With the political crisis the American oligarchy has been experiencing since the 2008 financial crisis, and Washington’s decision to start a new cold war in reaction to its hegemonic decline, the U.S. left has undergone a rift. A rift that could prove as important for bringing workers revolution as the one between the revolutionary Bolsheviks, and the reformist Mensheviks.
It started with the release by WikiLeaks of the emails which proved that Democratic National Committee officials had the intent to sabotage the Bernie Sanders campaign. This revelation came at the worst possible moment for the ruling class. Throughout the last year, the youth had been rallying around the idea that they weren’t living in an authentically free society, but a plutocracy whose government was controlled by corporations. The DNC leak vindicated this argument, increasing the potential for a generation to be radicalized towards revolutionary politics. As Lenin concluded about what a country’s workers need in order to set themselves up against capital: “Propaganda and agitation alone are not enough for an entire class, the broad masses of the working people, those oppressed by capital, to take up such a stand. For that, the masses must have their own political experience. Such is the law of all great revolutions.”
When these people learned that electoralism isn’t a viable route to fight capital—a reality that’s since become even more apparent now that the “socialist” AOC is going along with the Ukraine proxy war—they gained this political experience. They’ve been taught that whether by rigging primaries against working class candidates or by co-opting them, the ruling class will always be able to render social democracy an ineffective resistance method. And the man responsible for the most influential revelation within this mass educational process, the one which confirmed the suspicions of an anti-democratic scheme, was Julian Assange. With the DNC leak, he had fulfilled a key part of what he set out to do: mobilize the people to take action against the power structure which is behind all of the war crimes, corporate abuses, and government deceptions that WikiLeaks has also made public. The results wouldn’t be immediate, since one leak can’t make a revolution happen right after. But this leak provided a generation with the educational tools to become radicalized, to develop beyond social democracy and become Marxist-Leninists.
This has been the story of myself, and plenty of the other Sanders volunteers who were robbed of having our efforts bring what a fair process would have brought. But we live in a class society, and in class societies, there are material incentives both to join with the revolutionary forces and to side with the forces of exploitation. So there were also plenty who reacted to the oligarchy’s sabotage of the working class movement not by becoming radicalized, but by effectively siding with the oligarchy out of desire to be included in the circles of influence. They did this by accepting the counter-narrative to the leaks that was put forth by the Democratic Party, and by the party’s intelligence, military, and neocon allies. This was the story that Russia had provided WikiLeaks with the emails, which would morph into a wider mythology about the Trump campaign colluding with Russia to win the election.
Not all of these Sanders supporters who betrayed the others in their movement by narratively capitulating to the Democrats have remained in the “Bernie movement” itself, or gone into the Sanders-adjacent DSA. Another path they’ve followed is Trotskyism, as I’ve seen from personal examples of opportunists within the movement who’ve gravitated towards working with Trots. As well as from the recent rise of the anti-China Trotskyist org Socialist Alternative. But their goals have remained unchanged and shared: gain influence within organizing and discourse spaces, while attacking those who take the anti-imperialist stance. That their priorities go against the anti-imperialist cause was made apparent when they sided with the Democrats on a pivotal issue: Washington’s effort to sabotage the Syrian state. (I phrase it like that because regime change had by the end of Obama’s presidency become clearly unrealistic, and U.S. imperialism has since been simply trying to interfere with the functionality of the state itself so that Chinese trade and development in Syria can be held back.)
The DSA made its pro-imperialist stance apparent when it wrote in 2017 that “We are disappointed and concerned to see even left-wing writers are spreading what is essentially a conspiracy theory about the origins of the war: that the Obama administration made a concerted effort to support al-Qaeda in Syria in an attempt to overthrow the Assad regime.” I say these actors sided with Washington’s operation in Syria because when they made statements like this, they were doing exactly what somebody who sided with the operation was supposed to do: work to convince the public not to believe the information confirming that Washington had indeed done this.
It’s not just that the DSA was omitting context like the long-stated goal of U.S. strategists to destroy Syria like it destroyed Iraq, or the instances where NATO-backed NGOs in Syria like the White Helmets have been caught collaborating with al-Qaeda. They were preemptively categorizing as false the undeniably factual details which have since come out to confirm that “theory.” Details such as when top U.S. diplomat James Jeffrey said in 2021 that al-Qaeda militants were “an asset” within the CIA’s dirty war in Syria. A dirty war that the U.S. government has never denied involved backing armed rebels, with the government’s “out” having been to maintain plausible deniability by claiming these forces were exclusively “moderates.”
These imperialism-compatible leftists attacked those who pointed out the inconsistencies in the accounts of Assad having carried out “chemical attacks” for the same reason they covered for the U.S. government on the nature of its dirty war. As well as for the same reason they defended the Russiagate psyop, a psyop that provided them with a powerful rhetorical weapon: the idea that anybody who challenged the CIA/CNN orthodoxy on global events is either a Russian troll, or is only saying what they’re saying due to being influenced by Russian “disinformation.” This McCarthyist mentality extended to Assange and WikiLeaks, who due to supposedly having been tied to Russia were seen as unreliable sources. A notion which was useful when WikiLeaks revealed in 2019 that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had suppressed information that indicated Assad was innocent of the “gas attack” from April of the year prior.
When the U.S. empire shifted towards Ukraine and Taiwan as its main points of narrative warfare, what this rift within the left translated to was a clear divide between who sides with the State Department, and who sides with the anti-imperialist cause. On Ukraine, the stance of the social democracy-aligned part of the imperialism-compatible left can be found within Vaush, who promotes a de facto support for NATO to resist Russia’s supposedly unprovoked war. On Taiwan, their stance has been articulated most clearly by Socialist Alternative. An org that’s relevant to this analysis both because it’s become a new place for the opportunist leftists who’ve been leaking out from the DSA amid the DSA’s growing organizational crisis, and because SA has a special interest in attacking China due to SA’s particular sectarian strain. SA writes: “A future workers’ movement in China (no genuine workers’ organizations are currently allowed under the dictatorship) needs to show its solidarity with workers in Taiwan, understanding that their struggle against capitalism and for democratic rights, including the right to independence, can become a powerful weapon against both the Chinese and U.S. imperialists and capitalists.”
SA tried to strengthen this campaign to sabotage the PRC’s socialist model from the left when it organized an anti-China demonstration late last year, whose purpose was to amplify the “communist” color revolution elements within China’s protests against the Zero Covid policy. This effort would have succeeded if the fallout from China’s lifting the policy had led to the catastrophic outbreak that the imperialist media was clearly hoping for. But the pandemic has basically ended, and that’s enough to ensure these color revolution attempts will fail. Alongside the failure of the Ukraine proxy war, which due to Russia’s economic resilience won’t bring about Eurasia’s destabilization, it’s apparent that Washington’s attempts to regain hegemony won’t bring sufficient results.
For the opportunists in the imperial center who seek to get their share of neo-colonial extractive benefits, this means their project to co-opt the class struggle can only survive through an intensification of the war against the anti-imperialist movement. Their perceived legitimacy as the leaders of our social movements is under threat from the anti-imperialists, who offer a serious challenge towards corporate power and its war machine. To maintain the dominance of imperialism-compatible politics within our organizing spaces, the imperial state must increase its censorship of anti-imperialist content, redouble its smears against anti-imperialist individuals and organizations, and most importantly keep the population trapped within the pro-NATO propaganda bubble. With the rise in popular outrage against the war machine and its cruel exacerbation of the economic crisis, a social base is emerging for internal resistance against imperialism, and for the establishment of socialism in what’s presently called the “United States.” The people have a growing amount of hope, and that’s making the ruling class alarmed.
The opportunistic project of those who call Washington’s adversaries imperialist, promote the war machine’s psyops, and interfere with the unity and organization of the anti-imperialist movement is a useful tool in the bourgeoisie’s campaign to prevent revolution. So was the case over a century ago in Russia. “All Marxists in Germany, France, and other countries have always stated and insisted that opportunism is a manifestation of the bourgeoisie’s influence over the proletariat,” wrote Lenin. “That it is a bourgeois labour policy, an alliance between an insignificant section of near-proletarian elements and the bourgeoisie. Having for decades to mature in conditions of ‘peaceful’ capitalism, opportunism was so mature by 1914-15 that it proved an open ally of the bourgeoisie. Unity with opportunism means unity between the proletariat and its national bourgeoisie, i.e., submission to the latter, a split in the international revolutionary working class.”
To this modern American version of opportunism and social chauvinism, we who have principles will always be opposed. The Russiagate and Syria psyops trained us in how to reject the narrative the imperialists spin about its targets, while Assange gave us a key piece of knowledge about our political system that taught us why reformism doesn’t work. The particularly sectarian, social chauvinist, and ultra-left strain of Trotskyism that’s now rising as an opportunistic force can’t stop our revolutionary project. Its attempt to weaponize Marxist theory against the world’s largest workers state can be defeated through our anti-imperialist educational efforts. We will continue to unite behind China’s effort to build a fairer global economy which replaces the neo-colonial order, and behind Russia’s effort to weaken U.S. hegemony by demilitarizing a modern Nazi state. With these anti-imperialist principles, we’ll be able to navigate our own conditions and bring America’s workers to victory.
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