Behind the Self-Defeating Approach toward the National Protest against the US War on Russia in Ukraine

The Rage Against the War Machine, which stood up against the US war on Russia in Ukraine, was the first national anti-war demonstration in the capital in years. This was a groundbreaking event, showing that the anti-war movement has revived on a national scale after years of relative quiescence. Yet this success was not welcomed by some leftist anti-war activists. People may be acquainted with the issue of Libertarians as a key sponsor of the rally, and some of the views or alleged views of some of the speakers — views unrelated to the demands of the demonstration. 

Underlying this are deeper causes for the conflict.

A lefty anti-war coalition?

Some consciously, some not, seek to build a “left” anti-war coalition, an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist one. This confuses an anti-war movement with a left organization. It isolates you from possible allies. It is a myth that anti-war movements are led by leftists, a myth that anti-war movements consist mostly of leftists. Most people protest war because they are sick of war, are against new wars – not because they are leftist, but because they have human feeling. This should not be some new revelation. 

Movement building means we need to win over the people. And we need committed activists and experienced organizers. Whether they hold an anti-imperialist worldview is secondary. People become anti-imperialist — if they do at all — after becoming politically active, combined with some period of study. Often they become so only temporarily, as we see today with so many on the left supporting US regime change in Ukraine, Nicaragua, Syria, Iran, Hong Kong, or Russia. 

The root of these leftists’ mixed-up thinking goes back to the purge of the working class left-wing from the trade union movement after World War II. US government operations drove this class struggle force out of its home base in the working class. The left has not rebuilt its natural home there, nor does it focus on reestablishing the working class as its base. Instead, they orient to the multi-class socially progressive milieu with its nebulous relation to the means of production. 

A left that exists separate from a working class left-wing is homeless, cast adrift. In the socially progressive milieu, it rotates around Democratic Party voters, its liberal identity politics, and its disdain for the “deplorables.” Ironically, those who articulated that the Democratic Party is the more effective evil are living proof of the accuracy of this statement.

A left-wing grounded working class would not make such foolish mistakes as not supporting the February 19 demonstration against imperialist war. Nor would a working class left-wing, in contrast to today’s left, have any greater hostility to Trump voters than to Obama, Clinton or Biden voters. 

Left-right alliance?

The February 19 anti-war demonstration was dubbed a “left-right” alliance, a term first used by left supporters of US regime change in Syria. These left apologists for the “Syrian Revolution” smeared opponents of that military operation as allied with “fascists” in a “red-brown” alliance. Now this has been picked up by some left opponents of the US war on Russia to attack a demonstration against the present imperial war. 

A reality check is in order. People who attack demonstrations against US imperial wars are the ones who are reactionary, not the people who organize the demonstrations. That has always been the case.

Fortunately, many of these have called another anti-war rally on March 18, even if not for the best of reasons.

The demands of the Rage Against the War Machine rally were: Not One More Penny for War in Ukraine; Negotiate Peace; Stop the War Inflation; Disband NATO; Global Nuclear De-Escalation; Slash the Pentagon Budget; Abolish the CIA and Military Industrial Deep State; Abolish War and Empire; Restore Civil Liberties; and Free Julian Assange.

While it is not clear what is meant by “left” and “right,” the demands of the rally are directed against the national security state, the actual government of this country. If you confront it, then you are not supporting it, and we are on the same side.

Why did some lefty people set up a litmus test on other issues unrelated to the Rage Against the War Machine demands to determine who should be allowed to participate? If you want to weaken a movement, that is what you would do. Shun people who hold dissimilar beliefs on issues unrelated to the demands of the demonstration? That is a definition of sectarian.

A demonstration gives us the opportunity to explain our anti-imperialist message to other participants. If we don’t use that opportunity, then we don’t do our job.

School of Americas Watch protests at Fort Benning

SOA Watch organized annual rallies outside Fort Benning against US military intervention and murder in Latin America. The protests were staged and funded by different orders and groups of the Catholic Church. Most participants came from Catholic orders and schools. These are organizations opposed to women’s right to choose, opposed to LGBT rights. Were the SOA Watch rallies a “left-right” alliance we should attack instead of joining? Attack the protests for being a platform legitimizing anti-woman and anti-gay groups? 

The “Left-Right” Alliance Fred Hampton Built

Fred Hampton and Bobby Lee of the Chicago Black Panthers showed how class-conscious activists work with seemingly hostile groups. In the late 1960s these Panthers helped create a Rainbow Coalition of poor blacks, Puerto Ricans, and southern whites to fight for fair housing, economic equality, and against police brutality. The whites, Young Patriot Organization (YPO) was based in Hillbilly Harlem, in uptown Chicago. They wore the Confederate flag as their emblem, and many were racist. But like blacks and latinos, the Young Patriots and their families experienced discrimination — being poor and from the South. Fred Hampton tolerated YPO members wearing their Confederate flag patches at meetings and rallies. It came to take on a new meaning within the Rainbow Coalition. The YPO began wearing the Confederate flag with black power symbols and slogans. Despite the racial divisions, the BPP and YPO found common cause in the fight against their oppression. Through their joint work, the Young Patriots cast off their white supremacy views, including the Confederate flag. They saw they had in much common with the Black Panthers and latino Young Lords. This is but one example of people, focused on taking on the imperialist power structure, overcame their “left-right” divisions and worked together to fight their common oppressor. 

Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin, a sensible and highly respected anti-war activist, no sectarian, had this to say about Rage Against the War Machine:

Many people have asked me why I am not speaking at the Rage Against the War Machine rally in DC on Feb. 19. Here’s why: I supported the Rage Against the War Machine Rally from the time of its conception and I support it today, even though I will not be one of the speakers because the organization I have been associated with for 20 years, CODEPINK, urged me not to speak…

So why do I support the rally?

Because I am heartbroken by a war that is causing such death and destruction in Ukraine.

Because I have real fears that this war could lead us into World War III or a nuclear confrontation.

Because both political parties are complicit in giving over $100 billion to Ukraine to keep this war going.

Because the Biden administration is pushing this war to weaken Russia instead of promoting solutions.

Because we urgently need as many voices as possible, from a broad variety of perspectives, to speak out so we can be much more effective at pressuring Congress and the White House to move this conflict from the bloody battlefield to the negotiating table. The future of our world stands in the balance.

Those are the key issues. To emphasize: on the anniversary of Ukraine war, the two superpowers are in combat. The US government states it remains committed to driving Russia out of the Ukraine; Russia says defeat threatens its very existence. Recall Biden said a year ago that US and European sanctions would make Russia leave Ukraine. The war has only escalated since then. Where will it lead?

Tulsi Gabbard began her speech with the day in January 2018 when Hawaiians were warned on their cell phones “Ballistic missile inbound. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” To think the leaders of the US and Russia will not blunder into a nuclear war, given all the previous incidents over the years, reveals a naïve faith in our leaders. To refuse to work with “the right” to avoid Ukraine becoming a nuclear war is mind-boggling in its stupidity. The Libertarians show their approach is not so sectarian. Those who brought us Rage Against the War Machine recognized if we are to defeat the non-stop imperial war machine that rules over our lives, we must work with all people possible under its boot. Until we all do, we defeat ourselves.

Stansfield Smith,, Stan has been involved in anti-war organizing for 45 years, and has written a number of articles about Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, as well as previous articles related to the subject here. They have appeared in Monthly Review online, Orinoco Tribune, Dissident Voice, Counterpunch, Popular Resistance, and others. Read other articles by Stansfield.