1. A Shared Irrationality
At a certain point, and we’re well beyond that now, the difference between malevolence and incompetence fades away, dissolves. Each and both become mechanisms for the auto-devaluation– the liquidation of historical structures, processes, institutions–of capital.
The structures, institutions, processes, whether politically established as government, or economically established as rules of and for exchange, exist as a sort of shared rationality, a mediation of exclusionary interests and that’s the closest the bourgeoisie ever come to “reason,” to reality. And it costs.
The bourgeoisie, in the attempt to reduce that cost, attack that shared rationality by every means possible. They create and embrace a “science” of economics that degenerates into philosophical abstractions of “commercial efficiency,” “entrepreneurial liberty,” “market freedom and self-regulation” that is not only out-of-phase with the functioning of capitalist commerce, of entrepreneurial vandalism, of market irrationality, but provides cover for continuous assaults on the general social welfare.
Barely tolerated during the best of times, the institutions representing that “shared rationality” weaken, dissolve, disintegrate as private property has to relieve itself of the problems that commodity production has created.
“Shared rationality” gets dumped, like milk gets dumped into the streets by farmers when the markets won’t provide an adequate return, only these aren’t farmers and it isn’t milk pooling on the asphalt.
Malevolence and incompetence find themselves perfectly synchronous in such an environment. Kids in cages, and seniors on ventilators pretty much sum up everything we need to know about the conditions of capital.
2. Put Your Right Foot In, Pull Your Left Foot Out
Having failed to convince a single court, a single state legislature, a single attorney general to invalidate the results of the 2020 national election, the Big Orange and his fellow travelers created a blizzard of anti-facts to convince the graduates and drop-outs of the Tea Party and the NRA, that the election had been stolen, that it was all a scam, and that what America needed now was a “revolution.”
The appropriation, actually the confiscation from the “left,” of the terms, the symbols of “revolution” by the right, the alt-right, and the alt-ultra-right is well established in the practice of US politics. Reagan, for example, led a “revolution,” and it included both a managerial revolution and the classification of ketchup as a vegetable for school lunches by his Office of Management and Budget.
For Marx and Engels, revolution is the locomotive of history, but for our Reagan Republicans, revolution was stealing the children’s lunch money.
The practice of politics is the dissemination of confusion.
The Reagan revolution included also the neo-liberal revolution in economics where Friedman, Kemp, and Laffler danced around the Federal Reserve with Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan, and Augusto Pinochet, making the US safe for Rupert Murdoch.
In 2010, the Koch Brothers, with money, and petrochemicals to burn, backed and branded another “revolutionary” eruption as the Tea Party, originally known as Tea-Baggers until somebody pointed out what that term actually meant.
The Tea Bag Party appeared to express the fierce resentment of landlords and bond traders with the government’s meager attempt to provide some relief from mortgage foreclosure. In actuality, it expressed the fierce resentment of landlords, bond traders, that a real African-American was making a meager attempt to provide some relief during mortgage foreclosures.
Trump added the clench fist, while his staff added the three finger signs, the 88s, and the other symbols of reaction disguised as rebellion.
3. The Reactionary as Rebel
This mis-identification of reaction with revolution has historical roots in the profound mistrust of the cities by the plantation based aristocracy of the US founders. Jefferson, the slaveholder, with his fantasy of agrarian democracy where small agrarian property holders sustained themselves independent of and as a counterweight to urban centers, is the most well-known of these founding reactionaries disguised as revolutionaries. In that fantasy was a certain desperation, namely that small, independent property and small independent producers would translate into a restraint on the political power of concentrated, collective labor and laborers, and thus provide a buffer, a mediation again, against both the threats to and the threats of the slave system.
That this dispersed utopia of rural producers, adjacent to and circumscribed by the plantation system, would inevitably come into conflict with that system escaped Jefferson’s notice.
The distrust of urban growth, urban centers, urban populations, with property founded on non-landed, and social labor has been preserved in the institutions of the US republic. The bi-cameral legislature, the Electoral College were not only tools for protecting the political power of the slave states, these were also weapons against the future power of the cities.
The fusion of the “rebel” and the “reactionary” is a feature common to populist movements. In the US, the con-fusion of the two is so acute that the post-Civil War ex-Confederate landowners, big and small, are characterized as heroic in their struggles against the attempted reorganization of plantation economy the during Reconstruction.
Artisan yes, laborer no. Petit-bourgeois even better, workers even worse.
4. Countryside versus the Cities
The “strategy” of the Republican Party has been to play that disproportion of political power between countryside and city for all it was worth.
The imbalance memorialized by the founding fathers was reproduced throughout the union in fifty little state constitutions where the rural areas were over-weighted. Republicans had an advantage on the state level, and worked to leverage the advantage, by hook and by crook.
Gerrymander and voter suppression were used to surround and contain the cities.
“Read Mao,” said Reince Priebus to the conventions, conferences, caucuses of rebel reactionaries. “Study Mao On Peoples War. Learn from Mao. The countryside surrounds the cities.”
The Democrats countered the imbalance by mobilizing African-American voters, mobilizing African-American women voters, overwhelming voter suppression with sustained efforts at registration, countering gerrymanders with the sheer numbers of votes clustered in the cities.
The cities won.
Despite the dozens of lawsuits, despite the threats, insults, promises, and of course lies, Trump was between the proverbial rock and the proverbial hard place– the hard place being bankruptcy where he had been before, the rock being prison where he had not yet been.
With the election already certified by the states, Trump had to do more than simply lie, threaten, and insult.
He had to intimidate, terrorize the legislative branch of the United States.
The Trump regime called its supporters to Washington, DC to resist, interrupt, and prevent the recording of the electoral votes by a joint session of Congress. The pretense was patriotism; the costume was revolution; the content was reaction and regression.
The President, the President’s sons, the President’s lawyer, the President’s congressmen provided the rhetoric, the incitement to sedition. The mob of MAGA adherents, and those who wanted to take advantage of the moment to MAGA (as in Make America Germany Again) paraded, rambled, straggled down Pennsylvania Avenue to launch their attack on the Capitol.
It wasn’t a coup. It might have been an attempt at what is known in Spanish as the “autogolpe,” if the auto-golper , Trump, had the slightest clue of what he was supposed to do to make that happen. But he didn’t. Believing in nothing so much as he believes in air-time, Trump thought all he had do was show up and the rest would be taken care of by script-writers, make-up artists, boom operators, and executive producers.
The autogolpe, where the “executive” dissolves the legislature, suspends whatever passes for due process, declares martial law, has a long and ignoble history in Europe (Louis-Napoleon) Latin America (Fujimori) Asia (Marcos), and the former Soviet “bloc” (Jaruzelski, Yeltsin). It takes a certain amount of planning.
The lack of response from the DHS and/or the DOD to the request of the Congress for troops, and the requests of the governors of Maryland and Virginia to provide those troops was equal parts inertia and deliberation; equal measures of incompetence and malevolence, but the successful autogolpe requires a better, or worse, match to its malevolence.
In 2016 Trump’s apparent popularity among white workers was attributed to the accumulated grievances of the white working class; the “forgotten” workers; the “ignored” fraction of the class left behind more than less since 1979; the fraction “de-classed” in the downsizing of industry; in the steady decline of manufacturing populations; in the export of production and entire factories to industrial zones of Asia and Latin America; by the successively weaker recoveries from the successive recessions; and by this weakest recovery from the greatest contraction since WW2. Racism, it was argued, couldn’t be a major factor because, after all, districts and counties that had voted in favor of Obama in 2008 and 2012, turned to Trump in 2016.
There are certain problems with that explanation– one problem being that if the 2016 vote was a “protest” vote against the flight of capital, the loss jobs in industry, the export of production to the maquiladoras of the world, why hadn’t black workers made the same turn? Had that section of the working class lost fewer jobs, suffered less than the white workers? Of course not.
The second problem was that there hade been a consistent rise in the level of Republican voting by white workers since 1992, with 2008 being the outlier year, the year when George W. Bush had, as Chris Rock put it, “made it impossible for a white man to be elected present.” However the shift toward Republicans resumed in 2012, with the rate of increase away from the Democrats marking a higher percentage in 2012 than in 2016.
No matter, by 2020, there was no grounds for equivocation about what Trump advocated, or for equivocating what those who stood by Trump were advocating. It was, and is a politics of white supremancy. It was and is a politics without program, a politics of enemies, of targets. The paranoid tradition in American politics was alive and ill.
The “dissatisfaction” with conditions in the US that brought Trump 11 million more voters in 2020 than 2016 was not a dissatisfaction with material conditions, or the quality of life, or the declining life expectancy. It was a frustration at not being able to attack, literally, the targets Trump had identified as threats to white supremacy, to the rule of private property, to the privilege” and “entitlement” that were the birthrights of “real” (white, Christian) Americans.
7. Was, Not Was
So what wasn’t it? Well, it was not a surprise. After Charlottesville, after El Paso, after Portland, after the armed demonstrations at the Michigan and other state capitals, after Kenosha, after the glorification of Kyle Rittenhouse, after the execution of Michael Reinoehl, after hundreds of individual incidents of right-wing terror, this was not a surprise. It had been a threat, it became a promise.
It was not a “revolution,” or an attempt at revolution, executed by right-wing “revolutionaries.” There’s no confrontation with the relations of property. Conspiracy theory attacks on George Soros and Jewish money are deflections from a confrontation with the relations of property, not the confrontation.
Calling such an attack by such elements “revolutionary” is but to reproduce, and succumb to, the historic confusion in the US where the reactionary becomes the radical, the rebel.
Those attacking the US Capitol were no more revolutionary than the KKK or the Knights of the White Camelia were in attacking the organizations, schools, and labor agreements established by the Freedmen’s Bureaus in the South.
The events of January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC were no more revolutionary than were the events of November 10, 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina.
The attack was not a “transformative moment” for the ultra-right, the fascists, and the larval fascists awaiting their wings.
It was not as Hard Crackers asserted a challenge issued by those yearning for a “communal belonging,” and an explanation of “their misery;” a challenge that revolutionaries are supposed to meet and transcend with competing notions of of “alternative community,” or a competing explanation for their misery. Please spare us the battle for men’s and women’s “wholeness.”
It was not a moment where an emerging fascist movement recognizes its enemy in the existing forces of repression. There was fighting with the police, but more than equally important, there were and are the police officers, the sheriffs and deputies, from all over the country who participated in the events of January 6 who can be counted on to participate in future events.
There is the simple fact, that when faced with an attack on an institution of such capital importance to the business of making laws, few officers even drew their firearms in defense.
There is the simple fact that the attackers were allowed to leave the scenes of the attacks without obstruction. If they now face arrest by the FBI, that only fits perfectly into their belief in a “deep state” that disgraces the institutions of the United States.
The images of the white nationalist and QAnon fundraiser with his feet up on Pelosi’s desk, a “man in proletarian garb” does not mean that either that man or those who attacked on January 6 feel any “widespread disgust with US life,” the brand on his blue jeans to the contrary notwithstanding.
A revolutionary movement is not about the redemption of souls, a feeling of community, or a unified field force theory that explains every and everyone’s misery in the world.
A revolutionary movement and struggle are based in the class of laborers so engaged in that collective, social labor that its emancipation of self is the emancipation of the condition of labor, the emancipation of labor from private property, large and small, and thereby the emancipation of all from those constraints.
So what was it? Exactly what it looked like, the product of malevolence and incompetence. The challenge to be met is not one of “alternatives,” but that of competence.
January 16, 2021