One Year of Trump – Horror Without End?

On January 20, Donald Trump’s inauguration took place: a day that will go down in history not for the surprise victory of the right-wing populist anti-establishment candidate. No less impressive was the day after, which saw the largest mobilization since the protests against the Iraq war, with an estimated 5 million people taking to the streets as part of the Women’s March. The international character of the mobilizations anticipated the profound international impact of Trump’s inauguration.

Liberal Criticism

The attempt to draw up a balance sheet for Trump’s first year in office can be approached from various points of view. Liberal opponents are strongly focusing on Trump’s alleged and real unfitness for the high office he holds. They stress the impossibility of him fulfilling his wild and reactionary campaign promises, with which he won enough states to put him in the White House.

These included getting rid of Obamacare, bringing back coal mining, steel and car making jobs to the rust belt states by imposing tariffs on foreign imports, initiating a major infrastructure and job creation program. Rounding up illegal immigrants, deporting them, and stopping more from coming by building a wall along the country’s southern border. For good measure he insists the Mexicans must pay for it. Thus far, little of this has been implemented or even started, except a more standard right wing Republican measure ( a massive redistribution in favor of the rich and super-rich, the owners of capital and property.

The attempted reform of Obamacare fell because Republicans in Congress could not agree what or whether to replace it at all. The attempts to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival regulations, and thus allowing for the deportation of up to 690,000 Dreamers, fell amidst a welter of protests, spearheaded by Dreamers themselves. Trump was forced to beat a retreat – kicking the can down the road to Capitol Hill, where predictably it has stalled.

To Democrats these reverses serve as yet more proof of his total incompetence, especially when added to the repeated crises within and resignations from Trump’s White House staff. Even if the Democrats cannot get rid of Trump by the Mueller investigation uncovering his election campaign’s collusion with Putin, they think the strength of American democracy will eventually put him in his place, something they think is revealed by his failures to get measures through a Senate and House with sizable Republican majorities and a conservative majority in the Supreme Court.

The more conservative among them seem to want to educate Trump instead of fighting him and driving him out of office. This alone shows that activists who went out on the streets to put their slogan “Dump Trump!” into practice cannot and must not rely on the Congress Democrats.

However, a different picture from the impotent buffoon emerges if you concentrate not on which new laws Trump has been able to bring into force, but on his own executive orders and those of previous presidents he has repealed. These include greatly weakening the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency and putting figures from Dow Chemical and Monsanto in charge of it, reducing the size of the national park areas and thus opening up new fields for the plunder of raw materials, the withdrawal from the Paris climate treaty, and the abolition of NAFTA. These are all measures that benefit rapacious sectors of US capital. Here it also becomes clear why the American bourgeoisie does not see him as an insuperable problem, but rather is divided and fluctuates in its attitude towards the president.

When one considers the more or less open support for racist actions such as calling the Alt Right and fascist demonstrators in Charlottesville “good people,” and his equation of “leftist” and “rightist” violence, then it is clear that Trump cares more about his right-wing voter and supporter base than taking lessons from the liberal or even the traditional conservative establishment.

Economic Background of Intra-Imperialist Rivalries

Many of the political developments of recent years and the rise of Trump itself cannot be understood without looking at the economic and geo-strategic background. Disputes such as those with North Korea or Iran over their nuclear program are based on economic developments. These are above all the rise of Chinese imperialism in relation to the US position on the world market and the associated inter-imperialist conflicts. An example of where these direct or indirect conflicts between Chinese and American imperialism have already led to real changes is the recently announced decision by the US to suspend its “security payments” to Pakistan of about 225 million dollars. This is an expression of China’s increasing influence.

The more aggressive approach in Latin America includes the support of the right-wing opposition in Venezuela by imposing sanctions on the Chavista government of Nicolas Maduro and support for Michel Temer’s “constitutional coup” which ousted the Workers Party president Dilma Rousseff in Brazil. Trump has also put détente with Cuba in the freezer. This indicates that the US will be more likely to intervene in America’s “backyard” in the future in order to recapture ground that had been “lost” to left populism in the Bush and Obama years.

This clearly speaks against any “retreat” or isolationist course such as the country pursued at the beginning of the 20th century. But it is true that under Trump, the US is ironically saying goodbye to an imperial system of hegemony it itself constructed, and which was based on a whole series of multilateral treaties and agreements such as WTO, TTIP/TPP, IMF/World Bank, etc. The annulment of NAFTA, TPP and the break-up of the TTIP negotiations indicate that the “costs” of this dominance now appear too high for the US, that they should be replaced by bilateral agreements where the predominance of U. S. imperialism is to be even more pronounced.

All these economic and political changes are linked to the current decline of US hegemony and brought to the point by Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.” This decline was illustrated, for example, by the inability of the Obama administration to develop a position on the Syrian revolution and civil war. The fact that Bashar al-Assad and his allies emerged victorious from it and Russian imperialism was strengthened also describes this descent. It is even clearer that Xi Jinping announces a new global role for China. All this also increases the leeway that long-standing US allies such as Turkey are trying to make use of – even in partial contrast to the dominant superpower. Trump’s Presidency will further accelerate these developments and intensify the fight about the redistribution of the world.

The Rise of Trump and the Leadership Crisis of the Working Class

On the American left, different reasons for Donald Trump’s rise are regularly discussed. In the Marxist left, the following correct arguments often come to light: it is an expression of (a) the global economic crisis and (b) the crisis of the ruling class in the USA. That’s probably true. But Trump’s presidency also illustrates a profound crisis of leadership of the working class. Maybe crisis is the wrong word since it is a chronic problem that dates way back in the history of the US. America did not develop a mass reformist workers’ party such as the ones that exist in European countries. True, the Socialist Party of America under Eugene V. Debbs came close to it in the years from 1901 to the early/mid 1920s, and another chance arose in the mid-1930s with the forming of a British style Labor Party.

However, both ultimately failed and the unions under Roosevelt and his social democratic style reforms settled for a strategic alliance within the Democratic Party. Time and again this alliance has frustrated working class surges of industrial militancy and movements of the cruelly oppressed African Americans, Latinos, as well as the women’s movement, too. The lack of a left alternative political leadership in the battles the working class and the racially and socially oppressed are facing – based on a independent class and radical socialist perspective – favors the observable rightward-shift, along with the emergence of right-wing populist movements and their influence over parts of the (white) workers.

Certainly the political crisis, fueled by a Trump offensive, offers great opportunities for the development of such an alternative. New parties of the working class are not likely to emerge in a period of quiet and contentment. It is also necessary to warn against the dangers. Sherry Wolf, an activist of the International Socialist Organization (ISO – one of the largest “Trotskyist” organizations in the US), presented large parts of the above analysis at a lecture in front of the “Other Davos” in Zurich on January 13th.

But something was missing; the crisis of leadership within the working class and the need to form a workers’ party. When directly questioned about these issues, Sherry Wolf’s response was limited to waiting for future and inevitable revolts that would transform the consciousness of people. Yet without addressing today the issues of getting the trade unions and the movements of the oppressed to break their present subordination to the Democrats, the latter could once again prove to be the graveyard of exhausted radicals.

Without a revolutionary organization that can intervene with a program, a strategy and tactics of how to build a revolutionary party in the upcoming class struggles and even uprisings, such struggles will inevitably get stuck halfway. The ISO fatally leaves this key task of communist politics to “spontaneous” development, to the “objective” process–a phenomenon that Lenin and Trotsky called centrism.

Building a Workers’ Party!

However, there are currently opportunities in the US to take important steps towards a workers’ party. The League for the Fifth International’s supporters in the US are arguing for revolutionaries to join the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and to participate in the very important strategic debate taking place amongst supporters of that organization. This is a debate that is posing the question of whether or not the DSA will finally break its traditional links with the Democratic Party. Such a necessary break needs to be combined with an initiative towards the unions, movements like Black Lives Matter, the Dreamers, the #MeToo activists, and the young supporters of the Bernie Sanders campaign, disappointed by his cave-in to Hillary Clinton. Such a DSA-led campaign could take a huge step towards founding a workers’ party. It would be a pole of attraction for huge numbers of workers in the US. Revolutionaries – and also members of groups like the ISO and Socialist Alternative – should participate and openly take up the fight for such a perspective. The party could crystallize around a platform of key issues in the fight against Trump and the Republicans’ attack on the working class. It could rally a united front of powerful resistance that could drive Trump from power.

Within such a mass Labor Party there should be a serious and loyal discussion about the new party’s long term strategy and program. It will necessarily eventually focus on the old strategic question facing the workers movement on every continent – reform or revolution?