Monday, July 27, 2015


Harry Targ

David Harvey has written about a “co-revolutionary theory” of change. In this theory Harvey argues that anti-capitalist movements today must address “mental conceptions;” uses and abuses of nature; how to build real communities; workers relations to bosses; exploitation, oppression, and racism; and the relations between capital and the state. While a tall order, the co-revolutionary theory suggests the breadth of struggles that need to be embraced to bring about real revolution.

Harvey’s work mirrors many analysts who address the deepening crises of capitalism and the spread of human misery everywhere. It is increasingly clear to vast majorities of people, despite media mystification, that the primary engine of destruction is global finance capitalism and political institutions that have increasingly become its instrumentality. Harvey’s work parallels the insights of Naomi Klein, Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Reich, Noam Chomsky, and a broad array of economists, historians, trade unionists, peace and justice activists and thousands of bloggers and Facebook commentators.

Of course, these theorists could not have known the ways in which the connections between the co-revolutionary theory and practice would unfold. Most agreed that we are living through a global economic crisis in which wealth and power is increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands (creating a global ruling class). Human misery, from joblessness, to hunger, to disease, to environmental devastation, to state violence, is spreading. And as events since Ferguson have pointed out, the links between class exploitation, structural racism, and patriarchy are inseparable.

But history has shown that such misery can survive for long periods of time with little active resistance. Even though activists in labor, in communities of color, in anti-colonial/anti-neo-colonial settings are always organizing, their campaigns usually create little traction. Not so since 2011. Tunisians rose up against their oppressive government. Larger mobilizations occurred in Egypt. Protests spread to Yemen, Algeria, Oman, Bahrain, and Libya.

Assuming that working people, youth, women, and various professional groups would remain quiescent in the United States, right-wing politicians saw the opportunity to radically transform American society by destroying public institutions and thereby shifting qualitatively more wealth from the majority to the minority. In North Carolina, Wisconsin, and later in Ohio, Indiana, and around the country a broad array of people began to publicly say “no, enough is enough.” Even those with criticisms of President Obama continued their mobilization to secure his reelection and the defeat of the right-wing. Youth, particularly African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans, have risen up angry all across the United States, increasingly deepening their understanding of and demands for fundamental institutional changes.

The resistance in the Middle East launched in 2011 was about jobs, redistribution of wealth, limiting foreign financial penetration, and democracy. In the United States the issues have been even more varied: the right of workers to collectively bargain, Right-To-Work laws, defending public education, free access to health care including the defense of reproductive rights, and greater, not less, provision of jobs, livable wages, and secure retirement benefits. Police accountability, mass incarceration, and an end of the “schools to prison pipeline” have been increasingly prioritized in mass movements.

Where do progressives go from here? I think “co-revolutionary theory” would answer “everywhere”. Marxists are right to see the lives of people as anchored in their ability to produce and reproduce themselves, their families, and their communities. The right to a job at a living wage remains central to all the ferment. But in the twenty-first century this basic motivator for consciousness and action is more comprehensively and intimately connected to rebuilding trade unions, opposition to racism and sexism, and support for education, health care, sustainable environments, and peace. All these motivations are part of the same struggle.

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

It is too early to tell whether this round of ferment will lead to victories for the people, even reformist ones. But as Harvey suggests, “An anti-capitalist political movement can start anywhere…The trick is to keep the political movement moving from one moment to another in mutually reinforcing ways.”

Monday, July 20, 2015


Harry Targ

A $3.75 billion loan to the British in 1946 and the $400 million loan to Greece and Turkey in 1947 were mere preludes to the much larger foreign assistance program known as the Marshall Plan. Initially after the war Britain, France, and Italy began to recover from the war's devastation, but they suffered major setbacks as a result of the severe winter of 1946/47. Further, economic recovery in 1946 was shaped by a return to the nationalist economic policies of the prewar years, policies that reinforced trade restrictions. However, post-war policies which kept wages low and prices high in these countries were generating increasing opposition from workers, particularly in continental Europe. Due to the economic disruptions of the winter of 1946/47, rising labor militancy, fears of the spread of ideas supporting European independence, and the general shortage of dollar reserves, the United States developed the policy of pro­viding massive doses of foreign assistance to European countries. After two-months of planning among State Department personnel, business leaders, and politicians, Secretary of State George Marshall announced a new aid policy, claiming its prime motivation to be humanitarian:

It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no politi­cal stability and no assured peace. Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist (Graebner,154).

After the official announcement of US intentions, capitalist elites in Europe met to endorse the Marshall proposal which called for a four-year assistance program of $22.4 billion. After almost a year of political conflict within the United States, featuring President Truman's call for a struggle against the threat of communism, the Marshall Plan was authorized by Congress. The final appropriation consisted of $13.2 billion. A US agency, the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA), was created to administer funds, and in Europe the recipient countries added the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) to carry out the program.

Legislation and administration of the Marshall Plan funds included numerous internal and external requirements to be fulfilled by OEEC countries. First, the ECA pressured the Euro­pean nations to adopt economic policies that today would be called “neoliberal.” The ECA demanded balanced budgets, stable currencies, high profit mar­gins, low wages, and non-egalitarian tax structures. The impact of the kind of recovery plan mapped out for Europe was to revitalize the prewar capitalist systems. The policies would stimulate economic recovery but at the expense of European workers. The United States Central Intelligence Agency funneled money to anti-communist trade unions and prominent intellectuals to reduce the appeal of European communist parties which were correctly believed to be in a good position to win contested parliamentary elections. The economic assistance programs, the institutionalization of capitalist economics, and the political penetration of European institutions reduced the power of the organized working classes that had shown signs of strength directly after the war. Joyce Kolko and Gabriel Kolko write of the impact of these policies in France:

It was ultimately cheaper to crush a strike, split the unions, and repress the workers than to pay the price of a higher standard of living which the French government and the ECA saw as an unacceptable inflationary thrust that would shatter their plans for a balanced budget, trade sur­plus, high profit, and "reconstruction" conforming to their capitalist model. (Kolko and Kolko 442)

Later the Kolkos assessed the impact of the Marshall Plan (formally designated the European Recovery Program) on European workers:

But for the working class of Europe the ERP experience of capitalist reconstruction was an unequivocal calamity. This class was required to increase its effort in the production process, to abstain from asserting demands, and to reap a falling standard of living and unemployment. A full appreciation of this fact as a crucial dimension for the ERP is essential to understanding the real meaning of the Marshall Plan. (Kolko and Kolko 452).

Marshall Plan pressures on European domestic policies were paralleled by demands on European international economic policy as well. European purchases were circumscribed by pressures from US industrialists and their representatives in Congress and in ECA administrative circles. Some European food requests were denied because U.S. agriculture did not have surpluses to sell and others were added which Europeans did not want. The Kolkos report that the United States shipped 177 million pounds of spaghetti to Italy in 1948. One-fourth of Europe's 1948 request for wheat was shipped as flour, which added an estimated $8 million to its cost. Requisitions for tractors were cut in half to limit Europe's potential as a competitive agricultural producer to the United States. The United States shipped 65,000 unwanted trucks to Europe and drastically cut the requests made by Euro­peans for railroad cars. Marshall Plan policies like these discouraged the use of domestic energy sources and increased escalating oil dependence, which led to a drastic reduction in their use of coal as a prime energy source. Other measures of benefit to the US economy included provisions whereby fifty percent of all aid had to be transmitted in U.S. ships and in­sured by US insurance companies.

Perhaps the aid provision most beneficial to U.S. economic in­terests was the so-called "counterpart" clause, which increased U.S. control of currencies within debtor nations. The Kolkos discuss the clause and its significance for the U.S. economy:

An important tool in influencing the economic policies of the European states during the period of the ERP, counter­part thereafter became a provision of all American aid, as­suming vast proportions in countries like India. Counterpart required the recipients of United States aid to establish a fund in their own currency equivalent to the sums received in dollars. The United States would own 5 percent of this fund and could use it for various purposes, but primarily to purchase strategic material for its own stockpile. The recipient government could use the remaining ninety-five percent for projects America sanctioned. Hence the United States had the right not only to control how the dollars were spent but also to approve the expenditure of an equivalent amount of the local currency. This gave Wash­ington substantial power to exercise over the internal eco­nomic plans and programs of the European states and attained one of the most fundamental aims of American policy. (Kolko and Kolko 380-381).

The collective impact of the Marshall Plan was to incorporate the European nations into a global economic system dominated by the United States. The IMF, World Bank, and GATT set the institutional para­meters for international economic interchanges based on free trade and access by the United States to markets in the non-socialist world; the foreign assistance program structured the economic systems of the European nations such that they would evolve in ways most conducive to U.S. investment and trade. With­out Marshall Plan assistance, Europe might have chosen an economic course that would have restricted external investment, reduced trade on the Continent and particularly with the United States, and, most importantly, might have moved in the direction of building planned socialist societies guided by the criterion of fulfilling human needs. Since European communist parties were popular in the 1940s due to the leading role they played in resistance movements against Nazi occupation and their socialist vision, the Marshall Plan was developed in part as a way to reduce their influence in parliamentary elections. Communist party victories would have had dire effects on the economic and social system of the United States and its world position.

Subsequent to the Marshall Plan years, European nations established institutions to coordinate the production of coal and steel and atomic energy. With their success, European integration led to the creation of a common market, the European Union, and the common currency and banking institutions of the twenty-first century. The thrust of economic and political development from the end of World War II to the present was designed to create a regional capitalist political economy that would lead to the global finance capital of our own day. The Greek crisis today is one outcome of this long history of economic development and underdevelopment in Europe.

Joyce and Gabriel Kolko, The Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1945-54, New York, Harpers, 1972.
Norman A, Graebner, Cold War Diplomacy: 1945-1960, Princeton, Van Nostrand, 1962.

(Part l discussed the Greek Civil War. The materials for the two essays come in part from prior blogs and Harry Targ “Strategy of an Empire in Decline: Cold War II,” MEP Publications, 1986).


Harry Targ

Western Imperialism and the Greek Left

When the Nazis were defeated in Greece in 1944, most of the country was controlled by the Greek National Liberation Front (EAM). The Greek Communist Party constituted the largest political contingent in the EAM, but other liberal and radical anti-fascists were part of the coalition. Most of the population supported the EAM. 

The British military entered Greece to help reestablish a dictatorial government as the Nazis fled. In collaboration with the Greek military the British army put in place a coalition government in the fall of 1944. The EAM representatives resigned from the government in December when the British Army ordered the Liberation Front to disarm. Then Greek police fired on EAM demonstrators. The British, with US assistance, brought two divisions of soldiers, tanks, and planes to crush the EAM resistance. The EAM surrendered in February, 1945. The surrender was followed by a “pacification” of the countryside by the British in conjunction with participation by the Greek National Guard.

In March, 1946, the Greeks held an election for national office, boycotted by the Left, in which monarchist politicians secured 49 per cent of the vote. The new regime restored the king to the throne and expanded resources to the army and police. Meanwhile the population continued to experience the economic misery extended by the war. For example, 75 percent of the children of Greece were malnourished. The Greek government continued the program of purging former EAM resistance fighters. They replaced trade union officials with government-appointed personnel and purged former EAM affiliated personnel from public institutions. 

Finally, in the fall of 1946, a rebellion led by Greek Communists and other EAM members was launched. While assistance to the rebels came from neighboring states, the rebellion was a grassroots one. Many commentators over the years insisted that the Soviet Union, still committed to a “spheres-of-influence” agreement with the British, provided little or no assistance to the popular forces, even though the US administration would claim that the Greek Civil War was an example of the westward expansion of Soviet Communism.

The Role of the Greek Civil War in the Establishment of US Cold War Policy 

By 1947, the Greek popular forces were engaged in a protracted civil war against the reactionary British-supported Greek government. With growing economic crisis at home the British were forced to withdraw their material support from the Greek government. The British informed the United States that if Greece were to be saved from “communism,” the US would have to replace British support. By 1947, the Truman Administration was ready to launch a full-scale military, economic, political, and cultural assault on what would be called “international communism.” The Greek Civil War could be the excuse needed to generate support from the American people for the new Cold War.

During February, 1947, Truman mobilized his advisors to prepare a declaration to be delivered to Congress concerning the world situation. At one meeting Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson argued that “the communists” were seeking to control Greece, Turkey, Iran, the Middle East, and Italy. If they achieved their goals in these countries, France and China would fall. As State Department historian Herbert Feis wrote: “The fall of the dominoes could be heard as he talked along.” Senator Arthur Vandenberg, former isolationist Republican Senator from Michigan, told administration officials that President Truman must “scare hell out of the American people.”

In order “to scare hell out of the American people,” President Truman appeared before Congress to request $400 million in military and economic aid to Greece and Turkey. The aid request provided the vehicle for Truman to articulate the government’s overall purposes of opening the world to capitalist expansion in terms of “freedom” versus “tyranny.” The language of the Truman Doctrine made it crystal clear that the struggle against socialism, the Left, and autonomous national development would be a long one. Despite the reality of the contending forces in the Greek Civil War, Truman said that the United States must “support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” The gauntlet was down. The United States would defend “free” countries like the reactionary Greek government, which included Nazi collaborators, against “totalitarianism,” that is, the Soviet Union and its “oppressed” allies in Eastern Europe. The term, “totalitarianism,” would be used to lump together countries and movements in Eastern Europe and later around the world which sought to construct alternative economic and political systems.

The US response to the Greek Civil War and the defeat of the EAM by 1949 was the primary force that led to the creation of political and economic institutions in that country that have constrained working class movements ever since. And the modest assistance program to the Greek government in 1947 was a prelude to the much larger Marshall Plan economic aid program adopted in 1948 that would do much to construct a Western European economic system compatible with global capitalist interests. The struggles of European social movements today are constrained by the establishment of European economic and political institutions going back to the 1940s.

(Part 2 will discuss the Marshall Plan and the construction of a European political economy compatible with global capitalism. The materials for the two essays come in part from prior blogs and Harry Targ “Strategy of an Empire in Decline: Cold War II,” MEP Publications, 1986).

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Thursday, April 9, 2015


Harry Targ
Candidate Barack Obama’s most appealing campaign promise in 2008 involved his pledge to transform United States foreign policy from one relying on the perpetual use of force to one based upon the skillful application of bargaining and negotiation, the traditional tools of diplomacy. However, most peace activists were clear-headed enough to know that an Obama foreign policy would not be anti-imperial but they hoped that the US would not blunder into additional wars that would cost the lives and treasure of people all across the globe. 
Six years of Obama foreign policy have been mixed at best. US troops are still in Afghanistan. The United States, under cover of NATO, helped destroy the authoritarian but stable government of Libya, leaving a fractured dysfunctional civil war in its place. Military advisors remain in several countries. Drones have targeted alleged enemies in multiple countries. And the United States has continued efforts to destabilize governments, for example in Venezuela.
On the other hand President Obama has committed the United States to a dramatic and significant negotiation process with Iran in conjunction with nations in the United Nations Security Council and Germany, the so-called P5+1. Iran has committed itself to a process of reducing nuclear weapons capabilities in exchange for the end of economic sanctions. Nuclear scientists believe the tentative agreement as reported is feasible and desirable. Prominent voices from the foreign policy community regard the agreement as significant; some say as significant as President Nixon’s agreements with the former Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China, both in 1972.
But Obama’s opening to Iran, potentially his most important foreign policy legacy, has generated outrage in the United States. For the more open-minded, a careful assessment of the impending Western/Iran agreement on the latter’s nuclear program needs to be examined referring to history, the contemporary Middle East/Persian Gulf context and the possibilities of tension reduction in the region that could come about because of the agreement. Finally, all of these factors need to be evaluated in the context of the domestic politics and the legacy of racism in the United States.
Historically the United States presence in the Persian Gulf/Middle East region expanded with its establishment of a permanent relationship with the region’s premier dictatorship and sponsor of violence, Saudi Arabia, at the end of World War II. President Roosevelt agreed to provide that country with arms and military support permanently in exchange for perpetual access to oil. Since then the Saudi Arabian government, in conjunction with other Gulf States, has funded terrorist actors in the region and destabilized regimes regarded as threats to its regional hegemony.
In addition to US ties with the Saudi dynasty, the United States supported the secular and brutal dictatorship of the Shah of Iran. His power was solidified in a CIA backed military coup in 1953 that ousted radical nationalist leader, Mohammad Mosaddegh, from power. The ousted leader had promoted the Iranian nationalization of its own oil industry. Subsequent to the U.S. coup, the Shah ruled his country with a heavy hand. By 1979, 70,000 political opponents were in Iranian jails and Iran had become the fifth largest military power in the world.
Then the catastrophe happened: Iranian workers and religious activists overthrew the Shah in 1979, thus threatening other regimes friendly to the US such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt and the flow of oil from the region to Europe, Japan, and the United States. US hostility to Iran escalated. The US hosted the ailing Shah for medical treatment and after Iranian students took US embassy personnel hostage, President Carter made it clear the United States would not return the Shah to Iran to stand trial for his crimes nor would the United States apologize for its role in putting the Shah in full control of his nation. Also, after the Iranian revolution, the United States gave large military support to Saddam Hussein’s military attack on Iran, leading to the eight-year Iran/Iraq war that cost over a million lives. 
Also the United States backed Israeli military adventures against Lebanon and the Gaza strip where allies of Iran reside. Once this history is included, the troubled US/Iranian relationship, stripped of the conventional and overly-simplified narrative of Iran as a global supporter of terrorism and driven by religious extremism, becomes more understandable.
Today’s context makes the story even clearer. The Syrian civil war includes conflicts between anti-government factions supported by the Saudis, the United States, the Israelis, and a government supported by Iran and Russia. The Islamic State in Syria (ISIS), while a threat to Saudi hegemony in the region, is also a movement in opposition to the Iranian-backed Iraqi government, the Syrian government, and the horrific role the United States has played in the region at least since the Iraq war. Violence in the region is fueled by religious differences and the struggle for power between Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, the United States, and Israel versus Iran, the Syrian regime, Shiite backed governments, supporters of the Palestinian people such as Hamas, and Russia.
Given the enormous complexity of the history and context of US/Iranian relations in a region plagued by colonialism, neo-colonialism, the sixty year war between Israel and the Palestinian people and the spread of violence between states and within states, any efforts to negotiate tension-reduction and arms control and/or disarmament agreements among key players is vitally important. Further, Israel already possesses nuclear weapons. The seething caldron of violence and advanced weapons justifies fears of escalating regional and worldwide nuclear war.
While Obama’s campaign and periodic rhetoric about a more “pragmatic” foreign policy--negotiate rather than make war--has not been fully realized, the negotiations begun between the P5+1 and Iran in 2006 and expanded during the Obama administration, constitute an effort to defuse escalation to war in the most volatile region of the world and most sensible policy analysts endorse the effort. However, there is a domestic campaign in the United States to derail the US/Iranian negotiations for at least four reasons.
First, a possible long-term agreement tying Iranian dismantling of technologies that could be used to build nuclear weapons in exchange for the end of harsh US economic sanctions against Iran puts diplomacy ahead of force or the threat of force as the primary instrument of United States foreign policy. This diplomacy first approach, called here pragmatism, is fundamentally at odds with the neoconservative program articulated by foreign policy influentials who have acquired undue influence in Washington DC since the Reagan years. These are the Project for a New American Century elites, the neoconservatives, the key decision-makers who launched the Iraq War. They still believe the United States should use its military power to remake the world in its image. The most extreme spokespersons from this point of view in recent weeks have called for war on Iran.
Second, the pro-Israeli lobby is driven by the idea that Israel must remain the regional hegemon and the United States has an obligation to support Israel in every way, irrespective of the violence and instability it creates. For them, United States foreign policy should be guided in all its conduct by what such policy means for the state of Israel.
Third, a possible US/Iranian agreement can establish a very “bad example” for the future of United States foreign policy. A shift from guns, bombs, and drones first, to a foreign policy based primarily on diplomatic activity might lead peace advocates to renew their call for cuts in military spending. Neoconservative pundits and military-industrial complex spokespersons often frame their analyses in terms of “planning for the next war.” Preparation for war, they believe, should be the number one priority of United States foreign policy.
Finally, negotiations between the United States and Iran from the vantage point of domestic politics, that is Congress and the electoral process, is only marginally about international relations. The first priority of the United States Congress, presidential candidates, most of the Republican Party, and a sizable number of Democrats is about opposing everything President Obama does. 
What gives fuel to this opposition in contradistinction to the old foreign policy norm of “bipartisanship” has to do with race. In addition to all the other factors noted above, racism has motivated much of the politics of opposition since 2008. Candidate Obama campaigned around the world in 2008 to enormous plaudits. In the United States his global appeal challenged the whole history of racism that has conditioned and distorted American political life. That is an extra burden this president has had to face in his foreign policy practice beyond mere partisan disputes about policy.
In the end, President Obama’s ability (with P5+1) to pursue and achieve an agreement with Iran might determine whether the world will see a global war in the coming years or declining violence in the Persian Gulf/Middle East region.
The mobilization of the peace movement in defense of a US/Iranian agreement, therefore, is a mobilization against the neoconservative agenda of perpetual war, Israeli hegemony, the military-industrial complex, and racism in the United States.