Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Harry Targ
But in Indiana, our Indiana National Guard is the state partner with the Nigerien military. So we send Indiana guardsmen and women to Niger. They send their military leaders to Indiana for training. So it’s no secret-it hasn’t been a secret to me that-of what is occurring in Niger with the threat of ISIS and other cells of terrorist groups as well.” (Jim Banks, Congressman from Indiana, “Indiana Congressman on the Attack in Niger that Killed 4 U.S. Soldiers,” NPR, October 23, 2017).

Indiana and Niger

The media and President Trump have been sparring over the unsympathetic way he talked to a grieving young widow of one of four Special Forces soldiers killed in action in Niger on October 4. But ever so slowly politicians and reporters are beginning to ask a vital question: Why are U.S. troops in Niger and other countries across the African continent?
Part of the story has to do with agreements between state National Guard units and other countries. For example, on January 24, 2017 an article in the electronic publication of the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) reported that the Department of Defense “State Partnership Program” would formalize a relationship between the Indiana National Guard and the African nation, Niger. 

Further, the newsletter of the National Guard lobby group indicated that the state of Indiana’s recent contract with Niger was the seventy-fifth agreement between a state national guard component and a foreign country under the Department of Defense “State Partnership Program.”

Major General Courtney P. Carr, the Indiana National Guard Adjutant General said about the January, 2017 announcement: “Hoosier Guardsmen are dedicated to deepening our development and security cooperation relationships with our Nigerien partners.”

The NGAUS article pointed out that the Indiana National Guard has experience in humanitarian assistance and “will support the U.S. government’s ongoing diplomatic, development and security efforts to achieve shared goals.” Niger’s spokesperson General Seyni Garba, Chief of Defense, said “This partnership is timely because it offers a great opportunity for the Niger armed forces to further develop its capabilities to face all the major security challenges of the day.”
Perceptive Hoosier pundit Brian Howey reported on October 5, 2017, that the Indiana National Guard hosted a meeting between the State Adjutant General, Congressman Banks, and the Niger Chief of Defense at Camp Atterbury in August. General Garba warned that Niger was in the heart of the continent’s terrorist zone. Howey pointed out that U.S. Special Forces train at Muscatatuck Urban Warfare Center in Indiana. In addition, he quoted from a New York Times article referring to a $50 million drone base being constructed at Agadez, Niger. Howey concluded: Indiana’s Niger connection has just taken a sobering turn. (Brian Howey, “The Indiana-Niger Connection,” Howey. Politics Indiana,, October 5, 2017).

Techniques of Empire Today 
Although the imperial agenda and the ideological precepts justifying it have remained essentially the same for two hundred years, the techniques of empire have changed as growing resistance at home and abroad and new technologies allow. Changes in warfare, other violence, and imperial expansion include the following:

-Wars are internal much more than international and casualties are overwhelmingly civilian rather than military.
-The global presence of some form of the United States military is ubiquitous-between 700 and 1,000 military bases-in anywhere from 40 to 120 countries

- US military operations have been privatized. A 2010 Washington Post report found 1,911 intelligence contracting firms doing top secret work for 1,271 government organizations at over 10,000 sites. Ninety percent of such work is being done by 110 contractors.
-More “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” have been used to kill alleged enemies over the last eight years than the entire prior period of US military operations. Also drones have come home as their use by urban police forces show.

-US agencies, such as the CIA, have been engaged in the increased use of assassinations and efforts to undermine governments. One report indicated that there are 13,000 assassination commandoes operating around the world. And the new Director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, has promised to make the CIA a “much more vicious agency.”

-So-called “humanitarian assistance” is used to support United States policies in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. A New York Times story reported that at least 40 American groups received $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade.
-Military operations continue and expand without “boots on the ground.” As a result empires can kill with impunity because military operations are less visible than wars in prior years. Also the number of soldiers involved in twenty-first century wars is lower than twentieth century ones.

Just recently, Nick Turse and colleagues reported on data indicating that the United States has been engaged in secret military training of personnel in many countries. They called the policy “a shadowy network of U.S. programs that every year provides instruction and assistance to approximately 200,000 foreign soldiers, police, and other personnel.”  (Douglas Gillison, Nick Turse, Moiz Syed, “How the U.S. Trains Killers Worldwide,” Portside, July 13, 2016).
Their report is worth quoting further:

“The data show training at no fewer than 471 locations in 120 countries…involving on the U.S. side, 150 defense agencies, civilian agencies, armed forces colleges, defense training centers, military units, private companies, and NGOs, as well as the National Guard forces of five states.”  Despite the fact that the Department of Defense alone has poured some $122 billion into such programs since 9/11, the breadth and content of this training network remain virtually unknown to most Americans.”
Turse has also discovered that the recently constructed U.S. military African command (AFRICOM) has one base, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti and 11 outposts or Cooperative Security Locations across the continent. Less transparent, Turse indicates, are 60 military outposts in 34 countries (60 percent of the continent) and U.S. military offices with defense attaches in 38 nations. U.S. military presence-sometimes small, sometimes large, in some cases U.S. army, in others private contractors-permeates the continent.

Impacts of 21st Century Imperialism

By any measure the pain and suffering brought by 21st century imperialism is staggering. U.S. Labor Against the War recently reported that sources estimate 1.3 million people, mostly in the Middle East and South Asia, have died due to the war on terrorism initiated in 2001. They quote a research report that estimates that one million Iraqis have died since 2003 and an additional 220,000 citizens of Afghanistan and 80,000 from Pakistan. Other sources claim these figures are too conservative and remind us of the untold thousands upon thousands who have died directly from war and violence in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and elsewhere in the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa.
These figures, of course, address deaths directly attributed to war and terrorism but do not include economic sanctions, environmental devastation, massive flight of people from war zones, persecution by authoritarian regimes, and drone strikes and assassinations. Large areas of the globe, largely centered in the Middle East and North Africa, are ungovernable with foreign intervention and anomic domestic violence on the rise. In a troubling essay by Patrick Cockburn the author asserts that:

“We live in an age of disintegration. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Across the vast swath of territory between Pakistan and Nigeria, there are at least seven ongoing wars-in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and South Sudan. These conflicts are extraordinarily destructive. They are tearing apart the countries in which they are taking place in ways that make it doubtful they will ever recover.” (Patrick Cockburn, “The Age of Disintegration: Neoliberalism, Interventionism, the Resource Curse, and a Fragmenting World,” The Unz Review: Mobile, June 28, 2016).
Cockburn suggests that this fragmentation has core features: no winners and losers, deconstruction of states, massive population upheavals, and migrations; in short death and destruction. And most Americans, through no fault of their own, as in Indiana, are not informed about their state’s national guard contractual relationship with another country. And the citizens of the United States in general are not knowledgeable about nor can they participate in decisions about whether U.S. troops, drones, private contractors, and military assistance should be engaged in other countries.

Friday, October 20, 2017


A Review of Duncan McFarland ed., The Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union: Seeds of 21st Century Socialism, Changemaker Publications ( 2017. The Socialist Education Project, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism

 Harry Targ
“…you are Americans and are meant to carry liberty and justice and the principles of humanity wherever you go, go out and sell goods that will make the world more comfortable and more happy, and convert them to the principles of America.” (Woodrow Wilson shortly after the Russian Revolution quoted in L.S. Stavrianos, Global Rift, 1981, 492.)

“there are two great evils at work in the world today, Absolutism, the power of which is waning, Bolshevism, the power of which is increasing. We have seen the hideous consequences of Bolshevik rule in Russia, and we know that the doctrine is spreading westward. The possibility of proletarian despotism over Central Europe is terrible to contemplate.”(Secretary of State Robert Lansing shortly after the Russian Revolution in Stavrianos, 494).

The masses are in power... And on the morning of 13 November, after the defeat of Kerensky's Cossack army, Lenin and Trotsky sent through me to the revolutionary proletariat of the world this message:
Comrades! Greetings from the first proletariat republic of the world. We call you to arms for the international social revolution.” (from Judy Cox, “John Reed: Reporting on the Revolution,” International Socialism Journal, Winter, 1998.

History is Complicated

As the sentiments of President Wilson and his Secretary of State suggest, the United States emerged from World War I to embark on a global campaign to crush the new Soviet Union economically and militarily. It, along with a dozen other nations sent troops into the country that would become the Soviet Union to help counter-revolutionaries overthrow the new Bolshevik regime. In subsequent years, (until 1933), the United States refused to recognize the Soviet Union. Western powers watched as Germany rearmed and expanded its control across the heartland of Europe. Italian fascist armies and German airpower were used to destroy democratic Spain, again with the United States and the British on the sidelines.

After the war, the Truman Administration launched a “cold war,” against the Soviet Union. It transferred resources to Western Europe to rebuild the capitalist part of it. It unleashed covert operators to infiltrate trade unions and political parties in Europe and Latin America and began beaming propaganda and sending operatives into Eastern Europe to undermine Soviet influence.

Germany was the centerpiece of this new global struggle. As the source of military forces that killed 27 million Soviet citizens in World War II, the status of Germany became most critical to the Soviets. And for the United States a reindustrialized, remilitarized Germany would constitute the centerpiece of the campaign to fight Communism and promote capitalism on the world stage. Ironically, the Cold War started over Germany and could have ended there with a mutually derived agreement to create a neutralized and united Germany (much as was agreed to in Austria). But western diplomats ignored Soviet offers to negotiate the creation of such a Germany.

Without revisiting all the critical points of contestation between the East and the West, it is important to make clear that the Soviet Union, the weaker of the two “superpowers,” was targeted for challenge and defeat by every United States administration from 1917 to 1991. This cost both countries and their allies trillions of dollars in military spending and millions of lives.

The Russian Revolution and the New Workers State
Reflecting upon the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution may lead us to reject Eric Hobsbawm’s characterization of the last century as the “short twentieth century.” Why? Because Hobsbawm regarded the contestation between global capitalism and socialist revolution as encompassing the years between 1917, the revolution, and 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union. But a good case can be made that as John Reed put it, “Ten Days That Shook the World” is still going on. And the collection of essays reviewed here passionately makes the case, that as the sub-title suggests, the Russian Revolution may have planted the seeds for a 21st socialism, a socialism whose characteristics will meet the needs of today, not the last century.

The essays in this volume are not designed to be an apology for errors and crimes of the Revolution or what followed but rather a description of those building blocs of human liberation that have had their inspiration in the Revolution and what followed. The opening essay moves back and forth historically to describe the workers Soviets, examples of direct democracy, and the variety of movements today that are equally struggling to be open, transparent, and democratic. Another addresses the nationalism question and the difficult task the new state had in melding together in one nation, a multiplicity of ethnicities, respecting unity and diversity.

Other essays address the influence of the Russian Revolution on the emergence of industrial unionism in the United States and the building of multi-ethnic, multi-racial working class communist parties and the role of building international anti-colonial and anti-racist solidarity. The volume has essays that suggest the important contribution the new revolution had on the arts and culture, social psychology, and education. A classic essay describes the critical role of women in the revolution and the rights they achieved in the new society.

And for those unfamiliar with the history of 1917, one essay provides an overview of the overthrow of the Tsar, the rise to power of the Mensheviks, and finally the seizure of power of the new Bolshevik regime led by Vladimir Lenin. Additional essays describe the impacts of the counter-revolution, the premature rush to communizing the society, and the adoption of a New Economic Policy, a combination of market and socialist characteristics, needed to survive economic and political crisis. The essay points to NEP-type policies adopted by twenty-first century Socialist regimes. Juxtaposed with the use of markets, another contributor analyzes the need for organization in the revolutionary process to be effective. Finally, one of the essays (by this reviewer) critiques how modern social science and anti-Soviet leftists misunderstand the revolutionary processes going forward from 1917.

The last three sections of the volume are perhaps the most critical as we look critically at and honor the Russian Revolution. Part of a 1990 public presentation by Carl Bloice (1939-2014), long-time reporter in Moscow for the People’s World is reprinted. Shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bloice argues that the government was not able to advance technologically and scientifically as its resources and human capital would have allowed. Thus economic stagnation and lack of competitiveness with the West occurred. Why the lack of scientific advance, he asks? Because the Soviet Union drifted toward authoritarianism and declining democracy, and it is in a democratic environment that intellectual creativity is most likely to flourish.

Finally, the volume ends with brief remarks Paul Robeson articulated about his first experiences as an American of African descent in the Soviet Union. He found an environment free of racism that he had never experienced in the United States. And the volume ends with an inspiring poem by Langston Hughes: “Good Morning Revolution.”

And About History

It is a common place now to repeat the old adage: “history is written by the winners.” Old adage or not, the media mocking of Russia today, coupled with subtle references to the former Soviet Union is being orchestrated by the same kinds of imperial voices that have been raised for almost one hundred years now. The words of Woodrow Wilson and Robert Lansing are part of common discourse today.

As contentious as it might be, it is time for progressives to revisit the history of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union in a way that is not chauvinistic and self-serving and raises the possibility of creating a twenty-first century socialism. This collection of essays does just that. Our emerging millennial socialists and our progressive activists would benefit from a quick read of The Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union: Seeds of 21st Century Socialism.

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Harry Targ

Global Economic Context         

Looking at the last third of the twentieth century, Canadian economist James Davies, in a study prepared by the World Institute for Development Economics Research, wrote “income inequality has been rising for the past 20 to 25 years and we think that is true for inequality in the distribution of wealth.” In 2000 the study showed that the top 1 percent of the world’s population accounted for 40 percent of its total net worth, with the bottom half owning 1.1 percent. Edward Wolff, another economist participating in the study, wrote “With the notable exception of China and India, the third world has drifted behind.” (New York Times, December 6, 2006).

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

Relevance to the Middle East in the 21st Century

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

-The percentage of Gazans living in poverty steadily increased from 1998 (21.6%) to 2006 (35%).

-Israeli policies barring imports and exports which isolated Gaza from the Israeli and global economy made matters worse; a 90 % decline in Gaza’s industrial operations occurred between the 2006 parliamentary election victory of Hamas and 2007.

-Industrial employment in Gaza declined from 35,000 in 2005 to 4,200 in 2007. 

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

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

-34 percent of Palestinian households, comprising over 1.5 million people, live in situations of food insecurity (19 percent in the West Bank and 57 percent in Gaza).

-Food insecurity increased since 2009, derived from growing unemployment, declining purchasing power, and slowed or abandoned aid thus decreasing jobs, income, and consumption.

-Food insecure households (often with larger families) are more likely to experience disabilities and chronic illnesses.

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

The Middle East Wars

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

Subsequently wars occurred in 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, and intermittently from the 1980s until today. (In the 1967 war Israel occupied, the West Bank, Gaza, the Old City of Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights, formerly Syrian land). These wars were fought between Israelis, Palestinians and states neighboring Israel. Disputes involved multiple issues including the legitimacy of the state of Israel; Israeli expansion, particularly its continuing construction of settlements in the West Bank and the displacement of Palestinian people; the rights of Palestinians inside Israel, and control of water and land throughout the region. Various organizations challenging the Israeli state and land expansion emerged over the last fifty years including the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Several nations supported contending parties to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict such as the United States and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, former European colonial powers such as Great Britain and France, and neighboring Arab and other Muslim states.

The United States became Israel’s main ally during all these years. Since 1979 Israel has been the largest recipient on a per capita basis of foreign assistance from the United States of any of the latter’s clients. In addition, Israel has become the best equipped and most powerful military force in the region, largely due to the billions of dollars of US military assistance. Israel is the only state with nuclear weapons in the region. In a recent budget decision, the United States has agreed to provide military assistance totaling $3.8 billion per annum for ten years to Israel beginning in 2019.

Finally, pro-Israel lobby groups in the United States support continued military and economic aid to Israel. Israel, with United States support, opposes serious negotiations with what is now the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza. It is expected that recent West Bank/Gaza Palestinian agreements will harden Israeli opposition to serious negotiation.

Of course, Israel opposes initiatives from peace groups in the US and the international community. Currently, militant pro-Israel lobby groups as well as the Israeli government are pressuring Congress to pass legislation overturning Obama administration accords with Iran on nuclear weapons. Many also advocate US-led  military action against Iran.

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

The particular mantra of rightwing groups, Republicans, Trump administration spokespersons, and many Democrats in 2017 is to label any critics of Israeli policy as “anti-Semitic.” Some of the strongest voices opposed to the total United States military and economic support for Israel come from progressives in the Jewish community. More Jewish people are becoming critics of Israel’s inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people. Many of these people proudly identify with their historical heritage of support for social and economic justice all around the world and are outraged by recent disingenuous claims of sympathy for the Jewish people from Conservative politicians in both political parties, think tanks and religious lobby groups, and sectors of the mainstream media.

Politics and Economics of the Middle East Today

Nar Arafeh, a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, challenges the idea that economic development in the West Bank and Gaza alone could bring peace to the region. She argues that unless economic change is coupled with increased Palestinian political rights in the region resistance to Israel’s political/military domination will continue.

As to economics, although Palestine is expected to experience 3.5% growth in GDP in 2017, that growth is largely based on construction, presumably rebuilding housing units destroyed by Israeli bombs. She points out that the boost in construction in recent years in the West Bank and Gaza is coupled with economic stagnation including low growth and inadequate wages, increased unemployment, and declining foreign assistance. Israel controls the flow of labor from the West Bank to production sites as needed and limits more substantially Palestinian labor from Gaza. Arafeh says that “The ‘Palestinian Economy is a political construct, shaped to serve the more powerful player: Israel.” (Nar Arafeh, “Palestine’s Economic Outlook-April, 2017. Al Jazeera).

And on the human rights front, an Amnesty International report entitled, “Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories Report 2016/2017” stated that:

Israeli forces unlawfully killed Palestinian civilians, including children, in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), and detained thousands of Palestinians from the OPT who opposed Israel’s continuing military occupation, holding hundreds in administrative detention. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained rife and was committed with impunity. The authorities continued to promote illegal settlements in the West Bank, including by attempting to retroactively “legalize” settlements built on private Palestinian land, and severely restricted Palestinians’ freedom of movement, closing some areas after attacks by Palestinians on Israelis. Israeli forces continued to blockade the Gaza Strip, subjecting its population of 1.9 million to collective punishment, and to demolish homes of Palestinians in the West Bank and of Bedouin villagers in Israel’s Negev/Naqab region, forcibly evicting residents.

What Does This Mean?

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

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

Third, shifting currents in Palestinian politics have been connected to patterns of economic growth and decay. In the 1950s and 1960s, secular leaders in the Arab world, including Palestinians, offered a vision of economic change and political autonomy for their people that was processed in Washington and European capitals as threatening to dominant economic interests. President Nasser of Egypt who opened relations with the Soviet Union and began to talk about Arab Socialism was a prime target of concern. Paradoxically, the US began to support political actors in the region with a religious agenda, countries such as Saudi Arabia and later in the 1980s followers of Osama Bin Laden who were fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan. In the 1980s also the United States supported Hamas in Palestine.

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

In the United States, the political climate needs to begin to change so that a resumption of frank dialogue can proceed concerning foreign policy toward Israel, ending the violence in the region, and supporting economic justice and political rights for the Palestinian people. For example, is it wise and humane for the United States to commit $3.8 billion annually in for military aid to Israel for the next ten years?

Labeling those who propose different United States foreign policies toward Israel as anti-Semitic do a disservice to peoples of the region and defame US activists, including Jews, who support peace and justice for the Palestinian people.

You can shine a light on human rights abuses. -

With your support, we can expose events and hold governments and companies to account.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Harry Targ

Among the political difficulties in times like these is thinking coherently about theory and practice. What is happening? Why is it happening? What can we do about it? Random thoughts and experiences follow:

First, while an Indiana resident, I spent the last four months in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Much of my occupation (I teach political science) and my passion (progressive politics) lead me to participate in social movements. Also I have been in a socialist organization for years.

While in Milwaukee I attended meetings of the Milwaukee Coalition for Normalizing Relations With Cuba and the End the Wars Committee, an affiliate of Peace Action. I viewed a broadcast of a Milwaukee speech by Rev. William Barber during his recently created new Poor People’s Campaign. He called for organizing against the three evils articulated by Dr. King: militarism, racism, and poverty. One week later I attended the annual “Fighting Bob” celebration of the life and work of progressive Governor and Senator Robert La Follette. Speakers underscored La Follette’s struggles to democratize political institutions and to oppose the consolidation of corporate wealth.

Attendance at the Barber event, which occurred at St. Gabriel’s Church of God, was interracial and mostly middle aged. Short speeches were made by activists from Black Lives Matter, Fight for Fifteen, and Veterans for Peace. The Fighting Bob event featured Nation magazine contributor, John Nichols, Our Revolution spokesperson Nina Turner, and state legislator, David Bowen among others. About 200 people, mostly white but varied in terms of age, attended and about 20 tables circled the crowd with political literature on a variety of topics including local politics, peace, the environment, Cuba, and support for constitutional amendments.

Also, Wisconsin Peace Action’s End the Wars Committee, co-sponsored with the Milwaukee Coalition Against Trump (MCAT) and other organizations a panel discussion at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, on “Rebuilding the Peace and Justice Movements.” The panel was diverse including Lisa Jones, a leader of UBLAC, RidRacism and other justice organizations; Harry Targ, member of the End the Wars Committee and the Wisconsin Coalition to Normalize Relations with Cuba; Maricela Aguilar Monroy, Young People’s Resistance Committee; and Samir Moukaddam, a progressive advocate for Palestinian rights. About 40 mostly older white activists attended the event.

Over the summer the Milwaukee League of Progressive Seniors held two events: one luncheon seminar on Trump Care as a device to shift wealth to the super rich and another on the recent enormous tax breaks the state of Wisconsin contracted with Fox Conn, a Taiwanese electronics corporation. Speakers linked the Fox Conn giveaway to major cuts in resources for government supported projects such as Milwaukee senior centers. Most LPS members are retirees from social services, trade unions, and civic organizations, and continue to be activists.

In addition to these events, Milwaukee progressives marched, protested, and organized around a panoply of critical issues such as prison reform, police violence, the environment, single-payer health care, opposition to the above-mentioned Wisconsin state government tax giveaway to global corporation Fox Conn, and other issues. Progressive values pervaded music, film, drama, and street events during the summer.

The Greater Lafayette community, which includes Purdue University, is about one-quarter the size of Milwaukee. However, over the years it has seen episodes of activism not unlike other communities big and small around the country. Particularly, there has been a significant increase in grassroots political activity in the community since the November, 2016 election. These have included work around electoral, feminist, immigrant solidarity, redistricting, anti-racist and anti-fascist issues, paralleling political activism in Milwaukee. In both venues, groups that identify themselves with the political Left (communist, socialist, anarchist) are miniscule. Some more self-defined or externally perceived radical groups, such as Black Lives Matter, feminist, and immigrant rights groups are visible but small.

My guess is that the political maps of Milwaukee and Lafayette, Indiana are not too different from many other communities in the United States. It may be that the traditional centers of more radical politics (New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles) are the outliers in American progressive politics, not the norm.

My reflections are not to demean or criticize the political work being done in the two venues in which I have had some experience. To the contrary, I have been excited and inspired by the level of activity and the theoretical and practical sophistication of activists. But my long-standing frustration with progressive/radical politics in Indiana was reinforced by what I experienced in Milwaukee.

Lisa Jones, activist in the Milwaukee African American community and panelist at the UWM event, introduced a useful concept to articulate my frustration: “siloing.” In other words, radical/progressive politics in these locations is characterized by the existence of a multiplicity of very active groups which have limited connection with other groups working on different issues. And the “tragedy” of the silo problem is that the many groups engaged in their own issues would probably agree with the positions that others take. And while sometimes individuals in one group work in others, theorizing, strategizing, and action is divided up among ten or twenty or more groups. And within each silo there exists a dominate demographic as to age, race, gender, and personal background.

It may be that the task ahead, if the drift toward a heartless and environmentally devastated world is to be avoided, is to figure out a way to break down the silos, find some common theoretical narrative to explain the current period, identify core issues that interconnect the silos, and all hit the streets and the electoral arenas together. In addition, networks of activists should begin to work toward building new community institutions.

It is important to remember that such radical cooperation has occurred before. It can be done again.

Saturday, October 7, 2017


Originally posted August 2, 2015

Harry Targ

Not every conflict was averted, but the world avoided nuclear catastrophe, and we created the time and the space to win the Cold War without firing a shot at the Soviets.
Now, when I ran for president eight years ago as a candidate who had opposed the decision to go to war in Iraq, I said that America didn’t just have to end that war. We had to end the mindset that got us there in the first place. It was a mindset characterized by a preference for military action over diplomacy, a mindset that put a premium on unilateral U.S. action over the painstaking work of building international consensus, a mindset that exaggerated threats beyond what the intelligence supported. (Barack Obama, “Full text: Obama gives a speech about the Iran nuclear deal,” The Washington Post, August 5, 2015).

The peace movement has often been faced with a dilemma. Should it channel its energies in opposition to imperialism, including economic expansion and covert operations, or should it mobilize against war, or both. The problem was reflected in President Obama’s August 5, 2015 speech defending the anti-nuclear proliferation agreement with Iran.  On the one hand he defended diplomacy as the first tool of a nation’s foreign policy and on the other hand his defense included the argument that through diplomacy the United States “won” the Cold War, and thereby defeated a bloc of states that opposed capitalist expansion. The implication of his argument was that pursuing imperialism remained basic to United States foreign policy but achieving it through peace was better than through war.

The speech was presented at American University 52 years after President Kennedy called for peaceful competition with the former Soviet Union. In June, 1963, nine months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, which nearly led to nuclear war, and weeks after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s call for “peaceful coexistence,” President Kennedy responded by urging the use of diplomacy rather than war in the ongoing conflict with the Soviet Union. 

A small but growing number of scholars and activists at that time had begun to articulate the view that the threat of nuclear war, growing U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, and repeated covert interventions in Guatemala, Iran, Cuba, and the Congo, had to do with U.S. imperialism. The dilemma for the peace movement in 1963 then as it is in 2015 is how to respond to United States imperialism at the same time as supporting the use of diplomacy to forestall wars.

In the context of political discourse in 2015, dominated by “neoconservative” and “humanitarian interventionist” factions of the foreign policy elite, the danger of war always exists. Therefore, any foreign policy initiative that reduces the possibility of war and arguments about its necessity must be supported. The agreement with Iran supported by virtually every country except Israel constitutes an effort to satisfy the interests of Iran and the international community and without the shedding of blood and creating the danger of escalation to global war. 

Neoconservatives, celebrants of war, have had a long and growing presence in the machinery of United States foreign policy. James Forrestal, the first Secretary of Defense in the Truman Administration, was a leading advocate for developing a militaristic response to the Soviet Union in the years after World War II. As historian Andrew Bacevich pointed out, Forrestal was one of the Truman administrators who sought to create a “permanent war economy.” He was, in Bacevich’s terms, a founding member of the post-World War II “semi-warriors.”

Subsequent to the initiation of the imperial response to the “Soviet threat”--the Marshall Plan, NATO, wars in Korea and Vietnam, the arms race--other semi-warriors continued the crusade. These included the Dulles brothers (John and Alan), Air Force General Curtis LeMay, and prominent Kennedy advisors including McGeorge Bundy and Walter Rostow, architect of the “noncommunist path to development,” in Vietnam.

Key semi-warriors of our own day, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Elliott Abrams, Robert Kagan, and others who formed the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) in the 1990s, gained their first experience in the administrations of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. The PNAC view of how the United States should participate in world affairs is to use military superiority to achieve foreign policy goals. The key failure of Clinton foreign policy, they claimed, was his refusal to use force to transform the world. For starters, he should have overthrown Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

The neoconservative policy recommendations prevailed during the eight years of the George Walker Bush administration. International organizations were belittled, allies were ignored, arms control agreements with Russia were rescinded and discourse on the future prioritized planning for the next war. And concretely the United States launched long, bloody, immoral wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Humanitarian interventionists, more liberals than conservatives, argued that the United States should use force, but more selectively, to achieve various goals. These goals included interventions that allegedly defended the quest for human rights. Advocates of humanitarian interventionism argued that the United States must use all means available, military and diplomatic, to maximize interests and values. And force need not be the first or only instrument of policy. 

But in the end the humanitarian interventionists encouraged bombing Serbia, intervening in a civil war in Libya, funding rebels perpetuating war in Syria, expanding military training and a U.S. presence in Africa, and funding opposition elements against the government in Venezuela. In addition, with advice from humanitarian interventionists, the United States increased the use of drones to target enemies of U.S. interests in East Asia, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East.

Neoconservatives and humanitarian interventionists (and in earlier times anti-communists) have led the charge for war-making in the United States since World War II. Between the end of the war and the 1990s, 10 million people died in wars in which the United States had a presence. Hundreds of thousands of young men and women serving in the armed forces of the United States have died or been permanently scarred by U.S. wars. And the physical landscape of Southeast Asia, the Persian Gulf, Central America, and the Middle East has been devastated by war. And in the United States, foreign policy elites, politicians, and think tank experts still advocate violence to address international problems. 

Therefore, in the context of a huge arms industry and global economic and political interests, any presidential initiative that uses diplomacy rather than force, declares its opposition to unilateral action, and challenges the war mindset deserves the support of the peace movement. Given the long and painful United States war system, the battle to secure the agreement between the P5 plus 1 nuclear agreement with Iran is worthy of support.