Friday, November 10, 2017

ANTI-WAR ACTIVISM: SOLDIERS, VETERANS, AND MILITARY FAMILIES: a reposted book review

Monday, November 10, 2014

Harry Targ


Fighting for Peace: Veterans and Military Families in the Anti-Iraq War Movement by Lisa Leitz. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. (306 pages; paper)

One of the biggest scholarly secrets about social movements since the Vietnam War is the magnitude and vibrancy of the anti-war movement inside the military. “Sir! No Sir!” a 2005 film documented the militant anti-war movement that spread throughout the United States military in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The movement included acts of civil disobedience at military bases, networks of coffee houses near military installations, anti-war newspapers targeted to military readers, and a spreading network of anti-war families and loved-ones as the movement percolated throughout U.S. society.

Fighting for Peace by Lisa Leitz, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Director of Project Pericles at Hendrix College, fast-forwards in a rigorous way to the study of the military anti-war movement from 2005 to 2012; involving veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, loved-ones of those serving, extended families, and networks of military families. The volume uses a variety of methods--questionnaires, extended interviews, archival materials, and ethnographies of organizations and individual military anti-war activists and their families. While surveying anti-war movements against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Professor Leitz concentrates on the participation, vision, rhetoric, activism, tactics, and contradictory “identities” of five organizations: Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Gold Star Families for Peace, and Gold Star Families Speak Out.

The narrative begins with the formation of some of these groups and growing tensions between them arising after the dramatic anti-war protests initiated by Cindy Sheehan, mother of a son who was killed in Iraq. The site of these demonstrations in Crawford, Texas was adjacent to the summer residence of President George Walker Bush.  For Leitz, the camp site that was created and named after Sheehan’s deceased son, Camp Casey was “a watershed moment for this movement.” In addition to inspiring the anti-war movement generally “…the vigil brought together veterans of the current wars, veterans of past wars, families of dead military service members, and families of current service members who were all critical of the Iraq War” (3).

The volume presents in-depth research on each of the anti-war military organizations. It addresses their composition: current military and veterans; families of service members and those killed and injured; and veterans of prior U.S. wars, particularly the Vietnam War. It examines the collaborations and tensions between the veterans and military families and the larger peace movement.  It describes policies, programs, and strategies. These involve anti-war positions and demands for increased services for soldiers on the ground and those returning veterans with health needs. It describes debates about how the military and military families should use their special legitimacy, experiencing war directly or through loved ones, in the mass movement. And the narrative describes how the military anti-war movement (rather than the peace movement in general) became a platform for debate between some socialist organization members who wished to incorporate it in a larger campaign to radically transform society versus those who argued that the military anti-war movement should concentrate on the more limited goal of ending the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and providing adequate services for returning veterans.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the study is the portrait of the contradictions faced by the author herself and the five organizations as they navigated through a hostile military environment. First, Professor Leitz, a visible anti-war activist was married to a career military officer. As a military spouse, she lived on military bases and carried out some of her anti-war activism in a social milieu that was hostile. She frames much of the study around how active military personnel, veterans, and military families addressed these contradictions personally and politically. 

The contradiction of being anti-war activists in social networks of military personnel and families was replicated in the tensions anti-war veterans and military families experienced working with the larger, non-military peace movement. Many of the former opposed the two twenty-first century wars but believed that the U.S. military was needed and, on occasion, could engage in positive projects. This position put these military activists at odds with peace movement ideology and sometimes peace movement practice.  

This portrait of the contradictions between the military movements and the larger peace and anti-war movement provides useful information for activists who ponder how to expand participation in campaigns to promote a peace agenda. And, of course, the peace movement should appropriately respect the special experience, legitimacy, policy preferences, and more limited perspectives of those who actually have experienced war. In addition Professor Leitz describes how the military activists reflected on how their influence could be enlarged as they struggled to become part of a larger more “generic” peace movement.

Fighting for Peace can be a valuable tool for researchers as well as activists. Despite the author’s abstract framing of her research as a study of the military “insider-outsider” identity which sometimes interferes with the well-written account it remains an important contribution to the scholarly study of social movements. Furthermore the rigorous study demonstrates the issues and pitfalls that peace activists must consider as they organize to create a more peaceful world.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

TWENTIETH CENTURY REVOLUTIONS: PLANTING THE SEEDS FOR TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY SOCIALISM

Presented at the Working Class Studies Association annual conference, June 1, 2017, Indiana University,

A revised version printed in Duncan McFarland ed. The Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union: Seeds of 21st Century Socialism, Changemaker Publications. http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/chsngemaker
Harry Targ, Professor, Department of Political Science, Purdue University

Understanding Revolutions: Theoretical and Empirical Explorations
The phenomena of revolution has long been a subject of interest to scholars and activists. The original curiosity about revolution has its roots in histories and analyses of “the great revolutions,” the English Revolution, the French Revolution, the American Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the Chinese Revolution. Subsequent to early studies of the great revolutions scholars and activists have conceptualized historical transformations in Cuba, Vietnam, Algeria, Iran and other cases as possible candidates for studies of revolution.

Perhaps undergirding the study of societal changes in the twentieth century, interest and concern about the Russian Revolution stands out as a motivation for such research and speculation. A substantial hidden motivation for this concern has been an implicit bias against the consequences of the Russian Revolution for other societies, for order and stability, for civilization, for the future of humankind. This bias includes various defenders of traditional regimes and cultures and sectors of left opposition to them who have been as vociferous opponents of the Russian Revolution and its consequences as the avowed enemies of revolution.
This essay briefly surveys the social science study of revolution, identifies key moments in the history of the former Soviet Union (which was officially constituted in 1922, five years after the revolution) from the vantage point of the anti-Soviet left, and proposes ways in which the Russian Revolution and its aftermath has contributed to social change in the twentieth century and continues to make contributions for the building of a twenty-first century socialism. This is a difficult and controversial subject, but one that needs to be confronted if a socialist agenda for the twenty-first century is to be meaningful.

The Social Scientific Study of Revolution
The subject of revolution has intrigued modern social science research and theory. Jack Goldstone (“Toward a Fourth Generation of Revolutionary Theory,” Annual Review of Political Science, 2001:4, 139-187) provides a wide-ranging survey of the twentieth century literature on the subject. He addresses the definitions of revolution; types of revolutions: the causes of revolution; the role of states, elites, ideology, mobilizations for and against revolution, foreign influences and factors such as leadership and gender shaping revolutions. Each of these sets of factors have generated research, discussion, and debate about this thing called revolution.

The literature surveyed has several interesting general features that characterize the way the phenomena has been studied.  First, the concept of revolution, which was first derived from interest in a handful of cases has expanded to include all kinds of transfers of power; including Nicaragua, Iran, Afghanistan, and as some data sets suggest hundreds of cases of the transfer of power. Second, as Goldstone suggests, scholars have identified many “types” of revolutions: elite led power shifts, grassroots mobilizations, worker-led versus peasant-led forms, and unplanned disintegrations of political institutions. Third, the literature, Goldstone indicates, addresses the causes of revolutions. Here too there are a myriad of explanations from foreign intervention, the declining legitimacy of elites, intra-elite factionalism, crises in the distribution of resources among the population, unsustainable population growth, and stagnating economies.
An additional designation of revolution addresses various processes that generate the transformation that is being described. Some research on revolution concentrates on the formation of oppositional groups from unions to political parties, networking among opponents of regimes, leadership skills,  the building of identities, and ideologies. In addition, some perspectives include a discussion of culture, from value systems to popular manifestations of protest. Also attention is paid to leadership skills and style. In recent years, studies have addressed the role of gender in revolutionary processes. Further, “rational choice” models assess  the individual and group costs and benefits of participating in some effort at systemic transformation of the political and/or economic system.

As to the consequences of revolution, Goldstone suggests the research is more sparse. “The outcomes of revolutions have generated far less scholarly inquiry than the causes, with the possible exception of outcomes regarding gender. This may be because the outcomes of revolutions are assumed to follow straightforwardly if the revolutionaries succeed. However, such research as we have on outcomes contradicts this assumption: revolutionary outcomes take unexpected twists and turns” (Goldstone, 167). The research that has been done, he said, shows little long-term economic development or democratization after revolutionary occurrences. While China and the Soviet Union experienced short-term industrialization neither “has succeeded in generating the broad-based economic innovation and entrepreneurship required to generate sustained rapid economic advance.”  He refers to an edited collection by D.Chirot, (The Crisis of Leninism and the Decline of the Left: the Revolutions of 1989, 1991, University of Washington Press) on this point.
After summarizing the myriad of studies of revolution, Goldstone does say that despite their failures to achieve sustained economic development and democratization they have been “remarkably successful in mobilizing populations and utilizing the mobilization for political and military power.” And these results, he claims, are attributable to strong leadership. In terms of international relations, revolutions have had consequences: stimulating others to revolt, causing threatened states to engage in conflict with the new regimes, and stimulating new states to engage in aggressiveness (for example the warlike behavior resulting from the Nazi “revolution”).

This survey of the social scientific study of revolution suggests many weaknesses. First, what is called “revolution” is defined in so many ways that all different transfers of power from Russia, China, Germany, Iran, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, to Cuba are all contenders irrespective of their radically different aims and bases of support.
Second, the lack of definition affords social scientists the opportunity to disaggregate every conceivable variable that might be part of the phenomena such that the historical and dialectical character of the revolutionary process is totally excluded from the analysis. Mindless empiricism replaces subtle historically-grounded judgement.

Third, and as a result of the second, leadership, organization, ideology, class, economic and political context, the cultural backdrop, and the international dimensions are all disassembled in such a way as to mask the reality behind the process.
Fourth, the analyses tend to be “presentist,” that is the history that led up to the transfer of power and the long-term domestic and international impacts of the revolution are eliminated from the analysis. And to the contrary, commentators and activists who have been part of revolutionary struggles provide a lens on the process that is usually deeply embedded in the country’s history, the long-term prospects for organizing aggrieved groups, and a vision of a “better future” that takes account of various setbacks, patterns of resistance, and regime errors. Social scientists have little or no sensitivity to revolution as an historic project.

And it is for these reasons that assessments of the Russian Revolution, 100 years later, requires an historical and dialectical assessment that goes beyond conventional scholarship.
Historical Materialists Analyses of the Post-1917 Post Soviet Experience:

Left critics of the former Soviet Union (and by implication often the Russian Revolution) have historicized the revolutionary process as they have assessed its impacts. If there is an historical narrative it is “declension,” or a step-by-step set of decisions that led to a betrayal of the vision of the revolution. The categorization of experiences of decline include the bureaucratization of the state, the centralization of power, Stalinism, and the transition from socialism to Soviet Social Imperialism. Each of these critiques is the result of political disputes between key political actors and/or nation-states as they engage with or confront the former Soviet Union. For some, the emerging conflicts have their roots in the Russian Revolution itself, particularly after the death of Lenin.
Looking at critical historical junctures, left critics of the Russian Revolution identify at least six moments in the declension. First, the Soviet leadership debated the direction of economic planning in the post-Civil War period shifting from “war communism” to the New Economic Policy. The latter reflected the need to slow down the process of moving from a capitalist to a socialist economy, recognizing the ongoing role of markets, and protecting private property, central to the outlook of the peasantry. For some, the NEP adopted by Lenin, constituted a shift away from the socialist project. Pragmatism replaced principle.

Second, with the death of Lenin, Stalin emerged as the new leader of the Soviet Union. He moved to collectivize agriculture, shifted more in the direction of a command economy, isolated his enemies, and escalated repression of dissent. What became known as Stalinism was a metaphor for totalitarianism. Totalitarian societies, critics suggested, were those in which the minds and behaviors of its members were controlled by a top-down administrative apparatus.
Third, the Soviet/Nazi Pact of 1938 is presented as proof that the similarities between fascism and Soviet-style communism outweighed any differences that were claimed by each. It showed, the critics said, that Stalin was willing to make a pact with any regime to maintain himself in power. At the state level the construction of socialism was replaced by traditional conceptions of national interest.

Fourth, the consequences of Stalinism were proclaimed in Nikita Khrushchev’s famous Twentieth Party Congress speech in 1956. It condemned the loss of life during the collectivization of agriculture, the trial and execution of Stalin’s enemies in the late 1930s, and  criticized Stalin’s efforts to control the political life of allies in Eastern Europe. 
Fifth, the Soviet Union practiced “great power chauvinism,” intervening in other countries when the latter seemed to be pursuing an independent path of economic and political development. This was most visible as Soviet troops crushed rebellions in Budapest in 1956 and Prague Spring in 1968. In both cases, workers and students sought more political autonomy within the Socialist camp.

And finally, many Communists around the world embraced the Chinese evaluation of the Soviet Union as a case of Soviet Social Imperialism, that is socialist in name but capitalist and imperialist in reality. And the Chinese embraced Mao’s “theory of three worlds.” One of the world’s poles, consisted of the United States and the Soviet Union. This pole represented the pursuit of global hegemony at the expense of most countries in the international system. The vast majority of countries were from the “Third World.” European countries, east and west, constituted a Second World. Consequently, with China in the lead, the countries and peoples of the Third World,  needed to band together to challenge the domination of the two imperial powers and their client states.
The theorists who articulated one or many of these six moments came from the Communist or Socialist left. Contrary to the social scientists, these analysts derived their positions from historical analyses. Several of the theoretical positions on the Russian Revolution in decline came from the prioritizing of these historical moments; whether embracing the NEP, the rise of Stalinism, the Soviet-Nazi Pact, the revelations of Khrushchev, the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, or the Sino/Soviet split. But while these analyses use history to make their case against the historic project of the Russian Revolution they do so in a one-sided and ultimately ahistorical way. Whereas the social scientists atomize their subject, the left critical theorists derive simplistic historical lessons from their analyses.

Contextualizing the Russian Revolutionary Project
In 1916, Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik party that would seize power in 1917 and establish a state commonly referred to as Communist, wrote an essay: “Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism.” In it he described the latest stage of capitalist development as consisting of an economic system in each developed country of industrial and financial monopolies increasingly pursuing investment and trade opportunities in other countries. Sometimes powerful capitalist countries cooperated with each other, accepting spheres of influence where each would dominate. Other times powerful capitalist states would compete with each other for access to land, labor, resources, and investment opportunities. These last circumstances could lead to war. And, for Lenin, World War One was a direct result of capitalist competition and conflict.

One year after Lenin published his essay Lenin’s political party seized state power in Russia and created the new Soviet Union, the first state generally defined as Communist. President Wilson of the United States and his Secretary of State began to speak of the new danger of Communism to the prospects for creating democracies and market-oriented economies across the globe. The animosity to the new regime in Russia was manifested in several ways. Armies from at least fifteen countries sent troops to support a counter-revolutionary campaign against the new Soviet government. The counter-revolution supported by the United States continued until 1933 as it refused to diplomatically recognize the Soviet regime.  When President Franklin Roosevelt assumed office in 1933, the Soviet Union was finally recognized.
During the 1930s, fascist movements gained power in Germany, Italy, Japan, and across central Europe. The Soviet Union, now led by Joseph Stalin, engaged in programs of rapid industrialization in part out of fear of the rise of German fascism. With the emergence of a fascist assault on democracy in Spain, relative isolationist policies in the United States, and acquiescence to fascism among European powers, the Soviet Union signed a controversial peace pact with Nazi Germany. The Germans also signed an agreement at Munich with Great Britain, France, and Italy promising non-aggression. This promise was short lived as their army invaded Poland in 1939. In 1941 they rescinded the Soviet/German agreement by invading the Soviet Union. The United States began to supply western nations fighting Germany with war material and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on Japan and Germany. World War Two ensued.

During the war an “unnatural” but necessary alliance was formed between the United States and Great Britain, the new capitalist giant and the declining capitalist colonial power, and the Soviet Union, the center of the Communist political and ideological universe. After four years of devastating war in which 27 million Soviet citizens died and the Red army confronted 90 percent of Germany’s armies, the Nazi war machine was defeated in Europe. United States and British forces defeated Japanese militarism in Asia. The leaders of the wartime anti-fascist alliance, President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill of Great Britain, and Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union met at Yalta on the Crimean Sea in February, 1945 and reached agreements on the establishment of a post-war world order. Just before the war ended in Europe, April, 1945, the new United Nations held its first meeting in San Francisco.
The “spirit of Yalta” was short-lived as escalating tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union developed over a variety of issues as when to hold Polish elections, Soviet support of a separatist movement in Iran, and the Greek Civil War, where an anti-communist government was trying to repress the former Greek resistance dominated by Greek Communists. The struggle was over what kind of post-war government should be created. The British, who had supported a repressive Greek government, urged the United States to step in, help the faltering Greek government, and save Greece from Communism. In a meeting held in February, 1947 to develop a recommendation for President Harry Truman, key diplomats and politicians endorsed the idea of United States financial and military support for the beleaguered Greek government. The Republican chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Arthur Vandenberg, advised President Truman that he better “scare hell out of the American people” if the President would want to build support for a global policy of opposition to the Soviet Union.

Taking Vandenberg’s advice, President Truman spoke to the Congress and the nation on March 13, 1947 announcing his famous Truman Doctrine. He declared that the United States was going to be involved in a long war against a diabolical enemy, the Soviet Union. He said it must be the role of the United States to defend free peoples everywhere against the spread of International Communism. With that speech, warning of the Communist threat and need of the U.S. to resist it,  the general features of United States foreign policy for the next forty years were proclaimed.
“The Free World” Battles “International Communism”

Over the 45 years between the end of World War Two and the beginnings of the collapse of Soviet bloc Communist states, tensions, threats of war, proxy wars between the United States and the Soviet Union ensued. The wars in Korea, Vietnam, Central America, and Southern Africa involved super power troops and/or military assistance to support their side in the Cold War. Historians have debated the root causes of United States foreign policy toward the Soviet Union. Some claim, as President Truman articulated, that the spread of International Communism, primarily through Soviet expansion, required a bold aggressive U.S. foreign policy. Others argued that the U.S./Soviet conflict was not too dissimilar from most big power conflicts in world history. Finally, the historical revisionists  developed the most compelling case claiming that U.S. foreign policy was about the interests of global capital. The spread of Communism, ever since the initiation of the Russian Revolution was seen as a threat to the pursuit of investment, trade, cheap labor, access to natural resources and, in total, corporate profits.

Irrespective of the root causes of U.S. and allied foreign policies, they were explained in terms of the Communist threat. Pundits referred in a simplistic way to writings of Marx or Lenin or Mao Zedong to prove that Communist regimes sought to expand their power and control. This theme exacerbated political conflicts within the United States as the Communist issue was used to promote conservative politicians and public policies. The decade of the 1950s is often identified with the Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy who claimed that the successes of Communist regimes such as the Soviet Union and China occurred because of subversive Communist individuals and groups in or close to the United States government who were committed to weakening American institutions including government, popular culture, the education system, and even the military. While anti-communism had been deeply embedded in the American political culture ever since the rise of the labor movement in the 19th century, it grew in 1917, and flourished after World War Two. Being a Communist became associated with liberal domestic policies and supporting peaceful relations with Communist states.
Soviet fear of the west had its roots in the interventions of western and Japanese armies on the side of counter-revolutionaries during the Russian civil war. Statements from U.S. presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Ronald Reagan about the threat the Soviet Union represented exacerbated Soviet fears. And paralleling Truman’s warning of the danger of International Communism to Ronald Reagan’s conceptualization of the Soviet Union as the “evil empire,” the Soviet Union consolidated its control of Eastern Europe, sought to keep up with the west in the arms race, and supported allies in the Global South who were challenging the rule of pro-western governments.  The concept of Communism in the west and capitalist imperialism in the east fueled an escalating arms race, the profusion of nuclear weapons, and periodic crises that brought the two big powers into direct conflict. From the Berlin Blockade to the Korean and Vietnamese Wars to the Cuban Missile Crisis, to the building of the Berlin War, the Cold War always had within it the danger of escalating to hot war, maybe even nuclear war. The impacts of this ideological contestation led to wasted military expenditures on both sides, wars in the name of fighting Communism in Asia, Africa, and Latin America; domestic repression in both the Western and Soviet orbit, and always the fear of nuclear war lurking in the background.  

Conflicts Within the Communist World
Key foreign policy decision-makers in the United States and many spokespersons for Communist countries and movements portrayed the Communist world as one based on solidarity and harmony. For the West, ironically, this perceived unity was the basis of the threat Communism meant for the so-called free world. However, while many states, and parties outside the Communist orbit, shared in a general Marxist/Leninist outlook, geopolitical conflicts diminished the harmony that simplistic outsiders believed existed among Communists.

The most significant and long-standing geopolitical and violent conflict among Communist nations involved the two largest, most powerful, and most engaged Communist countries; the Soviet Union and China. The so-called Sino-Soviet split which became visible to the world in the late 1960s had its roots in troubled relations between Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union and Mao Zedong of the Chinese Communist Party going back as far as the 1920s. Soviet/Chinese diplomatic tensions intensified in the late 1950s when Soviet and Chinese policy-makers disagreed about the appropriate development model the latter should adopt, whether the Soviets should provide the Chinese with nuclear weapons, and whether the Soviet Union should be negotiating with the capitalist enemy, the United States.
By the 1960s, Mao Zedong was declaring that the Peoples Republic of China, not the Soviet Union, represented the hub of an International Communist movement of poor countries. Mao declared that the Soviet Union was a state capitalist, and therefore imperialist, power and as much a threat to most of the world as the United States. The Nixon Administration, for the first time recognizing the Sino/Soviet split, began to play one Communist giant off against another. The president reopened relations with and visited China and signed trade and arms agreements with the Soviet Union. This increased the fears the Soviets and the Chinese had of each other, making them more cooperative with the traditional enemy, the United States.

The growing conflict between the Soviet Union and China reverberated around the world. On the Indochinese peninsula, the Soviet Union supported the newly unified Vietnamese government in its disputes with a new regime in Cambodia. The Chinese supported the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia and invaded Vietnam in 1978. The Soviets and the Chinese supported different political groups in the long civil war in Angola. And in general, Communist regimes and parties felt compelled to side with one Communist giant against another.
These internecine conflicts weakened the Communist world and the Communist movement as a force in world history. The Sino/Soviet split was vital to understanding the collapse of the Soviet bloc between 1989 and 1991 and the shift of the post-Cold War international system to one based on globalization. What is clear is that the role of the vision, the ideology, and the practice of Communism was made more complicated and ultimately was contradicted by geopolitics in international relations.

Assessing the Russian Revolutionary Project in the Twentieth Century
Social scientists have contributed to the discussion of revolutionary processes by studying political organizations, leadership, ideology, mass-based support, regime types, and external interventions. Left critics of the Russian Revolution and the former Soviet Union, provide useful analyses of weaknesses in efforts to build socialism in the former Soviet Union. At the same time there is a danger in these intellectual traditions in that they underestimate the extraordinary contributions the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union made to the advance of socialism as a world historic project. And by marginalizing this history, millennial activists lack the tools to learn from the twentieth century about theory and practice, finding themselves groping for an understanding of where modern exploitation and oppression have come from and thinking about ways to challenge them.

First, the Russian Revolution was the singular event in modern history where a radical overthrow of a reactionary regime occurred, in which the new leadership represented the interests and perspectives of the working class. Its leaders embraced an anti-capitalist agenda and articulated a vision of building socialism, in both Russia and the entire international system.
Second, for oppressed people around the world (Lenin estimated that 1/7 of the world’s population lived under colonialism) the Russian Revolution stood for the overthrow of rule by the small number of capitalist powers. Within a decade of the solidification of the Revolution, anti-colonial activists from every continent began to dialogue about developing a common struggle against the great colonial empires of the first half of the twentieth century. And Third World revolutionary and anti-colonial activists, such as Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh, looked to the Russian experience as a guide and source of support for their struggles.

Third, the experience of the Russian workers, paralleled by workers movements in the United States and other countries, gave impetus and inspiration to class struggles. Leaders of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) for example and many Debsian Socialists saw the Russian Revolution as a stepping-stone for the overthrow of capitalist exploitation of the working class in the United States.
Fourth, the Bolshevik Revolution stimulated new currents in struggles of people of color, particularly in the United States.  Black Nationalist leaders of the African Blood Brotherhood and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance began to see a connection between racism and capitalist exploitation. Cyril Briggs, Harry Haywood, and others of the ABB were early founders of the Communist Party USA. Many saw in the evolving Soviet experience a commitment to oppose all forms of national oppression, including anti-Semitism, and over the decades prominent artists, intellectuals, and activists such as Paul Robeson and W. E. B. DuBois spoke to the connections between capitalist exploitation, national oppression and colonialism, racism, and war. In each of these cases the image of the Russian Revolution, if not the reality, contributed mightily to global struggles against capitalism, imperialism, and racism.

Fifth, International Women’s Day was first celebrated by the newly created Russian government on March 8, 1917, and it became a national holiday in the Soviet Union after the Bolsheviks seized power in November, 1917. As in reference to marginalized people, workers, people of color, ethnic minorities, the Russian Revolution sent a message that human liberation for all was possible. In the case of women, the new regime declared its commitment to women at a time when struggles for women’s suffrage were occurring in Great Britain  and the United States.
Sixth,  the first decade of the Russian Revolution was a time of experimentation in the arts and culture. Poster art, literature, music, alternative theories of pedagogy were stimulated by the revolutionary atmosphere. The support for cultural experimentation was stifled in the 1930s with the rise of the fascist threat and Stalinism at home but the linking of political revolution and cultural liberation became etched in the consciousness of revolutionaries everywhere. The literacy campaigns in Cuba and Nicaragua many years later may have been inspired by cultural dimensions of revolution inspired by the Russian Revolution.

Seventh, the rise of fascism in Europe and Asia created the necessity of anti-fascist states mobilizing for war. The Soviet Union assumed a major burden and thus became a leader in the anti-fascist struggles that engulfed the world by the late 1930s. Sensing impending German aggression, the creativity of the revolution was transformed into a mass mobilization of workers to rapid industrialization in preparation for German aggression. Germany invaded Poland in 1938 and the former Soviet Union in 1941. From the onset of World War II until its end, vast stretches of the Soviet homeland were laid waste and over 27 million Russians died in war. Without the Soviet sacrifice, fascism would have engulfed Europe.
Eighth, in the Cold War period, the Soviet Union and its allies were confronted with an anti-Soviet, anti-communist coalition of nations committed to the “rollback” of International Communism. What began as the first step down the path to socialism became a great power battle between the east and the west. And despite the enormity of resources the Soviets committed to their side of the arms race, they still supported virtually every anti-colonial, anti-imperial campaign around the world; from Asia, to Africa, to the Middle East, and Latin America. They gave Vietnam and Cuba as lifeline; they supported the African National Congress and South African Communist Party; the MPLA in Angola; and they supported nationalists leaders such as Gamal Abdul Nasser in Egypt.

Ninth, until the Sino/Soviet split rent asunder the socialist camp, the Soviet Union provided a check on the unbridled advances of western capitalism. After the split in international communism in the 1960s, Soviet influence in the world began to decline. This split had much to do with the dramatic weakening of socialism as a world force in the 1990s.  One can only speculate what the twenty-first century would have looked like if the Soviet Union had survived? Would the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq have occurred? Would the Libyan regime have been overthrown? Would the countries of the Global South have had larger political space in world politics inside and outside the United Nations?
Lessons Learned: Assessing the Revolutionary Project

It is important, one hundred years after the Russian Revolution, to think about its contribution to human history, (and for many of us to twenty-first century socialism). First, it is important to conceptualize revolution as a multi-dimensional historical process, a process which sets off numerous collateral responses, positive and negative. This means that all the variables articulated by social scientists are part of an explanation of what revolution means. Also the history of shortcomings and the historical contexts are part of this process.
Second, when we revisit the Russian Revolution (and the Soviet Union which has to be seen as an extension of the revolutionary project) several features, often ignored, need to be stressed. The Russian Revolution planted the seeds for workers struggles everywhere. The Russian Revolution inspired anti-racist campaigns, particularly developing the links between class and race. The Russian Revolution provided a modest dimension to the historic process of women’s liberation. And putting all this together the Russian Revolution, and the material support of the former Soviet Union, gave impetus to the anti-colonial movements of the last half of the twentieth century. And we must remember that virtually all these dimensions were actively opposed by western imperialism, particularly the United States.

Having recognized all this, and other contributions as well, twenty-first century advocates of socialism need to revisit the history of socialism, of revolution, to find the roots of today’s struggles. The intellectual formulations of today, as well as debates about them, go back at least one hundred years. The intellectual connections revolutionaries today make with their past can be liberating in that they suggest continuity with common historic struggles. And they provide an opportunity to relive, study, critique, embrace or reject, ideas, strategies, tactics, and organizational forms of the past.
As a former leader of the Chinese Communist movement, Zhou Enlai is alleged to have said in response to a journalist’s request for an evaluation of the French Revolution, Zhou said, “it’s too early to say.”




Monday, November 6, 2017

THOUGHTS ON HIGHER EDUCATION


It is time to think about a new model of higher education, not a business model. Not one based on metrics. Not one that infantilizes students and faculty. Not one that makes private corporations profitable.

Higher education is a social good. Tuition and living expenses should be provided by the state. Adequate funds should be provided for community colleges and technical schools. Flagship universities and branch campuses should offer night classes.
Serious discussion should take place about mixing online and in person learning.(Most who experience online courses, students and faculty, are negative).

Also, we should move beyond the false god STEM. Empirical research shows more graduates than jobs in many STEM areas.

Holistic models of knowledge integrating history, social science, philosophy, literature, with science, engineering, and agriculture need to be developed.
Discussions should be held about ethics and research. Are there sources of funding and research projects that violate the values of higher education?

And we should return to real shared governance, with educators playing a leading role in decisions about the educational process.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

I THOUGHT I HAD HEARD IT ALL...


Harry Targ
But in Indiana, our Indiana National Guard is the state partner with the Nigerien military. So we send Indiana guardsmen and women to Niger. They send their military leaders to Indiana for training. So it’s no secret-it hasn’t been a secret to me that-of what is occurring in Niger with the threat of ISIS and other cells of terrorist groups as well.” (Jim Banks, Congressman from Indiana, “Indiana Congressman on the Attack in Niger that Killed 4 U.S. Soldiers,” NPR, October 23, 2017).

Indiana and Niger

The media and President Trump have been sparring over the unsympathetic way he talked to a grieving young widow of one of four Special Forces soldiers killed in action in Niger on October 4. But ever so slowly politicians and reporters are beginning to ask a vital question: Why are U.S. troops in Niger and other countries across the African continent?
Part of the story has to do with agreements between state National Guard units and other countries. For example, on January 24, 2017 an article in the electronic publication of the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) reported that the Department of Defense “State Partnership Program” would formalize a relationship between the Indiana National Guard and the African nation, Niger. 

Further, the newsletter of the National Guard lobby group indicated that the state of Indiana’s recent contract with Niger was the seventy-fifth agreement between a state national guard component and a foreign country under the Department of Defense “State Partnership Program.”

Major General Courtney P. Carr, the Indiana National Guard Adjutant General said about the January, 2017 announcement: “Hoosier Guardsmen are dedicated to deepening our development and security cooperation relationships with our Nigerien partners.”

The NGAUS article pointed out that the Indiana National Guard has experience in humanitarian assistance and “will support the U.S. government’s ongoing diplomatic, development and security efforts to achieve shared goals.” Niger’s spokesperson General Seyni Garba, Chief of Defense, said “This partnership is timely because it offers a great opportunity for the Niger armed forces to further develop its capabilities to face all the major security challenges of the day.”
Perceptive Hoosier pundit Brian Howey reported on October 5, 2017, that the Indiana National Guard hosted a meeting between the State Adjutant General, Congressman Banks, and the Niger Chief of Defense at Camp Atterbury in August. General Garba warned that Niger was in the heart of the continent’s terrorist zone. Howey pointed out that U.S. Special Forces train at Muscatatuck Urban Warfare Center in Indiana. In addition, he quoted from a New York Times article referring to a $50 million drone base being constructed at Agadez, Niger. Howey concluded: Indiana’s Niger connection has just taken a sobering turn. (Brian Howey, “The Indiana-Niger Connection,” Howey. Politics Indiana, howeypolitics.com, October 5, 2017).

Techniques of Empire Today 
Although the imperial agenda and the ideological precepts justifying it have remained essentially the same for two hundred years, the techniques of empire have changed as growing resistance at home and abroad and new technologies allow. Changes in warfare, other violence, and imperial expansion include the following:

-Wars are internal much more than international and casualties are overwhelmingly civilian rather than military.
-The global presence of some form of the United States military is ubiquitous-between 700 and 1,000 military bases-in anywhere from 40 to 120 countries

- US military operations have been privatized. A 2010 Washington Post report found 1,911 intelligence contracting firms doing top secret work for 1,271 government organizations at over 10,000 sites. Ninety percent of such work is being done by 110 contractors.
-More “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” have been used to kill alleged enemies over the last eight years than the entire prior period of US military operations. Also drones have come home as their use by urban police forces show.

-US agencies, such as the CIA, have been engaged in the increased use of assassinations and efforts to undermine governments. One report indicated that there are 13,000 assassination commandoes operating around the world. And the new Director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, has promised to make the CIA a “much more vicious agency.”

-So-called “humanitarian assistance” is used to support United States policies in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. A New York Times story reported that at least 40 American groups received $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade.
-Military operations continue and expand without “boots on the ground.” As a result empires can kill with impunity because military operations are less visible than wars in prior years. Also the number of soldiers involved in twenty-first century wars is lower than twentieth century ones.

Just recently, Nick Turse and colleagues reported on data indicating that the United States has been engaged in secret military training of personnel in many countries. They called the policy “a shadowy network of U.S. programs that every year provides instruction and assistance to approximately 200,000 foreign soldiers, police, and other personnel.”  (Douglas Gillison, Nick Turse, Moiz Syed, “How the U.S. Trains Killers Worldwide,” Portside, July 13, 2016).
Their report is worth quoting further:

“The data show training at no fewer than 471 locations in 120 countries…involving on the U.S. side, 150 defense agencies, civilian agencies, armed forces colleges, defense training centers, military units, private companies, and NGOs, as well as the National Guard forces of five states.”  Despite the fact that the Department of Defense alone has poured some $122 billion into such programs since 9/11, the breadth and content of this training network remain virtually unknown to most Americans.”
Turse has also discovered that the recently constructed U.S. military African command (AFRICOM) has one base, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti and 11 outposts or Cooperative Security Locations across the continent. Less transparent, Turse indicates, are 60 military outposts in 34 countries (60 percent of the continent) and U.S. military offices with defense attaches in 38 nations. U.S. military presence-sometimes small, sometimes large, in some cases U.S. army, in others private contractors-permeates the continent.

Impacts of 21st Century Imperialism

By any measure the pain and suffering brought by 21st century imperialism is staggering. U.S. Labor Against the War recently reported that sources estimate 1.3 million people, mostly in the Middle East and South Asia, have died due to the war on terrorism initiated in 2001. They quote a research report that estimates that one million Iraqis have died since 2003 and an additional 220,000 citizens of Afghanistan and 80,000 from Pakistan. Other sources claim these figures are too conservative and remind us of the untold thousands upon thousands who have died directly from war and violence in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and elsewhere in the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa.
These figures, of course, address deaths directly attributed to war and terrorism but do not include economic sanctions, environmental devastation, massive flight of people from war zones, persecution by authoritarian regimes, and drone strikes and assassinations. Large areas of the globe, largely centered in the Middle East and North Africa, are ungovernable with foreign intervention and anomic domestic violence on the rise. In a troubling essay by Patrick Cockburn the author asserts that:

“We live in an age of disintegration. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Across the vast swath of territory between Pakistan and Nigeria, there are at least seven ongoing wars-in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and South Sudan. These conflicts are extraordinarily destructive. They are tearing apart the countries in which they are taking place in ways that make it doubtful they will ever recover.” (Patrick Cockburn, “The Age of Disintegration: Neoliberalism, Interventionism, the Resource Curse, and a Fragmenting World,” The Unz Review: Mobile, June 28, 2016).
Cockburn suggests that this fragmentation has core features: no winners and losers, deconstruction of states, massive population upheavals, and migrations; in short death and destruction. And most Americans, through no fault of their own, as in Indiana, are not informed about their state’s national guard contractual relationship with another country. And the citizens of the United States in general are not knowledgeable about nor can they participate in decisions about whether U.S. troops, drones, private contractors, and military assistance should be engaged in other countries.


Friday, October 20, 2017

HISTORY AS POLITICS, POLITICS AS HISTORY: REMEMBERING THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION

A Review of Duncan McFarland ed., The Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union: Seeds of 21st Century Socialism, Changemaker Publications (http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/changemaker) 2017. The Socialist Education Project, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism

 Harry Targ
“…you are Americans and are meant to carry liberty and justice and the principles of humanity wherever you go, go out and sell goods that will make the world more comfortable and more happy, and convert them to the principles of America.” (Woodrow Wilson shortly after the Russian Revolution quoted in L.S. Stavrianos, Global Rift, 1981, 492.)


“there are two great evils at work in the world today, Absolutism, the power of which is waning, Bolshevism, the power of which is increasing. We have seen the hideous consequences of Bolshevik rule in Russia, and we know that the doctrine is spreading westward. The possibility of proletarian despotism over Central Europe is terrible to contemplate.”(Secretary of State Robert Lansing shortly after the Russian Revolution in Stavrianos, 494).

The masses are in power... And on the morning of 13 November, after the defeat of Kerensky's Cossack army, Lenin and Trotsky sent through me to the revolutionary proletariat of the world this message:
Comrades! Greetings from the first proletariat republic of the world. We call you to arms for the international social revolution.” (from Judy Cox, “John Reed: Reporting on the Revolution,” International Socialism Journal, Winter, 1998.


History is Complicated


As the sentiments of President Wilson and his Secretary of State suggest, the United States emerged from World War I to embark on a global campaign to crush the new Soviet Union economically and militarily. It, along with a dozen other nations sent troops into the country that would become the Soviet Union to help counter-revolutionaries overthrow the new Bolshevik regime. In subsequent years, (until 1933), the United States refused to recognize the Soviet Union. Western powers watched as Germany rearmed and expanded its control across the heartland of Europe. Italian fascist armies and German airpower were used to destroy democratic Spain, again with the United States and the British on the sidelines.

After the war, the Truman Administration launched a “cold war,” against the Soviet Union. It transferred resources to Western Europe to rebuild the capitalist part of it. It unleashed covert operators to infiltrate trade unions and political parties in Europe and Latin America and began beaming propaganda and sending operatives into Eastern Europe to undermine Soviet influence.

Germany was the centerpiece of this new global struggle. As the source of military forces that killed 27 million Soviet citizens in World War II, the status of Germany became most critical to the Soviets. And for the United States a reindustrialized, remilitarized Germany would constitute the centerpiece of the campaign to fight Communism and promote capitalism on the world stage. Ironically, the Cold War started over Germany and could have ended there with a mutually derived agreement to create a neutralized and united Germany (much as was agreed to in Austria). But western diplomats ignored Soviet offers to negotiate the creation of such a Germany.

Without revisiting all the critical points of contestation between the East and the West, it is important to make clear that the Soviet Union, the weaker of the two “superpowers,” was targeted for challenge and defeat by every United States administration from 1917 to 1991. This cost both countries and their allies trillions of dollars in military spending and millions of lives.

The Russian Revolution and the New Workers State
Reflecting upon the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution may lead us to reject Eric Hobsbawm’s characterization of the last century as the “short twentieth century.” Why? Because Hobsbawm regarded the contestation between global capitalism and socialist revolution as encompassing the years between 1917, the revolution, and 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union. But a good case can be made that as John Reed put it, “Ten Days That Shook the World” is still going on. And the collection of essays reviewed here passionately makes the case, that as the sub-title suggests, the Russian Revolution may have planted the seeds for a 21st socialism, a socialism whose characteristics will meet the needs of today, not the last century.

The essays in this volume are not designed to be an apology for errors and crimes of the Revolution or what followed but rather a description of those building blocs of human liberation that have had their inspiration in the Revolution and what followed. The opening essay moves back and forth historically to describe the workers Soviets, examples of direct democracy, and the variety of movements today that are equally struggling to be open, transparent, and democratic. Another addresses the nationalism question and the difficult task the new state had in melding together in one nation, a multiplicity of ethnicities, respecting unity and diversity.

Other essays address the influence of the Russian Revolution on the emergence of industrial unionism in the United States and the building of multi-ethnic, multi-racial working class communist parties and the role of building international anti-colonial and anti-racist solidarity. The volume has essays that suggest the important contribution the new revolution had on the arts and culture, social psychology, and education. A classic essay describes the critical role of women in the revolution and the rights they achieved in the new society.

And for those unfamiliar with the history of 1917, one essay provides an overview of the overthrow of the Tsar, the rise to power of the Mensheviks, and finally the seizure of power of the new Bolshevik regime led by Vladimir Lenin. Additional essays describe the impacts of the counter-revolution, the premature rush to communizing the society, and the adoption of a New Economic Policy, a combination of market and socialist characteristics, needed to survive economic and political crisis. The essay points to NEP-type policies adopted by twenty-first century Socialist regimes. Juxtaposed with the use of markets, another contributor analyzes the need for organization in the revolutionary process to be effective. Finally, one of the essays (by this reviewer) critiques how modern social science and anti-Soviet leftists misunderstand the revolutionary processes going forward from 1917.

The last three sections of the volume are perhaps the most critical as we look critically at and honor the Russian Revolution. Part of a 1990 public presentation by Carl Bloice (1939-2014), long-time reporter in Moscow for the People’s World is reprinted. Shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bloice argues that the government was not able to advance technologically and scientifically as its resources and human capital would have allowed. Thus economic stagnation and lack of competitiveness with the West occurred. Why the lack of scientific advance, he asks? Because the Soviet Union drifted toward authoritarianism and declining democracy, and it is in a democratic environment that intellectual creativity is most likely to flourish.

Finally, the volume ends with brief remarks Paul Robeson articulated about his first experiences as an American of African descent in the Soviet Union. He found an environment free of racism that he had never experienced in the United States. And the volume ends with an inspiring poem by Langston Hughes: “Good Morning Revolution.”

And About History

It is a common place now to repeat the old adage: “history is written by the winners.” Old adage or not, the media mocking of Russia today, coupled with subtle references to the former Soviet Union is being orchestrated by the same kinds of imperial voices that have been raised for almost one hundred years now. The words of Woodrow Wilson and Robert Lansing are part of common discourse today.

As contentious as it might be, it is time for progressives to revisit the history of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union in a way that is not chauvinistic and self-serving and raises the possibility of creating a twenty-first century socialism. This collection of essays does just that. Our emerging millennial socialists and our progressive activists would benefit from a quick read of The Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union: Seeds of 21st Century Socialism.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

CHALLENGING UNITED STATES FOREIGN POLICY TOWARD ISRAEL IS NOT ANTI-SEMITISM!


Harry Targ


Global Economic Context         

Looking at the last third of the twentieth century, Canadian economist James Davies, in a study prepared by the World Institute for Development Economics Research, wrote “income inequality has been rising for the past 20 to 25 years and we think that is true for inequality in the distribution of wealth.” In 2000 the study showed that the top 1 percent of the world’s population accounted for 40 percent of its total net worth, with the bottom half owning 1.1 percent. Edward Wolff, another economist participating in the study, wrote “With the notable exception of China and India, the third world has drifted behind.” (New York Times, December 6, 2006).

The starkest interpretation of this kind of data was reflected in a 2003 article by Egyptian economist Samir Amin. He asserted that the global economy is creating what he called “the precarious classes.” Both in agriculture and manufacturing they cannot count on day-to-day remunerative activity to survive. Amin estimated that 2/3 to 3/4 of humankind are among the “precarious classes.”

Relevance to the Middle East in the 21st Century

A financial publication entitled “Arab Banker” printed a summary of a 2007 World Bank study, “Two Years After London: Restarting Palestinian Economic Recovery.” The World Bank, the Arab Banker, and other sources presented the following alarming data:

-The percentage of Gazans living in poverty steadily increased from 1998 (21.6%) to 2006 (35%).

-Israeli policies barring imports and exports which isolated Gaza from the Israeli and global economy made matters worse; a 90 % decline in Gaza’s industrial operations occurred between the 2006 parliamentary election victory of Hamas and 2007.

-Industrial employment in Gaza declined from 35,000 in 2005 to 4,200 in 2007. 

During the first decade of the new century, comparative economic data on Israel and the occupied territories indicated that West Bank and Gaza gross national product per capita was about 10 percent of that of Israel.

More recently, the United Nations issued a report entitled “Socio-Economic and Food Security Survey 2012: West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestine.” This report was produced under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, and the World Food program. It documented a connection between food insecurity in Palestine and external constraints on the economies of the West Bank and Gaza imposed by occupation and blockades. Among their findings were the following:

-34 percent of Palestinian households, comprising over 1.5 million people, live in situations of food insecurity (19 percent in the West Bank and 57 percent in Gaza).

-Food insecurity increased since 2009, derived from growing unemployment, declining purchasing power, and slowed or abandoned aid thus decreasing jobs, income, and consumption.

-Food insecure households (often with larger families) are more likely to experience disabilities and chronic illnesses.

The report made three general recommendations: lift the embargo on Gaza, increase West Bank access to the Israeli economy, and support efforts to increase economic productivity in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Middle East Wars

The contested land of Palestine had been largely populated by Muslim peoples from the 7th century until the mid-twentieth century.  In 1947, the year that the United Nations recommended the partition of Palestine into two states, only 1/3 of the land’s inhabitants were of Jewish background. On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization and the chairman of the Jewish Agency in Palestine, declared the establishment of a new state of Israel, and the first Middle East war between the new Israeli army and Arab states ensued. Palestinians and Arab neighbors regarded the creation of the new state as an occupation of the historic residents of the land. Over the course of this first Middle East war and those that followed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians became a displaced population.

Subsequently wars occurred in 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, and intermittently from the 1980s until today. (In the 1967 war Israel occupied, the West Bank, Gaza, the Old City of Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights, formerly Syrian land). These wars were fought between Israelis, Palestinians and states neighboring Israel. Disputes involved multiple issues including the legitimacy of the state of Israel; Israeli expansion, particularly its continuing construction of settlements in the West Bank and the displacement of Palestinian people; the rights of Palestinians inside Israel, and control of water and land throughout the region. Various organizations challenging the Israeli state and land expansion emerged over the last fifty years including the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Several nations supported contending parties to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict such as the United States and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, former European colonial powers such as Great Britain and France, and neighboring Arab and other Muslim states.

The United States became Israel’s main ally during all these years. Since 1979 Israel has been the largest recipient on a per capita basis of foreign assistance from the United States of any of the latter’s clients. In addition, Israel has become the best equipped and most powerful military force in the region, largely due to the billions of dollars of US military assistance. Israel is the only state with nuclear weapons in the region. In a recent budget decision, the United States has agreed to provide military assistance totaling $3.8 billion per annum for ten years to Israel beginning in 2019.

Finally, pro-Israel lobby groups in the United States support continued military and economic aid to Israel. Israel, with United States support, opposes serious negotiations with what is now the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza. It is expected that recent West Bank/Gaza Palestinian agreements will harden Israeli opposition to serious negotiation.

Of course, Israel opposes initiatives from peace groups in the US and the international community. Currently, militant pro-Israel lobby groups as well as the Israeli government are pressuring Congress to pass legislation overturning Obama administration accords with Iran on nuclear weapons. Many also advocate US-led  military action against Iran.

Violence and instability in the region, the tragedy of 9/11, worldwide terrorism directed against US targets, and insurmountable and spreading conflicts have been directly related to Israel’s economic isolation of and military actions toward the Palestinian people and the continuing US support of Israel’s policies. Within the United States, critics of US support of Israel are excoriated and politicians are intimidated such that policy debate on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians inside Israel as well as economic embargoes and military attacks on interim Palestinian institutions and people in Gaza and the West Bank are largely censored from public discourse.

The particular mantra of rightwing groups, Republicans, Trump administration spokespersons, and many Democrats in 2017 is to label any critics of Israeli policy as “anti-Semitic.” Some of the strongest voices opposed to the total United States military and economic support for Israel come from progressives in the Jewish community. More Jewish people are becoming critics of Israel’s inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people. Many of these people proudly identify with their historical heritage of support for social and economic justice all around the world and are outraged by recent disingenuous claims of sympathy for the Jewish people from Conservative politicians in both political parties, think tanks and religious lobby groups, and sectors of the mainstream media.

Politics and Economics of the Middle East Today

Nar Arafeh, a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, challenges the idea that economic development in the West Bank and Gaza alone could bring peace to the region. She argues that unless economic change is coupled with increased Palestinian political rights in the region resistance to Israel’s political/military domination will continue.

As to economics, although Palestine is expected to experience 3.5% growth in GDP in 2017, that growth is largely based on construction, presumably rebuilding housing units destroyed by Israeli bombs. She points out that the boost in construction in recent years in the West Bank and Gaza is coupled with economic stagnation including low growth and inadequate wages, increased unemployment, and declining foreign assistance. Israel controls the flow of labor from the West Bank to production sites as needed and limits more substantially Palestinian labor from Gaza. Arafeh says that “The ‘Palestinian Economy is a political construct, shaped to serve the more powerful player: Israel.” (Nar Arafeh, “Palestine’s Economic Outlook-April, 2017. Al Jazeera).

And on the human rights front, an Amnesty International report entitled, “Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories Report 2016/2017” stated that:

Israeli forces unlawfully killed Palestinian civilians, including children, in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), and detained thousands of Palestinians from the OPT who opposed Israel’s continuing military occupation, holding hundreds in administrative detention. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained rife and was committed with impunity. The authorities continued to promote illegal settlements in the West Bank, including by attempting to retroactively “legalize” settlements built on private Palestinian land, and severely restricted Palestinians’ freedom of movement, closing some areas after attacks by Palestinians on Israelis. Israeli forces continued to blockade the Gaza Strip, subjecting its population of 1.9 million to collective punishment, and to demolish homes of Palestinians in the West Bank and of Bedouin villagers in Israel’s Negev/Naqab region, forcibly evicting residents.

What Does This Mean?

First, violence and political instability in the world is intimately connected to the absence of economic well-being.  The economic crises faced in recent years in the industrial capitalist world are small compared to the punishing crises of survival that some countries of the Global South still experience in the 21st century; countries and territories of the Middle East are prime examples.

Second, data suggests clearly that in the occupied territories (the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights, all conquered in the 1967 Middle East war) the notion of “precariousness” (joblessness, land theft, food insecurity, grotesque economic and political inequalities) is an apt way to describe the condition of the Palestinian people.

Third, shifting currents in Palestinian politics have been connected to patterns of economic growth and decay. In the 1950s and 1960s, secular leaders in the Arab world, including Palestinians, offered a vision of economic change and political autonomy for their people that was processed in Washington and European capitals as threatening to dominant economic interests. President Nasser of Egypt who opened relations with the Soviet Union and began to talk about Arab Socialism was a prime target of concern. Paradoxically, the US began to support political actors in the region with a religious agenda, countries such as Saudi Arabia and later in the 1980s followers of Osama Bin Laden who were fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan. In the 1980s also the United States supported Hamas in Palestine.

There is no easy solution but the United States and other wealthy countries have an obligation to participate in a disinterested economic reconstruction of the occupied territories and support for complete political autonomy of the Palestinian people. Only that will break the back of anger, hatred, and political instability. The United States should stop fueling the violence in the region by ending military aid to Israel. Economic reconstruction requires negotiation toward the creation of a viable secular Israeli state in which all participate or a separate Palestinian state with land repatriation and guarantees of security from Israeli military attack. In addition, Israeli settlements in the West Bank need to be dismantled. Economic development must be coupled with economic justice.

In the United States, the political climate needs to begin to change so that a resumption of frank dialogue can proceed concerning foreign policy toward Israel, ending the violence in the region, and supporting economic justice and political rights for the Palestinian people. For example, is it wise and humane for the United States to commit $3.8 billion annually in for military aid to Israel for the next ten years?

Labeling those who propose different United States foreign policies toward Israel as anti-Semitic do a disservice to peoples of the region and defame US activists, including Jews, who support peace and justice for the Palestinian people.

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