Learning from Trump? Don’t think so.

trump2Donald Trump was elected as the candidate of the Republican Party, one of the two main capitalist parties in the US.  He is a billionaire and could afford to self-finance his campaign.  He was also a TV celebrity before a politician so already had recognition.  His unpopularity with much of the press and media was beneficial, firstly because it gave him the coverage needed to make him a leading figure, and then was concentrated on individual attributes that did not fundamentally challenge his politics – he was not demonised.

His fame and money made him a credible candidate in the money and celebrity world that is US politics.  His capture of the Republican nomination made him electable.

He fought the election by picking up a minority of endorsements by leading Republican figures and rallying around him extreme racists and reactionaries, of which there is not an inconsiderable number.

He fought a campaign that tapped into deep and widespread reactionary views with a long tradition in the US, including racism, nativism, sexism and religious bigotry coagulated together by xenophobic nationalism – ‘making America great again’.

He faced a notorious political insider, an establishment figure detested by many and unpopular among more; one who personified the last thirty or so years of economic policies that has supported deindustrialisation, stagnant or falling living standards, urban decay, increasing inequality, obscene wealth growing beside desperate poverty, and racist repression by the state.

In her campaign Clinton was clearly the candidate of the party establishment and was exposed as talking out of both sides of her mouth in order to speak to the incompatible demands of different strands of the Democrat vote, which became stretched apart by the Bernie Sanders campaign for nomination.

Trump won the election but lost the popular vote, by over 1 million and rising last time I looked.  His election is bereft of democratic legitimacy exposing the sacrosanct US constitution for the travesty of democracy it has always been but whose legitimacy has survived the open domination of money and vote suppression.


Out of all this some people opposed to the Trump victory are telling us that “if there’s one thing that we can learn from the unexpected result on Tuesday night it is that Jeremy Corbyn can win here in the UK. This is not about left and right, as such; it is about a willingness to stand up to the status quo and call for a genuine change in the way we do politics.” Quoted and rightly ridiculed here.

An ultra-reactionary with all the benefits I’ve noted above wins in the US and we’re supposed to believe it means Jeremy Corbyn can win in Britain!

And Trump is an example of, or an invitation to, or in some way relates to “a genuine change in the way we do politics”!

Of course, this is all nonsense, except it’s a bit more widespread than it should be.  It’s the sort of nonsense that I’ve looked at before; an attempt to see some progressive resonance to Brexit for example.  No surprise then that before I came across the passage above I came across this statement from the People before Profit organisation in Ireland.

Their statement seems to present the Trump victory as primarily “a rage against ‘the establishment’” that will be betrayed.  It makes assessments of the nature of the vote that are one-sided and ignore the reactionary features of the Trump vote – its retention of the Republican party vote and its attraction to those who saw immigration and terrorism as the main issues, just to note two of its features.

Perhaps as an immediate assessment it can be given some latitude for inaccuracy but, coming from those still supporting Brexit, it wouldn’t be surprising is this approach persisted when it becomes even clearer (I suppose it actually can become clearer) that the vote is utterly reactionary.

Aside from saying that “Trump will instead turn on the people who have elected him and try to make them pay the price in the same way that Hillary Clinton would have done had she won”, which isn’t true; what took my eye was the conclusion – “Trump’s victory is also evidence in a perverse way that if we do seize the moment anything is possible.”

“Seizing the moment” is precisely the electoralist, short term, get-rich-quick, short-cut to success politics that has infected the so-called revolutionary left since I first got involved in Marxist politics in the mid-1970s, and it didn’t start then.  It directly contradicts the duty of socialists, that “in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.” It is close to being a definition of political opportunism which has failed the socialist movement.

It fails utterly to recognise the fundamental social change that socialists want and which is required and the preconditions that are necessary for it to come about, preconditions not reducible to a moment seized that make “anything possible.”  Electoral victories do not make “anything possible.”

A left electoral victory, built on similar misconceptions to those of many Trump supporters, not only makes genuine steps towards socialism not possible but is actually dangerous – exposing socialists to taking office in circumstances in which they simply cannot advance their cause, because socialism is working people emancipating themselves.  It’s not even people voting for someone else to free them.  If this is their idea of socialism they’re never going to see it.

It wasn’t “a moment” that led to Trump but a long history of working class political weakness and of reactionary ideas that suffuse wide sections of US society.  We simply cannot “seize the moment” in any way illustrated by the Trump victory.  From its political roots to its reliance on the inequality and venality of today’s US politics to its failure even to register an electoral majority – it’s nothing to emulate.

The Trump victory is illegitimate.  It lacks democratic validation.  It is built on racism, class prejudices and class oppression that no electoral mandate could render acceptable.  The reaction of many Americans who have demonstrated against Trump, who don’t want him as President, is much better than ‘hey, we can do that too.’


Crisis? What Crisis? part 6 – Corbynism and the Labour Party

1bioeqbho4-1oqnvp3ulwqaOne very minor up-side to the election of Trump, which I will post on as soon as I get the time, is that it should be easier for those left supporters of a progressive exit – ‘Lexit’ – to see their errors, although to be honest I’m not going to hold my breath.

With every development of Brexit it becomes clearer and clearer that this is a reactionary project that fully lives up to those who predicted this prior to the vote.  The vicious diatribes from the Tory press have been ratcheted up by Nigel Farage complaining about Brexit being betrayed by judges, predicting that “we will see political anger, the likes of which none of us in our lifetimes have ever witnessed.”  When asked if there was a danger of disturbances in the street, he said “Yes, I think that’s right. . . the temperature of this is very, very high. I’m going to say to everyone who was on the Brexit side, ‘Let’s try and get even.”

This is the authentic voice of Brexit.  No wondering, as we are with Trump, whether the reactionary zealots who led Brexit really mean what they said before the vote.  It is reactionaries such as Farage and the Tory right who are leading the process.  It is clear it could not happen without them although it may still not happen with them.  The idea of a left-led progressive exit is even more fanciful now than when ‘Lexit’ was proposed during the referendum.

There is no competition to turn Brexit into anything progressive and the idea that the small left forces who supported Brexit can either present what is happening as a step forward or that they should still continue to support Brexit (under the banner of ‘Lexit’!) is at first laughable and then atrocious.  Any attempt to make gains for workers out of the Brexit negotiations could only come through agreement from the rest of the EU, which the left supporters of Brexit see as the primary enemy that must be escaped from – so how do they think this can come about?

In the most recent International Socialism Journal the SWP are now scrambling to be relevant; so while they continue to support Brexit they also cling to the Labour Party as the other major factor defining British politics today.  But their arguments around this are not much better.

They characterise the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn as “diffuse and atomised” and state that real organisation has to be built on struggle.  They then outline two possible ways forward for these supporters.

The first is “to pursue the weary, highly bureaucratic struggle against the right in constituency and branch meetings.”

The “alternative is a more outward looking orientation towards resistance to austerity, racism and war . . . this approach is far more likely to transform Corbynism into a real mass movement.”  The SWP author argues that having to face down Labour councils and their implementing cuts requires Corbynism to have a “more defined ideological profile.”

The article then goes on to speculate what Corbyn’s Labour would do if it got into office; criticising its “timid programme” and preoccupation with “credibility” and “electability”; condemning it for being “an electoral party” and therefore one that “will be judged, like any other, by its success in winning votes.”

It then raises the spectre of a betrayal, like Syriza in Greece, and the need to avoid the same fate in Britain by developing a mass movement behind Corbyn and “defiance of the rules of the parliamentary game.”  It claims that “the Corbyn phenomenon – like Syriza before it – has not suspended the classic dilemmas of reform and revolution” and that this “truth” “underlines the need to maintain an independent revolutionary organisation that is free from the compromises imposed by constitutional convention and intra-party manoeuvring.”  However, it says “the real test for revolutionary socialists will lie in the degree to which they are able to unite with all those who’ve rallied to Labour under Corbyn”.

One can therefore say with some confidence that this is a test that the SWP has and will fail, if only because they will not join the Labour party and “unite with all those who’ve rallied to Labour.”  Instead it will emphasise the importance of its “ideological profile” by maintaining “an independent revolutionary organisation” that will be “free from the compromises imposed by constitutional convention and intra-party manoeuvring.” In other words it will refuse to get its hand dirty and will refuse to join a struggle in which compromises are “imposed” on it, most likely because it would fail itself to maintain its revolutionary purity in such a situation, much like the Militant Tendency did during its long existence in the Labour Party.

Its counter-position of revolutionary politics to reformism is therefore indeed purely ideological with little material basis, not even a revolutionary programme by which it could ground its practice and gauge its fidelity to a revolutionary perspective and policy.  This counter-position is therefore useless for it cannot be a real guide to action.  In the case of the SWP worse than useless since it leads to supporting Brexit even while acknowledging at the end of its article that the referendum result has “given racists more confidence” in a period of a “rising tide of racism”!  While it presents the struggle against racism as the most important struggle there is no hesitation to ponder its own contribution to the referendum result that predictably set the scene and encouraged this “rising tide.”

This absence of the SWP from the struggle inside the Labour Party is to be welcomed, since it belittles the struggle to win votes; its own alternative to Labour’s economic programme is simply greater ‘public ownership’ that is not significantly different in nature from the Left of the Labour Party, and it utterly fails to appreciate the importance of the fight to democratise the party, which it characterises purely as a “weary, highly bureaucratic struggle.”  It utterly fails to understand the importance of creating a democratic mass party of the working class that can be both a site for democratic debate and a forum to determine the politics and struggles of the working class.  This failure is no doubt due to the notorious absence of democracy in its own ranks.  In this respect, as in so many, it is no example to anyone, least of all the mass membership of the Labour Party.

This party doesn’t need another cohort of recruits, however small, who believe that, because they have the predetermined answers, all that is need is more activity without a democratic machinery to decide policy and priorities for activity.

Coverage in the left press in Britain reports disagreements not only about the lack of democratic functioning inside the Party but within the Momentum group that is supposed to be fighting for this democracy.

The radical journalist Paul Mason has announced that he has joined Momentum and given some arguments why he has done so and some ideas on how it should be organised.  Whether he is right to do so is not for me to say – I am not involved in this struggle and am too far away from it to make any half-definitive judgements. He seems correct to say that Momentum should affiliate to the Labour party and work in activity within the party and also on its own account.

However, he has a rather too sweeping dismissal of the experience of the 20th century left that appears to recognise no lessons except negative ones.  This goes with an uncritical acceptance of what he sees as 21st century means of organisation.  He may be referring to particular features or experiences of bureaucratic organisation but he should make this clear and also reference the long struggles against bureaucracy in the workers’ movement, both practical and theoretical.

He dismisses hierarchies in favour of networks without recognising that hierarchy is just one example of a network; the lesson being that you have to be a lot more specific about what you mean by networked organisations.

Likewise he is of course correct when he says that we want to “empower masses of people to take their own decisions through direct democracy” but he says this involves “respecting diversity, proportionality, restraint and the democratic institutions of the UK.”  Having lived through the miners’ strike he should know just how limited the democracy of the institutions of the UK are and needs again to explain what he means by this phrase, as also what he means by “restraint” and “proportionality”, which are relative and contextual and not much use baldly stated outside of this.  Respect for diversity also has its limits – where I live respecting diversity means respecting bigotry, on account of their being so many bigots.  In the context of Brexit this is not a distant analogy to the current situation in Britain.

He says that “today I think the most revolutionary thing we can achieve is to put a left labour government in power: to switch off the neoliberal privatisation machine, to end expeditionary warfare and the arming of dictators, to redistribute both wealth and power to the people.”  This seems to me to have some truth, except that we need to rely on a mass active movement to bring this about and to develop beyond its limitations, including that power is, in the end, taken by the people themselves and not handed down from above.

He recommends “decision making in Momentum should be taken by consensus, using electronic democracy to engage every dues-paying member.  Local branches of Momentum should be free to act as they wish – to focus on caucusing before Labour branches and CLPs, or to do activism under their own banner that the Labour bureaucracy refuses to do – for example defending libraries being closed down by Labour-run councils.”

The use of electronic means to involve members voting is a good one in certain circumstances, but not all, although the current Ken Loach film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ shows that everyone’s ability to do so can’t be taken for granted.  But voting means majorities and minorities so it’s not clear to me what limits are imposed by a requirement for consensus.  Local Momentum groups should have wide autonomy to determine priorities for activity but once again there will be national priorities, such as selection of MPs, conference motions etc that require some coordination and guidance on overall direction.

Mason argues that the basic political programme should be the 10 pledges outlined by Jeremey Corbyn and notes that nuclear disarmament is not one of them.  So as a start it may be more or less fine but there should be nothing sacrosanct about it and if the movement develops the political foundations for it will as well.  In fact it is already inadequate – it does not mention Brexit.  Campaigning against Brexit should be a priority for Momentum and it should not be afraid to take the lead.


Back to part 5

Crisis? What Crisis? – part 5 Brexit? What Brexit?

supertrampGeorge Monbiot wrote an article on Brexit for The Guardian that was subsequently reprinted in Village magazine.  In it he says that we should not only accept the Brexit referendum vote but “should embrace it.”

Yes, the Brexit campaign was ‘led by a political elite, funded by an economic elite and fuelled by a media elite.  Popular anger was channelled against immigrants but the vote was also a howl of rage against exclusion, alienation and remote authority.’ That is why the Brexit slogan “take back control” resonated.  “If the left can’t work with this, what are we for?” he said.

But, like the old Irish story of the response to someone who was lost and needed directions to a particular place – if I was going to there I wouldn’t start from here.

What the left is for, hopefully, is not to pretend that we can work with reactionary politics to sugar the pill, which is altogether different from having to deal with a reactionary situation and trying to make the best of it.

‘Working with it’ first of all means understanding that the “howl of rage against exclusion” was captured by those seeking their own exclusion of foreigners.  Alienation is of no use unless it can be overcome and not displaced onto the wrong target, and blaming a remote authority in Brussels just gets us back to the “rage against exclusion” and blaming foreigners.  As for “take back control”, this was a reactionary nationalist response that showed incredible levels of ignorance of the power, position and role of the British State.  Even if this power were not severely diminished; even if its position of weakness were not more and more exposed, and even if its supplicant role is not becoming more pronounced, it would still be a reactionary commitment to nationalism that we ‘cannot work with’ except in the sense of attempting to undermine and defeat.

Monbiot presents Brexit as a land of opportunity – “If it is true that Britain will have to renegotiate its trade treaties, is this not the best chance we’ve had in decades to contain corporate power – of insisting that companies that operate here must offer proper contracts, share their profits, cut their emissions and pay their taxes? Is it not a chance to regain control of the public services slipping from our grasp?”

But who exactly is going to exert control in this way, assuming for the moment it’s possible?  We can be sure that, in any Brexit negotiations, containing corporate power will not be an objective of Theresa May.  We can even be confident that, in negotiations between the greater capitalist power wielded by the EU and the lesser power of Britain, the weaknesses of the latter will be exploited by the former.  And this balance of forces would weigh to an even greater extent on any sort of left Government in Britain facing a much more powerful EU.

Only with allies in the EU, primarily in the shape of a European-wide workers’ movement, would it be possible for the balance of forces to tilt towards the workers.  But this obviously points in the direction of staying in the EU.  As part of the EU there would at least be the beginnings of a political unity within which the workers’ movements of the various European countries could achieve some measure of unity and seek to exercise power at an international level.

But such a perspective would mean rejecting Brexit and continuing to fight it.

I looked at the arguments surrounding such an approach before and said that “there is no principled reason why there could not be a new vote.  What matters is how this might come about. Brexit is reactionary and its implementation will provide repeated evidence of it.  In fighting against its effects such a fight should not renounce fighting their immediate cause.”

I further said that “it could be claimed that there is little point in observing that the Brexit campaign lied through its teeth and has immediately retracted pretty much all its biggest claims – about money saved going to the NHS or of a future large reduction in immigration.  If telling the truth was a prerequisite for maintaining the results of a vote the Tories would not still be in office.”

Except of course unlike a general election, in which the winning party takes office immediately, we do not have Brexit immediately and it has become increasingly obvious that the Brexit campaign has no idea how it will deliver on promises it is still making, promises that become ever less credible.

There are some steps to limit the damage that the Tories have taken, such as the secret deal with Nissan, but this exposes any notion of taking back control.  We don’t know the cost or even whether it involves state support the EU could sooner or later simply nullify, whether Britain were in or out.

But there have been and will be consequences which no Government can do much about; such as the depreciation of the currency, inflation and rising interest rates.  When the Governor of the Bank of England says that he will let inflation overshoot the target of 2% to save jobs that’s really very good of him, because there’s nothing short of cratering the economy that he can do about it.

So to give up on fighting Brexit is to put British workers at the mercy of the most reactionary and frankly stupid sections of the Tory party.  It is to accept their risible promises and seek simply to expose them through their failure, a failure whose heaviest price will be paid by workers.  It is to accept the drastic fall in living standards that has already begun and it is to accept the secrecy necessary to cover up the unfolding disaster.

In this respect the demand for parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s plans and their progress, including sweetheart deals, is important.  Not just to expose the policy of Brexit but also the nationalist alternatives that will flourish in the twilight of Brexit failure. Such nationalist intervention will come from the SNP pointing to a betrayal of Scotland or a UKIP narrative that accumulating failures of Brexit come from an insufficiently committed Brexit Government.  So far it has been the Treasury mandarins who have led the fight against Brexit and we can expect further leaks if, or rather when, the current trio of Brexit ministers demonstrate the failure of their policy.

However, the perspective of the Labour Party is not opposition to Brexit but to fight for a “people’s Brexit” as opposed to a “bankers’ Brexit.”  John McDonnell has argued that:

“Britain voted to leave the EU, and that decision should be and must be respected.

We should not pretend that the referendum result can be undone.  If we do that, and walk off the field, we will simply be allowing other forces to give their own answers to those questions it has posed

The simple truth is that the Tory establishment cannot be trusted to make a success of Brexit. Labour in government is the only party that would be prepared to take the necessary measures to make a success of Brexit

We are also committed to making sure that Brexit works for everyone not an elite few. Labour would work with our European neighbours to protect our key industries like steel, and negotiate deals with the EU to make sure big multinationals like Google pay their fair share in tax.”

On the other hand –

  • If the vote for Brexit means severe cuts to working class living standards, why should a vote based on lies and deception be respected?
  • The Labour Party is assuming that there are progressive answers possible to the questions posed through accepting Brexit.
  • It assumes that there can be a “successful” Brexit.
  • It assumes that the protection of industry and jobs and fair taxation of multinationals is possible in Brexitland.

But Brexit puts up barriers to trade and it puts up barriers to effective taxation of the wealthy and international companies.  Were a Labour Government outside the EU how could they enlist the support of other European countries to increase taxation of the rich?

When France increased its taxation in 2012 to 75% on those earning above €100,000 the number moving abroad jumped 40 per cent.  Between 2000 and 2014 42,000 millionaires left France, many of them moving to London, and particularly to South Kensington, referred to by some as Paris’s 21st arrondissement.  Many of its banks and its bankers also moved, although thanks to Brexit this has now stopped.

Inside the EU such tax increases have a greater chance of being coordinated.  Outside, the competitive position of weaker countries often drives them to lower taxation on multinationals and the wealthy. And as we have seen, there are economic effects which are largely outside the control of Governments to prevent.  What they can do is take offsetting measures such as increased public expenditure and investment, and this is what Labour promises, but this can only be offsetting and the weakening of Britain’s capitalist economy also weakens the capacity to do this.

Of course Labour’s model of Brexit is very different from the declared objective of the Tories.  John McDonnell declares that “Labour will insist that any deal with the EU includes, at least as an interim, tariff-free Single Market access. Full Single Market access implies freedom of movement, as in Norway’s European Economic Area deal.”

Without the xenophobic hang-ups of the Tories Labour is happy to see free movement alongside as much access to the EU single market as the EU is prepared to allow.  This is one possible transitional deal that the advisors to big business, in the shape of ‘The Economist’ and “Financial Times’ are pointing to.  A transition that might, like those of Norway and Switzerland that were initially temporary, prove more permanent than first intended and that might be open as much to a transition back to full membership as complete exit.

However, once again all this will be in the gift of the EU.  All the calculations involved in a permanent divorce apply to such a separation – whether the interests of the remaining EU are better protected and advanced by accepting a relationship with Britain on these terms or whether a clean break is preferable.  Once again it is necessary to note that given its size, Britain is not Norway or Switzerland and it makes no sense for it to pay into the EU and be subject to its rules without any say in those rules.  Such a transitional arrangement is the very opposite of ‘taking back control’.

Whenever we look at the relatively weak position that Britain is in we can also see the weakness of the Tory Brexit policy – when even speeches at Conservative party conferences occasion steep declines in the currency.  The pound has hit a 168-year low and this is before Article 50 is triggered, the lousy terms of the exit start to be revealed and the two-year exit timetable has been exhausted.

This weakness is also reflected in the political weakness of those seeking Brexit.  UKIP, which spearheaded this policy, is in disarray.  The political leadership of Brexit in the Tory party includes someone who was considered a star before imploding and heading for obscurity before being given a plum job at the Foreign Office; another who was already discredited and already in obscurity before being given a job in Trade, and a third who was also a twice loser in contests to lead the Tory party.  The majority of MPs are opposed to Brexit but they have no idea of how to make popular a campaign against Brexit that would make its reversal legitimate.  That task lies with others.

The referendum was largely portrayed in the media as an inter-Tory dispute and the struggle that big business will put up to resist Brexit and/or to deliver a ‘soft’ Brexit may also seek to do so primarily through that parry.  Once again the struggle could come to be seen as primarily an inter-Tory argument.

Considerations that this may severely damage the Tory party are secondary to the necessity that the struggle against Brexit is open, clear and honest.  In this sense the instincts of the primarily young Remain Voters who demonstrated and signed petitions immediately after the referendum were all these things, which an inter-Tory dispute will not be.

In order for the Labour Party to truly defend working people it is necessary for Brexit to be stopped – to nullify the dire effects that no amount of negotiation for a ‘soft’ Brexit may put right.  If this is to be done it must be done openly or charges that democracy is being subverted will appear to have some truth.  The defeat of Brexit is still possible but it should be done openly and on a progressive basis of defending the living standards of working people; defending EU workers and other immigrants who live in Britain; defending those British people who live in other EU countries and in defence of international unity.  A lying, xenophobic referendum result with reactionary consequences deserves no respect and should be reversed.

Back to part 4

Forward to part 6