The title of this article is a phrase from a speech at an international conference. However, it was not, as the reader might think, at a conference of trade unionists, nor of left-wing anti-capitalist radicals addressing a like – minded audience. If you, the reader might have thought so, you would be wrong. And actually, this was not all that was said in praise of these workers. It was also stated that they “really make our countries run” and “make our countries great“. Nor was it Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn or some other social democrat who went on to say much more about the importance of workers and their families at this particular conference. It was actually said by a right-wing capitalist exploiter of working people and their families who just happens to be the current President of the United States of America. Yes it was Donald Trump at Davos in 2018! So I guess many people (including the Davos elite) might have wondered just what the hell was going on? But apparently not many in the mainstream media, for the bulk of their attention was elsewhere.
Perhaps it should be no surprise that the smoke and mirrors around the faux pas and comings and goings of the White House and the numerous minute forensic style investigations were absorbing the interests and energies of the media and politicians of all sides. However, this toxic mix of ‘who leaked that’, ‘who spoke to whom’, ‘who knew what’ and ‘when did they know it’ at the frequent mad-hatter style media gatherings is not really what is important. I suggest more of us need to pan back from this microscopic self-indulgent, petite-bourgeois political introspection and see the bigger picture, for there are global implications involved. The bigger picture is, of course, the increasing dysfunction of the entire economic, financial, ecological, moral, political and social system – internationally! And as a consequence, what is increasingly important, as the crises of the capitalist mode of production deepens, are the programmatic changes that are now either occurring (or about to occur) in the political programmes of pro-capitalist elites world-wide.
The most high profile and transparent example of these political re-positionings in the west has been the modifications the Tea Party, Bannon and Trump wing of the Republican Party have made to their public appeal to the US electorate in 2016/17. Therefore, it is revealing that essentially the same political message has been retained and repeated by Donald Trump at Davos, at the US Senate and in the State of the Nation speech. For this reason I intend to focus on the important changes in emphasis revealed within these speeches for I contend these are not the result of his own individual ideas, but represent the thinking of an ascendent section of the elite class, whether these are dark skinned, pale skinned or female members of it. These ideas will therefore, have a life independent of the present incumbent at the White House and also independent of North American Continent. They therefore need to be taken seriously rather than simply being dismissed as the off-the-cuff ramblings of a man out of his depth in the muddy (or swampy) waters of US politics.
The speech at Davos.
The speech at Davos is probably the most condensed articulation of the new thinking within the Republican wing of the pro-capitalist elite of the USA and points to its future development and use. To me the most strikingly obvious observation to be made of that speech is the following. Out of the 1,905 words spoken at Davos, 528 of them were aimed directly at the working class. Or to put it another way, more than one quarter of his speech was not primarily aimed at the assembled elite listening to him but at the working class electorate in the USA. Having declared to the assembled rich-list ‘guests’ that American workers were “the best workers in the world” as noted, he didn’t stop there. Here are a few other extracts from those 528 words to give a fuller flavour.
“In rebuilding America we are also fully committed to developing our workforce. We are lifting people from dependence to Independence because we know the single-best anti-poverty program is a very simple and very beautiful paycheck. To be successful it is not enough to invest in our economy.“
In continuing he went on to speak about the ‘forgotten’ people (ie the white-collar and blue-collar workers, the unemployed, single parents, pensioners, impoverished students etc.) in this increasingly ‘fractured world’ and then declared;
“We must invest in our people. When people are forgotten the world becomes fractured. Only by hearing and responding to the voices of the forgotten can we create a bright future that is truly shared by all. The nation’s greatness is more than the sum of its production and a nation’s greatness is the sum of its citizens, the values, pride, love, devotion and character of the people who call that nation home.
In drawing attention to the considerable economic, financial and political power of those assembled economic and political elites present, he included the following;
“With this power comes an obligation however, a duty of loyalty to the people, workers, customers, who made you who you are.…Together let us resolve to use our power, our resources and our voices, not just for ourselves but for our people, to lift their burdens, to raise their hopes and to empower their dreams.“
He closed his Davos speech with thanking the organisers and then added the following remarks.
“…but most importantly, thank you, to all of the hard-working men and women who do their duty each and every day, making this a better world for everyone. Together let us send our love and our gratitude to them because they really make our countries run. They make our countries great.“
Speech to Congress.
These worker orientated themes were repeated in his speech to Congress were he declared a desire to “reward good workers” and promised to “protect American workers”. And concluded with another rhetorical flourish;
“….my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers, and America’s forgotten communities. I want our youth to grow up to achieve great things. I want our poor to have their chance to rise.“
To emphasise this targeted focus on the situation of the working classes and poor he then went on to define them in the following manner.
“They work in every trade. They sacrifice to raise a family. They care for our children at home. They defend our flag abroad. They are strong moms and brave kids. They are firefighters, police officers, border agents, medics, and Marines.“
State of the Union speech.
The Presidents State of the Union speech was much longer and covered more ground than the previous two. Drug addiction, the Wall, controlled immigration, terrorism, rebuilding the nuclear arsenal, North Korea, Iran and support for Israel against Palestine were mentioned. But even among these (and numerous other issues he mentioned), he still managed to fulfil his role as Republican promoted pied-piper of capital with a mandate to lure workers into supporting what is shaping up to be the first stages of a new form of unified authoritarian nationalist ideology. For example;
“So tonight, I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties — Democrats and Republicans — to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed. My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream.“
“All of us, together, as one team, one people, and one American family.”
“Our task is to respect them, to listen to them, to serve them, to protect them, and to always be worthy of them.”
Most of the above ideas and sentiments, if not all, could have come from the mouths of the Democratic wing of USA politics and indeed many have and undoubtedly will do so in the future. This is because, as noted earlier, they are not simply the ideas of the individuals who express them publicly, but are those which represent the logical way forward for the pro-capitalist elite particularly in their moments of economic and social crisis. By the way, one nation, one people, with the elite as strong-arm guardian and protector of everything, uttered by Trump, is not a new ideological formula. Nor is it one specific to the United States, it has been a constant mantra of the bourgeoisie internationally, since the pro-capitalist revolutions of 1641-1650 (England); 1770 – 1780 (American Colonies); and 1789 -1793 (France).
So all the above noted speeches contain just a collection of words mouthed at one time or another by practically every politician in every country on the planet. Even the appeal for the rival political parties and business elites to put aside their differences and work for the common good is simply a repetition of a regularly recurring mantra, particularly in times of difficulty. Trump at Davos, Senate etc., is merely articulating a common ideological position and global-wide political reflex; in order to head off potential civil disorder. What is relatively new is the identity of those who are proposing new deals, or in the case of the US, a new, New Deal. The tactic now, as in the past, is to make an offer of cross-party reforms and later water them down. However, the 21st century US elite (as with the European and UK elites) are not yet sufficiently threatened by civil discord for most of them to put aside their differences and form a united front. That will perhaps come later.
If we carefully examine the ideas presented by Trump at Davos etc., it becomes clear that they are a mixture of facts, condescending generalisations, patronising praise and nationalist elite-centred sentiments. What is relatively new is their packaging together by right-wing politicians and again this is an international phenomenon.
First the facts.
Fact 1. Working people are the ones who made the international gathering of rich at Davos – rich. As workers around the world, they made the products, as customers, they bought the products, as workers, they also transported the products, and as workers they kept the power systems going for production and the roads repaired etc., for transportation. ie Trumps… the people, workers, customers, who made you who you are…”
Fact 2. Working people (of the world) work every day in the above roles and as retail workers, service workers, teachers, health workers, social workers, voluntary workers etc. and make the world a better place for everyone. ie.” Trumps.., hard-working men and women who do their duty each and every day, making this a better world for everyone.” and “..they really make our countries run. They make our countries great.“ “They work in every trade.“
These two elements of this recent pro-capitalist, right-wing perspective have been borrowed from the left. The usual right-wing upside-down ideology which argues that it is capitalists who create all the wealth and benefit workers by generously providing them with much needed jobs has been turned the right way up. In these speeches, Trump and his right-wing advisers have unwittingly admitted what has previously been denied – the labour theory of value! The reality of human societies is that wealth comes from the efforts of workers who produce goods and services. It is now correctly revealed by this section of the ‘right’ that it is workers who provide the labour and services which are the foundation of all capitalist societies and apart from nature, the sources of all previous and present wealth. Of course economic systems with workers providing the foundations of societies by low paid, hard work and the elites enjoying the superstructural wealth benefits, is nothing new and is seen by the Trump’s as ‘natural’ or God given when in fact it is neither.
The ‘rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, all things bright and beautiful, the lord god made it so’ rationalisation, is an ancient religious justification for accepting extremely divided societies. There is, however, a more rational and secular explanation. The present system of hierarchical exploitation was the result of capitalist revolutions which not only removed Royal lineages from direct power and control, but also removed working people from direct access to the main means of production. Historically, societies with extremes of Poverty and Wealth are not the results of natural processes but socially created ones. That, among other things, is the missing dimension from such right-wing speeches and for obvious reasons. These half-borrowed left revolutionary-humanist facts about the position of workers have been stitched together with nationalist bourgeois propaganda, by the right and then embroidered with patronising praise before being offered as an infected comfort blanket to those who have not yet been able to de–construct them.
If we take such a tapestry of contradictory ideas seriously, as I suggest we should, then it is inadequate to refer to them using the practically useless abstraction populism. What we are witnessing in the liberal democracies (and many non-democracies) are the progressive stages of justifying and/or establishing a commitment to return to something which is by no means popular – ie forms of authoritarian nationalism. This is a return which would allow the upholders of the capitalist system to have sufficient support and resources to survive the coming storms. In the liberal democracies, unlike non-democracies and one-party sham democracies, the more ruthless forms of bourgeois nationalist ideology only get increased emphasis when it is most needed. And it is most needed by the bourgeois and petite-bourgeois classes again in this 21st century period of systemic crisis.
This is also why – in various forms – authoritarian nationalism is being articulated and put into practice again in practically all countries of Europe, the Middle-East, and the rest of the World. The UK, France, Germany, Poland etc., all have their mini-me Trumps in waiting whilst in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Iran, Turkey, Saudi, Russia, China, for example, their (more or even less refined) big boss Trump’s are already ensconced in power as varying personifications of this elite class trend. In many cases, these figureheads who are used by the dominant political and economic mileus to articulate their interests, will be elevated, supported or even demoted, depending upon how successful they are at dividing and fooling the masses. However, we can be sure of the following. The above menu of ideas that the dominant class now needs will be retained and even further refined and enthusiastically promoted as and when felt necessary. How successful these ideas are in fooling and dividing the bulk of present generation of humanity remains to be seen, but as we shall see later they are once again, in the absence of alternative explanations, becoming attractive to embattled and struggling working people.
For this reason these same ideas will undoubtedly be taken up, sooner or later, by other less crude and callous figureheads than the current crop who are by no means the perfect vehicles to save the capitalist economic and social system from its progressive descent into yet another socio-economic abyss. This is why combating the figureheads and their immediate followers, instead of the core ideas, is a recipe for seeing them pop up in a new form and in a new, perhaps more agreeable, or even in some cases (ie Erdogan, Sisi, Assad, Putin etc) a more ruthlessly-powerful, mouth. Meanwhile we need to recognise that the success of this elite strategy of recruiting the masses to one nation, one people, one elite-run, state-power, and ignore essential class divisions, requires two further elements to help it weather the coming storms. They are the creation of enemies within and without as scapegoats, first of all to be blamed and then to be sacrificed. That is another hot issue which will be covered in the next post.
R. Ratcliffe (March 2018)