The following is the first part of an exchange between Fred Goldstein and Manuel Raposo, a left-wing Portuguese communist and editor of the web magazine Mudar de Vida (jornalmudardevida.net).
Fred Goldstein: Your question goes to the heart of a very important issue. Is the Donald Trump presidency a temporary phenomenon, or is his regime a symptom of a deeper malady in the organism of imperialism? Will things go back to “normal” once he is gone?
I have been thinking about this very question a lot. I have also been trying to arrive at a method by which to answer it.
First, I put the Trump victory in the context of the rise of political reaction in Europe and its decidedly anti-immigrant, racist emphasis, similar to Trump’s.
It cannot just be coincidental that the AfD in Germany, the Freedom Party in Austria, the Viktor Orbán regime in Hungary, the right-wing government in Poland, the Brexit forces in Britain, the new right-wing coalition in Italy, the National Rally (formerly National Front) in France are all on the rise at the same time. We also see the recent gains by the anti-immigrant Sweden Democratic Party, the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece (an advanced version of Hitler-like forces) and other right-wing political manifestations in Europe.
Second, I think that the general crisis of protracted capitalist stagnation has caused sections of the ruling class on both sides of the Atlantic to move toward adopting a strongly reactionary option: They will use “divide and conquer” because they see no way out of their own crisis — that is, they do not see any significant renewed growth or revived capitalist prosperity in the future. They are all struggling to just stay afloat.
This is true for sections of the U.S. ruling class which have relied on tax cuts, deregulation of environmental protections and stock market speculation to bolster their profits. This class is acting like its situation is precarious and its members anticipate an economic collapse.
Third, the working classes in all the European countries, like the workers and the oppressed in the U.S., have all been subjected to the trauma of austerity early on, BEFORE the immigrant crisis struck Europe in full force.
In the U.S. there is no large influx of immigrants. In fact, there is a net outflow of migrants on the militarized southern border now. I think that the demoralized, alienated sections of the petty bourgeoisie and working class were predisposed to shift to the right after the failure of the Democratic Party and of European social democracy to come to their aid during the economic crisis of 2008, BEFORE the immigrant crisis.
The failure of social democracy and the historical communist parties to take an aggressive, class-conscious, class-struggle approach to fighting austerity left the masses open to a right-wing, anti-immigrant appeal.
Fourth, the right wing of the ruling classes — which are growing stronger and richer — are tempted to stoke the flames of anti-immigrant racism or are growing more comfortable with it. They mildly protest the more extreme anti-immigrant measures, but in the end the bosses are only truly concerned with the availability of a labor force and the impact of immigration policy on their international relations.
Finally, capitalism at a dead end forecloses the possibility of reviving capitalist prosperity. And capitalist democracy depends upon imperialist prosperity.
The bosses in the wealthy imperialist countries were able to afford a more developed form of capitalist democracy in the post-World War II period — that is, to buy off the discontented workers with crumbs.
The British imperialists were able to have their “democracy” when they had a world empire. Once the empire was lost, the British working class was subjected to Thatcherite austerity and now they have the Brexit forces in charge.
The French imperialists had their republics based upon having a lesser empire in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Now they have the growing right-wing orientation of President Emmanuel Macron, with the National Rally party breathing down the necks of the so-called “moderate” bourgeoisie.
And U.S. imperialism constructed a bourgeois democracy on the basis of having established itself as a world power during and after World War I and having taken over large parts of the British and the French empires out of the ashes of WWII. The bosses attained world imperialist supremacy. On that basis they were able to make concessions.
Cannot revive imperialist prosperity
While Wall Street and the Pentagon are still the dominant imperialist power, they cannot revive imperialist prosperity, which is the economic foundation of capitalist democracy. This is the fundamental point about the future after Trump. Capitalist democracy requires imperialist prosperity to finance it. Capitalist democracy in its more vigorous sense must be funded by concessions. This is true not only in the oppressed countries, but also in the big capitalist countries.
The Trump regime may be a distorted form of capitalist reaction, peculiarly shaped by Trump’s style and personality. But whatever the peculiarities of the Trump regime — and there are many — the underlying reaction that he has stoked and consolidated is not going away anytime soon.
The reaction may be slowed down somewhat if the ruling class removes him. There may be a temporary respite if he is driven out or defeated at the polls. But in the long run, capitalism is in a stage of decline, stagnation and austerity.
The only thing that can push back the reaction in the U.S. is the awakening of the proletariat and the oppressed. No one knows when this will happen or how it will develop. But then no one knew that the tremendous teachers’ strikes were coming. These strikes spread like a wildfire from West Virginia to Kentucky, to Oklahoma, to Arizona, to Colorado, to North Carolina.
These strikes took everyone by surprise — the ruling class, the labor bureaucracy, the educational establishment — and the educational workers, who were organized despite the resistance of the government and the union leadership. All the strikes were technically illegal, but the ruling class wisely decided not to enforce the law. This showed in a microcosm what the working class is capable of when pushed to the wall.
The teachers’ struggle has died down for now. But the resentment, the poverty and privation that drove it to burst the bounds of bourgeois legality and conventional subservience to the higher-ups is spreading below.
Marxism has nothing in common with economic determinism. It recognizes that many factors affect political outcomes. Leaders, parties, financial institutions, historical and cultural traditions, natural disasters, etc., all must be taken into consideration.
In the long run, however, Marxism regards the economic factor as the dominant factor. The crisis of capitalist austerity is determining the growth of political reaction, and this reaction must be fought tooth and nail by the workers and the oppressed. History is made by the inevitable awakening of the masses.
This is the hope to turn things around.