Trump, Russia, and Global Capitalism
I am deeply disturbed by the way so many liberals are claiming that what Putin (may) have done constitutes some sort of "takeover" of the US via Trump, while members of the "anti-imperialist" Left express support for Russia's actions in Syria and elsewhere. What follows is closely based on a response I posted in a Facebook thread in which a liberal FB friend of mine denounced Edward Snowden because he received asylum in Russia and stated that the US under Trump will become a "satellite" of Russia. I have even seen comments and memes in which Soviet-era terminology like “Commissar” is used to describe Putin and the hammer and sickle is superimposed on the stars and stripes. I feel it necessary to make the following points, most of which (1-6) should be elementary, but which in the current climate of unreason and cognitive semi-paralysis have to be reiterated.
1) The US is not now and will never be "a satellite of Russia." This is hysteria (in the modern non-gendered sense). The US possesses more military power than the next eight countries combined. It is even now massing troops and materiel near the Russian border.
2) This is not to make out that Putin or the Russian oligarchy are anything but murdering thieves and thugs—just like their US counterparts, only cruder and with far less power. Trump gets on with Putin partly because they're both crude kleptocrats--except that Putin is much, much smarter. Behaviorally and ideologically, the people Trump has chosen as his cabinet actually have a great deal in common with the Russian oligarchs: they are ruthless, avaricious, sexist, homophobic, and bigoted against Muslims, and they have nothing but contempt for democracy, public goods, regulation, and the working classes. But to suggest that this will make them long-term loyal allies is to suggest that two crime families can be permanently at peace with one another because they have joined together to develop a racket. Sooner or later, they will go to the mattresses.
3) The struggle over Syria is purely a matter of inter-imperialist rivalry. Putin supports the murderous (but relatively sane) Assad dictatorship, while the US funds ISIS and Al Qaeda (these are well-established facts). Putin supports the Assad regime because Syria offers a Mediterranean port for the Russian navy. The US does not want Russia to have direct naval access to the Mediterranean or a staunch ally in the Middle East. Over issues like these, more than two million Syrians have lost their homes and had to flee and many thousands have been slaughtered. To the extent that liberals pay the slightest attention to the war in Syria, they see it in humanitarian terms, as a kind of natural disaster. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has continued its illegal drone attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan, which have also killed thousands. It appears that liberal protests against US imperialist violence under a Democratic administration are a thing of the past. One wonders if they will protest the next wave of aggression and encroachment that will undoubtedly come soon under Trump.
4) Within the US corporate class there one can discern the outlines of another rivalry: between the faction led by Big CONG (Coal, Oil, Natural Gas), the more aggressively predatory elements of the banking sector, and others here and there, including, I would guess, sections of the military and the intelligence apparatus. This faction wants to end the sanctions on Russia so that Big Oil can partner up to get to the Arctic oil fields. They are also hostile to China, which they view—correctly—as a much bigger imperial rival than Russia, one with the potential to completely upset global US financial dominance. (They're also behind the imminent massive sell-off of public lands.) They back Trump and favor confrontation with China. They are also hostile to science and critical reasoning, which strengthen democracy and tend to curb the oligarchs’ ability to brutalize workers and to poison consumers and the environment.
5) The other faction, seemingly led by the military-industrial complex, Big Finance, and Big Tech, and backed by the CIA, wants to get off oil and coal and transition to clean energy, but is fearful of Russia's growing clout in Europe--and also want to sell lots of weapons, a huge slice of US GDP. This faction respects science and supports the existence of public goods and some modest social welfare provisions for the sake of social stability. They loathe Trump as a loose cannon and because of his ties to the Russian mob, which according to the Financial Times began in 2000 when he was broke and could no longer get access to legitimate credit. This faction is working up to a military confrontation with Russia.
6) There are no good guys in these rivalries. The factions are members of the ruling elite of the global capitalist system, which is in crisis as it conducts endless wars and destroys the biosphere. They are all exploiters, mass murderers, and criminals against humanity.
7) The only way to oppose this decadent, violent, toxic system and its increasingly sociopathic ruling elites is by building a mass movement only tangentially related to electoral politics. The Democrats, even the most liberal of them like Elizabeth Warren, are false friends. Any effort to “take over” or “renew” the Democratic Party is at best a diversion and waste of energy and at worst a trap. So is trying to build an electorally oriented national third party. If its platform is even slightly radical, the ruling class will not let it win above the local level.
8) Neoliberalism began to dominate global policy as well as culture, social discourse, and even individual psychology at the point when neither China nor the USSR any longer offered a desirable alternative to capitalism in the developed (central) nations. Without the vision of an alternative, workers’ organizations withered, more and more boxed in by institutional and legal constraints. The Democratic Party had (and has) nothing to offer but a slightly more humane version of the same misery. As the International Workers of the World (IWW) understood a century ago, the starting point for working-class organization is the first line of its Preamble: “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common.” Agreement or disagreement with this proposition should be a litmus test. Our allies are those who agree.
9) The IWW also understood that its ultimate goal was not higher wages but the abolition of the wage system—which Karl Marx defined as the core social relationship of capitalism—and its replacement by what the Wobblies called a “cooperative commonwealth” and Marx called “the freely associated producers.” Developing a vision of that commonwealth—which will require plenty of debate—is the task of all of us who know that the existing global social order is both unbearable and unsustainable and want to live to see it superseded.