agent provocateur • one employed to associate with suspected persons and by pretending sympathy with their aims to incite them to some incriminating action.
In front of the Lincoln Memorial on Feb. 19, an anonymous protester waved the flag of the Russian Federation behind independent journalist Max Blumenthal as he opened the Rage Against the War Machine rally, a protest against the continued U.S. involvement in the conflict in Ukraine. Additionally, the speakers present leveled criticism of the U.S. support of global capitalist unipolarity via the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The rally was organized by the heads of both the right-wing Libertarian Party and the pseudo-progressive liberal People’s Party and attended by a mix of people deeply dissatisfied with neoliberal, two-party warmongering.
The occasional Russian nationalists, Soviet flag-waving communists, or white supremacists, despite being few in number, seemed to capture nearly all of the Western press’ attention. On a live stream several days after the event, Blumenthal alleged that many of these so-called activists may have been agents provocateurs — conveniently waving the Russian flag exactly when he and other speakers made explicitly anti-imperialist and pro-worker statements. In their sparse coverage of the rally, The Daily Beast and Rachel Maddow both focused exclusively on these fringe, perhaps planted, elements, ignoring the strong pro-peace consensus everyone in attendance experienced.
That such a motley collection of activists is all the American Empire can muster against the war machine is indicative of the extreme ideological dominance of the universally pro-war corporate media. These outlets, and their twin government lackeys, the Democratic and Republican parties, are a monolith; their differences are purely aesthetic. Both go to great lengths to silence internal dissent, as shown when the Congressional Progressive Caucus was forced to retract a letter to Biden timidly asking if he might be open to peace negotiations with Putin. The only Republican criticism of the war has been from a few of the MAGA supporters demanding more “oversight” over military spending. The so-called “liberal” and “conservative” media follows suit, often failing to acknowledge the faintest dissenting voices.
This rally showcased a similar duality between elements of the so-called “American left” and anti-establishment Libertarians, wherein aesthetic differences belly ideological alignment. Left-leaning comedian Jimmy Dore called in his speech explicitly for left-right unity, saying he would never ask a firefighter their stance on Social Security before allowing them to save his burning home. Dore and The Grayzone journalist Anya Parampil both lambasted other leftists for boycotting the rally over identity politics issues. Parampil said, “we can debate about whether teenage girls should have to share locker rooms… with biological males another time,” which prompted an extensive backlash on Twitter. The Libertarian Party is in the middle of a similar schism, with the ascendant Mises Caucus pushing for less focus on race and gender issues to woo former MAGA voters. Both these formations see identity politics and “cancel culture” as weapons of the oligarchs. On Twitter, many bandy about accusations that their opponents are, again, agents provocateurs.
In this way, the Libertarian Party and white American “leftists” represent two aesthetically different variations on the same political program: the dissatisfaction of working-class white folk that they are denied the spoils of imperialism. Libertarians want to return to a mythical pre-monopoly “free market” where the government is not needed to regulate supposedly beneficial private industry. The so-called leftists claim to oppose American imperialism, yet are keen to call themselves “American” and to appeal to patriotism to cross racial and class backgrounds in the support of some mythical “working-class solidarity,” which somehow causes them to defend transphobia and racism simply because socially progressive liberals support capitalism.
Notably absent from this rally were some of the larger leftist anti-war formations like the ANSWER Coalition and CODEPINK. As Parampil and Blumenthal mention, CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin attended the rally but was prevented from speaking by her own organization due to their objection to the bigotry of the Libertarian Party.
On Mar. 18, many of these groups will, in alliance with many reactionary mainstream liberal organizations, hold a competing protest in front of the White House. On some level, this rally is simply the liberal-aesthetic version of the perhaps more conservative-aesthetic Rage Against the War Machine. Both rallies involve an alliance between genuine leftists and reactionary organizations of various stripes. The Communist Parties will attend both, understanding that petty squabbles between different reactionary factions aside, both rallies are opportunities to broadcast principled anti-war positions.
The most organized and principled leftist formations in America are Afrikan/Black nationalist groups like the Black Alliance for Peace and the Uhuru Movement. They understand that this faux left-right anti-imperialist consensus obfuscates and apologizes for American settlerism, i.e. white supremacy. As Ajamu Baraka of the Black Alliance for Peace points out, any unified anti-war front with respect to Ukraine that is not actually opposed to imperialism, i.e. opposed to America’s continued existence, is not guaranteed to be opposed to other important national liberation struggles in the future. Lenin and Mao, who first developed the Communist organizing principle of tactical unity, understood that an organized proletarian party may demonstrate alongside the reactionaries in the context of a “united front” to bring about the new-democratic revolution. However, such unity requires the leadership of the Worker’s Party and should not manufacture consent for one oppressive faction to be replaced with another.
As Blumenthal, Parampil, and others were careful to point out, the most intense peoples’ struggles against American imperialism occur overseas, where people on the receiving end of American firepower watch their families die while we argue over these aesthetic differences between our movements. Even if a broad anti-war coalition in America has a racist character, Palestinians, Ethiopians, Syrians, Afghans, Ukrainians, and Russians in the Donbas wouldn’t care. They just want the imperialists gone. A Libertarian who saves Ukrainian lives is no worse than a leftist who does the same.
The liberation struggles of Afrikans and Indigenous Peoples in America have the same character as the liberation struggles of oppressed nations abroad, and a principled anti-war movement must align with them all. Splitting up protest movements and engaging in Twitter factionalism helps nobody — this is the explicit goal of the oligarchs and their agents provocateurs. The onus is therefore on white leftists to actually stand with Afrikan leftists in support of all peoples of the world. The Libertarians should have been attaching themselves to the leftist protest, not the other way around. The struggle must be led by true anti-imperialist forces, not petty millennials who would rather call each other bigots and be platformed by the right than stand together against American imperialism.
~ Skye Rhomberg `22