As we look back over 2018 and think about what 2019 will bring, we should keep in mind what Trotsky said – that revolutionaries can be some of the most conservative of people. That’s because as Marxists we develop an overall view of the world. But when there is a sudden shift in the world situation, sometimes we revolutionaries can cling to that past view and fail to recognize a new world situation until it has hit us over the head.
We cannot just drop our overall understanding every time something unexpected develops. If we did that, we’d be just like a leaf before the storm, blown this way and that without any direction. But with that in mind, we have to ask ourselves whether we are seeing a fundamental shift in how capital has ruled in the United States and within that a shift from a period of reaction to one of renewed struggle.
Before discussing the situation in the US, though, we should look at some important events outside the US over the last year:
- In Nicaragua, we saw President Ortega cracking down on protesters there. Basically, Ortega is similar to Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, except that Mugabe had longer to rule and therefore had more time to become corrupt and repressive. But in both cases, they confirm the criticisms that Marxists made of the guerrilla strategy and of the general theory of permanent revolution.
- We saw the rise of the far right in Europe, including the AfD in Germany and the coming to power of a far right government in Italy.
- In Brazil, we saw a similar trend with the election of Jair Bolsonaro.
- We see the apparent victory of the counter revolution in Syria, at least for the present, although even now there are still street protests.
- But we also seem to be seeing what may be the reawakening of the fight against
capitalism – in Iran, with strikes, women in struggle as well as the struggles of Iranian Kurds and Arab people; in Sudan; in Tunisia, and in Hungary, Serbia and Albania; and of course there is the explosive Yellow Vest movement in France.
This last raises the following question: 2011 saw the opening of a wave of struggles – the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, the miners’ strikes in South Africa, and the election of Syriza in Greece. All these were either defeated or fizzled out, leading to a period of reaction. So, do the struggles mentioned above mean the opening of a new wave of struggle, maybe on an even more extensive and more intensive level?
General Crisis of Capitalism
Capitalism is in a general state of crisis.
A year and a half ago, the US Army War College published a study called “At Our Own Peril”. In that study, they outlined some of the major shifts that had taken place since the collapse of the Soviet Union as well as some of the threats to US political, economic and military security. But the development that they did not anticipate is this: It could be argued that US capitalism is facing its greatest political crisis since the US Civil War, and therefore the whole method of rule of the US capitalist class will have to change.
This crisis did not arise out of nowhere; it built up over years:
First and foremost is the economic crisis of global capitalism, caused by the very laws of motion of the capitalist economic system.
“Demise of the Nation State”
There is also the political crisis, caused by what the British Guardian newspaper called the “demise of the nation state” (an article well worth reading): On the one hand, we have seen a true globalization of both production and of distribution. On the other, we have seen massive migration movements. Together, these two trends have meant the decline in power of national governments as well as the beginnings of the breakdown of the whole system of nation-states as developed by capitalism. This has happened in the context of the collapse of social democracy, meaning a decline in working class consciousness. The result has been that tens of millions of workers are desperately struggling to return to the old ways. With that decline in the working class movement and workers’ organizations, this has meant – among other things – a yearning for a return to the old culture as workers experienced it.
Trump Not Alone
Taken together, this has led to the rise of such right wing figures as Bolsonaro in Brazil, Erdogan in Turkey, Duterte in Philippines, Putin in Russia, Morsi in India, and Napolitano in Italy. It is in this context that we should see Trump.
As we have discussed many times, essential to understanding Trump is the fact that he served as the bag man, the money launderer for the Russian mafia/capitalist class for decades. (It is also significant that the great majority of the socialist left in the US has tended to ignore this fact. It shows how much under the influence of the capitalist media they are, since that media has in general tried to cover this up.)
The attitude towards Trump of different wings of the capitalist class can be seen in the comments of the Wall Street Journal, whose editors represent the “militants” of the capitalist class. When Trump was running for the nomination, the WSJ had columns and editorials attacking him on almost a daily basis. Once he won the nomination, they went more or less silent. Then, after he pushed through the tax cuts, they became largely positive. After all, he was good for the next quarterly statement, good for the bottom line. Even then, though, they warned against his “chaos theory” of government and were largely reassured by the presence of John Kelly as his chief of staff as well as others such as Jim Mattis. Others, like the NY Times and the Washington Post, were largely critical, but mainly in moderation.
Latest Trump Crisis
After Trump’s announcement of withdrawing the US troops from Syria, CNN wrote: “It’s Christmas in America. The President had spent the day before home alone in the White House, ranting at his foes inside and outside; the administration is lurching deeper into crisis; stock markets are in free fall and the government is paralyzed by a partial shutdown…”
Thomas Friedman, Pulitzer Prize winning conservative journalist wrote: “You had to ask whether we really can survive two more years of Trump as president, whether this man and his demented behavior – which will get only worse as the Mueller investigation concludes – are going to destabilize our country, our markets, our key institutions and, by extension, the world…. Trump’s behavior has become so erratic, his lying so persistent, his willingness to fulfill the basic functions of the presidency – like reading briefing books, consulting government experts before making major changes and appointing a competent staff – so absent, his readiness to accommodate Russia and spurn allies so disturbing and his obsession with himself and his ego over all other considerations so consistent, two more years of him in office could pose a threat to our nation. Vice President Mike Pence could not possibly be worse.” And, in recognition of the political crisis developing, he wrote, “People wanted disruption, but too often Trump has given us destruction, distraction, debasement and sheer ignorance.
He writes: “America is the key to global stability.” This is a recognition not only of the global significance of Trump; it also raises the question of a shake-up of global relations between the states, which then raises the issue of a possible future inter-imperialist war.
In other words, the end of capitalist stability.
This has vast significance for the working class movement and organizations. In the past, the movement has been dominated by social democracy, whose entire premise is capitalist stability and democracy. But it is exactly this that is disappearing, which means a crisis in social democracy also.
The last four or five years have been dominated by counter-revolution. The intensity of the events has tended towards the conclusion that the entire era is one of counter revolution, but we have to recall what preceded it:
- The Arab Spring, starting in 2011
- The Occupy movement
- The miners’ strikes in South Africa and the shake up in the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU)
- The election of the left Syriza government in Greece.
Now, however, we have to ask whether the period of counter revolution is drawing to a close and a new revolutionary and semi-revolutionary wave is opening up, as outlined in the countries mentioned above (Iran, Sudan, Hungary, etc.) Even in Egypt, al Sisi felt forced to ban the sale of yellow vests!
What does this mean for the United States?
In France, there was a series of strikes earlier in 2018. True to their nature, the union leadership managed to isolate each individual strike and prevent the strikes from developing into a wider social movement. As a result, when the wider movement did break out, it did so on the chaotic basis of the yellow vests. We have seen a similar situation here in the US,
with a series of strikes, including of teachers, health car workers (Kaiser mental health workers), construction workers, workers at Marriott Hotels, and others. In all of these strikes the union leadership played the same role as did their counterparts in France. But the question is whether these strikes will be a prelude to a wider movement as they were in France.
We can see the pressure building up through the increased divisions in the “other” capitalist party, the Democratic Party. The best example of that is the election of Alexandra Ocasio Cortez to the US House of Representatives. It seems her major first initiative will be around the environment, with her call for a Green New Deal. In brief what Ocasio Cortez is calling for is the establishment of a “select committee” – a sort of super committee – to draft up legislation to put the United States on a fossil fuel free basis by 2030.
Oaklandsocialist will have a more in-depth analysis of that in the near future, but the main points are that what she proposes (1) relies on increased government spending in a time when the US budget deficit is already in the stratosphere (and she incorporates no answer for that); and (2) relies entirely on the Democratic Party, when this party has already established its energy strategy as relying on use of natural gas.
Meanwhile, the central Democratic Party figure on whom many youth pin their hopes, Bernie Sanders, spent much of November traveling around Colorado campaigning for the multi-millionaire representative of the oil and gas companies, Jared Polis, for governor.
This, of course, leads to the issue of how, through what channels, will a mass working class party develop in the United States.
Lacking any history of a working class party in the US, most workers and even most socialists see a working class party through the lens of our experience with the capitalist parties. All parties are based on one class or another. All parties serve to organize and advance the interests and ideas of their class. But a working class party would do this in very different ways from a capitalist party: First and foremost, it would be the gathering point for the most conscious and most courageous workers. It would serve to help mobilize out class in the streets, the work places, the unions and the working class schools and communities. Participation in elections would only be a part of its activity, and in fact a working class party might not originate through running candidates for office (important as that is); it could originate through the mobilizations. Through that, a working class tendency, an organ, could develop to clarify and advance those mobilizations. What would that be but the embryo of a working class party? It’s possible that only later would the issue of running our own candidates for office be posed.
Should we support the “progressive” Democrats meanwhile? The problem with that is that those who do tend to get sucked into a black hole of focusing on that to the exclusion of all else.
In summary: Oaklandsocialist has raised the question of whether the whole means of capitalist rule is shifting away from capitalist democracy towards “bonapartism”. For a more in depth discussion on that question, see this article.
Whether it is or not, we are certainly in for a bumpy ride, and it will not be accomplished without huge swings one way and another. The last few years, including 2018, have been dominated by the tendency towards counter-revolution. With the way the old year is ending, we have to ask whether a new period of struggle and revolution will be the dominant trend in 2019 and beyond.
Workers and socialists, get ready!
Happy new year John.
thank you. If half of what the article raises as far as a renewed wave comes true, it will indeed be a happy new year!
Your approach to Ocasio Cortez is sound. Let me say why. The role of a legislator is, in the last analysis, to propose, support, or oppose legislation. She has a policy proposal, her Green New Deal. You question the economic and political basis of the proposal. That critique lets the truth be shown as to what it would take to put this policy into place, and who would be the political actors making the moves in the legislature to make it happen. This allows readers and thinkers to criticize Ocasio Cortez not simply from her connections with DSA, but from what the Congresswoman does in office.