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No War but the Class War

DSA International Committee leader historicizes the current discussion on the crisis in Ukraine and reaffirms the need for a strong socialist, anti-war position.

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For the Socialist of another country cannot expose the government and bourgeoisie of a country at war with “his own” nation, and not only because he does not know that country’s language, history, specific features, etc., but also because such exposure is part of imperialist intrigue, and not an internationalist duty. He is not an internationalist who vows and swears by internationalism. Only he is an internationalist who in a really internationalist way combats his own bourgeoisie, his own social-chauvinists…”

-Lenin, Theses for an Appeal to the International Socialist Committee and All Socialist Parties

Deep into the great imperial war, long after the Second International betrayed the socialist movement but right before the Great October Socialist Revolution, Lenin wrote: “The thing is that it is not easy to be an internationalist in deed during a terrible imperialist war. Such people are few, but it is on such people alone that the future of socialism depends; they alone are the leaders of the people and not their corrupters.” Unfortunately, socialists in the United States are having to relearn this lesson. DSA and its International Committee are currently the subject of ongoing smears by many in the ruling class and media establishment for our statement on the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. Our crime? Daring to demand peace. We stand accused not only of condemning the illegal, asymmetrical, and reprehensible invasion of Ukraine by Russia but also demanding that the US withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an organization that can only ever serve to foment conflict.  Well, we admit it! We are anti-imperialists and wish to obstruct this war.  NATO is an imperialist militarist vehicle and anti-communist cabal that has for generations done irreversible damage to the worldwide working class. Its general belligerence, military interventions in the middle east, and continued expansion in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), have placed working people across continents at grave risk, all in the interest of securing US-led global hegemony. This coalition of ‘North Atlantic’ nations, which is to say colonialist and settler-colonialist nations, also sabotaged post-war decolonial movements in Africa, colluded with the South African apartheid regime, and tacitly supported imperialist wars. NATO does not stop wars, it starts them.  This conflict is no different.

During the dissolution of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact in the 1990s, US Secretary of Defense James Baker famously assured Mikhail Gorbachev, and later Boris Yeltsin, that NATO would not expand into the former socialist republics in CEE. However, over the last 20+ years, 14 CEE countries have signed onto the Treaty. One does not need to be sympathetic to the Russian Federation to be concerned at the prospect of two nuclear powers (NATO & Russia) sharing a border, especially in a region so rife with political tensions. While Euromaidan began as a mass protest in 2013, it was soon appropriated by violent, far-right elements, culminating in multiple assassinations and a US-assisted coup of the democratically elected and Russian sympathetic president by 2014. Since then, tensions have only risen, especially in the breakaway republics of the Donbas in the East. Under these conditions, why have NATO countries continued to pursue expansion at the borders of Russia? It is certainly not in defense of liberal democracy. Portugal, under the dictatorship of Salazar, was a founding member of the organization, as were military dictatorships in Greece and Turkey. No, NATO has continued eastward expansion, in direct contravention of its promises and against the advice of a wellspring of opinions across the political spectrum, for the same reasons the Great Powers always partake in such adventurism: to partition spheres of influence, to establish neo-colonial relations, to fill the coffers of the capitalist war-machine, and to move to advantageously position certain states in the world market. This brinkmanship was never in service of mutual defense but the geopolitical interest of the great western imperial powers—a volatile and dangerous game that we warned would have explosive consequences.

As a result, we are seeing a full-court press by the ruling class, accusing our movement, with absolutely no basis, of a whole host of transgressions. These include sympathy for the right-wing Russian government, social-fascism, being “tankies”, treason during a hot war, and, most ironically, betraying true internationalism. DSA is not even the sole target of these attacks. The Vice President of the San Francisco Teachers Union has been maligned and redbaited for sharing a statement about the conflict by the Party for Socialism and Liberation. This comes as no surprise; painting members of the anti-war movement as tacit supporters of foreign state belligerence is a long-standing bourgeois practice. Socialists–Eugene Debs during WWI, organizers in the peace movement during America’s attack on Vietnam, and the anti-war protesters opposing the lead up to the invasion of Iraq to name a few–have time and time again been attacked for opposing the imperialist wars of the ruling class. Eastern European parties critical of NATO are continually accused of being the Kremlin’s puppets. The bourgeois press is deeply invested in eliding the complex history of US meddling in CEE by incorporating it into the years-old Trump Russia-gate collusion narrative, thus pathologizing Putin and Russia as inherently criminal and untrustworthy. By drawing these connections, and by associating the current conflict with the supposedly stolen US election of 2016, media figures position the liberal establishment as an internationalist defender of freedom and democracy. However, as Lenin wrote, when adroit war-profiteers, carpetbaggers, and chauvinists begin to proudly pound their chest, swearing by internationalism, it becomes a socialist’s duty to “counterpoise internationalism in deed to internationalism in word.”

We stand proudly in the tradition of Rosa Luxembourg and James Connolly; in the tradition of Debs, who was convicted of sedition for opposing the war, and Lenin, who condemned the 2nd international for collaborating with the imperial powers. They criticized socialists for defending their own national bourgeoisie while sending their fellow workers to die. When World War I broke out, in a dramatic reversal of a staunch anti-war analysis that critiqued the ramping up of imperialist conflict, socialist party after socialist party fell in line behind the warmongering ruling class. These parties voted for war credits, canceled demonstrations, banned strikes and called for class truce, a betrayal that would spell doom for the Second International. The Bolsheviks were the only major party to take a stand against the imperialist war. They established the doctrine of revolutionary defeatism: during an imperialist war, the only working-class position was to call for the downfall of one’s own bourgeoisie. Socialists must not join in the cries for war, but instead build and direct the anti-war struggle against the war machine itself. To root for one’s own nation in war is only to root for one’s bourgeoisie, one’s own ruling class. 

Revolutionary defeatism maintains that it is a socialist’s duty to always struggle against one’s own capitalist class, even in times of imperialist war. Indeed, according to Lenin ‘there is one, and only one, kind of real internationalism, and that is—working whole-heartedly for the development of the revolutionary movement and the revolutionary struggle in one’s own country, and supporting (by propaganda, sympathy, and material aid) this struggle; this and only this line, in every country without exception.” It is in this spirit that many of us in the DSA international Committee have defended our organization’s democratically determined position on US withdrawal from NATO. Not because we fail to recognize the existence of competing imperialist powers, naively think that every enemy of our enemies is a friend, or believe in some sort of “reverse” US exceptionalism that posits the US as the sole root of all the world’s ills.  Rather, it is because we understand that we can serve the international working class best by opposing the imperialism of our own ruling class. We recognize that NATO’s function is the construction of a global military order that serves US and European neocolonial ambitions. In the words of Ajamu Baraka, ​​NATO ”was never a security arrangement for the defense of Europe but a rationale for the US occupation of Europe and subordination of European militaries to the interest of US imperialism.” This is precisely why the only proletarian internationalist position for socialists is to open a second front with the capitalist ruling class at home, making the occupation of other countries untenable. This is exactly why the ruling class has found our politics so offensive: because a home front would be so dangerous to the capitalist class; because the ruling class has so much to lose from an international anti-war workers movement. It is for that reason that the bourgeoisie and their stenographers have so furiously attacked a relatively small organization of 92,000 members boasting only a handful of federal electeds.  

Therefore, I proudly affirm my organization and its International Committee:

  • Solidarity with the working class of Ukraine and Russia, and with all workers of the world.
  • Condemnation of the Russian Federation’s ilegal and reprehensible invasion of Ukraine
  • Demand for an immediate withdrawal of troops from sovereign Ukraine soil
  • Call for the US to withdraw from NATO
  • Push for a return to diplomacy
  • Opposition to illegal unilateral coercive measures, and to any form of war “by other means”
  • Demand that all and any refugees be accepted
  • Commitment to the construction of an international anti-war movement
  • A defeatist practice that maintains not only that class struggle against one’ national bourgeoisie must persist even in war time but that the ruling class and their imperialist ambitions are uniquely vulnerable to class struggle during this time

No war but class war. Long live proletarian internationalism. 

Marvin G. has served as DSA IC Appointed leadership as a member of the Secretariat since 2020. He is the interim chair of the IC Europe Subcommittee.

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