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The Capitol Takeover Has Triggered a Crackdown We Should All Fear

The end of the Trump Administration has set the entire political spectrum ablaze in a flurry of responses ranging from desperate outrage to relief to gloating consolidation. The events of January 6th are an external expression of a subterranean churn that will continue to make itself felt long after the transfer of power to the resurgent neoliberal center. What should we expect? Nobody can say — but we can examine the forces at play and the verdict of history on their political precursors.

Remi Debs Bruno

January 19, 2021
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National Guard members outside the U.S. Capitol

The events on January 6, despite their intentions, inaugurated a new period — not of a new presidential administration, but of political forces stretching far beyond Washington D.C. I won’t make predictions in this examination, as prognostication beyond the next hour or so appears to be fatal in our newly resumed march of history. But we can identify political dynamics that have proven durable in this era in which little else is.  

The immediate response to the Far-Right affront to U.S. hegemonic political dignity is clear and predictable: the liberals, both within the Democratic Party and the GOP are outraged at this display of “insurrectionist,” “anarchist” “terrorism.” They are seizing on this highly convenient opportunity to solidify an ideological bookend to the Trump era, on the Republican side to dissociate themselves from the Trump base and find absolution for their abetment of it; on the Democratic side to grant lacking legitimacy and an appearance of mandate for the sclerotic Biden regime’s bid at a national unity government.  

There is already talk of retribution and expanded repression of all forces presenting an  “insurrectionist” threat. This will, as always, more greatly impact the disloyalist Left than it will the disloyalist Right1, though both will feel the effects of a consensus crackdown. Already, large segments of the Left are cheerleading a revanchist course of action from the halls of formal political power, mistakenly assuming that anything which harms the Right helps the Left. This tendency must be unsparingly criticized and opposed. Redoubled initiatives to censor counter-hegemonic discourse in media and online will succeed, and the space in which we can plan, debate, and operate will be narrowed. Campaigns similar to the federal government’s crackdown responsive to the protest wave over the summer of 2020 will be undertaken, and organizers left and right will be surveilled, incarcerated, and possibly killed. This may cause the Far-Right QAnon contingent to temporarily retreat, but it will not squelch their momentum or consolidation into something more coherent. It is unclear how it will affect the revolutionary Left. 

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In the immediate aftermath of the afternoon’s events, people on social media raced to draw historical parallels with the so-called Beer Hall Putsch of the Weimar Republic. Instead, this episode appears to be shaping up more like a Reichstag Fire: there was an incendiary event, possibly permitted by sympathetic police, which was then opportunistically used to consolidate a political aim. But in this case, the putative fascists were not the party using the disruption to their ends. Instead, it appears that actors in the state will do so, this time in order to launch a  counteroffensive against all oppositional forces, on the Left and Right. When socialists support a crackdown initiative, they are calling to be the authors of their own socialist laws and insurrection acts. The very state actors whom they propose to empower are the same agents who took selfies with the people socialists are calling fascists. The very same people who practically escorted the “fascists” into the Capitol building would be conducting the proposed crackdown! That last fact — that the structures of state power are in league with the Capitol rioters — is the one socialists ought to be highlighting. 

This leads us to consider what the aforementioned far-right contingent actually is. The term  “fascist” is frequently invoked in discussion of the Trumpist political base, but due to the analytic unclarity of the term, it is best left to one side.  I will refer to the entire constellation of far-right politics on display, ranging from GOP registered Trump supporters to outright neo-fascists, as “QAnon” throughout. This is a very imperfect shorthand, but I am unaware of any more dominant tendency in the far-right milieu with which to label these politics. 

The QAnon constellation is a far-right political tendency with an incoherent — but cohering — spectrum of political commitments. The shared political core throughout this spectrum is a commitment to whiteness, to present property relations (and to the sense that these are threatened), and to constitutional-disloyalism, or a commitment to enacting their nationalist, revanchist political vision by overthrowing the present political system and replacing it with some other form of state function amenable to their goals. 

Despite their rhetorical presentation as ultra-patriotic American law-and-order fanatics, the reality is that QAnon politics is only loyalist if it gets to make the laws, and if the enforcers of order are its servants. They are precisely disloyalist because this far-right dictatorship is not the political order we have. Even if the adherents of this politics believe they are saving American democracy from destruction and profess their superhuman patriotism, the truth is they are pursuing a white settler-proprietary ideology that cannot compromise. And if every majoritarian demand is deemed illegitimate, and every election they don’t win is a treasonous danger that must be met with force, then they are against democracy. To be violently against even the despicably minimal democracy in the U.S. embraces disloyalism. 

This was clearest on January 6, when the most committed QAnon cadre undertook vanguard action to obstruct state function and secure political power. This claim may sound absurd given the ludicrously ill-planned nature of their action, but effective or not, this is what we saw. We furthermore cannot think that this phenomenon is limited to the Trump regime. The QAnon political strain pre-existed Trump, albeit in nascent but developing form, and it is demonstrating its intention to survive Trump’s failure of leadership, acknowledging his refusal to continue to serve as its political expression or leader of the project. 

Though QAnon politics developed alongside the Trump phenomenon, it will have to partially decouple itself from his limitingly self-serving priorities moving forward. The roots of QAnon in the Reagan regime, the Tea Party, and before demonstrate that the project is capable of decoupling itself from individual leaders. Even though QAnon politics are currently incoherent, devoid of a clear political program, and without a party mechanism for that program’s realization, all indications point to the QAnon project cohering itself, becoming more organized, and recovering from the ramifications of the events of January 6 sometime in the future. If this loose assemblage is on track to crystallize into a nascent fascist movement, it will likely pursue a predictable course of activity entailed in the very concept of fascism. This course is laid out below. We should think of the QAnon project as roughly analogous to our own, though of course on the opposite pole of the political spectrum. We, too, are a constitutional-disloyalist, counter-hegemonic political project, which is at a roughly similar stage of political coherence and organization-building, which probably boasts a similarly sized base and cadre population.

This may strike some comrades as a deeply uncomfortable thought, but for the purpose of strategy and analysis, it is a useful heuristic. There are three poles in U.S. politics for the first time in perhaps a century — the constitutional-loyalist currently hegemonic liberals, the far-right counter-hegemonic disloyalists, and the far-left counter-hegemonic disloyalists. There exists, of course, ideological and political-strategic diversity within all three, but for the far-left counter-hegemonic camp, it is crucial to explicitly air those divisions, to cohere our politics and strategy, and to build a social mechanism to carry that strategy out. I define this mechanism as a party. If there is indeed a far-right project to do the same, we know from historical experience that the waning stability of the reigning liberal consensus alone will not be capable of buttressing the current political formation against the momentum of the far-right camp.  

There are early indications, now that the election results are fully in, that Biden will, as predicted, preside over a hunger chancellorship. Factors in support of this conclusion are not limited to the composition of his cabinet, his expressed political commitments, or the general conduct of his party. We can also see the structural barriers, macroeconomic as well as political, to any mitigation of crisis. The Democrats managed a razor-thin victory in both Georgia Senate runoffs, dragging both neoliberal candidates over the line and triggering the immediate defection of Joe Manchin to the GOP program. Even if a progressive slant emerges in the Biden camp,  there is no sufficient majority in either legislative house to enact such a suite of policies. All the ingredients (and more, in the form of a right-wing Supreme Court) exist for a term-one Obama redux.

Meanwhile, the deluge of fiat financing employed to maintain the fictitious capital markets and to buttress property and commodity bubbles will at some point cease to paper over the devastated real economy. Between the inevitable rendezvous of the real economy, the impossibility of fiscal tinkering, and the financial fortunes of rentier speculators, there is a Sword of Damocles over all our heads. No one can predict what implications this eventual avalanche will have, but chances are they will not be fortuitous for the American proletariat and petit-bourgeois strata. Given that QAnon politics are fueled in large part by the insecurity and resentment of an increasingly declassee, semi-rural, white petit bourgeoisie, we can assume that further degradation of their conditions will not stem the tide of QAnon politics. 

To make matters worse for the communist Left, all structural political incentives for both hegemonic political parties are to abet the cycle of far-right activity, no matter what outrage the politicians claim. For the Democratic Party and its aligned mass-media, outbursts such as the one on January 6 mean greater fearful subservience on the part of disgruntled or otherwise Republican-leaning voters. Large swaths of the Left will continue to abjure a politically independent approach because of the sheep dogging effect we saw in full force during the 2020 election. The  Democratic strategy of courting affluent, suburban white voters will be given new legs. On the GOP side, tacitly stoking the conspiratorial far-right keeps the QAnon base — which proved in Georgia to be willing to punish the Republicans if they dare defy pressure — in the fold.  The GOP congressional representatives who accommodate this wing are beholden to two masters—on the one hand, they must rhetorically appease their voters by pandering to the radical anti-establishmentarianism and anti-democratic sentiment those politics entail. On the other, they must ensure that no such politics make material headway, as these would be against their donors’ interests, and the donors run the show. Tellingly, the same situation obtains for the Squad, who similarly must satisfy the demands of their radical base, if only in word, but who cannot intervene in the political consensus of the party in which they operate. This dynamic of facial radicalism and commitment to the constitutional regime demonstrates a political fact which limits both the oppositional Right and the oppositional Left: there is no fundamental alteration of social relations that can be forged from within loyalist politics. The spinning of wheels on either political side multiplies the foment and frustration among their two respective bases, as is seen in the massive outbursts of the George Floyd uprisings and in the storming of the Capitol Building.

This dynamic is incredibly dangerous to a crumbling social order, as it creates space for an expanding counter-hegemonic movement as conditions worsen and add fuel to the social fire.  The danger, however, cuts both ways. It is conducive to a communist political project, as well. In the past, it certainly has been. But we must understand with utmost gravity the stakes and mistakes of our communist forebears. Mishandling of similar past conjunctures has led to unspeakable horrors, of which we are all aware. Thus, we must urgently formulate a strategy for the near-term and intermediate-term.  

The task of socialists must therefore be to proclaim the reality that both the state and the Far Right oppose democracy and that we are the only political force that can expand it. The lesson of the popular front is that, when socialists liquidate into the bourgeois political forces in order to bolster them against a fascist threat, the power of the bourgeois state is sustained, and the socialist project is dissolved. Paradoxically, it is only when the socialist project embraces the much more difficult task of individuating itself and its demands does it grow more formidable and popular. And in the face of what is widely considered a proto-fascist menace, the need to exponentially fortify ourselves appears more pressing than ever. 

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All communist strategy rests on one central prerequisite: we must have a party (defined, as above, as an independent mechanism for coordinated social action with a clear political program). Unifying the scattered — and therefore ineffective — Left forces into a party apparatus cohered around strategic and programmatic unity, rather than ideological or theoretical unity, is the key task of the socialist Left. This party must uncompromisingly enact the core principles of socialism: absolute political independence, unwavering oppositionism, and internationalism — not only in word but in political deed. It must operate as the political expression of its class-conscious proletarian base, entering the state exclusively to impede its function, to frustrate the operation of imperialism, to propagandize our ideas, and to measure our power. It must simultaneously be a force outside the electoral arena that continues to expand our base, struggles in the various economic and social spheres, and develops the capacities of its cadre and base. If we take seriously the rhetoric being thrown around regarding fascism, this key task is of extreme urgency.

If it is true that the fascist Right is coalescing, there is only one avenue of advance: the formation of a cohesive Left. The existential threat of an insurgent extraparliamentary Right is an important enough reason to build toward programmatic unity and a communist party. But the emergence of the Right is not an independent factor, unmoored from the rest of our social totality. It is intrinsically tied to the very social disintegration and mounting crisis which only socialism can address. The progressive potential of the bourgeois order is so far overripe it has rotted on the vine. At this late stage, only the complete transformation of social relations and seizure of the economic foundations of society by the working class can avert the catastrophe long-delayed by intermittent patches and a cannibalistic state. But working and oppressed people can only intervene on the historical stage with a vehicle to cohere and sharpen their efforts. To this end, we must be adamant in the coalescence of our working-class bases, pursue community defense training and organization, and work to become a political force to be reckoned with, so that once the fascist threat has developed into maturity, we are also a social bloc with which the state must compromise to defeat the fascist threat. 

We shouldn’t kid ourselves about what we are facing. Neoliberalism is dying — that much is clear.  The only open question is what will replace it. And the answers, as Milton Friedman incisively remarked, will be forged from the ideas (and forces) we have lying to hand. There will either emerge an independent working-class formation, conscious of its interests and principles, or barbarism that will take us all. What we do now determines the answer. This prediction may seem unjustifiably dire, and I’ll be happy if it is proved wrong. But all our knowledge of what capitalism is indicates that it will not. 

1 See paragraph 5 on disloyalism defined

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