Almost a year to the day after the assault on the US Capitol Building by an insurgent right-wing Trump-supporting mob, prospects for the continuation of US democracy – such as it is – after the Biden administration are looking bleak in the extreme.
Not only have the main instigators of the attempted coup not been punished (in spite of overwhelming evidence pointing towards the deliberate nature of the act) but a majority of the Republican party remain convinced that the 2021 election was stolen and that the current government is illegitimate.
The Republican response to the lost election was to double down on the myth of the Big Steal, and to repudiate the validity of the electoral process. Dissenters within the ranks have been purged and electoral officials who carried out their duty in the last elections (to the displeasure of the Trump faction) have been replaced across the country by Trump loyalists. This sets the scene for a very different outcome in the next election.
In its purging of moderate elements the Trump Republicans fully embraced an anti-democratic, insurgent agenda. This sees violent resistance against any other outcome than a Trump win as being fully acceptable. The result is a dangerous alliance between ultra-conservative, Christian fundamentalist and openly fascist elements . It represents a grave and growing danger to women, people of colour, the immigrant and LGBTQI communities and the working class in general.
The Trump agenda is openly billed as the “revenge tour”. From a European perspective at least – the historical parallels to periods preceding the fascist coups in 20th-century Germany and Spain are too stark to ignore.
How should the Left respond to the Trump agenda?
So what should the response of progressive and democratic forces be in the face of a gerrymandered Trump win in 2025? Or the renewed threat of a coup in the event that the electoral process holds up and the Republicans lose once again? To put it another way: with the Republicans now so openly manipulating the democratic process, how can a Republican win be taken at face value?
By way of historical analogy, it is worth comparing the responses of the Spanish and German labour movements in the face of a fascist takeover. The leaders of German Social Democracy acquiesced in the electoral victory of the Nazis in 1932, only to find themselves banned, arrested and sent to concentration camps in the weeks and months that followed. That fact surely counts as one of history’s greatest failures of judgement.
By contrast, in 1936 Spanish workers poured onto the streets on hearing the news of Franco’s putsch, confronting insurgent troops and fascist militia. They went on to implement bold social reforms in the areas under democratic control in the civil war that followed.
And although there’s a lot of talk right now in the US media about the threat of civil war, perhaps it’s the prospect of a peaceful handover of power to a nakedly anti-democratic Republican party that is more worrying.
It was certainly a peaceful transition to a fascist government that spelt the end of the German Weimar Republic, and led to the smashing of the labour movement, persecution of minorities, war, genocide, Holocaust and the deaths of up to 75 million people in World War II.
The gravity of the situation in the USA is beyond doubt. President Biden has described it as “a dagger at the throat of democracy”. Former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich recently called for a “war to save American democracy”. The Democrats are making efforts to counter Republican gerrymandering by enacting voting reform at federal level. However it would be a mistake to count on mere parliamentary manoevers as an effective strategy against a nascent, broad-based and militant fascist movement.
The role of the Democrats
In the fight against fascism, illusions in the class interests of the Democratic Party are no substitute for the self-activity – including self-defence – of the working class and the oppressed. As Democratic senator Bernie Sanders put it recently: “It is no great secret that the Republican party is winning more and more support from working people… It’s not because the Republican party has anything to say to them. It’s because in too many ways the Democratic party has turned its back on the working class.”
In this respect, Sanders is right. The response of the working class and allied progressive forces cannot be subordinated to the inherently conservative agenda of the Democratic Party nor to the supine position of the trade union leadership. In contrast it must be an independent response, based in workplace, union and community organizing. It must be committed to mutual self-defence in the face of any form of fascist aggression, whether at neighbourhood, city, state or national level.
The coming mid-term elections in 2022 and the presidential election 2024 mark key threats to existing democratic and civil rights gains in the United States. Progressive forces and democracy defenders should use the current breathing space to mobilise, make their presence felt and create a genuine united front against the fascist threat. In spite of all the bluster and the current hype around the Trumpist insurgency, in overall terms the extreme white-power right are still a minority.
Progressive change is possible
Rebecca Solnit argued in the Guardian
“While the right has become far more extreme and has its tens of millions of true believers, it is morphing into a minority sect. This has prompted their desperate scramble to overturn free and fair elections and other democratic processes. White Christians, who were 80% of the population in 1976, are now 44%. Mixed-race and non-white people are rapidly becoming the majority. On issues such as climate, people of colour are far more progressive; if we can make it through the huge backlash of the present moment, the possibilities are dazzling.”
The United States has a rich heritage of militancy for progressive causes and movements. Its mass struggles for justice have been inspirational to peoples around the world. America is not just the country of slavery, Jim Crow and the KKK. It is the country of rebellion and resistance both militant and peaceful, of MLK and BLM, the Women’s March on Washington and Christopher Street, of Blair Mountain and the West Coast Waterfront Strike.
If white-power Trumpist Republicans return to power unopposed in 2024, it will surely mean the end of the universal franchise in the USA, the end of American democracy for at least a generation. It will mean incarceration and terror for thousands, if not millions.
Fascism is not something that can be solved by appeasement. It can only be opposed by mass mobilisation and mass resistance.
So at this historical juncture, what’s it to be, America? What path will you take: Germany ‘32, or Spain ‘36?