|Alex Foti on Thu, 14 Jun 2018 11:42:30 +0200 (CEST)|
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|Re: <nettime> Paul Mason: Trump is a symptom of the new global disorder, not the cause|
Donald Trump is a symptom of the new global disorder, not the cause
By Paul Mason
world/2018/06/donald-trump- symptom-new-global-disorder- not-cause
In the space of three days, Donald Trump has created a new, explosive
geopolitical reality. He nixed the outcome of a G7 summit he had
disparaged, disrupted and departed from early. Then, with all the
subtlety of an estate agent, he welcomed Kim Jong-un into the growing
club of authoritarian strongmen who are intent on destroying the
post-1989 world order.
With the G7, we knew it was coming. Trump ran on the slogan “America
First” and has delivered on it: he has promoted economic growth at the
expense of the US’s lenders, and by saddling future generations with
unpayable debts; created jobs at the expense of America’s competitors
and launched a trade war.
But the shape, smell and feel of the “it” would only be clear once Trump
sat down, surrounded by the failed technocrats and globalists, in that
Released by Angela Merkel’s team, it is supposed to show her as the
strongwoman forcing Trump to accept the need for a rules-based global
order. Instead it shows the combined geopolitical power of Germany,
Italy, the UK, Japan, France and Canada amounting to zilch in the face
of America’s new policy of “beggar my neighbour”.
For certain, Trump looked stupid and, with hindsight, weak throughout
the entire two days. He got pushed by his diplomats and the other
leaders into signing a document he didn’t believe in. But that doesn’t
matter: because, in the geopolitical turmoil that is about to deepen,
the USA has three important things: the dollar, the world’s biggest
military and a $6trn debt to the rest of the world.
Three years ago, in Postcapitalism, I outlined two scenarios if the
world’s elites refused to contemplate a break from the free market
economic model. The first was long-term stagnation and austerity. In the
“The consensus breaks. Parties of the hard right and left come to power
as ordinary people refuse to pay the price of austerity. Instead, states
then try to impose the costs of the crisis on each other. Globalisation
falls apart, the global institutions become powerless and in the process
the conflicts that have burned these past twenty years – drug wars,
post-Soviet nationalism, jihadism, uncontrolled migration and resistance
to it – light a fire at the centre of the system”.
That is what has happened. Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and
eastern Ukraine, Syriza’s clash with the eurozone, Merkel’s unilateral
negation of the Dublin Treaty on migration, Brexit, the coup and
counter-coup in Turkey, Trump’s victory, the victory of Poland’s Law &
Justice party, the switch by Austrian conservatism to an alliance with
neofascism and the installation of a far-right/populist coalition
government in Italy.
They are all part of a chain reaction by which powerful states try to
impose social and economic pain on each other, or on smaller states.
Russia and China have played their part too: Putin with the creation of
a 19th century-style “sphere of influence” involving Iran, Syria,
central Asia and many western dupes (one of whom may be Trump himself).
China, meanwhile, is creating a 21st century economic empire, launching
its state and private sector jointly into the race to become hegemonic
in artificial intelligence, while consolidating power around Xi
Jinping’s project of Chinese nationalism with a Marxist face.
To see the G7’s collapse as one isolationist against a room full of
liberal globalists, as many mainstream commentators have done, is wrong.
Germany smashed Greek democracy and has manipulated the eurozone to
impoverish southern Europe and suppress European demand. Theresa May
leads a party transformed overnight into a vessel for xenophobic
nationalism (albeit floundering around, incapable of translating its new
convictions into actions).
Shinzo Abe would never need to use the words “Japan first” because that
has been the implicit policy of all Japanese governments since the Asian
crisis of 1997. Italy, meanwhile, just completed an abject week for
globalism by dumping 600 stranded migrants onto Spain
The old imperial powers of Europe and Asia were already, in other words,
engaged in the game.
There were only two committed defenders of globalisation in its old form
– Macron and Justin Trudeau - and, as they will now find out, the
changed situation will soon force them, too, into measures needed to
survive the breakdown of a rules-based order.
The question: “what do we do?” should be on the minds of all political
people who understand, from the example of the 1930s, what happens when
a rules-based order is fragmented. But it’s not.
The reason for is that, for 30 years, neoliberal ideology has been
founded on the perfection and unchangeability of the current system: not
just of the free market economic model and free trade, but of a global
order underpinned by unipolar American power, Chinese isolationism and a
Russia contained and constrained by its economic weakness.
In a relatively short space of time – dating roughly from the Crimea
annexation in February 2014 - all these assumptions have evaporated.
Economists operating with static models, political journalists assuming
that the “machine” would capture Trump, geopolitical pundits – that most
speculative of professional groups – understood the world order was
fragmenting but not the causes.
One of the greatest adverts for Marxism, in the year of Marx’s 200th
anniversary, is that all the events described fit neatly into the
theory. There was never a global elite, only a series of national
bourgeoisies locked together in a system of global wealth extraction.
Globalisation was their collaborative project: a policy, not an
irreversible natural event.
Subordinate classes – even classes who’ve had their organisations and
cultures suppressed by force, like the working class communities who
backed Trump, Brexit and Lega – can exert pressure on elites.
Apparently permanent forces are unstable beneath the surface. The laws
of change work through abrupt transitions such as the one Trump
triggered when he tweeted the cancellation of the G7 communique in mid-air.
I don’t care whether you call it Marxism or merely “sinuous, complex
dialectical thinking about reality based on impermanence and economic
determinism and class power analysis”. Without it you cannot formulate
the question “what do we do?” adequately.
For that question should really be: what do we do about long-term
economic stagnation, which has led to a rush for the exits from the
multilateral global system, posing the possibility of trade wars, the
fragmentation of the global finance system, military conflict and a
threat to the global architecture that protects universal human rights?
I fear the moment is past where that question can be answered inside a
global institution. Indeed, the true global institutions, like the IMF
and the Bank for International Settlements must be asking themselves
searching questions about who they will serve in future. Is it
conceivable that, within 20 years, the IMF will become a tool for China
to impose its values and economic doctrines on the world, as it was for
the US in the 1980s and 1990s? Is it conceivable that a globally
co-ordinated central banking system can survive when treasures and
central banks take up the game of beggar thy neighbour in earnest?
I have become notorious on the left for insisting that the “we” of
progressive politics no longer means primarily the organised working
class. The agent of history that will need to summon enough social power
to rebuild something like a global order is the networked consumer and
citizen. As the elites flee from globalism, its progressive values
remain implicit in the lifestyles of the networked and
cosmopolitan-minded educated populace.
So what can we - should we - do?
The answer is: design and execute a new kind of capitalism that meets
the needs of people in the developed world. The design is not
impossible: the elements of it lie in the provision of universal basic
incomes or services, a Green New Deal, rapid automation and the creation
of increased leisure time, massive investments in education, and an end
to outsourcing, offshoring and privatisation.
We can either do this collectively, as Europe, or the G7, or as NAFTA.
Or, more likely, as a series of national projects where borrowing to
invest, printing money where necessary and stimulating moderate
inflation creates the same - albeit unstable - synergies as in the
“thirty glorious years” after 1945.
For the left it means thinking beyond party designations. In Britain,
the Greens, Momentum, maybe 50-plus truly Corbynite Labour MPs, half the
SNP and the diffuse membership of two or three big NGOs are those who
really get it. In Europe, however, many green parties have become
bastions of neoliberal complacency: they will be musing on the
possibility of degrowth and digging their organic allotments the moment
the AfD and the Front National take power.
As for social democracy, it falls into three camps: outright
conservative economic nationalists, as in Slovakia; enthusiastic
participants in the failed neoliberal model, as in Germany; and people
like Austria’s Christian Kern – a technocrat flung into a crisis who had
to throw away the playbook – or Spain’s Pedro Sanchez, who understand
the need to reconnect and rethink. And of course Jeremy Corbyn and
We now need an alliance of parties, movements and individuals who are
not going to fight for the system that has failed but to imagine a new
one: a capitalism that delivers prosperity to Wigan, Newport and
Kirkcaldy, if necessary by not delivering it to Bombay, Dubai and Shenzhen.
Is that an argument for economic nationalism? No, rather an
internationalism that says to the rest of the world: if the developed,
democratic countries of Europe, America and Asia collapse into
authoritarian rule, the 400-year upswing of industrial societies
alongside democracy will have, once again, stalled - and, with China's
inevitable hegemony, it might go into reverse.
To save what we can of the multilateral order, we need to reverse out of
its extreme forms. It’s a tragedy that it took the Five Star Movement in
Italy to argue for a pre-Maastricht form of the EU. That position is
implicit in the left’s critique of the eurozone and of German
mercantilism. As progressives, not nostalgics, however, we should argue
for a post-Lisbon Europe.
But even saving the multilateral order might now prove impossible. If
the situation collapses into all-out trade war, the repudiation of the
Geneva Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human rights, the
factionalisation of the IMF and – the ultimate horror – mutual debt
defaults, then the point is to go on imagining how we can set things right.
J.M.Keynes, who had predicted the doom that overtook Europe in the early
1930s, and continuously struggled to keep the global system together,
reacted to its collapse in 1939 by working on a new design.
In September 1941, with Leningrad surrounded and the US not yet even in
the war, Keynes sat down to write Proposals for an International
Currency Union. He designed a self-correcting global system with a
global bank, a global currency a development bank and a reserve fund.
Keynes never convinced the Americans (or the Russians) of his scheme,
but an adequate version of it was adopted at Bretton Woods, unleashed an
unparalleled period of prosperity, and still underpins the global
financial architecture, despite the formal collapse of Bretton Woods in
The question that concerned Keynes and his US counterpart Harry Dexter
White in 1941 was simply: what will the world economy look like after we
have defeated fascism, ended the conflict between imperial powers and
restored the international rule of law?
That’s the kind of question the iconic Trump-Merkel photograph should
now prompt among the beleaguered political progressives of the West.
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