(This appeared originally on the Oakland Socialist.)
Throughout the world, the Trump forces are gathering steam. In Britain, in a fit of national chauvinism and anti-immigrant sentiment, the majority if Brits voted to leave the European Union (“Brexit”) in order to prevent foreign workers from entering the country. In Myanmar (Burma), there has been a wave of attacks on the Muslim minority known as the Rohingya. Throughout Europe, far right racist and chauvinist parties are on the rise. And to this we must add what is happening in the Islamic world, where Sunni and Shia have been attacking each other with a vengeance.
What is happening in our world?
There are three main factors:
- The first is the breakdown of the “world (capitalist) order”. For 50 years, the world was dominated by the competition between the capitalist world and the Soviet Union and its allies. This competition forced the capitalist world to huddle together behind the leadership of US capitalism. Then, for a short time after the Soviet Union collapsed, US capitalism dominated the world without a rival. We went from a “bipolar” world to a “unipolar” world. And now?
Let us allow the editors of the Wall St. Journal speak: “For 20 years and through administrations of both parties, the U.S. managed to contain the emergence of such regional threats (to US domination). But that containment has broken down in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia…”
Into this vacuum, the regional powers battle for influence. This takes the form of Shia vs. Sunni sectarianism as the Iranian regime (Shia) battles primarily the Saudi regime (Sunni) for influence and control throughout the Arab world. The Russian capitalist regime has also entered the fray in Syria, seeking to maintain and expand its influence. Meanwhile, the US regime has been more or less standing on the sidelines, wringing its hands over the fact that it can hardly find a reliable base of support for itself. Now, under Trump, they are planning on entering more decisively on the side of Assad & Company.
In the US, this collapse of the “world order” has also led to increased confusion. Like a kidnap victim under the influence of the “Stockholm Syndrome”, in which the victim associates him or herself with the kidnapper, workers the world over tend to associate with their rulers – “their” capitalist class. The more dominant “their” capitalist class is, the more they tend to associate with them. The severe weakening of US capitalist domination has increased the feeling of insecurity and confusion among millions of US workers. This is a major aspect of the popularity of Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.” — a return to the “good old days” when America was unchallenged, when it was “number one”.
This collapse of the old order will not be reestablished except through a new global-scale war – a war that would threaten the existence of human society.
- Then there is the economic crisis of world capitalism. Bubbling along under the surface, it burst forth in 2007-8, threatening an all-out collapse of global capitalism. Contained by massive government bail outs of the banks and other financial institutions, it is nowhere near resolved. Even the recovery has not benefited the working class. A recent Oxfam report (as reviewed here) revealed that the richest 1% of the world has 65 times the wealth of the bottom 50%! In every age bracket and among all racial and ethnic groups, economic insecurity reigns.
The combined effect of these two developments has meant a rising tide of economic nationalism – the idea that if only we were alone in our own little economic world, things would be better. That is another part of the reason for the “Brexit” vote, as well as the support for Trump’s drive towards tariff barriers and trade wars.
- There is a third factor: The weakening of the working class as an organized, coherent and independent political force. For decades, in Europe for example, the workers had their own parties (the social democratic and socialist parties) that at least to a certain extent worked for their benefit. Now, those parties have gone over to attacking the very same benefits that they were so central to brining into existence in the first place. In North Africa/West Asia, radical nationalist parties had a similar effect in the past. But they degenerated into dictatorships like Assad in Syria, who was little but a neoliberal stooge for the World Bank until the Arab Spring of 2011. And a bloody, murderous tyrant to boot.
This has led to a scattering – a partial fragmentation – of the world’s working class. In the US, for example, where there never even was a mass working class political party, the working class hardly even exists as a coherent political force. Some sectors vote for the Democrats, some for the Republicans. Among the Democrats, some sectors of the working class supported the mainstream (Clinton) while other sectors supported the liberal wing (Sanders). Some are concerned about the environment; others have fallen for the environment vs. jobs line.
Another part of the reason for this fragmentation is the role of the US union leadership. Even in their extremely weakened state, the unions are still the only mass working class organizations in this country. But the entire top leadership is locked into the view that they must help “their” employers compete with the non-union employers. This means granting concessions and refusing to fight for the members on the job. And this is what the leadership preaches https://oaklandsocialist.com/2016/09/02/political-shifts-and-the-unions-labor-day-2016/ to its members. It has led to an unprecedented level of alienation from and anger at the unions by the rank and file as well as confusion.
Along with the confusion grows the political vacuum. Into this vacuum has stepped the likes of Donald Trump.
The Socialist Left
In past crises, such as in the 1930s, the socialist left of different stripes played a meaningful role. Already marginalized by the long period of capitalist stability, today much of that left is isolated from the working class and sometimes even more confused. Much of it, for example, supported the “Brexit” vote on the grounds that it was a vote against “globalization” of capitalism. What they missed was that it was a vote for a return to economic nationalism and for chauvinism and xenophobia. They were so blinded by the fact that it weakened capitalism that they completely missed the fact that it further divided, confused and weakened the working class!
As far as the unions, the great majority of the socialist left has shown no interest in helping the rank and file organize to make the unions the fighting organizations that so many sacrificed so much for in the first place. Instead, they have this rotten bargain where some union leader or another agrees to support some “progressive” political cause and in exchange the socialist left ignores how that same leader is selling his or her members down the road on a daily basis.
On top of this is the methods of the different socialist groups, almost all of which are simply jockeying for position, trying to figure out how best to recruit to their own particular tiny group.
The situation cannot last forever. Already the winds of change are blowing, as we saw in
the Women’s march. This was followed by the massive turnout to stop Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at UC Berkeley, Many if not most of the students there were participating in such a protest for the first time. Several to whom this writer spoke said that a year or two ago they never could have seen themselves participating in a protest like this.
These are just the first few hints of a new movement that is just starting to develop. The direct and indirect representatives of the Democratic Party will be the main ones leading this movement, but not since the 1930s has there been such an opening for serious socialists. Those who are not stuck in the past, who seriously want to break out of their isolation, should turn to the working class, including working class youth, instead of maneuvering within the already-existing “left” as well as tying ourselves hand and foot to the non-profits and to the “progressive” union leaders. Together, a broad socialist alliance can be built with some small but real roots among workers and young people. One that argues for:
- Mass defiance of Trump and of capitalism!
- No support for any wing of the Democratic Party!
- For a fighting, mass working class party, one that is built through action and links up the action with running candidates!
- Socialism… Not social democracy (as seen in Europe), but real socialism, where the commanding heights of the economy are owned by society as a whole and for workers’ democracy.