From the May-June 2019 issue of News & Letters
Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2019-2020
Humanity’s choice: Freedom and revolution or fascism, war and genocide
I. Two opposite directions: Climate strike and genocide
II. Remaking the world order in the image of the far right
III. World crises in economy, politics, ideology—and the missing link of philosophy
IV. Humanity’s never-ending quest for liberation
V. What to do in a world in upheaval
…Continued from I. Two opposite directions: Climate strike and genocide
II. Remaking the world order in the image of the far right
Fascism never disappeared after the Nazis’ defeat in World War II because capitalism could not solve any of society’s fundamental problems. It was somewhat marginalized, though at times unleashed to stave off revolution, as in the bloody Brazilian military dictatorship that Bolsonaro praises and has ordered the military to celebrate. But so crisis-ridden is the post-2008 world that fascism, in new costumes, is rushing to power across the world, with little resistance from top capitalists, and often with their complicity. They feel the underlying instability well enough to take some comfort in less democracy, more authoritarianism; more freedom of speech for noxious counter-revolutionary voices instigating violence, less free speech for workers organizing as workers, for water protectors and other environmental defenders, for those speaking the scientific truths about climate as well as medical truths about abortion and birth control, and for women and minorities targeted for harassment by mobs.
In Europe, the far right has made strides in country after country, in some cases becoming part of the government, and in others pulling governing parties into immigrant-bashing. The UK’s endless descent into crisis and disintegration over Brexit, set in motion by the Right’s victory in the 2016 referendum, is a harbinger for Europe and the world. The May 23-26 European Parliament elections are likely to see a big enough far-right surge to transform the dynamic of the European Union, with or without the UK.
The European Union is one of the prime targets of Trump’s campaign to dismantle multilateral international institutions. Trumpism’s “America First” strategy is rooted in the economic stagnation and simmering discontent in the U.S., and consequently the desire to weaken competitors, especially China and Europe, and to throw around the weight of the waning but reigning superpower.
Trump is suspicious even of such U.S.-dominated international institutions as NATO, let alone the EU and the UN. He even objected to the phrase “rules-based international order” in the June 2018 G7 communiqué. His administration has leveled numerous attacks at Europe, including support of anti-immigrant fascists. He is joined in this by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has his own reasons for trying to divide Europe. Trump-Putin are also very pleased with Brexit, which has already strengthened the Right internationally and weakened both Britain and the EU.
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, even if 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” with a more open brandishing of U.S. military and economic power. His project is to stabilize world capitalism on the basis of entrenched U.S. power in league with a network of authoritarian strongmen. The pitfalls of this approach, which cannot neutralize the objective forces pushing nationalisms into conflict with each other, is seen in Trump’s on-again off-again love affair with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and in the growing tensions between the U.S. and Turkey.
There is a split in the ruling class between those moving toward fascism and those preferring a greener, gentler capitalism, whose neo-Keynesianism is trending toward some variant of a “green new deal,” and who want to rescue the 2015 Paris climate agreement along with the decrepit suite of international institutions from which it issued. Both sides aim to shore up failing capitalism, instead of abolishing it, the only way to save humanity.
Trump’s actions did not create the old international order’s decay. He contributed to, but did not create by himself, the record levels of global debt, the ongoing stagnation, the record trade deficit, the weakening of international institutions and their growing replacement by a proliferation of authoritarian strongmen, whose cooperation in global reaction is a prelude to competition and conflict that could end in world war. In short, Trump is a personification of the crumbling of the system.
Because of that, what appears as a pre-election gift to his partner in racist-nationalist reaction, Netanyahu, is a grave new move in the dismantling of post-World War II norms, and a step toward war.
That gift is the U.S. recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights from Syria, which flies in the face of international law, both in the general prohibition of grabbing territory by military conquest and in the particular unanimously adopted UN Security Council resolutions. Of course, the U.S. has long acquiesced in Israel’s rule over the occupied territories.
The open repudiation of such a central principle of international law has real consequences, as Netanyahu showed when he cited it as “proof” his state can “hold” occupied territory. Annexing parts of the West Bank was long in the air in Israeli politics, and Netanyahu made it a plank in his election campaign, alongside the racist “Nation-State” law. His re-election on this platform with Trump’s blessing pounded the final nail into the coffin of the two-state solution. Trump’s move also strengthens Russia’s annexation of Crimea—which he has been supporting for two years by demanding an end to sanctions on Russia, and China’s claims in the South China Sea.
China’s assertiveness on the world stage is turning 30 years of primitive accumulation of capital into political capital for Xi Jinping. The hothouse development of capitalism, courtesy of the blood and sweat of workers under state and Party repression, propelled China to second in gross domestic product (GDP) worldwide and propped up global capitalism in crisis. On this basis, China presents its single-party, police-surveillance-state-capitalist society as the destined leader and model for the next world order.
The particular umbrella covering China’s outreach is the Belt and Road Initiative. Xi resurrects the mythology of previous dynasties’ furthest historical expansion to mount a 21st-Century challenge for control beyond its borders. The 15th-Century expeditions of Admiral Zheng He to East Africa provided the pretext for proposing massive infrastructure projects there, but it is the lure of loans overflowing from China while capital is otherwise unavailable that accounts for Ethiopia and the rest of East Africa agreeing to China’s ambitious plans, even with the examples of China claiming title to ports and assets in foreclosure in Sri Lanka and Greece. The right-wing government of Italy is the first in Western Europe to accept Chinese loans, for redevelopment of the Adriatic port of Trieste.
China’s economy is slowing. Its GDP growth last year, under 6.5%, is the lowest since the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. Because banning unions led to rank-and-file organizing in foreign-owned factories, a decade or so ago the official national union claimed to represent them to impede workers’ revolt. Escalating resistance, especially against factory closings and theft of benefits, has been accompanied by police intervention and incarcerating workers, especially activists, as in the Pearl River Valley. Through labor’s efforts, the low wages have risen tenfold.
China’s rulers are fearful that the high economic growth rate that the regime banks on for legitimacy will drop again this year, maybe even leading to recession. Along with controlling workers at every factory and every uprising, China harshly represses people at the margins in Tibet and Xinjiang with internment camps that the world is ignoring in order to reap the benefits of Chinese trade.
A “social credit” system is being imposed across China now, employing computerized records as the modern form of party hacks in every village gauging how loyal one is to the Party. If not loyal, people can be excluded from apartments, jobs, transportation, etc. Xi Jinping fits well into the mold of today’s authoritarians. Solidarity is needed with Chinese workers. China can show us our own future, and Chinese workers will help reshape that future.
Neither false alternative—China’s regime or Trumpism—can rescue humanity from social and environmental collapse. Both are forms of rule trying to remold the world order but only within the narrow bounds of imperialist state-capitalism.
. See “European Union elections: mixed signals,” p. 12, and “Rise of Far Right threatens ‘Europe,’” March-April N&L.
. Going further, David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador to Israel, proclaimed on March 26 “the need for Israel to maintain overriding security control of Judea and Samaria and a permanent defense position in the Jordan Valley”—that is to say, permanent military control of the West Bank, regardless of any “peace” deal to be offered. That is the position of Netanyahu, but also most of the other parties in Israel’s Knesset. See Maayan Lubell, “U.S. envoy hints at peace deal with Israeli security control in West Bank,” Reuters, March 26, 2019.
. See “Israel’s reactionary nation-state law,” Sept.-Oct 2018 N&L.