The coup-makers in the Donets region of eastern Ukraine ran a referendum on 11 May and declared a huge majority in their favour.
The question was vague, asking people if they supported “the act of state self-rule”, and the figures given by the coup-makers are not to be trusted.
Within hours, however, the coup-makers have taken the referendum as authority to declare the region independent and ask Russia to annex it.
Russian president Vladimir Putin had said before the referendum that it would be best to postpone it, and may not move quickly to annex. This canny “moderation” gives him more options, especially to get a deal in which he unwinds the east-Ukrainian coups in return for guarantees of influence over all Ukraine.
Ukraine’s presidential election of 25 May looks unlikely to include polling in the east, and Putin can then credibly dismiss its results.
Ukraine — a historically-defined and long-oppressed nation — has the right to self-determination. The Russian minorities in east Ukraine should have the rights due to minorities, but not the power to override all-Ukrainian self-determination.
We must support the left in Ukraine as it strives for the best way out of the impasse — unity of Ukrainian workers, east and west, against the corrupt oligarchs, both pro-EU and pro-Russian.
We demand that the US and the EU give the Ukrainian people real help by cancelling Ukraine’s foreign debt.
Who made the coups in east Ukraine?
Bogdan Gritskiv (Kramatorsk, Donets Region) argues that the driving force behind the declaration of the “Donets People’s Republic” is Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions, with support from within Russia. Abridged from the website of the Ukrainian Left Opposition.
In our opinion, the beginning of the movement which, in the final analysis, resulted in the demand for the creation of the Donets People’s Republic was the meeting of local organisations of the Party of the Regions which took place on 1 February this year in the Palace of Sports in the city of Kharkhov.
After two months (December 2013 to January 2014) of the confrontation on the Maidan, the ruling classes had come to the conclusion that the process was getting out of control, that participants in the protest were pushing the demand for membership of the European Union into the background, and that social questions were increasingly coming to the fore.
At the above-mentioned meeting of 1 February in Kharkhov the tone was set by Mikhail Dobkin, head of the Kharkhov regional administration and now the official candidate of the Party of the Regions for President of Ukraine. Dobkin suggested creating a Popular Front of Ukraine, self-defence detachments, and people’s militia, which, together with Cossacks and sportsmen, would have the task of opposing the Maidanists and all that “filth”.
Dobkin’s speech was supported by: the President of the Kharkhov regional council, representatives of the Ukrainian Communist Party, churches, Cossack groups, and representatives of various social organisations, especially ones involving youth and sporting activities.
Everywhere in the regions of the south-east of Ukraine all possible types of self-defence detachments began to be created, the role of which, it was said, was to defend the population from “Maidan fanatics” and “Banderists” who, supposedly, were advancing in entire battalions from the west of Ukraine towards the Donbas.
Using this pretext (defence of the Russian-speaking population of Crimea from the Banderists), Yeltsin-Putin Russia began to intervene in the internal affairs of Ukraine.
Then similar activities spread to the Donets, Lugansk and Kharkhov regions, and to some other regions of Ukraine. At meetings everywhere regional “governors” and town “mayors” began to be elected.
For example, in one of the meetings in Donets a certain Pavel Gubarev was proclaimed governor (the population of the Donets region numbers five millions; at the meeting no more than five thousand were present, i.e. less than 0.1%).
All this could have been called magnificent, an exercise in direct democracy, the unfolding of self-government if it were not for the fact that ... behind all these events was the hand of big capital, the hand of Yanukovich and his family, the hand of the entire court camarilla which had been swept out of power.
Today we see how, on the basis of a preconceived plan, the special services of a neighbouring state penetrate into Ukraine, disseminate provocative rumours, attempt to destabilise the situation, intervene in the staging (or the non-staging) of elections and referendum, and support some (e.g. Gubarev) but discredit others.
By manipulating people’s consciousness, and exploiting the nostalgic sentiments of the older generation, bourgeois propaganda (above all through the medium of television) hammers into people’s heads the belief that the self-defence detachments are involved in no more than defending people against fascists.
In every meeting there appear in one form or another the attributes of the time of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45): St George’s Ribbons, Guards Ribbons [introduced in 1943 as an appendage to the Order of Glory], songs of the war years, posters such as “The Mother Country Calls You”, photos of commanders leading their battalions into an attack, and so on.
By such means and devices the class struggle of the working masses against their own oppressors was directed by a skilled hand into a struggle of one group of petty-bourgeois nationalists against another group of petty-bourgeois nationalists.
It has not occurred to many people that the self-defence detachments (separatists), willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unconsciously, are paving the way for Yanukovich to return to Ukraine.
A very curious Appeal, published by the newspaper Working Class in April 2014, declares:
“The only way out of this lawlessness is to return to President V Yanukovich his constitutional rights and duties ... The population of south-east Ukraine is already demanding guarantees of his personal safety and his return to the country ... And instead of the electoral farce scheduled for 25 May [date of Ukrainian presidential elections] a legitimate authority will be re-established.”
What is piquant about this situation is the fact that in every issue Working Class appeals to the working masses to stage a socialist revolution. How can these appeals be reconciled with simultaneous demand for a return to power of the person against whom the socialist revolution must be directed?
The miners and the separatists
In this article from the Russian “Open Left” website Vitaliy Atanasov (Kiev) argues that a recent miners’ strike in south-east Ukraine demonstrates the gap between workers’ concerns and the demands of the pro-Russian separatists.
When Ukrainians took to the streets at the close of 2013 in opposition to the Yanukovich regime, their dissatisfaction was akin to what moves many people to take part in the current protests in the south-eastern regions.
In analysing the largest mass component of the protests we are essentially dealing with the one and the same energy: anger which is directed at the policies of the regimes of the self-enriching “elites” which succeed each other.
Depending on the geographical location and the dominant identity, this energy is shaped differently in terms of its ideology. In the south-east much is determined by the influence of Russian state propaganda, but it would also be wrong to over-estimate its influence.
The leaders of the paramilitary structures of the south-east, the “people’s” mayors and governors, and the commanders of the militia are by and large supporters of extremely conservative ideas – Russian nationalists, imperialists, Stalinists and Cossacks. If the concept of “social justice” is in their political lexicon, then it has a very specific meaning.
Confirmation of the thesis that social slogans are merely a means but not an end for the organisers of the political meetings in the south-east was provided by the recent strike by miners in Krasnodon in the Lugansk region.
All in all, the miners’ strike lasted three days. After ending the talks with the strikers’ representatives, management agreed to implement the majority of their demands, apart from doubling their pay. The company was obliged to increase rates of pay by 20%.
It is a characteristic feature that the strike had been preceded by a meeting in favour of federalisation, for staging a referendum, and for the creation of a Donets Republic. About 200 people, including miners, took part in the meeting.
At first the action involved the shouting of mainly political slogans but as miners who were returning from their shift joined the action, slogans of an economic character came to be heard ever more loudly. The meeting gradually relocated to the “Krasnodonugol” offices in the neighbouring square.
According to the president of the local branch of the IMUU at the “Sukhodolskaya-Vostochnaya” pit (which is part of the “Krasnodonugol” combine), Anatoliy Bartoshek, the pro-Russian activists tried to direct the action in front of the office block into political channels:
“The guys, the miners, immediately took away the microphone and said that this was a place only for miners’ demands, about production, pay, and working conditions.”