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The paralysis ends: Trump, fascism and the capitalist state

Photo: Mob of Trump supporters outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. Credit: TapTheForwardAssist (Wikimedia Commons)

Statement by the Party for Socialism and Liberation

The paralysis that gripped the U.S. capitalist establishment in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 Trump-instigated, fascist-led assault on the U.S. Congress and the continuing threats from armed fascist organizations came to an abrupt halt on Jan. 12 with the public letter sent to all members of the U.S. military signed by the eight generals who comprise the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The statement read: “The violent riot in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021, was a direct assault on the U.S. Congress, the Capitol Building and our constitutional process … [and was the result of] sedition and insurrection.” 

The letter sent to more than 1.3 million members of the armed forces by the Pentagon top brass is a clear sign that they are worried that military forces were being drawn into or participated in the seditious conspiracy. This letter comes after the extraordinary Jan. 3 statement from all ten living Secretaries of Defense warning the officials in the Pentagon to not allow the military to be used to alter the 2020 election outcome.

Also on Jan. 12, leaders of the Republican Party began to defect from Trump. Rep. Liz Cheney, the 3rd ranking House Republican, announced that she would vote for impeachment and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell let it be known to the media that he thought Trump had committed impeachable offenses. This constitutes the first real break within the Republican leadership against Trump. Cheney said, “The President of the United States summoned the mob and lit the flame of this attack,” adding, “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of his oath of office and to the Constitution.” House Republican Rep. John Katko, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said, “To allow the president of the United States to incite this attack without consequences is a direct threat to the future of our democracy.”

Also on Jan. 12, the FBI organized the first press conference where Acting United States Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin declared they had initiated “a significant international counterintelligence or counterterrorism operation” whose “only marching orders from me are to build seditious and conspiracy charges.” Sherwin announced that 70 had already been charged, charges against 100 more people were being prepared, and noted: “That number, I suspect, is going to grow into the hundreds.” Steven D’Antuono, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office, stated, “The brutality the American people watched with shock and disbelief on the 6th will not be tolerated by the FBI,” adding that “The FBI has a long memory and a broad reach.”  

Powerful tech companies have also come together to ban Trump from using social media platforms on the basis that he used these same networks to incite a violent assault against the seat of government. Trump is banned from Twitter, Facebook and now YouTube, as well as many others.

On the same day, a large number of capitalist corporations, banks and other institutions took action to break from any association with Trump or his family-owned company. Deutsche Bank, which has been Trump’s primary lender for decades, announced their decision not to do business with Trump or his company in the future. The Trump Organization owes Deutsche Bank more than $400 million. The PGA said it would no longer hold the PGA Championship at Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey, which had been set for May 2022. Universities stripped Trump of honorary degrees. Shopify, the company that serves e-commerce sites, closed to online stores tied to Trump. The online payment platform Stripe will no longer process payments for Trump’s campaign website. 

The conservative National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) had earlier issued a statement that supported Trump’s ouster from office before the end of his term which stated: 

“Armed violent protesters who support baseless claims by outgoing President Trump that he somehow won an election that he overwhelmingly lost have stormed the U.S. Capitol. … Throughout this whole disgusting episode, Trump has been cheered on by members of his own party, adding fuel to the distrust that has inflamed violent anger. This is not law and order. This is chaos. It is mob rule. It is dangerous. This is sedition and should be treated as such. The outgoing president incited violence in an attempt to retain power.” 

Nearly a week of paralysis and passivity

The NAM statement, issued just hours after the mob arrived at the Capitol, was an exception. Key centers of ruling class power were gripped by a sense of shock and paralysis in the first several days following the putsch, unwilling to deploy the forces of the state in a serious crackdown on the fascists. 

Considering the circumstances, it is not surprising that this was the initial reaction. It was obvious that the attack was an “inside job” involving elements of the state, but it was unclear exactly how far this conspiracy went. Video showed Capitol Police officers opening barricades to allow the mob to advance on Congress. Staffers barricaded inside Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s office discovered that the panic buttons that were installed had been mysteriously ripped out. The Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Army were ignoring pleas to deploy the National Guard. 

Members of Congress even had reason to suspect their own colleagues were in on the plan. Rep. Mikie Sherrill said that she witnessed, “members of Congress who had groups coming through the Capitol that I saw on Jan. 5 for reconnaissance for the next day.” Roughly half of Republican members of the House and a quarter of Republican Senators had publicly supported Trump’s call to refuse to certify the results of the election. Panic and confusion took hold as members of the political elite scrambled to figure out how deeply the coup plotters had penetrated the institutions of the state, and what they had planned next.

Jan. 6 was phase one of a coup attempt

By the capitalist class’ own legal codes, this was a textbook example of seditious conspiracy: using “force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law.” A mob led by fascists, incited by the President in a carefully choreographed rally near the Capitol Building, marched to and then overran the Congress, using violence and intimidation not as a protest, but to physically prevent the lawfully-mandated transfer of power after an election. Even if the fascist-led mob lacked a plan for how to hold the building and simply intended to “await further instructions” from the President, this was a catalytic moment for an unleashed far right.

At stake was not the passage of this or that bill, but who would control the whole government and its repressive apparatus. They were looking for Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi and other top politicians with the intent of capturing them and holding them hostage, forcing them to change their vote — or killing them. They beat a Capitol Police officer to death, injured 50 others and apparently targeted Black police officers. Five people died during the siege. 

While some officers resisted the takeover of the building, other Capitol Police were facilitating it. Notably, the Capitol Police union held its annual party at Trump’s International Hotel in 2019. There seemed to be none of the normal protocols in place to defend the building and some of the agency’s high command were reportedly missing without explanation. Those of us who have organized mass protests in D.C. for years know the enormous array of police agencies and vast weaponry at their disposal, which is frequently deployed to guard federal buildings. It had been obvious for weeks that a far-right mobilization on the Capitol was planned for Jan. 6 and yet numerous advanced appeals for backup went unanswered.

Not all the facts are available about how the seizure of the building took place, but when they come out, the White House and Defense Department will prove to be as culpable as the Capitol Police. For instance, the Chief of the Capitol Police made an urgent appeal to Trump’s recently appointed Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller at or about 2:22 p.m. that day to send National Guard units to reinforce the Capitol Building. Miller only gave formal approval to send the Guard reinforcements over three hours later, at 5:45 p.m., according to the Pentagon. One can only assume that in failing to act earlier, Miller was following the directive of Trump himself. 

While the fascists temporarily dispersed the Congress in early afternoon and prevented it from certifying the Electoral College vote at that moment, the fascist-led operation began to falter after about two hours. Trump promised them that he would meet them at the Capitol Building, but he did not show up. Instead he went to the phones and started calling members of Congress, who were then hiding or sheltering in place, instructing them to delay or overturn the certification process. Trump apparently was waiting to see what might develop, but got cold feet as the scene devolved into bedlam, chaos, and death and he retreated, releasing a televised video message telling the mob that he loved them, but it was time to go home.

The attack was instigated by the President and organized with the obvious complicity of elements of Capitol law enforcement and the Pentagon. It would be absurd if the punishment for this unprecedented attack on the Capitol would be for Trump to simply lose his Twitter account. Even while a new ruling-class consensus is forming against Trump, no one from the political class or within the command structure of the police and military has yet been criminally implicated. 

Lessons from the rise of fascism in the 1920s and 30s

At a moment like this, it is crucially important to study history. Fascism’s rise is an organic feature of capitalism’s degeneration. By the end of 1940 — and just a decade after the stock market crash of 1929 that inaugurated the Great Depression — fascism dominated not only Germany and Italy, but almost every country in continental Europe. In the period before Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933, Germany was considered the most progressive country in Europe. It had a huge socialist party, communist party and trade union movement, as well as the most advanced women’s rights movement for its time and the first pioneering movement in history for what decades later became a global gay rights struggle. Yet, Germany succumbed to Nazism and all those movements were destroyed. Fascism must be actively fought by a united front of those forces in society who will be destroyed if it is victorious. The origins of fascism are capitalism and the final dissolution of fascism lies in the victory of socialism.

Of course the political, economic and international situation is very different today for the U.S. ruling class compared to the German ruling class of the early 1930s. In general, the U.S. ruling class prefers a democratic form for the stability of bourgeois rule. They oppose Trump as a destabilizer and disrupter to their system.

Nazi Germany took inspiration from and studied the legal codes of the Jim Crow South, the American germ of fascism. Nazi jurists took inspiration not only from the Jim Crow South, but the genocide and internment of Indigenous peoples and the segregation of Asian peoples in the West. Records reflect high-level meetings where Nazi officials clearly considered the American example as the most relevant legal model for their new state. The admiration went both ways. The New York Bar Association feted a delegation of Nazi legal officials just after the infamous Nuremburg rally and all types of high officials and leading industrialists associated themselves with Hitler’s new regime. 

It cannot be lost that the core of the Jan. 6 mobilization was to force Congress to unconstitutionally throw out the election results of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by overwhelmingly invalidating Black and Latino voters. Even though it was the suburbs of major metropolitan areas that statistically made up the difference for Biden, the far right’s false claims of fraud are fundamentally built around the urban centers. This was a racist, Jim Crow voter suppression effort of a whole new scale and type. 

Impunity emboldens fascism

It is noteworthy that the U.S. ruling class was at first so hesitant or paralyzed in the face of fascist and far-right attempted insurrection. The U.S. government showed no hesitation in using extreme repression this summer, for instance, when protests swept the country against the racist killings of Black people by police. Under the supposedly liberal Obama administration, the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 was crushed in a federally-coordinated police crackdown even though it was a peaceful movement, which federal authorities acknowledged at the time. During the anti-Iraq War movement, marches to the Capitol that were orders of magnitude larger than the fascist mob were stopped with ease by the same police force that served as co-conspirators in the Jan. 6 assault. If any of these progressive movements had engaged in a genuine attempt to overthrow the government like on Jan. 6, they would have been massacred by the forces of the state.

If the ruling class and its soon-to-be governing neoliberal wing go back to the path of inaction, the growing fascist movement in the United States will grow stronger. Fascist politics has always required a charismatic leader. While Trump is not exactly an ideological fascist, he has been engaged in a mutually beneficial relationship of convenience with far-right and fascist forces since he launched his political career. He is using them and they are using him. Without Trump as the unifying figurehead, the fascist movement would fragment and it would end the Trump takeover of the Republican Party apparatus. 

Biden says that in response to the events at the Capitol he supports the passage of a new law on domestic terrorism. This is just a maneuver to dodge the core of the issue and would inevitably create a new mechanism for the state to target people’s movements by falsely linking them to terrorism. With the laws already on the books, a criminal prosecution against Trump and his co-conspirators in the Jan. 6 putsch could be initiated right now — crimes that carry heavy prison sentences.

But arresting Trump would not by itself end the threat of fascist violence or the far-right political current in the United States. Polls suggest at least half of the 75 million Trump voters believe the election was stolen, and tens of millions of them back the attack on the Capitol. This is an enormous base of people to build a movement from, united around a grievance. 

This makes it all the more necessary for socialists to take up as a top priority the organization of an independent, working class movement against fascism. The fight against the far-right racists and fascists cannot be separated from the struggle for rent and debt cancellation, universal healthcare, guaranteed jobs and income, and so many other critical social demands. The Biden administration’s opposition to such a working-class program will only give space to the far-right to demagogically collect the grievances of poor and working people in the period ahead. The need for a genuine working-class alternative, and a new system, has never been clearer.

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