DSA and the War in Ukraine: Toward a Mass Socialist Anti-War Movement

Gerard Dalbon
DSA and the War in Ukraine: Toward a Mass Socialist Anti-War Movement

Dec. 9. 2022

A DSA International Committee organizer talks about DSA’s response to the war in Ukraine, the need for socialist anti-war organizing, and his perspective on the conflict as an Eastern European.

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More than nine months after Russia’s invasion in February, the war in Ukraine rages on with no clear end in sight. While some paths to a possible settlement have been emerging, risks of escalation toward nuclear catastrophe continue posing serious concerns. In this dangerous and uncertain moment, it’s crucial for socialists in the United States to have a clear outlook on our responsibility for responding to the war and contending with the underlying role the United States plays in this conflict.

The Biden administration is currently requesting sending a new $38B aid package to Ukraine, $22B of it for military spending, on top of more than $70B total so far, of which over $50B has been weapons and military aid. To the thrill of military contractors, this massive war drive only further fuels next year’s already obscene $860B military budget. Complacent warmongering rhetoric among mainstream media and political commentators, coupled with dangerous, historically poor relations between the United States and Russia, necessitates that socialists provide a clear anti-war alternative.

DSA responded to the conflict since before the invasion and has coordinated in the International Committee (IC) with the National Political Committee (NPC) to organize the needed anti-war work to confront rising militarization. As someone who grew up in Romania, a short drive to Ukraine, and with family from Ukraine, I felt obliged to put my own efforts to try and respond to this crisis. I’ve been involved in the ongoing organizing efforts and helped draft the IC and NPC statements, as well as working on the subsequent resources, actions, poli-ed, projects, and campaigns in the IC to continue providing the necessary socialist action. DSA joined left-wing organizations in the United States and around the world to condemn the invasion, stress the need for diplomacy, and warn of the dangers of escalating militarism globally.

While DSA was initially relentlessly attacked by mainstream media outlets and pundits for opposing the war and calling out the role of the United States and NATO, it was these sort of early responses that pushed the needed discourse to question U.S. motives and stress the importance for diplomatic negotiations to avoid escalating the crisis. Any honest examination of our work easily dispels the uncritical denunciations and shows our positions are in-line with left-wing movements around the world which mirror our concerns. Without this principled anti-war stance from our organization critical of the narratives espousing brinkmanship and further fueling war, the current reductive conversation would be at an even worse state.

Even prior to the invasion, it was clear the United States was gearing for a massive military response, which has since surpassed any contemporary single-year war-related military spending and is on track to be the largest foreign military assistance in the past century. DSA joined over 100 anti-war organizations before the invasion that rightfully called out this escalating militarism, which then ranged in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and has since ballooned a hundredfold to tens of billions, now nearing Russia’s entire yearly military budget. While liberals have largely just called for unequivocal support for free-flowing billions in military spending and deemed it intolerable to talk about how U.S. interests and NATO expansion relate to this conflict, socialists have to instead stress these underlying truths.

Anti-war activists have warned over the past decade of dangers of U.S. military involvement in Ukraine, and it would be naive for socialists to now ignore the scale and outsized magnitude of U.S. militarization fueling proxy war and forestalling diplomacy. Calls for sending tens of billions in weapons to fight a protracted war with Russia were noticeably missing during the 2008 Russian-Georgian war, yet since the ceasefire that conflict has not erupted into war again. Today however, narratives arguing for the necessity of U.S. military spending are taken at face value without concern for rationalizing the same rhetoric fueling endless military budgets. Socialists here have a responsibility to provide a critical outlook on U.S. imperialist aims and talk out against this obscene militarist drive that has seen record profits for weapons contractors aiming to reap the long-term benefits of an expanded war.

While the left has held out its anti-war stance against McCarthyite attacks, the broader progressive sphere has largely been silent beyond a few critiques of the scope of weapons shipments and impacts of broad sanctions. The recent Progressive Caucus letter fiasco shows how unprepared this coalition is at responding to another U.S.-funded war drive, that under slight pushback leadership would cave and retract even this mild call for diplomacy. Meanwhile, a majority of people in the United States support the sentiment in the letter, and already talks of diplomacy and negotiations are becoming more common. In the absence of progressives and socialist politicians championing these positions on the left, opportunistic right-wing populists have managed to capitalize on this rhetoric to deceitfully cast themselves as anti-war.

Although DSA members in Congress originally all signed the letter, and AOC has since reaffirmed its uncontroversial calls for diplomacy and clarified that signers weren’t consulted on its withdrawal, it’s undeniable that there’s a need for DSA to more effectively coordinate with our electeds and strategize collectively to push a left-wing outlook in the mainstream political sphere. Socialist politicians could do a lot to oppose the reductive warmongering narratives being used to further fuel military budgets to record highs nearing $1 trillion. Being outspoken against this rising militarist drive, calling out the free flow of weapons that have ended up outside of Ukraine, pointing the dangers of direct U.S. military involvement, and counterposing the focus on massive military spending instead with need for humanitarian aid and more helpful proposals like canceling Ukraine’s foreign debt, all would move the conversation toward useful grounds. Meanwhile, working people need to mobilize collectively.

In the IC we organized to coordinate with the Peace in Ukraine coalition and assist chapters to stage local actions and rallies and distribute DSA flyers with resources and information on the war, and have gotten thousands of people to contact their representatives to speak out for diplomacy and against militarism. We also worked to put together political education content and analysis, including interviewing Noam Chomsky who talked on Russian anti-war opposition, and hosting a webinar event which included socialists from Ukraine and Eastern Europe who spoke about the need for anti-war organizing and the impacts of the war on working class people in the region and Global South. In June we attended a timely NO to NATO Madrid Peace Summit and continued to build connections with left-wing parties and organizations in Europe and around the world to help coordinate a global anti-war response.

In NYC-DSA we’ve worked with local anti-war orgs doing public tablings to hand out flyers, petition politicians, and talk to people about the need for the United States to engage in serious diplomatic efforts. The conversations I’ve had in person in NYC and when I was in Romania in September made it clear that working class people dealing with economic impacts of the war are skeptical of U.S. motives and understand the need to avoid a prolonged escalated conflict. In mainstream rhetoric however this outlook is mostly missing and Eastern European views are presented reductively, even while nearly half of Ukrainians in the war torn areas of the country agree with the need for negotiations to reach a ceasefire. With Russia facing military setbacks, winter setting in, calls for a Christmas truce, and public opinions leaning to negotiations, an off-ramp opportunity exists to push for a ceasefire and find a resolution.

The war continues with devastating harm on working class people in Ukraine faced with the impacts of the fighting, as well as attacks on their labor and political rights from their own government and the grim prospects of neoliberal reconstruction schemes. This crisis also highlights critical questions for people in RussiaEurope, and the Global South, along with the need for a global anti-war movement. With the conflict inching toward dangerous escalations, and talks of looming nuclear catastrophe increasing, it’s our job in the United States to expose the underlying role of our country in this crisis, demand politicians speak out to oppose hawkish warmongering, and reach working class people with a message addressing their material needs in the face of unconscionable military spending. Abandoning these conversations to mainstream media is detrimental to working class interests everywhere, as seen with what’s now common whitewashing and prominent spotlighting of Ukrainian fascists, further enabling the far-right.

There’s many ways to engage in the needed organizing to strengthen the anti-war movement and empower the left to present people with a real alternative. DSA chapters can host or attend public tablings and distribute flyers, coordinate with anti-war groups, petition local representatives, politicize their labor unions, and share the political education resources compiled for members to have these important conversations in each chapter. DSA should continue to organize to provide the needed left-wing outlook and resources on the conflict, build connections and solidarity with anti-war activists globally, and coordinate more with electeds to speak out against militarism and brinkmanship.

Specifically, we should underscore the need to concentrate on diplomatic negotiations around issues such as expiring nuclear arms treaties with Russia, the scope of military aid and sanctions, the plans to build a new U.S. military base in Poland 100 miles from Russia’s border able to launch nuclear missiles, the deployment of an upgraded nuclear arsenal to Europe, the possibility of Finland hosting nuclear missiles on the border with Russia, and the massive U.S. troop presence and military drills in Europe. By pointing the conversation to concrete solutions, socialists in the United States can help provide a desperately needed alternative to the warhawks serving the interests of war profiteers and the capitalist class.

With rising right-wing movements and escalating militarism globally, it’s crucial for us to expose the drive for war and conflict that U.S. history is riddled with, and oppose the rhetoric driving U.S. imperialist policy across the world. While Russia has not reached the same total all-out war that the United States has repeatedly carried out since WWII in places like Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, and Afghanistan, where millions were killed and entire countries destroyed, we can’t ignore the morbid possibility of what a severely escalated war would look like. High stakes and an atmosphere of dangerous conformity necessitates that socialists everywhere must be a voice for principled anti-war opposition and organize toward a mass, working-class movement to confront the capitalist interests that fueled this crisis.