Attempts to understand, to explain, even, the people, processes, and things leading up to last week Tuesday’s epochal presidential vote in the United States of America have leaned surreptitiously on Marxist-Leninist registers. The dominant explanation has many Americans, “left behind” by the “globalised and digital economy”, led in an insurrection against the “establishment”. You need only then recall that the Brahmins that make up what passes for the establishment in the U.S. are as bourgeois as any ruling class can get to complete the link between them, their establishment, and the “new proletariat”.
Beyond that, there is the point about the “necessary” and “sufficient” conditions of a successful “revolution”. Lenin did believe that for a revolution to be successful, the people must no longer be able to live in the old ways, as indeed has become the lot of those parts of the U.S. “left behind” by changes in the global economic architecture. There are those, in the Rust Belt, who have lost jobs to offshoring, as the production of goods lower down the value chain moved out of the U.S. to locations were factors of production are cheaper. But the concerns of this new “class” go way beyond this. Automation also means that manufacturing will never employ as many factory hands as it used to up to the late 1980s to produce the same body of goods. So, even if all the jobs outsourced were to somehow return to the U.S. (protective tariffs, have been suggested as a possible means of inducing this outcome), many those left behind would remain, well, behind.
The service economy, only further exacerbates the problem. Start-ups in the service sector have parlayed the information and technology revolution in their reinvention of huge swathes of the American economy. Expectedly, their innovations have returned humongous fortunes to their promoters. Unfortunately, this other “revolution” has been carried out with far fewer “factory hands” than previous such revolutions in industry. One unintended result of this has seen the returns to top management/business owners account for a far bigger share of wealth created in the country than previously. In consequence, the gap between what the “establishment” takes home, and what those “left behind” (even when they are in employment) take home, is wider today than at any other time in the country’s history.
Against this extremely volatile background, the “revolution” at whose head Mr. Donald Trump sits aims to unseat the “establishment”. Or put differently, to make it difficult for the leaders to rule as they were wont to. This latter outcome, Lenin argued, was the “sufficient condition” for a proletarian uprising.
As is to be expected, the path to this goal is strewn with contradictions, both antagonistic and non-antagonistic. Of the contradictions that will form both the subjective and objective milieu within which the Trump presidency will play out, the jury is still out on the most prominent.
On one hand, according to one of the more colourful imageries to make the echo chambers, Mr. Trump leads a baying mob, pitchfork, tar, and burning torches at the ready, on its way to drain the swamp. So brazen has been his baiting of his legion that they are unlikely to stop until they secure a thorough-going redistribution of wealth in their favour (raising Social-Security spending by much, for instance). By all means, shackle Wall Street, muzzle the “nattering nabobs of negativism”, etc. But along the way pressure will grow for increases in the minimum wage, paid holidays, unemployment benefits, etc. Genuflecting this army of anger before the altar of populism.
All of which would have been okay as left-leaning policy. Except that Mr. Trump leads this army while heading a party ideologically pledged to cut taxes for the wealthy and big businesses (how can anyone forget the pledge to cut the headline corporate tax rate by a massive 2,500 basis points!). Small government and pro-market, the Republican Party would rather have markets correct themselves than throw good government money at it. Even the Bush administration flinched at the consequence of this worldview when it had to deal with the 2008-09 economic and financial crisis. Of course, Obamaism consciously repudiated it.
Thus, a party that would not have lifted a finger to help those adversely affected by the externalities of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, in the conviction that, left alone the market would sort itself out, is being led into battle by a demagogue who has plighted his troth to the redemption of the “new proletariat”.
In the final round, the test of Mr. Trump’s presidency, would be whether and how he can reconcile the expectations of the wave of popular anger that swept him to office with the ideology of the party that was the vehicle for getting there. Any which way, hope springs eternal. The resolution of antagonistic contradictions in the old Soviet worldview invariably led from worries over quantity to a new higher qualitative state.
One conclusion is, at least, possible from all these: this is one insurgency that was never going to leave the world exactly as it met it.