Saturday, March 16, 2019

CRISES IN THE PEACE MOVEMENT?THE NEED TO MAKE OUR VOICES HEARD MORE! (revised and edited from a June 25, 2016 essay)

The United States will revoke or deny visas to International Criminal Court personnel seeking to investigate alleged war crimes and other abuses committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan or elsewhere, and may do the same with those who seek action against Israel, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday (Matthew Lee, “US Bars Entry to International Investigators,” Associated Press, March 16, 2019).

Harry Targ
Historian, Michael Stanley, in an essay entitled “‘We are Not Denmark’: Hillary Clinton and Liberal American Exceptionalism,” (Common Dreams, February 26, 2016) points to the ideological glue that is used by foreign policy elites, liberal and conservative, to justify the pursuit of neoliberal globalization and militarism; that is the reintroduction of the old idea of American Exceptionalism, which in various forms has been used by elites since the foundation of the Republic. 

The modern version, borne in the context of continental and global expansion, serves to justify an imperial US role in the world. Along with posturing that the United States is somehow special and has much to offer the world, American Exceptionalism presumes the world has little to offer the United States. The only difference between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy is whether the exceptionalism still exists and must be maintained or has dissipated requiring the need to “make America great again.” Leaders of both parties, however, support the national security state, high military expenditures, and a global presence—military, economic, political, and cultural.
Techniques of Empire Today 

Although the imperial agenda, and the ideological precepts justifying it, has remained the same for two hundred years the techniques of empire have changed as growing resistance at home and abroad and new technologies dictate. Changes in warfare, other violence, and imperial expansion include the following:
-Wars are internal much more than international and casualties are overwhelmingly civilian rather than military.

-The global presence of some form of the United States military is ubiquitous-between 700-and 1,000 military bases, in anywhere from 40 to 120 countries

- US military operations have been privatized. A 2010 Washington Post report found 1,911 intelligence contracting firms doing top secret work for 1,271 government organizations at over 10,000 sites. Ninety percent of such work is being done by 110 contractors.

-More “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” have been used to kill alleged enemies over the last eight years as the entire prior period of US military operations. Drones have come home as their use by the Dallas police recently showed.
-US agencies, such as the CIA, have been engaged in the increased use of assassinations and efforts to undermine governments. One report indicated that there are 13,000 assassination commandoes operating around the world.

-So-called “humanitarian assistance” is used to support United States policies in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. For example, a New York Times story reported that at least 40 American groups received $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade.
Some generalizations we can draw from the new techniques of war are the following:

-Imperial rule has become global.
-The Military/industrial complex has expanded beyond President Eisenhower’s wildest nightmares. Large sectors of military operations—from cooking and cleaning to killing—have been privatized.

-Military operations continue and expand without “boots on the ground.” Empires can kill with impunity.
Recently, Nick Turse and colleagues reported on data indicating that the United States has been engaged in secret military training of personnel in many countries, what they called ‘a shadowy network of U.S. programs that every year provides instruction and assistance to approximately 200,000 foreign soldiers, police, and other personnel.”  (Douglas Gillison, Nick Turse,  Moiz Syed, “How the U.S. Trains Killers Worldwide,” Portside, July 13, 2016).

Their report is worth further quoting:

“The data show training at no fewer than 471 locations in 120 countries...involving on the U.S. side, 150 defense agencies, civilian agencies, armed forces colleges, defense training centers, military units, private companies, and NGOs, as well as the National Guard forces of five states.” Perhaps most important for the peace movement is the following: Despite the fact that the Department of Defense alone has poured some $122 billion into such programs since 9/11, the breadth and content of this training network remain virtually unknown to most Americans.”
Impacts of 21st Century Imperialism

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

“We live in an age of disintegration. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Across the vast swath of territory between Pakistan and Nigeria, there are at least seven ongoing wars-in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and South Sudan. These conflicts are extraordinarily destructive. They are tearing apart the countries in which they are taking place in ways that make it doubtful they will ever recover.” (Patrick Cockburn, “The Age of Disintegration: Neoliberalism, Interventionism, the Resource Curse, and a Fragmenting World,” The Unz Review: Mobile, June 28, 2016).
Cockburn suggests that this fragmentation has core features: no winners and losers, deconstruction of states, massive population upheavals and migrations, religious fundamentalism   replacing socialist and/or nationalist politics, and outside interventions. The Global South project Vijay Prashad described so well in The Darker Nations has been superseded by competing fundamentalist projects.

Recent Specific Cases
NATO/Ukraine/New Cold War

Leaders of the 28 NATO countries met in summit in Poland in 2016 to reaffirm their commitment to the military alliance that was established in 1949 for the sole purpose of protecting the European continent from any possible Soviet military intervention. With the collapse of the former Soviet Union, rather than dissolving, NATO took on the task of policing the world for neoliberal globalization and the states ‘victorious” in the Cold War. NATO was the official operational arm of military operations in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the military force that would destroy the Gaddafi regime in Libya. 
After the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, NATO incorporated the states in Eastern Europe that had been affiliated with it. Now Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic States, many with neo-Fascist governments, are the frontline in the ongoing hostilities with Russia. They and western financiers from Ukraine, with substantial assistance from the United States, engineered the coup that ousted a corrupt but elected President in Ukraine. This set off an ongoing civil war between those in the population who wanted to continue ties to Russia and others who wanted Ukraine to join the European Union and NATO. The instability in Kiev was orchestrated by high US state department officials who advocate a New Cold War with Russia.

At the NATO summit it was agreed to establish four battalion-sized “battle groups” in Poland and the Baltic states. To use the language of the Cold War, this small force could serve as a “trip wire” that could precipitate an “incident” and a major war with Russia. NATO agreed to bolster the Ukraine military. The alliance would commit to establishing a controversial missile defense system in Eastern Europe.  And NATO countries promised to spend two percent of their budgets on the military. The continued commitment of the United States was affirmed by then President Obama.
The Asian Pivot

In 2011, US spokespersons announced that the country would shift resources and attention to Asia from the Middle East, an area with demanding security and economic interests. Although US/Chinese dialogue continues the United States has criticized China’s repositioning of what it regards as its possessions in the South China Sea. The United States has expanded military relations with Vietnam, reestablished military bases in the Philippines, and has generally avoided criticizing efforts by ruling Japanese politicians to revise their constitution to allow for a full-scale remilitarization. Despite recent attempts at negotiations between North and South Korea and the United States tensions on the peninsula remain. And most mainstream U.S. politicians and pundits have resisted Trump’s outreach to the North Koreans. On the economic front the United States was instrumental in building support for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) to challenge Chinese economic hegemony in the region. Although President Trump rebuffed the TPP, with a continued US presence in the region, the possibility of a New Cold War in Asia remains.
The Middle East

Most American politicians express their belief that the US must maintain a special relationship with the state of Israel. One of the few active mobilizations for peace today is the worldwide campaign to demand governments, corporations, and other institutions boycott, and divest holdings in what is regarded as an apartheid state, Israel, which oppresses its Arab population and those living in the Occupied Territories. The campaign is so effective that along with national politicians, governors and state legislatures have taken stands against the BDS campaign.
Next to the historic US ties to Israel, most analysts see the deconstruction of the Middle East that Cockburn wrote about as a direct result of the Iraq war initiated in 2003. Over the next decade, Syria, Libya, Yemen and other countries have been torn apart by civil war fueled by western, primarily US, intervention, continuing US support of Saudi Arabian militarism, and the fractionalization of states in the region, most recently Turkey. 

This ten-year war on the Middle East has created a growing terrorist response directed at western targets and an ideological campaign, including calls to violence, against all the traditional imperial powers who dominated the region for one hundred years. As Cockburn suggested, with the successful United States and European war on radical nationalism in the region since the onset of the Cold War, secularism has been replaced by religious fundamentalism as the dominant ideological force in the region.
With this as a backdrop, the United States response to violence is stepped up high-tech killing justified by a public campaign that demonizes Muslim people in the United States and everywhere in the world.

Nick Turse reported on the growing US military presence on the African continent. A special command structure, AFRICOM, was established in 2008 to oversee US security interests on the continent. Initially, the Pentagon claimed that it had one larger base, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. But enterprising researchers discovered that the US military has a dense network of “cooperative security outposts,” bases and other sites of military presence, at least 60 across the continent, in 34 countries. The US has defense attaches in 38 countries. 

An Oxford researcher was quoted by Turse on the new oversite of the African continent.
“AFRICOM, as a new command, is basically a laboratory for a different kind of warfare and a different way of posturing forces...Apart from Djibouti, there’s no significant stockpiling of troops, equipment, or even aircraft. There are a myriad of ‘lily pads’ or small forward operating bases…so you can spread out even a small number of forces over a very large area and concentrate those forces quite quickly when necessary” (Nick Turse, “America’s Empire of African Bases,” November 17, 2015).

Latin America
United States foreign policy toward Latin America has taken a variety of forms since the onset of the 21st century. The United States, in the older mold, encouraged and assisted in the failed military coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002 and gave at least quiescent support to the military overthrow of Honduran President Zelaya in 2009. At the same time the United States has curried the favor of upper-class opponents of the regimes transformed by the Bolivarian Revolution: Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Two larger countries Argentina and Brazil have experienced domestic political turmoil in recent years, to some extent driven by internecine politics and corruption. The United States, in all these cases has networked with opposition political forces, sometimes encouraging countries like Brazil and Venezuela to launch votes of no confidence or impeachment proceedings against governments that have stood against the US neoliberal economic agenda. Some have referred to the new US strategy in the region as one of creating “silent coups.”

For a time the influence of the United States weakened as a result of the onset of the Bolivarian Revolution and the distain Latin Americans hold toward the United States because of its long-standing efforts to isolate Cuba. President Obama in collaboration with President Castro announced a new opening of relations between the two countries in December, 2014 and US economic constraints on travel, trade, and investment were reduced (although the blockade continued). What remained similar to past US policy toward Cuba, however, was the stated aims of the new relationship: the promotion of democracy and markets. It was no mere coincidence that President Obama visited Cuba in March, 2016 and then flew to Argentina to negotiate with the newly elected neoliberal President Macri of Argentina.  However, since Trump came in office, and particularly now with his diplomatic team of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, improving United States/Cuban relations have been reversed.
So Where Does the Peace Movement Go From Here?

Analyses of what is wrong are easier to develop than thinking through ways to respond. Today’s peace movement is just beginning to revitalize itself. As suggested above, the foreign policy elites have a hegemonic vision of the role of the United States in the world today and tomorrow. And they have at their disposal 21st century military technologies to maintain their power in the world. The consequences of force and intervention have been horrific for billions of people. 

Approaches to rebuilding the peace movement in 2019 should include the following:
1.Develop a theory, a conceptual scheme about the multiplicity of connected issues that affect people’s lives linking economics, politics, militarism, and culture. Think about a diamond shaped figure. At the base is an economic system, at this point in time, finance capitalism. Above the base at the two side points are militarism on one side and racism and sexism on the other. At the top add destruction of nature. Conceptualizing the war problem in this way we begin to see the connections between the 21st century state of capitalism as a global system and war, racism, sexism, and environmental destruction.

2.Use the theory or schema to develop an educational program that begins with efforts to understand the fundamentals of the war system (direct and structural violence as peace researchers put it). Use the schema as programs on specific issues are prepared. Always relate the specific issue at hand: Israel/Palestine, Ukraine, undermining regimes in Latin America for example, to the diamond.
3.Participate in grassroots organizing in solidarity with others, always linking issues to the war/peace paradigm. One error participants in the various Moral Mondays campaigns of 2014 made was to accede to the idea that Moral Mondays should only be about state legislative issues, not national or international ones. However, the New Poor Peoples Campaign, launched in 2018, has drawn on Dr. King’s conceptualization of the inextricable connection between three evils: poverty, racism, and militarism.

4.Engage in global solidarity. The analysis above has emphasized the forces of global hegemony, or imperialism. It is critical to be aware of and support the grassroots ferment that is occurring all across the globe; from Arab Spring; to the Bolivarian Revolution; to anti-austerity campaigns in Greece, Spain, Quebec, and elsewhere, and the broadening climate change movement that encompasses the globe.
The tasks of a 21st century peace movement are not different from those of the past. They involve education, organization, and agitation. With the growth of worldwide resistance to neoliberal globalization, austerity, racism, sexism, and destruction of nature, it seems natural to incorporate concerns for peace and the right to national and personal self-determination to the budding radical movements of our day.

And with the even more brutal extension of 21st century imperialism today, including starving the Venezuelan people, supporting neo-Fascist governments such as Saudi Arabia as it slaughters citizens of Yemen, and rejecting the most vital of international institutions such as the International Criminal Court, the peace movement must move from protest, to politics, to resistance.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019


Harry Targ

There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop!

Mario Savio, Sproul Hall, University of California, Berkeley (1964-12-02).

The United States has launched a blockade of Venezuela that is designed to starve the people into surrender. That has been the policy toward Cuba since 1962, Chile from 1970 to 1973, and was the policy of the United States toward Nicaragua in the 1980s. This campaign of slow but steady starvation has been designed to force the people, because of the sapping of their physical energies, to surrender to United States demands that include accepting a new leadership which collaborates with United States economic and political interests.
The policies are so cruel that they have to be sanitized and reconceptualized to secure quiescent support from the US people. Here the mainstream media steps in. The political narrative, from the White House, to the Department of Defense, to the State Department, to corporate-funded think tanks projects both a demonic story about the “enemy,” and an altruistic story about United States goals.

The targeted countries, whether they were/are Cuba, Chile under Salvador Allende, Nicaragua under Sandinista rule, or today the Maduro government of Venezuela are characterized in the following ways. As to economics, these regimes have failed to provide for the material needs of their people. The alleged history of them has been of unmitigated disaster: never mind the redistribution of wealth, the provisioning of education and healthcare to the vast majorities, the distribution of modest but adequate food for all. These policies, the official narrative says, are the cause of the problems citizens face, not the solutions.
As to politics, the regimes the United States wishes to undermine are dictatorships. Never mind elections, the creation of local popular assemblies, support for mass organizations; authoritarianism prevails (of course, contrary to regimes such as Brazil, or Colombia where violence, intimidation, and inordinate power are in the hands of tiny ruling classes). If there are no elections, no more needs to be said. If there are elections, their authenticity must be questioned. If voice is given to people in barrios, trade unions, women’s organizations, and rural and urban neighborhoods at the expense of tiny wealthy classes, the country is by definition anti-democratic (in Orwellian terms, democracy is dictatorship and dictatorship is democracy).

In response to despotism, the United States, the indispensable nation, the exceptional nation, the icon of democracy must step in to right the wrongs. Unfortunately, creating democracy requires alliances with other states (who on their own could be demonized). Unfortunate but necessary policies might require military interventions, covert operations, economic sanctions and boycotts, and international campaigns to ostracize and isolate the transgressor nations.
And this history has been repeated over and over again. The Spanish/Cuban/American war provided the United States with the opportunity to defeat competing colonial powers in the Western Hemisphere and to establish a regional and global presence (including taking the Philippines and slaughtering thousands of its own citizens who thought they would at last control their own destinies). A two-ocean navy was followed by building a war machine in the twentieth century that was second to none. After occupying Cuba and Puerto Rico perpetual Marine interventions and occupations of countries in the Caribbean and Latin America ensued over the next century. But this history is conveniently left out of the prevailing narratives about demonic states and US altruism.

Ken Kesey wrote in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest about a “fog machine” that clouded the vision and rationality of the inmates of the insane asylum. As we read the daily reports on United States policy toward Venezuela, we can see how we in the United States are all inmates in an insane asylum.

Sunday, February 24, 2019


Harry Targ


Students of imperialism appropriately refer to the polemical but theoretically relevant essay authored by Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto. In this essay, the authors argue that capitalism as a mode of production is driven to traverse the globe, for investment opportunities, for cheap labor, for natural resources, for land. One can argue that Marx and Engels were among the first to theorize about globalization.

Lenin advanced the theory of imperialism in his famous essay Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. In addition to the inspiration from Marx and Engels, he drew from the sophisticated writings of Rudolf Hilferding and John Hobson. For him, writing in the midst of the bloodshed of World War I and revolutionary ferment in Russia, there was a need to understand the connections between the expansionist needs of capitalism, competition among capitalist states, and imperialist war. With that motivation, Lenin postulated five key features of what he called imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism. This new stage of capitalist development in the twentieth century included:

1) The concentration of production and capital developed to such a high stage that it created monopolies, which play a decisive role in economic life.

2) The merging of bank capital with industrial capital, and the creation, on the basis of this, "finance capital," or a "financial oligarchy."

3) The export of capital, which has become extremely important, as distinguished from the export of commodities.

4) The formation of international capitalist monopolies, which share the world among themselves.

5) The territorial division of the whole world among the greatest capitalist powers is completed.

Lenin’s descriptions of these five features of twentieth century imperialism were prescient as to their long-term vision. Imperialism was not just a way in which powerful states acted in the world but a global stage of capitalism. The political, military, and economic dimensions of the world were inextricably connected in a profoundly new way, different from prior periods of human history.

In this stage national economies and the global economy were dominated by monopolies. That is, small numbers of banks and corporations controlled the majority of the wealth and productive capacity of the world. (The Brandt Commission in the early 1980s estimated, for example, that 200 corporations and banks controlled twenty-five percent of the world’s wealth). Monopolization included a shrinking number of economic actors that controlled larger and larger shares of each economic sector (steel, auto, fossil fuels, for example) and fewer and fewer actors controlling more of the totality of all these sectors.

Lenin added that twentieth century finance capital assumed a primary role in the global economy compared to prior centuries when banks were merely the bookkeepers of the capitalist system. Corporate capital and financial capital had become indistinguishable. This, in our own day, became known as "financialization.”

The development of finance capital, Lenin argued, led to the export of capital, the promotion of investments, the enticement of a debt system, and the expanding control of all financial transactions by the few hundred global banks. Capitalism was no longer just about expropriating labor and natural resources, processing these into products for sale on a world market but it now was about financial speculation, the flow of currencies as much as the flow of products of labor. It was in this stage of capitalism that the financial system was used as a lever to transform all of the world’s economies, particularly by increasing profits through imposing policies of austerity. Austerity included cutting government programs, deregulating economies so banks and corporations could act more freely, and, further, instituting public policies to maximize the privatization of virtually every public institution. These policies were referred to as “neoliberal.”

And lastly, Lenin observed, world politics was shaped by economic and political collusion of international monopolies to collaborate, routinize, and regulate economic competition. But, as he saw in 1916, that world of routinized global finance capital had broken down, states representing their own financial conglomerates engaged in massive violence, in World War, to maintain their share of territory and wealth. So that imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, always had embedded within it, the seeds of ever-expanding war between states driven by their own monopolies.


Theorists and revolutionaries from the Global South found Lenin’s theory of imperialism to be a compelling explanation of the historical development of capitalism as a world system and its connections to war, violence, colonialism, and neo-colonialism. However, they argued that Lenin’s narrative was incomplete in its description of imperialism’s impact on the countries and peoples of the Global South. Several revolutionary writers and activists from the Global South added a “bottom up” narrative about imperialism. Theorists such as Andre Gunter Frank, Samir Amin, Frantz Fanon, Walter Rodney, Fernando Cardoso, Theotonio Dos Santos, and Jose Carlos Mariategui added an understanding of “dependency” to the discussion of imperialism.

Dependency theorists suggested that the imperialist stage of capitalism was not enforced in the Global South only at the point of a gun. Dependency required the institutionalization of class structures in the Global South. Ruling classes in the Global South, local owners of factories, fields, and natural resources, and their armies, collaborated with the ruling classes of the global centers of power in the Global North. In fact, the imperial system required collaboration between ruling classes in the global centers with ruling classes in the periphery of the international system. And ultimately, imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, was a political and economic system in which the ruling classes in the centers of power worked in collaboration with the ruling classes in the Global South to exploit and repress the vast majority of human beings in the world.

Dependency theory, therefore, added insights to the Leninist analysis. First, the imperial system required collaboration from the rich and powerful classes in the centers of global power, the Global North, developing and recruiting the rich and powerful classes in the countries of the Global South. It also meant that there was a need to understand that the imperial system required smooth flows of profits from the Global South to the Global North. Therefore, there was a mutuality of interests among ruling classes everywhere. The addition of dependency theory also argued that people in the periphery, workers and peasants in poor countries, had objective interests not only opposed to the imperial countries from the north but to the interests of their own national ruling classes. And, if this imperial system exploited workers in the centers of power and also in the peripheral areas of the world, then there ultimately was a commonality of interests in the poor, oppressed, and exploited all across the face of the globe.

Relevance for the Twenty-First Century

Although the world of the twenty-first century is different from that of the twentieth century, commonalities exist. These include the expansion of finance capital, rising resistance to it everywhere, and conflicts in the Global North and the Global South between powerful ruling classes and masses of people seeking democracy and economic well-being. In the recent past, the resurgence of protest by workers, students, farmers and peasants, the popular classes, has been reflected in mass movements against neoliberal globalization and international financial institutions. These include Arab Spring, the Fight for Fifteen, and a number of campaigns that challenge racism, sexism, joblessness, the destruction of the environment, land grabs, and removal of indigenous peoples from their land.

In Latin America, movements emerged that have been labeled “the Pink Tide” or the “Bolivarian Revolution.” These are movements driven by struggles between the Global North and the Global South and class struggles within countries of the Global South. Workers and peasants from the Global South have been motivated to create, albeit within powerful historical constraints, alternative economic and political institutions in their own countries. The awakening of the masses of people in the Global South constitute one of the two main threats to Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. The first threat is the movements that are struggling to break the link between their own ruling classes and those of the North. That includes working with leaders who are standing up against the imperial system (leaders such as in Venezuela, Bolivia, and, of course Cuba). The other threat to Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, is, as Lenin observed in 1916, war between imperial powers.

In sum, as activists mobilize to oppose US war against the peoples of Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, it is critical to be aware of the imperial system of finance capital, class systems in the Global North and Global South, and to realize that solidarity involves understanding the common material interests of popular classes in both the Global North and South. In 2019, solidarity includes opposing United States militarism in Latin America, economic blockades against peoples seeking their own liberation, and covert operations to support current and former ruling classes in their countries that collaborate with imperialism.

Concretely, this means supporting the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela and throughout the Western Hemisphere, protests in Haiti, and, of course, the Cuban Revolution.

Sunday, February 17, 2019


Harry Targ

In the recent book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, Nancy MacLean traces the intellectual development of the libertarian right and its connection with the Koch Brothers and state programs to promote an ideologically-driven policy agenda.  She argues that many of the libertarian right’s policy proposals would be opposed if public discourse and majoritarian democracy prevailed. Consequently, she suggests, efforts are made to limit transparency, public discussion, and legislative and electoral participation in major public policies.
Public universities are among the institutions in which the lack of transparency is becoming the norm. The tradition of shared governance is being trampled on. Educational decisions are being made by politicians, administrators and boards of trustees without any advice and consent from educators and taxpayers. Under the guise of a “business model” driven by metrics and profit-making, many years of educational practices are being overturned by administrators with little educational experience. Great state universities such as those in Wisconsin, Michigan, Texas, North Carolina, and Indiana are being reconstructed. Programs of teaching and research are being uprooted. Sometimes ongoing programs are abolished. And new liberal arts curricula measure success by creating narrowly trained job seekers. Research is increasingly channeled to meet the needs of corporations or the military.

The Vision of the 21st Century University
The President of Purdue University, Mitch Daniels, on October 12, 2018 received the Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education presented by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). Daniels reported with enthusiasm that Purdue University is the third “most STEM-centric school in the country,” with over 60 percent of its undergraduate students matriculating in engineering, chemistry, physics, and agricultural and biological sciences. And he implied that there is a struggle going on in great universities everywhere about what should constitute liberal arts (Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. “Re-liberalizing the Liberal Arts,” Washington, October 12, 2018, From Daniels’ point of view, administrators cannot wait for liberal arts programs in the twenty-first century to transform themselves. This is so because liberal arts education today consists of “conformity of thought, intolerance of dissent and sometimes an authoritarian tendency to quash it, a rejection of the finest of the Western and Enlightenment traditions in favor of unscholarly revisionism and pseudo-disciplines.”

Daniels then railed against the “one-sided view of the world” being presented in liberal arts classrooms in opposition to critical thinking. He appropriately celebrated the “clash of competing ideas,” but characterized liberal arts curricula and research as dogmatic and authoritarian. (Many liberal arts educators would argue that old ideas are always revisited bringing new, diverse, perspectives to bear on traditional disciplinary formulations in the social sciences and humanities). In other words, while most scholars and students appreciate the openness and creativity of education and scholarship that has resulted from the last fifty years of ferment, debate, and thought characteristic of the intellectual life of higher education, Daniels advocates to the contrary that the newer scholarship and education should be challenged and expunged (Daniels referred in his lecture to some of his intellectual mentors including Charles Murray and Jeb Bush).
Daniels added that the tenure system protects dogmatists rather than what he would regard as free thinkers. He characterized modern liberal arts education as “the celebration of mediocrity;” the liberal arts as the home of “illiberal viewpoints;” and as the transmitter of “conformity of thought.” He condemned what he called “shoddy scholarship” as well. “Hopelessly abstruse, jargon-laden papers from so-called ‘studies’ programs read like self-parodies.” He claimed, with no evidence, that “…fewer than half the published studies across the social sciences can be replicated.”

And the final and most damaging claim Daniels made was that practitioners of liberal arts make their subject matter boring. He asserted that histories are written without heroes, excitement, “…glory, the human elements…”
All this, Daniels suggested, requires reform of liberal arts from outside the clutches of the educators in the various fields he condemned. At Purdue University change is occurring because of a program called Cornerstone which brings STEM students to specially crafted liberal arts courses. “Enrollees will read Locke, Hobbes, and Jefferson as well as other works in the Great Books tradition.” Reading the great books, which according to Daniels are not already being taught in existing courses, and offering various dual degree and fast track three-year degrees, he said, are responses to the needs of the business community for liberal arts graduates.

And as to free speech on campus, Daniels castigated students who, he asserted were coached by faculty, made unwarranted demands on him to denounce fascist and racist flyers on campus. And without any sense of irony, Daniels quoted 1960s Chancellor of the University of California system of higher education Clark Kerr who said that a proper university “is not engaged in making ideas safe for students. It is engaged in making students safe for ideas.” He apparently did not recall that students at the University of California launched the Free Speech Movement on their campus in 1964 because Kerr’s administration banned literature tables on campus.
Discussions of Higher Education Are Held in Secret

Lastly, Daniels praised the work of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). ACTA, formed in 1995, says it works “…to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives a philosophically rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.” Henry Giroux has characterized ACTA as “…not a friend of academic freedom, nor is it comfortable with John Dewey’s notion that education should be responsive to the deepest conflicts of our time…” (Henry Giroux, The University in Chains, Paragon Publishers, 2007, p. 161).
ACTA, while claiming to be independent, is an associate member of the State Policy Network. SPN is a “think tank” with affiliates in 49 states. SPN groups are affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which was a creation of the billionaire Koch brothers and rightwing organizations such as the Bradley Foundation, to promote a radical libertarian policy agenda in virtually every state. Jane Mayer, Nancy MacLean and others have shown that ALEC, SPN, and ACTA leaders realized that public discourse and transparency in political and other institutions might lead publics, often majorities, to reject their anti-government, “free-market” agendas.

Universities historically have had public discussions about curricula and most universities, including Purdue University, have institutionalized mechanisms for decision-making on educational policy matters. Faculty Senates, curricula committees, and promotion and tenure committees, have been the lifeblood of higher education. And, appropriately enough, as a result of student movements on college campuses, students have been included in conversations about educational matters as well. And, some state universities value the input of citizens and a broad representative array of alumni from their universities, not just the wealthy who become the core of boards of trustees or the small number who can afford to donate millions of dollars.
What the Daniels speech represents is a capsule summary of the Daniels vision of what liberal arts should be. It is largely a series of claims about modern liberal arts programs, diametrically opposed to the reality. It is a policy brief for his campus that Daniels presented to the non-transparent ACTA, an affiliate of a larger covert institutional network with a presence in every state. The network is committed to a radical transformation of economic, political, and educational institutions, a radical libertarian America. Since the liberal arts tradition includes a rigorous conversation about this and other visions, questions of the direction of higher education at Purdue University deserve a rich diverse public conversation among educators, students, and citizens. Private conversations within and between organizations that restrict this conversation violate the spirit of higher education.

Sunday, February 10, 2019


Harry Targ

All History is the History of Class Struggle
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” Marx and Engels proclaimed in The Communist Manifesto. All of their work was designed to elaborate on the meaning of this one sentence. Under capitalism, one class, the capitalists, own and/or control the means of production and the other class, the workers, produce goods and services that maintain the conditions for human survival. What workers produce becomes commodities for sale in the marketplace. And the capitalists then appropriate the lion’s share of the value produced by workers. The more the capitalists expropriate the value of what is produced by workers, the more profits they acquire and the greater the human misery workers experience. In contemporary societies and in the global economy this process is clearly seen as the gaps between rich and poor grow exponentially only to be mitigated from time to time when workers rise up to challenge the capitalist class, and sometimes the capitalist system itself.

Usually this narrative is discussed about exploitation and struggle within states. But one can apply the basic insights of Marx and Engels to relations between states and societies. For example, the modern nation-state system emerged in the seventeenth century, primarily in Europe, to facilitate the expansion of capitalism on the world stage. With technology, shipping and armaments, capitalism spread across the globe. Capitalist imperialism and globalization emerged together.
The Global North Versus the Global South as Class Struggle
Looking at the history of what is called international relations, the world has experienced various stages of development (or underdevelopment). First, in the era of primitive accumulation, as Marx described, rising military powers in Europe traversed the globe. They occupied land inhabited by various peoples and kidnapped laborers from one part of the world and transported them to another as forced laborers. They developed trade, invested in profitable overseas production, and expropriated vital natural resources to facilitate their own economic development. Killing the occupants of the land and kidnapping Africans to become slaves in the Western Hemisphere, Marx said, signaled the dawn of “civilization.” Thus, we can speak of class struggle whether the topic for discussion is land grabbing, enslavement, extracting resources, or transforming local economies to fit the needs of the colonial powers. Andre Gunter Frank suggests that looking back at the birth of capitalism as a world system, we see the seeds planted for “the development of underdevelopment.” The economic circumstance of what would become the Global North is growing riches and for the Global South deepening poverty and immiseration.

But what dependency theorists, scholar/activists such as Walter Rodney and Frantz Fanon, and Marxists from Latin America add to the narrative is the fact that capitalist imperialism periodically generates resistance and rebellion, sometimes  class struggle, on a global basis. Contemporary theorist, Vijay Prashad (The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, New Press, 2008) reminds us that the globalization of capitalism from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries generated resistance, rebellion, and revolution. Haiti, for example, represented a paradigmatic revolution to overthrow French colonial control. And during the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century anti-colonial campaigns spread throughout the world. In 1945 there were 51 nations in the new United Nations organization and by 1970 there were 170. People had liberated themselves from the formal bonds of colonialism. Along the way anti-colonial campaigns gained support and solidarity from people of color within colonial countries and national liberation movements across state boundaries in the struggle for independence. In addition, revolutionaries overthrew colonial and/or neo-colonial powers in Cuba, Vietnam, Angola, Mozambique, and Nicaragua.
Once independence was achieved, “new” nations began to collaborate around an anti-colonial, anti-neo-colonial agenda. Many met in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955 and formed a Non-Aligned movement in 1961, expanding its membership and loyalties to 120 countries today. Its motivation was to break the traditional bonds of colonial control, to reduce the continuing relationships between the former colonial powers and “their” colonies, and to rectify historic forms of exploitation and expropriation of value. This, dependency theorists suggest, included challenging indigenous ruling classes in poor countries who owed their allegiance to collaboration with the former colonial powers. The bottom line for newly independent countries was to rectify the grotesque economic inequalities that were the legacy of colonialism and to achieve national sovereignty.

Along with the creation of a non-aligned movement, leaders of the Third World in the 1960s and 1970s campaigned for global adoption of a New International Economic Order (NIEO). This program was introduced in the United Nations. It called for the creation of rules and regulations that would regulate global capitalism so that it was not so disadvantageous to countries of the Global South. Proposals involved facilitating technology transfer from the Global North to the Global South, reducing onerous rules about “intellectual property rights,” hiring corporate executives from the host country, and establishing requirements that minimal amounts of profits derived from foreign investments stay in the host countries where production occurred. These and other proposals were designed to “reform” global capitalism such that the growing economic inequalities between rich and poor would decline. And to cap off the demands for global reform, spokespersons from the Global South introduced a plan for a New World Information Order (NWIO). This plan was designed to increase the amount of input citizens of the Global South could have in the production and dissemination of information about their own countries. This was needed because monopoly media organizations from the Global North controlled and framed most of the information about the world, including the Global South.
The response of western imperial powers to the NIEO and the NWIO was to inalterably oppose virtually every proposal made. They objected to any restraints on the complete autonomy of international corporate and financial capitalists operating in the Global South. In addition, they resisted the right of countries of the Global South to have any control over the production of narratives about their countries. And in response to growing mobilizations of countries and peoples of the Global South, financier David Rockefeller from the then Chase Manhattan Bank, called together 200 bankers, corporate CEOs, a few trade union leaders and politicians from Europe and North America to establish The Trilateral Commission in 1973. The founding documents warned of the greater dangers to global capitalism from unrest in the Global South then from the Soviet Bloc. They hired Zbigniew Brzezinski to administer the new organization and they commissioned scholars such as distinguished US political scientist Samuel Huntington to draft position papers for the organization. In one paper Huntington warned of the “excess of democracy.” In other words, the increased activism within societies and between societies constituted a threat to stability and the global status quo.

By the 1980s, the Soviet Bloc weakened, collapsing in 1989. The countries of the Global South became entrapped in a debt system that required them to adopt new austerity policies that worsened the conditions of life of their citizens. The policies, known as “neoliberalism,” spread across the globe. Many leaders of formerly anti-colonial regimes, including some independence leaders, began to collaborate with the international overseers at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Economic inequality on the world stage grew. At various times 10-20 percent of the world’s population lived in abject poverty and another 20-30 percent at living standards below a livable income. As the living conditions for the world’s citizens worsened, the globalization of production increased and smaller numbers of huge banks began to control more and more of the world’s economic life.
Twenty-first Century Resistance to Neo-liberal Globalization Grows

An upsurge of resistance to the worsening plight of much of the Global South began to occur in the 1990s. The day the new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went in effect in January, 1994, Sub-Commander Marcos of the Zapatista Movement (EZLN) in Mexico announced a new campaign against neoliberalism. In addition, the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 and the spread of neoliberal policies spurred growing resistance to globalization as citizens demanded their countries reject IMF imposed austerity programs. The anti-globalization campaign, based on grassroots movements from the North and South, gained worldwide attention during the founding meeting of the WTO in Seattle, Washington in December, 1999. The “Battle of Seattle,” signaled a global recognition that neoliberal globalization was bringing together activists from everywhere to challenge the globalization of capitalism. A World Social Forum assembled in Porte Allegre, Brazil, in 2001 with thousands of people from women’s, labor, indigenous peoples and other organizations. Their rallying cry was “Another World is Possible.”

In 2011, Arab Spring signaled another form of grassroots opposition to the further exacerbation of capitalism both within and between countries. Over the next several years, protests were initiated by various sectors of the working class, such as the precariat and “yellow vests,” indigenous peoples, women, people of color, gays and lesbians. These campaigns often generated expressions of international solidarity.
And it is in this emerging global class struggle that the Bolivarian Revolution emerged. Army officer Hugo Chavez was elected President of Venezuela in 1998. Subsequently he initiated changes and responded to demands for change from Venezuelan workers to build grassroots political institutions, form workers cooperatives, and to redistribute some of Venezuela’s oil wealth. Venezuelan policies significantly reduced the number of citizens living in poverty, increased access to health care and education, and encouraged the building of grassroots political organizations.  The Bolivarian Revolution, as it was called, borrowed from nineteenth century Latin American leader Simon Bolivar who struggled to achieve national sovereign control for the peoples of the region. The twenty-first century variant, led by Chavez, included initiating a regional Latin American bank, expanding trade agreements, and inspiring grassroots mobilizations in countries in Latin American and the Caribbean. Some variants of economic populism and grassroots political institution-building occurred in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. In addition, some Latin American countries began to collaborate worldwide to challenge the power and prerogatives of global capitalism. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), for a time, discussed ways to challenge the economic and political hegemony of the traditional great powers. Much of the Bolivarian Revolution was inspired by the Cuban revolutionary model of economic distribution, health care and education programs, and international solidarity.

The Global North Launches a Counter-Offensive
The United States and its allies in the capitalist world have based their foreign policies on resistance to reformist and revolutionary ferment in the Global South. Efforts to forestall dramatic historical change have sometimes been based on efforts to accommodate or channel ferment from the Global South in directions that were less threatening to global capitalism. For example, President Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress program, a $20 billion economic assistance program announced in 1961, promised US support for economic development and social change in Latin America. An alternative and more common approach, military force, is illustrated by President Johnson’s sending 24,000 marines to the Dominican Republic in 1965 to forestall a nationalist, Juan Bosch, from returning to power in his country.

Between 1965 and today, the United States has used the carrot and the stick to challenge resistance from the Global South, particularly in the Western Hemisphere: using military invasion and covert operations; identifying and working with economic and military elites in “enemy” countries, enacting economic sanctions, and even poisoning crops in countries defined as the enemy.
Today, the United States is seeking to crush the Venezuelan experiment and to destroy all vestiges of the Bolivarian Revolution in the Hemisphere. The project includes securing complete control of Venezuela’s oil resources. But, in addition, the United States is committed to turning back history; decades of resistance from the Global South. Following the inspiration of the Cuban Revolution, the Bolivarian Revolution has constituted the most sustained threat to US global hegemony in the Western Hemisphere, and hence the international system. History has shown that John Bolton’s “troika of tyranny” is just the latest conceptualization coming from the Global North; a conceptualization that Professor Huntington warned of in 1976, as the “crisis of democracy;” that is, there was too much of it.

In sum, human history in the capitalist era is about the drive for power and profit on the one hand and resistance and rebellion on the other. The outcome of this struggle is still to be determined.

(For a parallel historical analysis see Vijay Prashad, “12-Step American Method for Regime Change, Alternet, February 9, 2019  and “Blood for Oil in Venezuela?” an interview on The Real News, February 10, 2019 )

SEIZE THE MOMENT: BUILDING THE PROGRESSVE MAJORITY (Let us discuss the analysis and not debate the candidates): a repost

Originally posted on Saturday, February 6, 2016

Harry Targ

The multiracial working class in alliance with trade unions, women, African Americans, Latinos and other people of color, youth, and progressive sectors of business now form the promising components of the progressive majority. The profound challenge before the working class and its allies is to organize this majority into a coherent force capable of responding to the various issues it confronts. (“Goals and Principles,” Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, adopted at ts 6th National Convention, July, 2009,
Protest Movements in the United States

            In addition to anecdotal evidence, aggregate data confirms the continuation and expansion of activist groups and protest activities all across the face of the globe. For example in the United States, Mark Solomon in an important essay “Whither the Socialist Left? Thinking the ‘Unthinkable’” (March 6, 2013,  discusses the long history of socialism in the United States, the brutal repression against it, damaging sectarian battles on the left, the miniscule size of socialist organizations today and yet paradoxically the growing sympathy for the idea of socialism among Americans, particularly young people. He calls for “the convergence of socialist organizations committed to non-sectarian democratic struggle, engagement with mass movements, and open debate in search of effective responses to present crises and to projecting a socialist future.”  The Solomon article does not conceptualize “left unity” and “building the progressive majority” as separate and distinct projects but as fundamentally interconnected. For him, and many others, the role of the left in the labor movement and other mass movements gave shape, direction, and theoretical cohesion to the battles that won worker rights in the 1930s.

            Solomon’s call has stimulated debate among activists around the idea of “left unity.” The appeal for left unity is made more powerful by socialism’s appeal, the current global crises of capitalism, rising mobilizations around the world, and living experiments with small-scale socialism such as the construction of a variety of workers’ cooperatives.

            Effective campaigns around “left unity” in recent years have prioritized “revolutionary education,” drawing upon the tools of the internet to construct an accessible body of theory and debate about strategy and tactics that could solidify left forces and move the progressive majority into a socialist direction. The emerging Online University of the Left (OUL), an electronic source for classical and modern theoretical literature about Marxism, contemporary debates about strategy and tactics, videos, reading lists, and course syllabi, constitute one example of left unity. The OUL serves as one of many resources for study groups, formal coursework, and discussions among socialists and progressives. Those who advocate for “left unity” or left “convergence” celebrate these many developments, from workers cooperatives to popular education, as they advocate for the construction of a unified socialist left.

            A second manifestation of political activism, the Occupy Movement, first surfacing in the media in September, 2011, initiated and renewed traditions of organized and spontaneous mass movements around issues that affect peoples’ immediate lives such as housing foreclosure, debt, jobs, wages, the environment, and the negative role of money in U.S. politics. Perhaps the four most significant contributions of the Occupy Movement have been:

            1.Introducing grassroots processes of decision-making.

            2.Conceptualizing modern battles for social and economic justice as between the one percent (the holders of most wealth and power in society) versus the 99 percent (weak, economically marginalized, and dispossessed, including the “precariat”). 

            3.Insisting that struggles for radical change be spontaneous, often eschewing traditional political processes.

            4.Linking struggles locally, nationally, and globally.

            During the height of its visibility some 500 cities and towns experienced Occupy mobilizations around social justice issues. While less frequent, Occupy campaigns still exist, particularly in cities where larger progressive communities reside. Calls for left unity correctly ground their claims in a long and rich history of organized struggle while “occupiers” and other activists today have been inspired by the bottom-up and spontaneous uprisings of 2011 (both international and within the United States).

            A third, and not opposed, approach to political change at this time has been labeled “building a progressive majority.” This approach assumes that large segments of the U.S. population agree on a variety of issues. Some are activists in electoral politics, others in trade unions, and more in single issue groups. In addition, many who share common views of worker rights, the environment, health care, undue influence of money in politics, immigrant rights etc. are not active politically. The progressive majority perspective argues that the project for the short-term is to mobilize the millions of people who share common views on the need for significant if not fundamental change in economics and politics. 

            Often organizers conceptualize the progressive majority as the broad mass of people who share views on politics and economics that are ‘centrist” or “left.” Consequently, over the long run, “left” participants see their task as three-fold. First, they must work on the issues that concern majorities of those at the local and national level. Second, they struggle to convince their political associates that the problems most people face have common causes (particularly capitalism). Third, “left” participants see the need to link issues so that class, race, gender, and the environment, for example, are understood as part of the common problem that people face.

            A 2005-2007 data set called “Start” ( showed that there were some “500 leading organizations in the United States working for progressive change on a national level.” START divided these 500 organizations into twelve categories based on their main activities. These included progressive electoral, peace and foreign policy, economic justice, civil liberties, health advocacy, labor, women’s and environmental organizations.  Of course, their membership, geographic presence, financial resources, and strategic and tactical vision varied widely. And, many of the variety of progressive organizations at the national level were reproduced at the local and state levels as well.

            In sum, when looking at contemporary social change in the United States at least three tendencies have been articulated: left unity, the Occupy Movement, and building a progressive majority. Each highlights its own priorities as to vision, strategy, tactics, and political contexts. In addition, the relative appeal of each may be affected by age, class, gender, race, and issue prioritization as well. However, these approaches need not be seen as contradictory. Rather the activism borne of each approach may parallel the others. (the discussion of the three tendencies of activism appeared in Harry Targ, “The Fusion Politics Response to 21st Century Imperialism From Arab Spring to Moral Mondays,”, and was presented at the “Moving Beyond Capitalism” Conference, Center for Global Justice, San Miguel de Allende Mexico, July 29-August 5, 2014). 

Building the Progressive Majority in 2016

          The statement above from CCDS was published in 2009 and the description of the three political tendencies in the United States was presented in 2014. Since then, the Moral Mondays Movement in North Carolina captured national attention and stimulated a growing campaign around Reverend William Barber’s narrative of United States history referring to the “three reconstructions” and the articulation of his theory of “fusion politics.”

         The egregious police violence against African Americans, particularly young men and women of color, has sparked a vibrant Black Lives Matter campaign that has caused a renewed interest in understanding the functions the police serve, the role of white supremacy, rightwing populism, and Michelle Alexander’s “New Jim Crow” in America.

         Militant workers in growing sectors of the economy are rising up. Fast food workers are organizing around the “Fight for 15.” Health and home care, and other service sector workers are demanding the right to have their unions recognized. And teachers, transportation workers, and state employees have hit the streets and legislative assemblies to demand worker rights.

        The peace movement has begun to resuscitate itself challenging a new cold war with Russia, boots on the ground and drones in the air to fight ISIS, and the unbridled growth of the military/industrial complex.

        Finally, environmentalists have made a convincing case that the connection between neoliberal global capitalism and environmental catastrophe “changes everything.”

        The three tendencies presented above—left unity, the Occupy Movement,  and building a progressive majority—continue to be reflected in different kinds of organizing around the country based on the issues, levels of organization, predominant ideological manifestations, local political cultures, and the composition of movements in different places based upon class, race, gender, sexual identity, religious affiliation and issue orientation. And all these tendencies are worthy of attention and support, particularly in the 21st century “time of chaos.”

       But a new campaign (potentially a movement) has emerged since the summer, 2015. Bernie Sanders, an aging left-oriented Senator from Vermont began his long uphill march to secure the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency. A sixties activist on civil rights and peace, a populist mayor of Burlington, Vermont, a Congressman and Senator from that state, Sanders, since his early days of political activism,  has articulated an anti-Wall Street, anti-finance capital mantra that has its roots in various progressive currents in United States history, These include the populist campaigns of the 1890s,  the militant workers struggles of the  Wobblies during the Progressive era, the popular electoral campaigns of five-time Socialist Party candidate for President, Eugene V. Debs from 1900 to 1920; the industrial union movement of  the 1930s which built the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and support for the New Deal legislation that provided some measure of economic security to many workers; to the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s and beyond.

       Sanders has proceeded to excoriate finance capital and to link the enormous accumulation of wealth and income at one pole of American society and the maintenance and growth of the misery of the masses on the other. He has advanced his narrative by linking class, to race, to gender issues, and has begun to incorporate the apocalyptic possibilities of a future without addressing climate change. In a word, he has articulated a program that the CCDS program defined as the vision of “the progressive majority.”

      The vision of a progressive majority is one that emphasizes the systematic articulation of the causes of human misery and what needs to be done to overcome them and the belief that the vision already exists among the majority of the American people. So far, the popularity of the Sanders campaign, the particular enthusiasm it is generating at the grassroots, including from youth, labor, feminist, anti-racist, and environmental organizations, and the demographics reflected in the Iowa caucus turnout and polling data, suggest that activists from the three tendencies identified above should direct their energies to supporting the Sanders presidential run. Most importantly, the Sanders campaign has inspired the possibility of building a long-standing progressive movement that will survive and grow until the November, 2016 election and beyond.

Thursday, January 31, 2019


April 10, 2013

Harry Targ

A whole generation of activists have politically “grown up” conversant with the central place of empire in human history. Children of the Cold War and the “sixties” generation  realized that the United States was the latest of a multiplicity of imperial powers who sought to dominate and control human beings, physical space, natural resources, and human labor power. We learned from the Marxist tradition, radical historians, scholar/activists with historical roots in Africa, and revolutionaries from the Philippines and Vietnam to Southern Africa, to Latin America. We tended to accept the view that imperialism was hegemonic.
A “theory of imperialism” for the 21st century should include four interconnected variables that explain empire building and responses to it. First, as an original motivation for empire, economic interests are primary. The most recent imperial power, the United States needed to secure customers for its products, outlets for manufacturing investment opportunities, an open door for financial speculation, and vital natural resources such as oil.

Second, geopolitics and military control parallel and support the pursuit of economic domination. The United States, beginning in the 1890s, built a two-ocean navy to become a Pacific power as well as a Western Hemisphere power. The “Asian pivot” of the 21st century and continued opposition to the Cuban and Bolivarian revolutions reflect the one hundred year extension of the convergence of economics and geopolitics in U.S. foreign policy.
Third, as imperial nations flex their muscles on the world stage they need to rationalize exploitation and military brutality to convince others and their own citizens of the humanistic goals they wish to achieve. In short, ideology matters. In the U.S. case “manifest destiny” and the “city on the hill” have been embedded in the dominant national narrative of the country for 150 years.

However, what has often been missing from the leftwing theoretical calculus is an understanding of resistance. Latin American and African dependency theorists and “bottom-up” historians have argued for a long time that resistance must be part of the understanding of any theory of imperialism. In fact, the imperial system is directly related to the level of resistance the imperial power encounters. Resistance generates more attempts at economic hegemony, political subversion , the application of military power, and patterns of “humanitarian interventionism” and diplomatic techniques called “soft power” today to defuse resistance. But as the recent events suggest resistance of various kinds is spreading throughout global society. 
The impetus for adding resistance to any understanding of imperialism has many sources including Howard Zinn’s seminal history of popular movements in the United States, “The Peoples History of the United States.” Zinn argued convincingly that in each period of American history ruling class rule was challenged, shaped, weakened, and in a few cases defeated because of movements of indigenous people, workers, women, people of color, middle class progressives and others who stood up to challenge the status quo.

More recently, Vijay Prashad, “The Darker Nations,” compiled a narrative of post-World War II international relations that privileged the resistance from the Global South. World history was as much shaped by anti-colonial movements, the construction of the non-aligned movement, conferences and programs supporting liberation struggles and women’s rights as it was by big power contestation. The Prashad book was subtitled “A Peoples History of the Third World.”
The 21st century has witnessed a variety of forms of resistance to global hegemony and the perpetuation of neo-liberal globalization all across the face of the globe. First, various forms of systemic resistance have emerged. These often emphasize the reconfiguration of nation-states and their relationships that have long been ignored. The two largest economies in the world, China and India, have experienced economic growth rates well in excess of the industrial capitalist countries. China has developed a global export and investment program in Latin America and Africa that exceeds that of the United States and Europe.

In addition, the rising economic powers have begun a process of global institution building to rework the international economic institutions and rules of decision-making on the world stage. On March 26-27, 2013 the BRICS met in Durban, South Africa. While critical of BRICS shortcomings Patrick Bond, Senior Professor of Development Studies and director of the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society, in a collection of readings on the subject introduces BRICS:
In Durban, five heads of state meet to assure the rest of Africa that their countries’ corporations are better investors in infrastructure, mining, oil and agriculture than the traditional European and US multinationals. The Brazil-Russia-India-China-SAS summit also includes 16 heads of state from Africa, including notorious tyrants. A new ‘BRICS bank’ will probably be launched, There will be more talk about monetary alternatives to the US dollar.”

On the Latin American continent, most residents of the region are mourning the death of Hugo Chavez, the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution. Under Chavez’s leadership, inspiration, and support from oil revenues, Venezuela launched the latest round of state resistance to the colossus of the north, the United States. Along with the world’s third largest trade bloc MERCOSUR (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and associate memberships including Venezuela and Chile), Latin Americans have participated in the construction of financial institutions and economic assistance programs to challenge the traditional hegemony of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. The Bolivarian Revolution also has stimulated spreading political change based on various degrees of grassroots democratization, the construction of workers’ cooperatives,  and a shift from neoliberal economic policy to economic populism. With a growing web of participants, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and, of course, Cuba, the tragic loss of Chavez will not mean the end to the Bolivarian Revolution. It might lead to its deepening.
But the story of 21st century resistance is not just about countries, alliances, new economic institutions that mimic the old. Grassroots social movements have been spreading like wild fire all across the face of the globe. The story can begin in many places and at various times: the new social movements of the 1980s, the Zapatistas of the 1990s, the anti-globalization/anti-IMF campaigns going back to the 1960s and continuing off and on until the new century, and repeated mass mobilizations against a Free Trade Agreement for the Americas.

Since 2011, the world has been inspired by Arab Spring, workers mobilizations all across the industrial heartland of the United States, students strikes in Quebec, the state of California, and in Santiago, Chile. Beginning in 2001 mass organizations from around the world began to assemble in Porto Allegre, Brazil billing their meeting of some 10,000 strong, the World Social Forum. They did not wish to create a common political program. They wished to launch a global social movement where ideas are shared, issues and demands from the base of societies could be raised, and in general the neoliberal global agenda reinforced at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland could be challenged.
Since 2001, the World Social Forum has assembled in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the United States. Most recently, the last week in March, 2013, 50,000 people from 5,000 organizations in 127 countries from five continents meet in Tunis, the site of the protest that sparked Arab Spring in 2011. Planners wanted to bring mass movements from the Middle East and North Africa into the collective narrative of this global mobilization. As Medea Benjamin reports, this Social Forum was the first to have a “dedicated ‘Climate space’ to emphasize ‘food sovereignty, water justice and respect for the rights of indigenous and forest peoples. Session rejected ‘false solutions” put forward by governments that would not solve the environmental crises facing humankind.

Benjamin reported that a Tunisian student, when asked whether the Social Forum movement should continue, answered in the affirmative. The student paid homage to the Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, who committed suicide and launched Arab Spring and declared that “for all those who have died struggling for justice, we must continue to learn from each other how to build a world that does not respond to the greed of dictators, bankers or corporations, but to the needs of simple people like Mohamed Bouazizi.”

(The original essay was posted on The Rag Blog as "Global Challenges to the International Order," April 10, 2013)