Double scourge of fascism and COVID-19 shakes the world: Trump’s coup threatens U.S. democracy

January 30, 2021

From the January-February 2021 issue of News & Letters

by Franklin Dmitryev

The violent far-right coup that failed on Wednesday, Jan. 6, was the predictable—and pre-announced—outcome of a campaign of lies, propaganda, and incitement by Donald Trump, most of the Republican Party, media such as One America News Network, and innumerable far-right groups and individuals. Trump’s double-tongued leadership did not hide its deadly intent, where Nazi swastikas, T-shirts proclaiming a new Civil War and “Camp Auschwitz,” and Confederate and Trump flags mixed with zip ties, a gallows, pepper spray, guns, tactical gear, pipe bombs, and Molotov cocktails. Among them were extremist militia members, current and former police, military and prison guards. The incompetence of thousands of rioters gave cover to the deadly serious, coordinated, military-style plots by a smaller number. They intended “to capture and assassinate elected officials,” according to a court filing by Trump’s Justice Department.

POLICE’S BLATANT DOUBLE STANDARD

It is hardly necessary to point out the flagrant, racist double standard in police treatment of this violent assault vs. mostly peaceful demonstrations for Black Lives Matter, universal healthcare, climate justice, human rights for immigrants and so forth. Everyone from President-elect Joe Biden to conservative pundit David Brooks had to admit that Black people would have been met with lethal force, as opposed to the kid gloves that coddled this almost all-white mob that resulted in five deaths.

Some of the Capitol Police acted as accomplices or participants in the assault and occupation of what they are charged with defending. The complicity goes to the top: the Pentagon (which after the event labeled the coup “First Amendment Protests”) beforehand limited deployment of the D.C. National Guard. The Capitol Police assigned inadequate staff and barricades to defend the Capitol. This despite well-known violent plans shouted by the far right on social media for weeks, warnings from the FBI and other agencies, and an hour-long call Rep. Maxine Waters made to the now-resigned head of the Capitol Police the previous week, stressing the threat from these violent groups. Right-wing violence has always enjoyed relative impunity in this country, and even under President Barack Obama’s administration the investigations of right-wing terrorism were sidelined due to pressure from Congressional Republicans.

Just the day before the assault, a funeral was held in Columbus, Ohio, for Andre Hill, a 47-year-old Black man gunned down by a cop; and marchers in Kenosha, Wisc., protested the prosecutor’s refusal to charge the police officer who shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, in the back seven times in front of his young children on Aug. 23, paralyzing him. It was in the Aug. 25 protests against Blake’s shooting that the local police embraced white supremacist terrorists, one of whom shot and killed two protesters. He was allowed by the cops to walk away, despite people yelling that he had just murdered people.

Throughout U.S. history the police have largely seen themselves and right-wing terrorists as being on the same side, and “the Other” as the enemy, even if they are peacefully protesting or just walking or driving.

THE BIG LIE: A ‘STOLEN’ ELECTION

The fascist worldview, which permeates the Tea Party/Trump-era Republican Party as well as a great deal of the armed enforcers of the state, sees itself as part of the true nation besieged by the Other: Blacks, Native Americans, Latinxs, nonwhite immigrants, women’s liberationists, Queers, climate scientists, striking teachers, labor unions, environmentalists, left-wingers, anyone demanding recognition of their humanity or equality. The big lie that the real threat is Black protesters rather than the Capitol mob1After the mob was ousted, a participant cried, “This is not America. They’re shooting at us. They’re supposed to shoot BLM, but they’re shooting the patriots.” Quoted in “Madness on Capitol Hill,” by Andrew McCormick, The Nation, Jan. 7, 2021. goes hand in hand with the big lie that the election was stolen from Trump when the reality is that all the suppression of votes is aimed at people of color and young people. The big lie of a stolen election is instantly credible to anyone with a core belief that only white voters have a right to participate in democracy. The fact that the White Christian Nation/Other split overrides class struggles makes it useful to the ruling class at times of potential working-class unrest. For decades plutocrats have funded the Christian Right and other racist, homophobic, anti-immigrant and misogynist groups in exchange for lower taxes, deregulation and unionbusting.

Demonstration at Chicago’s Federal Plaza on Jan. 19, 2021, to “Demand Real Change’ from the Biden Administration. Benita Ulisano of the Clinic Vest Project demands that women continue receiving abortion pills by mail during the pandemic. Photo: https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10218691439341778&set=pcb.10218691515383679

White supremacy’s reaction to Black revolt is at the heart of the fascist urge to civil war expressed on Jan. 6. Fascist currents were inflamed by the election of the first Black U.S. president; by the boldness of the revolts announcing that Black Lives Matter, from Ferguson, 2014, to Minneapolis, 2020, as well as the fact that so many white youth joined the 2020 revolt; and by the resulting outpouring of Black organizing and votes that played a key part in ousting Trump in the November election and two pro-Trump senators in the Jan. 5 Georgia runoffs. What they disregard is the skyrocketing toll of the pandemic, which killed almost 4,000 on the day of the maskless insurrection.

Even after the police escorted Trump’s cannon fodder out of the Capitol and Congress resumed the certification of the presidential election, eight senators and almost two-thirds of Republican House members voted to reject Trump’s electoral loss. Even those Republicans who spoke out against that rejection, as well as many of the Democrats, obscured the nature of the fascist assault behind rhetoric about states’ rights and the republic’s hallowed institutions, none less sacred than the anti-democratic electoral college that delivered vote losers Trump and George W. Bush to the White House—an institution designed to prevent direct democracy and to defend slavery.

MASS BASE FOR FASCISM THEN AND NOW

Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, Ivy League-educated lawyers with supreme ambitions who are con artists as fake as Donald Trump, spearheaded the effort to block Biden’s ascent by proposing a commission on the model of the one that settled the 1876 Hayes-Tilden election. They failed to mention its role in setting the stage for Jim Crow. However, the many commentaries pointing that out portrayed it as a trade of the end of Reconstruction for a Republican presidency. The real arrangement was described in American Civilization on Trial: “1877, the year the Federal troops were removed from the South, was the year they were used to crush the railroad strikes stretching from Pennsylvania to Texas.”2American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard, by Raya Dunayevskaya (News and Letters, 2003), p. 43.

No longer the party of emancipation, the Republicans were already the party of Northern capital, which faced labor so revolutionary that 1877 became the year of the first general strike in the U.S.3See our Marxist-Humanist pamphlet Then and Now: On the 100th Anniversary of the First General Strike in the U.S., by Terry Moon and Ron Brokmeyer (News and Letters, 1977).

Removing the troops from the South opened the floodgates for the racist violence there that had already been rife in the 1876 election and was used to put a bloody end to Reconstruction and institute a new era of near-slavery. That is the model for Cruz, Hawley and their allies.

The confluence of events from outside and inside the Capitol dome shows that there is a mass base for fascism, together with a highly organized base not only in the openly fascist groups present in the mob but also in the Republican Party, in government, in mass media such as Fox News and the even-more-pro-Trump media like NewsMax and OANN, and in social media—despite the bans on Trump and on Parler, the social network favored by the far right. It would be foolish to assume that the coup’s defeat means that this base will go away.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian of fascism, warned: “If there are not severe consequences for every lawmaker and Trump government official who backed this, every member of the Capitol Police who collaborated with them, this ‘strategy of disruption’ will escalate in 2021.”4Quoted in “From Charlottesville to the Capitol: How Right-wing Impunity Fueled the Pro-Trump Mob,” by Lois Beckett, The Guardian, Jan. 8, 2021.

And yet, such severe consequences hardly seem likely. Internationally, the trend of rising fascism parallels that in the U.S.

Why now? Extreme reactionary elements dreaming of violent “revolution” have long subsisted in U.S. and European society, but mainly at the fringes. Recall what Raya Dunayevskaya wrote in 1980 about the religious Right’s rush to power:

“The real point is this: the totality of the crises, especially since 1973-74—and by no means only the Arab-Israeli war, but the economic crisis that resulted from the oil embargo—has shown that the undercurrent of revolt may, and in some cases did, lead to revolution. It is this, especially as it is evolving in the last year, which has led the capitalist rulers to flirt with Nazism and occultism all over again.

“Occultism has ever been the escape from reality, and since it doesn’t have quite as obnoxious an odor as Nazism, non-taxable dollars are spent on that electronic miracle [televangelism] to bring the message to the public.”5Crossroads of History: Marxist-Humanist Writings on the Middle East, by Raya Dunayevskaya (News and Letters, 2013), pp. 86-87.

In the past decade, occultism and Nazism have spewed their noxiousness side by side, sometimes together. In this they have been empowered by money from billionaires and millionaires and the think tanks and fake grassroots organizations funded by that money; right-wing media, politicians and pundits; social media amplifying their propaganda, not out of sympathy so much as compatibility with their basic business model of hijacking people’s attention and behavior through a scientifically honed apparatus of manipulation.

CAPITALISM BREEDS REACTIONARY IDEOLOGY

This vast network of support for far-right ideology and organizing occurs in the context of capitalism in chronic crisis and stagnating or declining wages for the majority of the working class. Beyond wages and benefits, living conditions have been decaying, including increasing isolation and fraying of community. That is partly caused by the deliberate destruction of working-class organizations as a central aspect of the ruling-class offensive to shore up the rate of profit by undermining working-class power and increasing what Marx called the rate of exploitation, that is, taking more for profit and allowing less in wages and benefits. All of this has been exacerbated by the pandemic. A key part of the capitalist offensive is ideological, and inseparable from it is the cancerous growth of mass incarceration since the 1970s.

But why should decaying conditions of life and labor, and massive discontent among the working class and the middle class, be harnessed by racism and fascism rather than lead to revolution, as has happened in some earlier periods? Why should some class discontent be diverted into delusional scapegoating of the Other, rather than class struggle joining with all freedom struggles to tear down and remake this rotten society?

Many commentators have pointed to the promotion of the far right, as just detailed. Some have noted also the capitulation of the center, both Democratic and Republican parties as well as “non-partisan” news media, social media, and so forth.

THE LEFT’S PHILOSOPHIC VOID

But there is a third crucial element: the ideological weakness of the Left, what Dunayevskaya identified as its philosophic void. It is this void on the Left that ceded the field for the Democratic Party and liberal democracy to pose as the alternative to fascism, even though they may all think they understand Marx’s point from his March 1850 Address to the Communist League on revolution in permanence:

“The relationship of the revolutionary workers’ party to the petty-bourgeois democrats is this: it cooperates with them against the party which they aim to overthrow; it opposes them wherever they wish to secure their own position….But they themselves must contribute most to their final victory, by informing themselves of their own class interests, by taking up their independent political position as soon as possible, by not allowing themselves to be misled by the hypocritical phrases of the democratic petty bourgeoisie into doubting for one minute the necessity of an independently organized party of the proletariat. Their battle-cry must be: The Permanent Revolution.6“Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League,” by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, March 1850, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/communist-league/1850-ad1.htm. See analysis of this in Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, by Raya Dunayevskaya (University of Illinois Press, 1991), pp. 158-62, where a slightly different translation is used.

What sort of banner has been raised by the Left that would show the masses a true alternative to both fascism and the crumbling capitalist society that fascism pretends to be an answer to? In truth the Left has mostly failed to raise a clear banner at all; a vocal segment is more interested in supporting “anti-imperialist” monsters like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad than addressing or listening to the U.S. working class, and a great deal of the Left is more interested in unity of the Left as the supposed answer to the Right than in unity of the movement from theory with the movement from practice, and thus accepts the pro-genocide Left as a legitimate part of their “unity”—just as they often end up capitulating to the Democratic Party in practice, even moments after intoning that there is no difference between the two big capitalist parties.

The fact is that the Left in general has no confidence in the self-activity of the masses reorganizing society, which is unseparated from their lack of confidence in the power of the Idea, that is, of philosophy of revolution.

The fundamental problem is that “the third force…truly independent, truly original in the sense in which Marx made it the original world outlook of the class that would put an end to all classes, has not put its stamp on world development.”7This and the following passage are quoted from Raya Dunayevskaya’s May 5, 1961, Weekly Political Letter, “The Recent Growth of the CP’s in Western Europe and Especially So in Great Britain,” #2913-2915 in the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection (in http://rayadunayevskaya.org/ArchivePDFs/2906.pdf).

What it shows is “the need to unfurl our own banner of Marxist Humanism, and stand only under that without deviation of ‘meanwhile’ doing ‘something’ for the general movement, [otherwise] we will…have no solid theoretical foundation which others will be compelled to come to if they wish this truly new society….We must concretize the theory where it is the life and activity of the masses aspiring to freedom.”

Concrete projection of that kind of liberatory banner—centered on both the necessity and the potentiality of a new society on truly human foundations, in which all people could flourish as human beings in the movement of self-development—is what is needed if we are not to be thrown right back into more oscillations between fascist horrors and the crumbling “normal” of capitalist liberal democracy.

References   [ + ]

1. After the mob was ousted, a participant cried, “This is not America. They’re shooting at us. They’re supposed to shoot BLM, but they’re shooting the patriots.” Quoted in “Madness on Capitol Hill,” by Andrew McCormick, The Nation, Jan. 7, 2021.
2. American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard, by Raya Dunayevskaya (News and Letters, 2003), p. 43.
3. See our Marxist-Humanist pamphlet Then and Now: On the 100th Anniversary of the First General Strike in the U.S., by Terry Moon and Ron Brokmeyer (News and Letters, 1977).
4. Quoted in “From Charlottesville to the Capitol: How Right-wing Impunity Fueled the Pro-Trump Mob,” by Lois Beckett, The Guardian, Jan. 8, 2021.
5. Crossroads of History: Marxist-Humanist Writings on the Middle East, by Raya Dunayevskaya (News and Letters, 2013), pp. 86-87.
6. “Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League,” by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, March 1850, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/communist-league/1850-ad1.htm. See analysis of this in Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, by Raya Dunayevskaya (University of Illinois Press, 1991), pp. 158-62, where a slightly different translation is used.
7. This and the following passage are quoted from Raya Dunayevskaya’s May 5, 1961, Weekly Political Letter, “The Recent Growth of the CP’s in Western Europe and Especially So in Great Britain,” #2913-2915 in the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection (in http://rayadunayevskaya.org/ArchivePDFs/2906.pdf).

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