President Trump – a loose cannon on the imperialist deck
On 20 January 2017, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States of America. In his inaugural address, far from jettisoning his campaign rhetoric, he stuck to it with a ferocity that surprised his opponents and supporters alike. In the words of the New York Times, Mr Trump’s inaugural address was “…a scalding repudiation of the Washington establishment”, with many asking after this “angry jeremiad: How will the new Commander in Chief be able to work with these people to govern the country?” It went on: “uncompromising in tone, and entirely in keeping with his insurgent campaign, Mr Trump dispensed with appeals to unity or attempts to build bridges to his opponents. He tarred the nation’s political class, arrayed behind him on the West Front of the Capitol, as faithless and corrupt”. It added that “…presidents have come to Washington as agents of change and enemies of the status quo [but] none in recent memory have appeared so ready to lead by going to war against the existing order” (‘Mark Lander, ‘In inaugural address, Trump continues to shun establishment’, 20 January 2017).
Here are a few excerpts from Trump’s speech: his inauguration, he said, had “very special meaning” because what was being transferred was not merely “…power from one administration to another” but from Washington DC to the people. “For too long”, he went on, “a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and factories closed … Their victories have not been your victories … And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land”.
He added: “that all changes starting right here and now … The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer”. The demands of the people for good education, safe neighbourhoods and rewarding jobs are “just and reasonable demands”, but “… for too many of our citizens a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system … which leaves our … students deprived of all knowledge …”
Reverting to his campaign mantras, he said “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first”, we must “protect our borders”, prevent other countries from “destroying our jobs”, adding: “We will follow two simple rules: buy American, hire American”.
In a swipe at ‘liberal’ interventionists, and promising to seek friendship and goodwill with other countries, he said: “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather let it shine as an example”.
In a final dig at the leadership of both the major parties in the US, he stated: “We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining, but never doing anything about it.
“The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action”.
Ignoring the leadership of the Republican Party in the Congress, he said not a word about working with Speaker Paul Ryan or Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, to promote his legislative agenda.
Establishment war against Trump
His views on a whole host of issues, especially on foreign policy and trade, are at odds with those of the Republican Party, let alone the Democrats, and have set the stage for a clash between the president and the party. Ever since his election, a veritable war has been raging between Trump and his close supporters, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the establishment, which includes the leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties, the intelligence agencies, the military-industrial complex, the media, the neo-conservatives and ‘liberal’ interventionists, who are all used to dragging the US into endless devastating wars for domination. In addition, this opposition includes the establishment of the European imperialist countries and their powerful media organs as well.
So enraged is the establishment with Trump’s views that the attempts to delegitimise his presidency started as soon as he had been declared the winner of the presidential race. There were sizeable simultaneous anti-Trump protests in 25 American cities which, while giving the appearance of spontaneity, were well-planned and paid for by the likes of George Soros, notorious for spreading ‘democracy’ and ‘colour revolutions’ abroad, in an attempt to apply these well-honed tactics at home.
In its editorial of 17 January 2017, the New York Times lambasted Trump for questioning the two pillars of postwar security and prosperity – Nato and the EU – as obsolete. Condemning him for drawing a moral equivalence between Angela Merkel of Germany and the Russian president, it managed to smuggle in four barefaced lies in the course of a single short sentence. There could be no such equivalence between the two, it asserted, as Mr Putin had interfered in the American elections, bombed civilians in Syria, crushed dissent in his own country, and invaded Ukraine – assertions for which the editorial writer provided not a scintilla of evidence. And “the big winner in all this is Mr Putin, who has been working assiduously to delegitimise American democracy … destabilise Europe, and weaken if not destroy Nato” (‘Russia gains when Donald Trump trashes Nato’).
To be delegitimised, American democracy needs no helping hand from Mr Putin or any other foreign personage; it is doing fine, and has been for quite some time on its own on that score. If Nato is weakened – better still destroyed – the whole of progressive humanity will stand to gain from the demise of this neo-nazi aggressive military outfit that has for decades served as an instrument of American domination.
Trump and Russia
The mainstream media and the Republican leadership were outraged by an interview Mr Trump gave to Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, in which he stated his liking for Putin. When asked by O’Reilly why Trump respected “a killer like Putin” – like all bourgeois mercenary journalists, O’Reilly doubtless provided no proof of his provocative slander against Putin – Trump replied: “You got a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers … What do you think our country’s so innocent?” Putin, said Trump, “is a leader of his own country. I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not, and if Russia can help us in the fight against ISIS … that is a good thing”.
The New York Times, in its editorial of 7 February, while repeating the lying assertions already enumerated above against Mr Putin, expressed its condemnation of Mr Trump for not “endorsing American exceptionalism” instead of praising him for making a plain admission of the obvious. The cynically sickening defence in this editorial of American exceptionalism and its predatory murderous wars, which have claimed the lives of millions of people, from Korea and Vietnam to Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and many other places, is worth reproducing:
“There is no doubt that the United States has made terrible mistakes [the NYT’s characterisation of imperialist wars for domination – just “mistakes” which devoured millions of innocent people!] like invading Iraq in 2003 and torturing terrorist suspects after September 11. President Barack Obama often drew fire from Republicans for acknowledging the obvious – there are limits to American power and sometimes [!!] decisions to employ military force have resulted in unintended consequences [Yes, indeed. How unintended a consequence was it that sustained American saturation bombing of towns such as Fallujah should result in thousands of deaths!]. American drone strikes against extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, for instance, have sometimes [not routinely!] killed civilians.
“But no American president has done what Putin has done in silencing nearly all independent media, crushing dissent … invading Ukraine, interfering in American elections and trying to destabilise Europe”. Even if all these charges against Mr Putin were as true as they are false, they would still pale into insignificance as compared with the real gigantic crimes of American imperialism and its junior partners.
As if to say that any crime, any devastating predatory war, can be justified if undertaken in the name of ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’, the NYT editorial, without any sense of shame, offered this apologia on behalf of US imperialism:
“At least in recent decades, American presidents who took military action have been driven by the desire to promote freedom and democracy … “ (‘Blaming America first’).
Trump’s Fox interview, characterised by his opponents as ‘kowtowing’ to Putin, enraged the Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who rebuked Trump, called Putin a “thug” and indignantly rejected the idea of equivalence between America and Russia. If anyone is entitled to be enraged at any attempt at such equivalence, it should be the Russians and not the representatives of brutal and genocidal US imperialism.
As if not wanting to be left behind in the rush to condemn Trump and point an accusing finger at the Russian authorities, Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, urged the FBI to investigate Trump’s finances and personal ties to find out if the Russian government was blackmailing him. Trump was also criticised by the media and the establishment for issuing, after his telephone conversation with Ukrainian president Poroshenko, a statement that did not condemn Russia, played down the conflict as a border dispute, and made no reference to sanctions.
Trump and Nato
In his recent interview with Michael Gove and the German newspaper, Bild, Mr Trump, while saying that Nato was “very important” to him, also said it was “obsolete” and that only five countries were paying what they were supposed to pay. Calling the EU a “vehicle for Germany”, he predicted that other countries would follow Britain in leaving the bloc. His team had apparently called on the EU leaders to ask “what country is to leave next?”.
While labelling Angela Merkel, alongside Putin, as problematic, he suggested that he would support lifting sanctions on Russia provided Mr Putin agreed to a reduction of stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
Before meeting British premier, Theresa May, he had already met two of her rivals: Nigel Farage of UKIP and Michael Gove. It is clear that transatlantic relations are headed for their rockiest period since World War Two.
After his meeting with Theresa May, a joint declaration stated: “We are 100% behind Nato”. However, a few days later Mr Trump spoke to the French president, François Hollande, and told him that he wanted “our money back” from Nato, which he believes is ripping America off.
For nearly two decades, Trump has attacked the “obsolescent” transatlantic alliance. In 2000 he wrote that Europe was not worth defending and that European conflicts were not worth American lives.
In an article which appeared in the Financial Times of 16 February, Anne Applebaum described Trump as the first US president since the Second World War “to have never expressed any interest in democracy, rule of law or the shared western values that have held the transatlantic alliance together for decades”, adding that “… Trump’s malice towards longtime US allies and his ignorance of the benefits Nato has brought to America creates a completely new level of distrust”.
Translated into ordinary language, this joint imperialist enterprise – Nato – for domination, based on war, aggression and pillage (call it ‘democracy, rule of law and shared western values’ if it pleases Ms Applebaum and her like) is coming apart at the seams, thanks to the crisis of imperialism, with the level of distrust reached making it difficult for this alliance to function smoothly. And Trump is the mouthpiece of this distrust. As a matter of fact, this alliance has been under severe stress ever since the Anglo-American war against Iraq, which the French and Germans, amidst much recrimination, refused to join.
Ms Applebaum rightly concludes that “… no amount of lofty rhetoric can now conceal the fact that American commitment to European security is waning rapidly”, and that Britain, instead of “clinging to the fiction of the ‘special relationship’” with a president “who changes his mind every few hours [which is hardly the case if he has been calling Nato ‘obsolescent’ for two decades, as she herself admits in her article] and does not have British interests at heart”, should join forces with Germany, France and Sweden to launch a new European security pact which reflects political reality.
Although, she concludes, historically Britain has opposed European defence structures because they might undermine Nato, now “that the American president himself has set out to undermine Nato, maybe it is time to think again” (‘Europe needs a new defence pact – and may be Britain can lead it’).
Gideon Rachman made a similar point in the Financial Times of 31 January, saying the British had imagined they could act as “Greeks to their Romans, providing wise, experienced counsel to the new American imperium. But Emperor Nero now has taken power in Washington and the British are having to smile and clap as he sets fires and reaches for his fiddle” (‘Trump is a disaster for Brexit’).
Two professors, Hals Brands and Colin Kahl, writing in the Foreign Policy issue of 7 February 2017, say that Trump wants to make a partner of Russia in Syria, saying that the US and Russia are natural counter-terrorism allies, and that the obvious place to begin such cooperation is in Syria, against IS. They go on to add that Trump has hinted that such cooperation might simply be part of a US-Russia grand bargain, in which Moscow helps in the fight against terrorism in return for Washington putting an end to Ukraine-related sanctions.
Horrified by the prospect of a thaw in US-Russia relations, this professorial duo make the assertion that in Syria Russia does not fight terrorism; it only props up the Assad government by eliminating the ‘moderate’ opposition. Aligning with Moscow, they argue, would amount to aligning with Assad, responsible “for the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century”. Our professors, if they were really keen on discovering the true author of this catastrophe, would not have to look beyond the boundaries of the US, for it none other than US imperialism that has orchestrated the massive Syrian slaughter and mass displacement through the 100,000 Jihadis it unleashed on Syria and supplied with finance and weaponry through its flunkeys – the medieval Gulf monarchies, the very countries with which they advocate an alliance in the fight against terrorism! Such advice is tantamount to wishing mourners at a funeral Many Happy Returns of the Day. Besides, the 21st century has witnessed a far bigger humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq, consequent upon the predatory war waged by Anglo-American imperialism, with two million dead and four million displaced.
Lifting sanctions against Russia would amount to throwing Ukraine under a bus, an act which would “gravely damage US credibility in Europe, unnerve other anxious frontline states along Russia’s border, and further aggression by Russia”, assert the professors, without bothering to explain that if Russia has committed no aggression against Ukraine, as it surely has not, how it could commit ‘further aggression’? They are, however, not very optimistic about Trump being persuaded by such advice, for he “has consistently demonstrated that his geopolitical illiteracy knows few bounds”. Although we cannot vouch for Trump’s geopolitical literacy, our professors have certainly furnished sufficient proof of their own geopolitical illiteracy by their above assertions.
Trump’s senior advisers, such as General Mattis, Defence Secretary, and General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, understand the risks, but “Trump’s reasoning is frequently impervious to contradictory information or expertise”. All the same, “the risks attached to US-Russia partnership in Syria ought to give the president and those around him some pause.
“Trump wants a stronger and more effective counter-terrorism strategy”, they conclude, “but playing Russian roulette in Syria is not the right answer” (‘The strategic suicide of aligning with Russia in Syria’).
In an unprecedented development, highly-placed European figures have joined the fray and are busy openly criticising the US president in very strong terms. Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, warned that Trump represented a potential threat to the EU, bracketing his ‘bellicose’ pronouncements with major geopolitical challenges like Russian “aggression”, China’s “assertiveness”, and international terrorism.
In a letter issued on the eve of the EU Summit in Malta, this is what Tusk wrote – among other things:
“An increasingly, let us call it, assertive China, especially on the seas, Russia’s aggressive policy toward Ukraine and its neighbours, war, terror and anarchy in the Middle East and Africa, with radical Islam playing a major role, as well as worrying declarations by the new American administration all make our future highly unpredictable”.
Never before has Tusk included the US in a list of ‘challenges’ facing the western world.
Norbert Rötgen, chairman of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, told the Financial Times that “the West’s unity doesn’t play any role with him [Trump]”.
“Donald Trump is calling for Europe’s dislocation: that is not acceptable”, said Manuel Valls, former French prime minister.
These leaders are most unhappy with Trump calling Nato obsolete and not being bothered if the EU falls apart. In his cheerleading for Brexit, Trump is acting as an agent for division, they say correctly.
During her visit to Washington, Theresa May invited Trump to pay a state visit to Britain. John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons, made a statement to the effect that Trump should not be allowed to address parliament.
Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, has been unusually vocal in her opposition to Trump’s lack of interest in the upholding of ‘common western values’.
In fact, for the dominant sections of the US and European imperialist establishment, Donald Trump has become a loose cannon on the imperialist deck.
Populist and anti-establishment parties, on the other hand, have seized upon Trump’s iconoclastic pronouncements in his Bild interview.
Trump and the media
For his part, Trump has answered blow for blow. He spent his first week in the Oval Office attacking the “dishonest” media.
Reince Priebus, White House Chief of Staff, told Fox News on Sunday 22 January that there was “an obsession by the media to delegitimise this president”, adding: “We are not going to sit around and let it happen”.
Trump used a visit to the CIA on Saturday 21 January to make clear that he would maintain a contentious relationship with the media: “I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth. They sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community”.
Since his inauguration, Trump has started tweeting from his presidential account, on top of using his personal account, in keeping with his intention to keep using the social media both to circumvent the mainstream media and influence its coverage of him.
On 16 February he held a press conference at which he accused the media of dishonesty, peddling “very fake news” and conspiring to undermine his presidency. He was heckled by the gathered journalists – something that never before has happened. In a twitter he later deleted, he characterised the media as an “enemy of the American people”. He has frequently accused the media of lying, with his supporters calling them the ‘lügenpresse’.
While Trump has likened to CIA to Nazi Germany and accused it of working for Hillary Clinton, no fewer than nine intelligence sources leaked details of the phone call that Michael Flynn, then the National Security Advisor, had with the Russian ambassador to Washington, motivated doubtless by “deep alarm about a president who is so cavalier with US national security” (Edward Luce, ‘Trump and the siege of Washington’, Financial Times, 20 February 2017).
Trump and trade
After his views on Russia and Nato, Donald Trump’s position on trade questions is the most controversial, for his stance is the opposite of that held by the ruling class and its main political representatives – Republicans and Democrats. Trump had campaigned on his opposition to trade deals such as TPP, TTIP and a promise to renegotiate NAFTA. Although his rival, Hillary Clinton, for reasons of electoral expediency, had abandoned, at least in words, her support for TPP and TTIP, it was Trump who genuinely stood against these agreements.
True to his promise, on 23 January, the third day of his presidency, he signed an executive order to pull the US out of the TPP. The Obama administration’s signature deal, this the largest trade accord, brought together the US and 11 other countries in a free trade zone accounting for 40% of the global economy. While lowering tariffs, it laid down rules for the resolution of trade disputes, protection of patents and intellectual property. TPP was as much a geostrategic agreement as a trade deal, binding together the US with its closest Asian allies in an economic block that encircled China. This agreement excluded the People’s Republic of China and was designed to limit China’s enormous economic reach in Asia and further strengthen the presence of the US in the world’s fastest growing region.
With the scrapping of TPP, according to serious analysts, the US will be regarded as an unreliable partner – both economically and perhaps even in the security area – and may motivate some to look in the direction of China.
That incurably reactionary warmonger, Senator John McCain, certainly understands the implications of the US pull-out from TPP: “It will”, he said, “create an opening for China to rewrite the economic rules of the road at the expense of American workers [‘workers’ is his euphemism for US corporations] and … send a troubling signal of American disengagement in the Asia-Pacific region at a time we can least afford it”.
Eswar Prasad, a former China expert at the IMF, rightly remarked that “In one fell swoop, Trump has undercut US credibilities and handed China a golden opportunity to increase its economic and geopolitical influence in Asia and beyond”.
This being the case, what is there not to like?
And China has certainly made a strenuous effort for the completion of an alternative trade pact, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which aims to unite members of ASEAN with Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, India and, of course, China, in a trading bloc.
At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President Xi Jinping successfully managed to secure for the PRC a global leadership role, suggesting in his speech on 17 January that, with the US in retreat, China was prepared to step up to the plate in the fight against protectionism in trade and against climate change – a very significant victory for China, which has gone a very long way towards undermining the continuing relevance of American primacy.
It is a sign of the times that Professor Klaus Schwab, the organiser of the World Economic Forum, uttered the following words in his introductory address:
“In a world marked by great uncertainty and volatility, the international community is looking to China to continue its responsive and responsible leadership in providing all of us with confidence and stability”.
Even a year ago, one could not have imagined such a laudatory address to greet the Chinese leader at Davos, of all places, for then the ‘international community’ meant a mere handful of imperialist countries led by the US. And now this same international community is looking to China to “continue its leadership in providing all of us with confidence and stability”.
Times they are a-changing!
We would merely add that Donald Trump has certainly given a helping hand, whatever his intentions, to these dramatic changes. So, thank you Mr Trump!
Scrapping the TPP has been praised by some labour groups in the US – even by some Democrats – as has been Trump’s promise to build new roads, bridges and other infrastructure. The TTP was designed to screw the 99% in the interests of the 1%, exclude China and strengthen US hegemony in the Asia Pacific region and enhance the power of US giant corporations and financial institutions. Its death will not be mourned by the working masses, either in the US or in Asia. Only the ruling class of America will be heartbroken with funeral rites read over it.
Trump’s attitude to China
The most dangerous aspect of Trump’s policy is his attitude towards the PRC. This centres on three issues: (a) trade, (b) the South China Sea and (c) Taiwan.
On trade, Trump during his election campaign repeatedly stated: “We have a $500 bn deficit with China … We can’t continue to allow China to rape our economy”. He promised to slap a whopping 45% tariff on Chinese imports into the US. He had also promised to declare China to be a currency manipulator on the first day of his presidency. Since assuming the presidency, he has appointed Peter Navarro, author of a book and film Death by China, to head a National Trade Council. His trade secretary, Wilbur Ross, has characterised China as “the most protectionist country of very large countries”. Robert Lighthizer, US trade representative, has long pushed for a tougher approach to China.
So far, however, the Trump administration has not followed up on its threats – on tariffs or on currency. Besides, the US trade deficit in goods with China narrowed to $347 bn in 2016, although it still represented half of the US’s $763 bn trade deficit with the rest of the world.
In matters of trade, China is no pushover. A trade war with China would hurt the US just as much, if not more, as it would China. A huge amount of Chinese-made products exported to the US are made by or on behalf of American companies which have become increasingly dependent on sales to the Chinese market. These companies will suffer enormously if any US levies are followed, as surely they would be, by retaliatory duties imposed by Beijing. Companies such as Boeing would be highly vulnerable to retaliatory Chinese measures. Also, China can turn to other countries – Europe, Australia, Canada, etc. – and import far less from the US and far more from these countries.
In this context, James Zimmerman, a majority partner of the Beijing office of the US law firm Sheppard, Mullin, Richter and Hampton, who has worked in China for 19 years, had this to say:
“Trump’s team would be wise to shelve ‘the Art of the Deal’ and focus on the ‘Art of War’, if they really want to know what’s ahead in US-China relations”, adding that “China views Trump as a paper tiger that will likely back down on the complicated, thorny issues that are not negotiable. The Chinese know that Trump won’t risk a trade war lest the business community will be up in arms” (quoted by Jane Perlez and Chris Buckley, ‘Trump injects high risk into relations with China’, New York Times, 24 January 2017).
If China bought fewer American bonds, the Trump administration would find it harder to pay for his plans to rebuild domestic infrastructure. What is more, Trump most likely will find it very difficult to get the Republican majority in Congress to back him on a trade war with China. Since the whole point of Trump’s trade war would be to save American jobs, such threats, even if followed through, will not in practice bring jobs to America. In a very thoughtful article, backed by irrefutable statistical data, Martin Wolf debunks the idea of repatriating jobs to America through various trade-war measures. It is well worth summarising his reasoning for the benefit of our readers:
He points out that there has been a steady decline in the share of jobs in manufacturing over a very long period of time. Whereas in the 1950s, manufacturing accounted for 30% of American jobs, by 2016, it accounted for a mere 8%. If in 1950, manufacturing employed 13 million while the rest of the economy employed 30 million, by the end of 2016 manufacturing employed 12 million while the rest of the economy employed 133 million. Thus all the increase in employment between 1950 and 2016 has taken place outside of manufacturing.
Yet the output of US manufacturing was not stagnant during this period. Between 1950 and 2016, output rose 640%, while employment in the sector fell 7%. Even between 1990 and 2016, output rose 63% while employment fell 31%.
Reason? Rising productivity. Yet no one is proposing to stop rises in productivity.
Between 1997 and 2005, says Mr Wolf, the US trade deficit in manufacturing rose by 2.6% of GDP; today it is at much the same level as in 2005. If this increase in trade deficit in manufacturing had not occurred, employment in US manufacturing would be some 2.5% larger than it is today. This ought to have prevented half the job losses in manufacturing since 1997 and raised manufacturing’s share in employment to just over 10%. But this negative impact on manufacturing employment, he argues, had next to no impact on the longterm decline in the share of overall employment in manufacturing (‘Tough talk on trade will not bring jobs back’, Financial Times, 2 February 2017).
Gillian Tett makes a similar argument in an article in the Financial Times of 20 January. US manufacturing, she says, is not collapsing. Since 2000, real manufacturing output has risen by almost 20% to a record high. In the same period, though, manufacturing employment has dropped from 17 million to 12 million – not as a result of competition from such places as China, but through the application of robots and other forms of automation.
Further, if Trump wants to keep US operations inside America, that digitisation trend will intensify since companies need to cut costs to keep competitive. They will not be adding any headcount but will actually decrease it. 40-50% of today’s large enterprises will not survive in a meaningful way the next ten years. She concludes that 70-80% of jobs created in the private sector will come from small and medium enterprises which account for half of all private sector employment, making also the point that curbs on immigration could serve to undermine the start-up culture of Silicon Valley (‘Start-ups will make America great again’).
The drop in the percentage of the population employed in manufacturing, on the one hand, and export of capital, on the other, are functions of the increasing productivity of labour and the growth of monopoly. One of the chief characteristics of monopoly capitalism (imperialism) is export of capital. In his epoch-making work Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, Lenin pointed out:
“Typical of old capitalism, when free competition held sway, was the export of GOODS. Typical of the latest stage of capitalism, when monopolies rule, is the export of CAPITAL” (p.59). Also characteristic of this latest stage is the emergence of the “monopolist position of a few rich countries, in which the accumulation of capital has reached gigantic proportions”, giving rise to “an enormous surplus of capital” (p.60).
Of course, there would be no question of surplus capital if capitalism could raise the living standards of the masses but “if capitalism did these things it would not be capitalism.” And “as long as capitalism remains what it is, surplus capital will be used not for the purpose of raising” the living standards of the masses in a given country, but “for the purpose of increasing profits by exporting capital abroad” (p.60) to places where profits are high, capital scarce, wages low, the price of land relatively low, and raw material cheap.
“The need to export capital arises from the fact that in a few countries capitalism has become ‘overripe’ and capital cannot find a field for ‘profitable’ investment” (p.60).
The above is true of all imperialist countries, not just America. As long as monopoly capitalism exists, this state of affairs will continue. There is nothing that Trump, or any other leader of any imperialist country, can do. Those who are truly in earnest in their desire to bring jobs and job security to the masses of workers have to be ready to fight for the overthrow of the very system which has produced, and continues to produce on a daily basis, this state of affairs. And that job falls to the proletariat, not to the political representatives of monopoly capitalism – no matter how well-intentioned they may be.
As to Trump’s assertion that for “many decades we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry” and his promise to put “America first”, these assertions are simply untrue.
The US has always put the interests of American imperialism first and its quest for world domination is a reflection of that. The combination of automation, increased productivity of labour, monopolisation, and export of capital, while losing American workers their jobs, brings fabulous profits for American corporations, nearly of third of whose profits come from the exploitation of workers abroad. Far more in the way of profits flows into the US each year from its investments abroad than flowing out of the US to foreign capitalist investors in the US.
Then there is the free ride that the US gets through the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency, as recently pointed out by Chandran Nair, CEO of the Global Institute for Tomorrow, Hong Kong. In a letter which appeared in the Financial Times of 2 February 2017, this is what he wrote:
Americans “… are the chief beneficiaries of the best free ride in the world: the extraordinary privilege of the dollar as the global reserve currency.
“The fact is that the US is funded by global savings mostly from Asia … Much of this is because countries such as China and Japan still dangerously rely on American consumers for their export-led economies.
“It is this that has allowed American consumers to live the American dream built on low interest rates, which now has been reduced to buying thigs you don’t need with money you don’t have.
“American politicians should be wary of bullying the world, as it will backfire. Not everyone is sitting around like a bunch of dummies”.
In trade, one of the sectors under contention between the US and China is the semi-conductor industry. China consumes about $100 bn worth of semiconductors – a third of global shipments – but produces just 6-7% of it by value. As yet it has had no access to leading-edge technology in the field. It has tried to plug the gap by attempting to buy overseas companies, but these attempts have been stymied by US regulators and the US Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS). The Trump team backs the call for a crackdown on China over semiconductors. Be it noted that Bruce Andrews, Obama’s commerce secretary, warned in an interview with the Financial Times that China’s investment in this industry posed as great threat to the US economy as its ‘aggressive’ steel and solar subsidies had.
With the explosion of the digital economy, semiconductors are the foundational technology, in which the US always had the most innovative and world-leading companies, he said. But China had set up a $150 bn fund to support the sector and identified it as a strategic industry, raising pressure on US companies. This, asserted Mr Andrews, raised the prospect that China would begin to distort global markets (which, according to Andrews’ logic, get distorted the moment the US loses its stranglehold in a particular sector), as it had when it ‘aggressively’ ramped up steel production and exports.
In a report prepared for Obama, a commission called for the US to create a supportive environment for its semiconductor companies to retain and to work with the EU and other allies to strengthen global export controls on sensitive semiconductor technologies and for continuing scrutiny of Chinese investment in the sector by CFIUS. On this committee’s recommendation, Obama in 2016 blocked the acquisition of German chip equipment manufacturer Aixtron by Chinese investors. Obviously none of these measures, we are told to believe, have a market-distorting effect!
Ever since China emerged as a serious player in the global marketplace, governments in the centres of imperialism, especially the US government, have done all within their power to block China’s acquisition of cutting-edge technologies. Aixtron is not the first deal, nor will it be the last, to be blocked. Nor is Trump the first leader of a leading imperialist country to put obstacles in the path of China. That despite these hurdles China manages to acquire the latest technology in a large number of areas is testimony to its market muscle power, ingenuity and perseverance.
South China Sea
Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, in his confirmation hearings likened China’s building artificial islands in the South China Sea to the “illegal occupation” of Crimea by Russia, saying that the Trump administration intended to send a clear message to Beijing that “your access to those islands is not going to be allowed”. Tillerson’s utterance sounded like a threat to blockade the islands, on which China has built airstrips and has placed military installations. Such a blockade would rightly be regarded by China as an act of war. China’s Global Times has warned of “a large-scale war”, while China Daily spoke of a “devastating confrontation between China and the US”. China is almost certain to attempt to breach any such blockade, by sea or air, setting the stage for a latter-day version of the Cuban missile crisis, with the difference that, unlike the Khrushchevite revisionists, the Chinese are most unlikely to be the first to blink
It is possible that in his eagerness to get his confirmation, Tillerson went further than he intended in his Congressional testimony, for it contradicted the formal US position that its sole concern was the freedom of navigation in the Pacific and that it took no position on the question of Chinese sovereignty over the islands. If, however, Tillerson meant what he said, and if that is the view of the Trump administration, it would be a clear indication that the Trump administration is embarking on a course of confrontation with China. Be it said that Tillerson’s statement is a further extension of the Obama administration’s policy of encircling China through its pivot to Asia strategy. This takes us to the next point of fierce contention, namely Taiwan.
Ever since 1979, when China and the US established normal relations, the US abided by, no matter how insincerely and contradictorily, the One China policy under which Beijing rightly regarded Taiwan as an inalienable province of China. Consequently no US leader has spoken to a leader of Taiwan for decades. But in December of last year, just after his election, Trump broke with this precedent by answering a telephone call from Tsai Ing-wen, president of Taiwan. He followed this provocative gesture by suggesting in an interview that his administration might indeed drop the One China stance unless Beijing made concessions on trade. As China has consistently insisted that it will go to war rather than accept Taiwanese independence, Trump’s stance is extremely risky.
If – and this is a big if – the Trump administration sticks to its rhetoric on trade, the islands in the South China Sea and Taiwan, it would be a clear sign that it is inexorably being driven towards a major confrontation with China
China for its part has started to put increasing economic, diplomatic and military pressure on the US’s allies in Asia, such as South Korea and Singapore. China has shown its displeasure by impounding some Singaporean troop carrier which was passing through Hong Kong en route from Taiwan where the troops had long carried out military training. Singapore is under pressure from China to break its ties with Taiwan. Earlier in the same week, the Japanese and South Korean air forces had been scrambled in response to Chinese manoeuvres. In early January, China sent an aircraft-carrier through the Taiwan Strait, prompting the Taiwanese air force to scramble its jets. Thus far there have been no confrontations between the navies of the US and China. If Trump sticks to his position, that may be only a matter of time.
If a confrontation were to happen, it is far from clear that the traditional allies of the US would be willing to line up with the Trump administration. “If Trump’s America clashes with China, it cannot take the world’s sympathy for granted”, as Gideon Rachman, writing for the Financial Times of 16 January 2017 correctly observed.
In case of such a confrontation, the proletariat and the oppressed peoples the world over would be duty bound to stand with China.
As for the Chinese, they are fully prepared and calm, as Wang Xi, China’s foreign minister, said, quoting a line from a poem by Chairman Mao: “Serene order, the tumultuous clouds”.
“Bombast and twitter tantrums are not a smart way to deal with China”, to use the apt words of Mr James McGregor, a former head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing.
There are signs that the Trump administration is rowing back from its bellicose position. It has not declared China a currency manipulator; it has stated recently that it will stick to the earlier One China policy. And President Trump and President Xi had a telephone conversation which by all accounts was convivial.
Trump’s views on Russia, on Nato, on the European Union, and on trade agreements such as TPP and TTIP, while being hurtful to the ruling classes in the US and other imperialist countries, are not against the interests of either the masses in the US or elsewhere. Precisely for this reason, while being applauded by ordinary people, they are evoking the hatred and opposition of the ruling classes in the US, Europe and Japan. It is all these questions around which is centred the opposition to him – not his views on women, homosexuals and ethnic minorities.
Whether he will succeed in carrying out his policy in the important areas listed above remains to be seen. What is certain is that he faces a formidable opposition. The military/industrial/security complex, Wall Street, the powerful media outlets, even the Republican majorities in the Congress – answerable to the ruling class that provides them with their campaign funding rather than to the American people – are not going simply to roll over to Trump and accept his policies with benign and calm resignation. At the moment, he cannot even get his own team to sing from the same hymn sheet. His defence secretary, General James Mattis, heaped praise on “an enduring transatlantic alliance” and told an annual security conference in Munich that Nato had the “full support” of the US president. During his confirmation hearing, Rex Tillerson, now the Secretary of State, talked about Russia’s “illegal annexation of Crimea”, saying that sanctions on Russia will not be lifted until Russia vacates Crimea. The utterances of Mattis and Tillerson are diametrically opposite to Trump’s stated position on these questions. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, has also called for the “immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea”.
So enraged are the ruling circles and their media outlets that they have started a campaign of hatred against Trump, hinting in barely disguised terms at his impeachment, even assassination, if all else fails.
In an article articulating the sentiments of the ruling class, which appeared in the Financial Times of 21 February, Edward Luce expresses himself thus:
“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop. The question is how long that will take with Donald Trump. It is no use speculating about the next four years. Just multiply Mr Trump’s four weeks and ask how long America’s system [i.e., finance capital and military-industrial-security complex] can take the strain.”
He has declared war on the intelligence agencies and the media in his first month, says Mr Luce, adding that it looks “like the judicial branch is next on his list of enemies.” He goes on menacingly to say: “There is no middle ground in Mr Trump’s Washington. Either the forces that are against the president will bring him down or he will destroy the system. My bet is the first …” (‘Trump and the siege of Washington’).
It is an open question says Mr Luce, how long it will take before Trump’s existing appointees reach the conclusion that they can no longer stomach the prospect of serving him. The intelligence agencies already appear to have crossed that line, for no fewer than nine intelligence sources leaked the details of Michael Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador to the Washington Post, “motivated by the deep alarm about a president who is cavalier with US national security”, and who has likened the CIA to Nazi Germany.
He has attacked the media for lying and spreading “very fake news” and conspiring to undermine his presidency.
“It is hard to predict”, says Mr Luce at the end of his article, “how long it would take to resolve the battle between Mr Trump and the so-called [real, not so-called!] deep state. It is also hard to say how long a Republican Congress could stand the heat. As I say, multiply the past four weeks by three, or six, nine. The neutral ground will vanish. At some point this will boil down to a choice between Mr Trump and the US constitution” (‘Trump and the siege of Washington’).
The last word in the concluding paragraph is merely a euphemism for the interests of US monopoly capitalism. It has little to do with the US constitution, for Trump has done nothing in violation of this constitution. He was elected constitutionally, his tem of appointees has been duly confirmed in the Congress, he has taken decisions which are within his remit. If the implication of Mr Luce’s article is that only a president who does not go off the ruling class message acts within the limits of the constitution, it is merely a reflection of the hollowness of bourgeois democracy and the real nature of the bourgeois state.
While presidents and Congresses come and go, the state carries on to safeguard the interests, and economic and political domination, of the ruling class – through the army, the police – the military/industrial/security complex – the judiciary, etc.
If indeed Trump is got rid of, as is Mr Luce’s prediction and hope, it will be an important lesson for the proletariat on the question of the state and the relationship and tasks of the proletarian revolution in regard to the bourgeois state, namely, to smash it and replace it with its own new state, the dictatorship of the proletariat. If Trump’s presidency proves to be the occasion for bringing clarity to this most important question, on which so many people calling themselves Marxists (let alone the petty- and big bourgeois) are so confused, it would have been well worth it on that account alone.
Space does not allow us to deal us to deal with Trump’s order banning visitors from seven countries or his position on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. We shall come to these in the next issue.