There exists consensus that had such an eruption of nationwide and supporting global protest on a scale even approximating that following the police murder of George Floyd occurred in a country not part of the USA bootlicking club regime change action would swiftly follow. After all, the 21st century is littered with USA engineered “color revolutions” which have played out according to Hollywood-like script. First, a major grievance which draws public protest is fixated upon. Second, it is certain that in a world driven by predatory financial and corporate pillage and beset by numbing inequalities the protests will metastasize from single to multiple issues often castigating the system of power. Third, as authorities attempt to restore order, the USA propaganda and moralizing engine revs up decrying the “despotic” state “killing its own people” who so rightly desire change. Fourth, in swoops USA covert “agencies” often with funding to keep people in the streets. Fifth, and finally, out of a hat are pulled the new “legitimate” leadership of the country around whom the “international community” (read USA bootlicking club) rallies. Think the Juan Guaido farce in Venezuela, or the recent coup in Bolivia that catapulted Jeanine Áñez (who?) into the “interim” presidency.
So why no regime change calls in the USA? Let’s play “what if”. If you think about it, USA manifests a perfect storm of regime change conditions. Before cov19 struck decisively USA’s post-2008 bubble burst reloaded bubble economy was already in the throes of collapse. With cov19’s death spiral twisting across the country (near 2 million cases in the USA) unimaginable 1930s Depression levels of unemployment resulted as preventive lockdowns were enforced. This is topped off by crises in neoliberal gutted healthcare systems and the visiting of further plague on vulnerable homeless and immigrant communities. Then came the predictable bailout of the corporate and financial ruling class with but a few crumbs left on the table for workers and the so-called middle class. We all know that its ultimate end game is further neoliberal austerity and human impoverishment to cover the marker down the road.
Protests over George Floyd’s death soon morphed hydra-like to embrace broader concerns of systemic racist violence by the state and have brought to bear questions of poverty, Janus faced justice when it comes to minorities in the USA with emerging support for protests from prominent athletes and the like. There is also evidence of brewing intersectionality where the scourge of racism is being linked to legacies of settler colonialism, imperialism, slavery and myriad other oppressions in USA society. As a Left representative suggests the situation has reignited opportunities for Left organizing and has seen increased interest in the Democratic Socialists of America with its purported “inroads” into the mainstream Democrats. Finally, with cities in flames, looting abounding, President Trump threatens to call out the military only to be rebuffed by his own generals who a-la-Bolivian coup style, appear to switch sides.
All that is missing here is the “color revolution” playbook in reverse. With the state on the back foot, many police and National Guard “taking a knee”, and Trump cowering in a subterranean bunker, where are the calls for regime change as if the American people have not suffered enough? Where is the list of alternative leaders to maintain “interim” governance to transition away from this odious, exploitative, so blatantly broken system and ultimately to new elections under potentially altered democratic constitution designed for a redistributive, green society? Or, as some supporters woefully admit, this is a crisis that notwithstanding the most inept leadership in recent USA history, is heading to waste.
Part of the problem hinges on strategies of the Left and the residues of Occupy Wall Street. Prominent activists such as anarchist David Graeber continue to extol its formula and purported success. Yes, Graeber is certainly correct that fundamental ideas of socialism or anarchism resonate amongst the USA mass public much more extensively than widely believed; something increasingly borne out today in the face of the current economic malaise. Yet, notions of leaderless movements and “horizontal” consensus politics while certainly apropos in future ecosocialist local communes are not going to cut it in galvanizing diverse peoples around the need to overthrow a regime today. Or eschewing “demands” because they lend legitimacy to the current order? Sure, if you’re expecting the likes of a Joe Biden after over 40 years in politics with an abysmal record on anything mildly progressive to finally “hear you”. But to cultivate support from the widest sections of a society for unyielding protest action with the goal of so delegitimizing a political and economic system in mass public eyes to replace it then clear formulation of what people really want to accomplish is mandatory.
Running deeper than strategic misfiring is the impact of postmodern thought in society at large upon understandings of working class solidarity as articulated by Marx. While the conceptual niceties of postmodernism may not be grasped outside of academies, on the streets its aura diffused across consumer societies with their hyper-individualistic cultures of unique identities and consumption tastes, the social stratification effects of which rendered class mapping an extremely complex affair, to engender an “identity politics” of divided groupings with “standpoints” that can never be fully appreciated by another. It is no accident that the ruling class project of neoliberalism at the root of all the ills being decried by protest streams today including police militarization came into being concurrent with the demoting of the social class outlook.
Remember, Marx did not “privilege” class oppression over race or patriarchy. Rather, for Marx, social class focused attention on the fundamentality to human survival itself of material reproduction and its organization. The real question socialists need to answer to fill the vacuum in the departments of leadership and strategy is how liberation from the scourges of racism and patriarchy and the specter of environmental Armageddon interfaces with economic change and a viable model of a successor society. Only in this way will what should be a slam dunk for regime change actually become one.
Richard Westra is University Professor at the Institute for Political Science, University of Opole, Poland. His most recent authored book is Periodizing Capitalism and Capitalist Extinction (Palgrave 2019).