoing wars-in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and South Sudan. These conflicts are extraordinarily destructive. They are tearing apart the countries in which they are taking place in ways that make it doubtful they will ever recover.” (Patrick Cockburn, “The Age of Disintegration: Neoliberalism, Interventionism, the Resource Curse, and a Fragmenting World,” The Unz Review: Mobile, June 28, 2016).

 Cockburn suggests that this fragmentation has core features: no winners and losers, deconstruction of states, massive population upheavals and migrations, religious fundamentalism   replacing socialist and/or nationalist politics, and outside interventions. The Global South project Vijay Prashad described so well in The Darker Nations has been superseded by competing fundamentalist projects.

 Specific Cases

 NATO/Ukraine/New Cold War

 In 2016 leaders of the 28 NATO countries met in summit in Poland to reaffirm their commitment to the military alliance that was established in 1949 for the sole purpose of protecting the European continent from any possible Soviet military intervention. With the collapse of the former Soviet Union, rather than dissolving, NATO took on the task of policing the world for neoliberal globalization and the states ‘victorious” in the Cold War. NATO was the official operational arm of military operations in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the military force that would destroy the Gaddafi regime in Libya. 

 After the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, NATO incorporated the states in Eastern Europe that had been affiliated with it. Now Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic States remain the frontline in the ongoing hostilities with Russia. They and western financiers from Ukraine, with substantial assistance from the United States, engineered the coup that ousted a corrupt but elected President in Ukraine. This set off an ongoing civil war between those in the population who wanted to continue ties to Russia and others who wanted Ukraine to join the European Union and NATO. The instability in Kiev was orchestrated by high US state department officials who advocated a New Cold War with Russia. Some US diplomats involved in the Ukraine story may return to the Biden diplomatic team,

 At the NATO summit of 2016 it was agreed to establish four battalion-sized “battle groups” in Poland and the Baltic states. To use the language of the Cold War, this small force could serve as a “trip wire” that could precipitate an “incident” and a major war with Russia. NATO agreed to bolster the Ukraine military. The alliance would commit to establishing a controversial missile defense system in Eastern Europe.  And NATO countries promised to spend two percent of their budgets on the military. The continued commitment of the United States was affirmed by President Obama. After the Trump period of reduced commitment to NATO, President Biden wishes to resuscitate the alliance.

 The Asian Pivot

 In 2011, US spokespersons announced that the country would shift resources and attention to Asia from the Middle East, an area with demanding security and economic interests. Although US/Chinese dialogue continues the United States has criticized China’s repositioning of what it regards as its possessions in the South China Sea. The United States has expanded military relations with Vietnam, reestablished military bases in the Philippines, and has generally avoided criticizing efforts by ruling Japanese politicians to revise their constitution to allow for a full-scale remilitarization. The United States has threatened North Korea over their military maneuvers and has bolstered the South Korean military. While Trump did reach out to North Korea, tension reduction on the peninsula was short-lived. On the economic front the United States was instrumental in building support for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) to challenge Chinese economic hegemony in the region. While Trump rescinded the TPP approach, he launched a trade war against China and engaged in attacks on Chinese corporations operating in the West. Both Trump and Biden spokespersons have made it clear that a New Cold War against China is ramping up. Corporations engaged in military production and research universities have used the China threat as a justification for increased military spending, research and development, cyber-security and a whole panoply of tools to fight twenty-first century wars.

 The Middle East

 Most American politicians express their belief that the US must maintain a special relationship with the state of Israel. One of the few active mobilizations for peace today is the worldwide campaign to demand governments, corporations, and other institutions boycott, and divest holdings in what is regarded as an apartheid state, Israel, which oppresses its Arab population and those living in the Occupied Territories. The campaign is so effective that along with national politicians, governors and state legislatures have taken stands against the BDS campaign. Israel continues to expand its occupation of Palestinian land, repress Palestinians within Israel, and is currently not distributing the covid-19 vaccine to Palestinian people, while other Israel citizens are inoculated.

Next to the historic US ties to Israel, most analysts see the deconstruction of the Middle East that Cockburn wrote about as a direct result of the Iraq war initiated in 2003. Over the next decade, Syria, Libya, Yemen and other countries have been torn apart by civil war fueled by western, primarily US, intervention, continuing US support of Saudi Arabian militarism, and the fractionalization of states in the region. The Trump administration increased the threat of  war  with Iran. President Biden might be open to returning to the Nuclear Treaty with Iran from which Trump withdrew.

 This ten year war on the Middle East has created a growing terrorist response directed at western targets and an ideological campaign, including calls to violence, against all the traditional imperial powers who dominated the region for one hundred years. With this as a backdrop, the United States response to violence has been stepped up high-tech killing justified by a public campaign that demonizes Muslim people in the United States and everywhere in the world.


 Nick Turse described the growing US military presence on the African continent. A special command structure, AFRICOM, was established in 2008 to oversee US security interests on the continent. Initially, Turse reported, the Pentagon claimed that it had one larger base, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. But enterprising researchers discovered that the US military had a dense network of “cooperative security outposts,” bases and other sites of military presence, at least 60 across the continent, in 34 countries. The US has defense attaches in 38 countries. 

 An Oxford researcher was quoted by Turse on the new oversite of the African continent.

 “AFRICOM, as a new command, is basically a laboratory for a different kind of warfare and a different way of posturing forces…Apart from Djibouti, there’s no significant stockpiling of troops, equipment, or even aircraft. There are a myriad of ‘lily pads’ or small forward operating bases…so you can spread out even a small number of forces over a very large area and concentrate those forces quite quickly when necessary” (Nick Turse, “America’s Empire of African Bases,”, November 17, 2015).

 Latin America

 United States foreign policy toward Latin America has taken a variety of forms since the onset of the 21st century. The United States, in the older mold, encouraged and assisted in the failed military coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002 and gave at least quiescent support to the military overthrow of Honduran President Zelaya in 2009. At the same time the United States has curried the favor of upper class opponents of the regimes transformed by the Bolivarian Revolution: Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Two larger countries Argentina and Brazil have experienced domestic political turmoil in recent years, to some extent driven by internecine politics and corruption. The United States, in all these cases has networked with opposition political forces, sometimes encouraging wealthy citizens of countries such as Brazil and Venezuela to launch votes of no confidence or impeachment proceedings against their governments that have stood against the US neoliberal economic agenda. Some have referred to the new US strategy in the region as one of creating “silent coups.”

 The influence of the United States has weakened since the onset of the Bolivarian Revolution and the distain Latin Americans hold toward the United States because of its long-standing efforts to isolate Cuba. President Obama in collaboration with President Castro announced a new opening of relations between the two countries in December, 2014 and until 2017 US economic constraints on travel, trade, and investment were reduced (although the blockade remains) until Trump reinstated new draconian sanctions. Whether in the Obama Administration or during the Trump presidency, what remained similar to past US policy toward Cuba, however, was the stated aims of United States policy: the promotion of democracy and markets. It was no mere coincidence that President Obama visited Cuba in March, 2016 and then flew to Argentina to negotiate with the newly elected neoliberal President Macri of Argentina.  The Trump Administration reversed the Obama “soft power” approach to Cuba, returned to sanctions and tightened them further than they had been for years. In addition, Trump escalated “soft coup” attempts and economic sanctions against Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba. Biden spokespersons have spoken in favor of “more effective” sanctions against Venezuela. It is unclear whether Biden will pursue the “soft power” diplomacy with Cuba that Obama initiated. Meanwhile most of the countries of the world have called for an end to the US blockade of Cuba.

  The Idea of the National Security State

 The contradiction that still needs an explanation is the fact that for the most part the American people oppose wars and intervention. This is particularly so in the twenty-first century when so much pain and suffering has been caused by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008 Americans elected Barack Obama, in part because he had opposed the war in Iraq and had called for a new American foreign policy based on respect for other nations and peoples. He promised to use diplomacy not war as the primary tool of international relations and in some instances has tried to do that. He probably wanted to end the two awful wars and show some respect for others, even while promoting a neoliberal global agenda in a world of diverse centers of power and wealth. But why have Obama’s cautious efforts to promote United States economic and political interests been contradicted by the patterns of interventionism and the rhetoric of military globalization so common over the last few years?

The answer can be found in a variety of explanations of United States imperialism including what Mike Lofgren has called the “deep state.” Lofgren defined the “deep state” as  “… a hybrid association of elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the United States without reference to the consent of the governed as expressed through the formal political process.”  (Mike Lofgren, “Anatomy of the ‘Deep State’: Hiding in Plain Sight,” Online University of the Left, February 23, 2014).   Others have examined invisible power structures, including class, that rule America (from C. W. Mills’ classic The Power Elite, Oxford University Press, 2000 to Robert Perrucci, Earl Wysong, and David Wright, The New Class Society: Goodbye American Dream? Rowman and Littlefield, 2013).  

 The roots of analyses like those above are that power to make critical decisions reside not in the superstructure of the political process; the place were competitive games are played for all to see, but in powerful institutions embedded in society that can make decisions without requiring popular approval. Over and over again, the “deep state” apparatus  of the national security state has led the American people into war or covert interventions that destroyed the rights of people in other countries to solve their own problems. In the end these nstitutions have involved the United States in death and destruction all across the globe. And ironically as majorities of Americans feared that President Trump might stage a domestic coup to stay in office or make war on Iran to regain his popularity they hoped that sectors of the national security state would reject presidential orders to carry out such egregious acts.

 So Where Does the Peace Movement Go From Here?

 Analyses of what is wrong are easier to develop than thinking through ways to respond. This essay opened with a dilemma; a broken peace movement locally and nationally. It then argued that the foreign policy elites have had a hegemonic vision of the role of the United States in the world yesterday,  today, and tomorrow. And these elites and institutions of the national security state have at their disposal 21st century military technologies to maintain their power in the world. The consequences of force and intervention have been horrific for billions of people. 

 Having outlined the scope of the problem, we have briefly described current US foreign policy “trouble-spots:” Russia and Eastern Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

Phyllis Bennis wrote in 2016 that: “An anti-war position, in the broadest sense of reducing military budgets, calling for diplomacy over war, condemning the ‘inevitable’ civilian casualties, calling out how military assaults create rather than destroy terrorism…these are enormously unifying principles among progressives….movements matter.” (Phyllis Bennis, “What the Democratic Party Platform Tells Us About Where We Are on War,” Portside, July 8, 2016).

 Approaches the peace movement can take in the near term include the following:

 1.Develop a theory, a conceptual scheme about the multiplicity of connected issues that affect peoples lives linking economics, politics, militarism, and culture. Think about a diamond shaped figure. At the base is an economic system, at this point in time finance capitalism. Above the base at the two side points are militarism on one side and racism and sexism on the other. At the top add destruction of nature. Conceptualizing the war problem in this way we begin to see the connections between the 21st century state of capitalism as a global system and war, racism, sexism, and environmental destruction.

 2.Use the theory or schema to develop an educational program that begins with efforts to understand the fundamentals of the war system (direct and structural violence as peace researchers put it). Use the schema as programs on specific issues are prepared. Always relate the specific issue at hand: Israel/Palestine, Ukraine, undermining regimes in Latin America for example, to the diamond.

 3.Participate in grassroots organizing in solidarity with others, always linking issues to the war/peace paradigm. One error participants in the various Moral Mondays campaigns have made is to accede to the idea that Moral Mondays should only be about state legislative issues, not national or international ones. And work to network with peace groups all across the nation to rebuild the national peace movement that so effectively fought against war and imperialism in the past.

 4.Engage in global solidarity. The analysis above has emphasized the forces of global hegemony, or imperialism. It is critical to be aware of and support the grassroots ferment that is occurring all across the globe; from Arab Spring; to the Bolivarian Revolution; to anti-austerity campaigns in Greece, Spain, Quebec, and elsewhere, and the broadening climate change movement that encompasses the globe.

 The tasks of a 21st century peace movement are not different from those of the past. They involve education, organization, and agitation. With the growth of worldwide resistance to neoliberal globalization, austerity, racism, sexism, and destruction of nature, it seems natural to incorporate concerns for peace and the right to national and personal self-determination to the budding radical movements of our day.


Monday, January 18, 2021


 TUESDAY, MARCH 23, 2010

Harry Targ

The artist must take sides. He must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative. Paul Robeson, 1937.

…there are no heroes in this story…no villains…only people, the product of their environment, urged on by forces of history they often do not understand. Anne Braden, 1958.

Biographies can tell us about ourselves, where we came from, and where we might go. I recently read two narratives of the lives of extraordinary people and their times. I think their lives and politics are relevant to us today.

The Undiscovered Paul Robeson: Quest for Freedom, 1939-1976, by Paul Robeson Jr., chronicles the years of struggle in the life of the theatrical performer, singer, linguist, and fighter for human freedom. Subversive Southerner: Anne Braden and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Cold War South, by Catherine Fosl, tells the story of a militant Southern woman who rejected the political culture of her day to fight for the liberation of African Americans, always insisting that Southern whites had to play a significant role in that struggle.

Paul Robeson, born in 1898, in Princeton, New Jersey, only the third African American to attend Rutgers University, graduated with academic honors and all-American football status. He received a law degree from Columbia University but gravitated to the theater, the concert hall, film, and linguistics. As his world renown grew, Robeson became politically engaged. In 1937 he declared at a fund raiser for the brigadistas fighting the Spanish fascists that “the artist must take sides.” Over the remaining forty years of his life he fought alongside others at home and around the world against colonialism, racism, class exploitation, and imperialism. While he symbolized to the world the struggle for a humane socialist future for all, he became the number one target of racism and anti-communism at home.

Anne Braden, although younger than Robeson, led a parallel life of political activism. She was born in 1924 in Louisville, Kentucky to a traditional Southern family. Schooled in the values of Southern womanhood, she increasingly saw the white supremacist south as an evil that not only repressed African Americans but served as an impediment to the achievement of human liberation of people everywhere. She pursued a career as political organizer and journalist, publishing the invaluable periodical, The Southern Patriot. She, with her husband Carl Braden, spent years organizing against racial segregation. Her struggle repeatedly encountered racists who opportunistically used anti-communism to protect their white privilege.

The differences in the backgrounds of these two progressive giants are obvious, but the biographies referred to above, illuminate fascinating parallels. First, both Robeson and Braden were raised in political cultures that were hostile to social justice. Each was raised in supportive, though sometimes stern families. The world beyond their immediate families was driven by racism. Robeson experienced it as an object. Braden experienced racism as a person being socialized to accept and endorse it.

Second, through a multiplicity of associations and experiences each came to realize that racism was not only an impediment to their own development as full human beings but was also an impediment to the development of all humanity. Consequently, at relatively young ages, Robeson and Braden came to the view that they must devote their lives to the struggle against racism.

Third, both Robeson and Braden realized in their struggles that capitalism as an economic system stood in the way of human liberation. They understood that the capitalist mode of production was built on the backs of workers. Racism, they understood, was used by capitalists to divide workers who together could organize to create a more humane society.

Fourth, Robeson and Braden accepted as a basic premise of their political work the proposition that human solidarity was a necessary if not sufficient condition for the creation of a humane society. Robeson wrote in his autobiography, Here I Stand, that underlying the world’s diverse folk music traditions there was a common musical form, a pentagonal chord structure. To Robeson this shared chord structure mirrored the fundamental oneness of humankind.

Anne Braden, saw human beings as shaped by their environments. Her own upbringing in a segregated society shaped her consciousness, but circumstances made her realize that people can liberate themselves by organizing resistance to that society. Racism had its roots in economic and political structures, and people were “urged on by forces of history they often do not understand.” But they can come to recognize and oppose those institutions that oppress others and by extension, themselves.

Fifth, both Robeson and Braden committed their lives to organizing against capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, and racism. For them this meant crossing racial lines, participating in union struggles, linking struggles for civil rights with struggles for civil liberties, and unabashedly working with the Left to bring about social change.

Finally, Paul Robeson and Anne Braden became two of the most despised political activists in Cold War America. Robeson returned to the United States from a long sojourn in Great Britain during much of the 1930s to an America ready to embrace his music and theatrical performances. His classic radio broadcast, “Ballad for Americans,” was heard by millions of Americans. But after World War II, Robeson turned his attention more toward fighting racism (lynchings, segregated institutions such as baseball, and white supremacy in the South), opposing colonialism, supporting the expansion of the right of workers to join unions, and promoting peace. In the context of the emerging Cold War the former celebration of his life and work turned to anger against him. In the 1950s, the State Department pulled his passport so he could not travel overseas. He lost his audiences and livelihood as hundreds of his previously scheduled concerts were cancelled. Even African American churches were reluctant to host a Robeson concert for fear of government reprisal.

Anne and Carl Braden purchased a home in Louisville in the 1950s and sold it to an African American family. The property was in an all-white neighborhood. This generated a massive campaign to keep the family from occupying their house. The campaign was leveled at the Bradens for their work against segregation as much as against the African American family. After an extended public trial characterized by charges of Communist subversion Carl Braden was sentenced to prison for “sedition” based on an arcane Kentucky law. Subsequent to the trial and incarceration, virulent anti-communism dogged most organizing campaigns embraced by the Bradens.

The Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF), which the Bradens led, was always viewed with suspicion. Anti-communism even crept into the politics of the civil rights movement as it blossomed in the late 1950s. Despite the virulence of it, which usually was linked with racism, Anne Braden became an inspirational force among the young SNCC organizers in the South in the early 1960s, along with Ella Baker. Anne Braden took particular responsibility for building white activism around civil rights.

In the end, anti-communist campaigns, such as those against Robeson and Braden, were used as tools by racist forces to demean, delegitimize, and split the working class and youth and to defeat progressive forces. Anti-communism and the defense of white supremacy became inseparable.

How do we assess the roles of Paul Robeson and Anne Braden in historical perspective? They participated as leaders, as intellectual and moral inspirations at a time when the working class was on the move in the 1930s and 1940s, and civil rights activism spread in the 1950s. As workers mobilized to demand the right to form unions, Robeson was there. Braden committed her life to the struggle against racism and she saw Black/white unity as basic to victory.

Both participated in struggles with allies from the organized Left, particularly with members of the Communist Party USA.

Finally, and most critically, Robeson and Braden participated in and advanced a politics of the Popular Front. Popular Front politics began with a commitment to class struggle. It was based on the presumption that racism was the central barrier to social change. And Popular Front politics prioritized commitments to broad-based networking among people and groups who engaged in a whole array of peace and justice issues.

Are there lessons from these lives for us today? I believe so. Robeson and Braden taught us that the pursuit of social change was a lifetime activity. And they demonstrated to us that our political work must engage the broadest range of issues and the greatest numbers of people in our struggles for a humane future. These two biographies tell insightful and inspiring stories that everyone interested in social change should read.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

DEEP STRUCTURES, HATE, AND VIOLENCE: The Long Road to Societal Decay (and Renovation)

Harry Targ

Step by Step

Step by step the longest march
Can be won can be won
Many stones can form an arch
And by union what we will
Can be accomplished still
Drops of water turn a mill
 (Music by Pete Seeger)

 I repost this as Raphael Warnock is declared the winner of one Georgia Senatorial race and Jon Ossoff is leading his opponent for the second Senate seat. The possible outcome might be the re-control of the Senate by the Democrats (50 Democrats and 50 Republican Senators with Vice President Elect Kamala Harris casting deciding votes when ties exist).

Along with the extraordinary organizing talents of Stacey Abrams and a variety of grassroots groups, it is useful to reflect on a December 15, 2020 statement by Senator-elect Warnock: “As I think about it  I think of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman, two Jews and an African-American who died fighting for voting rights. I think about Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel. Heschel said when I marched with Dr. King, I felt like my legs were praying” (Jewish Telegraphic Agency).

While progressives need to support the solidarity of all oppressed peoples (including the just cause of the Palestinian people), the solidarity of Georgia’s African-American and Jewish communities and Blacks and Whites uniting to defeat racism and reaction is a small but critical “step by step” in a long historical process to radically transform the institutions described below (January 6, 2021, 10:30 am EST).

Yesterday was a day of contradiction: the victories of the two Senatorial candidates and the terrorist insurrection against the United States Congress in Washington DC. This is the contradiction of the US economic and political system today; thus the title "societal decay and renovation."  The role of progressives is to stand for and work to achieve the changes embedded in the meaning of Georgia. Another world is still possible. (January 7, 2021, 9:07 am EST).


A Repost from October 29, 2018

We are mourning again. Violent deaths continue: African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Gays and Lesbians, Women, Youth, Jews, and the list goes on. And the media pontificate about root causes: guns, a divided society, hate speech, the internet, and politicians. Analysts usually lock onto one explanation and deduce one or two cures. But there are other analysts, for example “realists” and religious fundamentalists, who say there will always be violence. There are no solutions.

The reality that undergirds the killing of masses of people on a regular basis is not easily discovered. That is, there are “deep structures” that have created a brutal and violent world. And movements to transform these deep structures, although complicated, can have some substantial success.

First, and I write this at the risk of being dismissed as an ideologue, the contemporary state of the capitalist economic system must be examined in rigorous detail. What might be called “late capitalism” is an economic system of growing inequality of wealth and poverty, joblessness, declining access to basic needs-food, health care, housing, education, transportation. The increasing accumulation of wealth determines the ever-expanding appropriation of political power. In the era of late capitalism, economic concentration resides in a handful of banks, hedge funds, medical conglomerates, real estate developers, technology and insurance companies, and media monopolies.

Second, late capitalism continues to marginalize workers of all kinds. Agricultural and manufacturing work, the staple of two hundred years of economic development, is disappearing. Highly skilled electronics workers and others with twenty-first century skills are employed as needed by corporations, with little or no job security. Once secure workers who have lost their jobs live in communities with declining access to food, growing environmental devastation, and limited connection to information and the ability to communicate with others. And, of course, conditions are worse for workers of color, women, the young, and the old.  A new working class has emerged, the “precariat,” with skilled but insecure jobs; the service sector, workers in health care, home care, fast food and other low paid and overworked occupations; and workers in the “informal sector,” desperate people who take short-term jobs or are forced to sell drugs, peddle products on the street, engage in prostitution, or engage in other activities so they and their families can survive. In addition, the most marginalized are homeless and hungry. Late capitalism has increased the marginalization of majorities of working people, in core capitalist states and the Global South.

Third, the history of capitalist development has paralleled the development of white supremacy and patriarchy. If capital accumulation requires the expropriation of the wealth produced by workers, what better way to increase profits can be found than marginalizing sectors of the working population and setting them into competition and conflict with each other by creating categories of difference. Racism, sexism, homophobia, the demonization of immigrants, Anti-Semitism and Anti-Muslim hysteria all serve, in the end, profit and the accumulation of wealth and power.

Fourth, systems of concentrated wealth and power require the development of political institutions, institutions that enhance the control of the behavior of workers. From monarchies, to constitutional democracies, to institutionalized systems of law and custom, such as segregation, voter suppression in our own day, the behavior of the citizenry is routinized and controlled. In most political systems electoral processes create some possibilities for modest, but necessary, policy changes. However, as Nancy MacLean points out in Democracy in Chains, economic and political elites use their resources to restrict and limit the influence of democratic majorities.

Fifth, this economic and political edifice requires an ideology, a consciousness, a way in which the citizenry can be taught to accept the system as it is. This ideology has many branches but one root, the maintenance and enhancement of the capitalist economic system. The elements of the dominant political ideology include: privileging individualism over community; conceptualizing society as a brutal state of nature controlled only by countervailing force; acceptance of the idea that humans are at base greedy; and, finally, the belief that the avariciousness of human nature requires police force and laws at home and armies overseas.

Sixth, a prevalent component of the political ideology is the idea that violence is ubiquitous, violence is justified, and violence is to be applauded. The trope of living in a violent world pervades our education system, our toys, our television and movies, our sporting activities, and our political discourse. Violence is tragic (we pray for the victims) but it is presented in popular culture as liberating and justifiable. And to survive in this world of evil and strife, everyone needs to be armed.

These are the backdrops, the “deep structures,” that frame the contemporary context. And this context includes a politics of economic super-exploitation-destroying unions, fighting demands for economic justice, shifting wealth even more to the super-rich, and taking away basic rights and guarantees, such as healthcare, education, water, and even the air we breathe. And to justify the growing immiseration of everyone, the Trump Administration, most of the Republicans and some of the Democrats justify their policies by a racism, sexism, homophobia, and virulent rightwing nationalism not seen since the days of racial segregation in the South. And Anti-Semitism, long a staple of political ideology in Europe, reached its most virulent form in the United States in the 1930s, when Father Coughlin’s nationwide Anti-Semitic broadcasts found their way into many households. As late as the 1950s, property deeds included “restrictive covenants” forbidding the sale of homes in specific neighborhoods to Jews or people of color. Local political initiatives led to whole communities excluding African Americans from living there (“sundown towns”) and racial segregation exists today in virtually every United States city.

Given these deep structures is it any surprise that brutal violence flairs up against sectors of the population? Is it any surprise that targeted groups feel intimidated, threatened, and angry? Is it any surprise that volatile and life-threatening cycles of economic insecurity facing most people create fears leading some of them to follow false prophets? Is it any surprise that the economic and political institutions in which we were born and raised, justified by powerful ideologies about the “realities” of life develop in us a propensity to be taken in by arrogant, racist, classist, sexist, and ignorant politicians? In addition to national politics, people at the state level and in their local communities accept unquestioning leadership in economic, political, and cultural institutions that in subtler ways promote the agenda of the rich and white.

The problem is historical, structural, political and cultural. Identifying the “deep structures”- economic, political, ideological, and cultural-masses of people can begin to mobilize around change. Social movements may begin by addressing political ideology, or addressing public policy concerns, or participating in the electoral arena. Each is of vital importance. However, progressives need to recognize that the violence and poverty today, the racial hatred, the environmental crises are connected to the deep structures. They must work today on what is possible to change right away. In addition, progressives must organize, over the long run to radically restructure society, challenging the capitalist system and the political institutions that maintain it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020




Harry Targ
That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…. (President Abraham Lincoln, “The Emancipation Proclamation,” January 1, 1863).
The Purdue University Black Cultural Center on September 21, 2012 organized a panel (chaired by Jolivette Anderson-Douoning) honoring the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, the final version of which was issued by the President on January 1, 1863. The proclamation declared slaves in the states rebelling against the United States to be free. It did not apply to those border states which had not seceded from the union. In those states 750,000 slaves were yet to be liberated.
Celebration of political anniversaries provides an important opportunity to better understand the past, how the past connects to the present, and what needs to be done to connect the present to the future. As a participant on this panel I was stimulated to reflect on the place and significance of the Proclamation and the centrality of slavery and racism to American history.
First, as Marx suggested at the time, the rise of capitalism as a mode of production was inextricably connected to slavery and the institutionalization of racism. He described the rise of capitalism out of feudalism and the centrality of racism and slavery to that process:
The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black skins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation (Capital, Volume 1).
Second, the Emancipation Proclamation began a political revolution, abolishing slavery in Confederate states, but it did not embrace full citizenship rights for all African Americans nor did it support economic emancipation. The historical literature documents that while Lincoln’s views on slavery moved in a progressive direction, the President remained more committed to preserving the Union than abolishing slavery. Until the Proclamation, he harbored the view that African Americans should emigrate to Africa, the Caribbean, or Central America to establish new lives. As historian Eric Foner wrote: “Which was the real Lincoln--the racist or the opponent of slavery? The unavoidable answer is: both.” In short, President Lincoln, an iconic figure in American history thought and acted in contradictory ways.
Third, Lincoln’s growing opposition to slavery during his political career and his presidency was influenced to a substantial degree by the abolitionist movement. As an influential participant in that movement Frederick Douglass had a particular impact on Lincoln’s thinking. Foner points out that on a whole variety of issues “Lincoln came to occupy positions the abolitionists first staked out.” He continues:  “The destruction of slavery during the war offers an example, as relevant today as in Lincoln’s time, of how the combination of an engaged social movement and an enlightened leader can produce progressive social change.”
Fourth, the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation was never fully achieved. It constituted an “unfinished revolution,” the creation of political rights for former slaves but not economic justice. The former slaves remained dependent on the plantation system of agriculture; landless sharecroppers beholden to former slave owners.
Fifth, post-civil war reconstruction began to institutionalize the political liberation of African Americans. For a time Blacks and whites began to create new political institutions that represented the common interests of the economically dispossessed. But the collaboration of Northern industrial interests and Southern plantation owners led to the destruction of Reconstruction era change and a return to the neo-slave system of Jim Crow segregation. Even the “unfinished revolution” was temporarily crushed.
Sixth, over the next 100 years African Americans, workers, women, and other marginalized groups continued the struggle to reconstruct the political freedoms implied in the Emancipation Proclamation and temporarily institutionalized in Reconstruction America. The struggle for democracy culminated in the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 and the rising of Latinos, women, and gays and lesbians.
Finally, the contradictions of victories achieved and the escalation of racist reactions since the mid-1960s continues. And, most vitally, the unfinished revolution continues. The question of the intersection of race and class remains as gaps between rich and poor in wealth, income, and political power grow.
In this historic context, the candidacy of President Obama in 2012 offers a continuation of the struggle for political rights against the most sustained racist assaults by neoliberals, conservatives, and tea party activists that has existed since the days of segregation.
At the same time Obama’s re-election alone, while vital to the progressive trajectory of American history since 1863, will not complete the revolution. The need for social movements to address the “class question,” or economic justice along with protecting the political gains that have been achieved, will remain critical to our future.
One hundred and fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation the struggle for democracy, political empowerment and the end to class exploitation, remains for this generation to advance.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

IN TIMES LIKE THESE (Essay revised 2012, 2015, 2020)



By Harry Targ /The Rag Blog /original December 19, 2012

Thinking about 2015 (or 2020) and the year ahead, I remembered Arlo Guthrie’s poignant song and what I previously had written about it.

-- Arlo Guthrie, “In Times Like These.”

In times like these when night surrounds me
And I am weary and my heart is worn
When the songs they’re singing don’t mean nothing
Just cheap refrains play on and on...

When leaders profit from deep divisions
When the tears of friends remain unsung
In times like these it’s good to remember
These times will go in times to come

I see the storm clouds rise above me
The sky is dark and the night has come
I walk alone along this highway
Where friends have gathered one by one

I know the storm will soon be over
The howling winds will cease to be
I walk with friends from every nation
On freedom’s highway in times like these.

All year (written in 2012) we have been celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the birth of Woody Guthrie. “This Land is Your Land” has become the new national anthem, particularly for the 98 per cent of the population, mostly the American working class.

Singers now sing the forbidden verses challenging the rights of private property and choruses of cheering people, young and old, black and white, straight and gay, join in. It is a song of struggle, pride, and recognition that this world belongs to everybody.

Although the song has inspired us all as we sing it, sometimes we forget that the trajectory toward progressive change is not smooth. Guthrie’s friend and voice of our times, Pete Seeger, reminds us that “it is darkest before the dawn.”

Perhaps the anthem of these times, after hundreds of domestic instances of violence from Columbine to Newtown, from Trayvon Martin to Jordan Davis, to the streets of Chicago, is most poignantly articulated by Arlo Guthrie. And it is an anthem that activists should sing as we struggle against bombings, drones, economic blockades, covert interventions, assassination lists, killer teams, police violence, wars on drugs, huge appropriations of human resources to kill, violent video games, war toys, endless television shows and films that portray and normalize killings, as well as the tragedies such as at Newtown (and New York, Ferguson, Chicago, Charleston, San Bernardino and on and on).

Major targets of violence and murder are educational institutions and particularly young people, Black and white, men and women, and gay and straight, often students. It is ironic that it is in these institutions and among young people in general that some of the most creative debates ensue around direct physical violence and structural violence, economic, sexual, and racial.

Therefore, in the midst of our deep sorrow, we remember Arlo Guthrie’s words. “In times like these,” despite the emotional energy and time spent achieving some electoral, labor and Occupy victories, we get weary and our “heart is worn.” While we see the “storm clouds rise above,” we should remember that “the storm will soon be over.” Why?  Because “I walk with friends from every nation, on freedom’s highway in times like these.”