Above: Steve Bell, Guardian
Also published on the Workers Liberty website and in the current issue of Solidarity:
Organise, on the streets and in the labour movement! Argue for socialist, democratic, internationalist ideas which offer a real answer both to Trump’s rancid, right-wing, regression, and to the discredited status quo. That is how we can block Trump.
Trump’s “executive order” of 27 January has stirred up protests across the world. Trump’s “Muslim ban” halted the entire US refugee programme for 120 days, and indefinitely banned Syrian refugees fleeing Assad’s butchery and the sectarian Islamist militias. All travellers who have nationality or dual nationality of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are not permitted to enter the US for 90 days, or be issued an immigrant or non-immigrant visa. Customs and Border Protection agents have defied the orders of federal judges halting deportations.
Besides this outrageous act of anti-Muslim and racist discrimination, Trump has also signed executive decisions:
• To build a wall along the US-Mexico border
• To withdraw US federal grant money from “sanctuary cities” in the USA which refuse to deport undocumented immigrants
• To advance construction of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines
• To order the commerce secretary to develop a plan (likely to breach WTO rules) requiring US-made steel for the pipelines
• To order public agencies to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay” all portions of Obama’s Affordable [Health] Care Act that create financial burdens on states, individuals, or healthcare companies
• To ban federal money to international groups that perform or provide information on abortions
• To withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks. Trump has suggested that South Korea and Japan develop nuclear weapons and US forces withdraw from those countries.
He has courted Russian president Vladimir Putin, but talked of rescinding the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, in which Russia was an interested participant. He has favoured the use of torture, but suggested for now he will defer to Defense Secretary James Mattis on that. He has promised to build up US militarism. He has given a green light for more-or-less unlimited Israeli settlement and creeping annexation in the West Bank.
On 27 January, too, the Holocaust Memorial Day statement from Trump’s White House, unlike previous such US presidential statements, omitted Jews and antisemitism. Trump’s chief of staff defended the omission: “I mean, everyone suffering in the Holocaust including, obviously, all of the Jewish people affected… is something that we consider to be extraordinarily sad”.
Trump’s style is often fascistic: authoritarian, demagogic, militaristic, nationalist. The analytic difference between this and full-fledged fascism has importance. As Trotsky explained in the 1930s, when the Stalinists had the habit of describing all they disliked as “fascist”, fascism requires a street-fighting “movement of large masses, with new leaders from the rank and file… a plebeian movement in origin… from the petty bourgeoisie, the lumpenproletariat, and even to a certain extent from the proletarian masses… with its leaders employing a great deal of socialistic demagogy”.
The reactionary mass movement gives fascism the facility, which ordinary decree from above lacks, to crush the labour movement, civil society, and civil liberties, and to impose demagogic, nationalist, racist, protectionist, militaristic policies which even the majority of the bourgeoisie dislikes. “Such a government does not cease being the clerk of the property-owners. Yet the clerk sits on the back of the boss, rubs his neck raw and does not hesitate at times to dig his boots into his face”. In return:
“From fascism the bourgeoisie demands a thorough job; once it has resorted to methods of civil war, it insists on having peace for a period of years”.
To declare a right-wing government “fascist” before time amounts to declaring that social civil war has been lost in advance. Trump’s turn, however, can do great damage, and build conditions for actual fascism after the next great economic crisis. Already it shatters complacencies. Already it breaks up the comforting assumption that even if things get worse under neoliberalism, not all of them do, and worsening is slow, so if you have an established citizenship and good jobs you can keep ahead.
The globalised neoliberal world order has resilience. It has negotiated and absorbed many shocks. A great swathe of top-level opinion considers Trump maverick and dangerous. Within a few days of Trump’s “Muslim ban”, over 9,000 US academics, including 50 Nobel prize-winners and 82 winners of Fields medals or similar, had signed a protest, and they included the doyens of neoliberal economics, Eugene Fama and Robert Lucas. Yet, as the conservative writer Jonathan Rauch pointed out last year, the system of political mediations, consultations, information-flows, safeguards for continuity and coherence, in the USA, had substantially fractured even before Trump, replaced by a chaos of demagogues negotiating an atomised and disinformed electorate and a welter of wealthy lobbyists. In this fracturing, and with the confidence of orthodox bourgeois leaders shaken by the crash of 2008 and the disarray since then, a militant and cohesive bourgeois minority — and Trump may be able to assemble that — can take the initiative. The rest will mostly adapt (as Theresa May and Boris Johnson are doing) or shrug ineffectually.
In the USA’s State Department (equivalent of the Foreign Office), top officials had, as a conventional formality, submitted resignation letters on the arrival of a new president. Usually new presidents ignore most such letters and maintain some continuity of management. Trump has accepted all the resignation letters and made a clean sweep.
Against a determined push by Trump, the liberal bourgeoisie will not safeguard the moderate extensions of women’s and LGBT equality, the modest opening of opportunities to ethnic minorities, the relative freedom of movement for some across some borders, the mild cosmopolitanism, on which it prides itself. Having already let so many civil rights be swallowed by the “war on terror” and the drive for “labour flexibility”, it will be no bulwark for the rest. The liberal bourgeoisie may not even safeguard the achievement of which it boasts most, the reduction of economic barriers between countries.
Before the USA’s Smoot-Hawley tariff law of 1930, which started a catastrophic spiral of protectionism and shrinking world trade, “economics faculties [in the USA]… were practically at one in their belief that the Hawley-Smoot bill was an iniquitous piece of legislation”. Over a thousand economists petitioned the US administration against it. It went through, and its effects spiralled. It falls to the labour movement to defend even the limited bourgeois ameliorations.
The labour movement cannot do that unless it mobilises; unless it cleanses itself of the accommodations to nationalism now so common over Brexit; and unless it spells out socialist answers which can convince and rally the millions of the economically marginalised and disillusioned. It falls to the left to make the labour movement fit for those tasks.