Notes on the Revolution / Column #43
December 13, 2019
The political education of the people
By Charles McKelvey
In Wednesday’s edition of Notes on the Revolution, I observed that the Trump administration has developed a coherent and logical political response to the relative economic decline of the United States and the abandonment of the nation and the people by the U.S. power elite, and for this reason, Trump has a significant and loyal following among the people. At the same time, I maintained that the Trump project reflects a profound ignorance of the world. It seeks to take the nation in a direction that will only deepen the problems that the nation and humanity confront.
I also argued that it is a historic error for the Democratic Party and for liberals and radicals to focus on the illegal, unethical, and irresponsible behavior of Trump, now reaching culmination in impeachment proceedings. Such a focus leaves aside analysis of the social and political sources of support for Trump, which are rooted in dynamics that have been unfolding for the last four decades. Our challenge is to politically respond to these dynamics in a form that calls the people to a direction different from that being spearheaded by the Trump team, and different as well from the political establishment, which has lost credibility in the eyes of the people. Rather than focusing on the conduct of Trump, the focus should be on the formulation of an alternative direction for the nation.
Trump’s ignorance of the world is revealed in his slogan, “make America great again.” In reality, the United States cannot again be the global power that it was in the 1950s. The nation’s spectacular economic ascent from 1776 to 1965 was based on its strategic favorable insertion into global economic structures that were being developed on a continuous process of European conquest of lands and peoples. But by the middle of the twentieth century, the colonizing powers had run out of lands and peoples to conquer, taking away the central engine of expansion of the European-centered world-economy; and at the same time, provoking issues of ecological sustainability. Meanwhile, the colonized peoples of the planet were acquiring increasing maturity in their capacities to resist, creating a situation in which colonialist measures were more and more difficult and costly to impose. The central the question is not, how can U.S. dominance be restored? But how can the United States respond with intelligence and morality to the current historic situation, in which the world-system has reached and overextended the geographical and ecological limits of the earth.
The opponents of Trump ought to unify and formulate a coherent proposal for the nation. They ought to form a progressive alliance for social change on a basis of common principles, formulated with an understanding of the global dynamics that are defining the current historic moment. The most important of these principles is anti-imperialism. The world-system was founded on conquest and colonial domination, which enabled the imposition of economic structures that facilitated the access of the colonizers to the natural resources, raw materials, labor, and markets of the world. The colonized mobilized resistance, and the political independence of the colonies was attained, but not the transformation of the colonial economic structures. Imperialist policies came into being in this emerging neocolonial context during the course of the twentieth century. Imperialist policies were designed to facilitate access, in spite of the political independence of nations. Imperialist policies are necessary to maintain economic penetration and political control of independent nations, and they therefore constitute the material foundation for sustaining the U.S. economy.
This is the logic of Trump. The Trump team insists on the preservation, the more consistent application, and the deepening of imperialist policies. But the unreasonable foundation of this logic is that imperialism is no longer sustainable. The geographical limits of the earth have been reached, and ecological limits have been overextended. At the same time, the peoples of the world have attained a higher level of political consciousness. They have arrived to understand that that independence is not sovereignty, and that sovereign control over natural resources is necessary for their development and for the protection of their social and economic rights. They refuse to accept a world in which they have neither sovereignty nor social and economic rights. In this they are morally right, and they know they are morally right. They would prefer to die than to surrender to injustice. They will continue to resist, believing that no sacrifice is too great. The global powers seduce or bribe some of the colonized, creating political allies. But the global powers can no longer impose their will. Their efforts to do so will only stimulate destruction and conflict.
Our problems and conflicts today are rooted in the colonial foundation of the world-system. The socialist projects in China, Vietnam, Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador all were formulated as projects that sought to attain sovereign control of natural resources, in opposition to the imperialist penetrations of the global powers. Moreover, the new form of terrorism, characterized by the indiscriminate killing of civilians, emerged in the Islamic world in response to the arrogant cultural imperialism of the Western powers; and the phenomenon was aided by Western support of Islamic literalism, designed to undermine the anti-imperialist drive of Nasserism and Arab socialism/nationalism to obtain control of natural resources. In addition, uncontrolled international migration has emerged as a result of the deepening impoverishment that results from the sustained imposition of colonial economic structures, and as a result of the devastations of imperialist wars that have been launched to preserve colonial economic structures.
The simple and fundamental truth is that the world-system can no longer be sustained in the current context, defined by the reaching of the geographical limits of the earth and the persistent resistance of the colonized. It is possible to interpret present conflicts and problems as evidence of the collapse of the neocolonial world-system. There are signs of three possibilities for the future: first, a more just, democratic world-system; secondly, a global military dictatorship directed by the United States; or thirdly, generalized global chaos and violence. The Trump team is moving toward the possibility of a U.S. global dictatorship, in opposition to the proclaimed democratic values of the nation and the universal values that have been affirmed in various documents of the United Nations. The opponents of Trump ought to be explaining these dynamics to the people, exhorting them to the best option, to the construction of a more just, democratic, and sustainable world-system, in cooperation with the peoples, social movements, and progressive governments of the world, who are insisting on nothing other than social justice for themselves and for the world.
In addition to anti-imperialism, another principle of a progressive alliance would be opposition to neoliberalism. The neoliberal ideology was formulated by the think tanks of the global elite to create the fiction that state involvement in the economy hinders production, when objective observation demonstrates the contrary. There must be formulated a concept of the necessary active role of the state in the economy in order promote and defend the social and economic rights of the people, demonstrating its validity with a variety of historical examples. This approach would dovetail with existing proposals of some Democratic Party presidential candidates with respect to education and health care, which ought to be formulated in the context of a long-term, comprehensive plan for the economic development of the nation.
What is needed in the current historic moment in the United States is a progressive alliance for social change, in support of fundamental principles against imperialism and in support of a foreign policy that respects the sovereignty of nations; and against neoliberalism and in support of decisive state action to protect the social and economic rights of all; and affirming cooperation and solidarity with the peoples of the world in addressing the common problems of humanity. The history of successful popular movements for social change teaches us that such alliances can be formed by focusing on unity with respect to basic principles, combined with respectful toleration toward ideological differences in order to avoid division.
We ought to leave aside the obsession with the personal defects of Trump and turn our attention to the political education of our people.
This is Charles McKelvey, reflecting on the unfolding global popular socialist revolution forged by our peoples in defense of humanity.
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