Citizen Action Monitor

Global capitalism is in deep crisis, declares globalism sociologist William Robinson

But why does Robinson see little difference between corporate Democrats and Trump’s Republicans in their response to the global capitalism crisis?

No 2583 Posted by fw, February 13, 2020

This is part two of a two-part video interview of globalization sociologist William I. Robinson of the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is interviewed by Greg Wilpert of The Real News Network.

In part one, Robinson declared that global capitalism is in crisis, the deepest crisis since the 1930s. This current crisis is about the legitimacy of the state within a dominant capitalist system. The increasing global popularity of socialism is indicated by poll numbers and evidence of popular rebellion against the status quo. Unrest from below has unleashed the rise of 21st century fascism, resulting in political polarization. So, we have a turn to left from below (socialism), countered by rise of the radical far right (fascism). Fascism is at all times a response to capitalist crises.

In this, part two, Robinson argues that masses of people worldwide no longer believe that governments represent their interests. In America specifically, the ruling elites appear to have no strategy for dealing with the emerging crises.

As with part one, Robinson’s 16-minute interview demands considerable time and cognitive investment, partly because, like most academics, his expressions and his arguments are not readily easy to grasp. For example, he presumes his audience will understand his use of undefined terms such as “legitimate system”, “structural dimension”, and “capitalist hegemony.” In addition, his thesis and supporting arguments are complex. And, because he is speaking off-the-cuff, his thought process and wording are not always as consistent, as fluid, and as logically coherent as one might find in his written text. So one is often faced with a search for meaning.

And, as with part one, to assist you with my repost of part two, it is presented in three sections: Section 1 is my summary of the interview; Section 2 is an embedded video of the interview; and Section 3 is my carefully edited and corrected transcript of the interview, including my added subheadings, text highlighting and added hyperlinks.

Section 1 – My summary of the interview

How do corporate Democrats differ from Trump’s Republicans in their response to the global capitalism crisis? The short answer – There’s not much difference between the two. But to make that question meaningful, it helps to frame the discussion within the dual crises of global capitalism, and state legitimacy in a capitalist hegemony. The crisis of state legitimacy in a capitalist hegemony has unleashed global polarization between rebellious fascists and rebellious popular forces from below. The growing support for socialism reflects the crisis of state legitimacy and capitalist hegemony. Global elites are deeply concerned about the crisis of legitimacy. Both Trump and Pelosi oppose the growing support for socialism. And although Dem and GOP elites are deeply aware of the crisis of legitimacy within a capitalist hegemony, neither party knows how to respond to and resolve the crisis. Could we be seeing a breakdown of the ruling order? Consider the three responses to the crisis from transnational elites. First, a minority of transnational elites, and Democrats, favor “mild reformism” to save a capitalist hegemony. Second, there are Democrats who support more of what they got from Obama, and are now getting from Trump. Third, there is the far right response to the crisis as Robinson outlined in part one.

The impeachment process was a sham in the sense that both Dems and Republicans have ties to transnational capitalist elites. Consequently, Democrats who led the Trump impeachment, likely saw striking similarities between their own ideology and that of the Trump administration, thus limiting their choice of impeachment articles. Democrats were actually impeaching Trump for reasons related to his brutish behavior — Recall that Nixon was impeached not because of his crimes but for personal reasons — the Watergate break-in. Moreover, Dem’s political elites, with ties to corporate elites, have a different strategy for defending themselves against the peoples’ perception of a crisis of state legitimacy. Trump’s strategy involves fascist mobilization and intensifying the war against immigrants. Democrats’ key strategy is to redirect public attention to “the external enemy” – the Russians.

But the US elite has no strategy to confront this crisis of state legitimacy and of capitalist hegemony. Mainstream Democratic elites are more scared of Sanders, leftist uprising, and popularity of socialism within the party. Who will corporate Democrats side with – Trump or Sanders? If Bernie wins the nomination, and the Dem leadership sides with Trump, the Party will dissolve. And if they side with Bernie, and he wins the presidency, they will do everything they can to constrain him. In times like these, times of a crisis, things change very rapidly, things are very unpredictable. And complicating matters even more is the existential crisis of ecological collapse. As well, transnational finance capital has the power to either sabotage or control a Sanders’ administration. Bottom line, transnational elites are not going to be able to escape this crisis of global capitalism. Who will win?– rebellious left forces from below OR will the far right, and militarized forces gain the upper hand?

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Section 2 — An embedded video of the 16-minute interview

Is Trump’s Impeachment Merely a Fight Within the US Ruling Class? Greg Wilpert interviews William I. Robinson, The Real News Network, February 5, 2020 (15:54 min) (part 2 of 2)

Section 3 – My edited and corrected transcript of the interview

GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Arlington, Virginia.

This is part two of my interview with William I. Robinson, professor of sociology at the University of California Santa Barbara where he works on critical globalization studies. Also, he’s author of the forthcoming book The Global Police State, published by Pluto Press in May. Thanks again, Bill, for being here today.

WILLIAM I ROBINSON: It’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me on.

GREG WILPERT: So in part one of this interview, we discussed the rise of 21st century fascism around the world and the extent to which Donald Trump is a part of this phenomenon. Now in the second part, I want to look at the impeachment of Donald Trump from the perspective that the conflict we are witnessing in Congress is actually a battle within the US elite.

Now, as I mentioned in part one of our interview, I highly recommend the article that you wrote last year for the Journal Science and Society titled Global Capitalist Crisis and 21st Century Fascism: Beyond the Trump Hype. Now, in this article, you suggest that the US elite or ruling class is engaged in a battle over how to resolve the structural and ideological crisis of our global capitalism.

How do corporate Democrats differ from Trump’s Republicans in their response to the global capitalism crisis?

Now, in part one, we already discussed what this crisis consists of. I want to turn now to how two sides as probably represented by Republicans and by corporate Democrats propose to resolve this crisis. Now, since we already discovered the right wing approach earlier, I want to focus on the corporate Democratic response. That is how and why these Democrats — I’m thinking specifically about the wing of the Democratic Party, of course, that Joe Biden represents and Hillary Clinton — how are they different from Trump and the Republicans?

The short answer – There’s not much difference between the two

WILLIAM I ROBINSON: Not very different. Not very different. It’s a short answer, but let me break this down a bit.

But to make that question meaningful, the discussion has to be framed within the dual crises of global capitalism

Let me remind the listeners, if you hadn’t heard the details of part one, that I had pointed out that the current moment, whether we’re talking about impeachment in the United States, whether we’re talking about headlines from anywhere around the world, the backdrop to that is the crisis of global capitalism.

The crisis of state legitimacy in a capitalist hegemony has unleashed global polarization between rebellious fascists and rebellious popular forces from below

And I had mentioned that we have the structural dimension and we spoke about that in part one. But more significantly, when we talk about the US lead and its divisions, is the other dimension of that crisis, which is a crisis of state legitimacy in a capitalist hegemony*. And we do have this sharp polarization worldwide between an insurgent fascist, alt-right**, and insurgent forces from below, popular forces from below, rising up. [*hegemonyleadership or dominance especially by one social group over others]. [**alt-right refers to a right-wing ideological movement characterized by a rejection of mainstream politics and by the use of online media to disseminate provocative content, often expressing opposition to racial, religious, or gender equality].

Let’s focus on this crisis of [state] legitimacy because it hits head on in the United States.

The growing support for socialism reflects the crisis of state legitimacy and capitalist hegemony

And I had mentioned also in the first part of the interview that the most recent poll showed that the majority of women in the United States now support socialism over capitalism, but not just women. Previously there were polls showing that the majority of millennials now, young people, prefer socialism over capitalism. This crisis of legitimacy, of state legitimacy and capitalist hegemony, is worldwide and it’s particularly acute right now in the United States.

Global elites are deeply concerned about the crisis of legitimacy

And so, global elites — but here we’re going to talk about US elites — are deeply divided. They’re deeply concerned about this crisis of legitimacy. They are aware of it.

Re the growing popular support for socialism, both Trump and Pelosi reject socialism, and champion capitalism

They are aware of it, which is why you see, not just Trump says –Trump’s now talking about socialism — Trump’s saying, you know, “We’re never going to have a socialist United States.” But you have Democratic candidates saying, “I’m capitalist to the bone.” And you have Nancy Pelosi saying, “We’re capitalists here,” when she’s questioned by a millennial — “Why, if the majority of us want socialism, why are you insisting on capitalism?” 

Both Dem and GOP elites are deeply aware of this crisis of legitimacy within a capitalist hegemony

Elites in the United States, both Democrats and Republicans — and again, this goes worldwide, but we’re talking about the United States — are deeply aware of this crisis of legitimacy and of capitalist hegemony.

However, neither party knows how to respond to and resolve the crisis

What they’re [Dems and GOP] not united around is how to respond to that crisis, how to resolve that crisis.

Could we be seeing a breakdown of the ruling order?

And we are seeing a breakdown of the ruling order? And the ruling groups are asking, “How do we reconstitute hegemony? How do we stabilize this system? How do we sustain this system? How do we stave off revolution or this radical rebellion from below?

Consider the three responses to the crisis from transnational elites

And there have been three responses that I identify — and again this is worldwide, but we’re talking about the US case and it holds for the US case as well.

First, a minority of transnational elites, and Democrats, favor “mild reformism” to save capitalist hegemony

A number of transnational elites — including some within the Democratic party and including capitalists elites that don’t necessarily identify with either party — are trying to save the system from itself through mild reformism, from a little bit of redistribution by taxing capital and corporations a little more, by re-introducing the funding for social programs, and so forth, by some green capitalism. And this has been gaining momentum — this reformist attempt to reform the system and resolve this crisis by mild reform, but they want to resolve the crisis by mild reform — but they want to undercut radical transformation also by mild reform. But this is a minority among Democrats in the United States. It’s zero among Republicans. And it’s really a minority of elites worldwide.

The World Economic Forum just had its summit, its annual summit in Davos. And there we saw the voices of this transnational reformist elite, but they’re [a] minority.

Second, there are Democrats who support more of what they got from Obama, and now, from Trump

Then you have within the US elite — putting aside those reformers — you have the Democrats representing more of the same. You mentioned Biden, and Biden is the classical example, and now the former mayor of New York [Bloomberg] also, and Buttigieg. All of them are simply more of the same. Simply more of what we got with Obama and much of what we got with Trump. Which is —

  • a continued war mobilization and massive financing for war in the military industrial complex,
  • more neoliberal structural adjustments, a little more kinder, a little more friendlier than
  • Trump’s neoliberal structural adjustment and austerity and so forth.

Third, there is the far right response as Robinson outlined in part one

And then you have, of course, that far right response that we analyzed in the first part of the interview.

So, the US elite, reflecting the larger transnational elite, is deeply divided.

Put this in the context of the impeachment process; it’s a sham in that both Dems and Republicans are tied to transnational capitalist elites

Now, let me analyze this by looking for a moment at this impeachment process. And, on the one hand, this impeachment process is somewhat of a farce because Trump’s real crimes – the war crimes around the world, the crimes of separating children from their families and locking them up in concentration camps – all of these real crimes have also been committed by the Democrats. So they have no real division in that regard. And let’s remember that both Democrats and Republicans are beholden to the same transnational capitalist class, to the financial industry, to the military-industrial complex, to oil and gas interests, and so on. Basically, to the agenda of the transnational capitalist class.

Democrats, who led the Trump impeachment, likely saw that ideological similarities with the Trump administration confined their selection of impeachment articles

The Democrats are not impeaching Trump because —

  • he’s privatized even more of the US economy and the global economy,
  • that he’s deregulated any and everything,
  • that he’s imposed taxes, which are unbelievably regressive,
  • that he’s busting unions,
  • that he’s imposing austerity and cutting social budgets.

Democrats are really impeaching Trump for reasons related to his brutish behavior

The Democrats might complain about that a little, but they’re not impeaching Trump for that. I think the Democrats who are leading this impeachment — the mainstream of the Democratic party, the big wigs who are so tied to the corporations — are more upset with Trump for other reasons. And one reason is that the US elite is always supposed to respect each other. It’s okay that Trump kills other people abroad. It’s okay that he attacks the working class in the United States, but it is not okay that he goes after his political rivals in this illegal way, in this underhand way.

Recall that Nixon was impeached not because of his crimes but because of the Watergate break-in

And let’s remember that Watergate, if we want to go a little back in the history, Nixon was forced to resign on the eve of impeachment because he broke into Democratic Party headquarters, not because of all of the crimes that he committed.

Moreover, Dem’s political elites, with ties to corporate elites, have a different strategy for dealing with the crisis of legitimacy

And Democrats are also — and here, the Democrats I’m talking about [are] the actual political elites that are so tied to the corporate elite — they have been deeply concerned about Trump’s reckless, buffoon-like conduct. So, the Democrats have a different strategy for responding to the crisis of legitimacy.

Trump’s strategy involves fascist mobilization and intensifying the war against immigrants

If Trump’s strategy is a fascist mobilization, hinged on racism and rebuilding and reconstituting a white racist historic block, and intensifying the war against immigrants, and so forth.

Democrats key strategy is to redirect public attention to “the external enemy” – the Russians 

The Democrats have, among other things, this strategy of looking for the external enemy, which is Russia. So, you have Hillary Clinton and so forth constantly talking about Russia. But it’s not that Russia is a threat to transactional capitalist interest in the United States. It’s because this is the way social mass, social anxiety and the crisis of legitimacy is channeled towards some external enemy.

But the US elite has no strategy to confront this crisis of state legitimacy and of capitalist hegemony 

But I want to stress here, Greg, that the US elite is rudderless. They don’t have a strategy to confront this crisis of state legitimacy and of capitalist hegemony.

Mainstream Democratic elites are more scared of Sanders, leftist uprising, and popularity of socialism within the party

I want to conclude responding to this part of your interview by saying that the Democrats — meaning the mainstream elites — are more scared of the Sanders’ campaign, and of this insurgency of the left, and this rising popularity of socialism than they are of Trump. So, they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. They have to oppose Trump. And there’s mass sentiment against Trump [from] their own social base. And they have to oppose the far left within the Democratic party. and outside of the Democratic party. So, they’re facing their own party crisis.

Who will corporate Democrats side with – Trump or Sanders?

GREG WILPERT: Yeah. That’s something actually I want to conclude with. I wanted to ask you about this polarization and the fragmentation of the political spectrum that you’re talking about. As you said, the left wing of the Democratic Party has gotten stronger now, just as the right wing of the Republican party has gotten stronger — actually, they dominate the Republican party now.

But that’s not the case in the Democratic Party — that is, the left wing doesn’t dominate. And right now, with the primary campaign, we see this battle actually going on between the left wing and the center, for the heart of the Democratic Party. And that’s represented by Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.

Now, if Sanders wins the nomination, it seems that the real question in this battle against Trump’s authoritarianism and neo-fascism, if you want to call it that, would be who will the corporate Democrats side with? Will they side with Trump or will they side with Sanders? As you said, they’re [corporate Democrats] really opposed and afraid of Sanders. So, what do you think will happen?

If Bernie wins the nomination, and the Dem leadership sides with Trump, the Party will dissolve

WILLIAM I ROBINSON: I think if Bernie Sanders gets the nomination, this is going to present a tremendous crisis for the Democratic Party as a party. Because if they side with Trump, that’s it, the Democratic Party will dissolve. Imagine, the Democratic Party supporting not just any old Republican candidate, but a far-right fascist Republican candidate that the base of the Democratic Party voters cannot stand and is trying to get rid of.

And if they side with Bernie, and he wins the presidency, they will do everything they can to constrain him

And if they side with Bernie, they’re going to have to bring all of those resources, all of the party’s resources into the Sanders campaign. So, there’s a couple scenarios I can imagine. One is that they officially support Bernie. That’s their nomination. That’s their candidate. But they don’t do anything very enthusiastic to get him elected.

The other one, of course, is what ruling groups always do when they’re faced with this situation, is the politics of cooptation. Right? Let’s say hypothetically they have to mobilize around Bernie Sanders. They have no choice because, again, that would throw the Democratic party in such a crisis it might even dissolve, like, if they backed Trump.

So, they back Bernie. Let’s say Bernie becomes president, but [they] do everything possible to structurally contain anything Bernie can do. And to isolate Bernie and to force a Bernie administration to be surrounded by generals in the Pentagon, and corporate representatives in the treasury, and so forth. I mean, a massive politics of co-optation.

In times like these, times of a crisis, things change very rapidly, things are very unpredictable.

But I want to say that it’s at times of crisis where there’s tremendous amount of uncertainty and things can go in so many different directions. So, you’re asking a very important question — What the Democrats will do if Bernie wins the nomination? But we’re at times of crisis in which anything can happen and things change very rapidly and things are very, very, very unpredictable. So, these are not normal times. Right?

This is not even 2008 for instance, when Obama got the nomination and became president. We haven’t seen a conjunction like this, really I would dare to say since the 1930s. This — where we were at, at this point.

And complicating matters even more is the existential crisis of ecological collapse

And of course, in the 1930s we didn’t face the existential crisis of ecological collapse. And we also didn’t face, in the 1930s, such incredible means of violence and destruction at a global level at a time of acute crisis. So, we’ve got to fasten our seat belts.

GREG WILPERT: Yeah. I think also the comparison to the 1930s is interesting in the sense that, of course, back then Franklin Roosevelt won the nomination and he was very clear that he is a capitalist even though he took the reform course in order to save capitalism. That’s something… Well, you could say that maybe that’s the course that Sanders will take, but it will be much more difficult for him given the continuing crisis of global capitalism that doesn’t seem to be resolvable in the short term. Whereas in the 1930s, it did seem to present a solution, right?

As well, transnational finance capital has the power to sabotage or control a Sanders’ administration

WILLIAM I ROBINSON: Right, right. I would add on that also that at this point of globalized capitalism, the structural power of transnational finance capital is really overwhelming. So, capital — putting aside the Democrats, right, politically in Congress and so forth — capital has this enormous power to undermine any – you know, the progressive elements of a Bernie Sanders administration. Wall Street and the financial markets can withdraw massive amounts of capital from the United States and transfer them to other parts of the global economy.

So, there are many different ways to either to fully sabotage a Sanders presidency or to keep it tightly under control. But all of those things might sabotage Bernie Sanders’ program, and its most radical elements, but it will also aggravate the underlying structural crisis that we’ve been talking about in the crisis of legitimacy.

Bottom line, transnational elites are not going to be able to escape this crisis of global capitalism

So, here’s the thing. There’s no way out for US and transnational elites. They’re not going to be able to get out of this crisis.

Who will win?– rebellious left forces from below OR will far right, militarized forces gain the upper hand?

So, the key question is, will it be radical and left forces and popular forces from below, that take advantage of this expanding crisis, to push humanity — the United States — but humanity more generally, in the direction we need to go for our own survival, or will it be these far right forces, militarized forces, and a World War III that we’re facing, gain the upper hand in response to this expanding crisis of global capitalism?

GREG WILPERT: Okay, well, we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to William I. Robinson, professor of sociology at UC Santa Barbara. Thanks again, Bill, for having joined us today and for this very interesting analysis.

WILLIAM I ROBINSON: Thank you so much for having me on.

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