Monday, December 26, 2016


Some thoughts of mine on the broader implications of the Trump phenomenon

Many analysts have belittled the seriousness of Trump's anti-globalization rhetoric and even such jingoistic proposals as the construction of a wall along the Mexican border. They point to Trump’s  appointments of such global players as Rex Tillerson and Steven Mnuchin as evidence that Trump cannot and will not turn his back on global commitments and realities.

Along these lines, Bill Robinson (whose work I have always admired and used extensively in the classroom) argues that Trump represents the rise of neo-fascism, but in no way threatens to put a halt to, or a break on, globalization. As proof, he points to the global dimensions of Trump’s own capitalist holdings.

In contrast to Robinson, I argue that globalization is still basically a tendency rather than an all-encompassing reality and that the nation state is a fundamental element, which has to be at the center of any analysis of the world’s political economy. The Trump phenomenon demonstrates that the ruling class of the world's most powerful nation is very much divided as to the pluses and minuses of globalization, in two ways. First, the hardened opposition to Trump’s candidacy by much of the U.S. elite indicates the degree to which the nation’s ruling class is fractured. Second, the willingness of former adversaries within the establishment to make their peace with Trump puts in evidence the ruling class’s ambivalence regarding globalization. Had Bernie Sanders been elected president, the ruling class in its totality would have carried out an all-out campaign against him both before and after his election. The fact that Republicans and business leaders who doggedly opposed Trump’s candidacy have toned down their rhetoric, and are seeking an understanding with the new president, is a reflection of the ambivalence of the nation’s elite regarding globalization. Furthermore, even before Trump’s nomination as Republican Party candidate, he counted on the unwavering support of such important political actors as Fox News and Newt Gingrich, who undoubtedly represent the interests of sectors of the nation’s bourgeoisie.

Trump's anti-globalization discourse cannot be discarded as mere bluster. To completely turn his back on his main campaign offer of reversing free trade policies would be political suicide. By doing so, Trump would forfeit his largest social base of support – that is, the white working class – and leave himself vulnerable to the revengeful actions of powerful political actors who he had insulted during the campaign, who would then give encouragement to and abet popular and progressive sectors opposed to his reactionary positions. There is a consistency to Trump's positions. His racist statements particularly against Mexicans are designed to underpin and provide credibility to his promises to put a halt to the exodus of jobs and to renegotiate NAFTA. Furthermore, it is not a coincidence that two major targets of Trump's attacks are Mexico and China, while he has at least until now had kind words for Russia's Vladimir Putin. Mexico and China, unlike Russia, have been major recipients of U.S. investments in the area of production for the U.S. market.

Trump’s aim is not to return to pre-globalization times or to insulate the U.S. economy from global pressures. If that were the case he would not have chosen Tillerson and Mnuchin for such top cabinet posts. However, for reasons I state above, he will probably go beyond mere symbolic gestures to counter aspects of globalization; such actions will have an important impact on the economy, given the volatility of financial markets.

 What the Trump phenomenon tells us is that globalization writers of all stripes underestimate the degree to which the U. S. bourgeoisie is concerned about the deteriorated state of affairs in the nation. Humanitarian considerations are obviously not in the forefront of its concerns. Regardless of the degree to which their business interests are tied to the global economy and the intricacy of those ties, U.S. businesspeople are affected in major ways by decisions taken at the level of the nation state. And the U.S. bourgeoisie has infinitely greater clout in Washington than in any European nation, and even more so in the case of China. The importance of this political factor is the most convincing explanation as to why the U.S. bourgeoisie is receptive, to the extent that it is, to Trump's proposals to "make America great again."

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Felipe Carrillo Puerto and the socialist legacy in Mexico

The presence of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, the socialist governor of Yucatan who was executed in 1924, is everywhere in Merida, Mexico. There is a park, statue and district (“colonia”) with his name, as well as the Teatro Felipe Carrillo Puerto that is part of the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán that he founded as governor of the state. Carrillo Puerto was allied with Zapata (and later Obregón and Calles) and attempted to apply the agrarian reform to Yucatan. He also promoted worker unionization, the diffusion of the Mayan language and defended women’s rights. He was executed in a right-wing revolt that spread to the rest of Mexico in an attempt to overthrow the government of Obregón and Calles. The veneration of the socialist Carrillo Puerto in Mérida serves to refute the half truths and stereotypes promoted by those who vilify the socialist tradition and legacy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Pluses and Minuses of Jobs

The movie Jobs about the life of Steve Jobs is worth seeing. I liked it in one sense but felt it fell short in another. I liked it because it relates Jobs’ personal life to the type of company he made out of Apple. His relationship with his ex-wife (or ex-partner) and especially his daughter was really sick. He was a control freak who hurt the only person he loved (his daughter) in order to control her. And that’s exactly what his business strategy was. Google uses open source, and Microsoft doesn’t force Windows users to buy exclusively Microsoft programs. But Apple is different. It’s as if tires on GM cars have to be GM-produced, and their cars could only run on GM-gasoline. In short, the movie shows how Jobs was a control freak in both his personal life and his business life.
The downside of the movie is that it dwells too much on the personal drama, and there is little about what was really going on in the company with regard to the development of cutting-edge technology. And the movie ends with ipods: nothing about tablets, iphones, mobile technology, and the like. Throughout the move, scenes hark back to a decision that was made back in the mid-80s with regard to Apple 2 and Macintosh.

Worth seeing, but don’t hold your breath.