Trump’s victory: Why it may be much worse than you think
Why did Trump win?
This is the question a number of writers from all points on the political spectrum have been trying to answer since the presidential election. Some have sought the answer in demographics. Others in issues peculiar to the rust belt regions of the United States. Still others in the language of identity politics; a triumph of racism, misogyny homophobia, etc. There are those who have even broached the long ignored problem of the criminal behavior of the Clinton Cartel and the tin-ear of corporate Democrats to the party’s base.
Each of these explanations has a certain ring of truth. All who hold to one or another of these explanations can point to valid empirical evidence (especially polling) to support their claims.
However, to really answer the question in any meaningful fashion requires something more than a list of real or imagined defects of the usual suspects involved. It requires a comprehensive hypothesis of the present moment: a task that is no easy undertaking.
A hypothesis is useful because it attempts to account for what we are observing and link our observations to forces we cannot observe. The best hypotheses reveal hidden connections between things we previously believed to be unrelated or demonstrate that things we previously believed were related are not related after all — although on the surface they appear to be the same.
Take, for instance, the following hypothesis currently being flogged by a writer with an impeccable background — a British spy and diplomat — Allistair Crooke. His view relies mostly on extensive quotes from another writer by the name of Raul Ilargi Meijer. Meijer makes the argument that Trump’s election expresses the end of the era of growth, globalization and centralization:
“Tons of smart and less smart folks are breaking their heads over where Trump and Brexit and Le Pen and all these ‘new’ and scary things and people and parties originate, and they come up with little but shaky theories about how it’s all about older people, and poorer and racist and bigoted people, stupid people, people who never voted, you name it.
“But nobody seems to really know or understand. Which is odd, because it’s not that hard. That is, this all happens because growth is over. And if growth is over, so are expansion and centralization in all the myriad of shapes and forms they come in.”
Further, Meijer writes: “Global is gone as a main driving force, pan-European is gone, and whether the United States will stay united is far from a done deal. We are moving towards a mass movement of dozens of separate countries and states and societies looking inward. All of which are in some form of -impending- trouble or another.
“What makes the entire situation so hard to grasp for everyone is that nobody wants to acknowledge any of this. Even though tales of often bitter poverty emanate from all the exact same places that Trump and Brexit and Le Pen come from too.
“That the politico-econo-media machine churns out positive growth messages 24/7 goes some way towards explaining the lack of acknowledgement and self-reflection, but only some way. The rest is due to who we ourselves are. We think we deserve eternal growth.”
Meijer’s hypothesis likely can be restated the following way: The world economy is no longer growing. Capitalism, however, requires growth to prevent it being blown apart by the force of its inherent contradictions. If growth has halted, the expansion and centralization of the productive forces comes to an end. With the end of growth, the centrifugal forces of disintegration are freely expressed, leading to the collapse of global institutions and states. We are not yet aware that this new normal has emerged in large part because we have been deluding ourselves that economic growth is the natural state of society.
Let me offer an alternative hypothesis to explain what we are witnessing in American politics. This hypothesis rests on three premises:
First, I want to propose that neoliberalism is the crisis of the fascist state. In my definition, the most important feature of fascism is bourgeois state management of the national economy to increase accumulation. The crisis of fascism, further defined here as neoliberalism, simply means the bourgeois state progressively loses its capacity to manage its national economy for the purpose of increasing the accumulation of its national capital.
Second, I also propose this crisis is not an accident, but the expression of the inherent dynamic of the capitalist mode of production, which results in ever increasing concentration and centralization of capital in fewer hands at one pole and the emergence of a surplus population of workers at the other pole.
Finally, I propose that the inherent dynamic of the mode of production toward ever greater concentration and centralization of capital does not halt at national frontiers. The dynamic is thus expressed within the world market as the concentration not just of capitalist wealth, but also political and economic power in the hands of a single state, side by side with the loss of sovereignty of many states.
Of course, most people do not actually believe the state today is fascist. They think fascism was some aberrant European political movement that emerged out of the Great Depression and defeated by “the democracies” in the 1940s. I understand this view, but humor me for a minute.
Suppose fascism wasn’t just an aberration ‘the democracies’ killed off in the 1940s. Suppose, instead, just a variant of fascism — the Axis powers — were killed off by another variant of fascism, which we euphemistically call ‘the democracies’. In this hypothesis, fascism triumphed everywhere in the world market during the Great Depression and one variety or flavor of fascism went to war with another, resulting in the deaths of 100 million people.
(Yes, I know this is not the history you learned in the university, and I know your professors would never lie to you, but still — humor me. I am only making a hypothetical argument.)
Fast forward to the end of the war and the US variety of fascism took all of the marbles on the table. The only real surviving fascist state was the US fascist state; all the rest were basically reduced to the status of client states. No matter what you think about the UK, Germany, France, etc., they are dependent client states of the US — and basically everyone knows this is true, although we prefer to pretend our ‘allies’ are equals.
In any case, only one real fascist state emerged from the catastrophe we call World War II — the US.
This implies the crisis of fascism, what we call neoliberalism, should be distinguished by whether we are examining events in the United States or in the UK, Brazil, Zimbabwe or Greece. The loss of capacity to manage the national economies of the UK, Brazil, Zimbabwe or Greece — a process we call neoliberalism — has, in the United States, an altogether different impact: the capacity of the US to control the world economy is enhanced.
Events in both the UK and US are indeed expressions of neoliberalism, but they are the opposite poles of the same process.
Now, why might this be important?
It is important because it suggests what we call ‘neoliberalism’ doesn’t mean the same thing everywhere. For example, in Greece neoliberalism means the loss of all capacity to manage Greece national capital through Keynesian economic policy. This loss of capacity appears to be the consequences of joining the euro in 2000. But is it? Does Nigeria or Brazil have any more control over their respective national capitals than Greece? What about Venezuela? Mozambique? Zimbabwe? If fact, the loss of control by states over their national economies is not just true for these third rate countries. It is also true for China, Russia, Germany, etc.
China for instance has more control over its national capital than Zimbabwe of course, but this is just a matter of degree. Moreover, the situation is not static: with each passing day every country but the United States loses a little more of its ability to control its economy. Over time national governments will have loss so much of their control over their national capitals that, eventually, they will have no more ability to control their economy than the government of a typical mid-size American city.
Imagine a country that doesn’t control its borders, banks, employment, wages, investment, interest rates, fiscal or monetary policy: This is already the reality for a large number of countries today and that number is increasing. And, mind you, this isn’t because these countries are in any sense colonies of the United States, as might have been the case in the late 19th century, but simply the result of the development of capitalist production.
Capital not only concentrates wealth, it concentrates the political power wealth implies; there is no law that states this concentration halts at national borders. People commonly assume it does but no one has ever demonstrated this to be true. Moreover, capital doesn’t just strip entire countries of their capacity to manage their own economies, it effectively concentrates this control in a single country, the US — the sovereignty of most countries is reduced to a mere formality on paper.
Thus while capitalism kills many fascist states, it actually intensifies and globalizes American fascism.
So picture what this tells us about what we have been witnessing for the last 40 years: we have watched as states have increasingly lost the capacity to manage their economies at one pole of the world market, while the US has become increasingly powerful at the other pole — expressed, most evidently, in its sheer military might.
Let me argue that this is no accident, nor are we just imagining it. If Marx was correct in his analysis of the results of the development of the capitalist mode of production, it is possible the normal operation of the mode of production is concentrating world capital in Washington’s hands, and with this economic and military power. If capitalism requires growth even as it requires the nation state be stripped of its sovereignty, this implies the inevitable conversion of other nation states into mere instrument of US policy.
I think this should set off alarm bells among the working class everywhere, and in first place the working class of the United States.
This ‘hypothetical’ argument suggests that working people of the United States are not just fighting Washington; they are literally engaged in a political struggle against the entire world market. Our class enemy, headquartered in Washington, is effectively the concentrated expression of the entire mode of production bound up with the world market. We are fighting an enemy who, (if modern money theory is correct about how the American dollar system works), literally has no budgetary constraints; and who can, therefore, afford to throw almost unlimited resources into its class war against the working class.
Let that just sink in for a minute.
This has consequences for political events in the US that may not at first be evident.
For one thing, the struggle in Brazil, Zimbabwe or Greece against the loss of national sovereignty and the loss of capacity of those countries to manage their national economies, finds its expression in the United States as well in the election of Donald Trump. This has caused some people to assert a connection between UKIP, FN, AfD — and, however tenuously, to SYRIZA and Podemos. It is said people everywhere are struggling against globalization and the loss of national sovereignty they are experiencing.
Indeed, these movements, whether on the Right or the Left, have in common that it involves masses of working class voters who are attempting to seal themselves off from the competitive pressures of the world market and the impact these pressures are having on wages and living conditions. However, these movements are doomed at the outset, a fact so obvious for labor theory I need not even demonstrate this. These working classes of the countries have no choice but to succumb to the world market precisely because the world market is the product of their own activity.
At the same time, I want to insist that what is true for Brazil, Zimbabwe or Greece does not hold for the United States; and what is true for UKIP, FN, AfD (and also SYRIZA and Podemos) is not true for Trump.
To give an extreme example: SYRIZA entered government last year to find it had absolutely no control over its economy. Trump, by contrast, enters government to find the United States remains firmly in control not only of its own national capital, but the economies of many other nations and all the strategically important positions of power in the world market.
Even if we completely disregarded the purely superficial differences in historical development and political views between SYRIZA and Trump, they could not be less similar. SYRIZA has far more in common with UKIP than UKIP has with Trump. Politically, people routinely classify UKIP with Trump and even UKIP and Trump call his election, “The American Brexit.” Don’t believe it. UKIP is a response to the UK’s loss of national sovereignty, much like SYRIZA is for Greece; no such loss of national sovereignty has occurred in the United States and each day its capacity to manage the world economy increases.
If despite Washington’s obvious increasingly dominant position over the world economy for the last 40 years, the working class in the United States also senses a loss of control it tends to explain as a loss of national sovereignty – expressed most clearly in its hostility to free trade and to immigrants – this loss is not the expression of an actual loss of US sovereignty. Rather, it expresses the contradictory impact growing US dominance of the world market has had on the relations between the two classes domestically.
The American working class finds itself increasingly not only in direct confrontation with its ‘own’ capitalists, but also the capitalists of the entire world market.
The working class’s response to this is understandable: it seeks, like any other social group, to seal off its home market from its competitors within the world market. As in the long history of the United States working class, this has taken predictable forms of anti-black and anti-immigrant hostility. To protect its own economic position, a portion of the working class — especially the historically most well off section — wants to lock out competitors for the sale of labor power.
This divisions in the working class traces its roots back to the Civil War, the black codes and the founding of the GOP. The GOP was itself an amalgamation of reprehensible anti-Irish nativism, and the Democrats erected barriers to free black labor. These two strands of sentiments have been with the American working class from the beginning. It is no surprise they have grown alongside the crisis as the strength of the capitalists relative to the working class has increased.
This implies a very unsettling dynamic: as capital concentrates ever more wealth, economic and political might in Washington’s hands, the power of the capitalist class relative to the working class increases; and with this, the divisions within the working class become ever more pronounced.
How do you fight a class enemy that is drawing on the surplus labor of billions of workers beyond the borders of the United States? Not only do we not have a plan for this sort of fight, most people are mercifully oblivious of the odds against them. The truth is most Bernie-bots would fold their tents and desert to the other side if they had even an inkling of the odds against us in this conflict. Fortunately for the rest of us, most self-identified radicals on the Left reject historical materialism and have never actually made this pessimistic analysis. But you folks who have made this sort of analysis probably realize we are in deep deep shit right now.
No working class in the history of capitalism faces the odds against it the US working class faces right now; they cannot win within the limits of American politics.