Sharpening the Contradictions

At a number of rallies Donald Trump supporters have been caught on tape harassing and occasionally attacking opposition protestors. Given his vicious rhetoric against women and minority groups there is an increasing tendency among liberals to draw parallels with the European fascists movements of the 1930’s. Though I have written on this topic before I thought it important enough an issue to readdress. Mostly because I believe the parallels and comparisons being drawn are erroneous.

The Fascist movements of the 1930’s were the product of a number of complex social forces. A deep economic depression was wreaking havoc across the planet. In the decades prior to the onset of the depression a world war was the second act in a three act play of revolutionary working class uprisings. Ruling classes around the world were rocked and found themselves caught in fierce struggles with working class peoples for the future of their respective countries and the future of the capitalist system itself. From 1905 to 1923 there were revolutionary waves of mass action against the government in countries like Russia, China, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Croatia, Bulgaria, Mongolia, Bavaria, Ireland, Turkey, Persia, India, Portugal, Mexico, Malta and Egypt. Not to mention other examples of mass action and protest around the world that failed to achieve the levels of success seen in many of the aforementioned nations.

In the wake of these revolutionary upsurges ruling classes around the world took immediate and repressive action. The Red Scare in the United States is the most well known such example. Therefore the evolution of fascist movements in Europe must be considered within this context. Fascism was a byproduct of this struggle, an alliance between the capitalist ruling classes of a particular European nation and the middle class of that same nation. These two groups made a natural alliance given their shared fear of the working class. But it was the existence of a powerful and politically active working class that drove the need for this alliance. In 21st Century America there is no corresponding working class to give credence to the claims of so many liberal thinkers who are trying to draw comparisons between Donald Trump and his campaign with Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini.

Also, the ruling class in America seems quite divided on the candidacy of Donald Trump. While it is my assumption that should Trump win the Republican Party nomination the Republican donor class will fall in line and support him in opposition to the Democratic Part’s nominee I do not see the kind of ruling class unity that existed in Europe in the 1930’s. There just is not a sufficient threat from the Left to unify the ruling class and the middle class in a genuine fascist movement. Trump’s reactionary rhetoric and the violence carried out at his rallies is not all that different from what this country has witnessed in the past as right wing candidates attempt to win the support of the reactionary elements of American political life. The radically reactionary character of the conservative movement in this country has always found violent expression in electoral campaigns, attacking minorities, and even in the recent past killing them. A quick study of the Civil Rights Movement belies this claim.

This is not to say that were I a Muslim American I would not be worried. I most certainly would be. The rhetoric that Trump, and most other conservatives, use on a daily basis gives license to dangerous people to carry out violent acts. Whether it is harassing women entering abortion clinics, or threatening the staff employed there, or mobs appearing outside mosques to threaten worshippers. Nevertheless when we analyze the social forces that have given rise to Donald Trump’s popularity we must categorize it appropriately. In the years building up to the fascist seizure of power in Germany political murder was a daily occurrence. Left-wing politicians, labor leaders, intellectuals, and religious leaders, among others, were the targets of fascist militias. Any person or institution that might stand in the way of fascist domination in Germany was eliminated. Some four hundred political murders were carried out and went unsolved during this period. Fascism is not alive and well in America. Fascism is distinct from conservatism. And to be honest this is nothing more than American conservatism.

However, we must not ignore what is unique about this modern incarnation of conservatism. The donor class of the Republican Party has spent the last forty years building a political and media infrastructure to rewire the brains of millions of Americans. They have created a network of media and political organizations to craft and coordinate right wing ideology. Countenancing the zeal of the base of the Republican Party and turning it into votes they have created a powerful political bloc that has the ability to determine the course of the American political system. The Republican Party has relied for so long on the support of this bloc in their attempts to acquire power that they cannot win without it. But now the tail is wagging the dog. Frankenstein’s monster has escaped the basement and is running through the streets. And they are demanding their prescription for America be filled.

Incredibly, what the base of the Republican Party does not realize is that for the last forty odd years conservatism has reigned supreme in America. Their policies of low taxes, small government and big military have dominated politics. Bill Clinton made allies in Congress with Newt Gingrich to immiserate welfare, balance the budget, de-regulate Wall Street and the telecommunications industry, among other right wing pet projects. They expanded the police state, introduced discrimination against gays into federal law, and so on. Barack Obama has governed as an Eisenhower Republican. Yet, all the while, each time a Democrat is elected to the White House the Republican Party sets out to destroy their administration from inauguration day. This contradiction is necessary because the only way to ensure that their rabid base turns out to vote is to deceive them into believing America is one election away from a socialist dystopia. A world where African Americans have the audacity to look down their noses at white people instead of the other way around. Heaven forbid!

Conservatism is an ideology that advances privilege, inequality, and hierarchy. Therefore, the only way for the elite of the conservative movement to engender the kind of consistent outrage they need to maintain power is to inculcate their followers with the feeling that their privilege is under assault. Like a cult the conservative base of the Republican Party lives in a bubble, ignorant, anti-intellectual, prejudiced, and full with the certainty that they know some kind of divine truth. This is precisely why whenever some bigot opens his mouth to argue against “political correctness” or in favor of some other reactionary fabrication they believe they are breaking a heretofore un-violated taboo.

This belief that they represent a persecuted minority has become so deeply ingrained that they no longer even care about public policy or actual governing. They feel so deeply under threat that the only form their ideology can take now is purely attitudinal. Which perfectly explains Donald Trump’s popularity. Trump has offered very little in the way of consistent policy. From one day to another he could be advocating opposing ideas. And just like in a cult, the people who follow him, the most reactionary element of the Republican Party, such hypocrisy goes unnoticed. They do not remember what was said yesterday. All that matters is what is said today. They just want someone who is going to bully the people they hate. This is entirely about impulse. He is the political manifestation of the Republican Id.

Mass media and social media have allowed American conservatism to evolve in new ways. Only through the use of such technology could the followers of Trump find this kind of satisfaction of their impulses. Every time he goes on live television in front of millions of people and threatens a minority group his followers feel an explosion of endorphins in the brain. This also explains the impulsive behavior seen at his rallies. As the likelihood of Trump becoming the nominee increases, his followers, in a state of wild euphoria, are losing the capacity to control themselves and are beginning to lash out.

Even though I do not categorize this movement as fascist it does not mean that it should not be opposed. What Trump’s candidacy does offer is it sharpens the contradictions between the Republican and Democratic parties. AS long as the Republican Party exists it will be nearly impossible to create a genuine labor or leftwing party in America. The two party system is too ingrained in American political life to be abandoned. As long as the Republican Party exists there will be a means for the Democratic Party to beat its radical base into submission. Fearing the damage done to the country’s vulnerable populations under Republican rule much of the working class is going to remain unconvinced about the necessity for a militant labor or leftwing party. Hopefully this election, with the dominance of a candidate like Trump, is the beginning of the end of the Republican Party.

Left Wing Attacks on Bernie Sanders

Numerous attacks on the economic program offered by Bernie Sanders have be launched in the last few weeks. A letter was written to the Sanders campaign from several past chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA). In the letter the economists claim that Sanders’ domestic economic agenda is nothing more than a bunch of hooey.

“We have worked to make the Democratic Party the party of evidence-based economic policy. When Republicans have proposed large tax cuts for the wealthy and asserted that those tax cuts would pay for themselves, for example, we have shown that the economic facts do not support these fantastical claims. We have applied the same rigor to proposals by Democrats, and worked to ensure that forecasts of the effects of proposed economic policies…are grounded in economic evidence… We are concerned to see the Sanders campaign citing extreme claims by Gerald Friedman about the effect of Senator Sanders’s economic plan—claims that cannot be supported by the economic evidence. Friedman asserts that your plan will have huge beneficial impacts on growth rates, income and employment that exceed even the most grandiose predictions by Republicans about the impact of their tax cut proposals.

As much as we wish it were so, no credible economic research supports economic impacts of these magnitudes. Making such promises runs against our party’s best traditions of evidence-based policy making and undermines our reputation as the party of responsible arithmetic. These claims undermine the credibility of the progressive economic agenda and make it that much more difficult to challenge the unrealistic claims made by Republican candidates.”

But like so much of what liberals argue about any given issue they are once again right, but for the wrong reasons. Nobel prize winning economist, and bourgeois butt-face (I’m sorry; I just couldn’t help myself), Paul Krugman linked to this letter on his blog. His input was limited to arguing that the Senator, who has worked at the Capitol for more than two decades, is “not ready for prime time” while also being unwilling to “face up to the reality that the kind of drastic changes he’s proposing, no matter how desirable, would produce a lot of losers as well as winners”.

Krugman also added that anyone who responds to this letter with a critique that believes it is most certainly relevant which kind of institutional, economic and political, interests those economists represent, then you are part of the problem. Of course Krugman admits to his true allegiance right in his own blogpost when he writes about the Sanders plan producing a lot of losers. He is speaking here, of course, of Capital. Capital loses when policies benefiting Labor are implemented. Though I guess I am just part of the problem for quoting Krugman back to himself.

All this is quite ironic coming from a political commentator who is filled with righteous fury each and every time some blockhead pundit espouses false equivalence between the Democrats and the Republicans. I suppose if one is going to offer a critique of Sanders’ plan from the Left that is not a classic case of red-baiting then one may just as well call Sanders’ a deluded amateur. Sure, he did it politely, so I suppose he gets points for that, but let us not blind ourselves to exactly what is happening here. This is a fight within the left-wing coalition, a fight between the liberal and radical factions. Given where my allegiance lies, therefore, one would be pretty shocked to discover that I agree with the analysis offered by Krugman and the former CEA economists; well, sort of.

It is often the case that a liberal is right about a particular issue, or even a multitude of issues. They just happen to be right for the wrong reasons. One wonders just how well bourgeois economists like Krugman and those formerly of the CEA really understand capitalism or economics, especially since the plan offered by Sanders is not that radically different from the kinds of plans offered by Keynesian economists such as Krugman over the last six or seven years. This is an argument over degrees, not actual policy.

These institutionalist liberal economists believe that the Sanders plan goes too far in redistributing the wealth that has been expropriated from Labor by Capital over the last several decades. Krugman and his ilk will go one television and rail against inequality, unemployment, the destruction of the social safety net and the welfare state. But when a genuine attempt is made by a candidate running for President to push down on the scales in favor of Labor they holds their hands in the air, shouting “Stop,stop,stop! Whoa, buddy, just where do you think you’re goin’ so fast?”.

Theses are economists who advocate the consumption theory of capitalism, that it is the consumer who is the real driving force of the system. Give the consumer more money and you will produce economic growth. For Keynesians, extra spending is produced by money creation, which leads to increased employment, then increases in income and economic growth and finally increases in profits. In reality, however, the capitalist economy works in exactly the opposite direction. Only when profits are high enough do capitalists have the incentive to invest, which produces higher employment, higher incomes, and increased consumption.

Therefore, using the political system to shift the balance of power back to Labor, as Sanders would do, would weaken capitalism, drive down profitability, lead to a strike of investment, layoffs, declining incomes and consumption and ultimately a recession or depression. As we Marxists argue there is no solution to the crises of capitalism within capitalism itself because it is the very crises, recessions and depressions, that are the means for the system to restore profitability. The capitalist class is not going to stand by and do nothing while it is under attack, hence the conflict between the liberals and the radicals within the Democratic Party.

Regardless, we Marxists support any attempt by the political left to implement policies beneficial to Labor. However, both the liberal and the radical factions of the Democratic Party are wrong about the ultimate solution to this crisis. The long term solution is not a moderate or even a radical challenge to capitalism in a period of low profitability. Rather, the capitalist system of production for profit has to be replaced by a system of planned investment under common ownership.

Pendulum Politics Under Capitalism

The election of Justin Trudeau in Canada is another in a long series of elections around the world signaling a leftward lurch in reaction to the age of austerity. Unfortunately, the likelihood that these movements through the electoral system are going to accomplish much of anything is small. Trudeau, the son of a former Prime Minister, and a millionaire who became wealthy the old fashioned way, through inheritance, is more reminiscent of Barack Obama than Eugene Debbs. While many of the stated goals of political parties and politicians like Syriza, Podemos, Justin Trudeau and Bernie Sanders are admirable they are merely one side of a coin.

None of the political events of the last seven years that have provided indications of a genuine change in the status quo have produced said change. The election of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party in 2008 produced a health care bill that will likely save and improve numerous lives while further enriching insurance and pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and doctors. Two years after that election a reactionary resurgence returned control of Congress to the Republicans. Liberal disillusionment and apathy can always be counted upon to provide ample opportunity for Conservatives to lie, cheat, and steal their way into power.

At this late stage in the development of global capitalism there is nowhere for working people to apply pressure to the system in an attempt to force reform. The nationalist period of capitalist development is gone. No longer do capitalists see their interests aligned with a particular country. Their interests extend across the globe, enveloping the planet in a class hegemony heretofore unknown in world history. No mere political party or politician, regardless of which country they represent, is going to be able to roll back the developments of the last several decades. Attempts at piecemeal reform through “legitimate” mechanisms of power will accomplish nothing.

This dynamic has played out repeatedly since the emergence of Neoliberalism in the 1970’s. The Conservatives gain power and then lose it to the Liberals, the Liberals gain power and then lose it to the Conservatives, the pendulum swinging back and forth with hardly anyone noticing that what seems like genuine, uncontrolled, unmanaged, representative democracy is in actuality a predetermined course, a weight tied to a string and swinging from a pivot. Therefore, what seems most likely is a short period of political upheaval followed by stagnation and the inevitable swing back in favor of the conservatives.

The only variable potent enough to instigate real revolutionary change is the forthcoming economic crisis. The capitalist class and it’s allies within the state have jerry-rigged this economy with gum and twine, hoping to drain as much wealth and resource as they can while they can. At least the smart ones are doing this, the rest are likely too delusional about the nature of the system to understand just how precarious is the situation. As Marxist economist Michael Roberts has detailed the capitalist system is in a sharp decline. Profitability, the driving force of the capitalist system, is at its lowest point since it reached its peak in the 1960’s.

Profits drive investment and investment drives employment. Without sufficient profitability the capitalists will begin to pull back further and further on investment. Investment is already incredibly low, but the free flow of credit from governments has bridged the gap. However, this measure cannot last forever as the burden of both public, and private, debt weighs on the system, further inhibiting capitalists from investment and slowing economic growth. How the working class responds to this crisis will determine if we are able to save ourselves and our planet from capitalism.