The January 6 assault on the Capitol led by far right and fascist elements with the goal of overturning the presidential election results was a massive shock to progressive working class people in the U.S. Particularly shocking was the drastic underestimation of the Capitol Police and the rest of the state apparatus of what they were dealing with, mixed with incompetence and clear elements of collusion.
As Socialist Alternative warned for months before November 3, Donald Trump was preparing to steal the election if he couldn’t win the vote legitimately. Indeed, as soon as it became clear that he had lost both the popular and Electoral College vote, Trump and his allies set out to persuade or intimidate Republican state legislators and election officials in key states into overturning state votes or refusing to certify them. Trump’s legal team filed 60 lawsuits most of which were unceremoniously dismissed including by the Supreme Court.
This whole coup effort was shambolic and never likely to work because of the opposition of key sections of the ruling class including big business, the corporate media, the legal establishment and the military brass. Even Trump’s Attorney General, William Barr, refused to help. However, Trump’s narrative of a stolen election resonated with his base. According to a mid-December poll by CBS/YouGov, 82% of Trump voters said they didn’t consider President-Elect Joe Biden the legitimate winner of the presidential election. The same poll indicated that almost half of all Trump voters believed the president shouldn’t concede even after the Electoral College voted for Biden. Reflecting this, 147 Republican members of the House still voted to overturn the results after the assault on the Capitol had been stopped!
Ruling Class Turns on Trump
But even if Trump’s coup was poorly organized and at points farcical, the intent was serious. If Trump could have found more powerful ruling class allies and if the far right shock troops were a more serious force he might have succeeded.
However, the American ruling class does not want or need a right wing dictatorship at this point. America’s very undemocratic “democratic institutions” have been key to maintaining their grip on power domestically for the past 250 years and projecting that power globally. Corporate America was fine with Trump cutting their taxes and removing environmental regulation, but they see the attempt to storm the Capitol as a direct attack on their interests and the prestige of U.S. imperialism. They face a rising China and diminishing global credibility. January 6 reinforced the narrative of a superpower hobbled by the pandemic, economic crisis, and profound polarization. As Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a completely establishment institution, tweeted: “No one in the world is likely to see, respect, fear, or depend on us in the same way again. If the post-American era has a start date, it is almost certainly today.”
So for their own reasons, the ruling class and the political establishment which serves them has now gone on the offensive. Their main concerns are not democratic rights and certainly not the interests of working people and the oppressed who are in the target hairs of the far right. They organized a “shock and awe” inauguration for Joe Biden with 25,000 National Guard troops in the Capitol. The social media giants, including Facebook and Twitter, have deplatformed Trump and many on the far right. Many of the participants in the assault on the Capitol have been charged. But we should be under no illusions. This campaign against “extremism” may be directed at the far right today but it will be directed against the left tomorrow and against any section of society that dares to challenge the ruling class.
Trump lost on January 6 and was then forced to back down, concede Biden’s win and leave the White House. This is objectively a good thing but no one should be under the illusion that the problems that existed before January 6 have been solved. Capitalism is still facing its deepest crisis since the Depression and U.S. society is a powder keg. Tens of millions are understandably relieved to have Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the White House but we can’t have any confidence that the Democrats in power will deal a decisive blow to the populist right or the hard right/fascist elements. During the 2008-9 crisis, the Obama/Biden administration bailed out Wall Street to the tune of trillions of dollars while millions lost their jobs and their homes. The complete failure of the left and the labor movement to stand up and resist the neoliberal attacks predictably carried out by Obama opened the door to the Tea Party and ultimately Trump.
Biden is talking a better game this time with bold proposals (by the Democrats’ recent standards) for stimulus and fighting the pandemic. But he is completely beholden to corporate interests who will work to water all this down. At a certain stage, as the capitalists always do, they will seek to make the working class pay for the crisis they have created. If the left and the labor movement have not organized a mass movement independent of the Democratic establishment to defend our interests, the door will again be open to the populist right and the fascists to capitalize.
Right now, the Democrats are pursuing impeachment even after Trump left the White House with the goal of preventing him from running for office again. This will require a two thirds vote to convict in the Senate. It is extremely unlikely that 16 Republican Senators will vote to convict. Even though the Republican establishment has now drawn a hard line against Trump, they know they can’t win national elections without his base.
And the evidence is that the base is still largely with him even in the wake of the January 6 debacle. Trump is now threatening to form a new “Patriot Party.” This is meant first and foremost to force the Republicans to oppose impeachment. But there is also a logic to talk of a new party. The Republican Party is deeply and probably irreparably divided but in the short term the focus of the populist right is likely going to be mostly on trying to remove party officials and elected officials who “betrayed” Trump.
The Fascist Threat
The campaign against “domestic violent extremism” is temporarily disrupting the activities of the hard right and fascist groups who have been largely forced off the main social media platforms. Trump’s abandonment of them is also causing confusion in their ranks. In particular, QAnon followers who really believed until the very end that Trump had a secret plan to hold onto power, are in disarray.
But for white nationalist and fascist groups like the Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, and Proud Boys who harbored fewer illusions in Trump, January 6 was a proving ground. In retrospect it will likely be seen as a breakthrough moment for these groups that creates a real opportunity for them to recruit.
The hard right has a big potential pool to work with, as shown by the poll after January 6 where a quarter of Republicans said they supported the assault on the Capitol. We must not exaggerate the strength these groups have. In reality their forces are still relatively small. But we should not underestimate the threat they can pose in the next period if they are not met with a decisive response from the left and the labor movement. They will up their game. They now have a far bigger potential audience than at any time since the 1930s, similarly a period of massive social and economic crisis and political polarization.
Banning Trump from Twitter and de-platforming the hard right on social media will not defeat either right populism or the hard right/fascists. It will actually lend credibility to their narrative that they are fighting “Big Tech” and an unholy elite cabal. They will use the credibility this “anti-extremism” campaign creates and their fake concern for working people to divert anger at the effects of the crisis in sections of the white population towards nationalism, racism, and xenophobia.
This does not mean we are opposed to taking measures against these groups including prosecuting the ringleaders of the assault on the Capitol who sought to stage a violent coup and purging the police of people linked to these groups. It is striking but in no way surprising that there were a number of off duty police in the right wing mob that stormed the Capitol.
How Do We Fight this Threat?
At the end of the day, we cannot rely on the state, the Democratic Party, or corporate America to defeat the threat of the far right and fascism. Racism and fascism are inevitable toxic by-products of the crisis of a capitalist system in profound decay. And while corporate America rejects these forces now, they will turn to them when they face social upheaval and a more decisive challenge from the left.
Unfortunately, the left in Congress, especially the Squad, miserably failed the test posed by January 6. They simply echoed the “rally in defence of democracy” rhetoric and shouted for impeachment and for removing various Trump supporting politicians from office. They did not call for any mobilization of working people or put forward an independent position. This reflects a lack of confidence in the working class to overcome division and fight in their interests. In fact Bernie Sanders’ pro-working class program including Medicare for All, free college, and the Green New Deal is as popular as ever. In Florida, which Trump won easily, 60% voted in November for a referendum for a $15 minimum wage.
It is only a mass working class centered movement, mobilizing all of those whom the right and fascism targets including women, Black people, immigrants and LGBTQ people, that can decisively push these forces back. This means mobilizations in the streets, but also a program that speaks to the interests of the muliracial, multigender working class and can pull millions away from the siren songs of the right populists and isolate and smash the reactionary core.