Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Harry Targ

In February, 1999, President Bill Clinton spoke about “our values and interests” and how they should be defended in the world. He warned against those who might say that “we really have no interests in who lives in this or that valley in Bosnia, or who owns a strip of brushland in the Horn of Africa, or some piece of parched earth by the Jordon River.”

Clinton went on to suggest that “measure of our interest lies not in how small or distant these places are, or in whether we have trouble pronouncing their names.” The question, he said, is “what are the consequences to our security of letting conflict fester and spread.”

He was cautious. “We cannot, indeed, we should not, do everything or be everywhere. But where our values and our interests are at stake, and where we can make a difference, we must be prepared to do so.” This speech reflected what has been labeled the Clinton Doctrine.

One month later, under the banner of the NATO alliance which was formed during the Cold War to protect the “free world” from the spread of Communism, the United States and European powers launched a 79 day bombing campaign against targets in Serbia for its participation in a civil war against a secessionist Albanian army in Kosovo, then a province of Serbia. One thousand aircraft were used to fly 38,000 bombing missions, using Tomahawk Cruise missiles to hit Serb targets. Claims of Serb genocide and the innocence of Kosovo were used to justify this extraordinarily aggressive war on Serbia. Clinton officials dubbed the action an application of the post-Cold War policy of “humanitarian intervention.”

Clinton policymakers already had identified some nation-states as “rogue states,” that is states that violated accepted principles of international law, conduct, and discourse, They also worried about “failed states,” that is states that had insufficient control of their territory and population. Humanitarian crises, rogue states, and failed states justified the new militarism such that, as the president said, we might be compelled to act even if we cannot pronounce the names of the states we bomb. Our interests and values would determine our action any place in the world.

Looking at the history of United States foreign policy since the industrial revolution, official excuses for U.S. militarism vary but the outcomes, conquest and murder remain the same. This is so whether the reasons are explained as pursuing the Open Door, promoting self-determination, fighting Communism, spreading the word of God, using our rights as the “last remaining superpower,” or promoting human rights. The only real change is that now more and more military interventionism can be carried out technologically with virtually no risk to the lives of U.S. soldiers.

Today we have Libya. President Obama, using words that remind us of Clinton’s arrogant defense of global interventionism in 1999, explained U.S./NATO policy Monday night March 28.

Obama proclaimed to the nation that: “For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and advocate for human freedom. Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world’s many challenges. But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act. That is what happened in Libya over the course of these last six weeks.”

While President Obama is too smart to say that we do not have to be able to pronounce the names of the countries we bomb, he used the same rationale to justify mass murder that has been used from Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and the two Bushs.

We should talk about oil, territory, imperialism, geopolitical position and all the interconnected causes of superpower drives for world domination. But we should also challenge the arrogance, religious orthodoxy, and racism that over and over again are used to justify the bombing and killing of people virtually everywhere “whether we have trouble pronouncing their names” or not.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Harry R. Targ
from. Strategy of an Empire in Decline: Cold War II
MEP Publications, Minneapolis, 1986, 125-128, 150-157, 167-172.

(I am going on an educational visit to Vietnam sponsored by the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS) and hosted by the Vietnam Women's Federation. I am motivated by a compulsion to revisit our political past. This essay covers briefly the history of the U.S. policy toward Vietnam, 1950-1960 which I will be reflecting upon as we observe Vietnam today. I will follow in weeks ahead with essays on the escalating U.S. war in the administrations of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon. These will be interspersed from time to time with my impressions of Vietnam today. Perhaps these brief descriptions will stimulate your memories and thoughts about ways in which United States foreign policy has not changed since the Cold War) .

The Cold War in the Third World: Indochina

During this period the Eisenhower administration concerned itself increasingly with the Third World. The peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America were actively opposing colonialism and neocolonialism. European and U.S. imperialism in the Third World required markets, resources, cheap labor, and investment sites for profit making. To Europeans in Africa and U.S. interests in Asia national liberation meant the threat of an end to foreign control of indigenous economies. The best opportunity for international capital, then, required continued opposition to anticolonial struggles (as in Indochina, Algeria, Kenya, Ghana, Malaya, etc.) and opposition to movements challenging neocolonialism (as in the Philippines, Guatemala, Iran, and Egypt).

The United States continued its commitment to the reactionary forces in Vietnam, for example. Vietnam had been a colony of France since 1859. During World War II the French collaborated with the Japanese, who had occupied Vietnam. After the Japanese had surrendered at the close of the war, the nationalist and Communist-led Vietminh forces controlled much of the country, and Ho Chi Minh, the movement leader, issued a declaration of independence. The French returned and sought to reestablish their dominance of the country. After the French attempted to achieve full control of Vietnam by means of negotiations, war broke out in 1946 and continued until 1954. The French formed their own Republic of Vietnam in June, 1948, and appointed the collaborationist Bao Dai as leader of the new state. The Bao Dai regime was opposed by a broad front of political forces, of which Ho Chi Minh's Communists were in the lead. The Communist-led movement had the unqualified support of the Vietnamese people.

In February, 1950, the United States recognized the Bao Dai regime. In May, Acheson called for the support of the French war effort in Vietnam, and an aid package was announced on June 27, after the Korean War had begun. From 1950 to 1954 the United States funded eighty percent of the cost of the French war. In February, 1954, France and other nations agreed to plan a conference at Geneva to discuss the continuing civil war. To improve their bargaining position the French simultaneously began an offensive by landing twenty thousand troops at the northern outpost of Dienbienphu. Within two months the French post was near capture.

During this last phase of the French war, the Eisenhower administration was seriously considering increased support for the French. Admiral Radford, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for the use of atomic weapons in keeping with the Dulles strategy of "massive retaliation" to defend the losing French effort. Dulles proclaimed that "communist domination" of Indochina and Southeast Asia would be a "grave threat to the whole free community." Eisenhower talked of "falling dominoes": if Indochina fell, then so would Burma, Thailand, Malaya, Indonesia, then India, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan as a series of falling dominoes. Vice President Nixon said on April 17, 1954:

"The United States as a leader of the free world cannot afford further retreat in Asia. It is hoped the United States will not have to send troops there, but if this government cannot avoid it, the Administration must face up to the situation and dispatch forces."

Dulles and Radford met with members of Congress in late April to discuss U.S. air and troop support for the French, who were on the verge of surrender at Dienbienphu. The congressional leaders said they would support the military commitment only if the British would cooperate. When Dulles conferred with the British, the latter claimed that an act of intervention just shortly before the Geneva conference would be counterproductive. Thus, the U.S. drive toward intervention was temporarily stalled.

The Geneva Conference on Indochina opened on May 8. 1954, the same day that Dienbienphu fell to the forces of Ho Chi Minh. The signatories to the July, 1954, conference accords recognized the independence of Laos and Cambodia, temporarily split Vietnam at the Seventeenth Parallel, called for elections throughout Vietnam to occur by' June, 1956, and agreed not to introduce outside military force into the temporarily divided country. The United States did not sign the accords but agreed to honor them if the signatories did. Dulles's displeasure with the conference and with the need to meet with representatives from the People's Republic of China was evidenced by his personal withdrawal in the middle of the conference.

After the conference the Eisenhower administration exerted pressure on Bao Dai and the French to install a hand-picked client, Ngo Dinh Diem, to serve as South Vietnam's new prime minister. Diem, who had lived in the United States from 1950 to 1953, was a friend of Cardinal Spellman, Senator John F. Kennedy, Supreme Court Justice William 0. Douglas, and other U.S. notables. In the fall of 1954, President Eisenhower sent his famous letter to Diem promising U.S. military and economic assistance to South Vietnam if the government would carry out social reforms.

One year after the Geneva accords were signed, Diem announced that South Vietnam would not participate in negotiations for the holding of elections throughout Vietnam. He claimed that no elections in North Vietnam would be free. In October, 1955, Diem ousted Bao Dai from his honorific post as chief of state and, with selected members of his family, assumed ultimate power in South Vietnam. One analyst said that the United States had its Syngman Rhee for South Vietnam. The U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group then assumed full responsibility for training the South Vietnamese Army, contrary to the Geneva accords.

While the United States was replacing the French in South Vietnam, Secretary of State Dulles was expanding a network of alliances with client states around the world. The United States had already established a twenty-one-nation Western Hemispheric alliance, guaranteeing mutual consultation if any nation was attacked. NATO, created in 1949, represented fifteen north Atlantic and Mediterranean nations. The United States had joined in alliance with New Zealand and Australia. Finally, Dulles organized the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in September, 1954, to counter the advance of communism that he saw as the result of the Geneva accords. Member countries were Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan, and the United States. The SEAT0 Treaty called for the protection of the Indochinese states, despite the fact that the latter were not members. Several Asian states, including India, refused to participate in the SEAT0 pact. Later, Dulles was to add the Baghdad Pact, or CENTO, as an alliance of client states in the Middle East. The United States also had treaty commitments to nations on a bilateral basis. All together, the United States had committed itself to the defense of at least fifty-four nations by the mid- 1950s.

From 1957 to 1960 a rapid escalation of violence occurred in South Vietnam as Diem sought to crush his growing opposition. During 1957-58, the United States entirely funded the Vietnamese armed forces, eighty percent of other government expenditures, and ninety percent of its imports. The Diem regime failed to carry out land reforms, and the countryside continued to be controlled by a small number of landlords. The repression against opposition of various political tendencies led finally to the formation of the National Liberation Front (NLF), in December, 1960, to oust the ruthless Diem regime, which maintained itself in power solely through U.S. support.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Harry Targ

On Thursday morning, March 10, three buses left the parking lot of a large supermarket in Lafayette, Indiana bound for the huge workers rights rally at the Indianapolis State House. The buses were sponsored by the United Steelworkers Local 115A and the NAACP. About 100 workers, teachers, and peace and justice activists were on the buses. About two miles away another three buses left for Indianapolis with 100 activists from the Building Trades Council of Tippecanoe County and the Northwest Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO).

The buses were warm, cozy, and the spirit of solidarity pervaded the atmosphere. Travelers were determined to demonstrate their outrage at the rightwing onslaught on workers and education being planned by Indiana Republicans. Arriving about one hour later, riders disembarked from the warm and fuzzy atmosphere of the trip to a bitterly cold, cloudy, and windy rally in downtown Indianapolis.

The rally consisted of speeches, chants, prayers, and exhortations. Thousands of Hoosier workers withstood the cold to express their anger and their clear realization that the quality of their lives was in jeopardy.

Local 115A passed out some literature to articulate the reasons for enduring the cold and shouting for economic justice. They said that:

1.The struggle in Indiana was inspired by the events in Wisconsin.

2.The rally was about worker rights, including so-called Right-to-Work legislation and proposals to eliminate the right of teachers to organize.

3.The right-to-work bill that was not dead as some media had reported would negatively impact workers in both the private and public sectors.

4.Public sector rights, which need to be defended, had already been weakened by Indiana’s governor, Mitch Daniels.

5.The struggle in Indiana was not a publicity stunt, copying the movement in Wisconsin. Democratic House members walked out of the legislature and traveled to Illinois to forestall the Indiana body from passing the draconian legislation.

6.Taxpayers of the state were not funding the walkout by State House Democrats.

7.The so-called Right-to-Work bill was not the only threat posed to workers in Indiana. One bill would eliminate the secret ballot in union certification elections. Another would remove the right to collective bargaining from public employees at the local level. Another bill would prohibit local communities from establishing living wage laws in excess of the state determined minimum wage.

8.The struggle in Indiana is about protecting public education. Bills would authorize private firms to be hired to evaluate teacher performance, without any teacher input. School funding could be used to provide vouchers for use in private schools. Schools that did not meet certain performance standards would be transferred to private for-profit corporations.

9.The campaign to protect public education also required resisting the cutting of funds for colleges and universities.

10.The struggle for workers rights was relevant to the economy of the entire state of Indiana, not just the 300,000 unionized workers.

Another USW Local 115 document made the motivation for action crystal clear:

“We stand at the statehouse as one people, one labor movement, one united group of citizens. We are proud to be union members and union supporters because together we have built Indiana! Whether we are construction workers, teachers or students--whether we clean buildings, deliver health care or manufacture useful products-we stand together!”

There were different assessments of the State House rally in Indianapolis. The conservative Indianapolis Star, on the one hand estimated that only 8,000 workers rallied in Indianapolis, but on the other hand pointed out how cold, windy, and rainy the weather was, suggesting that attendees were truly committed.

One trade unionist, recalling the rally of 20,000 Building Trades workers in 1995 indicated that he could not tell if this rally was bigger or smaller than that one. Another worker said that we needed at least 100,000 at the rally to make a difference.

Several speakers expressed their appreciation for those that attended the rally. AFL-CIO leaders from Kentucky and Wisconsin pointed out that the Indiana struggle was part of a larger movement involving workers from Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, and everywhere that the basic standard of living of workers was being challenged.

Perhaps the most poignant statement came from an Iraq war vet who reminded the crowd that $3 trillion had been spent on two costly, foolish wars in the 21st century that helped create today’s economic crisis.

The outcome of the ferment, anger, and rebelliousness all around the world remains unclear. But one fine folk singer, after leading the crowd in a rendition of “This Land is Your Land,” wished the movement well. He recalled Woody Guthrie’s injunction: “Take it easy, but take it.” Perhaps that is where we are at today.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Harry Targ

A while ago I wrote about David Harvey’s “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 (perhaps a global ruling class), and human misery, from joblessness, to hunger, to disease, to environmental devastation is spreading.

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 in 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 Wisconsin, and later in Ohio, Indiana, and around the country a broad array of people began to publicly say “no,” “enough is enough.”

The resistance in the Middle East has been about jobs, redistribution of wealth, limiting foreign financial penetration, and democracy. In the United States the issues are even more varied: the right of workers to collectively bargain, opposition to so-called Right-To-Work laws, beating back challenges to public education, raising demands for free access to health care including the defense of reproductive health care, and greater, not less, provision of jobs, livable wages, and retirement benefits.

Where do we 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 trade unions, education, health care, sustainable environments, opposition to racism and sexism, and peace. So all these motivations are part of the same struggle.

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

It is way too early to tell whether this round of ferment will lead to some 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.”