U.S. and World Politics

“A Watershed Election”

An Exchange of Ideas between Dave Gilbert and Lynn Henderson

The following is a friendly correspondence—four letters—between Dave Gilbert, a political prisoner and Lynn Henderson, author of “A Watershed Election for U.S. Imperialism” that appeared in the March/April issue of Socialist Viewpoint, Vol. 17, No. 2.

David Gilbert:

Lynn Henderson’s “A Watershed Election for U.S. Imperialism” is on-point in moving past the various superficial explanations for Trump’s victory. “Watershed” roots the disturbing results in the broader decline of imperialism—with the frustrations born of long term stagnation of the standard of living for the U.S. middle/working class and the slipping ability of the ruling class to provide strategic coherence or convincing justifications. Henderson is right to point both to the many continuities from the Obama administration and to how Trump’s election is a deeply dangerous development.

At the same time, I found the analysis to be too Eurocentric. The large wage benefits concessions to U.S. workers in the 25 years that followed World War II are attributed to the lack of capitalist competition—without mentioning the highly lucrative exploitation of the Global South. The reason given for the decline starting in the late 1960s is that Europe and Japan had recovered from WWII devastation and now provided competition on the world market. That may have been the biggest single economic factor, but the 1960s/1970s challenges from the Global South and within the U.S. were also very important.

Also, I was upset to see “Watershed” rail against austerity programs recently imposed on some European countries, without mentioning the forerunners, going back to about 1980, the far more extensive and lethal austerity programs imposed on some 70 Global South nations, meaning literal starvation for hundreds-of-millions of people.

Looking at the competitive stresses, Henderson argues that NATO is disintegrating. I’ve seen such predictions periodically since 1968. What the Eurocentric analysis misses is the role of the U.S. military in keeping the Global South open for exploitation by all the imperialist powers. That’s the genius of neocolonialism—a kind of free market imperialism—in that they can avoid going to war over which power has total control over each particular piece. In return for that crucial military function the U.S. gets away with certain otherwise unfair economic advantages.

Sometimes the European powers grumble over that, but it hasn’t yet led to the long-predicted breaking apart. That doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen. The stresses are real; Trump is making it worse; and, as Henderson points out, the emergence of China as a potential competitor brings in a new factor. But no analysis can be convincing without also accounting for the way the imperial triad of the U.S., Europe, and Japan has worked together to exploit and suppress the peoples of the Global South.

Lynn Henderson:

Dear David Gilbert,

I received a short critique you wrote on my article, “A Watershed Election for U.S. Imperialism.” I also accessed your article “The Context for the Trump Phenomenon,”1 which I thought was excellent. One major criticism you raised in your critique was the observation that my article was too Eurocentric. I think you raise a legitimate point.

I particularly wanted to put what many concluded was a bizarre and seemingly inexplicable election in a broader historical and global context that helps make it explainable. How the election was shaped first by the utterly unique era of U.S. global hegemony emerging out of WWII and specifically how the increasing disintegration of that unsustainable hegemony is key to understanding the election and much else that is now unfolding globally. I think you are correct, that including a serious look at how the exploitation of third world countries through imperialism’s ruthless application of austerity policies could have strengthened the article.

I liked your observation on how the “U.S. military played an essential role in keeping the Third World open for the exploitation that is absolutely necessary for all the imperialist powers. That’s part of the genius of post-WWII neocolonialism in that they don’t have to go to war over who controls each particular piece, but it’s more of a free market imperialism.” But that post-WWII era has come to an end.

It’s hard to see how “free market imperialism” remains feasible except under the entirely unusual and historically unsustainable period of U.S. global hegemony emerging from WWII. “Free market imperialism” could not indefinitely, or even for very long, suspend capitalism’s inherent drive to ruthless international competition.

China for example, through its aggressive expansion of trade and investment, is now dramatically increasing its penetration of the Third World, especially Africa, and South East Asia. I don’t think it intends to rely on the U.S. military to keep these markets open for it, or to submit to the more “gentlemanly” rules of “free market imperialism.” While China may be a particularly obvious example, the same new dynamic (unraveling of free market imperialism) holds true for the major European economies.

All of this does not negate the fact the U.S. capitalism continues to be the largest economy in the world with all that implies. But that does not mean it can continue to wield the kind of hegemonic power it did during that last half-century. It continues to be the world’s completely dominant military power, and will probably continue to be for the foreseeable future. But massive military power by itself, especially in the era of nuclear weapons, has its limitations.

The most dominant military in the world (and perhaps ever in the world) gained from its long Vietnam War nothing but a humiliating defeat—plus a forced end of the draft army and its replacement with a crushingly expensive all volunteer force that is proving too numerically small to meet its imperialist needs. Its long war in the Middle East is an even more sweeping disaster. Hardly a reassuring record for European powers looking to the U.S. military to guarantee their continued neocolonial access.

The closing of the post-WWII era of U.S. global hegemony means not only an end of “free market imperialism,” but an unraveling process for a whole series of international institutions, which were created by and utterly dominated by U.S. imperialism—among these is NATO. NATO as any kind of unified bloc, especially any kind of unified bloc following U.S. imperialism’s direction and lead, is undergoing an irreversible process of disintegrating.

The unraveling of these post-WWII international institutions certainly reflects an increasingly more difficult global environment for U.S. imperialism. But even more immediately frightening for U.S. capitalism is the massive political damage inflicted on its dual political parties. For the ruling elite of U.S. capitalism there has been no more essential and valuable political institution than its stable two party monopoly. The painful ending of an almost century-long era of U.S. global domination has thrown their formerly reliable two party system and its political actors into complete disarray and confusion. That was reflected in the election itself and the subsequent bizarre functioning of the government since.

David Gilbert:

You’re right that part of the current decline of U.S. hegemony is an erosion toward a possible breakdown of that post-WWII “free market imperialism.” Trump’s impulsive, erratic personality could accelerate that, although that’s probably part of the reason more sober sectors of the ruling class are trying to rein him in. Still, I think any near term major breach with Europe or Japan is unlikely. The most direct threat to the old modus operandi, as you raise in your letter, is China. And you’re right that they certainly don’t rely on the U.S. military. China and the potential for them to put together some kind of a bloc—whether BRICS or the Shanghai cooperation group—means a re-emergence of competition to the dominant imperial triad.

Your letter also points to the inability, since Vietnam, of the U.S. military juggernaut to win wars in the Global South. I would add that (as Amilcar Cabral explained back around 1970,) imperialism has a fall back for when it can’t impose a stable comprador regime: catapulting the recalcitrant country into total chaos. They’ve done that with absolutely horrendous human costs throughout the Middle East and Africa. (They don’t even have the decency, when discussing terrorism emanating from Libya, to acknowledge how they destroyed that society, at horrible human costs.) In any case, you and I agree that this situation is one of the pernicious symptoms of the decline of imperialism.

The reality of China emerging as a competitor (even though I’ve felt that to be less fulsomely imminent than many Left analysts projected) raises another question for analysis: what’s behind the current frenzy against Russia? My first take was that is was the most convenient cudgel for the large sectors of the ruling class who wanted to rein-in this loose cannon president. But in addition, confronting and reducing Russia as a power seems to be a high priority in its own right, even preceding the election. One reason is that Russia has been a more direct obstacle to unbridled imperial expansion in the Ukraine and Syria. But I think another could well be the fear of a China/Russia bloc. There would be an analogy to their seeing Iran as their main enemy in the Middle East, but going after their key ally in the region, the far more vulnerable regime in Syria, as a way to isolate and weaken Iran before taking them on more directly.

So, I guess the above indicates two questions for analysis or thoughts you may have.

What are the terms of China’s economic relations with the Global South, and what is the potential for that to crowd out the traditional imperialist powers?

What is the basis for the frenzy to confront Russia?

To quote Brecht, “So many questions, so many particulars.” Lynn, I’ll repeat that I greatly appreciate your response and our both being engaged in the collective effort to analyze this chaotic and dangerous world in the interests of the oppressed.

Lynn Henderson:

Behind the Russia frenzy

I very much appreciate your comments and insights. They force me to focus and think through my own ideas in a hopefully clearer and more organized form.

You sum up your letter by posing two questions “1. What are the terms of China’s economic relations with the Global South, and what is the potential for that to crowd out the traditional imperialist powers? 2. What is the basis for the frenzy to confront Russia?”

Let me begin by taking up the frenzy to confront Russia, and “frenzy” is certainly the applicable adjective. You surmise, that at least partially, it was launched as a convenient cudgel for large sectors of the ruling class who wanted to rein-in Trump and his “loose cannon” presidency. I think a subsidiary motive is the need to divert attention from the exposed conspiracy in the top levels of the Democratic Party to sabotage the Bernie Sanders campaign in favor of their anointed Hillary Clinton. But as you recognize in your letter there is much more than this behind the Russia campaign.

Today every major political question in this country and throughout the world is being shaped and reshaped by a new emerging political reality—the closing of the almost century long unique historical era of U.S. global hegemony which emerged out of WWII. America’s ruling elite have been thrown into increasing disarray by this new reality. Whatever name they may have used in the past to describe it—”American Exceptionalism,” “Leader of the Free World”—they certainly never contemplated its demise.

The bizarre unfolding of the 2016 presidential election and the completely unforeseen nomination and subsequent election of Donald Trump further confuses and erodes their confidence. Their first reaction has been the launching of a massive propaganda campaign absolving their two-party monopoly from any responsibility in the dangerous Trump victory. “Trump is not our fault,” both the Democratic and Republican wings are saying. Nor is any decline of American capitalism or any decline in our position as leader of the free world at fault. Rather we are to believe the Trump victory is the product of a diabolical, foreign conspiracy engineered by the Russians, in which Trump and his campaign were most likely complicit.

The U.S. ruling elite are saying to their numerous allies and stooges around the world that Trump is a terrible aberration caused by Russian meddling in the U.S. electoral process. Don’t worry, they declare, Trump will be gone soon enough and sanity will return to the White House and the normal functioning of the global order will be reaffirmed.

Whatever Russian “meddling” may have occurred (which remains completely unproven) it certainly played no significant role in Trump’s election victory over Hillary Clinton. Trump’s main slogan was “Make America Great Again.” Hillary Clinton answered that “America is already great.” President Obama and Hillary both specifically denied that the U.S. economy was in decline despite the overwhelming evidence that so many Trump voters were experiencing to the contrary in their own lives—and they voted accordingly.

 Clinton with her racist “super-predator” remarks, and her husband’s sponsorship of the “Anti-Terrorist and Effective Death Penalty Act,” which led to the imprisonment of so many African Americans, along with her opposition to single-payer health insurance, also hurt her voter turnout and support among the African American electorate. 

In the meantime, this anti-Russian campaign continues to be aggressively escalated despite considerable long-term costs and damage to the ruling elite itself. It implies a sitting, elected president of the United States, is a possible foreign agent and even a traitor. It undercuts, among large sectors of the nation’s population, the normally sacrosanct legitimacy and integrity of the so-called “intelligence community” (FBI, CIA, NSA, etc.) That legitimacy will not be so easily restored.

But the closing of the long post WWII era of U.S. global hegemony is producing more than just disarray and dangerous charges—dangerous for ruing class stability. The closing of the long post WWII era of U.S. global hegemony is giving birth, for the first time in many decades, to the emergence of a real, political split in the U.S. ruling class. It is a political split that is still in the process of congealing, but like some giant political Mixmaster, it is jumbling former established political positions and categories—it is cutting across Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal, nationalist and globalist.

The United States as a bourgeois nation-state is an association of corporations that aim at the maximum enrichment of their stockholders, bondholders, directors and managers. As a capitalist nation-state, it is at war—at least economically—with other bourgeois nation-states aiming to enrich their capitalists. This is the very essence of what is called “international trade” under capitalism.

As Sam Williams brilliantly describes in his fine monthly blog, A Critique of Crisis Theory2, this “war” does not necessarily, under all circumstances, take the form of direct, aggressive and immediate economic attack. Instead under the completely unique conditions of U.S. global hegemony following WWII, Washington adopted a bi-partisan foreign policy, supported by leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties alike, buttressing a world empire in which the corporations of Britain, an economically resurgent Germany, and an economically resurgent Japan, France, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, and so on were allowed to actually compete with U.S. corporations, cooperatively exploit the Third World, and appropriate a portion of the surplus value for their non-American owners. As part of the deal, the leaders of rival imperialist states agreed to never again challenge the U.S., either politically or above all, militarily. In this way, “peace” among the imperialist countries would be assured. Things were made easier by the fact that the world market in the wake of the Great Depression and the massive capital destruction of WWII had entered an extended phase of rebuilding and rapid expansion. I think this is an accurate description of what you creatively label “free market imperialism.” (I should say here that throughout this letter I have drawn heavily on positions presented in the Sam Williams blog.) 

But, Trump and his “American Firsters” team, led by Steven Bannon as White House Chief Strategist and Harvard trained economist Peter Narvarro, head of the newly formed White House National Trade Council say: “No.” We American capitalists can no longer afford to share the world market in this way either with “our” imperialist allies or newly industrializing nations that were not significant producers of industrial commodities in 1945. Rather we need to return to a policy of aggressive U.S. nationalism. From now on, the U.S. government should use state power to enrich U.S. corporations at the expense of the corporations of other countries, including imperialist “allies,” engaged in capitalist production, just like was done in the “good old days” before 1945.

The mainstream Democrats and Republicans, which Williams calls “The Party of Order”—answer that this is old-fashioned thinking. Under the postwar “liberal world order,” we American capitalists have increasingly appropriated the surplus value produced not only by our own workers but also the lion’s share produced by workers who produce surplus value for non-American industrial capitalists as well. This, the Party of Order holds, is the result of the world order that it so wisely and farsightedly constructed after 1945. From their point of view, crazy Donald Trump is now threatening to ruin the world “order” that served the billionaires of the world so well for the last 70 years.

Seventy years of the current “order” has led to a situation where the bulk of the surplus value is produced outside the United States and the satellite imperialist countries but appropriated by capitalists within the United States and the other imperialist countries. A portion of this surplus value was then used as a fund to bribe the middle class—very important for political stability within the imperialist countries. Indeed, this bribery was designed to keep a person like Trump from being elected to the presidency in the first place.

Now, this wouldn’t be such a problem, Trump, Bannon, Narvarro, and company believe, if the countries where the surplus value is produced were under our firm colonial or neo-colonial control. For example, in criticizing Obama’s Iraq policy, Trump complained that Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq—which he did briefly—prematurely. Not only should Obama have kept U.S. troops, once they were there, at full strength in Iraq, but seized Iraq’s oil as well. Trump also complains that while President Obama successfully destroyed the government of Libya and did tremendous damage to Syria through his support of pro-imperialist rebels, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton failed to establish strong colonial—or at least neo-colonial—governments able to enforce law and order.

Because of these policies, the Trumpists point out, Libya, Syria, and Iraq descended into chaos becoming a refuge for “Islamic terrorists” like ISIS, that previously were not able to operate in these countries. And, of course, chaos does not create the best conditions for the extraction of oil and natural gas. Business needs a climate of “law and order” so that private property is respected and contracts are enforced.

President Trump when he was a candidate pointed out that stable nationalist governments such as the former governments of Saddam Hussein of Iraq or Colonel Qaddafi in Libya, as well as President Assad in Syria, by maintaining a certain amount of law and order, allowed business to proceed. Trump believes that U.S. imperialism should either deal with legitimate nationalist governments—though they are of course far from ideal because they aren’t under “our” direct colonial control—or establish strong colonial governments that can simply hand over their resources, which would be the ideal solution from Trump’s point of view.

Trump and his “American Firsters” team are deadly serious in this perspective. In a recent July 11, 2017 New York Times article entitled “Businessmen Get Their Say on Afghan War,” the Times reports: “President Trump’s advisers recruited two businessmen who profited from military contracting to devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, reflecting the Trump administration’s struggle to define its strategy for dealing with a war now 16 years old.” 

 The Times article continues: “Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, have discussed their proposals to rely on contractors instead of American troops in Afghanistan with both Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior advisor and son-in-law, according to people briefed on the conversations.”

The Times article further reports that: “Mr. Prince laid out his views in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May. He called on the White House to appoint a viceroy to oversee the country and to use ‘private military units’ to fill the gaps left by departed American soldiers.”

Russia vs. China

The growing split in the U.S. ruling class is also reflected in diverging assessments of the relative threat posed by Russia versus China. The United States under Obama—and the other Party of Order, the Democrats—seem to prefer so-called “Communist China” to “non-Communist” Russia. They often refer to Russia as America’s most dangerous global enemy. Thomas Wright, a senior fellow in the Project on International Order and Strategy at the Brookings Institution in an article originally published in Foreign Affairs and republished by the Brookings Institution,3 puzzlingly queries: “The mystery is why Trump is so keen to work with Russia. The United States has little economic interest in the Russian economy. Trade and investment are minuscule compared with China. And Russia has very little that the United States wants.” That’s exactly the point say the Trumpists. It is not Russian goods that are flooding into Walmart or subsidized Russian steel that floods our industrial sector.

 Under Gorbachev, who presided over the overthrow of the Soviet Communist Party and Boris Yeltsin, the first capitalist president of Russia, the industrial economy developed under Soviet rule was largely destroyed. Today, capitalist Russia is largely a supplier of agricultural, energy and mineral raw materials rather than a major industrial player on the world market. From Trump’s point of view, Russia’s raw materials-oriented economy complements more than competes with the U.S. industrial economy.

The real danger from the viewpoint of the Trump team is not Russia but rather China, which has now surpassed in absolute terms, if not yet per-capita, the U.S. as the country with the highest level of industrial production in the world. The Trumpists ask, with the industrial districts of the U.S. already reduced to the “rust belt,” which they blame on “unfair” Chinese competition, what would happen if China were, over the coming decades, to reach or even approach the level of U.S. industrial production on a per-capita basis? Would U.S. capitalism even survive? This, the Trumpists answer, cannot be allowed to happen.

The problem from the viewpoint of the U.S. capitalist class and its political representatives—the Party of Order of both Democrats and Republicans and the Trump gang—is that the U.S. capitalists, in squeezing huge amounts of surplus value out of the Chinese, have been forced to help develop China’s productive forces at the same time. The evolution of the post WWII era saw a dramatic growth in the U.S. export of capital, the inevitable result of individual capitalists—under the pressure of competition—seeking the highest rate of profit. The beneficiaries of these capital exports were first the U.S.-defeated European (above all Germany) and Japanese rivals, and then to certain former colonial and semi-colonial countries. Above all, these beneficiaries included the People’s Republic of China.

The Trumpists fear that sometime in the not too distant future, if the present trends continue unchecked, the U.S. capitalists will have to be content with a far smaller share of the global surplus value produced, with disastrous consequences for U.S. imperialism. Trump and his gang believe the U.S. shouldn’t let itself be distracted by an avoidable war—or even war of words—with Russia. Trump believes that it is not Russia but China that must be confronted and must be confronted now.

Obama and the Party of Order of mainstream Democrats and Republicans are often forced to actually share the view that China and not Russia is the U.S.’s most dangerous foreign enemy. But unlike Trump, the Party of Order Democrats and Republicans believe that the rising economic and financial power of China makes it dangerous to bait China in the way that they bait Russia. The Transpacific Partnership (TPP)—backed by both the Democratic and Republicans wings of the Party of Order, and which excluded China—was primarily designed to slow China’s development without provoking China “too much.” But TPP collapsed, further reflecting the end of the long U.S. post WWII global hegemony in which U.S. imperialism was largely able to impose its will.

Nor was this strategy limited to the subsequently failed TPP. Under Obama—not Trump—it was announced that the U.S. intended to concentrate 60 percent of its vast military power in the Pacific. One of the reasons Obama did this was to force China to spend more of the huge amounts of surplus value produced by Chinese workers on the military as opposed to transforming it into still more productive capital and thus further slow China’s economic growth.

China follows a different path

How did China become such an industrial threat as opposed to post-Soviet Russia? Most people, whether they were supporters or enemies of the Chinese Revolution, expected that China would follow the path of the Soviet Union and industrialize itself on the basis of a planned economy, but things have turned out otherwise.

In the 1970s, unable to break the resistance of the peoples of Indochina, the Nixon administration finally decided the time had come to normalize relations with the People’s Republic of China, including, most importantly, allowing China access to the world market, something they never did with Russia as long as the Soviet Union existed. Nixon-Kissinger’s motives in this were driving a wedge between any existing and future Russia-China alliance, increasing long existing antagonisms between China and Vietnam and the possibility of opening China to U.S. investment.

With access to the world market, especially after the victory of Deng Xiaoping’s grouping within the Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party of China in 1978, China has industrialized through the massive import of foreign capital, the development of capitalist industry, and a massive expansion of exports. The economic laws governing China’s rapid industrialization since 1978 have been the laws that govern the development of capitalism. The Chinese Communist Party itself describes the current Chinese economy as a market economy and not a planned economy like was the case with the Soviet economy. China now has a very wealthy capitalist class topped by billionaires, at the same time land outside of urban real estate remains state owned. Most decisively, unlike with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Chinese Communist Party remained in power with complete control and direction of the process.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Communist Party essentially disintegrated overnight. The government and the economy ended up in the hands of opportunist oligarchs with no broader goal than becoming as rich as possible, as quickly as possible. No doubt the Chinese Communist Party is not free of its own corruption and opportunists but they are not in direct control. And in general, the Chinese Communist Party is driven by broader goals and aims.

Resurgent economic nationalism

The BREXIT vote in Britain and the rise to power of Donald Trump in the U.S. signals a resurgence of economic nationalism among the imperialist countries themselves that has been suppressed for 70 years by the U.S. dominant world empire. Since the Great Recession, world trade has been growing more slowly than overall economic growth. This reverses the trend of world trade growing faster than economic growth that had prevailed since 1945. The slowdown in world trade relative to economic growth is a major factor behind the current toxic wave of nationalism, and its inevitable companion—racism—that is sweeping the imperialist countries. It indicates that the “liberal order” was beginning to unravel even before the BREXIT vote and election of Donald Trump.

This resurgence of cutthroat economic nationalism is beginning to express itself in all kinds of unpredictable ways, including increasing divisive pressure on institutions like NATO originally set up by U.S. imperialism to help implement its post WWII order. The Senate recently adopted new sanctions against Russia supposedly as punishment for its “meddling” in the election. The vote was 97 to two, indicating strong bipartisan support. A key aspect of the Senate bill reveals its real intent, which has nothing to do with the U.S. elections. Tucked away in the bill was a clause stipulating sanctions against a proposed new pipeline that would deliver natural gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

An article in the British magazine The Economist4 reported Germany’s reaction: “‘Europe’s energy supply is Europe’s business, not that of the United States of America,’ thundered Germany’s foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, and Austria’s chancellor, Christian Kern, in a joint statement. The pair were particularly incensed that the bill included a call to increase American exports of liquefied natural gas, implying that blocking Russian gas was partly an effort to help American energy companies. Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, let it be known that she supported her minister.”

After China, the country that is perhaps most unhappy with the rise of Trump is Germany. Indeed, Trump probably sees Germany as the most dangerous enemy of the U.S. after China. Trump attacks Germany’s trade policies with the U.S. as one-sided and unfair second only to China. Ironically, Berlin and Beijing are emerging as the last champions of the expiring “liberal economic order.”

 Since 1945, Russia and the Soviet Union before it has been trying to win Germany away from its alliance with the U.S. Early in the post-World War II period, the Soviet Union tried to prevent the division of Germany. Moscow hoped that a united neutral Germany under the leadership of the German Social Democratic Party would act as a buffer between the Soviet Union and the emerging U.S. Empire.

If Germany is forced by the wave of imperialist economic and political nationalism sweeping the United States, Britain, and other imperialist nations to return to a nationalist policy of its own, putting Germany first, it may well come to an agreement with Russia. Russia has many of the raw materials that German industry needs. Russia could sell Germany foodstuffs, oil and gas, and industrial raw materials. In exchange, Germany could sell Russia high-quality consumer goods and, to the extent that Russian industry revives, industrial machinery. If Germany faces the loss of markets in the U.S. and western and southern Europe, it could partially make up for it by finding new markets in Russia. Could Vladimir Putin, with the unwitting help of Donald Trump, succeed where his far more powerful Soviet predecessors failed?

Progressive and reactionary nationalism

The U.S. under both Obama—and now more radically under Trump—is attempting to limit and even roll back China’s attempt to reach a level of industrialization that when considering relative populations would merely put it on a par with the U.S. and the nations of Western Europe. This type of nationalism is entirely reactionary.

On the other hand, China’s own industrialization made possible by the results of its great revolution, even though carried out on a capitalist basis, is historically progressive. Industrialization is forging the weapons for the Chinese nation to liberate itself from the exploitation of the U.S., but it is also forging the weapons Chinese workers will need to free themselves from exploitation from “their own” native capitalists as well. Therefore, when oppressed nations follow nationalist policies aimed at their industrialization such as protective tariffs, measures restricting the removal of currency from the nation, and so on, the results are progressive.

However, when imperialist countries who already command vast parts of the world market, both their home market and the foreign markets they command through exports, use similar policies against the oppressed nations or against each other the results are reactionary. Compare, for example, the tremendous progress the People’s Republic of China has made since 1949, which is a real contribution to humankind as a whole, and compare the “achievements” of the Hitler regime during the brief 12 years of its existence. At the end of only 12 years of intensely nationalist policies, economic and otherwise, Germany had not only managed to kill untold tens-of-millions of people, but itself was reduced to smoldering ruins both physically and morally.

A great weakness of the Bernie Sanders campaign and the progressive movement that he represents is its failure to take on economic nationalism. Indeed, it is worse than that. Unwilling to challenge the private ownership of the means of production like the Second International did in its better days and the Third Communist International did before its complete Stalinist degeneration, today’s progressives represented by Sanders support economic nationalism. They agree with President Trump and Peter Navarro that it is “bad trade agreements”—and not capitalist private ownership—that are the cause of the lack of decent jobs and all the problems that flow from it that confront U.S. workers and people in general. As long as capitalism and the capitalist nation-state survives, foreign trade cannot be stripped of its antagonistic character. President Donald J. Trump did not drop from the sky. 

Sam Williams in his blog points out that: “Indeed, Peter Navarro himself found his natural ‘home’ in the ‘progressive’ Democratic Party before he teamed up with the racist Trump. The workers in the U.S. rust belt need jobs. There is no doubt about that. But don’t Chinese and Mexican workers need jobs just as much? They do! A policy aimed at protecting ‘American jobs’ at the expense of Mexican jobs or Chinese jobs leads inevitably to war. With the victory of Trump, the ghost of the ruined Berlin of 1945 is casting its dark shadow over the world. This and the images of Nazi death camps is where imperialist economic nationalism inevitably leads.” 

Write to:

David Gilbert #83A6158

Wende Correctional Facility

P.O. Box 1197

Alden, NY 14004-1187



3 “Trump’s team of rivals, riven by distrust,” by Thomas Wright, December 15, 2016, Brookings

4 “Germany’s Russian gas pipeline smells funny to America,” The Economist