How DSA’ers Can Help Ukraine

Russia’s imperialist  war on Ukraine presents a challenge to the entire Left, including DSA. With an attack on an independent nation, massive destruction in Ukraine, thousands of soldiers and civilians dead, millions of refugees, and the threat of nuclear weapons raised in a way not seen since the depths of the Cold War, what can we do? DSA, both nationally and locally, has the political clarity, the organizational structures, and the resources to aid Ukraine and its people. 

Our National Political Committee has already condemned Russia’s invasion and rightly so. Ukraine has its own language and a long cultural history. It has been an independent nation since 1991, when 90% of the population voted for independence, including 56% in Crimea. Vladimir Putin, who denies that Ukrainians are a people or that Ukraine is a nation, invaded the country in 2014, seizing Ukrainian Crimea and incorporating it into Russia. Russian forces also intervened in Luhansk and Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine, and provided arms to separatists there. On February 24, after weeks of insisting that talk of invasion was Western misinformation, Putin ordered a full-scale attack on Ukraine.

DSA not only has the political clarity but also the organizational structures to aid Ukraine in the form of chapters, branches, and working groups. In fact, this process has already begun. Education is the first step, because most of us know little about Russia and Ukraine, and in all of our international work we want to hear from our foreign comrades. At least three branches have already reached out to Ukrainian socialists, some still in Ukraine and others now living abroad. Denys Pilash spoke recently to the Central Brooklyn DSA branch, Pilash and Vladislav Starodubtsev spoke to the Maine DSA chapter, and Hanna Perekhoda will be speaking later in April with the Boston chapter. In addition, Internationalism from Below, a group that involves a number of DSA members, has also held a webinar with Ukrainians.

We think it is vital to continue hearing these Ukrainian voices. They will help us put the lie to Putin’s claim that all Ukrainians are Nazis and help us appreciate the consequences of failing to allow Ukrainians to defend themselves. It is extremely important as well to hear from our allies in the Russian antiwar movement and from other East European left comrades, whose agency is too often dismissed.

International solidarity requires us to support Ukrainian trade unionists, feminists, human rights campaigners, LGBTQ+ activists, and socialists who are resisting the Russian invasion but who also continue to work against neoliberalism, bigotry, repression, and inequality. A Russian victory would have catastrophic consequences in all these realms, but even if Ukraine prevails, there will still be a need to challenge the country’s pre-war status quo. 

We at New Politics and Internationalism from Below have already been involved in sending money from U.S. socialists to Sotsialnyi Rukh (Social Movement), a democratic socialist organization in Ukraine, to support its political work. This is something that DSA’s National Political Committee, International Committee, and local chapters could work on as acts of international solidarity.

To date, ten million Ukrainians have been displaced by bombing and fighting in their cities, and almost four million have left their country and become refugees. Most have gone to Europe, but some (still less than a thousand so far) have entered the United States. DSA already has an Immigrant Rights Working Group that has issued a strong statement on aiding Ukrainian refugees while also welcoming all refugees. Local immigrant rights activists that have worked with Latinx, Asian, and African immigrants will be well prepared to help defend the rights of these new arrivals and provide them with support, for though most are white, refugees who don’t know the language, customs, and laws are vulnerable to being taken advantage of by landlords, employers, and others.

DSA groups that oppose racism and xenophobia, such as the Afrosocialist and People of Color Caucus, have the sensibility and the experience to help DSA extend solidarity to vulnerable people in Ukraine, not all of whom are considered white, such as the Roma and the Crimean Tartars. DSA’s Socialist Feminist and Queer Socialists working groups will have particular opportunities for building cross-border solidarity. Educational programs featuring Ukrainian feminists and gender activists would be especially valuable.

DSA’s Mutual Aid Working Group, while usually focused on mutual aid in local U.S. communities, might add an international dimension to its work by cooperating with groups in Ukraine that also have a mutual aid approach, such as Operation Solidarity. Operation Solidarity is an anarchist network that raises funds  to purchase and deliver humanitarian items, military equipment, and medical supplies to Ukraine.

The war has two important environmental consequences that should be a major concern for DSA’s Ecosocialist Working Group and our friends and allies in groups such as Science for the People and System Change not Climate Change. (The Global Ecosocialist Network has already condemned the invasion and warns against NATO escalation.) The U.S. and EU sanctions against Russia have led the Biden administration to support greater investment in carbon-based energy sources, a retreat from its modest and inadequate environmental program and a setback for the movement against climate change. DSA at large and the Ecosocialist Working Group, which already advocate a Green New Deal, should see the current crisis as an opportunity to push for a decisive shift away from fossil fuel production.  

Food shortages are another issue for the Ecosocialist Working Group and for the International Committee. Russia and Ukraine provide almost 30% of the world’s grain, and the war has disrupted planting, harvesting, and shipping of this grain. The result already is less grain and higher prices in the developing nations of the Global South, especially in Africa. DSA could build a movement to pressure the United States and Western governments to transfer food resources from rich to poor countries. The U.S. wastes billions of pounds of food each year, food that might feed the hungry. 

The Ukraine war, by stoking inflation at home, also raises issues of economic justice within the United States. The argument for sharply progressive taxation as a way to fairly distribute the burden is only reinforced by the current economic problems.

In all of this work, DSA elected officials can play an important role. We should note that Senator Bernie Sanders, who though not a DSA member played such an important role in the growth of DSA since 2016, has condemned the Russian invasion, opposed President Joseph Biden’s military budget, and been a critic of NATO expansion. DSA member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has a similar position.

We should be asking our DSA congresspeople and other progressives to support the various projects outlined here. In particular, they should be urged to push legislation for DSA’s Green New Deal – which makes more sense now than ever — and to support sending food to the Global South. These DSA lawmakers can also introduce legislation to cancel Ukraine’s foreign debt – a debt unjustly acquired and used to press neoliberalism. This is a demand urged by Ukrainian civil society groups and one that we should support.

Standing up for Ukraine will help DSA candidates. Most Americans, like us, support Ukraine and oppose U.S. military intervention. But we and they will need to combine support for Ukraine with our long-term vision of what a just world looks like. That means opposition to a growing U.S. military budget, a call for the abolition of nuclear weapons, and the elimination of NATO and all military alliances, replacing them with institutions of mutual security based on law and justice. We must oppose Russian imperialism and U.S. imperialism.

Finally, in order to build the pressure to make many of these projects meaningful, we need a powerful anti-war movement in the street. So far, only Ukrainian Americans have held very large demonstrations—and with political demands that we in DSA won’t agree with, such as NATO creating a no-fly zone, which risks a world war and possibly a nuclear war. Smaller peace demonstrations call for peace through diplomacy, but don’t support Ukraine’s right to arm and defend itself. While neither of these may be comfortable for us, we should be in the mix with our call for Russia to leave Ukraine, for Ukraine to have the right to defend itself, for assistance for refugees, for a Green New Deal, and for cancellation of the Ukrainian debt.

Note: Signed articles express the opinions of the authors and not necessarily of DSA as an organization.(Ed.)