For R23: YDSA Needs a Class-Struggle Vision for International Work

Internationalism is a key component of socialist thought. Supporters of Resolution 23 argue that by moving our youth international work under YDSA, we can be better equipped to develop stronger relationships with global youth workers’ and socialist movements. 


Internationalism is a central principle of democratic socialist politics as capitalism is a global system and must be overturned on a global scale. Internationalist working-class forces around the world have long recognized that the central conflict in society is between classes, not competing nation-states, and that they have a shared struggle against their collective oppressors. Part of capitalism’s global nature is also the exploitation of workers in the global periphery by capitalists in advanced capitalist countries, and the related subordination of the imperialized nations’ self-determination to the interests of international capital. Any serious socialist project in the heart of empire must make internationalism central to its program, opposing US imperialism while standing in solidarity with and learning from workers’ movements around the world.

In the past few years, YDSA has made significant strides in our internationalist work. We’ve left the youth section of the neoliberalized Socialist International; stood in solidarity with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on our campuses; and we’re building relationships with youth and student sections of Left and working-class parties around the world. But YDSA’s international work still has room to grow. 

These efforts are currently carried out through a subcommittee of the DSA International Committee (IC) as opposed to a YDSA committee, which limits the integration of youth international work into YDSA as a whole. Its home in the IC also compromises our ability to build relationships with and issue support for workers’ movements around the world. This is because the IC has often failed to establish solidarity with workers’ movements challenging governments that are not allied with the United States. Our caucus, Bread & Roses, is putting forward “Resolution 23: Class-Struggle Internationalism” that seeks to advance YDSA’s international work by moving it into YDSA and providing clear principles for fighting imperialism and learning from and supporting the struggles of working-class movements for socialism and democracy worldwide. Delegates should vote “Yes” on R23 to strengthen YDSA’s international work both organizationally and politically.

YDSA Autonomy, not Separatism

YDSA’s international work is currently carried out through the International Committee Youth Leadership Committee (ICYLC), a subcommittee of DSA’s IC. The body is appointed by DSA’s National Political Committee (NPC) and reports to the IC Steering Committee (SC). This is a unique model for YDSA organizing; all other YDSA national work is carried out under the direction of the YDSA convention and our elected leadership, the National Coordinating Committee (NCC). 

Self-governance is necessary for YDSA to fulfill its strategic mission: developing lifelong socialist organizers and leaders. Young socialists have the opportunity to run our own organization and democratically deliberate on how to conduct our work and use our resources. It’s necessary that we collaborate with DSA and integrate our work into DSA’s broader political efforts, but we can still do this with our own committees. YDSA’s Labor Committee, for instance, includes members who serve as the YDSA representatives of DSA’s National Labor Committee Steering Committee to ensure coordination.

The ICYLC has carried out important work in building relationships with the youth sections of leftist parties in other countries, but its organizational separation from YDSA limits its utility to our organizing. One of the ICYLC’s central roles is to educate YDSA on the IC’s campaigns and encourage YDSA members to join the IC subcommittees. Most of the calls organized by the ICYLC this past year have focused on different DSA IC campaigns, with just one devoted to learning from socialist youth organizers abroad. While these were informative, the majority of them were of limited relevance to YDSA. YDSA should focus on learning from others’ experiences, sharing our own, and supporting student and youth socialist organizers around the world. We could discuss the rank-and-file strategy with young Brazilian socialists in the process of taking union jobs, anti-war electoral and mass movement youth organizers in Russia, labor organizing with Chinese Marxist students, and fighting Israeli apartheid with Palestinian youth. 

R23 brings YDSA’s international work back home by replacing the ICYLC with a YDSA International Committee (YIC). The YIC would send a representative to the IC Steering Committee and still be able to receive access to the IC’s support and relationships, while also being directed by YDSA members. In doing so, YDSA will be able to better integrate internationalist political education, relationship-building, and solidarity campaigns into our national and local work.

Class-Struggle Internationalism

YDSA’s international work needs a clear political orientation and goals. R23 prescribes a class-struggle orientation for the YIC: a view of the international working class united against our respective ruling classes, supporting workers and oppressed people everywhere in their struggles for democracy, socialism, and self-determination. As socialists in the United States, we must stand in solidarity with those in struggle against US imperialism and its allies, but we must also support workers fighting against their own anti-democratic, anti-worker governments.

Class-struggle internationalism recognizes, as Marx wrote in the Rules of the First International, that “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.” This fundamental Marxist principle states that only the working class, through its own efforts, can win socialism, not progressive capitalists, politicians, or even a few great trade union or socialist leaders. As such, socialists must support political independence and democratic rank-and-file control within working-class movements, and fight for expansive democratic freedoms from the state, allowing workers to take charge of their own liberation.

This self-emancipatory principle informs YDSA’s approach to labor organizing: the rank-and-file strategy. This is the perspective that only rank-and-file workers – not staff or bureaucratic officials – can lead the work to democratize their unions and forge them into worker-led mass movements capable of taking on the boss. In our electoral work, working-class self-emancipation manifests in our support of independent political action, recognizing that capitalist parties cannot serve as the vehicle for democratic socialist transformation and that workers need to build a party of their own.

In international work, class-struggle internationalism encapsulates this same principle of self-emancipation. While we should support national-liberation struggles against imperialist powers, we should also support the struggle of workers for political independence and democracy against capitalist and anti-democratic forces within these movements. Likewise, we should support social-democratic and left-wing anti-imperialist parties and governments against the Right and US imperialism, while also supporting the struggles of workers for democracy and socialism when they come up against these same governments. 

DSA and YDSA have often been strong in fighting US imperialism, fighting sanctions on Venezuela and Cuba, organizing for BDS on our campuses, and mobilizing against US war-mongering against Iran. But this international solidarity has been inconsistent as the IC has declined to support our comrades in other countries when the governments they’re challenging oppose US imperialism or identify as left-wing. This position mimics criticisms of the rank-and-file strategy and independent political action, which claim that open criticism of governments opposed to the United States is effectively doing the work of US empire. This is just like how some say that criticizing the establishment union leadership is doing the work of capital, or that criticizing the Democratic Party only helps the work of the Right. But we know that only a democratic independent workers movement in the workplace and the state has the capacity to fight the boss, defeat the right, and win democratic socialism.

In practice, the DSA IC has uncritically supported nominally left-wing governments, even when they restrict democratic rights or collaborate with capital, and has avoided criticizing the United States’ emergent “great power” rivals. The IC is seemingly uninterested in connecting with anti-war socialist organizers in Russia. The IC also rejected supporting independent trade unions in Belarus that are currently being repressed for fighting their government’s participation in the invasion. Similarly, when the Chinese government suppressed independent trade unions in Hong Kong, the IC voted against signing onto a statement of solidarity with Hong Kong’s workers. The IC even recently removed any reference of support for Nicaragua’s working-class and popular movements fighting the authoritarian, anti-worker Ortega government from DSA’s official statement on Nicaragua. 

While many of these governments and parties should be critically supported in their struggles for self-determination against US empire, we cannot abandon our democratic socialist principle of working-class self-emancipation in the process. We lose out on the lessons to learn from comrades in these countries, demonstrate ourselves as unreliable allies in the struggle for democracy and socialism, and risk severely limiting the potential base for mass anti-imperialist politics by telling workers that to oppose US imperialism is to support — or at the very least be silent about — authoritarianism and nationalism abroad.

Expanding Relations with Socialist Youth around the World

The ICYLC has done great work in establishing relationships with Left and working-class party youth sections around the world and R23 seeks to build on this, expanding our relationships to also include young socialist activists involved in labor and social movements. There are many youth and student organizers around the world to learn from. We should take a big-tent approach to international relationships, deepening the relationships the ICYLC has already initiated, and also establish connections with youth and student sections from various tendencies of the international Left, approaching all our relationships with a focus on what lessons can we learn from these groups and how we can extend our support in fighting US empire and their own ruling classes.

This could mean Chilean student-worker and socialist activists who helped build Chile’s leading Left parties; democratic socialist parties like Brazil’s Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSOL) that is deeply rooted in Brazil’s robust student movement and supports the center-left Lula government against the Right while also fighting its austerity measures; or youth Left organizers fighting their nominally socialist but thoroughly anti-worker governments, like the student Marxist labor organizers in China who are attempting to build trade union struggles with workers on and off campus.

This orientation and organizational structure is complemented by consistent principles for international solidarity and anti-imperialism. We should establish our relationships and solidarity based on the rights and struggles of workers and oppressed peoples, not geopolitical rivalries and bargains. These advances will help ground and strengthen YDSA’s international work in the years to come as we seek to build an international working-class movement capable of dismantling imperialism and initiating a worldwide transition to democratic socialism.

Vote “Yes” on “Resolution 23: Class-Struggle Internationalism.”