The Trump whisperers of Belfast
A micro view of the state and reactionary forces
17 January 2021
The attack on the US Capitol has led to an outpouring of shock and condemnation. How could these Trump supporters so casually trash the symbol of US democracy and threaten the lives of elected officials, remaining defiant and unapologetic afterwards?
Yet in many areas of the world the dynamics of the Trumpian revolt will be all too familiar. In any region where race or sectarian division are the major mechanism of capitalist rule the revolt of the populist right and the compliance of the state are well understood. Even in the US any knowledge of the country's history would inspire instant recognition of the links between the white supremacists and the state.
In Belfast, in the North of Ireland, all that is needed is a glance at the TV screen for the observer to grunt "Fleggers", a reference to the 2012 mass loyalist protests at restrictions on the number of days the British flag was flown at the City Hall.
On a microscopic scale the metaphor is pretty exact. There was a democratic vote in the council which simply adopted standard practice in Britain. The local Trumpists were arguing that the flying of the loyalist flag took precedence over any vote.
As in the US, those nearest the camera in the Belfast mobilisations were the human debris thrown up by right wing movements. As in the US, behind this debris stood paramilitary, in this case loyalist, groups. The actual leadership was not the poor or dispossessed but the well to do of the Democratic Unionist Party and their capitalist backers.
The Fleggers, as with the Trumpists, are looked down upon as illogical imbeciles. What this does is distract from the actual leadership of the movement at the head of civic society who are bad but definitely not mad. The incoherence of the various conspiracy theories and the toleration of the mob for cognitive dissonance between contradictory conspiracies allows the movement to be presented as mass insanity. The reality is that the members of racist and sectarian groups become skilled in not only never saying what they believe, but also in never admitting it to themselves. The various conspiracy theories act as camouflage.
However, when the actions of the far right are taken as a whole, they show a perfectly consistent logic. Full rights are reserved for their group who should rule society.
If the analogy holds it is not good news for workers in the US. In the initial attack on Belfast City Hall the police were almost invisible and there is a long history of collaboration between police and right-wing paramilitaries. The leaders of the state mobilised to control the situation but their behaviour was very different to the approach to nationalist organisations. They relied on a combination of massing sufficient forces to smother the reaction while at the same time placating them in the hope that they would become exhausted. At one stage the police were found guilty of perverting the law to allow the ongoing demonstrations. (They were later cleared on the grounds that "operational independence" allows them to do whatever they like).
More recently the Black Lives Matter protests reached Ireland. Rather than any movement to accommodate the protests, new laws were made up on the spot to crush the demonstrations.
Eventually the Irish protests ran out of steam. However, the state's approach made right wing paramilitary activity part of the ongoing new normal. Impunity for right wing organisations, widespread corruption and bribery and a constant drive for apartheid and intimidation of minorities are everyday facts of life.
This is all standard. The bias towards the right is inbuilt in capitalist society and in the police and state forces. It is possible to crush reaction but this is normally the task of a mobilisation of the working class and oppressed, a task to be undertaken on the streets rather than on the parliamentary stage. In Ireland the independence movement had been defeated and the nationalist politicians were desperate to placate the loyalists and preserve the patronage they now had through the local assembly.
The Trump whisperers of Belfast see a similar process playing out in the States. US capitalism is in decline, but there is no need to resort to fascism. The state will face down the Trumpists but it will try to gently overwhelm them through force of numbers and to placate them when they can. The small fry will face trial and the treason of the great and the good will be ignored. The state will prove its good intentions towards the right by redoubled attacks to the left.
The role of the Democratic Party is crucial here. For four years they blew smoke rings through their anus while Trump demolished the state apparatus and trashed many laws. The main strategy was to appeal to the Republican leadership to disown Trump. They have already indicated that they will run a unity offensive towards those they regard as the more moderate Trumpists and that's bad news for the working class.
At the same time that they failed to fight effectively against Trump the Democrats played a special role in repressing and absorbing a new alliance of black and white workers in the "Black Lives Matter" protests. So, when the attack on Congress took place, the movement, and the young socialist layer, had been twisted towards electoral politics and many had supported Biden's election campaign. The movement on the streets had been wound down and the state has a relatively free hand in how it deals with the Trumpists.
But in the longer run the battle will be between the state and its reactionary allies and the working class and oppressed. Police brutality, homelessness and a lack of health care, along with a bloodthirsty foreign policy, will continue to be the order of the day. The right is likely to grow in strength. The starting point for resistance in any area of the world is working class independence. And that involves building a working-class party.