Gavin Newsom, the governor of the state of California, delivered an important speech on the morning of April 9th, 2020. Criticizing the indifference of the Trump administration towards the crisis that the Coronavirus pandemic inflicted upon the entire country, the governor used some phrases that might sound strange to some ears. Newsom said that as a “nation-state”, California would supply all the necessary masks and medical equipment for itself and could even “export” these items to other countries. Thus, he uttered words that go beyond an ordinary high-level official’s criticism of the federal government for failing healthcare policies – words that blow separatist winds and hint at deeper fractures!
A state governor declaring the territory he rules a nation and going against the central government on that basis would be considered a rebellion by the ruling classes of such country. If the commanding heights of the US government were to react harshly to Newsom, such a well-known picture would have been complete. On the contrary, of they were to meet the speech with indifference, we could have considered it as unnecessary harshness going beyond its purpose.
However, Newsom was met neither with indifference nor with the wrath of the entire US ruling class. Instead, Bloomberg, one of the strongholds of the globalist section of the American bourgeoisie, came in full support for Newsom. Moreover, the opinion piece released in Bloomberg website does not only praise Newsom’s speech and accuse the Republican Party for having launched a “war on democratic values, institutions and laws”. It also carries the speech one step further by using a very dangerous term twice: civil war. By the second use, the phrase “by other means” is also added, probably not to scare off some non-violent, “liberal” ears.
Isn’t it strange that this gigantic media company belonging to a person whose name is deeply associated with the Democratic Party and who was running in the presidential primaries of that party would support such separatist tendencies? What should we make of it?
A nation-wide civil war, or a civil war within the ruling class?
Our readers would know that we have diagnosed two conflicting tendencies, the globalist and protectionist ones, within the American bourgeoisie (and not only in the American bourgeoisie alone), that Trump represented the latter, since the day he was elected. We thus predicted that the conflict between these tendencies would be exacerbated over time. The Mueller report and the case for Trump’s impeachment, trade wars with China and the Democrats criticisms of those, the personal quarrel between Trump and Biden mainly over the share of imperialist bounty that started way before the latter’s nomination for presidential candidacy… All these confirm our diagnosis. The only missing piece was a word coming from the mouths of the subjects of this objective process that would adequately describe this conflict. The Bloomberg media empire’s utterance of the word “civil war” has announced that this threshold is surpassed!
California is not only the biggest state of the USA in terms of population and economic power; it is also one of the world’s biggest economies on its own. One of the long-term Democratic strongholds, the state also has deep-running trading ties with China and Southeast Asia due to the presence of tech and communications giants such as Facebook, Apple and Tesla (for most of these companies’ commodity chains run through Asian countries, and first and foremost through China). Thus, the state of California is indispensible for the globalist wing of the bourgeoisie for both economic and political reasons. Add to this worker, professional (engineers, programmers, technological designers, etc.), and student migration from across the world (first and foremost from Mexico across the southern border): you will see why California is such a heaven for bourgeois cosmopolitanism – the ideology of the globalists. Now we can understand the globalist bourgeoisie’s support for the separatist outcry of California through the Bloomberg network: whether Newsom is genuine in his separatist stance is another question (we shall come back to this below), but a single cry of his was enough for the globalist bourgeoisie, of which Newsom himself is a forerunning representative, to mobilize against Trump!
Yet, in a country where even the existence of classes was denied less than a decade ago before the famous slogan of the Occupy movement “99% of the people against the top 1%” expressed the struggle between classes (albeit in an incomplete way), it would be unthinkable that the bourgeoisie would reveal its internal conflict to the people. The piece on the Bloomberg website is no different: in order to represent the bourgeoisie’s civil war as if it were a “people’s war”, so to speak, it speaks of it in terms of a civil war between “Trumpism” and “America’s budding 21st-century majority, embodied by California’s multiracial liberal electorate”. It then goes on to complain that Trump has one-sidedly assaulted the nation’s entire trajectory of democratic values and institutions, and then announces that all this “will provoke a Democratic counter-offensive”. Finally, Newsom is positioned as the hero who blew the first horn in the battle in this “counter-offensive”!
All this contains a historical reference, of course: the American Civil War (1861-1865), in which the industry-based North defending “free labor” fought against the slaveowners’ South, and that ended with the abolition of slavery. Again, our readers would know that Trump in the past had made it his calling to defend the historical legacy of the South, thereby covertly defending slavery. Now, the Democrats are responding in kind, equating themselves with the North under the Lincoln administration, and announcing their struggle against the same kind of reaction after some 150 years.
Are the Democrats today’s Lincoln?
Yet, the trick doesn’t hold this time! Yes, the Civil War too was born out of the internal contradictions of the bourgeoisie; but back then, capitalism was still in its phase of development, and from whichever angle we would look at it, the mission to abolish slavery, i.e. the most deplorable and unacceptable of pre-capitalist forms of labor, was a progressive one. Moreover, in order to win the war, the North – even if half-heartedly – had mobilized the masses both militarily and politically, set up black battalions, and even distributed to freed slaves their former masters’ land in some areas it had occupied. Even Marx himself thus fully supported the North, advised to many socialist German emigrés to join the Northern army, and addressed to Lincoln as the “son of the working class” in a letter he wrote to him as the leader of the International Workingmen’s Association (i.e. the 1st International).
Today’s civil war has nothing to do with such a progressive mission! After the Civil War, the two parties conspired together to break the resistance and hope for equality of both the working class and the newly freed African Americans, as well as other oppressed. Both parties have avoided from dismantling the Electoral College, which was designed to secure the slave-owning states’ overrepresentation in the Congress! Over half a century, from 1890s to 1940s, the country witnessed major workers’ strikes and struggles; but the workers found themselves face to face with the army and the police whenever they tried to strike or even unionize. In this period, neither party held back from inflicting massacres on workers to break their resistance!
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, a series of social security policies were enacted under the rubric of the New Deal in the face of widespread struggles and fraternization of black and white workers. These policies excluded the black and Hispanic workers and poor both implicitly and explicitly, depriving them of rights such as unionization and cheap mortgage credit. When the non-white poor formed resistance through organizations like the Black Panthers in the 1960s, they came face to face with the bullets of the army, the police, and the FBI side by side with both parties’ representatives!
The attack on the unions has been a systematic policy of both parties since the 1970s. NAFTA, which is no more than the US’s bid for an imperialist sphere of influence in its geographical periphery and the easing of outsourcing heavy industry to the peripheral countries with cheap labor sources, constitutes a typical example of globalist policies; and it is complicit to the first degree for pushing the white section of the American working class into Trump’s arms. Ferguson, a black-led people’s rebellion against police violence; the record-breaking numbers of deportations of immigrants; and the development of the Drone technology that enables the imperialist US army to kill without a nosebleed – all of these happened under the presidency of Obama, himself a black man who supposedly supports social justice!
Furthermore, today’s Democrats are unwilling to mobilize the masses even for their own narrow interests; on the contrary, they have revealed their deep fear of any mass mobilization by excluding Sanders, a tamed reformist, from their ranks. Hence, for today’s Marxists, there is not one single Abraham Lincoln among the Democrats! This renders the “civil war” the Democrats might declare on Trump and the Republicans a hollow farce! The phrase “by other means” the Bloomberg piece uses probably expresses also this intention to remain aloof to the masses!
Independent California, or independent workers’ movement?
This brings us to the nodal point about the state of California. We have touched upon the economic, political, and cultural importance of this state for the globalist wing of the bourgeoisie. However, this state has an importance for our purposes as well: the state has witnessed major upheavals on part of blacks and immigrants, as well as workers’ strikes (though still not in a unified manner) for the last few years. The teachers, the nurses, the hotel workers, the campus workers, and lastly, right before the Covid-19 quarantine hit, the UC teaching assistants had gone on strike one by one. As the elections approach, as the state of California has declared unequivocally its preference of Sanders as the Democratic nominee, and as wildcat strikes are sweeping across major workplaces like Amazon, there is nothing more understandable than the Democratic Party attempting to tame these movements and lead them into its own orbit. They therefore are presenting the matter as a quarrel between the state of California and the federal government, not as a reckoning between classes.
Governor Newsom has probably calculated that his talk of “nation-state” wouldn’t land on deaf ears. For immediately following Trump’s election, during the years 2016-2017, separatist winds were blowing amongst the Californian petty-bourgeoisie. This movement had named itself “Calexit” as a reference to “Brexit”, one of the most reactionary movements of our time, as if to belie its own alleged progressivism. Though never having extended beyond a small circle, and died out rather quickly, the movement had nonetheless touched the hearts of some petty-bourgeois “left” circles whose horizons are limited to the “democratic values” of US Constitution and bourgeois revolution, and who see in Trump an ultimate blow against those sacred values. Now, hearing these words of separation from the governor himself and from the globalist media should reawaken these circles. Furthermore, judging by its small, but significant impact in 2016 (when the movements we enumerated above had not reached their mass proportions, when the class struggle was relatively mild, and when neither an economic collapse nor a pandemic was at play), we could say that this call should invoke more serious responses and create the illusion that the secession of California would be the solution to the masses’ problems in today’s context of crisis and collapse.
The Democrats are shooting themselves on the foot with this move: the secession of a state like California would mean the abandonment of the country to Trump. Moreover, Trump, who has named the wing of the bourgeoisie backing him “the Patriots”, will find more rationale for his already widespread accusations of the Democrats for “treachery” and “un-Americanism”, and should not hesitate from labeling any progressive demand by these names.
The only way out is through an independent, working-class political movement not yielding to any wing of the bourgeoisie, and able to defend the rights of the class as a whole with all elements composing it, without disregard to questions of race, gender, immigrant rights, and so forth, and leading these other oppressed groups into struggle – and to power.