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, 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

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 priorities.org) 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. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/04/america-minority-rule-voter-suppression-gerrymandering-supreme-court?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Gmail&fbclid=IwAR08SY-j-fMeDupUbRTXejNrYE3OBXDhPhYIANYXksdSSm_S8fuDT1Wyn54
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.” ( https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/11/trump-and-harsh-truth-exposed-midterms/575128/?fbclid=IwAR0dR4yD0G2voqad6FxIUCLXP2D51QNeaKBeeNpfVQSWOUKj8L3xBg9NDYU).

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.