Let’s hear it for the Donald. A round of applause for the great educator. In the face of criticism, ridicule and condemnation, the US president crossed the Atlantic and delivered a virtuoso performance. No other occupant of the Oval Office has visited Europe and provided such a clear and unambiguous demonstration of ruthless imperialism laying down its dictates. Not for Trump the hyperbole of a Kennedy claiming to be a Berliner. Not for him the realpolitik-concealing bonhomie of a Clinton, Bush or Obama. Instead, he publicly reminded NATO who is the boss and soon after stripped Britain of its pretensions to be an equal partner. The Emperor may have no manners but boy, can he teach his satraps and their subjects a lesson.
Don’t, however, allow the style to distract from the substance. No matter how amusing it was to hear Trump upbraid Merkel and Macron or watch him use a sleazy tabloid to humiliate Britain’s Tory government, there is no cause for satisfaction. The USA is asserting dominance over its allies at a time of profound global change. Nor should there be any misunderstanding around the president’s position and role. Crude and vulgar he may be but he does, nevertheless, accurately represent a powerful current within capitalist driven financial imperialism of the American model that is now readjusting in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
Following decades of unsustainable, debt-fuelled expansion, the inevitable happened with a global economic crisis heralded by the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Few journalists writing for the privately owned medial have defined the subsequent process as frankly as the Financial Times’ chief economics commentator Martin Wolf. Writing recently in the pink paper he said, “… conservative politicians in the US, UK and Germany successfully reframed the crisis as the result of out-of-control fiscal policy rather than the product of an out-of-control financial sector …” ¹
In other words, the capitalist ruling elite has managed to redefine the narrative of the past decade away from where it really lay, i.e. the failure of neo-liberalism, into one where blame has been offloaded onto the working class. We’re all too familiar with how the story is spun. Right-wing politicians, free market economists and a compliant media claim that wages are uncompetitively high and welfare systems unaffordably generous. Their answer is euphemistically called austerity or more accurately, economic war on workers.
Unsurprisingly this has created a widespread erosion of confidence in the prevailing capitalist economic model. To date there has been a mixed response from working class communities across the globe, with some being misled into searching for answers from far right parties. Nevertheless, pragmatic capitalist ideologues understand the limitations of attempting to win popular support for an economic system that is even harsher than the one that caused disillusionment in the first place. The impact of Jeremy Corbyn’s left social democratic programme in Britain (still among the top 10 wealthiest economies in the world) is evidence that working people are able to distinguish between a pro-working class agenda and that of the grasping elite. In public, the neocons like to proclaim the defeat of communism but in private they are still haunted by its spectre.
In light of this and similar initiatives elsewhere, the global elite is not willing to place all its faith in the power of their media spin-doctors. Invariably they seek to reinforce their position through the deployment of armed might, either directly through open military intervention or indirectly via fifth columnists. In either case the objective is the same, to secure and maintain control in order that their writ runs globally.
In the global arena, the imperialist fulcrum that is the USA seeks to dominate strategic areas by attempting to intimidate some and endorse others. Threats are directed at North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela among others while support is lavished on brutal regimes such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. Moreover, although the hostility (or alternatively support) appears focused, the message is intended to be universal – do what we tell you or suffer.
There is also evidence of this at ground level in the wealthy states albeit applied to match local conditions. The North American economic model is not only failing but is no longer as seemingly attractive as it once was. What was always ruthless has now become overtly authoritarian, just look at the militarisation of US policing. This phenomenon is also becoming more common across Western Europe.
There are far-right governments in several European countries including key areas such as Italy, Hungary and Austria. Nor is the drift towards authoritarianism confined to those states. French riot police attacked demonstrators during the Tour de France days after Macron reluctantly sacked his security chief advisor for assaulting people attending a May Day rally. The UK government has smuggled through a decision to overturn its long held anti-capital punishment position. And locally we have watched the bizarre spectacle of armed police officers deployed to oversee the eviction of a group of young protestors from a squat in Cork city. All of which is designed to create, first a climate of fear and thereafter an acceptance of authoritarian governance.
Let’s look again at the event in Cork, not just because it is in Ireland — but it is also informative. A group of young left-wing activists from the Connolly Youth Movement occupied a building in order to highlight homelessness. The protest was peaceful and nothing at all suggested they would offer any physical resistance never mind resort to firearms. Why on earth was it deemed necessary to dispatch the Garda armed response unit?
The answer is alarmingly simple. The state views any criticism of its wretched housing policy as a challenge to its role as guarantor of capital acquisition and accumulation as practiced within neoliberal parameters. To maintain this position, the citizenry is being conditioned to view anti-capitalist protest as a dangerous and violent threat to society. What happened in Cork, therefore, was a manifestation of a global policy being implemented locally. Incidentally, the Cork eviction happened almost fifty years to the day since a different, permanently armed response unit was dispatched to supervise an eviction in a small Tyrone village called Caledon. Thankfully though, one couldn’t envisage the RUC in today’s Cork?
The point now, however, is to put events in perspective. Increasingly authoritarian responses are not localised aberrations but part of a dangerous trend as capital acts viciously to defend its interests. Our response should be to paraphrase Shelley’s words that we are many – they are few and make this effective through working class unity and organisation. A final point though: let’s not overlook the Trump contribution to our understanding of the phenomenon that is finance imperialism, red in tooth and claw.
- Crash Landing … Martin Wolf, Financial Times (21 July 2018).