Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

President Trump and anti-capitalism.

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Callinicos: “Campaigned against the liberal capitalist international order.”

Most of the international left has supported the protests against Donald Trump this Saturday.

But the victory of the ‘populist’ billionaire has created serious difficulties for ‘anti-capitalist’ theories of neo-liberalism.

If there had been agreement that ‘neo-lberalism’ was underpinned by the Washington Consensus, crudely put, driven by US leadership what remains when the President challenges some cornerstones of that agreement?

That is,  “Trade liberalization: liberalization of imports, with particular emphasis on elimination of quantitative restrictions (licensing, etc.); any trade protection to be provided by low and relatively uniform tariffs” and “Liberalization of inward foreign direct investment”.

Opposing these principles with the – so far only threatened – protectionism undermines some basic principles of ‘neo-liberalism’

Trump  favours privatisation of state enterprises,Deregulation: abolition of regulations that impede market entry or restrict competition, except for those justified on safety, environmental and consumer protection grounds, and prudential oversight of financial institutionsLegal security for property rights. He stands for, as we all know, ” infrastructure investment” tight fiscal policy, and…tax ‘reform’.

But is putting America First in line with ‘globalisation’?

At the end of last year SWP leader Alec Callinicos  offered one interpretation if  Trump’s victory (We don’t want Trump—but neither do the bosses.  15th of November)

Trump campaigned against the liberal capitalist international order that US imperialism has constructed and maintained since the Second World War.

That is to say, against free trade and free movement of capital underpinned by American military power. He denounced the various rounds of trade liberalisation that he held responsible for the decline of US basic industries.


More broadly, in the US and Britain the political system is breaking loose from its traditional subordination to capital. Big business wanted neither Brexit nor Trump and is looking on in dismay.

This will probably be only a temporary situation before a new equilibrium between the state and capital is established. But it is a source of enormously instability.

Looking at Trump’s administration it is hard to see how a more pro-business crew could have been cobbled together.

If that’s a protest against the ” liberal capitalist international order” then perhaps the capitalist order is not intrinsically liberal.

Today the Telegraph leads with this story:

Donald Trump is planning a new deal for Britain this week as Theresa May becomes the first foreign leader to meet him since the inauguration.

With hundreds of thousands of people across the world protesting his presidency, Mr Trump’s team was working with Number 10 to finalise plans for White House talks.

Mr Trump has even taken to calling Mrs May “my Maggie” in reference to the close Thatcher-Reagan relationship he wants to recreate, according to sources.

The historic trip comes as:

  • A deal to reduce barriers between American and British banks through a new “passporting” system was being considered by Mr Trump’s team
  • A US-UK “working group” was being prepared to identify barriers to trade and scope out a future trade deal
  • A joint statement on defence was expected to demand EU countries spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence and promise collaboration in tackling Isil

The new relationship – which comes with both countries redefining their roles in the world – is due to be cemented with a state visit for Mr Trump in the summer.

For several decades ‘anti-capitalists’ and, above all, the ‘anti-imperialist’ left have considered the US the engine of neo-liberalism, the promoters of the ‘Shock Doctrine’, privatisation, deregulation, austerity and the ultimate guarantors of free trade.

The only way they can explain a change in fundamental policy is by evoking popular fury at the New World Order.

In the Independent yesterday Patrick Cockburn strayed from  his home  territory to generalise in the same vein as Callinicos (Why the rise of Donald Trump and Isis have more in common than you might think.)

Across continents there are many who see themselves as the losers from globalisation, but the ideological vehicles for protest differ markedly from region to region 

Inequality has increased everywhere with politically momentous consequences, a development much discussed as a reason for the populist-nationalist upsurge in western Europe and the US. But it has also had a significant destabilising impact in the wider Middle East. Impoverished Syrian villagers, who once looked to the state to provide jobs and meet their basic needs at low prices, found in the decade before 2011 that their government no longer cared what happened to them. They poured in their millions into gimcrack housing on the outskirts of Damascus and Aleppo, cities whose richer districts looked more like London or Paris. Unsurprisingly, it was these same people, formerly supporters of the ruling Baath party, who became the backbone of the popular revolt. Their grievances were not dissimilar from those of unemployed coal miners in former Democratic Party strongholds in West Virginia who voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump.

In the US, Europe and the Middle East there were many who saw themselves as the losers from globalisation, but the ideological vehicle for protest differed markedly from region to region. In Europe and the US it was right wing nationalist populism which opposes free trade, mass immigration and military intervention abroad. The latter theme is much more resonant in the US than in Europe because of Iraq and Afghanistan. Trump instinctively understood that he must keep pressing these three buttons, the importance of which Hillary Clinton and most of the Republican Party leaders, taking their cue from their donors rather than potential voters, never appreciated.

This is poor stuff.

Perhaps Cockburn would also explain the Iranian Revolution (the original spur of  the development of modern Islamism) and the Algerian Civil War of the 1990s in terms of ‘globalisation’.

To neglect the independent material role of Islamist ideology, and genocidal terror in the Middle East,  to compare its rise directly with the kind of xenophobia and nationalist fervour behind Trump is to jump over several hoops of explanation.

The ‘losers’ from globalisation do not simply ‘choose’ a vehicle to express their protest; they are courted by active political forces. The political forces doing so, Islamism and European/North American populism, are radically different.

Perhaps one should begin to discuss and explanation by considering that ‘neo-liberalism’ is not some inherent drive pushed by the  present stage of ‘post-Fordist’ capitalism’.

It has always had a political framework within which class interests are given voice in administrative form.

In countries with democratic electoral systems parties supporting neo-liberalism has always had to win support for their policies, and get elected, by appealing to voters. From Thatcher, the original ‘authoritarian populist’ to Trump, their message has been recognised by sections of the electorate.

But at the same time neo-liberals have had to build their objectives around a bloc of more direct class forces, the various fractions of capital.

Trump is clearly now attempting to build an international bloc, with British support, for a modification in the  ‘regime of accumulation’. This will keep the main domestic features of neo-liberalism, above all the Privatising State, but change the way trade and international capital flows are organised.

In the meantime onemof the commonplaces of ‘anti-capitalism’, that the US and its businesses are inherently in favour of unrestricted globalisation, is becoming redundant.


Written by Andrew Coates

January 22, 2017 at 11:59 am

9 Responses

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  1. @pplswar

    January 22, 2017 at 7:17 pm

  2. I have a whole series of issues. The basis appears to be about Trump’s alleged economic appeal, a persistent feature of coverage in many papers and on the BBC.

    Yet there are huge problems with this. A focus on the white working class in certain areas (a nauseatingly theme on the Today Show and Newsnight) ignores:

    ~ The appeal of Clinton to the non-white working class, especially Latinos whose turnout shot up.
    ~ That Clinton’s appeal on economic issues was shown in polls where she led on those issues in an overwhelming majority of states.
    ~ That other factors, for example white resentment, drove voters to Trump.

    (It should be noted that her platform lent enormously from that of Bernie Sanders, whose people were heavily engaged in devising it.)

    Trump won because:

    ~ The US has a bizarre electoral system comparable to other ones devised in the distant past and which creaks under c20th reality.
    ~ Millions of people are disenfranchised because of systematic, organised voter suppression by the GOP.
    ~ It has been shown conclusively that Trump was tipped over the edge by the last minute intervention of the head of the internal police force (James Comey, Head of the FBI).

    Further, whatever his ties to Russia, whether the dossier is true or not, it is a fact that since he launched his campaign he has not once criticised Russia. Tied with the actions of the FBI, most likely driven by a cabal within it, and a media slavering over attacking Clinton, fed by Russian-hacked documents, he got the few thousand extra votes he needed.

    Despite what some think, Trump was backed by establishment Republicans since at least June. Those conservatives who opposed him were a small group who were brutally silenced at the Convention. He has since brought the GOP establishment into the White House and his Cabinet. Their first acts showed how they will steamroll over precedent, rules and the Constitution.

    None of this is normal. No analysis should be based on his ‘policies’ because he lies.

    Instead of looking at what the Wizard is saying look behind the curtain, look to what his party is doing.

  3. Yes, I think the FBI Head’s intervention, so recent, tends to get forgotten in the world of ‘alternative facts’.

    Andrew Coates

    January 23, 2017 at 6:44 pm

  4. *creaks under c20st reality…


    Many won;t read this cos of the author, or cos it’s very long. You should. Made me entirely rethink my attitude to Comey.


  5. Is this the same Alec Callinicos who has the heavies throw you out of meetings for asking the ‘wrong’ questions?


    January 23, 2017 at 9:42 pm

  6. White Obama voters in the midwest elected Trump. And Black turnout was down in urban areas like Flint, Michigan which, under Obama, is still drinking dirty water.


    January 23, 2017 at 10:53 pm

  7. The far-right British press exults at the end of one of the pillars of globalisation:

    Andrew Coates

    January 24, 2017 at 10:45 am

  8. Aaaargh! That Trump order was a photo-op. The GOP have blocked TPP in Congress as they blocked everything Obama did. There was nothing for Trump to ‘stop’. BBC ran this BS too and its something we need to be on gurard for – media taking Trump at face value and repeating what he says with zero context.

  9. Thanks for that Paul, as you know I follow European politics much much more closely than the US’s.

    Andrew Coates

    January 25, 2017 at 1:09 pm

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