Sunday, April 5, 2020


Harry Targ

Class Struggle is Global

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.

Class Struggle and Resistance

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, overthrowing French colonial control in 1804.

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 than 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 policies to accommodate or channel ferment from the Global South in directions that were less threatening to 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.

Twenty-First Century Imperialism in Latin America

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 2020, efforts by the United States to crush the spirit of resistance continue. The United States has tried to subvert Venezuelan democracy, launched a crippling economic blockade, threatened war, declared President Nicholas Maduro a criminal, and moved more troops into Latin America. The effort to bring down the Cuban Revolution continues: a crippling blockade, policies to reduce tourist travel to the island, and even using propaganda and economic pressure to undermine Cuba’s extraordinary medical contributions to fighting the coronavirus around the world.

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 )

From a larger essay:

Thursday, April 2, 2020


Harry Targ

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, until the coup in 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 2020, 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.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020


Harry Targ

For those of you who see “ideas as material forces” and grew up in an environment where the university was “contested terrain,” that is, where ideas were discussed, common assumptions were challenged, and students developed intellectual as well as political solidarity, the linked article  from Goldman/Sachs is troubling.

The idea of “the shock doctrine”. Naomi Klein tells us,  is that economic and political crises afford the opportunity for the dominant classes to institute changes that majorities of people in usual times would not accept. In addition, a long time ago James O’Connor wrote about “The Fiscal Crisis of the State.” In the twenty-first century that has meant steep declines in public support for higher education. Finally, Nancy MacLean has written about the agenda of radical libertarians which includes reducing the role of the state as to administering, financing, and regulating public affairs, and relying more on market forces.

As the Goldman-Sachs memo suggests we might expect  efforts by powerful forces to try to institute a “Post-Corona Virus Higher Education System” very different from the higher education many of us experienced.

Furthermore, the discussion of higher education in the context of the corona virus crisis is bringing to the foreground the profoundest of debates in society at large. The debate highlights those who celebrate individualism, the survival of the fittest, the market, and shrinking public institutions versus those who see community, solidarity, public institutions, and real democracy as our only hope for survival. Many of us learned about these two fundamentally competing worldviews in colleges and universities and we took our stand.

Monday, March 23, 2020


Harry Targ

On Ideology

The economic and political structure of capitalism requires “an ideology, a consciousness, a way in which the citizenry can be taught to accept the system as it is. This ideology has many branches but one root, the maintenance and enhancement of the capitalist economic system. The elements of the dominant political ideology include: privileging individualism over community; conceptualizing society as a brutal state of nature controlled only by countervailing force; acceptance of the idea that humans are at base greedy; and, finally, the belief that the avariciousness of human nature requires police force and laws at home and armies overseas.” (Quote from Harry Targ,

The Cuban Alternative

The webinar “International Conference for the Normalization of US-Cuba Relations,” March 21 and 22 presented panelists who discussed the status of United States/Cuban relations, the contemporary Cuban economy, US and Canadian solidarity movements with Cuba, and the consequences of Cuban medical advances for the fight against the corona virus domestically and internationally.

What figured prominently in the discussion was the history of Cuba’s prioritization of the fulfillment of the health care needs of its people and Cuba’s commitment to the health and wellbeing of people all across the globe. From the early days of the revolution, Cuba committed itself to educating its population and providing free and effective health care. In the spirit of international solidarity, Cuba began sending medical professionals to countries all across the globe. Its first medical mission, 56 health care professionals, was sent in 1963 to Algeria after the French were ousted. 

Since 1963, 450,000 Cuban health care professionals have served in 160 countries serving six million people, according to Dr. Jorge Delgado Bustillo, Director of the Central Medical Collaboration Unit (UCCM). In addition, Cuban tropical medicine has led to the discovery of Interferon Alpha 2b to treat dengue fever, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV. Currently Interferon Alpha 2b is being used in China and elsewhere to reduce the effects of the corona virus among those with severe cases.  The medication has been produced since 2003 by a joint Chinese/Cuban corporation called ChangHeber. The development of the medication has its roots in Cuban/US/Finnish collaboration going back to the early 1980s and the establishment of the Cuban Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) in 1986 (Helen Yaffe, “Cuba’s Contribution to Combatting COVID-19,” Counterpunch, March 17, 2020).

Today Interferon Alpha 2b is being used in China and there have been requests from Italy, Spain, and countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to receive Cuban doctors as well as the anti-viral medication. In addition, there are currently Cuban medical teams working in 58 countries. The Cuban Ambassador to the United Nations, Ana Silvia Rodriguez, suggested at the webinar cited above, that now was the time to put ideology aside and work for international cooperation.

The United States Rhetoric about Overcoming the Crisis: The Politics of Contagion

At the March 21, press conference update on the status of the COVID-19 in the United States President Trump chose to use the crisis to celebrate his administration’s efforts to combat the spread of the disease. As he does often on various issues, the president claimed that the government response to the  crisis was more comprehensive and successful than any efforts ever to combat threats to the health and safety of the United States. President Trump, Vice-President Pence, and other members of the administration political team emphasized five enduring themes deeply imbedded in US ideology. 

First, the President said the explicit causes of the crisis were China (“the Chinese virus”) and the flow of immigrants. Second, the disease will be conquered first and foremost in the world as a result of American exceptionalism. The US has the best medical researchers, administrators, and health care professionals. The US, he implied, has won wars, led the way in research, and is the leader of the world. Third, the mobilization of the nation’s resources to defeat the current contagion included the active role of the faith community, referring to productive meetings the administration had with religious leaders. Fourth, and undergirding all the rest, was the centrality of market solutions to this serious challenge to the nation’s health. It is the corporate sector that now will produce more masks, more virus tests, and ultimately the vaccines that will control and eliminate the disease. Finally, the American people are contributing to this national effort by staying home, not congregating in numbers greater than ten people, and standing six feet apart from each other. The community mobilizations occurring around the country to bring food to the needy, to house the homeless, and to provide social support for the fearful were only fleetingly mentioned.

The Difference: The Choice

“We are all afraid but we have a revolutionary duty to fulfill, so we take out fear and put it to one side,” Leonardo Fernandez, 68, an intensive care specialist, told Reuters late on Saturday shortly before his brigade’s departure. He who says he is not afraid is a superhero, but we are not superheroes, we are revolutionary doctors.” (Nelson Acosta, “Cuban Doctors Head to Italy to Battle Coronavirus,” Reuters, March 22, 2020,
This statement by a Cuban doctor expresses profound commitment to human solidarity. The duty of the Cuban doctor is to help persons in need. The very idea of revolution is solidarity, recognizing the worth of all people, participating with others for the common good, self-sacrifice, and most of all, putting principles of solidarity above profit or any sense of superiority.
The coronavirus crisis and how the US and Cuba respond to the crisis illustrate two paths humankind can take for a better future. It is for all of us to decide. Reports from around the US indicate that citizens are choosing the Cuban path, finding ways to give support to those in need in their communities. These grassroots efforts could be the basis of broader changes in policy and institutions in the future.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020


Harry Targ

In my opinion, while we can prioritize the bungling, bravado, immorality, and self-interestedness of Trump and his cronies (as a Hoosier I am fully aware that the vice president does not believe in science), I think it is imperative to add our analysis of the systemic character of the crisis.

This is about a vulnerable capitalism  that cannot respond to crisis, whether contagion, climate, or anomic violence.

This is also about a broken political system that has been organized to make sure that Bernie Sanders could not win, including holding primaries in three big states today despite CDC recommendations.

This is also about the inadequacy of the Congressional response to the crisis from both sides of the isle. How comprehensive is the proposed legislation? Are all workers guaranteed wages? Are we going to bail out the fossil fuel companies? The airlines? Instead of nationalizing them?

This is also about the politics of fear and alienation. We must celebrate and work on solidarity to help combat this emergency. That has been an historic project of the left.

In my view some, just some, of our targeting of the mendacity of Trump is about attacking the trees rather than the forest. Lets’ face it Trump is a logical extension of 400 years of capitalist hegemony.

Just some thoughts (with time on my hands).

Saturday, March 14, 2020


Harry Targ

Growing Up with Fear: Polio

As an older person I remember the three fears of my youth (early 1950s): polio, the bomb, and communism. All three were interwoven into the public consciousness and even children like me learned fear early.

While the polio threat was real (as is the coronavirus contagion now) I internalized a sense that each of us was alone in an alien world, undefined others could be threats to our survival, and acting in and on the world could be dangerous. Sure I was a kid and did not think these “deep” thoughts per se but I, a child, internalized these ideas. As to the polio disease itself, every summer brought trepidation. Don’t exercise too much. Be wary of other kids I did not know. Perhaps most of all don’t go to the beach, the playground, the lake.

And the reality was that a few kids on my block did, in fact, contract polio. In a few cases victims of polio became paralyzed or could not breathe outside an oxygen tent. My next-door neighbor friend had an older brother who was disabled from polio and a friend down the street contracted polio; it affected his vocal chords. So we experienced polio directly and indirectly. (As I remember Jonas Salk sought no profit from his discovery).

So the fear of disease and death was/is in the air figuratively and literally. Inevitably it becomes part of our political culture. And, as I am arguing, the fear of polio paralleled the other fears, sometimes becoming a metaphor for them. (I was reminded of Albert Camus' powerful novel, The Plague, which was about a literal plague, and fascism, and how people responded to either or both).

This was scary stuff.

Fear of the Bomb

In addition, all people growing up in the 1950s, experienced “duck and cover” exercises in school. Since an atomic war was always a possibility (some media pundits tried to convince us it was inevitable), putting our bodies underneath a desk or covering our heads sitting in a hallway near our lockers would protect us from surprise attack. And we knew our only hope of survival was to construct enough bombs and airplanes to retaliate against the demonic enemy, the Soviet Union.

Fear of Communism

And finally, the most virulent unseen plague (to use the powerful metaphor of Albert Camus, in “The Plague”) was communism. Communism could be anywhere. As former FBI agent Herbert Philbrick immortalized in a popular television show, “I Led Three Lives,” communists were lying, cheating, malevolent human beings who were out to undermine our democracy. Alien communists were everywhere: in our schools, in trade unions, among well-meaning supporters of civil rights, in our churches. As polio destroyed our bodies, communism destroyed our minds and our democracy. The invisible germ of the polio plague paralleled the secretive works of enemies in our midst.

One Further Example of Politization: Continuing the Anti-Cuba Crusade

“There is COVID-19 in Cuba and I do not believe there is only three (cases). I believe there is a heck of a lot more and it poses risk to the people of Miami-Dade County and the state.” (Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Walter Lippman, Cuba News, March 12, 2020).

The mayor of Miami Carlos Gimenez joined by the governor of Florida on March 12 called on the United States government to cancel all flights from Cuba to the United States. Ironically, Cuba is the only country which has developed a medication that could mitigate corona virus and a country with only three confirmed cases of persons testing positive for the virus (all three arrived in Cuba from Italy). The mayor’s statement has to be understood in the context of Florida politicians who have made careers by opposing the Cuban revolution.

Contagions of Mind and Body

So the great fears of the 1950s, the bomb, communism and polio became fused in a cosmology that led us to quietism, fear, and self-absorption. Our elders became more susceptible to accepting the words and deeds of our political leaders. This made the world of the Cold War even more dangerous than it might have been, perhaps leading the world to take dangerous paths that could have been avoided.

Today we experience climate crises, growing inequality, global and national violence, and a return to virulent forms of white nationalism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia. And people all over the world are mobilized to say “no” to these disasters.  In addition, there is now another real threat to human survival.

The coronavirus could lead, of necessity, to human cooperation to defeat this disease, or it could be used as a pretext to build new walls, reify borders, blame others for the problem. And, in the face of this new crisis, we might withdraw from the world, seeking to protect ourselves and our loved ones and adopt the fatalism that gripped the popular culture of the 1950s.

Perhaps the lesson to be learned from this new crisis is that we cannot let pessimism and fear deflect us from our daily lives and continuing to work to achieve a better world.

Monday, March 9, 2020


Harry Targ

How to Reestablish Moderation in Our Politics

The Lafayette Journal and Courier featured two stories on its front pages on Wednesday and Thursday, March 4 and 5, 2020, that bear on current ideology and practice at Purdue University and the community of West Lafayette, Indiana.

The March 5 article, (Dave, Bangert, “Bayh, Lieberman Make Pitch for Moderation in Time of Incivility,”) was placed below the fold after an article declaring that “Joe Biden Roars Back.” The article, on “moderation,” was a report about a panel that had occurred on the campus of Purdue University, chaired by University President Mitch Daniels with panelists, former senators Evan Bayh and Joe Lieberman. Daniels indicated that the two former senators were politicians that “embodied moderation in its finest form.” He quipped that being labeled a moderate was once regarded a compliment. 

Bayh, Lieberman and Daniels were advocates for “moderation,” agreeing that American political life had become more “polarized.” For Bayh, the polarization resulted from the decline of neighborhoods and communities and the sense of togetherness that social networking brings to sociability and tolerance. Lieberman decried a factionalism that he said was derived from political party and ideological groups. Lieberman added a psychological interpretation to those who are polarizing; they are “unsettled.” “anxious,” “fearful of their futures, and don’t feel as good about the country.” Daniels added that incivility was justified by claims about being authentic and spontaneous but uncivil discourse was a “type of communication intended to establish dominance through shouting the loudest.”

The panelists urged people who were Democrats to support “centrists” and for more people (who it was claimed were moderates) to vote in primary elections, to counter-balance the more typically ideologically-minded primary election voters.

Collaboration Between a Military Contractor, a City, and a University

One day earlier, the newspaper featured a story headlined, “Saab Jet Fuselage Plant Tax Incentives Finalized.” It is a story about the city of West Lafayette and Purdue University collaborating with the automotive giant SAAB to establish a plant on campus to manufacture a new jet fighter fuselage. The paper described the West Lafayette City Council’s granting of a “rare tax abatement package.” The package approved by West Lafayette will include “a 100 percent abatement over the next five years on $16.5 million in real property investments and a 10-year  abatement on $15 million in equipment and other personal property in the plant.…” City figures estimate this deal would save Saab $2.1 million. The article referred to additional multi-million dollar grants and tax credits provided by the state of Indiana and business associations. The fuselages will be used in the new Boeing T-X jet trainer for the Air Force. 

This new manufacturing facility is being built on the west side of the university campus. Spokespersons claim the new venture would create 200 well-paying jobs in the future and generate over $7 million in tax revenue separate from the abatements over the next 25 years. Spokespersons at the Council meeting praised the attractive offer made by West Lafayette and Purdue. The view was articulated that recent “downtown” street developments were part of the overall vision of transforming the community, the university, and the region within the state that attracted Saab.

Militarization of a University and Community

“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.”

Since 2012, Purdue University spokespersons have argued that the university was uniquely qualified to do the work needed to provide for the “nation’s security.” CEOs of defense contractors agreed. One corporate spokesperson visiting campus celebrated increased US military budgets, officially at $740 billion, which would benefit both military corporations and universities. 

One Purdue administrator claimed that the United States was engaged in an arms race that justified new technologies, from aero-space weapons, artificial intelligence, drones, next generation drones, to a space force. It was argued that new military capabilities were justified because the world remained a dangerous place; wars, if not inevitable, were likely in the future; and China, a rising power, constituted a threat to United States national security. Purdue University, it was said, had the scientific and engineering experience to work with corporations to build the weapons and had the social scientists who could explain and justify the new arms race. And the community in which the university was housed was encouraging and incentivizing corporate participation through the development of the Greater Lafayette area as a hub for a developing regional military/industrial complex.

What Does “Moderation” Mean in the Face of the Militarization of a Community and a University?

In the context of a substantial absorption of the West Lafayette community and Purdue University into the military/industrial complex, how do people respond who question the fundamental premises of the military developments and are disturbed by the impacts of this militarization of a community and university?

What does “moderation” look like in the face of these local developments, particularly as most decisions leading up to the current moment have been incremental and to a considerable degree made with little transparency?

How do concerned citizens respond to the further militarization of this and other communities as experts among the renowned Bulletin of Atomic Scientists estimate the probability of movement toward nuclear war as closer and closer to midnight, the metaphorical time of nuclear war.

And how are citizens concerned with the environment (the military as the biggest government polluter), the health care deficit, homelessness, and declining support for public education kindergarten through college, supposed to give input when billions of dollars are allocated to so-called “national security.”

In the context of  developments in one community and at one university, which are being replicated all across the country, it might be concluded that “moderation” comes down to a defense of the status quo.

Sunday, March 8, 2020


Thoughts on the Life of Vicky Starr A “Union Maid”  (
A repost from January 10, 2010

Harry Targ

I read recently that Vicky Starr died on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 2009. She was 93 years old. Thinking about Vicky Starr (or for fans of the film Union Maids Stella Nowicki) reminded me about how her life, which many of us learned of through the film, was so inspirational.

As a teenager, Vicky Starr left the family farm in Michigan and arrived on the Southside of Chicago in 1933. She stayed in the home of Herb and Jane March, Communist activists who had come to Chicago to organize the packing house workers in the huge Stockyards. Under March’s tutelage she sought employment in the Yards and almost immediately began to network with workers to build a union of workers in the days leading up to the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).

The processing of meat from the 1880s until the late 1950s was centered in Chicago. The Stockyards, housing the Big Four packers (Armour, Cudahy, Swift, and Wilson), employed thousands of workers. Because the work was so dangerous and unpleasant, it was largely carried out by the most marginalized sectors of the working class.

In the era of Upton Sinclair’s, The Jungle, workers were primarily immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. After World War 1 and the “the Great Migration,” African Americans secured the lowest paid and most dangerous jobs in the Yards. Historic union organizing drives in 1904, and 1921 faltered because of racism and ethnic conflict among workers. Communist and socialist organizers in the Yards, such as March, realized that combating racism was central to organizing industrial unionism in the meat packing industry.

And it was rank-and-file activists like Vicky Starr who tirelessly met with workers, helped write leaflets and newsletters, interacted with the radical students from the University of Chicago who had offered their assistance to union organizing drives, and communicated with sympathetic members of the influential Catholic Church in the city.

As a member of the Young Communist League, Starr and her comrades would read classic Marxist and Leninist texts. Since Starr would be identified with organizing campaigns by her bosses she often lost her job in the yards. When that occurred she would apply for work at another packing house company using a different name.

She told Alice and Staughton Lynd (Rank and File, 1973) many years later: “When I look back now, I really think we had a lot of guts. But I didn’t even stop to think about it at the time. It was something that had to be done. We had a goal. That’s what we felt had to be done and we did it.”

In 1937, workers established the Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC). Despite resistance by the major meat packers, state violence, red-baiting against union organizers by the state and the American Federation of Labor’s Amalgamated Meat Cutters (AMC), the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA-CIO) was constituted in 1943. Until its merger with other unions, it remained a militant trade union that fought racism and red-baiting and publicly opposed United States foreign policies such as participation in the Korean War. And during its formative years in the mid-1940s Vicky Starr served for a time as Education Director for District 1 of UPWA.

Central to Starr’s contribution to the working class from the time she was a member of the Young Communist League, to the budding labor movement, the formation of the UPWA, and later as an organizer of clerical workers at the University of Chicago was her constant struggle against racism and sexism. After the formation of UPWA Starr said “We tried to make sure that there were both Negroes and whites as officers, stewards…in all the locals.” She fought residential segregation and participated in building the Back of the Yards Council on Chicago’s south side, and worked to end the exclusion of African Americans from professional sports. And in the end she recalled that the most militant trade unionists on the shop floor, the beef kill, were African Americans.

As an organizer in the 30s and a UPWA staffer in the 40s she combated sexism as well. “Women had an awfully tough time in the union because the men brought their prejudices there.” Women often had the most demeaning jobs in the Yards, wage rates discriminated against them, their special needs, such as child care received no attention, and they often were fearful of demanding their rights on the shop floor and in the union.

As a socialist, Starr reflected on those halcyon days of UPWA-CIO organizing. She said that there was a sense that workers were ready to come together. There was a growing feeling of working class solidarity. Union organizers would show up at the Stockyards with literature and speeches. And at the grassroots she and others were on the shop floor spreading the word informally about the union.

And socialism needed to be addressed in terms of the concrete benefits of people’s lives. “You had to talk about it in terms of what it would mean for that person. We learned that you can’t manipulate people but that you really had to be concerned with the interests and needs of the people. However, you also had to have a platform--a projection of where you were going.”

Starr left the Yards in 1945, was forced underground for a time in the McCarthy period, raised four children and returned to work as a secretary at the prestigious University of Chicago. She still had “a platform” at the university, organizing all non-professional staff. Despite predictable resistance from the bastion of liberalism in higher education she applied the grassroots organizing skills she learned as a teenager in the stockyards to achieve victory for clerical workers. Teamsters Local 743 was recognized in 1978. Vicky Starr became the first shop steward of the new local.

But Starr’s contribution to the American working class, Black and White, male and female did not remain unnoticed beyond the shop/office. Alice and Staughton Lynd captured her remembrances of CIO organizing in the 1973 book Rank and File and the clerical workers struggle in the 2000 book New Rank and File. And especially, “Stella Nowicki” was one of three stars (the others were Sylvia Woods and Kate Hyndman) in the wonderful documentary (Union Maids, 1977) about women organizing in the CIO in the 1930s.

This last project made Vicky Starr a major celebrity. It brought to the attention of new generations of activists the fighting spirit of the 1930s, the central role Communists played in the battles, and the absolute centrality to organizing the working class of fighting racism and sexism.

Still relevant today, Union Maids (and the Lynds collections of interviews), can help inspire, educate, and inform activists about tactics, strategy, and basic principles of organizing.

Vicky Starr concluded her 1973 interview saying: “It was a privilege and a wonderful experience to participate in the excitement of those times.”

It is important to remember Vicky Starr for what she did for the working class, particularly industrial and clerical workers. And reflections on her life and work can still inform activists as they struggle for economic justice today.


Wednesday, February 26, 2020



This essay was originally posted in advance of the 2016 primaries. It drew upon the social movements and debates of the years preceding that campaign season. But the political currents which included “the left,” grassroots social movements in the tradition of the Occupy Movement, and the variety of single and multi-issue progressive groups in similar form still exist today.

What is different about 2020 from 2016 is the qualitatively more dire circumstances in which we live under the Trump administration. Whether we are talking about the climate, white supremacy, grievous inequality, the celebration  of misogyny, a new arms race and Cold War, the life chances and quality of life of the vast majority of humankind, the situation is worse.

While no one candidate for president can fix the mess, and indeed the minimum requirement of substantial change requires a sustained political movement, the Sanders campaign, its young, diverse, and energetic supporters, and elected officials and cultural workers who have joined the campaign, make it clear that supporting and working for Bernie Sanders is vital to the future of the country and the planet. The fundamental question that must be asked as we engage in the political process is: will the Sanders campaign and movement have the prospect of reducing human misery, irrespective of whether he is a Socialist, a Social Democrat, a New Deal Liberal, or a Populist. The answer to that question is undeniably “yes.”

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 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.