The storming of the Capitol on January 6th by Trump supporters was an acceleration in the unravelling of the American political regime and the fantastic ideology that sustains it. Unfortunately, the likeliest result, in the short term at least, is that the regime will knit itself a tighter coat of control, with the help, sadly, of a large number of professed “progressives” who have are rushing to bolster an imperial center that cannot, and should not, hold.
This event, which featured a cast of costumed characters that turned the Capitol into the Mos Eisley Cantina for a couple of hours, was the culmination of five years of farcical politics increasingly unhinged from the ability to think reasonably about, let alone effectively address, the real dangers and injustices accumulating in our country and the world, The ground work of that was decades the of Fox vs. CNN/MSNBC universe of mutually-assured ideological degradation
That Was the Year That Was
Since the last smack in the face of status quo politics—Trump’s election in 2016—Donald Trump has been the not-so-still point in the center of a political-media universe that was all too happy to revolve around, and define itself about, him, at the cost of vast swaths of American people and politicians losing their damn minds.
For four years, his “leadership” consisted of tweeting about how great he was, and how what a genius he was, and what wonderful people racists are, and how he was going to drain the swamp, and telling it like it is about the rotten establishment, and how great he was. Somehow this was enough to nourish a cult of personality among a swath of people who saw how great he was because he was so hated by the Clintonite Democratic and RINO establishment they hated, and he was surely going to drain the swamp, and QAnon knew the plan. This, even though he did nothing but surround himself with tax-cutting, ultra-wealthy, American-exceptionalist and uber-zionist swamp creatures who did nothing to keep most people from sinking further into the muck, except give the arms manufacturers, and Netanyahu everything they wanted. But he tells it like it is. Delusional.
During the same four years, the “opposition” party mounted a #Resistance based on the proposition that Trump was an agent of Vladimir Putin, who, along with Julian Assange and Susan Sarandon, had stolen the election from Hillary by hoodwinking a mere 80,000 people in three states with Buff Bernie memes and true “disinformation” (DNC emails). This was buttressed by a deluge of memes, jokes, and songs about Trump the “Russian whore” who is “busy blowing Vladimir,” and charges of treason against the (per Hillary) “illegitimate president” who, “stole,” and “knows” he stole, the election. And, of course, the interminable Russiagate/Muellergate saga, which was going to prove the “elemental, existential fact” that Trump was “a puppet, put in power by Vladimir Putin.” That fantasy football own-goal was followed by Ukrainegate and impeachment, because Trump was too slow in delivering lethal weapons to the fascists who overthrew the elected government of Ukraine, and because “all roads lead to Putin.” Delusional.
Having, as Matt Taibbi says, delivered Trump “a juic[y] campaign issue, and an eas[y] way to argue that ‘elites’ don’t respect the democratic choices of flyover voters,” the Democrats capped off 2020 with a primary campaign in which their establishment candidates, abetted by their allied media, trashed the most popular, and, in the context, inarguably necessary, reform imaginable: Medicare-for-all, which most of them had previously pretended to champion. To ward off the softest of social-democratic reforms represented by Bernie Sanders, they coalesced around the guy who had been all but counted out because he couldn’t come in better than fourth in the early primaries—also because he couldn’t distinguish his wife from his sister, couldn’t keep his nose out of women’s hair or his hands off little girls’ chests, and couldn’t stop lying about his record on advocating the Iraq War, cutting Social Security and Medicare, and getting arrested on his way to meet Nelson Mandela.
To make sure the pandering, opportunism, and general phoniness of Democratic neoliberal identity politics was unmistakable, the party paired him up with a woman of color who had trashed him during the primaries on pretend “bedrock principles” that she later laughed off (“It was a debate!”), who couldn’t win a single delegate for herself, and who had turned from for to against Medicare-for-All on the dimes the oligarchy, “rejoicing” at her pick, threw at her. Hey, it’s a fwee country.
Fortunately for the Democrats, there was this whole Covid-19 pandemic thing. It accelerated the inevitable denouement of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, with his submission to the “coalescing” ploy orchestrated by Obama and the Clintonites. It also glaringly highlighted the dangers of Trump’s narcissism and incompetence, as he, with nary a pause in his Twitter braggadocio, utterly failed to manage either the health crisis or the devastating economic crisis that blossomed in its wake, with tens of millions thrown out of work, off their health insurance, and out of their homes.
Of course, what was not glaringly highlighted, though exceedingly obvious, was the disgraceful lack of a real public healthcare system or of a socio-economic order that isn’t contemptuous of people’s needs, which made it near impossible for anyone to manage such a crisis. Everyone was flailing around, and many Democrats (e.g., Cuomo) did as bad or worse. Having ruled out the obvious and effective—Medicare-for-all, job, income, and housing guarantees, etc.—the Democrats had nothing better to offer. But Trump was in charge nationally and certainly deserved criticism, and it was easy for the Democratic-allied media to again make it all about him.
This was the succession of ludicrous political choices and abject failures that led to the political apotheosis of the year: Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the presidential election, by a mere 42,000 votes in three states.
Oh, yes, a very narrow victory: ~10-12K in GA and AZ, 22K in WI For some reason Democrats and their allied media do not highlight this, the way they raged about the “illegitimate” twice-as-many-votes difference that accounted for Hillary’s defeat in 2016.
But that 42K is the farcical standard as decreed by our sacred founding fathers’ democracy that all our brave soldiers died for, yada, yada—faith in which, according to the Democrats, we must not undermine by challenging the result.
This year, at least.
Before saying a word about January 6, 2021, I would suggest that people take a breath to understand the history and political relevance of the crucial issue that was the professed cause of the demonstration that day, and that has been obviously haunting our “democracy” for twenty years at least.
In 2004, Democrats, activists, and civil rights groups raised concerns “about various aspects of the voting process, including whether voting had been made accessible to all those entitled to vote, whether ineligible voters were registered, whether voters were registered multiple times, and whether the votes cast had been correctly counted.” As the great Warner Wolf used to say, Let’s go to the videotape, to take a look at January 6, 2005, and the certification of a presidential election in which George W. Bush got three million more votes than John Kerry, but would have lost without Ohio’s 20 electoral votes:
Alleging widespread “irregularities” on Election Day, a group of Democrats in Congress [led by Barbara Boxer] objected Thursday to the counting of Ohio’s 20 electoral votes, delaying the official certification of the 2004 presidential election results….
“How can we possibly tell millions of Americans who registered to vote, who came to the polls in record numbers, particularly our young people … to simply get over it and move on?”
“This is my opening shot to be able to focus the light of truth on these terrible problems in the electoral system,” Boxer told a press conference.
“While we have men and women dying to bring democracy abroad, we’ve got to make it the best it can be here at home, and that’s why I’m doing this.”…
Republicans dismissed the effort as a stunt, noting that specific allegations of voting problems in Ohio have been investigated by journalists and, the Republicans said, found to be untrue.
“But apparently, some Democrats only want to gripe about counts, recounts, and recounts of recounts,” said Rep. Deborah Pryce, an Ohio Republican….
White House press secretary Scott McClellan dismissed the challenge as “partisan politics.”
“The election is behind us,” he said. “The American people now expect their leaders in Washington to focus on the big priorities facing this country.” (CNN)
The move turned what would have otherwise been a polite ceremony into a political and historical drama. Mrs. Boxer said she had acted “to cast the light of truth on a flawed system which must be fixed now.”…
“This is a travesty,” said Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a member of the Republican leadership …
“I think this is the first time in my life I ever voted alone in the United States Senate, and I have to tell you, I think it was the right thing to do,” Mrs. Boxer said afterward, adding that she believed she forced the Republican leadership to listen to concerns about voting rights…
the debate came about because of the relentless efforts of a small group of third-party activists, liberal lawyers, Internet muckrakers and civil rights groups, who have been arguing since Election Day that the Ohio vote was rigged for Mr. Bush…
Ms. Jones, a former prosecutor and judge, said she was bringing the challenge “on behalf of those millions of Americans who believe in and value our democratic process and the right to vote.”…
Mrs. Boxer said that in retrospect “it was a mistake not to object four years ago.” (New York Times)
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. wrote a comprehensive article in Common Dreams, “Was the 2004 Election Stolen?” saying:
Republicans derided anyone who expressed doubts about Bush’s victory as nut cases in ”tinfoil hats,” while the national media, with few exceptions, did little to question the validity of the election. The Washington Post immediately dismissed allegations of fraud as ”conspiracy theories,” and The New York Times declared that ”there is no evidence of vote theft or errors on a large scale.” But despite the media blackout, indications continued to emerge that something deeply troubling had taken place in 2004.
And, of course, Democrats did not hesitate to denounce, and call for investigating, the “illegitimate,” “stolen” election of 2016.
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Our election was hijacked. There is no question. Congress has a duty to <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/ProtectOurDemocracy?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ProtectOurDemocracy</a> & <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/FollowTheFacts?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#FollowTheFacts</a>.</p>— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) <a href=”https://twitter.com/SpeakerPelosi/status/864522009048494080?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>May 16, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>
So there is an issue here that has been festering for decades and will get worse, and everyone—especially people on the left—needs to talk about this issue with intellectual honesty and consistency, and without being captivated and blinded by the orange sun of Donald Distraction Trump. That issue is the absence of fundamental democratic electoral integrity in the U.S., and why we accept so many elements of our elections—from voter suppression, to electronic voting machines, to the Electoral College—that make our elections untrustworthy.
And, yes, including absentee/mail-in voting—about which “there is a bipartisan consensus that voting by mail … is more easily abused than other forms” and “the largest source of potential voter fraud.” Because it breaks the chain of custody, undermines secrecy, allows ballot-harvesting, and depends on “witchcraft” AI signature-matching algorithms, both parties have agreed that “votes cast by mail are less likely to be counted, more likely to be compromised and more likely to be contested than those cast in a voting booth.” (See also here and here.) No matter how necessary it might have been this November, it is bad faith to pretend that all of those concerns never existed and/or did not apply to this election’s unprecedented scale of mail-in voting. (And it’s a terrible idea to dismiss these concerns for elections going forward.)
It all makes for a voting system that is farcically un-democratic and designed to enable fraud, and we should be asking why, though everybody knows that, nothing has been done about it.
Really, as the Democratic senator said, it was a mistake not to object twenty years ago, because then it happened again sixteen years ago, and then four years ago. But, though Trump lost the same way Hillary did four years ago—by a small number of votes in a few states, a number that could easily be manipulated—the Democrats now decree it to be crazy, unhinged, a mark of sedition and the very destruction of democracy to think it could have happened in this election.
Even this guy knows that you can “manipulate the [voting] machines, manipulate records”:
I know, one will say, “But it was investigated!” Sure, just as The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Republicans decreed that it was “investigated” in 2004, and only tinfoil-hat “conspiracy theorists” could doubt that the result was absolutely correct. Except declarations are not investigations. Some specific allegations are refuted, but it was not investigated in any real sense, not in 2004 or 2016, because, for all intents and purposes, it can’t be.
What the losers have in these situations are complaints about policies in 50 different states and hundreds of different voting precincts that were already argued about and decided on before the election, and clues about possible cheating in the election itself—extreme statistical anomalies, voting machine irregularities, suspicious ballot handling and counting procedures, etc.—that may have affected the outcome. There’s also the inconvenient fact that some methods of cheating, like the ones Biden mentions above, are undetectable.
It is effectively impossible, in a national election with 150 million voters, to actually do a thorough forensic investigation of all that between election day January 6th, when Congress counts those Electoral College votes (the only ones that matter). And, absent indisputable smoking-gun evidence of fraud in a specific jurisdiction that indisputably changes the result (or even with such evidence, which was arguably the case in Ohio in 2004), it is hardly conceivable that any court would cancel 150 million, or even 20 million votes and order a do-over. It’s a very high bar, as it must be.
The losers are left with their evidence, and the winners, echoed by all the institutions that do not want to admit there could be such serious problems with American democracy will, by conflating “evidence” with “proof,” declare that their evidence doesn’t exist, and they are just sour-grapes “conspiracy theorists.”
You can’t make these complaints the day after the election, the day after your side loses. You will be seen, with reason, as not really interested in election integrity but only in protecting your candidate. That is what is said right now, and I agree, about the Republican election challengers and the January 6th protestors, most of whom were wrapped up in a foolish cult of personality with Donald Trump and just wanted to keep him in power. Neither he nor the Republican Party cared a whit or did anything about election integrity until two months ago.
Yup, just like the Democrats, who complained about “stolen” elections when their candidate lost in 2000, 2004, and 2016, but did nothing about it for twenty years. Apparently, people are stealing elections left and right, and neither the Republicans nor the Democrats do anything that makes them other than opportunistic hypocrites on this issue. If you have an electoral system where that keeps happening, and you keep letting it happen, well, then, you just don’t care that much about which party wins, and whether people’s votes are cast and counted fairly—you know, all that democracy you say we have here and our soldiers “bring abroad.” Any party or politician who is serious about such things will have to work on them consistently, in all the years between elections.
How much time and energy over the past twenty years did the Democrats muster to focus on the Electoral College, the only thing that “stole” two presidential elections from them. Too busy with Russiagate.
Now, the Democrats and their allied media are creating a new template for dealing with election complaints from the losing side: Punish anyone who even says anything like what Boxer, Pelosi, and Hillary have said about the possibility of an election being “stolen” or “illegitimate.” Declare there can’t be a problem. Try to force people to shut up about it. Have everyone who does keep talking about it deplatformed and fired, if not arrested and charged with “sedition” and “domestic terrorism.”
Having lost 13 seats in congress, the Democrats, with AOC in the lead, make the argument that any congressperson who expressed doubts about the election is engaged in seditious conspiracy to overturn an election, and therefore we must overturn their election! That logic will go over well with those 75 million voters the Democrats think are too stupid to notice how phony it is, though perhaps not as well as with those who are so smart they can convince themselves it isn’t. It’s just the ticket for “democratically” stopping the hemorrhaging of popular support from the increasing number of voters who despise what they see as the Democrats’ sanctimonious hypocrisy.
(By the way, one of the points of suspicion in this election is precisely the anomalously high number of voters in crucial swing states, who only voted for Biden and not for down-ballot Democrats.)
That the Democrats, and even some people to the left of them, think that such measures will a) work to restore democracy, b) never be applied to them, and c) won’t, with reason, cause an enraged backlash in the name of democracy, is a mark of how farcical American political thinking is, well across the board.
To be clear, my considered opinion on whether the Republicans’ complaints about this election are valid is that I do not know, and I seriously doubt most of the people rejecting them out of hand know either. I have not looked into them in any depth and I’m just not going to, as I suspect is also the case with most of the people rejecting them out of hand.
That’s not just because I don’t care very much about which right-wing liar actually won, and it’s certainly not because I don’t think the issue is important. I have been haranguing about the importance of election integrity since 2012 (here, here, here), and think a transparent, trusted voting process is an indispensable element of any polity that wants to be democratic, and that the left should be at the forefront of fighting for it.
Nor do I refrain from going into the weeds on this because I think it’s crazy to suggest that 42,000 votes in three states could have been manipulated. I do know that is child’s play. And though I can’t say I know, from the various challenges and the rebuttals I have seen, I doubt that all the significant allegations have been refuted. Most of the attempts to present non-dispositive but suspicious evidence were simply declared false and censored because they were not proof. I also doubt the challengers could meet the high bar of indisputable proof necessary to change the result.
(By way of farcically blundering political tactics and unintended consequences, we might notice that the result of January 6th was that the Republicans were not able to present their case in Congress, and the result of the Democrats impeaching Trump is that he will now have the chance to present that evidence publicly in the Senate trial.)
What’s worse than the impossibility of rectifying significant fraud after the fact is the lack of political will to find and rectify the systemic problems that would be revealed, whether they would change the outcome or not.
I mean, really, what are we arguing about? What democracy? We have an electoral system with multiple arcane, opaque, and inconsistent procedures, designed and known to enable error and fraud, in which the person who got millions more votes sometimes loses. And instead of addressing that, we argue and riot over a few tens of thousands of votes in special places that actually determine the winner. Not only do we not have what could be respectably called a “democracy,” we cannot even think (or fight) about it. It’s like having a car with a constantly failing engine and transmission, and all you repeatedly argue about is whether there was enough air in the left front tire. Farcical.
Nobody noticed, but Mitch McConnell gave away the game when he opposed the Republican challenge to the vote because, he said, picking at it risked putting the Electoral College in focus, and without the anti-democratic Electoral College—the actual source of ridiculous outcomes and attendant arguments—the Republicans couldn’t win a presidential election. Could it be that the Democrats, who also refuse to go after the Electoral College, agree with McConnell on the imperative of preserving what in his and their understanding is the single biggest impediment to their electoral success, and to actual one-person-one-vote democracy?
In fact, it is because the rule of the game, as produced by the ruling class, is that both Republicans and Democrats will gladly lose an election—even if they think they’ve been cheated out of it—before they will raise challenges that might reveal the profound deficiencies of our constitutional, undemocratic electoral process and “undermine faith” in it.
Until Donald Trump.
Because the ultimate riposte to everything I’ve said is: “OK. The Democrats are as hypocritical about this as the Republicans. They flip the discourse about ‘stolen’ elections as it suits them. But the Democrats—Boxer in 2004, Clinton and Pelosi in 2016—didn’t call people out in the streets, didn’t bring thousands to Washington to protest militantly, let alone to storm the Capitol.”
True that. To which I say: “Why not?”
If an election was “hijacked,” “stolen,” “illegitimate” as the Democrats have charged a number of times, with reason, why didn’t they organize militant demonstrations with activists, internet muckrakers, and civil rights groups, up to and including storming the Capitol? There is no political crime worse than stealing an election. It’s the person/party who gets away with that that has succeeded in a coup. Again, if you just keep letting it happen, then you don’t care that much democracy and free and fair elections. And you should. That much.
Because, guess what? Sooner or later, someone will lead people into the streets about it. Donald Trump broke the rule. He crossed the red line by doing what Gore, Kerry, et. al. had obediently refrained from doing: He stubbornly refused to concede and instead brought a lot of angry people in the streets to protest the result of an election, “undermining faith” in the electoral process itself. From the ruling class’s point of view, that is anathema.
That it all ended up in a riotous incursion into the Capitol that had the legislators cowering under their desks only made it worse. That result was probably not—and, based on what he said, couldn’t legally be proven to be—his intent, but, politically, from the Democrats’ and the ruling class’s point of view, it was his fault.
And the retribution was fast and furious. As the New York Times put it “Corporate America Flexe[d] Its Political Muscle.” In an absolutely unprecedented theater of discipline, Donald Trump, still the sitting president, was cancelled with prejudice by a full roster of the corporate and financial elite from Silicon Valley to Wall Street: Dow Jones, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable, the PGA, etc.—i.e., the ruling class. Even Fox turned against him. In many cases, this cancellation extended to halting donations to “any member of Congress” who opposed certifying Biden’s electoral victory. Clearly, this was serious business to business.
The ruling class is outraged at Donald Trump for one reason: Pitchforks. Angry people invaded the office. Trump always talked like he was an anti-establishment bull; this time he actually broke some china. He brought thousands of angry people into the streets and didn’t keep them within the red lines of acceptable, non-threatening, protest. The “mob”—the very thing the anti-democratic Founding Fathers evoked to gain acceptance for their anti-democratic constitutional and electoral system—overran the Hallowed Halls of Congress.
Unlike Obama, who assured the oligarchs that he was standing “between you and the pitchforks,” Trump brought the pitchforks to the castle. Which is why Obama is being lavishly rewarded, and Trump severely punished, by the ruling class. Trump is being treated as a class traitor.
Let’s not pretend we don’t know this. Whatever leftists—and certainly those who identify with the revolutionary socialist position—want to say about the January 6th action, the ruling class’s comprehensive rage, and fear, about it is for no other reason than that thousands of angry people, out of their control, breached the seat of power and scared the asses sitting there.
The popular anger that was on display on January 6th is what they are afraid of and will not forgive Trump for inciting—not because, in this instance, it was in any way threatening a “coup” or “insurrection” that would have overthrown the government, or even “prevented the transition,” but because they are afraid of the example of popular anger being mobilized as a political and historical force by anyone they don’t control. They were and are not afraid of Trump, whom they wrangled into submission during his tenure, who demonstrated his subservience again by denouncing the demonstrators with the establishment’s framing, and whom they have now publicly humiliated. They are afraid of popular anger that might be mobilized by a competent (maybe even left) political leadership to storm the institutions of the state for reasons that really do threaten their wealth and power—which is a goal every revolutionary socialist should embrace.
Excuse me, but while I was watching January 6th unfold, my overwhelming thought wasn’t: “How terrible that they’re breaching the security of our sacred institutions!” It was: “Why aren’t we doing that?” By “we,” I mean the people who need healthcare, jobs, homes, and a decent and secure social life, mobilized by a theoretically and organizationally prepared left leadership; by “that,” I mean every tactic of militant protest we saw on January 6th and many other times in the United States—including forcing our way into government and legislative buildings (Wisconsin, 2011), fighting the cops (George Floyd protests last summer and too many others to count), and (the best so far) making them cower under their desks.
(Yes, I oppose gratuitously beating a cop or anyone else, or killing someone climbing in a window, but I do not think discrete incidents like these define the political point of mass actions.)
Can leftists who are rushing to join the entire ruling class in legally and politically criminalizing Donald Trump’s speech as actionable “sedition” and “domestic terrorism” be forgetting that the modern history of anti-racist, anti-war, and anti-capitalists struggle is filled with speeches ringing with calls to fight injustice “By any means necessary!? Often followed by fighting cops and burning shit down. Can they think the apparatuses they are reinforcing won’t be criminalizing those orators? Can they imagine that any of the hundreds of millions of adults in the United States who are not in their bubble will fail to see the hypocrisy in play?
And it wasn’t just Malcolm X:
Really, if, on January 6th, Bernie Sanders had given the same speech as Trump (substituting “healthcare” when necessary) to a demonstration of thousands of angry people he had mobilized, enraged that they went bankrupt or their children died for lack of Medicare-for-All, and they had stormed the Capitol to force passage of it, my response would have been: “Right on!” I certainly wouldn’t be pearl-clutching about how “the mob” was “desecrating” the sacred institutions that enact imperialist wars and capitalist austerity. It’s hard to fathom that any self-described revolutionary socialist would.
By all means, Storm the Capitol! For the right (left) reasons. It depends on what you’re fighting for.
Yes, I know, that organized working-class “we” doesn’t exist. Bernie did not, and would not, do that. Unfortunately. But if and when that “we” does emerge, it better be prepared to do that. Because that kind of militant action is the only thing that is going to get us the most basic social-democratic reforms. As Bernie’s reticence demonstrates.
“Progressive” reformers will never get the radical change we need by making better arguments that will eventually convince their Democratic colleagues. They don’t care if you’re right; they have the power. That cohort of the “left” is incapable of thinking about, let alone fighting for, power. The way, the only way, to get the substantive change the oligarchy and their political minions don’t want to give is precisely to scare the fuckers, to make them afraid of something worse—some worse physical violence or some worse political or economic defeat. That’s a revolutionary socialist left.
Watch. If, after twenty years of doing nothing, there’s some serious action on making elections more transparent and trustworthy before 2024—and there better be—it will only be because of what happened on January 6th. There will not be serious action on Medicare-for-All.
It’s a shame that it takes the January 6th event to throw into relief the entire political trajectory of 2016-21 and the farcical state of “left” politics in the U.S.—especially, but not only, among Democratic-Party-aligned “progressives.”
So, excuse me again, but I cringe at now seeing the torrent of liberals, “progressives,” and some real left socialists, reacting to January 6th by joining with the ruling-class, and adopting its sanctimonious constitutionalist framing of the event, in order to reinforce the repressive apparatuses of the state. There’s nothing more telling than watching “progressives” go from “defund the police” to “except the police that are protecting me.”
And demonstrating their commitment to free speech by trying to make sure no one ever
strays outside the Overton window sees or hears any seditious conspiracy theories again. I’m sure that’ll work. I’m sure it won’t cause an enraged backlash, with reason, at all.
(As I write, I am very glad to see that 135 Civil Rights Groups Oppose New Domestic Terrorism Statutes.)
Is it Fascism Yet?
Here’s the big one: “But it’s fascism!” The January 6th event wasn’t a demand for Medicare-for-All or any progressive purpose; it was a fascist insurrection to keep Donald Trump and his brand of white supremacy in power.
I would not call it an “insurrection.” It had not the slightest possibility for overturning the government—no leadership, political organization, program, or discipline, mass support, or support from any faction of the ruling class or armed element of state or powerful foreign government that would be necessary for such a thing. If there were a few people in it who thought it could, they were delusional. The crowd mostly wandered around for a couple of hours taking selfies (sometimes with cops!), smoking doobies, shoplifting, and vandalizing, and then left. For all the talk of “armed insurrection,” the only shot fired was from a cop’s gun. For “fascist” and “insurrection,” see Ukraine, 2014.
One might generously say that the full demonstration (from 10-30,000 people, accurate numbers hard to get) included many who did believe the populist save-democracy-from-the-cheating-elites framework, and it certainly included a cacophony of factions from Iranians for Trump to Zionists brandishing Israeli flags. But this demonstration was about the electoral process like Godzilla was about nuclear radiation. The ostensible concern for any election cheating was overwhelmingly subordinate to the dominant right-wing goal of keeping Donald Trump in power, which, for many was because they saw Trump as the hope for some Make America White Again Reconquista. In 2021, parading around under Confederate battle flags really can’t mean anything else.
The storming of the Capitol by a particularly militant cohort of about 800-1200 people (according to media estimates, which seem low)—ranging from proto-fascists and “Confederate” white supremacists to cosplay lunatics to neo-yippie potheads—was especially an action that we all should oppose. They were fighting for crap, and I would have been glad to see the Capitol police contain them.
Though not at the cost of 20 more dead protestors. Stopping the embarrassment of the empire that this demonstration was would not be worth that cost. The police should have been able to contain it as they have every other, and we should definitely question why they were unable to do that. Why wasn’t there the massive preventive police presence or repressive police reaction that there would have been for a less militant BLM or left demonstration? Why were there so many instances of seeming cooperation with these right-wing rioters, etc.? There are reasonable suspicions about incompetence and collusion that deserve investigation.
I want to resist the way “fascism” has come to mean “absolute evil” in a way that displaces the historical materialist understanding of that socio-political phenomenon. I would say January 6th was a proto-fascist event that demonstrated a simmering threat of fascism, and also demonstrated what is missing and needed for that threat to become critical.
There’s a checklist of pernicious characteristics typically used to identify fascism—strict authoritarianism, cancelling of democratic processes and civil rights, worship of a great leader, militarism, scapegoating and ultimately attacking some “inferior” ethnic, racial, national, or religious group. A lot of these are present in American politics, and by no means limited to Trump, the Republicans, or right-wing militias.
Missing in this kind of definition is the understanding of fascism as a dimension of class struggle. The essential task of historical fascism was to defeat the strong working-class socialist and communist movements that threatened the rule of capital, within countries and internationally. All the nasty attitudes and policies were means to that end.
The fascists came—were allowed to come—to power in Germany (and elsewhere in Europe) with the support of strong elements of ruling-class finance and media, when, and because, there was a very strong mass, socialist working-class movement that was a threat to the ruling class and had to be brutally crushed, and because there was the international “Bolshevik” threat to European capitalist rule that had to be defeated militarily. Not because Germans were essentially and irredeemably racist and anti-Semitic—a construal that precisely disappears the role of capitalism and class.
The reason there is no imminent threat of fascism in the U.S. is because there is no working-class socialist threat. There is no fascism, in the apocalyptic sense being evoked, independent of the ruling class and its need to prevent socialism, working-class power.
There are always proto-fascist elements simmering in capitalist society that can be called upon if necessary. Indeed, as the historical materialist analysis understands it, capitalism engenders incipient fascism, just as it engenders incipient socialism. They are siblings in the womb of capitalism, the less unwanted of which capital will call upon to eat the other if it starts kicking its way out.
But those elements need to be called upon. Fascism can only come to maturity as an instrument of (and socialism only independent of) the ruling class. Proto-fascism will be fascism when the ruling-class gets behind it, just as “democratic socialism” will be socialism when the working-class gets in front of it.
So while we certainly have some of the pre-conditions for fascism in the United States today, what we don’t have, what’s completely absent, is a strong, left working-class political movement. In the absence of that, what kind of “fascism” does the ruling class want or need? They already have complete control of the economy, the political parties, and the media—not yet all internet expression, but they’re working on it. What more can “fascism” do for them? What “white supremacist” program do they need or want that does any better in keeping black people crushed and coopted than the mix of mass incarceration, integrated militarized policing, and rainbow bourgeois governing they’ve had going for forty years. Is there a powerful faction of the ruling class that wants or would allow some Turner Diaries-inspired mass extermination of black people? The reinstitution of slavery or Old Jim Crow? What is the “fascist” program that does something the ruling class needs, and isn’t doing for itself already?
Because if the ruling class doesn’t want it, fascism isn’t happening. Only if they become scared enough of a left working-class movement that threatens their control of society will the capitalists turn to the fascists. Until then, “fascism” exists as a frightful lure to get the liberals and the self-mutilated left to go along with various forms of repression that will mostly be used against them. This is the state of preemptive counter-revolution—the state in which the left eats itself in advance,, ‘Cause Fascism!
For four years, it’s been, “You can’t stray from the neo-liberal, imperialist consensus, ’Cause Trump! That’s now becoming, ’Cause Fascism! i.e., Absolute evil—an ahistorical, apolitical, idealist diversion from historical materialist understanding of fascism within the dynamics of capitalism and class. And a political trope that buttresses the regime and actors that are most responsible for the re-emergence of actual fascism in the world.
By playing this game, the left isn’t “getting in front” of fascism; it’s getting in front of itself. The only “fascists” the Democratic Party is going to denounce are working-class people and Republicans. Anyone who advocates deplatforming and disenfranchising people on an expansive notion of “fascism,” better start with Joe Biden, Victoria Nuland, and their former boss, Barack Obama, who have done more to bring explicit Hitlerian fascism back into governance in the world, via the violent insurrection that overthrew a freely-elected government in Ukraine, than anyone who was in D.C. on January 6th.
Whether you’re a Democrat, leftist, socialist, antifa, anarchist, Trotskyist, Marxist-Leninist, or Bukharinist, if you’re calling for some state-enforced repression against anyone who attended or expressed support for the demonstration in Washington on January 6th, and you’re not always and explicitly calling for the same state-enforced repression to be visited first of all against those specific actors, your “anti-fascism” is in the service of U.S. imperialism, and is only helping to build up the state or pre-emptive counter-revolution.
We are not in a revolutionary situation, we are in a counter-revolutionary situation, and the expression of that is not what happened on January 6th, but what happens every day in those hallowed halls.
January 6th did not happen because there wasn’t enough censorship or anti-terrorism law. It happened for a number of reasons: because there are racists, and also because there are a lot of people who are angry about a socio-economic crisis that has devasted their communities, and angry at a political and electoral system, which has been coalescing around the Democratic/NatSec/media establishment, that they do not, and should not, trust.
Denouncing them, and all 75 million people who voted for Trump, as fascists, and calling for more censorship and anti-terrorism repression, will not stop it from happening again. Nor will it do what is necessary to defeat any critical fascist threat that may arise—build a mass working-class movement of the left.
Please register the horrible fact that we do not have a left movement of any political strength, so it’s not the dictatorship of the proletariat, but the repressive and ideological apparatuses of the American capitalist state—FBI, the DHS, the Atlantic Council, et. al.—that will be empowered to hunt down and censor “fascists.” It’s a bit incongruent for leftists to attack the U.S. state for colluding with fascists, and in the same breath call on that state to be the anti-fascist police. It’s literally the ruling class—the indispensable enabler of fascism—whose muscles you are helping to flex. Guess who ends up getting punched in the face?
The most important reason to be wary of misrepresenting or inflating the threat of “fascism” is that it prevents the organization of a left movement of the working class, which has been shrinking in the womb of U.S. capitalism for 40 years.
For the U.S. left to build a working-class socialist movement, it must become what it decidedly is not, and hasn’t evinced much interest in being—a pole of attraction for millions of people who are not socialists, do not agree with many of the motley commandments that have become the dogma of the “woke” American left, and are still largely held as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” (Steinbeck actually said “capitalists”) in capitalist ideology. Given the enormous ideological work done by the Fox-MSBNC, Breitbart-NYT media universe, which is the primary source of political education in this country, what else could you expect?
As I’ve said before, “For socialists, solidarity is not a matter of prior agreement. You don’t have to agree with me for me to defend your interests.” Want to reduce the number of people ready to storm the Capitol in support of a right-wing grifter? Want to maybe even start gathering enough people to storm the Capitol for good reasons? Which kind of approach works better: “I’m here to tell you you’re a fascist, kick you off Facebook, and get fired from your job,” or, “I’m here to help you fight for your job, your healthcare, and your pension.” Which is the better basis of the only effective “anti-fascist” strategy—building a revolutionary left working-class movement?
Think January 6th was “fascism”? Think impeaching Donald Trump and trying to disenfranchise everyone who voted for him is going to stop something worse from happening? The populist right has already woken up to the fact that Donald Trump is a “shill,” “extraordinarily weak,” and “a total failure.” Wait ‘til you see the movement that arises under a smart and competent right-wing leader, strengthened by the inevitable backlash from many of those seventy-five million people, who presents him/herself as a defender of civil liberties, and of the dignity and security of every person against the newly-enhanced authoritarian state of “two political parties that do not care about you, so deeply incestuous with corporations that they’re indistinguishable from each other,…a government that has bombed villages overseas my entire life for my supposed safety here,” and like that:
A man who aligns with Boogaloo boys makes a statement in front of Michigan State Capitol. pic.twitter.com/hQsWQqgwvx
— Mandi Wright (@DetroitMandi) January 17, 2021
Should any leftist be arguing that this be banned from the public forum, while Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’s blatherings aren’t? Can anybody think that’s going to work?
Here’s our choice: “They’re fascists, and if you listen to them or watch them on Facebook, you’re a fascist, too, and I’m going to silence you, sic the FBI on you, and get you fired from your job,” or, “They’re saying some true things. Now, are they going to help you fight for your job, your healthcare, your pension, and take control of the wealth of society? ‘Cause here’s how I think we can do that.”
I do not agree with the contrarian entryist strategy that Russell Dobular suggests in his provocative article, “Why Progressives Joining the Republican Party Isn’t as Crazy as You Think,” but I can’t refute his two points: “[Y]our chances of reforming the GOP into a party that’s less culturally conservative than it is now, while being populist on economic issues, is better than your chances of turning the Democrats towards meaningful reform,” and “If the people won’t come to you, you have to go to them. Our people aren’t in the Democratic Party any longer, and it’s only going to get worse.”
Choke on that. With tens of millions of people without jobs, income, or healthcare, the time is absolutely up for election cycles, progressive primaries, and constitutionalist gradualism. We’ve got to do something else. By any means necessary.
I am very glad to see Donald Trump get out of the White House. And I hope soon he gets out of the many minds he still inhabits. I am terrified and depressed at seeing the Biden administration take power with the full backing of the ruling class, at seeing the rapturous reaction of Democrats and liberals who think that’s going to save us from something, and at seeing the misplaced revolutionary fervor of so many leftists who seem eager to join the ruling class on its “anti-fascist” hunt in which they are the prey. I see no end in sight to the disaster enveloping us.
I’ve lost count of whether this is the second, third, or nth time, but it is a farce and a tragedy.