Alexei Bayer: Permanent revolution comes to America
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Alexei Bayer: Permanent revolution comes to America
By Alexei Bayer. Published June 14 at 9:56 am
WEST POINT, NY – JUNE 13: U.S. President Donald Trump reviews the cadets at the end of the commencement ceremony on June 13, 2020 in West Point, New York. The graduating cadets were sent home in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but have been ordered back to attend the commencement after the president announced he would continue with the previously planned address. David Dee Delgado/Getty Images/AFPPhoto by AFP
The United States has entered a period of social turmoil and what we see now is likely to be just the beginning.
No, it is not because millions of people have come out into the streets of every American city and quite a few towns to protest the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers and to demand the end of racial injustice. This is a reaction to the real turmoil which predates these recent events. It goes back not just to the election of Donald Trump in 2016 but to the vice-presidential bid by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin in 2008. With Palin, the populist movement began to take shape, maturing during Barack Obama’s two terms, and becoming a full-blown revolution with Trump succeeding Obama in the White House.
A revolution is an overthrow of the existing political and/or social order. It doesn’t necessarily require a crowd of people throwing a cargo of tea overboard or storming a prison. History knows revolutions from above that were sanctioned by the ballot box, such as Hitler’s Nazi revolution in Germany.
There’s no question that Trump has effected a revolutionary change in America, altering the nature of the presidency, government and politics. While this Second American Revolution is being carried out by the Trump White House,“radical left” protesters, as Trump calls them, who are marching under the Black Lives Matter banners, are defending America as it sees itself — a beacon of democracy where every person is equal before the law and has an equal shot at the American Dream. In other words, like Soviet dissidents during communism, they are telling the US government to obey its own laws — and, above all, the Constitution of the United States of America.
What kind of revolution is Trump leading?
Vladimir Lenin defined the revolutionary situation as a moment when the lower classes no longer trust the upper classes to govern them. What he was describing is the loss of legitimacy or the breakdown of the social contract.
When the social contract that was based on the medieval divine right of kings and aristocracy to rule broke down in France in 1789, and Napoleon’s legitimacy by popular acclaim was punctured by the winners of the Napoleonic Wars, it took the country more than half a century to find new legitimacy based on the ballot box. Throughout that time France was shaken by revolutions as the lower classes refused to abide by the social contract that was offered to them.
A major blow to the social contract occurred in Central and Eastern Europe as a result of World War I. Three continental empires collapsed and, in many of their successor states, the lower classes brought to power their worst representatives — vengeful, pathological lumpenized buffoons. Hitler, one of the worst of them, waged war against and subjugated Germany’s imperial elites — businessmen, intellectuals, artists, the aristocracy and others. He also rejected the legitimacy of post-WWI borders and started another war to change them.
It took a massive defeat as well as the destruction and division of the country for the German revolution to end and for a new social contract to be established in the Federal Republic. Note that it remains rarely weak in the former GDR even three decades after reunification.
Lenin probably would have been shocked to discover that as a result of his Great October Socialist Revolution Russian rulers not only lost legitimacy, but have not been able to regain it more than a century later. Instead, the country has been a victim of what Leon Trotsky called a permanent revolution.
Trotsky expected socialism not only to spread around the world but, more to the point, effect revolutionary social transformation in every socialist country where societies will be reshaped to consist entirely of the revolutionary industrial proletariat.
Josef Stalin and his allies defeated Trotsky and kicked him out of the U.S.S.R. Stalin decided to build socialism in one country but applied Trotsky’s permanent revolution to the Soviet Union. First the old ruling classes were exterminated and then the peasants. Then the revolution devoured its own children and finally got rid of several successive waves of exterminators, as well. Throughout, the meat grinder fed on the cultural elites of every nationality of the empire, a number of ethnic groups were subject to wholesale relocation or ethnic cleansing and genocide was perpetrated against the Ukrainians and attempted against the Jews.
Even though the killings stopped with Stalin’s death, the social contract remained tenuous at best, and once Mikhail Gorbachev tried to reform the system, the whole thing collapsed into a new revolution.
Boris Yeltsin may have been the only post-1917 leader to claim any legitimacy since he was legitimately elected at least for his first term as president.
Vladimir Putin clearly lacks any such legitimacy, which is why he constantly scares his subjects with nebulous external threats, promotes the tired old cult of the Great Victory, and encourages nostalgia for a polished version of the Soviet Union. It is not working well, whereas the nationalist high stemming from the occupation of Crimea is proving short-lived. In desperation, he and his kleptocrats are grasping at straws, hoping to instill some kind of legitimacy into their rule by the ridiculous and wholly useless expediency of altering the constitution.
Other post-Soviet states have also been in a state of hidden turmoil — even if some are still ruled by Soviet-era communist party hacks. Social contract seems nonexistent or at least very tenuous in many parts of Central Asia, in the Caucasus, and in Moldova and Belarus. And Ukraine is a country that tries desperately to put an end to its revolutionary upheavals — and, unfortunately, fails time and again.
The United States has always had a rock-solid social contract. It’s government—by the people and for the people— has enjoyed an extraordinary legitimacy for a period of nearly two hundred and fifty years. The republic, which came into being early in the modern era, when the rest of the world was still ruled mostly by kings and queens with only minor limitations on their power, combined the legitimacy of the ballot box with the old monarchical tradition, which gave the president almost royal powers. And, their country being a product of the Age of Enlightenment, Americans were weaned on respect for progress, science and expertise. Moreover, positioning itself as a land of equal opportunity, We, the People recognized the authority of the wealthy business elites as well. Even while corporations were attacked by populists such as Teddy Roosevelt, wealth was held in high esteem and business people were recognized as job creators.
This social contract has now been shattered. There are plenty of people in American universities and think tanks who write books on this subject, but the truth is that so-called Middle America is in an open rebellion against the country’s ruling classes — i.e. against the political, intellectual and business elite. Trump has been described as a leader of a cult, but he equally fits the description of a revolutionary leader. This is why his approval ratings never budge—he is a mouthpiece of an entire class.
Like any other revolutionary movement, the Trump cult is, underneath it all, a death cult. Think of the Nazis’ Horst Wessel Song and all the songs about dying for the cause produced by the Russian revolution. America’s death cult has a twist: before the COVID19 pandemic, it was focused on the Second Amendment and the sacred right of every American to die in a mass shooting—all in order to horrify the bicoastal elites who were still hoping against hope that they were living in a civilized country.
Now, it’s a coronavirus death cult. No masks and no social distancing — the Trump base would sooner die than take expert advice.
It’s a delusion to think that if Trump is voted out in November America’s social contract will magically be restored. On the contrary, it’s a cult that thrives on resentment. Trump will be more influential when he tweets from his golden toilet at Mar-el-Lago rather than from the White House. And when Trump is gone others will raise the banner of America’s permanent revolution — Tom Cotton, Tucker Carson, Donald Trump, Jr.
The revolutionary mob will be sure to find its Trotsky.
(C)KYIV POST 2020