Over at the United States Intellectual History weblog there is a roundtable discussion on my book, Education and the Cold War: The Battle for the American School, including reviews by Joe Petrulionis and Tim Lacy. My comments follow.  The roundtable includes, among other items, a discussion of the merits of Marxist theory in intellectual historiography.

Check it out:  

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Petrulionis Review

Part 3: Lacy Review

Part 4: Hartman’s Reply

The Dailykos bloggers have been hammering Obama’s recent rightward shift.  One blogger, interestingly enough, even used a deep analysis of my book Education and the Cold War (regarding the differences between good and bad pragmatism) to frame his argument towards Obama’s stance on FISA.  See the article here.  This blogger (Cassiodorus) argued–again, using my book–that pragmatism is bad if it is only an attempt to achieve power within given constraints, as opposed to a good pragmatism tied to utopian visions about how society can be better.


What are your thoughts on Obama’s rightward shifts, such as his recent takes on the Supreme Court decisions or his statement that he would continue Bush’s faith-based initiatives?  To me, the faith-based thing is consistent with Obama’s long stated efforts to appeal to Evangelical moderates, which will probably blow up in his face. 

In general, I’m not too angry about Obama’s all-too-predictable rightward shift since being guaranteed the nomination, probably because I’ve grown so used to it by now (think Clinton, Gore, Kerry, etc.)  But Obama correctly feels he has the left end of the Democratic spectrum locked up, Dailykos notwithstanding, to the degree that he has a lot of latitude to move right.  I honestly don’t care much about his positions on the recent Supreme Court decisions–that’s just pandering (although the DC gun decision is rife with ironies, since conservatives who supported the decision also blow caskets when judicial activism trumps local rule on issues that favor liberals).  

That said, any move to the right by Obama on the war and foreign policy will anger me because it’s not only wrong, it’s unnecessary.  The country wants out of Iraq.  I also wish he’d frame his economic message in more populist tones.  But Obama’s no populist, so when he talks of always being a fan of free trade, he’s not lying.  If he’s looking to pander–if it’s all about votes, and, let’s face it, it’s all about votes–he should go populist.  I think it would “sell” really well right now.  Of course, Obama cares just as much about Wall Street money as he does about votes, since, rhetoric about his grassroots support aside, 55% of his funds have been donated by Wall St big wigs, including hedge fund monsters, er, I mean managers, much more than McCain.

Stanley Fish is Wrong

June 20, 2008

Academician and New York Times regular Stanley Fish is, again, involved in a debate about whether or not professors should be explicitly political in their teaching.  This current debate began when Fish, in print, objected to the recent creation of a Chair in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado, arguing that there was no need for such an explicitly political appointment.

I have always found Fish’s argument that professors should divorce politics from scholarship (which I don’t separate from teaching) as either naive or sanctimonious or fatuous, perhaps some combination of all three. There are myriad ways to argue against Fish. I’ll quickly make three:
1) Imagine what the historical discipline would look like if all historians consciously sought to divorce politics from their scholarship. (It’s an impossible counter-factual.) There never would have been a revision of the traditional view that the Cold War was caused by an expansionism inherent to the Soviet system. (There never would have been the traditional view to begin with, formed as it was by explicitly political Cold Warriors.) There never would have been an explosion of social history rooted in Sixties zeitgeists, which, among other things, explored slavery from the point of view of the slaves. (There never would have been a traditional view of slavery to begin with, formed as it was by explicitly political apologists for slavery.)

I could go on, but I think my point is made. Perhaps these are examples that Fish might argue are separate from “politics” properly defined, since he seems to define political behavior as merely partisan, or as how people vote. But many such historical revisions were grounded in very immediate political and partisan concerns. For example, many of the Cold War revisionists (William Appleman Williams, Gabriel Kolko, Christopher Lasch, etc.) were highly active in leading campus teach-ins. 

2) This leads me to my second point. Our knowledge as professors, as people who have spent years, sometimes decades, studying topics that are very political, often (not always) puts us in a position to understand a political situation better than our students, better than most people. We would be remiss in keeping such knowledge to ourselves rather than sharing our analyses, as the Cold War revisionists did during the 1960s teach-ins. This does not mean a biology teacher has the right to share her thoughts on President Bush, unless it is with regards to President Bush’s opinion that all schools should teach evolution and “intelligent design” equally–then that biology teacher would be remiss in not sharing her expert knowledge.

3) Lastly, who cares if a professor is trying to proselytize? It happens everywhere, all the time. Yes, many university professors tend to be liberal, especially in the humanities, but it’s one of the few institutions where that is so. The left should happily trade away the universities for the two dominant institutions largely controlled by more conservatively-inclined people, the military and the corporations. Does anyone mean to tell me leaders in these institutions don’t proselytize political views? Please.

I remain unconvinced that teachers should even attempt political objectivity. It is my experience that students see through such a disposition as false, that students want their professors to be advocates for something, political or otherwise. If my goal were to convince my students to vote Democratic, or to convince them that George Bush is a war criminal, then I would not be a very good teacher because these goals are expedient, partisan, and, frankly, boring. But my goal is to get my students to question their presuppositions, both epistemological AND political. Having such a goal is what gets me out of bed in the morning, it’s what drives me, makes me passionate and, as such, it’s what makes me an effective teacher. If such passions were stamped out by professional “objectivity” as advanced by Fish, then I’d be a bad and boring teacher.

In terms of not alienating students, style matters. My conservative students tend to really like my classes because they’re well aware that political disagreement is never the basis for how I evaluate them, in fact, quite the opposite, as those students who are willing to challenge me or the material in thoughtful ways, with use of evidence, thrive in my class. 

In the end, I guess I’m not naive or self-important enough to think that my students care all that much about my politics or objectives, that they’ll seriously notice the difference between me being “political” or me being “objective.” The only thing they will know for certain is if I’m boring.

All that said, I’m perfectly fine with the conservative hire at the University of Colorado (although CU should hire back Ward Churchill, too). I like Crispin Sartwell’s take on it in an op-ed he wrote for the LA Times, titled, “The Smog of Academic Consensus.

Andrew

I am currently reading Susan Jacoby’s widely celebrated The Age of American Unreason in my spare time, and am 3 chapters in.  So far, the book deserves serious criticism, especially from historians, since she makes grandiose claims about the history of unreason (or anti-intellectualism) in the United States, and yet she willfully ignores anything written on the topic by a historian since Richard Hofstadter. She at once sees herself as carrying on the spirit of Hofstadter, which is fine, but also seems to think, by implication, that nothing of value has been offered on the topic since Hofstadter. (Again, I am only 3 chapters in, so perhaps she addresses recent historiography in later chapters.) Let me give two examples, drawing from educational and religious history, which she treats in similarly formulaic fashion.

Along educational lines, she acts as if Adolphe Meyer, who’s An Educational History of American People was published in 1957, had the last word on nineteenth century educational history. Thus, her rendering of this complex history boils down to a black-and-white morality tale between the forces of reason who seek to educate the illiterate masses, and the forces of ignorance, who resist formal education because they are, well, ignorant (or because their leaders dupe them into remaining ignorant). Never mind that, as numerous historians since 1957 have shown, people often resisted formal education for other reasons, including class, since the educational bureaucrats of the 19th century trying to get children in schools shared the class and regional background of those trying to get workers in factories. To grasp such a fundamental argument, Jacoby needn’t have dealt with recent historical literature, averse to it as she seems. She could have read and digested the arguments made by Michael Katz in his 1968 groundbreaking work, The Ironies of Early Education Reform.

In terms of religious history, again Jacoby attempts to stuff square pegs into round holes. She is a master of ahistorical and anachronistic thinking. For instance, she refers to all evangelicals across US history (or, all non-moderate, non-“mainline” Protestants) as “fundamentalists” who prioritize religious doctrine over scientific evidence in their understandings of the world. She notes that the term “fundamentalism” did not come to be used until the twentieth century, but maintains its appropriateness for describing the religious and secular beliefs of nineteenth century Americans, failing to recognize that the etymology had an historical rationale, that is, it came into being when a sizable group of religious leaders did in fact question religious fundamentals.

As such, again, she makes simple that which is paradoxical, and thus religious history becomes another story of good versus evil, or rather, rational versus irrational. The good, rational people are those who adjust their religious beliefs to the ever-changing modern world (mainline Protestants), the bad, irrational people are those who maintain a religious absolutism (“fundamentalists,” Mormons, Catholics, etc.) Again, never mind that many of Jacoby’s so-called fundamentalists sought God as a form of resistance to Mammon. (And what about abolitionists such as John Brown? Was his religiously absolute opposition to slavery so irrational? If so, let us all be so unreasonable.)

Had Jacoby nodded to recent historiography, such as the brilliant and controversial work of Charles Sellers (The Market Revolution) she might have, at the very least, been compelled to grapple with the fact that debate exists on these historical issues. Reasonable and rational people have cause to disagree vehemently with her narrative. Jacoby’s problem is that she replicates Hofstadter’s mistakes by conflating political and religious differences with psychological abnormality. And yet she fails to replicate Hofstadter’s qualities, namely, taking history seriously on its own terms, not merely as clay to be shaped to narrow contemporary pursuits. If Hofstadter stands for historical paradox and complexity, Jacoby stands for ahistorical simplicity. And there’s nothing rational or intellectual about that.

Cheers. Andrew

Obama, Niebuhr, Zizek?

April 20, 2008

On the blog that I co-edit with a number of other US intellectual historians, a compelling discussion has developed in response to a piece I posted.  It includes references to Obama’s “bitter” comments, Niebuhr’s Christian realism, and Slavoj Zizek’s interpretation of fundamentalism.  Check it out:

USIH as a Lens to Understanding the Election

Ideas are often expressed on this blog and elsewhere in the blogosphere that you might find offensive, irrational, unproven, wrong, or just plain goofy.  This is a good thing.  Wneed to read ideas that appear offensive, irrational, unproven, wrong, or goofy.  We need more heresy.  “Polite society”—otherwise known as the corporate media—does not allow for heretical thinking, shoving it to the margins where it can’t be disruptive.  Or, in terms consistent with the current corporate media mantra: Our heretical ideas are not part of the “national discussion”—a narrowing, normalizing phrase if ever there was one. 
 
Now to offer up an idea that I find rational but that others night find heretical.  I want to call into question American concerns for women in largely Muslim countries–a concern that seems weird in the context of continued patriarchy in the US.  Most of the recent rhetorical lamenting about the rights of women in Muslim countries is little more than hypocritical opportunism.  Yes, most evidence suggests that it is better to be a woman in the US in 2008 than a woman in, say, Saudi Arabia in 2008.  This is beyond doubt.  But this is not to say that gender inequality is a thing of the past in the US.  For instance, although women in some Muslim communities (not to mention some Christian and Hindu societies) are subjected to involuntary genital mutilation, this is not to say that the pervasiveness of plastic surgery in the US is not mutilation by other means.  Just because an increasing number of American women “choose” to have their breasts augmented does not mean that repressive gender conventions aren’t the root of such a “choice.”
 
Another way to think about the issue might best be by way of philosopher Gayatri Spivak’s most famous written statement, a passage taken from a famous essay she wrote called “Can the Subaltern Speak.  Spivak writes, “White men will not save brown women from brown men.”  This is not a racially reductionist formula—”white men are the root of all evil”—but rather a provocative entreaty to wake us from our imperialist dreams.  When we send our military to the Middle East, it is not to rescue their women.  Saying as much does not make me a “relativist.”  Yes, genital mutilation is always wrong.  Period.  Absolutely.  But our leaders don’t wage war to save genitals.  They wage war to extend the reach of their power and to increase their access to oil.  And because war makes them feel like manly men—like the patriarchal rulers that they are.  In the process, the wars our leaders wage on brown men make life objectively worse for brown women.
 
We human beings are complex creatures.  It’s OK to be an absolutist and not extend an absolutist belief to the absolute ends of war.  For instance, I absolutely believe that societies with high degrees of economic inequality are not only irrational but also immoral.  Period.  Absolutely.  But this does not mean, then, that I support the US military invading and occupying Kuwait, one of the most economically polarized nations in the world, in order to liberate Kuwaitis from the yoke of their unfair economic structure.  There are three reasons for this.  First, the means don’t always justify the ends, especially when it comes to war.  Rarely if ever is war justifiable.  Second, any realistic assessment of a US war on Kuwait, even if rationalized as class war (or war for female genitals), would lead me to conclude that the poor would likely bear the brunt of the war, thus rendering my rationale moot.  Third, such a justification for war would be intensely hypocritical coming from someone living in a country where 48 million people don’t have health insurance, where the richest one-percent of the population controls nearly half the national wealth, where, in an economic downturn, failed Wall Street banks are bailed out while working-class people with bad mortgages get kicked out of their homes, where, where, where…  I think you get my point. 
 
Oh how much better off we’d be if we’d abide by simple childhood morality lessons, like, “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”
Andrew Hartman

This book review originally appeared in the journal Socialism and Democracy Vol. 21, No. 1 (March 2007), 143-147.

Andrew Hartman

Book Reviewed: Dan Berger, Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity (Oakland: AK Press, 2006). 432 pages.

The Weather Underground–an armed, clandestine, white revolutionary group that formed out of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) 1969 break-up–is currently a fashionable topic of discussion amongst radicals and historians of the left. This is not surprising. The historical context in which the Weather Underground formed is similar to contemporary realities. The United States is again waging a bloody imperialist war against a non-white, former European colony. And young American radicals are, again, searching for effective ways to counter their government’s actions in an atmosphere hostile to dissent. The current crop of student radicals has the potential advantage of being able to learn from the successes and mistakes of their “sixties” forerunners.

            Dan Berger, author of Outlaws in America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity, a voluminous historical account, goes further than any other young radical in his efforts to mine the usable past of the sixties. Outlaws of America is the work of someone who is both a committed leftist and a serious scholar. The work is not without its problems–such as Berger’s apparent need to apologize for former Weather Underground members.  But these problems stem from what makes the book good: it’s based on an impressive number of oral interviews with over twenty former Weather members. This speaks to the contradictions of oral historical research.  Berger’s subjects have become his friends and mentors, particularly David Gilbert, one of the founders of the Columbia chapter of SDS and a former Weather Underground member. (Gilbert is serving a life sentence in various New York state prisons for his role as the driver of the getaway U-haul during a 1981 Black Liberation Army “expropriation” that resulted in the deaths of one Brinks armed guard and two police officers.) But despite this weakness, there are too many good things about Outlaws to not take it seriously.

Most astutely, Berger works to counter the myth of “two sixties”–one good, one bad-–a myth often propagated by former sixties radicals themselves, such as Columbia University Professor Todd Gitlin. According to this conventional wisdom, whereas non-violence, interracial cooperation, participatory democracy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Port Huron Statement marked the “good” early sixties, violence, irrationalism, nihilism, narcissism, nationalism, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and the Weather Underground signified the “bad” later sixties. Similarly, whereas the “good” antiwar movement understood Vietnam as a tragedy of good intentions gone awry, the “bad” variant couched their critique of the war in “crude” anti-imperialist rhetoric, which alienated those working-class Americans who were doing the overseas fighting and dying–-those whom the “good” left sought as allies. Berger works to unmask this dichotomy as false, pointing out that, by this simplistic formula, King himself voluntarily made the transition to the bad sixties in 1966 when he began critiquing the war in language similar to Malcolm X.

Berger belabors the point that the Weather Underground was a product of their times. This truism is ironically built into the very concept of the group, named after an indicative Bob Dylan verse–“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” If the Weather turned to violent forms of resistance, it was because the state was violently repressing dissent. This brings to mind an oft-cited passage from Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed: “With the establishment of a relationship of oppression, violence has already begun. Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed.” By the fall of 1967, violence was in the air and in the streets. With the onset of draft riots in places such as Oakland and New York, antiwar protesters “were beginning to look, talk, and act like urban guerrillas,” taking up Che’s call for “two, three, many Vietnams” (Outlaws, 45). An increasing number of white antiwar activists wanted to join with anti-colonial forces across the planet. They wanted to show solidarity with the Third World. Solidarity, according to Berger, is the key to understanding the Weather Underground and the 1969 SDS split.

Although “two, three, many” factions would eventually spell the demise of SDS, the two most important splinter groups at the infamous 1969 convention were the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM), which eventually became the Weather Underground, and the Progressive Labor Party (PL), a Maoist sect. The essence of the split was over whether to prioritize race or class, an “either-or” problematic that has long divided the American left (and spawned scholarly sub-fields such as critical labor and whiteness studies). The RYM (proto-Weather) sect believed that Ho Chi Minh, the Black Panthers, and non-white nationalists throughout the world were the vanguard of the revolution, and that militantly opposing white supremacy was the best way for white revolutionaries living in the “belly of the beast” to lend support to the revolution. Solidarity. The PL faction, on the other hand, “saw race as divisive” and insisted that all nationalism was reactionary, including that of the Black Panthers. They believed that organizing the American working class was the most important task for activists.

Berger does not hide his sympathy for the RYM/Weather faction. To him, their willingness to walk out on SDS signaled that hundreds of white radicals had consciously chosen to side against white supremacy. Berger smoothes over a complex history of the American left when he writes that the RYM faction “did not want … to fall victim to the same fate as all the major social justice movements in the United States, from populism to unionism to women’s suffrage” (85). Here Berger seems to imply that the left’s historical racism has weakened its position on the American political spectrum.  Although there are obvious instances of this being the case, more often the opposite has proven true: the organized left has consistently taken less racist stances than the rest of American society, stances that, if anything, have relegated it to the margins.  Consistent with this lack of nuance, Berger inaccurately portrays the SDS split as between the Old and New Lefts. “PL’s hostility to anti-racism and national liberation,” Berger argues, “showed that the organization was part of the Old Left” (78). Actually, SDS was re-living a 1930s Old Left debate over the Communist Party’s “Black Belt Nation Thesis,” which explicitly supported black nationalism as a legitimate form of working-class resistance rooted in the international struggle. To stretch this line of argument even further back, SDS was in some ways replaying sectarian battles that took place within an even older left, when southern Populists such as Tom Watson sought an interracial alliance against the “special interests.”

After the dissolution of SDS, the Weather Underground built what David Gilbert describes as “an unprecedented if seriously flawed group that carried out six years of armed actions in solidarity with national liberation struggles” (91). The first violent Weather action occurred in Chicago in October 1969, during what came to be known as the Days of Rage, as young radicals intentionally did battle with the police to prove their willingness to fight against the racist war machine. Spanning three days, Days of Rage resulted in over 300 arrests, some based on serious felony charges, and dozens of injuries, including eight protesters with gunshot wounds. These actions were not widely supported by the larger movement–only a few hundred participated as opposed to the thousands Weather predicted.

Perhaps the most significant if unintended result of Days of Rage was that it compelled Weather to go underground in order to avoid lengthy and costly legal battles. Once underground, Weather rhetoric became increasingly violent, due in part to the fact that their comrades in the black liberation struggle were being murdered by the state, such as when Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was shot in his sleep by Chicago police. But until a powerful bomb accidentally exploded in a Greenwich Village townhouse on March 6, 1970, killing three members of the group, Weather’s conception of revolutionary violence was little more than an abstraction. Afterwards, it became something much more personal and visceral: the horror of the accidental death of their friends in the townhouse explosion engendered a sense of sympathy for their projected victims. (The intended target of the bomb was an Army officers’ dance.) Although they did not entirely eschew the philosophy of violent resistance–especially since the violence of the state had increased both overseas and at home–the group made a firm commitment to refrain from harming people.

In the course of the next seven years, the Weather Underground set off dozens of bombs that damaged millions of dollars worth of property, but never seriously injured anyone again. Weather termed its property-destroying bombs “armed propaganda” because their targets were carefully chosen in response to state and corporate violence and because they issued widely distributed “communiqués” explaining their rationale after each bombing. They had become the masters of the revolutionary spectacle. For example, they bombed the U.S. Capitol on February 28, 1971, as a response to the invasion of Laos and the continued fighting of the war under the auspices of “Vietnamization,” an action Nixon described as “the most dastardly act in American history” (165). In retaliation to a massive increase in the scale of bombings in North and South Vietnam, Weather bombed the Pentagon on May 19, 1972. They responded to the killing of Soledad Brother George Jackson and to the infamous Attica prison massacre of 1971 by bombing various corrections offices.  In 1973, the Weather Underground bombed International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT) headquarters in New York City for its complicity in the overthrow of socialist Salvador Allende, Chile’s democratically elected leader.

Berger thinks these symbolic bombings were widely cheered by young rebels and that the Weather was generally popular in the larger New Left movement. It is true that, for most of their time underground, very few Weather members were ever caught, speaking to a tremendous aboveground network of support. However, cleverness notwithstanding, surely Berger overestimates the degree of popular support for the Weather’s “armed propaganda” campaign, an overestimation that might be rooted in a more serious misunderstanding of the times. In his close reading of the radical sixties, Berger misses the broader history of that important decade. When Berger writes that “to speak of revolution in 1969 was not hyperbolic,” he seems to forget that student radicals were not the only ones on the move. The 1960s is best understood as a time of polarization, as the American conservative movement grew even more rapidly than did the New Left. Berger misses the point that, although a majority of Americans came to oppose the Vietnam War by the end of the decade, an even larger majority opposed and even disdained the antiwar movement. Thus, just as the Weather Underground had a network of support, so too did the FBI, demonstrated by polls that showed a majority of Americans backed violent crackdowns on student and black unrest. Nixon was elected less for his assurance that he would end the war in Vietnam than for his promise to bring order to the streets of America.

Despite these problems, Berger’s book deserves wide attention and should be viewed as one important scholarly revision of sixties radicalism. Berger correctly posits Outlaws of America as part and parcel of the “ideological battleground” and “contested space” that are the “sixties,” entreating us to fight for the radical sixties. In this sense, his work is guided by the historical philosophy best enunciated by Frankfurt School Marxist Walter Benjamin, who, in the midst of Nazi barbarism, wrote, “Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins.”

Dear Readers: My book is published and available for purchase at the Palgrave Macmillan website, or Amazon and other bookseller sites (see Best Web Buys).  Here’s some information from  the publisher:      

Shortly after the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957, Hannah Arendt quipped that “only in America could a crisis in education actually become a factor in politics.”  The Cold War battle for the American school – dramatized but not initiated by Sputnik – proved Arendt correct. The schools served as a battleground in the ideological conflicts of the 1950s.  Beginning with the genealogy of progressive education, and ending with the formation of New Left and New Right thought, Education and the Cold War offers a fresh perspective on the postwar transformation in U.S. political culture by way of an examination of the educational history of that era. 

 “In contemporary American culture, ‘the conservative 1950s’ have become something of a cliché. Hartman’s smart book gives new historical substance to the term, showing us how–and why–our schools turned Right during the Cold War. Even better, he makes us question whether the schools ever really turned back.”–Jonathan Zimmerman, Professor of Education and History, New York University

 

“Hartman is a wise and sensible guide through the thickets of historical flow, economic structure, political condition and cultural context.  An encounter with Education and the Cold War is fortification for the important struggles ahead.”–William Ayers, University of Illinois at Chicago; Author of Teaching Toward Freedom

Introduction: An American Crisis * John Dewey and the Invention of Childhood: Progressive Education in the Beginning * Education as Great Depression Experience: The Unraveling of the Popular Front and the Roots of Educational Vigilantism * From Hot War to Cold War for Schools and Teenagers: The Life Adjustment Movement and the Ideology of Maturity * Communist Teacher Problematic: Liberal Anticommunism and the Education of Bella Dodd * Progressive Education is Red-ucation: Conservative Thought and Cold War Educational Vigilantism * Crisis of the Mind: The Liberal Intellectuals and the Schools * From World-Mindedness to Cold War-Mindedness: The Lost Educational Utopia of Theodore Brameld * Desegregation as Cold War Experience: The Perplexities of Race in he Blackboard Jungle* Growing Up Absurd in the Cold War: Sputnik and the Polarized Sixties * Conclusion: The Educational Reproduction of the Cold War

Andrew Hartman is Assistant Professor of History, Illinois State University.

By Andrew Hartman

The trade issue is central to the 2008 election.  I think some Democrats have improved their outlook on trade, namely John Edwards.  However, we could all benefit from a more historical and international perspective.  

I am not against trade in its crude sense.  You have apples, I have oranges, let’s trade.  But this is not the issue.  The common claim that free trade leads to more peace and prosperity is patently false. This argument, most famously known as Thomas Friedman’s “golden arches” theory, goes like this: countries that have McDonalds, McDonalds being symbolic of a country committed to free trade, don’t bomb each other.  Of course, Friedman’s cutesy formulation—part of his sloppy apologetics for corporate globalization, The Lexus and the Olive Tree—was blown to bits when US-led NATO bombed the crap out of Belgrade, golden arches and all (it should be noted that US planes also bombed the Chinese Embassy and Serbian television during that war).  But regardless of the Belgrade bombings, Friedman is easily unmasked as a charlatan with no concept of international economic history, which would be fine if he wasn’t so damn influential.

Let’s momentarily ignore the domestic consequences of free trade—NAFTA—and instead look at its international history, focusing on the nineteenth century.  In this larger historical context, free trade should be thought of as a euphemism for unfettered capitalistic expansion, which has also been called imperialism, or globalization (pick your poison).
 
Historians John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, in a famous essay “The Imperialism of Free Trade,” argue that a distinction between free trade and imperialism is made by those who only conceptualize empire as something formal—people who study “those colonies colored red on the map, [which] is rather like judging the size and character of icebergs solely from the parts above the water line.”  Take Britain in the 19th century, which the US now models itself after in many ways.  Throughout the nineteenth century, Britain maintained its hegemony in a vast array of regions by either informal, indirect means, or by formal, military means, which included annexations—a means usually associated with the later stages of the nineteenth century, which included the “scramble for Africa.”  As Gallagher and Robinson point out, “refusal to annex are no proof of reluctance to control.”  We need to think about US trade policy in this context, in the context of the US as an imperialist power.  This will allow us to get over the false assertion that “free” trade brings peace and prosperity, which is one of the central counters to those who critique NAFTA-like legislation for destroying the wages of American workers.

Karl Polanyi, in his epic The Great Transformation, best refutes the standard argument that a free market unleashes the forces of progress and innovation.  For him, human innovation is at its best when it is organizing new forms of protection against the intrusiveness of capitalism, when it is raising barriers against the unstoppable beast—innovative barriers like unions!   The worst element of the nineteenth century, which is now the worst element of the twenty-first century, was its crude utilitarianism—in Polanyi’s words, “the self-healing virtues of unconscious growth.”  This was the thinking behind the gold standard—the international monetary system created according to the (il)logic of a self-regulating market.  This (il)logic worked something like this: the Gold Standard was a way for each country’s accounts to balance without the heavy hand of government; a system that regulated according to the “market” rather than according to democratic processes, which, the theory went, disrupted the efficiency of the system.  But the Gold Standard system, although considered the heyday of global capitalism (until the 1990s), was inherently unstable, and is, according to Polanyi, what led to the world wars.  The shock of contracting economies led to new protective barriers, which led to imperialist expansion (overseas barriers), which in turn led to war.  Some peace and prosperity. 
 
I would suggest reading Eric Hobsbawm’s four-volume history of the modern world.  The titles alone refute the argument that “free” trade brings peace and prosperity.  1) The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848 (which details how the bourgeoisie came to rule European society, and eventually the world, which meant “free” trade was about to be globalized). 2) The Age of Capital: 1848-1875 (this was the first heyday of global capital, the age of the Gold Standard).  3) The Age of Empire: 1875-1914 (when informal empire—“free” trade—failed to take hold everywhere, formal empire stepped in).  4) The Age of Extremes: 1914-1991 (the cost of globalized capitalism… a century of war like none other). 
 
Let’s hope the 21st century proves to be more peaceful than the last.  But… no justice, no peace. 

 

By Andrew Hartman

 Every four years, those on the left debate tactics regarding the presidential election.  This year is no exception, despite the singularly poor Bush administration, which would seemingly make any Democratic administration an important reprieve.  However, not everyone is inclined to agree.  Take, for instance, Penn political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr, who recently argued in the pages of The Progressive that we on the left should “Sit Out the 2008 Election.”

Reed’s article, which argues that the Democrats as currently constituted don’t deserve our support, sparked a heated debate on a listserv I edit.  Some argued that Reed was too pessimistic in disavowing the current Democratic candidates.  I argued that Reed was essentially correct.  Here is how I framed my argument.

 

I made four basic points:

 

1)     In response to those who think Reed is too pessimistic, it should be pointed out that Reed is NOT arguing that we should expect more out of the Democratic Party.  In fact, he’s making quite the opposite point, that we should quit dedicating so much of our time, energy, and money to national election cycles, precisely because we can’t expect the Democratic Party and its candidates to pay attention to our desires.  Instead, we should focus on building a strong movement that will compel the Democrats to take our demands more seriously.  This is the only method for success, indeed, the only instances of effective social reform in US history have been the products of such movements: the Populists compelled some regulation of the new corporate behemoths at the turn of the 19th century; the CIO and other working-class organizations forced the hand of FDR, and we got the New Deal; and the vast civil rights movement shut down de jure Jim Crow.  As Reed writes in the article:” Electoral politics is an arena for consolidating majorities that have been created on the plane of social movement organizing. It’s not an alternative or a shortcut to building those movements, and building them takes time and concerted effort… [T]hat process cannot be compressed to fit the election cycle.”

It must be remembered that Reed’s audience is the left, progressives, radicals. He’s writing to those that struggle over whether it makes more sense to support the Democrats on the basis of them being superior to the alternative, the Republicans—which they undoubtedly are—or more sense to opt out of the two-party “duopoly,” as Ralph Nader has long referred to it.  It’s a question of tactics.  In the context of tactics, Reed might be wrong.  The United States is a deeply conservative country, and there is currently no real possibility for structural changes along the lines of the New Deal or Great Society minus a serious crisis.  And there’s no guarantee such a crisis would result in a leftward shift.  I think a rightward shift (democratic fascism!) is more likely.  In this context, perhaps we’re better off swallowing our pride and voting for the Democrats.  And by “our” I mean the left, what’s left of us. 

2)    This leads to my second point.  Despite the fact that Reed might be wrong tactically, this does not detract from how correct he is in terms of historical and political analysis.  If some Democratic partisans seem viscerally offended by Reed’s analysis, that’s probably because it’s spot-on.  I would suggest that partisan attachment to the Democratic Party has limited the ability of some to see the forest for the trees, to ignore the historical arc of US political history. 

The Democrats have shifted to the right since 1976, at least on issues of substance, like economic and social policy.  Now, you might argue, this makes sense since the nation itself has shifted to the right.  The Democrats have interpreted Clinton-style triangulation—tacking to the center, which has been moving to the right—as the only means to electoral success.  This is shortsighted and just plain wrong. The Democrats are locked into an electoral approach that is doomed to fail.  They’ve been cutting the rug out from under those who traditionally guaranteed them a majority, namely, unions. The triangulation approach that the party has pursued since Carter has never produced an electoral majority.  In fact, Gore and Kerry got higher percentages of the vote as the 2000 and 2004 losers than Clinton got as the 1992 winner and were very close in 1996. Minus Ross Perot, we would not have had a Democratic President since Carter (who, it must be said, was a conservative Democrat).  

3)    What is the evidence that the Democrats have shifted to the right?  Let’s examine the Clinton administration’s record in terms of economic and social policy.  Clinton is as much to blame as Reagan for the intense polarization of wealth that has grown larger than any such gap since the 1920s.  This is due largely to the fact that politicians have rewritten economic policy at the behest of corporations, who serve only one master: shareholders.  Let’s take NAFTA (1994).  This terrible piece of legislation benefited nobody other than powerful corporations, which were no longer restrained by pesky local and national laws.  NAFTA, among other neoliberal trade policies, decimated the industrial working class in the United States.  And yet, Democrats continue to ask themselves why the struggle to win in states like Ohio and even, sometimes, Michigan.  DUH!  And NAFTA has not exactly helped most Mexicans, either, made evident by the huge number of them, driven off their land, who come to the US to work in the service industry.  Wow—Lou Dobbs might have a point regarding the close connection between trade policies that benefit the filthy rich and “illegal” immigration.

After the Clinton administration oversaw trade legislation that gashed living wages, it then proceeded to sponsor the Welfare Reform Act (1996), which ripped apart the already-limited safety net for the poor.  The new safety net became the prison system.  As Reed asks us to remember, the Clinton administration was responsible for “two repressive and racist crime bills that flooded the prisons” and “the privatizing of Sallie Mae, which set the stage for the student debt crisis” and “ending the federal government’s commitment to direct provision of housing for the poor.”  Fallout from Clinton-era policy continues, including in New Orleans, as 4,500 units of low-income public housing were recently razed, to the dismay of protesters–this, in a city with the worst housing crisis in the country.

Of course, if Democratic partisans ceded me (and Reed) these arguments—which I doubt they would—they would then argue that the current crop of Democratic candidates should not be judged by the Clinton administration.  I suppose this is a decent point.  However, for the most part, nothing the front-running Democratic candidates are saying indicates they will work to reverse the horrible economic and social polices of the Reagan-Clinton-Bush era.  (John Edwards sounds pretty good on economic policy, sometimes, which has led the media to lampoon his populist message.)  Yes, all of the candidates have a plan for universal healthcare.  But none of the “big 3” remove the insurance and pharmaceutical industries from the equation, which is not much of a plan as far as I’m concerned.  On this issue, Michael Moore is on the money.

4)    For me, foreign policy is the single most important issue in US politics, the issue that everything else branches out from.  And on this issue I consider the majority of the Democrats cowardly, especially those who committed the original sin of twenty-first century politics by voting for the war in 2002.  This is unforgivable in my eyes, no matter how hard any of them now try to explain it away.  The argument that everyone was working with bad intelligence does not fly.  Not only were plenty of people (such as Joseph Wilson, Hans Blix, and Scott Ritter) showing evidence that Iraq did not have WMD, the WMD issue is a true non sequitur.  It was completely and utterly beside the point.  Iraq was not responsible for 9-11, as everyone should have understood, and did not represent a threat to the US.  Even if the Hussein government had WMD, he was not a threat to the US because his one goal was to stay in power at any cost and the quickest way to achieve the opposite would have been for him to use WMDs against the US or its allies.

 

This is the central reason why I am unequivocally against the Clinton campaign.  Also, because she is so closely tied to the foreign policy establishment that has been such a poor steward of the nation for the past 60 years, the unbreakable chain from Truman to Bush.  (The legacy of Truman is the creation of this consensus.)  The fact that Richard Holbrooke, Madeleine Albright and Wesley Clark, among others, support Clinton’s campaign is a huge strike against her.  The so-called war on terror reads to me like the past sixty years, when the US involved itself in a number of catastrophic wars and interventions, from Korea to Vietnam to Serbia, all based on objectionable rationales.  The US needs to wake from its dreams of delusion.  It cannot and will not control what other people do at the point of a cruise missile.  This is the lesson of the twentieth century.  The other lesson is that wars have unimaginable, unintended consequences that will haunt us for decades to come.  For instance, this current war will undoubtedly contribute to a huge wave of homelessness in the next forty or fifty years, platitudes about taking care of our veterans notwithstanding.

I will only actively support a presidential candidate who unmasks the war on terror for the sham that it is.  So-called wars on amorphous entities achieve one thing: fear… which then allow the powerful to run roughshod over the rest of us, which is what the Bush administration has done, predictably.  That the Democrats feign shock and indignation over Bush administration unseemliness is laughable.  It’s as if none of them have ever picked up a history book, as if none of them had ever heard of Joseph McCarthy or Richard Nixon (not to mention Truman, who was a clever scaremonger himself).

On foreign policy, Obama has a few advantages.  Most importantly he was publicly against the war before it began.  Of course, had he been in the Senate in 2002, he might have voted alongside Clinton and Edwards, we’ll never know.  Second, Anthony Lake is Obama’s main foreign policy advisor, and he seems better than the Clinton crowd, more chastened by past US failures in Vietnam, Somalia, and Iraq.  That being said, I intend to vote for Kucinich in the primaries, when the pick-your-poison mentality of the general election does not yet apply.  In the debates, Kucinich is the only candidate (other than Ron Paul) who makes any sense on foreign policy issues.

 

In the context of presidential elections, it is important to remember the bipartisan consensus on US foreign policy.  I am one of the few people who thinks a Gore-Lieberman administration would have invaded Iraq.  Secretary of State Holbrooke would have not even have had Colin Powell’s minimal qualms about such a war.  And think about the pressure Gore would have received from the right, who still controlled Congress (not to mention the ever pervasive AM radio waves).  Gore would have been forced to show his toughness, his mettle.  I think our tendency to imagine Gore would have acted differently is us superimposing the new and improved Nobel Laureate Gore on the old politician Gore.  Also, let’s not forget that Lieberman, who is a clone of Dick Cheney on issues of substance, would have been vice president.  On a broader scale, let’s remember that the Democratic Party’s record of getting the US into stupid wars is abysmal: WWI (Wilson); Korea (Truman); Vietnam (Kennedy and Johnson); Yugoslavia (Clinton).  In other words, my counter-factual about Gore and Iraq highlights the problems with the current state of the Democratic Party, and goes to the core of our discussion. 

 

Andrew Hartman