Attempted Coup or a Farce?

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Here we present an article on the intrusion into the Capitol Building in Washington. It was first published on the Red Flag website. “Today” in the first sentence was 6 January.

Far right protesters today entered the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, to support Donald Trump’s failed attempt to cling to a second presidential term in the face of his election defeat. Many people, from across the political spectrum, labelled the event a coup, or an insurrection. It is the exact threat, apparently, that the pro-Biden establishment and the major US TV networks have been warning about: a major attack on US democracy.

But far from some serious “coup” or “insurrection”, this was a pathetic display highlighting the weakness of Trump and the right. The outgoing president won 74 million votes in November. He has spent nine weeks campaigning to overturn the election result. The rally in Washington was supposed to be the culmination of these efforts. Trump urged his supporters to attend the rally and he spoke at it. Yet the turnout could be counted only in the thousands. The rally was a flop—the “popular” equivalent of a Rudy Giuliani press conference.

Trump failed to win any institutional support for his bid. No section of the military has backed him, nor any other section of the US state apparatus. He has lost every court case filed. Fox News has distanced itself, along with the bulk of the Republican Party establishment. Even those, like Senator Ted Cruz, who objected to accepting the electoral college votes from Arizona, made clear that they were not trying to prevent a Biden presidency. Even Trump’s closest political allies seem to have abandoned him, while they nevertheless try to hang on to his supporters. Trump failed to mobilise any serious numbers on the streets and eventually called on them to go home.

The “storming” of the Capitol was hardly the stuff movies are made about (although I’m sure someone will try). A few windows were broken, and the only person killed was one of the far-right protesters. No real damage to the building was done. Someone sat in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s chair (the horror!). To call it a riot is generous. Perhaps “theatre” would be a better word.

Their success in gaining entry had more to do with the sympathy that the cops and other security agencies have with the far right than the protesters’ actual strength. While Black Lives Matter protests have been met with thousands upon thousands of riot police and the National Guard, tear gas, flashbang grenades, beatings, mass arrest and shootings, the fascists were met with very few cops, some of whom took selfies with the protesters as they wandered around not really knowing what to do now that they had miraculously gained entry.

We should be clear: the US state backs Biden. Besides their sympathy with the far right, this is the other reason the security apparatus was unprepared for the protesters entering the building—authorities knew that there was no coup, so they were quite relaxed. They will be ruing that it got out of hand—but in the same way all police departments are embarrassed when a protest gets out of their control when they weren’t expecting it. In the wake of the protest, Trump, having encouraged his supporters, is now more isolated than ever. 

The pathetic death-throes of his presidency does not of course mean that the far right in the US is finished. It is much weaker than the Democrats make out (to cynically herd the broad left into supporting their right-wing corporate candidates). But it has certainly grown under Trump. It may grow into a more serious force still. Even if the far right doesn’t grow, its isolation and demoralisation could push some in its ranks in the direction of terrorism, as we saw with the wave of fascist shootings in the wake of successful anti-fascist mobilisations following Charlottesville. So there is a need to build movements against fascism in the US, and it would be great if there were mass protests in the coming days in response.

But a myopic focus on the far right is misorienting—a result of the highly successful campaign by the US liberal establishment to focus on Trumpism as a unique threat to the working class and people of colour, and ignore the structural features of US capitalism that the Democrats uphold and against which so many rebelled in 2020. For the last four years we heard that it was the Democrats versus fascism. Perhaps that broken record is going to play for a little while longer, albeit while the Democrats control the executive and both branches of the legislature.

The main political outcome of the far-right farce in Washington is likely to be a strengthening of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party and an attempt to use these events to rally the population around all the key institutions of US capitalism and imperialism that have copped such a battering in recent times.

The US ruling class and its state apparatus backed a Democrat presidency to better “rebuild trust” in US institutions, “unite the nation”—i.e., co-opt and crush internal resistance—and rebuild US imperial might abroad. The Democrats agree with the bulk of Trump’s policies and have often legislated worse themselves, from neoliberal attacks on workers, to racist border policies, killer cops and launching or backing wars. Hence why they have opposed Trump as an aberration—a result of Russian interference and the uneducated “deplorables” who fell for his fake news—who is weakening and dividing their otherwise wonderful country and its institutions. Biden is the saviour to, essentially, make America great again.

The main enemy in the US remains the US state, US capitalism and the new imperial presidency of Joe Biden and his Democratic majority. The more liberal wing of the Democrats is doing its best, as it has all along, to play the role of herding left-wing opinion behind Joe Biden. 

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, celebrated hero of “the squad” among the pro-Democrat left, responded to the events by tweeting, “We will not let our Constitution be trampled on by a mob and threatened by a tyrant. Democracy will prevail”. This is nationalist blather. She and her fellow squad member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have now called for Trump to be impeached, a laughable manoeuvre to keep the focus off the incoming Biden administration.

You would be hard-pressed to come up with a duo who more personify everything that is rotten about capitalism than Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. One has spent his life getting rich off a political career based on campaigning to lock up as many of the poor and people of colour as possible. The other has carried out that agenda as the top cop of California. They are loyal servants of the rich and enemies of the working class, and their key mission is to strengthen the bloodiest empire the world has ever suffered. We cannot forget this amid the breathless talk of imagined coups by small fascist groups.