The last week has brought some stunning new developments to our political terrain. They didn’t appear out of nowhere, and have been decades (if not centuries) in the making, but they’re still new, complex developments.
Against all the odds, the Democrats somehow won both special elections for the Senate in Georgia – which now means that Vice President Kamala Harris holds a tie-breaking vote in favor of Democratic control of the Senate.
Celebrations were extremely short-lived though, as the very next day there was an insurrection at the Capitol with a mob of organized, armed white nationalists and small business owners that had spent too long on QAnon forums. Five people died, including a member of the Capitol Police, and there were multiple coordinated actions at state capitals reinforcing the message of “Stop The Steal” – which referred to the certification of electoral college results happening as the action went down on the Capitol steps and spilled into the halls of Congress.
Many are debating online whether this was an organized coup, or a putsch, or simply a disorganized mob carrying out the directives of the personality holding together their cult. I think the better way to investigate this is to look at the material social forces that came together and how we will out-organize them, regardless of the name. And there are many contradictions.
In the mob at the Capitol, we saw what looked like ‘ordinary people’ being helped down the Capitol steps by riot cops with shields. We also saw insurrectionists fully armed and dressed in tactical gear that looked extremely professional, not just people cosplaying revolution. There were flex cuffs and other pieces of gear that made it clear some people came fully expecting to breach the Capitol and take hostages.
This brings up a larger contradiction that was playing out in real time on Wednesday and in the fall out afterwards. Was this action a consolidation of the Right? What does this mean for the Republican Party, as the institutional actor now thrust into the minority when it comes to federal policy-making?
Many on the left, including prominent voices like Mike Davis, analyzed this as a fundamental split within the (already barely coherent) GOP coalition. We will probably now see the social forces of the extreme right, the proto-fascists masquerading as economic populists, consolidate even further and begin to operate as a ‘de facto third party,’ as Davis says, while the ruling class elites that have always driven the underlying politics of the GOP will now put their best foot forward. I don’t think that’s wrong, but it’s complicated by the fact that 147 GOP lawmakers – people with real power – went along with the attempt to decertify the results.
It’s also complicated by the facts on the ground of the actions. The action at the Capitol was disorganized, but it happened in explicit coordination with actions across the country. It was part of an ongoing escalation plan that, in theory, could continue to escalate until Inauguration Day unless the FBI successfully arrests the ringleaders of OathKeepers, QAnon, and the other peripheral organizations driving the organized turnout of these actions.
Some of those institutional actors in the GOP also present a contradiction, one more clearly expressed by the misguided calls to ‘not write off all the working class people led astray by Trump’. Namely: people are hurting right now from decades of neoliberal policies, many of which were imposed under full Democratic control (like free trade and mass incarceration). Now, we’re seeing the rise of class politics like Bernie Sanders’ attempted filibuster on the defense bill to ameliorate people’s pain – and in order to do that, there have already been tactical alliances with people like Josh Hawley in order to force the door open. So the contradiction becomes: how to smash the disgusting politics of frauds like Hawley, who openly encouraged the Stop the Steal charade (driven by small business owners and petit bourgeois racists) while also positioning himself as a hero of the working class?
One option is to demand their ouster from public discourse, through whatever channels possible. We saw this with Cori Bush’s proposed resolution, introduced yesterday in the House, to investigate and expel the Congresspeople involved with inciting this action. We also saw another option for this too, when Twitter took action to permanently suspend the accounts of Trump and thousands of other MAGA activists. The politics of these actions are complicated and very different from each other. In my opinion, we should focus more on tactics that build our power and weaken the institutional power of the GOP, rather than uncritically celebrating moves like Twitter suspensions that are already being used against leftists. It is true, though, that Trump’s account was providing a uniquely large platform to cohere a message for his base on the Right, and that it was largely due to the pressure of workers at Twitter to apply the terms of service in an equitable fashion that Trump was finally de-platformed. Even still, it’s a contradiction.
And that brings us to the last contradiction: what is to be done in response? We have seen DSA, the Working Families Party, Sunrise Movement – the stalwart Left cohort – all respond. We’ve also seen some not so usual suspects condemn last Wednesday’s events, from the North American Building Trades Union to the National Association of Manufacturers to Axe Body Spray. Some of those responses are leaning in to building momentum for the political responses being put forward by Bush (as well as Ilhan Omar and others’ charge forward on bringing articles of impeachment), while others, like in labor, are using their leverage in the workplace to create a response (like the Flight Attendants Union organizing to put insurrectionists on a no-fly list). We’ve seen some street actions (like 2 in New York City already as well as in smaller urban places like Madison), and will certainly see more in the lead up to Inauguration (like on MLK Day, a longstanding important date for left mobilization).
It remains to be seen whether Democrats will actually use this opportunity to successfully demand accountability from the forces within (and outside) the GOP that have been marching towards this moment for decades, if not centuries. Our task, as socialists, is to continue building organization, to identify points to win victories for the working class, and to create decision points for people between continued alliance with the forces of white supremacy and organized capital that are allowing 4000 people a day to die, or a different path rooted in solidarity. The contradictions are fierce, and the solutions will not be easy. But together, we can build a better world. That’s what was reinforced to me in the events of the last week.