USA: DSA and Ukraine


Cheryl Zuur John Reimann

June 19, 2023

Over the next week, members of the Democratic Socialists of America have an opportunity to step up and defend Ukraine.

Over the next week, until June 28, members of the Democratic Socialists of America have a vital opportunity to show solidarity with Ukraine, defend internationalism, and protect democratic rights in the organization. They can do so by signing up to two amendments for discussion at this year’s National Convention, to be held in Chicago in August.

The first amendment would modify a resolution put forward by the International Committee (IC), an unelected DSA body that has become dominated by actors with views at odds with the majority of the DSA membership, and with the principles of working-class internationalism that we have learned from our lifetimes as rank-and-file trade unionists.

The original resolution would forbid any DSA bodies other than the IC from establishing overseas ties, affiliate DSA to the Progressive International, and call for the end of U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

The corresponding amendment addresses three main problems with the IC’s resolution.

The first problem is one of democracy. The IC proposes to give itself a monopoly over relations with all foreign bodies. It would effectively prohibit the DSA Labor Commission, the DSA Green New Deal Commission and individual chapters from developing relations with their counterparts around the world, when they democratically resolve to do so. This is an attempt to limit practical internationalism, not defend it.

The problem is made worse by the IC’s lack of transparency: it is hard for ordinary members to know what is going on within the committee and who constitutes its leadership. It is made worse still by certain recent decisions of the IC, including a refusal to back solidarity with Belarussian workers resisting the war and with independent trade unions in Hong Kong. As C.S. Willis, an internationalist member of the IC minority has written, “There is a faction in IC that believes that, in nearly all cases, U.S. enemies are the working class’s allies.” Over the past year, that faction has tended to dominate. We cannot trust them to utilise their expanded power in a way that reflects DSA members’ views.

The second problem is the IC’s proposal to affiliate with the Progressive International. The PI has no publicly available information about what democratic rights its affiliates have, if any, and its failure to show solidarity with socialist and working-class forces in Ukraine led Ukrainian and Polish member organisations to disaffiliate last year.

The third problem is the resolution’s proposal to end U.S. military aid to all governments, including Ukraine. We should be clear what this means: the unavoidable reality is that without the arms and ammunition to sustain itself, Ukrainian lines will collapse within months, Kyiv will be surrounded, shelled indiscriminately just as Grozny and Aleppo were, and ultimately captured. Unable to replenish air-defence systems, civilians and cities around the country will become more vulnerable than ever. Within a few months more, Russia’s former colony will have lost its independence. Such a position would be disastrous for DSA’s reputation as anti-imperialists and supporters of national self-determination.

Putin has made clear his intention to annex or subordinate Ukraine through repeated statements that Ukraine has no right to exist as a nation. Parts of the Russian military are in the grip of genocidal ideas such as those of Russian military blogger Yuri Kotenok, who wrote that Ukrainians represent “a type of Satanism that can only be destroyed with one thing—fire! All-consuming fire that will cleanse this filth.”

This is the reality of Putin’s invasion, and it will not be stopped by condemnation or negotiations. Military force must be met with military force, until the invasion is defeated. Until then, they need modern weapons. From where can Ukrainians obtain those weapons if not from its allies, including the United States? Right now, the calls for negotiations are coming from outside of Ukraine, and what they imply is a support for a partial victory for Russia. If at any point Ukrainians want to negotiate, that is up to them.

DSA claims that “at the root of our socialism is a profound commitment to democracy, as means and end.” The Ukrainian people’s heroic battle against Russian aggression is driven by just such a commitment to democracy, and a relentless desire to live free from oppression and corruption. DSA members may not know that their peers in Ukraine—socialists, feminists, anarchists, labor activists, climate change activists, Marxists, and LGBTQ—are part of the resistance to Russian imperialism and have called upon the left in the West to support their right to receive the arms without which their resistance will be futile. They know exactly who Putin is: a beacon for the homophobic, racist far right around the world.

The main Ukrainian socialist organization Social Movement, whose members are fighting and dying on the front lines, calls for “an alternative vision of Ukraine—democratic, social, and socialist . . . The ultimate goal of such a political force must be the emancipation of humankind and the radical democratization of economic, political, national, and social life.” Ukraine has not banned left parties, as some have claimed.

We have spent our lives as blue-collar trade unionists, and our internationalism is built around working-class solidarity. In Ukraine, during peacetime, trade unionists had the right to organize independently. When Russia overran large areas of Ukraine, those rights were abolished. Trade union activists were arrested. This is troubling.

But on the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, the Ukrainian Confederation of Free Trade Unions issued a declaration. Reviewing the first year of war, it wrote:

Tens of thousands of citizens were killed, millions of Ukrainians became refugees and IDPs, and the socio-economic infrastructure of the country was destroyed: thousands of schools, hospitals, and industrial enterprises were destroyed. Soldiers of the Russian army systematically commit crimes: deliberate killings of civilians, sexual violencetorture, destruction of vital infrastructure facilities, forced resettlement, and deportation, including children . . .

During the year, more than 200 workers were killed at their workplaces by Russian shellings . . .

This unprovoked war was started not only against Ukraine. It undermines everything that we, trade unions, represent—peaceful labor, democratic values, sustainable development, and justice.

We call on all people of goodwill to help Ukraine and its citizens protect the right to life! Stand with Ukraine! Help Ukraine to win this 9-year war, to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity and to return peace to Ukraine!”

The second resolution, titled “Socialist anti-militarism and the war in Ukraine” is even worse than the first. Even the text as amended would contain a large number of factual inaccuracies and errors of political principle. It would be better if it were defeated completely. However, for the reasons described above, the most dangerous element of the resolution is its call to prevent military aid to Ukraine.

It is disgraceful that the resolution’s authors seek to use Ukraine’s temporary suspension of collective bargaining for workers in small and medium size companies, whilst an invading army is on its soil, as an excuse to refuse the solidarity which Ukrainian trade unionists and socialists are asking us to provide. We oppose all restrictions on workers’ rights, but this temporary suspension, ordinary in time of war, cannot be compared to the permanent, violent, extrajudicial repression of independent trade unionism which Russian rule has brought to occupied areas of Ukraine. Despite its inadequacies, on a tactical basis, internationalists should support the proposed amendment.

In many cases around the world, U.S. military aid is reactionary. In this case, it isn’t. U.S. socialists must support in practice—not just in rhetoric—Ukrainian national independence, and the civil and democratic rights that are the necessary foundation of socialist activism. That requires weapons. DSA members should immediately add their names to the two amendments, which will only be debated if they receive 300 signatures by June 28. They should ask their delegates to support the amendment when it is debated, and consider joining our campaign.