We want to start by thanking Cihan Tuğal for his thoughtful and comradely response to the Spectre statement on the invasion of the US Capitol building on January 61I would to thank Zach Levenson, David McNally, and Ashley Smith for comments on earlier versions of this essay.. His was the sort of response we had hoped for. He grappled with our actual arguments, not “straw people,” and his contribution deepens the revolutionary left’s understanding of the situation we face in the US today. I look forward to a continued, concrete, and comradely debate.
Tuğal and Spectre’s editors agree on much, in particular that the current fascist right—the street fighting elements who were at the center of the January 6th putsch—are organizationally and politically divided and incapable of large-scale, coordinated actions. While reports indicate some level of coordination of the ex-police and ex-military cadre of the Oath Keepers, there is no evidence that there was a central “command and control” of the diverse right-wing rioters.
However, that does not mean that the varied groups of thugs had no plan beyond a spectacle. They appear to have believed that the thoroughly corrupt and cowardly political establishment would cave in the face of several hundred thugs and overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. They were sadly mistaken—and are probably drawing lessons from this setback.
There are two more substantial disagreements. Although Tuğal recognizes what he calls “the mainstream associations of the capitalist class” denounced the riot, he points to “influential think tanks and other civic organizations built by rightwing business families” and asks whether the revived fascist movement in the US could “be where it is now without the backing of some major business families.”
This formulation tends to confuse three distinct, though interrelated, political phenomena: the role of outlier capitalists in funding middle class electoral insurgencies like the Tea Party, the capitalist class’ wholesale abandonment of Trump after January 6, and the social basis of the actual fascist gangs.
The Koch Brothers and some oil and tobacco capitalists funded the primarily electoral Tea Party insurgency of the early Obama years. The Kochs and their allies in the capitalist class did fund judicial challenges to the 2020 election results. However, they have always eschewed the likes of the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, and other militia groups and immediately abandoned Trump and those Republicansquestioning Biden’s election within days of the January 6 debacle.
Trump did go from having almost no support among capitalists in 2016 to garnering the majority of financial support from capitalists in the health care, construction, energy and agribusiness sectors in 2020. However, Biden still won nearly 60% of all capitalist contributions. Even the handful of Koch-aligned capitalists who helped mobilize for the January 6 demonstration quickly abandoned ship when the white riot in fur began. Today the “My Pillow” king and Stephen Schwartzman of Blackrock are among the handful of capitalists who remain aligned with Trump.
The most vociferous voice calling for Trump’s immediate removal was not the mainstream Business Roundtable and US Chamber of Commerce (which condemned the right-wing riot), but the arch-reactionary National Association of Manufacturers. Thousands of corporations and individual capitalists have not only condemned the failed putsch and Trump but are threatening to withhold funding from any Republican member of Congress who voted against certifying Biden’s election.
In terms of the street-fighting, right-wing thugs, they draw most of their cadre and financial support from the middle classes and a minority of white workers. News reports, although still anecdotal, indicate that the crowd outside the Capitol and the gangs that invaded the building were made up substantially of small business owners (realtors, contractors, salespeople, self-employed truckers, etc.), low level professionals and managers, and unorganized and semi-employed workers. Their funding, according to the New York Times,came from thousands of small donations gathered through social media from a similar social base. Put simply, no major capitalists and certainly no sector of capital in the US today supports attempts to disrupt the Constitutional order that has served them so well.
Tuğal also accuses us of underestimating the degree of division and disorientation in capitalist state institutions, pointing to what he believes is evidence that elements in the military command may have facilitated the putsch. Clearly, there is more and more evidence that individual cops, active-duty military personnel, and ex-police and military veterans were involved in the riot. Equally clear is that elements of both the Metro DC and Capitol police, and possibly some Republican members of the House, facilitated the incursion. However, the Pentagon’s refusal to allow the arming and mobilization of the National Guard after the request of the DC authorities is an example of incompetence and not collaboration with the erstwhile “coup plotters.” Almost immediately, the entire office corps of the federal military condemned the riot and has been providing arms and personnel to defend the inauguration of Biden.
Tuğal also points out unclear and simplistic formulations in our first statement. We completely agree that the left needs to raise the demand for the prosecution and jailing of the organizers and participants of this attempt to overturn the 2020 election—including Trump, Giuliani, and the Republicans in Congress who facilitated the action.
The challenge will be finding a way for the left to demand that the fascists be brought to justice; organize mass mobilizations to outnumber, overwhelm, and disperse the fascist gangs; and oppose the Biden administration’s plans for a Patriot Act 2.0 against “domestic terrorism.” Put another way, we need to oppose calls by liberals and some on the left for a “people’s front” with the Democratic establishment in support of increased political repression and for a honeymoon period for the Biden-Harris administration.
Finally, the question of the relationship between building mass, disruptive, and often illegal strikes, demonstrations, and occupations on the one hand, and electoral politics on the other is one that requires much deeper debate. Our position would proceed from the following points. First, it is mass movements that are the source of social power and radicalism for working and oppressed people, not elections and legislative maneuvering.
Second, electoral activity can give these movements a political voice and help generalize them across workplaces and communities, but only if the electoral party is rooted in these struggles and prioritizes them over winning elections.
Third, such an electoral party must, at a minimum, be politically and organizationally independent from the Democratic Party—a capitalist party that is incapable of being reformed or used to prepare for a future independent working-class party in the US.
As Richard Seymour points out, the fascist gangs’ current lack of support from capital or state personnel is only one side of the story. The left needs to be vigilant against new attacks—not those waged against the state, but against us. Clearly, they are disoriented by their recent defeat and enraged at Trump for failing to support them to the end. But the social conditions that created them—the twin crises of capitalism and of the left and working-class movement—have not disappeared.
Put another way, the left in the US today is faced with a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, the far right street fighters are in no position to take power and suspend democratic rights or the Constitutional order. On the other, the new fascist groupings are (and will continue to be) increasingly a threat to a revived left—especially one that attempts to reorganize workplaces, build anti-racist struggles, defund the police, defend immigrants and queers, and openly educate and organize for socialism.