Coup, insurrection, or none of the above?

What’s the difference between an ‘insurrection” and a choreographed test run?


Faust: Die ich rief, die Geister, / Werd’ ich nun nicht los.“ [“Those I called – the ghosts, I won’t get rid of them now”. [1]

Having called up Trump, both many capitalists and sections of the Republican Party wish to be rid of him, but his ‘spirit’ or ‘ghost’ will remain. We dissect the events of January 6th on the steps of the Capitol – the nerve center enacting the ruling class edicts in the United States. Not merely a ‘riot’ – yet not an ‘insurrection’.

1. The ‘Event’ of January 6 2020 in Washington DC

Within the first week of 2021 – yesterday on January 6th, came the Trumpite riot in the center of the US Government. The rioters stormed the Capitol Building that houses the US Senate and the Congress. They had been urged onwards by Trump himself, under the false pretext of preventing ‘the theft of the elections’. Having been rebuffed by the courts – even those that Trump had stacked with pro-Republican judges – he has been nursing a wounded ambition and pride.

This event took place even as Trump’s own Vice-President Mike Pence presided over Congress . The Vice-President was there in a purely formal role, doing the final tally of the votes in front of Congress – that would finally declare Joe Biden as the in-coming President elect for the term starting on January 20th 2021. The event stopped the tally, and members of Congress were taken into safe hiding places from which it was only safe to emerge by 8:00 pm that night – when they re-convened. This is what happened:

“On Wednesday afternoon, a thin line of U.S. Capitol Police, with only a few riot shields between them and a knot of angry protesters, engaged in hand-to-hand combat with rioters on the steps of the West Front. They struggled with a flimsy set of barricades as a mob in helmets and bulletproof vests pushed its way toward the Capitol entrance. Videos showed officers stepping aside, and sometimes taking selfies, as if to usher Trump’s supporters into the building they were supposed to guard.” [2]

This was an extraordinary event. What was it though? Was it an ‘insurrection’ – as many of the national and international press have labeled it?

2. What should we call this storming of the Capitol?

To me the word insurrection implies a force of mass organisation and coherence. According to Frederick Engels, it is an ‘art’ with certain ‘rules’, one element of which is surprise:

“Insurrection is an art quite as much as war or any other, and subject to certain rules of proceeding… never play with insurrection unless you are fully prepared to face the consequences of your play. Insurrection is a calculus with very indefinite magnitudes, the value of which may change every day; the forces opposed to you have all the advantage of organization, discipline, and habitual authority: unless you bring strong odds against them you are defeated and ruined. Secondly, the insurrectionary career once entered upon, act with the greatest determination, and on the offensive. The defensive is the death of every armed rising; it is lost before it measures itself with its enemies. Surprise your antagonists…” [3]

Instead of an insurrection, what we saw was far more like a ‘playing with insurrection’. There are some further very strange elements to it. Most obviously, it is extremely difficult to believe that anyone could have been ‘surprised’ by this ‘event’. It had been announced quite loudly ahead of events in the social media of the most extreme Trumpites:

“The invasion of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday was stoked in plain sight. For weeks, the far-right supporters of President Donald Trump railed on social media that the election had been stolen. They openly discussed the idea of violent protest on the day Congress met to certify the result.

“We came up with the idea to occupy just outside the CAPITOL on Jan 6th,” leaders of the Stop the Steal movement wrote on Dec. 23. They called their Wednesday demonstration the Wild Protest, a name taken from a tweet by Trump that encouraged his supporters to take their grievances to the streets of Washington. “Will be wild,” the president tweeted.”

On Dec. 12, a poster on the website urged violence if senators made official the victory of President-elect Joe Biden. “If this does not change, then I advocate, Revolution and adherence to the rules of war,” wrote someone identifying themselves as I3DI. “I say, take the hill or die trying.” Wrote another person: “It’s already apparent that literally millions of Americans are on the verge of activating their Second Amendment duty to defeat tyranny and save the republic.” The easily overpowered police force guarding the Capitol on Wednesday posed a stark contrast to the tactics deployed by local police during this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. Then, the city felt besieged by law enforcement.” [4]

Many more citations that confirm prior announcements of the ‘event’ could be referenced. But perhaps the most thorough examination is by Bellingcat. The journalist Robert Evans took on the mental distress of going through the social media feeds of the near-fascist elements in Trump’s mob. [5] The neo-Nazism and foreplanning pours out.

3. How does the ruling class normally protect itself from dissent?

So not an insurrection then. Let us call it a mob-riot.

Is there anything beyond that however? What about the deliberate neglect, and lack of preparation consistent with prior patterns of police, National Guard or armed forces behavior? I think anyone watching the reactions of the state to the black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and street actors will instantly see the difference. For BLM activists, nothing but almost instant carefully organised, violent repression. In those circumstances the police seem exceptionally well-organised, for example:

“Black activists noted that when they have planned protests, the police have rarely seemed ill prepared. This week, for instance, National Guard troops descended on Kenosha, Wis., and metal barricades were erected around that city’s courthouse the day before a prosecutor announced that no charges would be filed against an officer who shot a man, Jacob Blake, multiple times in the back last summer.” [6]

Yesterday the pictures of a nonchalant police were an astounding contrast. Leave aside the above-mentioned posing for selfies, barriers were actually opened for the mob. There were about 3,000 people swarming all over the Capitol after the police enabled their access to the Capitol steps. Even when there are not crowds like this, the area is usually firmly locked down. The activists of the community have not been slow to point this out. Hear the activist Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. (“who heads the Hip Hop Caucus, a civil and human rights group“), who:

“called the sight of the rioters being led out of the Capitol seemingly without repercussions “heartbreaking.” Mr. Yearwood has a long history of protest on a range of issues and has been arrested, and even beaten, as a result. “We know we’re going to go through that punishment” as part of fighting for cleaner energy, for environmental justice, for a better world, he said. “Up until yesterday, I thought, ‘This is how it’s done. You stop business, you’re going to be arrested, you’re going to be treated this way,” he said. “Yesterday changed all that,” he said. Some rioters carried weapons, injured police and committed acts of vandalism, and “certain police allowed them to walk away.” [7]

Yearwood points out that the lessons of the ‘event’ could be interpreted as a need to abandon the approach of Martin Luther King, and that could lead to violence:

“The comparatively lenient response to the overwhelmingly white protesters on Wednesday, he said, “was the epitome of white supremacy,” and a dangerous precedent for the future of protest in the United States. He said he feared that in the future, young activists would tell him when he advised a nonviolent path that “all the peace stuff you talk about, Rev and Bill, that doesn’t work.” “And that leads to destruction,” he said.”

It should be acknowledged that the President elect of the USA had to agree, and said this:

“President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. made a similar observation on Thursday. “No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn’t have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol,” he said. “We all know that’s true, and it is unacceptable. Totally unacceptable.”

It took over 3 hours before there was any significant police force on the steps of the Capitol, and before the National Guard were involved. Why?

4. What has been the Reaction of the Powers That Be?

Even as events unfolded, the actions of President Trump served to amplify them – even saying mildly “go home”, and emphasising that “we love you” and “I understand you” and again reiterating that “the election was stolen”. Since he was the instigator-in-chief of the riot, none of this is a surprise. But what about the real power brokers? The most important in my view are the industrialists. What did they have to say?

As the ‘event’ was unfolding, The National Association of Manufacturers weighed in with condemnation so quickly, and called for Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment – which disempowers the President and effectively removes him from office. [8] That association represents over 14,000 companies includign some big ones like Toyota and ExxonMobil. [9] But after having played footsie with the Trump government, even after the Charlottsville racist riot, they are hypocritical. Even The New York Times has to note that their position is “hollow”:

“The National Association of Manufacturers called on Vice President Mike Pence to consider invoking the 25th Amendment of the Constitution and remove Mr. Trump from office. Many executives — including Mr. Cook of Apple, Mr. Dimon of JPMorgan and Mr. Schwarzman — denounced the violence, lamented the state of the country and called for accountability. But after four years of much talk but little action, their words rang hollow.” [10]

Yet what about the Republican Party? They are still riven – even after the events, a significant section of the party still voted in the Pence tally proceedings of Congress, to uphold objections to the vote in Pennsylvania:

“Many Republicans joined him in trying to reject the will of the voters — almost two-thirds of House Republicans voted against accepting Pennsylvania’s electors after the Trumpist riot.” [11]

Yet other various significant personages of the Republican Party – including former President Bush, Mitt Romney (Senator for Utah and former Republican candidate for the Presidency) – have called to accept the election finally. Even (for goodness’ sake) Lindsey Graham (Republican Senator for South Carolina), who has served as a mouthpiece for Trump. This also applies to the Republican Senate Majority Leader from Kentucky Mitch McConnell, though he is soon to become the Minority Leader when the new Democrats from Georgia are seated in the Congress.

5. How can we explain this non-preparation – this ever-so kind police behaviour?

There would seem to be at least a couple of very uncomfortable questions to ask. Surely it must be asked: ‘How can there have been such an extraordinary lapse before there was any significant police-military presence?’ And this naturally will lead to the query: ‘Does it all seem pretty choreographed?“ These may be considered very cynical and no doubt will be labelled as ‘conspiracist’ – but I do not think they can be so easily discounted.

I have addressed the split in the ruling class between the big oil and finance sections before. [12] Many sources will agree that the ruling class had brought forward the Trumpites. [13] However, Trump has now done what he was brought in for: he has performed some of his key preset tasks by ramming through laws enabling the environmental destruction to continue, and cutting taxes for the ruling class.

But all this comes at a potential cost. The cost of Trump to the ruling class, the opening and of fascism to the quasi-mainstream, has already provoked a mass reaction, for example, from the Black Lives Matter movement. It is all just too risky for the ruling class to warrant an open class conflagration if it can be avoided right now. There is enough ‘room’ in the Democratic party still – even now – to play to act as a façade for the ruling class.This may seen astonishing in the light of its repeated betrayals of the working class, but this remains true. The time for open fascism has not yet come. It may still – but it is not quite there yet.

In the meantime, the Republican Party has become riven down to the base. The problem for both the Republicans and the manufacturers was that articulated by the words of Goethe above: They had raised the spirit of Trump – and now could not easily get rid of him. But then they could not get rid of him without some form of public rejection of him. The Republican party is split – but still cowers from confronting Trump – and his base that he has perhaps not created – but certainly fed and nourished – remains strong.

The most charitable observers will simply say that the events were simply the result of ‘poor preparation’ and ‘incompetence’.

But I think that I am in fact even more charitable to the ruling class! In that I think that they are far from incompetent, and that they have a lot more brains than given credit for. They are very cunning and know how to choreograph a thing or two. At the very least, there were probably a set of ‘stand-down’ commands from high echelons of power. They knew the Trump forces would discredit themselves. This would help them re-build the Republican Party to a more “respectable” front for oil, gas and related industrialists. They have been able to somehow ‘unmask’ the reality of the Trumpite threat. It was of course a threat that they, as Trump’s enablers had themselves fostered throughout. We need only to think in particular of Senator Mitch McConnell. Scenes from the Ronald Reagan National Airport emerged tonight as Lindsey Graham left Washington. He of course is another upstanding citizen of Trumpland, but one who finally made a public call to recognise Biden’s electoral victory on the floor of the Senate after the riots. He was attacked at the airport by Trumpites screaming ‘traitor!” These Trumpites are hardly being unfair in their charge! [14]

At the time of writing events are quickly unfolding towards a possible attempt at impeaching Trump again. We may not know the real story of the riot until much later in history – but it has unleashed a chain of events which wee shall closely follow. But until there is a real, organized mass movement of working people in the United States, we can expect nothing more than continued choreography.



1 Goethe ‘Der Zuaberlehrling’; 1815; in ‘Johan W.Goethe Samtichle Gedichte’; Frankfurt 2007; p. 121.

2 Logan Jaffe, Lydia DePillis, Isaac Arnsdorf and J. David McSwane, Capitol Rioters Planned for Weeks in Plain Sight. The Police Weren’t Ready. Insurrectionists made no effort to hide their intentions, but law enforcement protecting Congress was caught flat-footed; Jan. 7; Publico

3 Friedrich Engels, Revolution and Counter- Revolution in Germany XVII. Insurrection, September 18, 1852. MECW Volume 11, p. 3-91

4 Jaffe, DePillis, Arndsdorf and McSwane op. cit.

5 Robert Evans, How the Insurgent and MAGA Right are Being Welded Together on the Streets of Washington D.C. January 5, 2021

6 John Eligon, ‘Racial Double Standard of Capitol Police Draws Outcry, New York Times, Jan. 7, 2021

7 John Schwartz, ‘Capitol Rioters Walked Away. Climate Protesters Saw a Double Standard’; New York Times January 7, 2021,


9 Yves Smith ,MAGA Cosplayers Seize Capitol While Cops Flounder January 7, 2021

10 David Gelles, After Riot, Business Leaders Reckon With Their Support for Trump New York Times, Jan. 7, 2021

11 Paul Krugman, Opinion: Appeasement Got Us Where We Are. It’s time to stand up to the fascists among us, January 7th New York Times;

12 Hari Kumar, More Signs of Establishment Moves against Trump Berlin Blog; Oct 16, 2020

13 What is Behind Trump – Is There Method Behind His Madness? Finance Capital and Industrial Capital – An Evolutionary History, August 18, 2019

14 Breaking News CNN.