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The Election of Donald Trump

1. The recent election of Donald Trump after Brexit, the rise of fascist votes in Europe, but also and much better, the electoral victory of SYRIZA and the rise of Podemos are all manifestations of the depth of the crisis of the system of globalized neoliberalism.  This system, which I have always considered unsustainable, is imploding before our eyes at its very heart.  All attempts to save the system — to avoid the worst — by minor adjustments are doomed to failure.

The implosion of the system is not synonymous with advances on the path to building a truly better alternative for people: the autumn of capitalism does not coincide automatically with the spring of the peoples.  A caesura separates them, which gives our epoch a dramatic tone conveying the gravest dangers.  Nonetheless, the implosion — because it is inevitable — should be grasped precisely as the historic opportunity offered to people.  It paves the way for possible advances toward the construction of the alternative, which comprises two indissociable components: (i) at the national level, the abandonment of the fundamental rules of liberal economic management for the benefit of popular-sovereign projects giving rise to social progress; (ii) at the international level, the construction of a system of negotiated polycentric globalization.  Parallel advances on these two levels will become possible only if the political forces of the radical left conceive the strategy for them and succeed in mobilizing the popular classes to make progress toward their attainment.  That is not the case now, as demonstrated by SYRIZA’s retreats, the ambiguities and confusions of the British and US votes, and the extreme timidity of the heirs of euro-communism.

2. The system in place in the countries of the historic imperialist triad (the United States, Western Europe, Japan) is based on the exercise of the absolute power of the national financial oligarchies concerned.  They alone manage the whole of the national productive systems, having succeeded in reducing almost all small and medium-sized enterprises in agriculture, industry, and services to the status of subcontractors for the exclusive benefit of financial capital.  These oligarchies alone manage the political systems inherited from bourgeois electoral and representative democracy, having succeeded in domesticating the right and left electoral political parties, at the price of eroding the legitimacy of the democratic practice concerned.  These oligarchies alone control the propaganda apparatuses, having succeeded in reducing the directors of news organizations including public broadcasters to the status of media clergy in their exclusive service.  None of these aspects of the dictatorship of the oligarchy is challenged by the social and political movements at work in the triad, especially not in the United States.

The oligarchies of the triad also try to extend their exclusive power to the entire planet by imposing a particular form of globalization: globalized liberalism.  But here they face more resistance than there is in the societies of the triad, heirs and beneficiaries of the “advantages” of imperialist domination.  For if the social ravages of liberalism are visible in the West, they are ten times worse in the peripheries of the system, to the point that few existing political regimes still seem legitimate in the eyes of their peoples.  Fragile in the extreme, the comprador classes and states, which constitute the conveyor belts of domination by the triad’s collective imperialism, are therefore rightly regarded by the oligarchies of the centers as uncertain allies.  The logic of the system then imposes militarization and the right of imperialism to intervene — including by war — in the countries of the South and the East.  The oligarchies of the triad are all “hawks”; the NATO, the instrument of their permanent aggression, has thus become the most important institution of contemporary imperialism.

Proof of this aggressive option was given in the tone of President Barack Obama’s remarks during his last European tour (November 2016): to reassure European vassals about US commitment to the NATO.  Obviously the organization is not presented as an instrument of aggression — which it is — but as the means of ensuring the “defense” of Europe.  Threatened by whom?

First of all by Russia, we are told by the media clergy in place.  The reality is different: Putin is criticized for not accepting the Euro-Nazi coup made in Kiev and the gangster government established in Georgia.  He is to be compelled to do so by — beyond the economic sanctions — the threats of war made by Hillary Clinton.

Then, we are told, by the terrorist threat of Islamic jihadism.  Again, opinion is perfectly manipulated on the subject.  Jihadism is merely the inevitable product of the triad’s continued support of reactionary political Islam inspired and financed by Gulf Wahhabism.  The exercise of this so-called Islamic power is the best guarantee of the total destruction of the ability of societies in the region to resist the dictates of liberal globalization.  At the same time, it offers the best pretext for giving the appearance of legitimacy to the NATO’s interventions.  In this regard the press in the United States acknowledged that Trump’s accusation — that Hillary had actively supported the establishment of Daesh — was well founded.

Let us add that the accompanying speeches associating the NATO interventions and the defense of democracy fall in the category of farce, confronted with the reality.

3. The defeat of Hillary Clinton — more than the triumph of Donald Trump — is therefore good news.  Maybe it wards off the threat of the clan of the most aggressive hawks led by Obama and Clinton.

I say “maybe” because it is not clear whether Trump will commit his country to a different path.

In the first place, neither the opinion of the majority who supported him, nor that of the minority who are demonstrating against him, obligates him to pursue such a path.  The debate concerns only some of the problems of society in the United States (anti-feminism and racism in particular).  It does not call into question the economic foundations of the system that are the root cause of the degradations of social conditions in important segments of society.  The sacredness of private property, including that of monopolies, remains intact; the fact that Trump is himself a billionaire was an asset and not an obstacle to his election.  Moreover, the debate was never about Washington’s aggressive foreign policy.  We would have loved to see today’s anti-Trump protesters call for protests against Hillary Clinton’s aggressive remarks before the election.  This obviously did not happen; the citizens of the United States have never condemned military interventions abroad and the genuine crimes against humanity associated with them.

Bernie Sanders’ election campaign had given rise to much hope.  By daring to introduce a socialist perspective into the debate, Sanders initiated the sound politicization of public opinion, which is no more impossible in the United States than elsewhere.  We can only deplore, under these conditions, Sanders’ capitulation and his rallying to the support of Clinton.

Much more important than “public opinion” is the fact that the ruling class of the United States conceives no other international policy than the one practiced since the creation of the NATO 70 years ago — the guarantee of its domination of the entire planet.

In the Republican and Democratic camps dominating the House and the Senate, we are told, there are “doves” and “hawks.”  The first of these characterizations is certainly forced: these are hawks who only think a little more before embarking on a new aggressive adventure.  Trump and some of his entourage may be among them.  Not much better.  Know this: avoid creating too many illusions about him; but also seek to exploit this small crack in the American edifice to reinforce the possible advances toward the construction of another globalization, a little more respectful of the rights of peoples and the demands of peace.  The European vassals of Washington fear this more than anything else.

As a matter of fact, the remarks made by Trump concerning the international policy of the United States are contradictory.  On the one hand, he seems to be willing to recognize the legitimacy of Russia’s fears of the NATO’s aggressive projects in Ukraine and Georgia and see that Moscow is supporting Syria in a fight against jihadist terrorism.  But on the other hand he said he wanted to dismantle the agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.  Moreover, we still do not know whether he is determined to pursue Obama’s policy of unconditional support for Israel or intends to qualify this support.

4. We must therefore place the electoral victory of Donald Trump within the wider framework of the manifestations of the implosion of the system.  All these manifestations remain ambiguous to this day, heralding the chances of a best possible course but also detestable drifts.

Some of the evolutions associated with these manifestations do not in any way challenge the power of the oligarchic ruling class in place.  This is the case of Brexit, the election of Trump, and the projects of the European fascists.

Certainly the campaign in favor of the Brexit appealed to nauseating arguments.  Moreover, this project does not question the fundamental capitalist/imperialist option of Great Britain.  It only suggests that, in the conduct of its foreign policy, London should have a margin of maneuver allowing it to deal directly with its partners, the United States being first in line.  But behind this option also looms what should have been known: that Great Britain does not accept German Europe.  This latter dimension of Brexit is certainly positive.

The fascists of Europe, who have the wind in their sails, are on the extreme right; that is to say, they do not contest the power of the oligarchies in their respective countries.  They wish only to be chosen by them for the exercise of power in their service.  At the same time, of course, they use nauseating racist and other arguments, which prevents them from responding to the real challenges faced by their peoples.

Trump’s power lies in this category of false criticism of liberal globalization.  The “nationalist” tone aims to strengthen Washington’s control of its subordinate allies, not to grant them an independence that they do not even demand.  Trump could, from this point of view, take some modest measures of protectionism, which, moreover, the US administrations have always, without saying so, imposed on their subaltern allies, who are forbidden to retaliate.  Here an analogy can be drawn with what Brexit Britain may wish to do.

Trump suggested that the protectionist measures he is thinking of are primarily aimed at China.  Before him, Obama and Hillary had already, by their decision to transfer the center of gravity of their armed forces from the Middle East to East Asia, designated China as a major adversary.  This aggressive economic and military strategy, in flagrant contradiction with the principles of liberalism of which Washington is the champion, could backfire, motivating China to move forward in a salutary evolution toward strengthening its internal mass market and searching for other partners among the countries of the South.

Will Trump go so far as to repeal NAFTA?  If he did so he would render a great service to the peoples of Mexico and Canada by freeing them from their status as impotent vassals and encouraging them to engage in new directions based on the autonomy of their popular-sovereign projects.  Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the vast majority of Republican and Democratic representatives in the House and the Senate, all of whom have demonstrated an unconditional support of the interests of the American oligarchies, will allow Trump to go that far.

The consequences of Trump’s hostility toward the COP 21 environmental agreement are less serious than its European protagonists suggest, since it is unfortunately clear — or should be clear — that in any event the treaty will remain a dead letter as the rich countries do not intend to keep their financial promises in this area.

On the other hand, certain other manifestations of the implosion of liberal globalization are associated with social advances, some weak, others better.

In Europe, the electoral victory of SYRIZA and the rise of Podemos are part of this framework.  But the projects carried out by these new forces remained contradictory: the rejection of imposed austerity on the one hand, and the illusion of the possibility of European Union reform on the other hand.  History is already demonstrating the error of optimism about this reform, which is in fact impossible.

In Latin America, the advances made during the first decade of the century are now being challenged.  The movements which have brought these advances have undoubtedly underestimated the reactionary character of the middle classes of the countries concerned, in particular Brazil and Venezuela, who refuse to share with the working classes the benefits of any development worthy of the name.

Emerging projects — especially those of China and Russia — remain equally ambiguous: Is their objective to “catch up,” by capitalist means and in the context of globalization which is also capitalist but which they are forced to accept?  Or, aware that the realization of this project is impossible, will the governments in the emerging countries concerned orient themselves more in the direction of popular-sovereign projects?

These reflections on the future of the Trump system should draw the reader’s attention to the complementary aspects of the analysis of the implosion of contemporary capitalism that will be found in the following titles in particular:

The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism (Monthly Review Press, 2013).
Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism (Monthly Review Press, 2016), chap 6 (Ukraine).
“Brexit and the EU Implosion: National Sovereignty — For What Purpose?” (Tlaxcala and MRZine, June and August 2016).
“From Bandung (1955) to 2015: Old and New Challenges for the States, the Nations and the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America” (International Critical Thought, No. 4, December 2015).
“The Return of Fascism in Contemporary Capitalism” (Monthly Review, September 2014).
“Popular Movements Toward Socialism: Their Unity and Diversity” (Monthly Review, June 2014).
“Contemporary Imperialism” (Monthly Review, July-August 2015).
“China 2013” (Monthly Review, March 2013).
“Chine 2013” (La pensée n° 375, 2013).
“Automne du capitalisme, printemps des peuples?” (Blog Samir Amin, August 2016).
“Que peut-on attendre du Nord?” (Blog Samir Amin, March 2016).
“Des projets souverains pour l’Afrique” (Blog Samir Amin, March 2016).
“Glory to the Lucid Courage of the Greek People, Facing the European Crisis” (MRZine, July 2015).

Samir Amin is director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal.  His numerous publications include The Liberal Virus, The World We Wish to See, The Law of Worldwide Value, The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism, and Three Essays on Marx’s Value Theory.  His latest books from Monthly Review Press are The Reawakening of the Arab World: Challenge and Change in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring (2016) and Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism (2016).  The original article “L’élection de Donald Trump” was first published in Samir Amin’s blog on 25 November 2016.  Translated by Dimitri Devyatkin and edited by John Mage and Yoshie Furuhashi (contact: yoshie.furuhashi [at] gmail.com) for MRZine.