Workers’ Liberty members attended the “Solidarity with the Antifascist Resistance in Ukraine” meeting on 4 June, organised by the SOAS Marxist Society (Socialist Appeal).
On the panel were Russian leftist Boris Kagarlitsky, Sergei Kirichuk from the Stalinist Borotba via Skype, Richard Brenner from Workers’ Power, Lindsey German from Counterfire, Andrew Murray from the Communist Party of Britain, and Alan Woods from Socialist Appeal. It was chaired by Joy McCready, a member of Left Unity.
All the panel, whether so-called “Trotskyist” or die-hard Stalinists like Murray, shared variations of the same basic position: the Ukrainian government is a Western-backed fascist regime; the coups and seizures of buildings in the east are “anti-fascist resistance”; the main threat to Ukraine is not from Russia, which recently amassed tens of thousands of troops on the border, but the European Union; and the best thing we can do in Britain is to focus on opposing our own government.
There were some differences of nuance. German said she supported "Ukrainian self-determination" but her speech was mostly concerned with denouncing NATO, and pre-emptively scoffing at any idea that there was an inter-imperialist context to the situation in Ukraine.
In other words she endorsed the mentality which holds that only the US and its allies can be “imperialist” — an attitude which lets Putin and Russia’s regional capitalist interests off the hook.
In his opening speech, Richard Brenner raised the presence of Svoboda in the government in Kiev. It is right to be worried by the presence of fascists in western Ukraine, and the rise of right-wing nationalism more generally.
However, there is a double-standard amongst much of the left. It denounces the government in Kiev as fascist-shaped, but it somehow wishes to explain away or fade out incidents such as the alleged attacks on the Romani population and the presence of figures such as Pavel Gubarev as “People’s Governor” of the Donetsk Region, a former member of the neo-Nazi paramilitary organisation Russian National Unity.
There were outright denials that Russia was involved in eastern Ukraine from Alan Woods and others. Woods at least made reference to the labour movement, but only as a wooden after-thought. Much of his speech was a bizarre paean to the Soviet Union, and he outdid everyone by saying the problem was not that Russia is intervening too much, but that they’re not intervening at all!
Drawing out the two-camp logic, Woods ended by saying that if Angela Merkel and other Western leaders are on one side, then he knows which side he is on — which can only mean Putin.
Due to the high number of top-table speakers, time for discussion was limited. One contributor spent most of his time plugging a demo in Bristol and saying how glad we he was to be in a room full of people he already agreed with.
Most contributions, however, came from Ukrainians involved in London Euromaidan, who were horrified by the pro-Russian line of the meeting. All the Ukrainian speakers were howled down by the audience, which is an indictment of the degenerate culture of some sections of the left.
Workers’ Liberty attempted to argue, over the hubbub, that self-determination for Ukraine does not depend on the character of the Ukrainian government. Though we oppose the government in Kiev, we should not whitewash the actions of the militias and Russian agents in the east.
Russia is a capitalist power with regional imperialist ambitions in Ukraine, Chechnya and elsewhere, and the proposed campaign is hopelessly one-sided and objectively pro-Putin.
The meeting voted to establish a campaign which hopes to seek support in the labour movement. Any campaign run by these “useful idiots” for Russia would be a retrograde step.
Instead, socialists should counterpose solidarity with Ukrainian leftists and workers, east and west, against the oligarchs, and support for Ukrainian self-determination against Russia.
As you say, you weren't at the meeting. I don't remember anyone trying too hard to stop the hecklers but maybe they did - fine, good on them. From where I was sitting, most of the hecklers seemed to be members of the British left and many of them were selling the Morning Star afterwards so I stand by my comment about the degenerate culture.
Most of the platform speakers emphasised the role of fascists in the Ukranian government but said nothing about the Eurasian Russian nationalist mysticism of many of the leading figures in the separatist movement (of more here) and when I pointed this out, I was denounced by members of the audience for believing the bourgeois press.
Apologies if I have misunderstood Workers Power's and the campaigns formal position but, from my memory and notes, the tone and content of the speeches at the meeting did not communicate a position along the lines of the one you have spelt out above. Given that there was such a one-sided emphasis on the character of the Kiev government, support for the annexation of the Crimea, much explaining away of the motives of the Russian government, and virtually nothing about the reactionary character of the leadership of the Donetsk and Luhansk movements, I think "useful idiots" is rather mild for a campaign that weeks to promote such a distorted view of events in Ukraine amongst the wider labour movement.
The article was a sketch of a meeting, not an exhaustive report, and not an elaboration of our programme. I agree that there is a lot to be said about the role of the US, the IMF reforms etc and that I should have said more but the article was seeking to counter-balance the narrative at the meeting so that is why the emphasis was elsewhere.
Good that there has been an emphasis on independent working-class action in conversations you've had but, again, that was not the focus of the meeting - in fact, it was barely mentioned. Let's see how it develops.
I think a large part of what the UK left can do is, first and foremost, try and find out what is actually going on and provide a source of reliable information for people trying to get to grips with the situation by translating and promoting the work of comrades in Ukraine; explain the situation to people in a way which propagates a socialist position on ideas of independent working-class action, imperialism and national self-determination; and raise money and support for the left in Ukraine trying to establish a "third pole" against the oligarchs on both sides.