US Capitol invasion: a lightning flash across the political landscape

Protesters storm the steps outside the US Capitol building

The US has a new President in Joe Biden. Vice-President Kamala Harris is the first woman, the first Black American and the first Asian American to occupy that office. The new administration has selected a slew of candidates for Cabinet positions. Trump is gone. The FBI is steadily mopping up participants in the 6 January coup attempt which sent shudders through sections of the US ruling class. STEVE PARKER reports. 

It is important to understand what the attack on the US Capitol represents. This was not a one-off peaceful protest which got out of hand, or ‘boiled over’; it was part of a mounting series of attacks on legislatures by white supremacists. It was an attempt by a fascistic minority to fundamentally change the way the legislative side of the US government works and to terrorise its legally elected representatives into changing their votes. It should have come as no surprise since it was the logical next step after a series of fascist-led mobilisations across the country in 2020. From January through to December, armed gangs laid siege to and invaded statehouses across the US; in Michigan they planned to kidnap the state governor. These attacks were feebly opposed, if not facilitated, by so-called ‘law enforcement’. They were trial runs for the culminating attack in the federal capital of Washington DC which left five people dead. 

While some participants were disorganised racist windbags, there were other tightly organised groups with specific objectives: the assassinations of Democrat Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Vice-President Mike Pence. There was clearly collusion by elements of the military and law enforcement, as well as reconnaissance missions conducted with the help of Republican Representatives. 

We must have no illusions about the US government: it uses a ‘democratic’ electoral system to enable the capitalist ruling class to control the state – it has, the saying goes ‘the finest democracy money can buy’. Nor do we have illusions about the Democratic Party, Biden or the rest – they are thoroughly pro-imperialist. However, there is a difference between a nominal democracy and an outright dictatorship. The insurgents who attempted to take over the Capitol want to establish a racist, misogynist, fascistic, theocratic Christian dictatorship, not only to restore a modern version of the racist rebel slaveholding Southern Confederate power, which was destroyed in the 1861-65 Civil War, but to extend it to the entire US. It would enforce legal discrimination against Black and Hispanic people, their impoverishment and possibly genocide. Internationally, it would embark upon a holy mission to impose the joys of this American ‘freedom’ upon the rest of the world ‘as part of God’s plan’. 

Echoes of Munich 1923

Socialists, Communists, Greens, ‘progressives’ of all varieties are presently able to use the ‘freedoms’ which currently exist within this deeply flawed ‘democracy’ to promote, publish and agitate for our politics – opposing oppression, discrimination, exploitation and imperialism. Under the dictatorship of US fascism, these brittle freedoms would vanish. The 6 January insurgents wanted to kill ruling class politicians; we would not receive more lenient treatment. For these reasons we have no hesitation in condemning this as an attempted coup which demonstrates the size and strength of reaction in the US. It should be opposed by anyone with a grain of democracy in them: under present conditions we can operate; under Trumpist fascism we would be repressed, face prison or worse.

Yet there are sections of the left who are not clear on this issue, declaring business as usual, minimising the significance of the event. In Britain*, Professor Callinicos of the Socialist Workers Party doesn’t think it was an attempted coup. The learned professor assured us ‘Weimar Washington but this is not a coup. This is how the Trump presidency ends, not with a bang or a whimper, but with a roar of impotent rage. The Republican establishment had already refused to participate in Trump’s last stand.’ 

Trump has not ‘ended’ in any sense. Despite desertions at all levels, the current Republican Party continues to follow Trump. To continue the German analogy accurately, not smugly, we can say this was the Kapp Putsch of 13 March 1920 or the Munich Putsch of 8/9 November 1923: illegal dry runs preparing for the subsequent legal Nazi taking of power. It is nonsense that the ‘Republican establishment’ refused to participate – a few prominent Republicans distanced themselves after the coup attempt but most have opposed Trump’s second impeachment. On 28 January, Republican House minority leader Kevin McCarthy visited Trump at his Florida resort to discuss winning the 2022 elections.

Some Republicans have been repelled by the coup attempt – tens of thousands have left the party in disgust. Others are dismayed, but simply want the party to be constrained by the law, reality and some self-restraint. Finally, there are the hard-core zealots who remain and are battling to purge ‘RINOs’ – ‘Republicans in Name Only’ – in a frenzy of sectarian bloodletting, struggling for control of the Party apparatus at state and national level. How this works out only time will tell, but Trumpism will emerge stronger and more organised than before.

US capitalists and Trumpism

Initially business found Trump distasteful but useful. On the credit side of the account is the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 which handed out $1.5 trillion to billionaires, millionaires and corporations. Additionally, the Act enabled US corporations to ‘repatriate’ up to one trillion dollars from overseas subsidiaries. When that cash came it was promptly put to work enabling share buybacks, pumping up share prices, increasing investors’ wealth and executives’ remuneration. ‘There is a lot of noise, but it’s been great’ one CEO cheerfully told the Financial Times

On the debit side, Trump’s dogma interfered with some operations of certain corporations. These companies then jumped off the Trump bandwagon, but usually only temporarily or partially. For example, some 100 high-tech companies protested against Trump’s immigration ban – because it stopped them from importing highly skilled workers they need. But that didn’t stop Twitter or Facebook from simultaneously disseminating huge volumes of fascistic traffic inspired by Trump because it meant they would increase their advertising revenue: they complained when he got in the way of their business, but inevitably found it ‘too difficult’ to take measures that would cut those conversations because of the profits from the millions of hits lured by Trumpist content. Trump is encouraging Tesla founder Elon Musk to set up an alternative to Twitter or Facebook – a sort of online sewer to help the fascists to organise.

After the attack on the Capitol, US capitalists fled from Trump faster than if he’d been sprayed by a skunk: adverts for Trump businesses were refused, bookings at his hotels were cancelled, corporations refused to do business with Trump and corporate donors demanded donations back from the Republican Party. Right now the Trump brand is radio-active. However, Trumpism, which will crush any dissent by working and oppressed Americans if it takes power, is too attractive an option to be permanently abandoned by the ruling class – a source of potentially useful auxiliaries.

Confronting white supremacy

With Trump’s physical departure, a large section of the ruling class seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. Things are looking up … surely? Well, no. The major problems facing the US are the pandemic, the collapsing economy, repressive immigration policies, rebellion by Black Americans against systemic racism, tattered relationships with its allies, its refusal to combat climate change and the decline in domestic environmental protection, and more. Some conservatives, as well as liberals, want to see a ‘competent’ administration in place that knows how to operate an imperialist state and ensure that it exploits the world efficiently. Biden has proposed a ‘dream team’ which can do that. Yet all these serious social problems are overshadowed by the ‘elephant in the room’ – the deep and bitter internal political divisions, rooted in the past failures to control and destroy white supremacy. This is the most fundamental of all problems facing the US and it is the biggest obstacle to solving all the other problems since it sits squarely across the highway to any progress. The attack on the Capitol was an unprecedented and blinding political lightning flash which illuminated clearly the threat hanging over the United States of America.

The FBI has been tracking down participants in the insurrection. It will be instructive to compare how these people are treated compared to the last organised armed political attack on the US Capitol. On 1 March 1954, compañera Lolita Lebrón and three other comrades of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party fired 30 rounds in the House of Representatives, wounding five Representatives. No police officers were shot at, wounded or killed. Compañera Lebrón was sentenced to 50 years in prison and her compañeros were sentenced to 75 years – benchmarks for the punishment of the 6 January insurrectionists.

The kid-glove treatment of these armed white supremacists blatantly contrasted with that dealt to the peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrators who gathered in Washington on 2 June 2020 at the Lincoln memorial. The National Guard was deployed in advance and – unprovoked – viciously clubbed and gassed demonstrators away, so that Trump could enjoy a photo-op in front of St John’s Episcopal Church, grinning and holding a bible upside down. The contrast was so clear and striking that even President-elect Biden, who shuns BLM like the plague while cultivating ‘respectable’ black organisations, couldn’t help noting it.

A call for unity

The 6 January insurrection forced the incoming President to acknowledge the existence of this roadblock at his inauguration:

‘A cry for racial justice, some 400 years in the making, moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer. A cry for survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear now. The rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism, that we must confront and we will defeat.’

How does the Biden administration intend to remove this roadblock to any kind of democratic future and effective solution of the problems facing the US and the rest of the world? The entire liberal strategy for dealing with issues in the past depended on dragging any issue into the law courts and relying on a liberal majority in the Supreme Court. Trump succeeded in changing that for a lifetime, since judges serve for life. The US Supreme Court is now under conservative control thanks to Trump’s three appointments to it. The layer below it in the federal judiciary contains 13 appeals courts. Trump and the Republicans also succeeded in flipping three of these from liberal to conservative. Altogether, when we add in the 91 district courts, Trump appointed 226 of the 816 federal judges across all three tiers – 28%. The liberal backstop of its majority on the Supreme Court has gone for at least two decades, closing off any possibility of successful change through that route.

So, how then to deal with the ‘division’ – the coy code word for the ‘White Ascendancy’ – in the US? Biden’s inaugural response was:

‘To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America, requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy – unity.’

How is this ‘elusive’ unity to be achieved? Biden spoke of tolerance, humility and so on. What is needed are not words, not wishes, but actions which take the struggle against white supremacy forward. This means confronting the two main props of the White Ascendancy – first, the threats from right-wing domestic terrorists and second, police terrorism against the community. The mainstream BLM demand is ‘defund the police’, while superficially more radical people are running around shouting ‘Fuck the Police’ and throwing things at them. These do not address the problem directly. The answer lies instead in the traditional socialist solution of having a volunteer people’s armed self-defence militia, drawn from the community, trusted by the community and defending the community.