The impeachment trial of Donald Trump is the focus of media attention. But does it really matter?
Should workers and socialists more or less ignore the whole impeachment proceedings? That is the view of many socialists, such as the one who said it’s “solely infighting between corrupt elites” or another who said it’s nothing but “a legalistic form of ruling class rivalry.” Even DSA took a similar view when they contrast paying attention to the issue with “continu(ing) to fight against the whole capitalist class.” Are they right?
While this sounds very fierce, in fact it is a reformist point of view. We should consider the examples of the great revolutionary thinkers of the past. It’s no accident that they focused on the crises within the ruling class. Karl Marx, for example, wrote extensively about the US Civil War. In those writings, he concentrated on the differences among the Northern generals. He also paid close attention to the North’s military strategy.
Great revolutionary thinkers
Or take the examples of the great histories of the great revolutions of the past. Trotsky in his “History of the Russian
Revolution” closely examined the different factions of both the feudal aristocracy and the capitalist class. Felix Morrow, in his history of the Spanish Civil War, closely examined the role of the different wings of the Spanish capitalist class. And C.L.R. James did something similar in his classic “The Black Jacobins”, which is a history of the great Haitian Revolution.
Crisis at the top
There is a reason for this: It’s usually a crisis at the top that sets off the revolutionary struggles from below. It’s exactly such crises that open up more of a birds-eye view of society for the working class.
We are not seeing a revolutionary situation in US society, but what is happening does represent a crisis for the capitalist class.
Trump and weakness of US capitalist class
Donald Trump came into office with the opposition of the great majority of the US capitalist class, which first wanted Jeb Bush and then happily settled on Hillary Clinton. The fact that they couldn’t get their candidate elected said something; it showed their extremely weak base in US society, especially in the working class.
Among other things, it shows the extreme weakening of the mainstream of the US capitalist class’s ability to influence workers through their media.
- The mainstream of the US capitalist class has traditionally kept racism and xenophobia simmering on the back burner, but taken care not to allow it to boil over. Trump has so turned up the heat that it is tending to boil over.
- In the past, the two main parties of the capitalist class have taken care to cooperate and collaborate with each other. Trump has broken with that.
- For the mainstream of the US capitalist class, Western Europe has been its most important alliance. Trump is tearing into that.
- For the mainstream of the US capitalist class, having a president who appears to at least try to tell something resembling the truth has been important. Trump makes no effort and doesn’t care.
- For the mainstream of the US capitalist class, some sort of credible elections have always had extreme importance. It has allowed the two parties to get a more or less equal chance to get their snouts into the public trough. More important, it has given the governing party credibility with a wide layer of workers. Through voter suppression unseen since the days of Jim Crow in the South, Trump and the Republicans are kicking that to the curb. It’s in this context that we have to see Trump’s efforts to recruit Zelensky into his reelection campaign.
- In the past, different administrations always had cabinet members and top officials who had different points of
view. They even differed with the president. Not under Trump. In fact, Trump has nearly completely taken over the Republican Party. Nor is it an accident that he’s driven out of his administration all the top representatives of the US military – H.R. McMaster, John Kelly, etc.
- While there have always been tensions between the president and the mainstream capitalist press, Trump has stepped up the attacks on any sort of independent press to an unprecedented level. (We mean independent from the partisan interests of one capitalist party, not “independent” from the interests of the capitalist class as a whole.) He has so stirred things up that physical assaults on reporters is now threatened.
- Nearly every single strategist and representative of the US capitalist class agrees that Russian capitalism is a major rival of US capitalism. But what has Trump done? He has welcomed Putin’s role in Venezuela and cleared the way for Putin’s asset – Assad – to further strengthen his grip in Syria. His friendliness with Putin is driving even his own capitalist supporters here in the US to distraction.
Bonapartism vs. bourgeois (or capitalist) democracy
In other words, there is a huge change under way in the manner of rule of the US capitalist class. All of these examples listed above amount to one thing: a ruler who has partially risen above the main classes in society, who balances between them, who is not entirely under the control of the capitalist class. That is what Bonapartism (or one person rule) is, as opposed to bourgeois (or capitalist) democracy.
A Bonapartist leader comes to power when there is a crisis in society and the working class is unable to take advantage of that power due to the crisis of its own organizations and leadership. The issue is that the majority of the US capitalist class is not convinced that such a method of rule is necessary… yet. That is exactly what this whole impeachment struggle is all about. They are deeply unhappy with Trump and they know that he may “cheat” enough in the 2020 elections to make getting him voted out extremely difficult if not impossible. They know that there is zero chance of getting enough Republican votes to remove him now, but they hope that they can weaken him enough to partly overcome his “cheating”.
All capitalist rule the same?
Some say “what does it matter? Capitalist rule is capitalist rule, and we want to end it all, lock stock and barrel.” This is a completely abstract way to look at things. Even in the working class’s day-to-day struggles with the capitalist class, the way the capitalist class rules, and the conflicts within that class matter immensely.
That is even more so in the working class struggle to actually take power. It cannot even begin that struggle without seeing society with a birds eye view, nor can it take that point of view without looking at the state of affairs within the capitalist class. And as far as actually taking power, the idea that the state of affairs within the opposition doesn’t matter is simply not serious.
Of course, the working class cannot give up its day-to-day struggles with the capitalist class. If it were to do that, it would be pushed down into such an oppressed state that it would be incapable of launching any sort of broader or deeper struggle. But in those struggles, it always starts out as the underdog, so to speak. It is always in a sense looking up at the ruling class. It is through seeing the inner workings of the capitalist class that the working class can start to see itself as the potential ruling class in society. So for all these reasons impeachment matters. It matters immensely.
Note: Many socialists simply see Trump as just a more extreme right wing president. This is a conservative approach. It shows an unwillingness to recognize a sharp change has occurred. Oaklandsocialist wrote about this conservative viewpoint in our article Trump and the reluctance to reckon with something fundamentally new.