Friday, December 28, 2018


Harry Targ
I participated in the 2012 “Seminar on Socialist Renewal and the Capitalist Crisis” co-sponsored by the Radical Philosophy Association and the Institute of Philosophy, University of Havana. More than forty US/Canadian/ Latin American scholars met in conference with at least 75 Cuban scholars in a five day conference to discuss the political and economic changes occurring in Cuba and the United States.
I purposely entitle this essay “revisiting the Cuban Revolution” because I came away from this exciting conference convinced that the revolution continues.  I say this because I saw no reason to revise what I wrote in 1992 about the Cuban Revolution (Cuba and the USA: A New World Order? International Publishers, 6):
“….the Cuban revolution (even until this day) has constituted a living experiment that most progressive forces around the world identify with. Even though each society has its own history, class structure, level of development, and revolutionary potential, Cuba’s desire to create a government to serve its people and at the same time to transform them from a traditional consciousness to a revolutionary consciousness is shared by progressives everywhere. For progressives, Cuba is a laboratory, a grand social experiment that will provide knowledge for others as they seek fundamental change in their own societies…..Cuba’s successes in the years ahead are successes of all progressive forces and, similarly Cuba’s defeats are defeats for all who wish to create egalitarian  and humane societies”.
The idea of “revolution” refers to a fundamental transformation of economic and political structures and peoples’ consciousness of their place in society and the values that should determine human behavior. Also, revolution is not a fixed “thing” but a process. That means that changes in structures, patterns of behavior, and consciousness are changing over time and in the case of revolution are moving toward, rather than away from, more complete human fulfillment.
What has been most fascinating to observe about the Cuban Revolution is its constantly changing character. Cubans have debated and made decisions about gradual versus fundamental changes, the need to experiment with different ways to allocate scarce national resources and, most critical, how to respond to external economic, political, and military assaults.  Cuban society has been an experimental laboratory, changing public policies as contexts demand. If one set of policies became problematic, the Cubans moved in different directions. Usually change came after heated debate at all levels of society.
For example, after the 26th of July Movement seized power, the revolutionary regime launched programs to reduce rents for urban dwellers, established a nationwide literacy campaign, and after a cool U.S. response to the new government, put in place a large agrarian reform program. As United States hostility escalated Cuba established diplomatic and economic relations with the former Soviet Union. From that point US/Cuban hostilities became permanent.
In the mid-1960s, Cuba engaged in a great debate, to some degree unresolved, between those who wanted to move the Revolution along the path to “moral incentives,” that is creating a society in which people act because of their commitment to communist ideals, versus those who argued that in the short run “material incentives,” wages and benefits, needed to serve as the source of human motivation.
Later, the Cuban government embarked on a campaign to produce more sugar than ever before to earn scarce foreign exchange in order to advance the domestic economy. The 10 million ton sugar campaign failed with negative consequences for the sectors of Cuban society that were ignored. Then Cuba embraced the Soviet model of development, including joining the Eastern European Common Market.
By the 1980s, while the economy grew, Cubans saw a decline in the commitment to the Revolution. This recognition led to a campaign of “Rectification,” to re-instill in society and consciousness, the spirit of the Revolution. When the Socialist Bloc collapsed between 1989 and 1991, once again the Cuban Revolution had to adapt. “The Special Period” was instituted in the face of a decline in the economy of at least 40 percent. The Revolution survived, contrary to the predictions of outside experts.
In the 21st century, despite devastating hurricanes, a global economic crisis, and an escalating United States economic blockade, the Revolution continued.
Now, the Cubans are embarking on a new set of policies that are designed to overcome economic stagnation, inadequate agricultural productivity, bureaucracy and corruption in government, and insufficient grassroots participation in decision-making, particularly at the work place. After extensive debate in the society at large, from the leadership of the Communist Party to virtually every workplace, neighborhood and village, the Cubans have decided on new structures and policies.
The new policy guidelines include the expansion of a market in the production of goods and services. This expansion will include a dramatic shift of employment from the state sector to self-employment. Emphasis will be placed on developing cooperatives in manufacturing and services as well as in agriculture. In the agricultural sector efforts are being initiated to encourage a dramatic increase in those who can return to the land, increasing domestic food production while reducing the need to import food from abroad. New forms of grassroots participation in addition to revitalizing the mass organizations will occur. And the ration system of food distribution will be replaced by the establishment of a safety net for those still in need of food.  And where possible, enterprise autonomy, such as in the renovation of Old Havana, will be encouraged and supported.
The new guidelines, over 300 in all, are designed to renovate economic and political institutions, stimulate local entrepreneurial enterprise, increase political participation, and overcome the continuing economic crisis that a small country such as Cuba finds itself in as a result of natural and political disasters as well as a continued effort by the “Colossus of the North” to overthrow the regime.
Debate within Cuban society (and among our North American delegation) about these new guidelines has been animated.  Perhaps most basic is the concern about whether the economic reforms will undermine the Socialist character of Cuban society after over 60 years of struggle. Some worry that the introduction of markets may undermine the spirit of compassion and revolutionary consciousness that was inspired by the heroic Che Guevara and the band of scruffy revolutionaries who overthrew a neo-colonial regime in 1959.
Still others debate about whether cooperatives constitute a productive and yet inspirational step in the long history of building Socialism and Communism. And what about youth, people ask. Is the revolution ancient history for young people, a youthful population that has had access to a rich educational experience and live a healthful life. Will they have the same fervor for the Revolution that their elders and foreign friends have had? And, in fairness to the young, how can the Revolution be preserved while serving the lives of people whose historical experiences are different from their elders?
There are no easy answers to these questions; no guarantees of success; no convincing narratives of a linear development from a contradictory present to a utopian future. But, as I clearly saw in 1990 when I started attending meetings of U.S. and Cuban scholars, there is reason for hope. The Cuban Revolution has survived, given so much to the world, and continued to intrigue progressives everywhere. I returned from my encounter to Cuba in June, 2012, with renewed optimism.
(also published in The Rag Blog, July 5, 2012)


Sunday, December 2, 2018


Harry Targ

Humans react to the death of people they know or of famous people with sadness and feelings of sorrow for surviving loved ones. However, personal sadness should not be confused with historical amnesia. Reminiscing about recently deceased President George Herbert Walker Bush should not be an occasion for reinventing history because understanding history matters. If we do not understand the past, we will recreate its errors in the present and the future.
Reviewing George Herbert Walker Bush’s executive experience, it should be remembered that as Vice President, he supported President Reagan’s brutal war on the peoples of Central America, particularly in Nicaragua and El Salvador. The Contra war on the Nicaraguan government continued in the Bush years and when President Daniel Ortega ran for reelection in 1990 the United States funneled $12 million to the candidacy of his opponent, Violeta Chamorro. In addition, United States 1980s funding of the brutal Salvadoran government continued despite the fact that Salvadoran soldiers invaded the Central American University, killing six Jesuit priests and two aides in November,1989. The Jesuits were advocating a negotiated settlement of the ten-year civil war in that country.

Two months before the Nicaraguan election Bush ordered a 26,000 marine invasion of Panama to depose its president Manuel Noriega who had decided to end Panama’s collaboration with the US support of the Contras fighting in Nicaragua. Further, the invasion sent a message to Nicaraguans just two months before their election that if they chose to reelect Ortega, their country might suffer an invasion also.
Concerning the ending of the Cold War, President Bush decided to “reward” the former Soviet Union for shifting to markets and reducing its influence over Eastern European states as opposed to calls from hardliners in his administration to become more tough with the Soviets to force its collapse. However, the United States in the Bush years violated informal agreements with the Soviets, initiated in 1988 and 1989 for a mutual withdrawal from “trouble spots” such as Afghanistan, Angola, and Central America. What was called “low intensity conflict” in the Reagan years continued under Bush. In other words, while the Soviet Union was withdrawing its troops and support for its allies in zones of conflict, the United States did not.

The George Herbert Walker Bush presidency is most known for his initiation of the Gulf War (which would be continued by his son in the new century). After a decade-long war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, one in which the United States funded its ally Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the United States turned against Iraq when the latter sent its armies into neighboring Kuwait. Although the Iraqi invasion constituted aggression against the smaller (but wealthier) Kuwait, Hussein’s decision was based on numerous economic and geopolitical factors. These included signals that Iraq continued to get from the United States government that it would not respond if Iraq chose to invade Kuwait. The United States Ambassador to Iraq told Saddam Hussein in July,1990 that disputes with Kuwait were matters for the Middle East to resolve. Again, while Saddam Hussein’s reasons did not justify his military aggression, his moves were not what Bush later called “Hitler revisited.” Bush like every president since the 1930s would cull up the shopworn but functional “Munich Analogy” which declared that the United States could not allow aggression to stand as the European powers did in the 1930s. The world learned from its experience in 1938, the analogy goes, that dictators, like Hitler, should not be “appeased.”
The record is clear. President Bush decided within a few days after the Iraqi invasion on August 2, 1990 that he would launch a war, preferably a global coalition effort, against Iraq. Over the next several months he engaged in a sustained campaign to get the reluctant military on board (including allowing Secretary of Defense Dick Chaney to threaten organizing his own DOD-led invasion), to lie to the American people about why war was necessary, to convince many members of the United Nations, including the faltering Soviet Union to join a military coalition, and finally to convince Congress to authorize military action. On January 17, 1991, Operation Desert Storm was launched. The media salivated over the brutal high-tech assault on Baghdad, which was televised almost as a video game, and over the next month, Iraqi troops were forced out of Kuwait and much of Baghdad and Saddam Hussein’s strongholds were attacked. The Iraqi army surrendered on February 28, 1991. At a press conference announcing the end of the war, President Bush declared: “At last we have licked the Vietnam syndrome.” In other words, the American people would no longer be opposed to US militarism around the globe.

In the years to follow, Presidents Clinton and George Walker Bush would continue economic sanctions against Iraq, causing, according to a United Nations estimate, 500,000 deaths of Iraqi children under the age of five because of starvation. Clinton would engage in periodic bombing campaigns against Iraq in so-called “no-fly zones.” And finally, George Walker Bush and his key advisors, including his father’s Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, would employ a propaganda campaign such as the one used in 1990 to create support among the American people for renewed war on Iraq after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Both the Gulf War of the first Bush and the Iraq War of the second led to the turmoil, instability, and killings of masses of civilians that continue today.
So to paraphrase an old Mother Jones statement, we need to mourn for the dead and fight like hell for the living. In this case, we can mourn the death of a United States President but we should learn from reflecting on his policies that we need to build a more powerful peace movement to insure that the violence and war he endorsed never happens again.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018


Harry Targ

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.

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.  

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,

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,, 2006.

Manning Marable, “Globalization and Racialization,” ZNET,, March 2, 2009.
Various articles on political economy, social movements, peace and justice in Harry Targ, Diary of a Heartland Radical,

Sunday, November 25, 2018

THE LEGACY OF FIDEL CASTRO: (Excerpts From a 2015 Essay)

Harry Targ

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

This statement was published in the summer of 1960! Fifty-nine years later the same assessment of the Cuban revolution is still widely believed in the United States, even by those who support the ending of United States hostility to the island nation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since December, 2014 the United States and Cuba have been negotiating the announced normalization of relations and several steps have been taken by both countries including the reestablishment of formal diplomatic relations in 2016. However, since coming in office President Trump has begun to reverse the normalization of US/Cuban relations initiated in 2014, despite worldwide condemnation of US hostility to the island nation.

As we remember the historic contribution of Fidel Castro to the world, solidarity with Cuba must continue.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 11, 2018

REMEMBERING THE PERMANENT WAR ECONOMY: a repost from January 30, 2009 This Armistice Day:

Harry Targ

(Excerpts from a presentation at the Deerfield Progressive Forum, Deerfield Beach, Florida, January 17, 2009)

In the Beginning

After suffering the greatest economic depression in United States history, this country participated in a war-time coalition with Great Britain and the former Soviet Union to defeat fascism in Europe and Japanese imperialism in Asia. As a result of the economic mobilization for war, the United States economy grew to become the most powerful one by war’s end. By 1945, Americans were responsible for three-fourths of the world’s invested capital and controlled two-thirds of its industrial capacity. Near the end of World War II, General Electric CEO Charles Wilson recommended that the U.S. continue the wartime partnership between the government, the corporate sector, and the military to maintain what he called a “permanent war economy.” He and others feared the possibility of return to depression.

To justify a permanent war economy-ever increasing military expenditures, bases all around the world, periodic military interventions, and the maintenance of a large land army, navy, and air force-an external threat was needed. In 1947 President Truman told the American people that there was such a threat, “international communism.”

Many liberals and conservatives remained skeptical about high military expenditures. But, just before the Korean War started, permanent war economy advocates threw their support behind recommendations made in a long- time classified document, National Security Council Document 68, which recommended a dramatic increase in military spending. NSC-68 also recommended that military spending from that point on should be the number one priority of the national government. When presidents sit down to construct a federal budget they should first allocate all the money requested by military and corporate elites and lobbyists concerned with military spending. Only after that should government programs address education, health care, roads, transportation, housing and other critical domestic issues.

When the United States entered the Korean War, Truman committed the nation to a permanent war economy. Each subsequent president did likewise. According to Chalmers Johnson (Blowback, Sorrows of Empire), between 1947 and 1990, the permanent war economy cost the American people close to $9 trillion. Ruth Sivard (World Military Expenditures) presented data to indicate that over 100,000 U.S. military personnel died in wars and military interventions during this period. And, in other countries, nearly 10 million people died directly or indirectly in wars in which the United States was a participant.

Some influential Americans raised criticisms of the new permanent war economy. For example, while he subsequently complied with many of the demands for more military spending, President Eisenhower declared in one of his first speeches in office that “every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” After eight years in the White House Eisenhower gave a prescient farewell address in which he warned of a “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” which was new in American history. And, he proclaimed; “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” Incidentally, his original draft spoke of a “military-industrial-academic complex.”

Seven years later, in the midst of the Vietnam War, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed “Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken.”

The Permanent War Economy Today

So we find ourselves in the midst of two wars today-Iraq and Afghanistan-that are already more costly than any war except World War II, against an enemy magnified, demonized, and mythologized as much or more than the cold war enemy to justify a $3 trillion price tag, the deaths of more than 4,000 soldiers, ten times that number of disabled veterans, and casualties and deaths of Iraqis and Afghanis probably approaching a million people. 9/11 afforded the Bush Administration the opportunity to launch a “war on terrorism” and the justification of preemptive war on any human target defined as a possible threat to the United States.The “terrorists” became the post-Cold War “international communists.” This is what the permanent war economy has come to.

Did the vision of Charles Wilson and the framers and advocates of NSC 68 bear fruit in terms of the domestic economy? The answer to this question is complicated but in the end clear. The U.S. economy is subject to cycles of growth and decay; expansion and recession; and periods of increased consumerism and low unemployment versus periods of declining product demand, lower wages, and high unemployment.

Looking at the period since World War II, bursts of increased military spending brought the U.S. economy out of the recessions of the late 1940s and 50s. The 60s economy boomed as the Vietnam war escalated before the economic crises of the 1970s. The so-called Reagan recovery was driven by dramatic increases in military spending. 1980s military spending equaled the total value of such spending between the founding of the nation and 1980.

In addition, military spending has benefited those industries, communities, and universities which have been the beneficiaries of such largesse. In our own day, Halliburton, Bechtel, and Kellogg, Brown, and Root have done quite well. For example, when Dick Cheney left his post as Secretary of Defense in 1993 to become the CEO of Halliburton, its subsidiary, KBR jumped from the 73rd ranked Pentagon contractor to the 18th.

Military spending pumped money into the economy to the advantage of selected multinational corporations and some communities. Usually recipients of defense dollars were part of what C. Wright Mills called, “the power elite,” those powerful individuals who, at the apex of government, corporate, and military institutions, influence policy. On the other hand, most citizens have not been beneficiaries of military spending.

“Indirect effects” of military spending, overwhelm the short-term stimulative effects of such spending. Military spending is “capital intensive,” that is the investment of dollars in military goods and services require less labor power to produce than the investment of comparable dollars in other sectors of the economy. Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier refer to spending on Iraq as a “job killer.” They estimate that $1 billion spent on investments in education, healthcare, energy conservation, and infrastructure would create anywhere from 50 to 100 percent more jobs than comparable spending on the war. They say; “Taking the 2007Iraq war budget of $138 billion, this means that upward of one million jobs were lost because the Bush Administration chose the Iraq sinkhole over public investment”(The Nation, March 31, 2008).

Further, military spending requires government to borrow money from private sources. Consequently, the more borrowing for the military, the less funds are available for non-military economic activity. Non-military spending gets “crowded out” by investment in arms.

Paralleling this, expanding investments in military reduce the resources of society that can be allocated for the production of goods and services that have use values. Military spending constitutes waste in that the resources that go into armies, navies, air forces, and weapons of human destruction cannot be put to constructive use. Looking at government spending alone, the 2008 federal budget increased by $35 billion in military spending, bringing the total to $541 billion. At the same time federal aid to state and local governments fell by $19.2 billion. The war on Iraq has already cost $522.5 billion and it was projected by distinguished economists that the total cost for the war, including paying debts, veterans benefits, and replacing destroyed equipment, will top $3 trillion (Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz, Washington Post, March 9, 2008, p.B01).

As a new administration enters office in the context of a deepening depression, 2009 military spending for two wars, over 700 military installations, and contracting with private armies operating everywhere, will push towards a trillion dollars. This prospective allocation of scarce government resources has to be evaluated in the context of President-elect Barack Obama’s call for a massive green-jobs economic stimulus package and bailout programs for some 40 states suffering from their own budget deficits.

The Permanent War Economy in One State

Citizens of Florida so far have spent $36 billion on the Iraq war. And, the National Priorities Project (www. national estimated that for one year of Iraq war expenditures the state of Florida could have provided 12.7 million people with health care, 25 million homes with renewable electricity, 575,000 music and arts teachers, 11.2 million scholarships for university students, and 613,000 elementary school teachers.

Looking at Broward County, taxpayers have paid $3.9 billion for the war so far. Instead of expenditures for the Iraq war, this money could have provided for one year the following:

-1,385,189 people with health care or

-2,760,979 homes with renewable electricity or

-90,432 public safety officers or

-62,714 music and art teachers or

-1,224,540 university scholarships or

-28,953 affordable housing units or

-2,169,806 children with health care or

-535,663 head start places or

-66,937 elementary school teachers

Andrew Bacevich summed up this tradition of permanent war in reviewing a biography of 1940s Secretary of Defense James Forrestal in The Nation (April 23, 2007):

“From Forrestal's day to the present, semiwarriors have viewed democratic politics as problematic. Debate means delay. To engage in give-and-take or compromise is to forfeit clarity and suggests a lack of conviction. The effective management of national security requires specialized knowledge, a capacity for clear-eyed analysis and above all an unflinching willingness to make decisions, whatever the cost. With the advent of semiwar, therefore, national security policy became the preserve of experts, few in number, almost always unelected, habitually operating in secret, persuading themselves that to exclude the public from such matters was to serve the public interest. After all, the people had no demonstrable ‘need to know.’ In a time of perpetual crisis, the anointed role of the citizen was to be pliant, deferential and afraid.”

It is the task of peace and justice activists today to build a mass movement, mobilizing the citizenry to reject the role of “pliant, deferential,” and fearful citizens. The people must insist that President Obama (now President Trump) say “no” to the semiwarriors.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018


Harry Targ

After hours of watching election results on Tuesday night, I came away with a sense of puzzlement about the meaning of the outcome. As a democratic socialist activist, and a compulsive blogger I feel compelled to force the complexity of contemporary history into categories to facilitate understanding and perhaps to deduce “a plan of political work” for the coming period.
To begin, I report on the results of elections in my home state, Indiana, and local community, Tippecanoe County.

At the top of the ticket incumbent centrist Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly lost by a large margin to a conservative Republican, Mike Braun. (When I moved to Indiana in 1967 the two Senators Birch Bayh and Vance Hartke, both Democrats, had already declared their opposition to the escalating war in Vietnam. Then, also, Indiana was one of the ten states with the largest percentage of workers in unions). The rest of the state ticket on the ballot, Secretary of State, Treasurer, and Auditor went Republican as well. The Republican candidate for Congress in the 4th Congressional District, replacing conservative Todd Rokita, won as well.
However, Democrats won races for two State Representatives, two County Council members, a County Assessor, Township Advisory Board Trustee members, Township Trustee positions, and even County Sheriff. Many of these Democratic candidates are active in various progressive organizations in the county, such as Lafayette Indivisible and the Greater Lafayette Progressives. Some were organizers of or participants in the large Lafayette women’s rally in January, 2017 or the Resistance Fair, which was attended by 500 people from the county, in February, 2017. While local candidates and their supporters worked for the statewide Democratic ticket, they were visible and energetic workers for the Democrats running in the county.

Next, I reflect on election results around the country:
First, most states are really multiple geographic communities with their own forms of political organization, demographics, and culture. For example, Indiana is really three states—a northern section formerly industrialized and racially diverse; a central part of the state with pockets of liberalism in a sea of traditional conservativism; and a southern part of the state which has traditionally embraced a politics and culture close to the white South. In addition, in Indiana, as with many other states, there are university communities which may have political characteristics different from surrounding areas. Television analysts, as they reviewed voting patterns in statewide races, such as Florida and Texas, also identified clear geographic differences and factors that affect electoral outcomes. “Red” and “Blue” currently are signifiers for these deep differences in communities.

Second, given the special significance of state races in comparison to local contests candidates running for statewide office draw the largest amount of money, media coverage, and support from outside influentials. And despite the extraordinary diversity of communities within states, most attention, analysis, and summaries are about state politics not local politics.
Third, political activists allocate their resources, time and money, disproportionately to state-level races at the expense of their local work. And state parties are often insufficiently knowledgeable or experienced enough to help candidates running for office in local races. Some state Democratic parties are embroiled in internal conflicts which impair support for local candidates and grassroots campaigns.  

Fourth, at state and local levels, voter suppression is a growing constraint on the electoral process. This includes, gerrymandering, new voter identification laws, reducing the hours of voting, moving and/or eliminating voting stations, and, in the end, relying on machine tabulations that sometimes are reportedly erroneous. Some of the outcomes of races may in fact have been affected by the manipulation of just a few thousand votes.
Fifth, and to varying degrees, the political culture of white supremacy, remains an albatross around the neck of the body politic. As Peter Beinhart put it: “The harsh truth is this: Racism often works. Cross-racial coalitions for economic justice are the exception in American history. Mobilizing white people to protect their racial dominance is the norm. The lesson of 2018 is that American politics is not reverting to “normal.” In many ways, Trumpism is normal. It’s not Trump who is running uphill against American tradition, it’s the people who are trying bravely-- but with mixed success--to stop him.” (

Sixth, and what should not be forgotten, is that elections are controlled by the economic ruling class, directly or indirectly. Most candidates are wealthy. Huge bundles of money come from billionaires such as the Koch brothers. And, media frames are shaped by corporations and banks. All this so far is less the case at the local level.
The attention above has been on the state races but some differences can be noted in local races for candidates for Congressional seats, state legislative assemblies, and various county and city offices. Most of these races involve candidates who have roots in their communities (with the exception of some candidates from outrageously gerrymandered districts). Many candidates are not wealthy. Many of them go “door-to-door” to recruit voters. For the most part, candidates and their supporters are more issue-oriented. And these local activists, along with promoting candidates and issue platforms, are major advocates for voting. Finally, local candidates get resources from and are influenced by progressive, usually issue-oriented groups, in their communities. In the end, local and Congressional races are decidedly more grassroots races and as a result more reflective of democratic participation in the electoral process.

What does this mean for left/progressive activists. First, of course, elections matter, even the state and national ones. Second, key work needs to be done at the local level, with the expectation that local mobilizations will begin to transform the work done at state and national levels. Third, local work should continue to prioritize issues, not personalities, or ideologies: health care, living wages, jobs, education, transportation, the environment, and contrasting expenditures on these with military spending. 

While doing the organizing, working with those in single issue groups, advocating for issues salient to local communities, progressives can continue to introduce larger more systemic analyses of the economy, the polity, and the culture. People are more comfortable today discussing Wall Street, financiers, the military/industrial complex, the corporate polluters, and the traditions of white supremacy and nativism. Progressives can continue to make the connections between these as they do grassroots work. In addition to building progressive caucuses in the Democratic Party or establishing third parties where feasible, study groups can be encouraged as well as film series, lectures, and even working with allies to construct progressive educational programs at libraries, churches, and other public spaces.
The modest victories for progressive change in 2018 can be seen as a step in the direction of recapturing a progressive majority and a more humane society in the years ahead.

Monday, October 29, 2018

DEEP STRUCTURES, HATE, AND VIOLENCE: The Long Road to Societal Decay

Harry Targ

We are mourning again. Violent deaths continue: African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Gays and Lesbians, Women, Youth, Jews, and the list goes on. And the media pontificate about root causes: guns, a divided society, hate speech, the internet, and politicians. Analysts usually lock onto one explanation and deduce one or two cures. But there are other analysts, for example “realists’ and religious fundamentalists, who say there will always be violence. There are no solutions.
The reality that undergirds the killing of masses of people on a regular basis is not easily discovered. That is, there are “deep structures” that have created a brutal and violent world. And movements to transform these deep structures, although complicated, can have some substantial success.

First, and I write this at the risk of being dismissed as an ideologue, the contemporary state of the capitalist economic system must be examined in rigorous detail. What might be called “late capitalism” is an economic system of growing inequality of wealth and poverty, joblessness, declining access to basic needs-food, health care, housing, education, transportation. The increasing accumulation of wealth determines the ever-expanding appropriation of political power. In the era of late capitalism, economic concentration resides in a handful of banks, hedge funds, medical conglomerates, real estate developers, technology and insurance companies, and media monopolies.
Second, late capitalism continues to marginalize workers of all kinds. Agricultural and manufacturing work, the staple of two hundred years of economic development, is disappearing. Highly skilled electronic workers and others with twenty-first century skills are employed as needed by corporations, with little or no job security. Once secure workers who have lost their jobs live in communities with declining access to food, growing environmental devastation, and limited connection to information and the ability to communicate with others. And, of course, conditions are worse for workers of color, women, the young, and the old.  A new working class has emerged, the “precariat,” with skilled but insecure jobs; the service sector, workers in health care, home care, fast food and other low paid and overworked occupations; and workers in the “informal sector,” desperate people who take short-term jobs or are forced to sell drugs, peddle products on the street, engage in prostitution, or engage in other activities so they and their families can survive. In addition, the most marginalized are homeless and hungry. Late capitalism has increased the marginalization of majorities of working people, in core capitalist states and the Global South.

Third, the history of capitalist development has paralleled the development of white supremacy and patriarchy. If capital accumulation requires the expropriation of the wealth produced by workers, what better way to increase profits can be found than marginalizing sectors of the working population and setting them into competition and conflict with each other by creating categories of difference. Racism, sexism, homophobia, the demonization of immigrants, Anti-Semitism and Anti-Muslim hysteria all serve, in the end, profit and the accumulation of wealth and power.
Fourth, systems of concentrated wealth and power require the development of political institutions, institutions that enhance the control of the behavior of workers. From monarchies, to constitutional democracies, to institutionalized systems of law and custom, such as segregation, voter suppression in our own day, the behavior of the citizenry is routinized and controlled. In most political systems electoral processes create some possibilities for modest, but necessary, policy changes. However, as Nancy MacLean points out in Democracy in Chains, economic and political elites use their resources to restrict and limit the influence of democratic majorities.

Fifth, this economic and political edifice requires an ideology, a consciousness, a way in which the citizenry can be taught to accept the system as it is. This ideology has many branches but one root, the maintenance and enhancement of the capitalist economic system. The elements of the dominant political ideology include: privileging individualism over community; conceptualizing society as a brutal state of nature controlled only by countervailing force; acceptance of the idea that humans are at base greedy; and, finally, the belief that the avariciousness of human nature requires police force and laws at home and armies overseas.
Sixth, a prevalent component of the political ideology is the idea that violence is ubiquitous, violence is justified, and violence is to be applauded. The trope of living in a violent world pervades our education system, our toys, our television and movies, our sporting activities, and our political discourse. Violence is tragic (we pray for the victims) but it is presented in popular culture as liberating and justifiable. And to survive in this world of evil and strife, everyone needs to be armed.

These are the backdrops, the “deep structures,” that frame the contemporary context. And this context includes a politics of economic super-exploitation-destroying unions, fighting demands for economic justice, shifting wealth even more to the super-rich, and taking away basic rights and guarantees, such as healthcare, education, water, and even the air we breathe. And to justify the growing immiseration of everyone, the Trump Administration, most of the Republicans and some of the Democrats justify their policies by a racism, sexism, homophobia, and virulent rightwing nationalism not seen since the days of racial segregation in the South. And Anti-Semitism, long a staple of political ideology in Europe, reached its most virulent form in the United States in the 1930s, when Father Coughlin’s nationwide Anti-Semitic broadcasts found their way into many households. As late as the 1950s, property deeds included “restrictive covenants” forbidding the sale of homes in specific neighborhoods to Jews or people of color. Local political initiatives led to whole communities excluding African Americans from living there (“sundown towns”) and racial segregation exists today in virtually every United States city.
Given these deep structures is it any surprise that brutal violence flairs up against sectors of the population? Is it any surprise that targeted groups feel intimidated, threatened, and angry? Is it any surprise that volatile and life-threatening cycles of economic insecurity facing most people create fears leading some of them to follow false prophets? Is it any surprise that the economic and political institutions in which we were born and raised, justified by powerful ideologies about the “realities” of life develop in us a propensity to be taken in by arrogant, racist, classist, sexist, and ignorant politicians? In addition to national politics, people at the state level and in their local communities accept unquestioning leadership in economic, political, and cultural institutions that in subtler ways promote the agenda of the rich and white.

The problem is historical, structural, political and cultural. Identifying the “deep structures”- economic, political, ideological, and cultural-masses of people can begin to mobilize around change. Social movements may begin by addressing political ideology, or addressing public policy concerns, or participating in the electoral arena. Each is of vital importance. However, progressives need to recognize that the violence and poverty today, the racial hatred, the environmental crises are connected to the deep structures. They must work today on what is possible to change right away. In addition, progressives must organize, over the long run to radically restructure society, challenging the capitalist system and the political institutions that maintain it.