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.

For updates on Cuban Solidarity and a link to the second teleconference (to be posted soon)  April 9, 2020 see

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.