We need an antiwar coalition. Rage Against the War Machine isn't it.
Connected to a cult, overtly hostile to the antiwar left, and not even consistently against war. What's not to like?
The antiwar left has a serious puzzle on our hands: though majorities of both parties favor continued intervention in Ukraine, that majority is currently smaller among Republicans than Democrats. I don’t know why anyone would expect Republicans to maintain this relatively dovish position in the long term anymore than Democrats have; and as anyone who has an ounce of experience organizing against war can tell you, getting people to respond a certain way in a poll is very different from getting them to participate in an action, or vote a certain way, or do literally anything to turn their preference into a reality. Nevertheless, unless Democrats eventually come around to antiwar politics, the left is going to have to find a way to cooperate with people who, on this, have historically been our opponents.
But this does not, of course, mean that it will always further the cause of peace to work with anyone — or that everyone who says that they oppose the war will be willing to work with us. Even among leftists any competent organization will always have a vetting process and will choose its allies bearing in mind the simple question: will this actually end war?
And that is why I think any antiwar activist, left or right, should absolutely reject participating in the so-called “Rage Against the War Machine” rally on February 19th. I have no doubt that this criticism is going to be smeared as a complaint about working with the right, or as unwillingness to find common ground with people who I have disagreements with, if only because this is that is the only genre of criticism this group ever acknowledges; but that is not the complaint at all. The speakers at this rally are openly hostile towards building a coalition with the left, and some of them have even supported escalation by Russian forces. Two of them, moreover, are directly involved in the Lyndon LaRouche cult, a dangerous group that the antiwar movement has historically steered clear from and that most recently has been connected to allegations of sexual abuse and multiple attempted murders.
First, on their support for escalation. No antiwar movement worthy of the name can cross the line from opposing intervention and contesting US war propaganda to actively cheering on further escalation by Russia, but that is exactly what multiple speakers at this event have done. Scott Ritter has wished Russian forces “happy hunting”.Jackson Hinkle has attacked Lula simply because he dared to “publicly condemn Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine”. Peace advocates are of course already being smeared by the hawks as supporters of Russian militarism; we would seriously hurt our credibility by vindicating that criticism. And we betray the Russian antiwar movement, who voices like Ritter and Hinkle stand directly against.
Second, on their opposition to coalition building. I grew up in a Mennonite community among pacifists, many of them conservative; my own grandfather is a pacifist Church of the Brethren pastor, and he typically votes Republican. I understand perfectly well that sometimes putting together a coalition means setting some of our political differences aside. But what the antiwar left obviously cannot tolerate are partners who deny that we even exist. And for nearly a year now, this has been a major talking point among several speakers at this event: persistent generalizations about “the left” as enemies of peace, even to the point of defaming left peace activists as pro-war. Craig Jardula, for example, routinely veers from the claim that “there is no US left” to alleging that “propaganda killed the US left into pro-war, pro fascist zombies.” Speaker Daniel McAdams has argued that “opposition to US warmongering military empire is not a left wing position” and routinely publishes, through his website, articles like “The Wishful Thinking Left: Unwitting Agents of the Imperial Order”.
Far too many leftists have become complacent about the war in Ukraine, and even become advocates for intervention; but these constant broad-brush claims on the left writ large are a direct attack on every one of us who wants to end this war. That they have invited a few leftists to speak on the condition that they put up with these attacks doesn’t change that. Just as a practical matter, we are not going to build a successful left-right coalition dominated by people who are hellbent on insisting that the left half doesn’t even exist.
Finally: though it has not as far as I can tell been mentioned in any of the promotional materials, this event has multiple connections to the cult of Lyndon LaRouche. Diane Sare, listed only as a “candidate for U.S. Senate,” ran on the LaRouche party line. Hinkle, already mentioned, routinely promotes LaRouche and spoke at one of their front-group meetings in October. Sare was also in attendance, as was Caleb Maupin — founder of the Center for Political Innovation. CPI one of RAWM’s coalition members, is widely regarded as a front-group for the LaRouche cult.
Let’s set aside their bizarre, fascist politics. Let’s set aside their well-documented history of working as covert informants for US intelligence. Let’s set aside the recent accusations of sexual abuse from members of CPI, or the fact that the LaRouche cult has now been connected to multiple murders and attempted murders — including a drive-by assassination attempts just last week. (Solomon Peña, who allegedly orchestrated the shootings, was a LaRouchePAC candidate.) Let’s set aside the fact that LaRouche’s wife, in the mentioned October recruiting session, openly bragged about using antiwar publicity stunts to attract attention to their cult. Let’s set aside their history of violently assaulting members of left organizations, LaRouche’s own conviction of credit card fraud, and my questions about who has access to the mailing list and financial information being gathered by the RAWM website.
I don’t know why in god’s name we would set all of this aside, but that’s beside the point. Because even if you and I do, we are not going to get millions of Americans to set it aside too. We are not going to build an anti-war movement around a notorious cult that Democrats, Republicans, and independents all (rightly) consider bizarre and dangerous. Again, just as a practical matter, I do not understand why a movement that prioritizes building a consensus around ending the war would tie our fate to a tiny cult that will alienate people and destroy our credibility — at best.
The antiwar left needs to do a better job in building a coalition with the right. We may not be able to find partners who agree with us on everything, but we must at least find partners who will admit that we agree with them on peace. They may not want both sides to de-escalate for the right reasons, but they must at least want both sides to de-escalate. And they may not be popular with the left, but they must at least be acceptable to the American public — the very people we need to persuade. Rage Against the War Machine fails all three of these tests. For the sake of peace in Russia and Ukraine, we have to do better than this.
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UPDATE: Another example of Ritter’s egregious militarism: here is just a few days ago defending notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout as “a man who wants peace.” There is all kinds of criticism one can level at his prosecution, but even if one wants to insist that he sold arms legally, the notion that he wasn’t selling arms is patently absurd. And while one can make just war arguments in defense of peace through war, these are just war arguments, not antiwar arguments. RATWM has no moral or logical leg to stand on if its actual position is that some militarism is actually good.