Friday, August 30, 2019


Harry Targ 
(An earlier version of this essay appeared in The Rag Blog, September 17, 2013)

Continued study and research into the origins of the folk music of various peoples in many parts of the world revealed that there is a world body-a universal body-of folk music based upon a universal pentatonic (five tone) scale. Interested as I am in the universality of (hu)mankind-in the fundamental relationship of all peoples to one another-this idea of a universal body of music intrigued me, and I pursed it along many fascinating paths. (Paul Robeson, Here I Stand, 1959).

America’s destiny required the U.S. “…to set the world its example of right and honor…We cannot retreat from any soil where providence has unfurled our banner. It is ours to save that soil, for liberty, and civilization….It is is racial. God has not been preparing the English-speaking and teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle self-contemplation and self-admiration. No! He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns. He has given us the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth.” (Senator Albert Beveridge, Indiana, Congressional Record, 56 Congress, I Session, pp.704-712, 1898).

Let’s be clear. United States foreign policy over the last 150 years has been a reflection of many forces including economics, politics, militarism and the desire to control territory. The most important idea used by each presidential administration to gain support from the citizenry for the pursuit of empire is the claim that America is “exceptional”. 

Think about the view of “the city on the hill” articulated by Puritan ancestors who claimed that they were creating a social experiment that would inspire the world. Over three hundred years later President Reagan again spoke of “the city on the hill.” Or one can recall public addresses of turn of the twentieth century luminaries such as former President Theodore Roosevelt who claimed that the white race from Europe and North America was civilizing the peoples of what we would now call the Global South.  Or Indiana Senator Beveridge’s clear statement: “It is elemental…It is racial.” From the proclamation of the new nation’s special purpose in Puritan America, to Ronald Reagan’s reiteration of the claim, to similar claims by virtually all politicians of all political affiliations, Americans hear over and over that we are different, special, and a shining example of public virtue that all other peoples should use as their guide to building a better society and polity.

However, looking at data on the United States role in the world, the United States was at war for 201 years from 1776 to 2011. Ten million indigenous people were exterminated as the “new” nation moved westward between the 17th and the 20th centuries and at least 10 million people were killed, mostly from developing countries between 1945 and 2010 in wars in which the United States had some role. In addition, world affairs was transformed by the singular use of two atomic bombs; one dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 instantly killing 80,000 people and the other on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 killing another 70,000.

Comparing the image of exceptionalism with the domestic reality of American life suggests stark contrasts as well: continuous and growing gaps between rich and poor, inadequate nutrition and health care for significant portions of the population, massive domestic gun violence, and inadequate access to the best education that the society has the capacity to provide to all. Of course, the United States was a slave society for over 200 years formally racially segregated for another 100, and now incarcerates 15 percent of African American men in their twenties. And now thousands of refugees from violence and poverty in Central America are housed in concentration camps or removed from the United States because they are "illegal."

The United States is not the only country that has a history of imperialism, exploitation, violence, and racism but we must understand that our foreign policy and economic and political system are not exceptional and must be changed.

Finally, a better future and the survival of the human race require us to realize, as Paul Robeson suggested, what is precious about humanity is not our differences but our commonalities. Exceptionalist thinking separates us. Sharing what we have in common as human beings, both our troubles and our talents, is the only basis for creating a peaceful and just world.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019



Paul Robeson. Photo from Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives.

Remembering Paul Robeson:
Seventy years after the Peekskill Riots

By Harry Targ (the original essay appeared in The Rag Blog / September 4, 2009)

On September 4, 1949, an angry crowd surrounded the 20,000 friends of Paul Robeson who had come to hear him in an open-air concert at Peekskill, New York. After the event right-wing, anti-communist inspired mobs attacked supporters who were leaving the event. These attacks included smashing the windows of Pete Seeger’s automobile with several family members inside. Seventy years later we remember the great progressive Paul Robeson, his struggles for justice, and his refusal to bow to the politics of reaction.

The Young Robeson

One of the giants of the twentieth century, a citizen of the world, an actor/singer and activist for justice, Paul Robeson has been virtually erased from popular consciousness, a victim of the vicious anti-communist hysteria of the 1940s and 1950s.

Paul Robeson, an African-American, was born to Maria Louis Bustill and William Drew Robeson in Princeton, New Jersey in 1898, 33 years after the close of the civil war and two years after the United States Supreme Court declared in Plessy vs. Ferguson that separate institutions for Black and white people were constitutional. New Jersey, while not segregated to the extent of the deep South, was hostile to the rights of Black people.

Robeson was born into a family with a long-standing commitment to struggle for justice. His mother’s ancestors participated in the underground railroad, bringing escaped slaves from the South to the North. Her family included ministers, teachers, and artisans in the Northern free Black community. His father was a slave who escaped to the north and joined the Union army. As a minister educated at Lincoln University, Robeson’s father defended the rights of Black people in the New Jersey communities where he worked.

Many years later when he was politically active, Robeson would refer to the experiences of his people struggling against slavery and oppression to be free. He likened the struggles of his ancestors to the Black people of his day, and also to factory workers seeking labor rights, and peoples all round the world who were struggling to overthrow European colonial empires.

The young Robeson studied hard, was coached in elocution by his demanding father and performed so well in school that he was admitted to Rutgers University in 1915, only the third Black ever to enter that institution. Robeson graduated in 1919 as valedictorian, champion debater, and two-time All-American first-team football selection.

Robeson attended law school at Columbia University from 1919-1923 but decided against a law career because of the racism he faced at a preeminent New York law firm.

While he attended law school, Robeson began appearing in plays and found his way to the influential Provincetown Players of Greenwich Village. Robeson’s artistic career was successfully launched by his performances in two of Eugene O’Neill’s most important and controversial plays, “All God’s Chillun Got Wings” and “Emperor Jones.” From there his reputation and visibility spread.

By the late 1920s, he appeared in “Porgy,” “Stevedore” and “Showboat,” where he sang “Old Man River,” a song that would have deep political significance for him later on. On tour in Europe in the late 1920s and starring in a London production of “Othello,” in 1930, Robeson had become a star of worldwide proportions. During the 1930s, he would appear in eleven films, mostly British productions, further solidifying his global reputation as an actor.

As his reputation was soaring in the theatre of the 1920s, Robeson came to the realization that the rich musical heritage of his people, then called Negro Spirituals, needed to be celebrated and performed. He thus launched a singing career that would be his most enduring contribution to U.S. culture and, at the same time, would serve as a vehicle for him to participate in the struggle of Black people to achieve their freedom from racism and Jim Crow segregation. Over the next thirty years, he would learn at least a dozen languages and would celebrate the musical traditions of peoples from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America, as well as the United States.

The Politicization of Paul Robeson

By the mid-1930s, Robeson’s outlook concerning the world around him and how the artist must relate to that world had changed significantly. Always aware of racism and segregation, Robeson began to see the oppression of his people as similar and related to the world of anti-Semitism, colonialism, worker exploitation, and attacks on the first socialist state, the Soviet Union.

Leaving a London theatre after a performance of Showboat in 1928, Robeson encountered a massive march of Welsh miners who had come all the way from Wales to demand better wages and working conditions. Robeson spoke to their group and joined their struggle. The mutual love and respect Robeson and the Welsh miners developed for each other would last for the rest of his life.

But it was the escalating Spanish Civil war, fascist armies fighting to overthrow a democratically elected government, that led Robeson to declare his commitment to political struggle on behalf of the dispossessed. In a speech given before the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief at Royal Albert Hall on June 24, 1937 he proclaimed: “I have longed to see my talent contributing in an unmistakably clear manner to the cause of humanity. Every artist, every scientist, must decide NOW where he stands. He has no alternative.” The artist he said “must elect to fight for freedom or slavery.”

Robeson spoke out for workers, walked their picket lines, and sang to gatherings of trade unionists in auto, steel, shipping, meat packing, electrical, and mining industries who were demanding the right to form unions during the massive organizing drives of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). He sang of that great IWW labor singer/ organizer, “Joe Hill.” And he sang songs championing racial justice.

Red Scares

After World War II, Robeson met with President Truman and demanded that he take a stand against segregation and support anti-lynching legislation in the South. He already had spoken out against the exclusion of Blacks from major league baseball. Opposing the Cold War and Truman’s refusal to stand against segregation in the South, Robeson joined the campaign of third party candidate Henry Wallace, of the Progressive Party of America, who was running for president in 1948.

Robeson had often visited the Soviet Union, befriended the great Soviet film maker Eisenstein and had spoken with admiration about what appeared to be the lack of racism there. After World War II and as the Cold War was heating up, the U.S. government and right wing groups launched a campaign to stifle the voice of Paul Robeson because of his sympathies for the Soviet Union and his strong advocacy for racial justice in the United States.

He was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Thugs vandalized and beat attendees at the summer Robeson concert in Peekskill, New York. Government agents pressured concert impresarios to stop sponsoring Robeson concerts. And when his public access to audiences declined in the 1950s, even Black churches were pressured to cancel Robeson visits.

The centerpiece of the effort to muzzle Robeson was the decision of the State Department to revoke his passport in 1950. He was forbidden to leave the United States even though he still was a beloved worldwide figure. His passport was not reinstated until 1958 when the Supreme Court ruled that the State Department did not have the right to confiscate the passports of citizens..

Despite his not being able to travel, working people around the world continued to support Robeson. Canadian trade unionists from 1952 through 1955 organized four Robeson concerts at the border between the state of Washington and Canada. Robeson performed from the U.S. side and Canadian workers listened to his music from their side. Robeson welcomed the Canadian workers at the 1952 concert singing his signature song, “Old Man River,” from Showboat. He sang the lyrics he had revised from the original version in the 1928 musical -- from stereotyping of Black people as docile to Black people as fighters for their freedom. Robeson began to insert the newer progressive lyrics in the 1930s when his own political consciousness had begun to change and for the rest of his life he saw the new lyrics as emblematic of his own political transformation.

In 1957, Welsh miners organized a chorus in a London studio and sang to Robeson listening in New York using the then new long distance telephone lines. They always remembered his support for their struggle and they wanted to demonstrate to him and the world their opposition to the efforts of the United States to stifle the voice of Paul Robeson.

After Robeson’s passport was reissued he resumed worldwide travel in the late 1950s. He fell ill in 1961, returned to the United States and for the most part retired from public life.

Robeson believed that peoples everywhere shared common musical forms and common struggles: workers, peoples of color, colonized peoples, women. He celebrated their differences but insisted on their human oneness. Perhaps we need to rediscover that vision again today. He died in 1976 but his spirited call for human solidarity is just as precious today as it was in his lifetime. And, as at Peekskill, those who support human solidarity must be prepared to “hold the line” against reaction.

'Hold The Line'

Let me tell you the story of a line that was held,
And many brave men and women whose courage we know well,
How we held the line at Peekskill on that long September day!
We will hold the line forever till the people have their way.

Hold the line! Hold the line!
As we held the line at Peekskill
We will hold it everywhere.
Hold the line! Hold the line!
We will hold the line forever
Till there’s freedom ev’rywhere.

Words by Lee Hays; Music by Pete Seeger (1949)

Wednesday, August 21, 2019


Harry Targ

Why Migration
People migrate from one place to another for a variety of reasons. A good part of that migration has to do with international relations, national economies, and the increasingly globalized economy. Literally millions of people have moved from one geographic space to another in the twenty-first century, in most cases for reasons of physical fear or economic need. Two prominent causes that “push” people to leave their communities and homeland relate to “hybrid wars” and neoliberal globalization.

Hybrid wars refer to the long-term policies of imperial powers to systematically undermine political regimes that pursue policies and goals that challenge their global hegemony. Over long periods of time imperial powers have used force, covert operations, supporting pliant local elites, and funneling money to disrupt local political processes. If targeted countries still reject outside interference the imperial power uses force to overthrow recalcitrant governments. In the 1980s all these tactics were used by the United States to crush revolutionary ferment in Central America. Of course, the US hybrid war strategy has been a staple of United States policy in the region ever since President Franklin Roosevelt declared the policy of “The Good Neighbor.”
Neoliberalism  refers to the variety of policies that rich capitalist countries and international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization have imposed on debt-ridden poor countries. These policies require poor countries to cut back on public services, deregulate their economies, reduce tariffs that protect their own industries and agriculture, and in other ways insist that poor countries open their economies to foreign investment and trade penetration. The impacts of neoliberalism have been to impose austerity on largely marginalized populations. Their agriculture and industries have been undermined by subsidized agribusinesses from the Global North and global investors. Since the initiation of neoliberal policies in the 1970s gaps between rich and poor nations and rich and poor people within nations have grown all across the world, with a few exceptions such as China.

In sum, people everywhere have experienced the creation of repressive regimes and economic policies that have shifted vast majorities from modest survival to deep poverty. (Susan Jonas once wrote that the Guatemalan people lived more secure lives before the arrival of Spanish colonizers in the fifteenth century than ever since). The globalization of the economy, increased violence and repression within countries (largely involving United States interference), increasing income and wealth inequality and poverty, and the rise of repressive regimes everywhere, has led to massive emigration. Some estimates indicate that 37 million people left their home countries (some 45 countries) between 2010 and 2015 for humanitarian reasons.
One of the ironies of world history is that capital in the form of investments, trade, the purchase of natural resources, the globalization of production, and military interventions have been common and necessary features of capitalism since its emergence in the sixteenth century. But, paradoxically, and except for the global slave trade and selected periods of history, the movement of people has been illegal. (Sometimes branding migrants as “illegal” has been a device to cheapen their labor). The idea of national sovereignty has been used to justify categorizing some human migrants as “illegal.” If capital is and has been legal, the movement of people should be legal as well. It makes no sense, nor is it humane, to brand any human beings as “illegal.”

The Concept of Open Borders
This sketchy analysis of the “root causes” of emigration suggest the need to oppose imperialism, both in the form of hybrid wars and promotion of neoliberal economic policies. This traditional task of peace and anti-imperialist campaigns is ongoing and needs to continue. And the analyses of the deleterious effects of hybrid wars and neoliberalism should be linked to movements fighting against  cruel and inhumane immigration policies in recipient countries, such as the United States. In addition, drawing on history, law, ethics, and a humane and socialist vision of the universality of humankind, progressives should expand on a conversation raised by some about the concept of “open borders.”

The idea of open borders has not been sufficiently discussed as the immigration crisis in the United States and Europe has unfolded. The core concept, with much room for discussion of implementation, suggests that, as a recently endorsed Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) calls for, there should be an “uninhibited transnational free movement of people….and a pathway to citizenship for all non-citizen residents.”  The idea of open borders implies that no human being by virtue of her/his presence in any geographic space can be defined as “illegal” and that the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights apply to everyone, everywhere.

In a 2017 article Aisha Dodwell, Global Justice Now, wrote in defense of open borders (Aisha Dodwell, “7 Reasons Why We should Have Open Borders,”   New Internationalist, November 29, 2017, . Among her arguments are the following:
-Borders are tools to separate the rich and powerful from the poor.

-Borders do not stop efforts to emigrate but exacerbate violence against already victimized people.
-Immigrants are erroneously blamed for declining employment and jobs when, in fact, it is the demonization of immigrants that divides workers from each other.

-Open borders would allow for emigres to return home when the brutal repressive and economic conditions that led them to flee were reduced.
-Open borders would lead to greater employment, increased earnings, rising demand for goods and services, and through income repatriation, more money sent back to families in countries the emigres fled. In short, open borders would be a stimulus for economic growth in both the country of origin and the host country of emigres.

-Open borders would mean the equalization of the rights of people to emigrate; thus avoiding the current policies that allow for immigration of certain populations (such as skilled workers) and not others.
-Historically, open borders have always existed for corporations, banks, the super-rich, tourists and other select populations who are beneficiaries of the global capitalist system.

Earlier Roque Planes, Latino Voices, (“16 Reasons Why Opening Our Borders Makes More Sense Than Militarizing Them,” Huffpost, September 2, 2014, ) adds to the list of reasons justifying open borders. Planes quotes an immigration expert who has argued that, with glaring exceptions such as Asians, open borders existed until the 1920s. “‘Legally’ meant something very different then than it does now. At the time, the United States accepted practically everyone who showed up with few restrictions other than the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and a brief health examination. The foreign-born share of the population, 12.9 percent, is lower today than it was during the entire period from 1860 to 1920, according to data published by the Brookings institution.”
Planes posited arguments pertaining to open borders:

-Today capital and goods flow across borders but not always labor.
-Rich people have the privilege of open borders.

-the US immigration system is broken.
-Open borders within the European Union, while increasingly volatile politically, did not lead to the collapse of European economies.

-‘Illegal’ immigration is a direct resultant of US policies. Planes sites overthrowing governments, financing militaries in poor countries, promoting policies that destroy domestic agriculture in poor countries, and, he could have added, the war on drugs.
-Open borders increase the possibility of immigrants returning to their homelands.

-Immigrants, in the main, are not the cause of stagnant wages in the United States. Using anti-immigrant and racist policies divert attention from the primary causes of economic exploitation.
-The broken immigration system has provided huge profits for the prison/industrial complex and large budgets for law enforcement agencies.

As to the last point, Todd Miller, Empire of Borders: The Expansion if the U.S. Border Around the World,  Verso Books, 2019, argues that United States policy is “pushing out the border,” such that allies tighten their own borders to serve the needs of expanding imperial control. In addition, by pressuring other countries to tighten their own border security, the U.S. is expanding its border security apparatus, to include new special forces and expansion of State Department and other agency activities. A reviewer of Miller’s book, (Cora Currier, Pushing out the Border: How the U.S. is Waging a Global War on Migration,”  Portside, August 4, 2019, quotes Miller who writes that U.S. Customs and Border Protection “has trained new patrol and homeland security units for Kenyan, Tanzanian and Ugandan borders.” 

The reviewer points out from Miller’s study that “…the U.S. Department of Homeland Security can be found assisting border projects in the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, India, Poland, Turkey, and Vietnam.” In addition the Border Patrol has offices in Mexico and Canada and a presence in Puerto Rico to oversee the Caribbean. Quoting Miller: “Hundreds of millions in U.S. funds have flowed to Central American borders to turn them into U.S.-style defensible zones.” And soldiers from around the world are flown to the U.S. southwest to gain experience in border control. Clearly, Miller is describing a growing military/corporate/immigration complex. The ideological glue justifying this massive enterprise are claims about national sovereignty and presumed racist threats that people fleeing repression and starvation represent.
What To Do?

Along with the panoply of proposals for immigration reform, campaigns to combat racism, and the movements to provide sanctuary to desperate migrant peoples, progressives need to look at the history/ theory/ and practice of anti-immigrant policies. A central conclusion that needs to be raised is to call and work for open borders as suggested by the DSA resolution on open borders. 

In sum central elements of a truly radical and humane response to the immigration crisis in the United States and the world should include:
-Increased efforts to challenge imperialism everywhere in both its political/military dimensions and its intrusive neoliberal economic policies

-Rejection of the idea that people can be deemed “illegal.”
-Mobilizing around the concept of opening borders to people fleeing repression and economic deprivation, similar to the U.S immigration policies of the early part of the twentieth century.

-Using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a guide to law and practice all across the globe.
-Revitalizing programs of humanitarian assistance on a global basis including revisiting the possible value of instituting economic regulations of global capitalism that were once in the United Nations, referred to as “The   New International Economic Order.”

-Work to dismantle the military/corporate/immigration complex.
While these larger demands will be difficult to achieve, working for them and articulating a vision of the world where human beings are not deemed illegal will add clarity to the reasons behind more modest demands for reform.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


Harry Targ, dh must be confronted in devising pathways to greater security.

“Purdue is advancing a broad defense innovation capability, distinguished by its depth, breadth, and speed, with the goal of contributing to our nation’s third offset strategy of innovation by integration of existing strengths and forming new partnerships. The depth in quality and creativity of Purdue research centers is, and will remain, our strongest asset. The breadth responds to the need expressed by multiple DoD customers for a ‘total package’: new, integrated solutions (technologies, transition), new talent (graduates highly trained in relevant problems), and new modes of knowledge access (personnel exchange, training, distance education).

Purdue University researchers conducted over $40M of sponsored research in the 2014-2015 academic year and, in doing so, educated hundreds of graduate and undergraduate students in cutting edge technologies.”

“NDIA, in partnership with Purdue University, will host a comprehensive program on hypersonic systems. Together with government, industry, and academia, NDIA will present the technical foundations of hypersonic systems, the current approach to rapidly developing hypersonic capabilities, and the warfighter, policy, and acquisition perspectives on delivering a sustainable operational capability” "2019 Hypersonics Capabilities Conference," NDIA 100,

The National Defense Industry Association NDIA is an association of defense industry contractors who lobby for increased military expenditures. Its members are described as “informed opinion leaders” dedicated to improved national security.

Purdue’s Discovery Park launched in 2001 with a grant from the state of Indiana and expanded by a $25 million Lilly Endowment as a nanotechnology center. Today it is a $1.15 billion research and learning complex that combines Purdue’s expertise in science, engineering, technology, and biology, with connections to the corporate world. As its website suggests: “Leveraging Lilly Endowment’s investment, Discovery Park has created an innovative environment where major global challenges are examined objectively, generating new ideas and directions for future generations.”

One of Discovery Park’s core strengths is “Global Security.” Key research on this subject is designed to respond to security threats, global instability, defense needs, terrorism, nuclear deterrence and proliferation, basically responding to “the most pressing security and defense challenges facing the nation and the world.”
Chief Discovery Park scientist, Professor Tomas Diaz de la Rubia posted an essay entitled “The New Future of Warfare” (Purdue University Discovery Park Vice President’s Blog, (October 1, 2018). In it he addressed the emerging salience of new military technologies based on artificial intelligence (AI) and war. De la Rubia speculated that future wars will not be fought on battlefields but rather in cities or in cyberspace. New AI weapons of war in the hands of presumed enemies could constitute an existential threat to the survival of the United States. Discovery Park, he indicated, is already engaged in vital research on biomorphic robots, automatic target recognition for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, automatic targeting for drones, and other technologies. In short, a core Discovery Park mission includes the preparation for and implementation of war. And this is necessary because as Professor de la Rubia argued:

“It has become apparent that the U.S. is no longer guaranteed top dog status on the dance card that is the future of war. In order to maintain military superiority the focus must shift from traditional weapons of war to advanced systems that rely on A.I.-based weaponry. The stakes are just too high and the prize too great for the U.S. to be left behind. All the more reason to call upon Purdue University and its inestimable capacity to weave together academia, research, and industry for the greater good. We’re stepping up to secure our place in the future of our country, and there’s much more to come!” He warned that China had announced that it would overtake the US by 2030 in the global artificial intelligence market.

Recently, the NDIA and Purdue University hosted a conference on “hypersonics,” the development of high speed weapons systems, stimulated by a $2.4 billion allocation in the 2020 defense budget. According to a Purdue press release, the university has one of the most comprehensive hypersonic research capabilities. University President Mitch Daniels declared that the university was “…ready to establish itself as the ‘university hub’ of hypersonic research and development.” Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb declared that “Hypersonics systems are our state’s number one defense priority, and I’m glad we can bring industry leaders together at Purdue University to showcase what Indiana can offer.” (“NDIA, Purdue Launching Inaugural Hypersonics Capabilities Conference to Advance Transformational Military Capabilities,” Purdue Research Foundation News, July 29, 2019).  Some comments suggested also that this new military research agenda would lead to greater economic development in the Greater Lafayette area. One particularly bizarre spokesperson justified the Purdue commitment to high speed warfare by referring to the mission of the Morrill Act of 1862 establishing land-grant universities (Dave Bangert, “Purdue ‘Doubling Down” on Military Research on Hypersonic Flight, Weapons,”  Lafayette Journal and Courier, July 30, 2019).

These statements illustrate that Purdue University, a large land-grant university, increasingly is committing its skills to research, development, training, and the production of the instruments of war. Such commitments have been made with little discussion in the broader university community. 

Important theoretical questions are not being raised. For example, is war inevitable? Are other countries a threat to the United States? Should we conceptualize the world in the twenty-first century as one in which the United States and China are competitors and threats to each other? Should the United States commit itself to remaining the number one power in the world, however that is defined? Or should research prioritize human development and conflict resolution rather than “security? Is there a relationship between poverty, hunger, environmental devastation, the spread of weapons and war and violence? One wonders if more of government and corporate resources should be allocated to these many issues, rather than to ill-conceived, notions of national “security.” And, finally, do collaborative efforts between universities, such as Purdue, with defense contractors and the Department of Defense best serve the needs of national security, conflict reduction, research, or education? And, in the end, does not this collaboration between the military, the university, and industry constitute a huge robbery of the wealth of society at the expense of social and economic development, ecological survival, and the prospects of peace?

President Eisenhower in 1960 warned about an unwarranted growth of the influence of the military/industrial complex in American society. Today he would characterize the danger as the military/industrial/academic complex. It includes the shifting of the research and education missions of higher education away from human development to war-making. 

These qualitative changes in university priorities are being made largely in non-transparent decision-making ways. But when challenged, the military/industrial/academic complex tends to defend its existence by claiming war is inevitable. And to secure support, when questioned, self-identified experts construct narratives of enemies; whether they be the Communists, the terrorists, China, the Cubans, the Venezuelans, artificial intelligence, or all of the above. As Andrew Bacevich so compellingly has argued, ever since the end of World War Two, the United States has created a “permanent war economy.” Given the increasing financial challenges universities face in the twenty-first century, collaboration with this permanent war economy becomes attractive to university administrators.

For more on the concept of the military/industrial complex see:

For a discussion about competing paradigms in the study of international relations see:

Thursday, August 1, 2019


Harry Targ

Demographics: Who Are the Potential Inside/Outside Activists?
On April 11, 2019, the Pew Research Center posted a document called “6 Demographic Trends Shaping the U.S. and the World in 2019.” These trends could be the basis for thinking about a new politics for the 21st century.

First, the Center pointed out that so-called Millenials (ages 23 to 38) will outnumber Baby Boomers (ages 55 to 73) in 2019. Millenials are more educated, diverse, slower to marry than prior generations at the same age. While the younger generation are earning more than those at comparable ages in earlier generations, they have less wealth. In part, this is because they are saddled with more student debt than their elders.
Second, the next cohort, Generation Z (ages 7 to 22) are expanding with the projection that nearly half the Zers will be racial or ethnic minorities. By 2020 13.3 percent of the population are projected to be Latinx, Blacks 12.5 percent, and whites declining from 76.4 percent in 2000 to 66.7 percent in 2020.

Third, there is an increase in the percentage of parents who are not married and the percent of children living with unmarried parents has doubled from 13 percent in 1968 to 32 percent in 2017. “Stay-at-home” parents constitute only 18 percent. Majorities of Americans see radical changes in families in the years ahead: less marriage and less children. Twentieth century sociologists used to regard the traditional nuclear family as the anchor of societal stability, the transfer of norms, the unit of consumption, and source of personal discipline.
Fourth, the immigrant percentage of the total population has increased modestly over the last one hundred years, the numbers of “unauthorized” immigrants in the U.S. has declined.

Finally, the Pew Research Center confirms that while incomes are rising, inequality has grown as well. What they call the middle class has declined. And about 56 percent of Americans recognize that being white is being advantageous (compared with Blacks and Latinx) in terms of economic advancement.
An Emerging Progressive Public

Peter Dreier reported on polling data in 2017 confirming that majorities of Americans are liberal or progressive on most issues relating to the economy, the distribution of wealth and income, money in politics, taxes, minimum wage and workers’ rights, health care, education, climate change, criminal justice, immigration, and gender issues. (see Peter Dreier, “Most Americans Are Liberal, Even If They Don’t Know It,” The American Prospect, November 10, 2017).

Data for Progress, a progressive data-analyzing organization issued a report commissioned by Justice Democrats in April, 2018 called “The Future of the Party: A Progressive Vision for a Populist Democratic Party.”  Data for Progress seeks to employ sophisticated social science techniques to gather information that might be of use to activist groups. They reported that Democratic primary voters want a tax on millionaires, increased regulation of banks, a government guaranteed program of health care, and policies to reduce economic inequality. Polling data suggests a shift toward more opposition to racial discrimination and support for immigrant rights. 

Perhaps the most important findings for the future were that non-voters preferred Clinton over Trump by a nine-point margin in 2016 and tapping a broader population of citizens “nonvoters and marginal voters are more supportive of progressive policies” than not. The report concluded that based upon a variety of responses that Democratic Party candidates “…are not representing the progressivism of their constituents.” Using the Rahm Emanuel strategy of appealing to centrists in prior elections, the report concluded that, even if it was a good strategy in 2006 to achieve Congressional victory, it was inappropriate for 2018 and beyond. For the base of the Democratic Party and those who are a part of the base but are less likely to vote, pursuing a progressive policy agenda is the only recipe for victory over Trumpism. And by implication, pursuing the centrism trope may be a recipe for disaster on 2020.
Finally, a Yale Program on Climate Change Communication reported that the idea of a Green New Deal has bipartisan support among the public. A sample survey indicated that 81 percent of registered voters either “strongly support” or “somewhat support “Green New Deal policy proposals. Researchers asked respondents to indicate their support or opposition to various policy components of the Green New Deal, including shifting from fossil fuels to green energy and a jobs agenda to train and reemploy workers. Most respondents had not heard of the GND and consequently had not heard that this was a key component of left/progressive Democratic politicians. In other words, disconnected from the toxicity and partisanship most registered voters, on their merits, saw the policies as worthy of support. And 82 percent of respondents indicated that they had heard “nothing at all” about the Green New Deal.

Anti-Trumpism: Black Lives Matter, the Women’s Movement, and the Emergence of Democratic Socialism
The rift within the Democratic Party was on full display at the California Democratic Party Convention on May 19 (2017) in Sacramento, California. Progressives joined members of National Nurses United, protesting the Democratic Party establishment’s refusal to support (a) single payer health care system. Rather than follow through with Democratic rhetoric that health care is a human right, establishment Democrats have responded to voters by scolding and attacking them. (Michael Sainato, “Tom Perez Bombs Speech, California Dem Chair Tells Protesters ‘Shut the F* Up’” Observer, May 20, 2017).

Since its inauguration, The Trump administration has been embroiled in a series of crises, with new ones emerging on almost a daily basis. The president is bombastic, ill-informed, and narcissistic. In response to his critics he engages in dangerous and unconventional efforts to transform the dominant narrative about his incompetence. He authorized ruthless bombings in Syria and Afghanistan and threatened war against enemies such as North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela. In a 2017 diplomatic trip to the Middle East and Europe, he reached a deal to sell $110 billion in weaponry to a Saudi Arabian regime which supports terrorism throughout the Middle East and a devastating bombing campaign against Yemen. And at home he appointed cabinet members and advisors with long histories of white supremacy and anti-Semitism (almost in defiance of accepted minimal qualifications for public office). In 2019 his remaining foreign policy advisors, Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State and John Bolton, National Security Advisor, represent the most extreme elements of the neoconservative war faction of the two main political parties.

Trump’s core constituency all along has been sectors of finance capital, insurance, real estate, the military/industrial complex, and drug companies whose profits have come from domestic investments or sales and speculation overseas. It also includes portions of small and medium sized businesses whose viabilities have been threatened, not by big government, but by the further monopolization of the economy.

In addition, some workers displaced by the underside of neoliberalism, including capital flight, automation, and trade, have supported Trump because they saw no positive economic future in a Clinton presidency. Finally, the Trump constituency includes a sizeable percentage of voters who are ideological legatees of white supremacy.

Therefore, the Trump coalition consists of fractions of capital who will gain from a more muscular and economically nationalist policy agenda, marginalized portions of the so-called “middle class,” sectors of the working class, and portions of all of these whose political learning has centered on the history and consciousness of white supremacy (“make America great again”).

Trump’s major adversaries come from a core sector of the ruling class that has dominated the policy process at least since the 1980s, the neoliberal globalists. In response to the squeeze on profits of the 1970s, the capitalist elites began to promote a dramatic shift in the character of the economy in the direction of “neoliberalism.” Drawing upon an economic ideology with a long history from Adam Smith, to Milton Friedman, to mainstream neoclassical economists of the late twentieth century, every administration from Carter to Trump has engaged in deregulation of economic life, reducing government programs that help the poor and working classes, reducing the rights of unions, and privatizing virtually all public institutions. They “went global,” that is developing a network of economic ties via trade agreements, the globalization of production, and integrating corporate boards. Capitalist elites from every continent began to develop common approaches to national policy via such informal organizations as the Trilateral Commission, meetings of the G7 countries, and the annual World Economic forum.

Debt poor countries were the first to be forced to embrace neoliberal policies, followed by the former Socialist Bloc countries, then the Western European social democracies, and finally the United States. A significant portion of this qualitative change in the way capitalism works has involved increased financial speculation (as a proportion of the total gross domestic product), dramatic increases in global inequality in wealth and income, and increasing economic marginalization of workers, particularly women, people of color and immigrants.

Candidate Donald Trump orchestrated a campaign against the neoliberal globalists who dominated the political process in the United States since the 1980s. While he epitomized finance capital, albeit domestic as well as foreign, and represents the less than one percent who rule the world, he presented himself as a spokesperson of the economically marginalized. He attacked the capitalist class of which he is a member. In addition, he blamed the marginalization of the vast majority on some of their own; people of color, women, and immigrants.

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, 2017: 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

Paradoxically, while this is a teachable moment as well as a movement building moment, progressive forces are struggling to be organized. In and around the Democratic Party there is a conflict over the vision and the politics it ought to embrace at this time and in the coming period. The Sanders supporters, inside and outside the Democratic Party, have marshalled much support for a progressive agenda: single-payer health care, a green jobs agenda, protecting the environment, tax reform, building not destroying immigrant rights, defending women’s rights, and cutting military spending. With the brutal policies advocated and already instituted by the new Trump administration, progressive democrats and their allies on the left are struggling mightily to articulate a program and create some organizational unity to challenge Trumpism.

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.
A Postscript:

So far the data indicates that there is a base of solid support for a whole range of progressive policies and an additional subset of the population who might be inclined to support a progressive agenda. However, the Pew Research Center recently reported that “trust in government” is at an all-time low (17 percent) One can assume that those with distrust in government are less likely to vote. Therefore, since the potential base for building a progressive majority is great, there is a need to articulate and campaign around an agenda that can appeal to the disenchanted. Therefore political mobilization should first concentrate on mobilizing its activist progressive base and then mobilize  the “uncommitted” who as some of the data suggests would embrace progressivism. The final, and perhaps least plausible, population to engage would be those who oppose a progressive agenda.
Reflecting upon the globalization and perniciousness of neoliberal globalization, its transformation of the political economy of the United States and the global political economy, the increased marginalization of all who work, rising global inequality in wealth and income, the particular impacts of this system on people of color, women, and other socially marginalized groups, the progressive project of the near-term future is clear both for inside and outside political strategies. Boldly, convincingly, and with passion and respect, articulate a progressive agenda.

Harry Targ is a retired Professor of Political Science, Purdue University. He is currently a co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS).