Popular support for the anti-imperialist cause within the USA is much bigger than the left’s opportunistic elements want us to believe; as is the proportion of the people who have a primary material interest in ending U.S. imperialism, and therefore could be brought towards antiwar ideas. It’s not just those who are most socially enlightened, or most inclined to support socialism, that support the idea of ending the empire; data has shown that throughout the last decade, right-leaning individuals have come to oppose foreign military involvement more than liberals do. Without this rise of antiwar sentiment among the more conscious elements of American conservatives, we wouldn’t now be in a situation where a majority of Americans have essentially come to oppose the Ukraine proxy war; this month, after a long period of decline in support for the conflict, a survey came out showing a little over 50% don’t want us to send more aid to Ukraine.
This shift in mass consciousness gives us an opportunity to render our government’s war operations untenable, should we take advantage of it by building up the anti-imperialist movement. Yet the primary parts of the “left” in this country don’t want to do that, because even though they claim to oppose the empire, in practice they’re not interested in rallying a majority of the people towards revolutionary goals.
The reason why the imperialism-compatible left acts like only leftists and liberals are worth bringing into the antiwar movement is because this part of the left views this movement in a fundamentally different way from how serious anti-imperialists do. The elements that are committed to this struggle are willing to do whatever is necessary for weakening the war machine. If we’re going to need to build a coalition with non-left formations in order to rally everybody who shares the antiwar stance, then we should do this. The compatible left isn’t willing to carry out such a project, because it thinks that the antiwar movement doesn’t need to be led with the goal of actually stopping the wars.
If this sounds absurd, listen to the kinds of arguments we hear from these types of leftists whenever somebody tries to take the antiwar movement beyond the narrow guidelines which their favorite “left” orgs have put in place. They argue that it’s unrealistic for us to have an impact on the conflicts our government is involved in, cultivating the perception that we’re powerless against the war machine until after a revolution has happened; the instances of when I’ve seen this argument are anecdotal, but the ideas behind it are based within institutions that hold serious power over our activist spaces. This unnecessarily pessimistic view of how much influence we’re capable of having naturally comes from a desire to defend these institutions, with their weak stances and practices when it comes to anti-imperialism.
When the compatible “left” orgs only ever hold antiwar rallies in response to events which more serious anti-imperialists have already held; then use those rallies to attack the orgs which threaten their activism monopoly; the only way they can justify this slimy and non-committal way of operating is by claiming anti-imperialism doesn’t truly matter all that much.
This is the rationale behind the compatible left’s decision to ignore the popular mandate for ending the war machine; to refuse to reach out to any of the conservatives who are compatible with the anti-imperialist cause, for fear of this making their organizing projects impure. The problem, though, isn’t just that these insular orgs only want to build a relationship with the niche minority who exist within left activism spaces; the problem is also that these orgs only want to put forth a version of “anti-imperialism” that’s been compromised, so as to avoid losing support from the liberal NGOs or alienating liberals.
The core assumption behind this backward mode of practice is that the most conscious element of the people are those to the furthest left on the political spectrum. The true most conscious element are those most opposed to U.S. hegemony; as all of our domestic contradictions can’t be resolved until the contradiction of imperialism gets sufficiently addressed. This isn’t how the compatible leftists see it though, so they adopt a way of operating which makes them ineffectual on anti-imperialism. At worst, they become willing to oppose the anti-imperialist actions of Washington’s rivals, should this be expedient for their mission to pander to liberals; orgs like PSL have come out against Russia’s Ukraine intervention, even though they say positive things about China’s anti-imperialist projects, because they don’t want to scare off the anti-Russian libs and lib-lefts.
And even when compatible left individuals do recognize that these actions are having a historically progressive impact, they join in on the attacks against all the anti-imperialist orgs that back Russia. Which renders their own “support” for Russia shallow and tokenistic; to effectively assist with the narrative war being fought by the empire’s challengers, you need to build an effective movement, which requires uniting with the other participants in this movement.
When somebody is guided by the ideas which keep the “left” in this country insular, the conclusion they inevitably come to is one of denial about the reality of there being a popular anti-imperialist mandate. If you act like fighting U.S. hegemony isn’t the most impactful thing we can do at this stage, and sacrifices the anti-imperialist movement’s strength for the sake of purity, you’ve implicitly adopted a mentality which treats this rising anti-imperialist sentiment as meaningless. The underlying belief is: “so what that a majority of the people in my conditions have been shown to be compatible with anti-imperialism? Because many of those people aren’t where I’m at on a lot of other things, they should be discarded.”
A practice that’s designed only to let you reach liberals, without even challenging their core pro-imperialist ideas, is not capable of harnessing our popular anti-imperialist mandate. And the radical liberal actors who are invested in this practice don’t care, because they think we can defeat the state without seriously fighting the imperial institutions which keep the state strong.
If an antiwar activist or org is being attacked by the imperialist media; if they’re being persecuted by the state; if they’re having accusations directed towards them that can’t honestly be backed up; then re-evaluate whatever biases you’ve been trained to have against them. They represent the forces which can unite the revolutionary-compatible majority, and rally this majority towards undermining our ruling institutions. Those whose actions and ideas have institutional backing are the ones you should be most suspicious of, because even if they claim to be revolutionary, they’ll betray the cause as soon as the struggle escalates.
They’re already doing this by putting forth the notion that we should try to keep the revolutionary-compatible majority divided, under the guise of being “principled” on social and racial justice. Don’t fall for the psyops designed to prevent the further rise of our anti-imperialist movement; join with this movement so it can destroy the old centers of power, and allow for us to build socialism.
By Rainer Shea
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