Friday, July 19, 2019

Globalisation, Resistance and Trump: contesting the political economy of global restructuring

Voting for Donald Trump did not require civil disobedience, there were no strikes against other businesses and there was no significant violent protest. Trump’s electoral victory was however the result of a fundamental resistance to globalisation. More than that, and to the chagrin of his voters, Trump’s election demonstrates the beginnings of Marxist theory on capitalism. America, considered the bastion of global capitalism, had forsaken its proletariat in favour of allowing market forces to profit. The political elite had succumbed to the powers of multinational lobbyists and no longer sought to benefit ‘real Americans’. Such was the view of Trump voters, and whether or not it was true, their demand for a candidate outside of the political elite was fundamentally a rejection of globalisation. It was the culmination of a want for a return to isolationism and a revision of America’s relationship with the global economy.

Photo by LeoLondon

Though Trump voters would admonish anyone accusing them of being a Marxist as a socialist liberal snowflake, there are undeniable parallels between Marx’s understanding of capitalist society and the position of republican voters in 2016. The philosopher predicted capitalism would grow and expand to the benefit of many, before reaching a point where it was no longer able to sustain itself and the working class of the system would rally together to establish communism as a new social order. I am not suggesting Trump voters are communists, far from it, but their upheaval of the political order in the U.S. is borne out of a feeling of being left behind by the political elite who have been steadfast in appreciation for globalisation.

The problem with this form of resistance is that the Trump presidency is not a constructive challenge to globalisation. Just as his election was a realisation of capitalism's failings predicted by Marx, the mechanism used for combatting globalization was the realisation or autonomist Marxist critique of capitalism. Challenges to capitalism as a concept are commonly derived from a capitalocentric understanding, whereby any opposing principle is understood in terms of its relationship to capitalism. For autonomist Marxists, the only way an alternate socio-economic system can be adopted is for it to be formulated in a space outside of capitalist hegemony. Voting for Trump did not come with a congruent challenge to capitalism as its process is inherently part of a capitalist hegemonic system – American politics. There was not going to be a horizontal non-hierarchical revision of economics in the U.S., as electing Trump to the presidency as a form of resistance requires a hierarchical political system in the first place.

The fact that Trumpism does not subscribe to a politically horizontal system does not mean that its agents are not fulfilling Marxist theory by electing Trump and a response to globalisation. The rhetoric of the Trump campaign, amongst other issues, focused on a failure to protect Americans from market-place restructuring. Blue-collar factory jobs left the U.S. and companies found employed workforces in cheaper economies. The social relations of production (as laid out in Marxist social movement theory) broke down as there was no longer any relationship to have with employers taking business elsewhere. Subsequently white-uneducated Americans felt disenfranchised by their political system and banded together as a class to resist globalisation. Marxist social movement theory also highlights the fact that within capitalism includes forms of exploitation beyond the workplace. The rise of discontent with globalisation in America is no different. Twinned with a belief that jobs were going to immigrants and other countries, large parts of suburban American felt thoroughly exploited by global banks during the 2008 sub-prime mortgage crisis and its aftermath. Despite overwhelming majority of victims of the crisis being those less well off, it was the big banks who received the bailout package from the government with only one banker facing jail-time as a consequence. The anguish is understandable, as is a political action against the ‘political elite’ who failed to deliver justice to the big banks.

It can be argued that as anger towards global banks was still weighed heavy in the minds of many voters, Trump’s electoral victory was inevitable and not simply a statement against globalisation. However, the emphasis of arguments against the banks was on globalism and its influence of politics, not necessarily on the fraudulent practices of the banks themselves. Robert W. Merry’s assertion that the “Trump–Clinton presidential contest was (amongst other things) between whether ‘nationalism’ or ‘globalism’” was based on views on trade, immigration and foreign policy, showing that any anger towards the political elite had been conflated into these other focal points. The globalisation of trade required the government to adopt inherently pacifist policies that would not upset other agents of the global system (including the big banks) and continued fears against immigration led many to believe the baseless accusation that the housing crisis was caused by the government assisting immigrants (Angelides 2016).

The election of Donald Trump is evidently a form of resistance to globalisation. There were many factors that encouraged people to vote for him, but fundamentally the election was a rejection of the political order in Washington that favoured globalism over nationalism. The process was also an indicator of the risks of capitalism as predicted by Marx. Though it does follow Marxist theory that parts of the American working class felt exploited by the capitalist system to the extent they campaigned for radical change, they did so well within the parameters of capitalist hegemony with no discernible plan to change the capitalist order other than to “drain the swamp”. Had there been further consistency with Marxist principles, such as a resistance outside the bounds of the existing political system, a more substantial change may have been achieved. However, no one can deny that the resistance to globalisation was successful in electing Trump, whether or not he has successfully alleviated the issues caused by globalisation.

Maxwell Clarke

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