NSK’s Apology for Modernity

The NSK State Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale takes an unexpected and brave step, locating the NSK State in Time project in cultural-political context, taking responsibility for the resources IRWIN and other components of NSK have mobilised over the past years and giving response to some of the problematic aspects of the project. There has been a perpetual temptation on the part of some NSK State Citizens to imagine that this State in Time stands completely outside any geographical location. It is, after all, a State in Time as opposed to a State in Space. But this imaginary location of the State – and it must always necessarily be a location of some kind for it to exist – is symbolically anchored in a series of coordinates in which Western Nation States were born and through which Western States have offered themselves, sometimes imposed themselves as models for political organisation across the rest of the globe.

NSK State took shape first in Slovenia during the disintegration of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, harnessing modernist motifs – including the reflexively disruptive notion of the retro-avant-garde – to reconfigure national identity through a fiction, a series of fictions which borrowed from the imagery of statehood to disturb that imagery. How could it not, in that very deconstructive response to the symbolic forms of Western national statehood, borrow from those forms, using the stones from the master’s house and so bit-by-bit reconstructing the architecture of that house in its own image? The political project was the dissolution of the appeal of States in Space, but the conceptual-artistic project entailed, necessarily entailed, a replication of forms of Western modernity, its ideological texture which was named ‘Modernism’. NSK Citizens come from around the globe, yes, but in unequal balance and, whatever the fantasy of its Citizens, with unequal power. This much was clear from the entry into the State of the Nigerian Citizens who had bought passports in the hope that they might thereby gain access to Europe, to the West, even we might say, to taste the fruits of modernity.

IRWIN well know that no ‘metalanguage’ can be spoken, that is, that there is no pure neutral external vantage point from which we might speak about politics or Statecraft. We speak languages, always within them, inhabiting those languages, repeating their terms, implicated in them. We never speak a ‘metalanguage’ which escapes language as such. It is this sense of their being a location inside rather than outside language, the language of modernity, that IRWIN were taking responsibility for when they issued their Apology for Modernity. This is not the empty apology of the West – the standard hypocritical game of the Western States – but an apology with consequences, consequences which we must trace through together with those we make ourselves accountable to, to those who are routinely excluded from the Western version of the modern world. So, when IRWIN call for NSK Citizens to vote for this project, I vote yes.

Ian Parker, NSK Diplomatic Passport-holder

You can read this on the nskstate site and comment on it here

Spartacist League

Silence, Martin Scorsese’s 2016 historical drama, shows the search by Portuguese Jesuit missionaries for Cristóvão Ferreira, a real-life early seventeenth-century missionary who was captured and tortured in Japan and renounced his faith. The film begins with two young priests who hear with disbelief about this apostasy and decide to set off to Japan to find Ferreira, played by Liam Neeson, and discover the truth. The film traces their voyage to Japan and then their encounters with villagers who have converted to Christianity before being tracked down and punished by the authorities. Along the way, the priests learn something about the forms of resistance to local power that Christianity keys into in Japanese villages, and about the local forms of belief that might, they conclude, provide the natives with access to a God that is, perhaps, as authentic as that offered by the Jesuits.

A crisis point of faith and redemption in the film comes when Sebastião Rodrigues (played by Andrew Garfield), a character based on the real-life missionary Giuseppe Chiara, hears the voice of Christ telling him that the apostasy demanded of him by the Samurai is justified, it is Christian in fact, because it will thereby save the lives of others that he hears being tortured for their faith. The film is a complex theological as well as historical depiction of the role that Christianity played when the Jesuits in the seventeenth century functioned as the Pope’s foreign agents determined to install the rule of the Catholic Church around the world.

There is no such crisis of faith on the part of members of the Spartacist League when they arrive on foreign shores. The ‘Spartacist League / Britain’ was formed in 1978, but they no longer even have an independent web presence in Britain. Their publicity operations are handled direct from the US, and this might be because, just as they specialise in provoking splits in rival groups, they are susceptible to divisions and periodic purges in their own ranks. The ‘Sparts’ as they are not affectionately known (and there are audible groans of recognition from the rest of the left when they turn up outside a target meeting to pitch their stall) have their origins inside the US section of the Fourth International in the early 1960s. They are Trotskyists of a peculiar kind, quick to leap to the defence of the Soviet Union and then of China and North Korea. If the big Stalinist states they love to hate are today’s incarnation of the Catholic Church, then the Sparts are bit like modern-day Jesuits. They are willing to defend the indefensible in twisted dialectical moves that would defeat the imagination of modern-day theologians, exporting a weird version of US-American colonial Marxism. They act as the shock troops of their own version of the Vatican to spread the gospel, while bizarrely supporting oppressive states in order, they claim, to defend workers rights.

A quick glance at their newspaper Workers Hammer and the folded over pages of Workers Vanguard they like to carry around to tempt readers with exposés of the crimes of their enemies quickly reveals that their main enemies are actually other groups on the left. They target these rival groups as what they call ‘OROs’ (‘Ostensibly Revolutionary Organisations’) which they aim to destroy and then pick over the remains to feed their own organisation. Their papers were actually the best source of information on rival revolutionary groups for many years (a gap in the market that was then filled by the Communist Party of Great Britain – Provisional Central Committee’s dirt-sheet ‘Weekly Worker’). The groups on the left they most like to bait and break up are sections of rival internationals to their own International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist). For many years, the tagline of their forerunner organisation, ‘The International Spartacist Tendency’, was ‘Reforge the Fourth International’ (a slogan pinched by a member who was expelled and set up his own international later on).

One notorious foray by the Sparts into the heart of the beast was during the disastrous Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 when they recruited a villager in the Birmingham branch of the International Marxist Group (IMG, a forerunner of today’s Socialist Resistance and at that time British Section of the Fourth International) and formed the ‘Communist Faction’ to argue in a not-so-subtly-coded way for their line: Hail Red Army! Their attempts to provoke what they called a ‘debate’ over the question came to a head when a 1980 meeting of the IMG Central Committee called them on this and the valiant comrades happily admitted it, raising their fists and shouting ‘Long Live the International Spartacist Tendency’ before marching out the room.

It is partly because the catch-cry ‘police agent’ has had such a pernicious history in the British far-left (thanks, mainly, to the antics of the Workers Revolutionary Party who went for full-blown conspiracy versions of the accusation to attack other groups) that the left has been reluctant to name the Sparts as such. How could we know? But the softly-muttered consensus among members of most left organisations over the years that have been subjected to Spart tirades is that it is most probable that, if we look at the damage they have wrought among us, they surely must be financed by CIA. They are viewed as evangelists for a parody of Marxism configured as a creed to be spread from the United States, and they have often been lucky not to be strung up; their destructive interventions in left meetings are a wonder to behold (once) and then unbearable, driving away anyone coming close to Marxism for the first time. They are much-disliked, and it is understandable, perhaps, that they feel this distrust by the locals in their bones when they venture overseas. All the more so when they have targetted members of OROs by being very friendly, culturally inappropriate in the British left, with rumours that they then encouraged members to undergo psychoanalysis (a rather strange American pursuit).

The Sparts defend relics of the True Cross, putting the natives in their place when those natives dare to challenge the civilising influence of Marxist theory; one current favourite doing the rounds is their article reproduced from their South African outpost called ‘Against Black Nationalist Slanders of Marx and Engels’. They want to recruit the locals to build their organisation and spread the word, but they have been caught out more than once complaining at the backward nature of peoples who just don’t seem to get the message; in 1997, for example, the Pope of the Spartacists James Robertson was recorded as referring to Albania, the only Muslim country in Europe, as a nation of goat-fuckers. Robertson would be a good role for Liam Neeson or Andrew Garfield if it wasn’t that (unlike those two reactionary turncoats) James has kept the faith.

Actually, comparisons between the Jesuits, a canny crew with a sophisticated range of casuistical justifications for allying with the right or, more often, with the left, and the Sparts whose speciality is hectoring interventions which persuade nobody, are rather inaccurate. That’s what Scorsese’s film, if it really is about the Sparts, gets wrong. He should really have depicted his priests not as sophisticated sensitive souls agonising about the cultural differences that lead other people along their own path to salvation, but as all-too-certain raving evangelists screaming at would-be converts to bludgeon them into submission and obedient membership of their own cult.

This little group is actually nothing more than sectlet with a handful of members, and the resources of their base in the USA are getting overstretched as they continue to shrink. They are still good for a few minutes free entertainment on the fringes of a national demonstration, but you don’t find the Spartacist League around in Britain much beyond London these days, thank God, and their barking missionaries are usually mercifully reduced to silence.

 

This is part of the FIIMG Mapping the British Left through Film project.

Laos

The first advertisement over the walkway from the plane in Vientiane in January 2017 is for apartments in a gated community. Enclosure and privatisation are the watchwords in Laos now. Bounded by Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and China, this land-locked country is clearly open for business, and under intense pressure from its neighbouring states, as it has always been. The capital is Vientiane, a relocation of the administrative centre from the Buddhist temple complex of Luang Prabang, both of which suffered from invasions and levelling of religious sites over past centuries by the Vietnamese, by the Burmese, by the Thais, and then by the French and the United States.

Laos is the size of England but with about a tenth of the population. The seven million people have bravely fought invaders and oppressors, and suffered a history in the last half century or so that saw about 10 percent of the population murdered by the US military. The Lao people fought alongside the Vietnamese in the Indochina War, and then, with the defeat of the US in 1975, the Pathet Lao seized power, ruling the new Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR) through the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) ever since. The history of that bloody struggle is still very much present, still claiming new victims day by day. Laos is, for the size of its population, the most heavily bombed country in the world, an incredible two million tons of bombs were dropped on it by the US between 1964 and 1973. Many of those bombs were targeted at the areas around the Ho Chi Minh Trail which runs down the country next to the Vietnamese border, and the Johnson and Nixon regimes were able to deny involvement for many years while US military bombing runs decimated the population (literally ‘decimated’ it). US planes on missions across Laos would also often offload remaining weapons on their way back to base over other parts of the countryside in order to save themselves the risk of landing with live munitions on board. 30 percent of those bombs dropped on Laos failed to explode and they are now under the surface, often in the form of small cluster bombs the size of a tennis ball, and sometimes as complete bomb casings. There are 300 casualties a year from ‘UXO’, ‘unexploded ordnance’, and an unending task of tracking them down, as portrayed in the Australian documentary ‘Bomb Harvest’.

Alongside Dervla Murphy’s 1999 travelogue, the most detailed history is by Grant Evans in A Short History of Laos: The Land in Between. A revised expanded edition of his 2002 book appeared in 2012 shortly before he died (by which time he had become enrolled as an academic advisor and member of the Lao Academy of Social Sciences), but was published in Thailand, not in Laos. Grant Evans was former editor the Communist Party of Australia newspaper The Tribune, and so makes some astute political comments about the pressures the Pathet Lao were under before they took power in 1975 and then the machinations of the LPRP as it renegotiated its relationship with the Vietnamese Communist Party, the Thai regime and with China. Evans doesn’t shy from the issue of prison camps set up after 1975 nor from the racist revenge treatment of minority communities that were unlucky enough to have members enrolled the US military’s dirty war. These two books by Murphy and Evans provide the primary documentary resources for this account.

From 1978-1979 the government, urged by Soviet advisors (of which there were about 1,500 in the country by that point), undertook a disastrous agricultural collectivisation programme. The programme was cancelled within eighteen months after regional authorities had produced local returns showing that there were nearly 2,500 collectives formed. Part of the problem was the resistance by local farmers, and part of the problem was the bureaucratic nature of the exercise; local officials were keen to comply with the demand, but they did this by simply reporting numbers of collectives rather than actually doing anything with them on the ground. Agriculture and forestry counts for about 43 percent of production, industry and construction about 32 percent, and the growing service sector, which includes tourism, counts for just over 25 percent. The regime has its eyes on foreign investment but is, as always, the junior partner.

For example, the front page story of the 9 January 2017 Vientiane Times was that ‘Four foreign companies ink deals for use of Lao satellite’, but it turns out that China, one of the countries that will lease the satellite, designed, developed and delivered it into orbit. This is actually a Private Finance Initiative in which Laos pays China, which controls the technology, and then China makes use of the product. The same issue of the paper has more glowing reports about energy generation, one of the growing industry sectors in Laos, which aims to complete industrialisation, undergo its own industrial revolution, according to the government, by 2020. Electricity now accounts for over 10 percent of exports in vast hydroelectric projects, including the 2010 Nam Theun 2 dam, coordinated with China and Thailand. Garment output accounts for just over 13 percent, and timber nearly 16 percent. Copper and gold still accounts for over half of exports, and these private companies are the most lucrative legal entities in the country. The timber export figures are particularly unreliable. The army was told to make itself financially sustainable in 1988, and has set up a number of private partnerships, many of which are illegal; there are vast areas of the country that are no-go zones for visitors guarded by army personnel functioning as paramilitary protection forces for logging operations which then smuggle hardwoods out of the country.

This problem of deforestation was documented by the intrepid traveller Dervla Murphy back in 1999 in her book One Foot in Laos; she feared then that the situation was getting worse, and it is. There were parts of the countryside she couldn’t access, prevented by local town chiefs and militia, and she was warned that it was dangerous because of remaining guerrilla operations by disaffected minority ethnic communities, particularly the (H)Mong who are still distrusted because of the role they played during the Indochina war, mobilised by the US forces for counterinsurgency activities. There is some truth that these were a threat, and a prominent right-wing counterinsurgency battalion commander, Vang Pao, active in the country before 1975, was still aiming to overthrow the government at the time Murphy travelled in Laos. There were attacks around that time on government forces; even, in 2003, attacks on tourist buses on Route 13 from the capital to the old capital Luang Prabang, in an attempt to undermine the regime. However, with readjustment of US foreign policy, and Obama’s 2009 declaration that Laos (and Cambodia) was no longer Marxist-Leninist and so no longer a threat to the free world, these remains of the counterinsurgency have pretty well evaporated. Some activists from the émigré (H)Mong community in the US were arrested a few years back for planning a coup in Laos, a message to them as to where US interests now lay. Even Vang Pao saw the writing on the wall, and sent a message from exile on 22 December 2009 that ‘we have to make a change right now’, proposing peace talks. A Lao Foreign affairs spokesperson replied, reminding him that he had been sentenced to death in 1975, and pointed out that any peace talks could only take place after the sentence had been carried out. Vang Pao died in January 2011. There are still old anti-communist voices, of course, and whether the new Trump regime will be more sympathetic to them than Obama remains to be seen, but it seems unlikely.

In fact, it transpired that the main danger to Dervla Murphy during her travels came from state and para-state forces guarding illegal logging operations. Murphy also described the development of new highway schemes that, alongside the dam projects which displace local minority communities and the logging and mining operations, are ‘industrialising’ the countryside in accordance with private profit. Murphy can be accused of romanticising traditional rural life in Laos – a criticism that has been made of her other travel books – but she actually is quite right about the problem with the way this particular kind of industrialisation is taking place. For example, the 13 January 2017 Vientiane Times reported on its front page that the go-ahead had been given by the Vientiane People’s Council for a new highway that will cut along the edge of the city next to the Mekong. The artist impression image of the road shows toll-booths, and even this paper – a private enterprise that effectively functions as a government mouthpiece – reported over the following days the fury of local residents who were being told to give up land in return for a cut of the profits from what was explicitly being sold as a ‘Public Private Partnership’. Vientiane Times copy is vetted and, as Big Brother Mouse, a literacy NGO project points out, all books have to be approved by the government before publication. There are innumerable corporate control mechanisms to manage different civil society organisations that might pose a threat to the regime; Buddhist groups are registered and monitored by the state, for example, and Christian organisations have to operate under the auspices of the ‘Lao Evangelical Church’. There are no democratic institutions. In the 133-member National Assembly elections for the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, voters choose from 190 candidates selected by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. These 190 include four ‘non-party’ candidates from the ‘business sector’.

When the phrase ‘Public Private Partnership’ is used in Laos it is necessary to keep in mind that state sector employment has never been more than 1 percent (whereas it is roughly 23 percent in the UK and 14 percent in the United States). Conscription and the operation of local militia forces organised by the LPRP ensure the state apparatus runs without having actually to employ many people. What might easily be assumed to be state concerns, such as the ubiquitous outlets for ‘Beer Lao’, a quite nice lager made from rice, are actually all private; Beer Lao is made by Carlsberg, and the nearest competitor, pissy ‘Namkhong’, is made by Heineken.

The regime moved very rapidly after the first glimmerings of Glasnost, faster than many other regimes in the Soviet sphere of influence and behind the ‘Bamboo Curtain’. Explicit private finance initiatives were already in place in 1986 with the announcement of the ‘New Economic Mechanism’ – the final abandonment of any claim to be building a socialist or, still less, communist country – and in 1988 Laos opened up to foreign investors, shifting its focus from the Soviet Bloc to Thailand and then to capitalist China. This also meant loosening ties with Hanoi, and the remaining 45,000 Vietnamese combat troops were withdrawn from the country between 1988 and 1989. The LPDR withdrew support for the Thai Communist Party, hinted at repatriation deals of émigré activists with Bangkok, and this did the trick in facilitating new economic ties to the south, to Thailand. These possible extradition arrangements now extend to activists with the Thai Red Shirt movement. After shopping their old comrades in Thailand, the way was also open for deals with China (over extraction mining and hydroelectric dams). China repatriated 3000 Lao in 1997 that had been retained up to then as potential guerrilla irritants to the regime were they to be needed, and Jiang Zemin visited Vientiane in 2000, the first state visit by a Chinese premier to the country. A train-line between Vientiane and the Chinese border is on the books, and land enclosures have begun to seal areas of land and remove local inhabitants to make way for it. Photo-shoots of trade deals on the LPDR websites now show images of pudgy Lao government ministers in crumpled suits rather awkwardly shaking hands with their sleeker flashily-dressed Chinese counterparts.

There is a growing new middle class that races around in massive shaded-glass SUVs and which is linked to and protected by the regime. For example, the holiday town of Vang Vieng is popular not only with Australian, European and US back-packers but also with the wealthy kids of the apparatchiks in the capital. Most of the hotels are ranged along the right bank of the Nam Song river, but the left bank has become site over the last few years for unofficial restaurant sites which blare out heavy beat music through the night. The right-bank hotel owners petitioned the local mayor, who sent a letter of protest to the regional authorities to be forwarded to the capital. The left-bank rave sites were driving away guests unable to sleep through the noise, ruining their business, but the hotel managers have no recourse to the state. The cannot ask the local police, they said, because the police never act without a bribe, and in this case the police are reluctant to take action against the left-bank noise-makers because they are the sons and daughters of wealthy families in the capital linked to the regime.

The opening up of Laos for business, and correlative abandonment of any pretence of its aim to build a socialist society free of imperialism, has also been accompanied by the return of old ideological forms. For example, after 1975 there was an attempt to institute new forms of egalitarian nominations of identity. In place of the elaborate speech codes which respected and reproduced class and caste hierarchies, the regime promoted the use of ‘sahai’ (or ‘comrade’) as a form of address. A businessman back visiting Laos who had fled the country for the US in 1975, complained, while travelling on the bus from Vang Vieng to Vientiane, that things had changed in the country under the new regime, even that the language had changed so much that, he said, about seventy percent of it was now unrecognisable to him. What had been lost, he said, was the ‘depth’ of the old language, by which he meant that the markers of respect and contempt so that you know who you are speaking to in the chain of command weren’t now present in everyday speech. Even so, ‘sahai’ form has all but disappeared now, with ‘than’ (or ‘sir’) making a comeback, and also the ‘nop’ (the respectful bow of the head to superiors) returning.

Kaysone Phomvihane, leader of the Pathet Lao, died in 1992, and there were attempts after 1995 to build a personality cult around his image, but these attempts have failed. Memorial sites around towns with busts of Kaysone (busts manufactured in North Korea) have fallen into disrepair. It has been other statues of leaders that have been venerated with offerings of flowers on significant anniversaries instead, leaders like the historical royal personages Fa Ngum and Chao Anou, but also the more recent figure Prince Souphanuvong who worked actively with the Pathet Lao against the US but who marks some kind of lineage with the old monarchy deposed in 1975. Wealthy figures from the regime will now even appear in public as benefactors for hospitals or youth centres, making donations to good causes, symbolically re-enacting the monarchical forms they were supposed to have abolished.

A ceremony in December 2002 for the erection of a statue of King Fa Ngum (1316-1374) was attended by state officials, who clarified that this was not intended to signify, they said, ‘the revival of the monarchy’. Nevertheless, this event and the denial itself does indicate something of the way the regime is now stabilising itself. This stabilisation also entails recomposing relationships between the nation state and religion. Laos is a Buddhist country, but the monarchy was Hindu, with strong traces of Hindu imagery in Lao Buddhist temples. Now, if a new monarchical regime of any kind is to re-emerge it will be on the basis of a new compact with the Buddhists. The Pathet Lao and then the LPRP directing the LPDR had historically strong connections with the Vietnamese, with many inter-marriages in the course of the anti-colonial struggle up to 1975. That too is changing. Today it is rare to find leading figures in the party or state apparatus with Vietnamese partners, and there are rumours that it is difficult to obtain a powerful position in the economy or government if you are not ‘pure Lao’. (H)Mong youth in a literacy class in Luang Prabang complained of their marginalisation by the Lao. The Lao youth who participated in discussion wore full orange Buddhist robe.

There has been opposition to the regime since 1975, and not only from the disgruntled remains of the US occupation forces (of Vang Pao and the like). A ‘Social Democrat Club’ in Vientiane was formed and then rapidly suppressed in 1990. The Vice-Minister for Science and Technology, Thongsouk Saisankhi, complained that the LPDR was a ‘communist monarchy’ – a telling diagnosis of the problem – and called for a multiparty system. He was arrested and died in prison in 1998. In 1999 there were student protests in Vientiane which were violently suppressed. Since then, and with the fading of insurgent activities by the (H)Mong and other ‘tribal’ peoples, opposition has tended to shift to the NGO sector, to a quieter practical building of alternatives around questions of ecological sustainability and food security. But even these are dealt with viciously when they start to intrude on interests of corrupt private-state enterprises. For example, in 2012 environmental activists Sombath Somphone was abducted on a street in Vientiane, and hasn’t been seen since. His work in the Participatory Development Training Center that he founded continues. The complaints about his disappearance are bitter but cautious. Sombath’s wife Shui-Meng Ng, who still directs the project and works in the Saoban craft shop in Vientiane, emphasises that the work was not designed to be a critique of the regime but was on the basis of peaceful engagement with community issues. Dervla Murphy makes the interesting claim, in some of the later interviews in One Foot in Laos, that the matriarchal character of Lao culture has meant that while the male leadership of the state has collaborated with big business, the development of alternatives more in line with the original collectivist ethos of the Pathet Lao – a communist anti-imperialist and environmental ethos – is kept alive by the women in the apparatus organised through the Lao Women’s Union. Murphy’s book provides a more ecological and feminist account than Evans’ Short History of Laos, a good counterpoint to it.

The LPDR state flag (a white circle on a blue central blue strip edged top and bottom with red) is often accompanied by the LPRP (Pathet Lao) red flag with a yellow hammer and sickle emblazoned on it. So, there are symbols of the old socialism around aplenty, but little if nothing of the practice. The suggestion that Laos is a ‘deformed workers state’ or, more bizarrely, that, with China, Cambodia and Vietnam, it is one of four ‘socialist’ countries in the region is laughable, insulting to the people of Laos as well as to any historical political analysis of what is actually the case, damning with faint praise. One of the hotel managers in Vang Vieng shrugged hopelessly at the corruption of the local police apparatus and the futile petitioning for something to be done to protect their businesses. ‘Nothing can be done’, he said, we can only wait. ‘Well, you know’, he said, ‘it is a communist state’. Well, no, it is not. Laos is a capitalist country, a closed state locked into neoliberalism. There is, for sure, a history of struggle for communism here, but also a history of tragic failure, failure of a party that modelled itself on the Stalinist communist parties of the Soviet Union and China, and failure in a context of pressure that would have buckled even the most democratic and revolutionary of leaderships.

 

This is one of the ‘Socialisms‘ FIIMG series of articles

 

 

Trump: Ten brief notes

This is a perfect storm and perfect scene for the repetition of mistakes on the left as we scrabble around for good news to salvage from disaster. Here are ten points which sift through some of the reactions from the left, some of them quite ridiculous, and try to orient us to a better understanding of what has happened. Trigger warning: contradictions ahead.

  1. Trump is a cultural phenomenon. The culture that breeds it includes The Apprentice, the US TV show that Trump starred in from 2004. This glorification of ‘business success’ incites the audience to admire a wealthy bully who stands as an exemplar of what it is to have made it as an individual in US America, and what that requires in terms of competition and humiliation. Trump channels a greedy desire for victory over others and vicarious participation in a corrupt cynical politics that is predicated on making money. Trump needed pots of money to stand and win in this election, but, more than that, he needed a cultural assumption that the accumulation of money is a good as such.
  2. His victory reinforces existing institutional arrangements. The intervention of FBI Director James B Comey in the crucial final days of the vote indicates that the central power structures of the United States have been fermenting and crystallising for some time around a neo-conservative agenda. The claim that Trump’s power base lies in the redneck and poor and unemployed communities distracts attention from where the real danger lies. This is something that Clinton could not counter, because she herself was part of that same power structure which relies on and admires a central elite core with wealth backed by the threat of violence. The election of Trump represents a shift inside the apparatus, not so much a revolt against it.
  3. There is an invisible majority that is not for Trump. The popular vote for Clinton was over a million votes more than what Trump got. The electoral apparatus – funnelling of the vote in the primaries through the two major parties and then the count of the final vote through the colleges – guarantees a disenfranchisement of the poorest communities. This is a version of the ‘first past the post system’ in which key power brokers are able to facilitate a cascade effect which then overrides the popular vote. Trump has a mandate of about a quarter of the US American electorate, that is, an electorate which already excludes millions more people.
  4. There was a significant vote against Clinton and the State. Clinton did not deserve the popular vote that she got, and the distribution of the vote as it was – with about fifty percent of the electorate not voting – show that it was not so much that Trump won, but that Clinton lost this election. There was an astonishingly lower proportion of the vote among the Black and Latino communities, much lower than Obama got in the last election, and much much lower that Obama got the first time round. Some of those who voted for Trump must also be included in the revulsion against Clinton, though this was mistakenly directed at the ‘emails’ rather than her collusion in the coup in Honduras, for example. This means taking care not to demonise all those who voted for Trump.
  5. There was an alternative to two-party rule. There were a number of alternatives which included, if we disregard the libertarian right which was able to attract some of the protest votes, the Green Party which, with Jill Stein as candidate, was able to garner over a million votes, that is over double what the Greens got last time round, and, of course, there was Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders could have beaten Trump, and Sanders standing aside and handing over some of his votes and all of his energy to Clinton was a disastrous mistake. Trump would not have been loyal to the Republicans if he had failed to win their nomination, and Sanders should not have been loyal to the Democrats.
  6. Trump is worse than Clinton. But there is a huge debate over what exactly this banal statement actually means; whether it means that Trump is a Le Pen figure, a fascist, which might mean that the appropriate slogan should have been one borrowed from France ‘Votez l’escroc, pas facho’ (vote for the swindler, not the fascist). No, that kind of approach was part of the corralling of the anti-capitalist (and anti-racist and progressive ecological vote) into the Clinton campaign, and it actually demobilised people. The momentum of the Sanders campaign needed to be kept going throughout as an alternative, to show that resistance was possible, and to build a movement against Trump and what he represents.
  7. Trump is not a fascist. He is a populist, which is not to say that fascism itself does not play the populist game. He is a businessmen well used to starting with an extreme opening gambit and then negotiating down to realistic goals. In the first days he, quite typically for a neoliberal pragmatist, back-peddled on his opposition to ‘Obama-care’, on the building of the wall (it could be a fence in parts, he said, which it already is), on the number of migrants he planned to expel, and denied that he planned to register Muslims. But this is not reason to breathe a sigh of relief, for the destruction of health provision and racist measures will be implemented, but more ‘efficiently’, with the blessing of the Republicans. This will also include some bitter disappointments for trans activists who did support him. He reassured his allies in NATO that he would defend them. This is business, big business, though not exactly ‘business as usual’.
  8. This is a victory for racists. It is not business as usual because it is dripping poison into political debate, which is evident in the appointment of Breitbart chief Steve Bannon, a virulent antisemite and champion of white nationalism as a policy advisor. The appointment is symbolic, and the license for hate that Trump is willing to give to those who have been loyal to him during the campaign entails a particularly vicious form of symbolic violence. This is the symbolic violence of those who are determined to shift the debate onto their terrain so that objections to racism and sexism are to be viewed as ‘political correctness’. Racism is part of the equation which runs alongside sexism – the attack on abortion rights being one indication of this – and contempt for environmental concerns. Trump is not fascist, but he opens the way to fascism.
  9. Trump is now a Republican politician, with all that entails for foreign policy. The Democrats have historically been less protectionist than Republican administrations, and more interventionist. The two aspects go hand in hand, and this is what is behind the threat by Trump to make the NATO allies pay. Arms industry shares soared the day after the election, and this is because Trump is more than happy to tie support for dictatorships abroad with arms sales. It is when they pay, when it suits US-American big business interests, and when they put the money up front, that the new administration will back them up, against whatever enemies they choose, external or internal.
  10. This election is disaster not only inside the United States, but also globally. It signals a shift of foreign policy which, while admittedly less interventionist directly, will be willing to reinforce the power of dictators willing to do business with the US. That includes Putin, with applause in the Duma at the results, and, of course, Assad, for whom this is a green light to continue with his deadly assault on the left opposition to his regime, and it includes Saudi Arabia who will be the linchpins of a ‘Sunni triangle’ alliance with the murderous regimes of Egypt and Turkey, and China, whose praise for Trump has been muted as yet, but whose regime will also benefit. Antisemitism at home goes hand in hand with Christian Zionist support for Israel.

This all means that it is a grotesque mistake to see his election as a ‘chance of a lifetime’, as some on the left saw Brexit, or as an ‘opportunity’ for change in which the working class that supposedly supported Trump will supposedly abandon him when he does not deliver. No, this is, rather, as Trump himself declared, ‘Brexit, plus plus plus’, and is of a piece with a shift to the right globally, one which will encourage and strengthen the right in every single country. Yes, we do hope for opportunities in the midst of this new contradictory reality, but these will have to be built from the base up, inside the US and internationally.

These notes were prepared for Left Unity Manchester, and amended following a very useful discussion at a meeting, thanks to all those who participated, agreed, disagreed, and sharpened some of these points.

Justice: In Rojava

This keyword was one of fifty explored and put to work on this site. The notes on the keywords are revised and collected together in Revolutionary Keywords for a New Left, which includes a concluding essay placing them in historical context. The book includes a detailed reading list with web-links so you can more easily follow the links online, a list which is available here.

Postcolonial: Malta’s Knowledge Economy

This keyword was one of fifty explored and put to work on this site. The notes on the keywords are revised and collected together in Revolutionary Keywords for a New Left, which includes a concluding essay placing them in historical context. The book includes a detailed reading list with web-links so you can more easily follow the links online, a list which is available here.

Ecosocialism: Meltdown in Syria

This keyword was one of fifty explored and put to work on this site. The notes on the keywords are revised and collected together in Revolutionary Keywords for a New Left, which includes a concluding essay placing them in historical context. The book includes a detailed reading list with web-links so you can more easily follow the links online, a list which is available here.