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How Do We Stop a Coup?
This position paper from the anti-State communist collective Unity & Struggle was drafted before Trump caught coronavirus. We share it here as a good piece to illustrate the state of mind of our comrades fighting on the so-called United States of America's territory. We hope it encourages revolutionaries in the U.S. and everywhere else to debate what we can expect in November, and begin making plans, as what happens obviously has an influence worlwide.
A month out from the election, it’s obvious Donald Trump may attempt a coup. He won’t have the military march in and overthrow Congress. But he could use the technicalities of the constitution and a combination of official and unofficial channels to secure his hold on power. The contours of this kind of “constitutional coup” are coming into focus.
Scenario One: Biden leads and wins by a wide enough margin that a constitutional coup becomes untenable.
In this timeline, Trump challenges the results in court, and his base mobilizes in the streets, potentially leading to violence. But these actions remain isolated, and the judicial and legislative branches plus majority public opinion treat the election as decided. In this scenario, Biden’s zombie centrism still offers no solution to the economic, social and ecological crises. Far-right forces still grow in commitment and violence, and the potential for civil war or revolution continues to ripen. But we get a few years of (sort of) favorable conditions to prepare.
Scenario Two: the election is too close to call, sparking a prolonged constitutional crisis and unrest in the streets.
This scenario assumes some successful voter suppression and harassment. Let’s say the GOP employs monitors to intimidate voters at polling sites, as it’s now legally free to do. Or a “red mirage” takes shape, with initial votes swinging to Trump before mail-ins are counted. In this kind of scenario, Trump’s base declares victory, and imagines Biden is trying to steal the election through fake mail-ins. The Trump campaign tries to clinch it by stopping uncounted ballots in court, or redirecting electoral college votes like in 1876, or forcing a congressional vote like 1825. Legal battles drag on for weeks.
If a scenario like this develops, cycles of dueling protests may emerge in states whose votes are contested, for example at state capitols or in recount counties. Take the “reopen” protests this spring as an example: militias stormed state capitols, Trump and his cronies gave them full-throated support, and Republican legislatures intervened on their side against Democrat governors. The Floyd uprising also showed the deadly methods that both federal and rightwing forces are willing to use to assert control. These forces are all likely to hit the streets during the election and after, pressing courts to block ballots, legislatures to redirect electoral college votes, and repressing the left.
The bitterest confrontations will likely be in the states most central to Trump’s battle to remain in power. But in cities nationwide where left and right factions are well organized, fistfights or gunfights could erupt. Progressive democrats might support nonviolent rallies against voter suppression. But Trump will be happy to sanction–even call for–violent ones. If militias don’t scare people off the streets, Trump could act on his threat to put down “insurrection” and deploy federal police or the National Guard. The military might comply at this point, while trying to stay out of the limelight.
In this scenario, forces on the ground will influence how narratives come to dominate public discourse. Is this an uprising against an antifa coup, or a Trump coup? Whichever story fills the streets, city centers, capitol buildings, press conferences and news cycles will determine which kinds of elite coalitions take shape to try to end the shitstorm.
We see mass action as key to controlling the streets and shaping the narrative, on election day and in whatever follows.
First, we don’t believe the armed left is in a position to defeat the militias militarily, though armed self-defense should play a role. Second, we don’t think a battle between armed specialists is politically desirable. Third, and most important, we know mass mobilization can dwarf the armed right in a throw down: 15 to 26 million people participated in Floyd protests, compared with 35,000 to 47,000 in anti-lockdown protests, or the combined membership of an estimated 576 Patriot militias. Armed fascists dominate by caravaning to a few hot spots as protests dwindle. They can’t match a mass upsurge.
In a constitutional coup, the left’s role will be to fuel mass, militant direct action that overwhelms the far right and multiplies points of resistance in the institutions of the state and economy. The more this happens as Biden tries to send people home, the longer it continues in the face of rogue federal and police crackdowns, the more we will lay the conditions for class autonomy in the future. Against calls for passivity and nonviolence, the left should celebrate and spread resistance, linking it with the long history of labor and freedom movements in this country.
If you agree with our assessment, here are some proposals for what to do:
From now until election day: strengthen the networks that will respond in the case of a constitutional coup, and build their capacity to take the initiative. This doesn’t just mean forming coalitions between existing groups, but also giving a shot of adrenaline to organizing in neighborhoods and workplaces, where people learn to work collectively and take militant action.
In the time we have left, we can establish direct contacts, signal boosting networks and carpools among regional groups, and develop action plans for election week. We can facilitate training for marches, street medics and other key skills. We can link with the bases of NGOs (1,2) and the trade union rank-and-file fighting voter suppression–not to join their efforts, but to find others who, in a crisis, might take action independent of the Democratic party. We can share agitational materials with friends and family in the military or National Guard. We can rack up our memes beforehand, and circulate calls for “day after” rallies.
On election day: expose voter intimidation and harassment by the right. If it appears a constitutional coup is taking shape, our networks can call day-after rallies in response. The general approach should be to establish a narrative of popular resistance to a Trump coup, power to the people, etc. Knowing the right will try to goad protesters into confrontations and pose as victims, we should try to avoid physical confrontations unless attacked. Our power and safety will lie in numbers, and in setting the terms of the ensuing political crisis.
In the weeks that follow: we can use far right actions in any part of the country as an occasion for counter-mobilizations in all parts of the country, and especially in battlegrounds. For example, in the case of a leap in fascist violence like Charlottesville or Kenosha, we should be ready to take part in a nationwide response. Assuming mass actions overwhelm the ability of militias to intimidate people, we should expect to sustain protests in the face of federal interventions like those seen in D.C. or Portland. At this point dissent within the National Guard, or political job actions in key sectors of the economy, could prove decisive, and prepare a deeper break with bourgeois rule.
Rightwing authoritarianism is a pressing threat. The left is broad and diffuse. However, the forces of the right aren’t fully developed either, nor are they overwhelming. Let’s seize the time.
— by Enzo Lorenzo, with feedback from the rest of Unity & Struggle