DONALD TRUMP likes to think that he has not only won an election, but “built a movement.” And to judge by his first week in the White House, he has–just not in the way he thinks.
One day after the smallest public attendance at a presidential inauguration that anyone can remember, roughly a half million people turned out for the Women’s March on Washington to denounce Trump’s agenda of immigrant-bashing, misogyny and attacks on reproductive rights. It was perhaps the largest protest since the antiwar rallies during George W. Bush’s second term, and a number of speakers expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement against racist police violence. On the same day as the march, hundreds of “sister” events were held at the same time in cities throughout the U.S. and around the world (including Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt) with estimates of up to 3 million participants in total.
In short, Donald Trump may well be on the way to inspiring a new mass radicalization on a scale that American leftists have only dreamt of in recent decades. In 2016, millions of first-time voters came out in support of Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Party candidate who identifies himself as a socialist and has called for “political revolution”–a concept left vaguely defined, to be sure, but one that resonates with a generation that has grown up with no reason to think that either the world’s economy or its environment can take much more of capitalism’s “invisible hand.”
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JUST TWO months ago, the movement most associated with Trump’s name was the so-called “alt-right” of extreme reactionaries, including the neo-fascists who joined Richard Spencer in chanting “Hail Trump!” during a meeting of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist “think tank.” Another leading alt-right figure, Trump’s campaign manager Steve Bannon, now serves as the president’s chief strategist and senior counselor, and has undoubtedly been the adviser urging Trump to think of his electoral success as proof that he is at the leader of a mass movement.
It is something Trump himself quite desperately wants to believe. Anyone paying attention to his campaign could see how deeply he craved the adulation of crowds that laughed, cheered and expressed rage in time to his moods. Someone once called politics “show business for ugly people.” By that standard, Trump is a star ne plus ultra.
But he is far from knowledgeable about affairs of state, much less about the complex ideological terrain of American conservatism. He enters office with a Congress dominated by a Republican Party that–as one of its leading strategists put it–only needs the president to have enough fingers to sign the legislation it gives him. Trump qualifies in that regard, so the Republican establishment thinks it can work with him. They can all agree on dismantling Obama’s health-care reform, cutting taxes, privatizing public education, restricting the rights of women and LGBT people and removing or preventing government regulation of the economy (especially of anything based on a recognition of man-made climate change), for example.
Most of this has been central to the Republican agenda for decades, along with support for military spending and an aggressive imperialist foreign policy. Carefully avoided, for the most part, is any explicit reference to race. The late Lee Atwater, an influential Republican figure, once explained that the old-fashioned race-baiting had become unpopular and ineffective, so the trick was to be more subtle. “So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff,” he told a political scientist, “and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, Blacks get hurt worse than whites…’We want to cut this’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.'”
Trump’s political ascent began with a variant on this tactic: he promoted the idea that Barack Obama could not prove that he was actually a U.S. citizen. But his campaign rhetoric against Mexican and Muslim immigrants was less “abstract” (to borrow Atwater’s term) about appealing to racist sentiments. This proved embarrassing to Republican leaders, but they were hardly in the position of taking a principled stand against it. At the same time, a tension within the American right had intensified under the impact of the world economic crisis: Republican propaganda might celebrate the wealthy as “job creators,” proclaim the virtues of small business ownership, and declare rural towns to be “the real America.” But the policies they actually advanced (and that the Democratic party under Clinton and Obama largely supported) have heightened economic uncertainty and inequality to extremes not seen since the Great Depression.
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SPENCER, BANNON and other alt-rightists understand their role as building up mechanisms of political and social authority over a population that will only grow more ethnically and cultural heterogeneous in the next two decades–while also being unlikely to recover its standard of living through the pure magic of the free market. They reject both neoliberalism and Atwater-style coyness about channeling racial hostilities.
Insofar as the conservative establishment has a body of ideas to shore it up, the influences come from a blend of Ayn Rand’s celebration of “the virtue of selfishness” with a belief that God dictated the Constitution, or at least had a hand in the outline. By contrast, the more sophisticated of the alt-right strategists are acquainted with Alain de Benoist’s ethnic communitarianism and Carl Schmitt’s understanding of politics as defined by the sovereign’s combat with an enemy. And they see most of the Republican leadership as being an enemy.
Donald Trump is no doubt entirely innocent of such esoteric concepts. He spent his first week in a simmering rage over slights by the media and fuming from an awareness that he entered office with the lowest level of public confidence of any incoming president (only to lose another three points since then). But he sits astride the fault line between members of Congress who see themselves as Ronald Reagan’s political heirs, on the one side, and those who share Bannon’s aspiration to destroy the Republican Party and replace it with something more vicious and brutal.
It is, in other words, a precarious and unstable conjuncture and one that can only grow more volatile as far-right campaigns mobilize elsewhere in the world. One thing that Marxists bring to the situation is an understanding that capitalism’s crises are always international–throwing down to us the challenge of finding ways to learn from and unify the forces from below that resist them. Millions of people in the United States are thinking about how to shut down Trump’s assaults on vulnerable segments of the population. And seeing millions more around the world take to the street in solidarity can only help as we relearn the truth of the old Wobbly slogan: An Injury to One is an Injury to All.
First published in German at Marx21 and in English at New Politics.
Hope Not Hates‘s report 2017 State of Hate is essential – and disturbing – reading for anyone concerned about the present resurgence of the far-right in Britain and Europe.
The report notes the rise of a new generation of far-right activists as part of the white nationalist “alt-right” scene, especially active on social media.
I am grateful to the Morning Star for drawing my attention to this important report. Today’s M Star paraphrases an opening section of the report thus:
It also said that the flames of fascism had been fanned by international events, including the election of Donald Trump, growing racist parties in western Europe and authoritarian states in central and eastern Europe.
The actual report states:
Now, with the uncertainty of the Brexit negotiations, the fall out from Trump’s presidency, increased influence of far right parties in Western Europe and the authoritarianism seen in parts of Eastern Europe, the problems emanating from Britain’s far right will be more numerous and multifaceted.
Spot the difference.
Ann Field reviews Denial, now on general release:
Denial is a dramatisation of the libel case brought by Holocaust denier and Hitler apologist David Irving against the American academic Deborah Lipstadt (author of Denying the Holocaust, in which Irving featured prominently) and Penguin Books (which published her book).
The film has received mixed reviews. Some critics have described it as “hammy”, “stuffy and repetitive”, and “a standard issue legal drama”. The character of Lipstadt has also been criticised as “so predictable” and “an impassioned mouthpiece with no internal life.” And given the well-known result of the real-life trial — in 2000 a High Court judge found that Irving had knowingly distorted history and ruled in favour of Lipstadt and Penguin Books — the eventual outcome of the trial is not a source of tension in the film.
But the film is well worth seeing. Irving is such a truly repulsive character, and the contrast between him and Lipstadt so absolute, that the audience can only enjoy the wait for Irving’s eventual defeat in court, and then relish the moment of his demise Irving does not look at people. He leers and scowls at them. When he speaks, his face twists into a grimace. He is full of his own bloated self-importance, but fawning and sycophantic towards the judge in court.
During the film Lipstadt and her legal team watch clips of Irving addressing neo-Nazi rallies, making racist “jokes”, and denying the genocide of the Holocaust. The cheap and grainy quality of the clips helps emphasise the tawdry and seedy nature of the character they show. Irving also excels in a poisonous anti-semitism-by-innuendo. “Who pays you to write your books?” asks Irvine when he “ambushes” Lipstadt in a lecture at the start of the film.
According to his libel claim, Lipstadt is “part of a world conspiracy to destroy his reputation.” And in one of the court scenes he refers to “those who funded her (Lipstadt) and guided her hand.” But, for all his bravado, Irving is also a pathetic figure. As Lipstadt’s barrister points out, Irving wants to be seen as a great writer and historian and hankers after respect — “England is a club and he wants to be a member of it.” That makes Irving’s defeat all the more complete and all the more enjoyable when it arrives.
He loses the trial, he is exposed as a charlatan rather than a historian, and when he tries to shake the hand of Lipstadt’s barrister — as if the trial had been a public school sixth form debate — the latter abruptly turns his back on him. Lipstadt, on the other hand, is built up into a champion of the oppressed. Her name, Deborah, she explains, means leader and defender of her people. She is a woman and a Jew, which is one reason why Irving is so intent on pursuing her. And she has no interest in negotiating, compromising or reaching an out-of-court settlement with Irving.
She also spells out the importance of the case in which she is the central figure: if Irving wins, then Holocaust denial receives a judicial stamp of approval as a legitimate opinion. There is no face-to-face confrontation between Lipstadt and Irving in the film. But there is a succession of dramatic confrontations between Lipstadt and her legal team.
Lipstadt wants to give evidence at the trial. Lipstadt wants Holocaust survivors to give evidence at the trial. Lipstadt promises a Holocaust survivor that the voices of those who did not survive will be heard at the trial. But her legal team will have none of this.
Almost to the point of caricature, they are hardheaded legal professionals who base their strategy solely on what is most likely to achieve victory in court. When Lipstadt objects that if she does not testify in court people will call her a coward and that she would have to live with that for the rest of her life, her barrister responds: “That’s the price to pay for winning.”
Not that her barrister is portrayed unsympathetically: he seems to live off red wine (preferably drunk out of a plastic beaker rather than a glass), sandwiches and cigarettes. There is the same element of caricature about the High Court judge: apparently unaware of the invention of the computer, he writes his judgements with a fountain pen while drinking freshly made tea. And, without the assistance of a butler, he would surely never manage to put his wig on straight.
Although Denial was completed before Trump’s election victory, the film’s scriptwriter, David Hare, has emphasised that the film also has a more contemporary element: it takes a dig at Trump’s brand of post-factual politics: “[In this internet age] it is necessary to remind people that there are facts, there is scientific evidence and there is such a thing as proof. That was true with this court case and it’s important to say it now. [Trump’s politics] is a non-evidence-based approach to politics, what you might call Trumpery. It’s terribly dangerous.”
Cinema-goers whose idea of a good film is a five-hour-long adaptation of a novel by Proust, directed by Wim Wenders, and full of lengthy shots of dreary Swedish coastlines punctuated by endless internal monologues should steer well clear of Denial. But for those who like a film where the good guys win and the bad guys lose, Denial is a must-see.
By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatesy):
Populists High on the Hog.
From the vantage point of the left, from liberals to socialists, Donald Trump is a ‘truth’, a reality, the “actuality of the populist revolution” that is hard to grapple with. The thousands who demonstrated against his Muslim/Visa Ban in London on Saturday, (40,000 to the organisers, 10,000 to everybody else), and the anti-Trump protests across the country, express heartfelt outrage at the US President’s xenophobic measures. It is to be hoped that they continue in the event of a Trump State visit to Britain. But beyond our backing for the worldwide campaigns against the new President the nature and destination of his politics needs serious reflection and debate.
In What is Populism? (2016) Jan-Werner Müller described modern populism as a “moralistic imagination of politics”. Müller’s description is tailor-made, not only for populist protest, the indignation at the ‘elites’, the neglect of “hard-working people” and respect for those who are “more ordinary” than others that marks UKIP and the galaxy of the Continental radical right.
But, What is Populism? argues, it is not just that for populists “only some of the people are really the people”. Trump has passed from the idea that his election represents the will of the ‘real’ American people, a claim to sovereignty that overrides any consideration of the plurality of the electing body, to efforts to bring the sovereignty of law to heel. In this case, the emerging political model, is an alternative to the ‘non-adversarial” consensus in ‘liberal’ democracies.
But Trump’s triumph is very far from a mobilisation against the “élitocratie” favoured by supporters of ‘left populist’ anticapitalism, through grassroots movements involving forces capable of giving voice and a progressive slant to demands for popular sovereignty.
It is an illiberal democracy.
Müller predicts that in power,
..with their basic commitment to the idea that only they represented the people”. Once installed in office, “they will engage in occupying the state mass clientelism and corruption, and the suppression of anything like a critical civil society. (Page 102)
This looks a good description of Trump’s first weeks in office.
Nick Cohen has warned that the British Conservatives have not only failed to stand up the British Populists but forces may lead some of them to shift in the same direction (What has become of conservatism? Observer. 2911.17)
Populist Calls to Break up the EU.
After Brexit, Trump’s victory has reverberated in the democratic left as warning that, for some, that the left, from its ‘liberal’ US version to our socialist and social democratic culture, has lost touch with ‘ordinary people’. A rapid response has been to advocate some kind of ‘left populism’. For the moment the prospect of a left-wing populism in Britain looks reduced to making appeals to the ‘people’ against the Tory and financial elite. Or to put it simply, using the term as a way of looking for popular support on issues which play well with the electorate. A more developed tool-box approach, perhaps best mirrored in the efforts of the French Presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon to stand up for La France insoumise, ends up with precisely the problem of illiberal democracy sketched above.
This can be seen in the demand, formally announced today, by the French Front National, to prepare for what Marine le Pen has called ‘Frexit’. That is for a process which, if she wins power in the April-May Presidential elections, begins with renegotiating European Treaties, proceeds to France dropping the Euro, and ends with a referendum on leaving the European Union (Marine Le Pen promises Frexit referendum if she wins presidency).
Organising and supporting the anti-Trump demonstration were a number of individuals and organisations (Counterfire, SWP, Socialist Party) that backed Brexit. Trump is famous for his support for Brexit. It is alleged that Ted Malloch, who wishes the “break up of the EU” is waging a campaign to become Trump’s Ambassador to the European Union (Patrick Wintour. Guardian. 4.2.17).
Trump is said to be “cheering on” the populist forces in Europe. While not supporting UKIP the British ‘left’ supporters of Brexit cast their ballot in the same way to leave the EU. The results of the Referendum, it need hardly be said, are probably the best example of the failure of the left to ‘channel’ populism in its direction
Will these forces also welcome the “break up” of the EU? Would they back Frexit? An indication that they might well do comes from the strong support and attendance of Trade Unionists Against the EU at the ‘Internationalist’ Rally last year (May 28th Pour le Brexit) organised by the pro-Frexit Trotskyist sect, the Parti Ouvrier Indépendant Démocratique.(1)
If they take this stand, and these groups have to have views on every EU issue, regardless of ‘sovereignty;’ a part of the British left is in letting itself in for some major difficulties. In What is Populism? Müller asked, by placing the construction of the “people” against the “market people” – or the People against the European Union ‘neo-liberal superpower – will this “import the problems of a genuinely populist conception of politics? “ (Page 98)
The sovereigntist ideal of the Front National is quite clear about defining who the French ‘people’ are; it even intends to give them preference in jobs (préférence nationale).
What kind of ‘construction’ of the People around what Laclau has dubbed On Populist Reason (2005) as an “us” opposed to an (elite) “them” is that?
This indicates the kind of action Marine Le Pen takes against critics (the journalist asks her about employing her thuggish bodyguards as “Parliamentary Assistants” on the EU Payroll.
(1) “quitter l’Union Européenne” Wikipedia. More details in the Tribune des Travailleurs on the ‘Constituent Assembly’which will carry out this process. Mouvement pour la rupture avec l’UE et la 5e République
From the US SocialistWorker.org website (nothing to do with the UK SWP):
Trump has won some support among workers and even unions with his proposals around trade, but is this billionaire really on their side?explains why not.
PERHAPS IT’S foolish to take anything Donald Trump says as an articulation of core principles or beliefs. But this passage from his inaugural address hit many like a bolt of lightning:
From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.
I will fight for you with every breath in my body–and I will never, ever let you down. America will start winning again, winning like never before.
This appeal to economic nationalism is very much in line with his “Make America great again” campaign theme. But for those whose political memory goes back a little ways, “America First” means something very specific and very problematic.
In the late 1930s, the Roosevelt administration was increasing its support for an interventionist foreign policy that would assert the U.S. on a world level. After the Second World War started in 1939, the administration lent massive amounts of military aid to Britain, with the intention of drawing the U.S. into the conflict.
From the late 1930s up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 1941, a substantial sentiment against U.S. intervention in the European war developed. While on the whole sincerely opposed to a repeat of the imperialist slaughter of the First World War, the anti-intervention mood also intersected with an isolationist, rather than internationalist, approach to the coming conflict.
So when a number of college students–including future Republican President Gerald Ford, future Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart and future Democratic vice presidential candidate Sargent Shriver–along with leading capitalists issued a call to form an “America First” committee to keep the U.S. out of the European war, hundreds of thousands responded.
America First also called for a U.S. military buildup to defend the continental U.S.–a policy that came to be known as “Fortress America.”
The banner of “America First” was also embraced by supporters of the anti-Semitic “radio priest” Father Charles Coughlin, along with fascists and sympathizers with the Nazi regime in Germany. In speeches for the America First committee, the aviator Charles Lindbergh contended that Britain and Jews were the main advocates for U.S. intervention in the war, and that the interventionists’ main aim was to defeat Germany.
Other mainstream political figures–like Joseph Kennedy, ambassador to Britain and father of future U.S. President John F. Kennedy–shared the “America First” outlook. He contended that Germany was too strong, and that Britain and U.S. should make peace with the Nazis.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent U.S. intervention, America First organizations collapsed. The U.S. emergence from the war as a global superpower marginalized support for the “American First” outlook of staying out of foreign entanglements while building a “Fortress America.”
In the 1990s and 2000s, far right, anti-Semitic pundit and presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan carried the “America First” torch for a while. Then Trump came along.
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THIS BRIEF history of “America First” politics provides a context for Trump’s rhetoric. It also shows that, far from being a common sense advocacy for ordinary people in the U.S. versus global elite, the slogan drags along more than its share of historical baggage. It wasn’t accidental that Trump’s presidential proclamation on Holocaust Remembrance Day failed to mention the genocide of European Jewry.
Trump’s America First policy asserts that “[e]very decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”
That rhetoric sounds radical, especially when compared to that of the last generation’s status quo, when most decisions on trade and foreign affairs did little for U.S. workers and their families. For most of the last generation, politicians–both Democratic and Republican–have told us that global trade is like a force of nature, which the U.S. economy can only adapt to, not control.
This notion of globalization operating outside the influence of the world’s most powerful government was always false. U.S. state policy undergirded the bipartisan regime of free trade and the U.S. global military projection. As that purveyor of “flat-world” banalities Thomas Friedman once put it, “McDonalds cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas.”
If Trump’s tumultuous first week showed anything, it showed just how much governmental action can shift the terms of engagement and debate on these questions.
Given that decades of corporate, governmental and institutional practices are invested in the neoliberal regime, it remains to be seen whether any or all of Trump’s actions will be sustained as new policies for the long run. But in the immediate term, they present our side with a tremendous set of challenges.
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THE FIRST of these is assessing whether they are reality-based or not. Millions of people–among them supporters of Bernie Sanders–would agree with the sentiment of protecting “our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs,” whether or not they agree with Trump’s rhetoric.
Yet the empirical evidence that trade arrangements–like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO)–are the main culprits in the decline of U.S. manufacturing jobs and workers’ standards of living is thin.
The liberal University of California-Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong calculates that of the decline in U.S. manufacturing employment since 1971 that is greater than that experienced by other industrial powers undergoing similar structural economic shifts, only one-tenth of even this extra amount can be attributed to NAFTA and trade with China.
Nevertheless, we know that during the same period, living standards for workers in the U.S.–and not just those in manufacturing–stagnated. In real terms, the median U.S. household income is no higher than it was in the early 1970s.
Clearly something is wrong in the U.S. economy, and no amount of statistical modeling is going to convince people that they should just accept it. So when figures as diverse as Trump and Sanders point to global trade deals as the culprit for declining living standards, they at least have the merit of relating to people who know–unlike the Friedmans and the Clintons–that not all is right with the neoliberal world.
Trump promotes the notion that other countries are “ripping off” the U.S. through unfair trade deals. But this inverts reality.
One drastic effect of NAFTA has been the destruction of small farming in Mexico when that sector was forced into unfair competition with U.S. agribusiness. By some estimates, more than 1 million farmers have been driven from the land. Many of the victims moved to Mexican cities or crossed the border into the U.S. without documents to find work.
“Free trade” agreements like NAFTA are engineered for the benefit of U.S. business, as levers to pry open sectors of other countries’ economies to investment and services in the first instance.
Second, they allow for the free movement of capital across borders, but not the free movement of labor. In fact, the era of NAFTA coincided with a huge increase in “border security” and repression that produced a record number of deportations–more than 2 million–under the Democratic Obama administration.
That aspect of “Fortress America”–repression at the border–is already in place. Trump proposes to increase it. But the record should show that free trade policies didn’t put out a welcome mat to immigrants, either.
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OUR SIDE will continue to analyze the economic ramifications of Trump’s policies, but we’re faced today with what to do about the political challenges they represent.
In this case, there is a more complicated test for the left. Trump’s protectionism and rhetoric about bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. have already won praise from union leaders like Teamsters President James Hoffa. Hoffa and other labor officials likewise hailed Trump’s executive order aimed at restarting the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline projects that activism forced the Obama administration to shelve.
After a White House meeting with Trump, North American Building Union President Sean McGarvey declared, “We have a common bond with the president” and that “We come from the same industry. He understands the value of driving development, moving people to the middle class.”
In speaking to reporters, McGarvey and Laborers President Terry Sullivan–whose unions both endorsed Hillary Clinton for president–pointed out that they had never been invited to a White House meeting in the eight years of Obama’s presidency.
But there’s something else besides the Democrats’ neglect behind the labor leaders’ cozying up to Trump and his America First program: It gives them an alibi for their failures to do much of anything to reverse the long-term decline of their organizations and to protect their members from worsening conditions.
Those problems stem from anti-union U.S. employers and anti-labor U.S. politicians, not overseas competitors or immigrants.
Hoffa, for example, has a long record of cooperating with employers while bargaining away the rights and benefits of rank-and-file Teamsters.
For the likes of Hoffa, it’s much more convenient to blame international competition or Mexican truckers for eroding wages and conditions than to confront U.S. employers–even ones, like UPS, making record profits. Joining with Trump under the banner of “America First” won’t change Hoffa’s behavior at all.
Labor leaders like Hoffa give Trump the cover to paint his economic program–which in reality is based on tax cuts for the rich, allowing corporations free reign, and selling the U.S. as a low-wage economy–as “populist” and pro-worker. And they lend legitimacy to an administration intent on attacking whole sections of the working class, including immigrants and the undocumented.
Any labor union or worker who signs up with Trump’s “America First” program will find out that–rhetoric aside–Trump will put them last.
Thanks to Joe Allen for help with this article.
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.
Illustration: Martin Rowson (Guardian)
By John Rogan
It amazes me that there are many Labour MPs who say there is a “Tory Brexit” and a “Labour Brexit”. The implication is that the present Govt can somehow choose and implement whatever Brexit conditions they want with the EU27. This helps feed the delusion, on both the Left (Corbyn) and Right (Watson), that Labour could, somehow, negotiate a Soft Brexit. That the EU27 would be much kinder to a Labour government for some reason.
A Soft Brexit is just not going to happen. The leadership of EU27 have enough internal headaches (Le Pen, AfD and Freedom Party) this year to ensure that, if they wish to hold the line against the eurosceptic Far Right, there will be no concessions to the UK. Brexit means Brexit means Hard Brexit.
Now we have Trump whose possible EU Ambassador, Ted Malloch, seems to gleefully want to see the EU finished. After all, a much weakened EU (or no EU) would help the “America First” agenda of Trump.
This would also help the agenda of Putin who wishes to exert greater control in Eastern Europe.
The Trump-Putin Pact (wanting to split, weaken and carve up Europe) is another perfectly good reason for EU27 sticking to a Hard Brexit – especially a need for the defence of Eastern Europe.
Theresa May is actually correct in her sucking up to Trump and Erdogan. If we leave the EU on a Hard Brexit (which we will) then grovelling for some crumbs at their tables is all we will be good for.
And that is the question Corbyn, Watson and McDonnell have to answer. After a Hard Brexit, who should the UK deal with in trying to get good trade deals? How will we be able to do it?
If you oppose Trump, you have to oppose Brexit.
30 January action against Trump and his anti-migrant and anti-Muslim “executive order”
Leicester: meet at the Clock Tower, 5.30 20:41 https://www.facebook.com/events/163409027485279/
4 February, London: Assemble 11am Saturday 4th February at the US Embassy 24 Grosvenor Square, London W1A 2LQ followed by a march to Downing St. https://www.facebook.com/events/1761835547477556/
Academics in the USA have launched an online protest which, as of Sunday evening UK time, had nearly 5000 signatures including 35 Nobel Laureates and 34 winners of Fields/Dirac/Clark/Turing/Poincare Medals, Breakthrough Prize, Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur Fellowship.
At the bizarre press conference at which a desperate Theresa May demeaned herself in the presence of the creature Trump yesterday, the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg stuck it to the preening racist man-baby, and also succeeded in making the wretched May look even more embarrassed than she did already.
At a time when the BBC (and especially the craven Radio 4 Today programme) seems to be bending over backwards to appease Trump supporters, Brexiteers and the alt-Right, Ms Kuessberg’s plain speaking deserves out appreciation – especially given the largely unwarranted and sometimes sexist criticism that she’s received in the past from some on the UK left.
Guest post by Robin Carmody
There’s a long history of Libertarian Rightists being mistaken for Leftists because of the huge culture gap between them and mainstream conservatives. This was especially marked before Thatcherism had done its work, when there was a much greater frowning upon brashness and vulgarity, openly showing that you were capitalist, on the English Right (the ancien régime of Arsenal FC always seemed to embody this, with the at least implicit anti-Semitism built into it, especially in the context of their rivalry with the more raffish Tottenham) and before a deeper generational shift, and the effects of things like the Golden Jubilee and James Blunt, had seamlessly merged pop music and pop culture generally into the Tory Interpretation of History.
The best example of this – at least until now – was Mick Jagger, whose essential Toryism was not widely recognised at the time (other than, famously, by a prescient William Rees-Mogg) because he obviously stood outside the cultural shibboleths of Conservatism as it was then, and also because his Libertarian Right worldview and outlook was at its most – ha ha ha – exiled from mainstream in British history, at a time when the dominant strain of the Tory party accepted the role of the state in certain parts of the economy in a manner wholly unthinkable in earlier and later periods (in retrospect, we can clearly see that the state was easily the best way of strengthening in adversity those very cultural shibboleths, whose final abandonment by mainstream Conservatism in the 2000s helped it back to what may be an indefinite period of power). Ignorant of what it might represent, through their very unfamiliarity with what had become an extremely marginal and fringe position in British life during and after the Second World War, certain idealistic Leftists of the late 1960s – arguably unaware of how good they actually had it – imposed their own views on Jagger, saw him as a symbol of what they themselves believed in, in a way which feels like the ultimate example of Getting the Future Wrong, the single greatest concentration of this misconception being Richard Gott’s rapturous Guardian eulogy to the Stones’ 1969 performance in Hyde Park (“taking place in a Socialist society in the distant future“, indeed!).
As we reflect on Wikileaks’ intervention in the US presidential election blatantly on Trump’s side (will the mistaken typing of “legitimate” for “illegitimate” by an aide to Hillary Clinton’s campaign prove to be the biggest butterfly effect of all time?)*, and on the joyous enthusiasm for its founder by several Trump groupies, can we possibly dispute that Julian Assange is, in every possible way and in every last detail, the same thing all over again, a Libertarian Rightist initially mistaken for a Leftist by those who did not understand the position? Only in this case, of course, with the position being so much more relatively mainstream and having influenced so much more of the wider society than in the 1960s, they had much less excuse.
*Correction, I think: it should be “prove to be the biggest butterfly effect *of recent history*”, because even I don’t think it could be comparable to things like the absence of fog which might have enabled Hitler to be killed in 1939, etc.