Imperialism and Neo-Protectionism In The Trump Era – By Adrián Sotelo Valencia

Introduction

Up until now the investigations, judgments, predictions, analyses, desires, and projections about the recent electoral process of the United States have been studied through examining the campaign speeches given by Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump, the latter being elected president by the Electoral College. This current anti-democratic electoral system differentiates the vote of the “popular vote” to that of the Electoral College. The “popular vote” went to the Iron Lady, Mrs. Clinton with a 3 million differential against the business magnate Trump, losing only the Electoral College and as a consequence the presidency.

In the United States, the president and vice-president are chosen in November, not by the general public but by 270 delegates who, after being voted in, join the elitist Electoral College, which has a total of 538 members. That is, there is no universal, direct, and secret election but only an indirect one. As is the case in other capitalist countries, the founders of the country decided in 1787 that the general public should not be trusted, instead giving all the power of election to the states. This system was ratified by the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution in 1804 and survives to this day.

A heap of analyses, opinions, and reports, from mass media or from social media networks, were diffused to coincide with the speeches of the candidates as an attempt to persuade the general public to support and vote for them. Mrs. Clinton’s discourse was practically the same as the arguments of past Democratic presidents, prioritizing warmongering threats against Russia and China. Meanwhile, the xenophobic, racist and conservative Trump primarily went against the undocumented and immigrants in general. He promised to “recover” the power of the United States — framed in what is known as “American Exceptionalism,” Dixit Seymour Martin LIPSET (2000) — through protectionist policies that have already existed under the neoliberalism of the “free market” functional to advanced capitalism in the environment of the “Welfare State” that everyone criticizes and repudiates today, especially the supporters of the “free market” (IMF and WB).

Despite this, we must point out that from a historic and imperialist geopolitical view, both of these discourses combine when their interests are threatened in any circumstance. In this sense, there should be no illusion of a “benevolence” from any of these forces when it comes to the problems and contradictions of capitalism as they will always position themselves against the workers and the oppressed peoples.

The elected president also promised to give a revitalization to the country’s industrialization that, according to him, was seriously damaged by past administrations. Very briefly we must point out that while Clinton represents the interests of a faction of the imperialists of speculative financial capital (of the fictitious type), Trump represents the faction of industrial capital that has lost out to inter-capitalist competition on a global scale. In particular, to active competitors such as China who has expanded its radius of action in recent years, namely in Latin America and Africa

Since it was Mr. Trump who was elected to head the imperialist presidency by this political system for the next four years, we center our analytical commentary on the perspectives that are opened up under his influence, especially in relation to Mexico’s subordination to the United States.

Imperialism as a system of domination

The United States cannot be treated as any other country with which it could be compared to (Mexico, South Africa or Brazil); additionally and different to these, it is the main representative and chief of the capitalist-imperialist world system through its economic and financial organisms such as the IMF and the WB; diplomats, such as the UN; the ministry of the colonies, as is the OAS to the United States, and militaries, such as NATO. This is often forgotten. Therefore, we agree with those who affirm, correctly, that whatever candidate is voted in by the College as president would, essentially, not change neither the vocation nor the imperialist practices of the United States on a global scale: he may have his own peculiar way of governing and making decisions but this is all within the unalterable framework of its imperialist policy in the world.

What is sure is that the electoral ritual was performed and now the president-elect is precisely the authoritarian business magnate that has promised to deport three million undocumented people from his country, claiming they are “thieves, murderers, addicts” among other labels, accentuating his profound racism and xenophobia and infecting North American society with it.

We are dealing with an imperialist system, which Lenin and other Marxist analysts of imperialism have depicted. Trump’s emergence does not in any way signify a change to its essence but rather the reaffirmation of this global capitalist system that came up in the middle of the nineteenth century. The United States continues to be an active protagonist despite this system’s accumulating problems and relative decadence as has been demonstrated by some authors linked to world system analysis as well as the Marxist theory of dependency.

With the endorsement and power given to president Trump by the imperialist system, he has reiterated his plans to build a wall along the border of the United States and Mexico to stop the influx of undocumented people, affirming that it will be paid for by Mexicans themselves. He has also said he will confiscate the remittances, that’s to say the salaries, of millions of undocumented workers gained from the work they carry out in the United States.

The media campaign that was carried out after Trump’s victory helped to highlight the atrocities and hardships that would emerge in the world economy, the United States, as well as in Mexico and other Latin American countries, after his ascendency to the presidency in January of 2017. However, this media coverage only helps to cover up the evident widely felt frustration that Mrs. Clinton was not favored by the electoral college, as most polls had suggested she would. All the more frustrating since she had obtained more of the popular vote against her competition who, at one point, even said he would not acknowledge the results if he lost. Though they are atrocities we insist that they are must be understood as hereditary of an imperialist system, independently of who it is headed by.

What is more concerning is that sections of the Left have adopted this argument from an angle that defends the ominous and Neo-Panamericanist treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement; presenting personalities of the dominant elite such as Mrs. Clinton or Obama as “democrats and human right defenders”. Most unfortunately, they present them as the only alternative that could resolve the crisis in the global capitalist system, without understanding that the crisis is a genuine product of its structural, social, political and military contradictions that exceed, per se, the individual actions and good intentions of the rulers.

There’s little doubt that the swearing in and subsequent presidential term of Trump and his team of white multi-millionaires will have an impact on the world with their peculiar manner of intervening in domestic and world events. Two examples will suffice to illustrate this point. The president-elect managed to “convince” the owners of the North American company, Carrier, which specializes in air conditioning equipment, to stop moving its factory to Nuevo Leon State, Mexico, to supposedly “save” around one thousand jobs of North Americans in Indiana. Will the owners of the said company really maintain the salaries of these workers even though they are 14 times higher than the salaries they would pay Mexicans? Furthermore, the president-elect caused a diplomatic fallout due to a phone call with the president of Taiwan, causing the Chinese Foreign Ministry to complain to the United States for neglecting the diplomatic protocol which has been observed for decades.

We can add a third example: the racist and xenophobic irradiation from Trump and his entourage of white business magnates into their country’s social fabric, have intensified racism and has encouraged fascist organizations and militant ultra-right groups like the Ku Klux Klan, who have even held demonstrations in support of the president-elect. Thus uncovering the sewers of age-old historical racism, as well as uncovering the reality of class struggle in the United States.

These facts demonstrate the peculiar behavior of a ruler who must nevertheless be viewed from the unalterable framework of imperialist politics to which all representatives of the United States are obedient, within their own country as well as in relation to the rest of the world. Mexican authorities, from the presidential level, have docilely folded their arms when it comes to the threats that Mexican people will have to pay for Trump’s wall. Using the FTA as leverage, the United States have threatened to pull out from the agreement which will evidently cause job losses — the majority of which are precarious and badly paid — likely increasing the already intense crisis unfolding for the Mexican neoliberal capitalist owners whose sustenance is dependent on the manufacturers for exportation that has up until now only really benefited the big North American transnational companies. There has been no significant reaction from the representatives of the Mexican political regime who are, undoubtedly, waiting to receive orders from Washington to act. That is, to conform to their designs.

The parameters and coordinates of imperialism

Historically, capitalist-imperialism has constructed geopolitics and strategic coordinates and parameters of its action in the world’s space. The coordinates define the location and position in distinct places and spaces of the earth where, generally, military bases are established in order to guard and reproduce its interests. The parameters are what guides imperialist action in terms of achieving its objectives as set out in the coordinates. The above is described in order to argue that the imperialist system is not limited to the action of one country, be it the United States, Germany, France or England, a block (NATO) or a region (EU); rather, it corresponds to a global system within the very structure of operation of the historical capitalist mode of production in its current phase that we can characterize as neo-imperialist.

In this context, we insist that independent from the personality that may occupy the imperial presidency, namely the United States, the person in power must move within the strict framework that determines the parameters and coordinates of an imperialist system. In order for it to reproduce itself it has to comply with the established actions of deploying investments, land appropriation, invasions of nations and the imposition of any necessary policies (protectionist or free traders), reserving at any moment to resort to the use of force, and, as a last resort, to imperialist war.

A paradigmatic example today is Syria where the imperialist project commanded by the United States and the terrorist forces against the legitimate government of President Bashar Háfez al-Ásad who, whit the military, logistical and strategic support that Russia lends him as an allied power, exterminating extremist groups and liberating the territory in favor of the Arab nation. In this case, it is irrelevant if the Imperial Presidency is occupied by Obama, Clinton, or Trump. Ultimately, the only thing that changes is the “style of governing” but only within the structural context of the geopolitical and military interests that predominate it. That is why it is an illusion to think that the course of history would change if Clinton or another person had been elected over Trump. For example, in both cases there would have been no change in the behaviour of the United States towards Latin America in terms of trying to defeat progressive governments (Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador) as they already have done in Argentina and, through a parliamentary coup, in Brazil in the interest of North American organizations such as the IMF and WB.

Another example is the racist and xenophobic tirade by President Trump against immigrant workers and, especially, against undocumented Mexican migrants whom he has insulted through stating that he belongs to the white bourgeoisie and that they are simply Indians, drug addicts, criminals, and rapists, threatening to deport them from his territory. Similarly, he has threatened to reject the “North American Free Trade Agreement” that has been commanded, since its inception, by the big transnational companies who are predominantly North American, including Canadian and some Mexican businessmen, who are completely subordinated to their interests and mandate. In this respect, there has been a series of worries, alarms and tearful auguries that affirm that if this Pan-Americanist trade agreement were to disappear, the whole world would enter into a situation of chaos and anarchy, and the whole (capitalist) system would come to an end. These predictions reveal the extent to which great international capitalists invest and act in that ominous agreement. Of course, this calamitous scenario is promoted by the hegemonic media with a seat in the developed countries of advanced capitalism and their correspondents in the underdeveloped countries, generally dependent of and promoters of the dominant ideologies and therefore playing a central role.

Imperialist protectionism

As the representative of the interests of the factions of industrial capital in the United States, President Trump has proposed to boost a kind of protectionism, even threatening to sanction and tax businesses that look to invest and take their factories abroad, particularly to Mexico where real wages per hour are at around ten or fourteen times lower than in the United States. The deception in this policy is not so much that it cannot be practiced in real life, as has been shown in the different phases of the history of capitalism. It is more so due to the fact that his proposal, that has a certain dose of demagogy coming from a businessman-president prone to liberalism, is made in a moment when global capitalism finds itself submerged in a profound structural crisis. A crisis that is not just commercial, financial, trade and monetary, but also a natural crisis that is much more complex and profound. A crisis that is expressed in the ever more difficult ways that this system can produce the value and surplus sufficient to reverse today’s economic recession and, at the same time, predicting a new phase of growth of the global economy (Sotelo, 2010 & 2015). Although significantly lower than what was recorded in the period after World War II (called the “glorious 30 years”) a gloomy picture of quasi-stagnation is presented, only solved by the dynamic economies such as China and India who are nevertheless also presenting difficulties in recent months that concern the monetary and financial circles and businessmen of the West.

This is, then, the scenario of capitalist crisis in which the US government will have to operate for the next few years under the presidency of the Presbyterian D. Trump and, it seems, this will not just be a job for one government, but also for the other conservative governments of Europe, of Japan and Latin America, particularly, where rights and social gains have been drastically reversed against workers and the people as in Argentina and Brazil.

The crisis in Mexico is not just because of the uncertainties and convulsions of the national monetary and financial system caused by the presidential elections in the United States — and that actually benefits speculators and rentiers — but, fundamentally, because of the structural historical condition of the country’s dependence on the dynamics of the US economic cycle which subsumes virtually all of the Mexican macroeconomic variables to its designs. To such a degree that at present the pattern of accumulation of manufacturing-export capital depends on more than 80% of North American imports, enough for the government in power to the North to make it difficult for commercial transactions between both countries. Similar to the Cuban boycott, it submerges the national economy in a deep pit hardly surmountable under the vicissitudes of the validity of neoliberal policies widely promoted by the government regime led by the PRI and the Mexican partycracy.

This regime is precisely the fundamental variable necessary in order to keep things as they are, independent of the changes that have occurred in the North American political system. The Mexican authorities have their arms folded in response to the declarations of the new government of that country and have rushed to take a series of measures framed as so-called structural reforms (energy, labor, financial, educational). They have privatized public enterprises, particularly the energy sector, and sacrificed the rights and living and working conditions of the population by cutting social budgets in the areas of education, housing, health, pensions. They do this as a way to try and ease the difficulties rooted in the profound economic crisis of the country as well as to preserve their interests as the dominant class in a country that is dependent and underdeveloped before the power of the new imperialist bloc led by President Trump.

Everything points to the government and the lumpen-bourgeoisie businesses of Mexico maintaining their status as dependents and subordinates to the strategic interests of imperialism. In this scenario, it is probable that the political and social situation of the country, while it will become ever more complex, of course, will continue to be a huge problem for the majority of the people.

The gradual and surreptitious delivery of Mexican territory to transnational companies in energy, mining, water, natural resources, infrastructure, etc., adds to the historical-structural dependence of the country a new neocolonial status. A status that is entirely favorable to the geopolitical and strategic-military interests of the United States which, as we have already stated, under the permanence of this condition of dependent subordination of the country, will only expand and deepen under the auspices of the government of President Trump in the next four years and, probably, for another four years, until 2025, if he is re-elected by the College of Electors once his first term ends.

Crisis of imperialism, crisis of capitalism

The backdrop of the Obama administration fell like a heavy slab on a government that reaped the most negative results of recent decades. Not just because the Democratic candidate lost the elections, after having shown that she had the support of Wall Street and financial capital, but also because she had practically lost the war in Syria. The legitimate government of that country, with overwhelming military support from the Russian government, was able to finally liberate the strategic city of Aleppo, pushing out the terrorist forces that sought to divide the country favoring the geopolitical interests and strategies of the West and the United States. Lacking arguments to justify said defeat, the outgoing President Barack Obama accused Vladimir Putin of being Trump’s “promoter”; the architect of his triumph through “cyber-spying” practices used against the Democrats and their presidential candidate. The same candidate that was investigated and discredited by the FBI in a sort of “soft coup” using controversial emails that incriminated her in endangering the security of the State.

During his annual speech, the Russian president pronounced himself on this case: “the administration of the outgoing United States President, Barack Obama, divided the nation due to calling for a rejection of the new president-elect (Donald Trump); this is a step toward dividing the nation”. He also reminded his audience that the Democratic Party did not only lose the presidential elections but also the Senate and Congress where the Republicans now have the majority of seats. He then, ironically asked: “was this also my doing?”, alluding to the accusations that make him directly responsible. “All of this demonstrates that the current administration suffers from structural problems and the elites of the Democratic Party do not understand reality”. He took advantage to affirm “… I see the data that says that 37% of the Republican Party voters sympathize with the President of Russia… this means that a great part of the United States public has the same idea about how the world should be, our common problems and dangers” (EFE and AP, Moscow, Russia, December 23, 2016).

These facts show, in the context of the crisis of the international capitalist system a point of inflection in word history characterized by the relative decline of the United States hegemony. They also show the emergence of new powers such as Russia, China, India, Iran, North Korea, among the most important and with undoubted nuclear capacity to destroy the planet several times over.

It is not by chance, therefore, that the rhetoric of the United States president resuscitates the old protectionist and nationalist policies and ideologies entangled with a furious racism, an exacerbated xenophobia and the practically unrealisable promise to recover the so-called “American exceptionalism” for “the good of the American people”, returning the historic imperial power which it had against most nations, particularly after the World War II. This “ideal” of the elected business magnate only helps to remind us of that phrase which was impregnated with racist stench, written by California’s State Attorney in 1930: “… It was us, the whites, that founded America first and we want to protect ourselves in our enjoyment of it” (Chomsky, 2011: 4).

In the mind of President Trump there is a dangerous imperial hologram that radiates rays of light in opaque circles that gradually dissipate until they practically vanish. Flanked by borders and walls that divide them, not only geographically, physically, territorially, and culturally, the United States intends to “shield itself” from “external enemies” such as the bulky and “dangerous” human crowds, like the millions of undocumented Mexican workers, that the new government equates to terrorists. It intends to do this by using its powerful military and anti-immigrant paramilitary groups (such as the official border patrol) and racists (such as the Ku Klux Klan), which most of the time is supported and promoted by the government of (okay? Yes) the United States. This is just a continuation and deepening of Obama’s “border security”, in other words its militarization, only now it is presented by Trump.

Up until now the Mexican authorities have done nothing but wait docilely, hoping for the new government of the United States to “sit down and negotiate”. It has to be made clear that you can only negotiate between equals and not while you are a subordinate as is the historical status for governments of nations that are dependent and oppressed as is the Mexican nation, who share similar migration policies towards its southern neighbour states with its northern neighbor, and to which they have always remained silent and submissive when it comes to deportations, murders, massacres and the ruthless super-exploitation of undocumented workers who receive some of the lowest wages in the world.

The delusions that things will improve when both countries feel they are negotiating, is not only a chimera, but a way of covering up their behavior, the harsh reality for millions of workers who cross the border every day in search of the much-sought and now deteriorating “American way of life”: in reality super-exploitation, precariousness of work and the ripping apart of social life.

One of the comparative advantages between Mexico and the United States, in terms of immigration and the cycle of capital, has been precisely the economic annexation of the former by the latter, which has led, historically, to agricultural and manufacturing production based largely on export maquiladoras. The Mexican economic system has specialized in the massive export of supernumerary, cheap, docile and flexible workforce that has practically no human and labor rights and that has nurtured the ranks of the army of workers in the United States allowing the bosses of this country to obtain large and juicy profits in their industries.

Therefore, undocumented activity is not, as the American president thinks, something harmful for the economic cycle and the reproduction of capital. On the contrary, it turns out to be the greatest advantage that North American capitalism has to obtain high rates of exploitation and masses of surplus value derived fundamentally from the combined mechanisms of intensive and extensive labor and the very low salaries that, even today, are below the wages of Chinese workers and other countries of the so-called third world.

This is one of the advantages that explains the historical dynamism of the US economy at least since the 1960s. That is why we say that the protectionist policies that President Donald Trump threatens to impose as part of his safety and labor policies in practice are not only doomed to failure. They will also have to be reworked according to reality, to a global competitive capitalism which is in crisis and whose internal dynamics of operation has installed super-exploitation of labor as the best system of production of surplus value and capital accumulation based on labor flexibility, labor deregulation, low wages, and on the monumental precarization of the components of the world of work and in the savage rejection of workers’ social and contractual rights practically all over the planet (SOTELO, 2018).

Following are just some of the myths that mobilized sectors of the electorate, including Hispanics, to vote for the Republican candidate: a) Immigrants take American jobs. b) there being a very limited number of jobs, a greater number of immigrants will bring more competition that will put a downward pressure on salaries. c) Undocumented workers, foreigners, particularly Mexicans that constitute the majority, are vicious, rapists and criminals, the reason why social life in North America is degraded. d) North American unions are against immigration because it harms the white American working class. e) Immigrants do not pay taxes. f) They are a burden on the economy. g) They send remittances to their countries of origin “damaging” the United States. h) They are a “danger” because they are invading the United States (CHOMSKY, 2011).

All these arguments-fallacies-myths promoted widely by the dominant media caught the minds and consciousness of North American society which is currently enveloped in a deep crisis —which, among other explanations, is the crisis of the “American way of life” and the so-called Welfare State. A society that is extremely malleable to the manipulation of the mass media and social media networks. These media outlets being the ones who introject, like a gospel yet lacking the message of the bona spe. Ideas that configure an ideological result, leading to the election of President Trump, which was unexpected indeed by most polls and experts.

Obviously, this ideological spectrum promulgated by the US ruling classes and the national and international media, harms the Mexico-US relationship and, in particular, casts shadows of uncertainty on the population of both countries. Above all, in Mexico, if we consider that currently, in the face of the structural, financial and monetary crisis, remittances are the central element in obtaining foreign currency in the face of the precipitous fall of oil and tourism derivatives. The latter case being due to the widespread violation of human rights as well as the official violence of the repressive and counterinsurgent practices of the Mexican State and, finally, to the generalized climate of insecurity in the country that “scares” tourists.

Under the current block of bourgeois power made up by the dependent dominant classes, especially by its monopolistic and financial factions completely committed to the dynamics of capital accumulation of the United States; by the partycracy, the leadership of corporate unionism and under the influence of irregular criminal groups that operate at ease throughout the country, it is practically impossible to think that the situation will change favorably in Mexico for the national and undocumented population under the Trump administration.

On the contrary, under the auspices of the crisis of the current pattern of accumulation and reproduction of the dependent capital specialized in manufacturing and maquiladora production for the world market, in particular, for the United States, the processes and trends that underpin the medium and long terms are those of deepening the structural and financial crisis of world capitalism that will become more extensive and profound. The United States itself, with the implementation of its protectionist and restrictive policies, now has to deal with problems arising from the necessary increase to military spending in order to counteract the growing nuclear power headed by Russia and China.

We insist that all these social, political, cultural, geo-strategic and military problems that surround the practices of imperialism on a global scale, in no way depends on the personality of those who temporarily assume the political power of the hitherto still greatest power of the planet (United States). Rather, it is the historical-structural conditions of multiple relationships and determinations of class struggles, economic and political crises, natural calamities and environmental disasters. It is the implementation of neoliberal economic policies under the auspices of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It is the annexation of countries and territories, coups d’états, crises of bourgeois democracy and an endless number of problems whose solution is far from being found. These are what in the long term determine the action of the rulers and the peculiar way in which they affect the course of its development.

The new power of the protectionist United States is to deploy an imperialist praxis both within the United States, towards its own working class, its citizens, the undocumented, immigrants, health policies, salaries, education and social welfare among others, as well as its foreign policy vis-a-vis the great powers of the world and of regions such as Latin America.

Conclusion

In short, more than a crisis of globalization or of the “free market” economy linked to the neoliberal capitalist practices, the current systemic and civilizational crisis is part of a secular cycle of decline not only of Capitalism as a form of accumulation and exploitation of labor power, but as a mode of production and life, in which humanity no longer has any future or, if it does, it is from the perspective of barbarism, its own extinction.

References

¬ LIPSET, Seymour Martin, El excepcionalismo norteamericano. Una espada de dos filos, FCE México, 2000.

¬ SAPIR, Jacques, El nuevo siglo XXI. Del siglo americano al retorno de las naciones, El Viejo Topo, Madrid, 2008.

¬ SOTELO, Valencia, Adrián, Crisis capitalista y desmedida del valor: un enfoque desde los Grundrisse, coedición Editorial ITACA-UNAM-FCPyS, México, 2010.

¬ SOTELO, Valencia, Adrián, The Future of Work: Superexploitation&Social Precariousness in the 21st Century, Brill, Boston, USA, Brill, Boston, USA, 2015.

¬ SOTELO, Valencia, Adrián, United States. Geopolitics of the super-exploitation and the precariousness of work in a world in crisis (to be published).

¬ CHOMSKY, Aviva, Nos quitan nuestros trabajos y 20 mitos más sobre la inmigración, Editorial Haymarket Brooks, Chicago, Illinois, 2011.