Tuesday, December 19, 2017

THE STUDY OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND THE REVISIONIST HISTORIANS

Monthly Review

Volume 69, Issue 07 (December 2017)
  

Cold War Revisionism Revisited:
The Radical Historians of U.S. Empire

Vietnam War protesters. 1967. Wichita, Kans
Vietnam War protesters. 1967. Wichita, Kans. U.S. District Court for the Second (Wichita) Division of the District of Kansas. (06/09/1890 - ).

Harry Targ is a professor of political science and director of the interdisciplinary program in Peace Studies at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Since the end of the Second World War, undergraduate and graduate education in international relations has been largely shaped by four theoretical approaches. As an undergraduate in the 1950s, I was exposed to the logic and rhetorical elegance of theories of political realism. The textbook used in my first course in international politics was a later version of Hans Morgenthau’s Politics among Nations, and in my subsequent courses, Morgenthau’s version of realpolitik was supplemented by the work of realist writers such as George Kennan, Reinhold Niebuhr, Henry Kissinger, and E. H. Carr. While varying widely in their politics and background, all saw the root causes of violence and war as grounded in “human nature.”

As a graduate student in the 1960s, I was inspired by the new science of international politics and the claim that by gathering enough data and analyzing it carefully, using the latest statistical techniques, scholars could develop an integrated theory of international politics that could replace limiting assumptions about human nature. We could study war, intra-state violence, revolution, economic cooperation, and institution-building with rigor. At last, scholars could develop a science of human behavior that would parallel the natural and physical sciences.

Based on the lingering assumptions of realism and the passion for constructing a science of international relations, two areas were subjected to specific inquiry: national security and modernization. Security studies was designed to use the tools of science to determine how nations could best defend their physical space and deter aggression. Modernization studies emphasized processes of economic development that could improve living standards, particularly through markets and democratic institutions. In the end, the American field of international politics was dominated by this nexus of realism, behavioralism (the quasi-scientific study of international behavior), security studies, and modernization.

Not coincidentally, these approaches to research and education in international politics arose at the height of the Cold War. The United States was embarking on a dramatic escalation of its adventure in Southeast Asia, and defense spending was expanding such that President Eisenhower warned of a growing “military-industrial complex.” As the war in Vietnam grew more controversial, the prevailing international-relations perspectives were increasingly challenged, both in the classrooms and the streets. But for the most part, studies based on paradigms of realism, behavioralism, security, and modernization remained disconnected from broader debates about the world.

To the era’s activists and radicals, the cause of this disparity between the academic study of international politics and the social reality of the anti-war movement was obvious. The former was influenced and supported by governmental institutions, including the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency, and in the main, its theories and approaches served intellectually to justify U.S. foreign policy—from nuclear buildups and military interventions to sponsoring coups and assassinations. In sum, the midcentury American science of international politics, which shaped a generation of students, was an ideological tool serving the foreign policy of the United States and its allies.

Political Economy and Foreign Policy

Anti-imperial sentiment has had a long history in public discourse on U.S. foreign policy. But by the 1950s, the virulently anti-communist and conformist environments of academia, the media, and electoral politics had caused discussion of the United States as an imperial power virtually to disappear. The last prominent political figure to criticize U.S. Cold War policy was Henry Wallace, the Progressive Party candidate for president in 1948. A year after Wallace’s defeat, eleven unions were purged from the Congress of Industrial Organizations for their leftwing politics, including their support for Wallace.1 The voice of militant labor was silenced, and this was followed, more famously, by anti-communist purges in radio, television, and the movies. Prominent progressive figures lost their jobs, livelihoods, and access to a broad public.

Academic fields were transformed into ideological training grounds in support of the United States’ mission in the world. In history and social science, new scholarship portrayed an American politics, history, and society founded on pluralist democracy rather than political elitism, consensus-building rather than class struggle, and groups, not classes, as the basic units of society.

Indeed, in the 1950s, some realists represented the most “radical” of critics of U.S. foreign policy. While they did not highlight economic interest, the pursuit of empire, or overreaction to the Soviet threat, they did argue that U.S. national interests had to be defined more carefully in security terms. They challenged the view that moral purpose and global vision should or could guide foreign policy. Theorists such as Morgenthau claimed that international relations should be motivated by needs of national security, not some grand campaign against international communism.

At the same time, however, a handful of historians began to challenge these dominant narratives. In particular, the history department at the University of Wisconsin encouraged young scholars to examine the economic taproots of U.S. foreign policy. In 1959, the university’s most influential historian, William Appleman Williams, broke new ground with The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. His students and others began to challenge reigning orthodoxy about international relations and the historic role of the United States in the world. Williams documented the rise of an American empire that expanded after the Civil War, while other historians began to conceive of the conquest of the North American continent as part of an empire-building process founded on the slaughter of millions of native peoples and the seizure of a large section of the landmass of Mexico. Still others studied the kidnapping and enslavement of millions of Africans as central to the construction of the Southern cotton economy, and ultimately to the global capitalist system.

In The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, along with The Contours of American History (1961) and The Roots of the Modern American Empire (1969), Williams located the origins of U.S. imperial expansion in the rise of agricultural production and the need for a growing economy to find markets overseas, particularly after domestic outlets had been capped with the closing of the “frontier.” Drawing on Frederick Jackson Turner’s “frontier thesis,” U.S. leaders believed that a new, global American empire was needed to sell products, secure natural resources, and find investment opportunities.

The rift between realist thinking and the newer radical scholarship is clearly illustrated by their contrasting interpretations of Secretary of State John Hay’s articulation of a new Open Door policy during the administration of William McKinley in 1898. In a series of notes, Hay warned European leaders that the United States regarded Asia as “open” to U.S. trade and investment, as occasioned by the disintegration of the Chinese state into civil war and the occupation of the country’s regions by European states and Japan. The United States insisted that unfettered access to markets in China be honored—and by implication, that the closing of such markets to U.S. goods might lead to confrontation.

For realists, the Hay “Open Door Notes” illustrated the propensity of policymakers to make threats that far exceeded any likely action. The strategic gap between rhetoric and reality, they argued, had long characterized U.S. foreign policy, from the 1890s to the era of President Woodrow Wilson’s calls for democratization to the vehement stance against the spread of communism expressed by every Cold War president.2

Revisionists such as Williams instead argued that the Open Door Notes presaged the emerging U.S. global imperial vision.3 Hay’s demands that the world respect the country’s right to penetrate economies everywhere would become the guiding standard for the U.S. role in the world.

Some of Williams’s writings seemed to emphasize material reality—the needs of capitalism—and others the beliefs held by elites, namely the overriding necessity of new markets. Among the revisionist school of historians, which also included Lloyd Gardner, Gar Alperowitz, and Thomas Paterson, was Gabriel Kolko, author of The Politics of War and, with Joyce Kolko, The Limits of Power: United States Foreign Policy from 1945 to 1954.4 In these volumes, the authors laid out in more graphic and precise terms the material underpinnings of U.S. Cold War policy. The Kolkos emphasized the material and ideological menace that international communism, particularly the example of the Soviet Union and popular Communist parties in the third world, represented to the construction of a global capitalist empire after the Second World War.

For the Kolkos and other revisionists, the expansion of socialism constituted a global threat to capital accumulation. With the end of the Second World War, there were widespread fears that the decline in wartime demand for U.S. products would bring economic stagnation and a return to the depression of the 1930s. The Marshall Plan, lauded as a humanitarian program for the rebuilding of war-torn Europe, was at its base a program to increase demand and secure markets for U.S. products. With the specter of an international communist threat, military spending, another source of demand, would likewise help retain customers, including the U.S. government itself. The idea of empire, which Williams so stressed, was underscored by the materiality of capitalist dynamics.

The historical revisionists thus introduced a political-economic approach to the study of foreign policy. This frame emphasized different factors shaping U.S. global behavior than did those that singularly emphasized national security. The realists referred to human nature and the inevitable attributes of state behavior, particularly the pursuit of power. The traditionalists highlighted the threat to security of certain kinds of states, mostly from international communism. For them, the modern international system was driven by a vast ideological contest between free and democratic states and totalitarian ones. Power, security, and anti-communism were together central to understanding U.S. foreign policy, not economic interest.

The revisionist approach emphasized several different components of policy. First, the new historians saw fundamental connections between economics and politics. Whether the theoretical starting point was Adam Smith or Karl Marx, they looked to the underlying dynamics, needs, and goals of the economic system as sources of policy. These writers began from the assumption that economic interest infused political systems and international relations.

While the realists acknowledged economic interest as a factor of some importance to policy-making, it was considered merely one of a multiplicity of variables shaping international behavior. By contrast, revisionists argued that while the forces of security, ideology, elite personalities, and even “human nature” had some role to play, all were influenced in the end by economic imperatives. The behavior of dominant nation-states from the seventeenth through the twentieth century involved trade, investment, financial speculation, the pursuit of slave or cheap labor, and access to natural resources. The pursuit of economic gain drove the system of international relations, and while sometimes this required cooperation, at other times it necessitated war, conquest, and colonization.

The revisionists made a further innovation at the level of discourse: during the Cold War, the mere mention of the word “capitalism” signaled that the user was a Marxist. Consequently, without naming the economic system, any hope of analyzing its relation to politics and policy was foreclosed. And that meant ignoring the possible relevance of the dominant economic system from the fifteenth century on. But, as has been suggested, some historians and social scientists who employed the political-economic perspective recognized that as an economic system evolved, international relations changed with it. This was so because capitalist enterprises and their supporting states accumulated more and more wealth, expanded at breakneck speed, consolidated both economic and political power, and sometimes built armies to facilitate further growth.

Some historians, borrowing from Marx, studied the evolution of capitalism by analyzing the accumulation of capital and newer forms of the organization of labor. At first, theorists wrote of the rise of capitalism out of feudalism. Marx called this the age of “primitive” or “primary” accumulation, because profit came from the enslavement of peoples, the conquest of territories, and the use of brute force. Subsequently, trade became a significant feature of the new system, and capitalists traversed the globe to sell the products produced by slave and wage labor.

This era of commercial capitalism was dwarfed, however, by the emergence of industrial capitalism. New production techniques developed, particularly factory systems and mass production. The promotion and sale of products in domestic and global markets increased. By the 1870s, the accumulation of capital in products and profits created enormous surpluses in the developed countries. These required new outlets for sale, new ways to put money capital to work, and ever-expanding concentrations of capital in manufacturing and financial institutions. By the mid-twentieth century, some theorists wrote of a new era of “monopoly capitalism,” a global economic system in which most commercial and financial activities were controlled by a small number of multinational corporations and banks.5

The revisionists of the 1960s argued that much of this economic history was ignored entirely by mainstream analyses of international relations. They responded by uncovering the reality of the U.S. role in the world, concentrating on specific cases of links between economics and politics. These included the influence of the country’s largest oil companies on the U.S.-managed overthrow of Mohammed Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953 or the coup in Guatemala in 1954 after president Jacobo √Ārbenz threatened to nationalize lands owned by the United Fruit Company. And while some revisionists did see the Soviet Union as a security threat to the United States, the broad consensus of the political-economy approach was that socialism as a world force threatened the continued global expansion of capitalism. As the nature of the anti-capitalist forces and challenges in particular countries changed, so too did the needs and tactics of U.S. foreign policy.

The political-economy approach also regarded class structure as central to the understanding of the foreign policy of any nation. Some classes dominate the political system at the expense of others. In capitalist societies, those who own or control the means of production dominate political life.

Therefore, while realists and traditionalists prioritize states as the most important actors in world affairs, political economists see states and classes as inextricably connected. Writers of all schools write about rich and poor states and powerful and weak states. Most, however, stop there. The state is central. Political economists and historical revisionists connected states to classes, and vice versa.

Finally, while revisionist historians worked on the principle that class interest controlled the foreign policy process, they tended to take a “hegemonic” view of that control, leaving little room in their theoretical frame for counterforces of resistance. The resulting analyses often seemed to imply that the United States was omniscient, all-powerful, unbeatable, and unchangeable in its conduct. After the Cuban Revolution and the Vietnam War, however, some analysts began to focus on challenges to U.S. hegemony around the world, especially in the global South. However, in the main, the historical revisionists developed a top-down understanding of international relations. Much of the anti-American ferment in the world, including anticolonial struggles, revolutions, and third world coalition-building, received insufficient attention.

The Revisionist Legacy

Ways of thinking have consequences. Generations of students in the twentieth century were exposed to analyses of international relations that emphasized certain purportedly iron laws of state behavior. Others were taught that international politics was best understood by embarking on statistically based studies that disaggregated political reality into a complex array of discrete variables. Still other students of international relations were encouraged to specialize in security studies or modernization and democratization. As the Vietnam War escalated, activists began to turn to a small group of historians for an alternative understanding of U.S. involvement in the country. The activism and scholarship of the Vietnam era began the process of challenging the hegemony of intellectual systems that had generally supported the U.S. role in the world.

Although that hegemony has been weakened, the traditional ways of studying international relations in the United States remain influential. Many studies are ahistorical, atomizing political reality while marginalizing the causal role of economics, and ignoring the effect of class interests in the making of foreign policy. The old enemy, international communism, is gone, but a new one, international terrorism, has taken its place. And like their Cold War precursors, mainstream theorists of international relations normalize war, regime change, and an ever-expanding military and security state.

Hegemonic thinking during the Vietnam era was questioned by scholars who challenged professional barriers and ideological taboos. Social movements demanded new thinking about world affairs. And scholar-activists began to revisit the work of maligned theorists such as Marx and V. I. Lenin. Historical curiosity increasingly led them to ask not only what happened, but why. Breaking through hegemonic ideas remains a vital task today.

Notes

  1. An old but still compelling history of U.S. labor struggles and anti-communism in the early years of the Cold War can be found in Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, Labor’s Untold Story (New York: United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, 1955).
  2. See George F. Kennan, American Diplomacy, 1900–1950 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969).
  3. William Appleman Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (New York: Delta, 1962).
  4. Lloyd C. Gardner, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and Hans J. Morgenthau, The Origins of the Cold War (Waltham, MA: Genn, 1970); Gar Alperowitz, Atomic Diplomacy (New York: Vintage, 1965); Thomas G. Paterson, Soviet-American Confrontation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973); Gabriel Kolko, The Roots of American Foreign Policy (Boston: Beacon, 1969) and The Politics of War (New York: Vintage, 1968); Joyce Kolko and Gabriel Kolko, The Limits of Power (New York: Harper, 1972).
  5. Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966).

Sunday, December 17, 2017

THE BANKS ARE (STILL) MADE OF MARBLE


HARRY TARG

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report written by its representative, Philip Alston, after an extensive visit to the United States. The report was called “A Journey Through a Land of Extreme Poverty; Welcome to America” and was based on personal observations and an examination of longitudinal and comparative data. He found in California, West Virginia, Alabama, Puerto Rico and elsewhere extremes of poverty and inadequate access to housing, health care, education, and other social needs. He noted that along with the increasing economic misery for the many there was a growing concentration of wealth for the few (the guardian.com, December 15, 2017)

In an NPR interview Alston noted that every other wealthy country provides more for its citizenry than the United States and is more equal in wealth and income. China, he said, a newly developed country, has lowered the gaps in wealth, income, and social well-being more effectively than the United States over the last 15 years.

Paradoxically, this damning report appeared at the same time as the Congress and the President are finalizing a new tax bill that will dramatically increase wealth, income, and security for the tiny ruling class at the growing expense of the vast majority of the United States population: workers, women, African Americans, immigrants, and children, youth, and the elderly.

Many economists are systematically analyzing the impacts of these negative economic trends across time and the draconian effect the new tax bill will have on the whole structure of reform programs that were put in place since the Great Depression of the 1930s. But sometimes the analysis, critique, and call for action is most effectively reflected in song. Thus the repost below:



Reposted from New Clear Vision, August 10, 2011

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Sometimes We Have to Sing and Cry and Hit the Streets…

by Harry Targ

I’m not a Red Diaper baby. I didn’t read Marx until the 1970s. I don’t know when I decided I was a Marxist. I didn’t start teaching Marx and political economy until the late 1970s. But I became a small “r” red when I first heard the folk group, The Weavers in the 1950s. Then on to Pete Seeger alone, Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston, and later Arlo Guthrie, Phil Ochs, and even Kris Kristofferson and Bruce Springsteen.

I still listen to the music that makes me angry, makes me cry, and makes me want to hit the streets. I forget the fine tuned lectures I listen to (and even give) on neoliberal globalization, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, over-production and under-consumption, and financialization — and break into song and tears as I hear the old music in the car or at home.

The deficit battle (now “tax reform”), which is a farce except for the pain the outcome will cause working people, reminded me of the Weavers blasting out “The Banks Are Made of Marble.” They sang of travels around the country seeing all the suffering that the capitalist system was causing; “the weary farmer,” the idle seaman, the miner scrubbing coal dust from off his back, “heard the children cryin” as they froze in their shacks, and the suffering of workers everywhere.

Why does the song suggest there is so much suffering all across America? The answer is so simple:

The banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the miner sweated for

The song, written by Les Rice in 1948, said the antidote to this situation was workers getting together and making a stand. He predicted that the result would be a good one:

Then we’d own those banks of marble
With a guard at every door
And we’d share those vaults of silver
That we have sweated for

I was also thinking about an old Robin Hood song written by Woody Guthrie in the 1930s about an Oklahoma legend, Pretty Boy Floyd. According to Woody’s rendition, Pretty Boy Floyd got into a fight with a deputy sheriff and killed him. Floyd was forced to flee and allegedly took up a life of crime. At least authorities and journalists blamed Floyd for every robbery or killing that occurred in the state of Oklahoma. “Every crime in Oklahoma was added to his name.”

But in true Robin Hood fashion, Pretty Boy Floyd stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Floyd, the outlaw, paid the mortgage for a starving farmer. Another time when Floyd begged for and received a meal in a rural household, he placed a thousand dollar bill under his napkin when he finished dinner. One Christmas Day Floyd left a carload of groceries for starving families on relief in Oklahoma City.

And in these days of massive unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, criminal wealth, and staggering poverty, through the voice of Pretty Boy Floyd, Woody Guthrie tells the wrenching story of capitalism that today is not too much different from during his time:

Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered
I’ve seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won’t never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.

Originally from Diary of a Heartland Radical

Saturday, December 9, 2017

WE ARE IN TROUBLED TIMES: THE BATTLE OF IDEAS


Harry Targ

Theorists of society appropriately emphasize the relationships between profound economic changes, political institutions, culture, and prevailing ideas about the world. Aside from the episodic rise of a few socialist economies and institutions, in which the peoples’ interests are more likely to represent majorities than capitalism, the latter has been the primary economic form since the end of feudalism in the fifteenth century.

Capitalism is an economic system fueled by work, both paid and unpaid, the value of which goes largely to owners and managers of capital. Capitalists, the private owners of capital—tools, farms, factories, banks, and fields—accumulate most of the wealth derived from work and have dominant control of most societal institutions. Ownership and control of capital always has been in private hands but increasingly that control is shifting into the hands of fewer and fewer wealthy and powerful individuals through their multinational corporations and banks. Data suggests that both wealth and political influence in capitalist societies, and in the global economy, are unequally distributed, and the inequality is increasing.

The economic changes in society and the narrowing of political possibility are causing growing resistance. Central to struggles for social and economic justice and democracy are renewed examinations of ideas and conventional historical narratives that justify the economic and political system as it is in the United States as well as the global capitalist system. The ruling class knows this and there is an intense effort by the wealthy and powerful to control dominant narratives about our world: in the media, educational and religious institutions, and in everyday discourse. For us to move beyond poverty, racism, sexism, and war, progressive forces need to mobilize around this “battle of ideas.” 

However, one critical difference between movements for positive change before this century and now is that technologies make it possible for powerful forces to have qualitatively greater control of what the vast majority of people think and what they think about. Therefore, the forces of resistance have to develop more sophisticated ways to mobilization around ideas, consciousness, and understanding. 

A variety of institutional, policy, and ideological changes occurring in 2017 suggest ways in which progressive forces are “losing the battle of ideas.”  For example:

-The iconic news magazine Time (and other popular publications owned by the same publisher including People, Fortune, Entertainment Weekly, Southern Living) has been sold to Meredith
Corporation, a media and marketing conglomerate, with some financing coming from the Koch brothers.

-Conservative media corporation Sinclair Broadcast Group owns 173 TV stations in 83 cities.

-Rupert Murdoch, owns,  Fox News, The New York Post, the Wall Street Journal, and more.

-iHeart Radio (formerly Clear Channel) owns 850 radio stations across the United States. 

-Local newspapers are being bought by media conglomerates such as Gannett/USA Today, leading to the firing of local reporters and the elimination of community news. The numbers of newspaper published in big cities has declined by 75 percent since the 1960s.

-Media conglomerates now purchase multiple media outlets in local markets: newspapers and radio and TV stations.

-Even National Public Radio, initiated as an independent journalistic voice, and PBS on the television side, now receive funding from David Koch and feature rightwing commentators as regular experts.

-The Federal Communications Commission is now ready to end net neutrality, thus giving greater power to smaller numbers of economic giants in the communications field. The largest media corporations, with profit and power as their prime motivation, will gain advantage in access to the internet. That advantage in conjunction with censoring internet content could destroy a potentially more democratic instrumentality for receiving and consuming ideas.

-Much of the mainstream media spends 24/7 ridiculing President Trump and his advisers while federal regulations are eliminated and decisions are made with little visibility about the environment. Little attention is given to decisions to dramatically increasing military spending or sending troops, dropping bombs, flying drones, and funding covert operations in the Middle East and Latin America. State and local governments load up on weapons to police populations, shift public resources to charter schools, privatize most public institutions, engage in efforts to destroy Planned Parenthood, and create tax disincentives for those who use solar energy.

-Visible authorities, such as university presidents, small numbers of academic experts, religious leaders, generals, and CEOs of multinational corporations wax eloquent about the magic of the marketplace, the virtues of American political institutions, and the superiority of American culture, while defending “truths” about the inevitability of war, the need for more policing, and the stifling effects of government regulations.

-Meanwhile, popular culture celebrates violence, sexism, and racism at the same time as it promotes mass consumption.

A progressive agenda requires a fundamental challenge to ideological hegemony. These might include the following:

       1.Rigorously defining what that hegemony is. What kinds of information, media frames, and ideologies are being distributed through the dominant news outlets? What are the priorities given to information: through stories, story placement in the papers, photos used, column inches of stories with different emphases AND what items never find their way into news print?
       2.Asking who pays for the newspapers and radio and television stations? Who are the local advertisers? Can they be influenced to withdraw their vital financial support from media outlets that do not represent what citizens need and want to know? Can they be prevailed upon to support alternatives?
      3.Investigating who are the subscribers to newspapers? Who watches television? Who uses the social media? Are there alternative sources of information and analysis that can be used, expanded, and created to address the material interests of majorities of people.
      4. Identifying alternative media that appeal to, draw upon, and fulfill the needs of the vast majority of people living in our communities: workers, women, minorities, and youth?
     5.     Incorporating media in discussions of strategies for change: should we be thinking about alternative newspapers, radio stations, websites, and/or other venues for public communication of our ideas in our communities? Should we invite these potential consumers of progressive media to work for it, write its stories, and pay for its production? And is organizing around a progressive media project at the local level a worthwhile project?
     6.And finally, asking if we can struggle to develop counter-hegemonic projects in a community and collective way so that raising our consciousness occurs at the same time as the consciousness of others is raised. Should we be encouraging the development of study groups, alternative educational institutions, progressive websites, public lecture series, and force public debate about capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, climate change, and the threats of war and police violence?
As Karl Marx wrote in The German Ideology (1845): “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.” Society is more complicated today. Resistance to dominant institutions has expanded. The traditional voicelessness of the subaltern classes has been transformed. And new technologies make it possible to expand the breadth and depth of public discourse. Challenging ideological hegemony is more necessary than ever and at the same time more possible today.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

THE MATERIAL REASONS FOR THE CURRENT INTEREST IN SOCIALISM: A REPOST

Harry Targ

Introduction
The twenty-first century economic reality has created a new class society with a dominant class of concentrated wealth at one extreme and a growing class of economically insecure in the other.  More and more of those in the latter have become political activists, particularly among the young. This new class society in the United States parallels similar economic changes in both rich and poor countries. As a result of the changes in global and domestic economies social movements have arisen everywhere. From Cairo, Egypt to Madison, Wisconsin, from Greece to Chile, from Syriza and Podemos to the Sanders campaign, the cry for change, often a demand for socialism, is spreading. The outcome of this new activism is unclear but for the first time in a long time, the prospects for positive social and political change look promising.
The New Class Society

In 1999, Robert Perrucci and Earl Wysong published the first of four editions of a perceptive sociological analysis that identified what the authors identified as “the new class society.” They employed a Marxist and Weberian analysis of class that combined workers’ relationships to the means of production with their organizational position.

Using data reflecting their synthetic definition of class, these authors concluded that the popular portrait of a U.S. class system consisting of a small ruling class, a large “middle class,” and a small percentage of economically and politically marginalized people was, by the 1970s, no longer an accurate way to describe society. The class system of the days of relative prosperity from the 1940s until the late 1960s, which looked like a diamond with a broad middle, had become a class system looking like a “double diamond.”

In the new class society, the first diamond, the top one, consists of the “privileged class” composed of a “super-class,” “credentialed class managers,” and “professionals.” All together these representatives of privilege constitute about 20 percent of the population. All the others constitute a “new working class,” some living in relative comfort but most engaged in wage labor with the constant threat of job loss and wage stagnation, some modestly self-employed, and a large part-time labor force. This is the second diamond representing 80 percent of the population.
In short, the political economy that emerged nearly fifty years ago is one in which a shrinking ruling class that owns or controls capital has accumulated enormous wealth and dominates today’s economy. At the other end an increasingly insecure working class in terms of jobs and income has grown exponentially.

Peter Temin, an MIT economist, confirms the earlier sociological work in his new book “The Vanishing Middle Class.” This book also identifies an emerging two-class society with wealth and power concentrated at the top and poverty and powerlessness at the bottom. In what Temin calls the “dual economy,” the ruling class consists of the finance, technology, and electronics sectors (FTE), representing the top twenty percent as opposed to “the low wage sector;” clerks, assemblers, laborers, and service workers who provide the comforts and profits for the top twenty percent.
In summary, both volumes suggest that in terms of wealth and power conflicts of interest have to be seen not between the one percent and everyone else but between the twenty percent who own/control/ or administer the capitalist system and the eighty percent who constitute increasingly marginalized labor serving the interests of the wealthy and powerful.

The Precariat
Guy Standing, a British economist, has written about the “precariat,” a growing portion of the worldwide work force, Temin’s “ low wage sector,” who live in economic insecurity. The term, precariat, refers to a synthesis of the idea of the proletariat, workers who sell their ability to provide labor to a capitalist for a wage, and precarity, or economic existence that is unpredictable, marginal, and insecure. Job scarcity and wage stagnation increasingly is experienced by workers with professional skills and credentials as well as the traditional working class.

Standing argues that all across the globe workers, particularly young workers, live in situations of economic insecurity and unpredictability, irrespective of credentials, that in the past guaranteed jobs and living wages. Of course, the precariat do not have any of the guarantees of union membership and their skills leave them often working on a part-time contract basis and in isolation from fellow workers. In addition the precariat include workers in the “informal sector.” These are workers who often will do anything to survive from day to day: for example, day labor, street vending, drug dealing, petty crime, or prostitution.
Accumulation by Dispossession

David Harvey, a Marxist geographer, revisited Marx’s description of primitive accumulation in his book, “The Seventeen Contradictions of Capitalism.”  Capitalism was created on the backs of slaves, the slaughter of indigenous people, and the expropriation of already occupied land. In other words, through kidnapping, forced labor, slaughter, and occupation, capitalism was born. The expropriation of resources, people, and land led to the accumulation of wealth that spurred development and growth.
Harvey then argues that the primitive accumulation of the fifteenth century is similar in outcome to the “accumulation by dispossession,” of the twenty-first century. Today workers lose their property and their personal income in a debt system that sucks their scarce earnings and property. Examples include defaults on mortgage loans and bank repossessions and governmental decisions to confiscate property for purposes of urban redevelopment. Accumulation by dispossession, while not as violent as in the era of primitive accumulation, has the same outcome: expropriating the value of the work of the many for the riches of the few.

Growing Economic Inequality and Urban Decay and Gentrification
Virtually every study of the distribution of wealth and income in the United States demonstrates a dramatic increase in inequality. Also studies sponsored by international organizations report that despite declines in worldwide absolute poverty, the trajectory of growing inequality in wealth and income is a central feature of the global economy. In addition, declining inequality between countries, such as that between China and the countries of the European Union, have occurred while inequalities within these countries have widened. In the United States income and wealth inequality which declined from the 1930s until the 1960s has returned to levels not seen since the 1920s.

The patterns of inequality are visible in geographic spaces as well. As more and more people are forced to migrate to cities, what Mike Davis calls “global slums,”  demarcations of areas of opulence and poverty become visible. Members of the top twenty percent are consumers of expensive living spaces, elite schools, and vibrant recreational facilities. They also lobby for public funds to create recreational attractions that entice tourists to bolster local economies. Gentrified city spaces are protected by fences and police.
On the other hand, the bottom eighty percent live in varying degrees of poverty. Housing stocks crumble, neighborhoods are overcrowded, public services are increasingly underfunded, and populations are left to lead lives of quiet desperation and intra-community violence. In the new class society different sectors of the population live in isolation from each other, except when political conflict and violence spread across communities.

Also in the new class society youth become pessimistic about their futures. Despite the fact that media and academic studies claim that upward mobility is tied to scholastic achievement, the schools they attend are underfunded. And the cost of higher education, the main source of credentialing the young, has become prohibitively expensive. For those who accumulate massive student debt the experience feels like a modern-day variant of indentured servitude. Jobs for those who do not attend college are scarce and reside primarily in the low-wage service sector. And so-called STEM jobs (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are not as plentiful as college promotional brochures suggest. Along with the precarity of the traditional working class is a rising precarity of a new working class of highly educated but unemployable young people.
Racism

Manning Marable published a perceptive essay in 2006 entitled “Globalization and Racialization.” In it he adapted, based upon the twenty-first century global political economy, the prophetic statement by W. E. B. Du Bois that the problem of the twentieth century was the color line. Marable suggested that the new global political economy was based upon capital flight, as well-paid manufacturing jobs left the United States for sweatshops in the Global South. Unemployment  increased in the United States. Downward pressures on wages and benefits paid workers in poor countries reduced the economic conditions of US workers. The decline of organized labor in the United States and the Global South weakened the bargaining position of workers everywhere.
Marable suggested that the people most vulnerable to the massive changes in the global economy were the already marginalized people of color. Unemployment rates in poor and Black communities skyrocketed, particularly among youth. The new gentrification and shift in politics from welfare state capitalism to austerity led to declining public services in poor communities. This has had particularly devastating impacts on educational institutions.

With declining economic opportunities, a growing sense of hopelessness, draconian government policies such as the wars on drugs and crime, literally millions of African Americans, and other people of color, have become victims of mass incarceration, what Michelle Alexander calls “The New Jim Crow.” Finally, many states have laws that prevent former felons from voting. The Marable framework, which he refers to as “global apartheid” and “the New Racial Domain,” thus links globalization of production to racism; particularly growing unemployment and urban decay, criminalization, mass incarceration, and voter disenfranchisement.
Neoliberalism: the Latest Stage of Capitalism

The so-called “golden age of the US economy,” 1945 to 1968, may have been an anomaly in American history. The United States emerged from World War Two as the economic and military hegemonic power. The war led to a fourfold increase in United States trade compared with the late 1930s. In 1945 it produced about 2/3 of all the industrial goods manufactured in the world and US investments constituted about ¾ of all the world’s investments. With fears of stagnation accompanying the war’s end, the Truman Administration launched a massive program of military investment to forestall declining demand for US goods and services.
In terms of international relations, the United States played an instrumental role in establishing powerful international economic institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. It helped rebuild an anti-communist Europe through a massive financial aid system. It later established foreign assistance programs for newly “independent” countries requiring their commitment to the maintenance of a global capitalist system.

At home a United States economy was created that stimulated high mass consumption. People were socialized to believe that their self-worth was determined by the quantity and quality of goods and services they consumed. The new communication medium, television, educated viewers as to the products that were available (as well as the enemies overseas who were the threat to the domestic consumer society).
However, by the late 1960s, markets were glutted and demand for goods lessened even though wages and benefits for some workers increased. Federal and state governments had been increasing services such as education, health care, and transportation. Both profit rates and consumer demand declined. Growing political protest against the Vietnam war and racism across the country added to emerging economic stagnation.

By the 1970s, the squeeze on profits and reduced demand, was exacerbated by Middle East wars and large increases in the price of oil, which made some corporations and banks richer while economic stagnation, including both high inflation and unemployment, ensued. At this point, the United States economy began a shift to what David Harvey calls “financialization.” A small number of banks and corporations, mostly US but also European and Japanese, began to shift from encouraging manufacturing growth to financial speculation. A “new” debt system was encouraged, one in which oil-poor countries borrowed more and more money from bankers to pay for continued oil imports. In exchange debtor nations would promise to carry out new economic policies at home: cut government spending, privatize public institutions, deregulate domestic economies, and shift economic activities from production for domestic use to production for sale in the world market.
Thus, the new era of “neoliberal globalization” was initiated. The new system was driven by financial speculators, declining autonomy of nation-states, and the downsizing of wages and benefits everywhere. At the same time rates of profit for speculators increased and smaller numbers of banks and other financial institutions increasingly dominated the global economy. This system was initiated in the Global South, spread to Western Europe and after the fall of the Soviet Union and its allies to Eastern Europe. In the 1980s neoliberalism was embraced by Prime Minister Thatcher in Great Britain and President Ronald Reagan in the United States. The best way to characterize policy in the age of neoliberal globalization is “austerity,” reducing the economic opportunities of the many for the benefit of the few.

Neoliberal globalization is the systemic source of the new class society (or the dual economy), the rise of the precariat, accumulation by dispossession, growing inequality and urban gentrification, and the expansion of racism.
A Revitalized Interest in Socialism in the Twenty-First Century  

As history has shown, the accumulation of wealth and power by ruling elites, or dominant classes, never goes unchecked. The drive for domination breeds resistance. And resistance takes many forms: traditional revolutionary practices, building alternative economic and political institutions, non-violent refusal to obey the institutions that support economic misery and political repression, and where practical, participation in electoral processes. Social change is many-sided and several strategies together are most likely to bring positive results.
History shows also that struggles for change are broadly political, require organization, mass mobilization, and education. Change requires analyses of the causes of the problems needing solution and a vision of what a better future might look like. And there is an inextricable connection between the causes of the problems, the tactics needed to change the situation, and a vision of a better society.

The analyses above highlight the changing character of the global political economy, emerging class structures, and the growing vulnerabilities of literally millions of people: young and old: Black, Brown, and White; female and male; gay and straight; and at all levels of education and training. At the root of the problem is the capitalist system, a system whose reason for being is the maximization of profit. People today are talking about a new society, a socialist society. Socialism implies a political economy in which people contribute their talents, their labors, for the public good and share equitably in the product of their labor. And socialism presumes democratic participation in work places, the political system, and the community.  
References

Robert A. Perrucci and Earl Wysong. The New Class Society, Rowman and Littlefield, 1999 (the first of four editions).
Peter Temin, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, MIT Press, 2017.

Victor Tan Chen, “The Dual Economy,” Working Class Perspectives, https://workingclassstudies.wordpress.com/2017/07/24/the-dual-economy/

Guy Standing, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, Bloomsbury Academic, 2014.
David Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism,  Oxford University Press, 2015.

Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, Verso, 2017.
Harry Targ, Challenging Late Capitalism, Neoliberal Globalization and Militarism, Lulu.com, 2006.

Manning Marable, “Globalization and Racialization,” ZNET, zcom.org, March 2, 2009.

Various articles on political economy, social movements, peace and justice in Harry Targ, Diary of a Heartland Radical, www.heartlandradical.blogspot.com

Friday, December 1, 2017

TWO STATUS QUOS AND A LEFT YEARNING TO GROW: The Political Time of Day: A Repost

Harry Targ

May, 2017

The rift within the Democratic Party was on full display at the California Democratic Party Convention on May 19 in Sacramento, California. Progressives joined members of National Nurses United, protesting the Democratic Party establishment’s refusal to support (a) single payer health care system. Rather than follow through with Democratic rhetoric that health care is a human right, establishment Democrats have responded to voters by scolding and attacking them. (Michael Sainato, “Tom Perez Bombs Speech, California Dem Chair Tells Protesters ‘Shut the F* Up’” Observer, May 20, 2017).
The new Trump administration is embroiled in a series of crises, with new ones emerging on almost a daily basis. The president is bombastic, ill-informed, and narcissistic. In response to his critics he engages in dangerous and unconventional efforts to transform the dominant narrative about his incompetence. He has authorized ruthless bombings in Syria and Afghanistan and threatened war against enemies such as North Korea. More recently, in his diplomatic trip to the Middle East and Europe, he has reached a deal to sell $110 billion in weaponry to a Saudi Arabian regime which supports terrorism throughout the Middle East and a devastating bombing campaign against Yemen. And at home he has appointed cabinet members and advisors with long histories of white supremacy and anti-Semitism (almost in defiance of accepted minimal qualifications for public office).


Trump’s core constituency all along has been sectors of finance capital, insurance, real estate, the military/industrial complex, and drug companies whose profits have come from domestic investments or sales and speculation overseas. It also includes portions of small and medium sized businesses whose viabilities have been threatened, not by big government, but by the further monopolization of the economy.
In addition, some workers displaced by the underside of neoliberalism, including capital flight, automation, and trade, have supported Trump because they saw no positive economic future in a Clinton presidency. Finally, the Trump constituency includes a percentage of voters who are ideological legatees of white supremacy.  

Therefore, the Trump coalition consists of fractions of capital who will gain from a more muscular and economically nationalist policy agenda, marginalized portions of the so-called “middle class,” sectors of the working class, and portions of all of these whose political learning has centered on the history and consciousness of white supremacy (“make America great again”).

Trump’s major adversaries come from a core sector of the ruling class that has dominated the policy process at least since the 1980s, the neoliberal globalists. In response to the squeeze on profits of the 1970s, the capitalist elites began to promote a dramatic shift in the character of the economy in the direction of “neoliberalism.” Drawing upon an economic ideology with a long history from Adam Smith, to Milton Friedman, to mainstream neoclassical economists of the late twentieth century, every administration from Carter to Trump has engaged in deregulation of economic life, reducing government programs that help the poor and working classes, reducing the rights of unions, and privatizing virtually all public institutions. They “went global,” that is developing a network of economic ties via trade agreements, the globalization of production, and integrating corporate boards. Capitalist elites from every continent began to develop common approaches to national policy via such informal organizations as the Trilateral Commission, meetings of the G7 countries, and the annual World Economic forum.



Debt poor countries were the first to be forced to embrace neoliberal policies, followed by the former Socialist Bloc countries, then the Western European social democracies, and finally the United States. A significant portion of this qualitative change in the way capitalism works has involved increased financial speculation (as a proportion of the total gross domestic product), dramatic increases in global inequality in wealth and income, and increasing economic marginalization of workers, particularly women, people of color and immigrants.
Candidate Donald Trump orchestrated a campaign against the neoliberal globalists who dominated the political process in the United States since the 1980s. While he epitomized finance capital, albeit domestic as well as foreign, and represents the less than one percent who rule the world, he presented himself as a spokesperson of the economically marginalized. He attacked the capitalist class of which he is a member. In addition, he blamed the marginalization of the vast majority on some of their own; people of color, women, and immigrants.
Resistance May, 2017
Since the November, 2016 election masses of people have been mobilizing in a variety of ways against the threatened agenda of the newly elected president. The women’s marches and rallies of January 21, 2017 and International Women’s Day on March 8 were historic in size and global reach. There have been huge mobilizations to reduce the use of fossil fuels and prevent climate disaster, to support immigrant rights, and to provide basic health care. Many of these manifestations of outrage and fear have occurred as planned events but also there have been numerous spontaneous acts at Congressional town hall meetings and even in airports challenging Trump directives to refuse people entry into the United States.

A multiplicity of groups have formed or increased in size since January: former Bernie Sanders supporters; anti-racists campaigns; those calling for sanctuary cities and defending the human rights of immigrants; progressive Democratic organizations; and women’s mobilizations. Traditional left organizations, such as the Democratic Socialists of America, benefiting from the Sanders campaign, tripled in size. And organizations such as The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood have reported large increases in financial contributions. The mobilization of millions of people has bolstered the spirits of progressives everywhere. They feel that at this point in history a new progressivism is about to be born. But the story is made complicated by the nature of the opposition to Trumpism.
Oppositions to Trumpism: Neoliberal and Progressive

Paradoxically, while this is a teachable moment as well as a movement building moment, progressive forces are struggling to be organized. In and around the Democratic Party there is a conflict over the vision and the politics it ought to embrace at this time and in the coming period. The Sanders supporters, inside and outside the Democratic Party, have marshalled much support for a progressive agenda: single-payer health care, a green jobs agenda, protecting the environment, tax reform, building not destroying immigrant rights, defending women’s rights, and cutting military spending. With the brutal policies advocated and already instituted by the new Trump administration, progressive democrats and their allies on the left are struggling mightily to articulate a program, and create some organizational unity to challenge Trumpism.



However, on almost a daily basis stories have appeared in the mainstream media about Trump’s incompetence and irrational and ill-informed statements. Most importantly, allegations of the connection between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian spying, have dominated the news. As a result, the neoliberal globalist Democrats, activists in the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton and leaders of the Democratic Party, have consciously embraced the Trump/Russia connection as the real reason why their candidate lost the election. By implication, they deny that there was anything perceived negatively about mainstream Democratic Party policies on trade, health care, mass incarceration, bank regulation, jobs and wages, and other neoliberal approaches to policy in the years when Democrats were in the White House. Clearly, Hillary Clinton was identified with this neoliberal agenda. But understanding the election outcome through the lens of Russiagate is a recipe for disaster.
The dilemma for progressives is that opposition to Trumpism and all it stands for has been and must be a key component of reigniting a progressive majority. But if it does not address the fundamental failures of the neoliberal agenda, including challenging neoliberal globalization, the current stage of capitalism, Trump’s grassroots support will continue. Working people who ordinarily would vote for more liberal candidates for public office need to believe that future candidates are prepared to address the issues, often economic, that concern them.

Therefore, the fundamental project for progressives today includes mobilizing against Trumpism while articulating an alternative political and economic analysis of the current state of capitalist development. In concrete terms, this approach means challenging the legitimacy of the Trump administration and its allies in Congress while articulating the perspective that mainstream Democrats, the neoliberal globalists, are part of the problem, not the solution.



This alternative analysis requires a bold challenge inside the electoral arena and in the streets that calls for radical reforms: single-payer health care; cutting the military-budget; creating government programs to put people to work on living wage jobs in infrastructure, social services, and public education; addressing climate change: and fiscal and regulatory policies that reduce the grotesque inequality of wealth and income which has increased since the 1980s.
The tasks are challenging but another world is possible.