Saturday, April 24, 2010


Harry Targ

The History of Resistance

Just as globalization today has its roots in five hundred years of trade and investment, and in exploitation and capital accumulation the global justice movements of our day also have their roots in the patterns of resistance since the beginning of capitalism.

In a recent article ("Long Before Seattle: Historical Resistance to Economic Globalization") Zahara Heckscher points out that: "In virtually every society the Europeans invaded, people rose up to protest the cruelty of slavery, theft of land, and plunder of resources." While many of the protests were local, provoked by singular transgressions, and were inwardly oriented (from destroying crops to committing suicide to fleeing), many were national in their mobilization or even international.

Heckscher provides examples of resistance movements against globalization that occurred well before “the Battle of Seattle” in 1999. For example, the Tupac Amaru II uprising in Peru (1780-1781) was a multi-class, multi-ethnic rebellion of 6,000 armed protestors who opposed the effort of the Spanish colonial government to impose tariff reductions to flood local markets with cheap Spanish goods, increase taxes, and in other ways force economic integration between the colony and the Spanish economy.

Heckscher also provided the example of nineteenth century cross-national campaigns to ban slavery. She described the social movements in Europe that vigorously opposed the brutal Belgium colonial administration of the Congo at the end of the nineteenth century. She reflected on the efforts of the First International Workingmen's Association in Geneva to prohibit manufacturers from importing strikebreakers to replace striking workers. In the process workers from Europe and North America began to mobilize in solidarity against an increasingly cross-national capitalism. Finally, in her brief survey she mentions the Anti-Imperialist Movement that opposed U.S. occupation and control of the Philippines after 1898.

Each of these movements addressed economic and political issues together. Each was a response to the globalization of a great power, usually in pursuit of economic exploitation. And each of these movements created a shared consciousness, a solidarity, among resisters across national boundaries. Perhaps we can say therefore that each of these movements represented a form of resistance to the globalization of capitalism.

Resistance to Contemporary Globalization

Ever since the emergence of the Bretton Woods system and the establishment of the power of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, peoples in poor countries have resisted the contracts their states entered into with global capitalism. Since the 1950s, workers and peasants have gone into the streets in countries as varied as Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and India to protest the cancellation of programs providing food subsidies, low cost public transportation, free water and sanitation, and other public services.

In November, 1999 in Seattle, the visibility of such protests assumed a new dimension as thousands of protestors, representing a variety of issues and groups shut down the annual meeting of the World Trade Organization. In the North American public mind, the "anti-globalization movement" was born.

The New Internationalist, a magazine representing "the people, the ideas, the action in the fight for global justice" published a chronology of "some key moments of the global movement 1994-2001." They symbolically identified the initiation of the current campaign for global justice with the public pronouncements of the indigenous Zapatista rebel movement in the southern Mexican province of Chiapas on January 1, 1994. Their cry of "Ya Basta," "Enough", was in response to the fact that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)went into effect on that day. A significant part of the NAFTA program was to be the privatization of communally owned land in Mexico.

Additional "key moments" included protests against the World Trade Organization, formed in 1995, an international conference against neo-liberalism held in Chiapas, Mexico, mass mobilizations against the Asian Pacific Economic Community, workers in 21 countries protesting the sacking of Liverpool dock workers, and repeated mobilizations against meetings of the International Monetary Fund, the World Economic Forum and other public manifestations of neo-liberal globalization.

The World Social Forum

At the dawn of the new century, a new tradition, inspired by the hundreds of years of resistance, was launched. Ten thousand activists-representing 1,000 groups from 120 countries, industrial and agricultural workers, indigenous peoples, environmentalists, anti-globalization activists-met at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil in January, 2001. This disparate assembly shared one idea: “Another World is Possible.”

Naomi Klein reported on this first WSF highlighting its exuberant and chaotic character. Neither defining it as a strength or a weakness she pointed out the fact that “…what seemed to be emerging organically out of the World Social Forum (despite the best efforts of some of the organizers) was not a movement for a single global government but a vision for an increasingly connected international network of very local initiatives, each built on direct democracy.”

Subsequent to the first WSF, the organizing committee prepared a “Charter of Principles” which included the following: providing an environment for open and democratic debate; becoming a permanent process of building alternatives, particularly building a “world process;” bringing together and linking civil society groups, NGOs, and social movements from all countries; and increasing “the capacity for non-violent social resistance to the process of dehumanization” and introducing “onto the global agenda the change-inducing practices” that could create a “new world in solidarity.”

The US Social Forum

Each year after, the WSF met in Brazil or India, or Kenya, or Venezuela. In 2007, a U.S. Social Forum was held in Atlanta, Georgia. Ten thousand people, mostly young and people of color attended the hundreds of panels and plenary sessions. Over 100 local and national groups displayed their literature and dialogued with conference participants.

As their call suggested: “The US Social Forum is more than a conference, more than a networking bonanza, more than a reaction to war and repression. The USSF will provide space to build relationships, learn from each other’s experiences, share our analysis of the problems our communities face, and bring renewed insight and inspiration.”

Now activists from nearly 100 organizations are preparing for the next US Social Forum which will take place from June 22-26 in Detroit. It occurs in the midst of a global economic crisis, multiple wars, the rise of neo-fascist forces around the world, and efforts of the United States to forestall the rising global resistance to neo-liberalism.

The National Planning Committee has indicated that the USSF will address movement building, organizing and outreach, and improving structure and programming of the USSF movement. Of particular relevance to 2010 are the following goals:

-Strengthen and expand progressive infrastructure for long-term collaboration and work for fundamental change.
-Disseminate effective models for democratic participation and movement building.
-Shape and influence the public conversation in ways that convey momentum and hope.
-Model diverse, representative movement building that is cross-cutting, democratic, and effectively integrates process and outcomes.
-Continue to be a space in which grassroots lead, while being inclusive of other sectors. Develop a collective systemic understanding and analysis of the current economic and political moment.
-Create a shared vision of the society and world that challenges poverty and exploitation, all forms of oppression, militarism and war, and environmental destruction.
-Articulate and practice concrete internationalism through consciousness of today’s global context and the power of radical movements in the Global South, and awareness of our power in coming from the US and our responsibility to the broader international movement.
-Identify convergences that have already happened.
-Work toward greater convergence between working class struggles and progressive movements.
-Build on the strengths and convergences of the 2007 USSF.
-Further develop Black, Immigrant and Indigenous Nations’ solidarity.

The goals and vision of the US Social Forum are truly ambitious. It is unclear how the Social Forum movement can create enough ideological commonality, organizational structure, leadership sensitive to its grassroots base, and global solidarity to make another world possible. It is clear that the Social Forum movement is part of a long history of resistance and struggle against capitalism, and as such is as necessary now as at any time in history.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Harry Targ

I was a student at the University of Illinois during the 1960-61 academic year. Like so many of my generation, I was modestly curious about the Cuban Revolution which had occurred a year earlier. I worked in the cloak room of the student union with two fellow students who were counter-revolutionary Cubans. We argued all the time about the revolution. If only Castro would hold elections they said, we would support whatever candidates prevailed.

I had read a short piece in The Nation during the fall of 1960 warning of a group of anti-Castro Cubans training for a military intervention. I had put that out of my mind until my fellow cloak room workers began to talk in February, 1961 about “something (that) was going to happen.”

I also remembered going to a student organized panel on Cuba that included my cloak room colleagues and other counter-revolutionaries. There was one student (the panel had seven participants as I remember) who defended the revolution. It was clear that the defender of the revolution was not liked by the others.

I went to work on April 17, 1961 to discover that I would be covering the cloak room alone. It seems that one of my Cuban colleagues scheduled to work with me that day had gotten in his car and driven to Miami, apparently ready to join the second wave of what became known in the U. S. as the Bay of Pigs invasion. On that day 1,400 anti-Castro Cubans invaded Cuba at a place known as Playa Giron. Days before air attacks on Cuban airfields were carried out by unmarked U.S. planes, but President Kennedy chose not to provide air support when the invasion occurred because the world would think the U.S. was behind the invasion.

The invasion, planning for which began in the Eisenhower Administration, was cooked up by the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA argued that once an invading force landed on the island, the Cuban people would rise up to overthrow the new government. The folly of that assumption was experienced personally by me when I saw my cloak room Cuban friend return to work about three days later. By the time he reached Miami by car the invasion had been crushed. There was no spontaneous uprising.

The Bay of Pigs invasion of 49 years ago is commemorated every year in the municipalities of La Habana province. One report refers to this year’s celebration as marking “the first defeat of imperialism in the Americas.”

Historical research makes it clear that the United States was opposed to the revolutionary movement led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara well before the revolutionaries marched into Havana in January, 1959. When Eisenhower realized that Fulgencio Batista was vulnerable to defeat, the president desperately sought a replacement who would not threaten U.S. banking, tourist, and sugar interests on the island.

President Eisenhower, deeply troubled by Castro’s victory, refused to meet with the Cuban leader when he came to the United States in April 1959. Over the next two years U.S. and Cuban actions and reactions deepened the hostility between the superpower and the island nation. These included the opening of Cuban relations with the Soviet Union, the refusal of U.S. oil companies to refine Soviet oil, and the Cuban seizure of the refineries. Dramatically the U.S. ended the purchase of Cuban sugar and Cuba responded by nationalizing U.S. banks and other businesses on the island.

In March, 1960 Eisenhower directed the CIA to begin planning for an invasion of the island carried out by counter-revolutionary Cubans. The Eisenhower team had successfully ousted from power both Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh 1953 and Guatemalan President Jacob Arbenz in 1954. He probably thought a move on Cuba could lead to a similar success.

When President Kennedy assumed office in 1961, the CIA presented the new president with the Bay of Pigs invasion plan. During the fall 1960 presidential campaign Kennedy had criticized his presidential opponent, Richard Nixon, for allowing Communism to come to Cuba. So JFK’s support of the invasion was no surprise.

When JFK brought the CIA plot to an early April meeting of the National Security Council, almost no one felt free to raise questions about the plot (even though State Department polls indicated the overwhelming support the revolution had among the Cuban people). The National Security Council endorsed the plot.

After the failure Fidel Castro declared Cuba a Socialist state and President Kennedy declared that the U.S. would not rest until the Cuban regime was ousted from power. Kennedy fully institutionalized the economic blockade against Cuba that still exists today.

Revisiting the Bay of Pigs invasion after 49 years suggests some historic features of U.S. foreign policy and decision-making style.

First, as admirably described by Stephen Kinzer in Overthrow, the United States had been engaging in efforts to undermine and overthrow independent governments around the world, and particularly in the Western Hemisphere, ever since it took Hawaii in the 1890s. In fact, the Cuban revolution of 1898 against Spanish colonialism was usurped by U.S. forces followed by a full-scale occupation of the country, then indirect economic and political domination, lasting until 1959. The U.S. imperial vision regarding Cuba goes as far back as the era of the founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson, among others, had declared that Cuba ought to be part of the United States.

Second, as so many accounts of U.S./Cuban relations suggest, the interests of the Cuban people never figured in U.S. policy toward the island. The economic blockade and diplomatic embargo of the island has amounted to a fifty year effort to strangle, not only the regime, but the Cuban people. Others must be forced to sacrifice for the U.S. imperial agenda.

Finally, the Bay of Pigs fiasco suggests that U.S. foreign policy decision-makers almost always misjudge the will of the people who would be subjected to military action. Ruling classes, by their very nature, are unable to understand the interests, passions, and visions of the great masses of people. The Director of the CIA and other members of the President’s inner circle were incapable of understanding that the Cuban people supported their revolution so they ignored State Department polling data.

The United States continues to make these mistakes virtually everywhere.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Harry Targ (in collaboration with David Cormier)

Neo-Liberalism Challenges the Non-Aligned Movement

Since the 1970s, poor countries have been increasingly forced to embrace neo-liberal economic policies at home-cutting government programs, privatizing the economy, opening up the economy to foreign penetration, and shifting to an export-orientation-contrary to the agenda of the Non-Aligned Movement. For many countries, neo-liberal policies constituted a radical break from state policies in which government collaboration with or oversight of the economy were common (so-called heterodox policies).

The Non-Aligned Movement of newly independent countries began to meet in the 1950s. Their concern was the polarization of the international system around debates about “communism” and the “free world” or USSR/US conflicts. For them the central issue was economic development. NAM countries became attracted to variants of Socialist or heterodox policies that called for strong state involvement in economic growth.

Because of United States/Soviet competition during the Cold War for the support of NAM, it gained voice in the United Nations system. Leaders of NAM countries began to demand a new international economic order or NIEO that would regulate international capitalism: limit the free reign of transnational corporations (TNCs), reschedule debts, liberalize patent laws, stabilize prices of agricultural commodities and raw materials, and in other ways regulate global capitalism to reduce some of its negative consequences for the Global South.

In Latin America, these policies were referred to as Import-Substitution Industrialization. The thinking behind ISI, initially developed by Economic Commission for Latin America economists and later amended by dependency theorists, was that manufacturing countries gain more from global exchange than export-oriented raw materials producing countries. Consequently Latin American countries needed to shift resources to industrialization. In the process, ISI policies required protections from unbridled foreign, i.e. United States, economic penetration.

The Debt Trap

The ability to further implement the NIEO and ISI was dramatically reversed by two historic world events. First, the Middle East wars led to dramatic increases in the price of oil during the 1970s. Oil poor countries who had embraced industrial development policies based on the importation of cheap oil experienced enormously increased trade deficits. Western banks choked with oil profits needed to find ways to use the glut of petro dollars. As a result, poor countries were forced to borrow huge sums of money from banks and banks encouraged the blossoming debt system.

To illustrate, indebtedness of the non-oil producing Global South debt increased five times between 1973 until 1982 reaching a total of $612 billion (Wayne Ellwood, The No-Nonsense Guide to Globalization, 43). By the new century, the total debt of developing countries had reached nearly $3 trillion, or $400 for each person living in the Global South (Ellwood, 48) In the 1990s, payments flowing from the South to the North in interest on loans exceeded loan funds entering the countries concerned.

In addition to the debt trap, as suggested above, the debt system came with a policy price: requirements that debtor countries reverse commitments to the NIEO vision and ISI policies. In the 1980s, the neo-liberal economic policies, central to the process of globalization, began to spread throughout the global economy. The debt system has been institutionalized ever since such that countries have become trapped in debt and requirements to carry out the policies of the banks.

The nail-in-the-coffin of Socialist or mixed-economy policies resulted from the economic and political disintegration of Socialism in the 1980s. The former Soviet Union sought to match the U.S. side of the arms race (the Reagan military build-up was the biggest in U.S. history). It found itself in expensive military quagmires in places such as Afghanistan. In addition, political legitimacy of the regime in the Soviet Union and across Eastern Europe declined with the inability of Socialist economies to match consumer growth in the West. The end result was the collapse of Socialism at the same time that the debt system was imposing neo-liberal policies everywhere.

Paradoxically, its advocates claimed, the neo-liberal policy agenda would increase the ability of poorer countries to participate in the global economy. Economic reforms at home would entice increased foreign investment. Shifting from tariffs to markets and from production for domestic consumption to production for sale on world markets would increase earnings which could be plowed into domestic economic development (as well as paying back the bankers for interest on loans).

Data on the 1990s indicated that direct foreign investment increased by about 15 times over the decade. However, 75 % of the investment went to just twelve countries, the most industrialized of the countries of the Global South with the largest markets. These countries included Argentina, Brazil, China, Indonesia, Mexico, and South Korea. Also trade data, exports and imports, indicated that the countries of the European Union, the United States, Japan, and Canada accounted for half of all world trade. Similarly a small number of countries accounted for half of the world’s imports. Despite claims by advocates, neo-liberal economic policies did not increase incorporation of most poor countries into the global economy.

The Transformation of Work

The transformation from Socialist or heterodox policies in the Global South to neo-liberalism, while not stimulating incorporation into the global economy and development, did facilitate changing work patterns. Neo-liberal policies, including privatization and shifting production from domestic consumption to exports, radically transformed rural work in many countries of the Global South.

Governmental pressures undermined traditional patterns of agriculture including land ownership and production processes. Land holdings were consolidated under the control of foreign or wealthy domestic investors. More productive and larger agricultural units began to produce commodities for sale in rich overseas markets. Peasant farmers who in the past produced food stuffs for domestic consumption were replaced by agricultural workers and new technologies to produce winter vegetables and flowers for foreign customers. Countries which had produced enough food for their own people became net importers of food products. In addition, agricultural subsidies characteristic of the United States and countries of the European Union made it all but impossible for poor farmers to compete with the cheap imported food.

As a result of the new agriculture, and farmers forced off their land, migration to urban centers magnified, as more and more rural dwellers sought work. Cities in the Global South doubled or tripled in size, becoming surrounded by make-shift dwellings of people looking for work. Some rural migrants were able to find work in the new export-processing zones or sweat shop industries rising in some countries of the Global South. The pool of cheap labor in the Global South, replenished by the transformation of agriculture, provided an attractive opportunity for textile, electronics, and other manufacturing employment, once basic to the manufacturing economies of the industrialized countries. The globalization of production occurred in tandem with the imposition of neo-liberal economic policies, and the transformation of agriculture.

These changes were reflected in changing employment/unemployment rates and the kind of work that became available in the Global South. From 1950 to 1990, there was a decline by almost 1/3 of those of working age in the world engaged in agriculture. The percentage of the world work force in agriculture in 1990 was down to 49%, from 67% in 1950 (In Latin America and the Caribbean the decline from 1950 to 1990 was from 54% to 25% in agriculture).

In addition, the growth in industrial employment between 1950 and 1990 was modest, not commensurate with the declining agricultural employment. (In Latin America, the decline in agriculture was more dramatic than the world figures while the increase in industrial employment was not greater than the world figures). More recent International Labor Organization (ILO) data suggests that in the world at large “the share of employment in manufacturing declined between 1990 and 2001 in all economies for which data are available…”( ILO, 21 Nov. 2005).

Further, the world data (and the data for Latin America) indicate that the major sectoral growth in employment has been in the service sector. Increases in service sector employment ranged from 8% to 16% among countries in different economic strata. The largest growth in the service sector occurred in the lower-middle income countries.

The Rise of the Informal Sector

Finally, the most significant shift in employment throughout the world, particularly in the Global South, is from the formal economy (agriculture, industry, and service) to the informal economy. Most workers in this growing sector of the work force are driven by a desperate need to provide the rudiments of life. Consequently, they are willing to do virtually anything to earn money. This may involve lucrative small street market sales, or low wage home work (from house cleaning to garment assembly), or prostitution, or drug dealing. Work in the informal economy is not regulated. Workers enjoy no work place health and safety protections. They receive no health or retirement benefits. And, of negative consequence to the national government, they pay no taxes.

In a recent report produced by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations, “The Inequality Predicament,” a distinction is made between “haves” and “have-nots” in terms of employment. The former are employed in the formal economy. They are more likely “…to earn decent wages, receive job-related benefits, have secure employment contracts and be covered by relevant laws and regulations” (UN, 2005, 29). The informal sector represents the polar opposite in terms of wages, benefits, and rights. The growth of the informal sector worldwide, the report says, is intimately tied to growing global inequality.

The UN report estimates that “informal employment accounts for between one half and three quarters of non-agricultural employment in the majority of developing countries.” They indicate that the percentage of those who work in the informal sector varies across the Global South: 48% in North Africa, 51% in Latin America and the Caribbean, 65 % in Asia and 78% in Sub-Saharan Africa (UN, 30).

In addition, the report refers to studies that suggest that the informal sector accounts for significant shares of the overall income and gross domestic product of individual countries. One study of 110 countries in 2000 found that the 18% of the gross national incomes of OECD countries came from the informal sector, 38% in “transition” countries (formerly Socialist), and 41% in developing countries. The informal economy accounted for 42% of the GNP in Africa, 26% in Asia, and 41% in Latin America (UN, 30-34).

The Precarious Classes

Data shows that unemployment around the world rose over the period from 1993 to 2002 and declined somewhat in 2003. What may be the most significant finding from this data is the fact that the seeming recovery of 2003 only imperceptibly impacted on unemployment rates. Even if sectors of the global economy experience growth, some theorists suggest, recovery given the system of global capitalism is “jobless.”

The economic transformations initiated in the Global South in the 1970s occurred in the context of the concentration and globalization of capital and the declining resistance including the collapse of Socialism. The oil crisis, the rise of a global debt system, global policy shifts from state/market economies to neo-liberalism parallel significant changes in work activity from agriculture and industry to service, to the rise of the informal sector and unemployment. The end product of these transformations has been increasing global inequality in wealth and income and the continuation of massive poverty, powerlessness, and precariousness.

While rates of poverty declined over the last twenty years of the twentieth century still half the world’s population in 2001 lived on less than $2 a day. And the percentage declines in extreme poverty, less than $1 a day, during this period mask the fact that more people in 2001 were in extreme poverty than twenty years earlier. The numbers of people in extreme poverty increased in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and India. The numbers of those in poverty declined in East Asia and the Pacific and China.

Also, it is clear that income inequality has been increasing between richer and poorer regions of the globe. With the OECD countries representing the rich countries, on a per capita income basis, shares of income of peoples in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean have declined between 1980 and 2001. Weller, Scott, and Hersch (2001) report that in 1980 median income in the richest countries (top ten percent) was 77 times greater than the median income in the poorest countries (the bottom ten percent). By 1999, the gap had expanded to 122 times.

The transformation of employment from agriculture and industry to service and the informal sector-a shift that has been characterized as one from “have” to “have-not” jobs-has been reflected in the continuation of massive poverty around the globe and substantial evidence that the distribution of wealth and income has worsened over the period of neo-liberal policy influence. “The Inequality Predicament” makes it clear as well that income inequality is reproduced in the distribution of access to health care, education, housing, access to water, and sanitation.

Data like these led Samir Amin (2003) to predict that the transformation of the global political economy was precipitating a crisis of poverty and human misery that will transcend the expectations of the most well-meaning humanists. Amin described the emergence of “precarious classes” in both rural and urban areas. Estimating that half the world’s population (3 billion people) live in the country, he predicted that nearly 2.8 billion of them will become economically redundant. That is, given technology, 20 million people could provide the food needs for the planet. In the cities, 1.5 billion of 3 billion people are marginalized workers who experience work temporarily and/or who always live with the insecurity of job and income loss. Over four billion people of the six billion living on the planet, Amin wrote, constitute “the precarious classes,” made redundant because of declining employment and being reduced to perpetual employment insecurity due to the exigencies of the pursuit of profit in an era of neo-liberal globalization. This situation, Amin asserted, constituted a coming global crisis not seen in human history.