Ukrainian left fights for workers' interests

Submitted by Matthew on 17 June, 2015 - 11:27

Andrej from the Ukrainian Left Opposition (LO) spoke to Solidarity.

The LO was created in 2011, after a split in a broader group which included Stalinists. LO aims to unite Marxist workers and intellectuals. (The Stalinists are now grouped in Borotba). From then our priority has been to find connections.

We united young people from universities with some activists from trade unions. We tried to promote independent trade unions in enterprises where this was needed. We have activists, sympathisers and members in several cities. During the Maidan protests, Borotba was implicated in pro-Russian, anti-Maidan events. We stayed aside a bit, to analyse and watch what was going on. Maybe this was a tactical mistake.

Our main group is in Kiev (where I work). We have a large and militant trade union organisation in Odessa. They have organised many strikes, so we are proud of them. In Krivoi Rog, an industrial city further to the east, the miners organisations support our project. They are not Marxists but very leftist-inclined. The miners have a strong trade union. We are in the process of re-structuring the Left Opposition into a political party, and we need to collect 10,000 signatures to legally register it to create a party, and the miners’ union of Krivoi Rog is helping us do this. There is also a union in Dnieperpetrovsk which is politically close to us.

We have several websites, the news site Agenda of Everyday Struggle; an intellectual Marxist journal Spilna, the Common; and we have a site for the party project – Assembly of the Social Revolution. For now, that’s it. We have some newspapers for workers, but they are more like leaflets; they are called Social Revolution.

We use the term social revolution not just to avoid saying “socialist revolution”. Many people in Ukraine still believe that the Third Maidan is possible. People think that social problems are not resolved, so we need a Third Maidan. All the politicians in our country use socialistic rhetoric to get votes and then it’s business as usual. So we talk about a social revolution.

The Maidan was a huge popular pro-European wave, an orientation towards raising the standard of living. People wanted better lives, they had a utopian idea of Europe. But it was also a fight against the authoritarian regime of Yanukovich. We supported the emancipatory aspects of Maidan, but not all thes patriotic and pro-European capitalist tendency. We did not believe in capitalist Europe and do not want to join it. We chose a critical attitude towards Maidan.

After the Bonapartist coup of President Poroshenko, we were critical of the militarisation of Ukrainian society. The politics of the Maidan were not to support this so-called anti-terroristic policy; it was not a popular action, but a statist action. We want to see peace, and after that we want negotiations. People are dying, starving, homeless, displaced and it is not openly discussed in the press. We are not for the anti-terrorist operations. We must stop the war.

We also do not believe in the so-called peoples’ republics. Many people locally support them and believe that Putin can help them survive. Our activists frequently visit that zone and we know the situation very well. People there do not care about the geopolitical stuff, they want to live under any regime — even Putinist or fascist. They want to live in peace. And they will support whatever power imposes that peace.

We do not believe Putinist propaganda about Ukrainian “fascists” and “junta” — it is used to continue the war. We are also critical of the propaganda of the Ukrainian regime. We call this regime Bonapartist because Poroshenko won the elections in the first round on the back of populist, militarist elan — he is the president of the war.

We oppose the US-EU propaganda of the “war of civilisations”. The Eastern Partnership policy, as it was called, was set up with the help of Poland and Sweden, countries bordering Russia. They have a bad relationship with Russia, and so tried to promote this Eastern Partnership. But the rhetoric of the EU was only ever a bait to hook Ukraine and push IMF credits. Ukraine has a lot of IMF credits and will get more; it looks like the Greece situation here.

The situation in Donetsk and Lugansk is changing. When the anti-terrorist operation started, there were events which mirrored the Maidan in Kiev, but anti-Maidan. The people in Donetsk and Lugansk just wanted to stay as they were. In Lugansk and Donetsk people are spontaneously pro-Russian. They are not really politically conscious, but they did not want what they saw in Kiev. They organised the anti-Maidan, to resist change. It was a democratic movement at first, but then it entered a terroristic stage. Some paramilitary commanders arrived, maybe it was a Russian project, but we never knew. Then some leaders, like Strelkov and Borodai told the truth, that it was a Russian project to move things in a more violent direction.

It was really a violent seizure of power. Ukraine responded with its anti-terrorist operation and Ukrainians became conquerors. When the Ukrainian army came to the borders, they were bloodily beaten in Debaltseve and the government realised that it was not just local forces who were fighting, but the Russians were sending serious military aid. After the Minsk dialogue the shooting and the bombing continued.

More recently, Putin met John Kerry and they agreed on a ceasefire and a peace process. The Russians don’t want a big imperialistic Novorossiya state, but two autonomous republics in Donetsk and Lugansk within the Ukrainian state. Kerry agreed that if things worked out they would stop the sanctions against Russia. In Donbass things are getting better and we can hope for some precarious peace.

We should be aware that the people in Donetsk are mostly workers.

They are not politicians, not politicised. Also there are 1.6 million internally displaced people in Donbass. Those who stayed in their homes are the poorest strata, who just want to preserve their houses and gardens, to stay with their single cow to have milk in the evening. They live under permanent bombardment, staying in underground shelters. The leaders are not laying the basis for peace. We say that we need a complete end to the war and then we can start to negotiate.

A revolution happened in Ukraine, but there were also revolutionary events in Donetsk, whether we like it or not. We should negotiate, step by step, with the present authorities in Donbass. Of course they don’t like the authorities in Kiev, the feeling is mutual, but they must negotiate. We must release prisoners of war, compensate the victims, pay the pensions, rebuild the infrastructure. The next question is one of territories. We believe in people’s lives, not territories. If we can save hundreds of lives, that is better than territories.

Solidarity: Putin wants Donetsk and Lugansk as leverage, to give Russia power over the Ukraine. Neither they, nor Crimea, are of economic advantage. Putin has said what his programme is: domination. Despite what everyone says about the EU and the US, it seems that they would be happy to do a deal which gave Putin most of what he wants, and then to get out of it. Poland doesn’t want that. But Western EU members don’t care.

A: If you want to see what Putin will do, you should look at Georgia and Syria — destabilising the region and increasing uncertainty. We’ve seen in Ossetia and Chechnya, that warfare has reinforced Putin’s power. But this adventure in Ukraine is not so easy for him. The situation will change and not to Putin’s advantage.

I think that the Russian president after Putin will be elected on the basis of this Ukrainian issue. I think it will be a more pro-European candidate, because after Putin, the economy will be in ruins. They will use the rhetoric of regaining the economy, and to do that they will need to rebuild their European and American alliances. The European countries have no strategy about Russia. The Ukrainians believe that they would be backed by the EU militarily, but the EU is only providing financial aid.

A few months ago there was a collapse in the value of the Ukranian currency Hryvnia, and a move to uncouple it from the dollar. The IMF wants to cut the social budget and increase the retirement age to 65. But most people only live to 65. 70 is very good. The increase to 65 is based on Western standards. We are moving towards Europe in terms of prices, but not in terms of wages. That is our road towards Europe — a painful road.

We need some very simple reforms just to counter all those anti-social IMF reforms. We need a trade union-based party, which will fight on very basic, concrete, specific social issue, at different levels. Our strategy is to unite leftists and leftist-inclined people, “unconscious leftists”, just to confront theanti-social politics. Then we are ready to discuss history — the difficult past during the Soviet Union, all the debates between Trotskyists, Bukharinists and Stalinists. In principle, we are uncompromising about Stalinism. But right now we just need to stop society collapsing.

We inherited a good Labour Code from the Soviet times. But there are dozens of politicians who want to reform it along neoliberal lines. That is the terrain they have chosen to fight on.

S: Russian comrades in Workers’ Platform said that people understood that what Stalin represented was not real communism, that there is a powerful anti-communist propaganda in schools, but nevertheless they are finding groups of workers who have a positive idea of socialism. Are people in Ukraine resistant to mentions of socialism, communism and so on? Does the national question in Ukraine make people more hostile to such words?

Putin uses the image of Stalin as an “effective manager”. They celebrate the image of Russia’s glorious history, when Russia had prestige in the world, after the victory over Hitler. But they are worried about communism as the real movement for the abolition of the status quo. In the newspapers, schools and so on, there are endless so-called “memory wars”. Some people say that the USSR was not only the gulag, but also cheap food, security, social standards, and an easier social life. The same in Ukraine. Maybe there was no freedom of speech or freedom for other parties, but they had a secure standard of living. The memory wars include a fight over the image of the USSR.

In the Ukraine we have very violent advocates of de-communisation. As in Poland, in the Ukraine the ”Institute of National Memory” was set up to impose a so-called proper view of our history. Eventually a package of four de-communisation laws were implemented, which prohibit the use of Soviet symbols, the glorification of the Soviet past, and mandate the demolition of Soviet monuments. Breaking these laws carries a penalty of five years in jail. But we should not use the term “Great Patriotic War”, we should say “Second World War”. All the forces which fought for the independence of the Ukraine are said to be heroes. Russia and the USSR are seen as equivalent with each other. The de-communisation package is severe and anti-democratic.

S: Wasn’t some degree of this inevitable after Ukraine finally gained its independence? For example, de-Nazification was often used to settle all sorts of scores, neighbours denouncing each other and so on.

A: I understand your point, but I think it is absolutely wrong to compare de-Nazification and de-communisation. These two ideologies cannot be compared. De-Nazification is really a Western European issue. Historians such as Enzo Traverso have written a lot of books on th is and proved that nationalism, fascism, the Nazi party in Germany was very rooted in European history of the 19th century, of European experiences in India, Africa and so on, and Hitler wanted to imitate that, to conquer Eastern Europe in the same colonialist way. Nazism is a bit of a Western European, colonialistic ideology. But when we talk about communist totalitarian regimes, it is specifically a Stalinist one, we should take a different history into account: the 1917 revolution, then the Thermidor and the coup d’etat by Stalin. Stalinism is the product of counter-revolution, against the Bolshevik revolution. So when we talk about de-communisation, demolition of statues of Lenin, we cannot see it as de-Nazification. It is a political technique to see these ideologies as equal totalitarianisms, what rightwing parties do to put these ideologies on the same level. We need not de-communisation, but re-communisation. And in the framework of re-communisation in the 21st century, we can talk about de-Stalinisation, de-Totalitarianisation, but we should not ban communism as a concept in the 21st century.

In Ukraine we have what Tariq Ali called the “extreme centre”, the political power of the neoliberals. Everything that is happening in the world is shown within our local situation. In Ukraine we have the dictatorship of the oligarchs. We need in its place the dictatorship of the proletariat.

We should put workers’ interests front and centre and make the argument for that politics.