Keeping track of events as they unfold and trying to make objective sense of them. These aren’t isolated incidents. They are related, either directly by common features, or indirectly by a larger systemic conjunction. I don’t have the resources to methodically gather all or much of the pertinent events. I can only make use of what comes my way. I hope others will use the same methodology to uncover conditions that I don’t or can’t.
First, there’s the Lewis/Trump affair.
- Representative John Lewis, in an unusual statement, claimed Donald Trump’s election to be illegitimate due to claims of Russian interference in the electoral process. He and 17 other Congresscritters are staying away from the inauguration. Usually high officials will attend the opposition’s inauguration out of respect for the office and the process. This, in and of itself, shows a rift in capitalist hegemony. The two capitalist parties fight for dominance, and may question the legitimacy of a given candidate, but not of the process itself. It is important for them to preserve the illusion of free and democratic elections to keep the populace calm.
- Trump attacked Lewis personally in return. using Twitter. He said “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad.” This was on the eve of the celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday celebration. Lewis was a noted associate of Dr. King with a long record of social action in and out of Congress, and a recipient of the Medal of Freedom. Trump displays his contempt for facts in this tweet, as well as raising the concern about racism that dogged his candidacy. During elections, disagreements may be no-holds-barred and include personal slurs. Customarily, in the weeks leading up to the inauguration, the oligarchs try to present an image of even-handed, statesmanlike bipartisan cooperation, with paeans resounding about the peaceful transfer of power and reaching across the aisle.
- Trump’s post raised hackles in Georgia, especially in the district Lewis represents. The tweet was seen, not just as an attack on Lewis, but also on their home, which they don’t feel to be in horrible shape, falling apart, or crime-infested. The Atlanta Journal Constitution, a moderate newspaper (center-right on some issues, center-left on others such as civil rights), described the reaction as “incredulous” and “stunned,” and Trump as “clueless.” In their most telling remark, the AJC said “Atlantans understood Saturday that a political fight was playing out.” But this is more than the usual political jockeying for power among different sectors of the ruling class. This is a seismic shift, when even the moderate press, usually trying to appear objective and fair to “both sides,” is using adjectives like “clueless.”
- Later that same weekend, Gwinnett County commissioner Tommy Hunter accused Rep. Lewis of being a “racist pig” on his Facebook page. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Hunter “later posted an image that included this phrase: ‘If you’re easily offended and looking for a ‘safe place’ my page ain’t it. Move along snowflake.’ ” The AJC went on to report, “Sometime shortly before 11 a.m. Monday, however, the ‘racist pig’ post was no longer on Hunter’s timeline. The page’s privacy settings also appeared to be changed, but the other posts mentioned above were still visible to ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ — along with additional posts mocking U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, [and] asking if there were ‘any white guys’ on the University of Alabama’s football team.”
The point here is not the language being used by Trump and Hunter. Yes, it’s rude and even offensive, especially the “racist pig” remark. But this is not a post on manners, or how ignorant and hateful a couple of white guys can be about a hero of the racial justice movement.
I’m also not saying that we’ve never seen language as bad as this in political discourse. Some of the things Jefferson and Adams said about each other during the 1800 presidential campaign were pretty awful. Jefferson’s people said that Adams was a “hideous hermaphroditical character, [with] neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Adams’ supporters called Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” Adams was also called a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant, while Jefferson was said to be a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward. No, the Republic has not been lily-pure in its political strife up until now.
Let’s leave personalities out of it. We’re looking at this as part of a larger system.
The greater significance is that the two bourgeois parties are clashing in a reckless way. They are not just pitting one party against the other, hoping for electoral victory. They’re questioning the legitimacy of the system itself. The two great sectors of the ruling class, of which Lewis represents one side and Trump and Hunter represent the other, are fighting for pre-eminence in a way that could scar the American political structure. The best case scenario is that both are left weakened. The worst case is that one achieves supremacy, without the scheme of checks and balances that have kept the worst sort of politics from taking over thus far in American history. This leads to a more authoritarian form of government which is great for the very rich and bad for the rest of us.
Even within each party internally we see the same sort of confusion, rancor, and take-no-prisoners approach going on. In the Republican primaries, they went so far as to compare penis size. (Well, they’ve never done it publicly before.) In the Democratic primaries, the clash was between the old Roosevelt coalition and the constellation of forces that Bill Clinton pioneered in the 1992 election, the New Democrats of the Democratic Leadership Council, which sought the support of the so-called “Reagan Democrats” and Wall Street.
So we see the crisis of capitalism emerging in the political arena, both between and within the parties. Now let’s consider the economic sphere.
While so many in the news media, and the rest of us also, were digesting the implications of the Trump/Lewis scuffle, something else was happening that didn’t get a lot of attention. On Friday, the day before Trump took on Rep. Lewis, he made a comment regarding lifting the sanctions on Russia. “If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?”
If that sounds self-serving, you’re right. Trump’s connections are, on the one hand, very well-known, and on the other hand, not known well enough. But there’s another major player in this: Rex Tillerson.
You see, Rex Tillerson was more than just a little involved in a deal between Exxon Mobil and Rosneft, the Russian oil company and largest petroleum company in the world. Majority owner? The Russian government. The deal? Exploration and development of Russian oil reserves in the Arctic, as a joint venture between Rosneft and Exxon Mobil.
The payoff? $500 billion. Half a trillion dollars. And Tillerson has a whole bunch of Exxon stock as part of his compensation, millions and millions worth.
The sanctions that were imposed over the Russian annexation of the Crimea stopped the Exxon Mobil/Rosneft deal. Drop the sanctions, and the deal’s back on. And our nominee for Secretary of State, who would be involved in lifting sanctions, is intimately involved. Get the picture?
How does this fit into our job of looking at current contradictions of capitalism? There are several ways I can think of, and these won’t exhaust the possibilities.
- Exxon Mobil and Rosneft are not the only sharks in the tank. There are other big players in the petroleum industry, like Chevron (which doesn’t own a piece of Rosneft, unlike Exxon Mobil and BP, which do.) The potential for this Arctic Shelf project to affect these other companies’ profits won’t exactly make them happy.
- There are other countries besides Russia who are deeply involved in the oil industry, like China, Canada, Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf states, and former Soviet republics like Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. They won’t be happy about the competition either.
Just with those two factors, there is plenty of room for conflict. The maneuvering could be very interesting – if it weren’t for the rest of us getting hurt more than any of the “big players.”
Now throw in the environmental issues. Remember the controversy over oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a fight which is not over yet although it hasn’t been in the news as much lately. It’s predictable that there will be a similar fight over development in the Russian Arctic. This is not just the forces of Greenpeace; there is an important sector of the ruling class that gets that all-out exploitation of the environment, just like all-out exploitation of the workers, may pay off in the short run but not for the long haul.
On another front, students of history will remember such events as the explosion of the battleship Maine (which kicked off the Spanish-American War (and allowed the US to take power in the Philippines, control the Cuban economy, and annex the Guantanamo Bay area which is a source of contention to this day, over 100 years later); the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand (which was the casus belli for the onset of World War I, a contest over markets and colonial resources); the Reichstag fire (which was the rationalization for Hitler’s mass arrest of communists, especially those in parliament, which gave him a majority and consolidated his power), the Gulf of Tonkin incident (partly true and largely fictionalized, and gave Lyndon Johnson the pretext to plunge the US into the Vietnam war); and the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon (a genuinely tragic affair which nonetheless allowed the Bush government to pass the Patriot Act, greatly expanding the ability of the intelligence community to spy on US citizens and other civil rights infractions.)
So, do not be surprised if some event, whether an actual assault or a false flag operation, takes place early on in Trump’s presidency, which he will use to expand his powers, punish his opponents, and quell dissent. It may not involve overt action on Trump’s part. He may just make the kind of statements, like the one about the 2nd Amendment people and Hillary Clinton, which will suggest to his white supremacist pals that they should take matters into their own hands against Muslims, blacks, Mexicans, communists, or any other disfavored group. Those of us who are in the opposition had better be making plans for how we will respond. Some sectors of the ruling class will support this, and others will feel it goes too far, and will provoke yet another crisis among the capitalists. “When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.”
In a previous paragraph, I expressed a hope that others will use the same methodology to examine other events that may not cross my radar. What methodology is that? Dialectical materialism and class analysis, that’s what. I hope that in what’s been said above, the class analysis is obvious. These are not just an isolated set of coincidental events. Without the tools of class analysis and dialectical materialism, there is no context or systematic way to comprehend the flow of events.
I was in a discussion recently with someone who thinks Trump is uniquely dangerous, unlike anyone else past or present, and does not see him as one part of a greater danger. This is because she does not have a methodology with which to view and dissect what is happening. It’s hard to connect the dots when you only see one dot at a time.
There is a major power struggle going on among those with the vast majority of the money and power in the world. Hillary Clinton is a good example of one faction, those who want to be able to exploit natural resources and the labor of working folks, but trying to take somewhat better care of those workers. The other main faction, of which Trump is currently the most obvious representative, doesn’t worry about people or the planet; naked exploitation in its raw form. So those two contending forces form one set of contradictions, thesis (raw exploitation) and antithesis (exploitation with some care for the “livestock”), out of which a new synthesis will emerge.
Then there is the set of contradictions between the ruling class and the working class. The plutocrats want all the wealth and power for their own personal use, and squabble among themselves to get it, but are all in agreement that it is OK to rip off the rest of us to do it. We, the ones who actually create all the value, don’t want to be exploited. It rankles, for instance, to have Congress talking about taking health care away from millions who got insurance through the Affordable Care Act, while they themselves enjoy a deluxe insurance policy funded by our taxes. So a struggle goes on between these two groups also for dominance.
We will keep watching how current events are developing towards a critical state. The point of course is not just to understand what is happening, but to use that dynamic knowledge to change the system that produces these disasters.