On Trump, Fascism and the Invasion of the Capitol
- The events on January 6 at the Capitol, like the entire phenomenon of “Trump Nation,” was an expression of the profound crisis of American capitalist society. The storming of the Capitol, spearheaded by fascist elements and enabled by a suspiciously minimal police presence despite the well-advertised prospect of an aggressive protest, did not amount to an attempted fascist coup. It was a spectacularly successful riot led by a small but well-organized fascist minority backed by tens of thousands of highly motivated Trump supporters. It is unclear to what extent the various organized fascist elements had any serious expectation of being able to charge into the Capitol. The far-right groups that participated are likely to recruit new followers as a result of their brazen assault, particularly after Trump’s belated denunciation of the actions undertaken by his most committed followers on his behalf and at his urging.
- Donald Trump’s address to the rally immediately preceding the assault on the Capitol certainly incited the crowd. The tens of thousands of MAGA supporters who gathered to support Trump embraced his absurd stab-in-the-back narrative about “RINO” (Republican In Name Only) fifth columnists within the GOP colluding in a gigantic conspiracy to deny him re-election. Trump’s objective in organizing what was originally projected as a demonstration of a million was to pressure Vice President Mike Pence and Republican senators to disrupt Biden’s certification as president-elect.
- Trump’s statement several hours after rioters entered the Capitol combined appreciation for his supporters with advice to “go home in peace” and “respect our great people in law and order”. The next day, he read a scripted disavowal of their violent behavior and said that “those who broke the law…will pay”. He also conceded that there would be a regular transition of power, while breaking with tradition by announcing that he would not attend the inauguration of Joe Biden.
- The immediate result of the chaos in the Capitol unleashed by Trump’s desperate pseudo-constitutional attempt to pressure Congress into reversing the election results, has been a serious split in the ranks of the GOP. Prominent figures like Pence, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, Tom Cotton and Paul Ryan have broken with Trump. The leadership of the party clearly intends to rebuild a base without Trump and his hardcore supporters.
- Trump is a racist, misogynistic narcissist with bonapartist tendencies who views the constraints of bourgeois democracy as impediments to “getting the job done”. He applauds cop violence and has called for large-scale repression of leftist dissent. Yet to date he has not attempted to build a grassroots organization of a fascist type oriented to the establishment of naked dictatorship. His relationship to organizations like the Proud Boys has been one of mutual convenience–he does not direct them but enjoys their support. His overtly racist and xenophobic behavior encourages them and widens their audience. So far Trump has largely operated within the constraints of bourgeois democracy, while the Proud Boys and their ilk seek to grow through extra-legal violence as exemplified in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
- The American ruling class currently has no need to rely on fascist rabble to maintain its rule. Most of the “far left” politically adapts to the Democratic Party, while the leadership of the trade unions has shown an inability to effectively counter capitalist attacks. The bourgeoisie intends to maintain what it can of its traditional democratic façade even as social contradictions balloon and ever larger sections of the population face uncertain futures, while tens of millions fear imminent destitution. The desperation of large layers of the American population provides fertile ground for potentially rapid growth of far-right organizations. However, while Trump’s hard-core supporters provide a milieu of angry white reactionaries in which organizations like the Klan, white-supremacist militias and the Proud Boys can recruit, most of Trump’s base has not embraced outright fascism.
- It is difficult to predict where Trump is headed. His tens of millions of devout followers are loyal to him (rather than the GOP); they despise career politicians, and seem largely impervious to the contradictions between reality and many of their strongly-held views. Trump’s threats to “primary” opponents in the GOP had, up to the invasion of the Capitol, given him virtually complete control of the Republican Party. The recent break by most of the GOP core could potentially result in Trump’s movement evolving into a right-wing third party which would likely have a much closer relationship with overt fascists than the current GOP. The emergence of organized “security” units for such a formation, composed of Proud Boys and similar fascistic thugs could signify that a qualitative transformation is underway. The decision by Twitter, Facebook, Google and other elements of corporate Big Tech to deny Trump access to their platforms could spur an attempt to create new, parallel services dominated by reactionaries, and increase traffic to those which already exist. The “strong state” measures introduced ostensibly to suppress Trump’s noxious reactionary disinformation will be employed to squash a resurgent left and workers’ movement. Marxists oppose corporate political censorship of the internet. The racist filth spewed by the entire rightist spectrum from Trump to the KKK is rooted in the profound social inequality and irrationality of capitalist society. It can only be finally eradicated through uprooting the whole social system based on production for profit, and fighting for a socialist future based on wholesale expropriation of the exploiters.
- The Democrats and Republicans are partners in creating the economic devastation, imperialist adventures, Covid chaos and raging racism that the liberal media attributes to Trump. The tame left and pro-capitalist “progressives” will advocate, more or less overtly, a strategy of “Fighting the right” through one or another form of electoral support to the Democrats. Marxists oppose the twin parties of American imperialism—we know that only through the development of revolutionary consciousness within the working class and the oppressed will it be possible to escape the endless wars and social reaction that imperialist decay must inevitably generate.
- A key task of Marxists is to seek to confront fascism wherever it raises its ugly head. In the past, united-front actions of leftists, workers, blacks and immigrants have often been successful in confronting fascists’ attempts to rally in American cities. Every successful mobilization against them undermines their ability to build their murderous organizations further. People attracted to the fascist movement want to inflict pain on others—would-be Führers who end up on the receiving end of the sort of treatment they intend for their potential victims find that recruitment dries up and their followers desert. It is important to be realistic about such actions: success largely hinges on the relationship of forces, so it is necessary to select situations likely to be conducive to successful mobilizations.
- A sense of proportion and a realistic assessment of the balance of forces should guide anti-fascist actions. The call to interdict the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville proved a limited success; the counter-mobilization enjoyed considerable popular support and created serious problems for the alt-right and fascists. In the current situation in the U.S. we do not see the utility of agitating for a national general strike to impede a potential Trump coup. In the first place we do not think that there is any prospect of a serious coup attempt without support from a significant section of the bourgeoisie. There are also, unfortunately, at the present time few pockets of hard-left strength in the organized workers’ movement necessary to make any such perspective immediately realizable on a national scale. Marxists do not of course restrict our demands to what seems immediately possible, but the linkages required for initiating action by a sizeable section of the working class must be taken into account in determining what calls to raise and what elements of program to emphasize at any given moment. At this point what seems most possible is to undertake local initiatives where the situation is favorable, aimed at breaking up fascist activities. Successes of this sort, even on a relatively limited scale—which could be considered “exemplary” actions—can discourage fascist activity and increase the chances of winning broader working-class support for future, more ambitious, initiatives. It is through such defensive battles that the cadres capable of leading larger and more important victories in the future can be forged.
13 January 2021