The US Election – poison or bullet?

1 Nov

It’s been said of my writings that I tell people what to think. In truth I don’t have the brass neck, but I do tell people what I  think – with an ongoing invitation for them to show me where I’m in error. I wish they would. Some nights I wake in a cold sweat at the starkness of my conclusions.

Meanwhile I offer Caitlin Johnstone on the mockery of democracy taking place in the US. Under the header, Biden Can’t Return Things to Normal Because Trump IS Normal, she writes:

Trump has kept the bloodthirsty imperialism, corporate cronyism, Orwellian oppression, neoliberal exploitation and police militarization that holds the US empire together ticking along in basically the same way as his predecessors, in some ways more egregiously and in some ways less so. For all the evils he’s helped inflict on our world he still hasn’t done anything as bad as the two wars Bush launched during his first term, or arguably even Obama’s destruction of Libya and attempted destruction of Syria during his.

As regular readers know, I’m a fan of Caitlin. What she does, she does splendidly; no one better. Her attacks on Empire (and celebrations of a spiritual dimension of our humanity she correctly refuses to separate from the Call to Resist) are mainlined shots of truth; antidote to corporate narcosis. But other tasks are no less vital. One being in-depth analysis of Empire through more discursive pieces that do not lend themselves to five minute consumption over breakfast.

I’ll get to one such analysis in a moment, but first a personal story. Two days ago I was talking with my daughter, Fran. Liberal by disposition, and in a same sex relationship deeply nurturing for years, she says that were she American she’d vote Biden. Why? One of the two million Brits who flooded into Hyde Park in February 2003 to cry, “Not In Our Name”, she knows Democrat commitment to non racism and non sexism to be – like New Labour’s1 – highly selective and, as with other proud values and ideals, conditional on profits not being harmed.

Witness Democrat support for the destruction of Afghanistan and Iraq, and direct responsibility for more of the same in Libya, Syria and Yemen: their horrors visited on people not only dark of skin but – an inescapable consequence of such violence – disproportionately female.

I’ve written many posts, mostly on Syria, about “our” wars on the global south, waged in the name of lofty ideals but always, in ways direct or indirect, in the interests of profit.

Our beautifully democratic wars

Nevertheless, for my daughter the anti abortion threat to her American sisters, should Trump secure a second term, is the deal clincher. As with other pragmatist arguments, this is a tough one to counter. It’s short and concrete while my arguments are long and abstract.2 I would not rate highly my chances of selling the neither-Trump-nor-Biden case to a room full of irate US feminists unencumbered by those understandings a class perspective – which is to say an anti-imperialist perspective – brings.3

(I had a taster in 2016, when the task was made harder by Trump’s opponent being a woman.)

I told Fran of a comment by Leon Trotsky ninety years ago. Speaking of Germany in 1930, when communists scorned even tactical alliance with a social-democratic SPD they saw as no better than the brown-shirted thugs already strutting the streets,4 he offered this:

Suppose two men are trying to kill me. One is coming at me with a revolver while the other slips small doses of arsenic, day after day, into my coffee. How I respond is not a question of “lesser evil” but priorities. My immediate task, surely, is to disarm the gunman; my second to use his gun to kill both of my would-be assassins.

It’s not easy to disarm a gunman. To do so we may have to enter into a pact of expedience with our poisoner, but we should take care with such analogies. Parallels have been drawn between current realities and the muddled sectarianism Trotsky spoke of, a sectarianism which split the German Left and allowed Hitler first to take office, then (aided by the false-flag burning of the Reichstag and consequent Enabling Act) power itself. But the absence both of mass fascist and mass communist parties in the USA makes the situation confronting Tuesday’s voters quite unlike that of Germany in the dying days of the Weimar Republic.

All the same, there’s a timeless quality to Trotsky’s parable. As for its implication, that we may have to cut a temporary deal with the assassin of less immediate threat, here’s another analogy. Some defend the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on the ground it bought Stalin two years to prepare for the inevitability – foreseen by Trotsky, now the prophet in exile – of Barbarossa. In principle this line of argument is valid – but in practice must reckon with several objections. Such as that Stalin used his bought time to liquidate his ablest generals in round after round of purges.5 And that just days – hours even – before Barbarossa, he was blocking intelligence reports of Panzer tank build-up on Western borders and of German merchantmen steaming with unseemly haste from Black Sea ports, their holds only half full of Ukrainian wheat.

But back to that daughter of mine. On one thing we agreed. The only way a vote for Biden could be defended is if accompanied by a commitment to fighting the US Empire, the extent of whose evil is not up for debate once the facts are properly appraised. Or if that’s too big a leap, then at least by a commitment to challenging at every turn our phony democracies, of which America’s four-yearly charade – open to anyone able to raise $2-3 billion – is the most egregious.

(Sorry: we didn’t get into specifics on what such things might mean in practice. You know how these family things play out …)

I’ll end on that promised in-depth analysis of the context for the Trump Biden play-off. Like his better known compatriot, Yanis Varoufakis, Dimitris Konstantakopoulos was a leading light in Greece’s Syriza Party. Before that he served as advisor to George Papandreou, who in the ’80s and ’90s was PM to centre left governments of the kind later punished across much of Europe as parties seemingly of the far left – and parties actually of the far right – saw huge boosts to their popular vote.

Also like Varoufakis, Konstantakopoulos is a cultured and intelligent man, though he lacks the former’s mastery of formal and idiomatic English. Like me and many others, Caitlin included, he sees the global situation as extremely perilous precisely because a slowly dying empire faces challenge from a Eurasia rising. But he goes deeper than Caitlin and I do, locating in that Biden Trump contest a fundamental rift within the imperialist west, even as both sides share the same goals of crushing China and containing Russia, in the interests of dollar hegemony.

Last week under the header, Trump v Biden in Context, Mr Konstantakopoulos wrote that:

Nuclear weapons have prevented, so far, the outbreak of world war but we are in Cold Wars against Russia, China and Iran. Since 2008 we have also been in economic crisis as deep as 1873 and 1929, and now accelerated by the Coronavirus.

The crisis for a still dominant Western capitalism is deep and threatens the domination of the holders of capital over humanity (this is what capitalism means). This threat is not reflected in revolutionary movements such as those following WWI in Russia, and WWII in China, which led to Europe’s welfare states (now being dismantled). It is not reflected because there are not the revolutionary political subjects of the past; no Jacobins, Bolsheviks or Chinese Communists. It is reflected, for now, in the rise of alternative power centres, especially China, but also in the revival of Russia and in the resistance of Iran.

The depth of crisis explains the intensity of divisions within western capitalism and the centre of imperial power: Trump v Biden, Huntington v Fukuyama, neocons v neoliberal “globalizers” , Netanyahu v Soros. Those differences have no bearing on the strategic goal (preserving Western financial capitalism and the power of holders of capital). On this all agree. The differences, as in the ‘30s, have to do with methods, strategies and ideologies to attain this goal.

The piece, 8,000 words long, doesn’t tell Americans how or whether to vote. But it does give a more thorough assessment, of the global context in which they are now invited to do so, than any you’ll encounter in mainstream media.

I’ll end with this abridged extract from its closing remarks:

The first thing the supposedly anti-system president did was give Goldman Sachs’ people the most direct exercise of US economic governance. He tested Russia’s nuclear threat with two bombings of Syria, despite the Russian presence there. He tested China’s by threatening North Korea with extinction. He groomed world opinion for the unthinkable idea of nuclear war, destroyed nuclear weapons control structures and undermined all frameworks for cooperation. He surrendered, in a way no US President has hitherto done, much US foreign policy to Netanyahu! He withdrew from the Iran deal and is preparing for war on that country, which would have already broken out had it not been stopped by a deep state which also stopped his use of the army to suppress protests in US cities.

He is supposedly a friend of Russia and many say his job was to break her partnership with China, which poses insurmountable obstacles to global domination by Western Capital. But his administration escalated the military encirclement of Russia, and worked with Israel to reach a Serbia-Kosovo agreement that excludes Russia and China from the Balkans. He tried to play Turkey against Russia in Libya and Syria. On his watch the USA increased 25 fold its military aid to Azerbaijan, undermining Russia’s role in the ex-USSR. This all shows Trump to be no friend of Russia – but does not prove that his ultimate goal is not to sever Russian-Chinese ties.

In some circles Trump remains popular because he is perceived as an opponent of globalization. This is a chimera. He could not be against it when the core of globalization is the generalization of capitalist relations of production on the planet. Nor is it possible to fight for a “good”, “national capitalism” – in our time a greater utopia than “socialism in one country” or “National Socialism” were in theirs.

What Trump does is to introduce an element of violence and coercion in “globalization”; not to abolish it, but to replace it with a worse system, in which it will work only to the extent that it favours US interests. He wants to solve US problems with more violence against China, against the masses, against Iran, against the environment and against human civilization. This is the real project of Trump and his political allies internationally (Johnson, Bolsonaro, Monti [Modi?] etc). If they prevail, they will significantly increase the chance of a global catastrophe.

The chances of them prevailing increase precisely because they face bankrupt neoliberal elites, like those now rallying behind Biden; elites with almost nothing to offer their country or the world, and who are more interested in defeating challengers like Sanders than in stopping Trump.

It is true these neoliberal elites are more conservative and less dangerous than the extremist current around Trump, which could wreak havoc and irreversible damage to humanity if it continues to dominate US power. His climatic policy alone is able to destroy or harm seriously the very conditions for human survival.

But we should keep in mind that it is the policy of the neoliberal elites themselves that breeds and fuels the far-right extremism of Trump and his allies internationally.

Here’s the link again. Bullet, or slow-dripped poison? It’s one hell of a choice, if these are our sole options.

* * *

  1. I write this less than a week after Keir Starmer, who owes no small debt of gratitude to the highly organised Israeli lobby for his elevation to Labour leader, suspended Jeremy Corbyn amid a climate where to criticise Israel’s racist policies is to invite the McCarthyesque charge – be ye Jew or Gentile – of antisemitism.
  2. “Long and abstract” is shorthand. Arguments that go against the grain of capitalism’s worldview are not so much complex as counterintuitive. A corollary of Marx’s dictum – the ruling ideas of any age are those of its ruling class – is that contra-ideas always seem difficult, except in caricature. (One reason I back Caitlin against armchair sneers is her skill in expressing contra ideas in simple but rarely simplistic terms.)
  3. I give what I hope is a nuanced view of both class and identity politics in this post, sparked by the toxic debate between those who say biological sex is not binary, and those who correctly say it is: a debate further debased by the absurd charge that the latter must, ipso facto, be transphobic (TERF or not).
  4. On liberalism and fascism being not so much opposed as two sides of the same coin, see the Gabriel Rockhill piece, second of my October reads.
  5. At Nuremberg, Field Marshal Keitel told of generals warning Hitler against an attack on Russia, her Red Army a formidable force. Hitler, flushed with blitzkreig victories in Poland, Holland and France, where full dominance had been rapidly won, thought the same would go for the vast wintry spaces of the USSR. A gambler on a roll, he took his remilitarising of the Rhineland in 1936, followed by Anschluss and Czechoslovakia in 1938, as proof that the Wehrmacht generals he needed but despised were overly cautious, and that sheer will could always defy probability. But on one matter he was right. Hitler’s reply to Keitel was that most of the first-class Soviet officers were being purged, and the Red Army would take years to recover. Where he – and the world at large – erred was over a different issue: that of how swiftly a planned economy, even one as brutal as the USSR under Stalin, could dismantle factories and plant, ship them 3,000 miles east and put more tanks in the field, more planes in the sky, than anyone had thought possible. Equally decisive was the will to resist – its most eloquent metric those 27 million slain – of a Slavic people staring into the abyss not just of occupation but racial enslavement if not annihilation. These and other factors – such as Marshal Zhukov’s skill in managing his boss’s unease over his military brilliance and attendant popularity – were in spite of Stalin, not because of him.

18 Replies to “The US Election – poison or bullet?

  1. The trick is to properly identify the gunman and the poisoner (who is, after all, only keeping things ticking over)?

    Which in some cases is not always easy. What criteria should be used? Comparisons of past records may not be much help as observed here.

    Is the past a reliable guide to the future? The context may change or the poisoner might decide that whilst he/she/they/whatever pronoun is currently in fashion likes you today they might not like you tomorrow and decide to administer a lethal dose?

    Is it a bit like the prisoners dilemma?

    I’m with the late Terry Pratchett on these kinds of questions. Considering the over hyped metaphor of the half full or half empty glass approach Pratchett’s approach was along the lines of ‘my glass was bigger than that and was more in it’ rather than play along with the faux choices on offer.



    As Shaw observed (to paraphrase) ‘the reasonable man adapts to the world; the unreasonable man expects the world to adapt to him. All progress therefore depends on the unreasonable man.’

      • Ain’t it just – see this.

        It’s one of those contests where the only rational and sane outcome is for both of them to lose.

        Assuming the overall voting statistics are anywhere near reliable and robust it will be interesting to see the the final not voting figures, particularly the female demographics.

        • Interesting. Apropos my having no short answer to my daughter as to why she shouldn’t vote Biden to block Trump, I’ll send her your link, with this (here abridged) extract highlighted:

          Biden (77) is a homophobic idiot who has said he’ll pass an “equality” act in his first 100 days to end all women’s rights as a sex class and demolish freedom-of-belief protections in the Constitution.

          The only alternative is Trump (74), his presidency simply a different form of reality denial. Trump is a borderline fascist who openly encouraged racist militia while trampling over the Constitution. The most positive thing we can think of to say is that to a great many people’s surprise, his first four years in the White House didn’t actually result in a nuclear war.

          Imagine, then, the dilemma of a sane woman living in the US today and being asked to vote for one of those two options.

            • Interesting. I’m no psephologist but exit polls are deemed more accurate than pre-election polls, no?

              All the same, recent elections suggest that those voting (or intending to vote) for parties of the right tend to be embarrassed by – so may lie about – the fact.

              Even so, the breakdown offered via your link is a demographic one. Without evidence on how that tendency to fib is (or isn’t) affected by race, sex etc, we may have to discount it and assume those exit polls are telling us something useful.

                • Philip Giraldi is ex CIA, one of many gamekeepers turned poacher; sign of our polarised times. He writes of:

                  … sincere but unsuccessful White House attempts over the past four years to withdraw or reduce US troops in armed conflicts. All have been frustrated … What drives the empire’s engine is bipartisan, a shadow government reflective of the real centers of power: the security state and Wall St.

                  He then cites Pepe Escobar, alongside Michael Hudson one of the most astute commentators on the dangers posed by a declining US Empire. Vital stuff, to which Dimitris K adds the equally vital insight that this ‘bipartisan engine’, and US allies/vassals overseas, straddles a serious rift between neocon and neolib wings. They share the goal of shoring up empire and dollar hegemony but are oceans apart on the how. The Biden-Trump play off is part of that bigger picture, though US neocons appear to be abandoning Trump.

  2. You’re right that there’s no mass communist or fascist party in the US. But there once were no Bolsheviks, and once no National Socialists. Short term it may seem right to vote for Biden and the Democrats, but a longer term view leads to two conclusions.

    First, Trump’s reliance on fascist militias and evangelical Christians, shows that the practical and ideological foundations of fascism are being laid. Why? Because capitalism is in crisis and desperate people look for an answer; if they can’t find one on the left, they will on the right.

    Second, and following on, a revolutionary party with a socialist programme, needs to be built. That may seem utopian, or unreasonable, but I think it’s necessary. A vote for Biden is not only a vote for an illusion, but a vote for a system lurching to the right.

    • To be clear Colin, I’m not advocating a vote for Biden. Just exploring the parameters of the situation confronting us.

      Revolutionary Parties can’t be wished into being. I’m struck again and again by the idealism of self avowed materialists who cling to a vanguard party model I once had faith in. (Not saying this applies to you: I don’t know you.) I was an eighties Trotskyist and still have much admiration for the man but he was of a totally different epoch, a totally different situation.

      Marx looked to the industrial proletariat because he saw it as the only class with both motive and means to liberate itself – and humankind – from the totalitarianism which is production for profit. Few Westerners today grasp the extent of this totalitarianism, though the evidence is all out in the open: obscured only by the opiated distractions of market driven narrative management systems.

      Obscured too by our childlike readiness to buy such blather, aided by the illogical but all too human assumption that because the sun shone on us yesterday and the day before, it will continue to do so tomorrow and all the days to come.

      Most of us have known only the peculiar bubble, post 1945, of that ‘caring capitalism’ premised on cold war with the USSR (a push factor) and exploitation of the global south (a pull factor). The first is no more, the second under challenge from China especially. (And even without that challenge, capital does not make concessions purely because it can: it must have a business case for doing so. That business case was the USSR.) Few in the West, nurtured on idealist and simplistic understandings of history, so unused to taking stock with materialist gaze, grasp how profoundly the game has changed. Many on the centre left see ongoing dismantling of the welfare state, fleetingly alluded to by Konstantakopoulos, as a wrong turn by right-wing governments: one to be corrected by returning left reformist ones. We’ve learned nothing from Greece, where a radical left government was humiliated – forced to make crippling attacks on living standards – by World Bank, IMF and an EU/ECB beloved of the more starry eyed Remainers.

      At the same time, decades of globalisation pushed by neoliberal and neocon alike (but in the last analysis driven by capital’s intrinsic tendency to drive down costs through monopoly) have effected a decisive shift in capitalist relations of production. The capital-labour relations Marx and Engels observed, and so profoundly explained, are now overwhelmingly global north-global south relations. Western workers still sell their labour power but within a context of recycling surplus values (in “added value” sectors like advertising, retail and finance) extracted in the sweatshops of the global south; or else one of servicing that extraction (eg in journalism or the armed forces).

      Not of fresh value production. Less and less value is produced by workers in the global north.

      Upshot? Revolution led by Western workers is IMO an idealist pipe dream, if only on grounds of declining economic muscle. And that’s before we even get to the forces it must confront: imperialist states armed to the teeth, their surveillance tools beyond the wildest dreams of 20th century totalitarianisms, their knowhow in counterinsurgency gained in the world’s hellholes from Belfast to Fallujah to Gaza. Rarely if ever do our (i.e. Western) far left sects even mention these things, though they make the twentieth century revolutions seem little more than palace coups.

      Since I have no faith in the so-called parliamentary road to socialism either – that should be clear from this post alone – I’m in quite a bind. As Gramsci observed, when that which must happen cannot happen, then we are in the age of monsters.

      I just speak the truth as best I see it. I’d love to be proved wrong.

      • No-one can prove you wrong Philip and, at present, I’m not in a party, so I’m a flawed advocate. That said history also has something to say. There is no case in which a reformist party has taken hold of the existing state and succeeded in transforming it into an instrument for the betterment of the working class and middle class. As you say the parliamentary road is a dead end, sometimes humiliating (Syriza, Corbyn), sometimes bloody (Chile), often both. Revolution (international) may seem a pipedream now, as it often has, but is, I think, a historical necessity if we are not to resign ourselves to Orwell’s despairing vision of the future as a boot stamping on a human face. Resignation is not characteristic of humanity. Capitalism is continually producing its own gravediggers. What is needed is organisation and leadership

          • PS your additions of Corbyn and Allende to my Syriza example usefully broaden out my theme that left reformism – though it demands our (highly critical) support – has no answer to the depth and severity of capitalism’s accelerating crises.

          • PPS – love the intensity, dignity and truth of your short, simple observation: “Resignation is not [a] characteristic of humanity”.

            • On that note I received this link earlier this afternoon from a comrade:

              Though what ended up as a longer than anticipated Below The line comment I submitted has not yet been published.

  3. Hi Phil. Don’t know if you remember (not personally, of course) the history of the Athenian Empire, aka the Delian League, founded in 478 BC. Personally, I find the example fascinating. It stated off as a more or less voluntary association of states, (NATO 1949) and developed by a process of coercion into an Athens dominated money making machine, (NATO 1990) with internal and external aggression as a by-product.

    I think that a lot of the time we forget how vicious and brutal the pursuit of power can be – it’s not done at present (as far as we know) in the US or UK systems to actually murder your opponents, but it was the done thing in ancient and medieval times. I can’t conceive that the same motivations and incentives don’t apply today.

    The history of Athens and Sparta shows just how these rivalries can play out, and how injurious they can be to both parties. Luckily for China, their history too is full of such examples, and the US (in a general sort of way) just doesn’t do history.

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