Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Friday, August 10, 2018


Harry Targ

David Harvey has written about a “co-revolutionary theory” of change. In this theory Harvey argues that anti-capitalist movements today must address “mental conceptions;” uses and abuses of nature; how to build real communities; workers relations to bosses; exploitation, oppression, and racism; and the relations between capital and the state. While a tall order, the co-revolutionary theory suggests the breadth of struggles that need to be embraced to bring about real revolution.

Harvey’s work mirrors many analysts who address the deepening crises of capitalism and the spread of human misery everywhere. It is increasingly clear to vast majorities of people, despite media mystification, that the primary engine of destruction is global finance capitalism and political institutions that have increasingly become its instrumentality. Harvey’s work parallels the insights of Naomi Klein, Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Reich, Noam Chomsky, and a broad array of economists, historians, trade unionists, peace and justice activists and thousands of bloggers and Facebook commentators.

Of course, these theorists could not have known the ways in which the connections between the co-revolutionary theory and practice would unfold. Most agreed that we are living through a global economic crisis in which wealth and power is increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands (creating a global ruling class). Human misery, from joblessness, to hunger, to disease, to environmental devastation, to state violence, is spreading. And as events since Ferguson have pointed out, the links between class exploitation, structural racism, and patriarchy are inseparable.

But history has shown that such misery can survive for long periods of time with little active resistance. Even though activists in labor, in communities of color, in anti-colonial/anti-neo-colonial settings are always organizing, their campaigns usually create little traction. Not so since 2011. Tunisians rose up against their oppressive government. Larger mobilizations occurred in Egypt. Protests spread to Yemen, Algeria, Oman, Bahrain, and Libya.

Assuming that working people, youth, women, and various professional groups would remain quiescent in the United States, right-wing politicians saw the opportunity to radically transform American society by destroying public institutions and thereby shifting qualitatively more wealth from the majority to the minority. In North Carolina, Wisconsin, and later in Ohio, Indiana, and around the country a broad array of people began to publicly say “no, enough is enough.” Even those with criticisms of President Obama continued their mobilization to secure his reelection and the defeat of the right-wing. Youth, particularly African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans, have risen up angry all across the United States, increasingly deepening their understanding of and demands for fundamental institutional changes.

The resistance in the Middle East launched in 2011 was about jobs, redistribution of wealth, limiting foreign financial penetration, and democracy. In the United States the issues have been even more varied: the right of workers to collectively bargain, Right-To-Work laws, defending public education, free access to health care including the defense of reproductive rights, and greater, not less, provision of jobs, livable wages, and secure retirement benefits. Police accountability, mass incarceration, and an end of the “schools to prison pipeline” have been increasingly prioritized in mass movements.

Where do progressives go from here? I think “co-revolutionary theory” would answer “everywhere”. Marxists are right to see the lives of people as anchored in their ability to produce and reproduce themselves, their families, and their communities. The right to a job at a living wage remains central to all the ferment. But in the twenty-first century this basic motivator for consciousness and action is more comprehensively and intimately connected to rebuilding trade unions, opposition to racism and sexism, and support for education, health care, sustainable environments, and peace. All these motivations are part of the same struggle.

It is fascinating to observe that the reaction to the efforts of the economic ruling class and political elite to turn back the clock on reforms gained over the last 75 years have sparked resistance and mobilization from across an array of movements and campaigns. And activists are beginning to make the connections between the struggles.

It is too early to tell whether this round of ferment will lead to victories for the people, even reformist ones. But as Harvey suggests, “An anti-capitalist political movement can start anywhere…The trick is to keep the political movement moving from one moment to another in mutually reinforcing ways.”

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Excerpt of Interview in American Herald Tribune on Neoliberalism, Trump, Social Movements, Envisioning Socialism

Harry Targ interviewed by Mohsen Abdelmoumen, American Herald Tribune,” March 25, 2017: excerpts

You are a Marxist economist. How to live Marxism today?
I am a political scientist who came to Marxist analysis in my thirties. I started my academic career in the late 1960s and began to shift my thinking on international relations, social movements, racism etc. before I read Marx. In terms of those around me, particularly in Indiana, I was seen as a Marxist, even though I wasn’t. I am a member of a national socialist organization, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism CCDS. I joined in 1992. Associating with many people who had long histories of involvement in various US movements, labor, civil rights, and peace, helped me become more of an activist and helped me refine my educational work. I am among the few workers who can legitimately interconnect my academic work with my political activism. Before my affiliation with CCDS I had been active in the peace movement, a bit in the local labor movement, and was involved in Central American solidarity work.

Gramsci said: « The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters« . In your opinion, what is the viable alternative to the late capitalism, neoliberal globalization and militarism? We see a capitalism in permanent crisis and the absence of a revolutionary framework for the working classes. How do you explain that?

I have addressed some of my thoughts on this subject. I have been excited by the Bolivarian Revolution in Latin America. I worry that that vigorous movement of people and states now is in deep crisis. I remain inspired by the determination of the Cuban people to keep their revolution.
In the US and elsewhere around the world, data suggests that there has been increasing protest activity over the last decade. And there has been an enormous upsurge in activism in the US since the election of Donald Trump. This upsurge is exciting and inspiring. Much of this is coming from young people and youth of color. Women are taking the lead. However, these movements often do not have a class perspective and the working class is not involved as much in them. Also, in my community there has sprung up a plethora of groups and a kind of frenzy that suggests too much and too fast. In my community the left is miniscule but elsewhere in the US some activism is being led or encouraged by a left. The idea of socialism has been given legitimacy by the Bernie Sanders campaign. But all this is a work in progress.

Gramsci talked about “the militant minority” in a progressive majority. Maybe that is our role at this time; introduce ideas about class and class struggle and envisioning a twenty-first century socialism.
Some politicians and media mainstream argue that the divisions today are not ideological, that is to say between a Right in the service of the ruling class and a fighting Left. Don’t you think that the Apostles of big capital and their media relays create a diversion by asserting that the only divide is the globalization against sovereignty?

Let me say something about the media. About six media conglomerates control about 50 percent of what Americans read, see, and listen to. The media created Donald Trump because it was profitable. The media then demonized him because it was profitable. The media marginalized the Sanders campaign. Now we are living with the mendacity largely created by the mainstream media.
In the twenty-first century the struggle for what Johnson used to call the “the hearts and minds” of the people is greater than ever before. Electronic media, the internet, and the profusion of propaganda constitute much of the political battlefield today. In this way Gramsci’s ideas about ideological hegemony are terribly important.

Recipe after recipe, the capitalists have difficulty in reforming this system which only engenders exploitation, impoverishment and wars. Can we say that capitalism has multiple faces but only one matrix and that it is outdated or even dead clinically?
Capitalism is coming apart. All the contradictions Marx wrote about are true. And the environmental contradictions, which he probably did not address enough, compound the problem.

Is not the fascism manifested by scourges such as racism, Islamophobia, etc. the direct consequence of capitalism and at the same time its most hideous face?
Yes. And we in the United States have to come to grips with the rise of a white supremacy that is deeply embedded in US history. And narratives of ethnic conflict so often highlighted in the media and academia create a new need for ideological struggle. Paul Robeson wrote about the pentagonal chord structure that underlay the folk music of all people. I don’t know music but he was using it as a metaphor to describe his belief in human oneness. Celebrate diversity but recognize the commonality of the human race. This recognition is an essential tool in the struggle against capitalism.

In one of your recent articles « Foreign Policy: The Elephant in the Room« , you mention a rapprochement between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Do you think the CIA has lost its influence, particularly in Europe? What do you think of Trump’s criticisms of the CIA?
In a more recent blog I have argued that there is a factional dispute going on now within the foreign policy elite between the neoliberal globalists who emphasize a so-called free trade, financial speculation, neoliberal agenda. They have dominated United States foreign policy making for generations, particularly from Reagan to Clinton to Obama. In political/military terms, they seek to push back challengers to neoliberal capitalism: Russia, China, populist Latin American countries, and they advocate 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.
While both factions support US Empire, they have different priorities and are driven by different theories, neoliberal globalization vs. white supremacy. I think influence is tilting toward the neoliberal globalist and their “deep state” institutions such as the CIA. Concretely, the deep state institutions are more committed to the idea of war, if necessary, with Russia, and escalated military involvement in the Syrian civil war. The dangers of war and the tragedy of continuing violence in the Middle East remain high.

Can we assert that FBI keeps shaping the politics American as at the time of Edgar Hoover?
I would not regard the FBI or CIA as independent drivers of US foreign and domestic policy but they have a powerful institutional presence. Some political scientists correctly talk about bureaucratic politics. By this they mean that large institutions take on a life of their own and are hard to control. In foreign policy, presidents barely control the creation and implementation of foreign policy. The FBI went wild from its birth in the early part of the twentieth century until the death of Hoover and their power lingers. The CIA has been instrumental in undermining and overthrowing governments. So these institutions are semi-autonomous and have some significant role to play in foreign policy but the parameters are set by the economic and political elites.

I find very interesting another of your articles « World domination: « Neoliberal globalization » versus « the clash of civilizations »». Do you think that the neocons who survived several presidents will keep intact their ability of nuisance under the era Trump?
The labels I use sometimes make the analysis more confusing. The neoconservatives have been well placed in each administration since Nixon. The paradigmatic neocon is Dick Cheney. In 1997 they established the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). They believed that the US should use its military superiority to create a world of nation-states in our image. They rejected diplomacy and international organizations and saw force as the primary tool of the US. The neoliberals, such as the Clintons and Obama, also sought US hegemony but they believed force should be used selectively and that the US should use diplomacy to achieve our goals. This could sometimes include negotiating with enemies.

I would say now that the neoliberals and the neocons are working together to undermine the new Trump administration. Again, the Trump faction is not a peace faction but one driven by economic nationalism and white supremacy. The differences between these factions is not great but at this point there seems to be disagreements over Russia, how high a military profile the Middle East should have, and whether the US should insult its neighbors by building a wall.
Has the hope of the victory of the progressive movements in Latin America disappeared with the death of Castro and Chavez and the various political defeats in some countries, as well as the coup in Brazil?For the empire-resistant we are, the experiences of the progressive movement in Latin America could have been models for all the countries of the world. How can we learn from both their successes and their failures?

The Bolivarian Revolution is in trouble. Argentina and Brazil have experienced a political shift to the right. Venezuela is in economic crisis. But Bolivia hangs on as does Ecuador. A meeting of nations who built a regional organization of populist states (CELAC) recently met. The commitment to the Cuban revolution by its people seems strong. And China has developed a major economic presence in the Western Hemisphere. In sum, the Bolivarian Revolution is under threat but may survive. The experiments in alternative political institutions in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba are still models for other countries in the region.
One enduring problem, it particularly bears on Venezuela, is the dependence on extractive industries for the generation of scarce foreign exchange. Dependence on the sale of oil for example is very dangerous. Countries of the Global South need to develop economies that depend more on production for domestic needs. During the era of Import-Substitution Industrialization in Latin America from the 1940s to the 1980s, the region experienced higher rates of growth; lots of problems with military dictatorships and over-bureaucratization of economies but autonomous development nevertheless.

Do not you think that the defeats of the world’s resistance to ultra-liberalism and imperialism are only temporary and that the struggle has only just begun?
As I suggested, data I have seen showing a growth in protest activity over the last decade and the recent mobilizations against Trump in the US give me hope. The world of capitalism and the environment are not sustainable. More and more people are coming to realize this.

Do you think that the battle for information is decisive against ultra liberalism, imperialism and their media relays? Are not the alternative media an important asset in bringing down the capitalist beast and those who wear it?
As I suggested earlier a significant “battlefield” between reactionary capitalism and human emancipation is occurring in the media. The internet can be a source for education and mobilization but its use must be crafted. Other alternative media are still relevant: alternative papers, independent low frequency radio programs, public lectures, protests etc.

Do not you think that a season of hope is a historical requirement? Utopia or not, to resist is to live. Can we swear that it is not too late for change?
Someone told me the other day that they had heard a Trump aide indicate that they expected protesters to get tired. The view of elites is that they can withstand protest. Just ignore it. I endorse the so-called “inside/outside strategy” for US politics. Activists should continue to work in the electoral arena, advocating progressive and left policies. Try to elect good candidates. And also continue to hit the streets, engage in alternative messaging, and other non-traditional activities. As best as possible link the two.

And both the inside and outside strategies should be inspired by and articulate for others a humane socialist alternative. This is the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution. A lot of progress has been made since 1917 in the improvement of peoples lives. We just have more work to do.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Trade Frictions and China-US Ties: China Plus World News Analysis (radio)

Panelists: Harry Targ, Professor of Political Science, Purdue University; Zhang Baohui, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for Asian Pacific Studies, Lingnan University in Hong Kong; Xu Qinduo, Senior Fellow, Pangoal Institution

Saturday, July 28, 2018


Harry Targ

What we are seeing today is a new iteration of that very old impulse in America: the quest of some of the propertied (always, it bears noting, a particularly ideologically extreme-and some would say greedy-subsection of the propertied) to restrict the promise of democracy for the many, acting in the knowledge that the majority would choose other policies if it could. (Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, New York, Random House, 2017, 5).
“Democracy in Chains”: Multiple Themes

Friends of mine insisted I read Nancy MacLean’s recent book, Democracy in Chains. Their enthusiasm for the book was so great that I finally picked it up. I found it profound as to how it addressed issues of political theory, consciousness, and political practice.
First, the book is a narrative biography of one scholar of political economy, James Buchanan, who has had a significant impact on the development of “public choice” theory in political science, sociology, and economics. In addition, the text uses his biography to develop larger theoretical, historical, and political themes.

Second, it is a book about what used to be called the “sociology of knowledge”; that is how ideas are developed, disseminated, institutionalized, and become dominant ways in which academic disciplines address the subject matter they study.
Third, Democracy in Chains addresses the development of democratic theory, relating contemporary ideas about public participation in decision-making to eighteenth and nineteenth century American political theory. Significantly, it addresses Professor Buchanan’s attraction to Southern anti-federalist John C. Calhoun.

Fourth, the book provides a rich description of the theory of “free markets” developed by the Austrian school of economics founded by Ludwig von Mises and Fredrich Hayek and institutionalized by the economics department at the University of Chicago.
Fifth, the book describes in some detail how scholars such as James Buchanan and wealthy advocates of “free market” philosophies have worked to influence higher education and public policy, not only at the national level but through the states and local government. The book describes how enormously wealthy free marketeers led by Charles and David Koch, their association, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and hundreds of think tanks, lobby groups, and funded politicians have been implementing their policy agenda.

Each of these themes richly developed by MacLean deserves detailed examination and evaluation. As my exuberant friends suggested to me, the MacLean book is a major work of political theory and policy analysis that should significantly energize those progressives who see democracy in the United States as an endangered species.
The Threat to Democracy

But for starters, it is critical in 2018 to address one of the central themes developed in her book, the contradiction between democracy and capitalism.
MacLean analyzes central premises of the so-called Austrian school of economics. Nineteenth and twentieth century luminaries from this tradition, particularly Van Mises and Hayek, articulated the view that the main priority of any society, but particularly democracies, is the extent to which markets are allowed to flourish, unencumbered by governments.

According to this view in a truly free society markets remain supreme. In fact, “liberty” exists in a society to the extent economic actors are able to act in the market place. Virtually all limitations on economic liberty so defined constitute a threat to “real” democracy. Governments exist only to maintain domestic order (the police power) and to defend the nation from external aggression (defense of national security). Governments provide police protection and armies. And that should be all. In sum, as President Ronald Reagan expressed the market vision: “Government is not the solution. Government is the problem.”
To further illustrate, MacLean describes the brutal dictatorship that overthrew the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende. Allende, a socialist, was elected by a plurality in the 1970 presidential election in that country and in the spring, 1973 in municipal elections held across the country, Allende’s coalition of parties drew even more votes for their candidates than did Allende in 1970. The United States, based on directives from President Nixon, had already moved to make the Chilean economy “scream” and had initiated contacts with Chilean generals who would be prepared to carry out a military coup against the popular government.  The military coup, ousting Allende from power, was launched, ironically on September 11, 1973.

As MacLean points out, in the aftermath of the coup, General Augusto Pinochet rounded up and killed thousands of Allende supporters, destroyed the long tradition of electoral politics, abolished trade unions, and began the process of ending government involvement in the economy and public institutions. Social security and education were privatized. Policies of nationalization of key industries were reversed. 

All of the shifts to what the Austrian school called economic liberty were imposed on the Chilean people with the advice of University of Chicago economists, such as Milton Friedman, and later, George Mason University economist, James Buchanan, who was instrumental in recommending “reforms” to the Chilean constitution making return to democracy more difficult. Subsequently only a few other dictatorships in Latin America showed any sympathy for the Pinochet regime with most of the world condemning its domestic brutality. But as MacLean reports, Milton Friedman and his colleagues never condemned the Chilean regime and Buchanan regarded it as a paradigmatic case of economic liberty, a model which the world should emulate.
Although the Chilean case represents an extreme example of dictatorship and free market capitalism, she uses it to illustrate a central point. In most societies, and the United States is no exception, majorities of people endorse government policies that can and often do serve the people. As a rule citizens support public transportation, schools, highways, libraries, retirement guarantees, some publicly provided health care, rules and regulations to protect the environment, as well as police and military protection. The problem for Buchanan and his colleagues is that each one of these government programs. except for the police and military, constrains the “liberty” of entrepreneurs to pursue profit.

To put it simply, if citizens of the United States were asked if they support public programs, majorities would say “yes.” Although there have been extraordinary constraints on majority rule, even enshrined in the US constitution, the history of the United States can be seen as a history of struggle to improve and achieve majoritarian democracy. Demands for voting rights for women, African/Americans, non-propertied and low-income workers and others have been basic to the American experience. The great anti-colonial struggles of the twentieth century all across the globe were premised on the vision of individual and collective sovereignty of the people. If economic liberty is conceptualized as inversely related to majoritarian democracy, then capitalism and democracy are incompatible.
Nancy MacLean, based on this fundamental contradiction, develops a narrative of efforts by celebrants of economic liberty, the Koch brothers and their allies, to build campaigns in virtually every state and locale to disenfranchise people. ALEC affiliates in state legislatures over the last decade have promoted legislation to suppress the right to vote, eliminate the rights of workers to unionize, disempower city councils, eliminate the right of local governments to make fiscal decisions, and to enshrine in curricula in K to 12 education systems and the universities ideologies about the virtues of economic freedom. There are powerful political pressures to privatize every existing public institution. Again, the best government is no government (except for the maintenance of police force to squelch demands for change and military power to protect the nation at home and abroad).

So Democracy in Chains is as rich in analysis and warning as my friends have suggested. Much more needs to be disaggregated and discussed. But for starters Nancy MacLean is warning us that there is a powerful drive, based on wealth and power, in the United States to destroy democracy. This democracy, while flawed, has been fought for since the founding of the United States. Its continuation, leaving aside its need for improvement, is under fundamental threat.

Saturday, July 21, 2018


Harry Targ

Russiaphobia is being promoted by the MSM, leaders of both parties and why? It is being promoted because of the danger of tension reduction with Russia (and North Korea) which is the fear of the military/industrial complex and because grassroots movements for progressive change are growing by leaps and bounds.
If our grassroots social movements fall prey to the media's narrative about Trump and foreign policy and channel their energies away from single payer health care, free public education K through college, a green jobs agenda, fight for $15 (all of which Trump and the Republicans are out to oppose) they will have lost a major opportunity to begin to bring positive change in this country. In addition, the peace movement must use the Trump overtures to North Korea and Russia (however disingenuous) to build a campaign to end nuclear weapons, cut the military budget, end the NATO alliance, and reduce the US military presence all across the globe. Again, this is not Trump's agenda but it must be ours.

The ruling class and political elites oppose this progressive agenda and Trump is a viable target for changing the political discourse and defusing the energy of our growing mass movement.. These are dangerous times.