Is Donald Trump a “traitor”, an agent of a rival foreign power (Russia)? That is the claim of the former federal prosecutor Kenneth McCallion in his recently published book Treason & Betrayal. Along the way, McCallion presents some serious evidence that it is to Russian capitalism that Trump’s true allegiance lies.
McCallion explains Trump’s financial ties – how his major investors are from Russia. (Oaklandsocialist has documented this many times in the last two years.) He quotes both Eric and Donald Trump jr., the latter of whom said for example “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets”. He gives the facts on the Trump-branded properties in both New York and in Sunny Isles, Florida, the latter of which became known as “Little Moscow” because of the huge number of Russian oligarch investors.
McCallion gives the history of the meetings between representatives of Trump and those of Putin, the most important of which was the then-secret June 16, 2014 meeting in Trump Tower between Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort with Rinat Kkhmetshin, Natalia Vaselnitskaya and Ike Kaveladze, the last of whom is a Russian real estate dealer/money launderer in his own right.
McCallion explains Trump’s association with Byacheslav Ivankov, US representative of top Russian mafia leader, “boss of bosses” Semion Mogilovich, as well as with David Bogatin and Felix Sater. He correctly explains that
Sater was “Trump’s closest Russian organized crime representative.” (During the aftermath of the Mueller investigation, the US House of Representatives twice scheduled Sater to testify but backed down both times. His testimony would have been too explosive.)
McCallion also lists the numerous Russia-connected advisors of Trump. These include Michael Flynn (former paid contributor to RT.com), Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and last but not least by any means Carter Page (who was deeply involved in the Russian energy sector.)
There are also the meetings between Trump and Putin, the first of which was in Buenos Aires in 2018 at the G20 summit. In that instance, Trump did not even have a US interpreter present. The Russian media reported that among other things the two discussed Syria. About two weeks after that meeting, on Dec. 19, Trump announced for the first time the pullout of US troops from NE Syria.
Does this amount to “treason”?
First of all, we have to define the term. In McCallion’s world, it means selling out the national interests of one’s own country to a foreign power. In turn, “national interest” always ends up meaning the interests of the capitalist class of that particular country. The interests of the working class majority are supposed to be one and the same. Based on the evidence that McCallion presents, a strong case can be made to answer “yes”, and McCallion himself does so.
US vs. Russia?
Is Russian capitalism really a rival to US capitalism?
There are three major imperialist powers in the world today: US, China and Russia. All imperialist powers compete with each other for markets and for outlets for capital investment. An expression of that competition is the political conflicts around the world. In the last analysis, if a power cannot back up its interests with outright force, then everything else – all the diplomatic and political conflicts – are nothing but words. As former top appointee under both Eisenhower and Reagan, George Shultz put it, “Negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table.” And in the last analysis that “power” must boil down to naked force, military force.
While Russian imperialism is a net exporter of capital, it is also an exporter of military power. Much has been made of the expansion of Chinese capitalism into Africa. Russia is playing a similar role. An article in the New York Times explains “Russia has been playing for power in Africa in recent years by sending arms, offering mercenaries, and cinching mining deals. More quietly, it has started to set up a low-profile infrastructure of political influence that bears echoes of the Kremlin’s strategy in Europe and the United States. And it is already identifying African politicians and activists who will carry its message.”
It is playing a similar role in North Africa/West Asia. Through its brutal role in Syria, it has become the central player in the region, playing off and maneuvering between the secondary sub-imperialist regional powers – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel.
Some on the left say that stating this mans a repeat of “McCarthyism”, of the old red scare. That is simply silly at best. Russia today is not the Soviet Union of old. The latter was not a capitalist state. Russia today is. Nor does stating this mean taking the side of US imperialism; it is simply a recognition of the world as it actually is.
US economic sanctions against Russia
There is another region of rivalry that is fundamentally important: Europe. And make no mistake, European capitalism is of huge importance. The European Union is, after all, the world’s second largest economy after China. The Western European capitalist states in the main are aligned with US capitalism. They are involved in a rivalry with Russian capitalism for who will influence Eastern Europe.
In the course of this rivalry, the US has passed economic sanctions against Russian capitalists. Some of the first of these sanctions were passed in the “Magnitsky Act” of 2012. This act, supported by both the Democrats and Republicans, was named after a Russian tax accountant, Sergei Magnitsky, who was apparently killed in a Russian prison in 2009. He had been jailed as a result of his investigating massive tax fraud in Russia. The US capitalist class used this violation of human rights to launch this economic attack on Russian capitalism. (If it were simply a matter of violating human rights, US capitalism would be sanctioning every other country in the world!)
Probably the most important battle ground for this rivalry at the present is Ukraine. In the course of the struggle there, Russia annexed Crimea. The United States increased its economic sanctions as a result.
As McCallion documents, during the 2016 Republican Party convention, Trump worked to water down the Republican Party’s platform regarding support for these sanctions. He (Trump) did this in coordination with Russian representatives.
Oaklandsocialist has repeatedly argued that Trump is partially out of the control of the mainstream of the US capitalist class. His relationship with Russian capitalism and his apparent subservience to Putin is an important aspect of this. Nor does it seem that Trump represents a wing of the US capitalist class that has concluded that US capitalism should be allied with Russian capitalism. Where is the evidence for such a wing?
When there are significant divisions within the capitalist class, these divisions appear in the main journals of the capitalist press and are expressed by the main strategists for US capitalism. They would also appear within different wings of the capitalist US government. While there are differences with regard to Trump himself within the US capitalist class (which we will get to), these are differences despite Trump’s relationship with Russian capitalism, not because of them.
Does this mean he is out of control of the mainstream of the US capitalist class, as Oaklandsocialist has repeatedly argued?
Capitalist class’s “lumpenization”
Roger Silverman, editor of the journal Onthebrink.online and one of the most serious Marxists around (and also a fellow member of the Workers International Network) has advanced the following argument (in a personal communication to me):
“It seems to me, when considering the previously unpredictable phenomena of Trump in the USA and Brexit in Britain, that it is not so much that the ruling class is losing control, as that a new faction of the ruling class has risen to dominance. Just as the industrial capitalists were dislodged by finance, so now it is the turn of the most corrupt and parasitical elements – the property speculators and offshore hedge fund managers – to have displaced the bankers and gained the ascendancy. For them, any trace of strategic planning is a closed book. We could coin for them the term lumpen-bourgeois. All that matters to them is to make a fast buck, if necessary by criminal methods. Trump with his Russian Mafia associates is a perfect specimen.”
This argument is partially in agreement with Oaklandsocialist, but partially in disagreement. It says that what we used to see as the main wings of the US capitalist class are no longer the dominant ones but that a new wing of “property speculators and offshore hedge fund managers” is now dominant, and that they are the wing that Trump represents. But this wing would have to be inextricably linked at the hip to finance capital in general. And finance capital in general supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 at least as much as they did Trump, according to opensecrets.org.
Yes, much of finance capital swung behind Trump after his tax cuts meant a huge boost in profits for them. We saw that in the changed attitude of the Wall St. Journal editors, who up until Trump’s nomination were almost uniformly hostile to him. Now, they are almost uniformly supportive.
Roger’s point about the “lumpenization” of the capitalist class is a good one. But to the degree that that is true, to the degree the capitalist class is fragmented and not thinking about its longer term interests as a class, to that same degree it is incapable of controlling its representatives. That means first and foremost its president. Russia, incidentally, witnessed a similar phenomenon. There, when Putin rose to power, he did so in conjunction with dominating and repressing his own mafia capitalist class. He was largely out of their control. (See Putin, Assad and the Syrian Disaster for more details.)
The change in attitude of the Wall St. Journal editors shows the focus on the next quarter’s financial statement – on immediate profits – and let the (slightly) more distant future worry about itself. However, maybe Roger was using hyperbole to make a point, but to say that “any trace of strategic planning is a closed book” is not completely accurate. The overwhelming majority of the US capitalist class, finance capital included, does do strategic planning.
Reading the capitalist media
What the main capitalist newspapers and strategists say is important.
The editorial pages of the NY Times and the Washington Times are overwhelmingly hostile to Trump as are the writers for Foreign Affairs, which is the online journal for one of the most important think tanks for US capitalism, the Council on Foreign Relations. On the other hand, the editorial pages for the Wall St. Journal are overwhelmingly supportive of Trump. One thing upon which they all agree, however, is that Trump’s pullout of troops from Northeast Syria was a huge blunder. In addition, both the military establishment and the diplomatic establishment were overwhelmingly opposed to this act. And who ended up the main beneficiary of that act? Russian imperialism!
A highly significant wing of the US capitalist class is the oil industry. Their views cannot be dismissed. They have been one of the main beneficiaries of Trump’s policies, both as far as deregulation and as far as opening up public lands and offshore waters to oil exploration. Yet their attitude towards Trump is mixed.
The Houston Chronicle, located in the heart of oil patch, describes the attitude of the oil industry when they reported on oil industry donations to Trump. “President Donald Trump, who despite his pro-oil and gas “American energy dominance” policy has to date struggled to attract the big campaign contributions that oil executives handed his Republican predecessors,” they write. Why is that? As one industry lobbyist put it, “The industry likes certainty, and I think with Trump, even though he seems to be favorable on some of their policies, they don’t see the certainty.” In other words, it is exactly Trump’s out-of-control tendencies that puts off this important wing of the US capitalist class.
According to this article, part of their hesitancy is due to Trump’s trade policies, which are opposed by nearly every wing of the US capitalist class and their representatives. This industry may well swing around to all-out support for Trump yet, especially if one of the more “left” Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren wins the Democratic nomination.
The capitalist “militants”
One major sector of all-out capitalist support for Trump is that wing that has a clear reactionary strategy for the future. One might call them the equivalent of the working class militants of past years. On the one hand, there is the wing that is linked to the most aggressive, racist and expansionist wings of the Israeli regime. Three of the top four donors to Trump are represented there (Sheldon Adelson and Irving Moskowitz).
There is another wing of that class that never has accepted the changes that came about in the US starting in the 1930s and going up through the civil rights movement and the women’s movement. They aim to set the clock back 100 years or more. In the past, that wing was led by types such as Andrew Mellon-Scaife, heir to the fortune of the old Robber Baron Andrew Mellon (who died in 2014). Today, they are composed of a motley crew of such capitalists as Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel and stock market/computer science family the Mercer family, especially Rebekah Mercer, who has actual links to fascism through their control of Breitbart.
An argument could be made that these capitalists are actually the most far sighted of all in that the day will come when capitalist democracy is no longer politically possible. However, we are not there yet, and the capitalist class overall tends to act pragmatically; they tend to see what is immediately in front of them and figure out the best way to deal with the immediate problems based on the immediate resources.
Bohemian Grove: A gathering of capitalists
The overall capitalist view of Donald Trump was expressed at the 2018 meeting of the capitalists at Bohemian Grove in California. This is an annual social, educational and political gathering of all the top US capitalists and their strategists. In 2018, the SF Chronicle reported how the crowd gave a “rather tepid” response to retiring Supreme Court Justice Robert Kennedy, who they felt had sold them out to Trump. On the other hand, “the entire crowd erupted in applause” when journalist David Brooks “lamented the “loss of honesty, truth and civility” during the Trump era, calling it a “disaster and threat to democracy.”
Again, to stress: Based on the reaction to Trump’s troop withdrawal from Northeast Syria, the evidence is that the main wings of the US capitalist class do not fully control Trump. And even for those wings who are solely concerned with immediate profits, that narrow focus would render them incapable of fully controlling this president.
That is what the whole impeachment crisis is over. Trump’s use of US policy in Ukraine to get a leg-up in the 2020 election campaign, at the expense of the interests of US capitalism, is bad enough for them. Even worse has been his increasingly handing over the carrying out of US foreign policy to his own personal emissary Rudy Giuliani, an individual who has been operating out of the oversight of congress as well as the other main wings of the US government, especially the diplomatic wing (the State Department).
Indeed, it is partly through the different wings of the government – including the diplomatic and the military wings – that the capitalist class influences and controls its president. Trump has largely eliminated them from his decision-making process. In “ordinary” administrations, the different wings of the capitalist class can play out their differences and influence their president through different individuals inside the administration, including inside the cabinet. Trump has made his cabinet and main advisors into nothing but his flunkies. The capitalist class also influences the president through influencing public opinion through its use of the mass media. That is exactly why Trump has unrelentingly attacked the press as “enemies of the people” and made a huge (although still a minority) sector of the population largely immune to all media except Fox News.
We are not of course near there yet and we may not get there anytime soon, but there are clear elements of bonapartism in these actions. That includes the cronyism and outright corruption that these elements invariably engage in. For example, through his own carelessness, Giuliani was overheard telling somebody that they had to collect $200,000 from Bahrain. For what we don’t know. But if he’s getting a hundred grand here, and a hundred grand there, he’s definitely using his position to feather his own nest as is his own puppet master, Trump himself.
That is largely what the impeachment inquiry, which was just ratcheted up a notch, is all about. But more about that in a future article.