The goal of the anti-imperialist movement’s enemies is to isolate our movement; to stop it from becoming strong enough that it can’t be neutralized with smears, censorship, and repression. The elements that are most capable of doing this aren’t the politicians and pundits who’ve been supporting Ukraine, and who therefore are easily recognizable as enemies of the anti-imperialist cause. The most direct threats to our cause are the elements which present themselves as “anti-imperialist,” yet act to divide the struggle at the moments when unity is most important for it.
One such moment is coming up: the December 2nd Center for Political Innovation conference in Portland, Oregon, an event that will include opponents of the war machine from numerous organizations and ideological tendencies. When the conference happens, there are going to be attempts by the opportunistic actors within radical spaces to discredit it, like they’ve tried to discredit the other recent antiwar events which have brought together such a diverse array of groups. Those leading the attacks will point to contradictions within the conference’s leadership, whether real or perceived, to make their criticisms appear principled; but these criticisms are fundamentally going to be lacking in principle.
Many of the figures I’m talking about are so ready to denounce this coalition because they see it as a threat to their own influence within activism spaces, not because they’re consistently concerned about the integrity of the movement. Every organization and person has contradictions of some kind, especially the ones whose priority is to tail the Democratic Party; and the same ones who will most vocally oppose the December 2nd conference are invested in such liberal tailist projects.
These elements of radical spaces which reject anti-imperialist unity are a problem, not just because of what they say but because of what they don’t say. Ben Norton—who’s adjacent to the PSL organizers which have attacked the anti-NATO coalition—has felt compelled to reinforce the narratives justifying the murder of Darya Dugina by Ukrainian Nazis; yet he hasn’t felt a need to raise awareness about the Uhuru case. Most of the other “socialist” influencers have also been ignoring this strategically crucial narrative battle; and even though PSL has denounced the Uhuru indictments, it’s been quiet about the matter since the indictments happened half a year ago.
These failures by the most visible elements of the socialist movement to do what’s necessary for saving us from repression; and for building the unity required for letting us overcome the state’s attacks; have happened for the same reason these elements haven’t been supporting Russia in the Ukraine conflict. It’s considered acceptable by today’s left to support Palestine’s acts of resistance (though there are plenty of leftists who uncritically repeat the recent atrocity propaganda against Palestine); yet when Russia’s people mobilize to disarm a Nazi state, it’s controversial to recognize Russia as right for doing so. Only the parts of the struggle which are seen as the most winnable; or as the easiest to convince liberals to take the right stance on; receive support from the opportunistic sections of the left.
Lenin said that “In essence, opportunism means sacrificing the long-term and permanent interests of the proletariat for flashy and temporary interests.” Which is the practice that drives all the biggest figures within the modern American left, even when we see these figures say correct things about issues such as Palestine; their efforts to help the cause are conditional, and therefore investing oneself in them hinders the cause. That’s the lesson I’ve learned from witnessing the American left’s reactions to the Ukraine conflict: it’s not possible to unite all who claim to be anti-imperialists, because many of them aren’t interested in finding that unity. Yet this obstacle isn’t capable of preventing our movement from doing what can make it win: building a relationship with the people.
We who will attend the December 2nd conference can’t gain the support of the conventional “left,” but this shouldn’t discourage us; as those who are heavily invested in “left” circles represent a niche. The ones we should care about building a relationship with are the broader masses, and we’re absolutely capable of winning their loyalty.
The average person is not invested in the sectarian fights of the left, and the vast majority of the people will never become invested in it. The typical worker doesn’t travel in the circles where they’re liable to hear the arguments which figures like Norton make against building anti-imperialist coalitions; only a small minority are going to so much as learn that these circles exist. The effort to sabotage the emergence of a vanguard is capable of targeting only a few individuals; those being the ones who’ve already come quite close to gaining the knowledge necessary for becoming an effective agent in the class struggle. It’s a gatekeeping project that’s so esoteric in the ideas it seeks to communicate; so hyper-focused on a handful of subcultures; as to be unable to impact the thinking of the majority.
The gatekeepers who will denounce the December 2nd conference are a threat to our cause only insofar as they can dissuade the members of these niche circles from supporting the conference and its participants. This tactic of turning a community against those who break the rules is definitely capable of pressuring potential rebels into conformity for fear of being ostracized, and there are figures who’ve been successfully influenced by such pressures; but it can’t break everyone. And as long as there’s a reliable core of anti-imperialist organizers, there’s going to be potential for the movement’s principled elements to build a base beyond the left niche. Our cause is capable of reaching tens of millions of people who would never otherwise do anything political; of providing an opportunity for collective mobilization to the workers who’ve been utterly alienated from politics.
This great potential we have for building power is why the gatekeeping elements, and the federal agencies which nurture their ideas, have a greater hidden goal: to separate the people from the serious anti-imperialists. They try to do this by policing the discourse within both the left spaces, and the broader realm of bourgeois politics. Their central rhetorical tactic in this task to portray pro-Russian communists as agents of the far-right, hoping this will keep anyone who starts to become politically interested alienated from genuinely subversive politics.
Such manipulations are able to make many individuals hostile towards pro-Russian communists in this way; but these people, the ones who’ve been recruited into a role as attack dogs for the imperialism-compatible left, are confined to that small niche.
If we can use December 2nd to gain exposure for our ideas among the broader masses, we’ll build a base among people who none of the opportunistic political elements are interested in getting on their side. The opportunists, whether they’re rightists, liberals, or ultra-leftists, are all satisfied to stay within the circles they already have on their side. They have no reason to try to reach all the politically alienated types, as that wouldn’t be a sound way to invest their time and resources. Such a project to reach those who’ve been alienated from bourgeois politics is a difficult one, but the more we pursue it, the more we’ll gain our own base of supporters; one the opportunists can’t influence.
By Rainer Shea
If you appreciate my work, I hope you become a one-time or regular donor to my Patreon account. Like most of us, I’m feeling the economic pressures amid late-stage capitalism, and I need money to keep fighting for a new system that works for all of us. Go to my Patreon here.
To keep this platform effective amid the censorship against dissenting voices, join my Telegram channel.
To my Substack subscribers: if you want to use Substack’s pledge feature to give me a donation, instead send your donation to my PayPal link. Substack uses the payment service Stripe, which requires users to provide sensitive info that’s not safe for me to give the company.