Organization Trends

The Anti-American Left: Russian Invasion of Ukraine

The Anti-American Left (full series)
Communophilism | IPS and the National Lawyers Guild
Democratic Socialists of America | Alliance for Global Justice
The War on Terror and Code Pink | Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Russian Invasion of Ukraine

A convenient illustration of the sort of framing that is characteristic of the anti-American Left can be found by examining responses to Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. To most, the reality of the conflict is relatively straightforward: Russia launched a war of aggression on a neighboring country, causing untold thousands of military and civilian casualties. War crimes abound. Military assistance provided by the United States and many other countries has been crucial in thus far preserving Ukrainian independence. It is as clear-cut a case of good versus evil as the complexities of modern state-level geopolitics can reasonably be expected to produce.

Nobody knows how the war will end, and there are always legitimate debates to be had on the specifics of various Western responses to the war, but to obscure or equivocate on these basic truths is to abandon both intellectual honesty and moral authority. Yet this is precisely what many on the anti-American Left have attempted to do, if for no other reason than because their collective worldview does not countenance the possibility that the United States is not somehow ultimately to blame for any given international crisis—particularly one that involves armed conflict.

When the anti-American Left is confronted with a situation in which a rival or adversary of the United States does something that is essentially indefensible, the standard approach is to first register opposition to whatever happened and then immediately pivot to blaming the United States for it. In doing so the actions of the guilty party (in this case, Putin’s Russia) are explained, if not necessarily always justified.

The DSA’s response was typical. After duly condemning the invasion, the group’s official statement made sure to point out how American “imperialist expansionism . . . set the stage for this conflict.” The DSA has elsewhere denounced both Western military aid to Ukraine and economic sanctions targeting Russia—another pair of stakes frequently planted by the anti-American Left on the issue and that are the practical equivalent of advocating for a total Russian victory.

The response from Code Pink was basically identical. It succinctly condemned the invasion and blamed the United States and NATO for provoking it in the very same paragraph. Much like the DSA, Code Pink opposes both military aid for Ukraine and economic sanctions against Russia. In doing so, it reveals a hallmark hypocrisy of the Anti-American Left. While Code Pink says that “ultimately, the Ukrainians must decide what is best for their future,” it simultaneously opposes what the Ukrainians have quite reasonably determined to be in their best interest right now,  namely the means to defend themselves from a foreign invader.

Those at the Institute for Policy Studies have taken differing approaches, reflecting the Left’s internal debate on the issue. On the one hand, associate fellow and Foreign Policy in Focus director John Feffer has urged Western support for Ukraine and written of the necessity of a Ukrainian military victory. By contrast, New Internationalism Project director Phyllis Bennis has tacked a more-or-less standard anti-American Left line by conceding that the invasion was “unjustified” but disagreeing that it was “unprovoked.” The United States was thoroughly to blame for provoking Russia into starting the war, according to Bennis, so military aid from the U.S. and sanctions against Russia should be opposed. IPS board member Khury Petersen-Smith acknowledged the particular challenge that the invasion posed for American leftists—given the fact that the Ukrainians were fighting an “aggressor that is not the U.S.”—but nevertheless proceeded both to fault the United States and NATO for “militarizing the region” and to label economic sanctions targeting Russia as “an act of war.”

The Alliance for Global Justice took things much further. Its official position is that the origins of Russia’s invasion lie not in neo-Soviet revanchism, but in American “imperialism” and the effort to “extend US hegemony over the entire world.” In a statement just days after the invasion, the alliance went out of its way to emphasize “the vital role that Russia plays in support of liberation struggles,” specifically those in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. It also touted Russia’s right “to sovereignty and secure borders” against the ever-present threat of NATO and pointed to what it called “the ongoing threat of fascism in Ukraine”—two talking points that might as well have come straight from the Kremlin.

In fact, the day after Russia invaded the alliance published messages of support for Vladimir Putin from fellow autocrats Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, highlighting how they would “stand with Russia against US provocations in Ukraine.” It later published official UN pronouncements on the war from Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela—the three most repressive and Russia-friendly regimes in the Western Hemisphere. In its thoroughly pro-Kremlin overview of the conflict, the Marxist-Leninist Workers World Party linked to an alliance petition against “NATO provocations” immediately after a series of official statements from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.

Some of the alliance’s fiscally sponsored projects have adopted a similarly Russophilic view of the conflict and its origins. In the months prior to the invasion, the United National Antiwar Coalition justified the then-accelerating Russian military buildup as “a defensive move on [Russia’s] part to counter the threat of the US and NATO” and accused the United States of “trying to build a case that Russia is getting ready to invade Ukraine.”

Perhaps nothing better-illustrates the full breadth of mental contortionism necessary to maintain the anti-American Left line in the face of blatant Russian military aggression better than the series of Ukraine-related articles curated and posted by Popular Resistance, another prominent Alliance for Global Justice project. Consider this small sampling of headlines from the months leading up to and following Russia’s February 24 invasion:

  • “The United States Is Using Nazis in Ukraine to Provoke War with Russia” (Margaret Flowers, December 13, 2021)
  • “The West Might Deliberately Start a War in Ukraine” (Telesur English, December 27, 2021)
  • “A War Only America and Britain Seem to Want” (Joe Lauria, January 29, 2022)
  • “Calling Russia’s Attack ‘Unprovoked’ Lets US off the Hook” (Bryce Greene, March 5, 2022)
  • “The Focus on Russia Distracts from What the US Government Is Doing” (Margaret Flowers, March 5, 2022)
  • “US Sanctions: An Act of War Against Workers” (G. Dunkel, March 10, 2022)
  • “Global South Rejects US/NATO Aggression” (Betsey Piette, March 12, 2022)
  • “US Imperialism’s Proxy War with Russia in Ukraine” (Jack Rasmus, April 2, 2022)
  • “How the US Weaponized Ukraine Against Russia” (TJ Coles, April 10, 2022)
  • “The United States and Ukraine Started the War—Not Russia” (Richard Ochs, April 24, 2022)
  • “US/NATO Wants War with Russia” (John Rachel, April 27, 2022)

All of this not only serves to absolve the guilty party (Putin’s Russia) of its richly deserved blame, but also exposes a tremendous irony (one that astute observers on the left have also noted and criticized): By blaming the United States for Russia’s invasion, the anti-American Left adopts the very same America-centric worldview that it purportedly exists to oppose. A more extreme one, even. Holding the United States uniquely responsible for NATO’s eastward expansion—as many leftists do when discussing American “provocations”—is tantamount to arguing that sovereign nations do not have the right or ability to determine their own foreign policy. It is the height of arrogance and simply wrong. Former Warsaw Pact countries are members of NATO because the collective security it offers is in their national interest, not because of the manipulative tentacles of American “imperialism.”

More fundamentally, the anti-American Left’s fault lies not in its criticism of any given aspect of American foreign (or domestic) policy—on the contrary, that can sometimes be productive—but in its criticism of every aspect. The real harm is found in its incessant and dishonest portrayal of the United States as some uniquely malevolent global influence, while brushing aside the brutality of some of the world’s true bad actors and ignoring America’s unparalleled (if imperfect) record of confronting them. Who can honestly look at the world in 1917 or 1933 or 1945 or 1962 or 1991 or 2001 and say it would have been better for the United States to have simply withdrawn from global affairs? Who would say the same in 2023?

The single greatest danger to the future of this country is that—despite all evidence to the contrary—we will collectively stop believing that America is exceptional. Whether it is called patriotism or something else, there must be a unifying positive zeitgeist capable of holding a vast and diverse nation together through its problems, missteps, and outright failures. We need to believe that what America represents to itself and to the rest of the world is objectively good, and that belief must form the basis of our actions. By undermining this national pride and self-confidence, the anti-American Left—and those that fund it—undermine the United States itself.

Robert Stilson

Robert runs several of CRC’s specialized projects. Originally from Indiana, he has a B.A. from Hanover College and a J.D. from University of Richmond School of Law, where he graduated…
+ More by Robert Stilson

Support Capital Research Center's award-winning journalism

Donate today to assist in promoting the principles of individual liberty in America.

Read Next