The deep political and social contradictions of the U.S. capitalist system, which were becoming increasingly visible to the people during the past few decades, and had come to the surface with the election of Donald Trump in 2016, found their most glaring manifestation in the open riot of Trump supporters and the takeover of the Congress Building on January 6th.
The right-wing riot in Washington, DC on 6 January 2021 was a manifestation of the deepening economic and social crisis in the United States. High levels of social inequality and economic disarray engulfing the whole society, for which the U.S. ruling class has no solutions within the framework of the dominant capitalist order, has resulted in the loss of legitimacy of the state and its institutions. Yet, the general malaise in U.S. society is being falsely presented as a fight between Trump and his legions, on the one hand, and the Democrats and ‘moderate’ Republicans, on the other.
What happened: a riot but not a coup
Many have interpreted the January 6th event as a coup attempt by Trump to retain state power by extra-legal means. And many, especially the supporters of the Democratic Party, have been jubilant over the failure of this “coup” attempt and the final victory of Democrats in these elections. The impression is being advanced that this “failed coup” represented the last gasp of an aberrant era that started with the election of Donald Trump and is ending with the transition to Joe Biden. But this was neither a coup attempt against the U.S. ruling class, nor the last phase of a perceived aberrant era in contemporary U.S. history.
First, no successful coup in history has simply resorted to official challenges to the electoral process or the take-over of a country’s parliament by a mob of angry civilians. A coup attempt also requires, the mobilization or support of all or part of the state’s repressive apparatus — military, police, and other coercive entities — and seizure of the state’s executive branch, not simply the country’s parliament. There are many coup examples testify to this pattern — 1953 in Iran, 1973 in Chile, 2002 in Venezuela, 2009 in Honduras, 2014 in Ukraine, and 2019 in Bolivia, just to name a few.
Those who call the January 6 events a coup attempt ignore the fact that the majority of the U.S. ruling class had no problem with the election of Biden for several reasons: (1) Trump had already become too disruptive to the normal operation of the state; (2) Trump’s handling of the pandemic in particular had left the economy and the capitalist class’ legitimacy in tatters; (3) Biden Administration, as a carbon copy of the Obama administration, would serve their interests more smoothly and in a less confrontational way; and (4) Many former Secretaries of Defense from both parties had already warned against any military involvement in the elections. Thus, Trump was aware that any coup attempt would be doomed before it began. As Glenn Greenwald has observed,
“There is a huge difference between, on the one hand, thousands of people shooting their way into the Capitol after a long-planned, coordinated plot with the goal of seizing permanent power, and, on the other, an impulsive and grievance-driven crowd more or less waltzing into the Capitol … and then leaving a few hours later.”
Characterizing what Trump and his supporters did as a coup attempt is a diversion that falls into the misleading narrative of one side of the factional infighting within the U.S. ruling class, that of the Democratic Party.
Second, what happened on January 6 was not simply instigated by Trump and his “enablers,” but was yet another manifestation of the deepening crisis of legitimacy of the U.S. imperialist state, further exacerbated during the past year by the state’s failure to protect people’s lives — both physically and economically — in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Decades of wasteful spending of the country’s resources on wars and militaristic policies abroad, at the expense of people’s most basic needs, have created deep class divisions, polarization, and widespread distrust of state institutions, such that business as usual is becoming impossible for the U.S. ruling parties.
What happened on January 6 was a right-wing populist and racist reaction, in the opposite direction of progressive demands, to the very same cumulative effects of the deepening class and racial divisions and polarization of the whole society — massive unemployment, rampant poverty, and enormous number of deaths — all direct results of the government’s policy of neglect. That, too, was a clear expression of the masses’ distrust for the institutions of the U.S. state. Here, the electoral process was just a trigger, not the cause, of this explosion — in the same way as the assassination of a prince was the trigger for the start of WWI, not its cause.
In Germany during the 1930s, the same dangerous process of the deepening crisis in capitalism led to the rise of Hitler, Nazism, and WWII. There, too, the deeply stressed and poverty-stricken masses of people, who had legitimate objections to the prevailing situation, were misled by “populist” misleaders like Hitler toward the establishment of a fascist state. There, too, the attack on the German parliament, the Reichstag, was the trigger that started the process.
Third, seeing the current crisis as an “aberrant” period caused by the Trump Administration disregards the root causes of the widespread crisis that afflicts the system. The cumulative contradictions of the system that have been intensifying over the past several decades, have more openly come to the surface, and will be acting as the primary driving force of all present and emerging tensions. In other words, the events of January 6th were not the final phase of an “aberrant” Trump era but the beginning phase of a new era of intensified confrontations. Deep-rooted class and racial conflicts, not just superstructural political conflicts, will constitute the main arena of people’s struggle.
Threats to the people’s movement
The events of January 6 at the Capitol building played against a backdrop of severe crises, not only in the U.S. but, indeed, the world – nuclear annihilation, climate catastrophe, and neoliberal destruction of the social contract – which call for a united people’s movement.
These events are being used to distract from more fundamental problems. Overnight, the basic needs of working people for economic relief from evictions, unemployment, and the pandemic itself have been put on the backburner. While a record $740B military appropriation sailed through Congress with only 20 Democrats in opposition, desperately needed reforms that benefit working people have been sidetracked.
A domestic terrorist act is being touted by the Democrats in the name of combating fascism, when in fact it is a further lurch in the direction of the authoritarian state. Existing law already legalizes excessive police powers to address any threat of domestic terrorism. The bipartisan supported Patriot Act, for which Joe Biden takes credit as a major author, already provides a legal veneer to abrogate Bill of Rights freedoms. Obama signed away habeas corpus in 2011 with his NDAA.
These extensions of the coercive power of the state have been and will be used to suppress popular movements and need to be resisted. Likewise, the mania for censoring so-called hate speech will be used for silencing any dissent to the present order.
The failure of the capitol police to prepare for the march, which was organized openly, and the complicity of law enforcement officers with the right-wing white supremacists, who breached the Capitol on January 6 further expose the disparity in the treatment of those who are on the right and the left in the U.S., particularly those who are indigenous, black, and brown. This has been demonstrated throughout 2020 in the treatment of protesters opposing police violence.
The response of the ruling class to this crisis of legitimacy is to increasingly rely on repression because it cannot solve the contradictions of global capitalism.
The way forward
What is happening in the U.S. is a microcosm of what the capitalist financial institutions and elites have wreaked upon the planet through trade agreements and an imperialist foreign policy that has suppressed populations through illegal acts of interference, aggression, and economic warfare designed to create the conditions for exploitation, the theft of land and resources and environmental destruction. Our actions cannot be limited to the U.S. because if the global elites are willing to oppress and exploit people anywhere, the crises we face will continue.
All this tells us that the era of hoping for reforms from above has ended. It is time for the people’s movement to recognize this dangerous qualitative shift in the current situation in the U.S. and adapt its approach, tactics, and organizing methods to the requirements of the present situation.
A unified grassroots mass movement is needed to address the fundamental class contradictions of the system as a whole and not limit itself to fighting against the symptoms solely by seeking cosmetic changes through elections and reforms from above. We need to bring all contingents of the people’s movement — labor, social justice, civil rights, human rights, environmental, peace — together under a single coordinated network, with a clear agenda that addresses the root causes of the present crisis and not only its variegated symptoms.
In particular, given the fact that the deep social, economic, and environmental crises that our people are facing today have been exacerbated by decades of militaristic policy promoted by both corporate parties, it has now become an urgent responsibility of our peace movement to explain to the masses of people, especially those who are falling victim to the right-wing populist propaganda, that the main cause of their suffering is the imperialistic military and economic policies of the U.S. government and not their fellow citizens — African-Americans, other people of color, immigrants, the poor, etc. — who are themselves the main victims of the same policies.
We must act on this and other urgent responsibilities swiftly if we do not want to see the ugly history of the past repeat itself, this time in the United States.