Sunday, February 24, 2019

THE REALITIES OF IMPERIALISM AND DEPENDENCY: STILL RELEVANT TODAY

Harry Targ

Imperialism

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.

Dependency

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

HIGHER EDUCATION IN CRISIS (part one)


REMODELING LIBERAL ARTS IN THE PUBLIC UNIVERSITY
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, goacta.org.) 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

THE NORTH-SOUTH STRUGGLE IS A CLASS STRUGGLE: VENEZUELA IS THE LATEST EXAMPLE

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 https://therealnews.com/series/venezuela-coverage-and-analysis )

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, www.cc-ds.org).
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, www.portside.org)  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” (startguide.org) 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,” ouleft.org, 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.

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