An interview with Mykola Tsikhno, co-ordinator of the National Communist Front. Taken by Chris Ford, 16 May 2014; translated by Marko Bojcun
Mykola Tsikhno explains in this interview why he and his comrades call themselves national communists. He also refers, but only in passing, to this tradition in the history of the Ukrainian Communist movement.
During the Revolution and Civil War of 1917-21 there emerged a political current simultaneously in three parties – the Ukrainian Social Democratic Workers Party, the Ukrainian Party of Socialist Revolutionaries and the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Ukraine – that called for an independent Ukrainian republic of workers and peasants, with its own army and foreign policy and with an independent (of the Russian Bolsheviks) representation in the Third (Communist) International.
The adherents to this current based their demands on a shared analysis of national oppression as an integral part of class oppression, which led them to envisage the resolution of national oppression simultaneously with overcoming all the inequalities inherent in the division of labour under capitalism.
This political current found its ultimate expression in the Ukrainian Communist Party, which was the last surviving legal opposition party in the Soviet Union. Adherents to this current did not choose to call themselves “national communists”, but were rather labelled as such, as “deviationists” from the official line, by their critics in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Third International. Almost all their leading members perished in Stalin’s purges.
The term national communism was revived again and applied by Stalin’s agents against the Yugoslav communists and other communists in Eastern Europe who took positions independent of Stalin in the late 1940s and early 1950s. MB
Please explain the rise of the so-called “pro-Russian” movement in the Donbas?
Separatist sentiments in the region are in the first instance connected to the information space in which the people of Donbas are living. Historically, Donetsk people prefer to watch Russian television channels, rather than Ukrainian ones. As a result, they see mainly Russian news, political shows, analytical programmes and don’t come across alternate views or arguments.
Secondly, these sentiments are tied up with the Soviet historiographical inheritance and the chauvinism directed against Western Ukrainians. For Donetsk people the inhabitants of Halychyna (Galicia) are “traitors”, “agents of America and the EU” and “Russophobes”. According to my countrymen it was the “banderites” who seized power “by force of arms” who are now persecuting the Russian-speaking population.
To these prejudices we should add also the general poverty of the region whose working class lives by all of the laws of capitalism – that is to say poorly. Many people consider the reason for their poverty to be the “banderites”, who allegedly live off subsidies from the Donbas, rather than their exploitation by the factory owners and the bourgeois state.
Is there any possibility of Donbas workers supporting a political alternative to this pro-Russia movement?
This is the dream of all leftists. In fact not all workers support the separatists; some sections of workers are aware they will be without jobs in the event of separation from Ukraine. For example, the miners whose mines are completely state subsidised. The independent union of miners in the Donbas is agitating today against supporting pro-Russian forces. But that this moment it cannot count upon a mass following.
Do you consider that the separatist movement is a workers’ rebellion from below?
No. This movement was sponsored by the local oligarchs who lost their influence in February in the parliament. And it relies on the forces of Russian nationalists in the Donbas who began to organise meetings, checkpoints (block posts), to seize administration buildings and kidnap people. The separatists no longer hide the fact they are sponsored by the wealthiest person in Ukraine – Rinat Akhmetov. Of course, there are people who support them, but this movement wasn’t organised by ordinary people, but by the directors of state budgeted institutions, by businessmen, activists of far-right organisations and Russian special forces personnel.
Should socialists in the West support the separatist, pro-Russia movements in Donbas?
If “socialists” support imperialism, chauvinism, interclass co-operation, military dictatorship and terrorism then we could understand their support for the separatists in Ukraine. But if socialists stand opposed to such things they should support us – those who come out against splitting the working class of Ukraine, those who want to continue to build a civil society in Ukraine, to continue to build the ideas of the Maidan in a socialist direction.
Has there been a growth of Great Russian chauvinism in Donbas?
Of course, chauvinist feelings have grown. People are being attacked on the streets for wearing Ukrainian symbols. It is dangerous now to speak in Ukrainian and it immediately provokes mistrust. Some people have begun to reject their nationality: there is a leaflet circulating on the Internet: “The Maidan killed the Ukrainian in me. Now I am a Russian”.
Chauvinism, by the way, is not directed solely against Ukrainians. The separatists also dislike Jews and Gypsies.
What is the current situation of the pro–Maidan movement in Donbas?
Almost everyone has gone underground. There are practically no pro-Ukrainian meetings in the Donbas; more often than not agitation materials are distributed on the streets, or Ukrainian graffiti is painted on walls. The more serious activists come to the Ukrainian army posts to bring them food and other necessities. A few people sign up for the unofficial brigades, for example the “Donbas Battalion” and lend direct support to the soldiers during their operations.
TheMaidan movement is portrayed by some as being fascist. Ist his true?
Unfortunately, but only partially – yes. The Maidan was made up of different political groups whose common aim was to drive out president Yanukovych. There were liberals there and socialists, anarchists, nationalists, national communists and fascists. But the main mass of people on the Maidan were not politically engaged, but simply wanted a better life for themselves. The fascists on the Maidan were a relatively small group of people, though quite outrageous and noticeable. There were times when they came into conflict with everyone, even the nationalists, not just the anarchists and socialists, which is why to call the Maidan a fascist phenomenon is stupid.
In contrast to the separatist movement the Maidan itself came out in support of a civil society and against the dictatorship of the Party of Regions and Yanukovych. To some extent activists understand that in Ukraine it is a matter of a dictatorship of the sponsors of this party rather than a dictatorship of the party itself. And that is why it was both possible and necessary to advance socialist ideas, which is what we and all the leftists were doing there.
On the other hand all of the oligarchs and most of the representatives of the state in Ukraine are not Ukrainians by origin and that is why the fascists on the Maidan had something to work upon.
However, people here often forget that fascism is not only the idea of national exclusivity. It is also statism, and friendship between classes, and imperialism. That is why this separatist movement, in contrast to the Maidan, is fascist in its roots
What is the nature of the Maidan movement in Donbas, and who supports it?
The Maidan in the Donbas is practically no different from any other in Ukraine. Its back bone was made up of students, entrepreneurs and workers. Most of them were activists of the pro-Ukrainian parties and community organisations. The journalists actively supported them.
Do you think the Ukrainian left should participate in the Maidan movement?
The left in Ukraine actively supported the Maidan when it was current. We have different kinds of problems today – separatism in eastern Ukraine, and so the left should be supporting antiterrorist movements. Of course, I don’t mean that the left should be supporting the government and president Turchynov, but the left should all the more quickly be spreading propaganda against Russian fascism.
When the struggle was underway on the Maidan, when we were chasing out Yanukovych the majority of the left supported the people. We, the National Communist Front ourselves took part initiating actions across eastern Ukraine; we took part in storming the Dnipropetrovsk oblast administration; we blockaded the Kharkiv adsministration. Hundreds of socialists, left anarchists and communists joined with us across all of Ukraine in these actions.
Many on the Western left consider the European Union and NATO has caused the crisis in Ukraine. What do you think?
Its true that the pro-European stand of the Maidan contributed to some extent to its antagonism with the Donbas. But there is a nuance here: that the Maidan stood for association with the EU only up to the events on Hrushevsky Street on 19 December (when the first massive battle using Molotov cocktails against the police took place). Up to that point the Maidan resembled a concert with lots of EU flags, dancing, free biscuits and the occasional pushing and shoving with the police. After Hrushevsky everything changed: everyone finally forgot about the EU and concentrated their attention on Yanukovych’s resignation, the disbandment of the Berkut special force and early elections
The Donbas, however, finds itself – as I’ve already said – in Russia’s information space, and that is why the Donbas did not know about all these changes taking place on the Maidan and carried on thinking that people were dying on the Maidan for European tolerance and a visa-free regime (as they were being told on Russian television).
It was precisely that which turned the Donbas away from the Maidan, which itself won nothing from its association with the EU.
What do you think of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine?
Its clear that relations are hostile. These two states will remain hostile to each other for so long as Putin and his followers remain in power in Russia. Little depends in this from the Ukrainian side, whether it be anti-Russian or pro-Russian, because Russia will always have territorial pretensions and hatred for any manifestations of independence. That’s how it was under pro-Russian president Kuchma when in 2003 there was the conflict over Tuzla Island. That’s how it was under the pro-Russian president Yanukovych when the price of gas was raised all the same and Ukrainian exports (milk products) to Russia were prohibited without any good reason. Russia will always be the enemy of Ukraine for so long as it is an empire.
As for the peoples of Ukraine and Russia there will be manifestations of chauvinism between us until we destroy our bourgeois states which stoke up inter-national conflicts.
Do you think there is still a Ukrainian national question; for example is Ukraine a neo-colony today?
Of course, the national question of any people becomes current and is raised during any national crisis. That’s what is happening in Ukraine today. Today, either Ukrainians will remain a sovereign nation or they will be divided once again between the imperialist powers. Our aim as leftists is to bring to the people the message that the unity of the proletarians with the “national bourgeoisie” is NOT the Ukrainian national idea, that building a strong police state with a “national dictatorship” is not in the interests of the nation. To convey to the masses that that the Ukrainian national idea is the establishment of a republic in which the society, and not the elite, governs the society, and for this to happen a social revolution is needed. This is an indivisible part of the national idea, together with national sovereignty.
What do you think should be the response of the Ukrainian left to the current ituation?
The leftists are duty bound to stand for the unity of the Ukrainian proletariat and to oppose manifestations of Russian fascism in the Donbas. That is the principled position of the National Communist Front.
Do you think that the working class in Ukraine can develop a class struggle against the Oligarchs and overcome the current divisions?
This is unlikely in the event of a civil war. Some Ukrainian oligarchs have been behaving quite untypically for representatives of their own class by sponsoring a movement against separatists and terrorists. Individual powerful capitalists are gaining popularity and earning affection from all over. Of course, we are trying to explain that they are doing this not out of patriotism but in an attempt to rescue their capital from the terrorists and thieves. But we have only the Internet, while they have newspapers and the television.
How should socialists and communists in the West respond to Ukraine, how can we support Ukrainian workers?
There are many ways. Assistance in training for street fighting, and with funds…. And the readiness of the left in Europe to rise up for socialism in their own countries.
What is the social base of your movement?
The social base of the National Communist Front is mainly university and high school students and young skilled workers who are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs in Ukraine. Most of us have taken no part in any movements. However there are some former activists from nationalist parties who have voiced their dissatisfaction with the elitist, authoritarian and bourgeois views in the nationalist movement and have come over to us. Generally speaking, we are glad to see in our organisation all people who have thrown off their prejudices about national communism and are ready to work for the attainment of our aims.
What are your connections with state and non-state forces in Russia.
We don’t work and have never worked with any state institutions of Russia or of Ukraine. On the contrary, we seek like minded people, national communists in the milieu of community activists. Unfortunately, there are no national communist movements in Russia of the egalitarian and democratic kind which reject private ownership as well as state ownership and who are also not chauvinists. The unification of communist and nationalist ideas in Russia is limited largely to the national bolshevik movement, who bear no relationship to us and whom we classify as fascists.
However, we do have comrades in Russia. The closest to us ideologically and programmatically is the Socialist generation group, with whom we have established a joint co-ordination group, the National proletarian network, in the search for national communist organisations we can ally with.
In conclusion can you explain the position of your own organisation, why do you call yourself ‘National Communists’, as this is a term historians often use to describe the Ukrainian Marxist tradition?
We are national communists because we are at one and the same time left nationalists and anti-authoritarian communists.
We are nationalists because the main value for us is the nation, because we are fighting for the national liberation of the peoples of the world from imperialism and globalisation.
We are communists because our social and political ideal is communism – the classless and stateless society of free people.
At the same time we oppose chauvinist and bourgeois pseudo-nationalist theories, and we don’t lean towards the Soviet practice of building a state capitalist empire under the flag of communist ideas.
We are convinced that only in a free communist society can we gain independence for the Ukrainian nation and for other nations. We believe that only in a sovereign Ukrainian republic will we be able to consolidate the gains of the Social Revolution.
Our ancestors were of the same conviction – the national communists of the 1920s, the “national deviationists” as they were also called. A tendency toward such views existed among all fighters for Ukraine’s independence and amongst all honest internationalists and communists.
How is the Ukrainian Marxist tradition relevant today? Marxism is in itself relevant for so long as people are divided into oppressors and the oppressed. Ukrainian Marxism is distinguished by its currency in times of national crisis, enslavement and separation of Ukrainians by territorial or some other non-class attributes. That is why Marxism is very relevant today. We need only to pass this on to the working class.
The National Communist Front’s website is here: https://vk.com/nkfront