From the May-June 2017 issue of News & Letters
Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2017-2018:
Philosophy and revolt confront Trump’s drive to fascism
I. Trumpism as an excrescence of world capitalism’s crises
II. The capital relation
III. U.S. forces of revolt as reason; philosophy as force of revolution
IV. International crises
V. Lies, facts and ground
VI. The Russian Revolution, 100 years ago and its meaning today
…Continued from Introduction
I. Trumpism as an excrescence of world capitalism’s crises
The spectacular failure of Trump-Ryan’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act does not cancel the blitzkrieg carried out by Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress against workers, women, Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, immigrants, students, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, the planet, science and oppressed people internationally. Those attacks—from undermining worker safety to destroying climate change safeguards to a budget slashing social services and business regulations—are too numerous to list. The Republican establishment embraced Trump, despite his campaign rhetoric against them, largely because he is expected to approve any vicious law Congress passes, as well as taking his own steps to cut taxes on the rich and dismantle what’s left of the welfare state.
But Trumpism is not defined by any particular policy. Its essence is a destructive response to any liberatory movements challenging racist, sexist, capitalist U.S. society.
Trump as individual is well suited for this, since for him the only positive principles are confined to ego: his own fame, wealth and power, obstacles to which provoke the fury of destruction, a pure negativity. His Cabinet and Supreme Court choices are defined primarily by their opposition to movements such as labor, Black Lives Matter, Women’s Liberation, and the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline and climate change in general. His road to power was paved with a retrogressive negation of Reason, the backlash against all freedom movements in a period of capitalism’s dissolution. The end of the present social order could mean not a new, human society but the collapse of human civilization, especially with genocide, war, and the effects of climate change on the rise, and with the threat of nuclear war escalated by Trump’s access to the apocalypse button.1“Morning Joe” host Mika Brzezinski reported that Trump told her last December, “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”
FINDING THE OPPOSITE TO CAPITALISM
While fascism is the transformation of liberal democracy into its opposite, its roots lie within capitalism. Both fascism and capitalism need to be negated. But the absolute opposite to capitalism cannot be found in the dialectic of counter-revolution.
Rather, the absolute opposite to both is the dialectic of revolution. It is therefore necessary to look to the negativity inherent in the freedom movements that grow out of capitalism’s dissolution, because this negative contains a positive in itself: the potential to create a new society on human foundations, subjects of revolution to carry it out, and elements of the vision and philosophy for doing so.
The point of revolutionary activity, thought, and organization today is to unloose, to liberate, that positive in the negative. And it is clear that Trump’s extremism has sparked massive protests and other actions that have brought out many thousands of people new to activism, as well as many who had not been active for years, and has engendered new questions and rethinking.
TRUMP’S ENGINEERED CHAOS
Trump in power, with the guidance of advisers like Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller, is working to disorient and undermine that negativity from below by plunging the U.S. into a “giddy whirl of self-perpetuating disorder,” as G.W.F. Hegel put it.
Bannon and Miller crafted the Muslim ban in a way guaranteed to generate tumult. They are creating chaos not only domestically but globally, arrogantly alienating allies, fueling far right movements in Europe, stirring hostility in China—which was not fully quelled when Trump meekly capitulated by endorsing the “One China” policy he had questioned—and other countries, and calling into question longstanding international arrangements.
Central to Trump’s exercise of power is speech, though he is deliberately vague. He is constantly lying and yet is praised for “telling it like it is.” What he is expressing is the totally false consciousness of capitalist self-estrangement—the fear of losing that racist, sexist, class-ridden alienation that defines his entire identity as a dominator, the desperation of stifling human self-activity that might break through the alienation. Hegel got his number:
“The language expressing the condition of disintegration, wherein spiritual life is rent asunder, is, however, the perfect form of utterance for this entire realm of spiritual culture and development….It is the oneness expressed in the identical judgment, where one and the same personality is subject as well as predicate….The content uttered by spirit and uttered about itself is, then, the inversion and perversion of all conceptions and realities, a universal deception of itself and of others. The shamelessness manifested in stating this deceit is just on that account the greatest truth.”2Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind (Harper & Row, 1967), pp. 540, 541, 543.
For Hitler and Stalin, the biggest lies were not just an attempt to fool people but often a declaration of purpose. When Trump and his cronies label the press as the enemy of the people, they are announcing what his administration intends to destroy even if they do not yet have the power to do so. The same is true when they label civil servants who do not bow to him as the traitorous “deep state,” or independent courts as “so-called judges” making the U.S. weak. When he rants about making war on “radical Islamic terrorism,” it is a promise to bring to fruition the apocalyptic reality of war against all Muslims, as well as to disregard the terrorism of white racists and anti-abortion fanatics.
Trumpism flows from a social order that is negating itself but is desperately trying to stifle the positive in that negative, the embryonic new society. In this grave crisis, Trump’s counter-revolution is directed not only against the forces of revolt but against the rival capitalist political party and even against the party he captured and heads, as he alternately rages against Paul Ryan and against the “Freedom Caucus” that opposes Ryan from the Right.
The installation of a flailing yet still extremely dangerous administration may seem accidental, after a resistible rise made possible by the establishment Republicans’ underestimation of the reality TV star and an election victory in which he lost by nearly three million votes. But it is through such contingencies that essence forces its way to appearance, and fascism is a native outgrowth of capitalism—in this case the very specific racist capitalism of the U.S.—that has been gnawing for decades at “democratic” institutions.
The machinery for fascism has been prepared by decades of the steady swelling of militarism, the secret surveillance state, the criminal injustice apparatus, and the executive power of the president, and the steady withering of constitutional and legal limits on all of those, in both Republican and Democratic administrations, with only a temporary reversal after Watergate.
Nevertheless, as shown by the collapse of Trumpcare, the downgrading of advisers like Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, and the continuing opposition to Trump from below, the administration has no guarantee that it can exploit this disorder—or in Trump’s cultish phrase this “mess” that “I alone can fix”—to consolidate power and smash opposition. Quite the contrary. The gathering revolt and questioning of the foundations of this decaying society reveal an opening for a movement toward tearing up the system by its roots and laying the foundations for a new, truly human society.
In the face of the very real opposition from below, Trump’s claims to have won a majority indicate his aim to turn his mass base into a majority of voters by crushing opposition and making America white again, blocking nonwhite immigrants and nonwhite voters and expanding the imprisonment of Blacks and Latinos. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has already started rekindling the racist drug war, deregulating forensic “science,” and attacking restrictions on the police such as consent decrees, while howling lies that the crime rate is skyrocketing.
MAKING AMERICA WHITE AGAIN
Though it is far short of a majority or “mandate,” Trump did succeed in building a mass base for fascism, which is dangerous enough. Despite the illusions of some commentators, this is not a huge upsurge of populism that speaks for a so-called “white working class.” He was able to leverage his base—which is overwhelmingly white and drawn from all classes, especially the middle class—with the help of a high-tech operation by a segment of the ruling class, exploiting social media, vast marketing databases encompassing virtually all voters, and other tools, spearheaded by people like hedge fund mogul Robert Mercer, who is close to Bannon’s Breitbart News.
That high-tech media manipulation, combined with racist propaganda and the mechanisms of racist rule from slavery’s electoral college to Jim Crow’s suppression of votes, anointed a candidate rejected by the majority. Yet commentators both mainstream and radical pontificate as if Trump is the tribune of the working class.
He is, however, a tribune of white supremacy. Trump has few firm beliefs, but racism and sexism have been constant features of his career. Race thinking as a driving ideological force was central to Nazism and is now central both to the construction of Trumpism’s mass base and to the direction of his administration. The normalization of fascist racism is in the tradition of the worst side of U.S. history. The Marxist-Humanist work American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard sketches U.S. history, and traces how Black masses fought and denormalized racist institutions, from slavery to Jim Crow. In the last few years, Black Lives Matter has made strides in tearing off the veil of normalcy from the routine police killings of Black Americans.
That is not to deny the importance of fighting the acquiescence to fascism. Part of that normalization is the capitulation to Trump by the ruling class and many of its political and cultural representatives, even those who opposed him. It is also seen in intellectuals who are rationalizing the new form of appearance of fascism, for example, those who still regard Trumpism as the end of neoliberalism. On the contrary, it is an intensification of neoliberalism’s attacks on the working class and the less capitalistically developed countries, with the exception of a mostly rhetorical distancing from trade agreements and offshoring.
THE DISORIENTATION OF THE LEFT
That rationalization can be seen in disoriented Marxist groups like the Platypus Society, which reprinted “Who’s afraid of Donald Trump?” by Boris Kagarlitsky, reinforcing his pose as a revolutionary Marxist. This Russian so-called dissident, whose Institute receives Kremlin funding and who pals around with fascists from Russia and a number of European countries, thunders:
“The defeat of financial capital, no matter who brings it about [he assures us that Trump will do it], would open a new era in the development of Western society, inevitably strengthening the working class, and reviving its organizations. It is Hillary [Clinton] who embodies the most reactionary project in terms of modern capitalist development.”3Platypus Review #88, July-Aug. 2016.
He oddly parrots Trump’s attacks on Clinton, including attacking her as a tool of Goldman Sachs, from whose top ranks Trump has drawn several high administration officials. Kagarlitsky’s rhetoric could have come straight from the fascist U.S. alt-right:
“And the spread of political correctness, in turn, historically coincides with the ‘financialization’ of the economy….[Trump] consolidate[s] the social groups that have suffered under the dictatorship of political correctness”—that is to say, straight white men, cast here as working-class victims with justified grievances against “multiculturalism and political correctness….Trump’s propaganda is effective, not because, as intellectuals believe, it resonates with the feelings and prejudices of the people, but because it reflects their real interests….he consolidates the voices of millions of white (though not just white) working people, who are fed up with political correctness.”
One wonders how Platypus could fail to recognize that the article sounds exactly like a paid publicist’s weak excuses to sell his product: “Building the wall would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, not only in the U.S. but also on the opposite side of the border….Trump’s statement that Mexico will finance the wall is not hair-brained [sic] either.”
Even “Trump’s offensive remarks about women” become a positive: “[W]ould these women vote for him even if Donald showed more tact?…[D]espite these statements (or possibly even because of them), bully Trump is gaining a reputation as a ‘real man,’ rough, but sincere, whom you can rely on and be attracted to, if you are not highly educated.”
After Trump’s inauguration, Kagarlitsky continued to defend Trump and smear left protests against him.4“The Choices for the Left in the Age of Trump,” Counterpunch, Feb. 7, 2017. Counterpunch is popular on the Left despite, or because of, its truckloads of absurd propaganda, including deniers of … Continue reading But what are we to expect from the Platypus Society, whose leader Chris Cutrone wrote last year:
“Trump promises to govern ‘for everyone’….There is no reason not to believe him. Everything Trump calls for exists already….Why not Trump? For which the only answer is: To preserve the status quo. Not against ‘worse’—that might be beyond any U.S. President’s control anyway—but simply for things as they already are. We should not accept that.”5“Why Not Trump?” Platypus Review #89, Sept. 2016.
It is clear by now how wrong the pundits were in believing that “America First” rhetoric meant any decrease in military intervention abroad. On the contrary, it has turned foreign relations in an increasingly military direction; stepped up military activity in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan; and issued threats to Iran, North Korea, China and even Mexico.
|↑1||“Morning Joe” host Mika Brzezinski reported that Trump told her last December, “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”|
|↑2||Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind (Harper & Row, 1967), pp. 540, 541, 543.|
|↑3||Platypus Review #88, July-Aug. 2016.|
|↑4||“The Choices for the Left in the Age of Trump,” Counterpunch, Feb. 7, 2017. Counterpunch is popular on the Left despite, or because of, its truckloads of absurd propaganda, including deniers of the Holocaust and of the Bosnian genocide.|
|↑5||“Why Not Trump?” Platypus Review #89, Sept. 2016.|