Mohsen Abdelmoumen: Your book “International Relations in a World of Imperialism and Class Struggle” is for me relevant and especially visionary. In your opinion, what are the most effective tools to fight against the ultra-liberalism and imperialism?
Prof. Harry Targ: That book was written to challenge the dominant discourse among those of us who study international relations. Reigning paradigms—realism, liberalism, and behavioral science—did not address imperialism, dominance, and dependency. The book was written in the early 1980s and reflected my growing engagement with theories of imperialism, particularly Lenin, and dependency, primarily scholar/activists from the Global South such as Walter Rodney, Samir Amin, Andre Gunter Frank, Fernando Cardoso and others. I wanted researchers and teachers of international relations in North America to incorporate these theories into how we looked at the world. Most importantly, I wanted our students to be confronted with ideas about imperialism and dependency, particularly the predominant imperial power of the United States.
From a historical and theoretical point of view much has changed since then, but yet the main lines of the theoretical argument remain the same. With the collapse of the Socialist Bloc and the dramatic shift at the apex of capitalism from manufacturing to finance, coupled with new technologies, we have seen the coming of the age of neoliberal globalization. And despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, US global hegemony has been increasingly challenged by China, India, various formations in the Global South, and massive uprisings everywhere motivated by opposition to austerity policies, ie. neoliberalism.
We are at a very difficult juncture in the world. Mass movements are springing up everywhere, some of which are rightwing, nationalist, neo-fascist, and others progressive. The US has countered its weakening economic position with an expansion of its military presence: over 700 military bases, private contract armies, new technologies such as drones, and collaborations with some of the world’s most reactionary regimes such as Saudi Arabia.
How to respond? This is the most difficult question. I would argue that the peace movement in the United States needs to connect with the other movements in the country, explaining how war/peace and anti-imperialism are connected to the struggles against racism, sexism, climate disaster and other issues. The peace movement also needs to network more effectively with movements around the world who are struggling for peace and justice; the way Arab Spring, Occupy, revolt in Madison, Wisconsin drew people, particularly the young into solidarity. And, in addition, we in the university need to reintroduce those radical ideas about imperialism and dependency and the interconnections between domestic and international issues into our curricula. It is important in our educational and social movement work to introduce the vision and possibility of creating a twenty-first century socialism. This will take a long time.
Whether it is in your “Constructing Alternative World Futures: Reordering the Planet” or “The Global Political Economy in the 1980s,” I note that you have gone beyond your time and that your analyzes have been verified. How did you come to these conclusions especially before some systemic crises of capitalism like the stock market crash of 1987?
Constructing Alternative World Futures was a book a friend and I wrote in the early 1970s. We wanted to make the case that social movements needed to be guided by, even proceeded by, alternative visions of a better future. My part of the book was to survey the visions of a better society proclaimed and experimented with over the centuries. I looked at global visions, regional ones, and local utopian communities. I was particularly impressed with the idea of participatory democracy (ideas from the early New Left in the United States) and the experiments in utopian communities. Ironically much of the thinking about a twenty-first century socialism emphasizes workplace control, cooperatives, establishing real direct democracy, and privileging grassroots movements for change. The vision of community that so animated thinking in the late twentieth century is back. Some of it even has its roots in the early Marx. Today the Cubans are trying to build a new economic system based on worker cooperatives, without negating the supportive role of the state, and with limits, markets.
The expectations about the crises of capitalism, 1987 or 2009, come from my reading of the Marx and Neo-Marxist literature. Data makes it clear that over the last forty years capital accumulation has created an emerging global economic system based on monopolies, grotesque expansion of the gaps between rich and poor, and fundamental contradictions between the qualitative increase in productivity and the inability of workers to buy the goods they produce. Add to the contradictions of capitalism in general, we need to consider the environmental crisis. Most of us were insensitive to the environment forty years ago.
You wrote “Plant Closings“. Can we assert that the big capital murdered the working class by tearing away it the working tool? Did the great transformation of capitalism taken place at the time when the working class has been stripped of its working tool?
I studied with my wife and two friends, all three sociologists, the closing of a manufacturing plant in a town thirty miles from my campus. Twelve hundred workers lost their jobs when an RCA television cabinet-making factory closed. It was the second largest employer in the county. Upon study I found that enormous capital flight from the United States had begun to occur from the late 1960s on; including electronics, shoes, and textiles. Two economists estimated that 30 million US jobs were lost in the 1970s do to plant closings and runaway shops. By the 1980s industrial manufacturing employment began its steep decline (from about 40 percent of the work force then to about 15 percent today). Also unionization declined in the US from a third of the workforce in the 1950s to about 10 percent today (mostly white collar). In addition, real wages have stagnated while productivity has increased and benefit programs have declined. Income and wealth inequality has skyrocketed. So what we have today is a deepening economic crisis of the working class. With the old New Deal programs stripped away and the labor movement weakened, the working class is in crisis. And as recent theorists point out the crisis is moving upward to what is conventionally called the middle class. Guy Standing calls the new working class the precariat.
You are a Marxist economist. How to live Marxism today?
I am a political scientist who came to Marxist analysis in my thirties. I started my academic career in the late 1960s and began to shift my thinking on international relations, social movements, racism etc. before I read Marx. In terms of those around me, particularly in Indiana, I was seen as a Marxist, even though I wasn’t. I am a member of a national socialist organization, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism CCDS. I joined in 1992. Associating with many people who had long histories of involvement in various US movements, labor, civil rights, and peace, helped me become more of an activist and helped me refine my educational work. I am among the few workers who can legitimately interconnect my academic work with my political activism. Before my affiliation with CCDS I had been active in the peace movement, a bit in the local labor movement, and was involved in Central American solidarity work.
Gramsci said: “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters“. In your opinion, what is the viable alternative to the late capitalism, neoliberal globalization and militarism? We see a capitalism in permanent crisis and the absence of a revolutionary framework for the working classes. How do you explain that?
I have addressed some of my thoughts on this subject. I have been excited by the Bolivarian Revolution in Latin America. I worry that that vigorous movement of people and states now is in deep crisis. I remain inspired by the determination of the Cuban people to keep their revolution.
In the US and elsewhere around the world, data suggests that there has been increasing protest activity over the last decade. And there has been an enormous upsurge in activism in the US since the election of Donald Trump. This upsurge is exciting and inspiring. Much of this is coming from young people and youth of color. Women are taking the lead. However, these movements often do not have a class perspective and the working class is not involved as much in them. Also, in my community there has sprung up a plethora of groups and a kind of frenzy that suggests too much and too fast. In my community the left is miniscule but elsewhere in the US some activism is being led or encouraged by a left. The idea of socialism has been given legitimacy by the Bernie Sanders campaign. But all this is a work in progress.
Gramsci talked about “the militant minority” in a progressive majority. Maybe that is our role at this time; introduce ideas about class and class struggle and envisioning a twenty-first century socialism.
Some politicians and media mainstream argue that the divisions today are not ideological, that is to say between a Right in the service of the ruling class and a fighting Left. Don’t you think that the Apostles of big capital and their media relays create a diversion by asserting that the only divide is the globalization against sovereignty?
Let me say something about the media. About six media conglomerates control about 50 percent of what Americans read, see, and listen to. The media created Donald Trump because it was profitable. The media then demonized him because it was profitable. The media marginalized the Sanders campaign. Now we are living with the mendacity largely created by the mainstream media.
In the twenty-first century the struggle for what Johnson used to call the “the hearts and minds” of the people is greater than ever before. Electronic media, the internet, and the profusion of propaganda constitute much of the political battlefield today. In this way Gramsci’s ideas about ideological hegemony are terribly important.
Recipe after recipe, the capitalists have difficulty in reforming this system which only engenders exploitation, impoverishment and wars. Can we say that capitalism has multiple faces but only one matrix and that it is outdated or even dead clinically?
Capitalism is coming apart. All the contradictions Marx wrote about are true. And the environmental contradictions, which he probably did not address enough, compound the problem.
Is not the fascism manifested by scourges such as racism, Islamophobia, etc. the direct consequence of capitalism and at the same time its most hideous face?
Yes. And we in the United States have to come to grips with the rise of a white supremacy that is deeply embedded in US history. And narratives of ethnic conflict so often highlighted in the media and academia create a new need for ideological struggle. Paul Robeson wrote about the pentagonal chord structure that underlay the folk music of all people. I don’t know music but he was using it as a metaphor to describe his belief in human oneness. Celebrate diversity but recognize the commonality of the human race. This recognition is an essential tool in the struggle against capitalism.
In one of your recent articles “Foreign Policy: The Elephant in the Room“, you mention a rapprochement between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Do you think the CIA has lost its influence, particularly in Europe? What do you think of Trump’s criticisms of the CIA?
In a more recent blog I have argued that there is a factional dispute going on now within the foreign policy elite between the neoliberal globalists who emphasize a so-called free trade, financial speculation, neoliberal agenda. They have dominated United States foreign policy making for generations, particularly from Reagan to Clinton to Obama. In political/military terms, they seek to push back challengers to neoliberal capitalism: Russia, China, populist Latin American countries, and they advocate advancing US economic interests in Asia and Africa. Many of the institutions of the neoliberal globalists, sometimes called the “deep state” include the CIA, NSA, and other security agencies.
The other faction represented by President Trump and some of his key aides prefer economic nationalism, restricted trade, building walls, avoiding diplomacy, and they are driven by a deeply held white supremacist ideology. They believe, as political scientist Samuel Huntington argued, that we are engaged in a civilizational conflict with Islam, a fourth world war. The neoliberal globalists undermined Ukraine, put more NATO troops in Eastern Europe and want to depose Putin and weaken Russia. This is not on the Trump agenda.
While both factions support US Empire, they have different priorities and are driven by different theories, neoliberal globalization vs. white supremacy. I think influence is tilting toward the neoliberal globalist and their “deep state” institutions such as the CIA. Concretely, the deep state institutions are more committed to the idea of war, if necessary, with Russia, and escalated military involvement in the Syrian civil war. The dangers of war and the tragedy of continuing violence in the Middle East remain high.
Can we assert that FBI keeps shaping the politics American as at the time of Edgar Hoover?
I would not regard the FBI or CIA as independent drivers of US foreign and domestic policy but they have a powerful institutional presence. Some political scientists correctly talk about bureaucratic politics. By this they mean that large institutions take on a life of their own and are hard to control. In foreign policy, presidents barely control the creation and implementation of foreign policy. The FBI went wild from its birth in the early part of the twentieth century until the death of Hoover and their power lingers. The CIA has been instrumental in undermining and overthrowing governments. So these institutions are semi-autonomous and have some significant role to play in foreign policy but the parameters are set by the economic and political elites.
I find very interesting another of your articles « World domination: “Neoliberal globalization” versus “the clash of civilizations“». Do you think that the neocons who survived several presidents will keep intact their ability of nuisance under the era Trump?
The labels I use sometimes make the analysis more confusing. The neoconservatives have been well placed in each administration since Nixon. The paradigmatic neocon is Dick Cheney. In 1997 they established the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). They believed that the US should use its military superiority to create a world of nation-states in our image. They rejected diplomacy and international organizations and saw force as the primary tool of the US. The neoliberals, such as the Clintons and Obama, also sought US hegemony but they believed force should be used selectively and that the US should use diplomacy to achieve our goals. This could sometimes include negotiating with enemies.
I would say now that the neoliberals and the neocons are working together to undermine the new Trump administration. Again, the Trump faction is not a peace faction but one driven by economic nationalism and white supremacy. The differences between these factions is not great but at this point there seems to be disagreements over Russia, how high a military profile the Middle East should have, and whether the US should insult its neighbors by building a wall.
Has the hope of the victory of the progressive movements in Latin America disappeared with the death of Castro and Chavez and the various political defeats in some countries, as well as the coup in Brazil? For the empire-resistant we are, the experiences of the progressive movement in Latin America could have been models for all the countries of the world. How can we learn from both their successes and their failures?
The Bolivarian Revolution is in trouble. Argentina and Brazil have experienced a political shift to the right. Venezuela is in economic crisis. But Bolivia hangs on as does Ecuador. A meeting of nations who built a regional organization of populist states (CELAC) recently met. The commitment to the Cuban revolution by its people seems strong. And China has developed a major economic presence in the Western Hemisphere. In sum, the Bolivarian Revolution is under threat but may survive. The experiments in alternative political institutions in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba are still models for other countries in the region.
One enduring problem, it particularly bears on Venezuela, is the dependence on extractive industries for the generation of scarce foreign exchange. Dependence on the sale of oil for example is very dangerous. Countries of the Global South need to develop economies that depend more on production for domestic needs. During the era of Import-Substitution Industrialization in Latin America from the 1940s to the 1980s, the region experienced higher rates of growth; lots of problems with military dictatorships and over-bureaucratization of economies but autonomous development nevertheless.
Do not you think that the defeats of the world’s resistance to ultra-liberalism and imperialism are only temporary and that the struggle has only just begun?
As I suggested, data I have seen showing a growth in protest activity over the last decade and the recent mobilizations against Trump in the US give me hope. The world of capitalism and the environment are not sustainable. More and more people are coming to realize this.
Do you think that the battle for information is decisive against ultra liberalism, imperialism and their media relays? Are not the alternative media an important asset in bringing down the capitalist beast and those who wear it?
As I suggested earlier a significant “battlefield” between reactionary capitalism and human emancipation is occurring in the media. The internet can be a source for education and mobilization but its use must be crafted. Other alternative media are still relevant: alternative papers, independent low frequency radio programs, public lectures, protests etc.
Do not you think that a season of hope is a historical requirement? Utopia or not, to resist is to live. Can we swear that it is not too late for change?
Someone told me the other day that they had heard a Trump aide indicate that they expected protesters to get tired. The view of elites is that they can withstand protest. Just ignore it. I endorse the so-called “inside/outside strategy” for US politics. Activists should continue to work in the electoral arena, advocating progressive and left policies. Try to elect good candidates. And also continue to hit the streets, engage in alternative messaging, and other non-traditional activities. As best as possible link the two.
And both the inside and outside strategies should be inspired by and articulate for others a humane socialist alternative. This is the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution. A lot of progress has been made since 1917 in the improvement of peoples lives. We just have more work to do.
You are member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS), the Northwest Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO), and the Lafayette Area Peace Coalition (LAPC). Can you explain to us what the role of these organizations is?
CCDS is a national socialist organization that engages is educational and political activities around a multiplicity of peace and justice issues. Its members, while diverse, share a socialist vision of a better society. The Labor Council is a regional affiliate of the Indiana State AFL-CIO. It represents and works on behalf of unionized workers in an eight county area. The LAPC is a small local peace group that organizes panels, films, an occasional march in support of peace.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Prof. Harry Targ?
Harry Targ is professor of political science at Purdue University and member of the National Executive Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS), the Northwest Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO), the Lafayette Area Peace Coalition (LAPC) and the American Association of University Professors at Purdue University.
He lives in West Lafayette, Indiana.
His fields of specialization are: International Political Economy – American Foreign Policy – The Labor Movement – Central America and the Caribbean. Professor Targ has teaching and research interests in U.S. and international political economy, U.S. foreign policy, organized labor and class struggle, plant closings and unemployment, and U.S. foreign policy in Central America.
He wrote many books as International Relations in a World of Imperialism and Class Struggle, (Schenkman Books, 1983); Strategy of an Empire in Decline: Cold War II, (MEP Publications, 1986); and co-authored with Carolyn C. Perucci, Robert Perrucci and Dena B. Targ, Plant Closings: International Context and Social Costs, (Adline Transaction, 1988). His book,Cuba and the United States: A New World Order? was published in 1992. A co-edited volume,Marxism Today, was published in 1996. Also, he has co-authored books on Guatemala, Honduras and wrotePeople’s Nicaragua. He published Challenging Late Capitalism, Neoliberal Globalization, and Militarism and Diary of a Heartland Radical.
He has published articles in such journals as,The Journal of Peace Research,Polity,Sociology of Education,Peace and Change,The International Studies Quarterly, andAlternatives.
Hisblog: Diary of a Heartland Radical