Tipping points: Stop Trump and restrain capitalism to save the world
Workers Party of Belgium

This article is an updated text based on a report delivered by the author at a meeting of the National Board of the Communist Party on November 1, 2017.

We live in extraordinarily dangerous times. People and nature face existential threats, including the ecological crisis and the growing nuclear war danger. Other looming crises, including the threat to basic democratic rights, extreme wealth concentration, social inequality, and the impact of automation on job loss, are also reaching tipping points and must be addressed.

All will be at the center of developments for years to come. Addressing these issues can form the basis for the broadest unity to defeat every Republican and Trump-backed candidate in 2018, oust Trump in 2020, and open the path toward a radical transition of society.

Removing the right-wing obstacle

The Trump administration is authoritarian, deeply corrupt, and replete with pathological liars. It is directly linked to the so-called “alt-right”—re-branded fascists and Nazis—including those who serve in the White House.

White supremacists, misogynists, climate deniers, xenophobes, Islamophobes, and militarists dominate the administration. General Kelly’s recent attempt to revise Civil War history should dispel any illusions the public can rely on “rational generals” to restrain 45.

A mass base intoxicated with irrationality, lies, and conspiracy theories supports Trump and the GOP. They are being manipulated by an extensive right-wing communications infrastructure, including Fox News, Breitbart, Infowars, hate-talk radio, the NRA, right-wing Evangelicals, and think-tanks. Taken together, this has the potential to become a full-blown fascist movement.

On Oct. 30, Special Counsel Mueller issued the first indictments in the investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to interfere in the 2016 elections. Most observers think this is the tip of the iceberg. If so, we are headed for a constitutional crisis.

Either Trump, his family, and confederates will be indicted for obstruction of justice, collusion, possible treason, money laundering, and other financial crimes or Trump will fire Mueller—a move the right wing is clamoring for. To defend constitutional and democratic norms, it’s essential the investigative process take its course. The public must demand it.

There is of course also the danger that Trump could distract the public by using a provocation to launch a major military action or suspend democratic rights.

The constitutional crisis and mass resistance to Trump and the GOP has increasingly led to political paralysis. Such moments have been openings for authoritarianism and fascism in the past.

The broad grassroots resistance movement against Trump, however, is unprecedented and relentless. The defeat of the GOP in 2018 elections is key to defending democracy and addressing climate change, the nuclear danger, and other tipping point crises. The sweeping Democratic victory on Nov. 8 is a great sign for the battles ahead.

Aggravating every crisis

The Trump/GOP policies represent the most extreme oligarchs, the fossil fuel and military armaments industries, right-wing social forces, and the so-called “alt-right” and are aggravating every crisis.

GOP tax legislation will accelerate the wealth flow to the top one percent.

U.S. Marines take their position during a South Korea-U.S. joint military exercise aimed at North Korea at Pohang beach. | Lee Jin-man / AP

Justice Department policies are aggravating racial and gender inequity and hatred against immigrants and Muslims.

“Repeal and replacement” of Obamacare would have stripped tens of millions of healthcare, which the Republicans now seek through open sabotage.

Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords, gutting the EPA, and Obama executive orders is making the federal government complicit in the climate crisis.

Two developments best illustrate the immense dangers.

First, there is the humanitarian crisis gripping Puerto Rico. One hundred and nineteen years of U.S. colonialism and imperialist plunder and neoliberal policies have left Puerto Rico in shambles, with 40 percent poverty, high unemployment, a tattered infrastructure, closed hospitals and schools, and unpayable debt.

Self-government has been negated. Puerto Rico is being administered as colony by a financial control board and the GOP-dominated Congress. The Puerto Rican people have no say; they are denied the right to vote in presidential and congressional elections and have no federal representation.

Then hurricanes Irma and Maria struck. Their devastation was magnified by climate change and Trump’s racism. The extent of damage is unknown, but it could take a year before electricity is fully restored, and there are likely decades of rebuilding ahead.

In contrast, Hurricane Irma affected every province in Cuba, but within a week electricity was completely restored and schools, hospitals, and the tourism industry were fully functioning. Meanwhile, Cuba sent hundreds of medical personnel to other Caribbean nations and Mexico. They offered help to Puerto Rico and Houston, but received no response from the U.S. government. Cuba’s hurricane preparedness and civil defense system is a world model. The country has experienced 30 major hurricanes in 20 years and suffered only 54 dead.

The second major development is the growing nuclear war danger on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea (or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK) has been subject to 70 years of U.S. imperialist hostility. During the Korean War, the U.S. military leveled the DPRK. Hostilities were ended with a cease-fire, and today the DPRK is surrounded by nuclear weapons, subject to constant threats, military exercises, and sanctions.

For the DPRK, developing a nuclear weapons program to defend themselves makes perfect sense. They see U.S. efforts at regime change in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya and a history of overthrowing governments.

However, this is only helping create a far more dangerous situation—including a nuclear arms race and the threat of nuclear annihilation. Sixty percent of the South Korean public now favors development of a nuclear program. And 70 percent of the American public supports the introduction of tactical nuclear weapons into the battlefield.

At the behest of the U.S., the right-wing Abe government bypassed the Peace Clause in the Japanese constitution and is once again arming. Trump is encouraging both South Korea and Japan to arm themselves with nuclear weapons. Furthermore, his administration is accelerating a $1.2 trillion modernization of nuclear weapons begun under the Obama administration. The military-industrial complex and its insatiable greed are driving this development. In response, both Russia and China are carrying out nuclear modernization programs of their own. The nuclear arms race is being propelled to new and dangerous heights.

Humanity, beginning with the American people, must demand a peaceful solution and complete global denuclearization. This begins with denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, where the U.S. must take the first step.

Humanity faces its greatest existential threats ever in climate change and nuclear war—and Trump is aggravating both.

The ecological crisis

The climate crisis is a crisis for humanity and for capitalism. Marx wrote of a “metabolic rift” between society and nature that accompanied the rise of capitalism.

Capitalism is inherently hostile to nature because it is based on commodity production for maximum profits. Wealth accumulation is achieved through exploitation of labor and nature. In the course of this process, humans are alienated from their labor power, the products they produce, and nature itself.

Capitalism can only exist through infinite economic expansion, which eventually clashes with the Earth’s finite resources and ability to absorb ecological destruction. Extreme weather events are leading to a rapid developing eco-consciousness. States and hundreds of cities have pledged to follow the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But this growing eco-awareness doesn’t yet have a decisive impact on politics. The climate deniers and fossil fuel industry remain a formidable obstacle.

Marx said that capitalism opened a “metabolic rift” between society and nature. | Galen Johnson / CC

The effects of climate change in the decades ahead will still worsen and persist for centuries even if the world fully commits to sustainability now. That includes extreme weather events, changing weather patterns, super hurricanes, heat waves, forest fires and deforestation, floods, droughts, sea level rise, ocean acidification, and what is being called the sixth great extinction of species. Five billion people will live in a radically different environment by 2050.

Mother Nature is playing by different rules and as Al Gore says in An Inconvenient Sequel, “speaking more eloquently than all of us.”

Consider this:

The entire coastline of the U.S. is threatened with climate-induced sea level rise. In the worst-case scenario, Florida will be entirely underwater, along with major metropolitan areas on both coasts. The hills of San Francisco will be a group of islands.

Even if 100 percent carbon neutral development is achieved, Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Alaska native villages, and other communities will be chronically flooded. This is happening now. Entire communities are and will be relocated and millions forced to flee their homes.

This is just the United States. The entire world is experiencing similar disastrous consequences.

Sustainability, adaption, and the path to socialism

The planetary emergency calls for both sustainable development and societal adaptation to the effects of climate change. This will take the collective action and resources of humanity. Survival forces us to confront the domination of capital and the capitalist system, its profit motive, and anarchy of production and development.

Survival will force a vastly expanded role for government, directed economic and social development, deep encroachment on capitalist property rights and profits, public protection and control of natural resources, and reallocation of social wealth.

The necessity for sustainable policies and adaptation forms the basis for the transition to eco-socialism in the United States.

No one knows how much this transition will cost, including solidarity with the poorest and most vulnerable nations globally. But it can’t be avoided if we are to survive.

Five years after hurricane Sandy, New York City is undergoing a modest multi-billion dollar infrastructure transition to prepare for the next super storm. This includes building a sea barrier called the “Big U” around lower Manhattan, raising utilities 35 feet aboveground, and installing Kevlar curtains over subway entrances.

Miami is spending $400 million to raise roads and bridges, install pumps, and build sea walls—all of which may be in vain. Similar preparations are necessary in every coastal community not relocated.

Trillions of trees must be planted to create a massive carbon sink, and wetlands restored and expanded.

A modern smart electric grid system must be built, communities converted to renewable energy sources, water main systems replaced, mass transit built, and homes and office buildings retrofitted to withstand extreme weather and conserve energy.

Coastal development will need to be banned or severely regulated. Development will have to be dictated by adaptation. This will result in deep inroads into the prerogatives of capital.

Capitalist market forces are already forcing the liquidation of the coal industry in favor of natural gas, solar, wind, and geothermal energy sources—all of which are cheaper. This is happening more rapidly than previously estimated. A new study estimates renewable sources will power 100 percent of electricity needs by 2050. The solar industry already employs twice as many workers as the coal industry.

The “just transition” to clean energy, demilitarization, and a Medicare-for-All health system will create massive employment dislocation. However, transitioning to sustainability and adaptation will create of millions of new jobs.

The AFL-CIO and American Society of Civil Engineers say trillions of dollars of infrastructure upgrades are urgently necessary. But the current infrastructure can’t simply be replaced; it must be made adaptable to the new climate realities.

Such an infrastructure program can also address the massive loss of jobs expected in the next wave of automation being driven by robotics and artificial intelligence. The Obama White House predicted forty-seven percent of all jobs are at risk of elimination by 2050.

Who will pay for this massive economic, technological, and social transition? It will be either the people or the one percent.

Wealth concentration has reached a crisis of extremes. The world’s eight richest oligarchs own wealth equal to the poorest half of the world’s population. In the U.S., the top one percent own thirty-five percent of all wealth, leaving the bottom eighty percent just seven percent to split among ourselves.

This crisis can only be resolved through massive wealth redistribution and a re-allocation of federal expenditures. The single largest expenditure item is the $824 billion military budget, not including the $1.2 trillion nuclear modernization. This will have to be transferred to fund adaptation and the transition to sustainability.

Achieving all of this is going to take a lot of work, though. The 2018 elections are critical for defending democracy and addressing the climate crisis, the nuclear danger, and the other tipping point crises.

It is therefore urgent to build the broadest, most united resistance movement to break the extreme right political stranglehold and open the way for the next stage in the challenging and complex transition to a peaceful, democratic, humane, eco-socialist society.


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.