“If War Is Right”- The Question of U.S. Involvement in Ukraine

As the west’s US-NATO coalition argues about whether to intervene in Ukraine, socialists should take inspiration from Eugene Debs and others who opposed US involvement in World War I.

A Ukrainian serviceman points to the direction of the incoming shelling next to a building which was hit by a large caliber mortar shell in the frontline village of Krymske, Luhansk region, in eastern Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

The working class have never yet had a voice in declaring war. If war is right, let it be declared by the people – you, who have your lives to lose.

It was those words among others that put American socialist leader Eugene Debs behind bars for violating the Espionage Act following President Woodrow Wilson’s propaganda blitz to drum up support for the United States’ entry into WWI.

At the time, dissidents like Debs agitated against U.S. involvement in the war, joining millions of workers and labor union progressives united against what they saw as a war for empire. They were adamant about what the left’s position should be when it came to the question of U.S. military involvement – the revolutionary left would not support sending the working class as cannon fodder to settle imperial rivalries for capitalist interests.

It was also this sort of position that united liberals and conservatives of the time against socialists like Debs who they viewed as a thorn in the side to the interests of empire and capital. Theodore Roosevelt called Debs one of the nation’s most “undesirable citizens” and accused him of fomenting “bloodshed, anarchy, and riot,” for agitation and speeches espousing these sorts of anti-war sentiments.

Debs’ refusal to play into nationalist sentiments was by far one of his most egregious sins as far as mainstream bourgeois political thought was concerned.

For socialists who oppose US-NATO meddling in Eastern Europe following the Russian Federation’s incursions into Ukraine, Debs’ story sounds very familiar – especially during a time in which the anti-war left is perhaps weaker than it has ever been. In the wake of Trump’s “Russiagate” scandal, even the most “progressive” liberals have been out for blood when it comes to giving support for U.S. imperialist adventurism, driven by the mere thought of creating a geopolitical vacuum for Russia to fill otherwise. With this in the center of their imagination, the remnants of what was left of the liberal anti-war movement, or the semblance of what seemed to be an anti-war movement up to and during the Bush Jr. era, has become a distant memory.   

Two decades ago, the streets were flooded with protestors amid President George W. Bush’s War of Terror. However, today, conservatives and liberals are more united than ever on the question of U.S. imperialism – and most agree that the U.S. must “maintain its position as leader of the world.” In short, this means more geopolitical military competition with Russia, whether it’s as indirect as maintaining a presence in the Middle East as a proxy battleground between the two capitalist empires, or something closer to direct confrontation, like supplying weapons to factions engaged in direct conflict with Russia and giving serious consideration to the possibility of NATO intervention moving forward. Even after the humiliation in Afghanistan and the trillions wasted on its failed occupation, it seems the nation and its imperialist ideologues have learned few, if any, lessons about the follies of U.S. imperialism.

So, what should the socialist’s response be to all of this? Just like Debs’ response to the question of U.S. involvement in WWI.

As liberal publications like New York Times and conservative publications like Wall Street Journal prattle on about Ukraine with the premise that the U.S. must involve itself militarily to some degree, or the tone-deaf nail-biting over what a Russian invasion will mean for their shareholders’ stock portfolios, socialists should view this as a chance [and responsibility] to propose our alternative view on world affairs. It’s a time to discuss what interests American workers should be concerned with most – that of our class, and not of the abstract idea of us as a nation-state united behind its imperialist ruling class.

The U.S. regime has no moral authority on international law and human rights in the context of aggression against sovereign nations. The U.S. regime is the undisputed leader when it comes to civilian body count produced in unprovoked wars and coups manufactured by foreign interference in the 21st century.

It’s violated the sovereignty of dozens of nations like Honduras, Venezuela, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia and Libya, among others in the past two decades alone. It’s the only country engaged in its level of military adventurism, so much so that the country’s most “progressive presidential administration in history” began its administration by bombing Somalia on Black History Month last year with little dissent from “progressives” in the corridors of power. Why should war criminals be able to decide how to deal with the situation in Ukraine?

As the death drive that fuels U.S. imperialism becomes normalized and legitimized more and more amid the fixation on Ukraine, socialists must vehemently oppose the hypocrisy of American neo-colonialism and paint the sycophantic crocodile tears from the leaders of the so-called “free world” for what they are. The problem isn’t the idea of wanton violence against Ukrainians – at least not for pro-imperialist politicians and pundits. They have no problem with wanton violence against nations that don’t align with U.S. capital interests.

The idea they propose, in a nutshell, is that the U.S. should be allowed to do such things as Russia is in Ukraine, and even worse – such as when it outraged the world and much of its own allies when it began its occupation of Iraq that killed approximately 1 million Iraqis and left the nation destabilized as a hotbed for Sunni extremism. The world could only look on with disgust at what the Bush regime did, and the subsequent continuation of that foreign policy in later administrations.

The lack of an anti-war perspective in mainstream discourse means that socialists, now more than ever, must speak up for anti-imperialist ideas as tensions in the Balkans involving NATO and the U.S. heat up over Ukraine. We must show the most politically jaded Americans fed up with the ruling class’ status quo our political vision in wars between empires – a world where the worker and poor are not called upon to fight the wars of the rich and do their dirty work for them. A world where we can speak and think for ourselves about what is right, without the commentary from hacks writing for imperialist rags telling us the U.S. must maintain a geopolitical stranglehold anywhere it can reach its tentacles.

There is no progressive position on U.S. imperialism other than that it shouldn’t exist, and any pretext given for actions on its behalf is the attempt of capitalists trying to speak the language of real, human rights concerns. (“What about our stocks?” just doesn’t play well with workers, after all.)

Let’s make our position clear and loud enough to be heard by imperialist mouthpieces and pro-war capitalists that will never fight their own wars or bear their costs. In the asylum that is mainstream American foreign policy discourse, it is socialists who have the voice of reason, the willingness to speak out against war and expose it for the capitalist racket it is – paid for by the blood of workers who struggle for access to health care even during an unprecedented pandemic, who toil without a living wage and who remain at the mercy of speculators in the housing markets driving rent up.

Remember Debs and what he had to say back then when you think of US-NATO positions in Eastern Europe today.

If the capitalist wants war and conflict, let that tension be settled between their class, not ours. As for socialists, we reject their dystopian view of the world that embraces clash of civilizations theories to distract us from the real class war being waged against us by the ruling class right here at home.

The only war we want to fight [or rather, fight back in] is the class war. Our only enemy today is the ruling class here in the epicenter of global capital– not the Russian.

Power and Ideology’s Role in the Rittenhouse Verdict (Nov. 22, 2021)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is com_hw_kyle-rittenhouse_ap_20242831422808.700px.jpg
FILE – In this Aug. 25, 2020, file photo, Kyle Rittenhouse, left, with backwards cap, walks along Sheridan Road in Kenosha, Wis., with another armed member of a right wing militia. The 17-year-old gunman who fatally shot two protesters in Wisconsin became a folk hero of the far right. (Adam Rogan/The Journal Times via AP, File)

The Rittenhouse Verdict Was An Exercise in Power and Ideology that Underscores the Need to Advance Socialist Struggle in the U.S.

On Friday last week, a jury found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty on all counts related to his murder trial, after the self-proclaimed right wing nationalist traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, during the summer of 2020 intent on shooting anti-racist protesters.

Rittenhouse made it clear before traveling to the epicenter of the people’s struggle in Kenosha that he intended to use an AR-15 against the “rioters” – a fact struck from the case by Judge Bruce Schroeder, who made every effort to impede the prosecution in favor of Rittenhouse’s defense and to create a farce of a trial in a kangaroo court. Such moves included pretrial rulings that barred prosecutors from presenting evidence of Rittenhouse’s ideological affiliations with the ultra-nationalist Proud Boys, that he attacked a woman months before the shootings or calling the people Rittenhouse shot “victims.”

Setting aside for a moment Schroeder’s clear bias in favor of the defense that drew national attention and his record of handing down draconian verdicts for Black defendants spanning his career and racist remarks during the case, there is a wider context to consider here. And it has nothing to do with self defense.

Rittenhouse, a self-proclaimed nationalist, was not convicted largely due to the simple fact that the capitalist state and its institutions have always taken a weak stance against right-wing violence, which historically has acted in its interests, and a heavy-handed approach to quelling any and all people’s movements against capitalism, racism, neo-colonialism and imperialism. Over the decades, anti-war movements, various radical leftist organizations and anti-racist movements actually built from a legitimate need for self defense against racist terror from within and outside of the state such as Black Panthers, have all been treated as dissidents due to their left wing ideology. Many are still political prisoners rotting away in prisons and subject to torture to this day.

Some of the first restrictions against open carrying were spearheaded by the very types of conservatives who now defend Rittenhouse – enacted specifically to disarm groups like the Black Panthers. Most recently, Black militias that formed during recent years of unrest related to Black Lives Matter protests, dubbed “Black Identity Extremists” by the state, have been targeted by the FBI for surveillance and even punished for social media posts, despite groups like the KKK receiving police protection at events nationwide. And the nationalist militias that Rittenhouse marched with receive little scrutiny from the state, since their political and ideological interests align with that of the police departments whose ranks are infested with nationalists that openly despise the left and are in some cases, supporters of those groups.

For the white supremacist capitalist state and its most loyal actors, Rittenhouse is an agent of order, whereas his victims are considered anarchists, terrorists, and agents of chaos that threaten to tear at the fabric of a social order they want to preserve.

Rittenhouse came to act as an extension of a racist state’s paramilitary police, while  36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum, of Kenosha, and 26-year-old Anthony Huber, of Silver Lake, Wisconsin, were engaged in a movement that defiantly combatted and challenged it.

All capitalist states’ armed institutions have been fueled by right wing nationalist ideologues, from their police to their militaries. In the US, the armed wings of the state are made up largely of people that act as willing servants of imperialism, who believe that the occupation of imperialized and colonized peoples is necessary in an effort to maintain domestic and global order, and who accept the price of their legitimized violence called “collateral” – in other words, dead non-white peoples at home and abroad which serve as sacrificial lambs to preserve American “democracy.” The similarities in how the US conservative and alt-right movement paints groups like the Proud Boys is eerily similar to how the liberal bourgeoisie, conservatives and even some social democrats viewed fascist gangs as allies against bolshevism and anarchism in pre-WWII Europe.

Despite so much showing that Rittenhouse represents a small part of a history of right wing violence against people’s movements, much of the progressive left has been tricked into doing what it has done for years in the wake of most injustices – it has reacted. And this time, much of it has opted not to point out the ideological context, but to argue against the basis of the defense and legalities of whether Rittenhouse is considered a criminal or not. None of this really matters given the ideological context of the case, and how capitalism and racism has maintained itself over the decades through force and state sanctioned violence. Over and over again, the US public absurdly finds itself relying on the same legal institutions and juries that maintain that system to right wrongs such as this.

Derek Chauvin, convicted of killing George Floyd earlier this year, was an anomaly among dozens of recent cases where state actors were put on trial (or tried at all) for carrying out extrajudicial murder, and he was arguably only convicted as a result of the pressure created by uprisings like the ones that happened in Kenosha.

Sadly, many victims of police and right wing racist violence, from Trayvon Martin to the communists and anti-racists slain by the KKK in Greensboro, NC, in 1979, have not been vindicated yet. There’s a reason for this, and the reason is simple. The system was designed this way, and the US revolutionary left has not organized itself into a cohesive force able to do much aside from sporadic protests in reaction to its mechanisms.

Instead of arguing with the dedicated ideologues who defend people like Rittenhouse and Chauvin, who defended George Zimmerman, and who always jump to the defense of state violence, it is the duty of communists and socialists to proactively build people’s movements that can grow to take power. These militant movements will be built town by town, in efforts to raise class consciousness whenever possible.

We must use the unrest that takes place in the wake of the Rittenhouse verdict as an opportunity to organize the most advanced workers – as well the most exploited and oppressed strata among them – to create revolutionaries dedicated to a new social order. Not just protesters, not just debaters, but a force built city by city, made up of people willing and able to dismantle the capitalist system that has a symbiotic relationship with white supremacy.