Riot or Coup? A response to the Bolshevik Tendency

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22/06/2021 by socialistfight

By Davey Heller, February 4th 2021

Since January 6th, much of the Marxist movement in the US have denied that the events in Washington that day represented an attempted coup and were little more than disorganized rabble rioting. They have also downplayed or denied that Trump, the Republican Party and their ruling class backers represent any immediate risk of being able to overturn bourgeois democratic forms of rule with a fascist dictatorship.

An explosion caused by a police munition seen while supporters of US President Donald Trump gather in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington DC on January 6 2021.

Tendencies which have published along these lines include Jacobin, Left Voice and Socialist Alternative (US). Marxist groups who deny the immediate and present danger of fascism in the US must be challenged as what is needed as a matter of urgency is the creation of a United Front Against Fascism as supported by Trotsky in the 1930’s in Germany.

Attempts to downplay what happened on the 6th only serve to chloroform the working class and undermine the development of any working class mobilizations against fascism not just in the US but internationally.

The following is a response to one such position published by the Bolshevik Tendency on January 13th entitled “On Trump, fascism and the invasion of the capital”. In their ten point pamphlet the BT state categorically that what occurred was a riot not a coup attempt.

Trump was not attempting a coup but merely a “pseudo-constitutional attempt to pressure Congress to overturn the election result”.  They deny Trump is himself a fascist but is rather a “racist, misogynistic narcissist with bonapartist tendencies” who has largely operated within the “constraints of bourgeois democracy”.

They state the threat of fascism in the US is not immediate because due to current weakness of the organized left and trade unions “the American ruling class currently has no need to rely on fascist rabble to maintain its rule”. The emerging fascist nature of the Republican Party is also denied with the two bourgeois parties simply being described as “the twin parties of American imperialism”

 I encourage everyone before proceeding further to read the full ten point statement by the Bolshevik Tendency, On Trump, Fascism and the invasion of the Capital.

Responding to the Bolshevik Tendency publicly is not designed as an attack on a party that I have much principled agreement with and respect for. However the only way for Marxists to clarify important points of difference is through debate and it is in this spirit that I publish my response.

Response to the Bolshevik Tendency:

1. Riot or Coup?

The insistence of BT that it is overblown to call the events of January 6th a coup attempt only makes sense if the riot is examined in the most narrow and literal sense. In isolation the storming of the capital was a riot but it was part of an extended operation by Trump, the Republican Party and a section of the ruling class to overturn an election that had clearly been lost by millions of votes.
Trump literally announced months out of the election that he would not accept an electoral loss. In June 2020, I wrote an article that outlined Trump’s dual strategy of building up a fascist base within and without the state structures that he would use increasingly as he come up against constitutional limits. How else would you expect a fascist to respond to an electoral loss?

Once Trump’s attempts at using the stacked Supreme Court and the undemocratic provisions of the electoral college failed, all he had left was the use of a mob to intimidate the Republican Party to either delay or deny the certification of Biden. This is why the “Stop the Steal” rally was timed to coincide the with the vote.

What BT lightly dismiss as a “suspicious” lack of police on the 6th January was clearly the result of a high level conspiracy to essentially leave the Capital unguarded. A leaked memo has surfaced revealing that Trump’s hand picked Pentagon chief Christopher Miller specifically forbade the National Guard from being deployed to stop the crowd. Evidence has now emerged that members of Congress such as AOC were warned to take security measures in the days before the 6th reflecting how widespread fears of violence were. Even for a socialist from Australia with no access to any special  intelligence it was obvious that violence was planned for January 6th and why I published an article on January 3rd entitled “Be there, will be wild”- Trump’s fascist provocation planned for January 6th in Washington”.

This demonstrates not my prescience but how obvious it was to predict trouble! In this light suggesting that the FBI, DHS and the Capital police might have been able to predict the same thing!

Whilst the motivations of the individual rioters cannot be ascertained it is naïve to think that the planners of this provocation ruled out that it could end in violence. The Senate was not evacuated until rioters were almost at its door whilst the House of Representatives were not evacuated until people were literally being shot and killed trying to bust down doors within earshot of the lawmakers. Some Congress members then spent hours hiding barricaded into their offices late into the night

The undeniable fact is that the executive branch of the US State unleashed an armed mob to prevent the transfer of power by the legislative branch. That it failed does not change the fact that it occurred. All this occurred in the figurative heart of the imperialist power in one of the world’s most secure buildings. Such an event represents a profound breakdown of liberal democratic rule in the US and not  merely a “successful riot”

2. Constitutionalism versus fascism?

Much is made in the BT position that Trump is merely another bourgeois politician because of his insistence on using constitutional tools such as the courts and Congress and a “real” fascist would simply use his fascist forces to seize power. They describe Trump as undertaking a “pseudo-constitutional attempt to pressure Congress to overturn the election result” to back their claims that Tump did not attempt a coup or is a fascist.

 Such an analysis is profoundly ahistorical. One only has to look at how both Hitler and Mussolini were both installed using a façade of constitutionalism. Mussolini was handed the Government formally by the Italian King in 1922 and in fact ruled constitutionally for his first three years in office.

Hitler was similarly handed power in 1933 by Hindenburg and the establishment of his dictatorship was rubber stamped by the Reichstag when all the centrist and right parties voted for the Enabling Act. The fact that Trump’s attempts at such manoeuvres failed because the dominant section of the ruling class currently oppose his installation as a fascist dictator does not change the character of Trump’s attempts or his politics.

US President Donald Trump addresses his supporters near the White House in Washington before the attack on the Capitol on January 6.

3) How the “twin parties” analysis ignores the morphing of the Republican Party

 Any Marxist knows there is no “lesser evilism” between bourgeois parties. Of course, all bourgeois capitalist parties serve the interests of the bourgeoise; and of course, bourgeois parties are the enemies of the working class. This is a socialist truism. However to claim that all bourgeois parties are therefore “equal” in relation to the working class is a mistake. In a process that predated Trump but accelerated under him, a faction of the ruling class has been transforming the Republican into a far right party for decades.

Whilst the Republican Party still has its moderate/establishment wing in the form of the Mitch McConnells, Mitt Romney et al it is now animated by the far right. The Koch brothers pushed this agenda with their astroturfed “Tea party” movement but the cultivation of the MAGA movement took this much further and subordinated the party to the personality cult of Trump. This “morphing” of an established bourgeois party is a new phenomenon in relation to earlier fascist movements.

The large number of Republican Congress people who have stuck with opposing Biden’s certification and now oppose Trump’s impeachment was very revealing. Trump leaving office obviously makes the future of this dynamic harder to predict. However, ignoring the differing social layers upon which the two capitalist parties of the US rest is a modern version of the “social fascism” of the Comintern policy in the 1930’s.

Of course, the two parties are “twins” but that doesn’t make them identical!
The Democrats are desperately trying to cling to illusion that “business as usual” in the two party system is continuing. They wish to continue to play their allotted role as the “graveyard of social movements” peddling the lies of “hope and change” by attempting to maintain illusions that they are a party of progressive reform. In this effort they are aided by their loyal servants in the trade union bureaucracy and other petty-bourgeois layers whose privilege relies on promoting identity politics. However, under conditions of capitalist crisis, not only have they lost the ability to offer up even paltry reforms but their opponents ‘across the aisle’ are playing by new and deadlier rules

Marxists today, like Trotsky in the 1930’s, must find the language to explain to the working class the deadly threat of fascism without fostering illusions in any of the bourgeois reformist parties. Workers must understand that the Democrats are not their allies in this fight. In fact, workers must understand that unless they break with the Democrats and the class traitors in the trade union bureaucracies, the conditions for fascism will only grow and become more dangerous. The formula about the “twin parties” of imperialism is not sufficient in the current crisis to account for the present reality.  

4) The internet is a material factor…

The BT insists that Trump is still a  conventional bourgeois politician with a merely beneficial “relationship” with fascist groups, while the development of a real fascist movement requires a centralized and formal organization. This downplays, or simply ignores, the way the internet has facilitated decentralized organizing. Ever since the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement we have seen the rise of decentralized organizing on a mass scale by the working class. 2019 alone saw social media driven mass protest erupt around the world.

None of this has gone unnoticed by the ruling class who have responded in two ways. One is to escalate internet censorship and surveillance. The second is to deploy the internet for its own class ends. It is clear that a faction of the US ruling class has invested heavily in this regard through manipulating social media and developing a far right ecosystem of influential media. We saw an example of this in the form of the “alt-right” and Pizzagate, even before the 2016 election. This phenomenon has grown since then, fueled by psyops such as QAnon.

By the Jan 6th riots Trump, through a few select tweets and a well organized internet campaign, coalesced tens of thousands of ordinary MAGA supporters, conspiracy theorists, militias, Christian evangelicals and white supremacists into a human battering ram against Congress. History does not repeat, but it does rhyme: modern fascist movements in the digital age do not need the degree of centralization of the SA in Germany.

5) International crisis and context

Nowhere in the ten points of the BT pamphlet is the international context of January 6th described. There is no mention of how the drive to the right in the US is part of an international drive towards far right and fascist rule in many capitalist countries. There is no mention of how this process, already accelerated by the deepening financial crisis, is triggered even further by the chaos caused by Covid.

This is not the realm of demagogic scare mongering, but merely acknowledging a reality revealed by the most cursory examination of current events. Nor is there any discussion of how the broader capitalist crisis is impacting on US Imperialism in particular. This broader political crisis  explains why one section of the US ruling class has already embraced the methods and ideology of fascism, and how  an even greater section may  be won over to this course of action in the near future.

6) Charlottesville to the 6th January

The BT pamphlet uses Charlottesville as a point of reference to the riot of January 6th. However, no mention is made of the pattern of deadly far right violence and organizing in the intermediate period. The ‘murder by car’ of an anti-fascist in 2017 was merely the first instance of the use of cars and guns to murder and maim leftists, particularly during the BLM matter protests.

This culminated in the brazen shootings of three BLM protestors by the fascist gunmen Kyle Rittenhouse. This was echoed grimly by the state murder of Michael Reinhol who shot and killed a far right Trump supporter at a protest. The BT in this context has once again treated January 6th as if it was a stand alone event as opposed to the culmination of years of building tension and fascist organising.

Mussolini’s March on Rome in 1922 after which the King handed the fascists power.

7) The coup attempt failed – what does that mean?

Obviously the efforts of Trump to use his enraged layer of petty-bourgeois and lumpen proletariat supporters to reverse the election result failed. Ultimately, Trump could not get enough support from the other branches of the Government in the form of the Supreme Court or Congress to give a constitutional figleaf to his coup. Nor did he have enough support to simply declare martial law and declare himself President. This reflected that currently the dominant section of the ruling class does not want to abandon all pretense of bourgeois-democratic forms of rule for both domestic and international reasons.

 Does this mean that efforts to warn the working class of the coup plans, and the call for a general strike were incorrect?

Not at all. A failed coup or even an attempt to overturn an election result through a variety of undemocratic manoeuvres in the US should be treated with the utmost seriousness by the international working class.  Even the failed attempts by Trump were a serious blow against the decaying structure of bourgeois liberal democratic forms of rule in the US.

Any stabilization under Biden will be of the most temporary and unstable character in the face of deepening crisis, increased working class militancy, and the eventual regrouping of the right. Our job is not to protect bourgeois democracy of course, but we endeavour to see it replaced by socialism, not fascism.

It will not be looked back on as a victory, or as unimportant, that the working class was side-lined by the Democrat party and its helpers in the trade union bureaucracy. The fact remains that during the crisis of constitutional rule following Trump’s electoral loss on the 3rd of November the streets were abandoned to the fascists, and that it was only the belated mobilization of the National Guard that stabilized the situation.

It allowed the Democrats and the military to posture as safeguards of democracy and opponents to fascism, which will help lay the groundwork for an even deadlier trap for the working class in the future.

Kyle Rittenhouse  (17) is charged with murdering protesters Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber. Out on $2million bail, in January he posted a video of him and supporters drinking in a bar singing the anthem of the fascist Proud Boys and wearing a T-shirt saying “Free as Fuck” .

To agitate for a general strike or not?

The call out for preparations to be made for a General Strike and workers self-defence guards was made by on October 12th. At that stage it was not clear exactly what form Trump’s efforts to illegitimately stay in power would take and their success or failure was unknown.

Although this United Front call did not gain wide traction, seeds of the strategy could be seen in  the support by Vermont AFL-CIO for a general strike, actively promoted by its President David Van Deusen. Similarly, a rally occurred in the Bay Area on the 20th of January where a variety of left groups gathered under the banner of a “For a United Front against fascism and racism! General Strike now!”.

At the rally links were made to other struggles of the working class, including the right to safe work during the pandemic, and immigrant, and prisoner rights. This is the entirely correct way for united front work against fascism to be built on in the future in the US.

The General Strike call outs are contrasted by the BT with more “achievable” local actions to disrupt fascist organizing. Of course such local  measures will be of great importance in the coming period, but more than a local response was needed to an attempted coup at a Federal level in the aftermath of the US election. As the far right tries to regroup after the failed coup local actions will take on importance. However, we cannot rely on the strategy of “no-platforming” and disrupting local organizing of fascists in the coming period.

We cannot superimpose tactics used against local chapters of the KKK in the US, or the BNP in the UK over the rise of a fascist movement backed by a powerful section of the US ruling class. Obviously, in this context more than local organizing is needed and a united front of the working class against fascism will have to more ambitious in its political ambitions and scope.▲

Pamphlet for the San Francisco Rally

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