(Biannual - February 2017)
Response to the Criticisms about our Communiqués on the Brexit Victory in Great Britain and Trump’s Election in the United States
This contribution was written just a few days after Trump’s presidential election and the publication of our communiqué dated November 9th, Trump’s Election : The Choice of the March Towards Generalized War…. It is part of a discussion we had within our group after questions were raised among us and after receiving criticisms that sympathizers promptly sent by mail. Afterwards, we also received critical comments from political groups and comrades who basically take up the same arguments which we respond to here. Since then, all of the comrades of our group had agreed in general with the points put forward by the following internal contribution. Thus we submit it now for the benefit and the reflection of all comrades and communist groups even though some specific arguments may be dated since the time of writing.
We precede it with a quotation by K. Marx on “circumstances and relationships that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero’s part”. He wrote this about Napoleon III in the 1869 Preface of the 2nd edition of his book The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
K. Marx on Napoleon 3rd
“Driven by the contradictory demands of his situation, and being at the same time, like a juggler, under the necessity of keeping the public gaze on himself, as Napoleon’s successor, by springing constant surprises – that is to say, under the necessity of arranging a coup d’état in miniature every day – Bonaparte throws the whole bourgeois economy into confusion, violates everything that seemed inviolable to the Revolution of 1848, makes some tolerant of revolution and makes others lust for it, and produces anarchy in the name of order, while at the same time stripping the entire state machinery of its halo, profaning it and making it at once loathsome and ridiculous.”
What are the main criticisms to our political statement? Let’s take the comrades S. and J.’s mails:
«I don’t think we can infer from Trump’s victory a collective decision on the part of the bourgeoisie. It is a populist backlash and the victory of dog-whistle politics, made possible by widespread disillusionment among US electorate » (S.):
« The victory of Trump is evidence that the traditional ruling class (from which he comes) is losing its grip » (J.) ;
« This has the effect of mounting attacks on the working class on the domestic front and increasingly aggressive nationalism on the international front. Trump in this respect was no different from Clinton » (J.).
Let’s sum up: Trump’s election is due to a petty-bourgeois backlash uncontrolled by the ruling class; his election is not a “conscious” collective decision of the bourgeoisie as a whole; the bourgeoisie is losing control of the situation, in particular at the level of its political game, thus its state power; there was not any genuine stake for the bourgeoisie in this election between Trump and Clinton from the point of view of the American state policy and the ruling class.
1) A Pettybourgeois Backlash?
The capitalist contradictions manifest themselves today concretely through the increasing pressure to prepare for war and, at the same time, to engage and provoke massive confrontations with the proletariat; and all this with the backdrop of an economic dead-end which lasts for decades and has clearly been exposed since 2008. These antagonisms exacerbate themselves and provoke a vast number of upheavals at all levels of the life of capitalism, economic, imperialist, political, social, ideological, etc. which are openly blowing up since 2015. It is at all levels that the bourgeoisie must adapt itself to be able to respond to the requirements of the situation, in particular at the level of its state apparatus. Amongs other things, it has to find and put in place the political staff and personalities who correspond to this new situation; that is to say, those who are not too marked by, nor captive to, schemas of understanding and ways of thinking belonging to “before”, in particular before January 2015 (to simplify of course).
Amongs these political personalities and forces that tend to correspond to the change of language and to the belligerent ideological atmosphere that the bourgeoisie wants to impose, the extreme right forces, now called “populist”, are particularly well adapted. Their generalized development today is not based on a series of historical and bloody defeats of the proletariat as in the 1930s – as such they are not fascist phenomena or tendencies – but on the fact that their discourse corresponds to the deep historical pushes towards war. Their present development is not the product of a petty bourgeois reaction as the bourgeois media preach and as is claimed by numerous revolutionaries, but of the necessities of capitalism which is caught in insuperable and increasingly exacerbated contradictions. Evidently, this development of the extreme right bases itself on, and feeds off, the growing and destructive petty bourgeois frustrations which are real (even more so since the proletarian revolutionary perspective is largely absent). Is there any need to remind that the same was true with the rise of the Nazis in Germany and Blackshirts in Italy? They were not petty bourgeois reactions imposing themselves upon capitalism and its state but it was capital which leaned on these feelings – racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, etc. – to have an armed wing at its disposal against the revolution, and later for war.
“The fascist movement must be understood as the attempt to politically unify the conflicting interests of various bourgeois groups under the banner of counter-revolution. Fascism, created and directly fostered by the entire upper classes (landowners, industrialists, commercial sectors, bankers, supported by the traditional State apparatus, the monarchy, the Church, and masonry) pursued this aim by mobilising elements within the disintegrating middle classes [the French version says “in disarray” instead of “disintegrating”] which, in close alliance with the bourgeoisie as a whole, it has managed to deploy against the proletariat.(…) Directly favoured in this period by governments, the bureaucracy, the police, judiciary, army etc., Fascism has since gone on to completely replace the bourgeoisie’s old political personnel » (Draft theses for the 3rd Congress of the Communist Party of Italy presented by the Left, 1926, we underline).
The “uncontrolled petty bourgeois reaction” and the so-called danger of “populism” is thus a thesis that the revolutionaries and the proletarians must reject. There is no doubt that the media’s emphasis on the phenomenon of “populism” has penetrated into the revolutionary camp – we are not surprised – but it is more surprising that it has found its way also into the Communist Left, because the latter is already armed to face it. One has only to read the ICC articles on this question . The ruling class is going to attempt to take advantage of any political confusion or weakness on this point to try to lead the maximum number of proletarians to the defence of “reason”, of the state and the democratic nations, by calling on the “people” to rally behind it at the detriment of the defence of the proletarians’ own economic and political class interests ; that is to say, at the detriment of the struggle against the immediate and historical effects of the capitalist crisis, whatever are the government teams in power, and for the development of the revolutionary perspective. This trap is ceaselessly renewed under one form or another since the anti-fascism of the 1930s. It is based on the idea that the ruling class, as a function of the circumstances and the particular countries in question, or particular fractions of the national bourgeoisies, is losing control of the situation.
2) Is the Bourgeoisie Losing Control of the Situation?
Our statement on Trump is in continuity with the communiqué that we had published after the Brexit referendum: After the Brexit Victory,The Capitalist Contradictions Explode at all Levels.... For many, starting with the bourgeois media, the Brexit was a mistake of the bourgeoisie which did not succeed in managing its political game. And it would be the same with Trump. If such were the case, if the American and English bourgeoisies were weak enough to lose their grips and, in particular, not to manage at a minimum their political game in regards to important decision such as the Brexit or the choice of a new president – with two chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives, in the hands of the Republican Party – then the immediate situation would be quite different and much more fragile and difficult for the bourgeoisie. Believing that both cases are manifestations of simple losses of control by the ruling class does not explain why these phenomena arise and repeat themselves precisely today. For our part, we try to give an analysis and an explanation.
Since here we are not talking of just any ruling class. We don’t refer to the Venezuelan bourgeoisie or that of one economically backwards African country. It is about the most experienced one in the world, the British one, and the most powerful, the American one. Again both ruling classes go together – let’s recall, for instance, Thatcher opening the path to Reagan and the international and historical consequences of this choice. To think that they would no longer manage the exercise of their class power up to the point of letting petty bourgeois reactions take over and jeopardize their interests with no response would mean that the ruling class and its state power are highly fragile. Certainly, from an historical point of view, that is in relation to the historical alternative Revolution or War such as it arises concretely today, the bourgeoisie is far from being all-powerful. But from an immediate point of view, the requirements of capital in crisis push for a reinforcement, each time more absolute, more totalitarian, of the bourgeois state with, moreover, an international proletariat which is to date far, very far, from arising and responding to the stakes of the situation – without mentioning the specific historical weaknesses of the proletariat of North America.
Thus, without denying that there are divergent economic and political interests between bourgeois fractions, it seems to us that we must reject the thesis according to which the bourgeoisie would “lose its grips” or would nolonger control the political machinery of its state apparatus, particularly in the United States and in Great Britain. For our part, we explain both phenomena, Brexit and Trump – which are one in a certain sense – by the exacerbation of capitalism’s contradictions as they concretely manifest and impose themselves upon the national ruling classes since 2008, and by the inability of capital to overcome at a minimum level the consequences of the most recent open crisis in contrast to the previous ones. The acuteness of these contradictions forces the ruling classes to turn towards such or such path. Here to engage in a “more resolute” march towards war because the economic responses prove to be increasingly ineffective, including at the immediate level, despite their extent which challenges any “capitalist economic logic”...
3) The Conscious Acts of the Bourgeoisie?
“I don’t think that this is the result of a conscious decision on the part of the ruling class” writes one of our correspondents. When the ruling classes take decisions which are imposed on them by the course of history and more particularly by the diktats of capitalism in crisis, to what extent are they conscious of what they do? Behind this question also lies the wrong criticism made of Marxist theory and analysis which accuses it of having a supposedly conspiratorial vision.
“The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. (…) The division of labour, which we already saw above as one of the chief forces of history up till now, manifests itself also in the ruling class as the division of mental and material labour, so that inside this class one part appears as the thinkers of the class (its active, conceptive ideologists, who make the perfecting of the illusion of the class about itself their chief source of livelihood), while the others’ attitude to these ideas and illusions is more passive and receptive, because they are in reality the active members of this class and have less time to make up illusions and ideas about themselves. Within this class this cleavage can even develop into a certain opposition and hostility between the two parts, which, however, in the case of a practical collision, in which the class itself is endangered, automatically comes to nothing...” (K. Marx, The German Ideology, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01b.htm#b2).
What and how, to what extent, can the bourgeoisie be conscious of the choices it makes such as the Brexit and Trump? It is clear that it was divided on these two decisions and that it certainly hesitated. As also, there has been a genuine battle between at least two fractions of the ruling class and within the state apparatus. Trump’s election, as well as the Brexit, is not the result of an established plan or a plot – even though it happens that the bourgeoisie, and particularly the American one, sets up plots and plans. The process of decision making within the ruling class is also a contradictory process. Once in power, the Nazis physically eliminated several fractions of the bourgeoisie. They nevertheless represented at one moment the interests of German capitalism and the ruling class as a whole.
We must not understand the decisions or important choices of the bourgeoisie as an expression of “total” consciousness – only the proletariat is the bearer of a “scientific” consciousness because it brings in itself the suppression of all classes. When it takes decisions, the bourgeoisie’s consciousness is like the consciousness of a surfer who catches the wave, or not, and who tries to stay up on the surfboard. The surfer is conscious of what he does but he does not command to the wave, nor necessarily does he know the mechanism of the tides.
A fraction of the ruling class has seen a good wave coming and has been able to catch it while the other let it pass. Nothing being automatic, nor linear, we can’t exclude in the absolute that Trump ends up falling of his surfboard. But for now, he has just come to raise himself on it. The “Brexiters” yesterday, the “Trumpists” today, have represented and expressed at a given moment the step it mattered to take more clearly and decisively than the other fractions of the political apparatus – in this case the political personnel formed and marked by the previous period. But on the basic orientation, actually “Trump in this respect was no different from Clinton”. On this point, we all agree but it is insufficient for understanding the events and their dynamic as well as for our intervention.
4) What Stake in These Elections for the American Bourgeoisie?
In the case of Brexit as in Trump’s case, the English and American bourgeoisies are united on the basic orientations of which both choices are moments. Clinton was no less a warmonger than Trump (and in the short term, maybe more so than the isolationist Trump). The possibility that the acute tension existing presently between Russia and the USA calms down with Trump’s coming, does not change anything with respect to the basic “warlike” orientation he bears. The Clinton option, shared by the Democratic Party and a great part of the Republicans, differed on the timing, on the moment, to set up a more direct orientation for “the march towards war”. It went the same with the Brexit. The British bourgeoisie is united and conscious (who can have a doubt?) on its pro-American imperialist policy, of alliance with the USA. Let’s recall Churchill’s remark to De Gaulle in which he was saying to him that the United Kingdom would always choose “the great large of the Atlantic” if it had to make a choice between France and the United States. This traditional and basic orientation of the UK would have to result, soon or later, in a distancing from and an open opposition to the European Union once… “war was in sight” – not in an immediate manner but as a perspective becoming directly determinant for the decisions of capital. The unique stake on this was the timing, the moment, the occasion, for taking this step.
Whatever is the bourgeoisie’s consciousness (that is its understanding of the situation), or the consciousnesses of its different fractions, the Brexit as well as Trump express the fact that the perspective of the generalized imperialist war imposes itself directly. That the process which drives to it, and without prejudging its term or its speed, determines from now on directly the policies and the orientations of the main imperialist powers, as well as their decisions, in particular the configuration of their state political apparatus and the choice of the government teams. And that it relegates to the background (relatively and as a tendency) the other considerations, economic, social, political, diplomatic, etc. while submitting them to the necessities of this process towards war, even if it means sacrificing the interests of some fractions of the bourgeoisie. Thus there are underlying tendencies in both cases which force the bourgeoisie to act and which make their mark on the “decisions”. It is only within the historically weaker ruling classes that the decisions may not to correspond to the deep tendencies and then lead to “national” catastrophe.
In this sense, in regards with the timing, the choice of the moment, “the option Trump was different from the option Clinton”.
5) Trump : A Clarification of the Imperialist Alliances and Dynamics and the Class War
The Brexit and the “unthinkable Trump” will cause a shakeup of the imperialist alignment, an acceleration of the process of imperialist polarization and a worsening of the militarization of the economy and society. Both events – which are actually one – reveal too that the bourgeoisie has well engaged a process leading it to massively, frontally, and violently confront the proletariat. We don’t develop these points here.
A last clarification: the needs of the “march towards war”, which brought Trump to power according to us, do not mean that the extreme right, whatever is its form, is automatically going to come to power in the main imperialist powers. For instance, the Brexit shows us that the Tory Party, classical party of the British bourgeoisie, succeeded “in catching the wave” even though it has been difficult. There is a fundamental difference which explains the difficulty of the main European powers in relation to war and their obviously less warlike discourse or language: the experience and the tradition of the European proletariat, in particular with regards to the imperialist war and to nationalism. From this point of view, the American ruling class and even more, for instance, the Russian ruling class have their hands more free to assume war and to bring to power figures such as Putin or Trump. The working class mobilization in France late last spring was a first test and a warning for the European bourgeoisies: despite the state of emergency officially declared to lead “the war against ISIS and its bloody attacks” and which prohibits any public gatherings and “justifies” massive and violent repression, the proletariat succeeded nevertheless to massively demonstrate for four months and occupy the streets and the squares.
Let’s sum up the points of the main disagreements according to us that we should discuss and clarify:
is the bourgeoisie losing control of the situation or rather is it riding the wave of history and the contradictions of capitalism so that it adapts its policy?
do the Brexit and Trump phenomena express petty bourgeois backlashes or rather the bourgeoisie’s capacity to lean on these strata and on their historically impotent hatred to impose its “solution” to its dead-end ?
These are the terms of the debate we should develop since, according to the response we’ll give them, the political implications, in particular for our intervention, won’t be the same.
 . See : “ The rise of populism is dangerous for the ruling class because it threatens its ability to control its own political apparatus and at the same time maintain the democratic mystification which is one of the pillars of its social domination ” (International Review #157, http://en.internationalism.org/international-review/201608/14087/brexit-trump-setbacks-ruling-class-nothing-good-proletariat).