From the July-August 2018 issue of News & Letters
“There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” With this bombastic declaration, President Donald Trump was not charting a path to world peace but rather toward a more openly brutal world order. His June 12 summit in Singapore with Kim Jong-un came in the midst of a brewing trade war and threats against Iran, and immediately after Trump wrecked the G7 summit, denouncing the leaders of Canada and Germany. Aside from his demand to return Vladimir Putin’s Russia to the G7, his admiration was reserved for the “very smart” and “very talented” totalitarian ruler Kim, who “loves his people” and “wants to do right by them” so they love him back with “great fervor”: “He speaks and his people sit up in attention. I want my people to do the same.”
Trump’s delusions notwithstanding, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry attacked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for pushing a “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization” at Pompeo’s July meeting in Pyongyang following up on the summit. Clearly, North Korea will not disarm, and Trump’s threat of “fire and fury like the world has never seen” may be postponed but not ruled out.
NORTH KOREAN MASSES UNDER FIRE
It is true that the non-binding June 12 agreement was empty and that Kim got much while conceding little, simply repeating his state’s longstanding wish for “complete [not unilateral] denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” However, it reveals the direction for global power politics. If North Korea is, for now, no longer the target of “fire and fury,” its masses continue to be.
That is shown not only by the way Trump swatted away any concern about human rights, about which he cares nothing, whether in his own country or in Kim’s concentration camps, which Trump would just as soon replicate for undocumented immigrants and people of color in North America.
It is above all shown by the line in the June 12 agreement: “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK.” From whom will the U.S. protect Kim’s state? From the U.S., after its own military maneuvered to keep Trump from bombing North Korea? Or from any rising of the North Korean people against Kim, a potential “destabilization” that has long worried both China, South Korea and the U.S.?
In addition to “security guarantees,” the agreement gave China an excuse to ease economic sanctions on North Korea, and Trump bestowed upon Kim a suspension of war games with South Korea and, not least, what pundits pointed out could only be given once: the legitimacy conferred on Kim by finally getting a long-sought summit with a U.S. president. But the pundits forget that, in return, Trump gained legitimacy and normalization—as was proven well enough when liberals and centrists, not to mention “Left” apologists for North Korea, fell into his trap by practically nominating him for a Nobel Peace Prize. They castigated anyone who pointed out that Trump was only turning down the heat on his own war threats.
While Trump promotes his twisted, racist, capitalist conception of “national security,” the real question for him is his own power. He’s not going to turn around next year and admit that Kim gave up nothing in terms of nuclear weapons and missiles; if it comes to that, he will simply accuse Kim of treachery and take several steps back down the road to war. Meanwhile, the administration has said little about intelligence that North Korea continues to expand its nuclear weapons production facilities.
TRUMP’S AIM: FASCIST WORLD ORDER
Welcoming that country into a normal capitalist relationship with the U.S. would fit perfectly with Trump’s aim of building a fascist world order with himself as the leader, which unites his international and domestic actions.
While he has been busy supporting anti-immigrant fascists in several European countries—and Russian President Vladimir Putin has been doing the same, only quietly—Trump confronted top European leaders at the G7 summit. He objected to the phrase “rules-based international order” in the G7 communiqué that he later refused to sign, reflecting his efforts to tear up the old order and replace it with a more open brandishing of U.S. military and economic power, which had of course been the basis of the old order. Trump’s moves are rooted in both the weakness and the strength of U.S. capitalism.
While U.S. imperialism remains pre-eminent both economically and militarily, its decay is manifested in both the rising competition from China and, more importantly, the underlying failure to recover fundamentally from the Great Recession despite ten years of official recovery and rosy economic statistics. That is seen in both the precariousness of working-class lives and the buildup of record debt levels higher even than before the 2008 crisis—including record levels within the past year of total global debt, U.S. household debt, U.S. credit card debt, U.S. corporate debt, and U.S. government debt. With a trade war looming, the stage is set for another deep recession. And trade wars can pave the way for actual shooting wars.
What makes the crisis total is the fact that it expresses the law of motion of capitalism: the motive force of production is the extraction of ever greater amounts of unpaid labor from living workers, while the method of production calls forth ever greater automation, including computerization, and relatively decreasing living labor. It is the totality of crisis and the looming sense of no future that creates the ground for the march of fascism.
CAPITALISM DEMANDS BRUTALITY
The liberal/conservative establishment laments Trump’s attacks on the old alliances and the old liberal order since, in their time, they benefited capitalism and kept the U.S. on top. They fail to understand that the new moves, however poorly thought out, are aimed at benefiting capitalism and keeping the U.S. on top in a changed economic-political environment. In place of rules-based trade, which was always geared toward U.S. supremacy, Trump prefers bullying each country “bilaterally.” Like Kim Jong-un, Bashar al-Assad, and ISIS, Trump knows the value of open and not only hidden displays of the brutality that has always been central to the capitalist economic order.
Both rulers and masses feel the oppressive weight of the lack of a future for them if this system continues—and fascism presents itself as a false alternative. The real opposition to a new fascist order is seen not in the Democrats, let alone the Republicans distancing themselves from Trump’s immigration atrocities, but in the mass outrage without which those politicians would not have found their voices; in the mass resistance that is still plagued by the false alternatives of electoral politics as well as of the pseudo-Left whose “anti-imperialism” brings them alongside Kim, Putin and Assad’s counter-revolution.
For the mass outrage to result in a true alternative—an emancipatory, revolutionary transformation creating the foundations of a new human society—it needs to coalesce not only with all the forces of revolution but with a philosophy of revolution.