Impeachment: Fight Capitalist Corruption, Reject the “Judicial Road” Against Trump
by Mo Sedlak
The Democrats’ emphasis on the impeachment hearings against Trump shows that they favor a strategy of “resistance” within the institutions, and increasingly the judicial system, over winning an electoral majority. This is a signal to the left candidates in the Democratic primaries and especially Bernie Sanders, who arguably has the best chances to beat Trump in a direct confrontation (if the Democratic apparatus supports his bid). The signal reads: We do not want you, and we do not need you. This should be the metaphorical writing on the wall to socialists flocking around the capitalist Democratic Party to abandon that project and build an actual movement against both Republican and Democrats’ politics.
More generally, a judicial strategy cannot stop Trump’s policies. This does not mean that impeachment proceedings will not do serious political damage to the president. In his nods to populism, Trump famously went against existing state institutions, making enemies within the security, legal and administrative apparatus. However, their beef is about different shades of capitalist and imperialist oppression, not the racist, misogynistic and anti-ecological essence of the president’s program.
Naturally, this is a conflict the Democratic leadership is much more comfortable with, than winning popular support in debates around universal healthcare, minimum wages and wealth taxes. Impeachment is useless for the left, not just because of the legal thresholds in the Senate, but because of the strategic role it plays to consolidate alleged resistance within the system rather than against it.
The legal pretext
The underlying story is exemplary for the everyday corruption that is the United States domestic and foreign policy. It is not singular and not even all that surprising. In May 2014, now-Democratic primary hopeful Joe Biden’s son Hunter joined the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma. His value for the company might have had something to do with the vice presidency of his father attached to his name and the fact that one of its large shareholders was subject to a corruption investigation in Ukraine. About a year later, Joe Biden urged the Ukrainian parliament to get rid of the chief prosecutor, Viktor Shokin who was investigating Burisma shareholders. The vice president later admitted threatening to withhold funds from the Ukrainian government if his demands were not met.
Soon after the new Ukrainian president Zelensky was inaugurated in early 2019, in the preparations for meeting the US president, Trump aides were reported to put have put pressure on their Ukranian counterparts to investigate Hunter Biden. Some US delegates at this preparatory meeting were unhappy with that demand. Only a few days later, the Trump administration announced it would withhold some $ 400 million in foreign aid to Ukraine, while their alleged associates communicated to Zelensky’s aides the urgent necessity to launch investigations. In a corresponding phone call, Trump directly reiterated his desire for investigations against Joe Biden in Ukraine, which Zelensky promised to work on. These pressure channels are potentially illegal under US law, and obviously see a sitting president blackmailing another country’s leadership and withholding large aid sums to damage an opponent in domestic political competition.
At the same time, this is business as usual. Using military and civilian foreign aid to pressure governments (or in some cases arm an uprising against them) is a time-honored imperialist tradition. So is the interaction between elected high officials, who more often than not are US millionaires, and their family businesses. The surprising generosity of countries like Turkey in granting permits and land to Trump hotels show this just as well as Hunter Biden’s career as a board member for Burisma.
Of course, for revolutionaries, socialists and workers, this conduct is repulsive. It is a story of the imperialist foreign policy of the US propping up regimes with hundreds of millions in military aid that goes into civil wars and oppressing popular protests. Moreover, the billionaire figureheads on top of the US state apparatus feel entitled to use that money for their personal gain, as if the spoils of war had not flooded their investment funds with weapons manufacturers’ dividends already. And finally, Trump and his posse use these shady agreements to shift an already undemocratic election even further away from popular decision, and towards backroom deals.
The response of revolutionaries must be demanding a public and transparent investigation of Biden’s alleged threats, but also for Trump’s alleged blackmailing and the support of both the Obama and the Trump administration for undemocratic regimes all over the world. The corruption we see in this case is symptomatic for the capitalist abuse of remaining democratic institutions, and workers need to fight for ousting the whole gang from both sides of the aisle. At the same time, it is symbolic of US imperialist strong-arming and it is important to demand all US troops and military support out of Ukraine.
Why now? The Democrats’ Rediscovered Love for the #Resistance
The Ukraine debacle is not the first time impeachment against Trump has been discussed. Liberal commentators and social media influencers around the umbrella phenomenon #Resistance proposed impeachment on all sorts of grounds. More importantly, legislators at the very left of the Democratic party such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez adamantly demanded the procedures and called out their own leadership’s initial refusals as scandalous.
There are two reasons why Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership seemingly gave in to these demands from the left. Most obviously, no self-respecting party can accept their primary front-runner being subject to such transparently illegal dirty campaigning. A second factor is crucial though: The complete pivot to the procedural details and media circus around impeachment can be used against the left members of the party.
Biden: More of the Same
The Democratic primaries have seen Joe Biden as a stable front-runner. He is a natural favorite of the party leadership: A symbol of the electoral success under Obama, extremely willing to compromise with Republicans, friendly towards the traditional Democratic donor base in super-PACs and big business, and does not sleep uneasy because of trivialities like inequality, unemployment or the victims of war. While creepier around women than his former boss, and with a more shameful history of cooperating with racists, Biden can at least be trusted to carry on Obama’s legacy when it comes to bailing out banks, deporting millions and drone-bombing defiant neo-colonies.
Sanders and Warren: Proposing an Alternative of Popular Mobilization
His two runners-up, Sanders and Warren, propose a different approach to defeating Trump. Both emphasize popular support, re-distribution and securing some basic rights to healthcare, housing and workplace participation. While there are important differences between their strategies and outlook, and while both are bolstering up the Democratic apparatus more than they challenge it, when compared to Biden they represent an alternative route for the Democratic party.
The left contenders favor popular (and to a point populist) support over deal-making, protests over compromise, and grass-roots organizing over backdoor deals on the Hill, all of which mean weakening the power of the central party apparatus. While they provide a chance to beat Trump in the elections, the consequences for the party’s ruling clique are difficult to predict.
On the other hand, the intricate House and Senate proceedings around hearings, subcommittees and evidence are the home turf for the party bureaucracy. They hope to be able and damage Trump’s electoral results through clever cross-examinations, across-the-aisle deals with Republican defectors and a public relations strategy rather than by standing a popular candidate that is not beholden to them.
Making the Democratic Party Ours?
What Sanders, Warren and the newly emerging left wing in the party represent is an electoral strategy of mobilizing around key economic and social issues. In all the most important accounts – never-increasing minimum wages, siding with big business, cutting social security, sacrificing affordable housing to real estate investors – the Democrats’ record is almost as disgusting as the one of the Republicans, and their leadership is complicit.
The reason for this is not the corruption and personal despicability of the party apparatus. Although that is at the same time undeniable, the Democrats, as one of the two capitalist parties in the US, are institutionally bound to the ruling class and against the working and oppressed masses in the country. The special position of the US as the dominant imperialist power also binds the party to an agenda of war, neo-colonial oppression and exploitation.
Unlike parties of the working class or trade unions, it cannot be re-claimed by the workers, as it was never theirs. The only role they were able to play was the one of supporters for more labor-friendly, more progressive bourgeois policies, when the left wing of the US capitalists was not strong enough to make it on their own. This was important especially in the hay day of US unionism and led to the deep entanglements of Democratic and union leadership corruption today, but not to a meaningful impact of workers’ interests in Democratic policies.
Like the Republicans, the Democrats depend on two factors: the support of important factions of the ruling classes, and the popular support necessary to win elections. The latter will sometimes push it to progressive projects, but the former will always bind it to defending and managing the rule of US capitalism, domestically and worldwide.
Understand the Writing on the Wall
While the impeachment procedures will hurt Trump’s 2020 campaign, there is no sign that the Senate will agree to ousting the sitting president. This does not mean it is impossible for Republican defectors to swing the mood and get it over with in favor of a more promising presidential candidate, but it is unlikely.
At the same time, any strategy of getting this president out and replaced by another Republican is not directed against Trump’s policies. In other words, it does nothing in the interest of the working class, but only in the interest of the Democratic party. So additionally to the strategy being unlikely to succeed and directed against the party’s own left wing, even if successful, it will be meaningless for the victims of Trump’s political crimes – caged immigrants, women whose reproductive rights are under attack, LGBTQ subject to workplace discrimination and workers robbed of their right to unionize.
It is encouraging that candidates using words like socialism or working class are gathering popular support. But leading these masses back and binding them to a political party that is fundamentally opposed to their class interest would be a political crime. Instead, revolutionaries need to re-iterate the demand for a party of the working class in the United States and propose this alternative to all who like what Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are saying, but are beginning to understand that they will be unable to put their actions where their rhetoric is while in bed with the Democratic party.