A Marxist view from Portugal on U.S. elections and decline of Washington’s power

A Portuguese Marxist analyst looks at the Trump vs. Biden election, assessing its possible impact on U.S. foreign policy. This article was first published Sept. 1 on the jornalmudardevida.net website, which is edited by Raposo. Translation by John Catalinotto.

The confrontation between Trump and Biden, regarding the upcoming U.S. presidential elections, has been presented in the Portuguese media and in Europe as a decisive dispute between tyranny and democracy, between barbarism and civilization, between the threats of war and peace, between chaos and order in the world. 

All these and so many other loosely defined opposites arise more from vested interests trying to score propaganda points than from any real political analysis of what is at stake. They therefore distort reality, namely by emphasizing the idea that there is a crucial difference between the U.S. ruling factions that line up behind the Republican or Democratic party.

We know what Trump has done and we can imagine what his plans are for a second term; but we do not know, in this distorted discussion, the real goals of the ruling-class group and its political agents who promote Joe Biden. When you see a chorus of reactionaries and war criminals lining up behind the Democratic candidate (some of them last-minute deserters from the Republican ranks), you have to ask what you can expect if Biden wins on Nov. 3. 

At the Democratic Party convention that nominated Biden, one of the strong themes was the criticism of Trump’s “softness” toward Russia and China and the loss of U.S. position in the confrontations in which they are involved – Ukraine, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, Iran. One of the stars of the convention was Colin Powell, architect of the war in Iraq. The strengthening of NATO’s military capabilities was another motto, with a view to “recovering the hegemony” of the U.S. in the world.

Trump’s ignorance and bad manners have made him an easy target for criticism, at least for European leaders. Above all, he has become politically undesirable because he has treated the European Union with hostility and has harmed the interests of the Old Continent’s ruling classes. They would, of course, prefer a return to yesterday’s [pre-Trump] understandings and to the “predictability” of a United States foreign policy negotiated in international organizations and through their own channels. That’s despite the kick in the ass the U.S. gave the European leaders when George W. Bush unilaterally decided to wage war on Iraq in 2003, against a good section of the interests of European capitalism.

But European ruling class preferences, which derive from their own needs, are far from what is necessary for the European working classes and peoples. Of course, Trump will not be “their” [the workers’] candidate for all that is known of him and his cronies, be they American or European. In this circumstance, and especially since they have no influence on the vote, the European workers and peoples should understand as clearly as possible what is at stake and distance themselves from what their dominant classes are selling them as if it were of interest “to everyone” and “to the world.”

We have already highlighted in another text some of the realities that determine the recent political trajectory of the USA, beyond Trump’s idiosyncratic offenses. One is the evident decline of U.S. hegemony (economic, political, military, moral), which Washington achieved after 1945 and projected after 1990 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Another is the crisis affecting the entire capitalist world as a result of the decreed “advantages-for-all” of globalization having visibly come to an end (without, of course, it having been “for all”) and posing now, among the great powers, the vital question of who tops whom?

As a result, a third reality at present is the need for U.S. imperialism to pull down the pillars of the world order that it itself created (while it was rising), because it has now lost its competitive capacity and this world order keeps the U.S. wrapped in a straitjacket. American imperialism, in fact, assesses that it no longer benefits from that order in competition with its opponents. That is the source of fascist nationalism, of economic protectionism, of the breakdown of treaties and alliances that had seemed eternal, in the search for new partners.

It is these facts that will inevitably determine the conduct of the United States, whether Trump or Biden is holding the reins of power.

It is impossible to know in advance the methods or concrete measures of the next U.S. president. It is known that Trump, if re-elected, will feel empowered and free to continue on the path he has taken over the last four years.

But it is also clear that Biden will be unable to return the U.S. to how it was in 2016. If, as he announces, he intends to “unite the Americans,” he will have to accept a good part of the reactionary and nationalist demands (especially from the middle classes torn apart by the economic crisis) that brought Trump to power, since it is not in the plans of the Democrats to take a left turn — not even as Bernie Sanders announced — to respond to the real needs of the people.

Rallies for ‘democratic socialist’ Sanders are drawing thousands of young and oppressed workers, here at Queensbridge Park, New York City, Oct. 19, 2019.

Sanders’ program is similar to that of a European-style social democracy. But that is enough for him to be targeted in the U.S. as the most extreme left-winger, not only by the Republicans but also by the Democratic Party leaders, who chose Hillary Clinton over him in 2016 and have now chosen Biden. We saw the result four years ago, now we will see what will happen in November. In fact, the ruling class faction that aligns with the Democrats prefers a Republican victory to the “subversion” that a Trump-Sanders confrontation would cause in U.S. society.

And if Biden wants to rebuild U.S. hegemony in the world, he will have to set in motion, not a path of partnership among equals, but a policy of increased economic, diplomatic and military toughness. This policy will force potential allies, particularly in Europe, to align with the U.S. against Washington’s main rivals, i.e., China and Russia — not forgetting U.S. imperialism’s conflict with the “pariah states” like Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Syria or Venezuela.

In other words, the divisions that now appear between the ruling political factions in the United States − sharpened, let’s not forget, by the needs of the electoral campaign − are driven by a single, common purpose: how to halt the decline of U.S. imperial power.

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