Cornel West, the celebrity academic (formerly of Harvard and Princeton), fiery antiracism campaigner, and current Green Party presidential candidate, has a long association with the Democratic Socialists of America, having served as the group’s honorary chairman. But as he campaigns for president, West is moving beyond the DSA and forging bonds with far-left activists who call for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, who support the Chinese and North Korean regimes, and who are associated with communist organizations and Russian state propaganda operations.
What has brought West into this circle is his opposition to US military assistance for Ukraine. In July, he posted a statement on social media blaming NATO and the United States for having “provoked Russia into a criminal invasion and occupation of Ukraine.” He called the Russia-launched conflict “a proxy war between the American Empire and the Russian Federation,” and he slammed the Democratic Party as “a party of war and Wall Street targeting Russia and China.”
West is currently scheduled to headline a Washington, DC, forum on October 3 that aims to spur opposition to the Biden administration’s support of the Ukrainian government’s fight against the Russian invasion. Part of a “global mobilization” of self-described peace groups, the event is being co-sponsored by an outfit long tied to communist organizations, and West will share the stage with speakers from the farthest side of the left, including some who have worked for Russian state media.
According to promotional material for the forum, the other participants will be Claudia De La Cruz, Eugene Puryear, Medea Benjamin, and Lee Camp.
De La Cruz is presently the 2024 presidential candidate of the small, far-left Party for Socialism and Liberation. The PSL split from the Marxist-Leninist Workers World Party in 2004, and one of its founders has declared, “We are communists.” The party calls for the “revolutionary” overthrow of capitalism and denounces “reformist hopes” for a “kinder, gentler” capitalism. The PSL has supported the North Korean regime and its pursuit of nuclear weapons and also hailed the Chinese Communist Party, defending it against various charges of human rights violations. Brian Becker, a co-founder of the PSL, used to co-host a show on Radio Sputnik, a Moscow-created propaganda network.
Puryear, a co-host of the forum, was the PSL’s vice presidential candidate in 2008 and 2016. He, too, once hosted a show on Radio Sputnik, which is the radio and digital outlet of Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today), the Kremlin-controlled media agency that directs the RT television network. (RT America shut down shortly after Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.) Camp, a comedian and far-left podcaster, had a show on RT America until the cable network shuttered. He blamed the “US government war machine” for RT America’s demise.
Medea Benjamin, the other-co-host for the event, is a co-founder of Code Pink, a longtime opponent of US military intervention overseas. She is scheduled to co-host a fundraiser for West prior to the forum. Code Pink was the subject of a recent New York Times investigation that reported that this antiwar group has received significant financial support from a pro-China tech mogul named Neville Roy Singham who lives in Shanghai and that the group has defended or downplayed China’s human rights violations.
The Times said that its reporters had “tracked hundreds of millions of dollars to groups linked to Mr. Singham that mix progressive advocacy with Chinese government talking points.” As an example, it noted that Code Pink “once criticized China’s rights record but now defends its internment of the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs, which human rights experts have labeled a crime against humanity.” Singham, who is married to Code Pink co-founder Jodie Evans, also has funded the People’s Forum, a New York-based meeting space that hosts radical left lectures and events and that De La Cruz and another PSL activist have co-managed.
(After the Times article appeared, Code Pink, the People’s Forum, PSL, Benjamin, Evans, De La Cruz, Puryear, Camp, Becker, and others signed an open letter accusing the newspaper of engaging in “McCarthyism” and joining with “right-wing extremists” to use “intimidation tactics” to smear Code Pink, the People’s Forum, and other “advocates for change.” A spokesperson for Code Pink tells Mother Jones, “We do not spread talking points from foreign governments.” She adds, “The notion that we are influenced by external political entities or governments is not only false—it’s insulting. We’ve always been an independent voice for peace, and we refuse to be labeled otherwise… The Chinese government’s violation of [the Uyghurs’] human rights is of concern to us and we join the call for justice for the Uyghurs. At the same time, we call out the US government, which is using the human rights of the Uyghurs as a tool to drive war with China, instead of a human rights issue that needs to be addressed as such.” In a 2021 interview, though, Evans did seem to excuse or diminish the Chinese government’s harsh treatment of the Uyghurs.)
The October 3 panel opposing US military assistance to Ukraine is sponsored by Code Pink, Peace in Ukraine (a collection of antiwar groups), and the ANSWER Coalition. ANSWER is an antiwar outfit that emerged in the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was organized by the Workers World Party, a small political sect that split from the Socialist Workers Party to support the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. The WWP, an advocate of socialist revolution and the abolition of private property, praised the regimes of Fidel Castro and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il. It campaigned against the war-crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. ANSWER’s spokesperson at the time of its founding was Brian Becker, who went on to leave the WWP and form the PSL. He is currently the national coordinator of ANSWER. Last year, Becker gave an interview to Global Times, a propaganda outlet tied to the Chinese Communist Party, and hailed the CCP as “a source of great inspiration for people who seek a socialist and humanist alternative.”
With his participation in the October 3 event, West has allied himself with a small coterie of far-leftists, some of whom promote extremist ideology and some of whom have voiced support for authoritarian regimes or partnered with Russia-controlled media operations.
West and his campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
West and his backers might argue that he is merely joining forces with those who also oppose US policies that he deems dangerous. Yet when a presidential candidate takes a stage, he or she can expect to be judged by those who share the platform. The current line-up for this forum places West in the company of radicals, Chinese apologists, and chums of Russia’s propaganda machine. Given his status as a prominent public intellectual and academic, his headlining appearance boosts the standing of his co-speakers and the organizing outfits. Choosing to appear with these people is a significant campaign decision.