Given the numbers involved, it might seem that all the brouhaha over the “Rage Against the War Machine” protests is just a tempest in a teapot. After all, their signal event in Washington D.C. only
got about 1000 people, and the one in San Francisco only got about 75 to 100 maximum. But another development described below shows that it is entirely relevant to what is happening, and what is not happening, in the US. It is a living example of how the “left” in the US has distanced itself from the working class of Ukraine. This is the “foreign policy” of the US left, socialists included, and since foreign policy is just the extension of domestic policy, this shows how the U.S. “left” has also distanced itself from the U.S. working class.
A comrade and I attended the “Rage Against the War Machine” (RAWM) rally in San Francisco yesterday. My estimate is that there were about 75 people present, and the average age was probably around 50 years old. I did get into a few conversations with young people, two of whom were very interested in the genuinely internationalist ideas and the leaflet of the Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign.
But the main themes could be seen from a few other conversations we had:
One was between an older “peace” activist and my comrade. I didn’t hear all of it, but it seemed to be going along smoothly, until this “peace” activist asked how did he really know that the atrocities in Bucha really happened, since he wasn’t there. This is no different from the Trump supporters’ denial of established fact or, in reality, from those who deny the Holocaust, and no thinking U.S. worker would take that seriously. But here in this crowd, this “peace” activist was comfortable openly expressing this.
Another conversation/debate I had also shows the gulf that exists between the “left” in the US and the lived experiences of workers, most especially workers in Ukraine in this instance. That was an exchange between California Green Party leader Laura Wells and a fellow Green Party member and myself. They started off calling for Biden to negotiate with Putin – over the heads of the Ukrainian people. They claimed that all wars end by negotiations. That is like the union bureaucracy, which makes similar claims when negotiating a new union contract (usually over the heads of the union membership). What these union bureaucrats always end up doing is avoiding the fact that we have two hostile and conflicting sets of interests – those of the workers and those of the employers. Negotiations are simply a test of how determined the leaders of each side are, especially the union negotiators, who distance themselves from the membership. In the case of Ukraine, this means trying to get Biden to strike a deal with Putin over the heads of – and against the desires of – the Ukrainian people. In any case, just like the class conflict, wars don’t end by negotiating; they end by one side winning and then the terms of that victory are settled through negotiations. That’s what happened in WW’s I and II and what happened in the Vietnam War. The Green Party representatives were also forced to admit that they’d never heard of Social Movement and had not made any attempt to get in touch with the left in Ukraine.
Because of that ignorance, Wells retreated to the claim that the U.S. had installed a puppet government in Ukraine in 2014. Nobody on the left in Ukraine says that; it is simply the Putinist propaganda and that’s where they get their information from – the Putinists.
The crowning moment came when Wells said “Here’s what I believe, whether it’s true or not….” In other words, she and the “peace” advocates belong to the Rudy Giuliani school of politics: “We have our theories. We just don’t have the facts,” Giuliani had admitted at one point.
How can socialists offer any sort of alternative to MAGAism when they take the same approach?
Rage Against the War Machine in Washington DC
In fact, that same approach was made even more visible 2400 miles away, in Washington DC. There, the original and central rally of Rage Against the War Machine was held. There had been an outcry that the organizers were a dirty coalition of far right and the supposed “left”. Again, this coalition reminds me of the golf tournaments that my former union leadership of the Carpenters Union used to organize with the contractors. Or, more to the point, how they would collaborate with the employers in one political campaign after another.
After the outcry against this collaboration in Rage Against the War Machine, the organizers in cities like San Francisco couldn’t get away with including the far right, but they still had the same politics. In DC, it was all there in living technicolor. They had the far right (Ron Paul, Tulsi Gabbard) and the “left” (the People’s Party and similar types). According to one report, neo-Nazis like Matthew Heimbach and Shandon Simpson and similar racists were either present or working with the organizers of the event. This visible presence of the far right, including outright racists and fascists, caused many of the pro-Putin “left” to criticize the event. Those critics included long time former socialist Jeff Mackler and the group he helps lead, United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), and Margaret Kimberly and the Black Agenda Report. Medea Benjamin wanted to appear but she bowed to the wishes of the executive board of Code Pink. The former simply objected because participating would have revealed what they are really up to, not because they reject aligning with racists and fascists in principle. After all, when distance served as a cover, they had no problem with such associations. In 2014, Kimberly and representatives of UNAC happily participated in the fascist organized Anti Globalization Movement of Russia conference in Moscow. Mackler and others like him didn’t attend, but they had no problem with it. But that was over 9,000 miles away and they figured that nobody was paying attention. As for the most prominent “peace and justice” group – Code Pink – they have no issues with this unprincipled amalgam. It’s just not a good look to be too blatant about it.
The practical consequences: Working class support for MAGAism
Again, to emphasize, given the numbers – 75 maximum in San Francisco’s satellite event and 1000
in Washington D.C. – all of this might seem like a tempest in a teapot. But one event and the reaction of those affected shows that it’s not. I am referring to the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. There, hundreds, if not thousands, of people are being sickened, and their soil and water poisoned. That train derailment is caused by the drive for ever greater profits of the railroad companies, and the complicity of Trump first and foremost, but also Biden. What happened was that under the Obama administration, regulations had been established requiring trains like the one that derailed to employ a more modern braking system called electronically controlled pneumatic brakes. Under Trump, that regulation was repealed. The Biden administration could have reimposed that regulation but it didn’t. Yes, Biden therefore bears some degree of responsibility, but Trump is the main culprit. This part of Ohio is Trump country, and it’s interesting to read what those affected by this disaster have to say on Facebook. At best they are blaming “our government”, not the railroad companies. Nobody wants to touch the role of Trump, and when it is raised, one person replied that “he is a great president. He is coming there and our own spineless president isn’t even batting an eye your way.” Nobody else even batted an eye about this support for Trump.
This reaction shows the enormous confusion that exists at all levels throughout the United States. This confusion results in part due to the disastrous failure of socialists. Over decades, a gulf has developed between them and the working class. During the Cold War, that gulf was largely created by both Corporate America (the U.S. capitalist class) and also the role of the bureaucracy of the old Soviet Union. But socialists accepted it and adapted to it. In large part they turned to the “progressive” wing of the union bureaucrats and also the nonprofiteers.1 The result is that they do not see the role of the U.S. working class, independent of big business. And if they cannot see that role here in the US, they certainly won’t see that same role for workers 5,700 miles away in Ukraine or 6,700 miles away in Syria. Nor will they try to connect those roles and build links between US workers and our fellow workers around the world. Today, their efforts have minimal effect.
However, they are lending credibility to Marjorie Taylor Greene and that sort and will make cutting off all aid to Ukraine “respectable” since the Republicans have gained control of the House of Representatives.
The result of this approach is that socialists and the “left” in general are more distanced than ever from the U.S. working class. It’s true that genuine, working class socialists cannot turn out any greater numbers, but we have to start somewhere. What is needed is a new, working class based socialist movement to be born out of the ashes of the old.
1For more on how that gap developed and what to do about it, see this article on my campaign as the working class socialist candidate for mayor or this longer article on how fascist ideas have entered the left. This article discusses some of the traditions of the US working class and of socialists within the working class.