#J20 and the future of communism
“I can’t help but feel like the left is once again rudderless and adrift, as it was during the Bush years.” —@
The message from yesterday is that Trump is likely going down as the most unpopular president in history. We’re talking Hollande levels of disapproval among voters. Everyone who didn’t support him hates him. And his base is skeptical of his ability to deliver on his promises.
The Democrats are the natural beneficiaries of Trump’s likely disaster; they proved this beyond all possibility of dispute by mobilizing 2 to 3 million marchers yesterday according to media estimates I have read. There is no third force to challenge the complete hegemony of the Democrats within the opposition to Trump and communists don’t matter politically.
However, the opposition to Trump is itself challenged by certain economic realities that most of the people mobilized by the Democrats do not recognize. Let me list them:
1. Trump is the answer to the Democrats’ question
First, that Trump represents the sort of activist state the Democrat Party base actually wants; a state completely devoted to a high level of economic growth that can alone create jobs on the scale Democrat activists think is required right now. This is a state that will deregulate capital, eliminate environmental protections, cut taxes, reduce labor costs, end immigration and practice trade protectionism all for the declared goal of putting people back to work. Against this declared aim of the Trump administration are the Democrats, the party of continued economic stagnation and relatively high unemployment.
Few at the march yesterday, beyond the Democrat elite, is satisfied with the performance of the economy under Obama these last eight years. Trump has promised a rate of economic growth that is unprecedented in the past forty years. To realize his promise, Trump has simply opened up the standard neoclassical policy playbook and bet his administration’s success on implementing all of their fallacies. Protectionism, deregulation, lower wages, lower taxes and anti-immigration barriers are not innovations Trump brings to the policy table but standard fare.
Thus the marchers yesterday marched straight into a dead end: to get rid of the Trump administration is to get rid of the only administration in years explicitly devoted to a high rate of economic growth. As bizarre as it seems, the opposition to Trump is in large part motivated by the fact this opposition is now repulsed by its own desire: once the Democrat base was actually confronted with the reality of what it takes to meet its economic demands, they are horrified and frightened for the future of humanity.
In four years the Democrat base will be forced to choose between a Democrat return to persistent economic stagnation or Trump’s apocalypse. Neither of these choices are comfortable or viable. The real problem here is not Trump nor the Democrats per se, but the fact that no one in the United States or Europe has any idea how to promote high employment growth without sacrificing the environment, wages and labor protections. Trump is not being irrational, he is simply trying to answer a rather widespread demand for a higher rate of growth, a demand from, in first place, the Democrat base.
2. You can’t have economic growth without impoverishing the working class
Second, there is in fact no way for the fascist state to achieve the sort of high rate of economic growth promised by Trump without eviscerating environmental and labor protections. The common assumption is that we can have a high rate of economic growth, with strong protection of the environment and labor. I challenge that assumption. Economic growth requires production of surplus value, production of a social product that is totally superfluous to the needs of society. If there was a way to achieve this sort of rapid economic growth without sacrificing labor and the environment, the Democrats would have discovered it long before now.
Unlike most on the Left, I don’t flatter myself that I am smarter than the people who have been managing the capitalist mode of production for the past 80 years; which means we can now either have rapid economic growth or we can have strong protections for labor and the environment, but we cannot both.
When faced with this sort of conundrum, it usually pays to find another path.
3. Communist need to finally elaborate an alternative
This brings me to my third point: if communists know society eventually is going to be confronted with a lose-lose choice between having a job and having effective labor protections, how do we avoid falling for this false choice?
The choice as it stands now basically comes down to a choice between Trump and the Democrat nominee in 2020 — growth without labor protections versus no growth.
Communists, who of course have no influence over events at all, should be focusing their attention on developing an alternative to the false choice between GOP and Democrat. For all their insistent that such an alternative is possible, communists have never actually elaborated an alternative economic strategy that is not premised on rapid economic growth, i.e., on intensifying the production of surplus value. Because of this, they have never elaborated a political strategy that did not require even more state intervention in the economy than the fascists already practice.
Here is the problem with this political strategy: Although you would never know this by reading communist literature, we are not living in 1917 Russia nor in 1949 China. Which is to say, we don’t have to industrialize the United States, introduce electricity, nor absorb a massive peasantry into modern production. There is absolutely no reason for the sort of state led industrialization those two countries had to pass through to modernize themselves.
4. Wake up, this ain’t 1917
Communists need to get their faces out of books written by Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Deng and join the rest of U.S. society in the 21st century. If they join the rest of us, they will soon discover the problem we face is not how to promote rapid economic growth, but how to absorb an incredibly huge mass of unemployed workers who today are superfluous to production. You cannot fix this problem by more economic growth, i.e., by increasing the production of surplus value — it just won’t work. Communists need to elaborate a realistic program for absorbing this huge mass of people into productive employment without promoting economic growth or accepting the evisceration of labor and environmental protections.
No one is doing this today. Everyone talks about offering an alternative, of course, but they keep turning back to dead models based on rapid industrial development. This is unacceptable. Really folks, if the most pressing problem we faced today was how to deal with the Kulaks, Lenin’s writings after 1917 would be relevant. However, there are no Kulaks in the United States. Lenin writings have no relevance at all to our present economic situation.
The problem we face is how to employ anywhere from 20 million to 100 million workers who are locked out of employment and dependent on state handouts and charity. This is the central question of our time and the problem both big parties are grappling with ineptly. Do you really think you can grow your way out of 20 to 100 million workers unemployed today? If so, please advise us how to do this.
If you cannot, we need to search for a realistic alternative to the economic growth model. And we need to do this quickly. Workers in the rust belt are desperate and entertaining dangerous ideas that cannot be combated by heroic antifa methods.
We need realistic alternatives; the working class must sell its labor power to eat and will turn to any sleazebag who promises to make this possible.