Who will hold career politicians and the ruling class accountable?
Rand Paul has never thought clearly about economics, and the relation between his morality and his partisan politics is not the subject of this column. No one needs a reminder that Rand Paul is an Ayn Randian “libertarian.” That is deadbeat and misses the crucial point in this timeline of events. Entirely. The brute fact remains that Rand at least raised the question of public accounting of a vast war budget. When there was a bipartisan stampede to approve the recent 40 billion dollar Ukraine war budget, his dissent was crucial in delaying automatic approval.
The more pointed and timely question is why Bernie Sanders went AWOL, along with the entire Progressive Caucus in Congress. Whether any of them belong in any school of Marxism whatsoever is a side issue. What matters most is whether they pursue a practical policy of peace. Do they raise the ground floor of social democracy across public policies such as health care, housing, and education? Bipartisan war budgets that expand from year to year have the sure consequence of strip-mining public funds away from basic social goods and services.
No one seriously expected that Sanders ever had the fighting spirit to follow the example of Karl Liebknecht, who broke ranks with the parliamentary delegates of the German Social Democratic Party when he voted against war credits on the eve of World War One.
Solidarity across borders with Ukraine is necessary. Career politicians cannot be trusted to prevent the kind of military escalation that may risk nuclear war. This public responsibility belongs to we, the people.
Putin’s regime is engaged in a smash-and-grab imperial campaign in Ukraine. Easier to condemn that campaign than to question the mounting multi-billion budget that is now guaranteed to boost the global weapons market. Anyone who asks for basic public accounting in this war budget can easily be smeared as an agent of Putin’s regime. This is precisely the ideological terrain in which the worldviews of FOX News and MSNBC converge.
This war is not an exclusively righteous cause. It is also a huge gift to the military and Pentagon budgets. We know that such huge war budgets always go sideways, and are never funneled exclusively to any current war favored by the ruling class. In both war and peace—though the wars have become relay races over decades—Congress has become the front office of the ruling class.
There are sectors of the left that have painted themselves into an ideological corner. In particular, two diametrically opposed camps of the official left have taken refuge in delusions. They pretend to play an important role on the geopolitical chessboard, which the British imperialists of a century ago called the Great Game.
Thus, the retro-Stalinists cannot bring themselves to make a clear upfront condemnation of Putin’s regime, because “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Or else they reduce such a criticism to a footnote, or a passing mention after giving one more potted history of western imperialism. Likewise, the “progressives” who are team players in the Democratic Party refuse to hold Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, and others in Congress accountable to elementary positions against war and empire.
In the big media of “legacy newspapers” and TV broadcasts, there has been no demand for public accounting of this war budget, just as the Pentagon budget has gone unaccountable for decades and over the course of all the wars and military campaigns since World War Two. A notable exception was the article published on the front page of The New York Times on May 11, 2022, titled “U.S. Sending Billions to Kyiv, With Little Debate.” To be quite clear, this question had indeed been raised previously by independent writers and journalists. Somewhat marginal to official discourse, to be sure, but the steady pressure finally had some influence even on the editors of The New York Times.
Russia and the United States are nuclear powers. Loose talk and foggy thinking about total war is emotionally satisfying to some blowhard pundits. It is also morally bankrupt and globally reckless. Among the bad consequences of this war may be a negotiated settlement that redraws the map in certain sectors of eastern Ukraine. Seizing the whole shoreline of Ukraine, however, is of course not a sane or realistic bargaining position. There will be no ideal end to this war. Some alteration in the form of states is preferable to wholesale slaughter and destruction over the course of a long drawn-out war of attrition.
A political coup against Putin’s regime, perhaps initiated by the saner professionals in the Russian military, is possible but beyond prediction. As for a democratic popular uprising of the Russian people against the oligarchs and police state, that may be a romantic hope at a time when Putin’s agents beat, imprison, and even assassinate public opponents. Russia as a nation has not yet had deep historical experience of widespread and sustained democracy, however deeply flawed. This nation passed from Czarism to Communism to capitalism with a mobster’s face. From autocracy to one party statism to the ethno-mystical ultranationalism of Putin. All three state regimes required organized lying and the suppression of independent media.
Putin’s legitimate criticism of NATO expansionism can be considered as a distinct subject. His brutal invasion of Ukraine, however, has had the exact effect of expanding the NATO coalition. Especially along the Finnish and Russian border.
There are self-proclaimed members of the “anti-imperialist” left who do not really oppose war and empire. Not if the imperial campaign is conducted by a nation in conflict with western powers and NATO. Thus, the sectarian position of Brian Becker, unchanged in all important respects for decades, is now the received doctrine of Max Blumenthal and others in the retro-Stalinist camp.
Attempts to change this subject to the real crimes of the CIA and western powers are reflexive tactics of the tankies. Likewise, a reflexive defense of fake progressives in Congress is only a partisan exit from reality.
Fight the parties of war and empire. A class-conscious campaign for peace across national borders is difficult. The alternative is an ongoing industrial slaughter, and possibly a nuclear war.