By Boris Kagarlitsky
Against the backdrop of the numerous discussions of the political agenda, appearance, and vocabulary of the candidates running in the American presidential election, there is almost no demand for one subject: what is the class nature and mass social base of each politician? This approach comes naturally to the right-wing and liberal media, but why is it completely alien to the left? The reason seems to be that the answers we would get if we were to consider this issue seriously would not be palatable for everyone on the left. For many American intellectuals, the provocative and politically incorrect statements by Donald Trump have become another ideological excuse for them to express “critical support” for the existing order, embodied in Hillary Clinton.
The fact that Hillary is the candidate of financial capital who would carry out an extremely aggressive foreign policy is no secret. But it’s much less important than political correctness. After all, Hillary never allows herself to insulting any minority, at least, not in the past two decades, since political correctness became the norm in Washington.
Against this backdrop, accusations of Donald Trump being a fascist have become a constant refrain of the Clinton campaign. Paradoxically, these accusations are not intended for Trump himself, but rather against Bernie Sanders and his supporters. Since Trump is the “absolute evil”, everyone should unite around the “lesser evil” represented by Hillary, and the senator from Vermont, who stands in the way of this consolidation, must leave the scene.
It’s telling that such sentiments are expressed not only by the well-known economist Paul Krugman, who suddenly forgot his harsh condemnation of the neo-liberal policies put in place by Democrats, but also by Noam Chomsky, who is undoubtedly a moral authority for the left. The difference between Krugman and Chomsky is, of course, enormous, the first clearly hoping for a post in the new administration. His aggressive attack on the Sanders’ campaign and its supporters have already undermined his reputation. The second, on the contrary, constantly expresses his respect and sympathy for Sanders, but reiterates that in the name of the fight against Trump he will have to support Clinton, no matter how disgusting her policies are, and no matter how horrible the consequences of that choice.
The discussion is really about how to maintain and increase the current dominant evil for the sake of preventing a certain, hypothetical evil, about which we know nothing except that it is said to be worse.
The point, however, is not only the moral side of the issue. Critically-minded intellectuals have largely turned into hostages of the existing system, and not just institutionally, since they are part of the system one way or another, but what is far worse, intellectually. While imagining utopias and “alternatives”, they are unable to think in terms of practical politics, and realize that breaking with the established order involves risk, drama and challenges that require significant courage. Intellectual and moral comfort is guaranteed by a practical conservatism that people hide from themselves, repeating meaningless “progressive” mantras.
At a time when the intellectual left is confused and divided, left sectarian groups try to ignore what is happening, proclaiming there is no difference between the two candidates running in the Democratic primary. But it’s not by chance that the party leadership is doing everything possible to block the Sanders’ campaign, despite the fact that according to the polls he would be a more effective candidate in the fight against Trump. The Republican machine has also fought against Trump, though with less success, unable or unwilling to use the “foul play” of their rivals the Democratic Party.
It’s impossible to explain what’s happening merely as the machinations of Hillary, who will do whatever it takes to become US president. The story about the mysterious transcripts of the speech of Mrs. Clinton addressing the leadership of Goldman Sachs gives us clues as to what is going on. Despite the fact that her refusal to publish the text of the speech is a serious blow to her reputation, constantly used by her opponents, she remains steadfast. Obviously, the content of the transcripts would be so compromising that it is preferable to lose a few votes by refusing to disclose it, than to lose any chance of victory in the event of publication.
Information about the contents of the transcript however is gradually getting into the press. Employees of Goldman Sachs who were present at the meeting say that the former first lady actually discussed crafting a budget together. Although Goldman Sachs has long been engaged in this directly or indirectly, receiving considerable public funds (regardless of who is in power – Democrats or Republicans), public recognition of such collusion, especially in advance, could not only ruin the reputation of a candidate, but also harm the bank. Clinton is probably worried about it as much about her own political future.
Her remarks to Goldman Sachs represent the real political platform of not only Clinton, but the entire Washington establishment regardless of party. However, neither of Clinton’s opponents have ties to the financial world, and, in the event of victory, would undoubtedly try to limit, if not halt, the “distribution” of government funds that keep major banks flourishing amid the economic crisis. Sanders became famous a few years ago when he organized an audit of the Federal Reserve to find out how almost 13 trillion dollars of unaccounted money went, via “gray” schemes to American banks.
Trump, who represents the interests of the construction business and industrial capital, is interested in forcing the bankers to lend to domestic production at a low rate, and for this to happen the state would have to stop giving money to the banks that ends up in the speculative markets. The class meaning of the struggle is clear. If Sanders could, perhaps for the first time in US history, form a Social-Democratic block that would unite the working class with the angry young middle class, Trump heads a revolt of the industrial bourgeoisie against financial capital, with the support of a large section of workers. The only difference is that in the case of Sanders, we see movement based on class (horizontal) solidarity, while Trump proposes corporate (vertical) solidarity.
This situation is natural for the working class, which not only has common social interests, but is embedded in the system of vocational and industrial relations, which in certain situations, leads it to support certain groups of the bourgeoisie, which are related to the working class via production and markets. From the standpoint of left-wing ideology, the first option of solidarity is progressive, while the second is reactionary. But both of these revolts threaten financial capital by blocking billions of dollars that allow banks and their bribed politicians to exist parasitically at the expense of the real economy.
Clinton’s policy is a classic example of splitting society into several interest groups, preventing horizontal integration. It’s no coincidence that the crisis of the West’s labor movement and class politics is happening together with the celebration of multiculturalism and political correctness. And the spread of political correctness, in turn, historically coincides with the “financialization” of the economy, in other words a massive redistribution of resources in favor of the banking sector. On the one hand, capital won over labor, robbing it of a significant part of the 20th century’s social gains. But on the other hand, the capitalist class has undergone its own redistribution of wealth, with the financial elite appropriating nearly all its fruits.
It’s not surprising that we’re seeing a rise of not only the working class, but also part of the bourgeoisie. Trump’s attacks on political correctness are by no means a manifestation of his personal feelings, his lack of restraint and rudeness; it’s a deliberate strategy to consolidate the social groups that have suffered under the dictatorship of political correctness. They’ve been hit financially, losing incomes, jobs and revenues. Trump’s propaganda is effective, not because, as intellectuals believe, it resonates with the feelings and prejudices of the people, but because it reflects their real interests, even if expressed in a distorted form. The billionaire is only bullying groups that would not vote for him anyway. But he consolidates the voices of millions of white (though not just white) working people, who are fed up with political correctness.
Even Trump’s statements that seem ridiculous and anecdotal, such as the promise to build a wall to fence off Mexico, are not totally without meaning. Building the wall would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, not only in the US but also on the opposite side of the border. In fact, it’s a Keynesian project, even if fairly absurd from the standpoint of ordinary logic. And Trump’s statement that Mexico will finance the wall is not hair-brained either. For the economy of its northern states the project would not just be profitable, but economical. It will not stop illegal migration, of course, but it will create incentives to develop production in the region, whose livelihood is currently dependent mainly on drug trafficking and illegal migration.
Trump’s offensive remarks about women are more complicated. On the one hand, they really anger educated white Americans, who are used to a different attitude. But on the other hand, would these women vote for him even if Donald showed more tact? And despite these statements (or possibly even because of them), bully Trump is gaining a reputation as a “real man”, rough, but sincere, whom you can rely on and be attracted to, if you are not highly educated. Of course, there is nothing progressive about Trump’s ideology, but this is not about ideology, which is not so much a factor of social mobilization, as a tool for manipulation. The defeat of financial capital, no matter who brings it about, would open a new era in the development of Western society, inevitably strengthening the working class, and reviving its organizations. It is Hillary who embodies the most reactionary project in terms of modern capitalist development. And the unwillingness of Bernie’s supporters to vote for it, if the Socialist candidate quits, cannot only be understood emotionally, but is politically, socially and morally rational. In the current political situation, the attempt to turn Trump into “an absolute evil” is about mobilizing people to protect the status quo.
The change is under way, not only because of the political and social logic, but also due to the fact that all possibilities of maintaining the current neoliberal model of capitalism have been exhausted. If the left is unwilling or unable to fight, it will be the right-wing populists like Donald Trump in the US or Marine Le Pen in France who strike the fatal blow against it. Some people will be outraged at the “prejudice” and ” irresponsibility” of the working class , but the real moral responsibility would still lie with the leftist intellectuals, who, in times of crisis, will have demonstrated their class position by advocating and defending the interests of financial capital.
Boris Kagarlitsky is the Director of the Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements, a TNI fellow and co-ordinator of the TNI Global Crisis project and Director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements in Moscow, that also runs Rabkor. He is also member of the edotirial board of Defend Democracy Press.
Boris’s latest books are Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System (Pluto Press, February 2008), The Revolt of the Middle Class (Kulturnaya revolutsiya, 2006). He won the Deutscher Memorial Prize for his book, The Thinking Reed: Intellectuals and the Soviet State (Verso 1988).