Sunday, November 29, 2015


Harry Targ

During the twentieth century the dominant circumstances of political life were clear. As capitalism evolved from manufacturing to finance, the character of international relations changed. Crude militarism, while constant, was increasingly aided by covert operations, and most importantly by economic penetration. The United States as the hegemonic actor on the world stage during most of the century was the clear target of anti-war activism and class struggle at home. National liberation movements rose up to resist the drive for imperial control. Since contradictions existed in international and intra-national affairs our task was clearly to struggle against imperialism, monopoly capitalism, racism and sexism.

Twenty-first century global political economy is also characterized by these key features. Perhaps the “grand narrative,” as post-modernists would call it, remains the same. But, and this is critical, the politics of daily life is far more complicated and it is these complications that give the appearance of chaos. The old narrative and the chaos we experience need to be understood together; particularly among those of us who are committed to the vision of a twenty-first century socialism. 

First, the current violence in the Middle East/Persian Gulf is escalating and spreading to other regions. The vicious violence in Paris and Beirut by presumably ISIS followers leads to mass murder. ISIS seems to represent a new brutal form of anti-systemic violence that shows no mercy or humanity. It has its roots in French and British colonial rule in the Middle East, United States collaboration with the Saudi monarchy, western support for the creation of the state of Israel in contradiction to those living on the land, a US-led war on Iraq in 1991, and the US wars of the twenty-first century in Afghanistan and Iraq. Blood is on the hands of every western power in the region but, in terms of victims of violence everywhere, blood also is on the hands of ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Syrian government, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, Russia, and Iran. Violence is about economic control, political hegemony, nationalism, resistance, and, perhaps to a lesser extent, religious sectarianism and fundamentalisms.  The violence is also about arms transfers, racism, and hate.

Second, imperial violence proceeds as global capitalism consolidates its control of the economies of the world. The Transpacific Partnership creates a so-called free trade zone covering about forty percent of the globe and is in the process prefiguring a challenge to Chinese influence in Asia. To complete the “Asian pivot” the United States has increased its military presence in the South China Sea by further cooperating militarily with the Philippines and Japan.

Third, very much below the radar, the United States expands its military presence in Africa with the establishment of AFRICOM, arms aid, and training of militaries on the continent. Presumably, the US militarization of Africa would check the growing economic influence of China. 

Fourth, international and domestic violence, economic decay, and threats to life itself, are inextricably connected to the rapidly deteriorating global climate brought on by fossil fuels. Devastating changes in climate-flooding, draught, rising sea levels, life-threatening hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes-make life more unbearable and are coupled with economic inequality, the global distribution of weapons, and rising ethnic animosities leading to hopelessness, violence, and rightwing populist anger.

Within the United States the attack on workers, Blacks, and women escalates to an almost fever pitch. Households living below livable wages reach 35-40 percent in many states. Real wages and steady jobs with benefits decline. Economic circumstances among African Americans and Latinos lag behind whites by 10 to 30 percent. And the inequality in the distribution of the wealth of US society increases.

Attacks on Blacks increase in the streets, in the political arena, in public schools and in higher education. Black Lives Matter, the Fight for Fifteen, and recent protests on over 100 college campuses reflect fightbacks against the escalation of systemic assaults on people of color. And we cannot forget that a prime mover of the toxic atmosphere of American political life is fueled by profound racial hatred of a president who happens to be an African American.

The assault upon women, particularly vile campaigns to shut down Planned Parenthood, and brazen homophobia reflected in so-called religious freedom campaigns spread throughout the nation.

And the real meanings, the master narrative about war, violence, exploitation, racism, and sexism are masked by a media discourse that transforms politics from concrete realities to the partial truths about terrorism, the threats to free speech, arguments about political correctness, and the need to be tough, vigilant, and armed to protect the so-called national security of the United States at home and abroad.  Media frames fuel and are fueled by a growing rightwing populism in the United States and Europe that ironically mirrors the rise of terrorism in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.

As we reflect upon the movement-building of the twentieth century and the context of a seeming “politics of chaos” in the twenty-first century, the tasks of the Left are clear. First, it needs to clarify, refine, and develop the “grand narrative” about the global political economy and its connections with capital accumulation, class, race, gender, homophobia, and the environment. The theory and practices of the twentieth century were not wrong. But they need to be adapted to the seeming economic, political, and environmental chaos of today.

Second, the left needs also to do what it has always done: fightback against all reaction, international and domestic. Today this includes resisting expanding war and imperialism abroad and challenging racism, chauvinism, police violence, and the destruction of existing government programs at home.

Frederick Douglass’ admonition still makes sense: If there is no struggle, there is no progress.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Harry Targ

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Frederick Douglass

The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line. W.E.B. DuBois

What a proud contrast to the environments that appear to prevail at places like Missouri and Yale. Mitch Daniels

All across the country students, black and white, hit the streets and the campus malls to protest racism; structural and interpersonal. One thousand students rallied at Purdue University on Friday, November 13, to show solidarity with students at the University of Missouri and to announce 13 demands they were making to address racism at Purdue; a racism that the university president says no longer exists.

Of course nationally and locally the struggle for social and economic justice is historic. Rev. William Barber, leader of the Moral Mondays Movement, points to the “Three Reconstructions” in post-Civil War American history. The First Reconstruction occurred in the 1860s and 1870s when black and white farmers and workers came together to write constitutions and to create a new democratic Southern politics. The hope this first reconstruction raised for a truly democratic America was dashed by a shift to the right of the federal government, the reemergence of the old Southern ruling class, and the rise of a brutal violent terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan. Racist policies, coupled with terrorism, instilled formal racial segregation in the South and subtle forms of institutionalized racism throughout the rest of the country.

The Second Reconstruction, Barber asserts, was inspired by the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision which declared that segregated schools were unconstitutional. With militant sectors of labor, a grassroots Southern civil rights movement revived all across the country. In the 1960s, it culminated in civil rights legislation that outlawed racial segregation and guaranteed voting rights. Also the “war on poverty” was launched. Shortly after these victories, the Republican Party presidential candidate Richard Nixon employed the so-called “Southern Strategy” to shift federal and state politics to the right. The forerunners of today’s Tea Party rightwing reaction expanded their political power at the federal and state levels.

Rev. Barber believes that, with the movement that elected President Obama, there has emerged a Third Reconstruction. It features the mobilization of  masses of people--blacks and whites, men and women, gays and straights, blue collar and white collar workers, young and old, people of faith and those who choose no faith--coming together to reconstitute the struggle for the achievement of a truly democratic vision. This vision is of a society that is participatory, egalitarian, and economically and psychologically fulfilling.

The resurgence of protests on college campuses, although narrowly focused, represents the contemporary form of the kinds of struggles for social justice Frederick Douglass talked about.  For example, on the campus of Purdue University, the struggle for racial justice has a long history. For the first 60 years of the twentieth century the African American population was less than one percent of the student body.  The numbers of African American students grew to a few hundred in the 1960s. And in the context of the Second Reconstruction and activism around civil rights and opposition to the war in Vietnam, some students organized a “Negro History Study Group”(which later became the Black Student Union). In 1968, to dramatize what they saw as institutional racism coupled with an environment of racial hostility, more than 150 Black students carrying brown bags marched to the Executive Building. At the building they took bricks from the bags. The bricks were piled up and a sign “Or the Fire Next Time,” was set next to the bricks. The students submitted a series of demands including the development of an African American Studies Program and a Black Cultural Center. 

The demonstration was dramatic. The demands clear. The justice of their motivation was unassailable. Administrators and faculty set up committees to discuss the protests. And in the short run, only minor changes were implemented, such as Purdue’s 1968 hiring of the first African American professor in Liberal Arts.

One year later, after an African American member of the track team was castigated for wearing a mustache and his verbal response led to his arrest, Black students launched another protest march with more demands. This time the Administration and the Board of Trustees authorized the establishment of the Black Cultural Center, which today is an educational, social, and architectural hub of the campus. In 1973, Antonio Zamora, educator, accomplished musician, and experienced administrator was hired to lead the campus effort to make the BCC the vital embodiment of the university that it has become.

One of the leaders of the 1969 protest, Eric McCaskill, told then President Hovde by phone during the protest march and visit to the Executive Building: “We are somebody. I am somebody.” Forty-six years later one thousand similarly motivated students rallied together on Friday, November 13 on the Purdue campus. They expressed outrage at the systematic violence against people of color throughout the society and the perpetuation of racism in virtually every institution. On the Purdue campus they protested the lack of full, fair representation of African Americans on the faculty and in the student body, a climate on and off campus that perpetuates racism, and the continuation of all the old stereotypes of minority students that has prevailed for years. They also shared their solidarity with the students of the University of Missouri and they made it crystal clear their disagreement with the statement by the Purdue University President that the Purdue campus was different.

The organizers provided thirteen demands including:

-an acknowledgement by the President of Purdue University that a hostile and discriminatory environment still exists at Purdue
-the reinstatement of a Chief Diversity Officer with student involvement in the hiring process
-the creation of a “required comprehensive awareness curriculum”
-the establishment of a campus police advisory board
-a 30 percent increase of underrepresented minorities in the student body and on the faculty by 2019-2020
-greater representatives of minority groups on student government bodies

Frederick Douglass was correct.  Progress requires struggle. DuBois is still correct about the twenty-first century as he was about the prior one: the problem of our day remains “the color line.” And many of those who observed, participated in, and applauded the organizers of this latest protest at Purdue believe that the struggles are long, the victories sometimes transitory, and each generation of activists is participating in a process of fundamental change that will move society in a more humane direction. The generations of Purdue students of the 1960s and the second decade of the twenty-first century are linked in a chain for justice.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


Harry Targ


In August, 2015 12 parents in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago launched a 34 day hunger strike to protest the closing of a neighborhood high school. Their demands, along with its reopening, included the establishment of a green jobs oriented curriculum that would train young people for the needs of the 21st century.

In Seattle, Washington in September, 2015 teachers went on strike to demand fair wages and working conditions in their new contract.

In the summer, 2014 again in Chicago, the teachers union went on strike to push back against school closings, stagnant teacher wages, and closed-door policymaking to consciously limit the influence of parents in the community. This strike had the support of teachers, parents, and children.

During the spring, 2015, parents all around the state of Indiana were keeping their children home during school days as a mark of their resistance to painful, frustrating, ill-conceived, and misused batteries of tests that state/federal policymakers were imposing on young people.

These are just a few examples of rising anger at the threat to the tradition of public schooling, big corporate efforts to privatize schools for profit, the denial of communities of parents any influence over educational policy, and campaigns to destroy teachers unions. A key component of the struggle to save our schools has been to defend the rights of all children to quality education not limited by race, class, gender, or ethnicity.

The neoliberal design

In the 1970s powerful economic and political elites began a sustained campaign to shift more of the wealth of society from the many to the few. A new policy agenda, sometimes called neoliberalism or austerity, was initiated that called for a variety of attacks on government policies that had been instituted over the prior thirty years.

In general, the neoliberal policies called for downsizing government (except for the military), cutting public services and programs to provide for the human needs of the population, deregulating banks and corporations, and privatizing public institutions. Roads, libraries, parks, prisons, and particularly schools were being shifted from public ownership and control to private corporations, mostly to make a profit. While these policies have encountered public opposition and have not been fully implemented, they have dramatically affected the quality of our public life and our communities.

The Threat to Public Schools

Since the dawn of the twentieth century the anchor of most communities in the United States, has been its public schools. Schools help raise, nourish, mentor, and educate the youth of America. Parents, as best they can, participate in supporting school systems and provide input on school policy. Teachers and school administrators sacrifice time and energy to stimulate the talents of young people. And teachers through educational associations and trade unions organize to protect their rights in the workplace, always mindful of the number one priority; serving the children and the community.

Beginning in the 1970s, various special interest groups, many well-funded, began to advocate for the privatization of education. Looking at aggregate data showing some failing school performance, they argued that private corporations, charter schools, could educate children better. They blamed the lack of marketplace competition for waste of taxpayer dollars for poor performance. The arguments ignored the fact that failing schools were schools underfunded by state legislatures and were often in communities where resources were scarce because of inequalities of wealth and income. Most often under-performing schools were underfunded schools: underfunded because of racism and patterns of segregation.
The neoliberal answer was to shift public funds, formerly from public schools, to private corporate charter schools. Along with the creation of charter schools, voucher systems were established by state legislatures and school districts allowing parents to place their children in any school they could find; often difficult to access and sometimes far from the child’s neighborhood. The introduction of charter schools and vouchers began the process of shifting resources from public education to private schools. 

Shifting resources from the public to the private sector served to destroy adequately performing public schools and weakened nearby communities.
The data on the shift from public schools to charters is shocking. For example in Detroit between 2005 and 2013 public school enrollment declined by 63% and charter school enrollments rose by 53%; in Gary the decline in public schools was 47% and the rise in charter school enrollment rose by 197%;  and in Indianapolis the decline in public school enrollments totaled 27% and the rise in charter schools was 287%. 

This historic transfer of public funds for education to privatization would often be sped up by local crises. The biggest crisis in an American community in decades occurred in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck that city in August, 2005. In its aftermath 100,000 citizens were forced to leave the city because their homes were demolished. Over 100 public schools were destroyed in the disaster. Subsequently virtually all those schools were replaced with charter schools, run by private corporations for a profit, devoid of teachers’ organizations and parental participation in the revitalization of educational institutions. Commenting on the New Orleans experience Secretary of Education Arne Duncan suggested that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to the educational system of New Orleans. 

The human tragedy of Katrina was also a metaphor for what was to follow all across the nation: powerful forces swept away vibrant publicly controlled and accountable educational institutions, replacing them with new profit-driven, non-transparent, non-union, corporate schools that did not serve the needs and desires of the remaining members of the community. Public education is being uprooted, transformed, and destroyed all across the United States.  

To facilitate the privatization of schools cities everywhere have begun to close public schools. Detroit, New York, and Chicago have closed over 100 schools per city in recent years. Several cities have closed at least 25 schools in recent years. In Philadelphia, municipal funds for a prison came from the closure of 50 schools. The impacts of school closings is reflected in the essay “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” produced by the Journey for Justice Alliance: “Closing a school is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to a community; it strikes at the very core of community culture, history, and identity and…produces far-reaching repercussions that negatively affect every aspect of community life.”

(Future essays will discuss the impacts of the crisis of public education and rising movement responses. This essay is informed by ongoing discussions in the Education Committee of Indiana Moral Mondays).

Sunday, November 8, 2015


Harry Targ

The Deep State

Mike Lofgren defines the “deep state” as  “… a hybrid association of elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the United States without reference to the consent of the governed as expressed through the formal political process.”  (Mike Lofgren, “Anatomy of the ‘Deep State’: Hiding in Plain Sight,” Online University of the Left, February 23, 2014).   Others have examined invisible power structures, including class, that rule America (from C. W. Mills’ classic The Power Elite, Oxford University Press, 2000 to Robert Perrucci, Earl Wysong, and David Wright, The New Class Society: Goodbye American Dream? Rowman and Littlefield, 2013).  

The concept, “deep state,” describes the hidden policy-making process, particularly in foreign policy. It suggests that power to make critical decisions resides not in the superstructure of the political process; the place were competitive games are played for all to see, but in powerful institutions embedded in society that can make decisions without requiring popular approval. In foreign policy the “deep state” apparatus has led the American people into war or covert interventions that destroyed the rights of people in other countries to solve their own problems. In the end these hidden institutions have involved the United States in death and destruction all across the globe.

The idea of the deep state may be useful as a metaphor to alert the citizenry to policies that also are made mostly in secret, or if not in secret at least with very limited public visibility, in the states as well as in the federal government. Policy decisions of consequence made among semi-secret elites may concern issues that do not involve the high politics of foreign policy. Sometimes public policy decisions, made by powerful, but invisible groups, are only announced or uncovered after they are made. Opponents of policies adopted by deep state institutions become more difficult to challenge because decisions have already been made and appear irreversible.

The Mysterious “Real Alternatives” Contract With the State of Indiana

For example, on October 15, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana announced that Indiana had signed a $3.5 million contract for one year of anti-abortion counseling with Real Alternatives, a multi-million dollar non-profit organization. The contract would be funded by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) money. He reported that Real Services has a “pro-life mission.” It does not provide advice concerning contraception and most women’s reproductive health services. Its goal is to “actively promote childbirth instead of abortion.” The Governor indicated that this contract follows a prior one year $1 million pilot program carried out in Northern Indiana. He claimed that the contract provides important health services for women and families. The stated purpose of RA is to “actively promote childbirth instead of abortion.” The CEO of Indiana Right to Life praised the pilot program and the new contract.

What Is “Real Alternatives” and Where Did It Come From?
It turns out that Real Alternatives is among a growing industry of Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPC) that have sprung up around the country to oppose abortions, contraception, and family planning. Jenny Kutner (“How Crisis Pregnancy Centers Are Using Taxpayer Dollars to Lie to Women,” Salon, July 14, 2015) points out that there are three times more CPCs than abortion clinics. They do provide some modest services, such as pregnancy tests, some basic childcare resources, and diapers for new born children of poor women. However, CPC services are typically “…misleading, manipulative or downright coercive, pushing a distinctly antiabortion agenda that relies heavily on lying to clients.” CPC counsellors are usually religious and misrepresent themselves as healthcare professionals.

At least 11 states provide millions of dollars to fund largely religiously-based CPCs. One of the largest CPC organizations, Real Alternatives, began operations in Pennsylvania in the 1990s. Former Democratic Governor Robert P. Casey put RA services in the state budget to actively oppose abortions. Over the years the state’s support for RA came from the legislature’s “pro-life” caucus and was followed by public money being used by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to fund Morning Star Pregnancy Services and the Pennsylvania Alternative to Abortion Services Program. By 1997 72 CPCs received public reimbursements.

Support for RA spread to other states but Pennsylvania’s former Senator Rick Santorum failed in his effort to introduce the Women and Children’s Resources Act to fund CPC programs like RA in 1999, which would have been a federally-funded program. RA gave support to parallel CPCs in Florida, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. In 2001 Pennsylvania support for RA increased and the program was funded by moneys from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. By 2011, the RA model was used to establish anti-choice services in Texas, Michigan, Ohio, Nebraska, Louisiana, South Dakota, and in 2014 Indiana. Pence said that “We fund Real Alternatives because it’s the right thing to do! We know that the work that you all do is critical to making Pennsylvania a better place. We know that what you do every day is making a tremendous difference in the lives of our children and families.”  

The Deep States and the Anti-Choice Agenda

While so-called right-to-life groups are aware of CPCs and particularly the work of RA, most of the public had little knowledge of the pilot Indiana program. In addition, aside from a brief report on Indianapolis television, the Pence extension of the RA program with public money received little attention. The small but determined opponents of the right of women to control their bodies, including particularly religious organizations, create semi-public organizations such as RA and then set about building support among the political class to gain state funding for their efforts. By the time the public is aware of the state funding, it is too late to mobilize adequate political opposition.

In the case of RA, and most CPCs, state funding is in violation of the separation of church and state and the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. Progressives need to become familiar with the “deep state,” those semi-invisible centers of power that shape the public policy agenda and at the same time work against policies that challenge the fundamental rights of all citizens.