War and Peace: Do Social Democrats in Congress Favor Negotiations Between Ukraine and Russia?

OK, take another deep breath. Even when the issues are as urgent as war and peace, we still need to take some time to slow down the hamster wheels in our heads. When our thoughts are racing, we are not likely to be thinking clearly. Especially when both of the big corporate parties demand mass conformity rather than class conscious independence. Career politicians are required to read from TV prompters, but we are not obliged to vote for the parties of war and empire, nor to bite our tongues in deference to demagogues.

The bipartisan militarism in Congress is by no means “pragmatic,” and the few social democrats who have gained public office through the Democratic Party are not reliable in opposition to war, nor in efforts for peace. As for that sector of the U.S. left that is fighting the Cold War of the previous century, they are fortunately few in number, and in any case are not my subject here.

Earlier tonight, I was telling my guy at Swingers (a diner in LA) that the social democrats in Congress took a stand in favor of negotiations for 15 minutes, and then took it back. Dismayed, we fell silent for a spell. Seated at the counter were two skeletal mannequins dressed in cobwebs and black satin for Halloween. The rites for the burial of the dead in The Book of Common Prayer include these words:

“In the midst of life we are in death; from whom can we seek help?”

We just learned that the Dizzy Caucus of the Democratic Party cannot even stand by their own call for basic sanity and  negotiations . . .  What happened? Of course there was automatic red-baiting from the right wing, but these ostensible social democrats bowed to the criticism of “centrists” in their own party. They proved able only to step up as foot soldiers in campaigns of the mid-term elections. Do they not understand the bad example of “party unity” exactly in this case? The sun barely rises and sets before they run from their own shadows and fall into the ranks of baton twirling majorettes for militarism.

The notion that anyone wins a nuclear war is bonkers, so the first item in negotiations must be an agreement to rule out the use of nuclear weapons.

The second item might be a consideration of autonomous regions in eastern Ukraine, though this would mean neither Ukraine nor Russia will get everything they want. Precisely because negotiations cannot be a zero-sum game.

Even if nuclear weapons are ruled out, a more conventional war of attrition (especially during winter) would still be barbaric. When states and career politicians are incapable of sanity, then class conscious civilian opposition must be better organized within and beyond all national borders.

For reasons no one needs to belabor, civil disobedience cannot be practiced by all peace campaigners. But this is a time when civil disobedience deserves wider discussion among the tactical choices within strategic war resistance movements. Labor strikes are crucial in any serious confrontation with the ruling parties of war and empire, and are indeed one extension of civil disobedience. Keep in mind that general strikes are by no means a utopian proposal, but exist on the historical record.

Beyond the war in Ukraine, the global threat of the arms industries and of all imperial ventures cannot remain a footnote lost in the text of basic social democratic demands. We, the people, are likelier to have more practical leverage closer to home, without abandoning solidarity across borders. A militarized economy, within and beyond the United States, undermines all social goods and services, including health care, housing, and education.

Waging peace means we cannot simply circumvent the state on terrain of our own choosing. We can, however, work within and against existing states. We will surely be able to go over, under and around many institutional obstacles. There will even be times when we are able to speak through the corporate media, though against the script their talking heads prefer to give us.

The United States and NATO might be observers in negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, but have proven they cannot be honest brokers. As for the United Nations, this column is brief by design. I’m not ready to open that can of worms without a better can opener. I need more time to consult with others, or time to encourage them to do the job.

Every person committed to peace and solidarity across borders has the duty to demand clear words and actions from the social democrats who have gained public office, especially in Congress. We might look backward with the aim of gaining perspective as we move forward. On the eve of World War One, the leading politicians of the Social Democratic Party of Germany abandoned the basic principles of anti-militarism and international solidarity. Yet a member of their party was able to dissent, if only briefly, in the very sanctum of state power.

On December 2, 1914, the socialist Karl Liebknecht was the first to vote against war credits in the German parliament. Of course, any direct imitation today is beside the point, since actual events do not follow a previous script. But Liebknecht’s example belongs in our social memory. The spirit of class-conscious opposition to war resounded around the world, and was noted even in the bourgeois press of the United States at that time. Liebknecht took care to make distinctions we should expect likewise of Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, Pramila Jayapal, and other social democrats. For example:

“We must demand a speedy peace, a peace that humiliates no country and involves no annexations. All efforts to that goal should be welcomed… I will approve the emergency spending for relief—indeed I regard these measures as wholly inadequate… I protest, however, against the war and those who launched it and direct it; against the capitalist policies that gave birth to it; against the capitalist goals that it pursues…”

If a voter demands only a partisan voting guide, then the big corporate parties are stuffing our mailboxes with glossy brochures every day. Yet we know that millions of citizens have no loyalty to those parties. Vote according to your conscience and convictions. Make distinctions among the candidates and do not retreat into sectarian bunkers, which have always been a temptation for some sectors of the left. From year to year, however, multibillion-dollar military budgets increase, and bipartisan career politicians are among the public enemies of a democratic republic.

Congress has become the front office of the ruling class, and has been the foremost managerial agency of perpetual war. If honest social democrats aim to reform the Democratic Party, they must resist recruitment into imperial adventures. We have just witnessed how the drumbeats of war and “party unity” revealed the weak resolve of social democrats in Congress. We, the people, are obliged to raise our own demands for peace and solidarity.


I am including links to two articles readers may find useful. The first article was just published at World Socialist Website (WSWS). They are Trotskyists and I am not, but in this case I pretty much agree with their views:

24 hours after calling for negotiations to end Ukraine war, DSA and “progressive” Democrats demand escalation:

And this is what I wrote earlier (May 17, 2022) in an article for CounterPunch:

Congress Approves 40 Billion Dollar Ukraine War Bill