Hearts of Darkness: Anti-War as Reaction

It is an oft-stated complaint from much of what passes for the anti-war movement that their position on the war in Ukraine is deviously twisted by its critics as being ‘Pro-Russia’ or ‘Pro-Putin.’ Such a complaint would appear to have some obvious merit. After all, don’t the hawks accuse the doves of this kind of thing when it comes to every conflict? True pacifists, a rare breed, are nothing if they are not consistent.

Yet why does actually listening to much of what the people who claim to be anti-war say and write give one the impression that they are striving to prove their critics are correct? For instance, speaking on Democracy Now on January 25th in the wake of the German government’s agreement to supply the Ukrainians with some Leopard 2 tanks, Sevim Dagdelan of German opposition Left Party proclaimed ‘and the other thing is, the 31st of January will be the anniversary, the 80th anniversary of the battle in Stalingrad. And every family in Russia lost loved ones in this battle of Stalingrad.’ Glenn Greenwald is another one who has been recently spouting on about German tanks ‘again rumbling across Europe’. Get the idea? The Kremlin hysterically claims that it is out to ‘deNazify’ Ukraine and here are anti-war voices hinting at a relaunch of Operation Barbarossa, i.e. the Nazi invasion of Russia that commenced in June 1941.

While a Red-Brown alliance has existed for some time, Greenwald has been one of the few to openly celebrate it, at one point bizarrely labeling Steve Bannon and Tucker Carlson ‘socialists.’ Now this past weekend in DC the Red-Brown alliance tried to make their marriage official. The event was billed as the Rage Against the War Machine. Organized by the Libertarian Party and the People’s Party, the selling point was meant to be a Left-Right unification in the name of anti-war. The event was a flop, mustering only a few hundred people in person.

Longtime, prominent anti-war activist Chris Hedges, one of the speakers and lately himself a mouthpiece for the idea of ‘Ukrainian pawns’ and Russia’s ‘sphere of influence’ (always a progressive concept), wrote in a recent Substack piece regarding any possible pangs of conscience regarding the event: ‘We will not topple corporate power and the war machine alone. There has to be a left-right coalition, which will include people whose opinions are not only unpalatable but even repugnant, or we will remain marginalized and ineffectual. This is a fact of political life. Alliances are built around particular issues, in this case permanent war, which often fall apart when confronting other concerns.’

Even a quick look at some of Hedges fellow speakers for the rally reveal the likes of Grayzone editor-in-chief Max Blumenthal, who after spending years running interference for the Assad regime in Syria now volunteers his time doing the same for Putin. Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters made an appearance via video fresh off his speech at the UN, at the invitation of the Russian government, where he called the invasion ‘the most provoked invasion of all time’ while dismissing evidence of Russian war crimes as ‘lies, lies, lies.’ There was internet goon Jackson Hinkle who on February 12th tweeted ‘Zelensky is responsible for every death in the Ukraine war, not Putin’ then follow that up two days later with ‘Russia has liberated Krasnaya Gora & cut off all possible evacuation routes in their encirclement of 1,000+ Ukrainian troops in Paraskoviivka.’ And New York Senate candidate Diane Sare, who runs on the LaRouche line and accuses the U.S. of supporting what she calls a ‘fascist dictatorship in Ukraine.’ Up until a few days before the event there was also Scott Ritter who on February 4th tweeted: ‘I don’t claim to be anti-war; never did. There are rabid dogs out there, and we need Atticus Finch’s to shoot them. I do, however, object to the senseless shooting of healthy dogs. Ukraine is a rabid dog. Russia is Atticus Finch. Thus ends my lesson’ (Ritter was booted from the card in part over questions of his criminal record involving underage girls).

These are the folks who Hedges not only claims are necessary to advance the anti-war cause, but who he claims are actually anti-war. Other luminaries included Tulsi Gabbard, Ron Paul, and Jimmy Dore. It was a veritable who’s who of swamp creatures. The webpage for the event lists 10 demands, the first being ‘Not one more penny for war in Ukraine.’ The second pins the invasion entirely on instigation from the U.S. None of the 10 demands calls for the Russian military to withdraw from Ukraine. Such was the tone of the rally, as speaker after speaker smeared the Ukrainians as fascists, the Biden administration as warmongers, and nary word about Russian war crimes. Nor a word for the very brave anti-war activists in Russia facing imprisonment and conscription.

Therein lays the grand question: can one believably claim the anti-war mantle while simultaneously echoing every one of an aggressor’s talking points, as Media Benjamin and Nicholas Davies do in their awful book War in Ukraine, or even arguing with a straight face that an obvious aggressor is in fact not an aggressor at all? Count the matches between the anti-war talking points and the Kremlin’s propaganda. The 2014 Maidan Uprising was a U.S. orchestrated, Nazi/Far-Right coup against a democratically elected government? Check (at least this crowd appears to avoid the Kremlin propaganda of smearing Maidan as a gay conspiracy. Much like Jews were targeted by fascists as both bankers and socialists, according to the Kremlin the Ukrainians are surreally both Nazis and homos). NATO in Eastern Europe? Check (of course Ukraine is not a member of NATO, nor was it close to joining). Crimea is part of Russia? Check (in the last legitimate referendum in Crimea back in 1991 a majority voted for independence from Russia). Oppressed ‘ethnic Russians’ in Donbas? Check (the hellhole ‘People’s Republics’ of Donetsk and Luhansk scored a four out of 100 on Freedom House’s rating and anyway have since been annexed, along with other parts of Ukraine beyond Donbas, according to Russia). The Ukrainians resisting the Russian invasion are simple pawns of the U.S. and NATO? Check. Everything would have been fine and done last spring until Boris Johnson swooped in and sunk the whole peace affair (not a word about the revelations at Bucha).

It can be quite enlightening when reactionaries take each other to task. In a telling rant on the Resistance News podcast last spring, Norman Finkelstein, who claims Russia has the ‘historical right’ to invade Ukraine, took some of his fellow-travelers, including Noam Chomsky, to task for their weak knees bellowing ‘I can’t go for it. I can’t go for those who acknowledge the legitimacy of the arguments made by Putin but then call the invasion criminal. I don’t see it.’

But this is actually a silly concern. When what passes for the anti-war movement makes all its demand on one side, the side being invaded, when it ignores war crimes committed by the invaders, when it echoes a dictatorship and reduces its resisters both in Russia and Ukraine to nonfactors or deserving victims, it can hardly deny which side it is really on- and it obviously isn’t the side of peace.

Joseph Grosso is a librarian and writer in New York City. He is the author of Emerald City: How Capital Transformed New York (Zer0 Books).