A Socialist Analysis: Key Lessons of Failed Insurrection

By Malik Miah and Barry Sheppard

The most important aspect of the January 6 march on the Capitol building, where both the House of Representatives and the Senate meet and where the Congress people have their offices, and the subsequent violent occupation of the building, was its open display of white supremacy.

It was organized and led by the white supremacist president of the United States, Donald Trump.

As more is revealed, those complicit in the failed insurrection include Republican Senators and House members, as well as members of the military and police. This includes the Army Lt General Charles Flynn, the   brother of Michel Flynn, a former National Security Adviser for Trump and jailed for federal charges, pardoned by him.

People protesting the presidential election results inside the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2020 (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

One week later on January 13 the House voted to impeach Trump for inciting an insurrection. Ten Republicans voted with a majority of Democrats. This included the third ranking leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming. Her father was Vice President under George W. Bush and a well-known hawk.

On January 20 Washington, D.C. was transformed into a wartime “Green Zone” with some 25,000-armed police and military units to protect the official event of the inauguration of Biden and Harris.

The January 6 insurrection did not succeed—barely. It is now clear that Trump sought to impose martial law, make himself president-for-life and stay in power. Because he did not succeed does not lessen its significance. The next attempt by a more competent demagogue could be effective.

January 6 should be seen in this context by progressives and the socialist left. Yet there are those on the left in the U.S. and internationally who deny that it was the final attempt by Trump and his supporters to carry out a coup through an insurrection.

Why an insurrection, not a riot

Mumia Abdul Jamal writing from prison correctly said it was an attack by one branch of the federal government against another branch.

Donald Trump as the head of the Executive branch launched an attack on the highest body of the Legislative branch, the U.S. Congress.

The aim of the violent invasion of the Capitol was to disperse Congress to prevent it from making the final count of the vote of the Electoral College. It succeeded in dispersing Congress for many hours.

The Pentagon, which was under the Commander In Chief, Trump, followed his orders to let it happen.

That meant January 6 was an insurrection—not a far-right riot without leadership.

It was an insurrection not against the Executive branch but by it. It wasn’t carried out by the military but by white supremacist civilians. These two facts led some on the left to be blinded to what had happened.

The occupation of the Capitol began during daylight. Many of the invaders led by white supremacist groups carried telephones and other instruments of communication. They had weapons and knew where offices were located. They were one minute from where then Vice President Pence was hiding until a Black officer directed them away. They openly discussed murdering Pence, Speaker of House Nancy Pelosi and others.

Congress was not able to reconvene until 4:30 a.m. the following morning, and ratified that Biden was the president-elect. Ten Republican Senators and 139 House members voted to overturn the election, even after the insurrection. Their vote was an endorsement of Trump’s and the occupiers demand. They were part of the insurrection, having fanned the flames of Trump’s assertions that the election was “stolen” from him.

While many Republican lawmakers came to accept that Biden would be the next president, almost all to this day refuse to admit that the election wasn’t stolen from Trump. 

The purpose of dispersing Congress was to prevent that final approval of the election of Joe Biden as president and that Trump had lost. It was the final attempt by Trump to overthrow the election – to carry out a coup d’état.

Planning for coup began day after election

Trump announced right after the November 3 election that the election was stolen from him.  He asserted he remained the legitimate president, something he has maintained up to the present day. That was a threat to carry out a coup, to overthrow the election of Biden, and keep himself in power.

He tried to do this first by legal means through lawsuits challenging the vote in various states with large Black and Latino populations. He expected that if this legal challenge reached the Supreme Court, the reactionary majority (three he appointed) would side with him and keep him president.

These legal efforts were attempts to overthrow the election. Whether the election was overturned legally or extra-legally by Trump that would have amounted to a coup d’etat. Some on the left say no, that would not be a coup because it would not overthrow the government.

Of course Trump didn’t attempt to overthrow his government, but he did attempt to overthrow pre-emptively the government in-waiting headed by Biden. It was an attempt to overthrow that government.

If that had occurred there would have been mass actions against it in the streets, violence by police and then non-military troops such as the Border Patrol and other units Trump controlled etc., against the protests – in any case big turmoil that the ruling class did not want.

The fact that he lost all these suits, including by the Supreme Court, indicates that a decisive section of the ruling class rejected a coup based on overturning what was widely seen as a legitimate election.

Trump, after his legal defeats, also considered replacing the acting Attorney General with a loyalist who would find a way to overturn the election. 

When all these attempts failed and the Electoral College ratified the vote against him on December 14, Trump called on the Proud Boys (and by implication other white supremacist armed fascist groups) to come to Washington on January 6 to prevent Congress from accepting the Electoral College vote – his final attempt.

Part of the left denying that an insurrection had occurred, was initially down-playing of the violence. That extensive violence had occurred was obvious to anyone watching the insurrection that was broadcast live on TV.

For one thing, violent attacks on police and one death of an officer were swiftly reported, as was one death of an insurrectionist shot by law enforcement during the insurrection.

Another obvious indication of the violence was that Congress members of both houses were whisked away to safety from the screaming mob threatening to kill members of Congress.

Some of the insurrectionists were seen that afternoon with plastic ties used by police as handcuffs – they were going to kidnap some members of Congress.

According to the Washington Post, “Three days before thousands of rioters converged on the U.S. Capitol, an internal Capitol Police intelligence report warned of a violent scenario in which ‘Congress itself’ could be the target of angry supporters of President Trump on January 6, laying out a stark alert that deepens questions about the security failures that day.

“In a 12-page report on January 3, the intelligence unit of the congressional police force described how thousands of enraged protesters, egged on by Trump and flanked by white supremacists and extreme militia groups, were likely to stream into Washington armed for battle.

“This time, the focus of their ire would be members of Congress, the report said.”

It continued:

“The report said organizers were urging Trump supporters to come armed with guns and to bring specialized combat gear — including gas masks and military-style bulletproof vests called ‘plate carriers’ — to Washington on January 6.

“The memo concluded that January 6 was shaping up to potentially be a perfect storm of danger because of the size of the expected crowds, the urgency of the group’s mission, the call for demonstrators to bring lethal weapons, the location of the two largest protests in proximity to the Capitol grounds and the fact that both have been promoted by President Trump himself.

“The Stop the Steal protest in particular does not have a permit, but several high-profile speakers, including Members of Congress are expected to speak at the event,” the document stated. “This combined with Stop the Steal’s propensity to attract white supremacists, militia members and others who actively promote violence, may lead to a significantly dangerous situation for law enforcement and the general public alike.”

Yet nothing was done by the executive branch to stop them.

Police and insurrectionists links

Another thing missed by the coup deniers was the obvious collaboration by police seen fraternizing with the insurrectionists as well as the fact that the rioters had free rein of the Capitol for hours with no federal response.

The invaders did not fear arrest or resistance from the police. They knew the military would not intervene. It was the D.C.  police who finally came in and escorted the rioters from the Capital without handcuffs or names taken.

The insurrection deniers downplayed or even ignored the display of white supremacy by the insurrectionists inside the Capital and outside among the tens of thousands of their supporters.

From the beginning of the gathering of the pro-Trump crowd in front of the White House, through the march on the Capitol initiated by Trump, to the mobilization in front of the Capitol and those within, the Boogaloog Bios, the Proud Boys, the “three-percenters” and other fascist white supremacists proudly displayed their flags and other insignias and were welcomed by the crowd and were part and parcel of it.

Inside the Capitol, these white supremacist groups were well-organized and cooperated, and led their followers to certain targets. Some insurrection deniers claimed the mob was disorganized and without leadership, indicating they didn’t pay attention to what was being televised.

By ignoring or downplaying the white supremacist character of the insurrectionists, the coup deniers miss the most important lesson of January 6. That was that open white supremacy is growing and has a big following among Trump’s supporters. These coup deniers run counter to what African American leaders are saying.

 African American analysts and leaders explain the obvious: if the insurrectionists were African Americans seeking to end police violence and racism the military and police would have been mobilized and responded with deadly force. If Blacks and allies had entered the capitol building, they would have been massacred.

The history of the U.S, is one of racist legal and extralegal violence against peaceful Black demonstrators as was seen over the summer. The ideology of the ruling class is steeped in white supremacy.

Whites at the capital did not fear the police. They were there at the call from Trump and his supporters in Congress, the military and armed white militias.

These fascist groups were given cover by Trump, and they grew under him. They are likely to continue to grow, as they revel in their success in dispersing Congress, at least for ten hours or so, and causing a massive deployment of armed forces around Washington and the states’ Capitols for the inauguration of Biden.

Pivot away from insurrection to Biden?

One of the coup deniers said that socialists should “pivot” away from what the insurrection revealed to concentrate on criticizing and mobilizing against Biden.

She ignored the white supremacist aspect of the political situation in the U.S. today, and raised only things like Biden’s opposition to Medicare for all, etc.

One key thing socialists must do is attack Biden’s proposal to “work with” the white supremacists and racists in Congress “to get things done.”

We also have to attack his support of mass incarceration of Black and Brown people and the fake “war on drugs” which is the basis of the new form of the systematic, institutionalized racism and national oppression of Blacks, the “New Jim Crow” as explained by Michelle Alexander.

No capitalist party politician raises opposition to the “war on drugs” and all its laws and how they were focused on Blacks and Latinos, as well as the Supreme Court’s justification for all this.

Of course, we will criticize and mobilize against all the other anti-working class, anti-Black, and imperialist things Biden will do – he is after all the new head of the U.S. capitalist, imperialist state.

Another thing some of the deniers of what happened on January 6 say is that we are all done with Trump. “Trump is gone”, one said. It is an illusion to believe that the election of Biden dispensed with Trumpism.

Among other things that Trump represented was white supremacy and a Bonapartist drive toward autocracy. His hard supporters support both, and they have not gone away. In fact, they are enraged that Trump is not still president.

Different polls show that 70-80 percent of Republicans still believe the election was stolen from Trump. From that we can conclude that the same percentage of Trump voters, well over 50 million, are his hard supporters. They still represent the Republican base, which is why most Republican politicians won’t say that there was not widespread fraud in the election of Biden.

In a video recording, one of Trump’s last comments, he said that the “movement we built” is here to stay. He added later that “Ill be back in some form.”

No matter what happens to Trump as an individual, he will be part of the U.S. political scene one way or another in the period ahead.

One thing we must fight that Biden has proposed is new “domestic terrorism” laws. Ostensibly these would be against white supremacist violence. But they will not be worded that way, and will caste a wide net of possible “domestic terrorists”.

History has shown that all laws by capitalist governments that seem at first to be aimed at the right are more often used against the left, socialists and communists, Black movements, militant unionists, Muslims and so forth.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has warned against Biden’s proposed “domestic terrorism” laws.

“We cannot find our solutions in systems that ultimately harm us, particularly Black and Brown people,” said Manar Waheed, senior legislative and advocacy counsel at the ACLU.

She also said that “as a Muslim” she knew how these laws would be used.

We also should not think we’ve found an answer to white supremacism by allowing corporations like Twitter and Facebook to be the censor of what we write.

The far right and its ideology of racism and white supremacy must be smashed, and the only way to do that is by mass action.  

Hell’s Kitchen rapper Marlon Craft’s “State of the Union” was written before the January 6 insurrection and released on January 19. The key lyrics are a call to act:

And to defeat white supremacy, you gotta first want to defeat white supremacy
I don’t think most of us really do
How many white mirror convos [conversations]  really bearing fruit?
The only hope is that this moment in history
Looks the same in both timelines of what the end could be
Whether this the infection rising up and we fight and quell, or if it outscrapes us, and humanity just dies and fails
It was always gon’ get worse ‘fore it got better
Racism was never gon’ go quietly to the night
It never will but I do believe that it along with greed, can make it’s way out of our institutions so that all are free one day
I ain’t say that it will, but today looks like today
In both versions of the story
So gon’ grab you a quill
It depends what we do, there’s only one person the future starts and ends with
It’s you.

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