We Need Class Struggle Internationalism – Not Campism

The author and a supporter of amendment R10-1 argue in favor of YDSA building relationships with international working class movements, rather than authoritarian leaders claiming to be socialists.

For as long as “workers of the world, unite!” has been a socialist mantra, internationalism has been a core socialist principle. Socialists have recognized the truth in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The global nature of capitalist exploitation requires an alternative equal in scope, one which replaces the international tyranny of wealth with a worldwide democracy of the working class. 

There are two main approaches socialists have taken on internationalism: class struggle internationalism and campism. As YDSA, we should pass amendment 10-1, amending “R10. Integrating YDSA into the International Committee,” in support of class struggle internationalism, or democratic socialist internationalism. This means our international work should focus on connecting our organization and our country’s working class to working class-led movements abroad, including parties, unions, and social movements. 

The other position, campism, sides with governments that claim to oppose U.S. imperialism, regardless of their character. Campists on the Left substitute a government for its working class by grouping a country’s political elites with its working class, only considering the government’s antagonism towards U.S. imperialism. This leads campists to support governments and parties that actively oppress their working classes, abandoning internationalist principles. 

Our primary task as U.S. socialists is to oppose our own government’s imperialism. But that doesn’t mean supporting anti-democratic and imperialist forces abroad. With this internationalist approach, we can better position ourselves to support struggles of other countries in the global fight for democratic socialism. Simply condemning the United States’ abysmal foreign policy and human rights record doesn’t guarantee standing for the basic rights of the international working class. Russian President Vladimir Putin is the classic example: one minute he decries NATO’s expansion and the next he casts doubt on Ukraine’s right to exist. 

YDSA members should recognize the faults of those within our own movement who would rather substitute sympathy for dictators and cynical politicians in the place of solidarity with the international working class.

We, as the youth section of the organization, need to take an approach of internationalism from below that centers class struggle, not struggle between nation-states. The convention should vote to pass amendment 10-1 in support of this approach. Capitalists, domestically and abroad, continue to exploit the Global South and divide workers with their tools of nationalism, war, xenophobia, deportation, and the demonization of domestic anti-imperialist forces. The United States’ military, economic, and cultural dominance has a huge impact on the global working class. Unless the working class has a leading role in how we build these connections and coalitions, capital will continue to exploit and dominate us all. The amendment leaves the decision of which leaders and groups are authoritarian and who we should partner with up to the YDSA membership to decide, and believes that YDSA should have a bigger say in the DSA International Committee’s, or the IC’s, youth subcommittee.

Against Campism

Campism has its origins in the Russian Revolution. DSA members Jason Schulman and Dan La Botz write that after the revolution, “there were two camps: one defending a workers’ revolution and striving for socialism, versus a capitalist camp that promoted counterrevolution around the world.” Despite the Soviet Union’s deterioration into totalitarianism under Stalin, many on the Left continued to view the USSR as a progressive force internationally due to its opposition to U.S. empire. This led many leftists to deny or minimize Stalin’s numerous crimes and damaged Communist parties throughout the western world because they were associated with the Soviet Union. 

Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, campism remains an approach with significant sway on the Left, including within DSA. Those who still defend “socialist” regimes that have abandoned a socialist ethos in all but name are missing the forest for the trees—what we need is a class-struggle internationalism that embraces the workers of the world, not those who rule them. 

The International Committee in Venezuela

As democratic socialists, we should reject support for regimes that ban political opposition and repress the Left. We must take a hard stance against authoritarian states and reactionary forces that seek to divide the working class. DSA’s two delegations to Venezuela revealed a pervasive campist approach that exists on the IC. This isn’t just about having the right or wrong assessment of a government; our actions have material consequences. 

The IC delegation’s photo-op with Maduro was used by Venezuelan state-aligned media to demonstrate international left-wing support for the government. One member of the IC delegation and DSA’s National Political Committee, Austin González, excused Maduro’s authoritarianism, claiming that he wasnot a dictator, [but instead] a humble man who cares deeply about his people.” DSA and YDSA need to take stronger positions against Maduro’s government and uplift the voices of the people who have suffered the most under him—working-class Venezuelans and, in particular, indigenous people and independent working-class activists.

In the past, Maduro has characterized left opposition parties in Venezuela as “imperialist” and “divisionist” for being critical of the government. Venezuelan Workers Solidarity, a group of Venezuelan socialists in America, condemned DSA IC’s delegation to the Bicentennial Congress of the Peoples in July of 2021 saying that it “is not an autonomous body, but rather an assemblage of national and foreign supporters of the Venezuelan government that was launched by President Nicolás Maduro himself, in yet another transparent attempt to coat itself with a veneer of international support.” 

In 2016, the Venezuelan government sponsored the Arco Mining Orinoco National Strategic Development Zone. Here, according to news reports, “[exploited,] unskilled and sometimes barefoot workers, [are] forced to do 12-hour shifts, [descend into] deep pits without any protection,” and live without “running water, electricity, or sanitation.” As of 2016, almost 900 people had been displaced, at least 149 people had been killed, and more have gone missing as a result of conflict between state forces, miners, and the Pemons, indigenous people who reside on the land. 

It is important for leftists to stand against such actions and relations, which uncritically tie us to authoritarian leaders and ruling parties in Latin America. It is out-of-touch and off-putting to the working-class base we want to reach that the IC did not speak out against the repression of Venezuelan workers. 

Class Struggle Internationalism

If we are unable to tell working people at home that we stand for democracy and working-class freedom around the world, many will understandably associate our domestic project with authoritarianism. 

While our amendment doesn’t suggest it, we hope that YDSA will soon form its own International Committee—one that is accountable to the YDSA membership, its elected leadership, and its mandates. YDSA members should uphold the principles of self-determination, non-interventionism, and solidarity with workers, and have input on the activity and relationships that the youth subcommittee representing it makes. 

The youth subcommittee of the IC should meet with unionized Chilean Starbucks workers, Ecuadorean students organizing against austerity in higher education, Argentinian feminists who led a youth-dominated mass movement for abortion rights, and build relationships with the BDS movement and other social movement and labor activists around the world. This committee should provide relevant trainings, speaker series, and resources for campuses interested in organizing around internationalism–whether by forming demands of our universities to divest from Israel in campus labor union bargaining, bottom-lining political education around international issues, or leading a mass anti-war and anti-apartheid movement. 

We hope the delegation of the 2022 YDSA Summer Convention passes R10-1, amending “R10. Integrating YDSA into the International Committee,” to suggest that the DSA’s youth international subcommittee reject campism.