By Alex Callinicos
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We don’t want Trump—but neither do the bosses

This article is over 7 years, 7 months old
Issue 2530
Donald Trump won the US presidential election despite opposition from most of the ruling class
Donald Trump won the US presidential election, despite opposition from most of the ruling class (Pic: Gage Skidmore)

First Brexit and now Trump. There’s a pattern here that we must try to understand.

Of course it’s disgusting that a racist, sexist property developer has won the presidency of the United States. But something bigger is happening.

Britain and the US were the two advanced capitalist societies that pioneered neoliberalism. This followed the election victories of Margaret Thatcher is British prime minister in 1979 and Ronald Reagan as US president in 1980.

Now we are seeing in both of these countries the cumulative effects of more than 35 years of globalised free market capitalism.

These effects have been greatly reinforced by what the Marxist blogger Michael Roberts calls the Long Depression that started in 2007-8.

So we’ve seen a kind of involution of the political system. On the one hand politics—whatever party is in office—has come to be dominated by a corporate elite deeply wedded to neoliberalism.

Perhaps the clearest example of this was Barack Obama’s election victory eight years ago. This ushered the hope of real change but left the existing order untouched.

On the other hand, and as a consequence, growing numbers of poorer people, in some way or other the victims of neoliberal policies and economic slump, have become more and more distant from mainstream politics.

But—because they still have votes—their bitterness and anger can have explosive political effects.

It was Trump himself who highlighted the parallels between his presidential campaign and Brexit.

In the referendum on 23 June all the forces of the establishment were mobilised to keep Britain in the European Union (EU).

The EU has become an engine driving neoliberalism deep into European society, allowing the City of London remodelled under Thatcher to flourish.

But the big-business Remainers failed, and deservedly so. And all the analyses of the result show that the poorer you are, the more likely you were to vote Leave.

Trump’s victory underlines the success of the populist right in shaping the rebellion against the effects of neoliberalism and crisis.

Again, in the US presidential election, the establishment, including big business, rallied behind Hillary Clinton.

They weren’t necessarily very enthusiastic about Clinton, but they preferred her to Trump.

Trump was deserted by the Republican leadership. The only previous Republican presidential candidate to vote for Trump was the hapless Bob Dole, who was obliterated by Bill Clinton in 1996.

As in the case of Brexit, the stance taken by big business was rational.

Trump campaigned against the liberal capitalist international order that US imperialism has constructed and maintained since the Second World War.

That is to say, against free trade and free movement of capital underpinned by American military power. He denounced the various rounds of trade liberalisation that he held responsible for the decline of US basic industries.

So effective was he that he forced Clinton to disown the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement she had previously supported. But this didn’t prevent Trump carrying the states of the old industrial Midwest—Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin—on Tuesday.

So what we have seen is two great revolts by voters against the effects of the existing neoliberal capitalist order.

Notice that I say “effects”. These weren’t revolts explicitly against neoliberalism.

In the US Bernie Sanders’ campaign showed how an avowed socialist could speak to precisely the kind of voters whom Trump has ended up dominating.

Sadly Sanders fell in line behind Clinton after his own candidacy had been overwhelmed by the official Democratic machine.

Bernie Sanders could have mounted a serious challenge to Trump

Bernie Sanders could have mounted a serious challenge to Trump (Pic: Gage Skidmore)

After this electoral disaster, will the left in the US finally break free from the dead hand of the Democratic Party?

Three questions in conclusion. First, can this go further? Yes, definitely. The French fascist leader Marine le Pen is celebrating Trump’s victory as presaging her own in the presidential election next spring.

Secondly, what difference will Trump actually make? This is hard to say. The neoliberal era of financial speculation made him. He’s not going to break with it.

But his voters will expect him to deliver on his largely unfulfillable campaign promises. This will be a big source of strain under his administration.

But, at the very minimum, after Brexit Trump’s election is the second great breach in the liberal capitalist international order this year.

The US has been the linchpin of this order, managing crises and coordinating the other leading capitalist states. Now it has become a wild card.

Can the arrogant, dysfunctional, increasingly unpopular EU fill the vacuum? To pose the question is to answer it.

More broadly, in the US and Britain the political system is breaking loose from its traditional subordination to capital. Big business wanted neither Brexit nor Trump and is looking on in dismay.

This will probably be only a temporary situation before a new equilibrium between the state and capital is established. But it is a source of enormously instability.

Thirdly, what do we do? Above all, resist. An open racist succeeding the first black president will reinforce the wave of racism sweeping through Western society.

Here in Britain we need to redouble building Stand Up To Racism as a broad and united antiracist movement.

In Trump’s America, black, migrant, and Muslim communities will feel besieged. Black Lives Matter and kindred movements will become even more important.

But resistance isn’t enough. We need strategy as well.

Trump’s victory underlines the success of the populist right in shaping the rebellion against the effects of neoliberalism and crisis.

How can the radical left begin to offer a better alternative? There’s a lot of hard work and imaginative thinking ahead for us.

Stand Up To Racism has called a protest outside the US embassy in London tonight at 6pm.

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