US civil rights activist Bill Fletcher believes that unions and the left should have mobilized against the violence of fascists at the Capitol.
The left in the USA is poorly organized, says Bill Fletcher Photo: private
taz: Mr. Fletcher, what went through your head when you saw the pictures of the Capitol?
Bill Fletcher: I wasn’t surprised. I was one of the few leftists who warned of a coup since spring. But it wasn’t until late August, early September that people started to worry. It felt like a fire alarm. Many leftists suddenly realized what a re-elected Trump administration could do. But even after that, there was still a reluctance to do what was necessary.
What do you think should have happened?
When it became clear that the fascists were coming to Washington on Wednesday, mass mobilization would have been necessary.
born 1954, has worked in black civil rights organizations, trade unions and in the trade union umbrella organization AFL-CIO and in the TransAfrica Forum, as well as taught at the Institute for Policy Studies. He has published several books on social justice and racism. And he works as a commentator for left media. Fletcher lives in Washington.
Could left-wing counter-demonstrators have prevented the storming of the Capitol?
We do not know that. But if unions and civil rights groups had mobilized counter-protest to Washington, the goal would have been to outnumber them. We have often seen that we can then drive out the fascists.
Do you have any examples of this?
Take the KuKluxKlan. I lived in Boston in the 90s. When the KuKluxKlan announced a demonstration that was attended by around 100 participants, we organized a counter-demonstration with 1,000 participants. We drove them out of town.
The storm on the Capitol was much bigger.
We can mobilize thousands too.
Violence might have occurred.
Who knows. But what we saw on Wednesday was violence.
Why was there no call from trade unionists, civil rights activists and other leftists on Wednesday?
Something like this has to be done in advance. On Wednesday the fascists had permission to march. And the Washington city government had asked city residents to stay home.
Under Trump, the left in the US was very active. Why couldn’t she react collectively to the congress strikers?
One of the problems facing the left in the US is that it is poorly organized. We don’t have a left party to speak of. Just a couple of small organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America. Very many leftists are not involved at all or are involved in social movements. Then we have progressives who are looking for structural changes in capitalism. We lacked a coherent strategy. Unfortunately, many leftists have long failed to see the substantial differences between neoliberal centrists and right-wing populists.
Why don’t you explain the difference?
The Democratic Party embraced the neoliberal economy in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The same thing happened with Republicans in the late 1970s. Many Democrats are liberal on so-called social issues, such as the right to vote and individual rights. But economically they are neoliberal fundamentalists. Bill and Hillary Clinton are classic examples. On the other hand, we have right-wing populists like Donald Trump. You are often rhetorically against the neoliberal economy. But in practice they make it their own. They talk about restructuring the system, but above all they want to strengthen white and male supremacy. Unlike these right-wing populists, the centrists do not directly threaten democratic capitalism.
How is it that many American leftists did not see the coup risk?
It is a form of American exceptionalism that has spread to left and progressive circles. Many believe in the resilience of US institutions. They think the system can correct it. They downplay the real dangers posed by the right-wing populist movement and the fascists.
As a young man, you were close to the Black Panthers.
I was a sympathizer.
What would have happened Wednesday if a group like the Black Panthers stormed Congress?
If leftists tried massively to do what the fascists did, it would make the Tian’anmen massacre look like a picnic. The people would have been arrested and they would have been killed. On Wednesday, the police seemed strangely unprepared. Although there were days of advance notice. And many police officers treated the coup plotters very nicely. Some even took selfies with them.
The police failure is also astonishing because Washington has such a high density of police and a lot of experience with mass events.
What we saw was sympathy from the ranks of the police for the fascists. I was thinking of the Costa Gavras film “Z”, which is about the preparations for the coup in Greece. And the penetration of the Greek police with fascists.
Do you call all Congress strikers fascists?
I don’t use the word lightly. The greater part of those who support Trump are right-wing populists. The fascists are a subgroup. On Wednesday, they were armed and prepared to install Trump as their autocratic leader.
And what do you call what the congressional strikers did? Terrorism? Treason? Coup attempt?
It was an attempted coup. It was terrorism. And it was treason. But we need to understand that the violence we saw on Wednesday is not taking place in a vacuum. These people didn’t drink any weird brew or smoke methamphetamine. You have a worldview in which whites are taking control of the US and the US is being pushed around by the rest of the world. And in which men lose their power. They want a white republic. And they believe the time is right for it.
There are people in the US who say that the storming of Congress has positive consequences because it divided the Republican Party and because Biden has been confirmed as president.
Wednesday complicated the position of the Republican Party’s obstructionists in Congress. But we must also see that the fascists have not disappeared, and that the opportunists in the Republican Party who played with fire have not disappeared either. What is happening now has evolved since 1968.
It was then that Richard Nixon constructed the Southern Strategy in response to the George Wallace campaign. It was a white people strategy. The aim was to lure white voters away from the Democratic Party. Since then, the Republican Party has identified itself as a non-black party, describing the Democrats as the party of the minorities and as the party that gives things to people who don’t deserve them. To strengthen their core, Republicans have pushed the Liberals out of their party and turned it into a tough right-wing party. The Republicans are the only party in the advanced capitalist world that has made voter suppression a central part of its power strategy.
What are the consequences of Wednesday?
One is that prosecution of everyone involved – including Trump, for incitement to riot – and investigations into the police are necessary. Another that there are divisions in the Republican Party. It could be a threefold split where there will be the Trumpsters on the one hand, those who want to go back to normal on the other, and then the Lincoln Project centrists and people disgusted with where the party has gone. This does not necessarily have to lead to separate parties, but to a de facto split within the party.
The future Democratic President spoke to the public several hours before Trump on Wednesday. Joe Biden condemned the storming of the Capitol. But he didn’t sound like combative.
Biden still believes his role is to bring us all together. It was good that he called the putschists as insurgents and not as demonstrators. That was important.
Do you see any chance that the 25th Amendment and a new impeachment process will be used against Trump?
There is still too much uncertainty to predict. For example, on Wednesday, Vice President Pence started making decisions that a president normally makes. We don’t know if that was a mini-coup inside the cabinet that has already essentially overturned Trump.
What is the role of the trade unions, civil rights groups, civil society after Wednesday?
You need to put pressure on the Biden government to hold the fascists accountable and to remove from Congress those who helped instigate the violence.
Will there be strikes, demonstrations, petitions at the grassroots level?
We must use every tactic that is necessary to get the Biden government to do what is necessary. Wednesday has to be a wake-up call. In opposition to the right, we have to strengthen the new majority, we have to strengthen the people who voted for Biden, and we have to strengthen those who elected two Democratic senators in Georgia. We have to fight for power. Defensive actions are not enough. We need permanent organizations. Between now and the midterm elections in two years’ time, we need to form stronger blocs in the states to shift the balance of power. Because as long as the right – including the centrist right – has so much legislative power in the states, we’re stuck.