Monday, December 9, 2019


Book Review
Socialism and Democracy, December, 2019

The Russians are Coming, Again
Jeremy Kuzmarov and John Marciano, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2018, 237 pp., $16)

Harry Targ (2019) The Russians are Coming, Again, Socialism and Democracy, DOI: 10.1080/08854300.2019.1658967

The primary purpose of this book is to challenge the popular view that Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, represents a challenge to US democracy much as the former Soviet Union was alleged to have been during the Cold War. The authors, taking The New York Times as their prime source, argue that what is called Russiagate, a story about the nefarious use of computer hacking, spying, and bribing and threatening to expose public figures, including President Trump, is being promoted day-after-day as the root cause of the outcome of the 2016 election. In addition, they suggest that those who vigorously embrace the Russiagate explanation of the 2016 election are claiming that Russia’s interference might be part of a longer-term Russian threat to American democracy. This is so because alleged hackers spread misinformation about candidates and issues, thus distorting dialogue and debate.
The authors review the charges of subversion of the elections that have been “proven”, or so The New York Times claims. The “proof” includes statements released by spokespersons from the FBI, the CIA and other national security agencies that Russian operatives, agencies, and private institutions have hacked social media with “fake news” about candidates running for office (especially, Hillary Clinton). Advocates of this view presume that such misinformation influenced the voter choices of the American electorate. These are the same institutions that figured so prominently in presenting distorted views of a Soviet “threat” during the Cold War that justified the arms race and massive US military expenditures.

To illustrate the seriousness of the charges of the impact of Russia’s interference in the election they quote Thomas Friedman who claimed that the Russian hacking of the election was “… a 9/11 scale event. … that goes to the very core of our democracy.” Along with similar opinion pieces by Charles Blow, Timothy Snyder, and other columnists, news stories, Kuzmarov and Marciano say, have been replete with similar claims. The New York Times narrative concludes that the hacking and interference in the US election is designed to promote victories of candidates for public office who would be sympathetic, and subservient to Russia. The long-range goal of Russia, their stories suggest, is to promote Russian expansionism and its restoration to great power status.

After developing their critique of the Russiagate narrative, Kuzmarov and Marciano, make the case that United States foreign policy since 1917 has been motivated by the desire to crush the Russian Revolution and limit the influence and power of the Soviet Union in world affairs. The Russiagate narrative, they suggest, is primarily a continuation of the story each US administration told the American people about a “Soviet threat” to justify the escalation of the arms race and military spending. They argue that proponents of the Russiagate scenario promote the idea of a new “Russian threat.”
In fact, Kuzmarov and Marciano say, Russia’s foreign policy in the Middle East, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe today reflects its perception of a threat from the United States and the NATO countries. For example, President George Herbert Walker Bush promised Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not establish new military installations in Eastern Europe. With new NATO forward bases in Poland and the United States’ support of a coup in Ukraine, the Russians see the United States as having aggressive intent. From Russia’s vantage point United States threats to Soviet/Russian security have been a feature of East/West relations from the Russian Revolution, through the Cold War, to hostile relations with the United States in the twenty-first century.

All too briefly, Kuzmarov and Marciano review the history of the root causes of the United States’ Cold War policy, the lies perpetrated about the Soviet threat, and the enormous damage Cold War policies did to the American people and the victims of war around the world. For those who have not lived through the Cold War and students who are not taught about alternative narratives to “American exceptionalism” this brief volume is very useful. It draws upon the best of historical revisionist scholarship, including the works of William Appleman Williams, Joyce and Gabriel Kolko, Gar Alperowitz, and Ellen Schrecker. It has chapters on the onset of the Cold War and its causes; the attack by Cold War advocates on democracy; Truman, McCarthy, and anti-communism; and the war against the Global South. In sum, the story begins with the substantial US military intervention during the Russian civil war after the Bolshevik victory and continues to Russiagate today.

The authors effectively develop their two main themes. First, they challenge the argument that Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, represents a threat to US democracy much as the former Soviet Union was alleged to have done during the Cold War. They argue that the Russiagate narrative is fraudulent. Second, they briefly revisit the history of United States/Soviet/Russian relations to argue that the one-hundred-year conflict between the two sides was largely caused by United States’ imperial policies and that proponents of the Russiagate thesis seek to rekindle a new Cold War with Russia.

Thursday, December 5, 2019


Harry Targ

On a cold and cloudy Tuesday, November 19  a diverse group of 15,000 protestors assembled at an unlikely space, the State Capitol building in Indianapolis, Indiana. These were teachers and public school workers (including nurses, secretaries, bus drivers, and janitors) who were demanding that Indiana’s decade of defunding public schools while shifting resources to vouchers and charter schools stop. They were opposing rules changing accreditation and cutting resources vital to the education process and demanding wage increases so education workers do not have to take one or two more jobs to make ends meet. 

Three days later, 1,200 activists, younger and more people of color, rallied at the Chicago Teachers Union hall during the opening of a three-day conference to reconstitute the legendary National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR). Representatives of militant groups from 28 states spoke about their struggles against police violence, mass incarceration, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and the brutal treatment of immigrants in the United States. The rally then heard keynote addresses by Angela Davis and Frank Chapman, the chair of the Chicago Alliance. 

The next two days over 800 registrants heard and strategized about the forms of repression experienced by people of color, women and workers in the society. Their immediate call was for the reestablishment of the organization that was created after the successful campaign to free Angela Davis in the 1970s, a campaign that gave hope to many political prisoners. The first task of the reconstituted Alliance would be to work for the community control of police. Ultimately this project would inspire the vision of what Frank Chapman called “All Power to the People.”

Red for Ed and the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression

Comparing the two events, much was different about the participants and their demands, but there was a commonality that should be explored.

As to the Indiana teachers mobilization, demands included compensation (incoming teachers earn just $35,000 in a state where 37 percent of households have earnings below a livable standard); an end to 15 hour professional training for all teachers to keep their accreditation; and an end to evaluating teachers on the basis of questionable quantitative test scores of students (which obliges teachers to teach for the test rather than wholistic learning).

Inside the Capital building teachers from around the state talked about the lack of compensation (many teachers have had to take second and third jobs), inadequate supplies (teachers have to bring pencils, crayons, and paper for their students), and unmanageable class sizes.

Indiana is a leader among the 50 states in shifting resources from public education to vouchers and charter schools  embracing what is called a “Mindtrust” model of education, using a profit/loss market model to evaluate the educational process. Because public education has been underfunded (“starving the beast”), performance has stagnated. Then privatizers have advocated for charter schools. However, charters have often had deleterious effects on teachers, students, and communities. These school policies involving defunding public schools, investing in charter schools, privatizing, defunding, and attacking teachers and communities have spread all across the country.

The Indiana teachers were inspired by teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, California, Arizona, Illinois and elsewhere. And this round of teacher mobilizations has been broadly supported by families, and communities, who see educational institutions as the anchor of society. In addition, teachers increasingly view themselves as workers and trade unionists regard teachers as allies (the Indiana AFL-CIO supported the November 19 mobilization).

The refounding of the National Alliance was animated by its long history defending political prisoners, opposing police repression, and mass incarceration. A multiplicity of criticisms brought the 1,200 people, mostly young, persons of color, and some elder left and progressive activists together. The issues raised in workshops, lectures, and discussions included increasing racial violence and repression against Black and Brown communities; vigilante violence against people of color, Latinx, indigenous people, immigrant, LGBTQ , Muslims, Jews, and others; documented police killings; the “detainment-to-deportation pipeline”; fusing of resources of the military/industrial complex and forces fighting terrorism with local and state police apparatuses; and concentration camps at the southern border of the United States. 

In addition the Alliance Resolution, which was adopted at the end of the conference also declared its “unconditional solidarity with the national liberation movements of Palestine, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines as well as the anti-imperialist struggles of South Africa, Venezuela, and all progressive democratic forces against imperialism.” 

Armed with these concerns, the attendees resolved to refound the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. Executive Director Frank Chapman pointed out that the work of the alliance would be to fight state repression, thus defending those who seek liberation. The work of the Alliance is therefore inextricably connected to all the other struggles of the day.

Building a People’s Movement: Connecting the Dots

In some ways the mobilization of Indiana teachers and their allies and the participants in the conference of those opposing the repressive state apparatus were different. The Alliance attendees, in the main were younger than the protesting teachers and were more diverse culturally. The Alliance demands were more “radical” including conversations about prison abolition and community control of police. The teachers were concerned about compensation, methods of evaluating school performance, accreditation, funding for public schools, and reversing the flow of state support from these schools to charter schools.

But there were many compatibilities that should be fostered.

Both events were high energy. Participants were angry and frustrated, and seemed to be inspired by the collective actions in which they were engaged.

Both events led participants to endorse a series of demands that would reverse negative policies and allocation of public resources.

Participants at both events saw the interconnections among many issues. As articulated in the many teacher mobilizations around the country, teachers saw themselves as workers. Speakers at the Indiana Statehouse identified the common interests shared by teachers, paraprofessionals, clerical workers, bus drivers and others. At the Alliance conference, solidarity was repeatedly expressed for diverse attendees experiencing common forms of oppression. In addition, not too dissimilar from the teachers rally, Alliance participants saw themselves as part of the working class as a whole.

While not explicitly identifying themselves as an anti-capitalist movement, their demands had much to do with opposing the privatization of education, the accumulation of super-profits with poor outcomes of charter schools, and the efforts of politicians to destroy the labor movement among teachers and the public sector in general. In the case of the Alliance, several speakers identified state and police repression with capitalism and imperialism and police repression as motivated by defense of the system.

And perhaps most significant from a movement building point of view was the fact that the teachers had mobilized one of the biggest rallies in Indiana history three days before the Chicago Teachers Union allied with and hosted the conference  at its union hall to refound the Alliance.

These and other similarities suggest that left/progressive activists should participate in both kinds of mobilizations. Activists can help participants in these movements realize that they are part of the same struggle. It is clear that the same class that seeks to destroy public institutions for a profit will use the resources of the state to crush movements seeking a political economy that serves communities at large. Articulating the commonalities of these disparate mobilizations is a task in which the left should engage.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

WHY NATO? (a repost on the maintenance of empire)

Harry Targ

During World War II an “unnatural alliance” was created between the United States, Great Britain, and the former Soviet Union. What brought the three countries together, the emerging imperial giant, the declining capitalist power, and the first socialist state, was the shared need to defeat fascism in Europe. Rhetorically, the high point of collaboration was reflected in the agreements made at the Yalta Conference, in February, 1945 three months before the German armies were defeated. 

At Yalta, the great powers made decisions to facilitate democratization of former Nazi regimes in Eastern Europe, a “temporary” division of Germany for occupation purposes, and a schedule of future Soviet participation in the ongoing war against Japan. Leaders of the three states returned to their respective countries celebrating the “spirit of Yalta,” what would be a post-war world order in which they would work through the new United Nations system to modulate conflict in the world.

Within two years, after conflicts over Iran with the Soviet Union, the Greek Civil War, the replacement of wartime President Franklin Roosevelt with Harry Truman, and growing challenges to corporate rule in the United States by militant labor, Truman declared in March, 1947 that the United States and its allies were going to be engaged in a long-term struggle against the forces of “International Communism.” The post-war vision of cooperation was reframed as a struggle of the “free world” against “tyranny.” 

In addition to Truman’s ideological crusade, his administration launched an economic program to rebuild parts of Europe, particularly what would become West Germany, as capitalist bastions against the ongoing popularity of Communist parties throughout the region. Along with the significant program of reconstructing capitalism in Europe and linking it by trade, investment, finance, and debt to the United States, the U.S. with its new allies constructed a military alliance that would be ready to fight the Cold War against International Communism.

Representatives of Western European countries met in Brussels in 1948 to establish a program of common defense and one year later with the addition of the United States and Canada, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed. The new NATO charter, inspired largely by a prior Western Hemisphere alliance, the Rio Pact (1947), proclaimed that “an armed attack against one or more of them…shall be considered an attack against them all…” which would lead to an appropriate response. The Charter called for cooperation and military preparedness among the 12 signatories. After the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb and the Korean War started, NATO pushed ahead with the development of a common military command structure with General Eisenhower as the first “Supreme Allied Commander.”

With the founding of NATO and its establishment as a military arm of the West, the Truman administration adopted the policy recommendations in National Security Council Document 68 (NSC 68) in 1950 which declared that military spending for the indefinite future would be the number one priority of every presidential administration. As Western European economies reconstructed, Marshall Plan aid programs were shut down and military assistance to Europe was launched. Greece and Turkey joined NATO in 1952, and fueling the flames of Cold War, West Germany was admitted to NATO in 1955. (This stimulated the Soviet Union to construct its own alliance system, the Warsaw Pact, with countries from Eastern Europe).

During the Cold War NATO continued as the only unified Western military command structure against the “Soviet threat.” While forces and funds only represented a portion of the U.S. global military presence, the alliance constituted a “trip wire” signifying to the Soviets that any attack on targets in Western Europe would set off World War III. NATO thus provided the deterrent threat of “massive retaliation” in the face of first-strike attack.

With the collapse of the former Warsaw Pact regimes between 1989 and 1991, the tearing down of the symbolic Berlin Wall in 1989, and finally the collapse of the Soviet Union itself in 1991, the purpose for maintaining a NATO alliance presumably had passed. However, this was not to be.

In the next twenty years after the Soviet collapse, membership in the alliance doubled. New members included most of the former Warsaw Pact countries. The functions and activities of NATO were redefined. NATO programs included air surveillance during the crises accompanying the Gulf War and the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. In 1995, NATO sent 60,000 troops to Bosnia and in 1998-99 it carried out brutal bombing campaigns in Serbia with 38,000 sorties. NATO forces became part of the U.S. led military coalition that launched the war on Afghanistan in 2001. In 2011 a massive NATO air war on Libya played a critical role in the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime. 

An official history of NATO described the changes in its mission: “In 1991 as in 1949, NATO was to be the foundation stone for a larger, pan-European security architecture.” The post-Cold War mission of NATO combines “military might, diplomacy, and post-conflict stabilization.”

The NATO history boldly concludes that the alliance was founded on defense in the 1950s and d├ętente with the Soviet Union in the 1960s. With the collapse of Communism in the 1990s it became a “tool for the stabilization of Eastern Europe and Central Asia through incorporation of new Partners and Allies.” The 21st century vision of NATO has expanded further: “extending peace through the strategic projection of security.” This new mission, the history said, was forced upon NATO because of the failure of nation-states and extremism.

Reviewing this brief history of NATO, observers can reasonably draw different conclusions about NATO’s role in the world than from those who celebrate its world role. 

First, NATO’s mission to defend Europe from aggression against “International Communism” was completed with the “fall of Communism.” 

Second, the alliance was regional, that is pertaining to Europe and North America, and now it is global. 

Third, NATO was about security and defense. Now it is about global transformation. 

Fourth, as its biggest supporter in terms of troops, supplies and budget (22-25%), NATO is an instrument of United States foreign policy. 

Fifth, as a creation of Europe and North America, it has become an enforcer of the interests of member countries against, what Vijay Prashad calls, the “darker nations” of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. 

Sixth, NATO has become the 21st century military instrumentality of global imperialism. And finally, there is growing evidence that larger and larger portions of the world’s people have begun to stand up against NATO.

Monday, November 25, 2019


After a two-day conference attended by 850 people from 28 states and numerous anti-racist and other progressve organizations, activists voted on November 24 to reconstitute the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. police violence and racism have been festering for years as the 2014 conference described below articulated.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Harry Targ

Stop Police Crimes!
End Mass Incarceration!
Free All Political Prisoners!

(Rally with Angela Davis, Trinity United Church of Christ, part of the National Forum on Police Crimes, Chicago, Illinois, May 17, 2014).

It was inspiring and informative attending the rally with Angela Davis and the celebration of the lifelong political work of Charlene Mitchell, the founder of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR). The rally and award ceremony honoring Davis and Mitchell capped a two-day National Forum on Police Crimes at the University of Chicago.

The National Forum held workshops highlighting police crimes against undocumented and other immigrant workers, the labor movement and all workers, the LGBTQ community, women, peace and solidarity activists, and people of color.

Central themes reflected in the workshops and the rally included the current condition of police misconduct in the United States, an analysis of the fundamental role of the police and incarceration in the United States, the interconnectedness of forms of repression and the struggles against them, and the twin roles of repression and ideology as the glues holding together a global political economy in crisis. Lastly, the celebration of the 41 years of the NAARPR illustrated the possibilities of struggle and victory.

The call for the National Forum highlighted the contemporary crises of civil rights and civil liberties including:

-a “national epidemic” of police and vigilante killings of young African American men, such as Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant;

-the mass incarceration of people of color such that, as Michelle Alexander has reported,  more African Americans are in jail or under the supervision of the criminal justice system today than were in slavery in 1850;

-the targeting and deportation of millions of immigrants;

-the institutionalization of laws increasing surveillance;

-the passage of so-called Stand Your Ground laws, justifying gun violence against people perceived as a threat;

-and the continued persecution of  political prisoners from the recently convicted Occupy Movement activist Cecily McMillan, to the thirty-year listing of exiled Assata Shakur, living in Cuba, as one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists, despite the fact that her original  conviction  for murder was based on faulty evidence.

Several speakers during the rally made it clear that the primary purpose police forces play in the United States is to protect the stability of the existing economic and political system. In short, the police in virtually every community serve the interests of what Occupiers call the one percent in opposition to the 99 percent. 

While laws and police often come to the aid of aggrieved members of communities, their primary function is to protect the unequal distribution of wealth and income and political power. The physical presence of police, with larger numbers in poor and Black and Brown communities than others, constitutes a threat to the physical survival of people, particularly young men. For most people in poor communities of color, the police represent an occupying power. 

Police repression in the United States is embedded in the history of slavery, institutionalized racism, the legitimized use of violence, and the interconnectedness of violence against African-Americans, Latinos, women, gays, transgender people, and workers. Further, police repression on a global basis serves to impose policies in keeping with neoliberal globalization; including the privatization of public institutions, cutting back on social safety nets, opposing demands by low-wage workers for economic justice, and extracting larger shares of the value of the labor of workers. Since the embrace of neoliberal policies virtually everywhere in the world, economic inequality has grown dramatically. With growing protest activities, police and military repression has increased as well.

Speakers suggested that the criminal justice system--the police, prisons, and laws restricting political participation—is a form of direct violence; that is seeking to create pliant behavior by force or the threat of force. Further, the criminal justice system is an instrumentality of structural violence; protecting the various forms of exploitation and oppression embedded in the society at large.

In addition it is replicated in the broader culture. Mass media romanticize police behavior, courts of law, even vigilante forms of violence. Police programs, the portrait of scientists engaged in uncovering crimes, and even police comedies pitting bungling but wise police investigators against incorrigible criminals give credence to the necessity of police, prisons, oppressive laws, and the need for order. Consumers of pop culture are rewarded for their willing acceptance of the systems of control as they exist for an hour or two of entertainment. Besides, most people think, what are the alternatives to armed police, laws, prisons, and the right-to-bear arms?

The National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression successfully struggled to free Angela Davis and many others falsely incarcerated and inspired mobilizations of activists everywhere to protest police violence, prisons, the death penalty, and Stand Your Ground laws. The Alliance in Chicago continues the struggle and has demanded civilian control of the police. 

Angela Davis posed the vision of an unarmed police force administered by the community and the elimination of prisons entirely. While these proposals cannot be achieved in the short run, she and the Alliance believe as the World Social Forum suggests, “Another World is Possible.” To make these visions reality they say, “a multi-racial, multi-national and multi-cultural broad-based movement” is needed to create “united democratic action.”   

Wednesday, November 20, 2019


     Harry Targ

The voucher program in Indiana was just one part of a school “reform” program — critics say it is really a school privatization effort — launched by Mitch Daniels when he was governor, from 2005 to 2013, and continued by his successor, Mike Pence, now the vice president of the United States. Pence is part of the Trump administration, which supports the kind of changes that Daniels implemented even though they have had harmful effects on traditional public school systems. (Valerie Strauss, “What’s Really Going On in Indiana’s Public Schools,” Washington Post, December 17, 2017).

Entire public school systems in Indiana cities, such as Muncie and Gary, had been decimated by funding losses, even as a hodgepodge of ineffective charter and voucher schools sprang up to replace them.  Charter school closings and scandals were commonplace, with failing charters sometimes flipped into failing voucher schools. Many of the great public high schools of Indianapolis were closed from a constant churn of reform directed by a “mindtrust” infatuated with portfolio management of school systems. (Carol Burris and Diane Ravitch in   Valerie Strauss, “Why It Matters Who Governs America’s Public Schools, “ Washington Post, November 4, 2018).

Some facts about Indiana Funding and Teacher Education:

-Indiana funding for education below average for all states and behind five neighboring states and has declined in recent years in comparison with levels of spending nationally

-in 2015-206 Indiana was 34th in instructional spending per student, 42nd in terms of instructional salaries, lower rankings than a decade ago

-Indiana entry level teacher salaries have declined compared with other states over the last five years

-Indiana has a high ratio of students to teachers

-“Indiana would need to increase its investments in public education by about $1.49 billion/year to reach parity with the average of its neighbors, or by $3.33 billion/year to return to its national ranking only five years earlier. Policy options for achieving these goals include raising the per-student foundation amount, reallocating state dollars towards K-12 education, and directing local taxes towards education.” ( from Robert K Toutkoushian, Ph, D,  “Education Funding and Teacher Compensation in Indiana: Evaluation and Recommendations,” March 11, 2019).

The Teachers Movement Continues

“Red for Ed” is the slogan that animated 15,000 teachers, students, and trade unionists to  attend a huge rally at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, November 19.  147 school districts were shut down around the state because teachers felt obliged to attend this statehouse rally, one of the biggest ever in Indiana history. Core demands involved compensation (incoming teachers earn just $35,000 in a state where 37 percent of households have earnings below a livable standard); an end to 15 hour professional training for all teachers to keep their accreditation; and an end to evaluating teachers on the basis of questionable test scores of students (which obliges teachers to teach for the test rather than wholistic learning).

Teachers marched around the Statehouse and waited in long lines to enter the Capital building, waiting as much as an hour during drizzling weather. Once inside 6,000 teachers sitting on the floor or standing against railings on the second or third floor  listened to teachers from around the state talk about the lack of compensation (many teachers have had to take second and third jobs), inadequate supplies (teachers have to bring pencils, crayons, and paper for their students), and unmanageable class sizes.

Indiana is a leader among the 50 states in shifting resources from public education to vouchers and charter schools  embracing what is called a “Mindtrust” model of education, using a profit/loss market model to evaluate the educational process. Because public education has been underfunded (“starving the beast”) performance often has stagnated. Then privatizers have advocated for charter schools. However, charters have often had deleterious effects on teachers, students, and communities. These school policies involving defunding public schools, investing in charter schools, privatizing, defunding, and attacking teachers and communities have spread all across the country. But now Indiana teachers have become the latest to say “No.” They have been inspired by teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, California, Arizona, Illinois and elsewhere. And this round of mobilizations is broadly supported by families and communities that see educational institutions as the anchor of society. In addition, teachers increasingly see themselves as workers and trade unionists see teachers as allies. As in the case of Indiana, the trade union movement supported the November 19 mobilization.

The Threat to Public Schools

Since the dawn of the twentieth century the anchor of most communities in the United States, has been its public schools. Schools help raise, nourish, mentor, and educate the youth of America. Parents, as best they can, participate in supporting school systems and provide input on school policy. Teachers and school administrators sacrifice time and energy to stimulate the talents of young people. And teachers through educational associations and trade unions organize to protect their rights in the workplace, always mindful of the number one priority; serving the children and the community.

Beginning in the 1970s, various special interest groups, many well-funded, began to advocate for the privatization of education. Looking at aggregate data showing some failing school performance, they argued that private corporations, charter schools, could educate children better. They blamed the lack of marketplace competition for waste of taxpayer dollars for poor performance. Most often under-performing schools were underfunded schools: underfunded because of racism and patterns of segregation.

The neoliberal answer was to shift public funds, formerly from public schools, to private corporate charter schools. Along with the creation of charter schools, voucher systems were established by state legislatures and school districts allowing parents to place their children in any school they could find; often difficult to access and sometimes far from the child’s neighborhood. The introduction of charter schools and vouchers began the process of shifting resources from public education to private schools, thus destroying adequately performing public schools and weakening nearby communities.

The data on the shift from public schools to charters is shocking. For example in Detroit between 2005 and 2013 public school enrollment declined by 63% and charter school enrollments rose by 53%; in Gary the decline in public schools was 47% and the rise in charter school enrollment rose by 197%;  and in Indianapolis the decline in public school enrollments totaled 27% and the rise in charter schools was 287%. 

This historic transfer of public funds for education to privatization would often be sped up by local crises. The biggest crisis in an American community in decades occurred in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck that city in August, 2005. In its aftermath 100,000 citizens were forced to leave the city because their homes were demolished. Over 100 public schools were destroyed in the disaster. Subsequently virtually all those schools were replaced with charter schools, run by private corporations for a profit, devoid of teachers’ organizations and parental participation in the revitalization of educational institutions. Commenting on the New Orleans experience Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in the Obama administration suggested that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to the educational system of New Orleans. 

The human tragedy of Katrina was also a metaphor for what was to follow all across the nation: powerful forces swept away vibrant publicly controlled and accountable educational institutions, replacing them with new profit-driven, non-transparent, non-union, corporate schools that did not serve the needs and desires of the remaining members of the community. Public education is being uprooted, transformed, and destroyed all across the United States.  

To facilitate the privatization of schools cities everywhere have begun to close public schools. Detroit, New York, and Chicago closed over 100 schools per city in recent years. In Philadelphia, municipal funds for a prison came from the closure of 50 schools. The impacts of school closings is reflected in the essay “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” produced by the Journey for Justice Alliance: “Closing a school is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to a community; it strikes at the very core of community culture, history, and identity and…produces far-reaching repercussions that negatively affect every aspect of community life.” 

Recent Impacts

First, the shift of scarce state budget funds from public to charter schools has meant a significant decline in resources to maintain and improve public schools. If funds for new charter schools and increased money for vouchers are transferred from adequately performing public schools to under-performing charter or religious schools the changes in educational policy lead to a decline in the quality of education provided to all students. For example, in the 2014-2015 Indiana budget, $115 million was diverted by the state legislature from public education to the growing voucher program.

Therefore, as money is withdrawn from K-12 public education the traditional schools have reduced resources with which to do their job. This leads to declining performance. Then privatization advocates call for further reduction as well as school closings, rather than increasing resource allocation to public schools. 

Second, a high percentage of school closings occur in poor and Black communities. These closings create what the Journey for Justice Alliance calls “education deserts.” Parents have to find adequate, affordable schools elsewhere in the cities in which they live. Oftentimes charter schools refuse to admit particular students because of biased estimates of their probability of success, disabilities they may have, insufficient English language proficiency or other reasons. “Charter schools use a variety of selective admissions techniques, such as targeted marketing strategies, burdensome application processes, imposing academic prerequisites, and the active discouragement of less-desirable candidates.” (Journey for Justice Alliance, Death By a Thousand Cuts, May, 2014, pp.11-12). In some cases, parents cannot find adequate schools for their children anywhere near their community. 

The closing of schools, the struggle for admission to new schools, the increased class sizes of new schools, the adjustment to a new school culture, along with the inexperience of new teachers, all impact in negative ways on the educational experience of children. Education writer, Scott Elliott reported that of the 18 charter schools operating in Indianapolis in 2015, half of them had test scores in 2014 that registered a “fail” in state examination of their children. The failing charter schools served children from poorer backgrounds and/or were children with special needs such as language training. Several of these failing charter schools had been operating for several years and some had been part of national charter networks.

The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability summed up studies of the impacts of voucher programs on educational performance: ‘None of the independent studies performed of the most lauded and long standing voucher programs extant in the U.S.--Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Cleveland, Ohio, and Washington, D.C.--found any statistical evidence that children who utilized vouchers performed better than children who did not and remained in public schools.”

Third, as parent and student protests in Chicago, in various cities and towns in Indiana, and elsewhere suggest, there is an inverse relationship between the spread of charter schools and voucher systems and citizen input into educational policy-making. Historically, while many parents chose not to participate in school board decision- making, the prerogative existed for parents, and even students, to provide input into educational policy. It was assumed that members of communities had the right and the responsibility to communicate their concerns to school administrators, elected school boards, and teachers. Most school districts have active parent organizations. 

The documentary Education Inc. demonstrated cases in which the frequency of public school board hearings was reduced and meetings were summarily adjourned to avoid debate on controversial issues. And legislatures, such as in Indiana, have prohibited state executive or legislative bodies from regulating the “curriculum content” of private schools that accept vouchers.

Fourth, the neoliberal design referred to above is based upon the proposition that institutional and policy success is best measured by the profit accrued to the corporate bodies involved. In the field of education, neoliberal policies seek to shift accountability from the public to the private sector; from professional skills to market skills; and from participation by the professional and union organizations of teachers, parent groups, and engaged students to corporate executives of private corporations. The neoliberal design regards educational professionalism and training and teachers advocacy associations as impediments. 

Therefore the full force of state educational policy includes transferring status, respect, adequate remuneration from long time public school teachers to marginalized, under-trained new workers in charter schools. Also, the charter school movement is avowedly an anti-teachers union movement. 

Documentaries on education such as Rise Above the Mark and Education Inc. illustrate that career teachers find demoralizing the repeated and dysfunctional testing of children, declining resources for their schools, and repeated public statements devaluing and demeaning teachers. Educational spokespersons in these films speak in the most glowing terms about the passion to teach, commitment to children, and talent of staffs under their leadership. School superintendents in these documentaries also speak about the contributions which teachers unions make to the enhancement of school performance.   

The sum total of the thirty year effort to transform the educational system under the guise of “reform” are the following: the tradition of public education is being destroyed; access to quality education is becoming more difficult and more unequal; transparency and parent input into policy making is becoming more difficult; and the attack on professionalism and teachers unions is making it more difficult to teach.

How to respond?

Other issues need to be discussed including testing, evaluations based on dubious metrics, charging parents for text books, inequitable access to school supplies by district and by public versus private schools, inadequate funding, the development of curricula appropriate for a twenty-first century educational agenda, and the need to combat the “school to prison pipeline” that seems to undergird much of urban education. Responses to protect and enhance the quality of educational life for children require the following:

Creating an educational movement in the state of Indiana that says “enough is enough” to those advocates of so-called education “reform.” That means developing inside strategies that include running and electing legislators and executives who believe in public education. It means lobbying at the State House during the legislative season. It means launching litigation when politicians and educational privateers violate the Indiana constitution’s guarantee that all children have a right to a quality education.

The educational movement must also embrace an outside strategy, building a social movement. It should include education, agitation, and organization. Pamphlets, speakers, videos, and other public fora need to be organized all around the state. Educators and their supporters need to rally and protest so that the issue of quality education is discussed in communities and the media.

And organizationally, an educational movement should draw upon the militancy, passion, and expertise of educational organizations around the state that are already engaged in this work. Strengthening the movement for quality education is more about bringing existing groups together than creating new ones. That is the vision of Indiana Moral Mondays and the idea of “fusion politics.” Assemble those who share common values and a vision and build a mass movement such that as the old slogan says: “The People United Shall Never Be Defeated.” 

The huge rally of November 19 suggests that such a movement has been born. Or as this new movement in Indiana proclaims: “Red for Ed.”

What Specific Policies and Programs to Support?

1.Increasing, not decreasing, federal, state, and local funding of public education.

2.Prioritizing the funding of traditionally under-funded schools in economically disadvantaged communities. Resources should include salaries to encourage experienced teachers to remain in disadvantaged communities. Funds should provide equal technologies, including libraries, computers, and other tools, for schools in lower income communities equal to those provided for wealthier communities. Resources should provide for language training, math education, and programs in the arts.

3.Policy-making bodies in all branches of government should be open and transparent so that parents, teachers, and students can observe and participate in decision-making.

4.In school districts where teachers choose to form unions or other professional associations these organizations should be recognized partners in the policy-making process.

5.Assessments of school performance should be determined by teachers, school administrators, and parents, not politicians or educational corporations. Teachers should not be forced to “teach to the tests.”

6.The goal of the educational process should be the full development of the potential of each and every student irrespective of race, gender, class or other forms of discrimination.

Friday, November 15, 2019

A Memoir of Vietnam and El Salvador with Meaning for Latin America Today

6 PRIESTS KILLED IN A CAMPUS RAID IN SAN SALVADOR  (30 years ago today) Lindsey Gruson, The New York Times, Nov. 17, 1989 Six Jesuit priests, including the rector of a leading university, were killed here before dawn today by what one witness described as a group of 30 men dressed in military uniforms. Most of the priests were dragged from their beds in cubicles in a dormitory at the Jose Simeon Canas University of Central America on the outskirts of the capital and shot in the head with high-powered rifles, apparently of the same type issued by the army. The Jesuits' cook and her 15-year-old daughter were also shot to death.

National Public Radio November 15, 2019

Witness to war: an American doctor in El Salvador: a review essay

Harry R. Targ, Monthly Review,Vol. 37, October, 1985

The great American sociologist C. Wright Mills once wrote of the distinction between "personal troubles" and "public issues." Troubles relate to the individual personality and its interaction with an adjacent milieu of limited size. To understand them requires an examination of individual biography. Issues, on the other hand, transcend individual biographies and restricted social spaces, and they relate to the structure and dynamics of societies. Mills suggests that in order to understand and deal with personal troubles, it is often necessary to look beyond them no larger issues and their structures. Marx put the connection between biography and structure, individual and history, this way: "Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past."

All this may bear on our understanding of a book by Dr. Charles Clements, called Witness to War: An American Doctor in El Salvador. It is a book about personal troubles and public issues, personal commitment and recalcitrant history. At a superficial level, the book is an account of Clements' one-year stay in the liberated zone of the Gauzapa Front in El Salvador, ministering to the health needs of the civilian population. It also explains why Clements chose to volunteer for such arduous and heartrending service. At a more fundamental level, Witness to War is a personal biographical statement about one man's struggle for identity. It is a generational statement about the efforts of Americans to come to terms with the Vietnam experience. Finally, it is a profoundly significant historical statement that describes how the conduct of the United States in world affairs has shaped and distorted the lives of the people of El Salvador.

Charles Clements was born into a military family in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. His father, an air force colonel, instilled the virtues, "My early boyhood comes back to me as a kind of endless Fourth of July."

As a successful young student, Clements entered the Air Force Academy in order to benefit from a scholarship. At the academy he evidenced disdain for "hairy and dirty" antiwar demonstrators, but he found himself somewhat discomforted by combat training films. Clements claims he was more the scientist, the technocrat than the macho fighter pilot.

Upon graduation Clements was sent to UCLA for graduate work in operations management. Before completing his studies, he volunteered for flight school and hence training for Vietnam. After pilot training Clements flew transport planes in Vietnam. Within a year he would find himself in a psychiatric ward in an air force mental institution after he had refused to fly C-130s any longer in support of the war effort.

What experiences led this patriotic, ostensibly apolitical, technocratic young man to declare his opposition to the Vietnam war? Clements provides something of a checklist of events, facts, and experiences that reshaped his consciousness of the war.

He recounts a fighter pilot's description of a bombing run that led to a squadrom award. The pilot told of how he spotted, in his words, "a bunch of slopes," that is Vietnamese peasants, in a field. Upon receipt of orders, he was authorized to gun them down; at least thirty-one people died. "Weren't they farmers?" Clements asked. "Who the hell care?" the pilot replied. "They were gooks in a free-fire zone, so I offed them."

Clements tells why he began to believe he was being betrayed by his government. The number of enemy dead was inflated; American casualty figures were manipulated to minimize a negative impression. He was ordered to fly cargo to a location in the morning only to pick it up in the afternoon. When he asked about this, he was told that if he did not fly these worthless mission, he would be called back to the United States, thus reducing warfront capabilities.

Walking the streets of Saigon, Clements noted the prostitutes, drugs, black market sales, slums, and bars. He met CIA agents who described for him the rural pacification program, which involved the execution of alleged guerrilla sympathizers. He remembers how U.S. planes would fly over North Vietnam inducing anti-aircraft fire so that so-called reactive bombing could be justified, or the secret air strips in Laos that were being supplied by C-130s despite disclaimers by President Nixon.

Clements also received information from a bar-hopping CIA agent who told him that "his boys" were negotiating with General Lon Nol about a coup in Cambodia. Further, Clements became aware that Cambodia was being pummeled with bombs, again with official denials from Nixon, Kissinger, and the others.

When Clements finally decided to declare his refusal to participate in the war any longer, the official response conformed to the scenarios that could have been written by Ken Kesey or Kurt Vonnegut. "I recommend that you go see the base psychiatrist," his squadron commander said. Clements may have noted that this is the typical way that Americans respond to public issues--conceptualize them as private troubles.

Clements spent six months in a mental institution learning to ingratiate himself with peers and authorities. Finally he was discharged from the air force in March 1971 with a "10 percent disability."

Nine years later, Clements graduated from the University of Washington Medical School. He became a resident in family medicine at a county hospital in Salinas, California. Again, as in Vietnam, experiences and information were to transform his understanding and concern about a public issue, El Salvador.

A medical research committee returned from that country with a report that death squads were murdering surgeons in operating rooms, shooting patients, and "disappearing" health-care workers in clinics. At the time, Clements was treating some of the 600,000 Salvadoran refugees who had run from the mass murders in their own country. He saw patients missing limbs and other bodily organs that had been cut off with machetes, cases of deliberate acid burns, and other physical signs of torture. Also, "many of the refugees were emotional basket cases: hysterics, depressives, catatonics, paranoiacs--human being after human being whose mind has been tormented by terror."

After a period of money raising and public speaking to oppose U.S. policy in El Salvador, Clements decided to offer his services to alleviate some of the suffering of the kind he had seen. Since he had become a Quaker in the years after he left Vietnam, his support of the Salvadoran people had to be nonviolent. He therefore decided to go to El Salvador and provide medical care to civilians in the zones of popular control, that is, in areas governed by supporters of the opposition to the government in San Salvador. In February 1982, Clements clandestinely crossed the border between Honduras and El Salvador on foot and after hours of walking arrived at the Guazapa Front, an area about two hundred square miles surrounding a dormant volcano, twenty miles north of San Salvador.

Within this region were several villages n which Dr. Clements would visit and work in for a year. Villagers in the Guazapa Front had their own rudimentary political and social institutions, including schools, communal agricultural production, medical clinics, and a militia. The guerrilla coalition, the FMLN or Farabundo Marti Liberation Movement, had a presence in the region, was broadly supported by the people, and had a membership that was mostly from Guazapa.

During the course of Clements' stay in Guazapa, the region was subjected to periodic attacks from Salvadoran ground forces and boming and napalm attacks from the air. However, except for fortified government military installations, the Salvadoran army was unable to establish political control in Guazapa. They could only kill and destroy. Witness to War gives examples of the utter brutality of the army against residents of Guazapa. For instance, Camila, a 38-year-old woman, broke into hysterics when questioned about her history of pregnancies. She had had nine pregnancies. Three children survived. Two others died of fever and diarrhea, a common killer of children in the country. These two died during the years when she and her husband had decided to pay off the mortgage, equalling half their crop, rather than save the money for emergency food needs. Each year Camila had to choose between the threat of their land being repossessed or their children's health being endangered. Two other of Camila's children were killed in a government massacre early in 1980. Clements asked her why the family had not fled from government troops. Camila responded: "Because we didn't know then. We had never been to a demonstration or belonged to an organization. We didn't know we were the enemy."

Clements recounts walking along a trail behind a young woman. She suddenly dropped dead from a sniper's bullet. He ran to the body, grabbed the toddler the young woman was carrying, and dashed for cover. The little boy's father had already been killed. Now the child's aunt, a widowed woman, would have to care for him and his siblings. It was common for families to be formed and reformed as parents and children died. Intact nuclear families were rare in Guazapa.

Frederico was the male elder of a three-generation family in Copapayo. By local standards he was rich, owning several acres of land and some livestock. Clements said the family could have been evacuated to the United States but chose to stay because it "believed that the Christian and patriotic thing to do was to stay and contribute to the struggle." Frederico's wife Isabel headed the local Association of Salvadoran Women. One daughter ran the health-care program in their region of Guazapa. One son headed agricultural production in the same area. The son's wife, a seamstress, administered the village's shop where hats, packs, and uniforms were produced. One of Frederico's daughters was a school-teacher in Copapayo. Two younger children were members of the local militia. Just before he left Guazapa, Clements took a picture of all 14 family members. He expected to have the photograph developed in the United States and sent to Frederico. Before he could develop the film, thirteen members of Frederico's family were slaughtered in a government assault. A single photo, reproduced in the book, "is all that remains of them."

Much of the state violence, the vision of the people, and Clements' own activities are capsulized in a vignette about the eighth of October 1982, the fifteenth anniversary of Che Guevara's death. Che's memory is cherished even by those not engaged or predisposed to take up arms for revolutionary change. As Clements reports: "They remember him not as an ominous threat to liberty, but as the passionate doctor who once spoke before the United Nations General Assembly, challenging the northern industrial nations to share just 1 percent of their gross national product with the Third World." So, as Clements was completing his medical rounds on this special day, he happened upon a tiny village, Plantanares, where a small band played and some two hundred people were dancing. Many guerrillas and members of the local militia danced with guns slung across their backs. The event, of course, was the Fourth-of-July-like celebration in memory of Che.

As Clemens walked among vendors and sipped a cup of sugary coffee, a spotter plane circled over the area a few times, then disappeared. After viewing the celebration, Clements began his travel to another town. About an hour later, planes stormed out of the distant sky, "like a swarm of angry hornets," he remembered. Villages were bombed and strafed in an all-out attack. The village where the celebration for Che was in progress was directly hit. A family of twelve, including the woman who served him coffee, died when their house was destroyed by a bomb.

He ended the vignette with a tale about Che. It seems that as the small band of guerrillas landed in Cuba and headed for the Sierra Maestra mountains in 1956, Che was faced with the choice of grabbing a bag of medicine or a satchel of ammunition. Che, the doctor, chose the ammunition. Clements wrote that he realized he could not make the same choice as Guevara. However, he granted, "I won't presume to judge the moral correctness of that choice or its historical significance. If Che Guevera hadn't existed, perhaps some propagandist or poet might have invented him."

Not all of Clements' accounts of Guazapa are about the victimization of the population. He describes much that can help us understand the Salvadoran people and their attempt to build new institutions for a better life. We are first introduced to Nico, a slight twelve-year-old correo, or messenger, who guides Clements from the Honduran border. He is a cheerful, pistol-toting young man who is matured by the experiences of violence around him, although physically he is underdeveloped because of inadequate nutrition. Nico is like other children his age who serve the revolution as best they can, knowing full well that they will be guerrillas some day. In preparation, they attend school, engage in military drills, and still have time for soccer and other activities.

Ramon was a guerrilla leader in the area. He was also a doctor. During his last year in medical school Ramon was serving his obligatory period of residence in the countryside when the Salvadoran military occupied the medical school and killed many fellow medical students. Ramon decided to stay with the peasants. Clements portrayed him as "a study in contrasts." Before his troops, Ramon would speak in slogans about imperialism and the "fascist Reagan." In private, Clements said, Ramon showed how he detested bloodshed. He never spoke of the many combat exploits that had made him famous in the region. Rather, he would talk of the future, such as building a national health system in El Salvador much like that in Britain or Canada. He would describe efforts to erase illiteracy from among guerrilla volunteers and to overcome their machismo. The companeros, Ramon argued, had to be more than fighters; they had to be examples to the rest of society.

As to rural production, Clements describes what he called "pre-Columbian collectivism." In virtually every village in the Guazapa Front people cooked and washed their clothes communally, as well as cooperatively cultivating their corn and beans and gathering firewood. Time and level of commitment to communal activities varied and was freely chosen by the villagers. These traditions predated Spanish occupation and survive after one hundred years of oligarchic control of the land and the use of violence against the people. In this light, not only the North Americans but the economic oligarchy and the Salvadoran military were truly the foreigners of El Salvador.

Clements' descriptions of village cooperatives, small medical clinics, a public village trial of a soldier for murder, the endless discussions and debates among representatives of guerrilla groups, the eager participation of young and old, men and women, in maintaining village life, and the voluntary participation in guerrilla or militia organizations, are instances of a rich textured participatory democracy at work. Clements' description bears no relationship to the charges of incipient totalitarianism leveled at the opposition by U.S. politicians.

Finally, Clements' descriptions point to the thoroughly indigenous character of the revolution. People don't talk in ideologies but in terms of their oppression and their hopes for the future. They are clearly influenced by their culture and traditions, as with the cooperative agricultural production, by the church, as suggested by discussion of a legendary progressive local priest, by their sense of outrage at the oligarchy, and by their understanding of what economic and political democracy might mean to El Salvador.

Clements' book is weakest in its discussion of the history of U.S. imperialism in Central America. Ultimately, however, these more abstract and historical formulations go beyond, even if derived from, Witness to War. Rather the book is an account of one man's private troubles as he experiences Vietnam and El Salvador.

Ultimately, it portrays Clements' growing understanding of Vietnam and El Salvador as public issues.

The book ends with a description of an encounter the author had with some Salvadorans at a Christian base community. Clements found his hosts uncomfortable with his description of his pacifist commitment. Gabriel, the lay priest in the community, responded to the author's talk about nonviolence with his own understanding of peasant experience. Gabriel said:

“You gringos are always worried about violence done with machine guns and machetes. But there is another kind of violence that you must be aware of, too. I used to work on the hacienda. My job was to take care of the dueno's [landlord] dogs. I gave them meat and bowls of milk, food that I couldn't give my own family. When the dogs were sick, I took them to the veterinarian in Suchitoto or San San Salvador. When my children were sick, the dueno gave me his sympathy, but no medicine as they died.

To watch your children die of sickness and hunger while you can do nothing is a violence to the spirit. We have suffered that silently for too many years. Why aren't you gringos concerned with that kind of violence?”

After Gabriel's speech, Clements said, there was an uncomfortable silence. Then Gabriel added, "Tell your people they could start base Christian communities too."

By citing this incident at the book's end, Clements shows that he had begun to see private troubles as public issues, that people make history not precisely in ways of their own choosing, and that gringos as well as Salvadorans must work as they see fit to stop the violence and the poverty in El Salvador, and wherever else it exists.

Targ, Harry R. "Witness to war: an American doctor in El Salvador." Monthly Review, Oct. 1985, p. 57+. Gale Academic Onefile,