Events in Ukraine in 2014 divided the left in Britain, just as they divided the left internationally.
In Britain one the organisations most vociferous in arguing that the Maidan protests were dominated by fascists, culminated in a fascist-led coup, and then triggered a genocidal civil war against the forces of the anti-fascist resistance was Workers Power (WP).
WP maintained this position throughout 2014. Indeed, its end-of-the-year ‘analysis’ of the sham elections held in the south-east of Ukraine in November can legitimately be described as the highpoint of its 2014 coverage of events in Ukraine.
It is easy to criticise mistakes with the benefit of hindsight. But as the following review of a selection of WP’s articles on Ukraine makes clear, hindsight is superfluous when it comes to pointing out WP’s mistakes.
In January WP published a relatively short article about the Maidan protests.(1) It contained the seeds of WP’s future ‘analysis’ of events in Ukraine.
By the time of the article’s appearance the Maidan protests had spread from Kiev to other major towns and cities throughout Ukraine. The government had used the police and the Berkut to try to crush the protests. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians had taken to the streets.
From an initial focus on ‘Euro-integration, the Maidan had evolved into a country-wide movement of mass protest against the country’s rulers, their corruption, and their use of state violence against dissent.
The Maidan had become the mass expression of the disaffected. As one Russian socialist put it: “It would be mistaken to call the Maidan a lower-class protest, just as it would be to call it a middle-class protest. It is a Maidan of all disaffected people who are able to get to Kiev.” (2)
But all of this – i.e. the reality of the Maidan protests themselves – was entirely absent from the article.
Instead, the bulk of the article was given over to outlining an “internal dispute” between “rival wings of the ruling class” in Ukraine and the way in which this dispute “overlapped” with “the growing imperialist rivalry
Russia and China were on one side. The US, the European Union, and Germany on the other. “Moscow, Berlin and Washington,” the article explained, provided “Ukraine’s rival camps” with “outside sponsorship”.
The conflict between rival oligarchic factions was real enough. So too was the fact that different factions looked for support from conflicting external forces. WP’s mistake was that it ‘collapsed’ the Maidan protests into that conflict.
The article also laid the groundwork for WP’s subsequent characterisation of the Maidan as being essentially fascist-driven.
Although the Maidan had attracted hundreds of thousands of protestors by the time the article appeared, the photo chosen to illustrate it showed a demonstrator carrying a shield with neo-Nazi ‘slogans’ (“88” and “14”). The caption read: “Protestors with fascist symbols on their shields clash with police”.
The article itself referred to “Oleg Tyagnibok, (leader) of the openly fascist Svoboda (Freedom) movement. … Tyagnibok makes brazenly anti-semitic statements, claiming that Ukraine must be liberated from the ‘Muscovite Jewish mafia’ and the country’s 400,000 Jews expelled.”
Tyagnibok had indeed used the expression “Muscovite Jewish mafia” – nine years earlier, in 2004, not during the Maidan protests (as is suggested by WP’s use of the present tense: “Tyagnibok makes …”).
WP’s claim that Tyagnibok had called for the country’s 400,000 Jews to be expelled was fiction, in more ways than one.
The statement was first attributed to Tyagnibok by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in 2012: “Tyagnibok has called for purges of the approximately 400,000 Jews and other minorities living in Ukraine.” (3)
Although widely repeated on websites which shared WP’s ‘analysis’ of the Maidan, no original source has ever been given for the statement, nor has one been found by researchers into the Ukrainian far right and anti-semitism.
WP also misquoted what Tyagnibok had not said.
WP (or, more likely, the source which it relied upon) had replaced “purge” by “expel” and deleted the phrase “and other minorities” (thereby, at a stroke of a keyboard, increasing Ukraine’s Jewish population from 70,000 to 400,000, although this had clearly escaped WP’s attention).
WP was also wrong to refer to “the openly fascist Svoboda (Freedom) movement”: since 2004 Svoboda had been undergoing a ‘rebranding’ into a more mainstream, but still very right-wing, political party.
There were certainly limitations to that ‘rebranding’, as evidenced, for example, by one of its MPs being an open Nazi-admirer and by the party’s ongoing links with the racist paramilitaries in the “C14” organisation. But Svoboda itself was certainly not an “openly fascist” organization.
In fact, as Josef Zisels (President of the Association of Jewish Organisations and Communities of Ukraine) had explained in an interview several weeks before the appearance of the WP article, it was inaccurate to describe Svoboda even as an anti-semitic organisation:
“In the practice of Svoboda there are indeed anti-semitic elements, and we have been following them for more than 20 years, from the time when the party was still called the Social-National Party of Ukraine.
“The anti-semitic rhetoric has become less and less. Of the 37 Svoboda MPs in the Rada (parliament) only six or seven of them have made anti-semitic statements during those 20 years.
“There is nothing openly anti-semitic or xenophobic in Svoboda’s programme, although there are some disguised xenophobic elements in its programme. … Svoboda is a radical nationalist party. I think that’s what it should be called.
“In terms of Svoboda’s targets, Jews are bottom of the list, or next-to-bottom of the list. And conflict with Jews is not the aim of Svoboda as an organisation but the goal of only certain of its representatives. Svoboda is not a homogenous stable party, and we need to take account of this.” (4)
The active role of the far right and outrights fascists in the Maidan was real enough. WP’s mistake was to see fascism and the far right as the decisive force in the protests.
As a footnote it might also be worth noting that the Right Sector – soon to play the role of the ultimate fascist bogeyman in WP’s ‘analysis’ of the Maidan – did not merit even a passing mention in the article.
WP’s next article on Ukraine was published in March. (5) Headlined “Kiev Rules Under Fascist Whip”, it was very long, and very wrong. On more than one occasion it was not even consistent with that WP had written in January.
“Right from the outset,” the article declared, “the Euromaidan movement mobilized support on the basis of a reactionary appeal to chauvinist and nationalist ideas among the Ukrainian-speaking population concentrated in the west of the country.”
Critically-minded readers must have been left wondering why the WP article published in January – two months after the start of the Maidan protests – had failed to notice that support had been mobilised “right from the outset” by this “reactionary appeal to chauvinist and nationalist ideas.”
On the other hand, any reader even vaguely aware of the surveys conducted amongst Maidan protestors would have known that “a reactionary appeal to etc., etc.” had nothing to do with the real reasons why demonstrators attended the Maidan protests. (6)
And any reader who had been following events on the Maidan would simply have laughed at WP’s claims that “a reactionary appeal to chauvinist and nationalist ideas” had been the mobilising force behind the Maidan “right from the outset”. (7)
The article continued: “The fascists emerged as the most powerful force within the Euromaidan … They drove organised progressive activists out of the Maidan demonstrations … ensuring their physical and political hegemony over the movement in the west and centre of the country.”
“The vanguard of the uprising” were “the fascist militias of Svoboda and the Right Sector.” They were “the shock troops of the Euromaidan ‘revolution’.” They used their position “to arm themselves and prepare their supporters for the seizure of power.”
But the far right (i.e. actual fascists plus the non-fascist far right) was never “the most powerful force” in the Maidan.
Hundreds of thousands – the highest figure claimed is up to two million – attended the various Maidan protests. 20% of the Ukrainian population supported the protests either directly (attending a protest) or indirectly (providing protestors with food, clothing or financial support).
There were certainly periods in the three months of the Maidan when protestors could be counted in terms of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands, making the far right a more visible and numerically more significant presence.
But even with that qualification, “the fascists” did not constitute “the most powerful force” in the Maidan.
Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh variously claimed to have 300 or 500 men under his command. Of the 12,000 members and 39 battalions which made up the “Self Defence of the Maidan”, the Right Sector accounted for one battalion (300 members) and Svoboda for one battalion (150 men).
Maidan protestors admired the Right Sector for their ability and readiness to fight back against attacks by the police. But, as the poor showing by the Right Sector in the later presidential and parliamentary elections demonstrated, they did not rally to their politics.
Svoboda also failed to make a political impact on the Maidan.
In January of 2014 less than 3% of Ukrainians thought that Tyagnibok should be leader of the Maidan. The same survey found that only 5.6% of voters were prepared to vote for Svoboda in parliamentary elections, and only 3.8% to vote for Tyagnibok in presidential elections.
In the event, both figures proved to be over-optimistic.
The WP claim that “the fascists drove organized progressive activists out of the Maidan” did not fit in with the actual experiences of the left, which was able to intervene into the Maidan protests despite opposition, including physical violence, from fascists and other elements of the far right. (8)
In fact, by the time the WP article appeared Ukrainian leftists were already going on the offensive against attempts by those who shared WP’s ‘analysis’ to write them out of the history of the Maidan:
“Direct Action is a left-wing libertarian student trade union which has been the victim of many Nazi attacks. It supported the protests against Yanukovych.
“The fans of Arsenal Kiev – the only football team with anti-fascist support – can be criticised for many things. But for many years they have stood in the front ranks and know not just from hearsay what ‘Nazi violence’ is. They supported the protests against Yanukovych.
“Free Earth, the ‘green anarchists’, are also well-known in the anti-fa movement as unflinching fighters. They spent a lot of time on the barricades and risked their lives in battles with the police.
“The syndicalists of the Autonomous Workers Union have not suffered as many attacks as Direct Action. But our activists have clashed with neo-Nazis as well. We are known throughout the Ukrainian left for being the most consistent advocates of cosmopolitanism [i.e. internationalism] and anti-patriotism.
“We supported the protests against Yanukovych from 16th January onwards [when the Ukrainian parliament passed the “laws of dictatorship”], when it became clear that the crazy dictator was a danger to everyone, including the left.
“Since the defeat of Yanukovych, left-wingers, anarchists and anti-fascists have already occupied the buildings of some ministries (including the Education Ministry) and defended them round the clock against fascist influence. Svoboda and the Right Sector have been barred admission.
“I therefore find it very funny when ‘left-wingers’ from Russia tell us something about Nazism in Ukraine, or when the German ‘left’ regards Putin’s intervention as the ‘liberation’ of the Crimea, and the pogroms by pro-Russian chauvinists as ‘anti-fascism’.
“Dear German comrades: Try to think about things a bit critically. Not everything which calls itself ‘anti-fascism’ is really anti-fascist.” (9)
Having been “the most powerful force” in the Maidan, WP explained, the fascists then “presented their cheque for services rendered.” The government posts “now occupied by unreconstructed fascists were claimed as their reward for their vanguard role in the armed overthrow of the government.”
And which “unreconstructed fascists” were given government posts?
“The fascist ministers include,” wrote WP, as if it was just giving a few indicative examples of a veritable multitude of fascist ministers, “Andriy Parubiy, commander of the Maidan self-defence forces and a founding member of Svoboda, appointed Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council.”
Svoboda was founded in 2004. Parubiy resigned from the organisation the same year. Since then he had been a member of Our Ukraine, the Fatherland party, and (after the publication of the WP article) the People’s Front. He has been a member of the Rada for all three parties. However right-wing his politics may be, he is not an “unreconstructed fascist”.
Next on the WP list was Dmitry Yarosh: “Parubiy’s deputy secretary, leader of the Right Sector coalition and a former mercenary who fought alongside the Chechen resistance.”
Yarosh was indeed leader of the Right Sector coalition, which included outright fascists in its ranks. But Yarosh himself was a member of the Trizub element of the Right Sector. More importantly: He was not appointed to be Parubiy’s deputy, or to any other government position.
(Parubiy’s deputy was in fact Viktoria Siumar, former head of a media watchdog organization. Claims to the contrary in some mainstream media were simply wrong.)
WP went on to list six “Svoboda members” who had been allocated “key posts”, including Serhiy Kvit, appointed as Minister of Education.
But Kvit was not a member of Svoboda. In fact, he owed his appointment to an anarchist-led occupation of the Education Ministry which, in opposition to the official nominees for the post, produced its own list of names from which the Education Minister should be appointed. Kvit was one of the three nominees proposed by the student occupation. (10)
The other five names listed by WP were Svoboda members. But the Svoboda member appointed Defence Minister was to be sacked within a month. A second Svoboda member resigned his post shortly afterwards.
The remaining posts – Agriculture, the Environment and Deputy Prime Minister without Portfolio – were not “key posts”. More importantly: it would be wrong to classify Svoboda as “fascist”.
Next on the WP list was “Right Sector commandant Stepan Kubiv, the new chairman of the National Bank of Ukraine.”
But Kubiv was a member of the Fatherland party. He owed his appointment to the fact that he had headed several commercial banks before being elected as an MP – nothing to do with “a cheque for services rendered”.
Nor had Kubiv been a Right Sector commandant during the Maidan. He had been a Maidan commandant (11) who saw his role as that of administrator rather than politician (12). WP either did not know – or did not care – that a “Maidan commandant” was not the same as a “Right Sector commandant”.
Bringing up the rear of the WP list of fictitious fascists were “Dmytro Bulatov and Tetiana Chornovol, both linked to the anti-semitic and ultra-nationalist paramilitary organization Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian National Self Defence (UNA), rewarded with the Youth and Sports Ministry and the government’s new ‘anti-corruption committee’ respectively.”
Dymtro Bulatov had been a leader of the Auto-Maidan (car cavalcade protests). The Auto-Maidan had been politically aligned with Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR party, not with the Right Sector or Svoboda.
Claims about Bulatov’s alleged “links” to UNA had first appeared in late February, but without being sourced or evidenced. The earliest English-language version of the (unsubstantiated) claims appears to be an article by Greg Rose on the “People’s World” website, the US equivalent of the “Morning Star”. (13)
(And although it might not be the defining feature of his politics, Bulatov publicly defended gay rights. When a video was released allegedly showing him having gay sex, he stated:
“It gives the impression that here in Ukraine we are still living in the Middle Ages and homosexuality is some kind of strange perversion or a sin. In fact, I don’t see anything shameful or terrible in this. I don’t hide anything from anyone and my friends know my orientation. I am a free person and so too is Vitaliy Portnikov (shown having gay sex in the video).” (14)
By contrast, homophobia was one of the mobilising forces employed in later months by the Donbas separatist movement which was to win the enthusiastic backing of WP.)
The Greg Rose article also highlighted Chornovol’s “links” to UNA. Unlike the WP article, however, he did at least qualify this by reference to her “past involvement” in UNA. But he failed to go a step further and point out that this “past involvement” consisted of Chornovol’s membership of the UNA between the ages of 17 and 23 (1996-2002).
The post-Maidan transitional government was certainly very right-wing and very neo-liberal. But it was not, contrary to WP’s claims, a government of “unreconstructed fascists”, a government consisting of “bourgeois neo-liberal and fascist components” that had been “imposed by a fascist-led coup.”
Building on the ‘analysis’ of the January article, which had reduced the Maidan to a conflict between competing oligarchs and their imperialist sponsors, this article portrayed “the counter-revolutionary Kiev regime composed of thieves, fascists and hypocrites” as the product of US intervention.
The EU had wanted to “stymie the USA and achieve an outcome favourable to German imperialism.” But the US had “frustrated the plans of German imperialism”, by insisting that Yatsenyuk be appointed Prime Minister, even though this meant giving government posts to Svoboda.
Thus, the overall result had been that the EU had been “outmanoeuvred by the USA, which was prepared to tolerate a fascist presence in government in order to sideline the EU.”
According to WP, there had been a “fascist-led coup”, with police from Lviv drafted in to help lay siege to the Rada. With EU imperialism “sidelined”, US imperialism then safeguarded government posts for Yatsenyuk, Svoboda and various other “unreconstructed fascists”.
But what of the masses on the Maidan in Kiev who had refused to accept the EU-brokered ‘compromise’ deal because, without any prompting from US imperialism, they regarded the deal as a betrayal of those who had been killed on the Maidan? They were simply absent from the WP article.
The right-wing neo-liberal nature of the post-Maidan government was certainly a defeat for the protestors. But that does not mean that they had never been anything other than fodder for the manoeuvres of competing imperialist powers and their allies in Ukraine.
Even WP recognized that its ‘analysis’ of a fascist-led coup and fascist-neo-liberal government was open to criticism: “Some argue that this is not possible because the Right Sector is marginal and because Svoboda are not ‘real’ fascists. Let us examine these specious claims more closely.”
Over 2,000 words later the article’s examination of these “specious claims” concluded that there was “a functional division of labour in the fascist movement (in Ukraine).”
Svoboda “adopts the minimum necessary veneer of bourgeois-democratic respectability” in order to build an electoral base and “penetrate the state machine”, whereas street-fighting is “outsourced” to the Right Sector.
In January WP had described Svoboda as “openly fascist”. By March, however, the same Svoboda, according to the same WP, had been downgraded to being cloaked in “the minimum necessary veneer of bourgeois democratic respectability.”
WP did not explain why they had characterized Svoboda as “openly fascist” just two months earlier but now argued that it was covertly fascist as part of a grand “functional division of labour in (Ukraine’s) fascist movement.”.
WP’s claim that the Right Sector had been allocated the role of street-fighting in this “functional division of labour” came up against a different problem.
Almost simultaneously with the publication of the article, the Right Sector announced that it was ‘going political’ and that Yarosh would stand for the post of Ukraine’s president in the elections to be held in May. Clearly, the Right Sector was not bound by any “functional division of labour”.
The article concluded with the usual WP calls for a general strike, workers’ councils in the factories, soldiers’ councils in the barracks, farmers’ councils in the countryside, a workers’ and farmers’ government, and a socialist united states of Europe.
The article consolidated the groundwork already laid by the previous article for the WP ‘analysis’ of later events, all of which would be seen through the prism of the supposed “fascist-led coup” and a Kiev government which supposedly included “unreconstructed fascists”.
In June WP published an article entitled “Why Socialists Should Support the Uprisings Against Ukraine’s Maidan Movement and its Far-Right Government”. (15) Boldly but amusingly, the article declared at the outset: “Unlike the Russophobic analysis, we do not need to mangle the facts to fit our thesis.”
The article began by challenging the arguments advanced (or supposedly advanced) by left critics of WP’s position on the Maidan and post-Maidan events.
The left critics were wrong to claim that the Maidan was progressive because it was anti-Yanukovych. The fact that the Maidan was against Yanukovych was secondary to the fact that “the positive programme the Maidan promoted was a reactionary one, for Ukraine to be integrated into Europe.”
But when, in its earliest days, the focus of the Maidan had been on ‘Euro-integration’, the left had in fact consciously chosen to pay little attention to it. Insofar as it did intervene, it was to challenge the illusions protestors had in the EU:
“At first, left activists did not see the protest as important. They did not regard the slogans for ‘Euro-integration’ as their own. They limited their involvement to occasional small-scale actions which raised social demands and criticized the anti-social policies of the European Union.” (16)
Like every mass movement, WP accepted, the Maidan brought together people of different aspirations. This truism, however, “does not get us away from the fact that the movement advanced reactionary demands.”
But the “reactionary demands” raised by the Maidan included demands for the release of arrested protestors, the resignation of the government and president, parliamentary and presidential elections, a restoration of the (relatively speaking) more democratic constitution scrapped in 2004, and the repeal of the “laws of dictatorship” adopted by the Rada (parliament) in January.
The WP article continued: “It (the Maidan) only raised the call for democratic reforms in response to its own repression, and never as the main aim of the movement.”
But are calls for democratic reforms raised “only” in response to one’s own repression in some way less meaningful or less genuine than, say, calls for democratic reforms expressed as vacuous abstractions in the pages of the WP newspaper?
And only a fortnight after the start of the Maidan surveys had found that protestors in Kiev identified the release of arrested protestors, an end to the repression, and the resignation of the government and the president as more important demands than the signing of an EU Association Agreement. (17)
(Somewhat inconsistently, especially for an organisation which prides itself on its public political monolithism, a statement published by WP only a few weeks before this article had argued that the left had been correct to intervene in support of the democratic demands dismissed so contemptuously in this article:
“It was correct for working-class and socialist activists to intervene into the movement as it grew, supporting any progressive demands for democratic rights, protesting against repression and the oligarchs (all of them), but it was also essential to challenge the reactionary ethnic-nationalist and pro-EU neo-liberal policies of the leadership by raising social demands.”)
It was “a fantasy”, according to WP, to have called for a more energetic intervention by the left into the Maidan: “Those socialists and anarchists who tried to intervene in the Maidan were given short shrift by the demonstrators and ultimately driven away by far-right fighting squads.”
But by the time the WP article was written, the “pro-Maidan left”, as WP came to call them, had already held a conference in Kiev (12th/13th April) to discuss its interventions into the Maidan, i.e. interventions which, according to WP, could not have taken place. (18) Ukrainian anarchists had also issued statements publicizing their activities in the Maidan. (19)
(WP’s expression “pro-Maidan left” was useful shorthand, but politically misleading. The “pro-Maidan left” had been in favour of intervention into the Maidan in order to raise its own politics. It had never supported the Maidan as if it was some fixed and given entity.)
The “pro-Maidan left” was also able to intervene in protests outside of Kiev and raise their own politics. A leaflet produced and distributed by members of the Ukrainian Left Opposition at the Maidan protests in Simferopol, for example, stated:
“On the city squares there is no discussion about which reforms and transformations our state needs. In fact, at the present time the ‘Euro-Maidan’ is under the control of right-wing and right-liberal parties which are simply not interested in discussing social questions with people.
“They want protestors to think that the only way out is to remove the ‘bad guys’ from power and elect the ‘good guys’. But experience has taught us that changing one set of politicians for another changes nothing.
“One exploiter and placeman for the oligarchs is simply replaced by another, but the fundamental problems remain unresolved, just as they were previously.” (20)
WP’s response to the left critics of its position on the Maidan concluded with the argument:
“The fascist party Svoboda and the hardline neo-Nazis of the Right Sector were able to come to the head of the street movement and drive it in a radical direction because they were simply the most consistent expression of the movement’s underlying goals.”
Only a few paragraphs earlier the article had defined the Maidan as a reactionary movement because its “positive programme” was for the integration of Ukraine into Europe. The article had argued that this had always been the “main aim” of the Maidan.
But the Right Sector was overtly hostile to ‘Euro-integration’. And Svoboda was ambiguous in its attitude towards the European Union. They were therefore particularly unlikely candidates to be “the most consistent expression” of the movement’s “main aim”.
Having dealt, after a fashion, with what the “pro-Maidan left” had to say about the WP ‘analysis’ of the Maidan, the article turned to the supposed inadequacies of what the “pro-Maidan left” had to say about the post-Maidan government:
“The one-eyed Russophobic analysis watched these events and then went into denial. Anyone pointing to the fascist component of this new coalition government is held up for ridicule with straw man arguments like ‘there has not been a fascist coup in Ukraine’ or ‘this is not just a fascist government’.”
In fact, in the real world, the actual response to anyone “pointing to the fascist component of this new coalition government” had not been to take refuge in straw man arguments but to challenge the accuracy of the label “fascist”, bandied about so liberally by WP and others of the same political ilk.
This article was itself a case in point.
According to the article: “The chief of the National Security and Defence Council, Andriy Parubiy, is a founder member of the Social-National Party (SNP).” Parubiy had indeed been a founder member of the SNP – in 1991. As pointed out above, he had resigned from the SNP/Svoboda in 2004 and had since moved into mainstream right-wing politics.
According to the article: “Parubiy’s deputy is Dmitry Yarosh, a leader of the Right Sector.” The article was published in June. It is surely not unreasonable to expect WP to have noticed at some point during the preceding three and a half months that Yarosh did not hold this position.
According to the article: “Some then try to argue that the Svoboda party, which has several key ministerial posts in the new government, is not fascist.” The article then repeated its earlier arguments based on the historical origins of Svoboda.
During the time that had passed since the creation of the first post-Maidan government Svoboda had lost two of its government positions, its presidential candidate had secured only 1.1% of the vote in the May elections, and polls showed that it would struggle to win list seats in the next parliamentary elections.
All of these events were inconsistent with what WP had argued in March. But the article did not even mention such developments. Instead, without a trace of irony, it argued that it was the “pro-Maidan left” who were in denial.
With the same lack of irony the article’s conclusions included the statement:
“Who can stop Putin and his band of oligarchic plunderers from using the crisis to extend his empire? The Russian working class and anti-war movement. … No support for Russian imperialism; solidarity with the Russian anti-war movement!”
Even if one leaves aside the question of why only the Russian working class – but not, say, the Ukrainian working class as well – should be allocated the role of preventing Putin from “extending his empire”, the doubtlessly sincere call for “solidarity with the Russian anti-war movement” was problematic.
The WP article had roundly denounced the “pro-Maidan left” for rejecting WP’s ‘analysis’ of a fascist-led coup and the subsequent creation of a government including unreconstructed fascists. That ‘analysis’ was precisely the one presented day-in, day-out by the Putin-loyal media in Russia.
And it was the Russian anti-war movement, with which WP now declared its solidarity, which remorselessly challenged and denounced the media output about “fascists in Kiev” as pro-Putin propaganda designed to help him “extend his empire”.
Was the Russian anti-war movement “in denial” as well?
The summer issue of the WP newspaper included a special supplement containing a number of articles about events in Ukraine.
One of the articles, “Never Forget Odessa and Mariupol” (21), focused on the events of 2nd May in Odessa, which had culminated in 42 people being killed in the city’s Trade Union House.
The killings had been “orchestrated by forces within the government”, explained the article. “A thousand Right Sector fascists from Kiev and Kharkov” had been brought to Odessa “to make an example of those who continue to defy the regime.”
The WP article also discovered yet another government minister with neo-Nazi ties: It was “the Minister of Internal Affairs, Arsen Avakov, a man with close connections to neo-Nazi groups, (who) supervised and excused all this.”
WP did not say what these supposed “close connections to neo-Nazis groups” involved. Although Avakov had been appointed as a minister in February, WP did not explain why it had ‘spotted’ his supposed neo-Nazi connections only in the summer.
The article cited three sources in support of its ‘analysis’ of the events of 2nd May.
The first source was the Storm Clouds Gathering (SCG) website (22). The SCG website is an all-round conspiracy-theory website.
It tells you the truth about Ebola (“just about everything we’ve been told about Ebola is wrong”), the truth about ISIS (“evidence exposing who put ISIS in power, and how it was done”), the truth about the war in Syria (“what you’re not being told”), the truth about the war in Iraq (“what you’re not being told”), and the truth about just about everything else on planet earth.
SCG coverage of other events in Ukraine, albeit after publication of the WP article, included the shooting down of a passenger airliner in July (“Flight MH17 – What You’re Not Being Told” (23)). The site even gave serious consideration to the argument that “the plane didn’t crash at all, but rather was diverted by the CIA.” (24)
The second source cited by WP was a video produced by the International Observatory of Ukrainian Conflict (IOUC) (25).
Despite having been launched by someone who styles himself “Major Alan Astudillo, 1st Earth Batallion, New Earth Army” (26), the IOUC is not a conspiracy theory website. It is just one of the myriad of pro-separatist websites launched in the course of 2014 (albeit one apparently linked to Sergei Kurginyan’s Essence of Time movement).
The IOUC video cited by WP suggested that the events of 2nd May were a CIA inside job:
“When you get to the point where the highest cops are collaborating with pre-paid rebels, the whole scenario turns to be so strongly inspired by US false flag operations and CIA inside jobs. Perhaps that’s the reason for the constant CIA and FBI presence in Ukraine?”
The video concluded with the appeal: “We would deeply appreciate if you could help us in fight with the Ukraine Nazi regime. Together we can fight the ongoing propaganda of Western media run by the globalists.”
The third source cited by WP was the Ukrainian organization Borotba.
Borotba is a Stalinist sect which allies itself with far-right Russian nationalists (Slavic Unity and Motherland). Boycotted and reviled by Ukrainian socialists and left-wing activists, guilty of having resorted to homophobia and anti-semitism, it systematically lies about events in Ukraine and its own politics and activities. (27)
Another article in the special supplement about Ukraine (“The Disgrace of the Maidan Leftists” (28)) attacked various UK and Ukrainian socialist organisations, including the AWL, which did not share the ‘analysis’ of the events of 2nd May presented by WP.
Accusing us, and others, of “a disgraceful attempt to cover up for a fascist massacre” because we published an account and analysis of the events different from that presented by WP, the article consoled itself with the knowledge that:
“Fortunately for genuine anti-fascists, there is a reliable source. We reproduce some of the evidence of what really happened on page two of this supplement (‘Never Forget Odessa and Mariupol’).”
The reliable sources in question were a conspiracy-theory website, an organisation set up by a major in the 1st Earth Battalion of the New Earth Army, and the liars of a Stalinist sect.
In June WP had boasted that it had no need to mangle the facts to suit its thesis. This was true. WP outsourced the fact-mangling to the kind of people who think 9/11 was an inside job, Marlowe wrote Shakespeare, and Elvis Presley is still alive. It then recycled their output as the one true ‘Marxist analysis’ of events in Ukraine.
“Gunpoint Democracy: Bullets and Ballots Cannot Crush Resistance” (29) read the headline above the main article in the WP newspaper’s supplement on Ukraine. The article exemplified how far the WP ‘analysis’ of events in Ukraine had left reality behind.
The overthrow of Yanukovich was described as “a coup, financed and orchestrated by the US and its EU allies.” The coup had resulted in “the seizure of power by fascists under the hated flag of wartime Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera.”
No nuances in this article about a government containing “bourgeois neo-liberal and fascist components” – just a straightforward and unqualified “seizure of power by fascists”.
The new regime was now preparing “a genocidal war to cleanse the country of Russophones, Russians, Jews and other minorities.”
Yes – WP really was claiming that the Kiev authorities were planning “a genocidal war” to cleanse the country of well over a third of its inhabitants. The supposed ‘evidence’ cited by WP in support of this absurdity was an article by a 9/11 truther, Joe Giambrone. (30)
Giambrone’s article was certainly a foray into the realms of conspiracy theory about the attack on the Odessa Trade Union Building on 2nd May. It had clearly provided the basis for the WP article “Never Forget Odessa and Mariupol”. But not even Giambrone claimed that Kiev was planning a genocidal war.
The recent presidential elections, the WP article explained, had changed nothing: “The US still has the government its coup installed. The Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and the Svoboda ministers and Right Sector chiefs of the security apparatus will retain their powers undiminished.”
But well before the publication of the article, one of the Svoboda ministers appointed after Yanukovych’s flight had been sacked and another had resigned. This necessarily involved a diminishing of Svoboda’s powers.
As for the “Right Sector security chiefs”, there never had been any Right Sector security chiefs.
After an initial unsuccessful offensive against the south-east of the country, the WP article continued, Kiev had launched a new offensive at the prompting of the US: “Under the prompting of the CIA’s man in Kiev, John Brennan, Turchynov plucked up the courage to launch a second attack.”
Brennan is director of the CIA. He is “the CIA’s man” in Langley, not Kiev. WP must have missed the clue in the headline of the article which they cited in support of their claim about a US-driven renewal of fighting: “Why CIA Director Brennan Visited Kiev”. (31)
Nor did the article cited by WP claim that the second attack had been launched at the prompting of the US. In fact, the focus of the article lay in a different direction: the US’s reluctance to provide any form of assistance if Ukraine’s armed forces were “too electronically compromised” (i.e. if they lacked effective protection against hacking).
Because “the normal armed forces did not have the stomach to gun down armed civilians” in this new offensive, WP explained, the Right Sector had been given “a major role” in the new National Guard, “reinforced by 300 CIA and FBI operatives, plus hundreds of mercenaries from the US Blackwater, now renamed Academi to cover up its crimes in Iraq.”
No source was provided for the claim about the hundreds of US mercenaries supposedly fighting in Ukraine. (The same claim was widely circulated, also in the absence of evidence, on pro-separatist and Russian-nationalist websites, one of which was the probable source of the claim.)
The source cited by WP for the “300 CIA and FBI operatives” was an article in the German “Bild” newspaper. (32) This was the equivalent of a German socialist citing the “Sun” as an authoritative source of political reporting.
In any case, the contents of the “Bild” article did not correspond with the WP claims.
According to the article, “dozens of specialists [presumably: a lot less than 25 dozen] of the US secret service, the CIA, and the US federal police force, the FBI” were “advising” the Kiev government. But, the article continued, “the agents will not be participating directly in the conflict with the pro-Russian militia. Their activities are limited to Kiev.”
The FBI agents – who, according to WP, were to reinforce the major role played by the Right Sector in the National Guard – would be “helping the Kiev government to combat organized crime. A group of (FBI) investigators and analysts specialising in financial investigations are to help track down the fortune of former President Yanukovych.”
The “Bild” article itself was based on unnamed sources in “German security circles”.
Without bothering to explain how it concluded who was the aggressor in Ukraine, the WP article warned of “the threat of bloody ethnic conflict and further imperialist intervention whether from the West – which is acting as the aggressor – or from Russia.” (Emphasis added.)
WP’s discovery of hundreds of CIA and FBI operatives, hundreds of Blackwater mercenaries, a US drive to renew the war in the Ukraine, the role of the West as the aggressor, and a planned genocide did not exhaust the shortcomings of the article’s ‘analysis’ of events in Ukraine.
In its ‘analysis’ of events in the south-east, the article conceded that the “resistance” included volunteers who were members of “right-wing Great-Russian chauvinist and pan-Slav groups, including fascists.” The article also noted “the spread of nationalist slogans and insignia” in the south-east.
But, the article continued, “unlike their equivalents in the Maidan” the fascists and chauvinists were “not the predominant force, even among the armed defence groups”. In fact, “there is a wide variety of views and indeed political confusion among the de facto leadership” in the south-east.
The spread of nationalist slogans and insignia, explained WP, was a response to “the virulent Russophobia of the West-Ukrainian nationalist and fascist leaders.”
It was also the result of a power vacuum: the Party of the Regions had lost credibility, and the Communist Party was incapable of leadership – it was “a reformist party when a revolutionary party is needed.”
This ‘analysis’ had little or nothing to do with what had actually been happening in the south-east of Ukraine in the months preceding the article.
Entirely absent from the article was the fact that the ‘movement’ – although the top-down nature of events in the south-east hardly justified calling it a ‘movement’ – sought to mobilise support on the basis of a sham anti-fascism.
On posters and billboards, at meetings and rallies, on a myriad of websites and Russian television channels – access to Ukrainian channels was shut down by separatist forces wherever they took control – the Kiev government was denounced in the most virulent and lurid terms as a fascist junta.
WP could not condemn this sham anti-fascism. It differed from what WP itself had been saying since March only as a matter of degree. And it differed not at all from the contents of the WP summer supplement.
Linked to this ‘anti-fascism’ was the incessant and obsessive use of the Stalinist symbolism, imagery and music of the Great Patriotic War. Just as the Donbas had fought Hitler’s Nazis in the early 1940s, so too now, in 2014, it supposedly again fell to the Donbas to fight the Nazis of the Kiev junta
Again, WP could not condemn this invocation of the Great Patriotic War. Albeit not to the same degree, WP did likewise, before and after the publication of this article.
Its March article had reminded readers that “the crimes of the Nazi occupiers will never be erased from the consciousness of the Russian-speaking east of the country.”
A statement issued by WP in July declared: “Those who truly represent the interests of the ordinary working people of Ukraine, east and west, are fighting with the anti-fascist resistance as their grandfathers fought in the anti-fascist partisans and the Red Army.”
And an article in October described the inhabitants of the Donbas as “a population of immigrants from various parts of the former USSR”, whose consciousness reflected “the legacy of the anti-fascist struggle against the Nazi occupation.”
(The article was not even correct to describe the Donbas population as “a population of immigrants from various parts of the former USSR.” Ethnic Ukrainians constitute the majority of the Donbas population.)
In this ‘anti-fascist struggle’ against the ‘Nazi junta’ in Kiev, claimed the separatist propaganda, the population of the south-east was at risk of genocide.
Here too, WP had no grounds for criticism. This article itself had opened with the claim that Kiev intended waging “a genocidal war to cleanse the country of Russophones, Russians, Jews and other minorities.”
And WP articles and statements in July warned that the Kiev government wanted to “discriminate against Russian speakers and drive them out,” and that “a genocidal attack on Donetsk is being prepared.”
(By that time the towns of Mariupol, Slavyansk and Kramatorsk had all been recaptured by Kiev military forces – but none of them had fallen victim to genocide.)
The coup which had brought a fascist junta to power, claimed the separatists, had been organised behind the scenes by the US and the EU. And it was the US and the EU, especially Germany (i.e. the enemy in the Great Patriotic War) which continued to dictate the policies pursued by Kiev. The struggle against Kiev was therefore also an ‘anti-imperialist’ one.
Yet again, WP could hardly argue against this. It had been arguing pretty much the same ever since January, and continued to do so in statements issued over the summer.
The Kiev government had been “handpicked by US and EU representatives”, it was “the political tool of the IMF and western imperialism”, it was “backed to the hilt by its paymasters in Washington, London, Paris and Berlin”, and it had “surrendered Ukraine’s economic dependence to the IMF: when the IMF commands. Kiev must obey.”
This merging of ‘anti-fascism’ with Stalin-wartime-nostalgia and ‘anti-imperialism’ was not a by-product of the Party of the Regions being “compromised”, or of the Communist Party being a mere “reformist” party. Nor was it a reflection of “political confusion amongst the de facto leadership”.
It was a conscious thought-through political strategy of people whose politics were intrinsically hostile to the most basic ideas of class-struggle libertarian socialism. It was a strategy that could only intensify divisions between workers in the east and west of Ukraine.
And it was a strategy which presented a view of events in Ukraine no different from that of the WP ‘analysis’.
On the pages of its newspaper and website the ‘analysis’ presented by WP was just so much empty verbiage, backed up by conspiracy-theory writers and websites and a major in the 1st Earth Battalion of the New Earth Army.
Employed as a mobilising strategy in the south-east of Ukraine, on the other hand, this ‘analysis’ could only reinforce the drive to break up Ukraine, intensify working-class divisions, and provide a licence for potential intervention by Russian imperialism.
And it helped bring about a conflict which was to cost thousands of people their lives.
In denouncing the Maidan WP had argued that what counted was not what the movement was against but what it was for in terms of its “positive programme”. Given that “Euro-integration” was a reactionary demand, ran the argument, the Maidan was a reactionary movement.
But what was the “positive programme” being put forward by the Anti-Maidan ‘movement’ in the south-east?
The WP article sidestepped the question with vague references to “a wide variety of views and indeed political confusion”, and demands for rights for the Russian language, taxation raised locally to be spent locally, and “people’s control” of local mines and steel complexes.
In fact, the “positive programme” – from the outset, to use WP’s expression about the Maidan –was a separatist one, even if there were certainly differences about the form in which the separatist project should be realised.
Ukraine was denounced as an anti-Russian invention of Prussia in the 1870s, or of Austro-Hungary at the close of the First World War. The more moderate version of the same argument, voiced by Putin, was that the Bolsheviks’ inclusion of “Novorossiya” in Ukraine had been a historical mistake.
Maps of a new “Novorossiya” were drawn up by separatists, covering anything between two, three and eight of Ukraine’s regions. “Novorossiya” was included in the names of new political organisations, newspapers, and websites.
On 11th May – just two months after the Anti-Maidan had commenced – two referendum were held in parts of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions. These referendum, voters were told, would be followed by second ones, on ‘re-joining’ Russia, just as had happened in the Crimea.
In the event, the second round of referendum did not take place. But on 12th May the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics (LPR and DPR) declared their independence. This was followed by the creation of a parliament, a constitution and a flag of “Novorossiya”.
The constitution of the DPR gave clear expression to the “positive programme” of the Anti-Maidan: a ban on abortion; criminalisation of homosexuality; Orthodox Church as the state religion, guarantees for the protection of private property; and the institutionalisation of the concept of the “Russian World”:
“(The DPR) is a sovereign independent state oriented to the restoration of a unified space of the culture and civilisation of the Russian World, on the basis of its traditional religious, social, cultural and moral values, and with the perspective of joining Great Russia, the aureola of the territory of the Russian World.” (33)
According to the WP article, Great Russian chauvinism and pan-Slavism were merely the outlook of some “volunteers in the resistance”, just as WP had claimed in its June article that “the Eurasian far right movements are tiny and peripheral to the movement.”
In fact, these were the politics of the leading figures amongst the separatists. And this had been perfectly clear even before such politics found expression in the constitution of the DPR.
Strelkov-Girkin, the separatist military commander raised to the level of a cult-hero, was a White-imperial monarchist who wanted to reduce Ukraine to the borders of pre-First-World-War Galicia.
Borodai, the separatist movement’s political figurehead, was also a White-imperialist and a self-proclaimed Eurasian.
Gubarev, the Donetsk ‘people’s governor’ wanted to re-establish Novorossiya as part of an expanded Russia (“We are Russia, united Russia”).
All three of them were advocates of a geographically expanded “Russian World” and members of the Russian Izborsky Club, in which the leading figures, Alexander Prokhanov and Alexander Dugin, preached the most extreme forms of Great Russian chauvinism and Eurasianism.
(To be fair to WP, other articles from this period were not on the same level as the articles in its summer supplement. But even those other articles shrank back from drawing the necessary political conclusions from their occasional forays into reality.
A WP statement in May had warned that “with their calls for secession and requests to join the Russian Federation, the leaders of the Donetsk Republic are charting a dangerous and adventurist course that will alienate a large part of the population who are Ukrainian in their national identity and/or language.”
An article in July admitted that the leaders of the DPR “have adopted reactionary clauses into the DPR constitution” – although those clauses actually defined the overall character of the constitution – which reflected “their socially-conservative and Russian-nationalist views” and their lack of any strategy to “reach out to the working class.”
And the WP Action Programme for Ukraine published at the end of July condemned the leaders of the LPR and DPR for having “denied the existence of Ukraine as a nation, advocated Pan-Slavism and an Orthodox state, and supported reactionary positions on gay rights, etc.”
This was far removed from how WP had defined the same leaders in an article published in May:
“The leaderships in Donetsk, Lugansk, Odessa, etc. are neither fascists nor agents of Putin or Russian imperialism. Their only common programme is the demand for a referendum on autonomy and no recognition of Kiev and its planned 25th May election.”)
Reading the material about Ukraine in the summer issue of the WP newspaper is like watching someone trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle.
He doesn’t like the look of a lot of the pieces. So they are pushed to one side out of view. In fact, he doesn’t even like the picture on the box. So he uses the remaining pieces to try to create a puzzle matching the picture on a completely different box.
But the remaining pieces don’t fit together. So he bends and tears them to try to get them to match up. But they still don’t fit together. And they still don’t resemble even vaguely the picture he wants to create.
No matter, the jigsaw-puzzle-doer consoles himself: I’ll say that my puzzle is really all about anti-fascism. Because no-one would dare be critical of ‘anti-fascism’, however senseless it might appear.
“Two weeks ago,” wrote the Canadian-Ukrainian socialist Marko Bojcun in late August, “I wrote in this blog that Putin will not back off, that his strategy is to place an army in eastern Ukraine rather than build an insurgency.”
“This is happening as I write. 27th August will go down in history as the day even the most inveterate apologists for the Kremlin’s secret war in eastern Ukraine can no longer deny this aggression.” (34)
Bojcun had clearly never come across the organisation Workers Power.
In January WP had warned of the threat which Ukraine faced from Russia: “Russia (could) resort to devastating acts of economic retaliation. Ukraine is massively in debt to Russia for oil and gas supplies. Putin could literally turn the country’s lights off.”
In early March WP had written that “workers in the Crimea should not await salvation from Putin, let alone cede the field to Russian chauvinists and even fascist militia, who are no better on their side than is the Right Sector on the ethnic Ukrainian chauvinist side.”
The same article had warned that if Ukrainian workers did not take decisive action, then “Crimea’s demand for independence, understandable given the threats issued by the reactionary Kiev government, could only be guaranteed by its military annexation to Russian imperialism.”
It had concluded: “For the right of the Ukraine, and Crimea in particular, to democratic self-determination, exercised free of any occupying forces, whether from Kiev or Moscow!”
But once the referendum had been staged, on 16th March, the warnings about “ceding the field to Russian chauvinists and even fascist militia” and “military annexation to Russian imperialism” were forgotten about, as too was the demand that any referendum should be held “free of any occupying forces, whether from Kiev or Moscow.”
According to the first post-referendum WP article: “It was pro-Kiev Tatar demonstrations under the nationalist slogan ‘Glory to Ukraine’ – a historic slogan of Stepan Bandera’s ultra-nationalist Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UIA) – that unleashed developments on the streets that led to the independence movement.”
But during the Maidan “Glory to Ukraine” had ceased to be the property of the long defunct UIA and had become a commonplace slogan. WP did not even attempt to explain why Muslim Tatars in the Crimea in 2014 would want to chant the slogan of wartime western-Ukrainian Orthodox nationalists.
This is a minor detail, however, compared with the argument expressed here: It was not the corrupt Russian chauvinists in the Crimean parliament or the Putin-loyal politicians in Moscow who were the initial trigger for Crimea’s eventual incorporation into Russia. It was a demonstration by the historically oppressed Tatars!
In the short run-up to the referendum, organized in the space of less than a month, Russian troops had seized Crimean airports, the Crimean Parliament, the building of the Council of Ministers, and a military base and hospital. They had also sealed off the peninsular’s ‘border’ with the Ukrainian mainland.
But in WP’s post-referendum articles the fact that the referendum had not been staged “free of any occupying forces” was not a matter of any significance.
WP generously conceded that “revolutionaries should condemn the mobilisation of Russian troops, and instances of pro-Kiev activists being detained and even ‘disappeared’ by Russian security forces.”
But “the surrounding of Ukrainian military bases in Crimea and the sealing of the border with Ukraine” had had the positive effect of “enabling the referendum to take place.”
Other articles were equally, or even more, apologetic about the role played by Russian military forces.
According to an article published in April: “Russian tanks did not roll across Ukraine’s border. There were no parachutists or amphibious landings. The troops and naval base at Sevastopol are there by international agreement. … The Russian army mobilised to secure the peninsula against attempts by the nationalist regime in Kiev to impose its rule.”
An article published in June emphasised that WP did not support the Russian military presence in the Crimea. But, it continued: “The Russian military presence in Crimea allowed the majority to express their democratic wish to secede. … Their presence allowed the national majority to express their wish to secede from Ukraine.”
WP recognized that the referendum had been “far from meeting democratic standards.” In fact, WP did not “support or justify the way in which this (the referendum) was done.”
But, in the real world, the “way in which” the referendum was conducted had a decisive significance for its legitimacy (or lack of legitimacy). And the “way in which” the referendum was conducted was described by a “Guardian” journalist based in Simferopol:
“There is a puppet government in Crimea that seized power at the point of a gun and is run by a party that won 4% of the vote at the last election.
“The streets are filled with menacing militia given arms but no training, supported by a variety of lethal-looking paramilitary groups and thousands of Russian soldiers who can be seen even on rooftops.
“Meanwhile events are dictated quite blatantly by Moscow. Visitors to the Crimean prime minister's office say even his private secretary and press aide are from Russia, along with other advisers telling him what to do.
“Throw in the closure of critical television channels, the beating of a few journalists, the intimidation of opposition activists, the lies about ‘provocations’, and you get some of the backdrop to Sunday's vote.” (35)
According to the official figures, the turnout in the referendum was 83%, and the vote in favour of joining Russia was 97%.
WP defended these figures. The 97% figure might have conjured up “images of Stalinist Albania”, explained one article, but “we should not forget that many Tatar and Ukrainian voters chose to register their opposition by boycotting the referendum.”
Arithmetically, never mind politically, this made no sense. The peninsula’s population was 60% ethnic Russian, 24% Ukrainian, and 11% Tatar. If “many Tatar and Ukrainian voters” boycotted the referendum, as they did, the turnout should have been a lot less than 83%.
Another WP article resolved this problem by arguing: “It is clear that the overwhelming majority of Crimeans, including many ethnic Ukranians and Tatars too, voted for federation with Russia.”
The (unsubstantiated) claim that many Crimean Tatars had “clearly” voted for federation with Russia borders on the obscene: The Crimean Tatars knew their history, and they knew what awaited them in the event of annexation by Russia.
The caveats and safeguards which earlier WP articles had wanted to see in place in the event of a referendum in the Crimea all became irrelevant after the event:
“It was always clear that if a referendum took place, there would be an overwhelming majority (for secession). … If there were a referendum with no Russian or Ukrainian troops present, would the result have been any different?”
The first part of the answer to that question is: quite possibly. An opinion poll conducted in early February had found the proportion of the Crimean population in favour of integration into Russia to be 41%. (36)
The second part of the answer to that question is: it’s the wrong question.
The actual question to be answered was whether the referendum had been a genuine act of democratic self-determination (as advocated by WP prior to the referendum) or whether it was – as indeed it was – no more than a plebiscitary rubber-stamping of decisions already taken in the Crimean parliament and Moscow.
One final curiosity of WP’s coverage of the Crimean referendum was that an organisation so intent on uncovering fascists (even where they did not exist) made no mention of – nor drew any conclusion from – who acted as the ‘observers’ of the referendum: “right-wing extremists, neo-Stalinists, Euro-sceptics, neo-Nazis, etc.” (37)
Observers included members of the French National Front, the Hungarian Jobbik, the Belgian Vlaams Belang, the Bulgarian Ataka, the German New Right, the Serbian Dveri Movement, the Polish Self-Defence of the Republic of Poland, and the Italian Lega Nord, Forza Italia and Fiamma Tricolore.
In its criticisms of Svoboda in March WP had justifiably pointed to the links between Svoboda and parties of the euro-sceptic and fascist far right, including the French National Front and Jobbik. But when the Crimean referendum was held under the benevolent gaze of members of the same parties, WP was silent.
In the weeks and months following its annexation of the Crimea, Russia intervened – directly and indirectly, and in a variety of forms – in the escalating conflict in the south-east of Ukraine.
Russian security agents were active in promoting and co-ordinating the unrest. Although the unrest certainly involved genuine grievances about oligarchic rule and policies pursued by the post-Maidan government, Russia influenced the course of events from the outset.
The weight of evidence was that the Anti-Maidan protests were quickly shaped and led by people linked in one way or another to the Russian government. Whereas in the Maidan the mass protests eventually evolved into the seizure of public buildings, in the south-east the protests began with the seizure of public buildings by armed groups.
WP did not deny the presence of Russian security agents. In an article published in April its list of the “social forces” involved in the unrest included “undercover Russian state forces”. But it made no proper assessment of the influence they were exerting on the direction of the movement.
Throughout the spring and summer substantial numbers of Russian volunteer fighters crossed the border into Ukraine. This could have happened only with the approval of the Russian government, which made no attempt to prevent the open recruitment of volunteers or to shut down its border with Ukraine
WP recognized the existence of this influx and the reactionary politics of many of the volunteers. But, at the same time, it blanked out the issue of Russian government approval and contented itself with the claim that “the volunteers who have come across the border are fighting in a progressive cause.”
The leading figures in the separatist movement – Strelkov-Girkin in its ‘military wing, and Borodai in its ‘political wing’ – were Russian citizens, allegedly linked to the Russian security services. (At one time or another, this allegation was raised against all separatist leaders. But in the case of Borodai and Strelkov-Girkin there were substantive grounds for the claim.)
WP acknowledged “the role of significant numbers of Russian citizens in the leadership and militia of the DPR and LPR.” But WP went on to excuse it by explaining that “the militarisation of the struggle” inevitably meant that “the best organised and armed elements have secured greater influence.”
And in any case, WP continued, “these individuals remain a minority and are accepted as leaders by a genuine mass resistance movement.”
Russia also provided the separatists with ever greater amounts of ever more sophisticated military equipment. As a member of the Ukrainian Left Opposition put it:
“Every attempt by Ukraine to resolve the problem by building up its military forces ended in a corresponding build-up in military forces by Russia. We began to use tanks, but the opponent received armoured vehicles and anti-tank weapons.
We began to use aviation, but the separatists used up-to-date anti-aircraft systems. We went over to the mass use of artillery. In response we got mass artillery salvoes from Grad systems and heavy weaponry.”
WP alluded only vaguely to the equipping of the separatist forces by Russia, and did so only to justify it: “Anyone fighting a civil war against a reactionary government supported by the greatest imperialist power in history undoubtedly has the right and duty to take arms and logistical support from that imperialism’s rival if they can.”
The pattern here is clear. WP consistently downplayed the level of intervention by the Russian state. Insofar as it addressed the issue, it vacillated between dismissing it as irrelevant and justifying it. This was consistent with WP’s ‘big picture’ of the role being played by Russia.
WP did not dispute that Russia is an imperialist power. But “relative to the USA and EU, it is a much weaker power.” In the context of Ukraine, “it is on the defensive against an attempt by the principal NATO powers to extend ‘their’ territory.” Russia’s concerns “plainly have a material basis.”
Russia’s actions had been “responses to the increasingly belligerent initiatives from the west, both on the diplomatic front and militarily.” Russia’s “acceptance” (sic) of the Crimean vote was “a response to the Kiev coup.” Russia’s stance, although being “nonetheless imperialist”, was “defensive vis-à-vis the USA and the German-led EU.”
“The West”, as one of the WP articles published in the summer had put it much more briefly and much more succinctly, was “the aggressor”.
But the West had not annexed Ukrainian territory. It had not provided Ukraine with weapons and ammunition. Bordering EU states had not opened their borders to allow volunteers to flood into Ukraine. And, unlike Russia, no EU state, and not the US either, had passed legislation allowing their troops to be sent into Ukraine.
The EU and US did not have troops active in Ukraine (whereas from April onwards Russian special forces were visible in Donbas towns). And the only European politician who claimed that a slab of Ukraine ‘really’ belonged to his country, as Putin had, was the pro-Russian leader of the anti-EU and anti-US Hungarian party Jobbik.
The immediate, and only, threat to Ukrainian political self-determination came from Russian imperialism. Russian control over the Donbas – either in the form of a fully independent LPR and DPR, or a new “Novorossiya” incorporated into Russia, or a ‘frozen conflict’ akin to the Transnistrian Republic – would open the door to Russian influence over Ukraine as whole.
WP certainly did not abandon all criticism of Russia and its potential actions. WP was opposed to “any overt or covert military invasion of any part of Ukraine by Russia, because its objective would be the semi-colonial subordination of the country and its working class to the interests of Russian imperialism.”
In late August WP had the opportunity to act on those lofty sentiments.
With the areas still under separatist control reduced to just 1% of Ukrainian territory and divided into three isolated patches, over the period 24th-27th August Russia launched the invasion referred to by Marko Bojcun.
Regular units of the Russian army advanced along the coast of the Azov Sea towards Mariupol while Russian Airborne Forces fought alongside of rebel forces around Lugansk, Ilovaysk and Amvroseyevka. Artillery barrages fired from the Russian side of the border backed up the invasion, which resulted in hundreds of Ukrainian fatalities and thousands of casualties.
The response of WP – which had so stridently condemned “any overt or covert military invasion of any part of Ukraine by Russia” – was to look the other way.
A WP article published in mid-October under the headline “Kiev Losing a War on Two Fronts” (38) informed its readers that “six months of fighting between the ultra-nationalist regime in Kiev and the militia of the DPR and LPR” had been ended by a ceasefire signed in early September.
Ukrainian President Poroshenko, the article continued, had been “obliged to sign the Minsk ceasefire deal from a position of weakness because his forces besieging Donetsk were defeated and were about to lose of control of Mariupol.”
But the “position of weakness” which Poroshenko found himself in was not the result of six months of fighting against “the militia of the DPR and LPR.” It was the result of an invasion by Russia – an invasion which was mentioned not even once in the WP article.
On two occasions the article referred to “Russia’s control of the ‘military surplus store’.” But Russia had not set up a Russian equivalent of the Army and Navy Stores which were to be found on British high streets in the 1970s. It had invaded Ukraine.
Elsewhere the article referred to “Russia’s intervention in the conflict” and to “the interference of Russian imperialism”. But from the context it was impossible to work out if “intervention” and “interference” were WP euphemisms for “invasion” or whether they referred to Russia’s overall “intervention” and “interference” in south-east Ukraine.
In June a WP article had vehemently rejected suggestions that WP was “soft on Russia, or even supported Russian imperialism. … We oppose any Russian military intervention in Ukraine.” But when WP was confronted with full-scale Russian military intervention in August, it shut its eyes to it.
On the other hand, as far as WP’s coverage of events in Ukraine was concerned, there was nothing new about that.
Having sidestepped the issue of a direct Russian military intervention, the article turned its attention to developments in the separatist forces. But it was all very confusing, especially in the context of what had been argued in previous WP articles.
Now, the WP article informed its readers, “the leadership of the DPR and LPR” was made up of “an unstable constellation of separatists, opportunists, workers’ representatives, and agents of Russian imperialism and Ukrainian oligarchs.”
(But who were these workers’ representatives? Which workers did they represent? And what where they doing in a coalition with agents of Russian imperialism and Ukrainian oligarchs?)
“Leadership within the ‘people’s republics’” (inverted commas in the original), the article continued, “was soon seized by a variety of nationalists, representatives of workers and sheer political opportunists. The opportunists were able to maintain their influence through their links to Moscow and to certain eastern oligarchs, particularly Rinat Akhmetov.”
(But aren’t socialists meant to be in favour of leadership being seized by workers’ representatives? And if the leadership of the LPR and DPR had been seized by opportunists linked to Moscow and Ukrainian oligarchs “soon” after their establishment in early May, then why was WP mentioning this only in mid-October?)
Now, it also turned out, Russian imperialism had “gained a powerful influence over the local resistance in the DPR and LPR.” This was a reaction against Kiev’s attacks on its own citizens, and a result of Russia’s control of the ‘military surplus store’ and supply of humanitarian aid.”
(But the logic of that statement was that Russia must have exercised “a powerful influence” over the separatist forces from the start of the military conflict, given that that was when what WP called control over the ‘military surplus store’ first became a decisive factor.)
The article also argued that “Russia’s economic interests in Ukraine are no secret and run a close second to geo-strategic concerns in explaining its intervention in the conflict. Russian companies own significant sections of Ukraine’s communications, power, real estate and steel industries, along with around one seventh of the banking sector.”
(But if the significance of Russia’s economic interests for its “intervention” was no secret, why was this being emphasised by WP for the first time only in mid-October?)
By the time the article was published, as WP itself recognized, the LPR/DPR had declared independence, the DPR had adopted a reactionary constitution, Russian imperialism exercised a powerful influence over the separatists, Putin had “imposed more compliant figures on the Novorossiyan leadership”, and the leaders of the LPR/DPR were opportunists and pro-imperialists.
Russian troops had also invaded the south-east of the country (although that was something WP did not face up to).
But, argued WP, none of this was decisive: “Despite its contradictory character, the armed civilian resistance movement expressed clearly anti-oligarchic, anti-fascist and democratic demands. … People are equally willing to fight to prevent a return to the old conditions of economic misery and exploitation.”
In one sense, this was partially true. Some sections of the local population who had taken up arms in response to the destruction wreaked by the so-called ‘Anti-Terrorist Operation’ must have been motivated by an instinctive and healthy hostility towards oligarchs and social inequality.
But the ‘movement’ which they were part of was never one which was defined by such concerns. Based on a sham anti-fascism and sham anti-imperialism from the outset, the politics of that ‘movement’ had always defined by its ties to eastern-Ukrainian oligarchs and Russia’s rulers.
The political evolution of that movement in the period between April and October, the emergence of the LPR and DPR, and the eventual brazen Russian military intervention were not an aberration or the product of chance circumstances. They were expressions what that ‘movement’ had been all about from the beginning.
Even allowing for the fact that Ukraine’s right to self-determination was one of the political issues at stake, workers on both sides of the military conflict – in the east as much as in the west – were fighting someone else’s war in someone else’s interest.
In late October elections to the Ukrainian parliament (Rada) took place. In early November ‘elections’ took place in the LPR and DPR.
“Return of the Oligarchs: The October Parliamentary Elections” read the headline above an article by Marko Bojcun analysing the outcome of the Ukrainian elections:
“The results clearly show a return to the status quo ante, the time of secure oligarchic rule before the Maidan. The Ukrainian ruling class continues to reinforce its control over the state rather than to democratise and decentralise power. This appears to be an instinctive response to the external challenge posed by Russia and the deepening social and economic crisis at home.” (39)
The headline above a WP article about the elections, published in early November, reflected the very different angle from which WP chose to ‘analyse’ the election results: “Ukraine Votes: Fascists Enter Mainstream”. (40)
Much of the opening section of the article focused on the fact that “the parliamentary elections held on 26th October delivered an overwhelming majority for pro-EU parties.” It cross-referenced different parties and politicians with different factions (the EU, and the US) of western imperialism.
What that section of the article (like the article as a whole) failed to do – unlike Bojcun’s article – was to analyse and understand Ukrainian mainstream party politics as the expression of competing oligarchic factions.
In reality, what defined the major parties competing in the Rada elections was not their supposed or real relationship (or lack of relationship) with the EU or the US but which oligarchic factions had chosen to back which party or parties and for which reasons.
This element of the WP ‘analysis’ of the election results was a continuation of its ‘analysis’ of the Maidan almost a year earlier. Just as the Maidan and its outcome had been reduced by WP to the expression of rival western imperialist interests, so too WP now saw the election results in much the same terms.
According to WP, the victory of the parties “committed to closer integration with the EU and NATO” was due to opposition parties having been “subjected to a campaign of repression by fascists colluding with the police”, especially in “large parts of the south-east, which are under military occupation by fascist paramilitary groups.”
There had certainly been incidents in the election campaign when opposition meetings and politicians had been attacked. But none of this added up to WP’s description of an election held against a backcloth of fascist-police repression and military occupation.
According to WP, the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) had failed to win any seats in the Rada because it had been “the subject of a campaign of state persecution by the Ukrainian government, with its parliamentary fraction dissolved and its members killed and kidnapped by paramilitary forces during the elections.”
The CPU had certainly been subjected to intimidation during the election campaign. Its website carried regular reports of such incidents – but not of its members being killed and kidnapped during the campaign.
(On the other hand, it could be said that this article represented an improvement on the October WP article. That article had wrongly claimed that the CPU had been banned.)
And there were much more straightforward reasons, ignored by WP, for the CPU’s poor performance.
The areas where it traditionally received its best votes had either been annexed by Russia or declared their independence. The party was tainted by its support for Yanukovych and the “laws of dictatorship” adopted by the Rada on 16th January. And its members in the LPR and DPR publicly supported the separatist breakaways and Russian intervention.
Traditional CPU voters were also targeted by the Opposition Bloc (effectively Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions by another name) which sought to attract CPU voters by variously claiming that the CPU had dissolved itself (41) or would not be competing in the elections. (42)
In addition, the CPU’s electoral performance was part of a process of long-term decline as old age took its toll of the market for a party which uncritically recalled the feats of the Soviet Union (43) and commemorated Stalin’s birthday:
“On the eve of the 49th congress of the CPU and on the day of the 135th anniversary of the birth of J.V. Stalin, it is not superfluous to once again acquaint ourselves with the key ideas of the essentially Stalinist political legacy, which remain relevant to the practical work of our party today.” (44)
This aspect of the article’s ‘analysis’ of the election results concluded by taking “Financial Times” journalist John Lloyd to task for his positive interpretation of the results: “Given that Mr. Lloyd is generally well-informed, this can only be regarded as itself a highly pernicious interpretation.”
One can be sure that the “generally well-informed Mr. Lloyd” bowed to the superior knowledge of WP about Ukraine and amended his interpretation of the election results accordingly.
The article then moved on to the subject-matter of its headline: the fascists had entered the mainstream.
In March WP had argued that there was a “functional division of labour” in Ukrainian fascism. Svoboda were the ‘respectable’ fascists who won elections, whereas the Right Sector were the street-fighters who did not need to concern themselves with electoral credibility.
But in the October elections Svoboda, with just 4.7%, of the vote, had won no Rada seats allocated on the basis of proportional representation. The number of seats it now held in the Rada had fallen from 37 to six, all of them first-past-the-post constituency seats. Even Tyagnibok, the party’s leader, had lost his seat in the Rada.
The Right Sector, on the other hand, had certainly fallen well short of the 5% needed to win seats awarded on the basis of proportional representation, winning just 1.8% of the vote. But it had won two seats in first-past-the-post constituencies.
One of them went to Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh. The other went to a Right Sector member who was to resign from the organisation in late December and thereafter sit in the Rada as an independent.
In terms of WP’s “functional division of labour”, none of this made sense. The ‘respectable’ fascists had suffered an electoral disaster. The ‘street fighting’ fascists had won two seats in the Rada.
The WP article went on to argue that Svoboda had haemorrhaged votes to the People’s Front, which had “adopted much of the fascists' violently Russophobic rhetoric and ran on an ultra-nationalist ‘war party’ platform, with several neo-Nazi ‘volunteer battalion’ commanders running on its ticket.”
Although more detailed analysis of voting patterns is needed to be able to speak with any degree of certainty, it seems more likely that Svoboda’s support shifted to Lyashko’s populist Radical Party and, to a lesser extent, to the Right Sector rather than to the People’s Front.
(The People’s Front was led by former leaders of the Fatherland Party. In the elections it picked up 22% of the vote. Compared with 2012, the Fatherland Party’s own vote fell by 20%. That was where the People’s Front appeared to have won support from.)
WP was also wrong to claim that “several” neo-Nazi battalion commanders “ran on the People’s Front ticket”. Two of them stood as independents in first-past-the-post constituencies, one of them successfully, with the support the People’s Front but not on the People’s Front ticket.
(This is stated as a correction of WP’s inaccucuracy, not to downplay the significance of the People’s Front backing the candidature of two neo-Nazi battalion commanders.)
“The nationalist party of Oleh Lyashko,” the WP article continued, “returned several fascists and ultra-nationalists to parliament on its ticket, including Ihor Mosiychuk.” This was relatively more accurate, although only two of its elected members deserved to be defined as fascists (Mosiychuk and Linko).
Under the rubric of “fascists and ultra-nationalists” who had been elected as Radical Party MPs, WP included the election of “Yuriy Shukhevich, son of the Nazi war criminal Roman Shukhevich.”
The 81-year-old Shukhevich Jnr., who had suffered 26 years of imprisonment under Stalinism, certainly had an on-and-off record of involvement in the Ukrainian National Assembly–Ukrainian National Self Defence Organisation. (For reasons of ill-health he was politically inactive between 1994 and 2006).
But the fact that his father was a Ukrainian nationalist who had committed crimes against humanity did not mean that he himself necessarily shared his father’s politics (although this was the only ‘evidence’ against Shuhkevich Jnr. cited by WP, in referring to his father as “a Nazi war criminal”).
In fact, when the Rada had proposed withdrawing the official status of the Russian language in February, Shukhevich put his name to a petition opposing this:
“We demand from the Rada, the new members of the government, and the president that they conduct thought-through cultural and language policies. On the Maidan hand-in-hand with Ukrainians there were Russians, Poles, Armenians, Belorussians, Jews, Georgians, Tatars, etc.
“We must honour the cultural traditions and language demands of the inhabitants of the east and the south so that they do not feel as if they are foreigners in Ukraine. We must demonstrate a new kind of Ukraine, one which will not artificially divide its citizens into different sorts.” (45)
(This is not to suggest that Shukhevich is not a nationalist. Merely to point out that in defining someone’s politics, rather more is needed than a reference to the politics of their father (or mother, or husband, or wife, etc.).)
“Together, the fascist parties took more than one million votes,” claimed WP, “the political centre of Ukraine has moved far to the right.” The figure of “more than one million votes” was based on adding together the votes cast for Svoboda and the Right Sector.
But in the 2012 elections Svoboda by itself had picked up 2.1 million votes. In 2012 it had won 37 seats, whereas in 2014 the total number of seats held by Svoboda and far-right battalion commanders was eleven.
The WP article, however, was not yet done in its ‘analysis’ of the election results. Suddenly, it turned out, the actual results did not really matter. This was because:
“Their (the fascists’) real influence lies in their control of the key levers of the state apparatus. … The integration of many of the fascist leaders into the state apparatus has not tamed their politics but rather reduced the appeal of an explicitly fascist electoral choice.”
This is what the article’s headline had meant in referring to fascists having entered the mainstream: “If the fascists are able to take prominent jobs in the security services and run on the Prime Minister's ticket, then it matters less what label they take as against the politics they endorse.”
The article gave two instances of the supposed “fascist control of the key levers of the state apparatus”: Yuri Michalchyshyn’s appointment as head of the propaganda and analysis department of the Ukraine Security Service, and Vadym Troyan’s appointment as head of the Kiev regional police.
This made no sense in its own right. Why should the supposed “integration of many of the fascist leaders into the state apparatus” reduce “the appeal of an explicitly fascist electoral choice”?
In the light of what WP had written about Ukraine in the course of 2014 it was nonsense.
In March WP had claimed, however inaccurately, that fascists or persons with fascist links held the positions of Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, Deputy Prime Minister without Portfolio, Minister of Education, Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Defence, Minister of the Environment, Minister of Youth and Sports, State Prosecutor, Chairman of the National Bank of Ukraine, and Chair of the Government Anti-Corruption Committee.
In the summer WP had added to this list the Minister of Internal Affairs (“close connections to neo-Nazi groups”) and a burgeoning takeover of the security apparatus by the Right Sector (“Right Sector chiefs of the security apparatus”).
But now, in November, on the basis of two appointments to official positions, WP suddenly declared that fascists had “entered the mainstream” and had taken “control of the key levers of the state apparatus.”
What, any even vaguely critically-minded reader would have asked themselves, had all those (supposed) fascists (supposedly) appointed to government positions in February been doing in the meantime? And what had the “Right Sector chiefs of the security apparatus” been doing since the summer?
Finally, the WP article moved on to an ‘analysis’ of the elections held in the LPR and DPR in early November. Although there was certainly no shortage of competition for the accolade, this was undoubtedly the highpoint of WP’s coverage of Ukraine of 2014.
This section of the article began by ‘setting the scene’.
Large parts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions were “occupied by fascist paramilitary forces” which stood accused of “widespread looting, kidnapping and murder by the local population.” WP omitted to mention that the local population of the LPR and DPR accused the separatist forces of exactly the same offences.
A ceasefire agreement had been signed on 5th September “following on from the defeat of the Azov battalion by local paramilitaries.” No, the ceasefire agreement of 5th September followed on from a Russian invasion.
The recent Kiev Rada elections had “hardly satisfied even the most basic requirements of ‘European democracy’.” But the 2,321 observers, including representatives from 21 states and 20 international organisations (46), decided that they satisfied rather more than “the most basic democratic requirements”.
WP readers needed to understand that “elections carried out during a war are unlikely to meet all the criteria of normal bourgeois democracy.” Leaving aside the fact that WP had not applied this consideration to the Rada elections, this missed out something fundamental about the LPR and DPR elections.
They failed to meet even the basic criteria of normal bourgeois democracy not because of the war but because they were a rigged and empty charade.
Individuals and organisations could not contest the elections unless they accepted the declarations of independence by the LPR and DPR. A succession of individuals and organisations were also barred from standing because of alleged shortcomings in their paperwork.
A different method was used to prevent “Novorossiya” leader Pavel Gubarev from standing for the post of Prime Minister in the DPR: someone tried to kill him. By the time he came out of his coma, he had missed the deadline for registration.
But, claimed WP, enthusiastically recycling a statement issued by their friends in Borotba, “all TV channels showed the huge queues at polling stations. Such a high turnout indicates that, despite all the hardship of war, local people are still loyal to their choice, made in the independence referendum of 11th May.”
Or maybe the queues shown on television were caused by the fact that only one in four of polling stations used in previous elections were open?
Or by the fact that food parcels were being given away or sold cheap at polling stations, and 'social cards' (needed for welfare benefits, pensions and medical services) were being issued to voters at polling stations?
None of these claims were mere Kiev propaganda. The methods used to boost turnout in the elections were cited by Pavel Dremov, the Don Cossack military commander who runs the town of Stakhanov as his personal fiefdom, when he accused Plotnitsky of theft at the end of 2014:
“How long will some Plotnitskys, some incomprehensible yids, rob us? I’ll tell you what happened in those elections. We’ve had enough lies. You (Plotnitsky) are a thief. You stole the people’s trust! You introduced social cards: if you don’t turn up to vote, you don’t get your pension.
Nowhere else in the world, not even in fascist Ukraine, has there ever been such blackmail. You (Plotnitsky) are worse than them.” (47)
And WP’s readiness to equate “the independence referendum of 11th May”, in which the word “independence” had not even appeared on the voting paper, with “the people’s choice” was particularly surprising for an organisation so concerned about the observance of basic democratic requirements
Zakharchenko had been elected head of the DPR, the WP article continued, and Plotnitsky head of the LPR.
In fact, Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky had both been appointed to their positions on the eve of the Russian invasion. The ‘elections’ served only to give a false veneer of democratic approval to their imposition onto the make-believe LPR and DPR. Zakharchenko’s electoral opponent did not even pretend to offer an alternative to the incumbent:
"We don't have any differences, none at all. I didn't ask people to vote for me because I don't have any differences with Zakharchenko. It is healthy competition. By the end of the day the DPR will have a new status. The elections confirm our status as a state."
The same applied to the elections held the same day for seats in the LPR and DPR parliaments. The two ‘parties’ in each of the ‘people’s republics’ which were allowed to stand offered virtually identical policies.
WP defended the restrictions imposed on who could contest the elections: “The idea that an open opposition of pro-Kiev, pro-Maidan forces could be tolerated in a civil war is a utopian fantasy and a concession to the hypocrisy of bourgeois democracy.”
But, following in the footsteps of Borotba, WP was alarmed about the fact that the Donetsk Communist Party had been barred from standing in the elections. This showed that “the original pro-democracy, anti-fascist and anti-oligarchic direction of the uprising is under threat.”
If the Communist Party had been barred from standing in the Rada elections, this would have been proof, for WP, of the fascists’ grip on society. But when the Communist Party was barred from standing in the DPR, this was no more than “a threat” to the pro-democracy forces.
WP lamented the fact that there had not been a “left challenge from an explicitly workers' party” standing on a socialist programme. WP did not seem to understand – in fact, it did not understand – that if such a party had existed, then it would have been barred from standing.
Surprisingly, the article did not address the question of why no such party existed. After all, in recent months Borotba had been feeding WP reports about “the creation of a new communist organisation that includes former members of the KPU and of revolutionary organisations and communists.”
In the aftermath of the election “the watchword” for the workers of the DPR and LPR, explained the article, “must be ‘watch your leaders’.”
The suggestion that workers in the LPR and DPR “watch their leaders” was taken from the translation of the Borotba statement on the elections (48) which provided the basis for the WP article. According to Borotba:
“The winners in the Donbas elections will have to justify the trust which was granted to them by the people of the DPR and LPR on 2nd November. This means: to carry out the promised nationalization and build an economy for the people. This means: to remove the oligarchs and their henchmen from decision-making not only in words but in deeds.”
But in September WP had defined those leaders as “an unstable constellation of separatists, opportunists, workers’ representatives, and agents of Russian imperialism and Ukrainian oligarchs.” An article published by WP in July had described the leadership of the DPR and LPR as one that “socialist forces must do all in their power to replace.”
The leadership which was ‘confirmed’ by the November ‘elections’ (having been imposed by Moscow in mid-August) was no better politically than the leadership which existed in July.
But now WP’s advice to workers in the LPR and DPR was that they need do no more than keep an eye on this unstable constellation of agents of Russian imperialism, Ukrainian oligarchs, etc., etc., just in case they did anything untoward.
WP itself did not seem to be doing a very good job of watching the leaders of the DPR and LPR. As had been the case with the Crimean referendum, the observers of the November elections had been various members of European far right and fascist organisations. (49)
This was not mentioned in the WP article. On a brighter note, at least WP did not cite the clean bill of health given to the elections by these ‘observers’ in order to corroborate its own claims about the legitimacy of the ‘elections’ and their results.
The same cannot be said of WP’s comrades in Borotba. In a second article about the elections, also translated into English (50), Borotba quoted one of the observers as ‘proof’ that the ‘People’s Republics’ were “more attractive to the people of the Donbas than the semi-fascist state of Ukraine”:
“Foreign observers involved in monitoring the elections noted the high voter turnout. ‘My first impression is that people have a great interest in participating in these elections’ said Manuel Ochsenreiter, representing Germany (sic). He stressed that he did not see a single violation: ‘Security of the voting made a very good impression on me.’”
Ochsenreiter is editor of the far-right German magazine “Zuerst”, which quoted Ochsenreiter’s overall verdict on the elections: “What we were able to see and witness was that the elections took place completely in line with universal democratic standards.” (51)
(But in one sense, WP did rely on the clean bill of health given to the elections by the far-right fake observers as a basis for its own stamp of approval for the elections.
Borotba used Ochsenreiter et al. as ‘proof’ that local inhabitants remained loyal to the LPR and DPR. Borotba’s ‘analysis’ was then recycled by WP in order to provide a veneer of ‘on-the-ground authenticity’ to its own ‘analysis’ of the elections.)
The “greatest danger” now, warned the WP article, was that economic collapse in the DPR and LPR created “intolerable pressure for open Russian intervention.”
But Russia had been openly intervening in the south-east since April. In September it had even openly invaded Ukraine. Apart from bombing Kiev, there was not much Russia could do openly that it had not done already.
In October WP had backed Borotba’s call for a boycott of the Rada elections: “Held in the midst of a bloody civil war and genuine right-wing dictatorship, the elections will have no legitimacy for most people of Ukraine.”
Confronted with the total meaninglessness of the ‘elections’ held in the DPR and LPR a few weeks later, however, WP did not call for a boycott. A couple of mumbled reservations aside, WP gave the vacuous charade a clean bill of health.
It was a fitting end to everything WP had written about events in Ukraine in 2014.
The Yalta Conferences
In the midst of this twelve months of inaccuracy and incoherence a member of WP attended a conference held in Yalta (Crimea) in early July, entitled “The World Crisis and the Confrontation in Ukraine”.
We published a lengthy article criticizing the conference and the fact that a member of WP (and various other left-wing activists and academics) had attended it. (52)
Less than two months later, in late August, a second Yalta conference, entitled “Russia, Novorossiya, Ukraine: Global Problems and Challenges”, was staged. It was organised by an individual and organisation who had been centrally involved in the first conference. We published an article criticising that second conference. (53)
On behalf of WP, Richard Brenner, who had attended the conference held in early July, responded to those articles. (54) We responded in turn in late September. (55) Then, in November, Marcus Halaby produced a further response from WP, entitled “Smears and Social-Imperialism: The Politics of the ‘Third Camp’ on Ukraine”. (56)
Halaby seems not to have been very happy about Brenner’s response: “In hindsight, it may well be the case that Richard’s response was unnecessarily defensive, perhaps inevitably given that the AWL had already ‘set the agenda’ for it by the time it came out.”
The shortcoming of Brenner’s response, or at least one of them, appeared to be its failure to address what Halaby calls “the issues of principle involved here, and it is necessary to articulate them.”
Halaby remedies this defect by including in his article lengthy tracts about “Stalinism, Social-Democracy and the Third Camp”, “Good Nations and Bad Ones”, “Nationalism and Irridentist Aspirations”, Self-Determination and Geo-Politics” and “The Emerging Shape of the New Cold War”.
Unlike WP, the AWL apparently has no grasp of these issues. Consequently, for the past three decades the AWL has adapted its policies “to the global outlook of their own country’s imperialist ruling class.” The AWL has had the wrong line on Iraq, Afghanistan, Islamophobia, Israel, Iran, Syria and Ireland.
(By some miracle, the AWL did manage to get the right line in the referendum on Scottish independence. But given that British imperialism was opposed to independence for Scotland, that probably wasn’t too difficult for us.)
The fact that Halaby attributes to the AWL positions which we do not hold is a measure of how much reliance should be placed on his charge-sheet of the AWL’s alleged sell-outs to British imperialism.
His accusations include, for example, the AWL’s “belief that the Ulster Protestants are a nation.” This is in spite of our polemics against such an argument: “Socialists or democrats cannot advocate ‘self-determination for the Protestants’ – in short, because they are not a nation.” (57)
The approach taken by Halaby in his article is to begin by explaining the ‘right line’ on what he calls the issues of principle, and then to ‘read down’ from them the ‘right line’ on Ukraine and the ‘right line’ on a conference held in Yalta in early July.
The result is a 12,000-word article of which around half does not even mention Ukraine (because it is dealing the big “issues of principle”). And around half of the remaining 6,000 or so words deal with general Ukrainian history and politics, going as far back as ninth-century Kievan Rus’ and the Tsarist-Cossack pact of 1654.
WP are entitled to write whatever they want to. But what Halaby has produced is not a defence of WP’s attendance at the first Yalta conference. It is largely a diversion away from the issues raised by the conference.
In fact, his article is really an appeal to WP members’ party loyalty: If WP was wrong to attend the conference, then it is wrong on everything else. This is clear from Halaby’s overall conclusion about his organisation’s representation at the conference:
“Were we wrong then to send Richard Brenner to Yalta? No more than we were to send me to Tunis, or myself and Simon Hardy to Cairo. No more than we were to defend the right of the Iraqi or Afghan people to expel the US-led invaders and occupiers from their country, under whatever leadership.
“And no more than we were to defend the struggle of the nationalist community in the Six Counties of north-east Ireland, against a continual flow of lies and disinformation directed by the British state and given voice by the British media, and echoed by some on the British left.”
Halaby does not respond to the allegation that the first Yalta conference was “an exercise in political charlatanism.” But that is exactly what it was.
The title of the Declaration produced by the conference reads: “Declaration of the assembly of citizens of Ukraine and representatives of international solidarity networks.” The text of the Declaration reads: “We, representatives of the people from south east and central Ukraine and delegates from networks of international solidarity with the resistance to war in Ukraine. …”
According to Roger Annis, one of the Canadian attendees at the conference, it was “organised by progressive institutes in Moscow and Ukraine, and it had the participation of many political and social organizations from Ukraine, including Donetsk and Lugansk regions.”
But according to Brenner’s own account of the conference, it was attended by “more than 60 people”. Deduct from that figure the number of attendees from Europe, the USA and Russia, the final figure is around 45. 45 people meeting in a hotel in Yalta hardly constitute an “Assembly of Citizens of Ukraine”.
The claim that those 45 attendees were “representatives of the people from south east and central Ukraine” or that “many political and social organisations from Ukraine” participated in the conference is equally misleading.
It is not even clear who many of the Ukrainian attendees were. In his notes of the conference Brenner variously refers to “a woman from Donbas … a man from Kharkiv … a man from Donbas … a man from central Ukraine … a woman from Zaporozhye … a representative (of what?) from central Ukraine … a woman active in Kiev and Dniepropetrovsk …”
To call those organisations which can be identified as having been represented at the conference (from the list of signatories to the conference’s Declaration) “representative of the people from south east and central Ukraine” is no less misleading.
Organisations listed as signatories to the Declaration include the small Stalinist sect Borotba, the equally small Slavic Guards (Zaporozhye) and Lugansk Guards, and other organisations of which the representativeness appears to be in inverse proportion to the pretentions of their names: Union of Ukrainian Citizens, and People’s Unity (Kharkov).
It is not even correct to describe the conference as having been organized by “progressive institutes in Moscow and Ukraine”, and not just because all three organising bodies were Moscow-based.
One of them (Kagarlitsky’s Institute for Global Research and Social Movements) might still count as “progressive”, even if its Deputy Director writes long articles advocating a National Front government in France.
The other two ‘organisations’ were the very non-progressive Novaya Rus’ website (run by Aleksei Anpilogov, who Brenner himself describes as “nationalist, not socialist”) and an ‘organisation’ consisting of a bank account, also run by Anpilogov, used to channel funds to separatist forces in the Donbas.
(Strictly speaking, although it is a secondary point, the conference was not attended by “representatives of international solidarity networks”. Most, if not all, of the US/EU attendees were certainly active in such networks. But they did not attend the conference as representatives. Brenner had made that point about his own attendance.)
Nor does Halaby respond to the issues raised by the fact that the conference was held in the Crimea.
An article on a Russian website published in the run-up to the conference explained: “The mere fact of the arrival in the Crimea of an entire delegation of western intellectuals [i.e. the representatives of international solidarity networks] is already a form of support for the changes which have taken place [i.e. the annexation of Crimea].”
By the time the conference took place, the Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev had been banned from the Crimea, the new authorities had threatened to ban the Medzhlis (Tatar parliament), and the annual Remembrance Day commemorations (marking the 1944 expulsion of the Tatars from the Crimea) in Simferopol city centre had been banned.
A UN Human Rights Commissioner report of mid-May had found “… Crimean Tatars are facing numerous other problems, including the freedom of movement of their leaders; cases of physical harassment; restrictions on Crimean Tatar media; fears of religious persecution of those who are practising Muslims.”
Just six weeks before the conference the anarchist anti-fascist Alexander Kolchenko and the film director Oleg Sentsov had been arrested and accused of terrorism and membership of the Right Sector. (Accusing political opponents of supporting the Right Sector had already been a common practice of the Russian security services.)
Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea WP had declared: “The integration of the Crimea into the Russian Federation raises the question of the democratic rights of the Tatar minority. … All progressive forces in Crimea, Ukraine and Russia should defend the rights of the Crimean Tatars against all and any form of racism or oppression, wherever it comes from.”
So, did the bold revolutionaries of WP seek to “defend the rights of the Crimean Tatars” at the scene and the time of their repression?
Did WP, attending a conference in solidarity with ‘anti-fascists’, attempt to win the conference over to demanding the release of Kolchenko and Sentsov?
Did any of the conference attendees suffer bouts of conscience about the fact that they were able to freely travel to and from the Crimea while the elected leader of the Crimean Tatars, whose rights WP was sworn to defend, was banned from his homeland?
The answer to all questions is: No. (Unless, out of uncharacteristic shyness, all of the conference attendees omitted to provide evidence to the contrary in their reports of the conference.)
To excuse this on the grounds that the conference was about Ukraine rather than the Crimea would be to substitute bureaucratic evasion for political accounting. But Halaby, in his article, did not even find it necessary to try to excuse any of this.
Halaby is no less evasive about the connection between the first Yalta conference (pitched to the left) and the second Yalta conference (pitched to the far right and fascists).
Aleksei Anpilogov and Novaya Rus’ organised the first conference in conjunction with Boris Kagarlitsky. Anpilogov and Novaya Rus’ organised the second conference, inviting, among others, members of the French National Front, the Hungarian Jobbik, the Italian Forza Nuova, the Polish Falanga, the Bulgarian Ataka, the Belgian Vlaams Belang, and the BNP.
There can be no dispute that the two conferences were linked. A journalist attending the second conference explained:
“On 29th/30th August in Yalta, the second stage of the conference ‘Russia, Novorossiya, Ukraine: Global Problems and Challenges’ took place, organised by Novaya Rus’, the main Russian social structure which co-ordinates the Ukrainian resistance.
The first stage of the conference, which was notable for adopting the ‘Yalta Manifesto’, took place a month and a half ago. The left spectrum of the resistance was invited to it. This time the plan was to invite the right-conservative segment of the resistance.”
In his defence of attending the first Yalta conference Brenner had decried Anpilogov’s behavior but sought to deny any connection between the two conferences:
“Shame on him (Anpilogov) for his opportunism, his lack of principle and understanding and his stupidity. However, his disgraceful action does not alter the character of the July conference for one moment.”
Halaby, clearly unimpressed by Brenner’s fantasy that the second conference had been “organized on the initiative of the Russian government” in order to “counter the influence which the left has tried to secure over the representatives of the DPR and LPR”, used a different approach to dismiss the significance of “the second stage of the conference”:
“The ‘revelations’ in the first two of these [AWL] articles, in and of themselves, were not so remarkable: some of the figures that took part in it [the first conference] or helped to organise it also took part in or helped to organise a subsequent conference with various figures drawn from the European far-right.
Why do we say that the AWL’s apparently scandalous revelations are ‘unremarkable’?
For the simple reason that none of us live in a political vacuum. Every group on the left except the most sectarian, finds itself having to cooperate with (and therefore to confer with) all sorts of people, many of whom themselves co-operate and confer with all sorts of other people.”
Leaving aside the question of why the AWL’s “unremarkable revelations” have provoked responses from WP amounting to over 17,000 words, Halaby’s argument counterposes a generalisation to the specific facts of what is involved here.
It is true that everyone on the left confers and co-operates with people who confer and co-operate with other people. But who these other people are counts for something. In fact, it can count for quite a lot
In this instance, someone (Anpilogov) organises a conference in support of the ‘anti-fascist resistance’ in Ukraine. A few weeks later he comperes another conference convened to build support for exactly the same resistance. But this time he invites representatives of the far right and fascism.
Anpilogov is a signatory to the Declaration produced by the first conference. What credibility does such a Declaration in defence of the ‘anti-fascist resistance’ have when one of its signatories organises a conference with a target audience of fascists and the far right?
What credibility does such a Declaration have when another of its signatories (Vasily Koltashov) has advocated a National Front government in France (because it would be good for Russia), although such a government would crush the French labour movement which WP presumably wants to mobilise in support of the ‘anti-fascist resistance’?
Nor was the invitation extended by Anpilogov to members of European far right and fascist organisations a one-off incident. The same organisations had provided observers for the ‘referendum’ in the Crimea, and were to provide observers for the ‘elections’ held in the LPR and DPR in November.
Halaby also dismisses the significance of the second Yalta conference by engaging in an exercise in ‘whataboutery’. What about the fact that:
“The Ukrainian Left Opposition (LO), the pro-Maidan left’s favourite Ukrainian organisation, didn’t merely attend a conference with people who attended a difference conference with fascists at it, but themselves shared an uprising with fascists, at least in spirit if not quite on its front line.”
But Halaby is not comparing like-with-like.
Although WP never seems to have grasped it, the Maidan was a mass expression of the disaffected. LO intervened into a movement of hundreds of thousands (in which the far right and fascists were also active). This is far removed from attendance at an invitation-only weekend conference in Yalta of around sixty people.
With regard to the politics of the sixty or so people who attended the first Yalta conference, Halaby employs a number of lines of defence against the issues raised in our two articles about the conference.
His first line of defence is that the politics of the other participants in the conference does not matter:
“What is at stake here is not really who Richard Brenner did or didn’t attend a conference with, who was present at another conference attended by some of the same people, or what other people the latter group might be linked to further afield.
“Rather, what is at stake is an understanding of what is happening in Ukraine, and what is the political character of the Euromaidan and Antimaidan camps into which Ukraine has been divided.”
It is surprising that Halaby thinks that the politics of the attendees at the first Yalta conference is irrelevant. Richard Brenner, to some degree at least, certainly did. In his response to our initial articles he wrote:
“[Signatures to the Yalta Declaration] included the reactionary Slavic Guards group, which has issued anti-gay, anti-EU propaganda, but this group had not identified themselves during the conference and I complained about this to Kagarlitsky.”
In fact, Halaby’s first line of defence is not even consistent with what WP has argued elsewhere.
In a statement issued at the end of July WP stated that “Great Russian Nationalist and pan-Slav ideas” and the view that Ukraine “does not, or should not, exist” are “reactionary and can only harm that cause [i.e. the cause of the ‘anti-fascist resistance’].”
The same statement declared that the influence of politics which “deny the existence of Ukraine as a nation, advocate Pan-Slavism and an Orthodox state, and support reactionary positions on gay rights” must be “combatted within the resistance movement”.
A number of conference attendees – as quoted in our original article – had made statements and/or engaged in activities opposing LGBT rights, advocating pan-Slavism, and denying Ukraine’s existence as a nation.
For Halaby, however, the fact that a number of the conference held such positions is “not really” the issue – despite WP’s professed commitment to combat such views within the ‘resistance movement’.
There is something of a pattern here. WP opposed Crimea’s annexation by Russia (until it happened). WP opposed independence for the LPR and DPR (until it happened). And WP opposed reactionary ideas in the ‘resistance movement’ (until it attended a conference in Yalta with some of the exponents of such ideas).
Halaby’s second line of defence is that the articles criticising the first Yalta conference employed a tactic of ‘guilt by association’, which he counterposes to WP’s understanding of the “big issues” which determine their policies on Ukraine:
“[It is] guilt by association, the method of the ‘amalgam’ so beloved of classical Stalinism, that Dale Street tries to apply to us.
“Dale Street’s revival of the Stalinist-style method of the amalgam is of much less use than a historical and materialist understanding of the national question in Ukraine, of the global imperialist system as it exists today, and of a concrete assessment of the form taken by inter-imperialist rivalry.”
Borotba member Dmitry Kolesnik is wheeled out by Halaby to corroborate the accusation of employing a tactic of ‘guilt by association’:
“Almost all the accusations are indirect, that is, they are via other persons. It’s like an accusation: you speak with a person who then spoke with another person believed to be fascist and the weird conclusion is that you are a fascist too.
“Moreover, you could hardly find in Ukraine or Russia any group or long-time activists who have not participated in joint conferences with people like those mentioned in the list.”
But the two articles about the first Yalta conference (the original article, and the reply to Brenner’s response) quoted – often at some length – what different conference attendees and the organisations to which they belonged had stated and written.
This was the primary basis for a characterization and assessment of their politics.
The first article did not say that the Slavic Guards were anti-gay because one of its members had once met a homophobe. It cited its anti-gay campaign of 2013.
The first article did not say that the Lugansk Guards called on Russia to invade Ukraine in order to put Yanukovych back in power because one of them had once met a member of the Party of the Regions. It quoted their statement in which they called for this.
The second article did not say that Koltashov supported the election of a National Front government in France because he had once met a French right-winger. It quoted an article in which he argued for this explicitly and at length.
The second article did not say that Shevchenko believed that “the Zionist lobby” exerts huge influence in Putin’s Russia because he had once met Israel Shamir. It quoted and sourced what he himself had said.
There is doubtless much to be said in favour of “a historical and materialist understanding of the global imperialist system”. But to find out the politics of, say, the Slavic Guards or the Lugansk Guards, the Kantian-empiricist approach of simply reading what they have said, written and done has a certain value as well.
The two earlier articles, especially the first one, certainly did point to the overlapping contacts between individual conference attendees and newspapers such as “Zavtra” and organisations such as the Izborsky Club. But this was in order to further illustrate the overall nature of their politics.
It was not a matter of this or that conference attendee happening to have once attended a meeting also attended by, say, Prokhanov or Dugin. The fact that Anpilogov is a regular contributor to “Zavtra” or that Koltashov has become a regular contributor to Anpilogov’s own website, for example, is indicative of their own politics.
Halaby relies, in part, on Kolesnik’s argument that any long-time activist in Russia and Ukraine will have attended conferences with people like those referred to in the articles about the conference.
Given Borotba’s own politics and their readiness to ally with right-wing nationalists and campaign for candidates of Putin’s United Russia Party, this statement certainly applies to them. Whether it applies to all other long-time left activists in Ukraine and Russia is more questionable.
(Halaby quotes what Kolesnik has to say about the politics of some of the individuals and organisations in attendance at the conference. Kolesnik’s basic argument is that their politics are bad, but not as bad as claimed by the AWL.
But Borotba itself was represented at the conference, by Aleksei Albu and possibly by other members. Why did Borotba not raise the issue of the politics of these attendees at the conference itself, at least with WP, rather than wait until a request arrived from WP triggered by the original AWL article?)
Halaby’s third line of defence is that some of the political characterisations contained in the original article are inaccurate.
He points out that Koltashov has written articles for the Russian left-wing website “Rabkor”. But in what way does that excuse or reduce the significance of his arguing in favour of a National Front government in France because it would be good for Russia?
He quotes Kolesnik’s description of the Slavic Guards as “a mix of Stalinists and Russian conservative nationalists” who stage anti-Bandera rallies and march in commemoration of the USSR’s victory in the war. But this hardly differs from the contents of the original article.
Decsribing Prokhanov as a fascist, writes Halaby, was wide of the mark. But the original article was more nuanced about his politics than that:
“[Prokhanov’s politics are] an ideological cocktail which mixes elements of anti-semitism, fascism, Stalinism, mysticism, state-authoritarianism, Russian ultra-nationalism and Russian imperialism. Overall, and more succinctly, his politics can simply be defined as a form of fascism.”
The Izborsky Club is not “a fascist think tank”, writes Halaby. But he also writes that Dugin – alongside Prokhanov, the leading figure in what is a numerically very small and very exclusive group – does “seem to be a fascist of sorts” and that no legitimacy should be given to Dugin’s Eurasian project.
Dugin’s Eurasian project is not just about where the borders of Russia (or Eurasia) should lie. It is also about the social structures of the “Eurasian Empire” of the future. To one degree or another all members of the Izborsky Club appear to endorse the idea of such a “Eurasian Empire”. That is core to their ideas of how “to overcome the backwardness of Russia.”
Shevchenko, says Halaby, is “at least as much a ‘leftist’ figure as George Galloway.” Halaby must know that we do not consider Galloway to be a leftist figure. So he knows that that argument cuts no ice with the AWL.
But that is probably not Halaby’s intention. Halaby’s pitch is to his audience: You think Galloway is a leftist figure; Shevchenko has the same politics as Galloway; if you deny Shevchenko is a leftist figure, you would have to deny Galloway is a leftist figure; but you cannot do that without disavowing your own understanding of leftist politics.
In any case, Shevchenko is more-Galloway-than-Galloway.
Galloway has declared himself, perhaps somewhat ingenuously, as “not with the Syrian regime.” Shevchenko, on the other hand, visited Syria in 2013 as a member of an Izborsky Club delegation. According to the report of the visit:
“We met with President Assad in his Damascus residence. He was surprisingly calm, sometimes pensive, outstanding for his refined intellect and his ability to use modest formulations to portray the very complicated military-political drama into which his country has been drawn.
The Izborsky Club is a weapon in the ideological struggle for Russia. The brigade of mechanized troops, the mufti and the mitropolit, President Bashar Assad, and my brother in Christ now fighting in the ruins of cities [all of whom had been met by the delegation] are all now a collective member of the Izborsky Club.” (58)
(Halaby disputes whether or not it is correct to characterize the Izborsky Club as fascist. What cannot be disputed is that the Izborsky Club grants honorary membership, metaphorically speaking, to someone Halaby himself calls “a genocidal dictator”.)
Galloway has sailed closed to the wind of political anti-semitism in his ‘anti-Zionism’. Some would say he has done more than that. But even Galloway would baulk at Shevchenko’s claim that the current situation in Ukraine was due, in part, to “links with Israel and international Jewish circles through Kolomoisky [a Ukrainian oligarch who is Jewish] and many others.” (59)
Halaby’s fourth line of defence is that what our criticisms of the first Yalta conference prove is really of no account in the bigger scheme of things:
“In fact, the most that the AWL are able to prove so far about any of the first conference’s participants is that they are Russians or people with a Russian national outlook, either Stalinist or nationalist in origin, and that like a lot of Russian nationalists they hold some irredentist aspirations.”
But even if that was all that we were able to prove – although the actual politics of the conference attendees go rather further than Halaby’s portrayal of them – that proves quite a lot about the charlatanism at the heart of the Yalta conference.
The Declaration produced by the conference described itself as one produced by “an assembly of citizens of Ukraine.” The text of the Declaration referred to conference attendees as “representatives of the people from south east and central Ukraine.”
In fact, Halaby concedes, the Declaration emanated from a small gathering of Russians and people with a Russian national outlook, either Stalinist or nationalist in origin, who hold some irredentist aspirations.
It doesn’t quite have the same ring as “an assembly of citizens of Ukraine” does it?
And what was happening on the ground in Ukraine at the time of the conference demonstrates that the “irredentism” of certain conference attendees was rather more than just a matter of “aspirations”.
Thus, in seeking to defend WP against the AWL’s “tabloid-style smears”, Halaby ends up sacrificing the supposed legitimacy of the first Yalta conference – even though his article is meant to be defending the same conference in the face of the AWL’s criticisms.
The argument that the conference attendees were no worse, or no better, than Russian nationalists is then placed by Halaby in the context of the ‘big picture’ of international imperialist rivalries, what is ‘really’ happening in Ukraine, and the AWL’s supposed inability to understand any of this:
Irredentism is not necessarily right-wing. It is a feature of many nationalisms. Russian nationalism is no worse than any other nationalism. The AWL’s revelations are “banal”. What we call far-right nationalism is really ordinary nationalism: “There is no obvious practical difference between Dugin’s ‘Eurasian’ concept and Putin’s notion of a ‘post-Soviet space’.”
The AWL does not understand the national question in Ukraine. There are different national identities in Ukraine: west-Ukrainian, Russian, and Sovietesque. The Russian and Sovietesque population of the south-east has a right to self-determination and has exercised it.
They are militarily defending that right against the imperialist-backed exclusivist west-Ukrainian nationalism of the neo-liberal-fascist government in Kiev. The AWL fails to support them. Because we see the west-Ukrainian identity as the sole “authentic expression of Ukrainian national aspirations.” And because we sold out to Western imperialism thirty years ago.
Leaving aside for a moment its political inadequacies, in the course of running this argument Halaby introduces some new factual inaccuracies.
He writes: “The ‘anti-Russian’ side this time [i.e. in the Maidan] actually took the power, excluding and disenfranchising the ‘pro-Russian’ half of Ukraine’s population in the process.”
But according to an article in the “Washington Post” – the politics of which Halaby would largely agree with – “about four out of every six people in Ukraine are ethnic Ukrainian and speak the Ukrainian language. Another one in six is ethnic Russian and speaks Russian. The last one-in-six is ethnic Ukrainian but speaks Russian.”
(It may be a misreading of Halaby’s article. Or it may not have been clearly written. But Halaby does seem to be equating “pro-Russian” with anyone ethnically or linguistically Russian.)
In his ‘analysis’ of western-Ukrainian nationalism, Halaby writes:
“Yulia Tymoshenko, for example, might not be a ‘fascist’ but almost the whole spectrum of anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalism feels the need to rehabilitate the fascist Bandera’s UPA, and actual fascists like Lyashko, Tyagnibok and Yarosh are not beyond the pale to them.”
Lyashko is the right-wing-populist leader of the Radical Party. He is not a fascist. (Having said that, he is a much more effective political leader than those outright fascists who have recently risen to some degree of political prominence. In that sense, he is far more dangerous than they are.)
Halaby also speculates about how WP would respond “if it were the case that Russia actually was invading and occupying Ukraine” and if Russian imperialism was “pushed” into “raising the stakes by actually sending its own armed forces into eastern Ukraine.”
Even if one ignores Russia’s annexation of the Crimea (portrayed by WP as an exercise in self-determination by the majority of the population) and the presence of Russian troops in the south-east by mid-summer (supposedly just soldiers spending their holidays there), Russia had clearly “raised the stakes” on 23rd August, well before Halaby wrote his article.
But these factual inaccuracies are secondary to Halaby’s misrepresentation of what the AWL has written and argued in relation to Ukraine. (60)
We did not oppose Russia’s annexation of Crimea because we think that Crimea’s population does not have the right to self-determination. On the contrary, we wrote: “in principle there is a case for separate self-determination for Crimea” and “we support Crimea's right to secede from Ukraine.”
(Hardly the “curious reverence for established state boundaries” which Halaby charges us with.)
We opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea because of a factual assessment of the referendum and its background: “A referendum held under military occupation cannot be reckoned as free and democratic self-determination by the people. … We do not support Crimea’s ‘right’ to be occupied by Russia and annexed in a stitched-up referendum.”
We have not reduced all the issues in Ukraine simply to one of self-determination for the existing Ukrainian state: “We should support Ukraine’s right to political independence and freedom from invasion. There are many other dimensions to the conflict. They should not be ignored.”
We have not disputed the existence of differing ‘identities’ in Ukraine: “Without question, there is a large Russian minority in eastern Ukraine (over 30% in some districts).” We have advocated “a democratic programme of national self-determination for Ukraine and full minority rights for Russians within Ukraine.”
The Russian minority in Ukraine, we have written, “should have minority rights. That may well mean increased autonomy for the areas in eastern Ukraine where the Russian minority is large.” In fact, we have gone even further: “In principle, if ethnic Russian-majority areas adjoining Russia wish to secede, they have the right to do so.”
We have not pretended that the role of western imperialism is other than what it is: “The Western governments which back the new Ukrainian regime are self-interested, predatory, and hypocritical. They will seek to impose the same sort of economic measures which the EU authorities and the IMF have imposed on Greece.”
We have not disputed that actions taken by the Ukrainian government have alienated sections of the population in the south-east: “It has, stupidly and undemocratically, rescinded laws which made Russian a second official language in Ukraine.”
We have not argued that the conflict is purely due to intervention by Russia: “The local coups in the cities of east Ukraine are not just external Russian interference.” The town halls siezures in the south-east of Ukraine “are not just operations by the Russian government.”
We have not disputed that the conflict in the south-east relates in some degree to legitimate grievances and has some degree of popular support: “Without doubt many in that Russian minority dislike the new government in Kiev. In that sense, an element of the depiction of the demonstrations as protests by an aggrieved minority is correct.”
We have written that the conflict has some basis in the “social concerns of people in eastern Ukraine, worried that its old heavy industry will decline fast if Ukraine is more integrated into the world market,” and in their fears about the social impact “of the decline, which may be accelerated by closer links into world markets, of the old Stalinist-built heavy industry of the area.”
The fact that we do not support what WP calls ‘the anti-fascist resistance’ is therefore not the result of illusions in western imperialism or the Kiev government, a blindness to multiple national identities in Ukraine, or reducing everything to a Russian plot.
We do not support the ‘anti-fascist resistance’ because an honest factual assessment of events as they have unfolded leads to the conclusion that any ‘popular’ element has always been secondary to the influence exerted by Russian imperialism:
“Are these justified protests by Ukraine’s Russian minority against Ukrainian chauvinist policies from the new government in Kiev? Or are they operations fomented by the Russian government, using Russians crossing the border to join the protests, and the east-Ukrainian Russian minority?
The balance of evidence suggests they are mostly the second. The demonstrations do not emerge from a background of growing protest against specific policies and actions by the Kiev government disadvantaging Russian people in eastern Ukraine. Instead, they start immediately by seizing public buildings.
The local coups also show evidence of being decisively shaped and led by people closely linked to the Russian government. They did not well up from mass protests about social or regional or language-group concerns, but started straight off with seizures of public buildings by armed groups.”
This was consistent with the verdict of Ukrainian socialists (although obviously not with the verdict of Borotba, on whom WP relies heavily for its ‘analysis’ of events in Ukraine):
“The so-called DPR is an artificial creation supported solely by the arms of the people who control its territory. There has been no legitimate referendum which can fully express the will of the people living there.
“I cannot regard these creations as progressive. Their class essence is directed against the toilers of Ukraine, leading to a split between the toilers of the east and the rest of Ukraine. This separatist movement is based on three supports.
“The revanchism of Yanukovych and the Party of the Regions structures based on the territory. The real influence of the Russian Federation and its agents. And a protest from below by members of the lumpenproletariat and some public sector workers dissatisfied with austerity policies when everything is rosy for the oligarchs. Unfortunately, the last one is the weakest.” (61)
The fact that parts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions have heavy concentrations of people who share a “Russian identity” does not undermine this conclusion about the nature of the conflict or justify support for the ‘anti-fascist resistance’:
“In the Eastern Ukrainian province of Donetsk 57% are ethnic Ukrainian, against 38% Russian, and in 1991 83% voted for Ukrainian independence from Russia. The equation ‘east = pro-Russian’ is a huge oversimplification. It does not contain enough truth to excuse Russian military pressure or invasion.
“The issue is not Russian-majority pockets near the Russian border, and a call for adjustment of the border. Putin has staked a claim to the whole of Novorossiya, which is a vast area of south and east Ukraine.
“Despite all the diversity within Ukraine, it has been a historically-defined nation for a long time. Ukraine’s right to self-determination is the central issue here, and can and must be defended without endorsing the ideas, or all the actions, of Ukrainian nationalists.”
Again, this is consistent with the verdict of Ukrainian socialists (but, again, not that of Borotba):
“The events happening here (in Donetsk) can be described as a putsch by crooks and cops, wrapped up in a ‘people’s’ package. You can’t call this an uprising by Russian nationalists, in that their forces and influence until these events were hardly much greater than ours (anarchists).
“You can judge their real numbers from the ‘Russian March’ in Donetsk in November of 2013, when they had a maximum mobilisation. But they turned out to be in the right place at the right time. And now they are the political wrapping of an essentially and openly cop-run ‘DPR’.” (62)
“In any case, the nomenclature ‘anti-fascist resistance’ is inaccurate. Partly because the ‘resistance’ includes fascists in its ranks. Partly because it seeks and enjoys the support of European far right and fascist organisations. And partly because “unreconstructed fascists” have never held power in Kiev following a “fascist-led coup”.
“As opposed to calling for support for the ‘anti-fascist resistance’, we have consistently advocated workers’ unity, east and west, against both the Ukrainian oligarchs and Russian imperialism:
“A way out of the impasse will require the Ukrainian left to mobilise Ukrainian workers, west and east, on socialist demands against the corruption and oligarchic inequality which people both east and west name as their main concern.”
The British labour movement, we have argued, should “back Ukraine's left in its efforts to create a ‘third pole’ against both Russian imperialism and the Ukrainian oligarchs.” This would “unite all workers in Ukraine, Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking, ‘ethnic’-Ukrainian and ‘ethnic’-Russian, west and east.”
Marcus Halaby has clearly put a lot of time and effort into writing his article (although not into the background reading which would saved him the trouble of writing it).
But his obvious concerns for ensuring that WP has a principled and defensible position on Ukraine would be better served by reviewing and correcting the entire ‘analysis’ of political developments in Ukraine presented by WP in the course of 2014.
Because, without doubt, whatever the shortcomings contained in this or that article published by the AWL, nothing we have written stands comparison with outpourings on Ukraine churned out by the British section of the League for a Fifth International.
7) See, for example: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDq6uI-NqPc
8) See: gaslo.info/?p=5181
10) www.thenation.com/article/178662/far-right-groups-infiltrate-kievs-institutions-student-movement-pushes-back#1. This was the same occupation as the one referred to at (9).
22) The article sourced by WP is at: scgnews.com/the-odessa-massacre-what-really-happened
27) A collection of articles about Borotba is currently being translated, for publication on this website later this month.
37) Full list at: anton-shekhovtsov.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/pro-russian-extremists-observe.html
60) The quotes in subsequent paragraphs are from articles published in “Solidarity” in March/April, 2014.