Trumpist coup reveals fascist threat and Left’s philosophic void

January 11, 2021

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. The coup’s amateurish incompetence and Trump’s slippery leadership did not negate its deadly intent and fascist content, where Nazi swastikas, T-shirts proclaiming a new Civil War and “Camp Auschwitz,” and Confederate and Trump flags mixed with zip ties (recalling the plot to abduct and execute Michigan’s governor), a gallows, pepper spray, pistols, pipe bombs, and Molotov cocktails.

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 treated violently, 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, as the Pentagon (which after the event labeled the coup “First Amendment Protests”) beforehand limited deployment of the D.C. National Guard and the Capitol Police assigned inadequate staff and barricades to defend the Capitol, despite well-known violent plans shouted by the far right on social media for weeks, 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, then was allowed to walk away by the cops, despite people yelling that he had just murdered people.

Throughout U.S. history, just like this time, 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 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, 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 violence comes from Black protesters rather than the Capitol mob[1] 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 Nation/Other split overrides class struggles makes it useful to the ruling class at times of potential working-class unrest.

White supremacy’s reaction to Black revolt is at the heart of the fascist urge to civil war expressed in Wednesday’s events. 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 totally disregard is the skyrocketing toll of the COVID-19 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 still 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 the institution of slavery.

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. He 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.”[2] 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.[3] 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 in the Republican Party, in government, in mass media such as Fox News and the even-more-pro-Trump media like NewsMax and OANN, 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 & Trump government official who backed this, every member of the Capitol Police who collaborated with them, this ‘strategy of disruption’ will escalate in 2021.”[4]

And yet, such severe consequences hardly seem likely, and what will happen on Inauguration Day is in question.

Internationally, the trend of rising fascism parallels that in the U.S.

Why now? Extreme reactionary elements dreaming of a cleansing violence have always 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.”[5]

In the past decade, occultism and Nazism have spewed their noxiousness side by side, and 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; by right-wing media; by politicians and pundits; by 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. 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 their 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 that capitalist offensive is clearly 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, result in fascism rather than revolution, as has happened in some earlier periods? Why should 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. 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]

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 of 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.”[7] 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 that centers 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.

–Franklin Dmitryev, Jan. 10, 2021

[1] After the mob was ousted, a woman 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 & 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 & Letters, 1977).

[4] Quoted in “From Charlottesville to the Capitol: how rightwing 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 & Letters, 2013), pp. 86-87.

[6] “Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League,” by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, March 1850, 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

One thought on “Trumpist coup reveals fascist threat and Left’s philosophic void

  1. Many points made here help explain the grim context which led up to the January 6 coup attempt, such as the destruction of working-class organizations and the Left’s failure to raise a vision of a totally new, non-capitalist society which the mass freedom struggles are seeking. Still some unions like UNITE HERE sent laid-off hospitality workers to canvass in Black and Latinx neighborhoods, as did Wisconsin’s worker center Voces de la Frontera (Labor Notes, December 2020.) Their efforts helped defeat Trump.
    The election, important for fighting fascism, does not reach for a new society, which is why Marxist-Humanism concentrates on supporting mass freedom struggles with a philosophy of liberation. In the last three weeks Republican legislators have not only back-pedaled their condemnation of Trump’s attempted coup but strengthened their attachment to fascism. Even someone who called for the execution of Nancy Pelosi,Georgia Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, shows no remorse and fears no retribution. She won’t be recalled; she won her district with 75% of the vote.

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