So why is Trump railing against socialism?

March 7, 2019

Donald Trump is all fired up about the evils of socialism, and he won't stop yammering about it. Adam Marletta explains what he should be afraid of.

A SPECTER is haunting the Trump White House: The specter of communism.

How else to explain Donald Trump’s recent — and, of course, baseless — anti-communist talking points?

During Trump’s State of the Union address last month, he ranted about how Venezuela’s “socialist” policies have bankrupted that country. “Here in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country,” Trump said.

“Alarmed”? Speak for yourself, Orange One. I find these new calls to adopt socialism — the first such calls in my lifetime — absolutely thrilling.

Trump then falsely stated: “America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination and control. We are born free [sic] and we will stay free.”

Donald Trump at the 2019 CPAC conference
Donald Trump at the 2019 CPAC conference

Members of Congress responded to this line with a standing ovation and childish chants of “USA! USA!” (Note that presidential hopeful, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, was among those standing and applauding. Warren recently described herself as “capitalist to my bones.”)

Later, in a February 18 speech in Miami, Trump again pushed his case for a U.S.-backed coup in Venezuela, attacking socialism in the processes. In what could have easily been a description of capitalism, Trump claimed:

Socialism, by its very nature, does not respect borders. It does not respect boundaries or the sovereign rights of its citizens or its neighbors. It’s always seeking to expand, to encroach and to subjugate others to its will.

THIS RECENTLY adopted anti-socialist theme seems to have come out of nowhere for a president who lacks any real political ideology beyond his own bourgeois celebrity brand.

The most obvious reason for Trump’s newfound attacks on socialism is his administration’s intention to foment regime change in Venezuela.

Of course, if Trump truly understood socialism (or, really, anything, for that matter), he would know that Venezuela’s mixed economy, redistributive policies and robust welfare state are not indicative of “socialism,” as Marxists define it.

While Venezuela’s redistributive policies and heavy taxation of the wealthy would no doubt go a long way toward eradicating poverty here in the U.S., they are about as “socialist” as similar programs in Cuba or Norway. As the site of the largest known oil reserves in the world, Venezuela has long been able to use its oil revenue to fund generous economic benefits for the poor and working class.

Socialist activist Eva María, in an interview with Socialist Worker, calls Venezuela’s social-democratic policies “a sort of extractivist socialism that merge production for capitalist markets with socialistic domestic policies.”

Venezuela’s current economic crisis has less to do with the inherent “failure of socialism,” as right-wing regime-change hawks frequently assert, than with the global drop in oil prices.

“When oil prices were high, those were [Hugo] Chávez’s best years,” María says of Venezuela’s late president, “because this made the redistribution model very successful. But when oil prices fell, the model came under pressure.”

And let’s get real: Trump’s desire to intervene in Venezuela’s political crisis has nothing to do with “aiding the Venezuelan people.” It has everything to do with securing Venezuela’s oil reserves — a fact that Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton flatly admitted in a recent interview with Fox News.

Additionally, Trump is likely desperate to distract the public from his falling poll numbers and the humiliating backlash he suffered with his 35-day government shutdown over his quixotic border wall. Launching a “humanitarian” war is a time-honored tradition for presidents anxious to shift the national discourse.

But there is another, more practical, reason for Trump’s attacks on socialism. He is positioning himself to run against Bernie Sanders in the 2020 presidential election.

AFTER MONTHS of speculation, Sanders confirmed last week that he would launch another bid for the Democratic nomination for president. Within hours of formally announcing his 2020 campaign, Sanders raised $6 million in donations from some 225,000 supporters, thus confirming that his popularity has not waned in the three years since he challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2016.

While “left-wing” news outlets like MSNBC and NPR were quick to dismiss Sanders with the same tired talking points they used against him in 2016 (he’s “too old,” “too white,” “too radical” and has “problems connecting with women and Black voters”), Trump’s campaign advisers can see the writing on the wall.

Not only is Sanders the most popular politician in Washington, but the fact that his platform of universal college education, single-payer health care, a $15 minimum wage and aggressive action to combat climate change has been adopted by many of the other Democratic presidential hopefuls speaks to the appeal of these issues with working-class voters.

As Jacobin’s Branko Marcetic wrote:

Trump, or more accurately, his team of advisers, aren’t stupid. They recognize their best bet for re-election is if the Democrats put up another Clinton-style centrist who claims to be progressive during the primaries but immediately pivots right once they’re over. He knows how to beat that candidate.

But against someone like Sanders or Warren, people who have histories of principled advocacy for working people in place of careerist ladder-climbing, he knows he’ll flounder.

While I disagree with Marcetic’s lumping of Sanders and Warren into the same camp, his point is, nonetheless, well taken.

Should Sanders emerge as the Democratic nominee he will pose a significant challenge to Trump’s re-election. This is, of course, assuming the Democratic Party apparatus allows Sanders to become its presidential nominee in the first place.

Indeed, Sanders’ supporters should be fully prepared for the DNC to employ the same underhanded, primary-fixing stunts against him as it did in 2016.

This, in essence, remains Sanders’ biggest hurdle: His insistence on running in a capitalist party that is adamantly opposed to his entire platform, rather than mounting an independent campaign.

WHILE THERE are legitimate reasons for the left to be critical of Sanders, there is little doubt that he has played an integral role in the current resurgence in socialism. For that reason alone, he remains a powerful asset to the left, and his campaign should be welcomed.

How much a President Bernie Sanders could actually accomplish given the makeup of Congress and the myriad capitalist state barriers arrayed to thwart him at every turn is, indeed, an open question.

Likewise is the question of how much the left should concern itself with electoral politics in general. As Howard Zinn famously wrote, “What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but who is ‘sitting in’ — and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.”

That said, Trump is right to be “alarmed” about both Sanders’ presidential campaign and the growing socialist movement in this country. Even if Trump manages to eke out a second term with his narrow 40 percent of the electorate, the political fire that Sanders has helped spark will not be extinguished any time soon.

It’s rather telling that Trump feels the need to resurrect Cold War-style, anti-socialist rhetoric, equating socialism with a lack of freedom. It shows that he is scared. He should be.

Nearly 200 years after Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto, the ruling classes are still trembling at the prospect of a “Communistic revolution.” The irony is that the more Trump attacks socialism, the more enticing he makes it to leftists and progressives who are predisposed to embrace anything the president opposes.

As Jacobin’s Meagan Day writes:

Each apocalyptic admonition is an opportunity for Bernie [Sanders] and the rest of us socialists, to articulate a different perspective, one in which freedom and democracy are elusive at present but achievable through a society-wide commitment to economic and social equality. We will only escape “coercion, domination and control” when we structure society to prioritize the well-being of the many over the desires of the greedy few.

Those of us on the left must stand firmly in opposition to any potential military conflict in Venezuela. And we must also find ways to rally alongside, yet also patiently debate with, those attracted to Sanders’ campaign for economic and social justice.

Whether or not the International Socialist Organization formally endorses Sanders’ run, he remains an important part of the burgeoning socialist movement.

Further Reading

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