Donald Trump's Insurrection

Image: Antonio A. Costa


Some leftist theories don't explain what's going on, and can lead to misguided tactics.

The events at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 are still being investigated, and there is much speculation about the relationship between planning, spontaneity, the different groups involved, negligent or complicit law enforcement, and the intentions of the Trump administration. .

This has led to responses from the left ranging from “it was a coup attempt, arrest them all for sedition” to the assertion that, a bit like Baudrillard with the Iraq war, it was all for show and never really happened. And a lot of that is being driven by confusion, about the nature of the Donald Trump administration, and what fascism is, and whether the left can support state repression, etc., etc.

As we journalists try to get to the facts, it's important to realize that the FBI, NSA and likely numerous foreign intelligence agencies will have a complete picture of that day's communications. They and the tech companies are ahead of us and, without resorting to speculation, one has to read the evidence as a series of red flags, signifying, at least potentially, that the threat of a coup was real.

So, in this conference, I want to recap what we know about Donald Trump's strategy for staying in power. Compare this to a class analysis of Donald Trump, and finally talk about leftist theories of fascism and academic theories, and why some of them don't explain what's going on, and can lead to misguided tactics.

What happened on January 6, 2021 has to be put in context. Donald Trump knew there was a risk of losing the election. However, his biggest mobilization card proved to be the Black Lives Matter, and the subsequent summer and fall of violence as police and right-wing militias attacked the movement Black Lives Matter. Basically, an entire group of whites, and not just whites, conservative Hispanics as well, saw the Black Lives Matter and realized that there was a possibility that what WEB Du Bois called “white wages” would not be paid.

In the fall of 2020, Donald Trump successfully stigmatized all active anti-racist movements, and indeed all opposition, as violent anti-fascists, which he, in turn, repeatedly promised to designate as terrorism. He then systematically associated Joe Biden and Kamala Harris with socialism, Black Lives Matter and anti-fascists. Realizing that he would not win the election, he also directed the US Postal Service into a nationwide vote suppression operation to minimize mail-in voting.

Long before the actual election, the strategy was clear. He had to mobilize fearful racists, including millions of non-voters; he had to delegitimize mail-in votes; and he had to build a mass movement ready to be activated the moment he lost the presidency, to force either the Supreme Court, or the state legislatures, or the unbelieving voters, or finally the armed forces, to intervene to keep him in power. power.

What built the movement was the agglutination of the MAGA movement [Make America Great Again], along with pre-existing militias and fascist groups, with the much broader QAnon conspiracy theory.

QAnon provided the Sorelian myth. Georges Sorel, the anarchist turned reactionary nationalist in pre-1914 France, argued that mass movements need a mythology, not a rationality – mythology is not just a story, but a story you are living in. QAnon, which is created together with its faithful, worked perfectly: It says that there is a liberal cabal of pedophiles based in Hollywood and Washington that seeks eternal life by collecting the blood of children, and that Trump is secretly at war with them and will soon launch a repression that will put them in Guantánamo.

By the way, like all fascist conspiracy theories, it was a fantasy about what people want to happen. Goebbels used to say: everything we Nazis know about power we were taught by the Jews. Likewise, you can ascribe to the absurd conspiracies, “everything we know about running America we were taught by Hollywood's bloodsucking child killers” – it's a fantasy about how they want to rule, not how they are ruled.

Unfortunately, millions of people were led to think this way, and now we have lawmakers and media outlets dedicated to spreading this bullshit.

The thing is, QAnon was what radicalized. Because it takes existing prejudices – against blacks, anti-racism, democracy or blatant fascism – and intensely shortens deadlines. Most modern fascists, as we shall see, are seeking a long-term global ethnic civil war. Their strategy was to wait for it and prepare - hence "prepping” as a political subculture. Most militias will say, we are peaceful until they come for our Second Amendment rights. But QAnon doesn't say if it's coming before January 20, 2021. That's why the FBI has identified it as a terrorist threat.

So we come to election night, and Donald Trump loses. I think we'll find that what happens next was always the plan. They declared they were winning until the fake or illegal mail-in votes arrived. They created a narrative of stolen elections. There was a "wave of protests outside the polling centers, as well as threats against polling officials". The narrative of Stop The Steal it started in the evening and then was fueled by most sections of the GOP, with just 27 members of Congress acknowledging Biden's victory in early December. In the protests of Stop The Steal during December, armed groups took over, according to the ACLED monitoring group [Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project], an expanded role: 8% of all right-wing protests had an armed militia presence, as opposed to around 2-3% for most of the year.

By December 3, “the fights in the streets erupted into multiple demonstrations involving the Proud Boys across the country since the elections, including in North Carolina, New York, California and Washington, DC.”

Meanwhile, there is a parallel operation to take executive control of the coercive state apparatus. Donald Trump fires the secretary of defense, the undersecretary, and many civil servants who applauded them as they left the building. He fires his head of cybersecurity. Senior Directors of Homeland Security. And in October he had already signed an order giving himself the right to purge up to 88% of the public service on political grounds.

Then, on December 12th, Trump loses the Texas court case in the Supreme Court. 127 members of Congress signed the lawsuit in Texas – but once he loses it, his legal team crumbles, and the GOP's recognition of Joe Biden's victory on Capitol Hill begins.

But the movement itself has its own logic. Once stripped of any hope of winning in the courts, he can only stop Joe Biden by preventing or stopping the confirmation of the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6 and that becomes the focus.

Meanwhile, on December 18th, Donald Trump holds a furious meeting with the craziest people around him – Giuliani, Flynn, Sidney Powell – where they discuss two courses of action: (a) appoint Powell – who is a conspiracy theorist in full - as special counsel to investigate the stolen election; (b) declare martial law. Donald Trump actually tweeted that reports of martial law were fake news, but press reports made this known. Significantly, it was also on December 18 that Donald Trump announced the rally. stop the steal on January 6, saying "Be there: it will be wild".

In response, there are two demonstrations by senior military personnel: on December 18, when the secretary of the army and the chief of staff issue a statement saying that there is no role for the military in resolving the election; and, on January 3, all ten living ex-secretaries of defense issue a coded warning against military involvement.

We don't know if there was a plan, or if what happened on January 6 was a “stochastic riot” – incited by proxy, using intermediaries and rhetoric. But there is a logic. If you can storm the Capitol, actually disrupt proceedings, apprehend key members of Congress, you can pressure Mike Pence, the vice president, to refuse to sign the confirmation documents, or you can steal the actual ballots (which were present), and so you can trigger federal intervention to maintain order. It wouldn't be a military coup, but it would reopen the possibility of martial law in DC itself, during which Donald Trump could keep people on the streets in defiance of calls to relinquish power.

Is he crazy enough to do this? The people around them are, because, as we'll see, they have a lot to lose. The people in the streets – this is what they actively asked for. And the people performing the service were, as is now clear, white supremacists, anti-Semites and hardened fascists, armed and organized.

So all of this leads us to quickly review our answers to the question: what does Donald Trump stand for and what is his project?

It was pretty easy at first – although it took the liberal center a long time to resolve the issue. Donald Trump came to power representing something we didn't have in the developed world throughout the neoliberal era: a fraction of the bourgeoisie.

In the neoliberal era, once profit was funneled through the global financial system, there was what Marx called “capitalist communism” – the reward is commensurate with the risk, there is a level playing field, globalization is a win-win for the rich .

When neoliberalism breaks down after 2008, a fraction of the corporate elite emerges that does not want to play on equal terms. They want to double down on privatization, deregulation, etc., but they want to pursue the neoliberal project on a national, not global, scale. In part, that was what the Brexit – break the rules based on the global multilateral order – and that was Trump’s project; trade protectionism, tax cuts, asset price inflation for the rich. If you look at the people who initially supported it, it's private monopoly capital -- the casino bosses, the hedge fund holders like Robert Mercer, and it's the small and medium-sized business sector, it's the security and policing industry, and are fossil fuels.

They create a neoliberal nationalist project. They take the remnants of the liberal right, or at least most of its followers, and convert them to authoritarianism, just as Mencius Moldbug and Peter Thiel effectively became authoritarian monarchists after 2007/8. And many American service capitalists join. There is a significant break from the neoliberal economic formula: they get the Fed to monetize the debt and they keep accumulating debt. So this is a right-wing authoritarian nationalist project fueled by debt. They give up on trying to maintain a rules-based global order and go back to big power politics.

This is not fascism. But if you're looking for an economic basis for what happens next, you have to remember that autarkic, state-funded capitalism – in the form of the Harzburg Front in Germany – is exactly what produced Hitler. Hitler was brought to power because, having tried to do economic nationalism with a parliament and a constitution, it became easier to do so with a crushed democracy and concentration camps.

What we have to ask is: why and to what end did the Trump administration morph from its isolationist, authoritarian, debt-fueled neoliberal project to an attempt to seize power in a coup?

First, crime. Numerous people in the government were convicted and later pardoned: Stone, Flynn, Manafort, etc. It's safe to assume that Donald Trump will try to forgive himself and his family, as criminal offenses are likely to have occurred, whether it was in relation to national security, or outright corruption. The big sign for the change in the nature of the regime was the Republican Party convention, held contrary to the law in the White House, and mainly led by the crazy family of Donald Trump.

The offer to isolationists, mobsters and hedge fund holders was: the second term will be a family dynasty, the monarchy originally called for by Moldbug a decade and a half ago.

There is a point at which to ask “what is your relationship to capital?” becomes less important than “what is your relationship to capitalism?”

One of the characteristics of the new right-wing authoritarian forms – Trump, Orban, Bolsonaro, Putin, Duterte – is the need to make it unthinkable that they will ever leave office. This is because the radicalism of society and the pressing need to address climate change and Covid biosecurity means that without authoritarians in power you have the end of the fossil fuel industry within a generation, state ownership and control of the energy system, substantial reductions in the airline industry, prohibition of deforestation, etc.

Thus, the trajectory of this fraction of capital – as in Germany in the 1930s – ranges from “the current system does not work; here's how we keep what we have” to a radicalized version that should prevent any democratic transfer of power to non-oligarchic politicians, even some as pro-capitalist as Biden/Harris.

I think that for some parts of the GOP, not recognizing the election was a tactic to delegitimize the Biden administration and pave a new path to power in 2024. They metaphorically agreed with that. Unfortunately, this is not true for many at the bottom.

At the bottom – and this is where you really have to drop all the Marxist theories mechanically learned in the 1930s – the base is completely autonomous from capital. The base is driven, as Wilhelm Reich said, by a force far greater than loyalty to capital: it is driven by a fear of freedom. His number one concern is BLM, and the possibility of black liberation. They see the police, the thin blue line, with a license to murder black people, as the last line of defense. And so, for them, the prospect of even a moderate liberal government that ensures the rule of law prevails is the end of the world. And their broader concern is the end of the fossil fuel economy, the end of patriarchy and the oppression of women, the end of structural racism, white privilege, property rights, etc.

I've been reading and monitoring American law for my book and what I've noticed in the last quarter of 2020 is the rise of narratives blackpill. redpill that's when you wake up to the alternative reality created by the extreme right ideology. A blackpill it's code for when the far right knows it's going to lose, and gets into a desperate situation, and contemplates suicide – which, like the Nazis, intends to destroy the world, not just itself. Even people like James Lindsay, a non-violent propagandist who starts out just trying to defend the truth of postmodernism, is now saying: we almost lost, liberals and liberals alike. woke they almost won.

The dough base is the dough; 10 million new voters voted for Donald Trump in 2020; 45% of Republican voters supported the storming of the Capitol. QAnon is a mass illusion with millions of followers. This was created on social media and through vehicles such as Fox News, and through the presidency itself, which has become a major purveyor of disinformation.

Does this mass base deserve to be called fascist? Unfortunately its core is actively and consciously fascist, but like Hitler and Mussolini, most of it are individuals from the lower middle class and disorganized working class – which is big in the US – who have a reactionary ideology, and, what is important, they are enmeshed in the world of conspiracy theory.

Since the Cold War we've tended to separate conspiracy theories and fascism - so we've had lots of alien and UFO conspiracies, but not many neo-Nazis - but in the classic heyday of fascism, especially in Germany, conspiracy theories were crucial to the rise of Nazism. . The Protocols of the Elders of Zion created what Hannah Arendt calls “the lying world” in the minds of the masses supporting fascism.

One of the great problems with classical Marxism was that it tended to underestimate the importance of this hermetically sealed utopian ecosystem of lies. He assumed it could be destroyed by fighting or economic reality. As Wilhelm Reich said, while the Nazis raved about blood and land, we read economic statistics to multitudes of the unemployed, who knew capitalism was in crisis and wanted an answer, not an analysis.

QAnon and the MAGA movement and the mix of racial science and violent misogyny and antisemitism and antiglobalism and antiwokeism is a closed, impenetrable logic that people have created, as I wrote in Clear Bright Future, because neoliberal ideology has collapsed and the neoliberal self is in crisis.

What I am not saying is that this is a petty bourgeois movement representing the autonomous class interests of the bourgeoisie – which is as far as critical orthodox Marxists went in the 1930s. in hierarchies deeper than class, namely the family and racial supremacy, which predate capitalism and take on a specific capitalist form.

We have to face it: there is a mass popular base for American fascism, and Trump has chosen to lead it, even though his own political and modus operandi were not initially fascist, and although there is little support among the predominant corporate elite for this project.

Let's understand the fascist project, if you read all the New Right bullshit, they want a global ethnic civil war that reverts history to a series of ethnically pure societies, pre-capitalist or pre-modern. And they are prepared to bide their time. What they want for now is to keep people like Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, Jair Bolsonaro in power, and operate in the space provided.

They have to be, in the medium term, reduced, deactivated, dissolved… but in the short term they have to be defeated. And they can be. But if we defeat this coup, or series of coups, there is a long constitutional road to power for the American far right that has yet to be traversed...

I want to turn now to some of the challenges this poses for the left, at the level of strategy and analysis.

The classic Marxist definition of fascism, formulated by Dimitrov in 1935 to justify the Popular Front, is quite useless. Fascism, he says, is “the open and terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, chauvinist and imperialist elements of finance capital”: “Fascism is not a power that hovers above the class, nor the rule of the petty bourgeoisie or the lumpenproletariat over the financial capital. Fascism is the power of finance capital itself.”

It was a controversial definition constructed to attack all reasonable views. Because fascism, both in Germany, Italy, Austria, etc. – operated autonomously from big capital, or even financial capital.

This realization, that fascism was not just “somewhat autonomous” from class forces, but potentially in full, came at a very high price in the Italian and German workers' movements. Because it tends to run counter to one of the tenets of Marxism, that everything is rooted in class interest.

But there is an equally Marxist, or materialist, explanation of why parties like Mussolini's PNF and Hitler's NSDAP can rise above the elite, create new elites, set different programs for the elites, and even repress their economic interests: the fascism is the fear of freedom; it is a mass ideological and social phenomenon that is almost always triggered by people seeing freedom nearby.

In the twentieth century, the agents of freedom were the organized working class; in the XNUMXst century, the possibility of freedom arises not only from working class movements, but from the mass, in network with the popular movement – Black Lives Matter, me Too, Fridays for the Future… if you think about it, these movements are challenging something even more deeply rooted in class society than class exploitation – namely, gender oppression and structural racism.

Therefore, when I hear people on the left say “the events of January 6th cannot have been a coup because the American bourgeoisie does not need fascism, because the working class is not on the verge of power”, I say just read better books and study history and reality.

January 6 was an attempted coup, in the sense that it was designed to trigger martial law and suspend the transition. right now in Gab, our songs [anonymous forums], etc., people are fantasizing about something much bigger: the first acts of a Civil War 2.0. What remains is to trace the chain of command or influence of Trump's inner circle in relation to the Proud Boys, militias and the far-right congressmen who appear to have been complicit in the protest; and why the formal chain of command, which should have called in the National Guard, broke down.

Once you accept that it was serious, you can see why so many on the right of the GOP turned away from it: because the GOP itself is not fascist; it is infiltrated by fascism, but remains a governing tool for American capitalism in many states. If there is a barometer for what the true right of finance capital wants, it is what Fox says and what Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas does. Both distanced themselves from Donald Trump – and you can see the beginnings of a new right-wing project, around constitutional authoritarianism.

As for the people who say: the violence was mostly performative – therefore it cannot have been a real coup attempt. This is not the point of what Nazi and fascist violence is. She was often performative. For example – and there are many in  How to Stop Fascism –, Italo Balbo, Mussolini's lieutenant in Ferrara, when his blackshirts were banned from carrying clubs, they broke into a fish shop, grabbed a meter-long salted cod and carried those all over the city, attacking leftists and trade unionists with dried fish .

Fascist violence is always performative, symbolic and is an ethical norm. Violence is not the end, for many it is an end in itself, a form of self-expression, which is why so many of them wanted to take pictures.

So what do we do? There are understandable reticences to strengthen the power of the state, because it has a lot of power, but American constitutional democracy is close to being broken – because the constitution was not drafted for a position where a fraction of the bourgeoisie wants to use its provisions to undermine the state right.

I can understand the Leninist position: the state is an arm of the bourgeoisie, we want to crush it – but in the XNUMXth century, faced with fascism, all the Marxist parties that really found themselves on the opposite side realized: (a) anti-fascist violence is not enough – cannot match fascist violence in its offensive, mobile, temperamental character; (b) you have to call on the State to defend democracy and the rule of law.

The German socialists even had a militia trained in rifle exercises by the police, which they controlled in the state of Prussia. Of course, the extreme left communist parties had policies of violent resistance, which was justified, but it was never a strategy to defeat fascism.

In my book, I make a strong case that the Third Period of the Comintern, class against class, identifying liberalism and fascism as the same thing, was decisive in the victories of fascism. But all around us we can see parts of the left making the same mistake: equating Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, refusing to call the police to do their duty, and saying "maybe we shouldn't delegitimize sedition in case we too are branded seditious" .

Well, you're up against the capitalist class. Either we adopt a strategy to overthrow them, and good luck with that against 75 million armed Donald Trump voters, or we understand the divisions within the ruling class, we use the space that democracy allows the left and the workers movement to mobilize and we defend what we have.

Hannah Arendt described fascism as “the temporary alliance between the elite and the mafia”. That's literally what happened on January 6th - Josh Hawley punching the air, Kimberley Guilfoyle doing pirouettes, as crazy ex-officials took shots on Capitol Hill.

The lessons of Europe in the 1930s are: the only thing that can defeat the alliance between the elite and the mafia is a temporary alliance of the center and the left. And that when that happens, as in France and Spain between 1934 and 1936, not only are elections won, but a mass popular anti-fascist culture can be created.

It was not the formal electoral alliance between liberal socialists and communists that defeated French fascism, it was the mass popular movement that came together despite rigid party boundaries – and in my book and in some future conferences I will show how we do this today.

As I speak, it still looks like the militias, perhaps without Trump himself, will stage another major violent provocation in the three days leading up to the inauguration. The one thing I want people to learn from this is: even if it's performative, it's real; even if there isn't a large part of the elite that wants fascism, it doesn't mean that fascism is impossible.

And that we on the left need to build a movement for democratic culture and values ​​from below, however cynical we may be about their content in people like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Paul Mason is a journalist. Author, among other books, of Post-Capitalism: A Guide to Our Future (Company of Letters).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

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