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Time for DSA’s internationalists to show solidarity with Ukraine

Readers’ Views

Tempest welcomes this letter from reader John Lawrence who writes in support of amendments to DSA convention proposals on internationalism and Ukraine solidarity. In addition to the other steps mentioned in John’s letter, we encourage people to follow and support the efforts of the Ukraine Solidarity Network (US).

On April 19, 2023, Cooper “Harris” Andrews, an anti-capitalist from Cleveland, Ohio, was killed near Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine while evacuating civilians from beneath Russian bombardment. Two other anticapitalists, from Ireland and Russia, were killed alongside him.

Cooper, who had also fought alongside the YPG against ISIS in Syria, wrote in his final letter:

Victory in this war is vital to the freedom not just of the Ukrainian people but to that of the entire region and beyond. Putin’s nepotistic dictatorship reaches far beyond its own borders to maintain his revanchist regime. . . Putin’s imperialism represents a great purveyor of fascism (regardless of what certain weak-willed Turncoats may say while they stain the name of antifascism). . . In our hands there is a world to win and a fight which requires great sacrifice . . . For us and everybody else who faces the shadow of putinist aggression there is only victory or death. Love and struggle 🖤

Harris was part of a heroic internationalist tradition: rooted in practical solidarity and meaningful relationships with those struggling against tyranny and imperialism.

Regrettably, however, those whom Cooper labeled “turncoats” are now set to determine the official orientation of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)—unless internationalists step in to stop them. The coming days, in particular, are important.

The turncoat, or campist, political current understands imperialism not as the practice of any state that dominates the popular sovereignty of other peoples, but simply and crudely as whatever it is that the United States does in international politics. Thus, in an inversion of reality, when the United States happens to help another country’s people resist external domination it counts for them as “imperialism.” This faux anti-imperialism, therefore, leads to a policy that objectively enables imperialism and denies solidarity to its victims. The Syrian leftist Leila al-Shami has called this the “anti-imperialism of idiots.” The Ukrainian socialist Taras Bilous has echoed her language in his Letter to the Western Left.

The turncoats are now set to embed this pretend anti-imperialism more deeply into DSA policy. Two resolutions, set to go before the organization’s Convention in August, would commit DSA to call for a complete halt to the supply of arms to Ukraine. As the first step in stopping them, three hundred members must sign up to support each of the two amendments before June 28 if they are to be debated (see here and here to read and sign).

Not all of us can make the commitment that Cooper did. But we can recognize his struggle, and that of other comrades in Ukraine, as representing the soul of socialist internationalism: which extends back past the Spanish Civil War, to Karl Marx’s support for an effort to send guns and volunteers to a Polish uprising against the occupying armies of Tsarist Russia.1 We can, at the very least, ensure that our own organizations adopt basic internationalist positions, and stand with, not against, comrades like Cooper. (His mother has also set up a memorial fund in his name.)

It is understandable that many socialists in the U.S. are wary about the use of U.S. power abroad, particularly given the generation-defining character of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and the Vietnam War before that. These experiences, however, do not blunt our obligation to understand the specific consequences of a proposed policy for the linked causes of socialism and democracy in Ukraine. Neither Vietnamese nor Iraqi trade unionists were asking the U.S. to invade. But much here is different: there is no state-building problem, of the sort that saw Iraq and Afghanistan descend into deadly chaos. Unlike South Vietnam, the Ukrainian government is substantively democratic, carries the broad support of the population, and is defending itself against an external threat.

Ukraine’s working class and socialist organizations – including the journal Commons, the socialist organization Sotsialnyi Ruh, the anti-authoritarian Solidarity Collectives (of which Harris was a member), and the independent trade union confederation KVPU – are united in fighting to resist the Russian invasion, and calling on U.S. socialists to support them through the provision of weapons.

The Russian Socialist Movement has taken a similar line, calling for “increased arms transfers.” The Russian socialist journal Posle has carried stinging critiques of Western left-pacifism, and its essentially “colonial” character.

Using U.S.-supplied weapons, Ukrainian and international volunteers repulsed the Russian assault on Kyiv, saving a city of nearly three million people from siege and shell fire, and have halted the slow-burn massacres taking place in Bucha and Irpin. They stabilized their defensive lines, then, late last year, liberated hundreds of square miles of territory in the Kherson and Kharkiv regions. If the turncoats got their way, none of this would have happened. Perhaps the war is now entering a more difficult phase: so be it, this is no time to give up.

Some argue that Ukrainians have the right to defend their homes, but that they should not receive U.S. weapons to do so. That is a cowardly evasion of reality. Without such weapons, no meaningful resistance is possible. If it is progressive that Ukraine defends itself, it is progressive that it has the means to do so.

Even Noam Chomsky has admitted that “Ukraine should receive weapons for self-defense,” and does not think the leverage inherent in the U.S.’s role as a supplier of weapons should be used to “pressure Ukraine into making particular concessions to Russia.” Much of what Chomsky has said about Ukraine is wrong, including his claim that the West had a pre-eminent role in bringing about Russia’s invasion. But that very fact shows just how unreasonable the policy being put forward for discussion is: DSA’s turncoats would paint even Chomsky into the “imperialist” corner, for wanting to supply limited sorts of weapons to Ukraine. (Tempest has previously covered the debate over the provision of arms.)

The fight for the politics of true internationalism is dynamically tied to the fight against authoritarian sects that want to turn DSA from a broad, democratic movement into a narrow, hierarchical one. This is, first, because their international politics are so odious to consistent opponents of imperialism that whenever they are successful in having those policies adopted, they alienate part of the movement, thereby narrowing the whole, and making it easier to control. A similar dynamic was a feature of the decline and breakup of Students for a Democratic Society in the early 1970s.

Second, the turncoats exploit debates over international matters to advance specific institutional reforms that centralize power and resources in their hands. For example, the International Committee’s resolution proposes to remove from all other DSA bodies, including chapters and the national commissions, the right to hold relationships with social movements outside the United States. They also want $25,000 of DSA money to pursue their schemes.

As an urgent matter, DSA’s internationalists must intervene to correct the organization’s politics. There are some simple steps every member can take.

First, sign the two Convention amendments (here and here).

Second, insist that your chapter’s delegates vote for both amendments, and against either motion if unamended. Mandate them at your chapter meeting if you are able.

Third, organize with other internationalists. The simple reality is that a small number of dedicated turncoats – including those organized by a handful of pseudo-Marxist caucuses enthralled by fictional accounts of Leninism – have managed to have an outsized impact. Internationalists now need to show that they are equally as determined, and get just as well organized. Joining the Ukraine Solidarity Network (US) or the Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign and making connections to other local DSA internationalists could be two first steps.

Fourth, speak up. Internationalists need to ensure that the turncoats’ domination of the International Committee and DSA chapters is contested. Sometimes, this may be uncomfortable. But we can take strength from knowing that our struggle is one and indivisible with that of comrades like Cooper, and many thousands of others around the world.

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