Although it came first, the Nancy Pelosi-led impeachment inquiry cannot be understood without understanding Trump’s troop withdrawal from Syria.
For over a year now, mainstream capitalist commentators have been railing against Trump’s attacks on what they call the rule of law. They have continually warned that “our democracy” is at danger. These comments have not been made about previous presidents, and understanding them is essential to understanding the present political crisis.
Start from the beginning
We have to start from the beginning, which is the fact of Trump’s having been a money launderer for the Russian mafia capitalist class for all those years. (It is an absolute disgrace that nearly the entire socialist left has ignored this fact.) Trump’s financial ties made him largely beholden to a rival capitalist class; they meant that he is not under the complete control of the US capitalist class. A wing of the US capitalist class has been willing to accept this. Some of them do because Trump’s policies have so enhanced their short term profits. Others, a few, do so for ideological reasons. These capitalists actually believe that it is possible to turn the clock back 100 years as far as workers’ rights, the rights of women and people of color and gays, etc. The Mercer family is a prime example of the latter.
View of US capitalist class mainstream
But the mainstream of the US capitalist class sees him as a massively destabilizing force at home and as a “security risk” abroad.
With Trump’s ability to completely take over the Republican Party as well as a near take-over of the federal judiciary at all levels, the limitations on Trump shrank continually. It is true that the increased power of the executive branch of the government – the presidency – has been a long term process. But Trump has qualitatively stepped it up, and beyond anything that most of the capitalist class can accept. This includes not only dominating his own party, but eliminating the influence of the true representatives of the capitalist class within his own administration. In the Obama administration, for example, different individuals competed and debated over policies. That was how the different wings of the capitalist class kept a balance and ensured their overall control.
Trump administration: “Personnel is policy”
The Trump administration has evolved differently. He pushed out Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and maybe most important of all, Chief of Staff John Kelly among others. Not only were these types able to talk Trump out of some of his more insane decisions, at other times they even outright refused to carry them out. “Slow walking” those decisions they called it. They simply waited a day or two, confident that Trump would forget all about it. Now even these people are gone. You couldn’t get a better example than Trump’s childish and unbalanced letter to Erdogan. In the past, as a CNN commentator said, that letter would have gone straight into the shredder. He replace all of these with complete sycophants, people who were willing to simply follow his orders and say what he wanted them to say. (He thought he had such a sycophant in then-new National Security Advisor John Bolton, but when it turned out that Bolton actually had some ideas of his own, however reactionary they might have been, then he too was gone.)
The point is that all these others had built their careers on loyalty and commitment to carrying out the interests of the US capitalist class as they understood those interests. Their replacements were loyal to Donald Trump. Period.
As is now being revealed, first and foremost among the latter breed is Rudy Giuliani, and it is significant that he is acting as a “private citizen”. In other words, there is no control over him by any other wing of the government whatsoever. Symbolic of the entire process is the fact that the triumvirate of Giuliani, EU ambassador Gordon Sondlund (who got that post for his $1 million contribution to Trump’s inauguration party) and US “Special Representative to Ukraine, Kurt Volker ran US relations to Ukraine. Leader of the team was Giuliani, the one member of the team that had absolutely zero official standing. He was Trump’s representative, pure and simmple. The fact that he’s looking to do a little bit of profitable private business on the side doesn’t change that at all. In fact, it adds to it since he’s doing exactly what Trump would do and is doing.
Symbolic of the entire process is the removal of the lifelong career diplomat Marie Yovanovitch, former Ambassador to Ukraine. She had proven her loyalty to the needs and interests of US capitalism as she understood them, rather than the needs of Donald Trump as he understood those needs. She had to go.
So the situation became intolerable for the mainstream of the US capitalist class. If the Ukraine scandal revealed the degree to which he would sacrifice the interests of US capitalism to his own interests, his pullout from Syria was even more serious. Once again, that decision was made partly to please his base. It seems he may have miscalculated on this as even the evangelical leaders such as Pat Roberts are strongly critical. The other reason for his decision was to appease his other “base” – Russian imperialism. They will be the ones who benefit the most, at the expense of US imperialism.
Trump’s mental state
The fact of Trump’s apparent mental decline also figures in the renewed attacks on him from the US capitalist class and the Democrats. We can see that in the Atlantic article written by corporate lawyer George T. Conway, which was reviewed by Oaklandsocialist here.
That general situation merged with and reinforced the interests of the Democratic Party. They see great opportunities to get their snouts more deeply into the trough in the 2020 elections, but they cannot do so if Trump is able to fraud the elections. In this regard, it seems the 2018 midterm elections played an important role: That election showed that Trump’s playing to his crazed base would not be enough to win reelection for either him or many in his party in 2020. On the other hand, the stolen governor’s election in Georgia also showed that he and his party could get away with widespread voter suppression. Like the 2000 Bush v. Gore stolen election, the Democrats once again limited themselves to whining and crying. Their representatives in the workers’ movement – the union leadership – did nothing different. From the overall point of view, if Trump does so again in 2020, he will be even further out of control and will go even further down the road towards one man rule (AKA bonapartism). The maneuverings of the triumvirate (led by Giuliani) in Ukraine showed that Trump will also use foreign policy in order to get back in to office.
He will make even more decisions that damage the interests of US imperialism and he will play an even more destabilizing role at home. While the Ukraine scandal provided the concrete evidence for impeachment, Trump’s troop withdrawal from Syria increased the necessity for it from the point of view of the mainstream of the US capitalist class.
Withdrawal of US troops from Syria
This troop withdrawal is a betrayal of the Kurds. The question is who stands behind the decision.
Is there is a genuine division within the US capitalist class regarding this betrayal of the Kurds? It is certainly true that US imperialism is never a reliable ally for any oppressed group. And it is also true that such a betrayal was bound to happen. But timing is everything. At this particular time, it in no way whatsoever serves the interests of US imperialism to take this step. Just because it would in the future doesn’t change matters. The step was taken because Trump thought it would serve his own personal interests. That makes it different from the betrayal of of the Kurds by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger in the 1970s. In fact, as the Intercept has outlined, such a betrayal has happened on seven different previous occasions. But each previous time, it served the immediate interests of US imperialism. This time it doesn’t.
Any major shift in US capitalist policy and any serious division within the US capitalist class is always reflected in the commentaries of the major politicians, their advisors and in the major capitalist media. This time, there is no serious support for this troop withdrawal. Not among the Democrats nor even the Republicans. Not among the major strategists and not in the capitalist media, even including Fox and the Wall Street Journal. Simply put, there is no real evidence of any such division to any significant degree. (Compare that to a similar political crisis in a close US ally – the Brexit crisis in Britain. There, a massive debate is wracking the main capitalist party – the Conservatives – over how to deal with this issue. This reflects major divisions within the British capitalist class itself.)
Capitalist pragmatism and “rule of law”
Some argue that a wing of the US capitalist class was looking further down the road and supported the withdrawal because it would suit their needs in the future. That argument is similar to an argument regarding Trump’s drive towards one-man rule:
This is the argument that US capitalism is headed towards a massive crisis born of economic and environmental contradictions. This coming crisis is also born of the irreversible decline in power of US imperialism globally. Since capitalist democracy – the “rule of law” – is based on social stability, in the future “democracy” or “the rule of law” will not be possible, and therefore a significant wing of the US capitalist class is supporting Trump’s drive to stamp it out. That is the argument.
But that is not how the capitalist class and their strategists work. They think and work pragmatically. The look at the situation and at the different forces at work, and they try to figure out what’s the best way for them to resolve this particular problem right here and now, based on what exists right here and now. Let the future take care of itself.
That approach was best expressed by one of the more serious capitalist strategists, John Meynard Keynes, who said “in the long run we all are dead”.
If there was any doubt that that is their approach, look at the looming environmental disaster that will engulf us all if present policies are not sharply reversed. Even the most farsighted of the capitalists and their strategists desperately cling to anything that won’t seriously impede their ability to make profits and continue to rule over the economy. Five or ten years into the future be damned.
Right now, the best way for US capitalism to rule is through the “rule of law” or capitalist democracy. And right now, it is in the interests of US capitalism to have kept its forces in Northeast Syria. Or it was, anyway; now it’s too late.
Confusion among socialists
There is a reluctance of many socialists to fully reckon with these twin issues. That reluctance is born of a natural and understandable conservatism, a reluctance to see that what has developed in the US is kind of a freak situation. It is a reluctance to recognize that for the first time possibly since before the US Civil War, the US capitalist class has largely lost control over its presidency. It is a reluctance demonstrated by the failure of the socialist left to understand and deal with the long-term links between Trump and the Russian mafia capitalist class.
Working class and impeachment
This conservatism is linked to a confusion about how to relate to the impeachment issue:
On the one hand is the leadership of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). It’s difficult to figure out what they are exactly saying, because on the one hand they have to defend the position of “the squad”, which has called for impeachment for a long time. But on the other hand, they dismiss Pelosi’s taking it up as being simply meant to defend Joe Biden. The only way to understand their position is to look at the practical consequences: the consequence is to just carry on as before, devoting every ounce of political energy to getting Bernie Sanders nominated.
On the other hand, there are the revolutionary socialists. They tend to write off impeachment as simply another Democratic Party maneuver with which we should not be involved. That is born out of a horror of even coming close to the Democratic Party, but it also shows the utter confusion as to what the impeachment is all about. It also shows a conservatism and a shallow thinking, just as the thinking of DSA does.
Of course the working class has an interest in opposing bonapartism/one man rule! It’s not a matter of defending capitalism itself, it’s a matter of defending the more favorable grounds on which the working class can fight for its interests, including organizing for socialism. As far as the Democrats, the main point is that the working class cannot rely on them to do our fighting for us. That’s the lesson of the Bush v. Gore 2000 election fraud as well as the Georgia 2018 election fraud. That’s the lesson of the Democrats’ refusal to really expose the core issue about Trump – his money laundering past. The reason they have been unwilling to expose this is that such money laundering (mainly for the drug cartels) is rampant throughout the real estate industry.
These are the points that socialists should be raising regarding impeachment.
Working class and troop withdrawal
The other complex question is that of Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds. (And oaklandsocialist thinks that the facts, as outlined above, clearly show that this was a decision of Trump, not of any significant wing of US the capitalist class.) Should the workers movement, and socialists within the workers movement support the troop withdrawal? If “yes”, then we are calling for US military intervention into Syria. If “no” then we are supporting this betrayal of the Kurds.
The only way to answer this question is to start by saying that it is the wrong question to begin with. US imperialism cannot and will not act in the interests of the working class and the oppressed. Its intervention into and support of the YPG (the Kurdish armed force) was for two purposes: First, yes, it was to defeat ISIS. But there was a second and at least as important effect: To ensure that the movement for Kurdish liberation in Syria did not broaden out either geographically or politically! Geographically, it meant that the PYD’s struggle for Kurdish liberation from national oppression inside Syria did not broaden to such a struggle throughout Kurdistan – meaning throughout parts of not only Syria but also Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. But how can the Kurdish liberation succeed in just Syria alone? The ruling class in every one of those countries knows perfectly well that Kurdish liberation in any one of those countries is a threat to the ruling class in all the other countries. It is therefore a threat to stability in the entire region, meaning a threat to the way world imperialism worked things out in that region over 100 years ago (through the Sykes-Picot Accord of 1916).
And politically, how could this total shake-up of these arrangements be accomplished outside of a broader struggle of the wider working class of the entire region (and beyond)? How could the Kurdish people – a minority in the region – defeat the capitalist class at home and world imperialism abroad without the active support of the wider working class? But that working class will only support it if it sees its class interests being advanced. In other words, the struggle for Kurdish liberation cannot be accomplished without being linked to the class struggle against capitalism itself. That could start in any one country, including Syria at least before the counter revolution took hold, but it would have to be broadened out.
Just as with the issue of impeachment, what we have to do is start from the point of view of how the issues affect the working class and how the working class can play an independent role. That is the main lesson.
(For those wishing to read more from this point of view, we recommend “Perfidious Trump throws Kurds to Erdogan and Assad” and “The theory of permanent, or uninterrupted, revolution and Syria“.)