Donald Trump, the New Political Chief of Capitalist Society
Donald J. Trump, the 70-year-old New York billionaire, real-estate magnate, owner of casinos and golf courses, and former clownish reality star, is the new political chief of the United States and leader of the “free world” (as the U.S. world empire likes to call itself).
Trump was actually defeated by a margin of 2.3 million votes in the election by Hillary Clinton. However, he won an overwhelming victory in the electoral college. The electoral college is itself an undemocratic hangover from when the plantation economy dependent on the slave labor of kidnapped Africans and their descendants dominated the southern U.S. This would be as though the Labour Party in Britain won a small but definite majority in the House of Commons but the House of Lords and the Crown—both survivors of the time when a feudal economy dominated what is now Great Britain—combined to install a prime minister from the Tory Party. (1)
Hail to the Chief!
The big capitalists know full well that, whether or not they like a particular “leader of the free world,” they have only one such leader at a time. Immediately after the proclamation of Trump as “president-elect,” outgoing President Barack Obama wished Trump success. He explained that, whatever differences there might be between the first African American to be elected to the presidency and his right-wing racist successor, “we”—the ruling capitalist class—are “playing on the same team.”
Obama is correct. Hillary Clinton after a lag of a few hours—reports said that she had not even considered the possibility that she would lose and had not prepared a concession speech—delivered a meek statement along the same lines.
Ironically, Trump had declared in the weeks leading up to the election that “the system is rigged” and he might not accept the results. This indicated that Trump himself did not actually expect to win. Whether Trump would have recognized a Clinton victory as legitimate and indicated his support of a President Hillary Clinton will never be known.
The selection of Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama for U.S. attorney-general indicates that the Trump administration will be the most racist administration since at least the days of Woodrow Wilson. Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions for a federal judgeship, but his racism was too obvious and he was rejected by the Senate. Sessions called African American employees of the Justice Department “boy”—the term of address used by white slaveholders when addressing their African male slaves. Later, in the Jim Crow era, white bosses, officialdom and racist whites would address African American men as “boy.”
Sessions once joked that he had no arguments with the Ku Klux Klan until he found out that Klan members used marijuana. The point of this joke is that Sessions, though he disapproves of weed, has no disagreements with the Klan on the question of race. This joke is beyond offensive and in a decent society would disqualify him for any public office, let alone the position as chief law-enforcement officer. The Sessions nomination gives the lie to any claim that the president-elect is not a racist.
Trump appointed Steve Bannon as White House chief advisor and strategist. Bannon, the former chief executive officer of Breitbart “News,” a far-right website that has provided a platform for the neo-Nazi-ridden alt-right (2) movement, has sent chills down the spines of all American who do not fit the white-nationalist definition of European Americans. As defined by neo-Nazis—or white nationalists, as they like to call themselves today—non-European Americans include the African American community; Latinos, especially but not only the Mexican community; Native Americans; the entire Muslim community (3) and, yes, that other group not considered to be European American, the Jewish community.
Not so long ago, the complacent mainstream leaders of the U.S. Jewish community, who are all Zionists, claimed that anti-Semitism today came from the left. According to these misleaders, anti-Semitism showed itself in the form of the Boycott and Divestment and Black Lives Matter movements because the leaders of these movements expressed solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people against Israeli apartheid.
But then a funny thing happened. The old anti-Semitism of “the right”—that is, the real thing—is now raising its ugly head not only in far-off Poland, Hungary and Hitler’s homeland of Austria but right here in the U.S. Recently, the Anti-Defamation League denounced the attacks on Muslims. This is a welcome development though it would be nice if they extended their defense of Muslims to Arab Muslims who are native to Palestine. This illustrates the fact that the state of Israel and the entire Zionist movement are actually barriers in the struggle against fascism and the real anti-Semitism that inevitably accompanies it.
What Trump’s victory shows
The approaching Trump administration illustrates that even in the narrowest sense of formal bourgeois democracy, the U.S. is not a democracy. In recent decades, undemocratic relics from the slave-owning past—the electoral college, state’s rights, and gerrymandering, the practice of drawing bizarrely shaped geographical districts to guarantee the election of a candidate from a particular party, and various forms of voter suppression—have been used primarily to prop up the U.S. Republican Party. Before the 1960s reconfiguration of the two-party system, these methods were widely used to prop up the Democrats.
Since the reconfiguration of the Democrats and Republicans that emerged from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the Republican Party has become ever more dependent on the shrinking U.S. white majority in electoral contests with the Democrats. For example, polls showed the majority would prefer the Democrats over the Republicans to lead Congress—admittedly without enthusiasm. But because of gerrymandering, voter suppression and general lack of enthusiasm for the Democrats, the Republican Party seems to have a lock on the U.S. House of Representatives.
As the Republican Party has become more racist, it has become increasingly dependent on voter suppression. It is well known that in the post-1960s U.S. a low voter turnout favored the Republicans while a high turnout favored the Democrats. The Republican Party therefore wants to keep voter turnout as low as possible, especially in African American districts but also in districts inhabited by Latinos, Muslims, Asians and poor whites (except where racism is widespread).
Voter suppression includes such practices as requiring picture ID from a government agency, which poor people who are disproportionately Black or other “non-whites” who can’t afford automobiles often lack. Poor African American and Latino districts had extremely long lines on election day, which in the U.S. is on a work day. Many state laws prevent people with felony convictions from voting, which disfranchises much of the African American population but also other people of color and poor whites. In some states, voter rolls are purged of alleged felons who later, after the election, prove not to have ever been convicted of a felony after all.
These practices, which would be considered criminal in most countries that are formal bourgeois democracies, are possible in the U.S. based on the doctrine of “states’ rights.” Under this doctrine, elections to federal office—for Congress and presidential electors—are organized not on the federal level, which would be logical, but on the state level. Voter suppression was further increased in this election cycle by the decision of the Republican majority on the U.S. Supreme Court to end protections of the Voter Rights law, which banned at least some of the voter-suppression practices in states that have a history of using them against African Americans. The Supreme Court’s excuse was that these protections were no longer necessary.
In most countries that are formal (bourgeois) democracies, elections are held over an extended weekend or some other type of holiday. True, in some U.S. states, such as my own state of California, early voting and voting by mail has eased the problem of work day voting. But due to the doctrine of state’s rights, the rules vary from state to state. Thanks to state’s rights, there are no common standards for elections in the U.S. In addition, many people still vote on election day, and if they have to work or the line is long, they often end up not casting a ballot.
Why Wall Street likes the current undemocratic electoral system
These undemocratic laws are viewed as necessary or at least highly desirable on Wall Street to ensure the continued domination of pro-Wall Street candidates at top levels of government. By narrowing the electorate as much has possible to conservative white voters, the ultra-neoliberal U.S. Republican Party is kept alive. If the U.S. followed the norms of bourgeois democracy that apply in most other capitalist countries, the Republican Party with its current program would suffer an electoral collapse and die.
Since the Republicans are so far to the right, the Democratic Party can get away with maintaining positions, such as opposition to single-payer health care, that conservative parties in other countries cannot get away with. Even the Thatcher government in Britain didn’t dare try to abolish Britain’s socialized medical system, which goes far beyond the single-payer system advocated by Senator Sanders. Under the British system, doctors are employees of the state rather than independent businessmen engaged in “private practice.” Anybody who needs to see a doctor gets to go without money being an obstacle. The cost is borne by society, not the individual.
The decline of formal democracy in the U.S.
In the election of 2000, Vice President Albert Gore ran as a right-wing Democrat. Gore’s effort to draw attention to the terrible danger posed by global warming, which has given him something of a reputation as a progressive, lay in the future. Despite his uninspiring campaign, Gore won the popular vote by a margin of half a million. A recount was underway in Florida, where it was first announced that Bush had won by a handful of votes. Later research has proven that Gore was in fact the victor in the Florida vote by a small but definite margin. This does not even take into account “police activity” on election day that had the effect of suppressing some of the African American vote that would have gone to Gore.
As the recount was underway in Florida, which would have confirmed Gore’s victory, the Republican majority on the Supreme Court by a five-to-four margin along party lines ordered a halt to the Florida recount. Somehow, the doctrine of states’ rights so dear to the modern Republican Party didn’t apply in this case!
There were still some legal remedies that could have ensured that Gore’s victory in the 2000 election was recognized. Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress certifies the results of U.S. presidential elections. The Black Congressional Caucus did try to prevent the certification of the Bush election. But none of the white Democrats, including Vice President Gore, who as vice president presided over the U.S. Senate, backed up the caucus. Instead, the Democrats led by Gore—with the exception of the Black Congressional Caucus—insisted on certifying the false election of George W. Bush, thus defying the will of the majority of the people of both the United States and Florida as revealed in the vote.
If the large numbers of people who had voted for Gore had mobilized and demonstrated in the streets demanding that Gore’s victory in both the popular vote and electoral college be recognized, Congress and the Republicans on the Supreme Court would have gotten the message and Gore would have assumed office one way or another. But this didn’t happen. Why not?
The truth is the masses of people—with perhaps the partial exception of the African American population—simply saw no significant difference between right-wing Democrat Albert Gore and the mainstream conservative Republican George W. Bush. Bush, though certainly no “progressive,” was no Donald Trump either. But then neither was Gore. The mass of the people who cast ballots in the 2000 election who voted for Gore were not all that upset when Bush was declared the winner. Both men, after all, were servants of Wall Street.
Were the people right? Later on, Gore indicated that he would not have invaded Iraq. That would have been a significant difference, especially for the people of Iraq. And perhaps Gore was sincere when he said this. But if Gore had become president and he was surrounded by advisers insisting that the invasion of Iraq was necessary, would he have stood up to them? The truth is we will never know. Indeed, Gore himself probably doesn’t know the answer. What we do know is that another right-wing Democrat, Senator Hillary Clinton from New York, voted to support the invasion of Iraq. So it is quite possible Gore would also have agreed to invade Iraq if he had been in the White House.
However, Wall Street, for reasons I explained here and the great majority—though not all—of corporate America did not want Donald Trump to become president. Trump’s racist remarks against Mexicans, for example, tremendously complicates the job of U.S. diplomats who are trying to sell U.S. imperialism to the masses of the people of Latin America, never an easy task in the best of times. Though President Trump may never implement his total ban on Muslims entering the United States—it is hard to imagine how this could be implemented—the damage has already been done. How can the billion Muslims in the world view the U.S. as anything but a mortal enemy with the Islamophobic Trump sitting in the White House?
And there is, of course, a great risk to the internal stability of the U.S. that such a large part of the U.S. population and working class considers the incoming U.S. president a bitter enemy even before assuming office. The old slogan of Karl Liebknecht—”the main enemy is at home”—will be obvious to millions of U.S. workers even though most have never heard of Liebknecht. I will deal with the question of Trump’s economic polices next month.
Perfectly good champagne goes to waste
The first sign that Trump might actually be elected U.S. president was the victory of the Brexit vote in Britain. Over the last few years, there has been a growing movement demanding that Britain leave the so-called European Union. Though some left wingers supported this demand, the movement as a whole was dominated by the extreme right, with strong anti-immigrant racist overtones.
The British racist Brexiters argued that immigrants were taking jobs away from native Britons. The racism has been aimed at non-white immigrants as well as against Polish and other East European immigrants. While the movement has been spearheaded by the far-right United Kingdom Independence Party, it had support within the right wing of the governing Conservative Party as well.
In order to appease the extreme anti-immigrant racist right-wingers in the Tory Party, Prime Minister James Cameron agreed to a referendum on the proposal that Britain leave the European Union, which was held in June 2016. To help ensure the defeat of “Brexit,” Cameron promised that he would resign if it passed. A massive press campaign spread horror stories of economic collapse if Brexit won. But if Brexit was defeated, peace and prosperity based on the “financial services industry” and “high tech” would be assured to the end of time.
The racist and on the fringes neo-fascist white-nationalist right wing rallied around the Brexit proposal. However, polls showed that Brexit would be defeated—largely with the help of younger voters who had no memory of what life was like in industrial Britain. The expected defeat of Brexit at the polls was described in the media as a “historic” vote. As the polls closed, the leaders of the anti-Brexit campaign popped open their champagne bottles. What a waste of perfectly good champagne! One man visiting Britain from the U.S., however, was overjoyed by the Brexit vote. His name was Donald J. Trump.
Could Brexit in the form of a Donald Trump be victorious in the U.S? Oh come on! For the first time, every major U.S. newspaper endorsed a single candidate for president, Hillary Clinton. With the exception of the far-right “Fox News,” owned by media tycoon Rupert Murdock, the media was solidly behind Clinton. Even the national paper U.S.A Today, which had a policy of never endorsing any presidential candidate, endorsed Hillary Clinton. The pro-Clinton newspapers—virtually all of them—explained that Trump was not a “real Republican” but a threat to the republic itself!
The leadership of the Republican Party felt exactly the same way. Neither President George H.W. Bush—Bush I—nor President George W. Bush—Bush II—or Jeb Bush—the would-be Bush III—endorsed Trump or attended the Republican convention. The Koch brothers family of industrial capitalists, pillars of the right wing of the Republican Party, indicated that they too preferred Clinton, though they were still in favor of Republicans down ballot. Another extreme right-wing candidate for president, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas (4), though he did attend the Republican convention, refused to endorse Trump. Cruz finally endorsed him only in the final weeks of the campaign.
The highest elected Republican officeholder, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who was made the titular leader of the Republican Party before Trump was nominated, was a far from enthusiastic supporter of the Trump candidacy. Ryan admitted that Trump’s attack on an Indiana-born federal judge of Mexican heritage, who as a “Mexican” presiding in the Trump University scandal couldn’t be objective in a case involving the anti-Mexican Trump (5), met the textbook definition of racism.
When just before the election recordings of Trump boasting of his sexual assaults against women were revealed, Ryan was brought to the very brink of withdrawing his formal endorsement of Trump. Only when the furor over the Trump tapes died down did Ryan finally announce that he had in early voting cast his ballot for Trump. For a man in Ryan’s position—he was the official leader of the Republican Party before Trump’s nomination and is widely considered to have presidential ambitions of his own—this was a ringing endorsement of … Clinton!
Finally, the day before the election New Hampshire’s former extreme right-wing Republican Senator Gordon Humphrey, now 81 years old, strongly endorsed Hillary Clinton! Senator Humphrey explained that Donald Trump’s hand couldn’t be trusted on the nuclear button. Clinton was set to emerge as the first truly bipartisan U.S. president since George Washington. How could she possibly lose!
While the Republican Party was deeply divided by Trump’s campaign, with the bulk of its leadership either openly or covertly supporting Clinton, the Democratic Party leadership was solidly united around its candidate—former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Not only did all “moderate” and conservative Democrats support Clinton, so did the leaders of the “progressive” left wing of the Democratic Party, including Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
If this were not enough, the overwhelming majority of Hollywood stars and pop singers, including Katie Perry and Miley Cyrus, strongly supported Clinton, as well as YouTube stars who appeal to young people such as Grace Helbig. How could Clinton possibly lose?
The only question was, what would happen “down ballot”? Would the Democrats take the Senate—considered probable because of the disproportionate numbers of Republican senators up for reelection? (But the Republicans kept control of the Senate with a slightly reduced margin.) Would they “take the House”—considered highly unlikely because of the undemocratic lock that the Republicans have on the “people’s chamber”? (The Republicans kept control of the House with a slightly reduced majority.)
Why did Hillary Clinton win the popular vote?
Trump lost the popular vote by more than 2 million because of a massive vote by Latinos in New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and, above all, California, where Latinos are a plurality and white Americans are a minority. In the days leading up to the election—when Hillary Clinton was still expected to become the next U.S. president—Trump was expected to win Nevada, where Las Vegas is located. But a massive mobilization of Latinos, especially Latino trade unionists, unexpectedly defeated Trump there. Trump barely won the popular vote in Arizona, which has long been a Republican bastion—the state that sent Barry Goldwater to the Senate—due to the rising Latino vote.
But California, the most populous state in the U.S., overwhelmingly voted against Trump. While Clinton enjoyed support in the union bureaucracy and among some women, not least wealthy Hollywood stars who were looking forward to the first woman president, the Clinton vote was above all a vote against Trump. Still, California’s massive vote was enough to assure Clinton a plurality in the overall popular vote—which was likely a modest absolute majority if voter suppression and other forms of electoral fraud are factored in—but not in the electoral college. The voters of California and other West Coast and southwestern states like Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado were collectively slapped in the face. The fact is the great majority of the people of the West Coast and Southwest do not want anything to do with Trump and what he stands for.
There was even a wave of interest in the Calexit movement, the fringe proposal that California declare itself an independent nation. Of course, there is no way a “sovereign state” can actually withdraw from the U.S. federal union. But the proposal that Scotland withdraw from the British Union—formed in 1603, long before the U.S. even existed—won 45 percent of the vote. And in the wake of Brexit, a new vote is considered likely, since Scotland and Northern Ireland voted against Brexit. There is speculation that Northern Ireland might join the rest of Ireland—a development that would be highly progressive—while Scotland would become an independent nation for the first time in 400 years. So why not an independent California?
Why did Trump win?
To win the election, Clinton needed to win by a big enough popular margin to overcome the built-in advantages the Republicans enjoy due to the Electoral College, voter suppression, and other forms of electoral fraud. Barack Obama and the Democratic Party succeeded in doing this in the 2008 election to become the first African American and indeed the first non-white person to become president. In 2008, the Democrats even succeeded in winning both houses of Congress, which is quite an accomplishment considering the many built-in advantages the Republicans have. Why couldn’t Clinton repeat Obama’s performance against an ultra-right racist demagogue when she enjoyed the covert and in some cases open support of much of the Republican leadership.
Many reasons have been given by various commentators for Clinton’s failure, and there is an element of truth in all of them. First, Hillary Clinton was personally an exceptionally weak candidate. Polls showed that she was the second most distrusted major party presidential candidate in the U.S. since modern polling had begun. The most distrusted was Donald J. Trump, the ultimate victor in the election.
Unlike her main rival for the nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Clinton opposed even single-payer health care. Then, in the period leading up to the election, Wikileaks made available a speech Clinton delivered in private to Goldman-Sachs Wall Street bankers, where she explained that she has two positions, a public and a private one. Clinton’s attempt to explain this away at the second presidential debate with Trump by comparing herself with Abraham Lincoln only compounded the damage!
One of her blunders was telling West Virginia coal miners during the Democratic primary that they would have to accept a massive reduction in mining jobs. The West Virginia coal miners were already losing their jobs due to the combined effects of mine automation and competition from cheaper natural gas. The miners fear that any measures taken to reduce the use of fossil fuels to limit global warming will cause their remaining jobs to vanish as well. As a result of these fears, the once solidly Democratic state has gone Republican for some years now. Not surprisingly, Hillary Clinton lost the West Virginia Democratic primary to Senator Bernie Sanders.
Then, during the general election, she described half of Trump’s supporters as deplorables. This is no way to win people away from a right-wing racist demagogue. Then Wilileaks revealed that the Clinton family foundation had accepted millions of dollars from oil monarchies and other foreign governments and large corporations while Hillary Clinton was serving as President Obama’s secretary of state. In effect, Clinton was using the State Department—the U.S. ministry of foreign affairs—as a gigantic kickback scheme. Even Clinton’s daughter Chelsea in private protested the brazenness of her parent’s personal corruption. So when Trump referred to Clinton as “crooked Hillary,” he was telling the truth.
The Democrats tried to create excitement around the Clinton campaign by pointing out that if elected Hillary Clinton would be the first female president, just as Barack Obama was the first African American president. But it was all too obvious that the only reason Clinton had any chance of winning the presidency was that she had served as “First Lady” under President Bill Clinton. The very title “First Lady” is actually a symbol of women’s oppression.
To make matters worse Hillary Clinton when she was First Lady was publicly humiliated when her husband was caught in a sexual affair with young White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Bill Clinton led the young Ms. Lewinsky—who was in her early 20s at the time—to believe that he would divorce Hillary and marry Lewinsky, which would have made her First Lady.
But Hillary Clinton swallowed this public humiliation because she knew she had to remain married to Bill Clinton if she were to have any chance of serving in high office, including the presidency. After Clinton left the White House, Hillary was elected U.S. Senator from New York and then became secretary of state and almost U.S. president. But the price she had to pay was to remain married to her sexual predator husband. Therefore, Hillary Clinton is as much a symbol of women’s oppression as a symbol of the struggle for women’s equality.
But there is another reason why Clinton was an awful candidate in the failed attempt to keep Trump and his gang out of the White House. She is a notorious war hawk and indeed a war criminal in her own right. When she was secretary of state, she helped convince a somewhat reluctant Barack Obama to bomb Libya, which transformed what had been Africa’s most prosperous country into the disaster it is today. Upon hearing of the murder of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi by victorious pro-imperialist rebels, Clinton was shown on video gleefully paraphrasing the Roman dictator Julius Caesar.
Upon conquering Gaul—present-day France—the ancient Roman leader declared, “I saw, I came, I conquered.” (6) A laughing Clinton paraphrased, “We saw, we came, he died.” This can only be described as sick.
As senator, Clinton also enthusiastically voted for and supported George W. Bush’s unprovoked invasion of Iraq—a war crime. During the presidential debates, she also advocated a “no-fly zone” in Syria—that is, to do to Syria what she helped convince Obama to do in Libya. Donald Trump appeared downright statesman-like when he opposed—or pretended to oppose—this policy.
Wikileaks exposed not only the vast personal corruption of the Clintons that made them millionaires many time over but the undemocratic practices of the Democratic (!) Party that denied Senators Sanders the nomination. The Wikileaks revelations led to the resignation of Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The only answer Clinton and her many supporters in the ruling circles had was that that information had come to light because of the work of Russian intelligence.
During the second debate, Clinton charged that Donald Trump was a puppet of Russian President Vladimir Putin! If this were true, the United States will, come January 20, be a satellite of Russia! Many U.S. voters probably concluded that if Russian intelligence helped uncover the truth about Hillary Clinton, the American people owe them a debt of gratitude.
Another big problem that confronted Clinton was the record of Barack Obama himself. When Obama was elected near the height of the “Panic of 08,” there were widespread expectations that he would return to the polices of New Deal days—or at least how the New Deal is imagined by progressives today. (Few people who remember the New Deal were still alive in 2008.)
Many expected that Obama would launch massive WPA-like public works programs where the federal government puts unemployed workers on its payroll and follows other “stimulative economic policies” in order restore “full employment.” There were widespread hopes that Obama would bring in, or at least fight for, single-payer health insurance. Some believed the government might even take steps to blunt the anti-union offensive of U.S. bosses and thereby bring about a revival of the trade-union movement. Wasn’t this part of the New Deal? Or at least, that is what we learn in school.
Many white people—particularly young people—who were historically very racist had begun to respect African Americans beginning in the 1960s because of their militancy. These young white people—who are now part of the older generation, where most of Trump’s support is found—were stirred by the rhetoric of Malcolm X. There was hope that an African American president who spoke English with an African American accent would stand up to “the man” on Wall Street and the other big capitalists who had destroyed much of the U.S. industrial economy. But Obama let them down.
True, the Federal Reserve System “ran the printing press”—a policy that began even before Obama won the presidency. The main result of the Fed’s policy was that, unlike the panics and depressions of old that at least lowered the cost of living, there was no significant drop (except for gasoline prices) in the overall cost of living, either during the panic or the nasty depression that followed.
However, the U.S. banks—and auto industry—were bailed out at taxpayer expense. As a result, the U.S. government became shareholders in the biggest banks and owned the majority of the new General Motors Corporation that replaced the bankrupt old GM. But as soon as the crisis proper passed, the Obama administration sold the shares it had acquired in the big banks and new GM back to wealthy private investors. No wonder stocks soared on Wall Street.
Contrary to widespread expectations, no WPA-type programs were launched. Instead, government spending on public works took the form of contracts to private capitalists. Further damage was done when Obama and Clinton boasted about how official unemployment as calculated by the U.S. Labor Department fell from 10 percent—a gross underestimate at the bottom the depression—to 5 percent during the election campaign. The pro-Clinton press boasted about how new claims for unemployment insurance in absolute terms have fallen since the early 1970s and were at lowest level “ever” when the larger size of the population is counted.
What they always “forget” to mention is the real reason for the low unemployment claims—it is now much harder to get unemployment insurance, and in the age of computers much more dangerous to “game the system.” This situation is, of course, good for the capitalists since its makes a given level of unemployment more effective in lowering wages. However, since the majority voters are not capitalists, this situation only further damaged Clinton’s chances. For his part, Donald Trump was able to mint considerable political capital by pointing out that the official figure of 5 percent (now 4.6 percent) unemployment that is endlessly repeated by the media has little relation to reality. Again, it was Trump, not the media or Clinton, who was telling the truth.
The biggest disappointment to many people was the failure of the Obama administration to establish a system of single-payer health insurance, or at least take steps toward establishing such a system by creating a “public option.” If Obama and the Democrats had done at least this when they had not only the presidency but Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress between 2009 and 2011, Hillary Clinton would almost certainly be the president-elect today.
However, from the very beginning of his administration, Obama, who as a community organizer in Chicago had once championed single-payer health care, indicated that single-payer was off the table. Next to go was a far more modest proposal to establish a public option—some kind of government entity that would provide health insurance to people who couldn’t afford private insurance.
Instead, Obama and the Democrats passed what had been a program that Republican Mitt Romney had implemented when he was governor of Massachusetts. Under this Republican plan adopted by the Democrats, the government establishes so-called health exchanges where people can purchase private insurance policies. The government then subsidizes the cost for those who cannot afford private insurance and bars private insurers from refusing to sell insurance to people who have so-called prior conditions.
Under this complex and confusing scheme, if a person’s or family’s income rises above a certain level, they lose the subsidies. As a result of Obamacare, many people receive notices that since their income exceeds the level at which they were eligible for the subsidies, they now owe the government money. To make matters worse, if that is possible, the health insurance can only be purchased over a period of a couple of months each year!
Under Obamacare, people who refuse to purchase private insurance, as many young people have done, are subject to stiff fines.
The Medicaid program that provides medical insurance for the poor was expanded under Obama. But true to the doctrine of “states’ rights,” the Medicaid system is federally funded but state administered. Republican governors in many U.S. states—the Republicans control the majority of the statehouses—are able to continue denying any medical insurance at all to the poor. The Republicans, for their part, denounced the confusing bureaucratic nightmare of Obamacare as “socialism” and demanded its repeal.
During the presidential campaign, Trump was able to gain many votes by demanding the repeal of Obamacare and its replacement with a system that he promised would be “tremendous,” though he was vague on the details. In the debates with Clinton, Trump indicated that he was opposed to “single-payer” health insurance, but then again so was Clinton. Faced with skyrocketing health insurance premiums and punitive fines if they refused to purchase inadequate health insurance plans from for-profit insurance companies, many voters wondered how much worse Trump’s plan could be.
Racism and chauvinism
The role racism in the many forms that were employed by him and his supporters played in Trump’s victory has caused considerable controversy. One camp blames the racism of white voters, the other emphasizes the economic disaster represented by the rust belt. In order to clarify this question, we might ask why Germans voted for Hitler—without equating Trump’s victory to the victory of Hitlerite fascism in Germany in 1933. More on this below.
Did most Germans who voted for the Nazis vote for them because they hated Jews? No doubt anti-Semitic attitudes were widespread in Germany in the period leading up to Hitler’s rise to power. But they were widespread throughout Europe and the United States as well. Indeed, many Germans who voted for the Nazis voted for them despite and not because of Hitler’s extreme anti-Semitism. There were many reasons why Germans voted for Hitler: The lost war, the Versailles Treaty with its imposition of steep reparations to “punish Germany and the entire German people,” and not least the German Social Democratic leaders, who first blocked the possibility of a socialist Germany and then accepted the false claim that Germany alone was responsible for the imperialist slaughter.
None of this was enough to bring Hitler to power. But then came hyperinflation that wiped out the savings of the middle class and marked another missed opportunity for a socialist revolution. That still was not enough to bring Hitler to power. But then the super-crisis that devastated the German economy between 1929 and 1932 left untold millions of Germans thoroughly impoverished. Germany finally snapped.
The problem was that for many non-Jewish Germans anti-Semitism was not enough of a reason not to vote for Hitler and his so-called National Socialist—Nazi—party. No doubt many of these Nazi voters—they were not all monsters—reasoned something like this: Why is Hitler so obsessed with the Jews? The Jews I know are nice people and loyal Germans. Many fought bravely for Germany in the recent “Great War” against the Allied Powers. But what I do know is that we can’t go on living this way. Hitler is just the kind of radical leader who will shake things up. Once he is in power, Hitler will probably moderate his anti-Semitism—that was the general assumption at the time—anyway. He won’t do the terrible things to Jews that he is promising. So they voted for the National Socialist candidates.
No doubt many Trump voters reason that Trump won’t really build that wall on the Mexican border and deport millions of “illegal immigrants.” If he does, who will work in the fast-food restaurants and in the fields? However, if you were Jewish in terms of “race” (not religion, by the way), you couldn’t ignore Hitler’s anti-Semitism. If you are Mexican-American, Muslim or African American, you cannot afford the luxury of overlooking Trump’s and his supporters’ racism the way you can if you are “European-American.”
The role of the trade-union movement in the election of Trump
The role of the unions of the AFL-CIO in Trump’s victory was particularly wretched. In their majority, U.S. union leaders didn’t even support Bernie Sanders but insisted on supporting Wall Street darling Hillary Clinton. As a result of this policy, young people who were awakened to politics for the first time by the Sanders campaign were encouraged to see the trade unions as simply part of the “political establishment” represented by the warmongering , personally corrupt, multi-millionaire Hillary Clinton.
Were the U.S. trade union leaders who backed Clinton making a mistake, or does the problem go deeper. In reality, the real problem is not the personal failings of U.S. trade union leaders. These leaders do have personal failings, but we all do. The problem rather lies with the false foundations on which the U.S. trade union movement was built.
U.S. trade union leaders complain that many of their members—mostly white, of course—voted for Trump and other Republican candidates despite the leadership’s advice to vote for Clinton and other Democrats down ballot. Indeed, they have been complaining for many years that their white members vote in significant numbers for the Republicans.
Unlike the unions in most other countries, U.S. trade unions support a capitalist party, indeed one that has its origins in slavery—namely the U.S. Democratic Party. In other countries, the unions support either a Labor Party formed by trade unions or a Social Democratic Party or Communist Party—or “former” Communist Party—that were once Marxist. Bad as this is, the problem goes even deeper. When U.S. trade-union leaders make speeches, they almost never use the term “working class.” Instead, they explain how the unions have enabled their members to become part of the “middle class.” This in a nutshell indicates what is wrong with the U.S. trade union movement and why it has been failing for decades.
‘Trade unionism pure and simple’
More than a century ago, the founder of the American Federation of Labor—AF of L—Samuel Gompers (1850-1924) renounced his youthful flirtation with socialism and proclaimed that he stood for “trade unionism pure and simple.” He counterposed the slogan of “more”—meaning ever higher wages for the members of his unions—to the aim of a new society without exploitation that would liberate all oppressed people.
Gompers’ AF of L unions, with few exceptions, were organized along craft as opposed to industrial lines. These unions were not only lily white. Each particular craft union was, as a rule, open only to workers of particular nationalities. Some craft unions were open only to Irish-Americans, others to Italian-Americans, still others to Polish-Americans, and some to Jewish-Americans. In order to get into a particular Gompers union, you not only had to be of the right nationality but usually your father or at least an uncle had to be a member as well. This was the reality behind the “labor castes” in Jack London’s famous novel “The Iron Heel.”
The Gomperite unions strove to improve the wages and working conditions of narrow groups of workers, often at the expense of other groups of workers. For example, they would organize the bosses in cartels and then divide the cartel super-profits between the bosses and the privileged craft unionists. Gompers and his AF of L strongly supported U.S. participation in World War I and bitterly opposed the Russian Revolution and all it stood for.
In the era of the Second and then Third Internationals, the workers’ movement saw itself as the leader of all oppressed people. It aimed to create an economic system without private property in the means of production, called socialism, that would liberate all working people. In contrast, the ideology of Samuel Gompers was simply to aim at making its members “middle class.”
The very use of the term “middle class” takes for granted that there is a lower class. The aim of a “Gomperite” union is to stuff the pockets of its members with a portion of the surplus value produced by other workers to the point that they become “middle class.” Such a “labor movement” is not, does not even aim to be, and cannot be the leader of all exploited and oppressed people.
Marx explained long ago in “Value, Price, and Profit” that such a labor movement is doomed to fail on its own terms. It is doomed to fail not because Barack Obama adopted “neoliberal” policies, or didn’t turn out to be a second Franklin D. Roosevelt, or because the white workers keep stupidly voting for the Republican Party, or even because the “labor leaders are sellouts.” No, “pure and simple unionism” is doomed to fail because of the very nature of capitalism and the laws that govern it that I have been exploring throughout this blog.
Why ‘unionism pure and simple’ doesn’t work anymore
The Congress of Industrial Organizations taken as a whole only represented a partial break with Gomperism (7). True, the CIO unions were organized on industrial lines as opposed to craft lines. And unlike the racist AF of L, CIO unions were open to African Americans and indeed workers of all “races” and nationalities. This was without a doubt an important step forward. But instead of making a clean break with “Gomperism,” the CIO and its leaders stopped halfway. They aligned themselves with the Democratic administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his “New Deal.” This included Roosevelt’s “internationalist” foreign policy aimed at world domination as opposed to the “isolationist” policy of coming to an agreement with Nazi Germany and Japan in order to crush the Soviet Union first as opposed to crushing it later, which was Roosevelt’s approach.
When the U.S. became the center of a world empire after World War II, the CIO leaders—particularly after the purge of the left wing—were committed to support U.S. imperialism and all the wars it fought against the peoples of the world whether “cold” or “hot.” The resulting U.S. global domination made it possible to raise the wages of workers in unionized basic industry to “middle class” levels. The typical unionist became a homeowner with an interest in rising real-estate prices and could send their kids to college so they would not have to work with their hands like their parents did. None of this, however, changed any of the basic laws of capitalism.
The lifting of so many workers in basic industry into the “middle class” inevitably put downward pressure on the rate of profit. Capital reacted by increasingly replacing the high-paid workers with machines. But this was not enough, since machines don’t produce surplus value, which is the whole point of capitalist production. Therefore, capital sought ways of finding and exploiting the labor of other workers who were forced by their circumstances to work for rock bottom wages. The aim of the U.S. foreign policy is to make sure there is a huge and growing number of such workers throughout the world that are exactly in this situation. That was, after all, what the fight against communism was and is all about!
The leaders of the AFL-CIO strongly supported—and still support—the anti-communist foreign policy followed by the Democrats and the Republicans alike in order to ensure the flow of super-profits that can be shared with their “middle class” members. But in doing so, they sawed off the very branch they were sitting on.
Inevitably, the “middle class” trade-union jobs began to disappear. The rust belt was born. Exposed only to the ideas of Gomperite “pure and simple trade unionism” peddled by U.S. trade union leaders, is it any wonder that so many white trade unionists voted for Donald Trump? Trump claims that his “America First” nationalism will somehow bring good-paying industrial jobs back to the U.S. at the expense of the workers of other nations. Indeed, Bernie Sanders also opposes “free trade,” because it harms the “middle class” or rather former “middle class” workers as well.
True, the Trump “movement” is laced with racism, but so was Gompers’ AF of L. Racism is actually inherent in the whole concept of “unionism pure and simple” that aims at making some workers “middle class” at the expense of other workers and the oppressed in general.
The struggle against Trump in the U.S.
Since Trump’s victory, hundreds of thousands have hit the streets, mostly young people of all races and nationalities. It was enough for some group to call an action and thousands turned out.
I will describe my own experience in San Francisco. I live about 50 miles south of San Francisco in Silicon Valley. As I was watching the returns, I had a sickening sensation that Trump would win. (Full disclosure I voted for Gloria La Riva, who was the only socialist candidate on the ballot in California, and I am proud that I didn’t throw my vote away by voting for the wretched Hillary Clinton in a doomed attempt to stop Trump, like so many other voters did.) As the evening went on, it became clear that things were headed for a Trump victory.
When it became clear that Trump had won, the ANSWER Coalition called a demonstration at “Union and Powell” in San Francisco. ANSWER calls demonstrations at this location when they do not expect much of a turnout. My first reaction was why go 50 miles up to San Francisco and pay the BART fare, which isn’t cheap, at least on my budget. But then I thought, Donald Trump has just been elected president of the United States! I wanted to know if there would be a strong reaction, or a weak one. So I decided to go regardless of the expense. Of course, it might turn out to be just the usual hardcore ANSWER activists who show up at all demonstrations, along with the tourists and shoppers. I wanted to know what would happen as well as express my opposition to Trump on the streets.
When I arrived at Powell and Union, I was greeted by a young woman who I did not recognize who handed me a leaflet about the evening’s demonstration. This was the first indication that there would be a strong reaction against Trump’s victory. New people were being drawn into the movement. The demonstration started at 5 p.m., when people were just getting off work. So at first there were only a hundred or so demonstrators. After a brief rally, we took to the streets and the demonstration swelled into the thousands, eventually reaching close to 10 thousand as the evening wore on.
Overwhelmingly, the demonstrators were young. Participating with them were both men and women, straight and gay. It was thoroughly multi-racial and multi-national. But one thing bound us together. We simply didn’t want any part of what Donald Trump stood for. Many chanted the slogan that has been spreading around the U.S. since Trump was elected: “Not my president.”
As a veteran socialist, that has been my attitude toward every U.S. president since we were shouting “Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today” at demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. But now a new generation was discovering that the man who will soon sit in the White House is not their president. Huge demonstrations are planned for the inaugural of the most racist president since at least Woodrow Wilson on January 20. Let’s hope this is only the beginning. A long, hard struggle lies ahead.
Imperialist democracy, Bonapartism, fascism and the decline of American capitalism
What is the nature of the incoming Trump government? Will it be a fascist regime like that of Mussolini or even Adolf Hitler? In my opinion, it is a great mistake to use the term “fascism” lightly, as we have often done on the left. In ordinary times, the consequences of the misuse of the term might not be very serious. But in the perilous times we are now entering, we can no longer afford the luxury of abusing the meaning of the term “fascism.”
If Trump is indeed a fascist and the U.S. is about to be transformed into a 21st-century version of the Third Reich, forget about emigrating to Canada. Think Proxima Centuri B instead. (8) But I don’t believe this is the case, though the danger of fascism is rising sharply. When I say I don’t believe that Trump is a fascist, I am not referring to the ideas in his head or denying that Trump is an awful person.
Fascism is not a political theory or philosophy. Fascism has no “program” of its own. Instead, its gets its “ideas” from the trash can of capitalist society in decline. The ideas that fascism employs include but are not limited to chauvinism, racism of all types, male domination, the cult of the leader, and anti-gay bigotry. The fascist party and especially its militia wage war in the streets against organizations and parties of the working class and vulnerable minority groups such as the Jews in pre-World War II Germany. Any group that fights to improve the position of any section of the oppressed is fair game to the fascists.
Today in the U.S. and Europe, that would also include but not necessarily be limited to Muslims, immigrants such as Indian, Pakistani or Polish in Britain, as well as that old standby the Jews. Groups in favor of abortion rights, women’s groups, gay and lesbian organizations and cultural centers—these are all potential targets for violent fascist attacks. During its rise—that is, before it seizes power—the fascists form a political party of their own that runs candidates for office and publishes its own newspaper. A modern fascist party would no doubt take full advantage of the Internet, as today’s fascists are already doing.
Earlier this year, I noted that Trump’s presidential campaign lacked the basic feature of a mass organized fascist movement. Trump lacks a militia of his own like the Nazi SA or Mussolini’s Black-Shirts. He has also not created his own political party that recognizes him as its supreme dictatorial leader like Il Duce or Der Fuhrer. Indeed, many observers noted that in many places the Trump campaign lacked any organization at all, and that is one of the reasons why political experts were confident Trump would never be elected president.
However, does this mean that Trump is just another right-wing Republican in the mold of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush? In another words, is Trump just business as usual? In my opinion, to view him this way would be a grave political mistake. Though formally a Republican, Trump was, unlike Nixon, Reagan or George W. Bush, opposed by almost all the established leaders of the Republican Party. Indeed, Trump has been at various times a Democrat and has constantly moved between the Democratic and Republican parties. In the course of his career, he has “visited” both the Republicans and Democrats but really belongs to neither.
Trump’s program borrows elements from the right—extreme chauvinism, racism, and “supporting our police” and calls for a massive increase in military spending combined with huge regressive tax cuts and deregulation for business—just like Nixon, Reagan and George W. Bush did in their time. But he has also borrowed elements from the left. These include his plans to launch a massive public works program to renew the infrastructure, which is right out of John Maynard Keynes’s playbook, though he wants to rely on the private for-profit sector as opposed to New Deal-like WPA programs. But that was Obama’s approach as well.
Indeed, prospects of a huge Keynesian-type stimulus program under Trump that Obama resisted carrying out, much to the chagrin of the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party, has sent Wall Street stocks soaring and government bonds plunging. Trump has also indicated that he will strive to improve relations with Russia, a position supported by many—though not all—U.S. progressives.
The basic job of the government as Marx and Engels explained in the “Communist Manifesto” is to manage the common affairs of the ruling class—whether the ancient slave owners of classical Greece and Rome, the ruling classes of ancient China, India and Middle Eastern civilizations, or the feudal lords of medieval Europe and the modern capitalist ruling class—in particular to advance the economy.
Ultimately, a ruling class is successful in maintaining its political domination only if can advance and further develop the productive forces that enable society to produce more products with less human labor. When a ruling class is unable to further develop the productive forces, it declines both politically and morally, loses its political influence, and is overthrown by a revolutionary class that can advance the productive forces. Or if there is no revolutionary class that can replace the existing ruling class in good time, it ends with the ruin of the contending classes, such as we saw at the end of the Roman Empire.
What happens when the ruling class can no longer rule by its traditional methods—in the U.S. through the Democratic and Republican parties—but the potentially revolutionary class is for whatever reason not yet ready to take over? This is what in my opinion has begun to happen in the United States for the first time. But it has occurred throughout history in many societies.
When the old ruling class is no longer able to rule by the old methods, and the oppressed class is not able to assume political power for whatever reasons, the state power—that is, the military and police—seem to rise above society. At the top of this pyramid emerges a leader, or sometimes a clique, who centralizes political power in his (historically, since the advent of class society, it has almost always been a man or men) own hands and sends the old political parties packing. Marx and Engels referred to this situation when it occurs in a capitalist society by the name “Bonapartism.”
The classical Bonaparte Marx and Engels analyzed was not so much the regime of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)—the great Napoleon that we learned about in middle school and high school world history classes—but rather his nephew Charles-Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (1808-1873). Louis Bonaparte was elected president of France in the wake of the February 1848 revolution that established France’s Second Republic.
Termed out by the French constitution, President Bonaparte staged a coup d’etat in December 1851. The constitution was amended to allow him to serve an unlimited number of 10-year terms. He promised a massive program of public works. “We have immense unplowed territories to cultivate; roads to open; ports to dig; rivers to be made navigable; canals to finish, a railway network to complete,” he wrote. Sounds like Trump, doesn’t it?
In order to end resistance to his policy of building up an infrastructure to fuel an accelerated development of French industrial capitalism while enriching himself and his cronies in the bargain, the French president in December 1852 promoted himself to the rank of Emperor of France, Napoleon III. He was forced to abdicate in 1870 after losing the Franco-Prussian war that unified the German states (except for Austria) against the bitter opposition of Napoleon III. The unemployed former emperor then went into exile in England and died there in 1873.
The working-class uprising of June 1848 had profoundly shaken the French ruling capitalist class, which was still struggling to establish a stable form of political domination in the wake of the Great French Revolution, which unfolded between 1789-1794. On the other hand, there were no Marxist parties in France or anywhere else at the time and no Marxist movement. Marxism existed only in the persons of Karl Marx and his best friend Frederich Engels, who had begun developing “Marxism”—or scientific socialism, as the young German revolutionaries called it—only a few years before. Marx was yet to formulate his theory of surplus value, which forms the economic foundation of scientific socialism. So while the French capitalist class was not able to rule through parliament and its political parties, the French working class was unable to rule as well.
Interestingly enough, despite the many differences between the United States in 2016 and France in 1848-1852, Napoleon III shows many resemblances to Donald Trump. In terms of program, just like President and later Emperor Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, Trump is promising a massive public works program to help develop U.S. industry. Like Louis Bonaparte, he is said to have strong authoritarian tendencies, though it seems unlikely that he will proclaim himself Emperor of the United States, Donald I.
Another similarity is personal corruption. President Trump has indicated that instead of putting his business assets in a “blind trust” run by a disinterested “trustee,” he will instead place them in a “blind trust” run by … his children! What will stop the Trump children, many observers are asking, from directing government contracts to rebuild the infrastructure directly to Trump family enterprises. Won’t this erode the distinction between the Trump family finances and the U.S. Treasury?
Another significant parallel between the 19th-century French emperor and President-elect Trump is their relationship to organized crime. Like Trump, Napoleon III had close ties to organized crime—what Marx called the “lumpen-proletariat.” Trump, like his father Fred, had many ties to organized crime and the “five families” that dominated the New York “underworld.” This was pretty much a necessity in the New York real-estate world. His early mentor was lawyer Roy Cohen (1927-1986), who among other things was an aide to Senator Joseph McCarthy and played a key role in railroading the Rosenbergs to the electric chair. Cohen ended his career as the chief lawyer of the New York mob.
Marx pointed out that when the great French writer Victor Hugo blamed Louis Bonaparte for single-handily ruining the Second French Republic, he made him seem great. How can you really dismiss a “vapid nonentity,” as Marx called Bonaparte, when he defeated all the political parties of France and made himself emperor? The real problem, Marx continued, was to explain how this “vapid nonentity” could make himself master of French society in the first place. Just like Louis Bonaparte, who in his time defeated all factions of the “Party of Order”—the French equivalent of the Republicans and Democrats—Trump has emerged victorious over all the candidates put forward by the leaderships of both the Republican and Democratic parties, our present-day “Party of Order.” And just as Marx did in such immortal works as “Class Struggles in France” and the “Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon,” we have to find the answer in the class struggle and the economic straits the U.S. finds itself in.
The military and police apparatus
James Comey heads the Federal Bureau of Investigation, an organization that in the U.S. acts as a super-police force that unofficially controls both state and local cops. In the period leading up to the 2016 Democratic convention, many people on the left hoped that Comey and the FBI would recommend the criminal indictment of Hillary Clinton over the so-called “mailgate scandal.” The idea here was that if indicted she would be forced to withdraw from the race leading to the nomination of Bernie Sanders.
This was, however, a very unlikely role for the FBI, which has always been aligned with the far-right-wing of U.S. politics. Instead, Comey cleared Clinton of criminal conduct—which allowed the Clinton nomination to proceed. But the FBI chief also criticized her carelessness with state secrets, which weakened Clinton against Trump. Then, just before the election, Comey announced that new emails that might contain state secrets had been discovered and that the FBI criminal investigation of Clinton was not over after all. Clinton’s “lead” over Trump in the polls was already falling, and her many supporters in the capitalist ruling class and the media were furious with Comey.
Then in the wake of a storm of criticism days before the election, Comey announced that there was no evidence in the newly discovered emails of criminal conduct by Clinton and that the criminal probe was now truly over. But the damage had been done. According to newspaper reports, a furious Clinton blamed Comey for her surprising loss.
The role of the police in capitalist society
The police do the dirty work of the capitalist class. In the U.S., more than most capitalist countries, they are encouraged to shoot first—in the interest of officer safety, of course—and ask questions later. Naturally, “officer safety” is most endangered if the “suspect” is African American, next if the suspect is “non-white,” and least if the suspect is white. But in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, many a policeman and a few policewomen are afraid that they will be sacrificed by their capitalist masters in what the cops view as unjustified appeasement of that movement. Not surprisingly, many police “unions” have come out for Trump, who has for many years consistently championed the cause of the police.
For example, when the New York City police officers extracted confessions from
five Black teenagers for attacking a young white female investment banker jogging in Central Park, Trump demanded the death penalty—not for the cops for framing-up and almost ruining the lives of the five Black teenagers but for the cops’ victims—the innocent teenagers. This is the kind of support from politicians that cops appreciate. It has been reported that many “rank-and-file” FBI agents, sensitive to the plight of their fellow law-enforcement “brothers,” pressured Comey to continue the investigation of Clinton, which had the effect of increasing Trump’s chances of winning the election.
While some military officers are concerned about the disciplinary problems among non-white U.S. solders due to the racism of President-elect Trump, most like his autocratic style and rabid nationalism, share his racism, and love his promises to deal with “America’s enemies” with brute force. Trump for his part likes to boast of his support from many general and admirals.
It just been revealed by the Trump family that he plans to go ahead with the “retired” Marine Corp General James “Mad Dog” Mattis as his secretary of “defense.” The U.S. secretaries of defense have been civilians. This reflects the U.S. doctrine of civilian control of the military. Not since General George C. Marshall served as secretary of defense during the early days of the Korean War—when it was widely believed that World War III with the Soviet Union and China was imminent—has a general served as secretary of defense. Indeed, Congress will have to pass a special dispensation to allow a military man to run the Pentagon.
Trump will find many supporters in the ranks of the military officer corp, just as he does among FBI agents, state and local cops, and border guards. In addition, he no doubt has many friends in the vast and ever-growing intelligence apparatus of the U.S. Could this lead to a coup d’etat during a future crisis that would make Trump dictator if not Emperor Donald I?
The truth is that Bonapartist tendencies have been growing for a long time in the U.S. The huge growth of the standing army and political spying by the FBI and other police and intelligence agencies is hardly new. The limited restraints that had been placed on these abuses after the Watergate scandal of the 1970s were removed under the so-called Patriot Act, which was passed amidst the hysteria that followed the events of 9-11-2001. Today, the Patriot Act combined with the huge advances in computer technology has led to the “surveillance state.”
The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the right to declare war, but beginning with the Korean War the presidency with the approval of Congress has usurped the war-making authority. This was a gigantic step in the direction of Bonapartism.
In the recently concluded election cycle, Trump, taking advantage of the progressive decline of the U.S. world empire and the inability of the traditional Democratic and Republican parties to deal with it, in essence defeated the leaders of both the Republicans and the Democrats who attempted to bar his road to the White House. The incoming Trump presidency is taking the trends toward Bonapartism in the U.S. to a whole new level.
Bonpartism in the time of Marx and Engels
Buoyed by Californian and Australian gold, the “Second Empire” of Napoleon III was able to undertake considerable construction projects and achieve an impressive expansion of capitalist industrial production. But France failed to keep pace with the far more rapid development of capitalism in German lands. Eventually, the Second Empire was defeated in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Among the consequences was the Paris Commune, which, though it was defeated in bloody battle, formed the highest point of the working-class struggle for its liberation prior to the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917. The working-class movement of the Second International era—1889-1914 (9)—was largely built on the memory and lessons of the Paris Commune.
The other figure who Marx called “Bonapartist” in his lifetime was Prussian and later German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898). Despite the rapid development of German capitalism, the German capitalists were not yet capable of ruling in their own name, while the old traditional landowning ruling class of the German lands had already lost its ability to rule.
The German working class was rapidly building the first modern working-class party in history, the Social Democratic Party of Germany. But this party was still far from taking power and establishing the rule of the working class in place of the declining but still powerful landlords and the rising German capitalist class. This situation enabled Bismarck as the “Iron Chancellor” to raise a military and police apparatus headed by himself above all the classes of German society. As German capitalism continued its rapid development through the 19th and into the 20th century, the German capitalist class was able to dispense with the services of the “Iron Chancellor,” though it wasn’t able to rule fully in its own name until the post-World War I Weimar Republic. And that as we know did not have a happy ending.
Bonapartism not fascism
It is important not to confuse Bonapartism with fascism. Bonapartism means that the traditional methods of class rule have broken down—in the U.S., that means the joint rule of the two-party Democratic and Republican system—but the decisive battles that will decide the fate of contending classes has not yet occurred. Though Bonapartist regimes are an obvious threat to civil liberties, based as they are on military and police rule, they are not capable of achieving the degree of repression that fascist regimes are. The reason is that Bonapartism lacks the mass organizations that fascist regimes have at their disposal. This means that despite the fact that Trump will set up headquarters in the White House, the fight against a fascist USA lies ahead of us and not behind us. To declare the Trump regime fascist would be to declare defeat before the battle has been joined.
To clarify this, we can compare what happened at the end of the Bonapartist French Second Empire and what happened at the end of the fascist German Third Reich. In both cases, the immediate cause of the downfall of the two regimes was the same—a disastrous defeat in war leading to a foreign occupation. When Louis Napoleon Bonaparte’s Second French Empire ended as a result of the Prussian invasion of France, the workers of Paris organized in the National Guard, which functioned as a workers’ militia originally organized to defend the city against the invading Prussians. It rose and established the Paris Commune. The Commune itself was defeated in a bloody battle due both to the Commune’s mistakes and the general unripeness of the situation, but that is a different story. The only reason that the Second Empire lasted as long as it did was the huge gold finds in California and Australia, which greatly expanded the size of the world market creating a new “organic” era of capitalist development that Bonaparte was able to ride for some 22 years.
Hitler’s fascist—not Bonapartist—dictatorship lasted only 12 years. But this horrendous regime was ended not by an uprising of the German working class but by Germany’s military defeat, above all by the forces of the Soviet Union. It was the Soviet army and not the workers of Germany who hoisted the Red Flag over the ruins of the Reichstag in May 1945 (10). In contrast, to the French working class at the end of the Second Empire, the German working class lay prostrate even as the Soviet army fought its way through the streets of what was left of downtown Berlin, all the way to the ruins of the Reichstag and Hitler’s bunker, which finally forced the Fuhrer to commit suicide.
Nothing forms a greater contrast between ruined Berlin in 1945 and Paris in 1871. In the Berlin of 1945, there was no Berlin “Commune” or Berlin Soviet.
The socialist GDR, which was later established by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany was organized under Soviet supervision. Without denying the very real socialist achievements of the GDR, its organization under the supervision of the occupying Soviet Union is something quite different than the revolutionary uprising of the Parisian workers through the National Guard without any assistance from a foreign occupying force in 1871. Indeed, the occupying Prussians joined hands with the defeated French army to crush the Paris Commune in May 1871.
It was not only the buildings of Berlin that lay in ruins in the spring of 1945, the workers’ movement of Germany also lay in ruins. That is the real tragedy of Germany and indeed of the world in May 1945.
U.S. and fascism today
The U.S. fascist forces that exist in the form of the white-nationalist movement remain weak and disorganized. They have not been able to mount a single mass demonstration. At every demonstration they try to hold, they are vastly outnumbered by left-wing counter demonstrators. The recent videos of Richard Spencer, one of the leaders of the alt-right at a meeting of about 200 followers shouting Nazi slogans like “hail Trump” and “hail victory”—in German “Seig Heil!”—declaring the white race the people of the sun—the master race of Aryans—while some members of the audience lifted their arms in Nazi salutes was indeed chilling. But this indoor rally was pathetic when compared to the huge rallies that Hitler staged as you can see for yourself by watching some on-line videos. For example, Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous Nazi movie “Triumph of the Will” can be watched for free on-line. Just watch that movie and you will see how pathetic the U.S. fascist movement still is compared to the real thing.
Of course, if Trump runs into deep trouble—for example, in the event of a huge financial crash even worse than 2008, worsened by the reckless financial policies Trump promises to follow, a real possibility—and if the left fails to organize a new revolutionary workers’ movement that in good time establishes a workers’ government that will begin the transition to socialism in the U.S., the now small and disorganized U.S. fascist forces could quickly grow. Hitler, too, started out small.
Perhaps the fascists will claim that Trump failed because he carried out “half-heartily” his attacks on Muslims and the Mexicans and his promises to defend the police against the Black Lives Matter movement. Perhaps they will blame Trump’s Jewish son-in-law and his daughter Ivanka, who is married to him and converted to orthodox Judaism. Or Steven Mnuchin, the Jewish former partner at Goldman-Sachs he reportedly has selected for treasury secretary. They might say that under their regime of real “white nationalists,” there will be no compromises with the Muslims, the Mexicans, the African Americans and their Jewish masters pulling the strings behind the scenes and on Wall Street.
One thing is certain, regardless of the details, if a real fascist movement comes to power in the U.S., it will be the Third Reich on steroids. In that case, there will be no Soviet army to raise the Red Flag over the ruins of the capitol in Washington D.C. That can only be done by the U.S. multi-national working class or it will not be done at all. As the Chinese say, we are living in interesting times.
I had originally planned to write only a single post on the outcome of the toxic U.S. election cycle just concluded and then return to my reviews of Anwar Shaikh’s book “Capitalism” and John Smith’s “Imperialism.” If Hillary Clinton had won, I would have stuck to this plan. A Clinton victory would have indicated that the class struggle was still following an “organic” path of development like it always has since the defeat of the slaveholders’ rebellion in the U.S., though the direction would still have been the same. But this has not turned out to be the case. So my hopes for a relaxed Christmas season went down the drain! Well that is how the cookie crumbles, as they say.
Instead, I will write a second post in December that will examine Trump’s economic program. What will happen if Trump actually takes steps to return to American protectionism? Can Trump revive industrial production in the U.S., at least for a time? What about the war danger? After that, circumstances permitting, I hope to return to Shaikh’s “Capitalism” and John Smith’s “Imperialism.”
1 This analogy is imperfect because the British Labour Party was formed by the British trade unions while the U.S. Democratic Party was originally created by the U.S. slaveholders. (back)
2 The “alt-right” claims it wants to build an alternative right that is not dominated by “neo-conservatives.” In this context, neo-conservatives is a code word for Jews. Steve Bannon, who ironically is a former banker with investment bank Goldman Sachs—which anti-Semites view as the arch “Jewish bank”—published articles by racist members of the alt-right on the Breitbart News website. Unlike members of the alt-right who describe themselves as “white nationalists”—defined as non-Jewish white Americans—Bannon prefers to call himself, at least in public, simply an “American nationalist.” While Bannon in public avoids the openly racist and anti-Semitic language of the alt-right, he provided a mouthpiece for them.
Today’s fascists, whether the U.S. alt-right or their European counterparts, are
actually advancing beyond the Nazis. The Nazis attacked Jews but not Muslims. There were very few Muslims in Europe at the time of the Nazis. Today’s fascists often make Muslims their prime targets while retaining the old-time anti-Semitism as well. In order to find this particular combination, you have to go back to the Christian Crusaders of medieval times who attacked both Muslims and Jews alike as “enemies of Christ.” (back)
3 Trump has offended all these groups. When a young women investment banker was attacked and raped while jogging in New York City’s Central Park, the cops arrested five young African Americans. In the hands of the police, they confessed. Trump demanded the death plenty and refused to apologize or withdraw his demands even after another person confessed to the crime and DNA tests showed that the five young men could not possibly have raped the women while proving the man who confessed did.
While campaigning in North Dakota—the state where Standing Rock is located—where there is friction between whites and Native Americans, Trump repeatedly referred to Senator Elizabeth Warren, a leader of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, as “Pocahontas.” This was doubly offensive. Warren, like many white Americans whose families have lived in the U.S. for generations, believes that she has some Native American ancestry.
The historical Pocahontas (1596-1617), whose real names were Matoaka, later called Amonute, was a Native American woman who befriended the early English colony called Jamestown, which later evolved into the U.S. state of Virginia. She married Englishman John Smith, converted to Christianity, took the name Rebecca, and died in England. White racists use Pocahontas as a sex symbol. Pocahontas is pictured by them as a scantly clad, highly sexualized and objectified Native American woman.
Trump’s baiting of Warren as “Pocahontas” is both anti-Native American racist and misogynist. He described Mexican immigrants—who are partially of Native American descent—as rapists and criminals. During the campaign, he promised on numerous occasions to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep immigrants out and to make Mexico pay for it. Trump’s victory has created a crisis in U.S.-Mexican relations.
Trump’s appeal to Islamophopia was equally gross. At one point, he promised to prevent all Muslims from even visiting the U.S. (back)
4 During the campaign, Trump described Cruz as “lying Ted” and even charged that Cruz’s father, who had emigrated from Cuba before the victory of Cuban Revolution, was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. (back)
5 Under the Roman Republic, executive power was divided among two consuls who served one-year terms. But the Roman constitution allowed in a crisis a single executive, called a dictator, who could serve for at most six months.
A Roman “dictator” was therefore not a dictator in the modern sense. Julius Caesar, a Roman general and politician, was a member of one of the richest, most powerful Roman families. He succeeded in conquering Gaul—modern France—and famously wrote “veni, vidi, vici”—in English, “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
In part because of his successful conquest, Caesar was declared dictator of Rome for life—that is a dictator in the modern sense. However, he was murdered on the Senate floor on the “ides of March”—March 15—(as readers of William Shakespeare’s famous play “Julius Caesar” know) by members of the Senate made up of the wealthy families that had politically ruled Rome before it became an empire. After Caesar’s death, his nephew Octavian—later called Augustus—seized power and did his uncle one better by becoming emperor—formally first citizen—and passing his power down to Tiberius, the son of his wife Livia and his own son by adoption. This effectively ended the Roman Republic and replaced it with a hereditary monarchy, though forms of the republic survived. The Roman Empire was then ruled by a succession of increasingly autocratic dynasties for the rest of its existence. (back)
6 Revolutionary syndicalists differed from Marxist parties—called Social Democratic Parties before the Russian Revolution of 1917—in that they did not believe that working-class political parties were necessary to overthrow capitalism and establish a society without exploitation. Instead, they believed that the trade unions, if organized on revolutionary lines, were sufficient to first overthrow the capitalists and then establish and manage the new society without exploitation. (back)
7 I use the term “Gomperism” because Samuel Gompers represented everything that is wrong within the workers’ movement, though of course he didn’t single-handedly create the regressive tendency that he represented. Gomperism came to dominate the U.S. trade unions because of the extremely rapid development of U.S. capitalism. If Samuel Gompers hadn’t lived, some other figure would no doubt have played the same role.
During the era of the Second International, Gompers-like attitudes began to infiltrate the Social Democratic Party of Germany. Eduard Bernstein, the leader of the revisionist tendencies in the German SPD, who raised the slogan “the movement is everything, the goal is nothing,” was saturated with the same spirit Gompers represented in the U.S. He proclaimed that the aim of the workers’ movement was to win improvements for German workers in the form of higher wages, shorter hours, and better working conditions but not the revolutionary transformation of society—which in Bernstein words—was “nothing.”
Later on at a higher stage of development, this same process was repeated in the ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This was particularly reflected in the slogan of Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971), who led the CPSU from 1953 to 1964, promising “goulash communism.” The idea expressed by Khrushchev was that the supreme aim the Soviet Communist Party was to stuff the workers of the Soviet Union with consumer goods as opposed to advancing the struggle against capitalist and imperialist exploitation throughout the world. Khrushchev claimed that once this was accomplished, opposition to socialism would collapse and socialism would peacefully replace capitalism throughout the world. Khrushchev’s slogan was a kind of “Communist” Gomperism. These attitudes, which grew progressively in the Soviet Communist Party both before, during and after the time of Khrushchev—I don’t want to blame everything on poor old Nikita or any other individual Soviet leader—finally led to Mikhail Gorbachev and the surrender of the Soviet planned economy to a new internal capitalist class and imperialism.
As I write these words, uncounted millions are mourning the passing of the leader of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro (1926-2016) not only in Cuba but throughout the world—and I am one of them. Few people beyond his own family members mourned Khrushchev when he died in 1971, either in the Soviet Union or anywhere else. Much the same can be said of Gompers and Bernstein. (back)
8 Recently, scientists found a planet orbiting the small dim star Proxima Centuri—part of the Alpha Centuri triple star system. It is called “Proxima” because it is the star that is closest to earth. Amazingly, the planet is only slightly larger than Earth and lies within the star’s habitable zone. That is, liquid water can exist on its surface—well maybe if we make some rather dubious assumptions about the planet’s atmosphere. This has led to vastly premature speculation on the possibility of life on Promixa Centuri B, though there are many scientific reasons to suspect that the planet is likely to be extremely hostile to life. So don’t get your hopes up. In any case, the journey to Proxma Centuri B would take many thousands of years with today’s fastest rockets. So get ready for a very long journey! (back)
9 In theory, the Second International was reconstituted after World War I and its remains still exist today. But its progressive work came to a definitative end in August 1914, when most of its sections supported their “own” governments in World War I. (back)
10 The Reichstag had been burned in Febuary 1933 just after Hitler became chancellor of Germany but before he became dictator. It was falsely pictured by the Nazis as an attempted “Communist coup” and became the pretext for the rapid imposition on Germany of Hitler’s fascist dictatorship backed up by the massive Brown Shirt terror that was raging in the streets. The Reichstag remained in ruins throughout the Third Reich. Since then, it has been rebuilt and once again serves as the meeting place of the German parliament—now called the Bundestag. (back)