Sunday, March 27, 2016

Taxation: make the rich pay….something!

Nick G.

The Australian Tax Office, under increasing pressure from community groups and unions to shed light on tax evasion by the corporate sector, has once again published data on companies privately owned in Australia.

This complements data published last year on publicly-listed companies (those that issue shares and are listed on the Australian Stock Exchange).  (For our earlier comment, see: )

A similar list was published in 2015 for the 2012-13 tax year, showing that one in five private companies with an income of over $100 million paid no tax.

This led to a huge outcry against corporate tax evasion and led the government, with Greens support, to change the criterion for inclusion on the list from an income of over $100m to an income of over $200m.  This shielded some 500-600 companies from public scrutiny in the latest round and thus considerably understates the avoidance in the corporate sector.  Even so, 98 of the top 321 private companies are now known to have paid no tax in 2013-14.

The biggest revenue earner not to pay tax was West Australian grain handling cooperative 
CBH, which paid no company tax in 2013-14 on more than $3.4 billion in revenue.

Among the other largest private companies that paid no tax in 2013–14 were:

           Pratt Consolidated Holdings, despite more than $2.5 billion in revenue;
           Thorney Investments, run by Richard Pratt's son-in-law Alex Waislitz, which earned $430 million in revenue;
           Hoyts, which had $417 million in gross earnings;
           McDonald's Asia-Pacific Consortium (MAC), the global supplier of the fast food outlet's beef, which had $478 million in revenue.

Of the remainder, most made use of legislative loopholes to avoid paying their full tax liability.
With a corporate tax rate of 30%, many paid only a fraction of that amount.  Examples include:

           Harry Triguboff's Meriton, which paid almost $76 million in company tax from $1.19 billion in revenue;
           Perron Investments, owned by Western Australian property and automotive tycoon Stan Perron, which paid $47 million from $484 million in revenue;
           Linfox, owned by trucking magnate Lindsay Fox, which paid nearly $34 million from $2.02 billion in gross earnings.

The ATO, which comes down hard on any wage-earner who tries to avoid paying tax, warned that “not paying tax does not equate to tax avoidance” and that “wealthy Australians made a substantial contribution to the nation’s economy”.

We say that big corporations avoiding their responsibility to pay tax epitomise the selfishness and greed of the capitalist system.

We say that big corporations avoiding their responsibility to pay tax are thieves stealing from social funds for education, health and social welfare services.

We say that big corporations avoiding their responsibility to pay tax will lead more and more Australians to struggle for anti-imperialist independence and socialism.

Years ago our party advanced the tactical slogan “Make the Rich Pay”.  It was based on the premise that the rich weren’t paying enough for the social programs of the people.  It now transpires that the rich constantly strive, and often successfully, to pay nothing at all.
As an immediate demand, “Make the Rich Pay….something, anything” still resonates.
However, the days when we continue to tolerate the rich at all are drawing to a close.
The enormous wealth that the Australian people generate is wasted on the big local and foreign corporations.

It is wasted on the 1% of high net worth (investable assets of at least $US1 million) and ultra-high net worth (investable assets of at least $US50 million) individuals, of whom Australia has more than its share.

It is wasted by being diverted from production to satisfy basic needs to speculation in the great global financial casino.

In time, we will transition from “Make the Rich Pay” to “Overthrow the 1% and organise and run the place ourselves”!

Australian Wine Industry and Pinstripe Suits

Ned K.

The Weekend Australian Easter edition in the Business Review contained a revealing article about the deceptive marketing ploys of multinational owned wineries in Australia.

Many of the well-known wine brands such as Hardy’s, Grant Burge and Jacobs Creek still carry their historic brand names of the families that started wineries as local capitalists as far back as the mid-1800s. The article in the Australian noted that behind these brand names lie multinational corporations and overseas owned private equity companies. Grant Burge - owned by Accolade Wines; Hardy’s and Berri Estate - owned by US owned Treasury Wine Estate; Jacob's Creek - owned by French multinational Pernod Ricard. Even the famous Penfolds Grange brand is owned by a multinational corporation - Treasury Wine Estate. These corporations also own big vineyards and in some cases such as Woolworths' owned Cellarmasters and Vinpac the wine distribution networks as well.

As the article in the Australian says:  "You couldn't get more different than private equity and family ownership, but of course brands like Hardy’s, Grant Burge and the others prefer to have old time black and white pictures of families in front of 19th century homesteads on their marketing paraphernalia than images of merchant bankers in pinstripe suits."

It is the multinationals in the wine industry that are leading the charge to reduce penalty rates and expand the span of ordinary hours of all wine industry workers from the vineyards through to the meet and greet cellar door sales staff. They are using the "award review" process under Fair Work Commission to do this.

Resistance from National Capitalists

There are still some Australian owned wineries of considerable size that are holding out and speaking up against the invasion of Australia's wine regions by the multinationals. Yalumba in the Barossa Valley in SA, owned by the Hill Smith family for generation, is leading a backlash from Australian family owned wineries against the multinationals presenting as family owned businesses. Robert Hill Smith, the current managing director of Yalumba says pointedly:  "We should all work to end this advertising folly being foisted on the unsuspecting by the board rooms of multinationals."

Hill Smith stays one short of condemning the export of profits by multinationals to the pinstripe suit brigades of New York, Paris or London (or in the near future Beijing?) but the very fact that he has gone public on this issue indicates that even large Australian owned wineries are struggling to survive the multinationals’ voracious appetite for market control of the key wine industry regions of Australia.

What about the Wine Industry Workers?

The multinational owned wineries are no friend of the worker nor local communities. Profit maximization is their aim behind the facade of presenting as still a local family owned business. Hence Accolade closed the original Hardy’s winery at Reynella, south of Adelaide, putting hundreds out of work. Pernod Ricard closed bottling plants and shipped bulk wine in huge bladders to be bottled overseas, putting hundreds out of work. Their workers still receive relatively high wages compared to workers in the same regions in small wineries. However this is not through the goodwill of the multinationals but rather a reflection of the collective strength of the workers and the huge surplus value produced by each worker. The higher wages of existing workers in the multinational owned wineries are "subsidised" by the loss of jobs in plants they deem "economically unviable" and by screwing down the price for grapes from local grape growers. 

You might say, "But what about companies like Yalumba? They exploit their workers for profit too don't they?" Yes they do although the wages and conditions in the larger locally owned wineries like Yalumba are on a par with those of the multinationals even though the surplus value generated by the likes of Yalumba workers is probably less.

An Opportunity for Shorten - Will He Seize the Time?

The current situation does gives rise to the possibility of a temporary identity of interests between wine industry workers, local communities and some of the decreasing number of large privately owned wineries.

If Bill Shorten was genuine about his recent branding of the Turnbull Government as the party of the multinationals and trying to use this as a point of difference for swinging voters, he could do no worse than visit places like Yalumba, talk to the owners and workers and come up with a policy of determination to take back the wine industry in to the hands of the local communities who produce the product!

It's Terrible or It's Fine?

Ned K.

Malcolm Turnbull said earlier this year that there was never a more exciting or never a better time to be an Australian. I would have to agree with him and go one further by saying that there was never a better time to be (as Marx saw himself) a "citizen of the world".

Turnbull's statement refers to his enthusiasm for Australia's place in the world of an ever more unpredictable 'casino capitalism', epitomised by free trade agreements and rapidly changing technologies. However it is this break-neck speed of change within capitalism world-wide that is giving rise to rising struggle of the peoples of the world which makes it such an exciting time to be an Australian and citizen of the world.

While the capitalist press focuses on the undeniable horrors of reactionary terrorist acts of violence in Europe and other parts of the world, their real fear is the less reported mass movements and outbreaks of struggle against world capitalism otherwise known as imperialism. For example despite a repressive regime, thousands of taxi drivers in Djakarta in Indonesia shut down the whole city to demand government action for job security as Uber hits Indonesia. In India there have been massive strikes against privatization. In Bangladesh textile workers in their hundreds of thousands have taken action against exploitation by multinational textile chains.

Fight For $15 Campaign

What is of equal significance is the hundreds of thousands of hospitality workers in the "belly of the beast" (the USA) who have participated in the FIGHT FOR $15 campaign. This campaign has not been a traditional union campaign although traditional union organisations have been part of it. Cafe and restaurant workers across many states of the USA have taken strike action to build momentum for a lift in the minimum wage from about $7.50 per hour to $15 per hour. Workers have taken strike action on different days in different states even though they know there has been a strong chance they would get fired for doing so. In some states the workers have had immediate surrender from employers with increases in their minimum wages. In other states the strikes have not moved employers at all, but overall workers have won the argument on income inequality and organised with new networks developing within communities and across state boundaries. The level of support for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party presidential nominations is a symptom of a growing social movement amongst millions of the lowest paid workers in the country.

It is this upsurge of struggle which prompted one right wing think tank to conduct a survey for its corporate members to find out more about the political views of young people under 30 years of age. One of the questions was whether they thought capitalism or socialism was more humane. 60% said socialism was more humane which alarmed the right wing think tank as its previous mantra was that research showed socialism was dead as an idea amongst young people. Equally significant was that 40% of young people saw themselves as citizens of the world first, citizens of a country second. This may reflect the level of immigrants in the survey or more likely that young people generally see themselves as living in an interconnected world in all sorts of ways.

It's Terrible Or It's Fine?

Some people who consider themselves as progressive thinkers are sceptical about these new developments because they are not translating quickly into traditional union members and therefore question the sustainability of their collective power on which a movement for fundamental social change can be built. Perhaps the answer to this concern is similar to what happened in China in the 1920s when Mao observed and reported on a Peasant Movement in Hunan province. He said of this movement: 

"The present upsurge of the peasant movement is a colossal event....Every revolutionary party and every revolutionary comrade will be put to the test, to be accepted or rejected as they decide. There are three alternatives. To march at their head and lead them? To trail behind them gesticulating and criticizing? Or to stand in their way and oppose them? Every Chinese is free to choose, but events will force you to make the choice quickly."

In Australia, the conditions for workers in low paid, precarious work industries are not as acute as in the USA due to the higher minimum wage of about $17 per hour compared with the $7.50 in the USA.

However the current attack on weekend penalty rates combined with job losses in previously more stable employment areas of manufacturing and instability of hours of work are seeing the campaigns to save weekend penalty rates and for the ACTU’s Building a Better Future campaign resonating with more and more workers. The future is bright!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Irish Liberation Struggle: some issues arising

Josh S.

2016 is the100th anniversary of the Irish Easter rebellion.

It is timely to explore some of the lessons and implications of the Irish revolt and subsequent liberation struggle and independence negotiations

The Irish independence movement always lacked a clear political framework or direction. Despite the ruthless, callous, extreme economic exploitation of Ireland for centuries by British imperialism and its local partners, the struggle focused on political independence, and religious and cultural freedom, with little or no demand for economic redistribution of land and wealth, and the transfer of political power to the people at large.

A revolutionary ideological framework is essential

The lack of a clear revolutionary ideological framework allowed the leadership of the movement and its array of organisations to comprise a hodgepodge of people of widely differing class interests, ideologies, and abilities. There were insufficient reference points or framework to guide and critique the leaders.

Debates, disagreements and struggles among the leaders were often conducted on the basis of personal interests and reputations; some strove for unity at any cost when confrontation against opportunism was required, while others conducted petty disputes, vendettas and power grabs.

This lack of a framework and of an explicit policy of ideological struggle and principled criticism and self-criticism in the movement overall, and its leadership in particular, came to a head during the peace negotiations in 1921.

De Valera, the recognised political leader and president of the self-proclaimed independent government of Ireland, refused to attend the negotiations in London, knowing that difficult compromises would be required. He claimed that he “needed to keep the Head of State and the symbol (of the republic i.e. himself) untouched” and “not compromised by any arrangements which it might be necessary for the plenipotentiaries (i.e. the negotiators) to make”.  Instead, he insisted that Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith go to London, with some others who would provide him with a channel of constant information. He tried both to limit the negotiating team's scope for negotiation, and, at the same time, wash his hands of any dirty details.

When the negotiators returned with the agreement, he complained that it had not been submitted to him personally before signing. He condemned it publicly and led the campaign against it, despite clear overwhelming support for the treaty from the population, leading to civil war.

De Valera's crass left opportunism through the whole process, claiming leadership but ducking the hard decisions required in negotiations, trying to control the process but ducking responsibility, was not challenged on an ideological or even ethical basis. He was allowed to get away with such behaviour because of his personal power and reputation.  Similarly, several years  earlier,  he unilaterally decided to go to America for 18 months during the political and military struggle, but still proclaimed his position as the leader of the republican movement.

At one point, the nominal Minister of Defence in the self-proclaimed Irish provisional government, Cathal Brugha, (nominal because he did virtually nothing in that role but was allowed to continue to hold the position), in response to the murderous British actions in Ireland, ordered a campaign of terror in Great Britain, involving the assassination of British Cabinet ministers and machine gun attacks on cinema queues. His order was countermanded by the Chief of Staff of the IRA. These territorial disputes and political/personal struggles and enmities continued unaddressed and unresolved. There was no culture of, or structure for, ideological struggle to address such issues and thus drive the organisation(s) forward.

Leadership and accountability

The lesson is that revolutionary organisations require an understanding of the need for inner-party democracy that enables the membership to supervise the leadership and hold it accountable, and also for a culture, both formal and real, of scrutiny and positive criticism, holding leaders to the highest standards.

There was often a lack of discipline and self-discipline, even among the Irish military organisations. Many survived often on luck. Michael Collins himself, the most wanted man by the British, and a brilliant strategist and military leader, usually displayed great care and attention to detail, but at other times, moved around in a rather cavalier fashion. He was once caught in a car in a British roadblock with his three main spies inside the British security apparatus, and only escaped through luck.  He was killed in the end after refusing to accept advice about his own security.

In the Irish struggle, the political and military organisations and leaderships were not well-coordinated, and often out of sync. Collins' strategy of neutralising the British ruling apparatus by destroying its intelligence agents and networks, (removing its eyes and ears so that it blundered around blindly), as well as conducting a guerrilla campaign against the British military, was very successful. He led the development of a guerrilla strategy that superseded the explicitly romantic Irish tradition of “an uprising every generation”; these had always been courageous but desperate attacks, or defences of fixed positions, against a vastly stronger opponent, and doomed to failure.

However, the guerrilla strategy was not part of an overall political strategy that defined and pursued an economic and political program that would rally the Irish people, and create a set of policies and a structure to displace and replace the British structures. The military campaign paralysed and destroyed the British military presence in several counties, but there was no replacement revolutionary structure.

Negotiations and their lessons

The experience of the peace negotiations in 1921 provides some salutary lessons.

The movement needed to be fully committed to the conduct of negotiations. Instead it allowed DeValera and others to pretend to lead them from afar while distancing themselves from the realities and difficult decisions.

The movement needed a clear set of objectives and agreed strategies before entering negotiations. Only on that basis could decisions be made and the possibilities and outcomes evaluated.

Leaders must have the courage to make tough decisions, including compromises when necessary. Close relations with the membership and the population need to be maintained, so that the movement's capacity and extant and potential strength can be accurately gauged. The Irish negotiating team was too isolated in London, away from the rank-and-file.

The negotiating team was not a united team.  Some members were excluded from many meetings; too many one-on-one meetings were held with the likes of the wily, duplicitous, vastly experienced British Prime Minister, Lloyd George.

There must be explicit, formal channels of communication with the other side and back to the revolutionary organisation. All the negotiating team has to be fully involved and informed, especially when dealing with a vastly more experienced, devious and powerful opponent such as British imperialism.

The Irish were correct in insisting that Arthur Griffith be released from jail if he were to participate in the negotiations. Leaders in jail should never be part of a negotiating team because they are in such a position of weakness and isolation from the organisation and masses. (See John Pilger “Freedom Next time” pp 290-298, for an account of how the South African government duchessed and manipulated the jailed Nelson Mandela in the negotiations to end apartheid. The Indonesian government moved Xanana Gusmao to a villa so that he could participate in the negotiations for a referendum in East Timor – he advocated disarmament and a ceasefire.)

Revolutionary organisations and their negotiating teams need always to be prepared for the failure or breakdown of negotiations As the Irish negotiations dragged on, Collins and at least some of his team were worn down. As happens frequently in trade union campaigns and negotiations, the objective can be diluted to just “getting an agreement” rather than the requirement of a good agreement. Collins said “... it would be a discredit to us all if  after coming together in conference we did not manage to agree”.

Again, clear objectives, established beforehand, are required.

The British constantly prepared for the failure of the negotiations. Collins knew that they were collecting intelligence about identities and locations of the Irish freedom fighters during the ceasefire so that they could smash the IRA if the war resumed. Revolutionary organisations should never agree to disarm, and should maintain their clandestine organisations, even while ceasefires and negotiations are occurring.

James Connolly made every effort in this complex and fluid situation to bring the republican movement closer to a socialist objective.  Connolly advocated a Marxist perspective but did not really move beyond a syndicalist understanding of the state and revolution. The British imperialists reserved a special hatred for Connolly, and in the aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising, took this mortally wounded comrade to his execution ground on a stretcher, and shot him strapped to a chair as his injuries prevented him from standing.

Like all experiences, the long, brave struggle of the Irish people for independence is deserving of great respect, and also of careful candid analysis for lessons that can be learned to enrich the knowledge of the whole revolutionary movement.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Education corporations 'want to mine our kids for profit' says campaigner

Louisa L.

“Global capital is on the move and it wants to take over education,” Angelo Gavrielatos, Project Director with Education International (EI), the peak body of the world's teacher unions, told the state Council of the NSW Teachers Federation on March 12.

Around the world they are “exploiting kids, exploiting education and, worst of all, reducing kids to an economic unit as part of their ambition to take over the world of education,” he said.

“Globally education at present is valued at approximately 4.5-5 trillion dollars and it's estimated that in 2016 it will be valued about 6-7 trillion because of the dramatically growing markets of Brazil, India, China and parts of Africa.

According to Mr Gavrielatos, “At this stage global capital has only capitalised a very small fraction of that”, but they want this “most lucrative market” as other sectors of profit making decline. He says they see children as a “sustainable resource” for profit.

Capital flows automatically to the most profitable sectors of the economy. Where once education and the rest of the service sector were seen as costs to be shouldered by the public through governments, now a privatised public sector is the last remaining profit bonanza.

“They want to mine our kids to increase their profit margins. This is manifesting itself in so many grotesque ways around the world,” Mr Gavrielatos stated.

'Innovation' = two weeks' training, plus scripted curriculum

Mr Gavrielatos said global corporations have made their biggest gains, in places like Africa, where legislative frameworks are weak.

“I've just come back from Kenya, Ghana and Liberia.  We are seeing the promotion of what are called low cost (there's nothing low cost about them!) for-profit chains of schools, sponsored by global capital, venture capitalists, that are trying to take over education in those countries.” 
Mr Gavrielatos said Pearson Education, a former textbook company, now giant British-based edu-corporation is behind many of these companies. 

“Whether it's Bridge International Academies that's operating in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, or Omega  chains in Ghana, they are behind these operations ripping off parents, ripping off kids. 

“These chains of schools operate on a business plan where they aim to maximise profits. They do that by employing high school graduates, give them two weeks training, give them a tablet and a scripted curriculum which they read word for word. That's the quality of 'education'.

“When we were involved in campaigns exposing that… in Kenya a few weeks ago, for example,  we were accused of attacking the very essence of the 'innovative' nature of these companies.

“Delivering a scripted curriculum. But not to their own kids! And what we've been saying around the world, to ministers, governments, policy-makers, venture capitalists... until the moment you're prepared to volunteer your own kid, don't expect that should be okay for everyone else's kids.”
Citizens or venture capitalists?

“Last year in Bogota Colombia, Pearson  called a meeting of venture capitalists interested in exploiting educational opportunities in Latin America.

“In June will be the second annual “Innovation” Conference in Nairobi, again inviting venture capitalists.

“What is important for our kids is a quality education with a curriculum to allow them to become citizens in their communities,” Mr Gavrielatos said.

He explained that a conference in Rome in April will help build the strategy, and arm national teacher organisations in EI in the global south with a lot of information to build their own national industrial, political and media campaigns.

Legal and capital strategies, including shareholder action “to expose companies like Pearson” at their shareholder meeting in April, are already underway.

Privateers wreak havoc in NSW public hospitals

David G.

St George Hospital in south-eastern Sydney is facing shortages of basic supplies.

Some things ordered don't arrive, or parts of an order arrive, or they get ten of something instead of one. Sterile goods arrive with outer protection opened, so its is unusable.

“Doctors and nurses'll soon be lucky to find a needle,” an insider said. Supervisors and managers in hospitals have been forced to sort out problems. “It's an enormous diversion of effort that didn't exist six to eight months ago,” Vanguard was told.

Press reports from the NSW mid-north coast also tell of essential supplies not arriving at hospitals in Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie. 

This is exactly what happened in Western Australia at the 'flagship' Fiona Stanley Hospital and in Victoria.

It is what the Ministry of Health hit on in response to the government's demand that all the ministries privatise something. The Minister, Skinner, when confronted by hospital workers at Shellharbour Hospital declared she will privatise everything bit by bit. 

No office, no systems, no warehouses

One Link delivers supplies to the public hospitals. When it was awarded the newly privatised warehousing contract for all NSW public hospitals 18 months ago, it did not exist in NSW. 
It had no computer system, no warehouses, no offices. One Link is a subsidiary of a Kiwi company, which runs warehouses in Victoria and NZ. It's owned by the family of a former Philippine foreign minister and is funded by HBSC, representing a mix of US, British and Japanese capital.

It's already taken over warehouse operations in rural and regional NSW, and a smaller warehouse in Sydney. Now One Link is about to take on the operations of the single biggest warehouse in the NSW public hospital system at Concord in Sydney, covering half the state's warehousing.

Reverse gear

Meanwhile, on the other side of Sydney Harbour, at Royal North Shore Hospital, another, now failed, privatisation is being reversed. 

Food services, cleaning, and cafeteria visitor facilities were privatised several years ago, but the operator was incapable of running them to  an acceptable standard. They couldn't ensure basic hygiene!

It's an indictment of the government and of the whole concept that hospitals consist only of doctors and nurses, and that all those people around them, like cleaners, physios, radiographers, and pathologists are ripe for privatisation and sacking as happened in Victoria and Western Australia. 

The government recently announced an out-sourced 'pilot project' for the hospital linen service in regional Wagga Wagga and in the Illawara south of Sydney. On February 25, 100 workers whose jobs will be eliminated demonstrated outside NSW Parliament House, before marching to the Ministry of Health, with police accompaniment.
Their organisation and fightback for decent services in NSW public hospitals reverberated through the ranks of public hospital workers in NSW.

There are more than 20,000 public hospital workers in the Health Services Union. They are getting more organised and active to fight against privatisation in the public health system. About twenty anti-privatisation committees of hospital workers and community members have been established across NSW. 

United and active they can be a formidable opponent to the privateers.

Monday, March 14, 2016

"The Greyed Depression" and Downward Pressure on Wages

Ned K.

"The Greyed Depression" was the heading of an article in the Adelaide Sunday Mail on 13 March this year.

The article referred to statistics from DOME, a state government funded organization that provides training and employment services to people over 40 years of age. 

DOME has 2000 people on its books looking for work compared with 1500 at the peak of the global financial crisis in 2008. Many of those over 40 who have found work through DOME have not enough hours of work to have anything like sustainable employment.

DOME's analysis of their last year's work showed that 60% of those who found work were only working 15 to 20 hours a week.

"Underemployment seems to be increasing...with the current job market, the number of people seeking help has been increasing, it's getting tougher", said DOME executive director Greg Goudie. 

This situation will worsen with the closure of the car industry in South Australia which particularly hits the outer northern suburbs where high youth unemployment will be joined by higher mature aged unemployment.

Some employers in the services sector see this as an opportunity to push down wages to below award minimum levels. However there are signs that workers are fighting back and taking action to prevent the downward trajectory of their wages.

For example in the security industry recently, security workers were successful in having an enterprise agreement thrown out by the Fair Work Commission because its flat rate of $24 an hour for all hours worked on any day did not meet the Better Off Overall Test.

This may seem a pretty insignificant occurrence but in a casualised industry where the risk for workers speaking out is high, the combination of workers saying "no" and being backed by unions prepared to do the legal leg work in the Commission, a small group of workers can make a significant difference in a whole industry where the race to the bottom in wages is out of control.

The growing unemployment in South Australia provides a headache for the Labor Government but any crisis is also an opportunity to take a different path for a government with the courage to do so.

Renewable energy related industries and electric cars and public transport systems are there for the taking. The people demand sustainable jobs and sustainable future. If any government cannot provide it there time will be short lived.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The decline of US imperialism and the rise of Donald Trump.

Nick G.

A reader has asked for our opinion on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.  The reader observed that “he is not afraid of going to war to achieve his goals” and asked “If Donald Trump comes into power and is the same type of person as Adolf Hitler in historical context, what could it mean?”

Trump's ascendancy is symptomatic of an imperialist power in decline.  Unlike Britain, which was able to manage its decline by transferring much of its imperial power to the US after WW2, and accepting a “junior partner” role within global imperialism, the US has no "great and powerful friend" prepared to work with it in managing its decline.  That makes the option of a reassertion of power by means of war abroad and intensified repression at home one of the few open to the US ruling class.

“Is God an American citizen?” and why Americans don’t laugh about it

The culture promoted by a ruling class is that which helps keep it in power. The British may still formally declare that their monarch rules “by the grace of God”, but no-one takes that seriously.

In the US, by contrast, God enjoys national citizenship and is not to be laughed at by presidential hopefuls.  Trump’s Republican competitor Ted Cruz is fond of saying that the rights of Americans come not from man-made artefacts such as the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, but directly from God. “God’s blessing has been on America since the very beginning of this nation, and I believe God isn’t done with America yet,” Cruz said in March 2015, a sentiment put forward again only last week. 

It is hard to imagine Winston Churchill, looking British imperialism’s decline squarely in the face, resorting to such quackery.  His quackery resided precisely in that tradition of man-made artefacts that have served the British ruling class so well – from the Magna Carta to universal suffrage and parliamentary “democracy”.

Whereas the British dealt with the humiliation of decline by learning to laugh at themselves, the US ruling class sees little option but to put forward as their head a person who everyone else laughs at.

Trump pushes the US closer to fascism 

But his threat is real, and his recent promise of "making America great again" is reminiscent of the promise Hitler made to the German people in the wake of their defeat in WW1 and the subsequent Treaty of Versailles. It was not just in the content, but the arrogance of the delivery, that many saw a parallel with Hitler. Indeed, as our reader noted: “His speeches have a similar method of connecting as Hitler did.”

However, we should not dismiss the threat of fascism by believing that fascism will only reappear sporting a funny moustache and carrying the crooked cross. Many progressive Americans can see it coming sporting a funny hairstyle and a billionaire’s brand-name.

In truth, if we look at Dimitrov’s famous definition of fascism, we can see that there has always been an element of fascism in the practice of all capitalist ruling classes, and it is really only a matter of degree as to whether or not a complete resort to fascism is likely or not. 

Dimitrov wrote: "Fascism is an open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, the most chauvinistic, the most imperialistic elements of the financial capital... Fascism is neither the government beyond classes nor the government of the petty bourgeois or the lumpen-proletariat over the financial capital. Fascism is the government of the financial capital itself. It is an organized massacre of the working class and the revolutionary slice of peasantry and intelligentsia. Fascism in its foreign policy is the most brutal kind of chauvinism, which cultivates zoological hatred against other peoples."

The degree to which a President Trump would encourage “an open terrorist dictatorship” against the US people is unclear: he has so far avoided making too many pronouncements on this score. In claiming to speak for the “silent majority” he has had to go softly on how he will manage “law and order”, one of the few  exceptions being his promise to white Americans that he will provide “law and order” to make the streets safe.

However, on the issue of foreign policy, it is certainly the case that his “is the most brutal kind of chauvinism, which cultivates zoological hatred against other people.”  He has promised to “bring China to the negotiating table as a currency manipulator” and says he will be a President “who will not succumb to the financial blackmail of a Communist dictatorship”.  His recipe for making US imperialism competitive with China is to cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%, a cut that can only lead to attacks on the living standards of his “silent majority”.

He played a very nasty race card with his depiction of Mexican “illegals”: They (the Mexicans) “are sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” His solution - to fence these “illegals” out of the US – is simply a cultivation of a “zoological hatred” against Latins.  In this context we must also place his proposal for a ban on Muslims from entering the USA.

Likewise, on the question of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) he has speculated about assassinating the leader of North Korea on live television and threatened a pre-emptive nuclear strike (although he has also ruled that out and declared that the DPRK is “China’s problem”. He is nothing if not erratic!)   And he advocates nuking ISIS and “killing their families”.

The individual is important, but class is the deciding factor

Trump is certainly keen to take on the role of the spearhead of US imperialist finance capital.  His personality and character are certainly important if he ever reaches his goal of renaming the White House “Trump House”.  But even if he fails, his will be an individual failure.  It is inconceivable that any contender for the presidency of the USA will work against the fundamental interests of US imperialism. The hope that attended the so-called “progressive” candidacy of Barak Obama quite clearly underscores the reality that it is a class that holds state power, not a president. No doubt each of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders would make their own personal mark on that presidency, but only within limits allowed by, and acceptable to, the US ruling class.

The great task facing the American people, as it does all people in capitalist countries, is not changing the spearheads of class rule, but rather, ending the class rule of the capitalists. 

This can only be done by raising the working class to the position of rule with its own independent socialist state apparatus.