Interview on U.S. crisis: ‘Capitalist establishment did not take the danger seriously’

Washington, D.C., has been continuously militarized beginning the week leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration, when 26,000 National Guard troops were deployed.

The following interview was published on the Greek website Kommon on Feb. 1. The author is an activist, journalist and translator who edits the website GuernicaEU, which publishes Greek translations of revolutionary news and analysis from around the world, including Struggle-La Lucha.

Interview with Greg Butterfield, a contributor to Struggle-La Lucha newspaper and member of the Socialist Unity Party in the U.S. He is a longtime communist activist who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Panagiotis Papadomanolakis: In the past few weeks we’ve seen Donald Trump’s extreme right-wing mob doing in the U.S. capital what U.S. governments have done in Ukraine, Syria, Venezuela and elsewhere. Struggle-La Lucha and many left-wing organizations have long been warning about Trump’s attempt to steal the elections. Could you describe Trump’s moves before and during the coup attempt?

Greg Butterfield: Before the election in November 2020, Trump openly declared his plans to steal the election if he did not win. The bourgeois political establishment of both the Democrats and Republicans did not take the threat seriously. They were confident in their “sacred democratic institutions” and tried to lull the masses of people to ignore the threat. 

The first coup attempt by Trump (or “self-coup,” as it is called in Latin America) was all the way back on June 1, 2020. This was a few days after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis that set off a nationwide anti-racist rebellion. Trump mobilized troops and federal agents to repress protesters gathered outside the White House. He paraded to a nearby church, Bible in hand, with the head of the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. There he announced his plans to invoke the Insurrection Act, a law originally enacted to use the military to suppress slave rebellions in the early 19th century. 

But the Pentagon generals got cold feet. The vast majority of enlisted soldiers are working class and many are Black. The military leaders decided they couldn’t trust their troops to suppress the Black Lives rebellion. They feared that the soldiers would join the people.

When the spontaneous rebellion against police killings began to recede, a furious racist backlash began, with Trump in the lead. His electoral strategy was to rally the hardcore fascists, white supremacists and law enforcement officers to repress the Black community and their many allies. The anti-Trump politicians and media played into this. They, too, were frightened by the Black Lives rebellion, especially because for the first time in many decades, masses of white workers had joined the anti-racist struggle. 

Trump said at his rallies before the election that the only way he could lose was if there was fraud. This was a signal for his loyalists inside and outside the state apparatus to reject the outcome. Either he would win by suppressing the vote, especially the Black vote, or he would win by claiming the other side cheated.

When it became clear, a few days after the election, that Trump had lost decisively to Joe Biden, this backup plan went into effect. Trump’s legal team engaged in many lawsuits trying to overturn the results in states where the vote was close. Trump himself lobbied and twisted the arms of state officials to change the outcome. He placed his closest loyalists in high positions in the military and National Security apparatus, and made sure he had a far-right majority in the Supreme Court. 

But the most important move was to encourage the fascist right to mobilize. These white supremacist gangs have many ties with and overlap with the military and police. Sometimes they cooperate openly with the repressive bodies of the state, like in Kenosha, Wis., where the armed fascists were deputized by the police and killed two anti-racist protesters. 

These groups, with names like Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, came to Washington, D.C., twice in December, where they attacked Black churches and anti-fascist activists. It was a test run for what happened on Jan. 6, when the Capitol was attacked.

PP: Why do you think the authorities at the Capitol seemed surprised? Didn’t they think Trump would dare incite a far-right rebellion? They certainly knew he had supporters in the state apparatus.

GB: The establishment Democrats and Republicans are paralysed because of their own dependence on the capitalist state apparatus. They looked at the fascist protests in December and decided that the threat was not serious. 

Joe Biden, or even the Democrats in Congress, could have warned of the danger and called on the masses to come and protect them from the white supremacists. I think many people would have come out even amidst the pandemic — the Black Lives protests showed that the masses are prepared to put themselves on the line when they need to. But the capitalist politicians are more afraid of a rebellion of the people against racism and capitalism than they are of the fascists. In this way, they put a lot of lives in danger, including their own. This is why the working class cannot rely on the liberal politicians to fight fascism. 

Also the fascists had inside help in the Capitol. Congress members who support Trump were said to have taken some of the organizers on reconnaissance tours of the building before Jan. 6. There were also fascist supporters within the Capitol Police who allowed the mob to get access to the building. And generally there was a “hands-off” approach to them, very different from the violent posture these cops take toward progressive demonstrations. 

Of course, Trump and his backers also did all they could to block any kind of extraordinary security measures. Trump prevented the D.C. National Guard from being mobilized, for example. Because the city of Washington has no official standing, it is entirely dependent on the president as commander in chief of the military. The National Guard was only authorized to act late in the day on Jan. 6 by order of Vice President Mike Pence, whose own life was in danger at the Capitol. And this could only be done, in my view, by a behind-the-scenes deal to remove Trump from the military chain of command.

PP: You wrote in your last article that Trump should be prosecuted and removed using the 25th Amendment of the Constitution for the attempted coup. Instead of that they chose an “impeachment show” as you call it. Please explain to us why you think this happened?

GB: The success or failure of the Jan. 6 coup attempt was really dependent on what the military would do. Trump and his backers hoped that the military would support the attack or, short of that, at least remain neutral. But the pressure from other sectors of the ruling class political establishment and institutions, and the fear of resistance by the troops, caused them to finally throw their weight behind Pence. 

How this happened has been carefully hidden from public view. But some information has leaked out in major bourgeois publications like the New York Times and Washington Post. It shows that Vice President Pence, Congressional Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell worked with “saner heads” in the White House and Pentagon to have Trump removed from the military chain of command. In exchange, Trump was allowed to serve out the last two weeks of his term without being removed under the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which allows the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to remove the president if he can no longer carry out his duties, whether this is due to health reasons or criminal activity.

The impeachment process is basically meaningless at this point. Trump is already out of office and no one can agree if a president can even be legally impeached after leaving office. It’s meant as a show to appease the masses of people who are furious with Trump, and the lower-ranking Congress members whose lives were threatened. People understand that the more progressive, Black and other oppressed nationality Congress members, like the social-democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, would have been killed in cold blood if the fascist mob had gotten a hold of them. They even erected a lynching noose outside the Capitol!

A struggle continued inside the high ranks of the military for several days. It was only on Jan. 12, nearly a week after the Capitol attack, that the Joint Chiefs issued a statement condemning the assault on Congress and acknowledging Joe Biden as the incoming commander in chief. 

PP: Arrests of the fascists who took part in the uprising in the Capitol have begun. Some police officers who participated have been exposed. The new government can claim that in this way the fascist threat was defeated. But is that so? Trump has united a far-right movement that directly supports him, but Democrats have in the past used fascist organizations against minorities and the working class. Today’s supporters of Trump also took part in the war against the anti-fascist movement in Ukraine, when the Democrats supported the fascist regime there.

GB: The capitalist class and its political establishment always like to hold the fascists in reserve for emergencies. They will throw a small number in jail as a smokescreen, just as Hitler was put in jail for a while after the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch in Germany. There is talk of new “anti-terrorism measures” and a campaign against “domestic extremism.” But we know that the real targets of this will be the left, because all of the ruling class groups fear the workers, the masses, the anti-fascists and communists, much more than they fear the fascists.

Trump’s main base of support in the ruling class is among the relatively new group that became billionaires during the energy boom after the war in Iraq, especially those involved in the fracking industry in North America. When the boom ended, and their profits collapsed, they latched onto Trump as their figurehead. Although this group is relatively small, it is desperate and most importantly, has a program to deal with the capitalist crisis — fascism. This gives them power and influence beyond their numbers, because the capitalist mainstream symbolized by Biden has no solution to the crisis. Their only answer is to turn the clock back to 2016, to the conditions that gave rise to Trump in the first place.

As you pointed out, the Democrats and Biden himself are complicit in the rise of fascism here and around the world. For decades both Republican and Democratic administrations have used far-right violence to suit their aims in many countries — Libya, Venezuela, Syria, Bolivia and so many others. Biden is recreating a foreign policy team largely based on the Obama administration, which encouraged, aided and armed the fascists in Ukraine who overturned the government in 2014 and fueled the war against the Donbass region. And this has direct and deadly repercussions for people in the U.S. We know, for example, that white supremacist groups that participated in the fascist riot in Charlottesville in 2017 received training from the Azov Battalion in Ukraine. I’m sure some of them were involved in the Capitol attack too.

The assault on the Capitol failed to overturn the election. But in another sense, it was a big success for the fascist movement. It was like a recruiting advertisement for them. Last year these groups successfully invaded several state capitols with guns in hand to protest public health measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic. And with Trump’s active support, they were largely successful in their goals — that’s why over 400,000 people are dead in the U.S. from the virus and the numbers continue to grow. Now they have taken another big step by invading the seat of the national government. This is something they have dreamed of doing for years.

So whether Trump continues to be the symbol of this movement or if he fades into the background, the fascist danger is not going anywhere. I’m sorry to say that the left movement and the labor movement have not taken the danger seriously up to this point. We have a lot of work to do.

PP: Biden has stated that he will continue his aggression against China. He has already recognized Juan Guaido in Venezuela. While he says he wants to return to the agreement with Iran, he does not say he will lift the criminal sanctions. Do you think that something will change in U.S. imperialist policy or that Biden will be a “moderate” Trump?

GB: I don’t expect any change from U.S. imperialism under Biden, except for small shifts in priorities. Historically, Democratic-led governments have prioritized the encirclement and demonization of Russia while Republicans have focused on Iran and the Middle East. Venezuela, Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will remain in the crosshairs of the Pentagon. Africom will continue its deadly rampage across Africa. We will likely see more emphasis on building up NATO against Russia and the Donbass republics. But the main theater I think will be China, because U.S. imperialism feels its profits and influence most threatened by China’s assent. 

On the left there is a lot of worry that having a Democrat in the White House will prevent people from opposing war and aggression. People remember the effect that Obama’s election had on deflating the big anti-war movement that existed under George W. Bush. But really, the anti-war movement in the U.S. never recovered after that. We have to rebuild it now, not separate from but in tandem with the anti-fascist and anti-racist struggles.

PP: U.S. society is facing a major health crisis from COVID-19, which is at the same time a crisis of the capitalist system itself. The victims, the poor and the minorities, revolted, claiming that their lives matter. We read about large workers’ mobilizations and strikes. Trump was defeated, but capitalism is still here. What is happening today with this mass movement?

GB: Right now people are waiting to see what Biden will do. They are waiting to see if the new administration can get control of the pandemic and do something about unemployment. 

The masses of people who voted for Biden did so primarily to get rid of Trump. But of course Biden made a lot of promises to get their support. Millions are in desperate circumstances now. The health system is hopelessly disorganized and inadequate. In some states cars line up for miles to get food assistance. The government has incrementally continued the ban on evictions during the pandemic, but all of the money for rent is still owed — so when the ban is lifted, millions of families will face homelessness.

Biden would like to project an image of himself as a modern incarnation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who will come in and save the capitalist system with reforms. But U.S. capitalism is not expanding like it was in the 1930s. Then it was on the verge of becoming the dominant world power. Now it is well past its peak, and there is no will among the capitalists to sacrifice their profits to make life more bearable for the masses. 

Biden himself is a right-winger within the Democratic Party — he rejects universal healthcare, for example, and opposes defunding the police to pay for human needs. Instead he advises the cops to shoot people in the leg rather than the head.

What we expect is that the workers, the most oppressed, will be disappointed by the new administration. What we must strive to do is mobilize this anger and dissatisfaction in the fight for socialism, and not allow the fascists to take advantage of it.

PP: During the interview, communication with Greg was cut off, as Facebook removed a large number of profiles of left-wing activists and organizations. We asked him to comment on the attempt to silence him, but also on the posting ban imposed on Donald Trump. He answered as follows:

GB: On Jan. 22, I and several of my comrades were banned by Facebook. Our profiles were “permanently disabled,” without any opportunity to appeal the decision. Two mass organizations we participate in, the Peoples Power Assembly and Women In Struggle, were also removed by Facebook. Other pages we administer, like the one I run in solidarity with Donbass, were no longer accessible. We fought back, alerting the media and the progressive movement, taking legal steps and bombarding Facebook officials with emails, tweets and phone calls. By the night of Jan. 25, most of the pages and profiles were restored. No explanation was offered.

This was not the first time. At the end of October, just before the presidential election, many of the same pages and profiles were suddenly shut down. At the time we were organizing for a protest car caravan against Trump’s threat to steal the election. Facebook removed the event and banned many of us. That time, too, we fought and got things restored.

The point is, the U.S. social media monopolies have been at war with the left for a long time. Pages and individuals representing national liberation struggles in Palestine, Colombia and other countries have long been attacked by Facebook, Google, Twitter and the rest. International media outlets like teleSUR and Press TV are suppressed. Leftists are often blocked or restricted without cause and without warning. 

One of the lessons we took from these experiences is that it’s important not to be overly reliant on social media sites. We must make use of them, yes – like Lenin said about the class collaborationist trade unions, if they push revolutionaries out the door, then we climb back in through the window. But we should not be naïve and think that it is a reliable and permanent way to organize. 

It’s important not to draw a false equivalency between these attacks on the left and the recent ban on Trump and some of his fascist supporters. Twitter and Facebook never wanted to ban Trump. He is a big draw for them – a money maker. Twitter was finally forced to remove Trump after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol because of mass outrage. The next day their stock prices sank. But they let him spew racist and violent propaganda for years because it was profitable. 

We don’t take a liberal view. We don’t believe in free speech for both sides. We know the bourgeoisie wants to suppress free speech for the revolutionary left. We fight for the right of workers, anti-fascists and their organizations to speak, not the fascists who want to commit genocide against oppressed people and smash our organizations. They have plenty of avenues to get their message out thanks to their supporters in the capitalist class. Our job is to shut them down.

Source: Kommon