SDS’ stance on Ukraine is a rare blunder

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On February 24th, the Appleton Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) posted a condemnation of the United States and NATO’s response to the invasion of Ukraine on Instagram. The post declares that “U.S. imperialists and their Western allies have been stoking the flames of war.” Included in this list of aggressors are “America’s warmongering politicians and corporate news media.” SDS insists that the invasion of Ukraine is an “inter-imperialist affair” and that the Russian invasion is due to “an imminent threat to Russian sovereignty.” Certain Ukrainian defenders receiving NATO support are labeled as “fascist militias”. This rhetoric is unacceptable for an organization that claims to support a democratic society. 

Alarmingly, SDS’s talking points are akin to those promoted by authoritarian and populist commentators in recent weeks. Russian state media has used the presence of the Azov Battalion, who make up 0.3% of the Ukrainian military, as justification for invading Ukraine. SDS claims that “fascist militias” such as the Azov Battalion are receiving NATO support. In the article SDS uses to support this claim from their list of sources, Disinfo disputes the claim that the US and Canada have trained elements of the Azov battalion. Tucker Carlson of Fox News dismissed the invasion as a simple border dispute and insisted that Ukraine was not a democracy but instead a “client-state of the U.S. State Department.” Practically speaking, Tucker’s assertions are no different than SDS’s claim that Ukraine is “a NATO-controlled” state. It is a particularly bizarre claim, given that Ukraine is not a NATO member. While the Ukrainian government has been friendly with NATO member-states, it has arguably resulted from Russia’s longstanding aggression and imperial goals. 

SDS is misrepresenting the conflict by putting the blood on the hands of the defenders, not the aggressors. In other words, SDS is supporting the colonial power, not the sovereignty of an independent, democratic state. Post-colonial writer Fanon Frantz, who can be found on SDS’s public reading list insists that the re-establishment of sovereignty is a core pillar of anti-colonial action. The actions of the Soviet Union in its conquered territories closely resemble that of colonization. One element of colonization is the deliberate erasure of culture – in the case of Ukraine, there is no exception. Artists, like Alla Horska, were murdered for voicing dissent. Ukrainian, as a language, was suppressed, not only by Tzarist rule or Soviet rule but by Putin as well. The Russification of Ukraine is a long, deliberate dismantlement of the Ukrainian language, culture, and identity. Instead of condemning Russia’s imperialism as it attempts to regain control of its former empire, SDS is utilizing the same rhetoric as Russia but with the guise of anti-imperialism.  

SDS has a history of favorable treatment of marginalized peoples. This time, SDS has missed the mark. I hope that the leadership of SDS considers my critique and reviews their organization’s adherence to its stated objectives.