US:Trump stirs it up again

100,000s demonstrated during Trump's visit to Britain

Donald Trump has once again been putting the cat amongst the imperialist pigeons. At the NATO summit in Brussels on 11 July, he claimed that Germany was a ‘captive of Russia’, because of its reliance on Russian fuels, and complained that the ‘allies’ were not spending enough on their military. They had to increase their spending by January 2019 or else the US would go it alone, he implied. He arrived in Britain on 12 July and immediately insulted his hosts: in an interview with The Sun newspaper, he criticised the British government’s approach to Brexit, threatened to stall a trade deal with the US, attacked London Mayor Sadiq Khan, and pondered the possibility of Boris Johnson as PM. Then, within hours, he reversed himself, dismissing his interview as ‘fake news’, and generously announced that ‘whatever you do [about Brexit] is OK with me, that’s your decision’. He also reversed himself by implying that a Brexited Britain could enjoy some kind of trade deal with the US. Throughout Trump’s visit thousands of people volubly demonstrated against him and his presidency wherever he went.

Trump headed to Scotland, pursued by demonstrators, where he hit balls around his golf course. In an interview with CBS News in Scotland, before he jetted off to Finland, he described the European Union (EU) as a ‘foe’. In Helsinki he had a one-to-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin  and then announced that he accepted Putin’s assurances of non-interference in US elections, against all the conclusions of his own intelligence services. Back in Washington, faced with a storm of criticism of his behaviour at the Helsinki press conference and accusations of national betrayal, he claimed he had merely ‘misspoken’, confusing the words ‘would’ and ‘wouldn’t’. Oops!

It’s difficult for the US ruling class to tell whether Trump is really on their side, and difficult for Europe’s ruling classes to figure out what is going on in their relationships with the US. After all, Trump literally tells thousands of lies and is continually switching his opinions and policies. Are what he tweets or says firm policy positions or just idle thoughts? Is this remark the US speaking, or is it just the first idea Trump woke up with? How should the ruling classes respond? Are Trump’s remarks to be taken at face value, or should they be ignored as just interfering noise? After one has swatted away the clouds of tweets, the question still remains: where is the consistency in all the inconsistency?

Trump is practising his kind of politics at a particular time, when two historical trends are coming together. The first of these is the destruction, nearly three decades ago, of the Soviet Union. For more than 70 years, the existence of the Soviet Union dominated international politics. From its birth in 1917, Soviet Russia had to defend itself from armed interference by imperialist powers and their proxies. It was Britain’s attempt to direct fascist Germany against the Soviet Union that triggered World War Two in 1939. Following the war, the US, the now-dominant imperialist power drew the other imperialist powers into an anti-Soviet alliance and initiated the ‘Cold War’. Instead of warring amongst themselves, imperialists would join together in an anti-Communist alliance through regional military pacts surrounding the Soviet Union: NATO, CENTO, SEATO, NORAD and ANZUS. They would oppose ‘communist aggression’ (that is, against people’s struggle for their freedom and independence from imperialism) and for ‘human rights’ (or the right of capital to determine everyone’s destiny).

When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, we predicted that ‘major world powers would seek once again to divide and re-divide the world according to the balance of economic power’* as they had before the Russian revolution. The rationale for the Cold War had disappeared. The freeing-up of fresh areas for imperialist exploitation temporarily breathed new life into the rotten system. However, when the vultures of capitalism had picked clean the economic bones of Russia and Eastern Europe, it was only a matter of time before the rivalries between the imperialist powers would begin to reassert themselves. The temporary alliance against the Soviet Union had brought the imperialists uneasily together. The Soviet Union’s collapse removed the main reason for restraint on inter-imperialist rivalry. Imperialism is dependent on international exploitation and plunder, necessarily bringing the imperialist powers, even against their will and stated intent, into conflict with one another.

At the same time, imperialism has been stagnating, experiencing a massive crisis of profitability. Capital is roaming across the globe, probing every nook and cranny, searching thirstily for profit. Speculation in real estate, Bitcoin, commodity futures – wherever it might find opportunities for profitable investment, there hunts Capital. Combined with resurgent inter-imperialist rivalry, the crisis of profitability is also forcefully driving imperialist powers into competition in the search for profits.

This is the background to the growing inter-imperialist friction and movement to trade wars. It has nothing to do with Donald Trump’s personality, and everything to do with the capitalists’ lust for profit. Someone, somewhere has to be the first to break ranks and cremate the old Atlantic alliance. Trump is the right man in the right place to get the conflagration started. Despite wincing with embarrassment several times a day at its President’s behaviour, the US ruling class is broadly going along with his plan to ‘Make America Great Again’. Dollars are, after all, more important than etiquette. Instead of collaborating with the lesser imperialisms of Europe, the US is now setting out to compete with them and dominate them. This is the only explanation that makes sense of Trump’s actions: he is trying to head off competition from an ascendant China and split up the EU.

Trump’s obsequiousness toward Russia is in a different category, since his businesses, it has recently been revealed, seem to have close financial ties with the Putin regime. From a less personal standpoint, Russia, with its nuclear arsenal is a serious military but not economic rival to the US. Additionally, Russia’s repossessing of the Crimea and defence of the Russian population of Ukraine are hardly threats to US interests. The trade war which Trump has initiated is a major battlefield in his attempts to dismantle the EU and restrain China. The Chinese have no choice but to join battle against the huge tariffs Trump is levying on Chinese exports to the US. The EU is going to have to decide on its own future pretty darn quick: will it resist the US tariffs on its exports? Will it seek increased intra-European military cooperation, faced with the threatened US withdrawal from NATO?

Britain’s Brexit helps Trump by weakening the EU and removing an economically and militarily significant component. If and when Britain is out of the EU, the US will be able to negotiate, at its leisure, an extortionate trade agreement with Britain as the latter’s economy slowly declines. The resurgent imperialist rivalry means that the US will do its best to turn Britain into its 51st state with the assistance of the Brexiteers. All the fairy-tale nonsense about ‘regaining’ sovereignty will evaporate before the hard realities of inter-imperialist rivalry. As these tendencies towards conflict assert themselves, it is vital that communists explain that opposing Trump as an individual is a distraction, that the vicious reactionary racism and misogyny he propagates are symptoms, but not the fundamental problem, that Trump is simply the facilitator of a new era of inter-imperialist rivalry, which will lead to another world war. The domestic changes in the US judicial system, the deportation of settled but undocumented immigrants, the relentless murder of unarmed black citizens, are designed to undermine and repress the most important anti-imperialist forces in the US and prevent a resistance movement being built inside the country to oppose its imperialist drives. In Britain, we have to explain how the British ruling class enables this intensifying imperialist rivalry, and build a movement against its drive for exploitation and towards war.

Steve Palmer

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 265 August/September 2018

  * David Reed and Eddie Abrahams ‘Uphold the banner of Communism’ FRFI 103, October/November 1991.