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Political power and powerlessness January 15, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Some of the most striking images of the past week were those from the Capitol in Washington DC which showed far-right and neo-nazi pro-Trump protestors inside that building. What struck me was the aimlessness of these people. There was no clear plan behind what they did. They had arrived in Washington DC with the intention of going to the Capitol building to protest against the ratification of the electoral college returns. And…

Nothing.

Add to this Trump’s appearance at the rally that day where he promised to go with them to the Capitol and the inchoate nature of what he said. Without question he incited them, small surprise that he didn’t actually go to the Capitol but left them to hang, as it were, and traipsed back to the White House. But again, what was the precise goal? To delay or disrupt or block the ratification? Come what may that would go ahead. To occupy the building? It was remarkable how rapidly they were cleared out once significant numbers of federal and other personnel were deployed. To remain outside in protest, so to speak? Well, that took place but to no effect subsequently. To take state power? Not even close. That was never going to happen – not least because Trump has never been dedicated to pursuing that goal directly on foot of his defeat. Everything has been indirect or oblique. Rhetorical feints, but justified by nothing.

There is some evidence that a contingent sought to kidnap and worse public representatives. That is a huge danger too. But – and in no way to minimise the threat – the route to state power would be unclear.

This haziness as to political ends is intriguing. The excessive bellicose rhetoric used by these ‘protestors’ – the fury unleashed and indeed the physical aggression, is in some ways very empty. This isn’t to say there’s no political point. To see a Confederate flag flying from the Capitol was for most of us I imagine very upsetting. For them even to get to that point, to be inside seemingly unchecked tells us much about the lack of preparation for that protest and indeed the different manner in which different expressions of political dissent are handled.

But it seemed to me that as it stands their power is performative to a large extent, not fully actual. They’re in no way close to taking state power, which is not to say they’re a very significant problem, anything but. They represent perhaps the tip of an iceberg of political antagonism so deep that one has to wonder how the US polity will be able to engage with it.

In truth their impact is further destabilisation of that polity. One which already looks remarkably more unstable than at any time in recent history. And that impact, even in the mess that was the insurrection is real. where that goes is difficult to assess. More authoritarian political candidates, fracturing of th polity yet further. Secession? Or just a relentless low level cultural and political war.

In a way, whatever about the paucity of political thinking of those we saw at the Capitol the ramifications will continue to resonate for many years to come.

But the problem beyond that problem is the Republican Party and how that has harnessed them directly under Trump and somewhat less directly by previous and indeed contemporary politicians of that stripe. Because there are many more beyond those ‘protestors’ who hold far from dissimilar reactionary views on a range of issues, views shaped by ever larger tranches of the Republican Party for its own political ends. And the political ends are obvious – degradation and limitations on the state, conservative and social socio-economic policies and so forth. And by contrast with the dupes and fascists and exhibitionists who occupied the Capitol there’s no mistake on the part of those in the Republican Party who hold such views as to what constitutes political power and powerlessness.

It will be very very illuminating to see what sort of Republican Party emerges in the next weeks and months.

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1. alanmyler - January 15, 2021

I wonder what would be required in the 21C to capture state power, from the outside I mean? In the old days it was probably sufficient to physically occupy the parliament building and take over the communication hubs such as the central telephone exchange and the railway station in the capital. But these days, with the vastly more embedded state within society, with the globalised economy, with the communication advances in the past century, how could one effectively do that? I wonder if any of the insurrectionary Left have any thoughts on this? Even on the reactionary Right, say in the USA, how could a coup from outside possibly succeed? Even with the military behind it from the inside, or with sections of the security apparatus, presumably success could only be measured in terms of disruption to the previous status quo, the beginnings of a much deeper and longer struggle for control rather than a clean quick transition of power? A race war, civil war. What a prospect. More likely the outcome would be not a revolution but a reshuffling of existing insider power relations, and all the existing external dynamics left mostly unresolved. Or maybe American democracy, such as it is, is just too big to be changed from the outside, whether by the civil rights movement in the 60s, the anti Vietnam war protests, or now the Proud Boys and the other militias. Even with 50% of the electorate beside them. Too big to fail?

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2021

That’s a great question you raise. Indeed I think it’s worthy of a thread of its own. You’re spot on. At one point you get the parliament, ‘Justice’ ministry, Defence ministry, and some communications and infrastructure and away you go (1916/1917 kind of). I think it would be all but impossible without the military in your corner. And even if cohorts of the military were up for it there’d likely be secession or civil war. So it would have to come from the inside, with the system weakening or being suborned across a length of time.

I have wondered about that point re US democracy being too big, too spread out. Surely some states would secede before being lashed into an authoritarian right set up?

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terrymdunne - January 15, 2021

I pretty much agree that you cannot take models from the past – from very different societies than the one we live in now – and apply them to the present and future (which applies to 1917, 1936, the pre-1914 S.P.D. and a lot more besides).

But, in any case, October 1917 was in a context where there was already the factory committees, seizures of landed estates by the peasantry, the soldiers & sailors soviets and it was carried out in the name of a local authority which had popular legitimacy (was already state-like) and with the participation of the military forces of the old regime. Moreover, where the majority of the electorate supported at least ostensibly revolutionary parties. So it was all a bit more than a Bolshevik insurrection (even October itself was a bit more than that).

The parliamentary road to socialism has the same or similar problems – (1) globally diffuse forms of production – where productions goes on at different stages around the world and (2) states whose institutions are autonomous of parliamentary control when it suits them – even stable ol’Britain has had, on two occasions in the twentieth century, coup-like rumblings.

What happened in D.C. was indeed a bit of a stunt and very very far away from a coup d’etat.

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2021

Very fair points. It was no coup d’etat.

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alanmyler - January 15, 2021

I was close. Geoffrey Hosking, and it was this book:

https://www.biblio.com/book/russia-people-empire-1552-1917-geoffrey/d/1341403852

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alanmyler - January 15, 2021

Terry I think the other thing about 1917 was that the Russian stare itself was historically very weak and had a relatively small footprint in Russian society, and of course further weakened by the period of growing dual power which you mentioned. There’s a good read of a book “Russia and The Russians” by I think Geoffrey Hopkins (might be wrong) on that subject.

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rockroots - January 15, 2021

A coup without popular support would seem to be increasingly difficult in the digital age. I think the attempt in Turkey a few years ago points out all the pitfalls – a quickly mass-mobilisation of civilians via social media just swamped whatever military muscle it had. Even before that, the Soviet coup crumbled in the face of civilian protest. It’s hard to think of any successful coups in recent years – maybe Sudan, but that was in response to public unrest. They’ve just gone out of fashion.

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terrymdunne - January 16, 2021

Yeah Russia in 1917 was certainly not a society similar to Western & Central Europe in 1917, never mind today.

There have been a couple of what I have seen called ‘soft coups’ in Latin America in recent years – where there is a combination of a constitutional crisis and a military intervention – but that is again a different variant.

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2. gregtimo - January 15, 2021

Though the rise of the extreme right thing is indeed worrying everywhere, it is Neo-liberal corruption and the vacuity to disorganization of the Left that is responsible. Latin Americans dont make the latter mistake anyhow (just study the whole continent) . I share Jacobin/Tribune’s pre-occupation as to the continued corruption/out_Of_Touchness of the Democratic leadership and their neo-liberal colleagues world wide . Their take is a Gramscian one , ie very long term agitation and organization building on many fronts (with a focus on rebuilding union power) . In few counties outside of Ireland could a person still think that old style revolution is possible . That suits the power that be as it is a dead end talking shop as is continuously pointed out not just below. As is said ad nauseum, ‘No easy answers’, just slow patient work
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzGUT9PjV3SMBwjWXUYh4HA
https://jacobinmag.com/

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3. Bartholomew - January 15, 2021

‘We’re storming the Capitol! It’s a revolution!’

Interpreted precisely as performance in this fabulous video:

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2021

Talk about unprepared for reality.

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4. CL - January 15, 2021

“These insurrectionists too carried the banners of the Lost Cause—Confederate battle flags, emblems and regalia, “Civil War” t-shirts, and numerous other symbols of the aligned far right, racist and anti-Semitic vestiges of the past, and present, including lynching nooses, Q-anon conspiracy insignias, and Nazi memorabilia such as a Camp Auschwitz hoodie. …
The intent—openly encouraged by President Trump—was to prevent the certification of a democratically elected President in favor of a defeated President with similar aspirations who had long encouraged and coddled them, and other politicians aligned with him.”
https://www.commondreams.org/views/2021/01/10/confederates-capitol-re-enactment-lost-cause

Mr. Trump’s Lost Cause takes its fuel from conspiratorial myths of all kinds, rehearsed for years on Trump media and social media platforms. Its guiding theories include: Christianity under duress and attack; large corrupt cities full of Black and brown people manipulated by liberal elites; Barack Obama as alien; a socialist movement determined to tax you into subservience to “big government”; liberal media out to crush family and conservative values; universities and schools teaching the young a history that hates America; resentment of nonwhite immigrants who threaten a particular national vision; and whatever hideous new version of a civil religion QAnon represents ”

” Trump’s goal was to keep himself in power, and his actions were taken over a period of months and in slow motion….
The storming of the Capitol building on January 6 was the culmination of a series of actions and events taken or instigated by Trump so he could retain the presidency that together amount to an attempt at a self-coup. This was not a one-off or brief episode….

During the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, Trump drew Joint Chiefs Chair General Mark Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper out of a White House meeting to follow him for a provocative photo-op in front of a historic church. Paramilitary forces under the president’s command cleared a passage for his group across Lafayette Square. Trump was testing the military and the Pentagon to see if he could turn the U.S. armed forces into his own “Pretorian Guard.”…
He did not take TV and radio by storm, but he discredited the “mainstream media” that was critical of his actions as the “enemy of the people” and recruited or pressured Fox News, Newsmax, OAN and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook into participants in his efforts to sway public opinion in his favor….
With the help of Republican lawmakers, Trump stacked federal courts with what he kept calling “his judges.” …
Trump purged Cabinet members and career officials who resisted him. He bypassed Congress and installed acting officials in crucial national security positions like the secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security…
Trump usurped the Republican Party. He claimed the more than 74 million who voted for him last November as his personal base—his popular support. He threatened to destroy the careers of Republican members of Congress who did not favor overturning the election result. At the January 6 rally preceding the storming of the Capitol, Donald Trump Jr. even referred to the GOP as the “Trump Republican Party.”…
Throughout 2020, when his poll ratings faltered, the president laid the groundwork for what would become the Big Lie that he won the election….
Fortunately, there was pushback from all the key institutions you need for a coup…..
The only two elements that rallied behind the president’s coup attempt were the handful of senators and the majority of House Republicans and his popular support, in the form of an insurgency—the mob that stormed the Capitol….
The good news for the United States is that Trump’s self-coup failed. The bad news is that his supporters still believe the false narrative, the Big Lie that he won the election….
As in the case of other coup attempts, the president’s actions have put us on the brink of civil war. Trump did not overturn the election results, but, just as he intended, he disrupted the peaceful democratic transition of executive power.”
https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/01/11/capitol-riot-self-coup-trump-fiona-hill-457549

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CL - January 15, 2021

” Many at the vanguard of the mob that stormed the seat of American democracy either had military training or were trained by those who did….
In many cases, those who stormed the Capitol appeared to employ tactics, body armor and technology such as two-way radio headsets that were similar to those of the very police they were confronting….
While the Pentagon declined to provide an estimate for how many other active-duty military personnel are under investigation, the military’s top leaders were concerned enough ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration that they issued a highly unusual warning to all service members this week that the right to free speech gives no one the right to commit violence….
The FBI is warning of the potential for more bloodshed. In an internal bulletin issued Sunday, the bureau warned of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in Washington, D.C., in the coming weeks.”
https://apnews.com/article/donald-trump-capitol-siege-media-social-media-riots-a1cb17201dfddc98291edead5badc257

” The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week will likely spur domestic extremists to carry out more violent attacks, according to a government intelligence bulletin.
The Joint Intelligence Bulletin, a product of the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and National Counterterrorism Center, uses stark language not previously seen in similar government warnings, such as blaming violence on “false narratives” that the 2020 presidential election “was illegitimate, or fraudulent, and the subsequent belief its results should be contested or unrecognized.”
The document details the range of “domestic violent extremists” at the Capitol on Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the building while Congress counted Electoral College votes, forcing the legislators to evacuate the building….
The attack, the report said, is likely part of an ongoing trend in which extremists use demonstrations to carry out ideologically motivated violence….
Although the Capitol attack has led to criminal charges for more than 70 individuals involved, the intelligence bulletin said that some extremists view the riot as a success, a belief that could inspire others to commit “more sporadic, lone actor or small cell violence” against common targets of extremist violence, such as racial, ethnic or religious minorities and institutions like government buildings.” https://news.yahoo.com/intelligence-report-capitol-riot-has-emboldened-domestic-extremists-who-now-pose-greatest-domestic-terrorism-threats-in-2021-000441645.html

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CL - January 15, 2021

“Collective fascism-denialism is strong in the U.S., especially among white America, who has for a century adopted a militant “It Can’t Happen Here” exceptionalism that envisions the U.S. as immune to fascist-style politics.
That naivete is now coming crashing down in the wake of the DC attacks, amidst reports that the fascist right is planning violent attacks in all 50 states to disrupt Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration…
Efforts to draw neat lines of distinction between the fascist right and the “conservative” right were dangerous when Donald Trump was increasingly successful in serving as a bridge between the two by “mainstreaming” authoritarian-fascistic political values within the Republican Party’s base…
We have now reached the point where only the most militant deniers are still holding out on engaging in a serious discussion of the fascism question.”
https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/01/15/a-not-so-new-profile-of-the-american-right-on-the-authoritarian-fascist-crisis/

Ricard Evans piece in NS is interesting. He does show that the U.S. in the 21st century is not Germany or Italy in the 1930s. A closer analogy with Trumpism would be the U.S. in the 1930s,- Father Coughlin, the America First movement, Huey Long, etc.
https://www.newstatesman.com/world/2021/01/why-trump-isnt-fascist

Its probably best not to get hung up too much on definitional terms as to how best to characterize Jan 6.
Fiona Hill’s piece is a useful account of Trump’s attempt at an ‘autogolpe’ process over a period of time that culminated in the attack on the Capitol. A culmination, but not an end to what seems to be a growing militaristic, right wing reaction.
Hill, a coal miner’s daughter from Durham, is now an American conservative, but her account is a useful first draft.

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2021

To me that was one of the most disgusting aspects of it all. A slave state’s banner brought into the chambers of a state that has attempted, however patchily and badly in parts, to move beyond that. And I sat there the other day during the impeachment vote thinking how could so many Republicans simply ignore what that meaning was in respect of African-American representatives and the very real threat that that was to their personal and collective safety. No consideration, no respect.

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5. Roger Cole - January 15, 2021

It was a failed coup as was Hitler’s coup. All the arguments about a coup not being possible in a complex society were correct for Germany in the early 20’s as they are in the USA today. What however has already been achieved by the USA fascists and racists that backed Trump is mass popular support of 74 million voters which is not going away any time soon. The warmongering Democrats are now back in power led by Biden, who has made it clear by appointing the likes of Power, that seeking to rule the world via its doctrine of perpetual war and ensuring the US middle class continue to see no increase in their living standards, and support for supports the 1% will continue.
If that does happen expect another Trump like President in 4 years time.

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2021

Actually that’s it, Germany wasn’t overtaken by a traditional coup, it was by the weakening and fracturing of institutions to the point that the Nazis were inside and were invited further in. And I think that could be the sort of approach that was seen, through I’d think that it would come from the religious right more than crew who were mostly on display at the Capitol.

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6. Colm B - January 15, 2021

Loved this visual summary of their analysis of from Spectre website;

https://spectrejournal.com/antifascist-organizing-now/

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7. Eoghan - January 15, 2021

There’s two good articles here from two who predicted what was going to happen simply by reading what Trump supporters were saying they were going to do:

– Arieh Kovler interview: https://www.gq.com/story/man-predicted-capitol-coup-interview
– Robert Evans article from Jan 5th: https://www.bellingcat.com/news/americas/2021/01/05/how-the-insurgent-and-maga-right-are-being-welded-together-on-the-streets-of-washington-d-c/

The hypothesis put forward by Kovler was that Trump supporters basically had no plan and thought that Trump was going to give them instructions once they got there:
“They thought, “This is the thing we have been asked to do. Trump is telling us to do this, so we have to do it.” But more than that, it must be important enough, the key to his winning. Because why would he ask us to come to Washington if it wasn’t part of the plan? It wouldn’t make any sense. There’s a trend among the Trump fans—it’s almost religious—to see him as basically infallible and any mistakes are caused by bad people around him. He wouldn’t be calling us to Washington unless there was a purpose that would ultimately end in him winning the election.”

This makes sense to me in the context of Trumps speech earlier that day that those in DC would have to “fight like hell” or “our country will be destroyed” which many likely interpreted as instructions for what happened next. Though from the Evans article it’s clear that a lot of them had already planned to storm the Capitol well before arriving to DC.

Likely it’s a mixture of different motives, probably a whole lot of people swept up in the moment, some – like those carrying cable ties, and the more organised far right like the Proud Boys – who had more thought-out plans, and other Q-Anon types who were waiting for some big revelation on the day.

The most striking thing for me is how bafflingly stupid so many of those people were. Only a tiny percentage, from videos I saw, had any sort of face covering (covid-related or otherwise), and many more were excitedly uploading photos of themselves mid-insurrection to social media. Also how quickly their “side” threw them all under the bus saying that they were antifa (saw this claimed for both the Q-Shaman guy and also the woman who was shot) despite so many know well know right-wingers basically saying “hi everyone! I’m here storming the capitol right now!”.

There’s apparently calls to organise a similar rally for inauguration day but I suspect that they basically blew any shot at a “traditional” putsch they had now without support from military or similar.

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2021

“How bafflingly stupid so many of these people were” I felt the same. These weren’t serious revolutionaries and /or were utterly deluded about how much support they had. Th religious like aspect is incredibly clear. Faith based delusions about Trump (Trump ffs…who is now throwing Rudi G under the bus over money).

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CL - January 15, 2021

On Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department placed sanctions on seven foreign members of Rudy Giuliani’s inner circle who sought to interfere in the U.S. election and sway the results in Trump’s favor….
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a steadfast Trump loyalist, also attempted to add distance between his agency and Giuliani and his goons….
The New York State Bar Association has also made moves to disavow Giuliani in light of last Wednesday’s chaos. The Bar announced on Monday that it has launched an inquiry into Giuliani’s role in Trump’s months-long crusade to undermine the election.
The Association stated, “Mr. Giuliani’s words quite clearly were intended to encourage Trump supporters unhappy with the election’s outcome to take matters into their own hands,” adding, “Their subsequent attack on the Capitol was nothing short of an attempted coup, intended to prevent the peaceful transition of power.”
https://www.salon.com/2021/01/15/rudy-giuliani-terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-week/

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8. roddy - January 15, 2021

Up here ,I often thought the radio /Tv stations were a legitimate target for take over even for a day in the aftermath of eg Bloody Sunday to counter the vile propaganda the Brits were putting out.However today the studio would simply shift to some establishment journalists front room and the propaganda would continue unhindered.

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2021

It’s swings and roundabouts, that also allows for decentralised resistance communications models.

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9. CL - January 16, 2021

Giuliani has found an African-American to blame for Trump’s autogolpe.
John Sullivan of Utah has been arrested and charged with several crimes. His no-bail release shows, says Giuliani, that the FBI is part of the deep state.
https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/15/politics/giuliani-unfounded-antifa-claim-invs/index.html

” Giuliani is such a miserable, toadying, soul-corroded ruin of a man that it’s hard not to laugh at Trump’s attempts to cheat him.”
https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/trump-impeachment-insurrection-congress/

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CL - January 17, 2021

” Rudy Giuliani said he is working on President Donald Trump’s defense for his upcoming impeachment trial, according to ABC News.
Giuliani told ABC he plans to argue the president did not incite violence because the unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud are true — despite the fact that many of the claims have been debunked and none have held up in court.”
https://www.businessinsider.com/rudy-giuliani-is-working-on-trumps-impeachment-defense-abc-news-2021-1

“Hours after Giuliani gave an interview to ABC News claiming that he was spearheading Trump’s impeachment defense, spokesman J. Hogan Gidley tweeted a pointed statement contradicting him.

‘President Trump has not yet made a determination as to which lawyer or law firm will represent him for the disgraceful attack on our Constitution and democracy, known as the “impeachment hoax.” We will keep you informed,’ said the statement early on Sunday.”
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9156295/Trumps-campaign-REFUTES-Giulianis-claim-representing-president-impeachment.html

” President Donald Trump, on the eve of facing a historic second impeachment trial for inciting the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week, is having trouble finding a legal team to defend him.

Allies of the outgoing president have been canvassing Washington’s legal landscape looking for representation but so far are coming up short.”
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-14/trump-struggles-to-build-legal-team-as-impeachment-trial-nears

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