Thursday, June 8, 2023


 Global challenges to the international order

 (Originally posted 10 Aoril, 2013 in The Rag Blog)

Harry Targ


We are experiencing a dramatic transformation of international relations. Central features of it involve the relative decline of US/NATO hegemony and the growing integration of policy preferences of countries of the Global South. One element of this story is “dedollarization.” This 4-minute video below describes what is happening.

These changes pose fundamental questions about how and in what ways the US peace and justice movements should proceed (June 4, 2023)

Latin American and African dependency theorists and “bottom-up” historians have argued for a long time that resistance must be part of the understanding of any theory of imperialism.

A whole generation of activists has “grown up” conversant with the central place of empire in human history. Children of the Cold War and the “Sixties” generation realized that the United States was the latest of a multiplicity of imperial powers which sought to dominate and control human beings, physical space, natural resources, and human labor power.

We learned from the Marxist tradition, radical historians, scholar/activists with historical roots in Africa, and revolutionaries from the Philippines and Vietnam to Southern Africa, to Latin America. But we often concluded that imperialism was hegemonic; that is it was all powerful, beyond challenge.

A “theory of imperialism” for the 21st century should include four interconnected variables that explain empire building as well as responses to it.

First, as an original motivation for empire, economic interests are primary. The most recent imperial power, the United States, needed to secure customers for its products, outlets for manufacturing investment opportunities, an open door for financial speculation, and vital natural resources such as oil.

Second, the pursuit of military control parallels and supports the pursuit of economic domination. The United States, beginning in the 1890s, built a two-ocean navy to become a Pacific power, as well as institutionalizing its control of the Western Hemisphere. It crushed revolutionary ferment in the Philippines during the Spanish, Cuban, American War and began a program of military intervention in Central American and the Caribbean. The “Asian pivot” of the 21st century and continued opposition to the Cuban and Bolivarian revolutions reflect the 100-year extension of the convergence of economics and militarism in U.S. foreign policy.

Third, as imperial nations flex their muscles on the world stage they need to rationalize exploitation and military brutality to convince others and their own citizens of the humanistic goals they wish to achieve. In short, ideology matters. In the U.S. case, “manifest destiny” and the “city on the hill,” that is the dogma that the United States has a special mission as a beacon of hope for the world, have been embedded in the dominant national narrative of the country for 150 years.

However, what has often been missing from the left-wing theoretical calculus is an understanding of resistance. Latin American and African dependency theorists and “bottom-up” historians have argued for a long time that resistance must be part of the understanding of any theory of imperialism. In fact, the imperial system is directly related to the level of resistance the imperial power encounters.

Resistance generates more attempts at economic hegemony, political subversion, the application of military power, and patterns of “humanitarian interventionism” and diplomatic techniques, called “soft power,” to defuse it. But as recent events sugge, resistance of various kinds is spreading throughout global society.

The impetus for adding resistance to any understanding of imperialism has many sources including Howard Zinn’s seminal history of popular movements in the United States, The People’s History of the United States. Zinn argued convincingly that in each period of American history ruling classes were challenged, shaped, weakened, and in a few cases defeated because of movements of indigenous people, workers, women, people of color, middle class progressives, and others who stood up to challenge the status quo.

More recently, Vijay Prashad, author of The Darker Nations, compiled a narrative of post-World War II international relations that privileged the resistance from the Global South. World history was as much shaped by anti-colonial movements, the construction of the non-aligned movement, conferences and programs supporting liberation struggles and women’s rights, as it was by big power contestation. The Prashad book was subtitled A People’s History of the Third World.

The 21st century has witnessed a variety of forms of resistance to global hegemony and the perpetuation of neoliberal globalization all across the face of the globe. First, various forms of systemic resistance have emerged. These often emphasize the reconfiguration of nation-states and their relationships that have long been ignored.

The two largest economies in the world, China and India, have experienced economic growth rates well in excess of the industrial capitalist countries. China has developed a global export and investment program in Latin America and Africa that exceeds that of the United States and Europe.

In addition, the rising economic powers have begun a process of global institution building to rework the international economic institutions and rules of decision-making on the world stage. On March 26-27, 2013, the BRICS met in Durban, South Africa. While critical of BRICS shortcomings Patrick Bond, Senior Professor of Development Studies and Director of the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society, in a collection of readings on the subject, introduces BRICS with an emphasis on its potential:

In Durban, five heads of state meet to assure the rest of Africa that their countries’ corporations are better investors in infrastructure, mining, oil and agriculture than the traditional European and U.S. multinationals. The Brazil-Russia-India-China-SA summit also includes 16 heads of state from Africa, including notorious tyrants. A new "BRICS bank" will probably be launched. There will be more talk about monetary alternatives to the U.S. dollar.

On the Latin American continent, most residents of the region are mourning the death of Hugo Chavez, the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution. Under Chavez’s leadership, inspiration, and support from oil revenues, Venezuela launched the latest round of state resistance to the colossus of the north, the United States.

Along with the world’s third largest trade bloc MERCOSUR (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela and associate memberships including Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru), Latin Americans have participated in the construction of financial institutions and economic assistance programs to challenge the traditional hegemony of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.

The Bolivarian Revolution also has stimulated political change based on various degrees of grassroots democratization, the construction of workers’ cooperatives, and a shift from neoliberal economic policy to economic populism. With a growing web of participants, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and, of course, Cuba, the tragic loss of Chavez will not mean the end to the Bolivarian Revolution. It might lead to its deepening.

But the story of 21st century resistance is not just about countries, alliances, new economic institutions that mimic the old. Grassroots social movements have been spreading like wildfire all across the face of the globe. The story can begin in many places and at various times: the new social movements of the 1980s; the Zapatistas of the 1990s; the anti-globalization/anti-IMF campaigns going back to the 1960s and continuing off and on until the new century; or repeated mass mobilizations against a Free Trade Agreement for the Americas.

Since 2011, the world has been inspired by Arab Spring, workers’ mobilizations all across the industrial heartland of the United States, student strikes in Quebec, the state of California, and in Santiago, Chile. Beginning in 2001 mass organizations from around the world began to assemble in Porto Alegre, Brazil, billing their meeting of some 10,000 strong, the World Social Forum.

They did not wish to create a common political program. They wished to launch a global social movement where ideas could be shared, issues and demands from the base of societies could be raised, and in general the neoliberal global agenda reinforced at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland could be challenged.

The World Social Forum has been meeting annually ever since in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the United States. Most recently, the last week in March, 2013, 50,000 people from 5,000 organizations in 127 countries from five continents met in Tunis, the site of the protest that sparked Arab Spring two years ago. Planners wanted to bring mass movements from the Middle East and North Africa into the collective narrative of this global mobilization.

Medea Benjamin, founder of Code Pink, reported that a Tunisian student, when asked whether the Social Forum movement should continue, answered in the affirmative. The student paid homage to the Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, who committed suicide and launched Arab Spring. He declared that “for all those who have died struggling for justice, we must continue to learn from each other how to build a world that does not respond to the greed of dictators, bankers or corporations, but to the needs of simple people like Mohamed Bouazizi.”


Monday, May 29, 2023


 Harry Targ

(a repost)

Fighting for Peace: Veterans and Military Families in the Anti-Iraq War Movement by Lisa Leitz. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. (306 pages; paper)

One of the biggest scholarly secrets about social movements since the Vietnam War is the magnitude and vibrancy of the anti-war movement inside the military. “Sir! No Sir!” a 2005 film documented the militant anti-war movement that spread throughout the United States military in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The movement included acts of civil disobedience at military bases, networks of coffee houses near military installations, anti-war newspapers targeted to military readers, and a spreading network of anti-war families and loved-ones as the movement percolated throughout U.S. society.

Fighting for Peace by Lisa Leitz, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Director of Project Pericles at Hendrix College, fast-forwards in a rigorous way to the study of the military anti-war movement from 2005 to 2012; involving veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, loved-ones of those serving, extended families, and networks of military families. The volume uses a variety of methods--questionnaires, extended interviews, archival materials, and ethnographies of organizations and individual military anti-war activists and their families. While surveying anti-war movements against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Professor Leitz concentrates on the participation, vision, rhetoric, activism, tactics, and contradictory “identities” of five organizations: Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Gold Star Families for Peace, and Gold Star Families Speak Out.

The narrative begins with the formation of some of these groups and growing tensions between them arising after the dramatic anti-war protests initiated by Cindy Sheehan, mother of a son who was killed in Iraq. The site of this demonstration in Crawford, Texas was adjacent to the summer residence of President George Walker Bush.  For Leitz, the camp site that was created and named after Sheehan’s deceased son, Camp Casey was “a watershed moment for this movement.” In addition to inspiring the anti-war movement generally “…the vigil brought together veterans of the current wars, veterans of past wars, families of dead military service members, and families of current service members who were all critical of the Iraq War” (3).

The volume presents in-depth research on each of the anti-war military organizations. It addresses their composition: current military and veterans; families of service members and those killed and injured; and veterans of prior U.S. wars, particularly the Vietnam War. It examines the collaborations and tensions between the veterans and military families and the larger peace movement.  It describes policies, programs, and strategies. These involve anti-war positions and demands for increased services for soldiers on the ground and those returning veterans with health needs. It describes debates about how the military and military families should use their special legitimacy, experiencing war directly or through loved ones, in the mass movement. And the narrative describes how the military anti-war movement (rather than the peace movement in general) became a platform for debate between some socialist organization members who wished to incorporate it in a larger campaign to radically transform society versus those who argued that the military anti-war movement should concentrate on the more limited goal of ending the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and providing adequate services for returning veterans.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the study is the portrait of the contradictions faced by the author herself and the five organizations as they navigated through a hostile military environment. First, Professor Leitz, a visible anti-war activist was married to a career military officer. As a military spouse, she lived on military bases and carried out some of her anti-war activism in a social milieu that was hostile. She frames much of the study around how active military personnel, veterans, and military families addressed these contradictions personally and politically.

The contradiction of being anti-war activists in social networks of military personnel and families was replicated in the tensions anti-war veterans and military families experienced working with the larger, non-military peace movement. Many of the former opposed the two twenty-first century wars but believed that the U.S. military was needed and, on occasion, could engage in positive projects. This position put these military activists at odds with peace movement ideology and sometimes peace movement practice.  

This portrait of the contradictions between the military movements and the larger peace and anti-war movement provides useful information for activists who ponder how to expand participation in campaigns to promote a peace agenda. And, of course, the peace movement should appropriately respect the special experience, legitimacy, policy preferences, and more limited perspectives of those who actually have experienced war. In addition Professor Leitz describes how the military activists reflected on how their influence could be enlarged as they struggled to become part of a larger more “generic” peace movement.

Fighting for Peace can be a valuable tool for researchers as well as activists. Despite the author’s abstract framing of her research as a study of the military “insider-outsider” identity which sometimes interferes with the well-written account it remains an important contribution to the scholarly study of social movements. Furthermore the rigorous study demonstrates the issues and pitfalls that peace activists must consider as they organize to create a more peaceful world.


Sunday, May 28, 2023

REMEMBER THOSE WHO PROTESTED WARS TOO! (Originally posted Monday, May 30, 2011)

 Harry Targ

  "In a society where it is normal for human beings to drop bombs on human targets, where it is normal to spend 50 percent of the individual's tax dollar on war, where it is have twelve times overkill capacity, Norman Morrison was not normal. He said, 'Let it stop.' "(a gravesite speech by John Roemer at the funeral of Norman Morrison quoted in Hendrickson, Paul. The Living and the Dead. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1996).

On November 2, 1965, Norman Morrison brought his daughter with him to the Pentagon. Outside the office of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Morrison set himself on fire to protest the escalating war in Vietnam. His daughter, Emily, somehow was passed to others and survived the flames. Morrison, however, died as he had lived, protesting the bombing of villages in South Vietnam, killing innocent men, women, and children.

I was part of an educational tour to Vietnam in March, 2011. We were taken to a powerful museum, known as the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. On the second floor an exhibit featured images of international solidarity with the Vietnamese people during the American war. Included there was a framed copy of an American newspaper account of Morrison’s self-immolation. Earlier, in Hue, we had seen an exhibit of the automobile used by a Buddhist Monk, Thích Quảng Đức, who killed himself in protest of the brutality of the Diem regime in South Vietnam. Presumably this act inspired Morrison’s tragic protest.

I had forgotten Morrison’s dramatic act, and the acts of several others who bravely sacrificed their bodies and lives to oppose the murderous war in Vietnam. As we celebrate Memorial Day this May 29,  I think about Morrison, the exhibit at the Vietnamese Museum, and parallel acts of self-sacrifice.

First, on reflection, I am in awe of the courage and self-sacrifice of the acts of these brave and principled people. Yet, I wish they had not made the ultimate sacrifices they did and had put their courage and willingness to sacrifice to the long-term struggles of the peace movement to end war.

However, I believe we must “take back” Memorial Days from those who celebrate war, see sacrifice only from those who kill and die, and ignore the bravery of the men and women everywhere who fight to end war. We mourn those who were sent off to fight in ignoble wars in the name of the United States. Also we must declare Memorial Day as a day to remember all the Norman Morrison’s who have said “no” to war and empire.






Monday, May 22, 2023


Harry Targ

These are indeed hard times for the vast majority of humankind. And the times are troubling for a number of reasons.

First, communities, nations, and the planet face the possibility of extinction of all life forms. Warning signs are seen everywhere: drought, fires, heat, cold, and the prospect of large swaths of land being flooded by global warming. And as has been the case for hundreds of years, the greatest threats and immediate suffering is impacting particularly on the peoples and lands of the Global South.

Second, despite years of wise counsel, mass movements, campaigns, and demands, the danger of nuclear war continues. Indeed, many experts and peace activists believe the danger of nuclear war is as serious now as at any time since 1945. Ironically, leaders of the G7 countries meeting in Hiroshima now are discussing what amounts to further fueling the war in Ukraine.

Third, along with these two life-threatening issues, every country and people have experienced poverty, inequality, anomic violence, and weakening educational and health care institutions, Pundits from the Global North report on food, health care, and educational deserts. But because a small number of conglomerates control more and more of what we know, what might be called media deserts reduce the possibility of people having knowledge about the crises facing them, their communities, and the planet. The metaphor of the “desert” speaks to the scarcity of peoples’ access to information about the viability of human life.

Fourth, and to some extent “the good news,” masses of people are rising up angry within the United States and around the world. Workers, students, people of color, women, and other oppressed groups are making their voices heard. And in some places movements have been impactful. In the United States elections have mattered: some for good, others for evil. And, in general, if the planet survives, so-called minorities will be majorities by 2050 (the rightwing fears this referring to what it calls “replacement theory”).

Fifth, one manifestation of people rising up angry is a new emerging sensibility and organizations coming from “the Global South.” The Global South, an imprecise construct, consists of all those peoples, territories, and nations that have been victimized by capitalism for hundreds of years. Today leaders of governments of various ideologies from the Global South have organized around trading zones, dedollarization and new military security arrangements, and the construction of new international organizations. They have revitalized demands for a New International Economic Order and a New World Information Order.

But sixth, while people are rising up angry all across the globe (and in  the belly of the beast the United States), they are doing so in an array of competing organizations characterized by a multiplicity of ideologies, issue priorities, and even multiple interpretations of the historical past and the present. As so often happens, many of these organizations claim that they are prepared to lead to a new world order. Organizational interest and individual egos get in the way of the broader project; that is saving humanity.

And this is part of the context of “Left” organizing in the United States today. It leads to raising again questions of our history, tactics and strategy, elections, street heat, and education.


Therefore, a number of issues of strategy, tactics, and thought need to be reexamined.

 First, sectors of progressive movements use a catch-all term, “fascism,” to describe those political forces that are reactionary in vision and policy. The word  “fascism” provides a kind of release for sincere frustrations but is counter-productive for a variety of reasons. The term is usually not defined. The user and the target of the label logically think of Germany and Italy before World War II, but it is unclear that a comparison of the US political context today with the European countries in the interwar years is apt. Further, the concept usually suggests an inextricable connection between corporate control of the economy, an autocratic state, an armed mass movement and a racist ideology. While elements of these unfortunately exist in the US today the economic and political context is much more pluralistic than was the case in the 1930s in Europe.

Most importantly, the fascist label is resented and opposed by the targets of such a label. If the goal is to organize masses of people, particularly those who have become economically and politically marginalized by the system, such labeling creates enemies not friends. And polling data has shown repeatedly that majorities of Americans support progressive social and economic policies and even to some degree racial justice.

From the pre-civil war period until today approximately 20-25 percent of Americans have held and hold reactionary and white supremacist perspectives. Recent data suggests that some 45 percent of voters identify as Democrats, a few percentage points less Republicans, and about ten percent independents. Those who identify as independents have been less likely to vote. While reports of political surveys vary, the point is that the electorate and those who hold political views are varied and contradictory. And we should always keep in mind that the corporate media communicates, portrays, and sometimes exaggerates violence as the norm.

Second, much research suggests that there does exist a “politics of resentment” across the country, a resentment of alienation, powerlessness, and recognition that wealth and power are grotesquely unequal in its distribution. Often this resentment leads people to find solace in demagogues or more often to choose to not participate in what they regard as an unfair system.

The politics of resentment in this country led the Roosevelt Administration and the Democratic Party to begin to address real sources of economic pain and suffering in the 1930s. The Democratic party of the New Deal, The Fair Deal, and the Great Society was built around addressing some of the economic and political needs of the people. And as a result, on the national level, the Democratic Party became the majority party.

But in the 1970s, the Democratic Party tilted toward neoliberalism, primarily policies of austerity and deregulation of the corporate sector, a neoliberalism that was fully institutionalized in the 1980s Reagan Revolution. And it is important to note that the Reagan Revolution was sanctified by the Clinton/centrist wing of the Democratic Party which has become the dominant faction of that party ever since.

In short, there has been an inextricable connection between the rightwing thrust of national and state politics in the United States and the shift of the Democratic Party away from the New Deal tradition. For today and tomorrow, demanding a return to the reforms of the New Deal/Great Society period provides the only way to defeat the Right.

Labeling extremists as fascists, ridiculing Trump and MAGA, and rewriting narratives of US history will not defeat reaction. Only a progressive agenda will. And those progressives in the Democratic Party, in the labor movement, and among the sectors of the Left must demand that their candidates uncompromisingly stand for economic and social justice. For sure, there exist vital and popular movements around healthcare for all, women’s rights, the right to form unions, climate change, increased voting rights, support for public institutions such as schools, libraries, and transportation systems, immigration reform, and underlying each an end to the long, painful, and immoral history of racism in the United States.

Finally, and this is critical, a careful review of twentieth century US history shows that domestic and foreign policies are connected. In critical periods, US foreign policies have been used to crush progressive politics at home. As historians such as Joyce and Gabriel Kolko, William Appleman Williams, Gar Alperovitz and others have shown there was no Soviet threat to US national security when President Truman warned of the “international communist threat”  in his famous Truman Doctrine speech of March, 1947. But there was a threat at home. That threat was a strong, militant labor movement that sought co-equal input in the making of public policy.

In addition, from 1947 until 1991 the “communist threat” was the device used by policymakers to weaken or destroy a progressive and pro-labor agenda at home, and with decolonization around the world from the 1950s through the 1970s, socialist militancy all around the Global South.

Most importantly United States foreign policy became the rationale for trillions of dollars being spent on the military, creating images of diabolical enemies in education and popular culture, and normalizing the idea of war.

All this suggests that a progressive agenda in the years ahead requires:

1.A systematic progressive economic and political program that prioritizes the fulfillment of human needs.

2.A unified political movement that organizes around this program or at least building an alliance of Left groups that share this common vision even as they work on particular issues.

3.A grassroots organizing strategy that in word and deed does not prematurely identify critics with pejorative labels. Certain sectors of the population already embrace a progressive agenda, others are not yet decided, and a smaller percentage have embraced rightwing fascism. The task of the left should include mobilizing those who agree, convincing the unconvinced, and finally respectfully seeking to change the minds and actions of the minority who are reactionary (including those who believe only violence will protect them).

4.A progressive movement that reaches out to, participates with, and learns from the literally millions of people that are rising up all across the globe. At this stage in human history the campaigns of people of color and various nationalities in the Global South matter. And these movements parallel those of the poor and oppressed in the United States as well.

5.Finally prioritizing in this progressive project an anti-militarist, anti-war agenda. It is clear that the “permanent war economy” constructed after World War II robbed the world’s citizens of resources and hopes for a better future. A just world is a disarmed world, a world of peace.













Sunday, May 7, 2023


Harry Targ

Remarks prepared for participation in a panel discussion of The Letter  From a Birmingham Jail

Diversity Roundtable Summit

April 29, 2023

Lafayette, Indiana


Barbara Ransby wrote in a recent Nation article about the election of Brandon Johnson to serve as the new mayor of Chicago. Johnson, is an African American, a teacher, and a longtime Chicago Teachers Union activist  She reported  that “Johnson described his victory as the coming together of the civil rights and labor movements, much as Martin Luther King always envisioned.”

Reflecting on the corpus of Dr. King’s writings, speeches and activism suggests a continuity of his worldview and politics over a decade before the dramatic Letter From a Birmingham Jail was written, the seeds of which were planted when Dr. King was a graduate student. Given this approach, it can be argued, that the Letter From a Birmingham Jail represents a piece in the puzzle of King’s work, not the initiation or conclusion of it.

Race and History, Economics, Politics, Culture, and Interpersonal Relations

To clarify we can identify racism as a multidimensional process, with causes that can be understood historically, economically, politically, culturally, and in social psychological terms. Using what may be called a “levels of analysis” approach we can identify the multiple causes and impacts of racism in the United States.

If we begin with the historical and political economy “level”, we see that racism emerges with the introduction of the globalization of capitalism in the fifteenth century. The countries of Northwest Europe, Portugal, Spain, Great Britain, France, Belgium began to traverse the seas, establishing colonies where they could by military conquest. The purpose of such expansion was the acquisition of land, people, and resources. In North and South America, indigenous people were killed and land and resources were appropriated for processing and transport back to the home country and then the world.

Along with technological advances, shipping and guns, and the occupation of land and resources, the colonial powers needed inexpensive labor to grow the crops and extract the gold, silver, and rubber. Thus, with the globalization of capitalism came conquest and the enslavement of peoples, mostly from Africa. In this sense,  modern racism begins with colonialism and slavery. Without slaves kidnapped from their homes and brought to the Western Hemisphere, there would have not been the appropriation and growth of cotton, sugar, coffee, and the extraction of other commodities such as silver and gold. Without land, resources, and slave labor there may not have been the industrial revolution.

Along with global economic realities, the slave system was institutionalized in new constitutions and the creation of military and police forces to control the slave populations. Scholar of white supremacy Theodore Allen noted that when indentured servants, Black and whites, rose up in opposition to the exploitation by large plantation owners in the seventeenth century, these owners “invented” the white race and the Black race. Race was a  social/political creation designed to divide the exploited workers who produced the agricultural commodities and natural resources central to the economic system. Race forever more was used to split the exploited so that they would not join together to overthrow an oppressive system. Again, political institutions were established to ensure the divisions between Blacks and whites. Slaves were defined as three-fifths of a person in the United States constitution, for example. Furthermore, African Americans could not vote, Slave rebellions were crushed, and after the US civil war the system of Jim Crow was established.

In addition, economic and political order was rationalized over and over again by culture. What was written in history books about economic and political institutions, about history, and cultural stereotypes in literature, the stage, radio, television and in virtually every transmission of ideas served to justify the economic and political systems based on race. Racist narratives found their way into science, religion, and educational curricula. And finally, the institutionalization of racism historically, economically, politically, and culturally was reproduced every day in interpersonal contacts. Here is where the word “discrimination” fits.

It is important to add that while each of these levels of racism reinforce each other to create a powerful system of white supremacy, they all are affected, shaped, and challenged by resistance. All of these forces, economic, political, cultural, and interpersonal are not omniscient. And Dr King articulated and organized against these forces his entire life. And his Letter from a Birmingham Jail argues particularly for an ethical and political resistance against racism at all levels.

The Letter therefore is located in a community struggle, a political culture of racism, a regional institution of segregation, and the need for resistance. Also it was implicitly about the history of slavery, systems of oppression based on “haves” and “have nots” and the common struggles of people of color all over the world.

The Importance of Class Struggle for Dr. King’s Project of Resistance

Dr. King’s thinking about the need for an alliance between the civil rights and labor movements was expressed many times. As far back as 1957 at a convention of the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) he asserted that “organized labor can be one of the most powerful instruments in putting an end to discrimination and segregation.” During an organizing effort of the Hospital Workers Local 1199 in the fall of 1964, King was a featured speaker at a fundraising rally, He said of the 1199 struggle;

“Your great organizing crusade to win union and human rights for New Jersey hospital workers is part and parcel of the struggle we are conducting in the Deep South. I want to congratulate your union for charting a road for all labor to follow-dedication to the cause of the underpaid and exploited workers in our nation.”

Upon his return from Norway in 1964 after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, King returned to the picket line, this time in support of Black women workers of the Chemical Workers union at the Scripto Pen Plant in Atlanta. He said there: “Along with the struggle to desegregate, we must engage in the struggle for better jobs. The same system that exploits the Negro exploits the poor white…”

Dr. King recognized in the Letter that the Birmingham struggle paralleled the struggles of Black and Brown people going on all around the world to liberate themselves from the historical patterns of colonialization then just ending. Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever, he wrote. “The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro….Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South /America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice.”

And finally the Dr. King of Birmingham connected the race and class issues at home with US imperial war in Vietnam in his famous Riverside Church speech of 1967: “Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken,” He spoke defiantly of the need for a “radical revolution of values,”  an unremitting commitment to “go out into a sometimes hostile world, declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

The Relevance of Dr, Martin Luther King for Today

This Diversity Round Table Summit demonstrated the continued relevance of Dr. Martin Luther King’s work, protests, writings, speeches, for today. The material above reminds us that Dr. King was fully aware of the history, economics, politics, culture, and interpersonal relations of racism in his day. He was also cognizant of the connections of  domestic political life and international relations. The struggles for social and economic justice, for King, were truly global.

Therefore we can conclude these brief remarks with the following conclusions about the relevance of Dr. King, and his writings, such as The Letter From a Birmingham Jail.

This relevance for today includes the facts that:

--he articulated what is today a global struggle against violence and war

--he articulated what we see today as the enormity of economic inequalities within countries as well as between them

--he emphasized that combatting racism, white supremacy, and neo-colonialism require alliances between the poor, the oppressed including women, and workers

--he correctly argued that a just society, local and global, a beloved community is one in which people's needs are met, cooperation supersedes competition, and every member of these communities is an active and equal participant in their development.

Today visionaries in the King tradition include Vijay Prashad, Medea Benjamin and members of Code Pink. And particularly Reverent William Barber and the New Poor People’s Campaign, and the thousands of young people, workers, who are struggling to acquire the right to form unions, and Black Lives Matter activists, are pursuing the King legacy.


Suggested reading: Michael K. Honey, To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice,W.W. Norton, 2018.



Saturday, May 6, 2023

Webinar on the Transformation of Higher Education May 22, 9 pm Eastern

 Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS)

Socialist Education Project

4th Monday Webinar

 May 22, 2023

 9 pm Eastern Daylight Time


A Conversation About the Transformation of Higher Education: Shifting from a Wholistic Education to STEM, Branding and Privatizing Educational Services, and Militarization


The authors, Dan Morris and Harry Targ, two Purdue University professors,  use their institution as a case study to examine the changing nature of the American 'multiversity.' They take a book from an earlier time, Upton Sinclair's 'The Goose-Step A Study of American Education” from 1926, which exposed the capitalist corruption of the ivory tower, and bring it up to date with descriptions of far-reaching changes in higher education today.


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When: May 22, 2023 09:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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The Bookshelf


Read Challenging Late Capitalism by Harry R. Targ.