25 July 2020
President Trump has authorized hundreds of federal officers from some half-dozen agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), along with US Marshals, to descend on major American cities in operations reminiscent of the military dictatorships US imperialism has long supported in Latin America. In Portland, Oregon, protesters have been beaten, subjected to tear gas, sonic weapons and rubber bullets, and have suffered arbitrary detention, abduction and interrogation by unidentified agents in military-style camouflage and unmarked vehicles. The crackdown is intended to quell social unrest over the racist police murder of George Floyd, but it is more likely to inflame tensions.
Trump’s escalation has created fissures within the ruling class, given that most of the cities being targeted are run by Democrats such as Portland mayor Tom Wheeler, who denounced the deployment for “sharply escalating the situation” (CNN, 21 July 2020). Acting secretary of the DHS, Chad Wolf, simply dismissed such concerns and boasted: “I don't need invitations by the state, state mayors, or state governors to do our job. We're going to do that, whether they like us there or not” (The Hill, 20 July 2020). Meanwhile, Philadelphia attorney general Larry Krasner warned: “Anyone, including federal law enforcement, who unlawfully assaults and kidnaps people will face criminal charges from my office” (Bloomberg, 22 July 2020).
This assault on peaceful protests is a powerful vindication of the Marxist proposition that the capitalist state (i.e., army, cops, prisons, courts) is a weapon to inflict violence on the oppressed in the interests of the capitalists. This vicious repression is a direct attack on freedom of speech and assembly and a preview of what awaits anyone who dares to challenge the criminality and corruption of the US ruling class. The Trump administration’s diatribes against “antifa and other radical left-wing groups,” and labeling of protesters as terrorists, are designed to soften the general public up to brutal anti-democratic tactics.
We denounce the state repression and demand that all detainees be released and all charges dropped. Organized working-class action is necessary to defend civil liberties and counter the repression of the police, whether federal, state or local. Class-struggle militants must look for opportunities to initiate labor self-defense actions that demonstrate the social power of working people united around their common class interests. For example, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Longshore Division’s eight-hour shutdown of West Coast ports last month on “Juneteenth” to demand an end to systemic racism, police terror and the privatization of the Port of Oakland was a small but inspiring example of what is possible.
A militant working-class response would have nothing in common with the fake posturing and empty bombast of the Democrats. Nancy Pelosi, “mama bear of the Democratic Party,” took to Twitter to cynically claim that “Trump & his stormtroopers must be stopped,” while leading Congressional Democrats have taken to fighting “fascism” by writing a letter to the Department of Justice.
It is true that Trump shares some of the characteristics traditionally associated with fascist dictators, such as anti-immigrant bigotry and nativism, male-chauvinist bravado and appeals to the downtrodden with economic nationalism and promises to “make America great again.” His authoritarian crackdown is also no doubt popular with white nationalists and neo-Nazis. But Trump is mostly operating within the framework of bourgeois legality and lacks an organized mass movement of extra-parliamentary thugs to smash the organizations of the working class, the essential characteristic of fascism (see “What Next?,” Leon Trotsky, January 1932). Instead, he has channeled discontent in a right-wing populist rather than fascist direction. The Democrats loyally serve the same corporate masters as the Republicans. Their current opposition to Trump’s maneuvers is tactical and largely revolves around deflecting the embarrassment of having Washington intervene on their home turf, scoring political points in the lead-up to November’s presidential election, and deep concerns that Trump’s heavy-handed tactics will ignite a social powder-keg amidst an impending economic catastrophe triggered by the Covid-19 global pandemic.
The Democrats’ bluster, feigned outrage and cynical “virtue signaling” are partly designed to cover up their own role in passing legislation that could allow Trump to claim a legal footing for his actions. Barack Obama signed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which purports to allow the government to strip citizens (deemed “terrorists”) of their constitutional rights (HuffPost, 3 April 2017). In November 2019, they extended the infamous post-9/11 Patriot Act, which gives the federal government sweeping powers of surveillance, and broadly defines “domestic terrorism” as acts that “appear to be intended” to “influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion” or “to intimidate or coerce a civilian population” (i.e., conceivably any form of social protest).
Days after Trump dispatched federal agents to Portland, the Democrats supported legislation granting $50 billion in funding to the DHS and its subsidiary agencies without a word about the raids. In June 2019, Pelosi and the Democrats overwhelmingly voted for a record $738 billion in Pentagon military spending for the “fascist” Trump, while more recently they rejected a congressional proposal to reduce the Pentagon budget by 10 percent.
Rubber-stamping corporate bailouts and beefing up the state apparatus for repression at home and abroad are routine for Democrats. During the eight years Obama occupied the White House, he carried out a wholesale assault on those he pretended to represent. Millions of families lost their homes through foreclosure, while the banks that created the housing bubble enjoyed government bailouts. Under Obama, 2.5 million immigrants were deported – more than under all other presidents combined. His administration also oversaw the expansion of US imperialism’s global “war on terror,” including a $1 trillion nuclear weapons modernization program.
Marxists seek to break the working class from the Democrats and build a revolutionary socialist party. Effective opposition to Trump’s authoritarian anti-democratic measures requires a complete rupture of the political status quo. Disbanding the police, military, DHS and other repressive forces is only possible via the revolutionary overthrow of American capitalism and the creation of a workers’ state.
Whither America? (1917 No.43)
Racist Cop Violence Triggers Mass Outrage (1917 No.42)
Trump: Ugly Face of Capitalism (1917 No.39)