Monday, June 29, 2015


Harry Targ

The Need for a New Peace and Solidarity Vision

Peace activists have influenced the debates about foreign policies of states for centuries. Despite the fact that World War 1 which led to 20 million deaths was not averted, peace activists opposed to that war such as Jane Addams and Eugene V. Debs became models for peace advocacy for the remainder of the twentieth century.

After the next World War which added another forty million deaths to the century’s devastation, peace activists restrained the worst features of state violence and educated younger generations about war, colonialism, imperialism, and the links between the drive for oil and violence. Peace activists formed organizations such as The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, The War Resisters League, The Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, and Peace Action. Massive mobilizations and civil disobedience in opposition to the Vietnam War, the United States wars in Central America in the 1980s, and bombings of Serbia in the 1990s characterized protest during the last forty years of the twentieth century. During the early part of the twenty-first century movements sprung up to oppose the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, the spread of nuclear weapons, and the links between militarism and climate change. In addition, progressive trade unionists, feminists, communities of faith, Communists, Socialists, and some Democratic, Republican and third party activists have opposed war and the preparation for war over the years.

Given the new, more complicated international and domestic environment that has emerged since the last century, it is time to revisit the theory and practice of the peace movement. Effective approaches to peace must be adapted to new circumstances. This Peace Charter proposes three peace principles--peaceful coexistence, economic conversion, and international solidarity--which might serve as a guide to peace movement practice. 

The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence

In 1954, the governments of China and India signed a treaty based on what became known as the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. At the first meeting in 1955 of what would later become the Non-Aligned Nations, China articulated the Five Principles as a guide to their foreign policy. Although the sixty year old treaty between China and India based on the Five Principles was established in a different time and place, they still can serve as a standard by which the peace movement can evaluate the foreign policies of their country and others as well.

The Five Principles, as first articulated by the treaty signed on April 29, 1954, are:
  1. Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
  2. Mutual non-aggression.
  3. Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.
  4. Equality and cooperation for mutual benefit.
  5. Peaceful co-existence.
The first principle suggests that a just foreign policy requires that nations respect the territory and sovereignty of each and every country. The history of empires indicates that dominant powers failed to give minimal respect to the institutions, cultures, and economic life of citizens of other countries. The United States has been shaped in its worldview and policies by claims of “exceptionalism,” or its being “the last remaining super power” with particular obligations to oversee the conduct of other countries. Many influential foreign policy elites today still articulate the view that the United States is “the indispensable nation.”  

The second principle makes clear that a just nation does not engage in aggression against others; not in wars, subversion, covert military assaults, or in economic blockades that are designed to disrupt, destroy, and create havoc. To the contrary, the United States since the end of World War II, for example, has engaged in at least 75 military operations that have led to the deaths of at least ten million people and the displacement of millions more. The peace movement should demand that the United States and all the other countries abstain from aggression.

The third principle, paralleling the second, makes it clear that nations cannot interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. Interference takes many forms. Some are as suggested above. Others include the use of economic techniques, the internet, penetration and manipulation under the guise of religion, education, and various forms of non-governmental activities in targeted countries.

The fourth principle, assumes a very different lens or vision concerning the relationships between states and people. The old vision, derived from certain Western philosophical traditions, emphasizes the struggle of each against all. The world is a Social Darwinian world, this view suggests, in which only the strongest shall survive. An alternative vision, as suggested by this principle is that mutuality of cooperative relationships can create mutuality of benefits. Experience suggests that cooperation is the essence of human development. And, despite claims to the contrary, the vast majority of human interactions are cooperative, not competitive. Particularly the peace movement must challenge the assumption broadly marketed by militarists that war is perpetual.

Finally, and in conjunction with all of the principles articulated above, the goal of any nation’s foreign policy ought to be peaceful coexistence. To the extent that the United States violates this principle, the peace movement should demand a new agenda.

Economic Conversion
“From Forrestal’s day to the present, semi-warriors have viewed democratic politics as problematic. Debate means delay. To engage in give-and-take or compromise is to forfeit clarity and suggests a lack of conviction. The effective management of national security requires specialized knowledge, a capacity for clear-eyed analysis and above all an unflinching willingness to make decisions, whatever the cost.

With the advent of the semi-war, therefore, national security policy became the preserve of experts, few in number, almost always unelected, habitually operating in secret, persuading themselves that to exclude the public from such matters was to serve the public interest. After all, the people had no demonstrable ‘need to know.’ In a time of perpetual crisis, the anointed role of the citizen was to be pliant, deferential and afraid.” (Andrew Bacevich, reviewing a biography of James Forrestal, the first Secretary of Defense, in The Nation, April 23, 2007).

Andrew Bacevich reminds us that a permanent war economy has been part of the political and economic landscape of the United States at least since the end of World War II.

The War Resisters League pie chart of total government spending for fiscal year 2015 indicates that 47 percent of all government spending deals with current preparation for war and past wars.
In addition, “war support” contractors, such as KBR, have made billions of dollars in the twenty-first century from military spending. Virtually every big corporation is to some degree on the Department of Defense payroll.

Because of the economic crisis which began in 2007, debate about military spending increased. In 2010 Congressmen Barney Frank and Ron Paul initiated a study addressing needed cuts. The report prepared for them in 2010, “Debt, Deficits, and Defense,” called for across the board reductions in spending--procurement, research and development, personnel, operations and maintenance, and infrastructure---of $960 billion over the next decade. The report noted that over the last decade 65 percent of federal discretionary spending went to the military.

President Obama in January, 2010, proposed spending cuts of $480 billion over the next decade (reductions in projected increases, not existing funding). He coupled recommendations about future spending with a firm statement that the world must realize that the United States remains committed to maintaining its military superiority.

The President indicated that spending reductions in the future will be tied to greater use of “special operations,” drones, and shifting existent forces from Europe to Asia.

The magnitude of military spending represents what Bacevich referred to as the permanent war economy articulated and defended by the “semi-warriors” dominating U.S. foreign policy in each administration since World War II.

These semi-warriors gained influence after the Truman Administration accepted recommendations in National Security Document Number 68 (1950) that defense spending should always have priority over all other government programs. NSC 5412, approved by President Eisenhower, gave legitimacy to covert operations around the world allowing any president to “plausibly deny” any connections with such operations.

Subsequently virtually each president proclaimed a doctrine justifying more and more military spending--Eisenhower for the Middle East, Carter for the Persian Gulf, Reagan to rollback “the evil empire,” Clinton for “humanitarian interventions” and Bush for “pre-emptive attacks.”

The Obama administration, through speeches and actions, has constructed what might be called “the Obama Doctrine.”

First, as the last remaining superpower and the beacon of hope for the world, the United States once again reserves the right and responsibility to intervene militarily to enhance human rights anywhere.

Second, U.S. humanitarian military interventions will be carried out from time to time preferably with the support of our friends.

Third, new technologies such as drones will allow these interventions to occur without “boots on the ground.” They will be cheaper in financial and human cost (primarily for American troops).

Finally, assassinations and covert killings have made it clear that the Obama Doctrine overrides recognized judicial proceedings and the sanctity of human life.

Since the establishment of the permanent war economy in the 1940s millions of proclaimed “enemies” have been killed and seriously injured, mostly in the Global South. Permanent physical and psychological damage has been done to U.S soldiers, predominantly poor and minorities as they too are victims of war.

In addition, military spending has distorted national priorities and invested U.S. financial resources in expenditures that do not create as many jobs as investments in construction, education, or healthcare. And the permanent war economy has created a culture that celebrates violence, objectifies killing, dehumanizes enemies, and exalts super-patriotism through television, music, video games, and educational institutions.

These issues need to be more vigorously related to those raised by the grassroots campaigns that have sprung up to defend the rights of workers, women, people of color and those experiencing discrimination for various reasons; to oppose growing income and wealth inequality; and to defend working people’s homes from foreclosures.

In 1967 in reference to the massive U.S. war in Southeast Asia and desperate needs of workers at home, Dr. Martin Luther King described the fundamental connections that peace activists and all progressives must pursue: “I speak of the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam.”

As Michael Eisenscher, National Coordinator, U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW) articulated in a powerful data-based essay on economic conversion:

We see this as just the beginning of a conversation.  This effort takes the struggle for new priorities to a new level -- to a struggle for a demilitarized economy and foreign policy --a struggle for a new, more just, equitable and democratic economy and society.  In the process, we will help to redefine the meaning of national security -- as determined not only by the security of our borders, the size of our military or the power of its arsenal, but also by whether people have real economic and social security--food security, health security, housing security, employment security and security in their old age and a decent standard of living for all, not just the privileged few. (“Economic Conversion: From Military Addiction to Economic Sustainability: Charting the Course to a New Economy for All”).
International Solidarity

A centerpiece of the peace movement is solidarity. Solidarity refers to giving moral, intellectual, and material support to struggles for peace and justice everywhere. During the Spanish Civil War, American progressives raised money for the defenders of democracy, pressured the Roosevelt administration to give war material to the Loyalists, and even sent men and women to fight on the side of Spanish democracy. During World War II, Americans raised money for and publicly demonstrated support for the Red Army while the Soviet Union confronted 90 percent of the German army. From the 1940s until the end of the Cold War, peace and justice activists mobilized to support the Guatemalan, Cuban, Vietnamese, Salvadoran, South African and Nicaraguan people and to oppose United States policies toward these countries. 

Today, there is a major international campaign to support the Palestinian people. Initiated by many Palestinian groups, a global campaign to support boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel have spread all across the globe.  Vibrant BDS campaigns have a visible presence in the United States. Campaigns seek to isolate Israel because of its perpetual violence against Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories, expanding land grabs of Palestinian land in violation of international treaties and law, and discrimination against Palestinians who reside in the state of Israel.

In the end, international solidarity is based upon the assumption that violence and war somewhere is inextricably connected to violence and war elsewhere. Particularly peace activists in the United States are animated by the proposition that their own country is connected to regimes that violate human rights and participate in the economic exploitation of subject peoples. Historically peace activists have educated publics about international affairs and have advocated for changes in United States foreign policy. International solidarity advocates for and gives material support to people struggling for peace and justice wherever they are and helps build a consciousness of the unity of people across nations and cultures. As Paul Robeson suggested metaphorically, all cultures have folk music traditions using common chord structures. He was suggesting that commonalities of human experience mirror commonalities of folk traditions. Peace activists believe that the recognition of the commonalities among people can be the basis for the construction of a more peaceful world.


The Peace Charter is designed to revitalize the tradition of peace and solidarity movements of the past coupled with the context of the twenty-first century. The Peace Charter is not motivated by the desire to create a new dogma but to stimulate a conversation about the theory and practice of the peace movement in the years ahead.

The Peace Charter suggests that the peace movement might identify three core guides to action. The first, the five principles of peaceful coexistence, articulates a set of rules that should guide the conduct of nations and peoples as they relate to each other. The second, economic conversion, emphasizes a central issue of peace and justice in world affairs and in the United States as well. Military spending is wasteful, generates more wealth for the few, leads to its perpetuation, and redistributes vital societal resources from most citizens to the military/industrial complex.   The third, international solidarity, underscores the necessity of cross-national work to achieve peace and justice everywhere. The old IWW slogan proclaimed in defense of the working class is also relevant to those who work for peace and justice everywhere: “An Injury to One is an Injury to All.”  

This essay includes excerpts from prior essays published in The Rag Blog and the Diary of a Heartland Radical. In addition ideas incorporated in this version were inspired by discussion during a meeting of the Peace and Solidarity Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS). The conceptualization of the three peace principles was suggested by Carl Davidson.

Friday, June 19, 2015


Harry Targ

And yet Americans are more ignorant of the nature of the Cuban Revolution and U.S.-Cuban relations than are the people of almost any other country in the world. Except for those few Americans with access to a handful of liberal and radical publications the people of this country have been subjected to an unrelieved campaign of distortion, or outright slander of Fidel Castro and the revolution he leads. The determined hostility of American leaders to the Cuban Revolution, the implementation of a system of economic harassment, and the threat of military intervention, not only endanger the Cuban Revolution, but increase the tempo of the cold war at home and abroad (Editors, “The Cuban Revolution: The New Crisis in Cold War Ideology,” Studies on the Left, Volume 1, Number, 1960, 1).

This statement was published in the summer of 1960! Fifty-five years later the same assessment of United States/Cuban relations still holds.

The story of the Cuban revolution needs to be retold as we move ahead to establish a new United States/Cuban relationship.

Cuba was a colony of the Spanish for 400 years, an economic vassal of the British and the United States for more than 100 years, and a slave state from the fifteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century.

The domination of the island by foreigners, juxtaposed with a culture enriched by African roots (the indigenous people were largely obliterated by the Spanish), led to repeated efforts to resist colonialism before 1898 and neo-colonialism after that. Slaves, Afro/Cubans, and Spanish born landowners seeking freedom from the Spanish crown often rose up to overthrow the yoke of imperialism.

Cuban Revolutionaries, inspired by visionary poet Jose Marti, were on the verge of defeating Spanish colonialism in the 1890s. The United States sent armies to the island to defeat the Spanish and establish a puppet government to insure its economic and political control.  To secure support for the war at home the American media and popular music were filled with images of Cuba as the “damsel in distress” and bungling Afro/Cuban revolutionaries. The dominant ideology of the United States, manifest destiny and white Christian duty, drove the argument for war on Spain.

After the 1898 war, the United States military, with the support of small numbers of compliant Cubans, created a government that would open the door completely for United States investments, commercial penetration, an externally-controlled tourist sector, and North American gangsters. The U.S. neo-colonial regime on the island stimulated pockets of economic development in a sea of human misery. Responding to grotesque economic suffering in the 1950s a band of revolutionaries (led by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, Celia Sanchez, and Haydee Santamaria) defeated the U.S. backed military regime of Fulgencio Batista.

The Cuban Revolution of 1959 began in the nineteenth century and was driven by 400 years of nationalism, a vision of democracy, and a passion for economic justice. This vision was articulated in Fidel Castro’s famous “History Will Absolve Me” speech given before being sentenced to prison after a failed military action against Batista in 1953. He spoke of five goals of his revolution: returning power to the people; giving land to the people who work it; providing workers a significant share of profits from corporations; granting sugar planters a quota of the value of the crop they produce; and confiscating lands acquired through fraud. Then he said, the Revolution would carry out agrarian reform, nationalize key sectors of the economy, institute educational reforms, and provide a decent livelihood for manual and intellectual labor.

The problem of the land, the problem of industrialization, the problem of housing, the problem of unemployment, the problem of education and the problem of the people’s health: these are the six problems we would take immediate steps to solve, along with restoration of civil liberties and political democracy (Fidel Castro, “ History Will Absolve Me,” Castro Internet Archive,

Almost immediately the revolutionaries who had seized power in January, 1959 began to implement the program envisioned by the Castro speech. Over the next fifty years, with heated debates inside Cuba, experiments--some successful, some failed--were carried out. Despite international pressures and the changing global political economy, much of the program has been institutionalized to the benefit of most Cubans. 

Education and health care are free to all Cubans. Basic, but modest, nutritional needs have been met. Cubans have participated in significant political discussion about public policy. And Cuban society has been a laboratory for experimentation. In the 1960s Cubans discussed whether there was a need for monetary incentives to motivate work or whether revolutionary enthusiasm was sufficient to maintain production. Debates occurred over the years also about whether a state-directed economy, a mixed one, or some combination would best promote development; how to engage in international solidarity; and whether there was a need to affiliate with super powers such as the former Soviet Union. Central to the Cuban model is the proposition that when policies work they get institutionalized; when they fail they get changed.

The United States reaction to the Cuban Revolution has been as the Studies on the Left article warned in 1960. U.S. policy has included military invasions, sabotage, assassination attempts on the life of Fidel Castro, an economic blockade, subversion including beaming propaganda radio and television broadcasts to the island, efforts to isolate Cuba from the international system, restrictions on United States travelers to the island, listing Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, and in the long-run most importantly portraying in government statements and the mass media the image of Cuba as a totalitarian state that oppresses its people.

On December 17, 2014 President Raul Castro and Barack Obama announced that the U.S./Cuban relationship would change.  The United States and Cuba, President Obama said, would begin negotiations to reestablish diplomatic relations, open embassies, and move to eliminate the U.S. economic blockade and restrictions on American travel to the island. This announcement was broadly celebrated by nations everywhere, the Pope who had lobbied Washington for the policy change, and Americans and Cubans alike. Of course, in both countries there were skeptics and the strong and vocal Cuban-American lobby immediately condemned the announced policy changes. 

Since last December the United States and Cuba have been negotiating the announced normalization of relations and several steps have been taken by both countries including:

 -freeing the last three of the Cuban Five by the United States and the release by Cuba of U.S. agents Roland Sarraff Trujillo and Alan Gross from Cuban prisons

-easing restrictions on remittances from Cuban/American families to relatives on the island

-using executive action in the United States to loosen restrictions on American travel to Cuba and reestablishing the capacity for banking connections with the island

-authorizing flights from the United States to Cuba by multiple airlines

-giving authority to some companies to invest in small businesses in Cuba and the increase in trade of selected U.S. commodities, primarily agricultural products and building materials

-taking Cuba off the State Department list of sponsors of terrorism

And President Obama deliberated with President Raul Castro at the April, 2015 meeting of the Summit of the Americas in Panama, communicating the image of the return to normal diplomatic relations.

However, much needs to be done to complete the normalization of diplomatic relations.  U.S. and Cuban embassies have not been opened. The U.S. economic embargo has not been lifted. The Helms-Burton Act, which prohibits foreign companies from having commercial relations with the island and then the United States, has not been repealed. And recently the House of Representatives passed a resolution that challenges President Obama’s executive authority to expand the categories of U.S. citizens who can travel to Cuba without applying for a license from the Treasury Department. In addition, many issues of relevance to the two countries such as those involving immigration, control of drug trafficking, and cooperation on disaster relief are yet to be resolved.

Most Americans, including Cuban/Americans, support the full normalization of relations. But a small number of politicians from both political parties who oppose normalization of relations are using their legislative and public political leverage to reverse the will of the American and Cuban people. One example is the misrepresentation of the case of Assata Shakur, who has lived in Cuba for over thirty years. Shakur, a former member of the Black Panther Party was tried and convicted on dubious grounds of murdering a police officer in New Jersey and who fled to Cuba in 1984, is being used by anti-Cuban activists to resist the normalization of relations, claiming that Cuba is harboring “terrorists.”

The dramatic gestures by Presidents Obama and Castro have set the stage for the normalization of diplomatic relations, but more work needs to be done.

First, activists must continue to pressure their legislators to repeal the Helms-Burton Act and oppose any efforts by their peers to re-impose legislation that will stop the process of change. Lobbying should be complemented by rallies and marches. Support should be given to those organizations which have been in the front lines of Cuba Solidarity for years such as Pastors for Peace. In addition, people to people exchanges, community to community outreach, and high school and university study abroad programs should be encouraged.

Second, those in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution should support economic reforms being introduced on the island that reflect the best principles of the Cuban Revolution: independence, democracy, and human well-being. The clearest manifestation of these principles is reflected in the development of work place cooperatives in both cities and the countryside. Cubans are being encouraged to engage in work that produces goods and services for their communities in ways that empower workers and decentralize production and decision-making. Educating the American public to the fact that Cuba is embarking on new economic arrangements that encourage work place democracy contradict the media image that the people are embracing entrepreneurial capitalism.

Third, the solidarity movement should continue the process of public education about Cuba, explaining the realities of Cuban history, celebrating Cuban accomplishments in health care and education, and recognizing the richness and diversity of Cuban culture. Ironically, despite the long and often painful relationship the Cuban people have had with the United States, the diversity of the two nation’s cultures are inextricably connected. That shared experience should be celebrated.

Finally, solidarity with the Cuban people provides an opportunity to educate Americans to the reality that the United States is not “the indispensable nation,” but one among many with virtues and flaws. Cubans have celebrated their own history and culture but have done so without disrespecting the experiences of other nations and peoples. We in the United States could learn from that perspective.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


Harry Targ

What radical scholars must therefore rediscover is not merely that intellectuals play a significant role in the reproduction of capitalism and the capitalist state, but that education has been and remains every bit as much a contested terrain as the shop floor, the party caucus, and the halls of legislative assemblies. Clyde W. Barrow, Universities and the Capitalist State: Corporate Liberalism and the Reconstruction of American Higher Education, 1894-1928, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1990, 9.  

But many professors and other observers said the roller coaster hit a new low Friday afternoon when the (Wisconsin) State Legislature's powerful Joint Finance Committee approved, by a vote of 12-4, the elimination of tenure from state statute. The committee also approved adding new limits to the faculty role in shared governance and procedures for eliminating faculty members in good standing outside of financial exigency. (Colleen Flaherty, “Trying to Kill Tenure,” Inside Higher Education, June 1, 2015).

One of the most thorough, analytical, and historical analyses of the relationship between the capitalist economy, the state, and higher education was provided by political scientist, Clyde W. Barrow (Universities and the Capitalist State: Corporate Liberalism and the Reconstruction of American Higher Education 1894-1928, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1990). Although his focus was on the rise of the modern university in the “age of reform” (from the 1890s until the 1920s), many of his insights are relevant today, another era of educational “reform.”

According to Barrow, the modern university had its roots in the period of rising capitalism after the Great Depression of the 1870s to the 1890s when mergers created an economic system in which a few hundred corporations and banks came to dominate the entire U.S. economy. Interlocking directorates of corporations and banks created a system of financial speculation, concentrated wealth, and a capitalist state. The capitalist state through pro-corporate and banking regulations, the allocation of tax and other benefits for the wealthy and powerful, and military mobilizations, such as President Cleveland’s use of the United States army to crush workers during the Pullman strike of 1894, helped create twentieth century monopoly capitalism. 

Higher education, once dominated by theological pursuits, was refashioned to serve the needs of modern capitalist society. The need for scientific and technical skills coupled with a trained work force stimulated the establishment of educational institutions that could produce credentialed graduates who would serve the capitalist system. Also theoretical work and classroom education was required to educate the young to celebrate the blessings of the economic system and the conduct of the government. Young people learned about the desirability of market economies, the country’s long tradition of democratic institutions, and the manifest destiny of the United States as it conquered the North American continent and established a global empire from the Philippine Islands, to Cuba, to Central and South America.

Barrow provides data to show that members of university Boards of Trustees, the key decision makers in these institutions, came largely from big corporations, huge banks, and law firms which served big business. Some universities from the Midwest and South were led by trustees who represented regional manufacturing and finance capital, but their outlook and interests paralleled those from the major universities of the Northeast and the major state universities. There were never representatives of broader citizens groups such as labor unions on these boards.

During the early twentieth century, Trustees worked to establish an administrative class that could carry out the day-to-day operations of the university and manage the faculty who were the producers of the mental products the university was assigned to produce. Managerial procedures were adopted to control mental labor in the classroom and the laboratory. Metrics were institutionalized to evaluate the rates of productivity of the faculty; from measuring enrollments, publications, and the rankings of the university.

Federal and state governments and foundations funded the construction of a national university system that would serve the interests of twentieth century capitalism. Major foundations generated studies, did surveys, and made recommendations that found their way into institutions and policies of both public and private universities. During periods when domestic crises, such as depressions, and international ones, such as World War I, stimulated critical analyses from universities, faculty were disciplined or fired for challenging the economic system or state policy. The educational mission was to serve the interests of the capitalist elites and the state, not to provide a venue for critical thinking and debate about issues important to society.

Barrow summarized his findings about higher education:

Individual institutions were developing into centralized corporate bureaucracies administered according to nationally standardized measurements of productivity and rates of return on investment. The entire educational enterprise was being restructured within these standards as a production process that was increasingly integrated into local or regional markets for labor, information, research and professional expertise. The process was more and more a planned undertaking directed by the federal government. The construction of a national ideological state apparatus oriented toward solving the problems of capitalist infrastructure, capital accumulation, and political leadership within a capitalist democracy was well under way. (123)

This description of the emergence of the modern university system about one hundred years ago bears resemblance to the wrenching changes that are occurring in higher education in the twenty-first century. First, the further consolidation of capitalist class power in higher education in the current century comes in the aftermath of the Great Recession that began in 2008. United States capitalism continued its transformation from manufacturing to finance as rates of profit from the latter declined. Financial speculation led to banking failures and the collapse of the housing market. Consumer demand shrunk due to rising structural unemployment and falling real wages. And the cost of state support for the provision of education and various social safety nets programs rose. Economic crisis was used to justify austerity policies that included significant reductions in support for higher education. As Naomi Klein suggested, economic shocks facilitated changes in public policy, in this case the adoption of “educational reforms.”

Second, the economic shocks were used by Boards of Trustees, and their advisers in think tanks and political organizations, to demand increasing efficiencies in the production and teaching of knowledge. Programs that could not be justified as good “investments” became vulnerable. The humanities disciplines had to be justified by their use value to the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines.

Third, metrics have become omnipresent. Colleges and universities are using quantitative instruments to measure “creativity,” “critical thinking,” “personal satisfaction,” “teacher effectiveness,” and faculty “productivity.” University administrators strongly imply that if the activities at their institutions are not measurable in the narrow numerical sense, they should not be supported.

Fourth, academic fields are shaped by paradigms, or theories that justify the existing economic and political order. The university is not usually a haven for discussions about the fundamental structures of inequality, racism, patriarchy, the devastation of the environment, or war. In the end, Boards of Trustees, think tanks, university administrators, and federal programs, are committed to a university system that supports the capitalist state. Only limited and circumscribed debate about issues fundamental to economic vitality and political democracy are allowed.  In sum, the university was not created for nor does it prioritize today discussions of fundamental truths.

Finally, as the experience of academic critics one hundred years ago of child labor, anti-union policies, World War I, and financial speculation suggests, the nature of debate in the university is circumscribed. University policies, in response to organizations of professors and students, have expanded rights to “academic freedom” and have provided some job security through tenure. But, as the recent decision made by the Wisconsin state legislature suggests, attacks on tenure (which is a right to job security that all workers should enjoy if they perform their duties) may spread as the twenty-first century “reconstruction of American higher education” proceeds. 

To forestall these trends, faculty and students, as Barrows suggests, need to understand that “education has been and remains a contested terrain.”  Most educators believe that the primary purpose of the university is or should be to stimulate a “marketplace of ideas.” However, the history of higher education, he says, is really about how the university can serve the preservation and enhancement of the capitalist state.