The International Executive Committee (IEC) of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) convened at the end of November against the backdrop of a year of seismic political events. The election of Donald Trump as US President is obviously an event of world importance and, as Peter Taaffe predicted in his opening remarks, the ramifications of this dominated the opening session of the iec.
Most pollsters, bourgeois commentators and even socialists were stunned by this outcome, which has arisen from the economic, political and social crisis of US capitalism, the stagnation of world capitalism and the ensuing falling living standards of working class.
But there was no inevitability for Trump’s victory. Bernie Sanders had won mass support in the primaries but faced with Hillary Clinton – Wall Street’s choice– and Trump, many opted for the latter despite his worst attributes because he promised change and the return of well paid jobs.
Sanders standing for a new party could have beaten Trump or, at worst, taken big support away from Trump, allowing Clinton to come to power. Bourgeois journals like the Economist have sought to debunk this idea but Sanders addressed bigger rallies than Trump’s totalling 1.4 million people. Clinton could not match such enthusiasm.
Yet in this turbulent period, the scare stories and propaganda of the capitalist media can sometimes have little effect. This was shown by the Scottish referendum in 2014 and the EU referendum result in Britain this year.
The outcome of the election is potentially calamitous for US and world capitalism. Capitalist strategists now claim we live in a ‘dysfunctional world’. They fear Trump getting out of their control so they will attempt to surround him with their representatives to mitigate the damage
This result really is the whip of counter-revolution for the working class and youth with the surfacing of white supremacists and neo-fascists encouraged by his victory, and the appointment of far-right figures to Trump’s administration.
A massive counter-movement will be provoked and will put the need for a new party on the agenda. Socialists should keep a sense of proportion. We have to reject the idea that some kind of reactionary iron curtain has descended over the US or, as in the aftermath of ‘Brexit’, that the working class is stupid and that the result will be a ‘festival of reaction’.
This result does not fundamentally change the relationship of class forces but psychologically, it may result in real fear amongst minorities and the advanced workers and encouragement to the forces of repression, particularly racist police forces. This will provoke counter-movements and a revolutionary upsurge, with opposition developing involving Black Lives Matter, amongst Latinos, and not least the working class and within the trade unions.
This will present opportunities for us, the possibilities for which were elaborated by a number of comrades from the US. Philip explained that there was a lack of enthusiasm for Clinton but any overturning of legislation by a Republican-dominated presidency and Congress could force a backlash of an unprecedented scale. Tom predicted that hundreds of thousands would be on the streets in January in protests to mark Trump’s inauguration. Trump’s victory may have narrowed the space for a new party for a time as reform of the Democrats has come to the fore but the space for socialist ideas has widened. It is critical socialists take up all the issues raised by workers and youth by building united class struggles.
Peter raised that attacks on basic rights will provoke reaction from the working class and trade unions and used the example of Poland where working class women stopped changes to abortion laws. Laura from Ireland and Jane from Brazil elaborated on this by explaining that working-class women were beginning to mobilise and fight against the attacks of neoliberals. This was shown by the protests in Latin America against violence on women and the struggles in Poland and Turkey, where the Erdogan regime had tried to legitimise rape. Women’s struggles will increase and we need to draw fighters towards the revolutionary movement.
Peter believed that it is too early to say how a Trump presidency would work out. Debt-fuelled growth would be exacerbated by Trump’s measures for infrastructure spending of $1 trillion , which is necessary but is likely to be a faint echo of Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ and would face the reaction of Republican deficit cutters.
This is a dilemma for capitalism, including the US, as the economy is ‘stuck’ and prospects are not good. There is a ‘productivity conundrum’ and the ageing of America, all problems which will be compounded by Trump’s proposed measures.
But the period of high-paid good jobs has gone. They have been replaced by the ‘gig economy’, a fancy name for wage slavery with parallels of the 1930s. A massive injection of further liquidity or spending will increase debt when the debt mountain is already colossal.
Capitalism’s problems are compounded by the effects of new technology which we have drawn attention to before. Even Stephen Hawking says this is “either the best or worst thing to happen to humanity.” Capitalism is not able to harness the fruits of new technology; in fact, it compounds the problems of unemployment and aggravates the central problem of lack of demand.
Trump also threatens to upend trade agreements. But ‘US first’ leads to ‘China first’, ‘Japan first’ and therefore trade wars. It will be difficult to dismantle integrated supply chains, for example, 80% of Mexico’s exports and 60% of its imports go to or come from the US. Trump has promised to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) but China will benefit from this and become the champion of Asia against the US ‘bully’.
Any tariffs proposed by Trump will lead to retaliation and this could repeat the situation in the 1930s. Moreover, if the Federal Reserve resorts to increase interest rates these measures could choke off limited growth.
Paul Murphy TD from Ireland pointed out that Francis Fukuyama’s declaration of the ‘End of history’ has been negated by Trump’s election. Capitalism has to some extent reached the limits of globalisation. Trump will still carry out neoliberal policies – but will temper this with counter-globalisation policies. The free trade agenda has hit the wall of working class opposition and years of work by negotiators have come to little. This ushers in a new era of struggle worldwide.
Peter explained that China is crucial to world perspectives. At the moment, it is meeting with resistance to its ‘mergers and acquisitions’ policy in the US, Europe and Australia. This could affect economic perspectives if retaliation is resorted to.
China’s domestic economy is slowing down with huge amounts of debt. Party leader Xi Jinping has been centralising power but this will make him and the regime targets for protest. There will inevitably be further confrontations with the working class and demands for democracy, as there have been in the heroic struggle in Hong Kong.
South Asia is still an area of crisis with recent clashes in Kashmir and another small war cannot be ruled out. Jagadish from India emphasised the dangers of a war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir as both governments sit on a nuclear stockpile. But despite the reactionary nature of both governments, the potential for struggle in the whole region was shown by the general strike of 150m in India in September.
Peter asserted that no matter what its depth, a new world economic crisis will have a major effect on consciousness. It will be the second crisis in 10 years and there will be questioning of capitalism to a greater degree than immediately after the financial meltdown of 2007-08.
Developments of ‘right’ and ‘left’ populist policies reflect in a delayed fashion that crisis but have flourished in the absence of a clearly defined working-class fightback.
The US is no longer the showcase for capitalist democracy. Built into its foundations is all the explosive material of the world. This will be the model for crisis-ridden and explosive political developments and movements of the working class. The US working class will become a class ‘for itself’, particularly through the intervention of mass socialist forces.
The continuing crisis and wars in the Middle East bear comparison to the Thirty Years War which ravaged seventeenth century Europe. The region is a patchwork of unstable ‘states’. Trump is likely to tilt towards Putin and Assad in Syria. Opposition jihadis are likely to be defeated and pushed out. This can only mean the terrorist threat will continue and could spread to other parts of Asia.
It could lead to further cantonisation or partition like Libya and Lebanon.
There seems no end to the war and there have been countless victims. The armies of the surrounding countries have been drawn in. but there will be the re-emergence of mass movements at a certain stage including in Egypt and other parts of North Africa.
The whole region is volatile. Turkey now threatens to become the new Syria with increased conflict between the PKK and the government of ErdoÄŸan. If Trump cancels nuclear deal with Iran – play into the hands of the hardliners – new conflict – revolution posed in Iran. Increased tensions, new conflicts, even small wars are entirely possible.
Comrades from the Middle East commented that the Netanyahu regime in Israel has been boosted by regional events in recent years but is increasingly reliant on the far right. The government welcomed Trump’s victory as opportunity to complete colonisation of West Bank but the results are still unpredictable. There have been a number of popular youth protests in Palestine and the Fatah leadership fears defeat if they held elections. This and the growing crisis in the region show the urgency for the CWI to build there.
There are many potential flashpoints in the disturbed world such as Eastern Europe where NATO is in conflict with Putin’s Russia as it re-asserts itself, despite its underlying weaknesses mainly economic arising from the collapse in the price of oil.
In the South China Sea, China is flexing its muscles as the world’s second biggest military spender. Vincent from Hong Kong commented on the end of the ‘Pax Americana’ in the Asia-Pacific region. Trump’s victory changes everything and there is unparalleled uncertainty for world relations and the economy. Domestically, Xi has been smashing the model of ‘checks and balances’ between different elements of bureaucracy but they could lose control of economy and there will be no stabilisation of the situation. Countries in the region are all living in dangerous times.
A number of comrades from Africa came into the discussion to highlight the worsening situation for the masses on that continent and the need to develop a political alternative. A comrade from Sudan raised the terrible conditions there and, as the IEC was meeting, a three-day civil disobedience movement was taking place which had big support.
Peter, Elin from Sweden and Bill from Canada all raised the terrible danger of global warming which will only be exacerbated if Trump continues to be a climate change denier.
In conclusion, Peter said this period opening up will present many opportunities for socialists. Capitalism is coming apart at the seams and social democracy is clearly failing but the alternative is not clear. Yet some on the left internationally still seek to prop up social democracy! However, the masses internationally are taking to struggle and looking for a new road down which to travel.
Peter ended on an optimistic note by mentioning his recent visit to Spain and the marvellous movement of the School Students. He commented on the real pulse of the coming revolution internationally in the revolutionary fervour of the youth there, 14, 15, 16 years old.
With such movements developing globally, the CWI can build formidable forces in the next period and lay the basis for mass parties and a mass International.