It’s been a stormy week for America’s CEO: a flurry of calls and meetings, a whirlwind of Tweets and press conferences, a blizzard of executive orders flying off his desk. In just a few days, Trump has set his stamp on US and world politics, economics, and relations. It was not mere hyperbole when the Marxists said that sharp and sudden changes were on the order of the day, that the process of crisis and class struggle was accelerating, that this was merely the beginning of the beginning of a new era.
It’s hard to say which is more revolting: the impotence of the Democrats and liberals whose policies paved the way for Trump’s presidency, or the holier-than-though Republicans, slobbering over themselves in excitement now that they are masters of the federal trough. These rabid opponents of executive power, these pious defenders of “states’ rights,” “balanced budgets,” and “small government” have suddenly changed their tune.
Like a rabbit out of a hat, money for big projects is magically there, deficit budgets aren’t ruled out, free trade is a bad deal for America, and “big government” can always be bigger. And of course, though it is a dearly held principle of theirs that the state should stay out of people’s private affairs, when it comes to women’s bodies, they believe there should be no limits on government power to enforce the morality of a minority.
It seems that up is down and down in up in Trump’s world. But there is no real contradiction. Their behavior is perfectly logical if we consider that their principal function is to increase capitalist power and profits at the expense of the working class. Ideology is merely a cover for these machinations, and they cynically change their stripes whenever it suits them.
Trump and his cabinet must walk a high-stakes tightrope. While demagogically appealing to their narrow social base, they must keep the profits of the capitalists flowing and social unrest from getting out of hand. How Trump and Co. expect to achieve this over the long term is anyone’s guess. Expectations are high among his supporters, and despite his bombast, his structural options are limited. He will find out soon enough that a complex, decaying capitalist economy cannot be governed by executive decree—especially one hemmed in by the 228-year old US Constitution. But Trump’s attempts to do so make it clear that he intends to do his damnedest to implement as many of his wild and reactionary pre-election promises as possible.
Executive orders galore
One of Trump’s first acts was to commit to repealing Obamacare. Obama’s signature reform is a colossal corporate handout to private health insurance companies, with a light sprinkling of government support for the most destitute. It has led to skyrocketing premiums and medical bankruptcy for millions of working families—along with hefty profits for big business.
Marxists oppose Obamacare, but for different reasons than the Republicans. Paul Ryan and Trump despise it for even hinting that the US government should expand its meager provision of social services to the poor. Such notions must be bashed out of people’s minds! Marxists seek to abolish private health care and replace it with a socialized system providing quality care for all. A majority of Americans agree with this and want Obamacare replaced. But if Obamacare is repealed, what will “Trumpcare” look like? How can premiums be lowered and coverage expanded if the role of the market is increased even further? These are just some of the circles Trump is expected to square.
Yet another executive order openly attacked funding for women’s health. Trump is also set to fill the Antonin Scalia’s vacant spot on the Supreme Court with someone even more right-wing, setting the stage for one hell of a fight over abortion rights in the years to come. The magnificent turnout for the Women’s March is a sign of things to come as the struggle “gets real” for millions who thought that nine unelected, reactionary judges could be relied on to defend basic democratic rights.
In a direct attack on organized labor, the new president also ordered a hiring freeze for federal employees. This means that as the workforce is reduced through retirement, job transfers, or layoffs, those remaining will have to do more work than ever for wages that do not even keep up with inflation. Another executive order gave the go-ahead for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, which are sure to be fought against bitterly.
“I love Hispanics!”
Trump also outlined his plan to expand the state’s reach further by hiring 5,000 more Border Patrol agents and building a 2,000-mile wall at the cost of at least $10 billion. A 20% tax on imports from Mexico is just one of many “buffet” items Trump and the Republicans have put on the table to “make Mexico pay” for the wall.
Aside from alienating one of the US imperialism’s most important trade and security partners, Trump threatens to snuff the life out of Mexico’s tepid economic recovery, made possible only by savage attacks on the workers and poor. It is said that when the US economy gets a cold, Mexico gets pneumonia. Trump seems hell-bent on giving Mexico lung cancer. With neighbors like these, it’s little wonder revolutionary hero Pancho Villa wanted to dig a 500-meter wide trench to keep out the “gringos”!
While Trump’s attacks may temporarily drive many Mexicans behind the deeply unpopular Peña Nieto, the long-term consequences for the class struggle south of the border are explosive. Mexico’s revolutionary traditions are alive and well, and at a certain stage, national unity will inevitably turn into working class unity. Looking for work in the US has long been a safety valve for the pressure cooker of Mexican society. If remittances from the US to Mexico fall and a job north of the border is no longer an option for many, the arrival of the Mexican revolution will only be accelerated. And while a massive wall may keep out some people, there is no way it can stop a revolution.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...”
Then there were his Islamophobic decrees on refugees and immigrants. Citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations—Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen—are to be detained upon arrival to the US. Never mind that none of the terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks were from any one of these countries. If that isn’t Draconian enough, the order specifies that all refugees and even some green card holders are to be barred entry as well. The provision that exceptions be made for religious minorities (i.e., Christians) from these countries makes the religious targeting clear. Emboldened by Trump, there has been a rise in anti-Muslim attacks across North America, including a mass murder at a mosque in Québec City in Canada.
But the true spirit of international solidarity was alive and well as thousands of people spontaneously descended on New York’s JFK airport to protest the new rules. The New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance announced they were suspending pickups from JFK in protest. A federal judge in New York eventually stepped in to issue a temporary injunction, stopping Homeland Security from sending those already on US soil back to their countries. But the protests continued around the country, as a judge’s temporary order is hardly the basis for real change.
The growing divisions in the bourgeois state were evident once again as the judge ruled that Trump’s policy would cause “irreparable” harm. The real irreparable harm being done is to the capitalists’ ability to rule over society. In the face of a massive backlash, the Trump Administration has already had to compromise on how it will implement its new policy. This can only embolden the movement moving forward as protests have already forced Trump to back down. As the Marxists predicted, a Trump victory would immediately lead to an explosion of Wisconsin-like protests across the country.
Trump also decreed that the US would not approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement. This is not because he favors a world socialist federation—far from it! It is due to his obtuse protectionism, and in practice represents a severe blow to US imperialism’s “pivot” away from Europe and the Middle East to Asia. Obama’s Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, recently stated that the TPP is crucial to the US’s geopolitical security and worth as much as an additional aircraft carrier in the Pacific.
Trump’s “America First” worldview is a crude reflection of the declining power of US imperialism. While Obama tried to organize a graceful and orderly retreat from the world stage, Trump has insulted the guests, slammed the door, and stormed out of the building. This runs counter to the interests of a large section of American capitalists, whose interests are deeply intertwined with the world market. At root, however, the worldwide revival of economic nationalism, isolationism, and protectionism is a condemnation of capitalism and a tacit recognition that the system is at an impasse.
Protectionism once played a historically progressive role in capitalism’s development. In the early decades of the system, it allowed weaker countries to develop their native industries without being overwhelmed by their more advanced competitors. The essence of globalization and free trade was to open the world market—by force when necessary—to the most powerful economies, in particular, the United States. But the organic limitations of the system have now been exposed, and this process has been kicked into reverse—even before the next big economic calamity hits.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average stock index has hit 20,000 for the first time in history, a testament to Wall Street’s money-making mood now that Trump has taken the helm. But the economic fundamentals are far weaker than the pundits admit, and Trump’s erratic policies could set off an economic avalanche at any time.
The litmus test for any socioeconomic system’s historical right to exist is whether or not it can develop the productive forces and raise humanity’s quality of life. Capitalism is a world system, and must therefore be judged globally, not in isolation. In its desperation to jumpstart its domestic economy at the expense of its rivals, the most powerful capitalist country in history has admitted the system is not up to the task of developing the productive forces of the world. Only socialism can pick up where capitalism has left off and ultimately failed. But the only solution Trump can see is to try to turn the US into a gated community. To the horror of the more farsighted capitalists, Trump is steering the Titanic away from an iceberg and straight into a cliff.
No way forward under capitalism
The ocean of world capitalism is on fire. As a result, we are treated to the absurd spectacle of rats climbing over each other to jump onto a sinking ship. World, business, and shamefully, even labor leaders are browning their noses to get in the good graces of the biggest bully on the block. Everyone from Britain’s Theresa May to Tesla’s Elon Musk, from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to the leaders of the building trades unions, thinks they will find protection on the playground. But they have forgotten what eventually happens to all bullies when the majority decide enough is enough and fight back.
Some people, desperate for real change after decades of decline, hope against hope that Trump can restore the American Dream. Others accuse him of destroying it. The reality is it is already finished. The American Dream was predicated on the unprecedented power of US capitalism. That era is now behind us. Capitalism cannot provide quality jobs, healthcare, education, housing, security, and a dignified retirement for all.
Trump and Bannon may have managed to transform the anger of a layer of the working class into electoral victory, but they are completely divorced from the real mood in society and cannot address the fundamental cause the discontent and instability: the organic crisis of capitalism.
Obama and the Democrats failed, and so will Trump and the Republicans. The only way to fight austerity and win a better world for all is through conscious class struggle. For this, the workers require their own mass, class-independent political party. Building such a party remains the key historic task facing us in the next period.
Luckily for us, Trump is doing 99% of the work of revolutionary recruitment. He is sparking one fight back after another and despite his bravado, does not have the repressive apparatus to put down the entire country. As bad as Trump may seem, the class balance of forces is such that a naked dictatorship is ruled out at this stage. Individual fascists and “white nationalist” organizations are indeed coming out of the woodwork, but they are vastly outnumbered, and, as suggested by Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, their faces are being introduced to the pavement. However, while individual attacks on fascists show the fighting instincts of the oppressed, only the power of the united working class can sweep this garbage from the face of the earth once and for all.
Join the fight for revolutionary socialism!
Trump has no mandate and his honeymoon ended on election night. He was elected due to the retrogressive nature of the US electoral system, not because a majority of Americans have “moved to the right.” Nor is this G.W. Bush after 9/11 and a temporary 90% approval rating. This is the unhinged administration of a ruling class rogue without majority support, even among his own class.
The Democrats and liberals are popping up for photo ops at the countless spontaneous protests around the country, but they had their “lesser evil” chance to stop Trump, and failed miserably. The working class can rely only on our own organizations and methods to stop Trump and the system he represents. We have the power to shut down Trump in a heartbeat with nationwide strikes, workplace occupations, and a general strike. Unfortunately, the class-collaborationist labor leaders have moved so far to the right that this is the last thing on their minds. They have become an objective obstacle to unleashing the full power of the workers. But the pressure in the rank and file and among the unorganized is building, and these leaders and their policies will not be able to keep the lid on for the capitalists forever.
Almost overnight, it seems as though history has sped up. You can feel the growing tension as the accumulated contradictions of the past erupt suddenly onto the surface. The days when protests and mass movements were few and far between are over. The new normality is a world in which the whip of reaction and fight-backs of the workers and youth are near daily occurrences. In the next historical period, the many streams of struggle churned up by the crisis will converge into a raging torrent.
The Marxists stand on the front line of every battle between the exploiters and the exploited. Contrary to Trump’s assertions, we truly do have the best ideas! But the reality is that our forces are still too numerically weak to have a decisive impact on events. We cannot be everywhere a protest or strike erupts. To rectify this we must grow in both quality and quantity and keep our eye on the prize: the building of a revolutionary cadre organization with roots in every workplace, working-class neighborhood, and campus. There are no shortcuts, and impatience is the bane of revolutionaries!
All political and economic perspectives are conditional; even more so with a president as unpredictable as this, in charge of a system as unstable and decrepit as this. But one thing is certain: no matter how we are exploited, no matter how we are oppressed, our class interests are irreconcilably opposed to those of the capitalists. Capitalism is tottering, but it will not complete its journey over history’s cliff until the united working class gives it a conscious push. On the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution, there is no better slogan than Marx’s: workers of the world, unite!