Below is an article submitted to Redline by Alec Abbott written 18 April 2017

1. A quintessentially liberal cycle: from smugness to despair, from despair to hope and from hope to smugness

The initial blow

Trump’s election victory left the liberals reeling with shock and incomprehension. Detached from the poverty and discontent around them, and supremely confident in the Democratic Party’s electoral machine, they saw Hillary Clinton as unassailable. Her defeat did little to diminish their disdain for ordinary working people, or to improve their grasp of US realities.download

Rather than consider the socio-economic forces that brought Trump into office, the liberals focused almost exclusively on his personality, his egocentric greed for power, money and fame. Some went so far as to detect the sinister hand of Moscow at work. When asked how he viewed Trump’s relationship with Russia, Bernie Sanders, always hovering between radical liberalism and mild social-democracy, replied:

‘The American people are astounded that when you have an authoritarian like Putin who is moving Russia more and more towards an authoritarian society, President Trump has only positive things to say about this authoritarian figure. What hold does Russia have over the President? We know that Russian oligarchs lent Trump and his associates money. Does that have anything to do with Trump’s relationship with Russia?’ (CNN News, 30/3/2017)

From the start of the election campaign, liberals viewed Trump as an impulsive maverick, a right-wing bigot who has little regard for civilized norms of behaviour. Only by pandering to the worst prejudices of disaffected Americans, they maintained, would he succeed in capturing the presidency. The great unknown was how this relative new-comer to politics would behave once in office. Would he adapt his election pledges to political reality or would he pursue his outlandish agenda to the bitter end? That was the question on the minds of liberal commentators as Trump assumed the position of the 45th president of the US.

In no time at all the liberals gave vent to their despair. Maggie Lake, CNN commentator and political analyst, bewailed: ‘He hasn’t changed. There was the expectation that the office changes the man but we have not seen this with Donald Trump.’ (CNN News, 23/3/2017) Not long after, The Los Angeles Times, a prominent liberal organ, delivered the following lamentation:

‘Like millions of other Americans, we clung to a slim hope that the new president would turn out to be all noise and bluster, or that the people around him in the White House would act as a check on his worst instincts, or that he would be sobered and transformed by the awesome responsibilities of office. Instead … it is increasingly clear that those hopes were misplaced.’ (4/4/2017)

Undeniably, Trump is a serial liar who has little regard for the trappings of liberal democracy. To achieve his ends, he intimidates and deceives. Like Humpty Dumpty in Looking-Glass Land, he makes words mean whatever he wants them to mean. In the very instance in which he is caught out in a lie, he concocts still more lies, and with as much poise as a wildebeest on heat. In some respects, he is the most predictable US president of all time. ‘With the insouciance of a Bourbon monarch’, wrote The Guardian, Trump ‘shows no sign of taking any notice of the facts. Nor, it seems, will he retract false claims, nor will he be held accountable for his dissembling.’ (21/3/2017) And this just 3 months into his presidency!

A glimmer of hope

It did not take long for the liberals to regain a measure of their former composure, and towards the end of March many began to predict Trump’s early and ignominious departure from the political scene. Their optimism reached fever pitch when the White House withdrew the bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Health Care Act (so-called ‘Obamacare’). Trump had long boasted about being an accomplished ‘deal-maker’ and an inveterate ‘winner’, yet his first legislative test ended in a debacle. To heap insult upon injury, the Freedom Caucus, a bloc of right-wing Republicans in the House of Representatives, tipped the balance against Trump. Delighted by this turn of events, The Observer gloated: ‘It was a chastening defeat for a president whose entire campaign had been built around his reputation as a negotiator and a winner … And, in a poetic twist, the president who has espoused a right-wing agenda of economic nationalism, law and order and “America first” was undone by the right wing of his own party.’ (26/3/2017)

To the further delight of the liberals, Trump directed his anger against the House Freedom Caucus, threatening to oppose its members in next year’s primaries, when all 435 seats in the House and 34 of the 100 seats in the Senate will be contested. The targets of his scorn did not take kindly to being bullied. Justin Amash, a prominent member of the Freedom Caucus and an ardent backer of Trump during the election campaign, stood his ground. Trump was behaving like a cantankerous child, he thundered, a school-yard bully who had yet to learn the ways of American democracy. (CNN News, 30/3/2017) Other right-wing Republicans responded in a similar fashion. Yet rather than moderate or withdraw his threat, Trump remained as obdurate as ever, unleashing a civil war within his own party. The liberals were all cock-a-hoop. With the likes of Amash and Trump at daggers drawn, they could face the future with a renewed sense of optimism.

Buoyed by the rancour and division within the Republican Party, the liberals lost little time in setting out their ideological stall. Early in April, in a series of rallying statements, the editorial board of The Los Angeles Times formulated what may be viewed as a major part of the liberals’ credo. The paper began by drawing a distinction between mainstream American positions, whether advocated by Democrats or Republicans, and those upheld by Trump. In contrast to previous presidents, Trump posed a real threat to US democracy. His ‘contempt for the rule of law and the norms of government’, his questioning of ‘the qualification of judges’, his identification of journalists as ‘the enemies of the people’, his ‘lack of regard for the truth’, his propensity ‘to make unverifiable or false statements’, his predilection for ‘racist memes and crackpot, out-of-the-mainstream ideas’ – all these undermined faith in American democracy.

The paper was clear about what should be done. The defenders of US democracy should join forces to combat Trump, energetically and persistently, not by revolutionary means, but by standing up ‘for the rule of law, the electoral process, the peaceful transfer of power and the role of institutions’. US democracy has survived all kinds of attacks against it, and, most likely, it will survive again.

‘But if it is to do so, those who oppose the new president’s reckless and heartless agenda must make their voices heard. Protesters must raise their banners. Voters must turn out for elections. Members of Congress — including and especially Republicans — must find the political courage to stand up to Trump. Courts must safeguard the Constitution. State legislators must pass laws to protect their citizens and their policies from federal meddling. All of us who are in the business of holding leaders accountable must redouble our efforts to defend the truth from his cynical assaults.’

The paper found it deeply gratifying that politicians from across the political spectrum were speaking out against Trump. Here was the basis for the creation of a broad anti-authoritarian movement, one embracing the courts, the civil service, Congress, democratically-minded Democrats and Republicans, and, yes, ‘the marchers in the streets’. Everyone had a role in this drama, The Los Angeles Times assured its readers. (2-6/4/2017)

The liberals regard the bourgeois-democratic state as the absolute form of the state and therefore view any opposition to it – whether from the left or the right – as deviations from the norm. Their commitment to the preservation of the institutions of liberal democracy, together with their hostility to mass-based revolutionary movements, explains the hypocritical and self-serving nature of their politics. On the one hand, they threaten to unleash a mass movement against Trump, but without doing anything to make that movement a reality. On the other, they warn of the dangers of an authoritarian dictatorship, not to drive the anti-imperialist struggle forward, but, on the contrary, to spread a demobilizing fear among the masses. Their object is to frighten the ‘marchers in the streets’ into rejecting methods of struggle which undermine the foundations of bourgeois-democratic forms of imperialist rule.

It is not just Trump whom the liberals dread. Millions of workers and oppressed peoples have come out against him. The liberals are wary of this movement, its anger and its sweep, and are seeking ways to channel it into the safe and comforting realms of parliamentary politics. Their repeated warnings about the imperiled state of US democracy reveal the extent of their unease. Well do they know that the rise of fascism in Europe galvanized the masses into powerful organisations, not for liberal democracy, but for socialism.

Ever since Trump’s rise to prominence, the liberals have repeatedly made references to Europe’s fascist past, but always with a view to obscuring the real nature and causes of fascism. At the same time as they bombard the masses with blood-curdling accounts of what Germany was like under Hitler, they boast that the US, owing to its unique and deeply ingrained democratic traditions, will vanquish any fascist threat. In so many words they say: ‘US democracy has survived all kinds of attacks against it, and, most likely, it will survive again, provided the marchers in the streets follow our lead.’

Though noisy in their opposition to Trump, the liberals have effectively rendered themselves ineffectual. Their defence of imperialism has made it impossible for them to play any worthwhile role in politics. Self-delusional to the last, they take comfort from the fact that the noxious weeds of fascism have so far failed to strike root in US soil. Even during the turbulent times of the 1920s and 30s, they crow, fascism remained an essentially European phenomenon. Their belief in a US exceptionalism rests on their mystical notion of a US timelessness.

Unpalatable truths

What distinguishing the US today from earlier periods are two closely related factors. First, the US is no longer the rising star among the imperialist powers. Economically, the US and EU are running neck-and-neck, together accounting for approximately 50 percent of global GDP. China, the world’s next largest economy, makes up some 15 percent of global GDP.

The second factor is that the US ruling class is deeply split over how to contend with its imperialist rivals. In the 1960s, during the fraught negotiations between Europe and the US over the gold-dollar standard, the US succeeded in lording it over Europe, but only by pursuing a policy of divide-and-rule. When Germany and France expressed a desire to negotiate as a bloc, the US flatly refused. France and Germany were separate nation states and must negotiate accordingly, the US insisted. Forced into a humiliating retreat, the European imperialists resolved to quicken the pace of European unification.[1]

Unable to prevent European nations from drawing closer together, the US adopted a gentler, more diplomatic approach, crafting what Charles de Gaulle called the US-British ‘Trojan Horse’ policy. In practice, this meant giving the US a veto on EU military action through Britain’s membership of the EU. Without fail, Britain regularly used its EU voting rights to block the formation of an all-European military force. Partly for this reason, Barack Obama took the unprecedented step of intervening in Britain’s EU membership referendum, in an attempt to dissuade the British from taking the ‘isolationist’ road.

Up until Trump’s inauguration, successive US presidents adhered firmly to the British-US ‘Trojan Horse’ stratagem. They praised the EU in the warmest of words, even recognised its representatives as legitimate negotiators on the world stage, but did not scruple to use Britain to check the formation of a European-wide state machine. In a word, they deceived and dissembled, just as Trump does today, but did so suavely and with a degree of sophistication which Trump lacks. Matters came to a head with the outbreak of the 2008 crisis, when the US, backed by the IMF and Britain, tried to stoke the flames of discontent between the rich and poor EU countries. Although the US continued to profess support for the European project, it saw the crisis as a golden opportunity to muddy EU waters. At the same time as it was enforcing balanced state budgets at home, the US advocated debt-relief for Greece. Despite the US’s exertions, the EU drew still closer together, its leading figures calling on member states to redouble their efforts at creating an all-European banking, fiscal and military union. The frequency and earnestness with which they issued this call was the last straw for the openly anti-European factions of the US and British ruling classes. Girding their loins for a pre-emptive fight, they resolved to dispense with what they had always regarded as a lame ‘Trojan Horse’ policy. Brexit and Trumpism were the results.

Trump is not following the dictates of Russian oligarchs. Like Nigel Farage in Britain, Marion Le Pen in France and Vladimir Putin in Russia, he is determined to break-up the EU, and to this end is forging a global alliance of anti-EU countries and organisations. He is conscious of what he is doing and makes little attempt to disguise it. The European project, he routinely declares, is an abomination, an unwholesome exercise in substituting ‘internationalism’ for ‘nationalism’. When asked if he would welcome the break-up of the EU, he retorted that he most certainly would. (BBC News, 1/2/2017) His followers are equally outspoken. Steve Bannon boasted that he would ‘use American power like a crowbar to pull the EU apart.’ (Politico Magazine, 13/3/2017) Still more crudely, Republican congressman Steve King blathered: ‘Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.’ (CNN News, 12/3/2017) Like other Trump die-hards, he openly endorsed Geert Wilder’s anti-EU platform during the Dutch election.

These anti-EU outpourings left Democrats, and a good many Republicans too, aghast. Asked what he thought about Trump’s call for the break-up of the EU, Anthony Gardner, the former US ambassador to the EU, replied: ‘It is an extraordinary statement. It is a departure from 70 years of established policy of both parties. … I cannot understand in what way it can possibly promote our interests.’ (CNN News, 9/2/2017) His views struck a warm chord with Antony Blinken, the former Deputy Secretary of State for president Obama. He stated: ‘The EU was put in place to make sure that countries work together and didn’t allow negative forces to lead to war. The idea that we would be undermining something that has created and helped nurture 70 years of peace in Europe is a very negative thing for the US. We have supported the EU for decades.’ (CNN News, 23/2/17)

To the dismay of his critics, Trump pressed ahead with his plans, undaunted by accusations of ‘nationalism’. An important turning point came in February of this year, when US trade negotiators contacted their European counterparts to initiate bilateral trade negotiations. Without exception, the European negotiators refused to be drawn into discussions about trade. EU law, they reminded their US colleagues, prohibits European countries from negotiating separate trade deals.

While all this was going on, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Keenly aware of Trump’s protectionist leanings, he pointedly expressed confidence in the European project, as well as endorsed the long-discussed free-trade deal between the EU and Canada. A few days later, during his meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump gave a clear indication of how he felt about these celebratory displays of Transatlantic amity. Frowning, he told Merkel that the US was in the process of reviewing all its trade agreements, but this time would enter negotiations, not with the EU, but with individual EU countries. Merkel calmly explained that this was not possible. The EU was a single entity, just as the US was, and would conduct its trade negotiations accordingly. Soon after their meeting, in response to Trump’s protectionist threats, Mexico announced that it was looking to the EU to expand its trade.

Inter-imperialist truces and inter-imperialist wars

Contrary to the views of the liberals, capitalist powers cannot co-exist in harmony indefinitely. Sooner or later they will descend into rampant militarism, as each prepares for battle against the others. Here is how Lenin described the approaching war between the American and Japanese imperialists:

‘Japan has seized China, which has a population of four hundred million and the richest coal reserves in the world. How can this plum be kept? It is absurd to think that a stronger capitalism will not deprive a weaker capitalism of the latter’s spoils. Can the Americans remain indifferent under such circumstances? Can strong capitalists remain side by side with weak capitalists and not be expected to grab everything they can from the latter? What would they be good for if they did not?’ (Volume 31, p443; emphasis added)

The US and EU are on a collision course, not because of the advent of Trumpism, but because of the inherently antagonistic nature of imperialism. One of the chief circumstances which produced Trumpism – the growing intensification of inter-imperialist rivalry – is essentially the same circumstance which has made it impossible for the US to maintain its global dominance in the old way. Imperialist alliances are truces, interludes between inter-imperialist wars, and the Transatlantic Alliance is no exception in this regard. This is not to say that the dissolution of the Transatlantic Alliance will lead immediately to the outbreak of the next world war. What Trump is striving to achieve, as part of his so-called ‘America first’ agenda, is both to break-up the EU and to establish close ties with Russia, the world’s leading anti-EU country. In the parlance of the right, Trump wishes to ‘repeal and replace’ the Transatlantic Alliance.

US finance capital is now deeply divided over the question of how to preserve its global hegemony. Given their refusal to acknowledge that the US is an imperialist power (and a relatively declining one at that), the liberals are incapable of recognising that a major intra-imperialist conflict has broken out in the US. They rightly give prominence to Trump’s authoritarian mentality, but they do little more than that. To venture outside the realm of the subjective, or to delve into the nature of the crisis through which imperialism is passing, would be to tread on dangerous ground. All the liberals see is an unhinged narcissist who has aimlessly embarked on a destructive course. The Guardian summed up the liberals’ attitude when it wrote:

‘The White House is clearly pursuing agendas including a reshaping of relations with Russia and NATO … But there seems to be no attempt to connect up scattershot imperatives into a strategy or even a coherent worldview – and perhaps no real interest in doing so.’ (23/3/2017)

There is nothing mysterious or scattershot about Trump. He represents the interests of a definite faction of US finance capital. While the mainstream faction wishes to maintain its existing alliances, the Trump faction wishes to forge new ones. At bottom, the two factions share common ground, their mutual goal being to safeguard the US’s global loot against the EU’s gathering encroachments. Neither faction relishes the idea of a politically successful EU, that is, an EU which has at its disposal an all-European bureaucratic-military state machine. However, despite their shared objectives, the two factions are at loggerheads over the question of how the US should prevent this machine from materialising. Since the liberals deny the existence of imperialism, they have nothing worthwhile to say about intra-imperialist conflicts. When Trump was a step away from being the US’s next president, The Guardian, a defender of the European project, wrote:

‘No senior political figure in its modern history has been as willing to repudiate America’s internationalism as Mr Trump. US foreign policy … has, on the whole, contributed to an ordered, open and prosperous world in ways no other country has had the power to achieve. Mr Trump’s “America first” call, echoing the isolationism of the eponymous movement that tried to keep the US out of the war against Hitler, could not have been more designed to unsettle America’s allies … and will have Vladimir Putin rubbing his hands.’ (23/6/2016)

By pursuing an ‘America first’ agenda, Trump aims at repudiating mainstream ‘American internationalism’ and not ‘American internationalism’ as such. Imperialist powers are inherently interventionist. What matters is not whether a ruling class participates in this or that war, or forges this or that alliance, but the overall interests it serves. When the Japanese imperialists stood aloof from the battles of WWI, they did not refrain from plundering Manchuria. And when so-called ‘isolationism’ prevailed in the US during certain periods of WWI and II, the US imperialists did not relinquish their hold over Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines, or desist from financially strangulating politically independent nations. In the eyes of The Guardian, ‘American internationalism’ means one thing and one thing only: the adoption by the US of policies which help to shore up Britain’s flagging imperialist interests. All else is insular and mean-spirited.

Far from upholding an ‘isolationist’ standpoint, Trump is openly meddling in European affairs. His support for Brexit, together with his disparaging comments about the European project, hardly attests to a non-interventionist vision of the world. He advocates small European nationalism to promote the interests of big US nationalism. (Not for him is the small nationalism of Texas or any of the other US states.) At the same time as he calls for the dissolution of the EU along nationalist lines, he cultivates a special relationship with Russia, an expansionist power of massive proportions. The fact that he is planning to shelter American industry behind tariff barriers does not in the least detract from his ‘internationalist’ goals.[2]

Trump’s quest for a global anti-EU coalition has made the Russian question the touchstone of the liberals’ defence of US imperialism. This became evident when Trump ordered missile strikes on Syria.

The return to smugness

For the most part, Democrats and Republicans praised Trump’s decision to attack Syria. They called it decisive, measured and appropriate, and commended him for his compassionate gesture. The images of injured and dead Syrian babies were horrific, truly horrific, enough to soften the heart of any isolationist. (Evidently, the images of babies mangled by US air strikes on Afghanistan and other countries were mild by comparison.)

Although the liberals tended to regard Trump’s intervention as commendable and compassionate, they felt apprehensive about what they saw as an absence of clear foreign policy guidelines. ‘At this stage, we really don’t know exactly what Trump’s policy on Syria is going to look like’, chided Clarissa Ward, CNN’s international correspondent. (CNN News, 10/4/17) To which Senator John McCain added: ‘I support what he did and support the bunker-buster bomb, but we’ve got to develop a strategy. There is still not an overall strategy.’ (NBC News, 16/4/17)

The lack of a strategy was not their only concern. No sooner had the dust from the missile strikes settled than the administration’s top officials issued conflicting messages. On the one hand, Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, insisted that that the US’s chief goal was to destroy ISIS and not to topple Bashar al-Assad. On the other, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, was adamant that Syrian regime change was the primary concern for the US.

Republicans and Democrats not only welcomed Haley’s intervention but also urged Trump to endorse it. Tillerson’s standpoint would open the way for greater co-operation with Russia, whereas Haley’s would make a confrontation with Russia inevitable, they argued. Summing up the mood in Congress, Josh Rogin of The Washington Post asked: ‘Are we going to pressure Assad and Russia or are we going to work with them? We cannot do both. The president hasn’t made a decision on that. Most Republicans in Congress agree with Nicky Haley. The question is who does Donald Trump agree with and we just don’t know?’ (CNN News, 10/4/17)

Despite the debate swirling around him, Trump avoided all mention of Russia. He was happy to condemn ‘bad dude’ Assad, but refused to distance himself from Putin.

As irksome as the liberals found Trump’s evasiveness, they were pleased with how matters were progressing. As they saw it, there now existed, within the White House itself, a vocal anti-nationalist grouping. In the words of Rogin:

‘I think it shows the trend towards the normalization of the foreign policy team and that the establishment team [as represented by Haley] are definitely ascendant, and that the nationalist people [as represented by Bannon] are definitely on the ropes.’

This did not mean that the battle was over, Rogin hastened to add. There would be many fights between the two groupings and sometimes the nationalists would win and sometimes the internationalists would. Yet despite the friction between them, the ‘normalization process’ would proceed apace. (CNN News, 10/4/17)

For many Democrats and Republicans, one of the positive aspects of the attack on Syria was that it demonstrated Trump’s willingness to adapt to the demands of his office. In an interview on NBC News on 16 April, McCain praised Trump for ‘growing in office’, and for listening to some ‘very wise people’ in the White House. We should not, therefore, be too critical of him for ‘trying to educate himself’ about world affairs. And then, after reiterating that Trump was ‘learning on the job’, he introduced a note of smug joviality into the interview:

Interviewer: You said Trump is growing in office. There are some who will say: ‘No, the Washington establishment has sucked him in’.

McCain: I hope so.

[Both burst forth in laughter]

A sizeable number of liberals shared common ground with McCain, though anxiety remained. According to David Horsey of The Los Angeles Times, the attack on Syria ‘clearly moved Trump away from Bannon and toward Haley’ but left unanswered the question of how far Trump was prepared to go in abandoning his nationalist entourage. The problem, Horsey lamented, is that ‘coherence’ is not something we can expect from the president. (10/4/2017)

Some liberals have given up on Trump altogether and look to Congress and the judiciary to uphold the US constitution. Others cling to the hope that the ‘internationalists’ in the White House will have a healthy influence on Trump and that the US will, in consequence, return to some sort of normality. The thought that the executive branch of government is in the hands of an irredeemable reactionary is too ghastly for them to contemplate. Trump, therefore, will continue to shock the liberals, not because he lacks ‘coherence’ (he has an abundance of right-wing coherence), but because he is implacably opposed to the system of ‘checks and balances’ that is built into the US constitution. Over the coming weeks, if not days, as he inflicts outrage after outrage on a befuddled Washington establishment, the liberals will again find themselves wallowing in a pit of bottomless despair.

Learning on the job

Trump has learnt valuable lessons while in office, but not in the manner of a mainstream US politician. First and foremost, he has learnt that the US constitution is not a reliable instrument for upholding US imperialist interests. To repeal and replace the Transatlantic Alliance, he will need to silence ‘fake journalists’, dismiss ‘so-called judges’ and cleanse Congress of its ‘disloyal members’. In a word, he will need to concentrate political power in his own hands, unmediated by the institutions of liberal democracy.[3]

The fact that Trump’s ‘America first’ agenda departs dramatically from mainstream US politics is of little concern to him. What concerns him are the limitations which the US constitution places on his conduct. It is one thing to pursue traditional right-wing Republican agendas, another to alter the form of organisation of the US state. Yet that is exactly what he will have to do if he is to uphold the interests of a US under threat from its imperialist rivals.

For the present, Trump has little choice but to work within the framework of existing political structures. His immediate goal is to preserve and consolidate his core base, without which he will find it impossible to strike out on a new course. There is thus method in his liturgy of lies and obfuscations. Each time his promises turn to dust, he blames the institutions of bourgeois democracy and those who work within them. What the liberals see as failures, he sees as so many opportunities for extolling the virtues of openly autocratic forms of bourgeois rule. I was unable to win in certain primaries because they were ‘rigged’. I lost the popular vote because illegal migrants skewed the election in Clinton’s favour. I could not hold the Muslim hoards at bay because the judiciary usurped my authority. I failed to build the Mexican wall – that great, big, beautiful wall – because Congress blocked me at every turn. Over the coming months, his string of excuses will grow longer, as his core base grows angrier, not with Trump himself, but with his opponents. It is from this base that he will rear and train an army of storm troopers.

Whether purposefully or unconsciously, Trump is clearing the path for the creation of a new mass-based political party, an ‘America first’ party, one which is committed to the ‘reform’ of the US constitution. Once formed, this party will set forth its agenda, unapologetically and without regard to bourgeois-democratic sensibilities. Whether Trump himself leads it is beside the point. Should he drown in the ‘Washington swamp’ of blessed memory, other hardier and more determined ‘nationalists’ will take his place.

Unable to distinguish between a political movement’s social base and the interests it serves, liberals single out for attention the rag-tag collection of ‘deplorables’ who have rallied to Trump’s cause. Some liberals have detected the presence of billionaires in the Trump camp, even acknowledged the existence of a split in the US ruling class, but go no further than the admission that economic recessions are breeding grounds for ‘political extremism’. None attributes Trump’s ascendancy to the crisis of global capitalism and the inter-imperialist rivalry it engenders.

In the epoch of imperialism, each capitalist power must devour the others or be devoured by them. This is one of the most important lessons to come out of the first half of the previous century. It is a lesson which is as relevant to the US today as it was to the Weimar Republic nearly a hundred years ago. Although we must take care when drawing historical parallels, we must never shy away from imperialist realities. Whereas a defeated and economically crushed Germany sought ways to reestablish its global dominance, the all-powerful but relatively declining US is seeking ways to maintain it.

The US finance capitalists have entered a phase of acute economic and political uncertainty. Having spent decades fashioning the post-WWII global order, they are now engaged in the messy and dangerous business of refashioning it. They will not complete their task overnight; nor will they act as one body, at least not in the immediate future. Like the great capitalists of Weimar days, they will remain cautious for a while, reluctant to disturb the system of alliances on which their profits depend. Ultimately, though, faced by an intensification of class struggles at home, and by the growing threat of ascendant imperialist powers, they will set aside their differences to combat the ‘common foe’, just as the Weimar capitalists did when they threw their considerable weight behind Hitler. The US finance capitalists will have no other choice if they are to pursue their anti-working class agenda and maintain their control over the lion’s share of the global loot. Trumpism represents a link in the chain that leads from bourgeois-democratic forms of rule to an overt dictatorship of the most reactionary kind.

Trump’s election victory signifies the triumph of one wing of US finance capital over the other. As the contradiction between these two wings intensifies, another, more fundamental contradiction will come to the fore – the contradiction between the workers and their allies on the one hand, and the finance capitalists and their lackeys on the other. In the not too distant future, as increasing numbers of finance capitalists unite behind Trump, the choice facing the US masses will be that between socialism and barbarism, and not that between liberal democracy and some vaguely defined authoritarianism. US liberalism, like its Weimar predecessor, is a spent force.

 2.The tasks of the US, EU and British workers

The US workersimages-1

The only force capable of achieving a decisive victory over Trump is the people, i.e., the proletariat and non-proletarian masses.[4] In building up a mass-based proletarian party, US socialists must avoid the temptation of either pandering to populism (as Sanders is doing) or seeking an alliance with the liberals (as the trade union barons are doing). Under no circumstances must socialists play down or turn a blind eye to the bigotry that permeates US society. Nor must they defend the institutions of bourgeois rule, whether fashioned by imperialist ‘internationalists’ or imperialist ‘nationalists’.

The best way for US socialists to make sense of Trump’s apparently unhinged behaviour is to recognise that the US ruling class is divided into two hostile factions. One faction, still dominant, still deeply entrenched, wishes to maintain the post-war global order, while the other wishes to overturn it. Trump represents the latter faction. And although he frequently maneuvers between the two, we must never lose sight of the direction in which he is heading or the interests which he serves.

A political crisis has erupted in the US because one faction of the ruling class believes that Trumpism offers the best hope of combatting a resurgent and united Europe. In a situation such as this, the workers must unite both to exploit the divisions in the ruling class and to combat the ruling class in its entirety. This will not be easy and the workers must be ready to learn from their mistakes. Maintaining an independent class line in a period of ever-deepening intra– and inter-imperialist clashes will test the US workers’ independent outlook to the limit.[5]

The European workers

The European proletariat faces an equally pressing though more challenging task. Unlike the US, the EU is an evolving imperialist power, a power which is still in the process of formation.

From the start of the post-WWII reconstruction period, the European imperialists set themselves the task of creating a European-wide bureaucratic-military state machine. Their objective was three-fold: to suppress revolutionary struggles at home, to intensify the super-exploitation of the Third World, and, ultimately, to ‘grab everything’ (to use Lenin’s memorable phrase) from the US.

The EU is more than just a bloc or coalition of imperialist states. It is a new imperialist power in the making, notwithstanding the fact that global capitalism has entered its decaying phase.[6] In this situation, European socialists must bend all their efforts towards creating an all-European communist party, one which is powerful and resilient enough to lead the European proletariat to victory. Marx and Engels’ summing up of the lessons of the Paris Commune is most instructive in this regard. While giving wholehearted support to the Commune, they criticised it for having left the Bank of Paris, the nerve-centre of the French economy, in the hands of anti-proletarian forces, and for having failed ‘to march on Versailles’, the seat of the counter-revolutionary government. Applying these lessons to modern-day European struggles, and bearing in mind the vastly changed circumstances in which these struggles are taking place, we may say, in the language of analogy: the European proletariat must prepare for the day when it seizes the European Central Bank and marches on Brussels.

The formation of an all-European communist party will not diminish the importance of local European struggles. On the contrary, it will infuse them with added confidence and strength. Given the uneven development of the EU, workers who bear the brunt of economic integration (the Greek workers immediately spring to mind here) will inevitably play a vanguard role in the struggle for an all-European Commune. A proletarian upsurge in an individual EU country, unless backed by a European-wide revolutionary movement, will succumb to the united forces of European reaction. Appeals for European ‘solidarity’ which lack a solid organisational foundation will prove to be inadequate.

Many socialist have difficulty in accepting that an all-European imperialist state is taking shape. Some deny that such a state will ever come into being. Strangely enough, they cite as proof of their position Lenin’s statement that ‘a United States of Europe, under capitalism, is either impossible or reactionary’. (Vol 21, p340).[7]

When Lenin wrote the above, he took care to explain that the Great European Powers – Britain, France, Russia and Germany – would never be able to distribute the global loot among themselves equitably, not while each was armed to the teeth as a robber nation. Hence his conclusion that European economic integration was impossible and that a United States of Europe could exist only as a ‘temporary agreement’. (Vol 23, pp340-4) His conclusion, like those of the other revolutionary Marxists of his day, was incontestable. Since then conditions have changed.

The complete destruction of Europe’s military establishments during WWII not only enabled the US to build a war machine of unparalleled power and sweep, but also provided the European imperialists with the opportunity to take steps to reconstitute themselves as one large robber nation. As the European imperialists well knew, a bloc of separate European states, however closely aligned, would enable the US to use its divide-and-rule tactics to its singular advantage.

 

Exactly what steps European socialists should take to form an all-European communist party will be determined by the European socialists themselves. But whatever steps they take, they must never refrain from challenging the anti-militarist posturing of Europe’s liberals. In a speech criticising Trump and Le Pen, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, stated:

‘It is no coincidence that very often those who question liberal democracy are the same ones who call for the break-up of the European Union. It is not surprising, since the Union is not only a political organisation which restricts national egoisms and eliminates violence as a basis for relations between countries, it is also a unique territory of freedom.’ (Council of the European Union, 13/10/2016)

Rather than make the slightest concession to liberal ideology, European socialists must explain that the EU is a beacon of war and not of peace. The creation of an all-European state, far from bringing harmony and prosperity to the world, will enshrine violence as the chief means of resolving international disputes. How else can a rising imperialist power assert its domination over a declining one? [8]

Just as US socialists must challenge the lies spewed forth by their homegrown Tusks and Le Pens, the European socialists must do likewise. Without this joint ideological offensive, Transatlantic proletarian solidarity will be impossible to achieve.

The British workers

The British workers face the most difficult task of all. In contrast to the US and EU, Britain is approaching the end of its life as a geopolitical entity. What we are witnessing is not so much the unfolding of a ruling class split, as the process of ruling class disintegration.

The reason why the British ruling class is caught up in a self-destructive schism is not far to seek. Although inordinately powerful financially, the British imperialists lack an industrial base from which to sustain their predatory operations abroad. The growth of their stupendously large financial institutions has not only accelerated Britain’s industrial decline but also made the country exceedingly vulnerable to global crises. Caught between the EU and US, but incapable of maintaining an independent position, the British imperialists are at one another’s throats over the question of where their ‘true’ interests lie. This conflict will leave the UK in tatters, with Scotland (and possibly Wales and Northern Ireland) joining the EU, and England forging a fascistic bloc with the US.[9]

To exploit the impasse in which the British ruling class finds itself, British socialists must fulfil three inter-related tasks. First and foremost, they must oppose all nationalisms, other than the nationalism of the oppressed. Lamentably, though not surprisingly, not a single British socialist group exposed the true nature of the EU membership referendum. The wording on the ballot read: ‘Should the United Kingdom [i.e., Britain and Northern Ireland] remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’ Socialists who failed to denounce the essentially colonialist character of this referendum gave legitimacy to the idea that the British have the right to vote on behalf of the Irish. Only a free and united Ireland can decide whether to join the EU.

Equally vehemently, British socialists must oppose the break-up of Britain. The fragmentation of the British working-class – a class whose radical elements have remained united in all major struggles – will serve the interests of imperialism. Under no circumstances must British socialists take sides in any intra- or inter-imperialist disputes. Yet that is precisely what they did when they called for a ‘Yes’ vote in the Scottish independence referendum.

In addition to spurning nationalism, British socialists must play an active role in promoting the formation of an all-European communist party. They must not allow the squabbling factions of the British ruling class to determine where the British proletariat’s destiny lies. Rather they must use elections and referendums, especially those concerning Britain’s place in the world, as an opportunity a) to raise awareness about Ireland’s oppressed condition, b) to expose the true nature of the split in the British ruling class, and c) to organize joint European-British discussions for forming an all-European communist party, one which embraces both Europe and Britain. These are the tasks which British socialists must strive to fulfill, regardless of whether the British imperialists leave or remain in the EU.

 

This does not mean that the creation of a Workers’ International is of secondary importance, or that the workers of the west will play the leading role in creating it. I have laid stress on the US, EU and Britain because developments in each are indissolubly linked to developments in the others. Around these three regions the defenders of imperialism – ‘nationalists’ and ‘internationalists’ alike – are weaving a common web of lies. The only way in which socialists can brush this web aside is by giving a clear account of the split in the US ruling class, the unification of Europe and the break-up of Britain.

[1] ‘… the US has for decades been very adept at playing off one European nation against the other in trade, in investments, and in security matters. The vulnerability of individual countries is one of the strong reasons for accelerated integration within the EC.’ (Review by Gerald Sullivan of William Nester’s European Power and the Japanese Challenge (NYUP, 1993), in The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol 54 No 2, 1995, p568.

[2] Whether Trump conducts his alliance building efforts openly or furtively is not of special interest to socialists. All imperialist representatives are shadowy figures; all conspire behind the backs of the people. During the days of Apartheid, successive US administrations, both Democratic and Republican, struck secret deals with the white autocracy, not to mention scores of other autocracies. Socialists condemn all secret deals, from whichever camp they emanate.

[3] Adam Schiff, member of the House Intelligence Committee investigating Trump’s ties to Moscow, expressed the concern of many mainstream politicians when he declared, ‘The stakes are nothing less than the future of our democracy, and of liberal democracy.’ (The Observer, 21/3/2017) As was to be expected, he said nothing about the class content of ‘liberal democracy’. In a society where the masses are at liberty to work or starve, any talk of ‘non-class democracy’ is fraudulent, a mere deception. Lenin got to the heart of the matter when, unmasking the true nature of democracy under capitalism, he niftily posed the following set of questions: ‘Liberty for whom? Liberty from whom? Liberty from what? Liberty in what?’ (Volume 30, p99)

[4] ‘The dictatorship of the proletariat is a specific form of class alliance between the proletariat, the vanguard of the working people, and the numerous non-proletarian strata of the working people (petty bourgeoisie, small proprietors, the peasantry, the intelligentsia, etc.), or the majority of these strata, an alliance against capital, an alliance whose aim is the complete overthrow of capital, complete suppression of the resistance offered by the bourgeoisie as well of attempts at restoration on its part, an alliance for the final establishment and consolidation of socialism.’ (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol 29, p381)

[5] Exactly what tactics socialists should adopt during periods of presidential and congressional elections is an issue which lies well beyond the scope of this paper. Suffice it to state that Marx’s post-1848 writings about the treacherous nature of German liberalism, together with Lenin’s post-1905 writings about the treacherous nature of Russian liberalism, are very much relevant to the current debate about the meaning of proletarian independence.

[6] ‘It should not be forgotten that the nation-state is more than just a sovereign body; it is an integrated one. … This is precisely why the Europeans are so busily engaged in constructing all the apparatus of a nation-state at the European level, including a pan-European military capacity. Simply controlling money or trade … is no way to run a society. The EEC is not “another” international institution like the WTO; it is an exercise in constructing a new nation-state with an integrated capability to make laws, execute them and enforce them.’ (‘World Empire – or a World of Empires?’, by Alan Freeman and Boris Kagarlitsky, in The Politics of Empire, edited by Alan Freeman and Boris Kagarlitsky, Pluto Press, 2004, p15)

[7] These socialists conveniently ignore the question of why Lenin used the conjunction ‘or’.

[8] Tusk gave the game away when, in a direct rebuke to Trump, he sounded the following warning: ‘We should use the change in the trade strategy of the US to the EU’s advantage by intensifying our … role as a trade superpower … We should remind our American friends of their own motto: United we stand, divided we fall.’ (Council of the European Union, 31/1/2017)

[9] In their own hazy manner, leading British politicians are aware of the impact that inter-imperialist rivalry is having on Britain. According to John Redwood, an outspoken Tory Eurosceptic: ‘The EU is distancing itself more and more from the USA, and finding more and more issues where it can disagree. … No good will come of the growing disagreements between the EU and the USA. The UK will be more and more exposed, the more her two main allies and trading partners fall out.’ (The Bruges Group, 3/3/2002) In keeping with his anti-EU outlook, he went on to advocate closer ties between Britain and the US.

 

 

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