Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Harry Targ

(People who spend part of their lives writing at one time or another assume they can write the “Great American Novel.” For about two weeks a few years ago I too suffered such a self-delusion. I wrote about twenty pages before I stopped writing. Yesterday I found what I had written on an old floppy disc. I thought I would share the first few pages with my millions of blog readers. It takes place at Heartland State University and was inspired by the great academic novel by Richard Russo called “Straight Man.” Of course the pages below bear no relationship to reality. HT)


He stood tall on the stage behind a large mahogany podium. To his right was a huge portrait of Steven J. Struck, twelfth president of the university, alleged to be the man who built Heartland State University from a small agriculture college to a major university in the 1950s. To the president's left was another overpowering painting, this one of Reverend Jones the deep-voiced representative of the Almighty who used to open all faculty/student meetings and football games with a prayer urging God to make the university "first class." Unfortunately, the damn atheists and liberals raised so much hell about "separation of church and state" that the good Reverend had to cease presiding over public events.

President Vision, in this, his first speech to the university community since arriving on campus, pointed to the portrait on his right. "President Struck took Heartland State to the first level. He put us on the academic map." Then he pointed to the good Reverend: "Reverend Jones showed us how our quest for academic greatness fits the heavenly quest. Our job is to take the university to the next level. We must rise to the heights of the power and the glory that befits our talents. Anything less would be failure."

President Vision, still handsome at middle-age, wearing a brown suit, exhorted 1,500 faculty and probably 75 student leaders to follow him to greatness. While some faculty could be seen smirking, the atmosphere created for most was electric. The faculty was embracing the call to action. Sid Glick, ever the cynic, leaned over to Charles Parks, his close-mouthed and obedient colleague saying: "I hope he moves to the next level and falls off the stage." Charles responded: "He's our new president. Give him a break. He might have something to say." As several dutiful faculty sitting around the two glare at them for talking during the speech, Glick thinks to himself: Most of the older faculty have lived through " the new frontier," "light at the end of the tunnel," "I'm not a crook," "the new world order," and now they sit hands folded drooling over moving to "the next level."

In a deep and passionate voice Vision said: "How do we do it? How do we move from a good university to one of the best universities? We must compete with each other. We must set department against department, faculty colleague against faculty colleague, student against student, and yes janitor against janitor. It is through cutthroat competition that the best shall emerge and lead us all to the Promised Land."

First there is puzzled silence. And then, as if by magic, one then another then almost 1,500 seated listeners nod their approval. Trickles of applause slowly spread until row after row of hands begin to clap and to Glick's dismay, ten, then twenty then fifteen hundred faculty, men and women, young untenured and old wizened tenured faculty, white and African-American, Latino, Asian, rise to signal their support for the new president's call for struggle, struggle for greatness.

The speech goes on to describe how the competition will proceed. Each unit of the university, schools, departments, work groups will develop five-year plans and begin to carry them out.

The plans and the immediate effort to bring them to fruition will be judged by key university administrators with standards yet to be determined. The winning units will get more resources--salaries, paper clips, copy machines- and the losers will have to give them up to the more deserving. In the end, the strongest, most competitive shall survive.

Glick rather loudly says to Park: "Charlie what happens if we beat out the English Department? Do they shut down? What will be the impact on the university as a whole?"

Dour Charles whispers in Glick's ear: "You always see people’s ideas in the worst possible light.  Remember in 1983 on the Faculty Affairs Committee. You were the only person to vote against the new Mortuary Science Department. Just because they were proposing to use freezer facilities in the cafeteria to store bodies you raised all sorts of objections to the program. We almost lost the five million dollar contribution to the university from the Digemup Funeral Corporation because of you."

Glick smiled and responded: “How can I have been so shortsighted?”

"So my friends, members of the Heartland State College family, are you prepared to follow me as we embark on this great adventure? (Shouts of “Yes"). Will you compete with your faculty brothers and sisters in the name of this great university? (Again “Yes"). Will you not be deterred if you engage in ruthless competition with spouses, lovers, long-time friends? (Again the crowd shows its approval). Then let us begin tomorrow and see if we can levitate this university to a new level. Let our research and teaching resonate across the atmosphere like a tornado that moves through space destroying all that stands in its way. To Victory!"

President Vision turns to his left and leaves the stage as the auditorium darkens. The student band launches a Sousa marching tune as the 1,500 inspired souls (or 1,500 minus a few doubters like Glick) march out of the auditorium and head home for supper.

(More later…)

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Harry Targ

I have spent much of my adult life in Hypocrisy Valley, a small community which is the regional center of commerce, agriculture, and modest industrialization. It also is the home of a major university, Hypocrisy Valley State University, which has a reputation, we are told, in agriculture, engineering, and science. As a state supported institution it is obliged to serve the research and educational needs of the citizens of the state.
The faculty size of the university and the student population has grown by 25 percent in forty years. The university is the largest employer in the county, and many workers say that while they receive low wages, are not treated with particular respect (except for the annual spring fling distribution of free hot dogs), they work at the university because of the health and retirement benefits, which exceed benefits from other employers in the area. Of course, state law prohibits Hypocrisy Valley employees from organizing staff or faculty unions.
Hypocrisy Valley historically has had mediocre sports teams but from time to time they defeat the other major state universities. Masses of alumni do descend on the university during the football season to drink, eat, and watch Hypocrisy Valley players suffer defeat. Unrelated to performance levels, football and basketball coaches make huge salaries, as is common in collegiate sports, and the Director of Athletic Programs makes hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary and perks and participates in several academic decisions at the university.
Over the last twenty-five years, the number and cost of higher administrative personnel have grown enormously. In addition, selected “star” faculty have enjoyed huge raises. Gaps between the salaries of high-tech, big business, drug company researchers and professors of liberal arts, education, and the pure sciences have grown as well. But all celebrate the fact that Hypocrisy Valley has developed a world reputation, even ranked highly by U.S. News and World Report, the arbiter of quality in higher education.
Presidents at Hypocrisy Valley have served one or more five-year terms before retiring and being replaced. Ordinarily, these presidents are celebrated for their historic contributions to the evolution of the university, only to be all but erased from the University’s history upon retirement. Often the Board of Trustees, the big business elites appointed by Governors to rule the university, name buildings or roads after retired university presidents.
This gets to the heart of academic rule at Hypocrisy Valley. The Board of Trustees makes major decisions about the character and future of the university, including faculty and staff employment. Generally, high-paid administrators accept decisions as they are announced. And since the Board is appointed by sitting Governors, higher education policy is directly related to the distribution of political power in the state.
In addition, since elections, the public expression of political power, are significantly determined by millionaires, trustees at Hypocrisy Valley usually are the wealthy and powerful. Often Trustees come from multinational corporations, banks, and real estate interests in the state and the country. And this influence “trickles down” from the selection of higher levels of administration at Hypocrisy Valley, to curricula, to admissions policy, staff and faculty salaries, and student tuitions.
Recently, decisions at Hypocrisy Valley generated more commentary than usual. The outgoing president, who served one five-year term was encouraged to retire. She was granted a $500,000 severance payment, a continuation of her tenured position in an academic department related to her expertise, and a full-paid sabbatical leave, while she serves on boards of distinguished national scholarly institutions.
Information about the severance payment was reported, in the usually pliant local newspaper, the Hypocrisy Journal. The Journal reported also that the Board is reconfiguring faculty and staff health care costs, including increasing recipient co-payments. The severance package of $500,000 will be paid out of university discretionary funds. Increased health care costs for Hypocrisy Valley employees will be paid for by them.
In addition, with the impending retirement of the University president, a nationwide search for a successor was carried out. A search firm, a faculty staff committee, and the Board of Trustees, after extensive work decided that the best candidate to be the next president of Hypocrisy Valley was the outgoing governor of the state, who in fact appointed the Board of Trustees which now decided that he, the governor with no academic experience, was the best candidate to be the next president.
In addition to the appearance of political skullduggery, the governor had already cut higher education budgets, helped establish an online university as an alternative to traditional higher education, supported the privatization of public education from K to grade twelve, opposed women’s access to reproductive health and signed anti-labor legislation. Some of his strongest defenders argue that having a new president with no higher education administrative experience might make him best equipped to run this world-class institution.
Meanwhile, the Hypocrisy Journal, while publishing a few opinion pieces criticizing the appointment of the outgoing Governor as the new president, shifted most of its editorializing to strong support for the appointment, despite a few well-researched stories about the less transparent aspects of the appointment.
I am sure that Hypocrisy University will survive the moral and political corruption of the presidential appointment. Major changes in university policy will not occur. Big corporations and banks will continue to be served by the bulk of ongoing research and teaching. The Board of Trustees will continue to rule in relative secrecy. Faculty, in the main, will complain in the corridors but will not think of organizing. Students will endure higher tuition to pay for administrative salaries. Growing numbers of young people from around the state, often minorities and working class kids, will search for alternatives to the prohibitively expensive education costs at Hypocrisy Valley.
As Hoosier novelist, Kurt Vonnegut once wrote: “So it goes.”   

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


   Harry Targ

Like a festering cancerous growth that has not been exorcised from the body politic for over sixty years, militarists continue to defend escalating military spending. This time it is former Vice President Dick Cheney visiting Washington to encourage his fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives to stand tall and oppose any cuts in military spending.

Of course, military imperatives have a long history. NATO was formed in 1949 and     the United States militarily and financially was its anchor. National Security Document 68 in 1950 called for military spending to be every president’s top priority. With subsequent “crises” in Korea, the Persian Gulf, the Caribbean, Indochina, Southern Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan, military spending continued to grow, taking up about half of all discretionary government spending.

Anticipating changes in challenges to U.S. global hegemony, President Carter in 1980 called for the establishment of a “Rapid Deployment Force” which could quickly move into trouble spots to address threats to allied regimes. Such a RDF might have prevented the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, Carter’s advisers argued. President Reagan, of course, boosted military spending beyond the costs of the entire historical period before he came into office. And President Clinton, remained committed to being able to fight one and half wars and to be able to engage in “humanitarian interventions.”

The Bush Administration began a shift in defense doctrine even before the 9/11 tragedy was used to justify two huge, long, and unwinnable wars. Defense intellectuals warned of an “arc of instability” all along the equator from the northern portion of Latin America, to North Africa, the Persian Gulf and East Asia. With this new threat the military needed to be transformed into a new high speed force to move on a moment’s notice to any threatened area; a new high tech RDF.

After 9/11 the Bush Doctrine considered any military action as justified if the U.S. perceived that an enemy, state or non-state actor, might be considering an attack on the United States. The new high tech RDF required literally hundreds of military installations on every continent. Given the new technology, these bases did not have to be mini-cities like the old Cold War military installations of the past. And as Chalmers Johnson, Nick Turse, and others have documented, close to 1,000 military bases were in place before Bush left office.

David Vine, an anthropologist, (“The Lily-Pad Strategy: How the Pentagon Is Quietly Transforming Its Overseas Base Empire and Creating a Dangerous New Way of War,” at TomDispatch.com, July 17, 2012) uses an interesting metaphor, the lily-pad, to describe the latest generation of U.S. global military bases. The metaphor, Vine says, comes from the military who conceptualize bases as lily-pads, where like frogs, troops alight then jump across a pond to attack their prey. Vine describes the ‘lily-pads” as “small, secretive, inaccessible facilities with limited numbers of troops, spartan amenities, and prepositioned weaponry and supplies.”

He points out that while hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan are being closed, the lily-pads are expanding. Consequently, the U.S. today still has some kind of military presence in 150 countries on every continent, 11 aircraft carrier task forces, and untold space-based military capabilities. So while the troops are being brought home, unbeknownst to the American people, the U.S. global military presence is growing.

In Vine’s words: “Beyond their military utility, the lily-pads and other forms of power projection are   also political and economic tools used to build and maintain alliances and provide privileged U.S. access to overseas markets, resources, and investment opportunities.”

Although this story is not new, Vine suggests that opposition to military doctrine and spending is growing, an opposition that peace activists might use. “…. overseas bases have recently begun to generate critical scrutiny across the political spectrum from Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul to Democratic Senator Jon Tester and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. With everyone looking for ways to trim the deficit, closing overseas bases offers easy savings. Indeed, increasingly influential types are recognizing that the country simply can’t afford more than 1,000 bases abroad.”

A recent survey sponsored by the Program of Public Consultation, the Stimson Center, and the Center for Public Integrity reinforce the argument Vine is making about military spending. In April, 2012 a representative sample of respondents from Democratic and Republican (Blue and Red) districts were asked their opinions about cutting military spending in 2013. Respondents were given arguments in support of and opposition to such spending before they answered questions. In so-called Blue districts 80 percent of respondents supported defense spending cuts and 74 percent of those in Red districts also supported the cuts. In addition, respondents in Congressional districts which received high levels of defense spending contracts were as supportive of the cuts as those in districts where DOD spending was lower.

The Director of the Program for Public Consultation, Steven Kull said that “The idea that Americans would want to keep total defense spending up so as to preserve local jobs is not supported by the data.”

Perhaps more Americans than one expects are aware of the fact that military spending, as economists have claimed, is a job killer. United For Peace and Justice, advocating active opposition to reversing the military spending cuts agreed to by Congress in 2011, has pointed out that $1 billion in government spending for the military creates 11,200 jobs, while an equal amount spent for creating clean energy would create 16,800 jobs, and education 26,700 jobs.      

Now is a good time for peace activists to expand education about the history of unchallenged military spending, continued military basing all across the globe, the use of high technology and mobile troop formations to intervene everywhere, the consequences of military spending for making the world a more dangerous place, and the costs, not only in lives overseas but to a basic standard of living at home. The survey data indicates that a progressive peace majority might be ready to listen and act.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Reissue from The Rag Blog: Let the Poets Speak

28 June 2010

Vision of a Better World : Let the Poets Speak

Meridel Le Sueur. Photo from Working Women.

Class, race, empire, and resistance:The vision of the poet

By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / June 28, 2010
  • Oil Spills as the Gulf of Mexico is Destroyed
  • Judge with BP Stock Rules Against Government Regulation
  • Several States Contemplate Arizona-Like Laws to Install Police Repression Against People of Color
  • Millionaire Politicians Vote to Cut Off Benefits to the Jobless
  • Media Ignores Massive Detroit Mobilization Against Poverty and War
  • Media Continues to Advertise “Tea-Party” and Sarah Palin Without Ever Addressing Capitalism(fantasy headlines by the author, morning June 26)
Some of our finest poets described so well the nature of the empire in which we live and the need for resistance against it. Meridel Le Sueur, the socialist/feminist poet, novelist, and chronicler of the Great Depression and beyond wrote with power about twentieth century America in a way that could have been written this week.
None of my sons or grandsons took up guns against you.

And all the time the predators were poisoning the humus, polluting
the water, the hooves of empire passing over us all. White
hunters were aiming down the gunsights; villages wrecked,
mine and yours. Defoliated trees, gnawed earth, blasted embryos.

We also live in a captive country, in the belly of the shark.
The horrible faces of our predators, gloating, leering,
the bloody Ford and Rockefeller and Kissinger presiding over
the violation of Asia

-- Meridel Le Sueur

Langston Hughes. Photo from Arts Edge / Kennedy Center.
Langston Hughes, African American poet, captured United States history powerfully in the words of class and race
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek --
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean --
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today -- O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

-- Langston Hughes

Woody Guthrie, 1943. Photo from Rounder Records / Bluegrass Journal.
And balladeer Woody Guthrie wrote verses, often unsung, for the unofficial American anthem, “This Land is Your Land?”
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

-- Woody Guthrie

Carl Sandburg. Photo by Al Ravenna, 1955 / World Telegram / Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons.
Carl Sandburg, poet, biographer of Abraham Lincoln, and children’s author, reminded us of who has made history and ironically created the exploitation of the producing class.
I am the people -- the mob -- the crowd -- the mass.
Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world's food and
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me
and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons
and Lincolns.
I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing.
Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out
and wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes
me work and give up what I have. And I forget.

-- Carl Sandburg
Poets usually are driven by a vision of a better world. For Langston Hughes:
O, let America be America again --
The land that never has been yet --
And yet must be -- the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME --
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

-- Langston Hughes
And for Woody Guthrie:
When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

-- Woody Guthrie
And finally poets offer the hope of resistance and change:
How can we touch each other, my sisters?
How can we hear each other over the criminal space?
How can we touch each other over the agony of bloody roses?
I always feel you near, your sorrow like a wind in the
great legend of your resistance, your strong and delicate strength.

It was the bumble bee and the butterfly who survived, not the dinosaur.

-- Meridel Le Sueur

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

-- Woody Guthrie

Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to
remember. Then -- I forget.

When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the
lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year,
who played me for a fool -- then there will be no speaker in all the
world say the name: "The People," with any fleck of a sneer in his
voice or any far-off smile of derision.

The mob -- the crowd -- the mass -- will arrive then.

-- Carl Sandburg

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath --
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain --
All, all the stretch of these great green states --
And make America again!

-- Langston Hughes
Selections from the following poems:
Meridel Le Sueur, "Doan Ket
Langston Hughes, "Let America Be America Again
Woody Guthrie, "This Land is Your Land?
Carl Sandburg, "I Am the People, the Mob

[Harry Targ is a professor in Political Science who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. His blog is Diary of a Heartland Radical.]

The Rag Blog

Tuesday, July 10, 2012



Harry Targ

Since Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement almost every institution in American life--financial, corporate, political party, media, military, and religious--has appropriately become subject to scrutiny and evaluation. In each case analysts and activists have begun to raise questions about what these institutions look like, whose interests they serve, and how they contribute to the well-being of society.
Until recently colleges and universities have been largely above reproach. Research and education have been seen as the cornerstone of American democracy and economic development. The appointment of Governor Mitch Daniels as the new president of Purdue University and the firing and rehiring of the University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan provides the occasion for a reexamination of higher education.

Institutions of higher education have traditionally performed four tasks in the service of maintaining and enhancing the development of the other institutions referred to above. First, universities, particularly since World War II, have provided research resources to produce the products and technologies that have stimulated the capitalist system. Often basic research has fed into major enterprises in society, from promoting a global food system, to building sophisticated armies, to developing new high speed systems of communication that maximize control of economies and peoples. Major universities bring together talented research scholars and public and private research dollars to create inventions that promote greater control of nature and people and to expand profit.

Second, universities train work forces. Some graduates will become the research scholars who will continue the tradition of study and economic development to advance the economy and the polity further. Others will be provided the skills to work in the private and public sectors to carry out the work of institutional perpetuation. Corporate managers, computer specialists, tourism experts, and employees in the public sphere are trained at the modern university. And, increasingly universities train the soldiers who will fight the wars that the United States continues to fight.
Third, universities provide an education that in the main facilitates the transfer of legitimated knowledge to consumers of that knowledge. Particular attention is given to the promotion of a scientific worldview that reduces physical and social reality to a multiplicity of “variables” that can be studied with statistical rigor. Knowledge is primarily scientific knowledge.

Legitimated knowledge that is passed along to college students also includes highly selective portraits of how economies work, what constitutes democratic political institutions, and what constitutes standards of quality in the arts. In subtle forms, universities pass along celebratory, often uncritical, images of the society in which students live.
Finally, universities are credentialing institutions. They reward students with degrees, recommendations, and honors, which can be used as licenses to participate in the other institutions in society. Even when political and economic elites receive prestigious degrees through family connections, it is the degree that helps the accumulation of power.
The four functions --research, training, legitimizing, and credentialing--have changed concretely over time. For example, in the United States, the development of the modern university paralleled the industrial revolution. Prestigious universities, such as Harvard, initiated modern departments at the dawn of the twentieth century replacing the primacy of theology and law with economics, business administration, and industrial engineering. Training in fields such as education was designed to create a literate work force that could staff the factories of modern society. And social sciences were created to develop theories that comported with industrial development, such as Social Darwinism. These theories largely justified the distribution of wealth and power within societies and in the international system.
After World War II higher education took on vital functions in new ways. The GI Bill funded college education for veterans to train the scientists and managers of the new age. Also, higher education would credential students to be placed in higher paying jobs so that they could earn enough to buy the goods that a booming American economy was producing.
By the 1960s, higher education experienced enormous growth. For University of California President Clark Kerr, the “multiversity” was the institution critical for the development of a new global economy, scientific and technological advances, and the invention of new tools to fight the Cold War. In addition, social scientists and economists, studying development, would generate theories to guide public policy, particularly in poorer countries experiencing revolutionary ferment.
The massive growth in higher education from the 1960s to the new century led to increased university budgets, higher tuition costs, over-trained and underemployed college graduates, and a layer of overpaid administrators who had taken over the operations of most universities from the professor ranks. In addition, many non-professional workers at the university kept universities operational and were paid a living wage with justifiably secure benefits.
Now, in the midst of a deep economic crisis, political and economic elites are lobbying to create new structures of power in higher education while still supporting research, training, legitimating, and credentialing. The approach that is increasingly promoted by political leaders, educational foundations, and most important, Boards of Trustees of universities, is what Kevin Phillips labeled “market fundamentalism.”
The market fundamentalist approach emphasizes cutting public support for higher education and reducing financial support for students, particularly underrepresented students. In other words, as opposed to the era of the GI Bill, the operant vision is ultimately to reduce access to higher education which will contribute to the increasing inequality in wealth and income in the United States.
Also, market fundamentalism relies on the market to induce “competition” to reduce costs among universities. It encourages new profit-based universities that can sell college degrees cheaply, primarily by substituting on-line courses for campus experienced-based education. In addition, market fundamentalists call for forcing universities to make every academic unit in the university pay for itself.
What is new about the crisis in higher education today, what appointment of new presidents such as Tea Party friend Mitch Daniels represents, is that economic and political elites wish to continue the traditional functions of the university while reducing costs in higher education.
They want to transfer continuing costs to students and workers at the university.
They are working to streamline university education to research on corporate agriculture, medicine, computer technology, military developments, and allied fields.
And they want to cut educational programs that link research, education, and community service. This may entail eliminating programs that cannot be linked to the making of profit, such as in literature, the arts, and various social sciences and cultural studies. This is probably what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce meant when it warned of “growing skepticism about whether those lucky enough to graduate have acquired the skills and knowledge necessary for success in the 21st century economy.”
And finally, since politics has never been absent from debates about higher education, in today’s context corporate elites including those in the media, wish to eliminate the enduring tradition of “academic freedom” which has celebrated the view that the university must be a venue for the pursuit of “the marketplace of ideas.”
Expect the university to be another emerging site for contestation and political struggle.

Monday, July 2, 2012


Harry Targ

I participated in the 2012 “Seminar on Socialist Renewal and the Capitalist Crisis” co-sponsored by the Radical Philosophy Association and the Institute of Philosophy, University of Havana. More than forty US/Canadian/ Latin American scholars met in conference with at least 75 Cuban scholars in a five day conference to discuss the political and economic changes occurring in Cuba and the United States.

I purposely entitle this essay “revisiting the Cuban Revolution” because I came away from this exciting conference convinced that the revolution continues.  I say this because I saw no reason to revise what I wrote in 1992 about the Cuban Revolution (Cuba and the USA: A New World Order? International Publishers, 6):

“….the Cuban revolution (even until this day) has constituted a living experiment that most progressive forces around the world identify with. Even though each society has its own history, class structure, level of development, and revolutionary potential, Cuba’s desire to create a government to serve its people and at the same time to transform them from a traditional consciousness to a revolutionary consciousness is shared by progressives everywhere. For progressives, Cuba is a laboratory, a grand social experiment that will provide knowledge for others as they seek fundamental change in their own societies…..Cuba’s successes in the years ahead are successes of all progressive forces and, similarly Cuba’s defeats are defeats for all who wish to create egalitarian  and humane societies”.
The idea of “revolution” refers to a fundamental transformation of economic and political structures and peoples’ consciousness of their place in society and the values that should determine human behavior. Also, revolution is not a fixed “thing” but a process. That means that changes in structures, patterns of behavior, and consciousness are changing over time and in the case of revolution are moving toward, rather than away from, more complete human fulfillment.

What has been most fascinating to observe about the Cuban Revolution is its constantly changing character. Cubans have debated and made decisions about gradual versus fundamental changes, the need to experiment with different ways to allocate scarce national resources and, most critical, how to respond to external economic, political, and military assaults.  Cuban society has been an experimental laboratory, changing public policies as contexts demand. If one set of policies became problematic, the Cubans moved in different directions. Usually change came after heated debate at all levels of society.
For example, after the 26th of July Movement seized power, the revolutionary regime launched programs to reduce rents for urban dwellers, established a nationwide literacy campaign, and after a cool U.S. response to the new government, put in place a large agrarian reform program. As United States hostility escalated Cuba established diplomatic and economic relations with the former Soviet Union. From that point US/Cuban hostilities became permanent.

In the mid-1960s, Cuba engaged in a great debate, to some degree unresolved, between those who wanted to move the Revolution along the path to “moral incentives,” that is creating a society in which people act because of their commitment to communist ideals, versus those who argued that in the short run “material incentives,” wages and benefits, needed to serve as the source of human motivation.
Later, the Cuban government embarked on a campaign to produce more sugar than ever before to earn scarce foreign exchange in order to advance the domestic economy. The 10 million ton sugar campaign failed with negative consequences for the sectors of Cuban society that were ignored. Then Cuba embraced the Soviet model of development, including joining the Eastern European Common Market.

By the 1980s, while the economy grew, Cubans saw a decline in the commitment to the Revolution. This recognition led to a campaign of “Rectification,” to re-instill in society and consciousness, the spirit of the Revolution. When the Socialist Bloc collapsed between 1989 and 1991, once again the Cuban Revolution had to adapt. “The Special Period” was instituted in the face of a decline in the economy of at least 40 percent. The Revolution survived, contrary to the predictions of outside experts.
In the 21st century, despite devastating hurricanes, a global economic crisis, and an escalating United States economic blockade, the Revolution continued.

Now, the Cubans are embarking on a new set of policies that are designed to overcome economic stagnation, inadequate agricultural productivity, bureaucracy and corruption in government, and insufficient grassroots participation in decision-making, particularly at the work place. After extensive debate in the society at large, from the leadership of the Communist Party to virtually every workplace, neighborhood and village, the Cubans have decided on new structures and policies.
The new policy guidelines include the expansion of a market in the production of goods and services. This expansion will include a dramatic shift of employment from the state sector to self-employment. Emphasis will be placed on developing cooperatives in manufacturing and services as well as in agriculture. In the agricultural sector efforts are being initiated to encourage a dramatic increase in those who can return to the land, increasing domestic food production while reducing the need to import food from abroad. New forms of grassroots participation in addition to revitalizing the mass organizations will occur. And the ration system of food distribution will be replaced by the establishment of a safety net for those still in need of food.  And where possible, enterprise autonomy, such as in the renovation of Old Havana, will be encouraged and supported.

The new guidelines, over 300 in all, are designed to renovate economic and political institutions, stimulate local entrepreneurial enterprise, increase political participation, and overcome the continuing economic crisis that a small country such as Cuba finds itself in as a result of natural and political disasters as well as a continued effort by the “Colossus of the North” to overthrow the regime.
Debate within Cuban society (and among our North American delegation) about these new guidelines has been animated.  Perhaps most basic is the concern about whether the economic reforms will undermine the Socialist character of Cuban society after over 60 years of struggle. Some worry that the introduction of markets may undermine the spirit of compassion and revolutionary consciousness that was inspired by the heroic Che Guevara and the band of scruffy revolutionaries who overthrew a neo-colonial regime in 1959.

Still others debate about whether cooperatives constitute a productive and yet inspirational step in the long history of building Socialism and Communism. And what about youth, people ask. Is the revolution ancient history for young people, a youthful population that has had access to a rich educational experience and live a healthful life. Will they have the same fervor for the Revolution that their elders and foreign friends have had? And, in fairness to the young, how can the Revolution be preserved while serving the lives of people whose historical experiences are different from their elders?
There are no easy answers to these questions; no guarantees of success; no convincing narratives of a linear development from a contradictory present to a utopian future. But, as I clearly saw in 1990 when I started attending meetings of U.S. and Cuban scholars, there is reason for hope. The Cuban Revolution has survived, given so much to the world, and continued to intrigue progressives everywhere. I returned from my encounter to Cuba in June, 2012, with renewed optimism.