Exactly one year has passed since Trump’s fascist gangs have attempted to take over the Capitol in Washington, DC to prevent the transfer of power from Trump to Biden.
Though the putsch emerged as a flash of lighting seemingly out of thin air a mere nine days before the succession, it was in fact one of the most predictable political ruptures the United States had ever witnessed. Trump had proactively accused his Democratic rivals (first Hillary Clinton, then Joe Biden) for intending to steal the elections in both 2016 and 2020. In April 2020, in what we may retroactively call a regional rehearsal of what was to come, armed right-wingers sieged the State Capitol in Michigan in protest of the quarantine-under-lockdown orders by the Democratic governor. Virtually the entire summer of 2020 went by with Trump threatening to deploy various repressive arms of the bourgeois state against the George Floyd Revolt participants. The downward-turning point for the revolt was the shooting of unarmed protestors by the then 17-year-old police cadet Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with the obvious sympathetic silence of the local police force, in August 2020. The very next month, Trump himself ordered the Proud Boys, i.e. one of the most notorious fascist gangs, to “stand back, stand by” on live TV in a presidential debate.
The chronicle of a putsch foretold
All clues were therefore in place for those who wanted to see them. Even among the liberals, an aura of panic ensued as they looked up to Joe Biden to defend their beloved bourgeois democracy. Biden, however, offered nothing more than moralizing condemnations and a few angry tweets. Neither could he: his mission was to bridge the gulf between the moderate wings of both bourgeois parties. As a hardcore law book-bashing politician who had made a career out of “across the isle” policies, he was bent on doing what he was best at: spineless reconciliation for the sake of salvaging the order. Even after the succession, he reflected this zeal for the political center in his inauguration speech.
This lethargic state of affairs among the ruling class and their ideological pundits could have meant an opening as much as a challenge for the socialists. In the face of coup threats and liberal blackout, a militant united front campaign to defend and extend the democratic conquests of the working class could have led to a huge momentum. Socialists, however, chose by and large to ignore these clues. Having surrendered entirely to the Democratic Party, the DSA leadership urged their members to vote against Trump and confined its activities to counting the “blue” votes in the areas Trump contested after the elections. An overwhelming majority of the Trotskyist press was silent on the matter. Some Stalinists went to the opposite extreme and threw their lot behind Biden and the Democratic Party. The socialist and communist Left therefore infected its followers with a strange mixture of ultra-left indifference and right-opportunistic amnesia instead of ringing the fire alarm. Thus, when the storming of the Capitol building finally came, the working class was by and large politically disarmed. (As we will see below, there were and are important exceptions.)
Granted, the attack did not quite look like what one might imagine a fascist attempt to seize the political power would look like. Animal furs and ridiculous face paintings instead of black uniforms, signs with phony slogans instead of assault rifles, a chaotic anger instead of carefully orchestrated parades and slogans… The assault looked too farcical to be taken seriously. But to expect a full-blown fascist insurgency out of the very loosely-knit network of online trolls, conspiracy theorists, and armed but fragmented militia movements in an uneasy articulation with the notoriously patrician Republican Party apparatus would be a mistake. It took fifteen years and two abortive putsches for the Nazis to organize the murderers of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht (1918) into a full-fledged, armed-to-teeth apparatus that took power with the blessing of the ruling class (1933). Likewise, the fascists of our time may appear unusual, even ridiculous, as they flex their muscles on their enemies.
And falling for this appearance was the Left’s gravest error.
As Biden’s first year in power is wearing off, we can definitely see signs of this “farce” of a coup turning into a real tragedy all around us. The judiciary branch of the bourgeois government is taking its sweet time to investigate into the putsch. Beyond symbolic actions, such as the imprisonment of the notorious QAnon “shaman” Jake Angeli for a mere 41 months, the investigations have taken on an aura of mere speculations and conspiracies. In other words, mere footsoldiers of the attack have been reluctantly persecuted, while the ties between these forces on the ground and the higher-ups of the far-right movement are merely alluded to.
To add insult to the injury, Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse walked away free of all charges from his trial, despite violating every single basic gun safety law in front of the jury in November 2021. With perhaps the weakest prosecution the American judicial history has ever recorded in the play, the court handed him down his acquittal. Now, the sensationalist media is on its way to turn this murderer into a TV star, thereby giving the fascists yet another platform that they could have only dreamt of before 2016.
As for the Democratic Party currently in power, they have been steering an increasingly incoherent course of action, trying to please both the Right and the Left in the name of reuniting the country. The Biden administration took pains to pass an infrastructure bill agreeable to everyone for months, only to pass a much more watered-down version of its original with the aid of some moderate Republicans in the House. Biden himself had promised a series of reforms before the election, from raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour to cancelling student debts. Over the course of a year, he renounced every single one of his own promises. As of December 2021, he ridiculously came to the defense of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s abhorrent decree that allowed employees to come to work five days after being diagnosed with Covid-19. Nonetheless, he shamelessly keeps on tweeting messages in favor of thousands of workers on strike.
This domestic half-hearted slouch towards the left has been coupled with a full commitment to Trump’s international policies. From the formation of AUKUS against China to the whipping of Haitian refugees by the mounted police, from Kamala Harris’s urge to Guatemalan immigrants not to come to the US to urging the NATO-member countries to raise their military spending in the 2021 summit, the Biden administration has been following the footsteps of its proto-fascist predecessor.
Yet, this elevation of “across-the-isle” compromises to the level of the driving political principle of the administration has not benefited anyone, not the least the Democrats themselves. The November gubernatorial elections in Virginia and especially New Jersey have clearly demonstrated that the working-class voters are fed up with the Democratic hypocrisy and increasingly turning their faces towards the Republican Party for solutions even in the former Democratic strongholds (http://redmed.org/article/usa-post-putsch-growth-fascism).
As for the capitalist class proper, they had thrown their lot behind Biden in the wake of the January 6th putsch, though not without hesitation or deliberation (http://redmed.org/article/america-time-zero). Even those corporations who had donated big sums of money to Trump’s 2020 campaign made public statements in the aftermath of the putsch to distance themselves from this erratic Nero-like figure who would not admit defeat and therefore disrupt business as usual. However, interpreting this as a “ruling-class unity against Trump” or believing that this stance would remain permanent would be political naïveté. The ruling class as a whole may have temporarily distanced itself from the scandalous Trump in favor of an old-school politician (Biden) whose biggest promise was (and is) to return everything back to normal. This only reflects the fact that not all sections of the bourgeoisie are convinced of the fascist solution to their prolonged crisis yet. But as the Biden cabinet’s economic policy lines descend more and more into incoherent improvisation, and as the working class increasingly picks up the fight to defend and expand its economic gains, increasingly larger portions of this class can be expected to reconsider Trump or a political heir of his as their savior.
The fascist movement on the ground, on the other hand, is regaining the momentum it had lost after the debacle of January 6th, 2020. On July 4th, 2021, a Philadelphia-based fascist group marched up and down the streets with racist slogans only to be outweighed by counter-protesters. It is true that no event that matches the putsch in its spectacular quality has been witnessed. However, fueled doubly by the rage of having to endure Biden’s presidency, which they deem illegitimate, and the green lights the judiciary branch has been putting up for them, the subterranean fascist movement is quickly regrouping. A CNN report from March 2021 has found out that a good 1/10th of the convicted putschists have service records with the military, some even currently active. This means that fascists are not only receiving help from the police in the form of sympathetic non-intervention, as it was clear on January 6th, but also seriously organizing in the military.
This falls in line with two international developments that followed the American putsch. First came in April 2021 the declaration and call by twenty retired French generals for a coup d’état against the neoliberal Macron government to install a jingoist military rule, followed immediately by the proto-fascist Marine Le Pen’s invitations of these war-mongers to her party (http://redmed.org/article/putschist-french-generals-threaten-civil-war-prepare-workers-movement-riposte). This revealed a deep affinity and ties between the French fascist movement and the French armed forces. Later, in October in Italy, fascist Nuova Forza militants attempted to attack the Palazzo Chigi, i.e. the seat of the government, in a direct imitation of the American precedent. Failing to do so, the Italian fascists stormed and wrecked the offices of Cgil, the biggest trade union federation of Italy, thereby revealing their true class enemy (http://redmed.org/article/italys-capitol-moment-second-coming-fascism). The fascist arson of the Communist Party of India – Marxist’s (CPI-M) offices in September is somewhat of a different matter, since a fully-fledged fascist movement in India (BSS) and its electoral front (BJP) have been in India for a few years now.
All this national and international scene shows clear “morbid symptoms”, as Gramsci has called them, of fascism’s growth. How is the American Left responding to these symptoms?
The Left laxity
With small exceptions, the American Left by and large kept its dangerous attitude that swings between ultra-left cynicism and electoralist indifference.
The DSA, by far the largest organization on the Left, has issued a pitiable statement on the matter that calls for unconditional support for the half-hearted social-capitalist measures of the Democratic Party. The word “fascism” was not even mentioned in the statement, while vague calls for “defending democracy” abounded.
Over the following full year, the DSA’s track record has not moved any further to the left – quite the opposite. As more DSA-endorsed candidates came into regional and national positions of power, the DSA leaders became increasingly more starstruck with these politician-cum-celebrities to the detriment of the organization’s political principles and organizational democracy. The organization dispatches and the DSA mouthpiece Jacobin both issued self-contradictory analyses on the Virginia and New Jersey debacles, calling for keeping up the vote for the DSA candidates on Democratic tickets while nearly begging the Democratic Party to move to the left.
More shamefully for the organization, the leadership refused to discipline its new member in the Congress Jamaal Brown for voting in support of further aid to Israel, doing townhalls with a Zionist PR organization and taking a publicity trip to Israel. Moreover, Jacobin published a shameless apology for Brown’s behavior. The leadership’s decision came despite opposition by the majority of its membership, according to one of its own factions’ publication. After AOC’s shameful last-minute change of vote in crocodile’s tears from “nay” to “present” for financing Israel’s Dome of Rock project in September, this was the second time where the DSA sacrificed its pseudo-internationalist and anti-imperialist positions on the altar of celebrity politicians. Without clear stances against American imperialism, however, there can be no serious fight against American fascism, which is the former’s direct outgrowth. Further, workers of color, immigrant communities, and militants with origins from the Third World countries will be greatly alienated by this behavior.
It is surprisingly hard to find an explicit warning against the danger of fascism in the myriad publications of the innumerable “radical” left groupings. The most common attitude of these groups has been labeling both Trump and Biden as “the system’s politicians”, thereby stating the obvious and erasing the important differences between the two. These groups had approached the Trump phenomenon with a mechanical checklist in their hands to see if Trump fit their criteria. When they saw a few elements missing, they zealously argued against calling him a fascist. This attitude by and large continues after the January 6th putsch as well, making it impossible for them to understand the current qualitative transformation of the far-right movement underway and organizing the working class and its allies accordingly.
The working-class hope
This dark state of the Left shall not drive us to absolute pessimism, however.
The greatest hope is in the working class itself, currently engaged in militant battles to defend its rights. Beginning as early as February 2021, a new wave of militancy began sweeping through the working class with the unionization efforts of Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama. Throughout the rest of the year, class struggle followed a zigzagged path and reached a high point on October and November, with multiple important workplaces going simultaneously on strike (http://redmed.org/article/oakland-california-long-silent-strike-hospital-engineers- ). Other workplaces, such as the University of California system, did not even need a real strike to concede important rights to their employees. The mere threat of strike by some unions proved enough. If the strike wave continues into the midterm elections season this year, and nothing says that it should not, then these economic strikes can increasingly take on a political character, especially in the context of wavering Democratic policies.
Even before the Amazon workers in Alabama gave the first signal, however, various branches of organized labor began mobilization attempts against the creeping danger of fascism. Most radical among these has been the Vermont AFL-CIO, which began to ring the alarm bell in early Fall 2020 by calling for a nation-wide general strike in case of a coup attempt. In the following months, this AFL-CIO branch adopted increasingly radical resolutions as the danger of fascism came to flesh. Calling for building workers’ defense guards against fascist gangs, the branch president David Van Deusen organized a motorcycle club as a first step in this direction. Richard Trumka, the now-deceased president of AFL-CIO, attempted to persecute Van Deusen for his actions.
Once again, the working class itself shows the way where the Marxist Left fails to see. Despite all shortcomings and out-of-sync elements (themselves a result of four decades of neoliberal-capitalist attacks and class-collaborationist misleadership), the American working class is up and fighting. If the spontaneous militancy from Amazon to John Deere and beyond shows the proletariat’s resolution to fight, then the Vermont AFL-CIO’s example points to the way to politicize and generalize the struggle.
Yet, the working class’s independent national political platform, that is, its own political party independent of either bourgeois party, is yet to be formed. Given the current economic, social, and political crisis, the working class needs its voice to be heard on the political arena today more than ever. It is the duty of every sincere Marxist to begin the party-building efforts in tandem with and organically linked to labor and anti-fascist struggles.
How is this titanic task to be tackled? A United Front of the working class is of absolute necessity here. This method of organization is different from both the loose, cross-class “coalitions” that often involves more progressive representatives of the Democratic Party as well as momentary alliances of various small left groups around single issues. We are used to seeing these two types of joint action, and to some extent these are unavoidable as long as the working class does not have its own independent political platform. However, what we advocate here is a united front rooted in and directed by the working class in all its diversity, an organization capable of representing the real force of the class, and strike alliances with other oppressed sections of the society based on the principle of class autonomy. This United Front will be broad enough to encompass all sections of the American proletariat, but also jealously defend its autonomy from any bourgeois or petite-bourgeois hegemony. We already see the ambers of this type of regrouping of class power in various strike sites and in the efforts of the militant union leaders such as Van Deusen.
Parallel to this effort should run the building of workers’ self-defense guards. This demand might have sounded too radical, out of place, or – given the American Left’s history with self-defense organizations such as the Black Panther Party – nostalgic in the recent past. However, the combined impact of the George Floyd popular revolt and the rise of fascism have rendered it visible to most working people that they have to rely on themselves and each other if they are to survive at all. While the new consciousness created by the George Floyd revolt is still fresh on people’s minds, it is high time that we organize working class self-defense teams as quickly as possible.