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.