Wednesday, September 16, 2020




 Harry Targ


 The twenty-first century economic reality has created a new class society with a dominant class of concentrated wealth at one extreme and a growing class of economically insecure in the other.  More and more of those in the latter have become political activists, particularly among the young. This new class society in the United States parallels similar economic changes in both rich and poor countries. As a result of the changes in global and domestic economies social movements have arisen everywhere. From Cairo, Egypt to Madison, Wisconsin, from Greece to Chile, from Syriza and Podemos to the Sanders campaign, the cry for change, often a demand for socialism, is spreading. The outcome of this new activism is unclear but for the first time in a long time, the prospects for positive social and political change look promising.

The New Class Society
In 1999, Robert Perrucci and Earl Wysong published the first of four editions of a perceptive sociological analysis that identified what the authors identified as “the new class society.” They employed a Marxist and Weberian analysis of class that combined workers’ relationships to the means of production with their organizational position.

Using data reflecting their synthetic definition of class, these authors concluded that the popular portrait of a U.S. class system consisting of a small ruling class, a large “middle class,” and a small percentage of economically and politically marginalized people was, by the 1970s, no longer an accurate way to describe society. The class system of the days of relative prosperity from the 1940s until the late 1960s, which looked like a diamond with a broad middle, had become a class system looking like a “double diamond.”

In the new class society, the first diamond, the top one, consists of the “privileged class” composed of a “super-class,” “credentialed class managers,” and “professionals.” All together these representatives of privilege constitute about 20 percent of the population. All the others constitute a “new working class,” some living in relative comfort but most engaged in wage labor with the constant threat of job loss and wage stagnation, some modestly self-employed, and a large part-time labor force. This is the second diamond representing 80 percent of the population.

In short, the political economy that emerged nearly fifty years ago is one in which a shrinking ruling class that owns or controls capital has accumulated enormous wealth and dominates today’s economy. At the other end an increasingly insecure working class in terms of jobs and income has grown exponentially.

Peter Temin, an MIT economist, confirms the earlier sociological work in his new book “The Vanishing Middle Class.” This book also identifies an emerging two-class society with wealth and power concentrated at the top and poverty and powerlessness at the bottom. In what Temin calls the “dual economy,” the ruling class consists of the finance, technology, and electronics sectors (FTE), representing the top twenty percent as opposed to “the low wage sector;” clerks, assemblers, laborers, and service workers who provide the comforts and profits for the top twenty percent.

In summary, both volumes suggest that in terms of wealth and power conflicts of interest have to be seen not between the one percent and everyone else but between the twenty percent who own/control/ or administer the capitalist system and the eighty percent who constitute increasingly marginalized labor serving the interests of the wealthy and powerful.

The Precariat

Guy Standing, a British economist, has written about the “precariat,” a growing portion of the worldwide work force, Temin’s “ low wage sector,” who live in economic insecurity. The term, precariat, refers to a synthesis of the idea of the proletariat, workers who sell their ability to provide labor to a capitalist for a wage, and precarity, or economic existence that is unpredictable, marginal, and insecure. Job scarcity and wage stagnation increasingly is experienced by workers with professional skills and credentials as well as the traditional working class.

Standing argues that all across the globe workers, particularly young workers, live in situations of economic insecurity and unpredictability, irrespective of credentials, that in the past guaranteed jobs and living wages. Of course, the precariat do not have any of the guarantees of union membership and their skills leave them often working on a part-time contract basis and in isolation from fellow workers. In addition the precariat include workers in the “informal sector.” These are workers who often will do anything to survive from day to day: for example, day labor, street vending, drug dealing, petty crime, or prostitution.

Accumulation by Dispossession

David Harvey, a Marxist geographer, revisited Marx’s description of primitive accumulation in his book, “The Seventeen Contradictions of Capitalism.”  Capitalism was created on the backs of slaves, the slaughter of indigenous people, and the expropriation of already occupied land. In other words, through kidnapping, forced labor, slaughter, and occupation, capitalism was born. The expropriation of resources, people, and land led to the accumulation of wealth that spurred development and growth.

Harvey then argues that the primitive accumulation of the fifteenth century is similar in outcome to the “accumulation by dispossession,” of the twenty-first century. Today workers lose their property and their personal income in a debt system that sucks their scarce earnings and property. Examples include defaults on mortgage loans and bank repossessions and governmental decisions to confiscate property for purposes of urban redevelopment. Accumulation by dispossession, while not as violent as in the era of primitive accumulation, has the same outcome: expropriating the value of the work of the many for the riches of the few.

Growing Economic Inequality and Urban Decay and Gentrification

Virtually every study of the distribution of wealth and income in the United States demonstrates a dramatic increase in inequality. Also studies sponsored by international organizations report that despite declines in worldwide absolute poverty, the trajectory of growing inequality in wealth and income is a central feature of the global economy. In addition, declining inequality between countries, such as that between China and the countries of the European Union, have occurred while inequalities within these countries have widened. In the United States income and wealth inequality which declined from the 1930s until the 1960s has returned to levels not seen since the 1920s.

The patterns of inequality are visible in geographic spaces as well. As more and more people are forced to migrate to cities, what Mike Davis calls “global slums,”  demarcations of areas of opulence and poverty become visible. Members of the top twenty percent are consumers of expensive living spaces, elite schools, and vibrant recreational facilities. They also lobby for public funds to create recreational attractions that entice tourists to bolster local economies. Gentrified city spaces are protected by fences and police.

On the other hand, the bottom eighty percent live in varying degrees of poverty. Housing stocks crumble, neighborhoods are overcrowded, public services are increasingly underfunded, and populations are left to lead lives of quiet desperation and intra-community violence. In the new class society different sectors of the population live in isolation from each other, except when political conflict and violence spread across communities.

Also in the new class society youth become pessimistic about their futures. Despite the fact that media and academic studies claim that upward mobility is tied to scholastic achievement, the schools they attend are underfunded. And the cost of higher education, the main source of credentialing the young, has become prohibitively expensive. For those who accumulate massive student debt the experience feels like a modern-day variant of indentured servitude. Jobs for those who do not attend college are scarce and reside primarily in the low-wage service sector. And so-called STEM jobs (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are not as plentiful as college promotional brochures suggest. Along with the precarity of the traditional working class is a rising precarity of a new working class of highly educated but unemployable young people.


Manning Marable published a perceptive essay in 2006 entitled “Globalization and Racialization.” In it he adapted, based upon the twenty-first century global political economy, the prophetic statement by W. E. B. Du Bois that the problem of the twentieth century was the color line. Marable suggested that the new global political economy was based upon capital flight, as well-paid manufacturing jobs left the United States for sweatshops in the Global South. Unemployment  increased in the United States. Downward pressures on wages and benefits paid workers in poor countries reduced the economic conditions of US workers. The decline of organized labor in the United States and the Global South weakened the bargaining position of workers everywhere.

Marable suggested that the people most vulnerable to the massive changes in the global economy were the already marginalized people of color. Unemployment rates in poor and Black communities skyrocketed, particularly among youth. The new gentrification and shift in politics from welfare state capitalism to austerity led to declining public services in poor communities. This has had particularly devastating impacts on educational institutions.

With declining economic opportunities, a growing sense of hopelessness, draconian government policies such as the wars on drugs and crime, literally millions of African Americans, and other people of color, have become victims of mass incarceration, what Michelle Alexander calls “The New Jim Crow.” Finally, many states have laws that prevent former felons from voting. The Marable framework, which he refers to as “global apartheid” and “the New Racial Domain,” thus links globalization of production to racism; particularly growing unemployment and urban decay, criminalization, mass incarceration, and voter disenfranchisement.

Neoliberalism: the Latest Stage of Capitalism

The so-called “golden age of the US economy,” 1945 to 1968, may have been an anomaly in American history. The United States emerged from World War Two as the economic and military hegemonic power. The war led to a fourfold increase in United States trade compared with the late 1930s. In 1945 it produced about 2/3 of all the industrial goods manufactured in the world and US investments constituted about ¾ of all the world’s investments. With fears of stagnation accompanying the war’s end, the Truman Administration launched a massive program of military investment to forestall declining demand for US goods and services.

In terms of international relations, the United States played an instrumental role in establishing powerful international economic institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. It helped rebuild an anti-communist Europe through a massive financial aid system. It later established foreign assistance programs for newly “independent” countries requiring their commitment to the maintenance of a global capitalist system.

At home a United States economy was created that stimulated high mass consumption. People were socialized to believe that their self-worth was determined by the quantity and quality of goods and services they consumed. The new communication medium, television, educated viewers as to the products that were available (as well as the enemies overseas who were the threat to the domestic consumer society).

However, by the late 1960s, markets were glutted and demand for goods lessened even though wages and benefits for some workers increased. Federal and state governments had been increasing services such as education, health care, and transportation. Both profit rates and consumer demand declined. Growing political protest against the Vietnam war and racism across the country added to emerging economic stagnation.

By the 1970s, the squeeze on profits and reduced demand, was exacerbated by Middle East wars and large increases in the price of oil, which made some corporations and banks richer while economic stagnation, including both high inflation and unemployment, ensued. At this point, the United States economy began a shift to what David Harvey calls “financialization.” A small number of banks and corporations, mostly US but also European and Japanese, began to shift from encouraging manufacturing growth to financial speculation. A “new” debt system was encouraged, one in which oil-poor countries borrowed more and more money from bankers to pay for continued oil imports. In exchange debtor nations would promise to carry out new economic policies at home: cut government spending, privatize public institutions, deregulate domestic economies, and shift economic activities from production for domestic use to production for sale in the world market.

Thus, the new era of “neoliberal globalization” was initiated. The new system was driven by financial speculators, declining autonomy of nation-states, and the downsizing of wages and benefits everywhere. At the same time rates of profit for speculators increased and smaller numbers of banks and other financial institutions increasingly dominated the global economy. This system was initiated in the Global South, spread to Western Europe and after the fall of the Soviet Union and its allies to Eastern Europe. In the 1980s neoliberalism was embraced by Prime Minister Thatcher in Great Britain and President Ronald Reagan in the United States. The best way to characterize policy in the age of neoliberal globalization is “austerity,” reducing the economic opportunities of the many for the benefit of the few.

Neoliberal globalization is the systemic source of the new class society (or the dual economy), the rise of the precariat, accumulation by dispossession, growing inequality and urban gentrification, and the expansion of racism.

A Revitalized Interest in Socialism in the Twenty-First Century  

As history has shown, the accumulation of wealth and power by ruling elites, or dominant classes, never goes unchecked. The drive for domination breeds resistance. And resistance takes many forms: traditional revolutionary practices, building alternative economic and political institutions, non-violent refusal to obey the institutions that support economic misery and political repression, and where practical, participation in electoral processes. Social change is many-sided and several strategies together are most likely to bring positive results.

History shows also that struggles for change are broadly political, require organization, mass mobilization, and education. Change requires analyses of the causes of the problems needing solution and a vision of what a better future might look like. And there is an inextricable connection between the causes of the problems, the tactics needed to change the situation, and a vision of a better society.

The analyses above highlight the changing character of the global political economy, emerging class structures, and the growing vulnerabilities of literally millions of people: young and old: Black, Brown, and White; female and male; gay and straight; and at all levels of education and training. At the root of the problem is the capitalist system, a system whose reason for being is the maximization of profit. People today are talking about a new society, a socialist society. Socialism implies a political economy in which people contribute their talents, their labors, for the public good and share equitably in the product of their labor. And socialism presumes democratic participation in work places, the political system, and the community.  


Robert A. Perrucci and Earl Wysong. The New Class Society, Rowman and Littlefield, 1999 (the first of four editions).

Peter Temin, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, MIT Press, 2017.

Victor Tan Chen, “The Dual Economy,” Working Class Perspectives,

Guy Standing, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, Bloomsbury Academic, 2014.

David Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism,  Oxford University Press, 2015.

Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, Verso, 2017.

Harry Targ, Challenging Late Capitalism, Neoliberal Globalization and Militarism,, 2006.

Manning Marable, “Globalization and Racialization,” ZNET,, March 2, 2009.

 Various articles on political economy, social movements, peace and justice in Harry Targ, Diary of a Heartland Radical,




Monday, September 14, 2020

On Class and Race


On Class and Race

A lecture by Dr. Harry Targ
Slides by Carl Davidson

Rednecks for Black Lives' Rallies White Southerners for Racial Justice

Organizer Beth Howard is calling on her fellow ‘rednecks’ and ‘hillbillies’ to stand up for Black lives

Friday, September 11, 2020




Harry Targ

9/11 in Chile

On the bright and sunny morning of September 11, 1973, aircraft bombed targets in Valparaiso, Chile, and moved on to the capital, Santiago. Following a well-orchestrated plan, tanks rolled into the capital city, occupied the central square, and fired on the Presidential palace. Inside that building, President Salvador Allende broadcast a final address to his people and fatally shot himself as soldiers entered his quarters.

Thousands of Allende supporters were rounded up and held in the city’s soccer stadium and many, including renowned folk singer Victor Jara, were tortured and killed. For the next fifteen years, Chilean workers were stripped of their right to form unions, political parties and elections were eliminated, and the junta led by General Augusto Pinochet ruled with an iron fist all but ignored outside the country until Chileans began to mobilize to protest his scheme to become President for life.

9/11 in the United States

Of course, 9/11/01 was different. The United States was attacked by foreign terrorists, approximately 3,000 citizens and residents were killed at the World Trade Center, over a rural area in Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon. People all over the world expressed their sorrow and sympathy for the victims of the 9/11 attacks as the American people experienced shock and dismay.

But then everything began to change. Within days of the terrorist attacks, members of President Bush’s cabinet began to advocate a military assault on Iraq, a longstanding target of the Washington militarists of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). Now is the time, they said, to take out Saddam Hussein, seize control of Iraqi oil fields, and reestablish United States control over the largest share of the oil fields of the Persian Gulf region. Cooler heads prevailed for a time, however. We cannot attack Iraq, critics said, because Iraq had nothing to do with the crimes in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

So it was decided that a war would be waged on Afghanistan, because the headquarters of the shadowy organization Al Qaeda, led by Osama Bin Laden, was said to be in that country. On October 6, 2001, that war was initiated and still goes on although Bin Laden has been killed.

Shortly after launching the war on Afghanistan, the neo-cons in the Bush administration began a campaign to convince the American people that we needed to make war on Iraq. Lies were articulated that the Iraqi dictator was really behind the global terrorists who perpetrated 9/11. He had weapons of mass destruction. He was part of a global Islamic fundamentalist cabal. At last, despite evidence to the contrary, the mobilization of millions of Americans against war, growing global resentment against the Bush Doctrine justifying preemptive wars, the United States attacked Iraq in March, 2003. That war too still goes on.

Over the last decade, U.S. military budgets have tripled, thousands of U.S. soldiers have died or sustained irreparable injuries, and an estimated one million Afghan and Iraqi people, mostly civilians, have died. Meanwhile the United States has maintained over 700 military installations around the world, declared the great land and sea area around the globe at the equator the “arc of instability,” and engaged in direct violence or encouraged others to do so, from Colombia to Honduras in the Western Hemisphere, to Ethiopia and Somalia in the Horn of Africa, to Israel, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Syria and Libya in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, to Pakistan, and Afghanistan in East Asia. Presidents Bush and Obama have declared that United States military overreach to be in the national interest of the country and to serve the humanitarian interest of the world. Now the U.S. program includes the use of computer operated aircraft, drones, that can target and kill anywhere based on decisions from command headquarters half way around the globe.

Meanwhile at home, the Patriot Act has extended the prerogatives of government to launch a program claiming to be essential to protect the people from domestic terrorists: spying on Americans; incarcerating people from virtually anywhere deemed to be a security threat; and establishing a political climate that intimidates critics of United States foreign policy.

Domestically, the decade since 9/11 has been characterized by sustained assaults on the basic living standards of the bottom 90 percent of the population in terms of wealth and income. Unemployment has risen dramatically. Job growth has ground to a halt. Health care benefits have declined while costs skyrocket. Virtually every public institution in America, except the military, is being threatened by budget cuts: education, libraries, public health facilities, highways and bridges, fire and police protection, environmental quality.

Support for war overseas and at home is stoked by a so-called “war on terrorism” and an anti-government ideology, made popular earlier by the Reagan administration that lionizes Adam Smith’s claims that only the market can satisfy human needs. Following 9/11, the “beast,” government, has been starved even more resulting in increased demand on workers and institutions with reduced resources, offering “proof” that government never works.

Not all have had to sacrifice during this ten-year “war on terror” and its attendant domestic programs. The rich have gotten richer while the income and wealth of 90 percent of the population have experienced economic stagnation or decline. Media monopolization has facilitated the rise of a strata of pundits who simplify and distort the meaning of events since 9/11 by claiming that war is necessary; the terrorist threat is a growing global threat; as a nation and individually we need to arm ourselves; and subliminally it is people of color who constitute the threat to security and well-being.

Where Do We Go From Here

So the United States 9/11 event was not the first. The Chilean 9/11 preceded the U.S. one by 28 years. Its people experienced a brutal military coup. And in the United States mass murder was committed by 19 terrorists. But in both cases the 9/11 event was followed by violence, threats to democracy, and economic shifts from the vast majority of the population to the wealthy and political/military elites. In both cases, draconian economic policies and constraints of civil and political rights were defined as required by threats to the “homeland.”

As the ten-year anniversary of the U.S. 9/11 is remembered, it is critical to reflect upon how the murder of 3,000 citizens and residents was defined as an opening salvo in a perpetual “war on terrorism:” how this war trumps traditional civil liberties afforded by the constitution; how this war must be waged at whatever cost to the lives and economic resources of the country; and, as with the Cold War, military spending must take priority over every other activity for which the government has a role. 9/11/73 caused the Chilean people pain and suffering that they are still working to overcome 28 years later. Unless the American people mobilize to challenge the policies, foreign and domestic, that were justified by the tragedy of 9/11, the United States will continue to move down a similar path the Chilean people traveled after their 9/11.



New York Times

At Least 37 Million People Have Been Displaced by America’s War on Terror

A new report calculates the number of people who fled because of wars fought by the United States since Sept. 11, 2001.

By John Ismay

·        Sept. 8, 2020

At least 37 million people have been displaced as a direct result of the wars fought by the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a new report from Brown University’s Costs of War project. That figure exceeds those displaced by conflict since 1900, the authors say, with the exception of World War II.

The findings were published on Tuesday, weeks before the United States enters its 20th year of fighting the war on terror, which began with the invasion of Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001; yet, the report says it is the first time the number of people displaced by U.S. military involvement during this period has been calculated. The findings come at a time when the United States and other Western countries have become increasingly opposed to welcoming refugees, as anti-migrant fears bolster favor for closed-border policies.

The report accounts for the number of people, mostly civilians, displaced in and from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya and Syria, where fighting has been the most significant, and says the figure is a conservative estimate — the real number may range from 48 million to 59 million. The calculation does not include the millions of other people who have been displaced in countries with smaller U.S. counterterrorism operations, according to the report, including those in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Niger.

“This has been one of the major forms of damage, of course along with the deaths and injuries, that have been caused by these wars,” said David Vine, a professor of anthropology at American University and the lead author of the report. “It tells us that U.S. involvement in these countries has been horrifically catastrophic, horrifically damaging in ways that I don’t think that most people in the United States, in many ways myself included, have grappled with or reckoned with in even the slightest terms.”

While the United States is not the sole cause for the migration from these countries, the authors say it has played either a dominant or contributing role in these conflicts.

People fled their homes for all of the reasons common in armed conflict, such as aerial bombing and drone strikes, artillery fire and gun battles that destroy housing and neighborhoods, as well as death threats and large-scale ethnic cleansing, according to the report. Fighting, which in some countries has gone on for nearly two decades, has eliminated many jobs, businesses and entire industries, threatening people’s ability to provide for themselves. In many instances, the wars have removed access to food and water sources, hospitals, schools and other local infrastructure, making daily life unsustainable.

In Somalia, 46 percent of the population has been displaced since American forces once again entered combat there in 2002. Hundreds of thousands have sought refuge in neighboring countries in the last 18 years, and for the last decade, U.S. warplanes have routinely dropped bombs and fired missiles on the terror group Shabab. While the Pentagon has been slow to acknowledge killing civilians in those strikes, it recently admitted to having done so for the third time after reporting by Amnesty International.

The report from the Costs of War project also estimated the number of people who have returned to their home countries or regions, 25.3 million, though that number includes children born elsewhere to refugee parents. Some of those returning are victims of involuntary deportation from their host countries, and others return only to encounter more of the same violence that they once fled.

After previous wars, the United States at times accepted large numbers of refugees from the countries in which it fought. Following the Vietnam War, the United States admitted approximately one million Southeast Asian people as war refugees, some of whom lived temporarily in camps on Guam and on the Marine Corps base Camp Pendleton in Southern California.

More recently, refugee admissions have dropped considerably. Data from the State Department show a sharp downturn in the number of refugees admitted to the United States immediately after Donald Trump took office. Since January 2017, the United States has admitted just 2,955 Iraqis, a 95 percent drop, and 2,705 Somalis, a 91 percent decrease, over the same time period at the end of the Obama administration.

To tally the displaced, scholars from American University collected data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, among other groups that track displacement figures.

Reached for comment, the Pentagon referred queries to the State Department. A representative from the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration said that the bureau publishes an annual report on refugees and displaced peoples, but that document “does not distinguish based on cause of displacement.”

Vine says that while having these numbers is helpful, it does not offer any insight into what kinds of lives displaced people are living. “Every day you live in a refugee camp is a day it’s been degraded compared to what it once was,” he said. “It’s another day you’re separated from your home and your home land.”


United States foreign policy: yesterday, today, and tomorrow

MR Online, Posted Oct 23, 2019 by Harry Targ

Just before the Korean War started in 1950, post-World War key foreign policy advisers to President Truman threw their support behind recommendations made in a classified document, National Security Council Document 68, which recommended a dramatic increase in military spending. NSC-68 also recommended that military spending from that point on should be the number one priority of the national government. When presidents sit down to construct a federal budget, the document recommended, they should first allocate all the money requested by military and corporate elites and lobbyists concerned with military spending. Only after that the military advocates receive all they request should government programs address education, health care, roads, transportation, housing and other critical domestic issues. When the United States entered the Korean War, in June, 1950, Truman endorsed the recommendations of NSC 68 and used the war on the Korean peninsula as justification. In Andrew Bacevich’s words the United States fully committed to a “permanent war economy.” As political scientist, Hans Morgenthau wrote about that time; there was no turning back from the new war economy and a “Cold War” against the former Soviet Union. Each subsequent president expanded on the war economy and the narrative of a dangerous world that justified trillions of dollars of spending. According to Chalmers Johnson (BlowbackSorrows of Empire), between 1947 and 1990, the permanent war economy cost the American people close to $9 trillion. Ruth Sivard (World Military Expenditures) presented data to indicate that over 100,000 U.S. military personnel died in wars and military interventions during this period. And, in other countries, nearly 10 million people died directly or indirectly in wars in which the United States was a participant.

Seventy years later, Trump era military budgets have reached record highs, $738 billion dollars in the 2020 fiscal year and a projected $740 billion in 2021. As William Hartung wrote: “The agreement sets the table for two of the highest budgets for the Pentagon and related work on nuclear warheads at the Department of Energy since World War II (in Jake Johnson, ‘Unprecedented, Wasteful, and Obscene’: House Approves $1.48 Trillion Pentagon Budget,” Common Dreams, Friday, July 26, 2019). Including past and present military-related spending the War Resisters League estimates that the 2020 federal budget will consist of 48 percent of all spending, exceeding non-military spending by six percent. Just one weapon, the notorious F-35 latest generation fighter plane is costing, by conservative estimates, $1.5 trillion. (Manufacturing facilities for the plane are found in 433 of 435 Congressional districts).

Rationalizing the Permanent War Economy

A factional dispute among foreign policy elites began to emerge in the 1970s about the best strategies and tactics which should be pursued to maximize the continued global economic, political, and military dominance of the United States in the international system. The dispute was not over whether the United States should continue to pursue empire but rather how to continue to achieve it. The debates were occasioned by the rise of the countries of the Global South, the societally wrenching experience of the Vietnam War, the growth of power and influence of the former Soviet Union, and since its collapse, the emergence of China as a new global economic, political and military power. In addition, the new international economy was becoming more global, that is to say more interconnected. Debates about strategy, tactics, surfaced between the neoliberal globalists who emphasized so-called free trade, financial speculation, and the promotion of a neoliberal agenda that advocated for the privatization of all public activities by states and the development of austerity policies that would shift wealth from the many to the few. The international debt system would be the vehicle for pressuring poor and rich countries to transform their own economic agendas. This faction dominated United States foreign policy making for generations, particularly from Reagan to Clinton to Obama. In political/military terms, they have sought to push back challengers to neoliberal capitalism: Russia, China, populist Latin American countries, and they have advocated advancing US economic interests in Asia and Africa. Many of the institutions of the neoliberal globalists, sometimes called the “deep state” include the CIA, NSA, and other security agencies.

The other faction represented by President Trump and some of his key aides prefer economic nationalism, restricted trade, building walls, avoiding diplomacy, and they are driven by a deeply held white supremacist ideology. They believe, as political scientist Samuel Huntington argued, that we are engaged in a civilizational conflict with Islam, a fourth world war. The neoliberal globalists undermined Ukraine, put more NATO troops in Eastern Europe and want to depose Putin and weaken Russia. This is not on the Trump agenda.

The forbearers of the current generation of Trumpian economic nationalists, came from the so-called “neo-conservatives,” historically organized around the 1990s lobby group, The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) and in the 1950s and 1970s of The Committee for the Present Danger (CPD). Both the neoliberals and the neoconservatives share a common vision of a global political economy controlled by the United States but the former prefer selective use of military force and greater use of economic and diplomatic pressure and covert interventionism while justifying policy on humanitarian grounds, including expanding democracy. Since, they say, the United States represents the hope of democracy in the world, it is as Madeleine Albright called it. “the indispensable nation.” The neoconservatives, in a sense more frank, argued that with the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the United States was the hegemonic power. With that power PNAC argued, the United States should have imposed a world order and state regimes that comported with US interests and ideology. Over the years, the policies of the two factions converged; hence economic penetration, covert interventions, occasional wars, and support for expanding military spending. But, often for reasons of domestic rather than international politics, conflicts between the two factions resurface. That is the case in 2019.

The Ruling Class Agenda for the United States Role in the World: Before the 2016 election

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 eroded.China 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. 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. (Neoliberal globalization, the latest phase in the development of international capitalism is described in an important recent book, Jerry Harris, Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Democracy, Clarity Press, 2016).

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.

“Innovation and National Security: Keeping Our Edge:” Council on Foreign Relations 2019

The influential Council on Foreign Relations issued a Task Force report in September, 2019, on national security. Task force members included representatives of prestigious universities, large corporations, and staff from the CFR. In the forward, the report pointed out that the United States had led the world in technological innovation and development since the end of World War Two. But, it said, “…the United States risks falling behind its competitors, principally China.” It goes on to propose that the United States “…needs to respond urgently and comprehensively over the next five years and put forward a national security innovation strategy to ensure it is the predominant power in a range of emerging technologies such as AI and data science, advanced battery storage, advanced semiconductor technologies, genomics and synthetic biology, fifth-generation cellular networks (5G), quantum information systems, and robotics.” The report calls for increases in federal support for basic research and development. This would include investments in higher education, selective immigration of skilled scientists, and reform of military institutions to more effectively incorporate new technologies into military capabilities.

Major findings of the Task Force included the following:

·        Technological innovation leads to economic and military advantage.

·        US leadership in science and innovation is at risk.

·        US federal funding for research and development has stagnated for years.

·        US leadership in STEM education is declining

·        The Defense Department and the intelligence community risk falling behind “potential adversaries” if they do not employ more technologies from the private sector.

·        The defense community “faces deteriorating manufacturing capabilities,” and “insecure” supply chains, while depending on other nations for technologies.

·        There is a ”cultural divide” surfacing between technology and policymaking communities weakening connections between the defense and intelligence communities and the private sector.
And, as to our major competitor China:

·        China is investing significantly in new technologies and will be the world’s biggest investor by 2030.

·        China is closing “the technological gap” with the United States, and it and other countries are approaching the US as to artificial intelligence (AI).

·        China is “exploiting” the openness of the US to secure valuable innovation by violating intellectual property rights.

While praising President Trump for some of his efforts the report says that increased budgets have been too “incremental and narrow in scale.” The Administration has inadequately moved to develop new communications technologies, and to respond to the challenge of Huawei’s global expansion.

Therefore the United States must:

·        restore federal funding for research and development.

·        attract and educate a science and technology workforce.

·        support technology adoption in the defense sector.

·        bolster and scale technology alliances and ecosystems.

In short, “during the early years of the Cold War, confronted by serious technological and military competition from the Soviet Union, the United States invested heavily in its scientific base. Those investments ensured U.S. technological leadership for fity years. Faced with the rise of China and a new wave of disruptive technological innovation, the country needs a similar vision and an agenda for realizing it.” (9)

Where Does the Foreign Policy of Donald Trump Fit?

Taking “the long view” of United States foreign policy, it is clear that from NSC-68; to the response to the Soviet challenges in space such as during the Sputnik era; to global wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq; to covert interventions in the Middle East, Latin America, Asia, and Africa, the United States has pursued global hegemony (and is suggested in the CFR statement). It is also clear that the pursuit of empire has of necessity involved the creation of a permanent war economy, an economy that overcomes economic stagnation by the infusion of enormous military expenditures.

It is also clear that justification for empire and military spending has necessitated the construction of an enemy, first the Soviet Union and international communism; then terrorism; and now China. The obverse of a demonic enemy requires a conception of self to justify the imperial project. That self historically has been various iterations of American exceptionalism, the indispensable nation, US humanitarianism, and implicitly or explicitly the superiority of the white race and western civilization.

In this light, while specific policies vary, the trajectory of US foreign policy in the twenty-first century is a continuation of the policies and programs that were institutionalized in the twentieth century. Three seem primary. First, military spending, particularly in new technologies continues unabated. And the CFR report raises the danger of the United States “falling behind,” the same metaphor that was used by the writers of the NSC-68 document, or the Gaither and Rockefeller Reports composed in the late 1950s to challenge President Eisenhower’s worry about a military/industrial complex, the response to Sputnik, Secretary of Defense McNamara’s transformation of the Pentagon to scientific management in the 1960s, or President Reagan’s huge increase of armaments in the 1980s to overcome the “window of vulnerability.”

Second, the United States continues to engage in policies recently referred to as “hybrid wars.” The concept of hybrid wars suggests that while traditional warfare between nations has declined, warfare within countries has increased. Internal wars, the hybrid wars theorists suggest, are encouraged and supported by covert interventions, employing private armies, spies, and other operatives financed by outside nations like the United States. Also the hybrid wars concept also refers to the use of economic warfare, embargoes and blockades, to bring down adversarial states and movements. The blockades of Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran are examples. So the hybrid war concept suggests the carrying out of wars by other, less visible, means.

Third, much of the discourse on the US role in the world replicates the bipolar, super power narrative of the Cold War. Only now the enemy is China. As Alfred McCoy has pointed out (In the Shadows of the American Empire, 2017), the United States in the twenty first century sees its economic hegemony being undermined by Chinese economic development and global reach. To challenge this, McCoy argues, the United States has taken on a project to recreate its military hegemony: AI, a space force, biometrics, new high tech aircraft etc. If the US cannot maintain its hegemony economically, it will have to do so militarily. This position is the centerpiece of the recent CFR Task Force Report.

Recognizing these continuities in United States foreign policy, commentators appropriately recognize the idiosyncrasies of foreign policy in the Trump era. He has reached out to North Korea and Russia (which has had the potential of reducing tensions in Asia and Central Europe). He has rhetorically claimed that the United States must withdraw military forces from trouble spots around the world, including the Middle East. He has declared that the United States cannot be “the policeman of the world,” a declaration made by former President Nixon as he escalated bombing of Vietnam and initiated plans to overthrow the Allende regime in Chile. For some of these measures, Trump has been inappropriately criticized by Democrats and others. Tension-reduction on the Korean Peninsula, for example, should have been encouraged.

However, while Trump moves in one direction he almost immediately undermines the policies he has ordered. His announced withdrawal from Syria, while in the abstract a sign of a more realistic assessment of US military presence in the Middle East was coupled with a direct or implied invitation to the Turkish military to invade Northeast Syria to defeat the Kurds. Also, at the same time he was withdrawing troops from Syria, the Defense Department announced the United States was sending support troops to Saudi Arabia. He withdrew from the accord with Iran on nuclear weapons and the Paris Climate Change agreement. Time after time, one foreign policy decision is contradicted by another. These contradictions occur over and over with allies as well as traditional adversaries. Sometimes policies seem to be made with little historical awareness and without sufficient consultation with professional diplomats. (One is reminded of the old Nixon idea, the so-called “madman theory.” Nixon allegedly wanted to appear mad so that adversaries would be deterred from acting in ways contrary to US interests out of fear of random responses).

The contradictory character of Trump foreign policy has left the peace movement befuddled. How does it respond to Trump’s occasional acts that go against the traditional imperial grain at the same time that he acts impetuously increasing the dangers of war? How does the peace movement participate in the construction of a progressive majority that justifiably seeks to overturn the Trump era and all that it stands for: climate disaster, growing economic inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia, and hybrid war? Perhaps the task for the peace movement is to include in the project of building a progressive majority ideas about challenging the US as an imperial power, proclaiming that a progressive agenda requires the dismantling of the permanent war economy. These are truly troubled times, with to a substantial degree the survival of humanity and nature at stake. The war system is a significant part of what the struggle is about.


About Harry Targ

Harry Targ is a retired Professor of Political Science, Purdue University. He has written books and articles on US foreign policy, international political economy, and issues of labor and class struggle. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical.