Assault on the Capitol in Washington: the USA at the heart of the world-wide decomposition of capitalism

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“This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic”. This declaration followed the January 6 invasion of the Capitol by several hundred Donald Trump partisans, who had come to interrupt the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. You might think that such a severe judgement of the political situation in the US might come from someone who is viscerally hostile to America, or from an American “leftist”. Not at all: this was from ex-president George W Bush, a member of the same party as Trump. This tells us a lot about the gravity of what happened in Washington that day. A few hours earlier, in front of the White House, the defeated president, like a third world demagogue, had been warming up his supporters We will never give up. We will never concede…you’ll never take back our country with weakness ...I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard”. 

Following this thinly veiled call to riot, the vengeful crowd, led by semi-fascist Trumpist gangs like the Proud Boys, only had to walk down the National Mall towards the Capitol and attack the building, watched by a totally overwhelmed security force. How come the cordons of cops whose job was to guard access to the Capitol allowed the attackers to go past them when the impressive force put in front of the same building during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations were able to prevent any loss of control? Such striking images can only feed the theory that the assault on this emblem of American democracy was a “political September 11”.

Faced with this chaos, the authorities were however deployed rather quickly: anti-riot troops and the National Guard were sent in, one demonstrator was shot and three others died, a curfew was installed while the army patrolled the streets of Washington. These stunning images did indeed resemble post-election nights in the “banana republics” of the third world, torn apart by bloody rivalries between mafia cliques. But these events. which made headlines across the world, were not down to some megalomaniac army general. They took place in the most powerful country on the planet, in the “world’s greatest democracy”.

The world’s leading power at the centre of growing chaos

The “desecration of the temple of American democracy” by a crowd made up of white supremacists armed with selfie sticks, by fanatical armed militias, by a conspiracy theorist wearing a horned fur helmet, is a flagrant expression of the growing violence and irrationality infecting US society. The fractures in its political apparatus, the explosion of populism since the election of Trump, are an eloquent illustration of the fact that capitalist society is rotting on its feet. In fact, as we have argued since the end of the 1980s[1], the capitalist system, which entered into its period of decadence with the First World War, has over the past few decades been sinking into the final phase of this decadence, the phase of decomposition. The most spectacular demonstration of this situation was the collapse of the eastern bloc three decades ago. This major event was not simply an indication of the fragility of the regimes which ran the countries of this bloc. It expressed a historical process affecting the entire global capitalist system and which has got worse ever since. Up till now the most obvious signs of this decomposition have been seen  in the already very weak countries of the “periphery”: angry crowds acting as cannon fodder for the interests of this or that bourgeois clique, extreme violence on a daily basis, the blackest poverty visible at every street corner, the destabilisation of states and whole regions …all this seemed to be what happened only in the “banana republics”.

But for a number of years, this general tendency has more and more been explicitly hitting the “central” countries. Of course, not all states have been affected in the same way, but it is clear that decomposition is now striking at the most powerful countries: the multiplication of terrorist attacks in Europe, surprise victories by irresponsible individuals like Trump or Boris Johnson, the explosion of irrational ideologies and, above all, the disastrous response to the Coronavirus pandemic which in itself expresses an unprecedented acceleration of decomposition. The whole capitalist world, including its most “civilised” parts, is evolving inexorably towards barbarism and increasingly acute convulsions.

If today, among the most developed countries, the US is most affected by this putrefaction, it also represents one of the major factors of instability. The incapacity of the American bourgeoisie to prevent a billionaire clown nurtured in Reality TV from gaining access to the Presidency already showed the growing chaos in the US political apparatus. During his mandate, Trump has not ceased aggravating the divisions in American society, notably racial divisions, and fuelling chaos all over the planet, through all kinds of biting declarations and hazy deals proudly presented as the subtle manoeuvres of a skilled businessman. We can recall his run-in with the American military command which stopped him, at the last minute, from bombing Iran, or his “historic meeting” with Kim Jong-un who only a few weeks before he had nicknamed “Rocket Man”.

After the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, after decades of running down health systems, all states displayed a criminal negligence. But here again the American state led by Donald Trump was in the forefront of the disaster, both at the national level, with a record number of deaths[2], as on the international level, through destabilising an institution of world cooperation like the World Health Organisation.

The assault on the Capitol by fanatical Trumpist bands is fully part of this explosion of chaos at all levels of society. This was an expression of the growth of totally irrational and violent conflicts between different parts of the population (white against black, people versus elites, men against women, gays against straights etc) – the caricature of which is represented by the heavily armed racist militias and delirious conspiracy theorists.

But these “fractures” are above all a reflection of open confrontations between cliques of the American bourgeoisie: the populists around Trump on the one hand, those with a greater concern for the long-term interests of the national capital on the other. Within the Democratic Party along with elements of the Republican Party, in the cogs of the state and the army, in the big news media or at the lectern of Hollywood ceremonies, the campaigns of opposition against the gesticulations of the populist President have been constant and sometimes very virulent.

These clashes between different sectors of the bourgeoisie are not new. But in a “democracy” like the US, and in contrast to what goes in in the countries of the third world, they normally take place in the framework of the institutions, with a certain “respect for order”. The fact that they are now taking this violent form in a “model democracy” testifies to a spectacular aggravation of chaos within the political apparatus of the ruling class, and this marks a significant step in capitalism’s slide into decomposition.

By whipping up his fan base, Trump has crossed a new line in his “scorched earth” policy following his defeat at the Presidential election, which he still refuses to recognise. His strike against the Capitol, the legislative symbol of American democracy, has opened up a gulf within the Republican Party, with its most “moderate” wing having no choice but to denounce this “coup d’État” against democracy, and to distance itself from Trump in order to save the party of Abraham Lincoln. As for the Democrats, they have raised the stakes by making a big hue and cry against the criminal behaviour of Trump.

To try to restore the image of America in front of an appalled world bourgeoisie, to contain the explosion of chaos in the “Land of Liberty”, Joe Biden and his clique have immediately thrown themselves in a fight to the death against Trump, denouncing Trump’s irresponsible actions, calling for his removal from power even in the short period prior to the inauguration of new President.

The succession of resignations by Republican ministers, the appeals for the resignation or impeachment of Trump, as well as the calls for the Pentagon to closely survey the President and ensure he doesn’t press the nuclear button, are witness to a will to eliminate him from the political game. The day after the attack on the Capitol, the political crisis took the form of one half of Trump’s electoral base disavowing him, the other half continuing to support and justify the attack. Trump’s political career seems to be seriously compromised. In particular, measures are being taken to ensure that he will no longer be eligible for election in 2024. Today, the defeated President only has one objective: to save his skin faced with the threat of judicial prosecution for instigating insurrection. On the same evening as the attack on the Capitol, Trump, while refusing to condemn their actions, called on his troops to “go home”. Two days later he ate the rest of his hat by describing this attack as “heinous” and said he was “outraged by the violence, lawlessness and mayhem”. And, keeping a low profile, he quietly recognised his electoral defeat and declared that he would vacate the throne for Biden, while still insisting that he would not be present at the inauguration on 20 January.

It's possible that Trump will be eliminated from the political game once and for all, but this isn’t the case with populism! This reactionary and obscurantist ideology is a ground-swell which can only keep on coming with the aggravation of social decomposition, of which the USA today is the epicentre. American society is more than ever divided and torn. Violence will continue to rise with the permanent danger of confrontations (including armed clashes) within the population. Biden’s rhetoric of “reconciliation” for the American people shows an understanding of the gravity of the situation, but whatever partial or temporary success this may have, it can’t halt the underlying tendency towards social dislocation in the world’s leading power.

The greatest danger for the proletariat in the USA would be to be dragged into this confrontation between different factions of the bourgeoisie. A large part of Trump’s electorate is made up of workers who reject the “elites” and are searching for a “man of destiny”. Trump’s promises to re-launch industry had allowed him to rally many unemployed proletarians from the “rust belt”. There is a risk of confrontations between pro-Trump and pro-Biden workers. What’s more, the decent into decomposition also threatens to sharpen the racial divide which is endemic in the USA, feeding identity ideologies and setting black against white.

The gigantic democratic campaign is a trap for the working class!

The tendency towards the loss of control of its political game by the bourgeoisie, as we saw with Trump’s accession to the Presidency, does not mean that the working class can take advantage of the decomposition of capitalism. On the contrary, the ruling class doesn’t stop turning the effects of decomposition against the working class. Already in 1989, when the collapse of the eastern bloc was a glaring expression of the decomposition of capitalism, the bourgeoisie in the main countries used this event to unleash a gigantic democratic campaign aimed at drawing an equals sign between the barbarity of the Stalinist regimes and authentic communist society. The lying talk of the “death of the revolutionary perspective” and the “disappearance of the working class” disoriented the proletariat, resulting in a profound reflux in its consciousness and combativity, Today the bourgeoisie is instrumentalising the events at the Capitol to launch a new international campaign for the glory of bourgeois democracy.

When the “insurgents” were still occupying the Capitol, Biden immediately declared “Like so many other Americans, I am genuinely shocked and saddened that our nation, so long the beacon of light and hope for democracy has come to such a dark moment…The work of the moment and the work of the next four years must be the restoration of democracy”. This was followed by a cascade of declarations going in the same direction, including from within the Republican Party. The same overseas, particularly from the leaders of the main western European countries. “These images have angered and saddened me. But I am sure that American democracy will prove itself to be stronger than the aggressors and rioters”, declared Angel Merkel. “We will not give in to the violence of those who want to put democracy into question” offered Emmanuel Macron. And Boris Johnson added: “All my life America has stood for some very important things. An idea of freedom, an idea of democracy”.

After the mobilisations around the Presidential elections, which saw record participation, and the Black Lives Matter movement demanding a more “just” and “clean” police, large sectors of the world bourgeoisie are trying to mobilise the proletariat behind the defence of the democratic state against populism. The proletariat is being called on to line up behind the “Democratic” faction against the “Dictator” Trump. This false choice is a pure mystification, a trap for the working class!

In the wake of the international chaos that Trump has fed, will the Democrat Biden establish a more just world order? Certainly not! The Nobel peace Prize winner Barack Obama, and his Vice President Joe Biden, went through 8 years of uninterrupted war. Tensions with China, Russia, Iran and all the other imperialist sharks will not miraculously disappear.

Will Biden offer a more human future for migrants? We only have to look at how cruelly all his predecessors, like all the “great democracies”, have treated these “undesirables”. We only have to recall that during the eight years of the Obama presidency, with Biden as Vice President, there were more deportations of immigrants than during the eight years under George W Bush. The Obama administration’s measures against immigrants merely opened the door to the anti-immigration escalation under Trump.

Will economic attacks against the working class come to an end under the “return to democracy”? Certainly not! The world economy’s dive into a crisis without any solution, further aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic, will bring an explosion of unemployment, of poverty, of attacks against the living and working conditions of the exploited in all the central countries led by “democratic” governments. And if Joe Biden manages to “clean up” the police, the democratic state’s repressive forces, in the US as in all countries, will still be unleashed against any movement of the working class, against all its efforts to fight for the defence of its living conditions and its most basic needs.

There is nothing to hope for in the “return to democracy” in America. The working class must not let itself be lulled and trapped by the siren songs of the democratic factions of the bourgeois state. It must not forget that it was in the name of the defence of democracy against fascism that the ruling class succeeded in mobilising tens of millions of proletarians into the Second World war, to a large extent under the leadership of the left and the popular fronts. Bourgeois democracy is just the hidden, hypocritical face of the dictatorship of capital!

The attack on the Capitol is a new symptom of a dying system which is dragging humanity along with it in a gradual descent into hell. Faced with the reality of a bourgeois society rotting on its feet, only the world working class, by developing the struggle on its own class terrain against the effects of the economic crisis, can overthrow capitalism and end the threat of the destruction of the planet and the human species.

ICC 10.1.21


[1] See our “Theses on decomposition” in International Review 107 and “Report on decomposition today” in International Review 164.

[2] At the time of writing, there have officially been 363,581 deaths from Covid-19 in the US, and 22 millions people infected (Source : “Coronavirus : el mapa que muestra el número de infectados y muertos en el mundo por covid-19”, BBC News Mundo)


Political chaos in the USA