Marxist theory

Why Socialists Should Understand the Trump Crisis

We must start to draw a link between the confusions – in fact the abandonment of principle – of many socialists regarding Ukraine and their equally great confusions about the crisis swirling around the latest Donald Trump scandals.

We must start to draw that link because what has become clear is that a new international socialist movement, built out of the wreckage of the old, is necessary. And that new socialist movement can only be built first and foremost with a clear world view. Since the United States is still the single most powerful capitalist country in the world, what happens here is of global importance. That is especially so because the rise of Trump and his “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) movement are part of a global trend.

Trump Crisis a Conflict Within Different Wings of the US Capitalist Class?
Marxists are used to seeing conflicts among capitalist politicians as representing different wings of the capitalist class. That is also how most socialists see Trump and MAGAism – that it represents one wing of the capitalist class. A review of Trump’s rise shows that that is mistaken.

Tim Alberta is a long time Republican. He wrote a book called American Carnage. Its subtitle is: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump. The subtitle perfectly describes the book. It starts with how the Republican Party was transformed, starting with the rise of the Tea Party in 2008. From that time to the capture of that party by Donald Trump, the “old guard” of the party resisted at every step. Their resistance represented the opposition of the capitalist class to that party’s transformation. Some of that resistance was through maneuvering behind closed doors, but much of it was public or semi-public.

In other words, the capitalist class lost control over its preferred party. That in and of itself is significant. Not only did it lose control, it lost it to a fanatical populist wing that was actually connected with fascists in some cases. These combined facts show two things: First is the extreme political weakness of the US capitalist class’s base. In the past, it was easily able to manipulate the views of the great majority of people through the media, organized religion, etc. For example, when the old anti-Communist fanatic Senator Joe McCarthy got out of hand and started attacking the US army in the mid 1950s for being infiltrated with Communists, they held a few hearings and public opinion was so swayed that McCarthy was politically destroyed on short order. When they decided that President Richard Nixon had to go (in 1973), it was the same thing.

No more.

Trump and the MAGA revolt: It was a hostile takeover of the Republican Party.

US Capitalists Didn’t Need nor Want Trump
Let’s face it, the US capitalist class didn’t want Trump, didn’t want MAGAism, and didn’t want the rise of fascist groups because the US capitalist class doesn’t need any of it. They don’t need it because the US working class is in the main fragmented and confused. The only mass organizations the US working class has ever known – the unions – are in the grip of a conservative and timid bureaucracy. This bureaucracy in the main represents the employers and one of the employers’ two parties – the Democratic Party – within the US working class. Never in the last 100 years has the label given them by the old socialist Daniel DeLeon been more accurate: “the labor lieutenants of capital”. There have been a few attempts to break out of the bureaucracy’s grasp, for example the series of contract proposals voted down by the members a year ago. But although these attempts could burst forth in a powerful way, at present they remain scattered.

As seen in the change in tone of the Wall St. Journal editorial board, once Trump took the presidency and he and the Republicans pushed through a massive tax giveaway for the capitalists, some of them somewhat changed their tune. That tax giveaway plus his destruction of many environmental regulations made the capitalists see that maybe they had a lot to gain from his rein. But Trump never was under their control. (Today the WSJ editorial board defends Trump because they see him and MAGAism as the only alternative to increasing regulations aimed at stemming global warming. That the regulations that Biden has pushed through are woefully inadequate is another question.)

Trump attempted to install himself as a bonapartist… and he may yet do so.

Bonapartism” AKA One Person Dictatorship
Napoleon Bonaparte crushed a revolution and seized power in the place of the capitalist class. He ruled in their interest but largely out of their control. There have been many such rulers in the past. The old Lázaro Cárdenas in Mexico was one such. Augusto Pinochet in Chile was another. Today, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is in a similar position. Such rulers are rightly named after the original Bonaparte. They are called bonapartists. Some of them, like Argentine General Leopoldo Galtieri (in the early 1980s) had an element of a fascist base. But their rule is not fascism; they don’t have a wide enough fanatical base to instill a complete rein of terror.

Trump and Bonapartism
Trump was headed in that direction – towards bonapartism. The fact that he drove all the top generals he’d appointed out of his administration shows that the capitalist class – which those generals represent – were not in favor of a bonapartist, or one-person, dictatorship.

Trump managed a hostile takeover of the capitalists’ number one party. He ruled in a chaotic way, and with some policies that the capitalist class bitterly opposed. These included his hostility to NATO and his economic isolationism. But they couldn’t do much about it.

Trump Refuses to Recognize 2020 Election Results
Then came the 2020 election. The majority of the US capitalist class coalesced around Biden and succeeded in getting him elected. Trump’s response was to try to overturn the very means through which the US capitalist class has ruled for 150 years. After a series of failed maneuvers such as baseless court challenges and organizing fraudulent presidential electors in several states, Trump tried to overthrow capitalist democracy through the January 6 riot. Even after it was put down, he refused to accept that he was not going to remain in office. He refused to pack to vacate the office until just a few days before Biden was to take power.

Some of the classified documents the FBI found hidden away at Mar-a-Lago. They have been prohibited from finding out what Trump has done with them.

Trump Steals US Intelligence Secrets
When he finally packed up and left, he absconded with thousands of pages of some of the most secret documents the US government has. These documents included some that would reveal who US spies are in other countries, what methods the US government employs to intercept the communications of other governments, and the nuclear secrets of some other power or powers (we don’t know which) – or possibly even the US’s nuclear secrets. Nobody knows exactly what Trump was thinking when he stole these documents. Probably even Trump doesn’t know. But knowing how money is the be-all and end-all for him, it’s entirely possible – likely in fact – that he would have ended up “monetizing” them. In other words, sell them for profit or trade them for investment opportunities – if he hasn’t done so already.

As of this writing, the federal government’s investigation as to what Trump did with these documents has been put on hold by a Trump-appointed judge, Aileen Cannon. Even former Trump mouthpieces like former Trump attorney general Bill Barr have panned Cannon’s ruling as being without any legal merit whatsoever. So, once again we see how the interests of the US capitalist class are sacrificed to the interests of this would-be Bonapartist. (Update: Since this was published, Cannon has rejected the request of the Department of Justice – DOJ – that they be allowed to continue investigating who may have seen the classified documents. This means that this MAGA judge places political loyalty over loyalty to the interests of US capitalism – a very strange situation indeed.)

Can you imagine that? A former and possibly future US president stealing and possibly selling some of the most highly secret documents of the US intelligence agencies. And the US government forbidden to even investigate, at least for now. Anybody who thinks this is just a tempest in a teapot is entirely out of touch, just as they are with their covering for Putin in his invasion of Ukraine. They are living in a time warp.

For a more in-depth explanation of this latest (and ongoing) Trump crisis, see The Mar-a-Lago Search and “Political Furies” and The Mar-a-Lago Search: “The Greatest Crisis Since the Civil War” or “a Mere Dispute Over Documents”?

Crises at the top
Revolutions almost always start with a crisis at the top. While a revolutionary outbreak in the US does not seem to be in the cards in the near future, if we are serious about transforming society, we have to conduct a most serious analysis of the state of affairs at the “top”. Anything less simply confines us to in effect accepting the present state of affairs, one in which we can only struggle against those at the top rather than overthrow them altogether.

Spain’s far right Vox party. Just one of several in Europe.

Global Rise of Reaction
There is another and wider reason why this matters. That reason is that Trump’s role is part of a global development. As Yurgos Mitralias showed, there are rising far right movements, most with a fascist element in them, throughout Europe. This includes “VOX” in Spain, “Fratelli d’Italia” in Italy, the Greek Solution in Greece, and of course Viktor Orban, who is actually in power in Hungary. (If that is the case in these western countries, what chance does capitalist “democracy” really stand in Ukraine?)

Opportunity for Socialism
There could hardly be a better opportunity for US socialists to build a real working class base. The US working class has experienced a 45 year assault on its living standards. US imperialism is in irreversible decline. The US capitalist class is in political crisis. The great “red scare” of the days of the Soviet Union is not even a memory for the younger generations. Those same generations are awakening to the developing climate disaster. What remains to be developed is a vision of a better means of organizing society – socialism – and a strategy to get there. That can only be developed based on a correct assessment of the present situation. Yet, incredibly, nearly the entire US socialist left is actually ignoring this present crisis. There’s hardly a socialist group or publication that has published a single article on it. Clarity on two of the world’s major present crises – the war in Ukraine and the domestic political crisis of the US capitalist class, both of which have global implications – are essential for developing that new socialist movement that can and must arise out of the ashes of the old.

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