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How should socialists respond to the 6 January attacks on Capitol Hill?
On Wednesday 6 January, the world witnessed unprecedented scenes of frenzied Trump supporters, some armed, breaking through a thin line of police and occupying the Capitol building in Washington - the seat of the US government.
Hours earlier, the defeated president Donald Trump, who continues to falsely claim he won November's election, told his assembled motley supporters to march on the Capitol, where Congress was voting to certify Democrat Joe Biden's presidency. "You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength", he barked. After the chaos, a reassembled Congress confirmed Biden as president, but over 100 Republican lawmakers voted against.
Democrat House representatives are moving to impeach Trump for a second time although it's very unlikely this will pass in the Senate. It's also clear that Trump, or at least 'Trumpism', ie right-wing populism, won't go away, and the Republican Party could easily fracture in the coming months.
However, the idea that establishment politician Joe Biden, pursuing policies acceptable to the ruling class, can overcome a highly polarised US society, the Covid pandemic, narrow the ever-widening health and wealth gap, end systemic racism, and provide secure jobs and improved living standards for the majority, is utopian.
Future working-class struggle against the iniquities of capitalism is inevitable. Building an independent mass working-class party armed with a socialist programme is therefore a vital task. The Independent Socialist Group (CWI co-thinkers in USA) explains how this is possible.
The 'March to Save America', began on 6 January in Freedom Plaza, Washington DC. Trump promised that "millions of Americans" would attend. In actuality, the number of attendees numbered in the few thousands.
By then Trump probably had given up thoughts of being able to carry out some 'constitutional coup' and now did not expect to block Biden becoming president. But Trump wanted to give the impression he was going down fighting, saying to his supporters they had been 'robbed' and laying the basis for future campaigning.
Trump lacks the support necessary to pull off a seizure of power - neither the military, the majority of the capitalist class, nor sections of his own party are behind him in his election claims.
Biden's endorsement by numerous current and retired military commanders, as well as his considerable lead over Trump with a number of wealthy donors, clearly signals that most of the ruling class is done with Donald Trump.
However, the unprecedented open letter of ten former defence secretaries, initiated by George W Bush's vice-president Dick Cheney, warning against "efforts to involve the US armed forces in resolving election disputes", showed extreme worry and mistrust from sections of the ruling class over Trump's attempts to stay in power.
The majority of the capitalist class is relying on Biden to provide US capitalism and the government with a 'clean slate' in the eyes of voters and end the personal rule of Trump and his family, without the intent of undoing many of the attacks on workers' rights and living standards carried out under Trump's administration.
Trump also lacks the organised base which could otherwise counterbalance his lack of state support. Though he does have loyal supporters, many of whom are well-armed and have ties to various white nationalist and militia organisations, these core supporters are neither numerous nor organised enough to carry out a coup.
As seen on 6 January, there did not appear to be an overarching plan for protesters to somehow seize power for Donald Trump. Instead, it appears that protesters felt emboldened enough to spontaneously enter the Capitol building, facing little opposition from the police.
However, just because this isn't a coup does not mean that it should be ignored. 'Right populism' has the economic conditions to grow, especially given the lack of alternatives to capitalist crises, like the Covid crisis, housing crisis, and economic crisis.
The Democratic Party does not offer any way forward and could not appeal to those seduced by Trump's false promises and attacks on the Washington elite. The right could be temporarily set back by reaction to and division over what happened on the 6th.
It's up to working people and youth to fight the right. When the far right tried to hold a 'free speech rally' in Boston in 2017, the weekend after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, the 100 or so attendees were completely outnumbered and overpowered by the 40,000 counter-protestors who showed up to oppose their bigotry and semi-fascist politics.
When capitalism enters a crisis, people, including the most downtrodden, begin to look for answers and alternatives. The capitalist system has been in near-constant crises since the Great Recession in 2007-09. In the US, dissatisfaction with the current neoliberal order broke out into the anti-capitalist Occupy Movement in 2011 before it was put down by the Obama administration.
Politicians like self-declared democratic socialist Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who are fundamentally liberals (reformists), have tried to harness more recent progressive energy, but instead of building a movement, they have worked to bring workers' anger and need for change into the dead end of the Democratic Party.
On 6 January, a counter-protest, a tactic that has been overwhelmingly effective in the past, wasn't organised. Before the pro-Trump protest, the Democratic mayor of DC told people to stay home.
The lack of a left counter-protest was the result of large sections of progressives and the left capitulating to the Democratic Party and 'lesser-evilism' in the recent elections. Even the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was redirected by many of its leaders into supporting the Democratic Party in the recent elections.
The lack of an independent left outside of the Democratic Party serves to strengthen not only the interests of the capitalist class, but the interests of the far right as well. Working people want solutions, and if there is no significant left workers' party to help organise against capitalism, then those on the far right will be able to use populist rhetoric, alongside racism, sexism, antisemitism, and other oppressive ideas, to attract and recruit those who otherwise might have been won over to socialist ideas and actions.
Capitalism presents no way out. Polarisation will continue and some people will be drawn to right-wing populist ideas - but many people will also be pushed by conditions to consider left ideas, including socialism.
Unless an independent left workers' party forms, offering a socialist programme, and organising the working class in all its diversity against the capitalist elite, then the far right could continue to gain in numbers and influence, until a right-wing coup in the United States would become a real possibility.
Black Lives Matter
We cannot depend on a government controlled by capitalist political parties to defend us or our limited rights under capitalism. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party at federal, state, and city level mobilised Homeland Security, the National Guard, and local militarised police teams against predominantly peaceful anti-racist protesters just a few months ago during the height of the renewed BLM movement.
It's obvious that the differences in policing between the pro-Trump protest and riot, vis-Ó-vis the militarised police attacks against the BLM movement, are because of racist police policies.
Police in DC showed some sympathy to the pro-Trump protesters and refused to seriously restrain the partially armed crowd that entered the Capitol.
BLM protests are often violently suppressed and attacked by police, yet police consistently refrain from using violence against the right wing. The far right does not present an existential threat to the capitalist system, but the BLM movement frequently exposes the inequality and systematic violence of racism under capitalism. We cannot expect the same state apparatus that exploits, dehumanises, and oppresses us to suddenly pivot and save us.
Working people have nothing to gain from lining up behind the capitalists and supporting the undemocratic Electoral College, the unelected Supreme Court, and the unrepresentative Senate as institutions.
Other severe limitations, like the dominance of corporate money and corporate control over the limited democratic rights in the US, ensure working people have little real say or choice in political representation and policies in the country.
Instead of defending the current system, we should be calling for independent counter-protests against Trump, the right, and the far right; not in support of the Democrats, Joe Biden, or some myth of 'democracy' under capitalism, but to defend and extend real democratic rights.
The huge propaganda campaign denouncing the 6 January 'insurrection' is partly aimed at intimidating movements like BLM and working-class struggle, while new legal measures against protests may be tried out against the 6 January rioters.
In towns and cities, campaigning organisations, people on the left, socialist groups, rank-and-file trade unionists, anti-racist protesters, and so forth, need to organise working people and youth in mass demonstrations against the right - including in response to the pro-Trump protest.
Such joint actions should be linked to fighting for access to free healthcare, enhanced unemployment pay and no evictions, as steps to immediately defend lives and living standards during the pandemic.
These steps could begin to bring together working people and youth to build a movement - locally, state-wide and nationally - to fight for their needs and lay a basis for building a political force - a party of the working class and oppressed.
Trumpism and the Republicans offer no way out of the problems rooted in the capitalist system. The Democratic Party also has no way forward or any solutions to offer working class people, as we witnessed under the Clinton and Obama presidencies, while itself being a fundamentally undemocratic organisation.
The terrible pandemic has once again illustrated the horrors of a profit-run healthcare system, but Biden has made clear he is against any fundamental change.
Desperately needed social benefits - like free national healthcare, cancelling student debt, banning evictions and more - can be fought for now and need not wait for the Democrats to act. Real democratic rights can only be won through struggles for the immediate gains working people need, including stopping and pushing back the far right, and organising mass movements against racism, police brutality, evictions, and profit-making off the pandemic.
Socialists argue that such actions need to be part of a struggle to build a force that will break the grip of corporate control and enable working people to democratically run the economy so it meets the needs of society as a whole - and not the richest 1% who own 30% of the nation's wealth.
Working-class opposition to the right must be different from the calls of the corporate media and Democratic Party politicians for increasing police repression, for more corporate censorship of social media, and for using hatred of Trump and Trumpism to cover up real economic and political problems in government and US society.
Independent action is necessary, and history has shown that the only force capable of beating back the far-right and winning progress is the organised working class.
- Also read 'US in crisis - need for a mass workers' party and socialist programme' at socialistworld.net
In The Socialist 13 January 2021:
Youth and students
Campaigns and party news