The Trump administration had already caused a series of humiliating but lethal fiascos for the US bourgeoisie – not least by actively worsening the Covid pandemic 2020 - but there was always hope among the saner factions of the American ruling class that having an incompetent narcissist in supreme power was only a passing nightmare, from which they would soon awake. But the electoral victory of the Democratic Party wasn’t the landslide that was hoped for – either for the new administration of Joe Biden or for the new Congress.
Worse still, a televised riot took place in the Capitol, the sacred venue of US democracy, incited by the outgoing head of state who rejected the official, validated, results of the presidential election! A mob attempted to violently prevent the democratic succession, encouraged by the sitting president himself – as in a banana republic as George W Bush recognised. Truly it is a politically defining moment in the decomposition of world capitalism. The populist self-harming of the UK through Brexit may look merely absurd to other countries, because Britain is a secondary power, but the threat of instability represented by the insurrection on Capitol Hill of the US has caused shock and fear throughout the international bourgeoisie.
The subsequent attempt to impeach Trump for a second time may well fail again, and in any case it will galvanise the millions of his supporters in the population, including a large part of the Republican party.
The inauguration of the new President on January 20th, usually an occasion for a show of national unity and reconciliation, won’t be: Trump will not attend, contrary to the custom with outgoing presidents, and Washington DC will be under military lockdown to prevent further armed resistance from Trump supporters. The perspective then is not the smooth, long term re-establishment of traditional democratic order and ideology by a Biden administration, but an accentuation - of an increasingly violent nature – of the divisions between classical bourgeois democracy and populism, the latter not disappearing with the end of the Trump regime.
The US – from the world‘s biggest superpower to the epicentre of decomposition
Since 1945 US democracy has been the flagship of world capitalism. Having played a decisive role in the Allied victory in World War II, and making a major contribution to reducing Europe and Japan to ruins, it was then able to drag the world out of the rubble and reconstruct it in its own image during the Cold War. In 1989, with the defeat and disintegration of the rival totalitarian Russian bloc, the US seemed to be at the apex of its global dominance and prestige. George Bush Snr announced the coming of a New World Order after the collapse of the Russian bloc in 1989. Washington thought it could maintain its supremacy by preventing any new power emerging as a serious contender for its world leadership. But instead, the assertion of its military superiority has accelerated a world disorder with a series of pyrrhic victories (Kuwait, the Balkans in the 1990s) and expensive foreign policy failures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. The US has increasingly undermined the alliances on which its former world leadership rested and this has encouraged other powers to act on their own account.
Moreover US power and wealth has been unable to attenuate the increasing convulsions of the world economy: the spark of the 2008 crisis emanated from Wall Street and engulfed the US and the world in the most serious downturn since the open crisis re-emerged in 1967.
The social and political consequences of these US reverses, and the absence of alternatives, is that the divisions and disarray in the bourgeois state, and in the population generally, has been increased, leading to the growing discredit of the established political norms of the US democratic political system.
The previous presidencies of Bush and Obama failed to forge a lasting consensus for the traditional democratic order among the population as a whole. Trump’s ‘solution’ to this problem was not to resolve this disunity but to accentuate it even more with a raucous and incoherent policy of vandalism that further shredded the political consensus domestically and ripped up military and economic agreements with its former allies on the world stage. All this was done under the banner of ‘America First’ - but in reality it served to increase the USA‘s loss of status.
In a word, the ongoing political crisis of US democracy, symbolised by the storming of the Capitol, complements the chaotic and self-destructive consequences of US imperialist policy and makes it clearer that the still-strongest world power is at the centre of, and the major player in, the decomposition of world capitalism at all levels.
China can’t fill the vacuum
China, despite its increasing economic and military power, won’t be able fill the vacuum of world leadership created by the disorientation of the US. Not least because the latter is still capable of and determined to prevent the growth of Chinese influence as a major objective with or without Trump. For example one of the plans of the Biden Administration will be to step up this anti-China policy with the formation of a D10, an alliance of the democratic powers (the G7 plus South Korea, India, and Australia). The role this will play in the worsening of imperialist tensions need hardly be explained.
But these tensions cannot be channeled into the formation of new blocs for obvious reasons. The worsening decomposition of capitalism makes the possibility of a generalised world war increasingly unlikely.
The dangers for the working class
In 1989 we predicted that the new period of the decomposition of capitalism would bring increased difficulties for the proletariat.
The recent events in the US vindicate this prediction again.
The most important of these in relation to the present US situation is the danger that sections of the working class will be mobilised behind the increasingly violent contests of the opposing factions of the bourgeoisie, ie, not just on the electoral terrain but in the streets. Parts of the working class can be misled into choosing between populism and the defence of democracy, the two false alternatives offered by capitalist exploitation.
Connected to this is the fact that in the present situation other layers of the non-exploiting population are increasingly propelled into political action by a whole series of factors: the effects of the economic crisis, the worsening of the ecological catastrophe, the strengthening of state repression and its racist nature, which leads them to act as a conduit for bourgeois campaigns such as the Black Lives Matter movement, or as a medium for inter-classist struggles.
Nevertheless the working class internationally in the period of decomposition has not been defeated as in the manner of the 1930s. Its reserves of combativity remain intact and the further economic attacks on its living standards that are coming - which will include the bill for the economic damage done by the Covid pandemic - will oblige the proletariat to respond on its class terrain.
The challenge for revolutionary organisations
The revolutionary organisation has a limited but very important role to play in the current situation because, while it has little influence yet, and even for a lengthy period to come, the situation of the working class as a whole is nevertheless bringing a small minority to revolutionary class positions, notably in the US itself.
The successful work of transmission to this minority rests on a number of needs. Significant in the present context is the combination, on the one hand, of a long term programmatic rigour and clarity, linked on the other hand to the ability of the organisation to have a coherent, developing analysis of the entire world situation: its historical setting and perspectives.
The world situation over the past year has increasingly broken new records in the putrefaction of world capitalism - the covid pandemic, the economic crisis, the political crisis in the US, the ecological catastrophe, the plight of refugees, the destitution of ever-larger parts of the world population. The dynamic of chaos is speeding up and becoming more unpredictable, offering new, more frequent challenges to our analyses and requiring an ability to change and adapt them according to this acceleration without forgetting our fundamentals.