by Brian Becker
The most powerful capitalist CEOs in the United States oppose the campaign of billionaire Donald Trump. They don’t want him as their president. Most of the corporate-owned media is skewering him. They are launching daily new investigations and revelations to discredit him.
Once in office, the President becomes the CEO of the most powerful capitalist institution in the world. The capitalist state towers over any single corporate entity in terms of influence, authority and raw power.
“No chief executive at the nation’s 100 largest companies had donated to Republican Donald Trump’s presidential campaign through August, a sharp reversal from 2012, when nearly a third of the CEOs of Fortune 100 companies supported GOP nominee Mitt Romney,” wrote the Wall Street Journal on September 23.
There has not been any other example of such unity among the capitalists against a presidential candidate of the Republican Party.
“Some executives who backed Republicans earlier in the election have since shifted allegiances. Roger Crandall, CEO of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance, donated $10,000 to the super PAC backing Mr. Bush last year. Mr. Crandall, who donated $5,000 to Mr. Romney in 2012, gave the maximum $5,400 to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign in July.” (Wall Street Journal, Sept. 23)
Many of the Fortune 100 CEOs supported other Republicans during the primary season. “During this year’s presidential primaries, 19 of the nation’s top CEOs gave to other Republican candidates, including former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida,” according to the Wall Street Journal analysis of campaign donations.
Socialists in the United States should have a clear understanding of the real reason that the dominant parts of capitalist class in the U.S. appears nearly united in their opposition to Trump.
Is it Trump’s open expression of racism that turns them off? Or his disgusting diatribes against women? His incredible caricatures of Muslims? His public insults against Mexico and Mexicans? Clearly such public comments are offensive to some individuals in the capitalist class and all the big capitalists are politically savvy enough to know that public figures are not supposed to talk like that “in public,” especially since the civil rights and women’s movement’s changed political sensibilities about language.
A Trump presidency, of course, would strip U.S. state power of any legitimacy internationally. It would be a magnet for mass protest inside the country as well. And it would destabilize or undermine the essential feature and function of the White House.
Karl Marx on the role of the executive in the modern state
We can’t understand what is really happening now, and why the entire or nearly entire big bourgeoisie opposes Trump, without appreciating the primary function of the executive branch of state power.
For this we turn to Karl Marx. He and his collaborator Frederick Engels succinctly characterized this executive function in the Communist Manifesto:
“The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” (our emphasis)
Today, long after free market capitalism has transformed into monopoly capitalism and fused with the state in a thousand and one ways, this may seem like a simple statement. But Marx and Engels were drawing the working class’s attention to an evolving political phenomenon.
The Manifesto was written in 1848, at the early stage of the Industrial Revolution and before the European bourgeoisie had fully consolidated its political power from the old feudal social order. It was also 13 years before the start of the U.S. Civil War after which the slave owning capitalists in the southern states finally lost their grip over the state power. The generalization in 1848 about the role of the modern state was loaded with acute observational analysis of a trend that had not fully matured.
Today, that trend is a finished product. All U.S. corporate and banking entities count on the U.S. government and the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and domestic law enforcement to protect and guarantee their domestic and global interests.
Before the rise of the modern state
The modern-day capitalist bourgeoisie, which first took root in Europe, accumulated its primary capital—its foundational wealth—from colonies and from the enslavement of millions of Africans and Indigenous peoples on the plantations and in the mines of the Americas.
The generalization of Marx and Engels about the evolution of the “modern state,” and especially its executive as managing the “common affairs” of the bourgeoisie was not an observation of a finished process.
Before the rise of the modern state the capitalists employed their own private armies, navies and militias.
In 1599, the English East Indies Company began its vast colonial plunder in Asia. In 1602, the Dutch capitalists formed the Dutch East India Company to challenge British plans to acquire hegemony in the region. Technically, under the license from their home governments, these companies not only monopolized trade in gold, spices, opium, silk, Chinese porcelain and other goods, they also took control of territories with huge armies and navies that were in fact larger than the British or Dutch official armies and navies.
By 1782, the English East India Company army was made up of more than 100,000 soldiers, all mercenaries—far larger than the British army at the time. The Dutch company armed forces grew to more than 25,000 full-time soldiers and an armada of 140 ships.
The companies had a monopoly position in trade and assumed all the “normal” state functions of sovereign countries. The Universal Dictionary of 1751 wrote: “One of the reasons why the Dutch East India Company flourishes, and has become the richest and most powerful … [is because it] makes peace and war at pleasure, and by its own authority; administers justice to all … settles colonies, builds fortification, levies troops, maintains numerous armies and garrisons, fits out fleets, and coins money.”
By assuming the absolute powers that later fell exclusively to the modern capitalist state, these individual corporate entities conducted themselves narrowly based on their own profits without regard for the needs and interests of the other capitalists.
For example, King James I told the English East India Company to avoid unnecessary conflict with Portugal, since the British crown was seeking a diplomatic alliance with Portugal. The company nonetheless sank most of the Portuguese ships in the region. More than a century later, in 1759, the British and Dutch companies fought a land and sea war with each other when the English East India Company tried to defeat all commercial rivals in India. The English company prevailed.
The economic establishments back home gradually rejected the massive unilateral powers that these companies held. The companies pursued their own narrow commercial interests and the cost of maintaining their own armies, navies and forts was an increasing drain on profits. Investors turned sour on both the Dutch company, which went bankrupt in 1798, and the English company, which began losing major powers to the British crown in the early 1800s.
The great 1857 Indian Revolt ended with the English East India Company’s dissolution and with the British state replacing the company’s more or less direct rule. Thousands of Indians as well as British forces were killed before the rebellion was put down.
In response to the 1857 Revolt, an act of parliament replaced the East India Company with a secretary of state for India who would be directly responsible to the British cabinet. By November 1858, Queen Victoria conferred on the governor-general of India the title of viceroy.
In the United States too both the industrial and slave-owning agricultural capitalists employed their own armies and armed militias. In April 1914, the armed militia organized by John D. Rockefeller slaughtered dozens of striking miners and their wives and children in Ludlow, Colorado. The railroads, steel companies and others employed their own armed forces. The infamous Pinkerton Detective Agency functioned as an army-for-hire when capitalists were faced with strikes or other organizing. And individual slave-owners used armed private militias for centuries to capture, punish and kill runaway or rebelling slaves throughout the United States.
Today, in the epoch of imperialism or what Lenin called “monopoly capitalism,” the modern, centralized state power has reached its zenith in terms of authority. The executive of the state power has consolidated a monopoly on the use of violence and coercion. In times of severe crisis, such as the meltdown of the biggest Wall Street banks in 2008, the state power made all the key decisions on how private capital would be rescued – who would be saved and reinforced by government bailout and who would die. The state power is dominant and the capitalists, including the most powerful corporations and banks, are dependent.
The bourgeoisie does not trust that Trump will or can manage their “common affairs”
Donald Trump is unacceptable because the capitalists don’t believe he can or will manage the “common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”
Trump is out for himself alone. He is an ignorant small time capitalist whose self-serving antics and rhetoric make him “unfit” to the bourgeoisie.
From the Wall Street Journal: “Fred Malek, finance chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a leading fundraiser for past GOP nominees, said that Mr. Trump doesn’t have a history with CEOs that would naturally translate to political support.
“He’s more of an individual entrepreneur,” he said. “He’s not a big company guy…”
Trump says he wants to deport 12 million undocumented workers. But the capitalist class recognizes that it is dependent on the labor of immigrants.
Trump sensationally states that he wants to ban Muslims but such open bigotry not only opens the U.S. to even more public hatred and resentment in the geo-strategically important Middle East countries but it will constitute a complete break with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies not to mention Egypt and Turkey, the eastern flank of NATO.
Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, who in 2012 donated $100,000 to a super PAC backing Mr. Romney, called Mr. Trump “reckless and uninformed” in a Facebook post last month. Calling for Republicans not to support him, she wrote, “Donald Trump’s demagoguery has undermined the fabric of our national character.” (WSJ, Sept. 23)
“National character” here is a euphemism. She is referring to the national state power. There is no such thing as a national character. Meg Whitman shares nothing in common with most working class families. Repeatedly invading and bombing small countries or the daily police executions of unarmed people in the streets of the country would presumably also “undermine the fabric of our national character” but Meg Whitman and the other capitalists are never heard protesting.
As a class the bourgeoisie is inherently at war with itself. Competition between the capitalists is fundamental, not incidental, to the system. They are at war with each other over markets, market share and investor capital. Only in and through the executive of the modern state do the capitalists find unity.
Leadership over the state power is thus critical but not in the presumed way. It is not that important that the individual president be a capable person, an effective manager or a talented leader. Ronald Reagan slept through much of his second term and George W. Bush’s biggest accomplishment in life was that he stopped drinking. Political leadership is important in the sense that it should not undermine the legitimacy of the state power that is critical to the existence of the modern capitalist class. Bush’s failed policies became a magnet for global protest against U.S. imperialism. Obama’s main task was to restore the image of the Empire internationally.
The executive branch of the state apparatus is managed and led by hundreds of thousands of professional employees. A separate class or caste of politicians from two pre-vetted ruling class parties rotate in and out of political office. They exist to maintain the stability of the system. They enjoy personal privileges and the adulation that comes with the appearance of power. If they become the targets for anger and discontent from below they are replaced with other politicians from the same caste. The politicians are all aspiring self-promoters – that’s what they do for a living.
What is the state?
The state power consists at its core in institutions and instruments of organized violence and coercion. The military and police forces are sanctioned to employ violence and force. The military retains more than 1,000 military bases around the world. U.S. aircraft carriers and battleship groups prowl the seven seas in demonstrations of global power. Regionally based U.S. led military alliances exist in all areas of the planet. On any given day of the year the Pentagon is carrying out simulated war exercises called “war games” somewhere in the world. At home, the courts and prisons are used mainly to impose power over working class and poor communities and to provide a peaceful mechanism for the resolution of intra-capitalist conflicts.
It is important for communists, revolutionary socialists and genuine anti-imperialists to have a deep understanding of the basic mechanisms and functions of the capitalist political system and specifically the modern state. Otherwise, progressive sectors of society can be easily manipulated and devolve into cheerleaders for one capitalist politician or another. There is always some rational, pragmatic justification given for supporting the “better” representative of the bourgeoisie.
Contrary to Marxism’s understanding of the modern capitalist state and its executive, liberalism and social democracy preach that the state can be turned into an instrument for social change. Communists want to build an independent movement that aims at gaining political power for the working class, destroying the ruling class’s state and building a new state power to defend the working class’s interests. Only then can the state function as a progressive instrument for the majority of the people.
This piece appeared on October 3 on the US Marxist site Liberation, here.