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Socialist Democracy Statement on Ukraine (updated)

6 July 2014

When war and crisis face the working class the duty of Marxists is threefold. 

They must base their analysis on concrete evidence of the global struggle between the contending social classes.

They will express the interests of the working class.

They will propose a programme through which the crisis can be resolved in the interest of the working class.

In the present crisis in Ukraine a major element involves considering the relationship between the western imperialist blocs and Russia. 

The legacy of the collapse of the Soviet union still has a bearing on the present situation. The Stalinist project of Socialism in a single country failed and as Trotsky suggested, in the absence of a political revolution reviving the degenerate and deformed workers states, capitalism was reintroduced by means of a ‘cold stroke’. This capitalism was based on the theft of the socialised means of production by the party functionaries and their hangers on who enriched themselves massively and established themselves as a kleptocracy, a gang of thieves presiding over an economy which heavily depends on the sale of raw materials. Imperialism has designs these raw materials, on the largely state owned banks and on the remnants of the public provision of health care and social services including pensions. Imperialism’s fighting force, NATO, has been encircling Russia since the end of the cold war regarding it as a regional political and military adversary and has aggressively moved into Eastern Europe, establishing bases in contravention of the agreement reached with Russia when the Berlin wall came down.

Russia is far from a democracy, its political elite represents a locally strong but globally weak ruling class and Putin’s domination is not in the interests of Russian, Crimean or Ukrainian workers, western or eastern. 

The Kremlin wishes to contain what it sees as a dangerous revolt containing threats to re-nationalise the mines, the railways and the property of the oligarchs and which has resulted in large scale mobilisations of workers against the assault by the Kiev regime and in support of autonomy or outright independence. 

Putin’s agreement with imperialism in the Geneva talks of April 17th on disarmament and demobilisation of the anti fascist opposition in Donetsk and Lugansk, and his recognition of Poroshenko’s government undermines the Donbass Peoples Republics. Lavrov’s willingness to compromise with the Kiev regime and their IMF backers reveals the Russian oligarchy’s subservient role to imperialism and the withdrawal of Russian troops from defensive positions along the border clearly sent the signal that Putin would not oppose imperialism and the attacks by Kiev’s fascist ‘hundreds’. The large scale military preparations being made by the imperialists and the Kiev regime have continued unabated.

This is not an equal and opposite confrontation, Russia is not an imperialist state nor is it the aggressor, its actions have been defensive and its political strategy is one of defending the Russian oligarchy’s interests, of maintaining its credibility in the eyes of the Russian masses sympathetic to the eastern Ukrainians, and of compromise with EU/US imperialism. Where Russia did take decisive action to prevent its naval base in Crimea falling in to the hands of NATO there is no doubt that the vote to secede from Ukraine and join Russia represents the popular will of the people of Crimea. While this is not the only consideration – for example there are concerns about minority rights including those of Crimean Tartars, one of the outcomes is to significantly weaken the anti-imperialist movement in Eastern Ukraine and the project of incorporation into Russia is hardly one that represents a way forward for the working class. That said to describe the annexation as imperialist aggression is a distortion of reality.


In Ukraine itself the process of capitalist restoration was similar to that of Russia and other eastern European command economies but with historically conditioned peculiarities to consider. 

The Bolshevik revolution saw a flowering of Ukrainian language and culture under their policy of ‘Ukrainisation’ but Stalin’s campaign of ‘Russification’, ended the autonomy gained by soviet Ukraine and produced a reaction among western Ukrainians which allowed the most reactionary politics to gain a foothold. Stepan Bandera and his ‘Nachtigall’ SS battalion, celebrated now by Svoboda and Right Sector, were the leadership of this reaction and this legacy has both been nurtured and exploited by western imperialism since the end of the World War Two. Many Ukrainian fascists were recruited by the US to undermine and attack the Soviet Union and the Right Sector and Svoboda are the latest inheritors of a long tradition and a long relationship between the Ukrainian Right and imperialism. Following the collapse of Stalinism this mechanism became a tool in the imperialist campaign to break Ukraine from Russia’s orbit and bring it in to the EU. 

Ukraine is divided economically and ethnically, between the eastern more industrial regions and western more rural and agricultural regions, between ethnic Russian and ethnic Ukrainian respectively. The ethnic differences are not clear or easily definable, as centuries of integration has produced around twenty percent of the population which speak a hybrid language made up of both but imperialism has sought every opportunity to exacerbate and exploit this ethnic division through the National Endowment for Democracy supporting academic institutions preaching extreme nationalist ideology and billions of dollars being poured in to NGOs which has fed in to the ‘Orange’ revolution and ultimately to the Kiev putsch. The new Kiev regime has used racism and fascism to express the class interests of the billionaire oligarchs who seek the stability of membership of the EU’s ruling class, and try to heighten ethnic tensions as they attack the large working class in the east of the country to impose the price of that stability, the IMF’s austerity programme. 

The Oligarch victors in the Kiev putsch claim they are establishing ‘independence’. They are not. Ukraine has been politically independent for almost a quarter of a century, as independent as any bourgeois nation can be in the imperialist age. Real independence can only come about as a socialist republic integrated with a revolutionary socialist Europe. The Euromaidan demands for integration with the EU, although it in part reflects a desperation on the part of very poor people, is a reactionary call to end that limited independence and to join an imperialist bloc. This reactionary position, which was easily dominated by the fascists from the beginning, has been both prompted by the billionaire oligarchs and is fully supported by US and EU imperialism who have now installed a pro imperialist alliance of conservatives, the far Right and open fascists to enforce that transition. Again “the most reactionary Ukrainian cliques” as Trotsky noted in 1939 “express their ‘nationalism’ by seeking to sell the Ukrainian people to one imperialism or another in return for a promise of fictitious independence”.

Why the putsch?

The IMF has tried on two occasions to ‘discipline’ the Ukrainian economy, once in 2008 and again in 2010. In both cases due to divisions among the oligarchy the political elite baulked at the scale of the cut backs in pensions and social services, the huge energy price increases and the sell offs that was required to qualify for the loans and both attempts were abandoned. To have imposed the deal would have been political suicide, particularly in the case of Yanukovich whose political base was in the industrialised east of the country and which stands to suffer massively, especially in the heavy industries.

Yanukovich, who was already imposing austerity at what he saw as a realistic rate, was being pushed towards accepting a European “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area” which would remove tariff barriers, provide tax breaks for capitalist ventures, including fracking for shale gas, privatise public services and end restrictions on the transfer from the country of profits, which were to be only minimally taxed. Ukraine is to be looted by international finance capital, an intention best symbolised by the appearance of the US vice president’s son, Hunter Biden, on the board of Burisma, Ukraine‘s largest private gas producer.

The inability of either the pro Russian or the Pro EU oligarchs’ political leaderships to carry out the full requirements of this assault on the Ukrainian working class and the decision by Yanukovich to reject the European Association Agreement and join the Customs Union with Russia led the US to criticise the EU, in the crudest of terms, for its reticence and to vigorously ‘encourage’ the Euromaidan attack on Yanukovich’s government.

The resultant putsch using fascist, far Right and extreme nationalist storm troopers was carried out, when all else failed, as a means of imposing austerity on the Ukrainian economy, draining off the profits from the privatisations and crushing working class resistance to that austerity. It has established fascists at the centre of government and formalised the far Right street gangs as a National Guard. That National Guard backed up by the Ukrainian military and Airforce is attacking Donetsk and Lugansk with the intention of complying with the IMF demand that they control the entire geographic area of Ukraine in order to qualify for a $17bn loan and to be in a position to impose the loan’s conditions of acute austerity on the large industrial working class, not just there but on the entire country. 

The revolt in the east was initially against any deepening of economic hardship and Kiev’s imposition of hostile western oligarchs as governors of their districts but as Kiev’s attack on them continues this has hardened out to a demand for autonomy or outright independence, a demand that was popularly endorsed in a recent plebiscite. In the east a social memory still exists of the fight against the Nazis in WW2 and they are not prepared to accept the imposition of a state involving fascist units, to bear the brunt of fascist attacks without defending themselves, or to accept the economic austerity that they will impose. 

In the west of Ukraine political dissent has been suppressed by fascist street gangs and militias. Non compliant members of parliament are attacked in the street while CP members have been attacked and the Borotba organisation has been forced underground following attacks and kidnappings by fascist gangs. Borotba also had a member murdered in the outrageous atrocity in the Odessa trade union hall where almost fifty ‘anti-maidan’ protesters were slaughtered by fascists at the head of a right wing mob. Even the promaidan ‘left’ had been beaten off the streets of Kiev by the fascists although they still do not recognise the reactionary nature of the uprising. A Kiev political scientist Vladimir Ishchenko, generally sympathetic to their position, remarked disappointedly: “It’s a strange feeling, when the army is already with the people, and many leftists (anarchists!!!) are still with the authorities.” In some military divisions there exists a virtual state of mutiny where soldiers refuse to fire on civilians or simply surrender to them and conscripted soldiers families are beginning to organise in opposition to the war, blocking roads and access to military barracks.

In Donetsk and Lugansk, while not having moved decisively, the working class support the resistance to the fascist attacks. Thousands of Donbas miners have supported the rebel republics and have gone on strike against the war, attending rallies against Kiev’s attacks on civilian population centres, against fascism and for peace. The armed resistance to the government attacks have a largely Russian nationalist leadership but significant groups of workers, particularly miners, have taken up arms against the detachments of fascist kidnappers and killers. This militia, as long as it fights the Kiev regime and does not accept the Russian supported compromises with Poroshenko, stands directly in the way of imperialism’s plans. However, Russian nationalism is a dead end, it will fail to deliver an end to austerity and will isolate the eastern rebels from potential anti fascist and anti austerity allies in the west of Ukraine. The class struggle continues within the rebellious areas. Threats to the property of oligarchs and to nationalise large industries emanate from a vacillating leadership and Borotba union have publicly opposed the conservative constitution of the Donetsk Peoples Republic, appealing to workers in all areas of Ukraine to resist the imperialist war and the Kiev regime. 

100 years ago the International workers movement collapsed in the face of the drive towards war. Part of the mechanism of that collapse was the failure by internationalist socialists to adequately recognise the designs of ‘their own’ imperialism. The failure by many on the Left today to decisively oppose the imperialist intervention in Ukraine, its use of fascist forces on the ground and the Kiev putsch stems from an inability to discern the difference between the masses and the leadership, between spontaneity and consciousness. The Right Sector and Svoboda were viewed simply as part of a spontaneous response to the economic crisis, not as a conscious fascist leadership with a reactionary programme which they determinedly pursued. It mattered little so long as there was the appearance of ‘people power’ at work in the Maidan square, any mass of people became the semblance of the proletariat in action. This failure in turn stems from the rejection of the need to build a revolutionary internationalist leadership in favour of building broad fronts where ‘transitional’ demands were so modest they eventually descended to mere liberalism. Revolutionary internationalism must be rebuilt, beginning with international solidarity with the Ukrainian anti fascist resistance. This requires;

Utter opposition to the IMF’s imperialist programme of austerity, their client regime in Kiev and its fascist led attacks on the eastern areas. 

Solidarity with the anti fascist resistance! Solidarity with the miners and steel workers who have struck in opposition to Kiev’s atrocities and with resistance on the streets of Kiev and all Ukrainian cities, with the growing anti war sentiment in western Ukraine and the Ukrainian soldiers who revolt rather than kill civilians.

Support demands to nationalise all large scale enterprises. They should be placed under the control of the workers in them and independent workers’ militias formed to protect these gains from the Kiev regime and the oligarchs private armies.

For a socialist Republic of Ukraine with the right of autonomy for the eastern regions, up to and including the right to secede.

We call for international socialist solidarity with the anti fascist resistance to the Kiev junta and their imperialist backers.

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