The rhetoric between the two political parties that dominate the ruling class in the United States has led to increasing polarization, with COVID-19, the ensuing economic crisis, and the anti-police brutality protests last summer as points of contention between them. The 2020 election in November of last year added new fuel to the fire, as President Trump spent the last few months contesting his loss to former Vice-President Joe Biden. Lawsuits, litigations, and endless claims of electoral fraud from the Trump campaign have so far proved fruitless for him, as they have been continuously rejected in court with very few exceptions. The only real victory scored by Trump so far in the two months since his loss has been in convincing his supporters that the election was stolen from him and that in reality he is the legitimate winner, supposedly having won in a landslide. This helps him maintain both his relevance and his grip on the Republican Party post-presidency.
Another result of Trump’s insistence on the idea that he won the election is that his supporters and the organizations who back him have now been riled up to the point of believing that whether or not he gets a second term is a matter of life or death for the country and for themselves. The far-right and demagogic politics that Trump embodies has translated itself into real-world groups that seek to impose an even more reactionary form of capitalism onto the United States and the world. Such organizations and movements, including Blue Lives Matter, the Proud Boys, or “MAGA” – some of which initially formed prior to a Trump presidency – have steadily grown over the past four years to the point where the most reactionary elements are able to pull off theatrical stunts like the Capitol riot that took place on January 6. In many ways that is exactly what it was – bourgeois political theater.
The Global Crisis
The political crisis here in the United States may appear unique in this historic moment and in the weeks and even months after. After all, it is not everyday that one of the most important and prestigious US government buildings is successfully stormed by an angry mob. Yet the basic underlying forces in this political crisis, and the causes which have brought it to the surface in such a chaotic manner, are quite similar to that which many nations across the globe are currently experiencing.
One only has to take a look at the political developments across the world for the past five or ten years to be able to witness the increasing tendencies towards right-wing and reactionary populism across the globe. Whether one looks at the United Kingdom, Hungary, Brazil, the Philippines, Colombia, Poland, Turkey, Russia (and the list goes on and on), one finds that a sort of nationalist populism has been rocking the world, and successfully in many places. Disdain for and measures against immigrants and ethnic minorities, calls hearkening to national glory and the restoration of the specific nation’s former strong position on the world stage, the directing of blame outwards towards other nations who have supposedly been the real enemies of the people and, by extension, the working class of the native country. All of these are but some of the hallmarks of this nationalist populism which has been rearing its head in the world in recent times.
This right-wing populism has seen its story play out similarly in other nations, including the sort of political crisis within the ruling class that we see in the United States with the clash between the “Trumpian” wing of the Republican Party (and the other extremist elements allied with them) against the Democrats and some of the more Moderate Republicans. In Britain for example, this sort of crisis occurred in a likewise fashion with the Brexit Referendum and the ensuing ruling class charade for the next four years. This is because in both the United States and Britain, as in all other countries, the capitalist class has for some time now been faced with a crisis of profitability resulting from the end of the last cycle of accumulation, which terminated in the early seventies. It is key to understand the results of the end of this cycle, as it and the general world economic crisis underlie this resurgence of nationalist populism across the globe and the political crises it entails.
With the end of the postwar boom period, the capitalist class worldwide had to begin a new and even more ruthless search for ever-greater profits around the globe. To increase their profits, the capitalist class was therefore required to increase the exploitation of that sole force which can generate more surplus value, that being the working class. One way that the capitalist class sought to accomplish this aim was through relocating entire swathes of industry from the traditional metropoles of capitalism to the less-developed and traditionally subjugated peripheral nations. In these countries, the workers were much more easily exploited, unlike the workers in the capitalist metropoles who had histories of organizing and had won certain protections and concessions from the capitalist class that put an obstacle in the path towards exploiting them further.
Throughout the 80s and 90s, the United Kingdom underwent a deliberate program of deindustrialization led by Margaret Thatcher in this vein. Occupations once central to an industrial economy, from ship building, coal mining, to textile manufacturing, were all wiped but out in a decade, those jobs lost. These industrial and manufacturing jobs had been relatively well-paying, and this meant that millions of workers in the United Kingdom had now lost their livelihoods (like in the Rust Belt in the US). These workers in these former industrial areas were of course left behind and neglected by that class which rules over and exploits them, and so in the course of twenty years without answers but only empty bourgeois platitudes and vicious austerity programs, it was inevitable that there were some sort of backlash, albeit unconscious and confused, by these workers.
The reaction of many of these workers to their thirty years of continued deprivation and impoverishment was to vote for Brexit in the 2016 referendum. The British ruling class foolishly thought that by creating another electoral charade to put a democratic face on their bourgeois dictatorship, that they would be able to forward their interests as they always had. Yet this ignored the reality on the ground which was that millions of working class people across the country were dissatisfied with the way that they had been treated and were ready to take out their anger on these neoliberal elites. So what followed was that these workers were misled by a faction within the capitalist class, who cooked up images of migrants coming into Britain thanks to lax EU border restrictions and taking up space and wealth that was rightfully British, and who were therefore to blame for the problems faced by these workers, and not the capitalists’ search for more profits. It was this group that would embody this sort of nationalist populist tendency in the United Kingdom. Globalization which brought job losses and declines in living standards for workers across the industrialized world, combined with the fact that there has been no real workers’ movement or political reference point for workers to truly speak of, have both led to this phenomenon of reactionary populist parties gaining traction across the globe.
In the United States the situation is quite similar. Due to the same crisis of profitability and the same end of the cycle of accumulation which hobbled the capitalist class in Britain, eventually forcing them to relocate industry from the native country over to the peripheries of capitalism, the capitalist class in the United States underwent a similar process of exporting the factories which had traditionally defined life for many workers. The Steel Belt in the Northeastern states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana etc. became known as the Rust Belt once the jobs had noticeably disappeared from that region en masse. The industry which had once provided many working class people in cities like Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Cincinnati with relatively decent wages were now gone, and the service-economy jobs which came to replace them were nowhere near as well paying or stable.
This was again all part of the scheme by the capitalist class to extract more profits from the working class in order to keep their world system afloat for longer. The profitability crisis which spells the end of the cycle of accumulation demands a massive devaluation of capital in order for a new cycle to start again. Unlike capitalism’s crises in the nineteenth century, a global capitalist economy means this can essentially only be accomplished through a war on the scale of capitalism’s two prior world wars. The capitalist class well understands the social consequences that something like that would entail, and while the ruling class is quite barbaric, they are by no means hell-bent on starting some massively destructive war, and so they have spent the past 50 years trying to erect all sorts of measures and policies to stem that tide for as long as possible. In order to continue trying to cope with this general crisis of profitability, the working class in the United States was subjected to its own version of the economic austerity of Thatcherism, except on this side of the pond it was called Reaganism. Bogus theories like trickle-down-economics were used to justify the increasingly impoverished and precarious situation that the working class in the United States found itself in. The new doctrine of neoliberalism had come to predominate within the capitalist class in the United States and across the world which sought to ratify free-trade agreements, treaties which essentially covered up the process of the capitalist class exporting these jobs to other countries so that they could extract more profits and loosen up the rules of their own game.
Fast forward twenty or thirty years to the United States in the 2010s and the position of the working class has only gotten worse since the days of Reagan. As the global economic crisis continues to push the limits of how deep it can go, the working class has been further battered by attacks on its real wages, increases in unemployment, and the stripping of what relatively few protections workers in the United States have in the workplace. The blue-collar workers that have seen their and their friends’ jobs and livelihoods lost for the past twenty years have nothing to show for it and share the same resentment as those workers in England that went through the same experience.
And it is not just these sorts of factory and blue-collar workers that have seen their societal position decrease over the last few decades. The petite bourgeoisie, who in typical American political discourse is referred to as the small business owner or sometimes the local mom-and-pop shop, has also seen its standing dip below what it once was, and even occasionally costing these petit bourgeois small business owners their livelihoods as well. The crisis of 2008 demonstrated to many of these people the real political insignificance that they seemingly occupied compared to the larger capitalists. As the big banks and auto-manufacturers were bailed out by the government, small business owners across the country saw their businesses fail and decline into bankruptcy. There was a bailout for Wall Street but not for Main Street, and this sort of populist slogan which was first raised most significantly during the Occupy Wall Street Protests in 2011 transformed itself into a general political feeling shared by large parts of the country, certainly amongst many petit bourgeois, who felt that the so-called politician class had sold them and their typical privileges out. Some of these people ended up becoming proletarianized, and others managed to ride out the storm and keep their businesses and class status intact. Either way, the end result was another large grouping of people, a large section of the petite bourgeoisie, that was dissatisfied with the political status quo and therefore open to anything that would shake up the establishment, whether it came from the left or the right.
Ideally in a situation like this, this would be the perfect time for communists to push forward working class struggles and seriously work to challenge the dominance of the capitalist system. Yet the working class is and has been for the most part absent from the political and historical scene for quite some time, and there was no real pole to generate any sort of mass working class militancy. The absence of any proletarian alternative during the attacks of capitalism against the working class and even the petit bourgeois has led to a situation in which some (though by no means all or even the majority) working class people and certainly a substantial portion of the petit bourgeois have tied their political aspirations to the right-wing populism of Trump and his campaigns. Bernie Sanders at first seemed to offer a left-populist alternative to Trump in the beginning of 2016 yet this was snuffed out by the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party apparatus, and so Trump seemed to be the embodiment of these groups of peoples’ interests against the technocrats which ruled over them (even though much of what he promised was essentially the same as what the capitalist class in the United States had already been carrying out for the past 16 or more years).
It is as the Internationalist Workers’ Group said in 2016 following the election of Donald Trump:
“This nationalist turn is a product of the rejection of years of failure from the political promoters of globalization. This populism and nationalism in politics is the result of the failure of decades of official policy. This process has delegitimized ruling parties around the world whose power during the decades of capitalist prosperity was once unquestioned.”
Trump’s Real Influence
All in all, the far-right populist movement that has emerged in the US has little to do with Trump himself. Many Trump supporters do not share a coherent ideology or platform; rather, they support Trump because of what he represents to them, regardless of his real position or beliefs. Trump is really a symbol, and what he represents is more important than the policies he’s enacted or what he’s said in office. Many of his supporters believe that he offers a solution to their problems and their disillusionment with the neoliberal administration, which is a result of decades of economic stagnation leading into the global economic crisis of today. While it is true that Trump helped to incite much of the right-wing violence and white nationalist demonstrations that have taken place over the past four years, including the storming of the Capitol on January 6th, to claim that he is solely responsible for this reactionary movement is widely inaccurate.
Much of the reactionary elements that are present within the working class do not emerge spontaneously. A sizable portion of Trump supporters are regular conservatives who are alienated by capitalism and have been taught to believe that minorities and immigrants are the ones to blame for their problems. It is a result of bourgeois propaganda, living sheltered lives, and feeling like they need a scapegoat. Race has historically been used to divide the working class, and for many conservatives who fall for this sort of right-wing propaganda have fallen for a tactic that has been used throughout American history for centuries. Institutions like the police and political parties take advantage of this and frame issues along racial lines; the racial biases are very much real, but the liberal media and the left’s hyperfocus on race in such a reductive manner is a major factor on the increasing polarization between Americans. A working class white individual who falls prey to this type of propaganda may grow more disdainful towards people of other races, eventually falling for white nationalist slogans because they see no other alternative – despite the fact that the issues are rooted in class. That is the main thing that the capitalist class does not want them to realize, because once they do, the threat of workers organizing based on class interests becomes real.
In spite of all this, it is a myth that the white working class makes up for the largest demographic of Trump voters. The majority of Trump voters do not have a college degree; a lack of secondary education is often conflated with being working class, when it is not the case. Class position is dictated by your relationship to the means of production, not income or education status. Many of Trump’s so-called “white working class voters” are actually petit bourgeois small business owners who lack a college education, but are otherwise capitalists themselves. Historically, in the US, the lowest strata of the working class does not vote at all – for a multitude of reasons: one of the most important being disillusionment towards both political parties and the electoral system, with the understanding that voting for a “less corrupt” or “more progressive” politician will do nothing to change their class position or improve their conditions of living.
The majority of the rioters at the Capitol were petit bourgeois Trump supporters – varying between America First conservative voters, differing degrees of white nationalists, and full-blown neo-Nazis. They hold great disdain for the wealthy elites who were bailed out from bankruptcy by the state, who still continue making money through upholding the status quo. The rioters believed that it was their right to take back the “control” that had been “usurped” from them when Trump had lost the election to Biden. After calls to voter fraud and recounting ballots had failed, the only alternative they had left was to attempt to take control through force. Trump was a symbol that his supporters could rally around as they made their demands. The so-called “revolution” to overturn the election was not much different from a temper tantrum that a child has when they do not get what they want. This is made clear by the fact that Trump had incited the event when he could not accept his defeat in the electoral race, and neither could any of his supporters, including some members of the Republican Party; only when circumstances were no longer in their favor did they choose to oppose the same institutions that they had defended merely two months prior.
The working class at this stage is still weak and unorganized, and therefore unable to intervene or pose a real challenge to this level of bourgeois manipulation. The storming of the Capitol has only created more confusion, as the working class as a whole still does not know where its interest lies; thus, it remains vulnerable to the ideological traps of the ruling class. Both Trump’s “MAGA” vision of a “new” nationalism and the fantasy of economic prosperity as well as the Democrats’ push to defend democracy against the threat of a “fascist uprising” or dictatorship simply represent two competing factions of the bourgeoisie who cannot offer the working class nothing but a continued exploitation. The global crisis and its effects have only been exacerbated by COVID-19 and the exploitation is set to worsen even after the pandemic comes to an end; the workers of the world are the ones who will pay the price.
The Liberal Narrative
The liberal capitalist press, the Democratic Party, and all of their messengers and influencers on the internet have been quick to make a general hysteria about the events that occurred at the Capitol. When the original media reports about the events labelled the people storming the Capitol as “protestors,” many criticized this as being too lenient. They then took to using more forceful language to describe the groups that partook in the action, landing on a “mob,” “rioters,” and “domestic terrorists.” CNN even described the Trump supporters storming the Capitol as “anarchists” in a moment of panicked centrist nonsense.
Whatever label was decided on for describing these people, one thing was clear for the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie embodied in the Democratic Party: this was a direct challenge not only to their political dominance against the more “Trumpian” wing of the capitalists (oil executives, weapons manufacturers), but to the very structure and functioning of American capitalist democracy itself – at least, that is the narrative being pushed forth by the ruling class. Politics and the management of the affairs of the bourgeoisie was meant to be an affair of mutual agreement between the various factions of the capitalist class. Each party was meant to take turns in power and hand over their powers to the other team when they won in bourgeois elections. There was meant to be an “orderly transition of power” between the two parties if the ruling party lost or vice versa, and the basic rules of the game were meant to be respected. Trump’s more authoritarian and illiberal politics have for a while now threatened that status quo, especially through 2020, where before the election he attempted to make changes to the Postal Service in order to make mail-in ballots harder to use, and after the election he refused to accept that he had lost. While his various legal challenges have failed, he has inspired in his supporters the conviction that the election has been stolen from them, and that it is up to them and their force of arms to overturn the results. The assault on the Capitol was just the culmination of his rhetoric for the past months, and it brought to light the seriousness of the situation for the liberal wing of the capitalists.
For the first time, Trump’s rhetoric and fueling of the flames of right-wing extremism and white nationalism have posed a tangible and violent threat to not only the lives of most of the politicians in Congress, but also seemingly to bourgeois democracy in America itself. In reality, the rioters were not going to take over the government and there was not going to be some coup d’etat. But what the rioters did was of much more symbolic value. Since the incident, the capitalist press has gone on about how terrible it is that a “symbol of democracy for the world” has been desecrated in such a tragic manner. The Capitol has now for the past few days been described as if it were some sort of temple to Democracy, and the actions of the Trump supporters there was an insurrection or assault against Democracy itself.
To that we would of course pose the question, democracy for whom? The word “democracy” has lost all meaning, watered down from its original conception and is now merely associated with bourgeois democracy. The democracy of the United States is the democracy of the exploiters; the democracy of the capitalist class where they collectively decide how best to carry out the exploitation and degradation of the working class – of not only American workers, but also of workers living in countries that are vulnerable to the onslaught of American imperialism. Whereas Cory Booker, Ted Cruz, Tom Malinowski, or Tim Ryan have a real democratic power in the sense that they are able to decide how to manage the capitalist state, the worker does not possess any power of that sort. The only “power” officially delegated to the worker in bourgeois democracy is the ability once every two years to vote for whether to continue the term of their current masters, or to abrogate their time in office with a new capitalist politician. Even then, the outcomes of bourgeois elections are more often conditioned by which candidate is able to raise enough money from their wealthy capitalist donors than by the will of their particular constituencies. Even when we talk of policy changes within the realm of capitalism, “public opinion,” itself already molded to a great degree by the capitalist system, has practically no impact at all on what policies actually go into effect.
We must recognize then that the supposed “democracy” that the capitalist news media has shed so many tears for in the last two weeks is not a democracy for the vast majority of the citizens of the country or the world, but for the capitalist class which rules over us and exploits us. While the act of Trump supporters storming the Capitol in such an unorthodox way could have been frightening to the capitalist factions who wish to maintain the post-Cold War neoliberal status quo, they are quick to propagandize the situation for their own interests. Many working people in this country and around the world are slowly waking up to the fact that we have no stake in this so-called democracy, and that it is in fact a charade before our eyes. While many leftists and faux communists became supporters of Joe Biden’s electoral campaign, abandoning any semblance of a real class-based politics for a moment of opportunism, some were beginning to crawl their way out of the capitalist cocoon as they saw the right-wing cabinet picks that Biden has rolled out, and how he has already reneged on many of his promises. Some were finally breaking out of the mindset that Trump was the cause of all of our problems, and again taking the baby steps towards understanding that both capitalist parties share none of our interests, and that the entire capitalist system is at fault. Now, the liberal capitalist press replays the videos and pictures from the Trump supporters storming the Capitol endlessly, and sheds crocodile tears about the attack on human decency and our beloved democracy waged by these “fascists.” Again, many get sucked into the bourgeois propaganda trap of believing that this exploitative democracy is somehow worth defending. The fascist enemy is supposedly at the gates, and because of that fact we have to abandon all of our principles and any idea of working class political and organizational independence from the capitalists, and throw our lot into defending American capitalist democracy from the apparently “bigger” threat, as they would have us believe.
With the events of the Capitol “uprising” taking place only two weeks before Inauguration Day, Biden was able to score a massive propaganda victory. He and his lackeys in the media were able to use these scenes from the Capitol to contrast his supposedly benevolent presidency with that of his predecessor to remove Trump from office. The highly anticipated impeachment is? nothing more than a symbolic gesture that has no material consequence, especially considering that Trump’s term was already in its last days. It will also be used to tamp down on working class dissent, as anyone who opposes the Biden presidency is now forced into the same camp as the right-wing extremists who stormed the Capitol, and not only in an argumentative context. There are practical steps being taken in this direction by various capitalist politicians within the Democratic Party who align with Joe Biden. Already the liberal wing of the capitalists have taken to calling these Trump supporters “domestic terrorists” in an effort to justify the extension of the surveillance state that has already been intact since the beginning of the War on Terror. Biden has rolled out plans for laws against the broad “domestic terror”; a move being applauded not just by the expected centrist technocrats, but also by supposedly “socialist” politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her allies in Congress. These so-called socialists have also been at the forefront of calls to increase the police presence and activity at the Capitol, both on January 6th and in the future to guard against the supposed insurrectionary threat. Because of the fact that a police officer died during the riot, left-wing politicians like Senator Bernie Sanders have tried to position themselves as the true champions of law and order and of the “thin blue line.” They now see the opportunity to take right-wing positions and talking points to use for their own political gain, and to further strengthen American capitalist democracy against the right-wing extremist “threat”.
It is clear then that the incoming Biden administration, representative of the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie, sees itself threatened by the new and emboldened right-wing populist movement that Trump helped inspire. In order to fight against this growing threat, it has painted a narrative portraying the storming of the Capitol as representative of something that endangers the well-being of every American, including the working class of this country, and that the only way to combat these reactionaries is to work together to fortify our supposedly democratic institutions. They want us to believe that we must throw our lot in with the “benevolent” democracy that works to exploit us because going any other route would not only be too risky, it would imperil that democracy itself and put us on the same team as these Trump supporters.
The Left-Wing of Capital
What was perhaps most notable about the events that transpired at the Capitol was the obvious difference in police presence and police enforcement when compared with the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer, following the death of George Floyd. Over the summer, as protests sprouted up across the country (and worldwide), which eventually turned into riots and looting, they were met with an immediate and militarized response from not just their respective police departments, but various consortments of the National Guard as well. Even in locations where the protests were entirely peaceful, such as on the highway in Philadelphia in early June or in DC on June 1st, militarized police quickly emerged and brutalized the protestors standing there and the journalists recording the actions. These protests did take place on important government property, such as the Capitol, but took place either on roads or some distance away from government buildings like the White House.
The police presence at the Capitol storming was of course much more muted. Whereas the Black Lives Matter protesters were greeted with throngs of fully decked-out police, the Trump supporters that mobilized there were met with a relatively smaller and more dispersed police force that was not nearly as militarized. While the police did eventually resort to force (as in the case with the woman who was shot and killed by them there), they were much more averse and hesitant to using force than during the summer protests. Add to this the various instances where police officers took selfies with the Trump supporters.
The situation is complex and it is impossible to ignore the differences in police brutality and violence. However, many (including large portions of the capitalist press) have explained this difference in a reductionist manner, claiming that the sole reason that there was such a militarized response to the BLM protests over the summer in comparison to the Capitol storming was because the summer protestors were black, and the Capitol stormers were white. The Capitol Storming as a whole has been depicted as an instance of “white privilege,” where the rioters/protestors were able to walk past the police because of the fact that they were white. Had they been black, then the police surely would’ve cracked down sooner. This is an incredibly simplistic and harmful lens to view the events that transpired. It ignores the real reason for the difference in police presence and use of force; their politics as well as their class composition.
The Trump supporters that stormed the Capitol did so at the whim of their cultish leader, Donald Trump, who happens to occupy the most powerful office in the country. While they may talk of “revolution” or imagine themselves as rebels or a part of some new countercultural movement, in reality they are reactionaries attempting to subvert bourgeois liberal democracy in favor of an even more rigid and authoritarian version of capitalism. Furthermore, their interests align with those of Trump and the Republican Party. Their politics are not radical in the slightest. Instead, their societal vision is meant to reinforce the power and privilege that the capitalist class already enjoys, and to bring America back to the glory days where it truly reigned supreme on the international stage. It is no wonder then that the police, who are meant to protect private property and maintain the capitalist system through force, would not seriously challenge the Trump supporters, at least initially.
The only reason that they later did force them out and take action was because the actions of the Trump supporters were eventually realized to be detrimental to the preservation of the status quo and the sanctity of electoral politics. Their reaction was not due to any class consciousness on their part, or because their movement represents some potential anger and frustration against the capitalist class, as some leftists have claimed. The story of these Trump supporters being part of the “white working class” has again been brought out because of these events, with many making the argument that they are merely fed up with capitalism but lack a proper political orientation. In reality, the vast majority of these people were not working class people from Appalachia, or some factory workers from the Rust Belt. They were petit bourgeois, CEOs, police officers, lawyers, and politicians. This confirms the fact that this was no disoriented and confused attack against capitalism. Instead, it was a quite conscious effort to reassert the strong-man and authoritarian dominance of the bourgeoisie against the various tendencies and social movements that they see as threats to their privileges.
In contrast, the protestors that took to the streets in the wake of George Floyd’s death had much more “radical” politics (radical in comparison to the liberal mainstream), especially in the first week or so of the nationwide rebellion. The initial protestors in late May and early June were more directly anti-capitalist, using slogans such as “abolish the police” or “ACAB.” While the slogan of and movement to “abolish the police” has some issues (mainly the fact that it often ignores that the police can only be abolished with the overthrow of capitalism, which the IWG covers in the article here), it is clearly a threat to the capitalist class as it challenges the institution of policing. The explicitly anti-police politics and rhetoric of the initial rioters (as well as the fact that several police stations were taken over and set on fire) was something that the capitalist state realized it had to combat, which is what happened in such brutal fashion. The class composition of these initial protests was also largely proletarian, although even in the early days there were some petit bourgeois elements, such as black and brown business owners, that tried to take away a class perspective of the struggle. Within the first two weeks, however, those actors were largely on the outside condemning violence and trying to stop the movement from spreading.
There is also certainly something to be said about the change that took place in the politics and class composition of the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests over the weeks and months since the first protests. The slogan of “abolish the police” was substituted with the reformist slogan of “defund the police.” While some defended this move as being in line with the abolition of the police, as defunding was supposedly the method to reach the goal of abolition, the adoption of the latter slogan clearly signaled a shift away from any sort of radical politics and back towards bourgeois and institutional terrain. The police were from then on not meant to be combatted or abolished in the streets, or at the hands of the working class’ own independent and revolutionary self-organization, but instead this was meant to take place in the halls of government of the capitalist state. The idea that the police would be abolished by simply defunding them demonstrated a lack of understanding of what that abolition would even signify. This slogan of defunding would go on to be watered down even further as the months went on, with solutions now revolving around how to reform the police and turn them into the enforcers of some “community safety.” It is no surprise that as the politics of the movement was oriented more and more towards the bourgeois liberalism of the Democratic Party, that these protests ceased being a threat to the capitalist class, and were then met with less police repression. This change of politics of course owed in large part (though not entirely) to the change in class composition of the protests over the initial weeks, as they became more and more filled with petit bourgeois people of all colors, who brought the message of nonviolence, compliance with the police, electoralism, and supporting minority-owned businesses. This new class orientation of the protests is another useful tool for examining why there were such disparities in police presence between the June BLM protests and last week’s storming of the Capitol.
Consequences for the Working Class
In response to the so-called “insurrection” at the Capitol, Biden plans to pass a law against domestic terrorism, which will include increased funding to combat “ideologically inspired violent extremists.” If we have learned anything from the repercussions of the Patriot Act, then we know that this law will not target far-right extremists and white nationalists – they are not a threat to the established ruling order. The vagueness of the term “ideologically inspired violent extremist” can easily be just as easily applied to any communist, anarchist, or left-wing activist whose views are deemed too radical in the eyes of the Biden administration. It is clear that the government does not view far-right white nationalists as a real threat; if they had, the police presence would have been just as militarized and repressive as it was at the anti-police brutality protests last summer. Just as easily as Biden denounced the Capitol rioters as a mob of insurrectionists and domestic terrorists, he had similarly denounced BLM rioters as violent looters and criminals just a few months before. During his campaign, Biden proposed increased funding for the police and called for the arrest of protestors partaking in violent riots and looting. There is nothing stopping the police from militarizing further and cracking down even more on protestors if this law is passed. This will make it even more difficult for any left-wing protest to take place without heavy police repression, let alone any real demonstrations of class struggle or working class organization.
A largely unorganized group of Trump-supporting conservatives and white nationalists storming the Capitol does not pose a real threat to the capitalist system, since it fundamentally boils down to choosing one bourgeois politician over another – rather than actually challenging the structures that allow those same politicians to maintain their power. This was made clear by the lack of police response until the rioters were already inside the building – what motivation would the police have had to stop a group of people who ultimately shared their interests? The far-right demonstrators only posed a “threat” to one faction of the ruling class embodied in the Democratic Party and in a small, moderate subsection of the Republican Party. This assault against the technocrats who wish to maintain the status quo was in no way a frontal attack on the capitalist system, nor were there any real seeds of working class consciousness among the protestors themselves. The rioters’ so-called “revolution” was merely an attempt to remove the opposing politicians from office and replace them with Trump, who they saw as best representing their petit-bourgeois interests.
On the other hand, the anti-police brutality protests that were incited by George Floyd’s death prompted a more violent response. Although the racial demographic of many of the protestors was a factor in police bias, the nature of the protests – the fact that it transcended race and became a display of working class solidarity against police oppression – was the real threat. However, the protests quickly descended into reformism after the first two weeks, as it was co-opted in favor of petit-bourgeois interests. No organized class elements emerged from the protests and genuine strikes in solidarity were rare, overshadowed by calls to support small black-owned businesses. The fact still remains that in theory, an anti-police brutality protest that acknowledges class-based exploitation is a direct threat to the institution of police – which exists only to defend the interests of capital. Any future demonstrations of class struggle in the form of strikes and protests will likely be met with force, as the idea of workers organizing together based on class interests, especially across all the different sections of the proletariat, is one that the bourgeoisie cannot allow to come to fruition if it wishes to maintain its stronghold on capital.
Corporate Dominance and its Implications
Exploitation of the working class will surely be justified using bourgeois propaganda, as calls to “defend democracy” have historically been used by the United States to “combat terrorism”. This rhetoric is already being pushed with regards to social media companies banning Trump. We would like to make clear that we are not advocating for Trump to have access to a platform in which he can spew hatred and bigotry. We are simply concerned about the implications this raises about tech companies and the amount of control they have over the internet, since it is clear now that their power surpasses that of the state in this regard.
As communists, we know that corporations hold the real power in society, but the events of the past week have made that abundantly clear to the general population. The class who owns the means of production is granted all the power. Opposing the capitalist system goes beyond opposing the government; replacing corrupt politicians with “less corrupt” ones, restructuring the government towards social democracy, and maintaining an “anti-government” but “pro business” stance are all antithetical to the programme of communism. Leftists and liberals alike have been condoning the actions of social media companies, stating that censorship is necessary to prevent someone like Trump from inciting violence through his platform. When it is brought up that there may be a possibility that this logic could backfire and that tech companies are becoming too powerful, the typical response features a defense of “democracy” in conjunction with a blind trust in corporations. Keeping Trump and his followers of white nationalists off mainstream social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook is done to “prevent bigotry from having a platform”; i.e. the logical conclusion of the “defend democracy” argument when applied to the internet. Censoring bigotry is not the same as putting an end to it; while removing Trump from his platform may prevent gullible followers from falling for his propaganda as easily, his followers who are already committed to white supremacist ideologies have nothing stopping them from creating far-right platforms of their own, such as Parler. The bigotry continues behind closed doors. Even if it were possible to stop bigotry through censorship, this argument puts the onus of defining bigotry onto those tech companies. This is something that cannot be unbiased, as the company’s definition of bigotry will either reflect the political views of the company’s board or change to something that is more profitable for the company. For years, it was possible to get a 30-day ban from Facebook for criticizing a member of a “protected group” while racial slurs and homophobia would go undetected. Depending on the phrasing, even valid criticism directed towards a racist white person or a misogynistic man would be characterized as “hate speech” or “bullying and harassment” whereas slurs and hateful comments directed towards minority groups would not violate Community Standards. Facebook’s Community Standards has become stricter, with the algorithm now automatically flagging innocent comments as violations and hate speech regardless of context, simply because it contains a certain phrase or word.
Trusting that corporations are simply doing “the right thing” operates under the assumption that corporations lack ulterior motives for doing what society deems is morally correct. If society were to deem fascism as the right ideology to follow tomorrow, there is no doubt that corporations would be posting pro-fascist remarks immediately to generate the most profit – the same way that corporations have been posting “#BLM” to encourage sales after the George Floyd protests. The logic of “holding billionaires accountable” has no grounding in reality even if you were to ignore the lack of legal repercussions: simply because capitalists follow the logic of capital – not the other way around.
The decision of social media companies to remove Trump from his platform is not one guided by morals or politics or any genuine dislike of Trump; it is simply the decision that is most profitable. If Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey had genuinely cared about keeping Trump’s bigotry off their platforms, why did they wait until a new president was elected to do so? Merely citing the Capitol riot is an excuse, as there have been numerous white supremacist protests in support of Trump that have taken place in the US over the past 4 years. For instance, the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally in August 2017 resulted in the death of counterprotestor Heather Heyer and over 30 injured. Trump consequently expressed sympathies with white nationalists (in his claim that there were “very fine people on both sides”) and has legitimized the rise of the far right movement since his inauguration – yet there was no censorship or removal of Trump’s account at any point throughout his presidency. If anything, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter directly aided in the spread of fake news and Trumpian propaganda. It is only now that they can denounce him publicly and claim it is in defense of democracy, because it is within their best interests. It is not a coincidence that Facebook restricted a portion of its membership from posting in groups a few days after the Capitol riot occurred, only to lift the restriction on Inauguration Day. Now that Trump has been impeached for the second time and Biden has been inaugurated as the 46th president, companies can publicly disparage Trump and ban his account without having anything to lose. If they had done so prior to the election and the end of his term, they would have risked alienating Trump and his followers, which would have resulted in fewer customers or a smaller user base – essentially, decreased profit.
Tech companies have always operated alongside the government in the defense of capital. Since Biden has now become the President, corporations will be more outright in their support of him. Algorithms will be catered even more towards liberal propaganda and there will be greater censorship towards dissidents, especially towards communists.
In a world ravaged by a pandemic where everything is now virtual, the seemingly unlimited power of technological corporations is even more dangerous. Censorship of communists and other workers is not the only concern. Not only will there be more of a crackdown on protests once Biden’s new domestic terrorism law is passed, there is also greater implication for militant communists to be flagged for their online activity. Anonymity has always been crucial; it is already difficult enough to limit communication to methods that are encrypted, and even then it isn’t a guarantee of total privacy. Companies go so far as to listen in on conversations that people have face-to-face through their phones’ microphones, with the intention of selling personal data to advertisers and creating more targeted ads. Given the pervasiveness of technological corporations into every aspect of our lives, it is obvious that communists can be easily tracked down through an online paper trail. This does not mean that we are all risking our livelihood or in danger of being doxxed; there has not been a need to track down communists as of the current political climate, but if there was ever a necessity for it, such as in the case of a third Red Scare, the monopoly of companies like Google and Apple and the virtualization of reality would make it significantly easier to do so. Considering the fact that so many innocent Muslims have been arrested or tracked by the FBI for “ties to terrorism” simply based off “suspicious” online activity after the passage of the Patriot Act, it is not unlikely that communists or organizing workers may be targeted the same way. It may be justified through the “defense of democracy” narrative that is currently being pushed by the ruling class. If people are capable of turning in their loved ones to the FBI for participating in the Capitol riot, what is to stop them from doing the same to a communist who they perceived as a threat to the established order? It is very possible for a communist who says things like “the working class must take its power by force” and “an international proletarian revolution is necessary for the liberation of humanity” to be denounced as an “ideologically inspired violent extremist” who is planning for insurrection. Workers who have been communicating through online platforms to organize, especially in countries where it is dangerous to be a communist, are also potential targets.
Our Role as Militants
In reality, liberal democracy and the movement currently represented by Trump, whether it be of a truly “fascist” flavor, or whether it sticks to some authoritarian and reactionary democracy as its preferred state of affairs, are both two sides of the same capitalist coin. This is something which we do not say lightly or metaphorically. We are not simply stating that there are mere similarities between the technocratic neoliberalism of Biden and the Democratic Party, and the rigid and reactionary right-wing populism of Trump and his Republican Party. Even in the “purest” bourgeois democratic republic, in which the democratic rights of capitalism were extended to all (such as the right to vote or protest), it would still contain the same system of class domination and exploitation as the most authoritarian and fascist state would. Whether or not the working class can vote, whether the liberal or reactionary bourgeoisie gets to impose their own specific capitalism onto the working class, it still remains the same daily life for the workers. They wake up, go to work, run errands, and return home, with some hours of leisure in between, but still for the most part a life of work. And even with the vote, they are fundamentally excluded from the political process, as even the vote is just a sham tool that only gives the workers the choice to legitimize their own domination and exploitation.
At the end of the day, the point is that we can oppose fascist groups without supporting the police or the opposing bourgeois faction. The working class will likely face the brunt of the repercussions triggered by the actions of the Capitol rioters. With a Biden presidency to restore the status quo, the Democrats can go back to pandering working class voters with promises of a better tomorrow, only to turn around and increase funding for police, legalize evictions, suspend stimulus payments, and kill off essential workers through a lack of COVID-safety precautions.
This is why we, as internationalist communists, must adhere tightly and consistently to our class positions whenever these sorts of squabbles between the different factions of the capitalist class arise. We stick to the position that liberal democracy and fascism are in reality two sides of the same coin. Further, we stick to the position that there is no war worth fighting except for the class war. The Storming of the Capitol is perhaps a sign of future events to come. Tensions may continue to exacerbate between the different factions of the capitalist class within the United States. Protests, altercations, and confrontations between the two (or more) sides may heat up and potentially escalate into more violence. However, we must still carry on with a firm class compass and a conviction that the working class should not be made to pay for any of the crises or issues of the capitalists. Workers should not be turned into cannon fodder on the streets for bourgeois political theater.
We keep our eyes on the prize that is worldwide working class revolution. The working class has many enemies, but that fact shouldn’t distract us from our goal or allow us to align ourselves even momentarily with any side of the bourgeoisie. Collaborating with the liberal faction of the capitalist class, or even the left wing of capital, will never put an end to fascism or any sort of reactionary threat. If we actually want to liberate humanity from the oppression and exploitation that plagues us, we will have to put to death the cruel and barbaric system that is capitalism. Anything less is just playing make-believe with politics.
We will continue our work of education, agitation, and organization, despite attempts by the ruling class to divert our efforts towards more reformist goals put forth by the latest political scandal. The Internationalist Workers’ Group has for the past year been committed to forming an educational group that is open to the public, where we discuss and learn about the positions of the Internationalist Communist Tendency and the history of the Communist Left, as well as how we can engage in the class as militants. During COVID, where many people find themselves isolated indoors for long intervals of time, such work helps to plant the seeds of class consciousness and fill the gap at a period where in-person demonstrations are either difficult or unsafe to attend.
In the workplace we also remain committed to our project of creating a new world. It is there that we continue to encourage our militants to agitate and organize amongst their coworkers in the interests of having the class fight back against the heightened and ferocious attacks of the capitalist class. We must fight against the living standards imposed on us, because the reality of conditions are unlivable. Whether it is a matter of wage cuts, no hazard pay, lack of PPE, being forced to work longer hours or perform greater responsibilities without a raise, or the general exploitation that results from wage labor, the militants of the IWG and ICT affiliates always fight for the internationalist communist programme.
This is the only choice for creating a better world. Workers and students, both employed and unemployed, militants must struggle for the internationalist communist programme and the revitalization of the class struggle in their workplace, their school, or their locality wherever possible. We have a world to win.
EL & JC