Trump, the state and counterrevolution

BY:Joe Sims| July 6, 2017
Trump, the state and counterrevolution


Our country is in the midst of a profound governmental crisis. This crisis is revealing itself deep  within the bourgeois state, that hallowed body of legislators, lawyers, and corporate lobbyists vaunted by some as the apogee of modern civilization. There are overlapping crises in the White House, in the executive as a whole, and between the presidency and the federal judiciary. Fault lines also lie in the relationship between the presidency and Congress with regard to traditional checks and balances and consent for judicial nominees. Congress itself is not immune, as witnessed by the subversion of the traditional filibuster rule. Here, GOP partisanship is pursued to the exclusion of all else. In the period before the election, the vacillation and caving of neoliberal Democrats was also to blame.

The crisis is expressing itself in most severe forms in the war among White House factions, in the discontent evident among officials in both U.S. intelligence apparatus and the Department of Justice, and in a series of judicial checks on presidential overreach that carry implications of a constitutional crisis.

Neo-fascist conspiracy theories about conflicts within the “deep state” abound on all sides, repeated by the president himself.

Branches of the executive are in apparent contest with one another, with roles traditionally attributed to the State Department and Pentagon being challenged by the intelligence agencies. Neo-fascist conspiracy theories about conflicts within the “deep state” abound on all sides, repeated by the president himself.

The State Department itself seems to be in deep crisis as positions go unfulfilled due to turf wars regarding hiring, while its responsibility for foreign policy gets replaced in some cases by Trump family members.

People are asking, “What’s it all about?” and “How will it affect me?” These are important  questions on the minds of a broad public more than a little overwhelmed and perplexed by Trump’s crisis-a-week style of governing. The implications of unchecked minority party rule both in Congress and in the executive, exacerbated by presidential mendacity on a scale never seen before, are becoming ever more apparent.

The crisis of the American state

On one level, the crisis is sparked by a self-declared war by a faction within the White House on the “administrative state,” i.e., the various departments that comprise the executive branch of government. The aim of this assault is to undo the protections and services government  provides, things like workplace safety guidelines or warnings about lead in the drinking water. Such measures are a nuisance, if not anathema, to a ruling class in pursuit of maximum profits.

The right wing is attempting to idea the concept that the purpose of government is to serve the people.

At work here is not only the dismantling of the federal bureaucracy but also an undoing of an idea that underlies it – the concept that the purpose of government is to serve the people. This notion is the lynchpin, the very basis, of the U.S. social contract since the days of the New Deal. In this regard, Trump is the fullest realization of the neoliberalism elaborated in FDR’s shadow.

On another level, the crisis has broader implications. Not only is the structure of the state being reimagined, so too are its ends and the means by which they’re achieved. In this regard, is Trumpism an attempt to normalize non-democratic decision making? Some seem to think so, including many Republicans, as evidenced by House support for an amendment offered by Rep. Barbara Lee challenging the president’s authority to make war.

The implications here go not only to the decision-making process itself – in other words, democracy – but to the very concept of the country itself as a nation-state. The U.S. is extremely polarized, with powerful centrifugal forces pulling at its seams.

Consider that the U.S. nation, like other capitalist democracies born in the 19th century, is still in formation. Some argue, for instance, that its bourgeois democratic revolution was only recently completed with the passing of the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s. Among the reasons for the delay have been the ongoing influences of racism and nationalism, influences that historically are at work in every land.

In fact, Lenin once observed that this is an objective process and that in every country, as well as internationally, two tendencies are at work: separation and integration. Here he was speaking of what Marxists call the “national question,” the formation of nation-states during the imperialist stage of capitalism. In Lenin’s view, the process of production itself determined that the trend towards integration was primary.

However, today it is difficult to say with any certainty for how long the dominant trend, integration, will hold sway. In light of the breakup of the Soviet Union, or more recently the ascendance of separatist trends in Europe and the passing of initiatives to withdraw from the European Union, scenarios unimaginable a few years ago are today’s political realities.

“White nationalism” and the proposition that an oppressed white nation is fighting for its place in the American sun part of the everyday discourse.

With “white nationalism” and the proposition that an oppressed white nation is fighting for its place in the American sun part of the everyday discourse among the Breitbart encampment of Trump’s coalition, can the re-emergence of such Confederate forces be completely ruled out?

Clearly, the crisis of late stage state monopoly capitalism is giving rise to unpredictable consequences.

Here a mix of two schools of bourgeois political economy and governance, Keynesian and neoliberal, are at play and battling for influence in union halls, university campuses, corporate boardrooms, city councils, state legislatures, and into the courts and halls of Congress, pitting workers, immigrants, races, genders, and identities against each other in a uniquely American white nativist “us” versus a multinational, multicultural “them”.

But curiously, both schools have reached their nadir, with Keynesian methods long ago running their course and austerity now too meeting the same fate. Hence, we get Trump’s curious mix of economic nationalism, austerity, and privatization alongside plans for business-funded infrastructure investment and (in all likelihood false) promises to stay the course on some entitlements in a desperate attempt to maintain his base and find economic solutions, even if only temporarily.

Trump and the counterrevolution

And it is precisely here that the greatest danger lies, and it’s an ominous one at that. To achieve these ends, Trump has, for reasons of both ideological predilection and necessity, allied the traditional Republican coalition with the so-called alt-right and its mass base in the lower middle class and among some sections of white workers, particularly in small towns and rural areas, potential shock troops in the battles to come.

Trump has allied the traditional Republican coalition with the so-called alt-right.

Already hamstrung by the mass resistance to his policies and, in particular, by the aftermath of his firing of FBI Director James Comey, Trump – in keeping with Roy Cohn’s schooling – increasingly skirts along the edges of the law.

In relation to Comey, the Commander-in-chief seems to have actively interfered in the law enforcement process not only by attempting to get the former director to drop the Flynn case but also by approaching Dan Coats and NSA Director Michael Rogers with the same directive. And so far, Trump’s allies in Congress have refused to side with federal law enforcement or the intelligence community in checking this abuse of power.

Here the issue of how Trump’s surrogates responded is key. Did the attorney general or White House chief of staff challenge his overtures, or were they silent? In a White House and Republican Party dominated by a rash and authoritarian president and surrounded by loyal family insiders, did government officials find the courage to uphold the legal and political rules of the game, or did they ignore them? As one legal scholar put it: “The institutional defenses against the breakdown of basic norms begin with an understanding among the key personnel of the government that their roles require them to cooperate in upholding these norms.”

The crisis in the state consists precisely in the degree to which norms of government have broken down.

If they didn’t uphold them, the country’s already in deep trouble. Indeed, the crisis in the state consists precisely in the degree to which these norms of government broke down.

In this regard, the whole reaction by the administration to the Russia investigation suggests a definite step in the direction of lawlessness, with all of the danger that this implies.

A breakdown in the norms of governance also pertains to the relationship between the presidency and the fourth estate. Trump, in Nixonian fashion, has labeled the capitalist press “the enemy of the people,” and purveyors of fake news. To be fair, there has long been a tendentious relationship between the White House and the press but never a sustained wholesale assault on truth, facts, and the pushing of alternative narratives and “realities” lending an unprecedented crisis of legitimacy to the institutions of both state and civil society.

The point here is that Trump and company, as a political force, represent something new, a break, a rupture with past norms and bourgeois democratic practices. Other administrations have broken the law and attempted to dismantle the EPA or the Department of Education, but never has there been such a sustained assault on the foundations of government married to an alliance with neo-fascists and supported by an apparent foreign interference in the electoral process. The country appears to be in the first stages of veritable counterrevolution aimed at imposing a new form of capitalist rule.

At this juncture, the crisis is occurring within the upper echelons of the ruling class itself as different sections contend for influence: Big Oil and Wall Street demanding deregulation and tax relief; Silicon Valley pursuing more free trade, and the military-industrial complex pushing for foreign intervention and a bigger share of federal spending.

In the White House, there’s the appearance of a truce between alt-right neo fascists and Wall Street bankers on the one side and more traditional conservative Republicans, represented by the Trump’s chief of staff, on the other. Support for the president among the various GOP factions in Congress remains, though Trump is taking no chances, returning again and again to the GOP base to shore up support.


Moving beyond resistance

How then will the crisis be resolved, and what does it portend for the future? Clearly, the special counsel’s probe and Congress’ investigation must proceed along parallel lines, but just as clearly, they cannot be left to themselves.

The FBI is hardly a bastion of democracy.

Notwithstanding the current skirmish with Trump, the FBI is hardly a bastion of democracy, and both chambers of Congress are dominated by the GOP. Hence the need for ongoing mass public pressure. Here, both a generalized form of broad public pressure (popular front) and a class-based one emphasizing the socialist solutions that have burst onto the agenda as a result of the Sanders campaign are necessary. Both must be carried on in tandem without mechanically placing one against the other, with the Communist Party always bringing the interests of the working class to the fore.

But the question arises as to what degree in the short term the crisis is resolvable, given that the forces in play have permanent class interests and long-term resources for realizing them. In other words, the underlying causes of the crisis are to no small degree independent of the present actors and, short of addressing these causes, the symptoms are likely to reproduce themselves again and again.

The state, democracy, and their related institutions are strained and in crisis because the conditions in which they function are strained and in crisis. The rate of profit continues to fall. Wages are stagnant. Debt, both personal and public, is sky-high. Life as it was once lived is disappearing, never to return. In these circumstances, promises of change are broken, repeatedly. Class, racial, and cultural resentments abound. Government is not trusted, the news media is not believed, and voting is seen by half the population as a waste of time.

And yet, the country is in the midst of the largest and most sustained mass movement for democracy in its history. Initiated by women in the aftermath of the inauguration and joined by millions in cities across the country, this movement has engaged the Trump administration at every turn, particularly on health care. It has already set the midterm elections in its sights, recruiting thousands of candidates. Shouldn’t communists take their place among them?

And it is here that hope lies. It is a new, inexperienced movement. As of yet, its working-class component lacks full involvement, focus, or an agenda balancing the demands of the left and center along with the equality imperatives of people of color, women, LGBTQ people, and the disabled. Still, it is the country’s best and only chance to move beyond resistance to a new advanced democratic dawn.

Image: Creative Commons 3.0
Thanks to John Bachtell, Scott Hiley, C J Atkins and Joel Wendland for copy edits and suggestions.

Comments (11)

Frank Chapman | February 02, 2018 at 6:15 PM

I got this real late but better late than never. I think this is a great discussion document regarding the present political crisis, what needs to be done and where do we go from here. While I agree with much of the analysis I have problems with the suggested line of march, which seems to put the left at the tail-end of the mass uprising against Trump. Also I really don’t see a fight for democracy that is not being driven by the fight against racism and defending the rights of the working class to organize. The centrality of the struggle for Black Liberation seems to get lost in the present mass uprising against Trump and I think we who call ourselves Communists have a historic responsibility to address this contradiction.

    Joe Sims | February 05, 2018 at 4:30 PM

    Without reference to specific formulations in the article it’s difficult to understand what the writer disagrees with. Given that the sharpest edge of the racist offensive is driven by Trump and his ruling class backers, progress in the fight against racism rests on their defeat in the mid-term elections. That’s the “line of march” proposed. How is this putting the left at the tail end of the fight against Trump?

    The article argues that addressing civil rights movement was central to the completion of the bourgoies democratic revolution in the 1960s. It points to the national quesiton both as it relates to the evolving U.S. nation and the emergence of “white nationalism” and the need for an assualt on white supremacy. Hence there’s no hint of subsuming this fight in the effort to combat Trump’s counterevolution.

    Suffice it to say that we too “don’t see a fight for democracy that is not being driven by the fight against racism and defending the rights of the working class to organize.”

    Thanks for the comment and the opportunity to clarify.

    Thanks for the comment.

Alvaro Rodriguez | August 16, 2017 at 7:31 PM

Thanks Comrade Joe Sims for this timely and thorough Marxist analysis of the curent political crisis of the capitalist State. The dangers to world peace are also very high. The times require the building of a larger Communist Party, helping build the popular front against fascism and running candidates for 2018 on working class issues. The struggle against racism is central to all of these efforts. Thanks again for your contribution.

Michael Hopp | August 11, 2017 at 7:45 AM

Bravo comrade Sims! A most wonderful analysis of the current political and social realities. Shouldn’t Communists take their place among them? Yes, resoundingly.

I, for one, stand at the ready as the Party and our movement requires. As an old song says: The battle is going again!

Rick | July 22, 2017 at 3:42 PM

Capitalism is natural, It provides the very basic needs of man kind, from hope, love, faith. Capitalism provides individuals needs according to the person. No two people are alike and they all have different dreams and goals. Communist suppression only provides the politicians with hope, faith and love. If your dream is to be a worker ala slave your whole life than dont be surprised if you are treated like one. Live like one, think like one, behave like one.

    Joe Hansen | August 23, 2017 at 9:02 PM

    A very interesting comment Rick, unsubstantiated comments normally don’t require a response but this one was so absurd I couldn’t help myself. Your first point that Capitalism is natural, the best way to judge if something is natural would be if the system is considered survival of the fittest, in capitalism it is survival of the richest. These people gain their riches through unnatural ways such as inheritance and subjugation, not through their genetic strength. Communism on the other hand is natural, beginning with cavemen in order to advance our society people needed to work together for a common interest relying on each individual to use their own unique strengths to empower the whole. Secondly you state communism only helps politicians, Communism is dependant on the proletariat and their actions they take to strive for happiness. Politicians have historically taken advantage of communism and those who seek it and have given you your distorted view. Lastly your comment of being a worker and how somehow you think it is the communist ideal to be something more than a worker. We do not strive to be lazy we strive for everyone to be a worker and pull their share, for communism is nothing more than having the will to be a worker.

      jules | September 02, 2017 at 4:07 AM

      Thank you Joe, beautifully explained…all workers contribute…whether they sweep floors, teach or do brain surgery!
      “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need”
      ….not shallow words, these…

    jules | September 01, 2017 at 3:58 AM

    In all due respect, Capitalism cannot exist without exploitation……when the workers of America no longer have good paying jobs and security for their families…it is usually the case of the inherent greed found in the system of Capitalism…whereby the exploitation moves on to another, poorer State or Country, …all in an effort to maximize profits…

John Case | July 17, 2017 at 12:04 AM

Thoughtful indeed. Especially strong and well-reasoned analysis of the fascist threat(s), both nationally and globally. The danger of the centrifugal forces unleashed when federal institutions fail and turn against the people they serve is a very important observation Bad and Good. Texas and California. However, the piece is weak on political economy, IMO, and thus a bit shoe-less for rugged terrain. There is no viable alternative to Keynesian (in the broad sense) methods and models of managing any economy where private commodity transactions remain a decisive if not dominant sector of all transactions (public plus private). To a very significant degree, Keynes theories of economic cycles, both productive and financial, are settled economic science. Unless one wants to focus on “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”, there is no modern “Marxist Political Economy” that I know of. Not all, but many, modern politically progressive economists were INFLUENCED by Marx on a number of questions. But they are not “Marxists”. Marx was not a “Marxist” either. Chinese economists call themselves Marxist, but their methods are largely Keynesian — again in the broad sense encompassing neo-Keynesian, post-Keynesian, behaviorist, institutionalism, Minsky-ism, IS-LM, as well as basic macroeconomic concepts from Keynes–and his interpreters– present in most of the heterodox and long-waver trends. Lastly, references to last or dying stages of capitalism — that’s where the shoe-less feet leave the ground to me. Yes, a major restructuring of capitalism, including revolutionary and epochal changes, is in the works. It is likely that rising to the ultimate challenge of our time of redistributing concentrated, reactionary wealth, while establishing more global scientific (where possible) control over growth and environmental outcomes — will require a succession of political cataclysms. But none of them will ABOLISH capitalism as long as commodities are in motion. The latter is an objective force of social nature no less than wind and rain are to weather. Markets are social institutions whose regulatory operations, like engineers adapting rivers to landscape and real estate, may alter the flows, tax them, or distribute them in ways defined by new ruling political coalitions — but stopping the flows altogether is a different matter entirely. Can’t be done except incrementally in a historical sense because it depends critically on a level of technological development that a mostly non-commodity existence, and system of rewards (reputation?) to replace commodity-rewards. As Marx predicted long ago: such relations require a profound social and individual transformation made possible only by the meeting of most human wants with abundance so vast the unit costs approach zero.

    Scott HIley | July 20, 2017 at 7:00 PM

    Your argument appears to center on two points: first, that there is no alternative to Keynesianism, and second, that capitalism will exist as long as commodity production does (which is to say, for the foreseeable future and beyond).

    To the first point: I’ll concede that there’s not much beyond Keynesianism as long as we accept private ownership of the means of production and restrict ourselves to the distribution side of things. One of Marx’s big points, though, is that relations of distribution are grounded in relations of production. What this suggests, to me anyway, is that getting rid of capitalism also requires intervention in how commodities are produced. And that involves changing the legal status of private property.

    To the second: I’m not sure there’s any basis for arguing that commodity production presupposes capital, and capitalism. A commodity is only a bearer of exchange-value (that is, a quantum of the aggregate labor of society). The question, then, is whether exchange-value can be produced without extracting surplus-value. I haven’t sat down to puzzle out the answer, but it doesn’t seem contradictory to say that it can.

    My bigger problem, though, has to do with the kind of argument you’re making. You assert that capitalism is a permanent state of affairs. And you defend that assertion by saying that Keynesianism is “settled economic science” and that capitalism is inseparable from “an objective force of social nature” (commodity production and markets).

    In other words, capitalist economic science tells us that capitalism is natural and eternal. Should we be surprised? Marx points that out over and over again. It’s practically the central point of his whole critique of political economy: even gazing at its belly button, capitalism can’t see beyond the end of its own nose.

    Marx wasn’t a Marxist, but he was a revolutionary. Communists are not “politically progressive economists”; we are working class revolutionaries. We are not trying to fix or stabilize or reform capitalism; we are working to abolish a system that subordinates labor to property. The great challenge of our time is not redistributing wealth, but redistributing power to transform how wealth is produced.

Emile Schepers | July 09, 2017 at 3:21 AM

Very interesting and thought provoking. It leads to other questions such as: What is a valid Marxist analysis of the worldwide systemic crisis of capitalism? What are the limits or impediments to a wider growth of the resistance, and how can we overcome them? This website is becoming a major resource in debating these issues in a realistic, materialistic way.

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