Tuesday, January 28, 2014



As we mourn the loss of our movement treasure, we each recall what Pete Seeger has meant to us.  This essay, written four years ago, posted on my blog and reposted on The Rag Blog, is part of my personal reflection.

In Solidarity.


January 28, 2014

What progressives need to know:
History is complicated
Though it's darkest before the dawn
These thoughts keep us moving on...
By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / October 20, 2010

I became a radical in the 1960s. I kept putting off being active until the late '60s but I slowly involved myself in the anti-war movement. When I started teaching around this time I noticed that many students became instant radicals; 19 year-old- kids going from lack of political awareness to militancy in a matter of weeks.

The Southern movement was inspiring; young people and their elders were transforming the system of Jim Crow. College campuses were bursting with energy, demanding “student rights” and “relevant” courses. Then the anti-war mobilizations grew bigger and bigger. Each massive mobilization in D.C., in New York, in Chicago, in San Francisco challenged organizers to produce larger and larger crowds and for a time the crowds did get bigger.

Many of us began to see the achievement of peace and justice as just around the corner. We were on the verge of building a new world, not unlike the world of altruism and love envisioned by Che Guevara.

But then everything seemed to fall apart. The New Left split. African Americans sought to build their own movements. Women and gays began to argue that human liberation should be for them as well.

Nixon was elected. Vietnamization did not end the war but shifted the U.S. role from ground to massive air strikes across all of Vietnam. The Xmas bombing destroyed virtually all of North and South Vietnam. Black Panthers were targeted for assassination by the federal government and local authorities. Students were murdered at Kent State and Jackson State.

The youthful energy, the visions of socialism dissipated. Particularly the young became disillusioned. I remember one student telling me in the early 70s: “I tried the political thing and it didn’t work.”

The seeming victories of the '60s and '70s were followed by the brutal Reagan “low intensity” conflicts of the '80s: leading to death and destruction in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Angola, Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Afghanistan. And Reagan trumpeted the shift from welfare state capitalism to neoliberal globalization: privatization, de-regulation, and shifting all human activities from the public sector to the market. Then the last large-scale check on the globalization of capitalism and imperialism, the Soviet Union, collapsed.

This brief history reflects my own intellectual immaturity. Along with hundreds of thousands of others I was caught up in the emotion of the times. Not informed about the subtleties and complexities of history, I assumed that the path to victory, the path to peace and justice, would be smooth and linear. I did not expect major setbacks. I assumed that once we demonstrated our passion, our ability to mobilize large numbers of people, then the job was done.

But as I read Marx, involved myself in the labor movement and Central American solidarity, I began to realize that history does not work in simple and linear ways. Struggle must continue. Those who oppose us will continue to defend their privileges and their position. Patience is as critical to our work as is passion. And, these lessons of history are more likely to be understood by workers, by marginalized peoples, by most of the citizens of the globe who may not have been the beneficiaries of the short-term victories of social movements.

I also thought more about the lessons embedded in the music of my youth and the deep philosophical meaning of the simple verses of the songs of folk singers such as Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger and the Weavers.

I remember Woody’s son Arlo Guthrie describing his own connection to the progressive folk music tradition:

One of the great things that I learned from both my mother and my dad and from some of these folks here is that this kind of wanting to make the world a better place is not something that started with the Weavers….they recognized and continued a tradition that’s probably been going on for as long as people have been around. And that is a wonderful thing for a young person to discover; he or she is not the beginning of a thing but somewhere in the middle of a long line of people who are concerned about making the world a better place to be.

It gives you the ability to not get so anxiety-prone over what’s going on from moment to moment but to take a little longer look and know that you don’t have to finish a job within the span of a lifetime. All you have to do is link up to the future. That’s the job of being a human. It’s to make the connection to the future and hold on to the connection to the past.

(Album notes from HARP, Redwood Records.)

In addition, I would often think about Pete Seeger singing in “Quite Early Morning” that it is “darkest before the dawn.”

Some say that humankind won't long endure
But what makes them so doggone sure?
I know that you who hear my singing
Could make those freedom bells go ringing
I know that you who hear my singing
Could make those freedom bells go ringing

And so keep on while we live
Until we have no, no more to give
And when these fingers can strum no longer
Hand the old banjo to young ones stronger
And when these fingers can strum no longer
Hand the old banjo to young ones stronger

So though it's darkest before the dawn
These thoughts keep us moving on
Through all this world of joy and sorrow
We still can have singing tomorrows
Through all this world of joy and sorrow
We still can have singing tomorrows

So let’s get back to work.

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical.]

Sunday, January 26, 2014


Harry Targ

When East Coast executives open The New York Times’ business section Sunday morning, they’ll be greeted with a full-page advertisement hawking Indiana as a good place to do business (Journal and Courier, January 25, 2014). 

…the number of Hoosier’s living in poverty reached more than one million, unemployment in Indiana has remained above the national average…low wage jobs and income inequality are both on the rise, and; post-secondary educational attainment continues to present challenges to high-growth job creation (Indiana Institute for Working Families, “Status of Working Families in Indiana, 2012,” July, 2013).

Economic Change in the United States

Fred Magdoff recently published an article in Monthly Review (January, 2014) aptly titled “The Plight of the U.S. Working Class.” In it he describes the historic process of capital accumulation of the wealth produced by workers. He points out that since the industrial revolution numerous ways have been developed to expropriate more and more of the value of what workers’ produce. These methods included cutting wages, increasing hours of work, paying workers just enough to have energy to return to the workplace to produce more, speed-up on the line, and using technology to get more labor out of fewer and fewer workers. Over time exploitation has included the use of police power to crush demands from workers for increased public services, including education, health care, housing, and transportation, that would “cost” the wealthy taxes, and the right to form trade unions. During the worst of times workers’ ability to resist increased exploitation was compounded by the existence of a desperate pool of unemployed and underemployed workers who would be forced to accept lower wages and unhealthy working conditions just to get employment. 

As this process unfolded historically rates of profit grew, capital accumulated, corporations and banks expanded, economies became more concentrated in fewer hands, and corporate/banking political influence grew. Periodically workers and their allies organized, traditional sources of division around race and gender were broken down (particularly in the 1930s), and the working class broadly defined gained some political power. For a time reforms (such as the New Deal in the 1930s and the Great Society in the 1960s) were carried out to lessen the pain and suffering of workers. As movements grew, they inspired others to make demands on the economic and political system that began to change the fabric of society. The most radicalized workers, often through socialist organizations, talked about worker controlled economic and political systems which were likely to improve the human condition for the vast majority of the population.

Magdoff argues that workers in the United States are currently under the most extreme pressure since the Great Depression. Since the imposition of the neoliberal agenda during the 1980s--deregulation, promotion of markets, cutting government programs for the many, establishing global trade agreements, and increasing financial speculation--“capital has squeezed labor ever harder.”

Magdoff presents data which describes major features of the U.S. economy:

-a decline by more than half the average rate of growth per year of GNP (from 4 percent in the 1950s and 1960s to 1.8 percent today)
-a decline in job growth from about 2 percent per year in the 1970s and 1980s to 0.3 percent per year over the last decade
-a dramatic increase in joblessness among those 25-54 from 5 percent in 1968 to 18 percent in 2013
- a jobless rate for women 25-54 from 31 percent in 1990 to 27 percent in 2000 to 28 percent in 2012
-for 18-24 year olds joblessness has risen among men from 28 percent in 1990 to 44 percent in 2012 and from 38 percent to 46 percent among women
-in all worker categories there has been an increase in part-time over full-time work and growing numbers of discouraged workers who have given up looking for work
-to reach a full-employment economy an additional 29.2 million jobs would be needed
-approximately 18.9 percent of Hispanics are unemployed and 22.4 percent of African Americans

These long-term trends are correlated with deteriorating health, stagnating wages, and rising poverty (46 million people, 15 percent of the population, lived below the poverty line in 2013)

And for the ruling class Magdoff says:

During the economic recovery from the Great Recession the top 1 percent of income earners in the United States has captured 95 percent of the total growth of income in the economy. In 2002-2012 the bottom 90 percent of the population saw their average family income (excluding capital gains) drop by 11 percent, while those in the top 0.01 percent, that is, one in every ten thousand people, enjoyed a 76 percent increase in average family income (excluding capital gains).

Indiana’s Political Economy

Indiana is one example of a state in which local economic trends mirror the accumulation of wealth on one side and poverty on the other. In fact, Indiana has been one of the worst states in terms of providing for its population. Almost 16 percent of the state’s population lives in poverty, including over 22 percent of its children, 17 percent of women, 33 percent of African Americans, 29 percent of Latinos, and 25 percent of Native Americans. One-third of Indiana residents are low-income and for a decade have experienced a decline in median household income. Even with a recent slight decline in the rate of poverty, the number of low income Hoosiers (earning less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Guideline (FPG) has risen since 2011. (Indiana Institute for Working Families, 9/19/13; cited in “Slight Decrease in Poverty Offset by Increase in Low-Income Hoosiers,” Lafayette Independent, October, 2013).

To quote the Indiana Institute for Working Families:

“…more than 1 in 5 children live in poverty and 47 percent are low-income (more than all neighbor states, including Kentucky); more than 1 million Hoosiers over the age of 18 are in poverty and 2.24 million are low-income; more than 70% of Hoosier jobs are in occupations that pay less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines – that’s less than $39,060 for the same family of three.... we have a larger share of jobs in occupations that pay at or below poverty wages ($19,530 for a family of three) and jobs that pay at or below minimum wage than all neighbor states, including Kentucky; and wages have declined for lower- and middle-income Hoosiers over the past decade, while worker productivity has soared.” (Derek Thomas, “Cato Study Disingenuously Presents Molehills as Mountains,” Indiana Institute for Working Families, August 23, 2013).

As to economic inequality in Indiana:

-over the last thirty years the poorest twenty percent of the population experienced an income  decline of 6.7 percent and the income of the richest twenty percent rose by 57.2 percent
-the richest five percent of households have average incomes 11.9 times larger than the average incomes of the bottom 20 percent
-average income of the poorest twenty percent is $19,100; the richest five percent averages $228,200

The immiseration of workers in Indiana has largely paralleled the national trends described by Magdoff. Since the 1980s, the Indiana economy has experienced significant deindustrialization--radical reductions in the production of steel, automobiles, electronics; and increases in wholesale and retail trade; finance, real estate and insurance; and services. The changing economy was reflected in declining union membership which peaked at 21 percent of the work force in 1989 and declined to 9.1 percent of wage and salary workers in 2012. (Indiana union membership as a percentage of the total work force exceeded national membership from 1989 until 2001 and since then has declined compared to the national figure by 3 percent).

Currently, Indiana Republicans control the governor’s office, both state legislative bodies, one of two US Senate seats, and have 7 of nine House seats. Forty-six percent of Hoosier voters have registered as Republicans and 32 percent as Democrats. Although Indiana is largely a Republican state (voting for Democratic candidates for president only four times between 1900 and 2012), half of the state’s governors were Democrats in the 20th century. Historically Democrats have been strongest in Northwest Indiana and bigger cities such as Gary, Fort Wayne, South Bend, and Indianapolis (where union members and minorities were larger proportions of the population than in rural areas and smaller cities in the Southern part of the state). Republican strength is greatest in rural areas, central parts of the state, and south of the capital city of Indianapolis to the Kentucky border. Democrats controlled the Governor’s office from 1988 until 2004. Popular governor, Evan Bayh served two terms as the state executive before moving on to the Senate.

Until 2010 redistricting, Democrats controlled the Indiana House of Representatives. Since the 2010 election and redistricting, Republicans control the Governor’s office and both Indiana legislative chambers. Without the check of a Democratic controlled House, state government escalated draconian legislation (some already in place) affecting working people: charter schools, cutting property taxes and resources for public schools, establishing (after a long public battle) a new right-to-work law, and privatizing public facilities, particularly highways. Governor Daniels (2004-2012) and now Governor Pence have served during the period of economic decline reflected in the data reported above. Cities, particularly in areas where minorities and unions have been strong, have been particularly devastated. Gary, Indiana has experienced economic decline on a scale paralleling Detroit.

Finally, state and local Democratic party organizations, with a few exceptions, have been weak and most of those Democrats elected to public office have been more conservative than the national party. One significant exception was the mobilization of independent Democrats (in Tippecanoe County they called themselves ‘Yes We Can Tippecanoe’) in 2008 to achieve extraordinary victories for primary and presidential candidate Barack Obama. Many YWCT activists continue to work in local progressive organizations today.

In addition, with declining union membership, the state AFL-CIO has been considerably weakened: paid staff has declined in numbers, national labor support has declined, and the traditionally strong Indiana University Labor Studies Program, defended by the labor movement, was closed down early in the new century.

Progressive Politics in Indiana Today

In short, the Indiana economy has experienced deindustrialization, joblessness, growing economic inequality, rising poverty and misery, and declining support for public institutions and minimal standards of well-being for the working class. These long-term changes have been occurring parallel to the changing national economy, only in more extreme form. The once vibrant labor movement in the state has been weakened dramatically. The long-term trajectory of economic decline and worsening conditions for workers has continued under periods of leadership of both political parties. From 2004 to the present growing Republican strength and introduction of rightwing policies has exacerbated the pain and suffering of workers referred to above.

Despite the long period of economic decline and the weakening labor movement in Indiana, progressives, small in number but vigorous in energy, have continued to fight back against reactionary state governance. Activists around the state are mobilizing around economic issues such as Medicaid expansion and raising the minimum wage; women’s reproductive rights; saving public education; and fighting efforts to restrict marriage equality.

(A future essay will examine political movements in Indiana).

Saturday, January 11, 2014


Harry Targ

Global Economic Context         

Looking at the last third of the twentieth century, Canadian economist James Davies, in a study prepared by the World Institute for Development Economics Research, wrote “income inequality has been rising for the past 20 to 25 years and we think that is true for inequality in the distribution of wealth.” In 2,000 the study showed, the top 1 percent of the world’s population accounted for 40 percent of its total net worth, with the bottom half owning 1.1 percent. Edward Wolff, another economist participating in the study, wrote “With the notable exception of China and India, the third world has drifted behind.” (New York Times, December 6, 2006).

The starkest interpretation of this kind of data was reflected in a 2003 article by Egyptian economist Samir Amin, who asserted that the global economy is creating what he called “the precarious classes,” both in agriculture and manufacturing, who cannot count on day-to-day remunerative activity to survive. He estimated that 2/3 to 3/4 of humankind is among the “precarious classes.”

Relevance to the Middle East in the 21st Century

A financial publication entitled “Arab Banker” printed a summary of a World Bank study, “Two Years After London: Restarting Palestinian Economic Recovery” in 2007.  The World Bank, the Arab Banker, and other sources presented the following alarming data:

-The percentage of Gazans living in poverty steadily increased from 1998 (21.6%) to 2006 (35%).
-Israeli policies barring imports and exports isolated Gaza from the Israeli and global economy made matters worse; a 90 % decline in Gaza’s industrial operations occurred between the 2006 parliamentary election victory of Hamas and 2007
-Industrial employment in Gaza declined from 35,000 in 2005 to 4,200 in 2007. 

During the first decade of the new century, comparative economic data on Israel and the occupied territories indicated that West Bank and Gaza gross national product per capita was about 10 percent of that of Israel.

More recently, the United Nations issued a report entitled “Socio-Economic and Food Security Survey 2012: West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestine.” This report was produced under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, and the World Food program. It documented a connection between food insecurity in Palestine and external constraints on the economies of the West Bank and Gaza imposed by occupation and blockades. Among their findings were the following:

-34 percent of Palestinian households, comprising over 1.5 million people live in situations of food insecurity (19 percent in the West Bank and 57 percent in Gaza).
-Food insecurity, increasing since 2009, derived from growing unemployment, declining purchasing power, and slowed or abandoned aid thus decreasing jobs, income, and consumption.
-Food insecure households (often with larger families) are more likely to experience disabilities and chronic illnesses.

The report made three general recommendations: lift the embargo on Gaza, increase West Bank access to the Israeli economy, and support efforts to increase economic productivity in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Middle East Wars

The contested land of Palestine had been largely populated by Muslim peoples from the 7th century until the mid-twentieth century.  In 1947, the year that the United Nations recommended the partition of Palestine into two states, only 1/3 of the land’s inhabitants were of Jewish background. On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization and the chairman of the Jewish Agency in Palestine, declared the establishment of a new state of Israel, and the first Middle East war between the new Israeli army and Arab states ensued. Palestinians and Arab neighbors regarded the creation of the new state as an occupation of the historic residents of the land. Over the course of this first Middle East war and those that followed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians became a displaced population.

Subsequently wars occurred in 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, and intermittently from the 1980s until today. Wars were fought among Israelis, her neighbors, and Palestinians who lived in what became the occupied territories. Disputes have involved the legitimacy of the state of Israeli; Israeli expansion particularly its continuing construction of settlements in the West Bank and the displacement of Palestinian people; the rights of Palestinian peoples inside Israel, control of water and land throughout the region; and other issues. Various organizations challenging the Israeli state and land expansion emerged over the last fifty years including the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Outside nations, the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War; former European colonial powers such as Great Britain and France; and neighboring Arab and other Muslim states; have provided support for contending Israeli and Palestinian parties to the continuing conflict.

The United States became Israel’s main ally during all these years. Since 1979 Israel has been the largest recipient on a per capita basis of foreign assistance from the United States of any of the latter’s clients. In addition, Israel has become the best equipped and most powerful military force in the region, largely due to the billions of dollars of U. S. military assistance. Israel is the only state with nuclear capabilities in the region.

Finally, pro-Israel lobby groups in the United States support continued military and economic aid to Israel, Israel’s opposition to serious negotiations with what is now the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas ruled Gaza, and oppose  initiatives from peace groups in the U.S. and the international community. Currently, militant pro-Israel lobby groups are pressuring Congress to pass legislation threatening expansion of Iranian sanctions in the midst of a major Obama administration effort to reach accords with Iran on nuclear weapons. These domestic groups and the Israeli government regard Iran as the number one enemy in the region.

Violence and instability in the region, the tragedy of 9/11, worldwide terrorism directed against U.S. targets, and insurmountable and spreading conflicts have been directly related to Israel’s economic isolation of and military policies toward the Palestinian people and the continuing US support of Israel’s behavior. Within the United States, critics of U.S. support of Israel are excoriated and politicians are intimidated such that policy debate on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians inside Israel as well as economic embargoes and military attacks on interim Palestinian institutions and people in Gaza and the West Bank are largely censored from public discourse.

What Does This Mean?

First, violence and political instability in the world is intimately connected to the absence of economic well-being.  The economic crises faced in recent years in the industrial capitalist world are small compared to the punishing crises of survival that some countries of the Global South still experience in the 21st century; countries and territories of the Middle East are prime examples.

Second, data suggests clearly that in the occupied territories (the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights, all conquered in the 1967 Middle East war) the notion of “precariousness” (joblessness, land theft, food insecurity, grotesque economic and political inequalities in the region) is an apt way to describe the condition of the Palestinian people.

Third, shifting currents in Palestinian politics have been connected to patterns of economic growth and decay. In the 1950s and 1960s, secular leaders in the Arab world, including Palestinians, offered a vision of economic change and political autonomy for their people that was processed in Washington, and European capitals as threatening to dominant economic interests. Paradoxically, the U.S. began to support political actors in the region with a religious agenda, such as the followers of Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan and Hamas in Palestine. Subsequently, these groups responded to the sense of economic injustice that peoples like the Palestinians experience.

There is no easy solution but the United States and other wealthy countries have an obligation to participate in a disinterested economic reconstruction of the occupied territories and support for complete political autonomy of the Palestinian people. Only that will break the back of anger, mutual hatred, and political instability. The United States should stop fueling the violence in the region by ending military aid to Israel. Economic reconstruction requires negotiation toward the creation of a viable Palestinian state, land repatriation, and guarantees of security from Israeli military attack. For example, Israeli settlements in the West Bank need to be dismantled. Economic development must be coupled with economic justice.

In the United States, the political climate needs to change so that a resumption of frank dialogue can proceed on United States foreign policy toward Israel, ending the violence in the region, and supporting economic justice and political rights for the Palestinian people.