Trump and the global disorder
published in English at International Viewpoint, and was slightly edited for publication in the U.S.is a member of the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France and a leader of the Fourth International. He wrote this analysis at the end of February based on discussions in preparation for the next World Congress, which started with the question of the impact of Donald Trump's election on the geopolitical situation. This article was
THE ACCESSION of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States most likely represents a turning point in geopolitical disorder and global instability. However, it is too early to measure its consequences. Trump himself and a large part of his team have no political past in government that would offer a reliable point of reference. Presidential power is limited in the U.S. (much more so than in France!) by the powers of the Congress, the judiciary and the states, as evidenced by the trial of strength after the decree prohibiting travel by nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries--even those who had a residence permit or were residents--the ban was suspended by judges.
Therefore, we cannot base a judgment on just the vengeful tweets, phone calls and peremptory statements in which Trump specializes--nor on the many corrections, sometimes made in haste: on Taiwan and the One China policy, on Russia in Eastern Europe, etc. It is nevertheless necessary to start now to locate the major issues that are being or may be affected by the constitution of the new U.S. administration. We are talking here only of the international implications; the consequences of his election in the United States itself will not be discussed here.
Trump and Instability
The election of Donald Trump is in itself a new factor of international instability. Indeed, it was neither intended nor desired by the dominant sectors of the American bourgeoisie: Control over the electoral process escaped them. That this could have happened in the principal imperialist country is a matter of great concern for the rulers in the rest of the world. How can you foresee anything when U.S. governance becomes so random?
Trump's initial measures have increased this concern: the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP), the criticism of NATO, and so on. The frameworks of cooperation between allied states and bourgeoisies seem to be threatened by an administration that appears unilateralist. The meaning of the slogan "America First" would then become "America Alone." The multiplication of bilateral agreements--where the U.S. is in a position of strength in relation to its interlocutors--would take the place of multilateral agreements.
There is, of course, continuity between the policies announced by Donald Trump and those of previous administrations, including Obama; but there are also possible points of rupture, a general inflection and an escalation that is at least verbal. The United States presented itself yesterday as the leader of various alliances (without necessarily being able really to assume this function); Trump threatens to go it alone. He thus allowed Chinese President Xi Jinping to present himself as the successor during his speech in Davos: Do not worry about the U.S. withdrawal, we are ready to ensure the continuation of the process of capitalist globalization!
Trump and the Global Ecological Crisis
Donald Trump was elected at a moment when, in terms of global warming in particular, we are already on a razor's edge. However, a climate change skeptic is at the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The new president is the mouthpiece of the extractive industries and rejects the conclusions of the scientific studies in this field. The extent of the multifaceted ecological crisis that we face and the extreme gravity of its consequences are being ignored and denied.
The commitments made by governments at COP 21 in Paris were very inadequate and the policies advocated, such as geo-engineering, are dangerous: They do not make it possible to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius. To limit it to 2 degrees (a level already far too high) seems very difficult. That would become unattainable in the event of U.S. withdrawal, if it was to be confirmed.
Major intergovernmental climate agreements have been established recently through prior bilateral negotiations in Washington and Beijing. Admittedly, China and other major powers are now promising to maintain their targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas, but Trump's backward step will serve as a pretext for other countries. Each government will tackle major national problems, such as pollution in China, or develop industrial sectors that it deems to be internationally promising, but the sum of these moves will not be the foundation of an overall policy.
Trump and Women
Donald Trump has decided to cut off all funding to international NGOs that bring up the issue of abortion, not just those with facilities that provide them. Republican presidents have done this more than once in the past. The consequences are very serious on the international level, as many of the associations concerned do not have the financial means to continue their activities of aid to women once these funds are withdrawn.
The price to pay for Trump's policy is likely to be particularly high today, because the reactionary (especially religious) right is getting stronger. Churches are often themselves on the offensive against women's rights: in fact, we are seeing a dramatic decline in the status of women in much of the world. The role of the Trump administration can be particularly destructive in this situation--which certainly explains, in part, the international echo of the Women's March on Washington in the U.S. following the inauguration of the new president and the announcement of other international days of action.
Trump and Ideological Reaction
Donald Trump oozes reaction. What is true for women will be true around issue of LGBT+, racism and other issues.
Trump is not against "science." He is against scientific research where it can create problems for the economic interests that he defends--he then becomes a denialist. Like Stephen Harper before him in Canada (who wanted to destroy the database that made it possible to trace the history of climate change), he wants to control research and muzzle researchers. To do so he has taken exceptionally repressive measures to isolate and censor climate scientists and environmental agencies, provoking the organization of a great march of scientists on Washington in April.
Even though it is "targeted" on environmental and climate issues, Trump's denunciation of the scientific approach has general consequences: legitimizing obscurantism at a time when creationism, including its "intelligent design" version, continues its offensive--in particular, conducting a long-term battle over school curricula in many countries.
Trump and the Far Right
For the far-right movements in Europe, the victory of Donald Trump at first appears to be very good news. Breaking to the right against globalization and the "elites" is possible--there is the proof!
However, it isn't obvious that the Western far-right movement want to identify too closely with Donald Trump. The great-power nationalism of "America First" is a threat--and no one knows whether his administration will succeed in stabilizing itself. Ridicule can end up by killing. Predicted for the moment to win the first round of the presidential election in France, Marine Le Pen has not started talking "à la Trump."
The reactionary Islamist movements, for their part, salute the election of Trump as a gift from heaven. This was already the case in France, after Prime Minister Manuel Valls supported illegal decrees adopted by some municipalities against wearing the burkini, dismissing the advice of the Council of State. (He was thus playing at being Trump before Trump: "The Council of State says what the law is, but I do politics"--so a prime minister can ignore the law?)
Valls' support for the decrees was just a story on the inside pages (except for us in France) that people abroad had a good laugh about. We are no longer laughing about Trump's "Muslim Ban," forbidding access to the U.S. for nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries. The spontaneous mobilizations in the U.S. at airports to demand the entry of stranded foreign residents, and the suspension by judges of the decree signed by Trump have a very important impact internationally. They are breaking the extreme polarization desired by both Trump and Islamist fundamentalists.
Trump and Latin America
Imperial arrogance did not keep Donald Trump quiet regarding Latin America, the "backyard" of the U.S. The heads of state of this region will not have appreciated the brutality with which he repeatedly humiliated the Mexican president in a torrent of tweets, each of them more lapidary than the one before.
The same is true of the threat of a unilateral challenge to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The policies of the protectionist coup de force concern primarily the entire continent. The militant left in Latin America will have to mobilize against the new imperialist dictates--without, however, defending the present order and the neoliberal agenda.
Mexico is the country on the front line with the United States, particularly with regard to the international implications of the anti-immigrant, anti-Latino xenophobia and racism of the Trump administration, symbolized by a policy of mass deportations and the construction of the border wall. All Latino immigration is affected. Muslims are far from being the only ones affected.
Trump and the Middle East
Donald Trump banged his fist on the table to denounce Obama's and NATO's failure in the Middle East. He announced a change in strategy for war in Iraq and Syria that will benefit Russia; he promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (which would amount to recognizing it as Israel's capital, but he will not do it); he broke with the two-state policy related to Palestine and Israel, the basis of the peace negotiations; he is making a priority targeting as a priority Iran and the nuclear agreement with Tehran, while opening up to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies; he advocates a regional military alliance including these states and Israel to "contain" Iran.
That said, everything suggests that Trump does not have the slightest idea of the complexity of the Middle East situation, or perhaps of the fact that in this domain, the decisions are not necessarily within the mandate of his presidency, but of Congress in particular. Even more so than on other international issues, it is better to wait to conclude what the policy of the new administration will be.
Trump and Russia
In the diplomatic field, one thing seemed clear: Among his priorities, Donald Trump wanted a rapprochement with Russia, and Moscow was counting on it. Since then, the picture has become somewhat blurred. We will see.
In the world of Trump, where great-power geopolitics is used very directly to do business, this choice (if it's confirmed) makes sense: Unlike China, Russia is not a global competitor. The extractivist energy industry that he wants to promote has forged close ties in Russia. There can be convergence in the Middle East. A Washington-Moscow axis would isolate Beijing, the main enemy.
If this schema is confirmed, Russia's position would emerge consolidated in Syrian-Iraqi military operations and in Eastern Europe, at the expense of the EU.
Trump and the European Union
Russian-American collaboration would have many implications for the European Union, about which Donald Trump has made his low opinion quite clear. In spite of the flights of fancy about Europe as a great power, it has not been able to, nor known how to, nor wanted to, constitute a global geopolitical power. The new U.S. presidency has threatened to reduce its commitment to NATO, refusing to pay endlessly for its defense. So the EU is under pressure from the U.S., while it is in crisis because of other factors, such as Brexit, increasing heterogeneity, unpopularity, etc.
The recent Munich conference on security--called the "Davos of Defense"--did not reassure the EU. Admittedly, many Washington envoys tried to clear away the minefield of Trump's remarks (for example, describing NATO as "obsolete"). Vice President Mike Pence did not even pronounce the words "European Union" in his speech--and there has been no concrete proposal that has made any progress.
The question of arming Germany is becoming increasingly pressing for European leaders. There is no European army. The British and French armies only filled this absence very partially, being mobilized especially within the framework of national choices. These armed forces have had to cope with contradictory demands: reduce costs in the name of austerity policies, while increasing their external commitments (and also internal ones, in the case of France). Their equipment and military personnel are worn out to the extent of risking "burnout," which is probably already the case in Britain, and a ratcheting down is likely to soon be announced in France.
In this situation, even the unthinkable happens. Trial balloons have been floated on issues that are taboo. Thus, a member of the Christian Democratic Party, Roderich Kiesewetter, said that if Trump's America "no longer wants to offer a guarantee of nuclear security, Europe still needs a nuclear umbrella." An editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung drove the point home: Given Russian rearmament and the small size of the Anglo-French strike force, let us think "the unthinkable...our own nuclear deterrent."
Is British Prime Minister Theresa May also wondering about the consequences of Trump's election for European defense? For a long time, the United States has been asking the EU members to do more and criticizing NATO--but Trump is capable of putting his words into action, while Obama, who is more aware of the complexity of the situation, did not. May is (was?) an unconditional supporter of NATO. The Financial Times has published an article by Anne Applebaum urging the UK to promote a new security pact, despite Brexit.
The uncertainty doesn't only come from across the Atlantic. Nothing serious can be discussed in the EU before the outcome of the next French and German elections this year. The structure of the EU is in crisis, and the Union is incapable of playing its role on the international level in maintaining an imperialist order. Regardless of who the U.S. president is, Washington doesn't know what it can hope for from the Europeans.
Trump and China
How will the U.S.-China confrontation evolve under Trump? This is one of the most serious issues we have to follow in the period ahead. A growing number of commentators even talk about the possibility of a new world war (in what form?) that the situation in East Asia is prefiguring.
Without venturing into any debate about "the coming war," we should note that Trump is faced with a problem that Obama could not answer: How to take things back in hand in East Asia after leaving the initiative to China for too long? Especially since Beijing has recently consolidated its regional hold. Its economic influence has increased in the region, as well as its political and diplomatic weight. The militarization of the South China Sea is now almost accomplished. The construction of artificial islands is sufficiently advanced to make it an operational defense network: aviation runways, the installation of numerous surface-to-air missiles, etc. The Chinese fleet is thus navigating in a favorable environment. A qualitative threshold has been crossed.
No pressure will force Beijing to withdraw. The stakes are too great: control over access to the oceans, the question of who will have dominant influence in the region, the U.S. or China; the flaunting of great-power nationalism, which is the ideological cement of the regime.
The bar has been placed very high. The U.S. Seventh Fleet can certainly show its presence in the South China Sea, but it cannot drive back the Chinese Army--not without at least engaging in an active conflict, of which no one can measure the consequences.
The situation is more contentious and fluid in Northeast Asia with the belligerent confrontation between Japan and China; the North Korean factor and the looming crisis in the peninsula; Taiwan's assertion of its own identity and the need for Beijing to bring Hong Kong's population under control. However, the relationships of forces are not fixed in this part of the world, contrary to what many people seem to believe. The new capitalist China has emerged from the defensive strategic posture inherited from Mao. The U.S. must re-establish its leadership there, particularly as it has lost it in the Middle East.
Uncertain of the future, the militarist right in Japan is pushing for a complete rearmament of the country. North Korea is playing the nuclear game of the weak deterring the strong, but it is triggering a new chain of reactions: the establishment by Washington in South Korea of a base of THAAD interceptor missiles likely to cover a large part of Chinese territory, reducing China's deterrent capacity. Beijing has therefore decided to deploy its submarines, armed with nuclear warheads, in the oceans to protect them from an enemy first strike.
This deployment has not been carried out yet, and it is easier said than done. Chinese submarines are still easily detectable, the range of their ballistic missiles is too short, they need to produce more technologically reliable multiple-headed weapons, and the establishment of a chain of command capable of acting in times of crisis has not been accomplished. All of this is very expensive.
However, the military escalation in Northeast Asia is today taking on a nuclear dimension. The "minor" powers must then show that they have a serious second-strike capability, in case Russia on one side and the U.S. on the other try to destroy their launch sites all at once. France, Great Britain and China cannot do that. The question is still theoretical in Europe. Beijing is now worried about its vulnerability, as its nuclear submarine deployment program seems to attest.
Russia is asserting itself as a "world power," thanks to its stock of nuclear weapons in particular, but with a "regional zone of influence" where it is concentrating its forces. We do not see Putin displaying himself in Davos, as Xi Jinping did, as guarantor of capitalist globalization.
China is a world power with a much more discreet military profile, although it is steadily rising. However, its zone of economic and diplomatic influence is already almost universal. This is the result of a policy of expansion that has been systematically implemented for nearly 30 years--and of the relationship between national issues and international deployment. As a capitalist country, China is experiencing the economic crisis and will continue to do so. Today, there is huge overcapacity expressed production industries, the real estate crisis, indebtedness, including toxic debt, labor market tensions, capital flight," etc.
China's international moves are response in part to these "internal" factors of crisis. The government must guarantee the regular supplying of the economy with raw materials (purchase of land, mines, transport companies and ports). By investing heavily in the building and public works sector abroad, it provides markets to a sector in great difficulty at the national level and outlets for surplus production of cement, steel, etc.). This also makes it possible to export labor. And it reinforces the ideology of the regime: great-power nationalism.
In various countries, these investments, financed by Chinese banks, are politically risky. A debt-stricken state can easily mobilize the population against "the Chinese" to get rid of the debt, once the work has been done, but for now, China's expansion is maintaining its dynamism. Until when? A big question.
Though it is the world's leading power, the United States has lost the strategic initiative. It is unable to assume all its responsibilities or to expect much from the Europeans. It has left a free hand to the Russians in Syria and the Chinese on the international level. Because he seems to know nothing of the complexity of global power relations and regional geopolitical combinations, Trump began by asking the European Union and Japan "to pay more" (give me my money!), and institutions such as NATO to comply with priorities unilaterally defined by his administration. Reality will not bend to his imagination. How will he try to counter China? What chain reactions will this provoike? We can be worried about that.
The Political Period and the Tasks of Solidarity
The election of Trump expresses and enhances the contradictions of capitalist globalization as a mode of domination. The freedom of movement of capital results in popular disaffection in a growing number of countries, through national or regional crises of legitimacy and governability. Moreover, the sovereign functions of states are not globalized in the same way as capital. There is no harmonization between predatory economic policies on the one hand, and, on the other, ideological frameworks, security policies and wars, which are still the responsibility of the (nation-) states.
There is, at present, no solution to these contradictions. For several decades, the bourgeoisie has been conducting a frontal class offensive to take back all that it had to give up after the Second World War and the revolutions of the 20th century. Since the implosion of the USSR, this offensive has taken on a truly global turn. Since the financial crises of 1997-98 and especially of 2007-2008, it has become increasingly clearly counterrevolutionary. The extreme violence with which multiple counterrevolutionary forces have been mobilized in the Middle East to break the extraordinary popular mobilizations of 2011 testifies to this.
We have entered a new era. I spoke in my report of a counterrevolutionary period, which provoked considerable reticence and opposition. Because of the word "period," which seemed too enduring and too dark? I would say, then, a "moment"--in the sense of a time of indefinite duration--but I fear that such a term does not pass the test of translations! Counterrevolutionary does not mean that the counterrevolution has prevailed, but that this is what we are faced with, whether openly, as in much of the Muslim world, or more insidiously, as is often the case in the West currently.
Let us look for words that best express the nature of the present times, but let us not prettify them.
In one part of the world, the violence of the attacks has provoked sometimes spectacular mobilizations, as in the U.S. after the election of Trump: the Women's Marches, support for the victims of the Muslim ban, a march of scientists and on Earth Day. This is a wave of protest on a rare scale. The "rightward evolution" of the rulers has also provoked the emergence of political processes on the left, as with the victory of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. This offers many opportunities for action for our organizations.
To this extent, one can speak of polarization--both reactionary and progressive faces. Still, it must be made clear that it is a very unequal polarization. Theresa May is in government, not Jeremy Corbyn. The really existing Brexit has opened the way to a racist and xenophobic explosion, not to an offensive of the working class.
On the other hand, in another part of the world, opportunities are being rapidly reduced. The popular struggle continues in the Middle East, but in far more unfavorable conditions. I would like to give an example that has marked me personally. For several years running, I have been to Pakistan in solidarity with struggles that are exemplary for their tenacity. The religious fundamentalists, the secret services of the military and the henchmen of the possessing classes were already conducting a reign of terror, but the popular resistance continued nevertheless with great force. I was able to speak in meetings involving several thousand people. Some took place at the military farm of Okara, where today, all the peasant activists have been imprisoned and tortured. There were meetings with the textile workers in Faisalabad, whose trade union leaders are now imprisoned and tortured. I met Baba Jan, an indefatigable Gilgit-Baltistan militant, who today is sentenced to life imprisonment after being tortured. Terrorist attacks follow one another in Lahore, where I lived. In a few years, the situation has become marked by terrible defeats. Resistance continues--and obviously, it still deserves our support--but in a qualitatively worse situation than before.
I will not return here to aspects of the discussion which have concerned other items on the agenda (the "revolutionary subject" and the social movements, the construction of "useful" parties. But I would like to conclude on the question of our tasks of organizing solidarity.
We are confronted today with forms of violence that are limitless, but also without any pretense--massive levels of violence are no longer denied, but openly wielded. This is the case for terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but this dehumanization of adversaries and of whole groups besides can also found in the theme of the "humanitarian war"--the fight against evil promoted by George W. Bush after the attacks of September 11. Thus, the "humanitarian war" is being freed from humanitarian law and from the laws of war. The ultimate enemy is no longer entitled to any rights--people rot in fundamentalist jails or in the "black hole" of Guantánamo and the secret prisons of the CIA. States making recourse to crimes such as blasphemy, lèse-majesté or breach of national security (or identity or symbol) is more and more widespread. Some people in France are proposing preventive confinement in camps for anyone who is suspected of being capable of being involved in a terrorist act.
Let us recall that dehumanization was one of the objectives of the Nazi concentration camp system. The insidious return of the policy of dehumanization is not only a sign of reactionary times, but of counterrevolution. It defines a new terrain of resistance whose importance must be measured. No end can justify such means. The humanity of the adversary, whoever they may be, cannot be denied. That is the point we are at.
We are, at present, confronted with important tasks of collective solidarity: toward populations affected by humanitarian catastrophes of various origins; toward people who have migrated or been forcibly displaced, which is now more extensive than at the end of the Second World War; towards peoples who are under attack; and toward activists who are imprisoned in their countries. We will have to welcome exiles with particular care, since in exile, they may continue to be persecuted. This is already the case for journalists and intellectuals from the Arab world against whom fatwas are being launched. It is also the case for Thais determined to be "guilty" of lèse-majesté and forced to hide because they are targeted by ultra-royalist networks operating in France. It is already or will be the case with Kurds and left-wing Turks, who those in the service of Erdogan have been or will be ready to assassinate. We must not only welcome them but also protect them.
All this requires the reconstruction of a "collective culture of solidarity" in progressive circles. Solidarity--in humanitarian, political, financial and other forms--must be integrated into the "current" tasks of popular organizations, be they left-wing groups, political parties trade unions, etc. Collective, concrete solidarity is one of the pillars on which the new internationalism we need can be founded.
1. Statement by PRT in Mexico: "Against Trump and Peña: Unity from below and without borders."
2. Le Monde, February 20, 2017. Available on ESSF "Au 'Davos de la defense,', l'incertitude Trump: Grave crise de confiance entre l'Europe et les Etats-Unis."
3. Nathalie Guibert, Le Monde, December 22, 2016. Available on ESSF, "'Armée bonsaï'--L'armée française craint un décrochage brutal en 2020."
4. See Josef Joffe, February 13, 2017, Financial Times.
5. Financial Times, February 15, 2017.
6. Julian Borger, ESSF, "New arms race--China to send nuclear-armed submarines into Pacific amid tensions with U.S."
7. On this last point, see in particular Pierre Rousset, ESSF, "Réflexions sur 'la question du parti' (bis)--Un tour d'horizon." This article will be available in English shortly.
8. ESSF, "Human Rights: Toxic political agenda is dehumanizing whole groups, Amnesty warns."
9. Daniel Bensaïd, ESSF, "Le nouveau discours de la guerre--"le monde entier en état d'exception."
10. On this latter aspect, see the balance sheet of the activity of ESSF, "Onze ans de solidarité--un bilan des campagnes financières d'ESSF."
11. New spaces are being created to collectivize reflections and the exchange of experiences, and to strengthen collaboration in this area. See, for example, Intercoll, ESSF, "Intercoll: Presentation of the Working Group "Internationalism and International Solidarity."
First published at International Viewpoint.