Trump: The Problem is Still Capitalism

The Rise of the Authoritarian Right

The avalanche of protests at the accession of Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States is unprecedented in modern times. He is a reactionary, racist, sexist bully who peddles hatred and loathing. He responds to every criticism by attacking the messenger, a “technique” he learned from his one-time lawyer, and counsellor to the “Mob”, Roy Cohn. He has already called parts of the US state, its judiciary, its secret services, and the mainstream media, “enemies of the people” for questioning his decisions.

But he is not alone around the world. The rise of authoritarian leaders of nominally democratic regimes has been increasing across the planet. Putin, Duterte, Erdogan, Orbans, and Kaczynski all control authoritarian regimes which care little for pluralism consensus or minority rights. What has brought all these authoritarians to power (and given hope to so many others from Le Pen to the AfD in Germany and Wilders in the Netherlands that they too can win power) at this time?

Capitalism’s Long Recession

The roots go back a long way. In the early 1970s the post-war boom came to an end. Ever since then world capitalism’s leaders have scrambled around to try to find a way of restoring the growth rates of the past. After the Keynesian experiment failed in the 1970s they turned to “neo-liberalism”, deregulation and globalisation. Capital now went to where labour power was cheapest. This devastated manufacturing in the richer capitalist countries. With mainly lower paid service jobs to replace them, workers earnings in the capital-rich states are today less in real terms than they were in 1979. Workers’ solidarity has been eroded as communities have been destroyed. With little working class resistance globalisation has ruled. States have increasingly competed in a race to the bottom to make investment attractive (tax holidays for example) for big money. However the economic crisis has not gone away, so the capitalist system turned to deregulation of the financial sector, opening it up to speculation. Debts suddenly became “assets”. Into their network of debt the financiers dragged those who could not cope with it via subprime mortgages etc. The consequence was a massive speculative bubble which burst in 2007-2008.

Everywhere states bailed out the banks and imposed austerity on the working class. In UK small towns, in the rust belt of the USA, a layer of workers who had not shared in the dubious benefits of globalisation now had more misery to contend with. Many were thus only too ready to vote for anyone who spoke up against the damage “globalisation” had done.

We should not forget that anti-globalisation began as a movement of the left, of the “no-global” and Occupy Movements. They were the first to oppose trading blocs like TTIP, but as we warned in 2011, the real problem is not one trend (globalisation) in capitalism that we need to oppose but the entire system of exploitation. If you don’t see this then the opposite of globalisation becomes defence of the nation. The radical right just had to add nationalism and racism to anti-globalisation to make it the toxic mix of today. In isolated places, with few if any migrants, many are all too ready to believe that if it was not migrants stealing jobs then it must be that jobs went to foreigners abroad.

The social consequences of the capitalist crisis [1] have thus enabled Trump to unite all the right wing groups around the Republican Party from the Tea Party anti-big government types, evangelical Christians to the Alt-Right of neo-Nazis. Add to that the votes of workers, in key states left behind by globalisation, who buy into Trump’s aggressive rhetoric against “them” (foreigners, migrants and “the Washington establishment”).

Handing “the Swamp” to the Crocodiles

Trump’s penchant for “alternative facts” is well known but his most transparent lie was that he was going to Washington to “drain the swamp”. Instead he has nominated a swathe of Goldman Sachs bankers like Garry Cohn (head of the National Economic Council) and Steve Mnuchin (after denouncing Clinton for being close to them [2]!). His Cabinet has at least three billionaires and is the wealthiest, with more ties to business, than any previous administration in US history. No surprise then that Congress has already rescinded the law that compels companies to reveal payments to foreign powers (such as Secretary of State Tillerson’s former company Exxon Mobil). Or that Trump, in the presence of the chief executives of major U.S. corporations, including Dow Chemical Co, Lockheed Martin Corp, and U.S. Steel Corp, signed an executive order to place "regulatory reform" task forces within federal agencies to cut “regulations” on business. State regulations on everything from environmental protection to laws intended to prevent speculation will be shredded. As David Pilling in the Financial Times (22 February) noted “a Donald Trump presidency means not so much draining the swamp as handing over the swamp to the crocodiles.

The workers who voted for Trump still live in the forlorn hope that jobs will return. Even if some do, they will not be paid like the old ones or in the same numbers. Ford’s high profile abandonment of investing in a factory in Mexico might cheer them. However the Mexican factory offered 3000 jobs whilst the replacement in the US will be more robotised with only a few hundred jobs on offer [3]. If Trump carries out his threat to impose 45% tariffs on Chinese imports it is not going to lead to widespread import substitution – it will lead only to a higher cost of living for the working class. Workers will go on paying for the crisis just as they have done for the last 40 years.

Opposing Trump or the System that Spawned Him?

It is no accident that Trump’s first target is migrant workers. Building the wall and deporting migrants is not new. Bill Clinton started the wall, Obama continued it, and Obama quietly deported 250,000 migrants last year. What is new is that Trump has loudly targeted Mexicans and Muslims. In making them his victims he is not just playing on widespread fear and loathing, he is orchestrating it. There are currently over 40 million migrants in the US of which only about a quarter are illegal. Non-white migrants can now expect nothing but harassment both from officials and racists. Trump is defining US nationalism against this “other”

In this respect Trump is like Erdogan or Putin. Their pronouncements on foreign affairs are designed for domestic consumption only and what they actually do is often at variance with their idle boasts. This is not to say that a capitalism in crisis is any more likely now to involve us all in a new conflagration than before. Trump’s rhetoric may sound more aggressive but his policies are in continuity with what has gone before. “Fake news” began long ago with such things as the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Trump didn’t invade Iraq on non-existent evidence, nor did he break human rights law in setting up Guantanamo. He didn’t launch a dirty war of drone strikes or devote $3 trillion to the refinement of US nuclear weapons. All these were carried out by Bush and Obama. Obama's last acts in office were to make Guantanamo Bay a permanent concentration camp and to strengthen the National Security Administration's already massive powers. Trump is just more of the same, but in an increasingly dangerous world [4]. Ironically the one thing that is holding back the drive to war is the fact that the working class has been so passive. By not fighting attacks on living standards it has taken some of the pressure off the ruling class to be even more aggressive in their imperialist policies. Yet History, as recent events show, does not stand still.

For too long the world working class has been the passive victim of everything that the system has thrown at it. It is now time for us to begin to fight back. The question is how? Trump is so odious that the temptation is to support the immediatist campaigns of the capitalist left (social democrats of all stripes but mainly in the Democratic Party) against him. For the last thirty years this left have accepted the logic of neo-liberal capitalism and colluded with the lowering of living standards. And their one palliative, of offering more welfare to buy social peace, collapsed with the end of the speculative bubble. With their distracting and misleading talk of “fascism” they only exist to get the working class to support the system on the grounds that the alternative is worse. They offer us nothing.

After years of fragmentation and restructuring there are small signs that at grassroots level, in workplaces and communities working class resistance has begun to revive, but it will be a long, slow process. We have to organise for ourselves. Revolutionaries have to be part of this revival by encouraging every struggle that goes beyond the control of those who want to keep it inside the system. We have to agitate for autonomous bodies, controlled by workers, which cannot be manipulated by the capitalist left to make them conform to what the system can tolerate. Even more, revolutionaries also have to work towards the creation of a unified political organisation in order to point out “the line of march” towards an alternative to capitalist exploitation, to environmental degradation, to oppression of minorities and to imperialist war.

We have a world to save and a world to win.


[1] For an expansion this theme see . Trump (in Reaganesque fashion) will try to buy workers’ support by tax-cutting but this will mean that the poorest fifth will see their taxes drop by $110 a year or 0.8% of their income whilst the top 0.1% (i.e. those earning more than $3.7 million a year) will get a tax cut of $1.1 million. (FTWealth 42, March 2017 p.8)

[2] In fact there have been Goldman Sachs representatives in every US Government for decades. Under George H W Bush they were known as “Government Sachs” and Bill Clinton’s economic adviser was Robert Rubin who set up a right wing think tank called the Hamilton Project based in the Brookings Institute to influence Democratic Party agendas. Under Obama 11 Goldman Sachs people were part of the government at one level or another. Same old swamp. See Trump’s dealings both socially and politically with the Clintons over the last few decades are well known (although US Democrats now prefer not to mention them!).

[3] It was the same with the famous deal the company Carrier cut with Trump before he took office to keep 1,000 jobs in Indiana rather than moving them to Mexico, only for them to outsource hundreds of others and replace workers with robots.

[4] For more on imperialist relations before and after Trump’s election see

Friday, March 10, 2017

Aurora (en)

Aurora is the broadsheet of the ICT for the interventions amongst the working class. It is published and distributed in several countries and languages. So far it has been distributed in UK, France, Italy, Canada, USA, Colombia.