ICC public forum, London 15 April: The Trump election and the crumbling of capitalist world order

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ICC public forum, London 15 April: The Trump election and the crumbling of capitalist world order
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International Communist Current Public Forum
The Trump election and the crumbling of capitalist world order

“In the face of this decline, and also of growing class, racial, religious and ethnic divisions, Trump wants to unite the capitalist nation behind its ruling class in the name of a new Americanism. The United States, according to Trump, has become the main victim of the rest of the world. He claims that, while the US has been exhausting itself and its resources maintaining world order, all the rest have been profiting from this order at the expense of “God’s own country”. The Trumpistas are thinking here not only of the Europeans or the East Asians who have been flooding the American market with their products. One of the main “exploiters” of the United States, according to Trump, is Mexico, which he accuses of exporting its surplus population into the American social welfare system, while at the same time developing its own industry to such an extent that its automobile production is overtaking that of its northern neighbour.
This amounts to a new and virulent form of nationalism, reminiscent of “underdog” German nationalism after World War I and the Treaty of Versailles. The orientation of this form of nationalism is no longer to justify the imposing of a world order by America. Its orientation is to itself put in question the existing world order”


Date: Saturday 15 April 2017, 2pm-6pm
Place: Lucas Arms, 245A Grays Inn Rd, Kings Cross, London WC1X 8QY

The ICC will begin the meeting with a presentation based on two recent articles: a more general one on the question of populism https://en.internationalism.org/international-review/201608/14086/questi..., and the article analysing the Trump election which we quote from above: https://en.internationalism.org/international-review/201702/14255/trump-...
After that – plenty to discuss. All welcome.



Obviously the discussion will try to take in the latest developments in Syria, and the problem of war in this period, and the problem of the period.....

Here are a few quick points

Here are a few quick points on Trump, mainly in respect of US imperialism, as a contribution to the discussion on Saturday which I am unable to attend:

I think that the main point is to insist on the stability (unless proven against) of the overall analysis rather than twist and turn which would very easy to do in the present situation. Those elements  I would say are the collapsing economy, the period of decomposition and all that that brings, the strengthening of centrifugal tendencies  and the historical weakening of the US and its significance for the weakening of capitalism overall.

One of the contradictions of Trump's election, that wasn't at all clear how it would play out, was that between the constituency of Trump's electoral base and the needs of the state; i.e., would, on the basis of his "mandate", Trump hold the Republican Party to ransom or would the needs of the Republican Party as a strong element of the state (however fractured it was) prevail? I think that it may be too early to answer this but at the moment it appears that a certain "realism" has pervaded the Trump camp to the point that some of his closest advisors are now Goldman Sachs democrats. Obama care changes have been kicked into touch, the Mexican wall is pending, unresolved and the continuities with the Obama administration are much stronger than one would have thought a couple of months ago.

Much was made in the media about the coming "isolationism" of the Trump regime. Isolationism was mixed-up with protectionism which is not at all the same thing. Protectionism remains a powerful if risky weapon to use for the world's biggest economy. But "Making America Great Again" directly goes against any isolationist bent. The content of Trump's pitch in this respect wasn't a withdrawal behind borders but greater and more active intervention of the US military and US imperialism overall. It was a similar message to the Pentagon, in different circumstances, as that delivered by the Neocons around George W Bush. Amid all the media-generated uncertainty on Trump's election victory, as well as the contractions of Trump himself, the Pentagon was quick to get the essence of the message, quick to embrace Trump and quick to provide him with a shopping-list and further suggestions for strengthening US imperialism. The idea of the latter retreating on world scale was a fanciful invention of the media and various political "think-tanks".  During his campaign Trump was constantly bemoaning the fact that the US was always losing wars (to my recollection that last two wars that the US "won" were in the 80's against Panama and Granada - two countries without a standing army). These words were further music to the ears of the military.

By the time of his election, and complicating perspectives further, it was obvious that there were competing factions within the Trump camp that maybe could be described as the Populists and the Realists. The populist Steve Bannion now appears to be relegated and he is certainly off the National Security Council. At the same time any possible rapprochement with Russia seems to be out of the window (it didn't last as long as Hillary Clinton's "re-set"). No doubt there were deals in the offing and these still could occur but they are problematic now with the removal of Russian contact General Flynn from his cabinet. This has horrified the pro-Russian populist movement in Europe. Trump's token air strike on a Syrian airfield has seen him now acclaimed by his critics as "Presidential" and has had Clinton supporters turning somersaults.

Trump's cabinet is filled with retired generals and his behind the scenes meetings with top brass far surpasses that of Obama. Robert Gates, Obama's defence secretary, described him as "deeply suspicious" of the top brass. With Trump it appears to be a love-in. He's had at least three meetings with four-star service chiefs, whom Obama hardly saw, and this is despite describing these same chiefs on the campaign as "reduced to rubble".  "America First" is not based on retreat but of shows of strength of American power. There's an immediate spending boost for the Pentagon; military rules of engagement have been relaxed; NATO countries are being whipped into line and torture is back on the agenda. Not all the military are happy with all this but at the moment they are quiet. In the meantime Defence Secretary, retired general Jim Mattis, has mooted more US troops for Syria (Trump on the campaigns said he would "stay out of Syria") and Iraq with more going to Afghanistan and Africa (Libya is another confrontation point with Russian imperialism). The pivot to the east is maintained and strengthened with a show of force heading towards North Korea at the moment and to some extent the "travel ban" was a direction of fire towards Iran with Trump working towards a Sunni bloc (Saudi, Turkey, Egypt supported by Israel). Further US intervention can only produce further problems and the spread of war.

As the text points out to "Make America Great Again" is a recognition by the bourgeoisie that it's no longer great and I think that we have to maintain the position of a weakening US and a weakening of capitalism overall. And this despite the strength and probable strengthening of its military. The bourgeoisie have taken a chance with Trump and he could be a disaster but the choice has been forces on them from circumstances largely beyond their control and his election itself is representative of the weakening of the US itself and the whole political apparatus.




I think it would be very interesting to discuss this meeting further. We aim to publish an account, but in the meantime comrades who took part could send in their impressions. It's also possible that there will be comments on the above libcom thread, where I wrote:


The meeting had quality if not quantity. To a large extent it was a debate between the ICC and the CWO, but as these are rare enough, this was positive in itself. The main points of contention were on the underlying nature of populism, and the origins and role of revolutionary minorities. We aim to publish an account, though it could take a bit of time.

Baboon's contribution was read out and appreciated. 

another point....

Just to add...another area of discussion, linked to the problem of the formation of a revolutionary vanguard or party....the impact of 'globalisation' (really the most recent phase of globalisation) and the emergence of new proletarian sectors in countries like China, the changes in the composition of the class in the old countries. The latter has contributed to problems of class identity in these areas, but they remain key to any future politicisation of the class struggle. 

I thought it was a very

I thought it was a very important discussion, the key take away of which is the idea that the ICC sees the phenomenon of "populism" as more than just a passing political/ideological fad--it is something of a defining feature of the current period in the social decomposition of capitalism. In other words, populism is not going away--even when a particular populist current or party loses an election or suffers some kind of political set back (like Geert Wilders's party in the Netherlands) the conditions that drive populism will remain.

However, I do think that the concept of populism continues to suffer from a certain looseness and this was brought out in the discussion: the ICC seems to want to use the idea only to refer to a certain right-wing variant of political discourse today--the anti-immigrant, nationalist, autarchic parties and individuals associated with the Brexit campaign, Trump, the refashioned Front National under Marine Le Pen, etc. But the left-wing "new political" formations we see today are not included in this phenomenon--Bernie Sanders, Podemos, Syriza, Melenchon (?), Corbyn (?). I concur that situation on the left of the spectrum is murkier--Syriza has formed a government, Corbyn is an old political operative leading one of the establishment parties in the UK, but certainly the Sanders movement in the US shares many of the features of "populism"--anti-establishment rhetoric (in fact, actually being from outside the bourgeois political establishment), anti-trade positions, a certain economic natonalism, etc.; however, above all perhaps the portrayal of being something fundmentally new and different that would give "voice to the voiceless."

There doesn't seem to me to be a good reason why the Sanders phenomenon (to take just one example) should be left outside the definition of populism other than that it doesn't quite fit the narrative of decomposition--Sanders and his followers are no xenophobes, racists, misoyginists, etc. that speak to an "every man for himself" ethic of social life. On the contrary, Sanders and like phenomenon are animated largely by the younger generations who check all the "progressive" bozes when it comes to social values, while right-wing populism appeals mostly to the old and other "dying" social and demographic strata. If you accept the demographic argument, the future belongs to the left not the right--(although Le Pen seems to have a strong millenial following if you believe the Washington Post's reporting today). So, I think as revolutionaries, we need to understand this phenomenon as much as right-wing populism and situate it within its proper place in the political landscape of capitalism today. What social, economic and demographic forces animate these trends? Are they as "permanent" and stable as the forces bringing to the fore right-wing trends today? I am tempted to reference the ICT's ideas about class compositions and recompositon here as I think they might be useful to understanding what is going on.

This brings us to one final point of the discussion I thought was very important--a certian counter-argument offered up by one participant to the ICC's thesis that populism is not welcomed by something called the "main factions of the bourgeoisie." According to this comrade, the ICC has likely been overestimating the threat posed to the state by figures like Trump (and Brexit?)--and Baboon's contribution above seems to suggest that Trump has already been "normalized" to some extent by the insitutions of the US state. But moreover, this comrade seemed to suggest that populism was in fact potentially "functional" for the bourgeoisie in the face of continued decomposition. If the wars ravaging the planet won't stop, if the waves of migrants to the central countries are unlikely to attenuate much then populism seems to offer a functional political response for the bourgeoisie to the continuing degradation of social life in the period ahead. I suppose a ramification of this would mean that if the populist parties are resisted by the main factions of the bourgoeisie today becasue they are in some way dangerous for the bourgeois political status quo, there may soon come a time when they are nevertheless called upon to perform a certain function for the state--just like the fascists and Stalinists were in the 1930s, etc.

This I think raises more fundamental questions about the nature of the period itself. Why is populism so dangerous to the main factions of the bourgeoisie? What is the status quo the main factions seek to perserve--something akin to neo-liberal capitalism with a nominally democratic political state structure I suppose, but has this arrangment run its course? Can there be a kind of populist political consensus developing within the main factions of the bourgeoisie (either right or left or some hybrid)? Or can populists just become the main factions themselves? But for now, why do the main factions remain so committed to the neo-liberal form of capitalism? Is it something "locked-in" to the economic and political dynamics of the period? Finally, what becomes of populism if there is no neo-liberal establishment to rail against?

I think that if we take certain aspects decomposition as the defining features of the period (mass migration, job losses in the core countries that fuel resentment against migration, etc.) then it is easy to see how right-wing populism will have a lasting future and may even prove functional to the bourgeoisie. But if we take other features like student debt (perhaps a uniquely American phenomenon) or the problem of over-educated/under-employed young people (which perhaps are more manifestations of the crisis itself then decomposition per se), then the possibility of the bourgeoisie having to turn to the left becomes more plausible. But perhaps this belies the difference between the right and left-wing movements we have seen: The left knows how to do Popular Fronts, the right not so much. In a sense then, the left wing movements (I don't want to call them social movements, but certainly the Bernie phenomenon has some of those features) are possibly more maleable to the will of something we can call the main factions of the bourgeoise? Certainly, Sanders lost some of his credibility as an "outsider," when he endorsed Clinton and his continuing flirtations with the Democratic Party seem designed to show he (or someone in his likeness) can be trusted to govern. (And even if Trump has been normalized to some degree, there still seems to be a genuine concern for his overall competence and abiliy to effectively govern--which may be something written into the DNA of right wing populism itself). Still, there are strong establishment tendencies that seem hell-bent on keeping Berniecrats away from power (which in part explains the Russian obsession of the establishment Democrats as a way of simultaenously delegitimizing Trump, while constructing another narrative for why Clinton lost that doesn't necessitate giving any ground to Bernieist populism)--similarly with Corbyn in the UK (although again acknowledging the cicrumstances are not entirely comparable). Perhaps all of this just highlights the growing difficutlies the bourgeoise has in managing its political apparatus, but there also seems to be a certain unwillngness or perhaps even blindness to the possibility of imagining a capitalist future that is anything but neo-liberal. Why?

One more specific point on the idea--also expressed in the meeting--that it is really the bourgeois left in this era that is the most ideological in the sense that capitalism cannot possibly realize its stated policies. On one level that seems right--is the United States really going to switch to a course of developing its welfare state in the midst of crisis and decompoistion as the Sanders forces say they want? This does seem pie in they sky as the neo-liberals in the Clinton camp stated during the primary campaign. The US missed the boat on that by about 50 years. However, on another level we are hearing more and more talk about the idea of introducing a universal basic income (UBI). In fact, there are proponents of such a thing on both the bourgeois left and right. At first thought, there couldn't be anything that goes more against the grain of neo-liberal ethics than to pay people not to work. But on another level, there seems to be some growing momentum for the idea that policies in such a vein will simply be a practical necessity in an economy marked by the growing redundancy of human labor power of all kinds (except for the most highly technically skilled STEM workers), as a result of the technological change spurned on by liberal capitalist economics. Is such a policy turn simply out of the question in a period marked by decomposition? Could a political consesus for such a thing ever be built? (Bracketing for a moment the question over whether or not a UBI is really a right or left idea).

I'll stop here. But obviously many questions that the meeting raises that we will need to try to understand in all their complexity.

A lot of questions from jk

A lot of questions from jk and, I think, he answers many of them above himself. I don't think that populism is going away anytime and is now a feature which more or less will figure in the decomposition of capitalism, of which it's an element, for some time to come. It isn't separate from the rest of capitalism and the state but a part of it; the degree to which it appears is dependent on circumstances and can't be mapped out it detail in advancel. This populism can overflow into established parties - Melanchon in France and Corbyn with his "fight against the elite" but the left-wing element of the bourgeoisie's line-up is quite distinct. Irrationality and everyman for himself are permanent, growing features of decomposing capitalism and populism presents itself as a particular niche in this development in that its programmes tend to be more irrational and against the various national interests as the more established parties - even if these latter parts can use elements of populism themselves. It may be something of a problem for the bourgeoisie but, as the text on populism points out, it can strengthen the whole electoral and democratic process against the working class. The particular edge to populism, I think, is its tendency and undercurrent of violence and I think that it's important not to underestimate the danger that its pogrom mentality represents for the working class.

On Trump: I think that he remains a gamble for the US ruling class and a potential danger for it. The Pentagon has it own secret service that is independent and often in rivalry with the other secret service agencies. All of them would have known a great deal about Trump's (and his clique) dealings with the Russians and it's possibly that this helped flip the Manchurian Candidate back into the grip of the interests of US imperialism. Given his character, one can easily see how he would be impressed with the military facilities and assets under his leadership. But, for the same reason, he remains a loose cannon.

I think that it is true that

I think that it is true that populism is part of the state and the bourgeois political apparatus, but it is also a tendency that is very much not part of the neo-liberal establishment of the bourgeoisie, which has presided over something like an political/economic consensus for how to manage capitalism’s economic crisis for the last several decades (this used to be called the "Washington Consensus"). It is one thing for establishment politicians to use populist themes in campaigns, quite another when an actual populist wins elections or seriously threatens to. Of course, as we have seen when the establishment parties open the door to populism--as the Republicans did in the US--it runs the risk that the inmates will take over the asylum, which to some extent is what happened with Trump's victory--but also with elements of the Tea Party before it, which while not entirely populist certainly contained elements of it. This in part helps explains why the Democratic Party is so cautious about opening the door too far to the Sanders wing, even if in the end it may have no choice but to do so--illustrating the Catch-22 the establishment politicians have when it comes to populism: open the door to it and it might spread through the very establishment institutions that sought to contain it; fight it too obviously and openly and it only fuels the anger of the populace frustrated by the impasse of establishment politics.

On Trump: I think it is now an open question the extent to which he is really a populist. Certainly, he campaigned as one, but we (along with the mainstream media) may have missed his connections to a certain neo-liberal/Wall Street wing of the bourgeoisie, through his business enterprises and in particular his step son Kushner who for all intents and purposes appears to be as much a neo-liberal globalist as Clinton (and has been called such by Bannon). But at the same time, much of the recent spat in the Trump camp appears to be motivated as much by Trump's narcissistic frustration at the media focus on Bannon as the real brains of the operation, as it is a contest between a nationalist-populist wing and something like a New York-kleptocratic-oligarchy wing of the Trump camp, which is not quite the same faction as the Goldman Sachs Democrats--maybe a bastard stepchild of it (Mnuchkin is no Geitner, although Cohn may be closer). Trump wanted everyone to know that whatever Bannon's contribution the winning campaign strategy was Trump's.

Another factor is that Trump is not really a movement conservative (a development in bourgeois politics that may be as much a function of decomposition as populism--but perhaps not with the same international scope), but in order to win over reluctant Republican voters, he brought in Pence who is and it is clear Pence had a role in many of the cabinet picks and in bringing down Flynn, who appears to have been as much Trump's guy as anyone (save maybe for Jeff Sessions, whose role--along with Pence-- it appears is to bridge the nationalist-populist and movement conservative wings of the Republican base). It seems to have been Flynn (once director of the Defense Intelligence Agency under Obama no less) who was the driving force behind the Russia rapprochement, with the idea of breaking the Russia-Iran alliance and forming some kind of united front with Putin--against what it is not entirely clear. Nevertheless, this arrangement didn't last long before the involvement of the Deep State, perhaps also the urging of Pence, brought him down and appears to have forced the more establishment McMaster into the position of National Security Advisor. This process may have been facilitated by Trump's personal love affair with generals, but it is also clear that Trump was not happy about having to get rid of Flynn.

In any event, even if the more sensationalist claims by Democrats regarding Trump's ties to Putin will ultimately prove baseless, it is clear that Trump does have some kind of personal admiration for Putin that the state institutions have been attempting to discipline--perhaps successfully as evidenced by the Syria strike and the other examples of a return to a certain confrontational stance with Russia that appears to have its origins in the defense/intelligence complex. This confrontational approach may not have been entirely shared by Obama--in part explaining that faction of the state's affinity for Clinton, who was openly advocating a no fly zone in Syria at the same time Obama was reluctant to go that far.

In any event, the extent to which the Trump administration will be "populist" going forward remains unclear at this point. In one of his first acts as President, he pulled the US out of TPP--something that most of the rest of the bourgeoisie was against, but which Sanders praised. But it may be the case that the kleptocratic oligarchs and the movement conservatives have gotten the upper hand and the Trump administration will not play out as we thought it might only a few months ago and populism will be reduced to campaign rhetoric. Still, the Republican Party is far from a united force and the tensions within it remain strong, as witnessed by the health care reform debacle. Really anything can happen at this point.

Moreover, whatever factions of the bourgeoisie Trump represents, it is clear that it is not what we like to call the "main factions," such that it is reasonable to expect the political pressure emanating from the Democrats and establishment Republicans (the extent any are left) will continue. While the political conditions for impeaching Trump do not exist at this time, it is still possible it could happen depending upon the results of the 2018 mid terms and the outcome of the Russia investigations, which for now have taken on a somewhat muted tone in the face of Trump's apparent normalization, but which can be resuscitated should the need arise. In fact, the Russia hysteria appears to have been used as much as a club to beat back any Sanders-style critique of the Democrats' neo-liberal politics as a means of delegitimizing Trump and in this regard it might still serve a function as poll after poll continues to show Sanders as the most popular politician in the country.

Now, could someone explain what is happening in France to me?


Trump's roll of the dice is

Trump's roll of the dice is underway with the economy, and it remains to be seen how that turns out, but on the military level US imperialism is coming up against some problems that throw more light on the developing nature of this administration, its contradictions and uncertainties.

The "Armarda" (Trump's word) sent to rachet up tensions with North Korea after its missile tests began as farce; the US war fleet, followed by some hangers-on and the Russians, veered off course in the opposite direction. A week later, with simmering tension, the US ships appear to be in the South China Sea to the consternation of China. If the US launches a pre-emptive strike, even a bunker-busting one across Pyongyang, tens of thousands of US troops around the region would be at risk of retaliation. The installation of the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea, which will take months to be fully operational, is also seen as threat by China, while the US is telling the former it wants its help.

The deployment of the missile system is also instructive for what's going on in the administration: Trump's statement that South Korea would have to pay for the system - a billion dollars or he would cancel the two country's free trade deal - was immediately counter-manded by his National Security Advisor H. R. MacMaster who, like many around Trump, are high level military officials. Similarly, Trump was shot down straightaway by his own officials when he proposed a meeting with Kim Jong Un. I don't think that it should be a source of any comfort that in respect of US imperialism the military, for the moment anyway, seem to have Trump in a tight grip. But the whole history of decadence, and decomposition particularly, teaches us that one can never underestimate the levels of stupidity and irrationality that the military can be driven to.

Here is the New York Times

Here is the New York Times editorial board slamming Secretary of State Tillerson's (Former CEO of Exxon-Mobil) leadership at the State Department. Of course behind this is a criticism of Trump's foreign policy itself, which seems to be very general-centric at the expense of the diplomats. John Kerry, Tillerson is cleary not; he seems to have been selected in large measure because of his lack of prior experience such that he could not form something like a rival center of power within the state--the previous experiences with Clinton (who was running something of her own show in the interests of her future camapign and the Clinton Foundation coffers) and Kerry (who fashioned himself as something of an authoritative voice on US foreign policy even when he differed with Obama) must have loomed large in his selection. But Tillerson also had prior experience with Putin as CEO of Exxon-Mobil and this seems to have also been part of the rationale for his appointment. In that sense, he has clearly not won the support of the main factions of the bourgeoisie and his recent statements that the US will no longer consider a given country's adherence to "democratic" values and norms in determining US policy towards it must be giving the centers of liberal elite power fits after all they did (only partially successfully) to rehabilitate the international image of the US in the wake of Bush's unilaterialism and Cowboy diplomacy.