This article was originally published here in CounterPunch.
Understanding the Bourgeois Gangster State & the Threat of Fascism
Over a year after the harum-scarum storming of the U.S. Capitol, there is ample evidence that it was an inside job. Not only was the security detail intentionally minimized to the extreme, but decisions were made at the highest levels of the chain of command to allow a right-wing mob to rampage through the building. At the forefront of this antidemocratic horde, as we shall see, there were fascist or semi-fascist organizations whose leadership has multiple direct ties to the military and intelligence agencies. All of this raises fundamental questions regarding the true nature of the U.S. government and its relationship to fascism.
Unfortunately, two false narratives concerning January 6th dominate the corporate media. On the one hand, the Democratic Party and its press allies have run a mawkish faith-in-government campaign, presenting themselves as the last great guardians of ‘our sacred democracy,’ while refusing to aggressively combat the fascist threat and back-peddling on all of Biden’s more progressive campaign promises. On the other hand, the Trump camp and its media have concocted a self-serving narrative according to which the storming of the Capitol was a false flag operation that lured ‘patriots’ into a trap, leading to the prosecution of innocent, freedom-loving MAGAs in the ‘second war on terror.’ Through an incredible act of ideological transubstantiation, which is unfortunately a common feature of white supremacy, the rioting antidemocratic mob is thereby transformed into victims rather than perpetrators of violence.
We need to see through these propaganda campaigns, while also identifying the purposes they serve for the elites who promote them. This requires understanding the actual situation these campaigns are attempting to manage. It is indeed the case that the movements represented by Trump and the moneyed interests behind them pose a very real threat to democracy. However, it is also true, as I’ve argued in greater detail elsewhere, that the U.S.’s political system is not actually democratic in the sense of enabling the exercise of real political power by the people. Rather, bourgeois democracy in the U.S. functions in such a way as to enable the capitalist ruling class’s control over the daily life of the masses, while maintaining, as much as possible, the latter’s consent. Even though this form of pseudo-democracy is clearly preferable to an open dictatorship, it will not ultimately protect us against fascism. On the contrary, elites operating within bourgeois democracies have historically mobilized fascist elements in order to target particular populations, domestically and abroad. Moreover, these elements are kept on standby in case the truly democratic forces in society—the working and toiling masses—become organized enough that the overall reign of the capitalist class is called into question and has to be preserved by brute force.
The Dialectics of Bourgeois Democracy
As the name itself suggests, bourgeois democracy is fundamentally contradictory. The democratic aspect refers to the space within our political system for class struggle from below to make some substantive gains for workers and oppressed groups. The bourgeois element seeks to keep these in check and reduce democracy to little more than political theater, which it uses to disguise its ruthless exploitation and oppression of the masses. One key component of its political theater is its attempt to define the very nature of political struggle as one between two pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist parties, thereby ensuring that the capitalist ruling class wins every election.
In the lead up to January 6th, we know that Trump tried every imaginable form of lawfare available within bourgeois democracy in order to stay in office. He pressured and sought to manipulate his Vice President, Republicans in the state legislatures of battleground states, the Pentagon, the Department of Justice, Homeland Security, the Supreme Court, etc. In one scenario, mapped out by former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in a PowerPoint presentation, Trump was to “Declare National Security Emergency” by falsely claiming “foreign influence and control of electronic voting systems.” China was to be fingered in particular for having allegedly taken over critical voting infrastructure and using it to “subvert the will of United States Voters and install a China ally [sic].” Trump was then to declare all electronic voting invalid and implement “‘LEGAL & Genuine Paper ballot counts or Constitutional remedy delegated to Congress,’ which would overturn the Electoral College and the election of current President Joe Biden.”
Figure 1: The “National Security Emergency” solution outlined in Mark Meadows’s PowerPoint (source).
This plan calls our attention to the ways in which elites can, and often do, use bourgeois democratic institutions and laws to impose their will in a despotic manner. In this regard, it is of the utmost importance to recall that Mussolini and Hitler rose to power within bourgeois democracies. They generally respected their protocols—while manipulating them to their advantage, bending the rules, and encouraging vigilante brutality and intimidation—before consolidating power and transforming them into openly tyrannical regimes. In the case of Trump, once his lawfare campaign ran out of steam, he made a last-ditch shambolic effort to stay in office.In spite of all the fundamental limitations of bourgeois democracy, however, its preservation is still tactically important for a number of reasons. For instance, it does maintain the rule of law for certain sectors of the population, and it provides some space for legal class struggle from below. It also generally allows for a greater margin of maneuver for progressive unions, parties and organizations, as well as cultural producers and intellectuals. At the same time, from the strategic point of view of the ultimate goal of anti-capitalist organizing, it is necessary to recognize that bourgeois democracy is the opposite of substantive democracy, which would truly empower the working class. Therefore, it must ultimately be overcome.
The capitalist press tends to present fascism as a grassroots movement driven by a particular set of ideas or cultural values. However, if we look at the actual history, we find that members of the capitalist ruling class have worked behind the scenes to promote fascism, such as by bankrolling fascist organizations and movements (this is referred to as ‘astroturfing’ to highlight its artificial nature and contrast it with grassroots organizing). In the cases of Italy and Germany, for instance, big industrial and financial capital helped bring Mussolini and Hitler to power. A group of robber barons had similar plans for the U.S. in the early 1930s, when they conspired to astroturf a fascist overthrow of FDR.
In the case of the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally at the U.S. Capitol, Anna Massoglia found that “Trump’s political operation paid more than $4.3 million to Jan. 6 organizers.” Approximately $300,000 of the funding, according to ProPublica, came from the Publix supermarket heir Julie Jenkins Fancelli. Kimberly Guilfoyle, the finance chair of the Trump Victory Committee and the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., bragged about raising millions for the January 6thdemonstration. ProPublica claims that this is “the strongest indication yet that members of the Trump family circle were directly involved in the financing and organization of the rally.” Women for Trump hosted the event. This organization’s co-founder, Amy Kremer, first rose to prominence through her leading role in another far-right political movement, the Tea Party, which was notoriously astroturfed by reactionary elements of the ruling class like the Koch brothers.
Those who participated in the rally and subsequent storming of the Capitol, in the words of Vanessa Wills, “seem drawn primarily from the ranks of small business owners, military and police officers, politicians’ families, and a familiar rogues’ gallery of petty grifters and violent far-right thugs that coalesced out of the dregs of the Tea Party.” An examination of the demographics of the 654 people arrested as of October 25, 2021 for their participation in the riot found that many are from the middle and upper-middle class: 86% are employed, 24% are business owners, 28% are white-collar professionals. Moreover, the research team that conducted this study argues that this is not a fringe movement because 21 million U.S. Americans have been inculcated into the belief that Biden’s presidency is illegitimate and the use of force to restore Trump is therefore justified.
Since January 6th, corporate funding has continued to flow into the coffers of the Republican legislators who rejected the presidential election results as fraudulent. According to an article tellingly entitled “Election Objectors Among GOPs Highest Fundraisers Ahead of Jan 6 Anniversary”: “the House members who objected to the election results are some of the top fundraisers in the Republican House conference going into the 2022 midterm elections.” The leading donors to the GOP objectors, and thus to the larger ‘Stop the Steal’ movement out of which January 6th emerged, include Majority Cmte PAC (affiliated with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy), American Bankers Association, National Association of Realtors, Koch Industries, AT&T, National Auto Dealers Association, and Comcast Corporation. These reactionary elements of the capitalist ruling class are thus directly supporting the increasingly antidemocratic orientation of the GOP.
Figure 2: Top PAC donors to the 147 Republican lawmakers who objected to states’s election results (source).
Political Theater & Psychological Operations
Political theater is one of the primary means by which bourgeois democracy attempts to resolve its fundamental contradiction. It seeks to produce the illusion of true democracy in order to hide the reality of capitalist rule. This is why propaganda is so integral to the functioning of bourgeois democracy, which is characterized by very tightly controlled media, culture and information industries. In the case of the United States, “five gigantic corporations,” in the words of Alan MacLeod, “control over 90 percent of what America reads, watches or listens to.” In addition to the constant stream of ideology being pumped out by the cultural, educational and media apparatus, there are also psychological operations undertaken by intelligence agencies and their public relations assets. Some of these aim at spectacularly altering public opinion in a manner that serves the interests of the capitalist ruling class and the political elite that work for them.
While there is still much that is unknown about January 6th, there are very clear signs that it was an inside job involving the military and multiple government agencies. We must undertake a sober and precise analysis of the actual evidence, in this regard, wholly separated from the perverse narrative the right-wing corporate media is trying to spin in order to exculpate Trump. To begin with, the U.S. national security state had advance knowledge of the serious risks of escalation and violence on January 6th, which was obvious to anyone paying even scant attention to the news, social media or Trump. However, instead of making the types of preparations that are common when progressive groups organize protests near the Capitol, it did the exact opposite. According to the Senate Staff Report on the Capitol attack: “The federal Intelligence Community—led by FBI and DHS—did not issue a threat assessment warning of potential violence targeting the Capitol.” Similarly, the Capitol Police’s “intelligence components failed to convey the full scope of threat information they possessed.” Only one fifth of Capitol Police were on duty that day, and they were not properly equipped or prepared for what was widely anticipated. Moreover, there were scenes of them opening barricades and fraternizing with those storming the Capitol.
When Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund requested the deployment of the National Guard, he was rebuffed by two army lieutenant generals. On a conference call, they took the position that “the optics of having uniformed military personnel deployed to the U.S. Capitol would not be good.” These generals, who were the highest ranking officials on the call, were Walter E. Piatt, Director of the Army Staff, and Charles A. Flynn, then Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Plans and Training (and the brother of Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who “promulgated a host of conspiracy theories in the lead-up to Jan. 6 and called for former President Donald Trump to impose martial law”). The Army’s high command was thereby responsible for a three-hour delay, and the National Guard was only deployed after the Capitol had already been ransacked.
Generals Piatt and Flynn have been accused of being “absolute and unmitigated liars” for their mischaracterizations of the events of that day during the subsequent investigation. The accusation was put forth by Major General William J. Walker, who served as Commanding General of the District of Columbia National Guard on January 6th, and former D.C. National Guard official Colonel Earl Matthews. In consultation with other D.C. National Guard officers, they wrote a 36-page memo detailing the mendacious attempt at a military cover-up. These two high-ranking officials were on the conference call mentioned above and maintain that Piatt and Flynn were directly responsible for delaying the deployment of the National Guard. The memo went on to add that “the Pentagon inspector general’s November report on Army leadership’s response to the attack was ‘replete with factual inaccuracies’; and that the Army has created its own closely held revisionist document about the Capitol riot” that is pure propaganda aimed at protecting the top brass of the military. It is worth noting, moreover, that in addition to the National Guard, agents from the Department of Homeland Security were on standby near the Capitol, but they were not deployed. An FBI tactical team was also inside the riot, but it is unclear if they did anything to impede it.
These are only some of the highlights of the clear signs that the high command of intelligence, military and police agencies allowed—at a minimum—the Capitol to be stormed. What is more, these agencies have a well-earned reputation for being extremely hierarchical and well-disciplined. Foot soldiers at the bottom are trained to strictly follow orders and never question those above them. This fact alone suggests that what was happening on the ground was the result of decisions from on high, including not only the figures mentioned above but also their bosses in the chain of command (the President sits at the very top of the Army’s command structure). As a matter of fact, the Pentagon had placed abnormal restrictions on the commander of the D.C. National Guard, William J. Walker, days before the riot, prohibiting him from taking immediate action. As spelled out in memos on January 4th and January 5th, he needed to wait for the highest-level approval before dispatching troops or even a quick reaction force of 40 soldiers. Such approval had to come from two close friends who “were among the first Trump political appointees at the Pentagon”: Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller. It is interesting to note, moreover, that on January 3rd Trump had told Christopher Miller to “do whatever was necessary to protect the demonstrators [sic]” on January 6th.
The Senate Staff Report cited above acknowledges the role of some of this leadership, which is important, but it disingenuously recasts the explicit decisions that were made as a “multi-tiered failure.” Such language is straight out of Washington’s propaganda playbook. It is a defense mechanism aimed at stopping the investigation at the lowest possible ranks. A “failure,” after all, magically transforms intentional acts based on explicit commands into simple mistakes, thereby creating plausible deniability. Moreover, it openly prepares the ground for increased military and police spending, which has happened so many times in the past: the supposed “failure” is addressed by an increased budget, thereby augmenting the funding provided to the very agencies responsible for letting the Capitol be ransacked.
Another aspect of this event that is particularly important to understand is that the three principal fascist or semi-fascist organizations involved in leading the attack on the Capitol—the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and the Three Percenters—are stocked full of current and former members of the military, police and other law-enforcement agencies. The Oath Keepers, for instance, boast “more than 30,000 law enforcement officers, soldiers and military veterans as members.” Both the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys are led by figures with direct ties to the military and intelligence agencies, and the Three Percenters’ deceased founder was also a member of the Oath Keepers (with whom his organization remains loosely affiliated). The 1st Amendment Praetorian, a right-wing paramilitary group composed largely of Special Forces veterans and former intelligence officials, was also involved in the riot, working closely with the Oath Keepers. Furthermore, there were a number of other intelligence assets and military veterans who participated in the planning and execution of the event:
+ Thomas Caldwell, leader of the Oath Keepers, is a former Naval Reserve Officer and FBI agent. He has held top-secret security clearance since 1979. He also ran a consulting firm that, according to his lawyer, did classified work for the U.S. government.
+ Stewart Rhodes, another leader the Oath Keepers, is an Army paratrooper veteran.
+ Ray Epps is a former Marine Sergeant and president of the largest chapter of the Oath Keepers. He coordinated the first breach of the Capitol’s police barricades. Given the number of videos of him beseeching protestors to storm the Capitol, including one where the crowd begins chanting that he’s a “Fed,” some assume that he is an agent provocateur.
+ Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys, has worked closely with the FBI and local law enforcement. Reuters reports that he even did undercover work for them. Tarrio’s former lawyer referred to him as a “prolific” informant.
+ Joseph Biggs, an Army veteran and one of the most visible Proud Boy leaders among the Capitol rioters, served as a Bureau informant and has had “a longstanding relationship with the FBI.” Reuters spoke to Biggs two days before the riot on January 6th, and he said “he was willing to tell his FBI contact of his plans for the coming rally, if asked.” The Reuters report notes that he “spoke often” with his handler.
+ An anonymous FBI informant affiliated with a Midwest chapter of the Proud Boys was texting in real time with his handler from inside the riot. At least one other FBI informant in the Proud Boys also participated in the storming of the Capitol (it’s not clear if this was Biggs or someone else since their anonymity has been preserved). According to Reuters, “Bureau agents maintained connections with key Proud Boys leaders starting as early as 2019 […]. At least four Proud Boys have provided information to the FBI.”
+ John Sullivan, who filmed Ashli Babbitt being shot, has been accused of being an FBI agent provocateur who had infiltrated BLM and Antifa. As Max Blumenthal has explained in detail, “while Sullivan has attempted to brand himself as a BLM leader, he has been effectively locked out from activist communities across the country, where he is almost universally regarded as a dangerous provocateur.” His brother, James Sullivan, the “founder of a right-wing outfit called Civilized Awakening and a close ally of the Proud Boys,” described John as “an ‘agitator’ who suffers from mental health issues.” He played an important role in the right-wing’s attempt to blame the riot on BLM and Antifa.
+ Captain Emily Rainey, an Army psychological operations officer, led 100 people to the protest.
+ According to a CBS News analysis of “service records, attorney statements, and court documents,” “at least 81 current or former service members face charges and are accused of participating in the mob.” At least five of them were in the military when they participated in the attack, and one was in basic training. Active duty Marine Corps Major Chris Warnagiris was “the first among a group of rioters to ‘push himself through’ the doors of the Capitol East Rotunda.” He then “pulled people from the mob inside as he positioned himself in the corner of the doorway, using his body to keep the door open.” When a Capitol Police officer tried to shut the door, he resisted and shoved him back to keep rioters coming in.
Figure 3: Active duty Marine Corps Major Chris Warnagiris helping rioters through the doors of the Capitol East Rotunda while fending off a Capitol Police officer (image from Federal Charging Documents: source).
Many of these individuals have been treated with kid gloves in the wake of January 6th, which is a telltale sign of intelligence ties. It is only now, a year after the event, that public pressure has apparently forced federal investigators to pursue some of the leaders more aggressively. For instance, it took a year before charges of seditious conspiracy, including amassing weaponry and arming a “Quick Response team,” were leveled against Caldwell, Rhodes and nine other Oath Keepers (Epps remains unindicted). At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Senator Ted Cruz had the opportunity to ask Jill Sanborn, the Executive Assistant Director of the FBI’s national security branch, if any FBI agents or confidential informants had actively participated in the events of January 6th, or if they had directly encouraged acts of violence. She replied to both questions: “Sir, I can’t answer that.”
We shouldn’t be surprised by this evidence of close ties between the U.S. state’s repressive apparatus—including intelligence agencies, military, police, and the courts—and right-wing paramilitaries and vigilantes. As the material history of fascism demonstrates, the bourgeois state regularly relies on, works with, stocks and directs parallel structures like goon squads, organized crime syndicates, militias, vigilante groups and fascist or semi-fascist organizations. The FBI, for instance, has a long history of collaborating with such groups. According to Ward Churchill’s and Jim Vander Wall’s calculations, the Ku Klux Klan was probably under the control of the Bureau by late 1964. The following year, it boasted some 2,000 informants in the organization, which amounts to approximately 20% of Klan membership in the South. The FBI also maintained collaborative relationships with violent armed groups like the Secret Army Organization in southern California and the Legion of Justice in Chicago. If fascism is astroturfed by the capitalist ruling class, as mentioned above, it is also aided and abetted by the bourgeois state, particularly through its clandestine services. There is, in fact, an identifiable pattern in the history of fascism that can best be described as a triangulation between capitalist backers, government operatives and shock troops on the ground.
Mike German, a former FBI agent and fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, has highlighted that the failure to protect the Capitol follows a pattern according to which “militant far-right groups have been given impunity,” particularly in the Trump era. Similar attacks on state capitols, he explained, occurred in Virginia, Michigan, Idaho, Georgia and Oregon in 2020. What is more, he pointed out that “some of those involved in the Capitol riot have been involved in similar incidents over months or years, and because they have been repeatedly caught on tape, ‘we know their names, we know their criminal histories.’” The conclusion drawn by this former FBI agent, who is particularly well placed to know how the repressive state apparatus actually functions, is remarkably clear regarding the role of far-right militants in assaults of this sort: “They’ve been doing it because the police have been letting them do it. They’ve been doing it because the FBI have been letting them do it.”
Indeed, this pattern is identifiable in the recent event that most strikingly parallels the storming of the U.S. Capitol. In 2020, the Michigan Capitol was overrun by armed right-wing militia members who had been egged on by Trump. They demanded an end to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order. A plot to kidnap her was discovered, which involved the Wolverine Watchmen, a militia associated with the Three Percenters. The major rally that took place in the lead-up to the storming of Michigan’s Capitol was hosted by the Michigan Freedom Fund, which received more than $500,000 from the DeVos family, and the Michigan Conservative Coalition, a pro-Trump organization with multiple ties to his administration (including Meshawn Maddock, who serves on the national advisory board of Women for Trump, the organization on the permit for the January 6th protest in D.C.). It has since come to light that at least 12 FBI informants were behind the kidnapping plot: “Working in secret, they did more than just passively observe and report on the actions of the suspects. Instead, they had a hand in nearly every aspect of the alleged plot, starting with its inception.”
This is a remarkable precedent that needs to be investigated in greater detail, and it follows a well-established pattern. The Center on National Security at Fordham Law School undertook a study of the 138 terrorism and national security prosecutions involving informants since 2001. Here is a summary of what they found: “Nearly every major post-9/11 terrorism-related prosecution has involved a sting operation, at the center of which is a government informant. In these cases, the informants—who work for money or are seeking leniency on criminal charges of their own—have crossed the line from merely observing potential criminal behavior to encouraging and assisting people to participate in plots that are largely scripted by the FBI itself. Under the FBI’s guiding hand, the informants provide the weapons, suggest the targets and even initiate the inflammatory political rhetoric that later elevates the charges to the level of terrorism.” By extension, this directly implicates the CIA as well, which placed agents in nearly all of the FBI’s 56 terrorism task forces in the wake of 9/11. In many cities, according to Dana Priest, they “help plan daily operations and set priorities.”
Since there are patent signs of an inside job, but there are still some unknowns, it behooves us to ask the question: whose interests did the storming of the Capitol serve?
The Biden administration has benefited immensely, as it paved the way for a “do-nothing Presidency.” It allowed Sleepy Joe to don the improbable halo of the ‘savior of our sacred democracy’ upon assuming office. This provided his administration with cover as it proceeded to revoke innumerable progressive campaign promises, slash and eventually kill the Build Back Better Act, increase military spending, escalate the New Cold War and the global war on socialism (including crippling blockades of Cuba and other socialist countries), support domestic terrorism legislation that will be used to criminalize progressives, and expand the police-surveillance apparatus. Lest we forget, the so-called protector of our democracy has been able to do all of this in the wake of historic mobilizations among working-class U.S. Americans. These included massive protests against the racist police state (whose ultimate roots lie in the capitalist system it seeks to preserve) and major strikes and unionization efforts across the country. Moreover, many workers in the U.S. have joined the ranks of the organized Left in recent years, as the barbarity of the ruling class and its political lackeys have spurred people to seek real alternatives. The Democratic Party’s PR campaign sought to put a damper on all of these progressive developments, even as it cynically appropriated some of their symbols. Biden’s administration has diligently worked to replace these popular struggles with liberal spectator politics by channeling political energies into macabre celebrations of being ‘less evil’ than the other capitalist and imperialist party.
In the wake of the riot at the U.S. Capitol, Trump’s public image was rehabilitated at breakneck speed. Rather than being arrested for sedition and put in jail, he had his Twitter account suspended and faced an unsuccessful impeachment hearing that smacked of maudlin political theater. With the help of media sock puppets like Tucker Carlson and Alex Jones, Trump has been able to present himself and his followers—once again—as victims and freedom-loving ‘outsiders’ opposed to Big Government. This is a remarkable ideological feat for someone who was literally the leader of Big Government. However, it positions him extremely well for another ‘outsider’ run for office in 2024. Moreover, it has primarily been the low-level foot soldiers and others caught up in the mayhem of January 6th who have been prosecuted, and the sentences they have received have been remarkably light. “The most common sentence has been probation, with a short period of home confinement or a fine mixed in,” according to BuzzFeed News. “Nearly all of the 71 defendants sentenced as of the end of December,” they write, “pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, with most deals featuring the same charge: illegally parading in the Capitol, which carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.” This sends a very clear message to Trump’s base, including the fascist and semi-fascist organizations involved in the storming of the Capitol: the U.S. state will allow you to act with relative impunity.
The political theater surrounding January 6th makes it appear as if the Democrats and Republicans are locked in pitched battles and have dug in their heels. However, the truth is that the Democratic Party has a long history of discreetly collaborating with the GOP. As former President Obama, with Biden by his side, explained with remarkable clarity when Trump was elected, the relationship between these parties is like a relay race. They hand off the baton to one another because, in Obama’s own words, “ultimately, we’re all on the same team.” The well-spoken representative of the ruling class neglected to add the name of the team: capital. He also didn’t mention that he had run a particularly good leg of the race by preparing the way for Trump. If the latter tried to hold onto the baton on January 6th but ended up stumbling and falling, the Democrats took the baton and rebuked him publicly, but they also—in all of their bipartisan civility—gave him a hand up so that the relay race could continue.
All of this serves the interests of the capitalist ruling class, which has been enriching itself at the expense of the masses to an unprecedented degree. According to a recent report by Oxfam, the world’s 10 richest men, 9 of whom are Americans, “saw their wealth double, from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion, during the pandemic — a rate of $15,000 per second.” In addition to the nation’s billionaires, “the number of households in the U.S. with wealth of more than $50 million surged more than 70% to 63,505, from 2016 to 2021, Oxfam found. Their combined wealth jumped more than 50% to $12.8 trillion.” Meanwhile, the bottom 99% of the population “lost income during the crisis due to layoffs, economic uncertainty, and increased caretaking due to closed schools and illnesses caused by COVID-19.”
It’s at this level that the continuity between Trump and Biden is clearest. The latter’s election and subsequent apotheosis as the protector of our hallowed democracy helped to take a bit of the wind out of the sails of popular struggles and the burgeoning socialist movement, at least insofar as it seduced its more liberal elements. Biden’s deification also allowed his administration to aggressively pursue pro-capital, pro-imperialist, anti-worker policies to the right of his campaign platform. Meanwhile, the fascist bogeyman has been preserved not only as a threat but as a very real possibility. The political landscape of U.S. democracy has thereby been shifted to the right at the exact same time the capitalist media celebrates the system’s sacred preservation. This serves to increase the wealth and power of the ruling elite, while providing cover for its brutal class war on the rest of the population.
In a fascinating precedent briefly mentioned above, it is worth recalling that there was a proven conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government in 1934 and establish a fascist dictatorship. The plot was funded by reactionary elements in the capitalist ruling class, including Pew, Rockefeller, DuPont, Morgan and Mellon. They tapped potential political leaders to head up and arm a movement of poor veterans, who were to be financially enticed into serving as their foot soldiers. The organization behind this plot, the American Liberty League, was led by a number of conservative Democrats who had turned against FDR. Since it was not dismantled, and there were no real consequences for the planners, press allies and financial backers of this proven conspiracy, the Liberty League continued its political activities. In the next election, it ran a Republican candidate for president, whose racist anti-worker program—in the words of Grace Hutchins—amounted to “fascism.” Although he lost due to popular support for FDR, this example clearly demonstrates how bourgeois democracy allows fascism to continue to exist.
Socialism is the Solution
Historically, socialism is the only force that has demonstrated its ability to both defeat fascism and develop an alternative socioeconomic order in which the very source of fascism—the capitalist system—is curtailed and eventually eliminated. This is concisely stated in one of the slogans that could be seen at many of the protests over the last two years: “Fascism is the symptom, capitalism is the disease, socialism is the cure.” In order to implement the strategy inherent in this slogan, we need to develop an interlocking series of tactics that allow us to get from where we are to where we need to be.
As mentioned above, the preservation of bourgeois democracy, even in the tattered and disgraced form it takes in the United States, is an important tactical objective for progressives. This can mean pressuring the political elite and others in positions of power to preserve the rule of law and aggressively combat fascism by prosecuting its leaders and foot soldiers, its financial backers, its media assets, and its political operatives. Indeed, everything possible should be done to curtail the growth of fascism in the U.S. This does not, however, require simply lining up on the Democratic Party. The latter, as we have seen, continues to foster the existence of fascist elements within our bourgeois democracy. This includes giving more or less free reign to ‘patriotic’ shock troops and their leaders, supporting and even escalating racist police terror that targets the poor, and pursuing U.S. imperialism around the world (which has included intimate and ongoing collaborations with many fascist and authoritarian forces). Forming a Popular Front, in the sense of an anti-fascist coalition, with such a party will not protect us from fascism.
Moreover, we cannot rely on a purely defensive program devoid of any positive project. Socialism has something to offer the working and toiling masses that they will never obtain within a bourgeois democracy: real social change that empowers the masses. It therefore makes sense to pursue a Popular Front from below, meaning an antifascist coalition for the defense of democracy rooted in the working class. Rather than collaborating with the corrupt leadership of discredited bourgeois parties in a Popular Front from above, we need to reach out to the rank and file and fight an ideological war for their hearts and minds. After all, workers do have very serious grievances that need to be addressed, and many of them recognize that the Democratic Party leadership is thoroughly corrupt (they sank Sanders’s campaign not once, after all, but twice). It should not surprise us in the least that it does not take much for workers disillusioned with the party of the Clintons to be receptive to the populist rhetoric of Trump and his false solutions to very real problems.
A Popular Front from below, in our current conjuncture, can serve as an organic means to foster a broad alliance of workers who share, at a minimum, a preference for democracy over fascism. It can—and arguably should—be combined with a United Front of anti-capitalist parties, unions, councils, organizations and associations. Whereas a Popular Front is a broad anti-fascist coalition for the defense of democracy that includes liberals, a United Front brings together anti-capitalists in a principled opposition to fascism and its ultimate roots in the capitalist system. If done well and coordinated by socialist leadership, these tactics would have the advantage of practically demonstrating the power and importance of the organized socialist and anti-imperialist Left. This can gradually draw over to the socialist side workers dissatisfied with the Democratic Party, as well as those who have experienced the limitations of social-democratic reformism or pseudo-revolutionary ultra-leftism.
This is not an easy task, and victory is unlikely to be quick given the current state of class struggle. We need to bring workers into organized politics outside of the capitalist parties within the reactionary political culture of the U.S. To do so, we have to take their grievances seriously and meet them where they are. Fortunately, reality is on our side in this colossal struggle. Mutually reinforcing crises have been destroying the material basis for workers’ belief in the capitalist system, including the horrific lack of an efficient healthcare response to the pandemic, massive unemployment, declining real wages, sky-rocketing inflation, an unending housing crisis, crumbling infrastructure, global warming, institutionalized racism and gender/sexual oppression, and much more. We need to connect all of these problems to the socioeconomic system that perpetuates them, and which will continue to do so until the system is changed. We also have to combat the anti-communist culture that pervades U.S. society and open people’s minds to the possibility of system change.
Such an approach requires militating against the anti-organizational ideology that has been so destructive to progressive politics in the United States. Since numbers are on the side of the working class, and the capitalists are so few, the latter need to make sure that their class enemies are as unorganized and atomized as possible. Meanwhile, they operate in lockstep with one another and have developed a highly organized political machinery to perpetuate their rule, as well as tightly controlled educational, media and culture industries. They use these to broadcast a libertarian ideology of rugged individualism and a constant stream of mendacious anti-communism, which they supplement with culturalist and identitarian politics that are used to divide and conquer the working class. We need to recognize these traps for what they are and embrace the necessity of well-organized, multinational parties, unions and associations. If we want to fight and win, then we have to find ways of working together, educating one another through practical struggle, and building substantial working-class power that is organized. It is this, and only this, that will allow us to not only fend off the current threat of fascism, but also to eliminate, in due time, the very source of fascism in general: the capitalist system.
 I would like to thank all of the friends and colleagues who provided insightful feedback on this article, including Ward Churchill, Kameron Damaska, Derek Ford, Nazia Kazi, Helmut-Harry Loewen, Jacques Pauwels, Jennifer Ponce de León, and others. This field guide provides a useful overview of some of the key figures involved in the struggle to keep Trump in office. Amongst other works, see Jacques Pauwels’s Big Business and Hitler and Daniel Guérin’s Fascism and Big Business. See also this article on the topic. On this issue, also see this analysis. This article has some additional information. NPR has developed a useful database with details regarding all of those who have been charged for participating in the storming of the Capitol. On this topic, this podcast episode has some important information. On the increasingly anti-democratic orientation of the GOP, see this article by Adolph Reed Jr. For an insightful account of the history of dark money and the rightwing in U.S. politics, see Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. The depth and breadth of penetration of the intelligence agencies into the media are truly extraordinary, as attested to by the Church Committee Report and the research undertaken by scholars and journalists like Carl Bernstein, Hugh Wilford, Frances Stonor Saunders and many others. Journalist Brian Becker has made this point a number of times on “The Socialist Program.” On the FBI’s role, see this detailed study undertaken by Jason Paladino, which includes a timeline of the FBI’s ignored warnings about January 6th. “On November 18 the Washington Post reported,” according to Unicorn Riot, “that William J. Walker, former commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, called on the Army report to be retracted, and said that it made inaccurate claims.” On the involvement of active military duty personnel in terrorist plots in the US, also see this analysis. 1AP, as the group is known, also funneled ‘data’ on alleged election fraud to lawyers and provided ‘security’ for figures like Michael Flynn (Trump’s former national security adviser) at ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies in the lead up to January 6th (see this article for some of the details). See this article via CNN, this one by NBC, and this video. See this article, as well as this file on Rhodes. For background on the Oath Keepers, see this overview. Epps was suddenly removed from the FBI’s Capitol Violence Most Wanted List in July 2021. Revolver News, an extreme right-wing platform with a pro-Trump agenda, has compiled many of the videos featuring Epps. Tarrio was arrested on January 4th for trying to sell “two empty large-capacity firearm magazines to someone attending the Jan. 6 Stop the Steal rally” (also see this article). In August, Tarrio was sentenced to five months in prison. Also see this article. See also Kathleen Belew, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. On the larger forces at work behind the ‘anti-lockdown protests,’ see this article. Also see this article and this analysis. On this topic, also see this article and Trevor Aaronson, The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism. See this useful summary in Peoples Dispatch. According to NBC, in the wake of January 6th, “at least 13 states have taken up legislation to crack down on protest” (also see this report).