Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Struggle Against the War System Must Continue


Some of us watched a powerful film last night called “Shadow World.” While it did not provide us with an outlook and understanding we did not already share, it demonstrated graphically the enormous power of multinational military corporations, the financial hold these corporations have on virtually every country in the Global North and Global South, the deeply embedded idea most cultures share of “the inevitability of war” and the evils of “human nature,” and the profoundly negative consequences the war system have had on literally billions of people in terms of death, destruction, and every day pain and suffering.

The article linked above does a very good job of analyzing the military/industrial complex today and how US preparedness for war and national security bears no relationship to twenty-first century reality. While the tasks are daunting, it is clear that the peace movement, at the local level, even more than nationally, must insist that all politicians say “no” to military spending. This vision (and program) must guide work for all presidential and other candidates for state and national office as well. The connections between the war system and virtually every other human problem must be made clear again and again. And, the peace movement must be cognizant of the fact that a war system that has been under construction since the end of the nineteenth century (or even earlier as the Europeans conquered the lands already occupied and slave owners disciplined peoples from Africa) will not be abolished overnight. But Another World is Possible.

Thursday, June 20, 2019


Harry Targ

“Trustee Malcolm DeKryger compared time at Purdue to an eye of a hurricane, where students were focused on the rigors of getting a degree.

‘There’s a lot stuff going on in our country and our civics going around us,’ DeKryger said. ‘But when you’re in the eye, it’s pretty quiet. … I guess that’s why I personally agree with that idea that we’ve got to make sure there is that touchpoint out there, so when you do go out into the world, you’re prepared.’”  (quoted in Dave Bangert, “Purdue Trustees, Mitch Daniels Reiterate Call for Civics Test Get A Diploma,” Lafayette Journal and Courier, June 18, 2019.

No one can dispute the value of education about the nation, the world, and the issues that have and will affect peoples lives in the short-and long-term future. Schools and universities, of course, have historically been primary venues for disseminating such information. However, most often politicians have preferred narratives about themselves and others that they wish to inculcate in the young. A more desirable form of information and analysis is one that is diverse, sensitive to ones own past and present, and shows respect to narratives and experiences of other peoples and nations. This kind of “civics” education is a complicated and not achieved by learning isolated facts.
President Mitch Daniels, Purdue University, in the spring, 2019, proposed that the university require that each graduating senior at the university demonstrate a knowledge of what he called “civics.” The members of the Board of Trustees recently endorsed the idea and implicitly castigated faculty for not moving expeditiously to establish a civics certification process for graduating seniors. But faculty have questioned the need for such a certification, what civics education is, and how to provide for it. Specifically, they asked whether claims about civics ignorance at Purdue and elsewhere were true. They also asked whether taking a short-answer test really demonstrated knowledge of the United States government, its constitution, and the political process. Some faculty argued that such a need could only be satisfied by at least one course, perhaps in Political Science or History, that would provide a richer knowledge, raise competing understandings of the development of the United States government, and would allow for serious discussions of the strengths and weaknesses of the American political experience. A ten or twenty item short answer test, they argued, would not reflect the more subtle and sophisticated needs of civics education.

Some faculty were puzzled by why, in the context of the existence of a set of university core requirements already in existence, this idea of a civics certification emerged. One possible source of the idea of some kind of civics education can be seen in a January 2016 report published by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), an organization founded by the State Policy Network, which is tied to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Charles and David Koch Foundation. The report called “A Crisis in Civic Education,” describes a survey it sponsored in 2015 that demonstrates that college graduates and the public in general lack knowledge of “our free institutions of government.” It listed examples of some basic facts about government and history that respondents failed to answer correctly. These included a lack of understanding of how the constitution could be amended, which institution has the power to declare war, and who was “the father of the constitution.”
Perhaps ACTA’s underlying concern was suggested by a quote in the preface of the document attributed to Louise Mirrer, President of the New York Historical Society, who received an ACTA award in 2014 “for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education.” She said that in the contemporary world of conflicts between religious, ethnic and racial groups, Americans need to be reminded of US history “…especially as that history  conveys our nation’s stunning successful recipe,  based on the documents of our founding, for an inclusive and tolerant society.” (Apparently she forgot the limitations on the rights of Blacks, women and those without property to vote in “the documents of our founding.”)   In addition, the report takes aim at community service programs, which it asserts “…give students little insight into how our system of government works and what roles they must fill as citizens of a democratic republic.”

It is clear, therefore, that what the ACTA report (and one could reasonably assume what has motivated the recommendation of President Daniels, himself an award recipient from ACTA) and the Purdue Board of Trustees regards as civics education is a narrative that celebrates the American experience. These sources presume that specific facts about the Constitution and the Founding Fathers and basic truisms about the United States as a “melting pot” constitute civics education. Although civics education is surely a desirable goal of education at every level, K through college, it requires moving beyond memorizing basic facts to more subtle examinations about the American experience, including exposing students to debates about how and why that experience has unfolded in the way that it has. For example, a real civics education might address questions such as:
-What is democracy? Is it just about voting or does it also include the distribution of society’s resources?
-What is power? Who has power in the United States political system? How did they get it? Is the distribution of power and influence in the United States democratic?
-How are people elected to public office? What kind of resources do they need to run for public office? What kind of people are likely to be elected to public office such as relating to their class, race , gender, nationality, and occupations?
-How do policies get introduced, discussed, debated, and passed? Who influences the policymaking process? What role do powerful interest groups play in the policy process?
-What role do political parties play in the electoral and policy process?
-In the United States have there been population groups who have not been the beneficiaries of the political system? Who are they? Why have they not enjoyed the benefits of the political system? What is gerrymandering?

To answer these questions requires that students take a course or more that addresses these issues, perhaps in Departments of Political Science and/or History. For sure, if students lack civics literacy (and that is an empirical question) it cannot be achieved by answers to a series of short answer questions but thorough study, recognizing that answers to the questions are complicated with differing possible answers. And addressing these questions in multiple ways would constitute a real civics education.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Foreign Policy Lies Lead to War: Is Iran Next? (a repost)

By Harry Targ

On August 2, 1964, North Vietnamese armed motor boats attacked two U.S. naval vessels off the coast of North Vietnam. The administration of Lyndon Johnson defined the attacks as an unprovoked act of North Vietnamese aggression.

Two days later it was announced that another attack on U.S. ships in international waters had occurred and the U.S. responded with air attacks on North Vietnamese targets. President Johnson then took a resolution he had already prepared to the Congress of the United States. The so-called Gulf of Tonkin resolution declared that the Congress authorizes the president to do what he deemed necessary to defend U.S. national security in Southeast Asia. Only two Senators voted "no." Over the next three years the U.S. sent 500,000 troops to Vietnam to carry out a massive air and ground war in both the South and North of the country.

Within a year of the so-called Gulf of Tonkin incidents, evidence began to appear indicating that the August 2 attack was provoked. The two U.S. naval vessels were in North Vietnamese coastal waters orchestrating acts of sabotage in the Northern part of Vietnam. More serious, evidence pointed to the inescapable conclusion that the second attack on August 4 never occurred.

President Johnson's lies to the American people about the Gulf of Tonkin contributed to the devastating decisions to escalate a U.S. war in Vietnam that cost 57,000 U.S. troop deaths and upwards of three million Vietnamese deaths.

Forty years later, George W. Bush and his key aides put together a package of lies about Iraq- imports of uranium from Niger, purchases of aluminum rods which supposedly could be used for constructing nuclear weapons, development of biological and chemical weapons, and connections between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden.

As the Vietnamese and Iraqi cases show, foreign policies built on lies can lead to imperial wars, huge expenditures on the military, economic crises at home, and military casualties abroad.

The American people must insist that their leaders tell the truth about the U.S. role in the world. 

Harry Targ has taught  U.S. foreign policy and international relations at Purdue University. He is the author or co-author of books and articles on these subjects. He is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.

Sunday, June 2, 2019


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 its 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 Miguelde 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.

A 2019 Postscript: Resistance Grows

        Since the November, 2016 election masses of people have been mobilizing in a variety of ways against the threatened agenda of the newly elected president. The women’s marches and rallies of January 21, 2017 and International Women’s Day on March 8 were historic in size and global reach. There have been huge mobilizations to reduce the use of fossil fuels and prevent climate disaster, to support immigrant rights, and to provide basic health care. Many of these manifestations of outrage and fear have occurred as planned events but also there have been numerous spontaneous acts at Congressional town hall meetings and even in airports challenging Trump directives to refuse people entry into the United States.       A multiplicity of groups have formed or increased in size since January: former Bernie Sanders supporters; anti-racists campaigns; those calling for sanctuary cities and defending the human rights of immigrants; progressive Democratic organizations; and women’s mobilizations. Traditional left organizations, such as the Democratic Socialists of America, benefiting from the Sanders campaign, tripled in size. And organizations such as The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood have reported large increases in financial contributions. The mobilization of millions of people has bolstered the spirits of progressives everywhere. They feel that at this point in history a new progressivism is about to be born. But the story is made complicated by the nature of the opposition to Trumpism.

Oppositions to Trumpism: Neoliberal and Progressive
        However, on almost a daily basis stories have appeared in the mainstream media about Trump’s incompetence and irrational and ill-informed statements. Most importantly, allegations of the connection between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian spying, have dominated the news. As a result, the neoliberal globalist Democrats, activists in the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton and leaders of the Democratic Party, have consciously embraced the Trump/Russia connection as the real reason why their candidate lost the election. By implication, they deny that there was anything perceived negatively about mainstream Democratic Party policies on trade, health care, mass incarceration, bank regulation, jobs and wages, and other neoliberal approaches to policy in the years when Democrats were in the White House. Clearly, Hillary Clinton was identified with this neoliberal agenda. But understanding the election outcome through the lens of Russiagate is a recipe for disaster.
     The dilemma for progressives is that opposition to Trumpism and all it stands for has been and must be a key component of reigniting a progressive majority. But if it does not address the fundamental failures of the neoliberal agenda, including challenging neoliberal globalization, the current stage of capitalism, Trump’s grassroots support will continue. Working people who ordinarily would vote for more liberal candidates for public office need to believe that future candidates are prepared to address the issues, often economic, that concern them.
    Therefore, the fundamental project for progressives today includes mobilizing against Trumpism while articulating an alternative political and economic analysis of the current state of capitalist development. In concrete terms, this approach means challenging the legitimacy of the Trump administration and its allies in Congress while articulating the perspective that mainstream Democrats, the neoliberal globalists, are part of the problem, not the solution.
      This alternative analysis requires a bold challenge inside the electoral arena and in the streets that calls for radical reforms: single-payer health care; cutting the military-budget; creating government programs to put people to work on living wage jobs in infrastructure, social services, and public education; addressing climate change: and fiscal and regulatory policies that reduce the grotesque inequality of wealth and income which has increased since the 1980s.
      The tasks are challenging but another world is possible.