A Socialist Response to Pro-Trump Riot in DC

On January 6th, the Congress of the United States formally certified the results of the Electoral College, which Joe Biden won. On the same day, President Trump gave a speech to a rally outside the White House, where he continued to claim victory in the 2020 election. This speech was one part of the larger so-called “March to Save America,” a pro-Trump event centred on the accusation that the election was stolen. The protest began on January 6th in Freedom Plaza, D.C, and 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.

Protestors outside the Capitol suddenly entered the building itself, with police in riot gear failing to prevent Trump’s supporters from gaining entry inside. In response, Congress was put under lockdown, and later evacuated. The protest has been described as a coup or insurrection. Protestors entering the Capitol building, resulting in police shooting at least one person, are certainly serious. This was not a military coup—it was a riot that illustrated the US’s polarization.

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 claims about the election results. 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 worries 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 U.S. capitalism and the U.S. 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 carried out under Trump’s administration.

Trump also lacks the organized 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 organizations, these core supporters are neither numerous nor organized enough to carry out a coup. As seen on January 6th, there did not appear to be an overarching plan for protestors to enter the Capitol building and somehow magically seize power for Donald Trump. Instead, it appears that protestors 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 the capitalist crisis, 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 Washington ‘elite’. The right could be temporarily set back by reaction to and division over what happened on the 6th of January. 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 begin to look for answers and alternatives. The capitalist system has been in near-constant crises since the Great Recession in 2008. In the U.S., dissatisfaction with the current neoliberal order broke out into the Occupy Movement before it was put down by the Obama administration. Politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who are fundamentally liberals, 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 January 6th, 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 D.C. even told people to stay home and not counter-protest. 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 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 interest of the capitalist class but the interest of the far-right, as well. Working people want solutions, and if there is no significant left workers’ party to help organize 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 of the crises this failing system continues to create. Polarization 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 organizing 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.

How to Fight Back 

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 the federal, state, and city-level mobilized Homeland Security, the National Guard, and local militarized police teams against predominantly peaceful anti-racist protestors just a few months ago during the height of the renewed Black Lives Matter movement. It’s obvious that the differences in policing between the pro-Trump protest and riot versus the militarized police attacks against the BLM movement are because of racist police policies. Police in D.C showed some sympathy to the pro-Trump protestors 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 and capitalism. We cannot expect the same apparatus that exploits, dehumanizes, 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 U.S. ensure working people have little real say or choice in political representation and policies in the U.S. 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 “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 January 6th rioters.

In towns and cities campaigning organisations, people on the Left, socialist groups, rank and file unions, anti-racist protestors, etc. need to organize working people and youth in mass demonstrations against the right, including in response to the pro-Trump protest and riot. Such joint actions should be linked to fighting for access to free healthcare, enhanced unemployment pay and no evictions as steps to immediate defend lives and living standards during the pandemic. These steps could begin 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 as we witnessed under Clinton and Obama, while it being a fundamentally undemocratic body.

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 not wait for the Democrats to act. Real democratic rights can only be won through struggles for immediate gains working people need, including stopping and pushing back the far right, and organizing 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 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 U.S. society. Independent action is necessary; history has shown that the only force capable of beating back the far-right and winning progress is the organized working class.

For a more in-depth analysis of how to fight the right, read our recent article on the subject.

Image Credit: Blink O’fanaye via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0