What the DSA International Committee’s Ukraine Statement Gets Wrong

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The Democratic Socialists of America’s International Committee has issued a statement on Ukraine that fails to adhere to basic socialist principles. As socialists, we have a responsibility to speak out and to act against our own government’s imperialist role in the world, but we also have a responsibility to condemn the imperialisms of other powers and stand with the victims of oppression everywhere. The statement’s biggest weakness is its remarkable failure to say a word about Russia’s role in this crisis, consequently creating an incomplete, slanted, and distorted view that makes it impossible to understand what’s actually happening, much less to take a principled position on it.

One looks in vain in the DSA-IC statement for some reference to the scope of Russian military threats against Ukraine: the mobilization on Ukraine’s borders of at least 100,000 troops, some from as far away as Siberia, and the prepositioning of equipment, including short-range ballistic missile launchers and artillery, helicopters and air assets. Additional thousands of Russian troops are gathering for ‘joint exercises’ in neighboring Belarus, near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

Nor does the DSA-IC statement say anything about Russia’s recent past aggression against Ukraine, surely not irrelevant to the current situation. Nothing is said about Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014, the first time any great power conquered territory in Europe since the end of World War II, in a conquest soundly condemned by the UN General Assembly. Nor does the DSA-IC statement refer to Russia’s continuing military involvement in eastern Ukraine, where fighting since 2014 has resulted in more than 13,000 deaths and a million displaced.

The DSA-IC statement is of course correct that the eastward expansion of NATO over the past several decades has been provocative and unjustified. The peace movement has long noted that this NATO behavior would only increase feelings of insecurity in Russia. But the peace movement has never accepted that a nation has the right to threaten to go to war, still less to actually launch a war, as the means of addressing  its security concerns, real or alleged. If Russia feels insecure because of NATO expansion, it must utilize existing international mechanisms for conflict resolution, not mass troops and weapons on Ukraine’s borders. The DSA-IC statement doesn’t have a word to say about the largest military mobilization in Europe since the Cold War nor the obvious threat that this represents. Socialists should not support international bullying.

The DSA-IC statement raises the issue of Ukrainian neo-fascists. These elements did play an outsized role in the 2014 Maidan uprising and continue to be a worrying force in Ukrainian politics. Clearly Ukraine needs a broad left to counter the right. But it is also true that currently far-right parties have almost no electoral presence in Ukraine (unlike those in France and Germany, for example, or in Russia). Most far-right European parties support Putin. Marine Le Pen of France’s Front National endorsed Russia’s take-over of Crimea in 2014 and today believes that Ukraine belongs to Russia’s sphere of influence. Putin himself leads an ultra-conservative party and jails and poisons his critics. And Russia’s neo-fascist Rusich Task Force of its Wagner paramilitary group – unmentioned by the DSA-IC statement – is every bit as fearsome as Ukraine’s Azov Battalion. Of course we must condemn the activities of neo-fascist forces in Ukraine, but it is problematic to focus on the Ukrainian far-right to the exclusion of the far-right in Russia.

The DSA-IC statement also fails to acknowledge the fact that Ukraine is a former colony of the  Tsarist and then the Soviet empires – having suffered horrendous human costs. When Putin declares that “Ukraine is not even a State,” Ukraine deserves socialist support, just as we have historically supported other colonies and neo-colonies fighting for their freedom.

The DSA-IC statement states that in Ukraine the United States has been “training far-right extremist groups with neo-Nazi sympathies such as the Azov Battalion.” Though the IC states this as fact, the source they give for this claim is an article by Branko Marcetic much more tentatively titled “The CIA May Be Breeding Nazi Terror in Ukraine.” And in fact, Marcetic overstates the matter. He reports that Congressional language that barred the training of the Azov group was removed from military appropriations in 2015, but he doesn’t indicate that since 2017 U.S. legislation has explicitly prohibited funds from being used “to provide arms, training, or other assistance to the Azov Battalion.”

To be sure, Ukraine is a country with many deep problems. On Transparency International’s corruption scale it ranks as highly corrupt – but better than Russia. Its political system is far from democratic. But since 2014, voters have thrown out incumbent presidents at each election – something not likely to happen in autocratic Russia, or in the breakaway Donbas ‘republics’ or Crimea. Human rights defenders, journalists, trade unionists, and other social justice advocates have been subject to terrible abuses in Ukraine, as they have in Russia, Crimea, and Donbas. We stand with all these embattled activists. And we stand against all nationalist bigotries toward ethnic, linguistic, and religious minorities in Ukraine.

The DSA-IC dismisses the Maidan Protest of 2014 as the “U.S. backed Maidan coup.” It thus associates itself with others on the left – we call them “campists” – who claim that all popular insurgencies against leaders who seem to oppose U.S. imperialism are incited, manipulated, or controlled by Washington. There is a degree of condescension and even racism in the notion that movements from below of ordinary Ukrainian, Chinese, Iranian, or Nicaraguan working people are U.S. puppets.  These people are perfectly capable of standing up for themselves and fighting back, even if they do so against overwhelming odds. Do the U.S. State Department and the CIA and NATO attempt to influence and, when they can, direct such movements? Of course. It is clear, however, that the Orange Revolution of 2004 and the Maidan uprising were fundamentally expressions of the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people – fed up with the brutality of their government’s treatment of protesters – and their wish for self-determination, and not because they were being directed by Washington or by neo-Nazis. The Ukrainian people seek their independence, and we should stand with them against both the United States and NATO and against the immediate threat from Russia.

Like the DSA-IC, we fervently hope for a peaceful settlement of this crisis. In the longer term we hope for a solution that sharply reduces military dangers – offering genuine neutralization to Ukraine and other countries, curtailing military exercises, and removing conventional and nuclear forces.

But peace will not come from pretending that the 100,000 Russian troops on the border don’t exist or that the military maneuvers of the U.S. and NATO are all that matter.

 

About Author
STEPHEN R. SHALOM taught political science at William Paterson University in NJ. 
DAN LA BOTZ is a Brooklyn-based teacher, writer and activist. THOMAS HARRISON is the former co-director of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy. All three are members of the editorial board of New Politics.

 

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9 comments on “What the DSA International Committee’s Ukraine Statement Gets Wrong
  1. Stephen Oren says:

    Yay! You might also mentioned that the current freely elected Ukrainian President is Jewish

  2. Frieda Afary says:

    Thank you for this needed response to the DSA’s statement. Let’s not forget that the Russian government’s troops just recently helped the Kazakhstan government crush a democratic popular uprising in Kazakhstan by killing hundreds and arresting thousands, many of them workers. Let’s not forget Putin’s latest misogynistic message to Ukraine. According to the Guardian, “Putin quoted Soviet-era punk-rock lyrics about rape and necrophilia to demonstrate what Russia wants from Ukraine. . . .’Whether you like it or don’t like it, bear with it, my beauty'”

  3. Rohini Hensman says:

    Frieda is right. Putin wants to rape a dead Ukraine, to push it back to its status in the Russian empire – ‘exploited in the extreme and getting nothing in return,’ in Lenin’s words. He would prefer to do this without a new war with Ukraine (the old one is ongoing), and he may get what he wants if some Western imperialist powers push the Ukrainian government to implement the Minsk agreements, as Macron and the Johnson regime in the UK seem to be doing, while others undermine it by advising their citizens to leave. Putin has never implemented the Russian side of the agreements and won’t need to if Ukraine implements it and thereby gives him a back door to enter the Ukrainian government and control it. He would be able to install his puppet in Kiev without triggering any sanctions. In such a situation, we as internationalists should be expressing our solidarity not only with Ukrainian working people but also with oppressed workers, women, LGBT+ people, ethnic and religious minorities, anti-fascists and anti-war activists in Russia.

  4. Let’s hope for prevention of war in Ukraine. Here is a great version of Turn Turn with Judy Collins and Peter Seeger, who I had the pleasure of meeting at a social movement picnic in the 1970s: https://youtu.be/n0xzyhoeu1Y
    “A time of peace, I swear it’s not too late.”

  5. John Barzman says:

    January 24: with the actual invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops, the correctness of this criticism of the campist position of DSA’s International Committee, appears all the more clearly.

  6. Raghav Kaushik says:

    There is much to agree with in your criticism. However, there are crucial missing points that the DSA statement gets right and that you miss both in the statement above as well as in your other statement written in response to the Russian invasion. You oppose NATO expansion in the abstract. In contrast, the DSA statement indicates that NATO expansion was a concrete diplomatic option for the West to pursue in the current conflict. There was literally no downside to offering a moratorium on NATO membership to Ukraine. Clearly, the West has no real desire to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty, which makes the offer of NATO membership to Ukraine just farcical. Then why did they not try it? Now, it is not certain if it would have made a difference. It may well have not. But it was very easy to try. On the other hand, it could have led to Ukrainian (and Russian) lives being saved. This is something the DSA statement acknowledges but yours doesn’t.

    It is appropriate to criticize Putin’s actions of course. But your claims of being concerned for Ukraine would sound a lot more convincing if you acknowledge the things your own governments could have done to avert the conflict. Not just in the abstract, but in the concrete.

    The point generalizes. Your web site talks a lot about topics like internationalism and campism. I don’t disagree with its general thrust. But it seems that you spend more time criticizing crimes farther away from home than your own. One of the most significant recent examples of Western imperialism surely has to be blocking the TRIPS waiver at the WTO for covid vaccines. The impact of the patent monopolies is surely large – perhaps of the order of 100s of 1000s of deaths worldwide. Also, I’m sure you will agree that the use of the word imperialism is appropriate; imperialism is after all economic as well as military.

    And yet a search of “TRIPS waiver” on your website yields zero hits. Now I don’t claim this to be conclusive; it is quite possible that you’ve published a few articles condemning vaccine patents. But surely the anger, the fury you’ve felt for Putin’s crimes and the resulting depth of coverage you have afforded it far exceeds your coverage of vaccine imperialism. Why is that? Notice that there is a big difference. Vaccine imperialism can be ended with the stroke of a pen, and your governments can do that. Putin’s crimes, horrific as they are, only provide fodder for hand-wringing and philosophical articles on “campism”.

    Is this what internationalism means to you?

    • raul says:

      There is no NATO `offer` of membership. Any country can apply to be a part of NATO, and that is what Ukraine did. This is not to defend NATO, just to clarify a misconception – Ukraine asked to be in NATO, and its resolve to be a part of NATO increased after the Russian aggression in 2014. So, first of all, it should be an Ukrainian decision to renounce its NATO application, not a NATO decision to reject it. NATO expansion is not independent of Russia’s actions and imperialist ambitions. Yeah, shitty world with to many large actors needing their `spheres of influence`, but saying that NATO could have easily resolved this (aka Russia is mostly responding to NATO actions and it is not one of the main causes of this situation) is incredibly naive.

      As for the TRIPS waiver, that’s an irrelevant topic in the discussion about Ukraine and it looks only as a malicious insinuation regarding their leftist credentials – in other words `argumentum ad hominem`. This is also the laziest way in discrediting one’s intentions and ideas : `but what about…`

  7. mtg says:

    You write about NATO eastward expansion like it was a capture, conquest or plot.
    My country made the decision to pursue ability to join NATO before it was ever offered because we believed in NATO protection and knew that simple promises and guarantees didn’t save us last time.
    And when we got inside we always supported new countries – both for our security and because we understood the right of others for the same security we had.
    Your attitude towards NATO expansion, disregarding agency of new members is a proof of your imperialism mindset, the quiet assumptions that empires decide what client states are allowed to do.
    United states has no right to tell Vietnam whether it can build an alliance with China or not, China has no right to forbid Kazakhstan from partnership with Russia, Russia has no right to ban Ukraine from wanting to join NATO and EU. Those are decisions of Vietnam, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, not world’s superpowers.

  8. This debate sidsteps a lot of key questions. First, in Europe, Sweden to be precise, all the parties have lined up behind arms transfers to Ukraine and arms budget increases. At the very least we can say that the DSA statement offers a counter-point to such sentiments. Second, parts of the Italian left actually try to block arms shipments to Ukraine. This is an anti-NATO left. What do such actions mean for this debate? Third, while Russia and NATO/US are both involved in militarism and imperialism, the two feed each other in various ways. One way is through “mutually assured paranoia” and elements of what is called the “security dilemma” in international relations. In one sense, a comdenation of NATO is a way to limit the mobilization power of Russian militarists. Fourth, while every state has the right to defend itself, including defense against Russian militarism, there are many counter-veiling issues here which argue against arms escallation. These risks take us back to NATO, the USA, and those siding with them and their role. What are these issues? Accidental nuclear war, war by desperation, linkages between arms shipments, Russian stalemate on the ground, and how these might encourage bombardment of cities. Russian militarists might bombard anyway, but the Russian Chechan wars illustrate clearly a pattern demonstrated by multiple sources: a) transfers bolster defending military, b) Russian stalemate, c) Russian bombing of cities. Finally, lets just assume Russian militarism is a primary cause. What is the political implications of just saying that? Should we back sanctions and arms transfers of should we pressure the U.S. to promote diplomacy more or both? The U.S. seems to be engaging in little peace diplomacy or if it is engaging in peace diplomacy it’s rather unknown. How those outside Russia strengthen the fight against its militarism/imperialism? How do we do that without strengthening NATO? The authors wisely suggest cutting back military exercises, support for Ukraine’s neutrality, and removing military forces. Yet, pressure on NATO will still be needed for that.

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