Election of Donald Trump Marks Regression to Authoritarianism

Frieda Afary

Summary: Trump’s authoritarianism might be similar to what we have seen in emerging economies such as Russia and China during the past 25 years. Originally appeared in Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists — Editors

Donald Trump’s victory in the November 8, U.S. presidential election is a catastrophe.  Of the approximately 225 million eligible voters, almost 122 million or 54% voted, of which 47.8% voted for Clinton and 47.2% voted for Trump.  However, since the final election is based on the number of Electoral College votes and not the number of the popular vote, Trump gained more delegates and won.    All the northeastern coastal states plus  Maryland, Virginia, Minnesota,  Illinois and  all the western coastal states plus  Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico voted for Clinton.  All the other states went to Trump.   The Republicans also gained a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.  This means that Trump’s administration will be able to reverse the hard fought gains of workers, women, African Americans,  Latinos and the LGBT community many of whom voted in this election and will not easily accept the retrogression that will be forced on us.

Much has been written about Trump’s use of racism, misogyny and homophobia to appeal to the prejudices of the electorate and gain votes.  Much has also been said about how globalization and the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. attracted the majority of the white working class to Trump’s populist and chauvinist message.  What needs to be discussed more is how Trump represents a global economic phenomenon.

I.  Trump as an expression of a global economic phenomenon

Although Trump’s message has been against “big government,” in fact his economic plan which mainly consists of tax cuts for large companies and massive spending cuts in the public sector, does not contradict the rule of a strong state/army.

His authoritarianism might be similar to what we have seen in emerging economies such as Russia and China during the past 25 years.  In these economies, we have witnessed the rise of hybrid corporations that are supported by the state but act as multinational corporations.  The state/army is omnipresent.  There are many companies that are formally privately owned but enjoy a huge amount of overt or covert support from their respective governments.    State-owned enterprises are becoming wealthier and more powerful even as the overall state sector shrinks.  Governments are tightening their grip on the commanding heights of the economy even as the private sector grows. [i]

Indeed, it can be argued that the above trend is a global economic phenomenon:   the simultaneous decline in the state sector and the increasing growth of state control over the economy. [ii]

In Marxist language, Trump is an expression of the logic of the capitalist mode of production which moves toward the concentration and centralization of capital in fewer hands.  This tendency for the monopolization of capital in fewer hands organically flows from the fact that capitalism is based on abstract value-producing labor and needs to increase the rate of extraction of surplus value from workers in order to increase profits.  This logic is not limited to private capitalism but indeed moves in the direction of state capitalism.

Although the logic of capitalism leads to war between capitalist-imperialist powers, it also leads to periods of inter-imperialist alliances to facilitate the accumulation of capital.  Hence we see Trump’s affinity with Putin’s authoritarianism and his policies in the Middle East.

II. Trump, Putin and the Middle East

Trump has openly called for an alliance with Putin.   Although opposed to Obama’s nuclear agreement with the Iranian government,  Trump strongly supports Putin’s policies in the Middle East which includes Russia’s alliance with Iran’s authoritarian regime.  Putin and the Iranian government have been allies in a joint military intervention to maintain the fascistic Assad regime and  to crush what is left of the revolutionary and moderate opposition that represents the 2011  popular Syrian revolution.

While Obama has rhetorically criticized Putin’s continued aerial bombing of the 275,000 innocent residents of Eastern Aleppo,  and  has claimed that his alliance with Putin was limited to fighting ISIS,  Trump has put aside any humanitarian rhetoric.  He openly supports Russia’s and the Iranian government’s massacres in Syria. [iii]

III. Why Is History Moving Backward?

Given Trump’s outright support for fascists, his misogyny, racism, homophobia, and celebration of capitalist exploitation,  how could almost 60 million people in the U.S. vote for him?   How could the majority of the white working class, and sectors of the Latino working class and even over 40% of women have voted for him?   Doesn’t that challenge the humanist view that human beings have the potential to be autonomous beings who move forward through the power of reason?

As a Marxist-Humanist,  I would argue that the key word in the above description of humanism is the word potential.  Just as human nature is not good or bad but socially and historically constructed,  human beings are not automatically autonomous beings that act according to reason.   Human beings can act according to reason, and history can move forward, only if we take responsibility for comprehending the achievements of past human struggles for freedom and philosophic efforts to develop the concept of human emancipation.   History only moves forward if we try to comprehend it with all its dualities and learn from it.

The struggle for social justice is very complicated.  It demands that we challenge the class, racial/ethnic and gender divisions outside and within our movements and always see our struggle in the context of the international struggle for human liberation.  No movement for social justice can win without addressing these complicated questions and without developing an affirmative, global, humanist philosophic vision that aims to transcend capitalism, racism, sexism and heterosexism.

The 61 million people who voted against Trump and the over 100 million eligible U.S. voters who did not vote still constitute the majority of the adult population of the United States and have not been heard.

November 9, 2016

Frieda Afary produces the blog, Iranian Progressives in Translation and is a member of the Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists.  She can be reached at fafarysecond@yahoo.com


[i]  “How Red Is Your Capitalism? Telling a State-Controlled from a Private Firm Can be Tricky.” In “Special Report on Business in China.” Economist. September 12, 2015.

“Emerging Market Multinationals: The Rise of State Capitalism.” Economist. January 21, 2012

“State Capitalism’s Global Reach: New Masters of the Universe.” Economist. January 21, 2012

[ii] According to Thomas Piketty, the influence of the states in the global economy is much greater than in the 1930s and “in many ways greater than it has ever been.”

See Piketty, Thomas. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Belknap Press, 2014, p. 473.

Also see my article,  “New Alliances in the Middle East and Iranian Discussions on 21stCentury Imperialism,”   August 24, 2016.


[iii] For a discussion of the Syrian revolution, see my review of Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami’s excellent book,  Burning Country:  Syrians in Revolution and War. Pluto Press, 2016.


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1 Comment

  1. Lid

    I agree with you, Dave Black, Kevin and Peter ie the IMHO’s analysis of Trump’s win.

    I too recognise an historical turn to the Right but which also contains its total opposite.

    I think many could have been influenced by Russia Today’s propaganda pumping non-stop against Clinton whilst neither EVER critique abstract value extraction.

    Too many still think Putin is the alternative because Russia fought fascism in the WW2. The same people who belittle deadly sexism and are impatient of human development as the solution.

    There’s a lot of pressure to conform to this, especially as a woman. We have to critique all Right Nationalism while encouraging Left anti-imperialism as in Kevin’s great book on Marx’s own development during his lifetime, in his attitude to Capitalism as progressive to seeing it as barbaric, and from seeing non-capitalist worlds as backwards, to seeing them as having the most potent opportunity and drive to liberation and a new classless society. Lenin caught these threads but remained ambivalent re Hegel.

    As Hegel said, Ideas are real forces. They live within human bodies after all. His section on the Notion is very relevant to women’s intellectual subservience to male associates. Its like fighting for your own unique place within the communal idea rather than being swamped by it, creating a world that you truly feel at home in rather than existing in another’s feeling alienated because, rather than self-development, there’s subservience and avoidance of the labour and patience of negativity.

    State Capitalism doesn’t challenge wage slavery as young female Chinese factory workers know all too well, as do Western investors looking to expand value rather than human life and wisdom.

    Hegel challenged Aristotle’s logic by rotating its premise from the superficial and general commonality to the development of the particular and individual within the universal – freely associated labour rather than being swamped by an elite’s narrow tyranny.

    We have to create a world which is true for all as individuals and that means expanding our word power and conceptuality towards new fully human relationships opposing relations between things. Most of us don’t fit the given boxes used to define us. Fighting out of this crisis involves work on this aswell as patient careful truthful analysis.

    I spoke to a possible Brexiteer recently. An Australian, male, white, 60yrs? Sensed the conversation was going Right. He was studying Complex Numbers but we got into what money really is and how Corporate Capitalism’s main aim is the expansion of abstract value.

    Complex numbers rotate, were invented to solve negative square roots and graphs intersecting real and imaginary numbers. They’re used in electrical fields and areas where quantity and measure are not fixed as in say a gallon of petrol.

    Labour-power, bought as a thing, has the unique quality of variable extraction aswell as internal development through negativity.