The following is an edited version of a talk given by Brian Becker on March 25, 2018. Becker is a member of the Central Committee of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
What I want to talk about is to identify where we are right now in this political process. It is our belief in the PSL Central Committee that we have now passed a point of no return with respect to the “Russiagate” controversy. It is not going to go away, it is going to expand and deepen, and it has a profound implication for U.S. politics and for global politics.
What we are witnessing is two convergent phenomena coming together, running in parallel but now intersecting. One is a profound, political civil war going on within the summits of the capitalist political establishment, the ruling class centers of power in the intelligence agencies. The second is a qualitative re-orientation of U.S. foreign policy and the gearing up for “major power” conflict with Russia and China as the targets. The goal of this foreign/military re-orientation is to apply severe pressure of all types on Russia and China with four identifiable goals: 1) to encircle Russia, weaken it economically and hem it in on all sides, 2) to compete with China for dominance in Asia, which is now the most dynamic part of the world economy, 3) to weaken or end the alliance that China and Russia have forged in recent years, and 4) to carry out regime change in China and Russia.
Let us start first by examining the first phenomenon: the intra-class class struggle that is going inside the U.S. capitalist establishment
Multiple ruling class centers of political power did not expect Donald Trump to win the presidency and they want his administration to end. This opposition to Trump includes: the intelligence agencies; the foreign policy establishment cadres from both ruling class parties; the core of the State Department professional staff; the Washington think-tank establishment that provides cadres who come in and out of the capitalist government and in many ways constitute the professional enduring government in the country; and the leading capitalist mass media outlets. Their opposition to Trump is not simply or mainly because he is a bigot, not because he is a misogynist. It is not because he is a xenophobe, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim. It is not because he is an anti-Black racist. Of course, he is all those things, and he is different from other ruling class politicians in that he speaks openly and takes the mask off the bigotry that so permeates the ruling class in America and thus embarrasses the ruling class. This is considered tasteless. The political leaders of the U.S. capitalist state have learned that it is discrediting to the system for such blatant, open displays of reactionary bigotry to take place.
But there is another reason that big sectors of the ruling class and their operatives considered Donald Trump to be unfit and one of the principal reasons why the FBI and the intelligence agencies were targeting Trump even in 2016.
If we think back to what Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto in 1848, they summarized very succinctly the different features of modern bourgeois society, the bourgeois system and capitalism. They used this formulation right at the beginning of the Communist Manifesto: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” I’m going to say it again: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”
Donald Trump is perceived to be unwilling or incapable of representing or managing the common affairs of the entire bourgeoisie. He is in fact a unique figure only in this sense; he suddenly became the CEO of the most powerful executive state apparatus in the world. Trump’s personal background leaves him trained only to be the leader, the dictator if you will, of a mid-sized, semi-bankrupt real estate company and a reality TV show personality to boot, whose “star” actually had been in eclipse for some time. Donald Trump only cares about Trump and does not care at all — as we can see by his conduct in the last year — about the common affairs of the bourgeoisie. He is unfit because he doesn’t fit the mold of what the CEO of the dominant capitalist and imperialist state in the world is required to be. They want to bring him down and the Mueller investigation has become the vessel for those in the ruling class who want to end Trump’s presidency. The Mueller investigation only came into being as the consequence of Trump’s political stupidity, as evidenced by his firing of James Comey as FBI director.
Trump ridiculously believed that since the Democrats hated Comey for his re-opening of the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s personal email use, the Democrats would applaud Trump’s decision to fire him. After all, the FBI investigation was reopened just eleven days before the Nov. 8, 2016 election, casting a shadow on her campaign. Instead, the Democrats and anti-Trump liberals embraced the fallen FBI Director as the champion of “our democracy.”
The “Russiagate” probe has two principal objectives
The Russiagate propaganda and agitation campaign is designed to smear Trump. It is also being used to build a consensus in the U.S. for confrontation with Russia, for a sharp acceleration of militarism and a massive shift of public resources into the coffers of the Pentagon and war contractors.
Russiagate is also being used to smear the Left, to smear the Black liberation movement, to attack independent third political parties, to smear our own Party.
Mueller doesn’t really have evidence of collusion between Trump and the Russians that allowed him to become president in 2016. After all, he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes, and except for the continued existence of the archaic slave-based electoral college system, Hillary Clinton, not Trump, would be President.
The Russians did not, nor did anyone else, expect Trump to become the President of the United States. They did not put their eggs in the Donald Trump basket even if they thought he would be slightly softer on Russia and less bellicose than Hillary Clinton and the neo-conservative establishment that supported her. Clinton and the Neocons were the tip of the spear for a reoriented foreign policy that explicitly targeted Russia as a consequence of the events in Ukraine and Syria.
Nobody, or very few within the ruling class, expected in 2016 that Trump would win the presidency. Nobody counted on it and the ruling class was surprised — shocked would be more accurate — by Trump’s victory.
The Mueller investigation’s broad, open-ended mandate, as one can see with the recent subpoenas, will be able to get hold of the Trump organization’s financial records. And in them there will be plenty of corruption, of criminality. There will be indictments certainly to come against Trump and unless there’s a sharp change in the political situation, a big part of the ruling class will remain absolutely determined to bring him down.
I want us to hear the words of John Brennan, the former CIA director under Barack Obama. Brennan, by the way, had a hard time getting the top post in 2009 when Obama wanted to bring him into that position. But Brennan’s main problem was his deep connection to George W. Bush’s torture program. Obama had to wait and let him sit it out with a secondary position for a few years until they figured that people (the media) would start to forget what Brennan and Cheney and Gina Haspel and all the other torturers did. Now, ironically, liberals love Brennan.
But to stay with our main point: here’s what Brennan said about the President of the United States. Again, the former CIA director until a year ago, he writes these words:
“When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude and political corruption becomes known you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history.”
He goes on to declare that Donald Trump is one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington. Relegated to the dustbin of history? I mean, this is the language that is normally reserved for Saddam Hussein, or Muammar Qaddafi, or Kim Jong Un or earlier Fidel Castro, but this is the former CIA director talking about the President of the United States. It shows the temper and mood within the ruling class in America and this will be a fight that will continue. Eventually one side or the other will win.
I think that within the state apparatus and media, many are determined to find one way or another to end the Trump presidency, which would then be the presidency of Mike Pence. So it is really foolhardy, ridiculous, bizarre and politically wrong for any wing of the Left, certainly in the working-class, socialist and Marxist movement, to affix itself politically to one wing or another wing of these ruling class factions that are involved in deep struggle.
The sharp splits and divisions within the ruling class are not new phenomena. In fact, it is a feature of what happens to U.S. imperialism within the pinnacle of the political establishment when the U.S. empire seems to be in decline or in crisis.
Let’s start with some recent history: Between 1960 and 1980 there was not one U.S. president who could finish a second term in office. Just think of what actually happened at that time. The United States appeared to be losing the misnamed Cold War. Socialism and national liberation were on the ascension. Cuba was able to fend off a U.S.-led Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 that was meant to overthrow the revolution.
Liberation fighters in South Vietnam had launched an offensive against the U.S. puppet regime. Kennedy was blamed for not doing enough to overthrow the Cuban government. Kennedy and his brother had been the main restraining voices within the emergency war council during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy was deeply disliked by the Pentagon brass and the CIA. He was perceived by the Dixiecrats as a “race traitor” because he seemed to favor the end of apartheid (segregation) in the South and his Justice Department had some connection to the southern civil rights movement.
One year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, John F. Kennedy was gunned down, assassinated. His replacement was Lyndon Johnson. Johnson couldn’t run for a second term because of the growing opposition in the streets and within the summits of the establishment about the failure of the U.S. to win the war in Vietnam. Johnson would have been replaced by Bobby Kennedy who ran on a platform of ending the Vietnam War. But Bobby Kennedy was shot dead in June 1968 on the night that he won the California primary, thus clinching the Democratic nomination.
Absent Kennedy’s participation you have Richard Nixon able to ascend to the White House. Nixon, too, faced a great struggle within and from the ultra-right in 1972 led by the campaign of George Wallace. That effort came to an end when Wallace was felled by a would-be assassin’s bullet. Nixon won 49 states in the 1972 election. Wall Street and the military-industrial complex were 100 percent opposed to McGovern assuming the presidency.
Nixon was unable to finish the second term of his time in office because of Watergate. But Watergate was really the bringing down of Richard Nixon by the FBI. The so-called “Deep Throat” in the Watergate investigation was none other than Mark Felt, the number-two man after J. Edgar Hoover in the FBI.
After Nixon was brought down, again because of the intra-class struggle within the bourgeoisie, Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller became president and vice president, but without an election; they were appointed. Ford lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976.
And yet, Carter, too, was unable to win re-election in 1980 because of an even more profound, unprecedented schism within the ruling class. The Pentagon became the spearhead of this incredible clash. More than 120 retired generals and admirals created the Committee on the Present Danger. They took out huge full page advertisements blaming Carter and “weak” leaders for undermining the status of the United States as the number one super-power in the world. Their message was one of the most brazen calls for extreme militarism and the ramping up of virulent anti-Sovietism. Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign was the vessel for the Committee on the Present Danger. It was a ruling class coalition of Generals and Big Oil.
The immediate context at that time of the open split in the ruling class was the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the 1978 socialist revolution/coup in Afghanistan. The loss of Iran via a people’s revolution had a staggering impact on ruling class politics in the U.S., for Iran had been, along with Israel, the principal agent for U.S. control over the oil-rich Middle East. The CIA had carried out the coup in 1953 that returned the Iranian monarchy to the throne.
The Iranian Revolution succeeded in taking power in February 1979 and in November 1979, Iranian students took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. U.S. hostages were seized from the embassy. As we saw later, the Iranians refused to release those hostages until January 20th, on that very day, and just a few minutes after Ronald Reagan became president of the United States. The Reagan campaign had been colluding with the new Iranian government. There was obviously an agreement or arrangement between the Reagan campaign, the Republicans and the Iranian government to not release the U.S. hostages. Failure to win the release of the American hostages and a botched military effort to rescue them made Jimmy Carter appear to be a weak leader lacking the resolve to overcome this so-called Iranian aggression.
Looking back one can see this great instability of 20 years within the ruling class in America.
The schisms, splits, divisions and toxic struggles within the ruling class have to be understood as a consequence of setbacks.
It wasn’t just Iran, of course. The setbacks that the U.S. was suffering were on a global scale. Almost all of Southeast Asia had gone socialist, the African Revolution was on the march, revolutions in Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Angola. There was the Ethiopian revolution in 1974 and an even deeper socialist revolution in 1977. The Afghanistan revolution took power in 1978. The Sandinistas took power in Nicaragua through an armed struggle in 1979.
The summits of the U.S. ruling class became toxic with intra-class struggle, not primarily because of the internal class struggle between the working-class and the bourgeoisie at home. It was within the bourgeoisie over how to manage their defeats and setbacks in the global class struggle.
In some respects we are now in a similar situation although for different reasons. It is a toxic, fractured ruling class. Politically, the stakes are very high in terms of the outcome. Trump represents a current within U.S. politics that believes the U.S. is a formerly “great” country that is now in decline. The repeated military interventions in the Middle East provided no new advance for the United States. These interventions have bogged the United States down in the Middle East which allowed China to rise as the new dominant power in Asia. At the same time, Russia got back on its feet and resumed a Russia-China strategic relationship that serves as a buffer against the organic and constant drive for world domination by U.S. imperialism.
The second phenomenon: The re-orientation of U.S. foreign and military policy
The struggle inside the ruling class coincides with another major development, the reorientation of U.S. foreign policy to prepare for a major power confrontation with Russia and with China. That is explicitly stated in the recently released Nuclear Posture Review and the new National Security Strategy that was released in January. It is not about ISIS, it is not about Al-Qaeda, it is not the war on terror. The Pentagon is now preparing actively, with all of its contingency planning and budgeting, for what is described as major power confrontation with Russia or China.
Just a few days ago the Americans sent destroyers twelve nautical miles from Chinese territory. The Chinese said this was an act of war. This morning, China’s Air Force conducted major exercises, which the Chinese military press-release of a few hours ago said was a “dress rehearsal for war.”
The events in Ukraine and Syria have turned the tide and led to a qualitatively different assessment within the heights of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, and in the Pentagon and the CIA, regarding Russia. In 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States promised the new Russian leadership, Boris Yeltsin, that the United States would not take advantage of the new weakness of Russia to move NATO eastward.
But of course, as we all know that is exactly what happened. All the former socialist governments had fallen in Eastern and Central Europe. The socialist governments in former Soviet republics that were not Russia, Ukraine, for instance, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania also fell. All of them with the exception of Ukraine had been incorporated into NATO by 2014, a U.S. multilateral military alliance targeting Russia. NATO has gone from being located in central or Western Europe right up to Russia’s border.
When the government of Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown in a February 2014 coup d’état led by Neo-Nazis — and that is not a rhetorical flourish, they were in fact Nazis and neo-Nazis — the U.S. government heralded that as a great “new day” for Ukrainian freedom. The Russian Black Sea Fleet and the largest naval base of the Russian military is located in Crimea. It is an area that has been part of Russia since the 1700s, is majority Russian ethnically and was only transferred administratively from Russia to Ukraine in 1954 when Ukraine and Russia were still one country, when they were both parts of the Soviet Union.
When the U.S.-backed coup seized power in Ukraine in 2014, Putin made it clear Crimea would remain Russian and so the referendum was allowed to take place in Crimea. And of course the people there being mainly Russians voted to be part of Russia rather than be ruled over by an anti-Russian, fascist government in Ukraine, which it was at that time. It has moderated somewhat now but is still very rightwing.
It was at that time that the U.S. said: “This is it, how dare Russia stop the unilateral adoption or embrace of all these former Soviet territories, or former Soviet allies, into an American-led military alliance?” Ukraine had been the second largest Soviet republic and it has a very large military. There was no way Russia was going to allow Ukraine to station a NATO base on its territory. This was precisely where the Nazis came into Russia in 1941. Of course as we know, they were defeated, but 27 million Soviet people died. This is a big part of Russian history, Russian culture, the Russian psyche.
I don’t know what the United States thought they could do in Ukraine, but whatever they thought there was no way Putin or any Russian government would allow that.
At the same time, the United States, having overthrown the government in Iraq and Libya in 2003 and 2011, was certain that it would be able to do the same in Syria. Instead of placating the U.S. government once again, as Russia did in 2011 during the run-up to the Libya bombing — when Russia abstained on Resolution 1973 that authorized the use of military force to “protect civilians” — this time Russia said “No.” At the invitation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Putin moved the Russian military decisively into the Syrian conflict to make it clear that the Assad government would not be toppled by U.S. imperialism, or Turkey, or its proxy forces ISIS and Al-Qaeda. And they are their proxies in the case of Syria.
We have moved into a new new stage of history, a new stage in the post Cold War era, where U.S. imperialism is now gearing up for major power confrontations with Russia and China. We have to see the Russiagate phenomenon and this witch-hunt, this new cold war, in the larger context of the change in global politics, and a change in the orientation of U.S. imperialism.
Even if it started it as such, it is not simply a Democratic Party excuse for why they were doing badly, or why the DNC leadership demanded people “shouldn’t read those WikiLeaks emails that came from the Russians.” Whatever its origin, this Russiagate propaganda witch-hunt has intersected with a reorientation of U.S. foreign policy that targets Russia and targets China. As a consequence it must be taken seriously.
If you had asked people in Europe, say, 106 years ago, in 1912, “Is it likely that in two years the entire world will be at war? Is it possible that there could be a world war with a magnitude of violence between major powers and that 18 million people could be killed in less than four years?” That had never happened before in human history. Most people at that time would have thought, “No, that’s inconceivable.” But it did happen and 19 years after the end of World War I, came World War II.
World war happened again because inter-imperialist and inter-capitalist rivalries became unmanageable. They became unrestrained. They had their own life. The propaganda combined with nationalism and populism and economic dislocation created a situation where a whole new political arrangement came into existence. Even though none of the parties may have wanted a war, each one kept taking steps in the direction of war — each and all took steps to climb the escalation ladder. Once on the escalation ladder it required the other side to take countermeasures. It is easy to get on an escalation ladder, it is very hard to get off an escalation ladder.
My final point is that Donald Trump has replaced Rex Tillerson, Gary Cohn and now HR McMaster, who were somewhat “moderating forces” from within the traditional bourgeoisie. Who would have thought they would be the moderates? They have been replaced with people like John Bolton who is absolutely committed to war in Iran and was Dick Cheney’s agent for that in 2005. It is important to remember that the only reason the U.S. did not go to war with Iran in 2005 was that its war machine became bogged down by the unanticipated armed resistance of the Iraqi people following the invasion.
Look at the line-up: John Bolton is the replacement as National Security Advisor. Mike Pompeo will be Trump’s Secretary of State. Pompeo is an extreme right-wing Tea Party Republican. He is not just an Islamophobe, an extreme racist, but he also wants to rip up the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the agreement with Iran, in order to set the stage for confrontation with Iran.
We have entered a new, extremely dangerous moment. Trump has created a cabinet that is “his” cabinet. It is a war cabinet. He is now free from previous restraints within the ruling class, those he considered to be somewhat disloyal, not completely partisan in the context of this fierce, venomous struggle within the bourgeoisie. Now that he has loyalists around him it means there will be a sharpening of the intra-class struggle within the bourgeoisie and a sharpening of the U.S. war danger. For the moment, it is General Mattis and the Pentagon that are the voices opposed to ripping up the JCPOA. A war with Iran would quickly lead to a regional war and possibly a global conflagration drawing in major power allies on competing sides. Militarism and repeated wars are an enduring and inherent feature of the imperialist epoch of capitalism. We must not ignore this reality.