"The whole system has entered a period of decay, decomposition and putrefaction. Capitalism is not only unable to give the workers new social reforms, not even small handouts, but is forced to take away from them the ones it has granted them before. It is not the whims of reaction, but the decomposition of the capitalist system that provokes the policy of plunder and asphyxiation of the masses".
Leon Trotsky. Where France is going, 1934.
The eyes of the world have been fixed for years on the explosive events rocking the world's leading power, but when thousands of far-right, racist and supremacist demonstrators, armed and with obvious paramilitary training, stormed the Capitol after being harangued by Trump himself, the shock reached the most superlative degree.
The images of the 6 January coup, with hundreds of congressmen and senators hastily evacuated after minutes on the floor or crouched in their seats, have further highlighted the crisis of American capitalist democracy.
Biden's proclamation, protected by 21,000 National Guard troops and with Washington turned into a besieged city, crash down the myth of an impregnable regime, where coup d'état and totalitarianism have no place.
What is Trumpism?
Trump did not attend the transfer of power and preferred to launch new ravings, warning that he will return in some form and that his movement has only begun. As the former president leave, many analysts are putting the RIP on his head and predicting that he will sink into political marginality.
Most media are imploring to return to normal politics and that Biden’s Administration start immediately to close open wounds in American society. Calls to the Republican Party to definitively disengage from Trump and to come back to the traditional political game had multiplied. The hand is outstretched. On the surface, everything seems to be under control.
This is the official chronicle. On another level, numerous publications on the left, including many that claim to be Marxist, have dismissed what happened on 6 January as a minority adventure wholly disconnected from what the ruling class wants. There is no fascism in the USA! It was not a coup! They stress over and over again.
Given this approach, we should ask the next questions: is Trump a loose cannon with no links to the American bourgeoisie? What class interests have his years of rule been serving? Is it possible that the CIA, the FBI and the military didn’t know what was being prepared?
We don’t want to exaggerate the facts. But when the "temple" of American democracy is taken over by an armed and trained far-right mob, previously cheered on by a president who has garnered 74 million votes, things cannot be treated so lightly. Trump has ruled for four years and is still the head of the Republican Party. His economic programme or the fight against China has had the unquestionable support of the big monopolies and financial capital with hardly any significant dissonance.
Really, we should not take a serious look at the experience of fascism and how it managed to advance in the turbulent 1930s to understand the nature of Trumpism and of these events? We think so. But not to draw mechanical conclusions, but to be able to offer a materialist explanation of what is happening. The important thing is to analyse the phenomenon in its connection with the great events of class struggle at home and on a world scale, leaving aside well-intentioned formulas and ingenious journalistic expressions.
What are the facts? Millions of petty-bourgeois who feel that their way of life and their certainties are threat by the recession, the advance of the political left and the international decline of American imperialism, have stepped forward. This reactionary layers, which for decades constituted a consistent base for the establishment, has been summoned by the decay of American capitalism and by a leader who, like many others throughout history, has offered them a banner of struggle that fits them.
White supremacism and the most fanatical racism; a furious nationalism directed against those who have challenge the world hegemony of their "great" nation; anti-communism full of hatred towards workers and their organisations, the most despicable sexism and a frightening religious fundamentalism... all this, and much more, has been offered by Trump to all this layers. But a lot has happened to get to this point. An event of this magnitude responds to deep social causes and does not fall from a blue sky.
The massive women's marches at the beginning of the Trump Administration, the mass rallies of Bernie Sanders speaking of socialism and calling for an end to the dictatorship of the 1%, the mass demonstrations of youth against guns and climate change, the successful struggle in numerous cities that has won the $15 an hour minimum wage and, above all, the historic uprising against racism after the murder of George Floyd in which tens of millions have participated... are the other side of the coin.
The extreme polarisation of American society and the sudden rupture of its internal equilibrium have been fuelled by decades of institutional racism and police brutality, social cutbacks and a lacerating inequality that has plunged tens of millions of people into exclusion and poverty while a minority of oligarchs have amassed super-millionaire wealth and are the absolute masters of power. The dictatorship of Wall Street has been strengthened and, dialectically, has given wings to the hysteria of these petty-bourgeois sectors of deep and rural America, supported by a layer of impoverished white workers who have been mobilised by Trumpist demagogy.
Trump has not only channelled the irritation of the traditional Republican base, he has broadened it with a dazzling dose of anti-establishment demagoguery and direct action. It is important to analyse this process in its dynamics: Trump is not the same today as he was four years ago and his social base has evolved, reflecting changes in the objective situation. These millions of exploitative smallholders and middle sectors are beset by the recession. The possibility of being ruined is not a joke. They demand a hard line against the liberal politicians they accuse of allowing national decline, and they cling to recover the "American dream" and the "white" order that allowed them to prosper.
The rise of extreme right-wing populism in the US, in Brazil, in Germany, in Italy... is due to common causes. The organic crisis of capitalism, the discredit of bourgeois democracy and its institutions, the loss of credibility of the conservative right and social democracy due to their agenda of cuts and austerity, the end of social reforms and the growth of inequality and misery. And, together with all this, another major fact is the absence of revolutionary leadership of the working class that could offer the oppressed masses, and also the petty bourgeoisie that swings left and right and is politically exploited by the bourgeoisie, a socialist way out to break with the current catastrophe.
This is the context in which economic and political nationalism, xenophobia, racism and tendencies towards authoritarianism and Bonapartism among large sections of the ruling class and the state apparatus have grown stronger. Did not these similar conditions gave rise to the fascist movements in the 1930s and provide them a mass base?
Is it Trump an outsider apart from the bourgeoisie?
To claim that Trump is alone and isolated is ridiculous. Trumpism has acquired enormous projection and social support, as more than 74 million votes made clear. According to polls, almost half of those voters approve the assault on Capitol Hill. It is also clear that his coup attempt, prepared in the eyes of the whole world after he had thoroughly discredit Biden's victory, would never have been possible without the sympathy and active collaboration of many prominent Republican Party leaders very well connected to the ruling class, and of numerous high and middle-ranking officials of the state apparatus, in the army, the police, the National Guard and the CIA.
The statements and manifestos that Defence secretaries of previous administrations have made condemning Trump and swearing allegiance to the constitution and democracy should be interpreted not as a guarantee, but precisely as a movement in response to the atmosphere live in many barracks and among the officer corps. Those military personnel who have seen the loss of US influence in the world and whose pride is wounded are not part of the electoral and social base of Trumpism?
A reality that is present in many countries, in Brazil with Bolsonaro, in Germany with AfD, in Spain with Vox, or in Eastern Europe. The repressive state bodies are feeding militants and voters for the extreme right, from the senior officers and troop commanders in the army to tens of thousands of police officers who are trained daily to harass immigrants, left-wing demonstrations and workers' strikes. All of them form a substratum that is fertilised with racism and hatred of revolution.
US finance capital, Wall Street and the owners of the big tech companies do not want to impose a fascist dictatorship at the moment. It is not their option now. But they do want to sweep the left off the streets and wipe out any form of workers' resistance, even at the cost of curtailing democratic rights and granting special powers to state organs behind the parliamentary machinery. Bonapartist tendencies are part of fascism, and there are always elements of fascism in state Bonapartism.
The experience of the 1930s is clear. The Italian and German bourgeoisie resisted for a long time the adoption of a fascist way out, although there were sections from the beginning that financed and supported Mussolini and Hitler. Only when the parliamentary manoeuvres proved definitively powerless to contain the course of the revolution finance capital decided to give power to the fascists. Through the methods of the coup d'état and class violence, they crushed the workers' movement and its organisations and ended bourgeois democracy.
There is not yet an openly revolutionary situation in the USA, but there are revolutionary elements. Trump has not been defeated by enthusiasm in Biden's programme, but because of the determination of millions who want to end this nightmare and who had struggled in the streets. The experience of these years has shifted the consciousness of large sections of the working class and youth to the left. The anti-racist mass movement, which has unified the oppressed on class lines with a defiant anti-capitalist potential, is the result of this process and has been key to defeat Trump. But the counter-revolutionary reaction has also mobilised a powerful army, and sections of the bourgeoisie have been involved in this work from the beginning.
Of course, Trump is not Hitler in 1933 and the Republican Party is not the Nazi Party. But we cannot ignore the fact that the man who orchestrated the assault on the Capitol was none other than the President of the most powerful nation in the world. And he has done so at the head of a capitalist party which for four years has adopted his programme in all its fundamental points.
When we analyse a social and political process that is alive and in change, it is essential to pay attention to the contradictory tendencies that feed it, point out those that are dominant and where they point. Close our eyes to the fact that the deep crisis we are living through will throw millions of people into the gutter, sharpening political polarisation and undermining the foundations of bourgeois democracy, is to turn our backs on the lessons of history. To trust that the ruling class will settle the score with Trumpism, given the objective situation of the world and US capitalism, is a serious political mistake.
Inaction of the Democratic Party
The attitude of the Democratic Party on the Capitol’s assault also deserves an analysis. How is it possible that after the attempted coup its instigator was not arrested and allowed to organise his exit from the White House by granting pardons to his allies? Biden, Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic establishment are staging a monumental farce. They wrap themselves in the American flag and talk about the strength of democracy, Congress and justice, but have no intention of seriously investigating what happened.
They intend to heal the wounds and try to stabilise the relationship with the Republicans, even if that means letting the actions of Trump and his fascist gangs go unpunished. Biden even declines to take a position on the impeachment: "what Congress decides to do is up to them".
They fear that a forceful action against Trump could trigger a major response among those sectors that he has inflamed and filled with confidence with the assault on the Capitol. Trump himself warned them on this point in one of his last appearances in Texas, next to the famous wall with Mexico. In between praising the ICE agents (the ultra-reactionary border police), he hinted: "Beware, impeachment only produces more anger and danger for our country".
As we have seen many times in history, sometimes counter-revolution is the whip of revolution. Democrats want to avoid at all costs the reaction of Trumpism, but above all the response of the millions of workers, African-American activists and young people who took the streets and challenged the establishment after the kill of George Floyd and who will not accept the offensive of the extreme right passively.
Logically Biden, Harris and the establishment have to cover up their lack of action against Trump. Probably the master minds that inspire the coup attempt will go unpunished, but they don’t have any problem to put some of the more daring fascists that participated in the Capitol’s assault in prison. That is the way the capitalist state has operated in similar cases in many countries. That is why ad hoc arrests have begun and a limited commission of enquiry has been opened that could give the green light for a future trial against the tycoon. But it is not clear that impeachment will succeed. Pressure on Republican politicians will rise, but impeachment requires a two-thirds vote of senators, meaning 17 Republican senators, and in Congress, they only managed to get 10 votes from the 211 Republican congressman.
The Republican Party is facing a deep crisis that has no easy way out and that will also be condition by how Trump acts. The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, wants to abandon him, pointing to him as responsible for the assault on the Capitol. But at the same time, he remains unclear on how he will vote. Even if impeachment succeeds, it remains to be seen the reaction of the Republican base: for the moment, 82% still firmly support Trump and 70% consider that there was electoral fraud and that Biden is an illegitimate president. The outcome of this crisis is wide open: it could deepen the Republican Party's shift to the extreme right or lead to a split in the party of the pro-Trump wing with uncertain consequences.
Agreements and disagreements among the ruling class
Beyond the pro-Biden propaganda, we should not forget that the two parties of the bourgeoisie, Democrats and Republicans, have coexisted reasonably well in these four years. They have agreed on the core issues and in plundering the working class. Trump has loyally represented the interests of the oligarchy, making them richer in his time in the White House.
His tax reform in 2017 put $205 billion straight into the pockets of the richest 20% of the population and was followed with a $2 trillion cut in social programmes. By 2019, according to data from the US Federal Reserve, the fortune of the 50 wealthiest people in the country was already equivalent to that of the poorest 165 million. With the outbreak of the pandemic, Trump approved a bailout of unprecedented dimensions: 2.3 trillion dollar, tripling Obama’s Administration bailout of 2009, and which has also gone straight to the same pockets.
Another major agreement in the ruling class was to avoid at all costs the rise of Sanders, a candidate who, as polls have revealed, could have beaten Trump in the presidential election. This decision was twice revalidated because of their fear to be threatened in their class interests by the radical left turn in society. After all, the mass movement that propelled Sanders carried in its DNA the fight for $15 minimum wage, the victory of the West Virginia teachers, Black Lives Matter, the questioning of 1% that dominates the nation with an iron fist... The ruling class unanimously decided that cutting off the advance of the left was the most important thing: better Trump than Sanders.
The heat in class struggle has risen sharply in the last four years, parallel to the decline of the world's leading power. The battle being waged by US imperialism against China is increasingly negative for Washington. Despite the policy of tariff sanctions enacted by Trump, and enthusiastically backed by the Democrats, what has happened this year of pandemic is very clear. While the death toll is approaching 500,000, surpassing the number of American deaths in World War II and Vietnam, China has become the most important health supplier to the US, has managed to contain the coronavirus and its economic activity is rapidly recovering.
Defeating the Asian giant in this battle and "making America great again" is a key objective for maintaining the big business of the American bourgeoisie. This also means, in the current recessionary context, tightening the screws on the working class and gaining competitiveness in an ever tighter world market. There is a consensus within the ruling class and between Democrats and Republicans on this too.
The essential difference between the two sectors is another. Trump argues that it is necessary to crush the working class as quickly as possible resorting to emergency legislation, giving carte blanche to the police and restricting democratic rights as much as possible. The other side, with the Democratic Party, does not doubt that it is necessary to take a step forward but is reluctant to give up "democracy" way of rule because of the consequences of an open confrontation with the working class and because of a possible revolutionary outbreak whose outcome is unwritten. They do not want an authoritarian way out because they think they can contain polarisation by relying on Biden. After all, the fiction of bourgeois democracy has been incredibly useful for the domination of the financial oligarchy for a long time.
Perspectives for the Biden-Harris Administration
The threat of Trumpism is not going to disappear when he leaves the White House. How will Biden deal with an unprecedented economic crisis and a pandemic that has already killed nearly 500,000 people? The plans of the new administration, which inherits a record trade deficit of more than 824 billion euros and a gigantic public debt of 23.51 trillion, will not fundamentally change the conditions that have led to extreme inequality and polarisation. It will fuel them.
In the days leading up to the coup attempt, Biden presented a government team full of Wall Street representatives. Behind the veneer of multiculturalism and other propagandistic gestures, numerous former members of the Obama administration and enthusiastic Hillary Clinton collaborators such as Antony Blinken, Jake Sullivan, John Kerry and Pete Buttigieg will be in key Government posts. What can we expect from such a team?
With pandemic rising and more than 40 million US citizens without health insurance, it is important to remember that Biden has been a staunch opponent of Medicare for All. This is not surprising, given the generous contributions of big pharma companies to his campaign. The new occupant of the White House will continue to protect the multi-billion dollar private healthcare business at the expense of public health.
On racism and immigration policy, Biden promises legislative reforms, support for civil rights or to investigate the separations of immigrant children from their families when they are placed in detention camps. He knows this is a deeply felt point, but his record is unreliable. Biden publicly argued, during an uprising against racist police violence, that "officers should be trained to shoot in the leg instead of the heart". His long racist record is well known. Under Obama administration, with Biden as second in command, was a record-breaking 1,242,286 immigrant deportations between 2009 and 2016, plus 1,507,220 hot returns at the border. He was also enthusiastic about enforcing immigration laws. The first version of the "Trump wall" under Bush count with his vote and in 1996, under Clinton, he was in favour of new criminal penalties for illegal immigration and immediate deportations.
Other serious problems, such as the student debt that already exceeds 1.7 trillion dollars (more than the GDP of the Spanish state) bears his name in capital letters: Biden himself was one of the promoters of the 2005 reform that has tripled it in 10 years. Today, 31% of all adults in the United States carry some kind of student debt. Biden has already acknowledged that things will remain the same.
The housing crisis has grown steeply during the pandemic. If the current precarious moratorium on evictions were to be lifted, it is estimated that more than 6.5 million people would immediately be evicted from their homes with no alternative. According to recent reports, 40 million will be at risk of eviction in the coming months. None of Biden's mentions on this issue put forward concrete solutions for the families affected, no public housing plans. Only loans to help to buy the first home. It is a bad joke for millions of families without a safe roof over their heads.
Another major issue is the confrontation with China over world leadership. The campaign to present the new president as a standard-bearer of calm and poise cannot hide the fact that his "Made in America" is in no way different from Trump's "America first". He made this very clear in the public presentation of his government's positions, stating that "the United States is back and ready to lead the world". After the coup attempt, he made the same point again, presenting his $1.9 billion bailout plan to revive a "faltering economy" in this way: "Imagine the future: 'made in America'; 'entirely made in America and by American [workers]'..." "We will buy American products, supporting millions of jobs in the US industry.
The tendencies towards economic nationalism and trade war and the exploitation of the American working class to achieve "competitiveness" will only grow stronger. When Biden speaks of America's interests we know that he means only those of the American bourgeoisie.
Far-right populist demagogy will find a powerful loudspeaker under the Biden administration. With the 100% capitalist Democratic programme, it is completely impossible to stop Trumpism. Defeating him will only be possible if the working class and youth can raise a revolutionary alternative that offers real solutions to the problems of the masses.
Build a workers' party to fight for socialism!
An action like the one on Capitol Hill shows how far the New York führer is prepared to go. Even if there was no finished plan to carry it through, it is a warning that sections of the bourgeoisie are preparing for the future. It is also a call to enlist in the reactionary army it has managed to rally.
The working class is reflecting deeply and reaching conclusions. There is a very real threat. What seemed impossible is possible. Coups d'état and authoritarian way outs are not out of the question in the "advanced democracies": there are sections of the ruling class who are betting on them and are more than willing to try. As the class struggle becomes more fiercely and they see their privileges seriously endangered, these options will gain support. We are entering with great speed in a period of revolution and counter-revolution.
The correlation of forces at the moment is clearly in favour of the working class. It is worth remembering that when Trump called out the National Guard to shoot protesters and mobilised his supremacist and fascist militias for an armed clash in the streets, they were unable to contain the massive Black Lives Matter mobilisations, which also spread around the world. Trump had a monumental failure. That shows the capacity and strength of the youth and working class when they show their fist.
The Democratic Party is at the antipodes of what is required to defeat Trumpism. Its empty appeals to protect the democracy of the 1% are utterly useless in this battle. To think that a party of working people could rise from the Democratic Party is a deep mistake. The lessons of the Bernie Sanders movement have been conclusive on this issue.
Historical experience is very rich how the reformist leaders, faced with the threat of fascism, appeal to the bourgeois democratic order, defend their constitutions and the "rule of law", national unity, all kinds of agreements with bourgeois politicians who call themselves democrats to isolate the fascists. They call for calm and not to "provoke" reaction. They refuse to fight fascism in action, avoiding mobilisation, organisation and direct action of the working class. In this way is also how desperate sections of the middle strata and demoralised and backward workers are thrown into the arms of reaction.
This historical experience has valuable lessons to analyse the role of Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez today, and the disservice they do to those who did believe in the struggle to end the dictatorship of the 1%. After his surrender to the Democratic establishment, Sanders still lends himself to cover their left flank. Joe Biden's statements a few days after the attempted coup are very significant: in a video, he explained that he had seriously considered including "his friend Bernie" in the new government by giving him the post of Secretary of Labour, but both decided that it was best not to do it in order assure balance of seats in the Senate (where Sanders holds a seat for Vermont). Shortly afterwards, it was Bernie Sanders himself who appeared in public, publicly supporting Biden and his economic agenda without mentioning the necessity of organizing the struggle against the Trumpist hordes.
We are witnessing a real plot against the oppressed of the USA, in which the leaders of its trade unions and reformist organisations, instead of organising mass mobilisations and strikes to fight Trump's coup, something that would attract extraordinary support, limit themselves to condemning what has happened, claiming "democracy" and march peacefully with Biden and his government on the path of "reconciliation". Even leaders of organisations such as the DSA downplay the assault on the Capitol to justify their inaction.
The facts are stark and one cannot look the other way. To raise a political alternative and a plan of action to defeat the threat posed by extreme right-wing and fascist populism is a matter of great urgency. We must organise mass mobilisations for the trial and exemplary punishment of Trump and all his collaborators involved in the coup plot; promote anti-fascist action committees in workplaces, universities, high schools and neighbourhoods to launch massive actions in all cities; call for the formation of self-defence committees to repel fascist gangs and police brutality; and put forward a socialist programme that fights to expropriate the financial oligarchy, nationalise all the wealth of the country under the democratic control of the workers and their organisations, starting with private health care, to defend the health and life of working families.
Sanders has given up on building an independent class party, but the organised left can take consistent steps forward to unite millions of workers and youth. There are extraordinary conditions to do so. Today millions declare themselves socialists. They are the same people who four years ago greeted Trump with mass mobilisations that shocked the world, and in all this time they have fought tirelessly. The women's marches; the red tide that spread state by state, putting not only teachers but also parents and students at war; those who, with their militancy, won a significant number of independent left-wing councillors in cities; those who confronted Bezzos; those who won the $15 minimum wage an hour and inspired other cities with their example; those who led the General Motors strike; those who threatened Trump with a general strike and succeeded in ending the government shutdown in 2019; those who led major demonstrations in solidarity with their migrant class brothers and sisters in the face of inhumane treatment at the Mexican border; those who occupied airports to prevent deportations; the millions who led an anti-racist social uprising in June 2020 and gave Trump a hard blow on November 3. We are an unstoppable force, struggle is our banner, and we have shown in action that victory is possible.
The task is urgent. We must organise all that strength to build a workers' party armed with the programme of Marxism and internationalism. Not an electoral machine that dissolves in bourgeois politics, but an organisation rooted in the class struggle, in the workplaces, in the trade unions and the communities, in the social movements... and which uses the institutions, the town halls and the parliament to unite millions in a class fight.
With a revolutionary programme and determined action, a mass workers' party would not only point the way for workers to confront the current catastrophe, but it would also win many desperate and disoriented petty-bourgeois elements that follow Trump demagoguery in rejection of Washington official policy. It would send a message to the working class all over the world: under capitalism, there is no way out, but there is an alternative to this barbarism and our class is perfectly capable of making it happen! Reorganising society based on justice, equality and genuine democracy are possible, but the only way to achieve it is to fight for socialism.