On 13th June in Kyiv, the founding conference of a new Ukrainian left party, Social Movement, took place. The consolidation of the participants in the ‘Social Maidan’ has caused uproar among different forces. Here we publish a collection of interviews with activists of the new party which was conducted by the Russian Socialist Movement. This is part 1 of the interviews – part 2 with an interview with Fyodor Ustinov will appear shortly.
Translation by Valerie Graham and Jake Lagnado.
‘SOCIAL MOVEMENT’ – A NEW BROAD LEFT PARTY IN TO COUNTER “THE UKRAINIAN VERSION OF PUTINISM.”
What groups and activists make up the new party ‘Social Movement?
Andriy Ischenko (trade union militant, Odessa)
At the founding congress of the party, there were delegates from five big Ukrainian cities, Kyiv, Odessa. Dniepropetrovsk, Cherkassy and Krivyi Rih. This was a technical congress to deal with the formalities of the Ministry of Justice and start the process of registering the party. In fact we have militants and groups of sympathisers in all the big cities in the country.
Since the congress there’s been a great deal of interest in the party and every day the interest grows and we get more people joining us.
The party is made up of people with different points of view, from moderate social democrats to radical Marxists. Among them are militants from left groups, human rights defenders, trade union militants, miners, scientists, journalists and many, many more. We’re pleased that at the base of the party are the important trade unions which have for some time been spreading the idea of getting political representation. Our combative, independent trade union, Defence of Labour, (Zahist Pratsy) joined in the process of unification, a whole galaxy of important union militants from Kryvyi Rih, Kyiv and other regions of Ukraine.
It’s enough just to the mention the names of some of the people at the core of the party to understand the variety of people at its base and the kind of differences we are managing to solve on the difficult path of uniting the Ukrainian left…. Volodymyr Chimerys, Zakhar Popovich,, Volodymir Ischenko, Vitaly Dudin, Andriy Repa, Nina Potarskaya, Denis Pilash, Oleh Vernik, Artiom Tydva, Evgeni Derkach, Oleksandr Krauchuk , Andriy Voliansky, Taras Salamaniuk, Andriy Ischenko and many more important militants. We contemplate the future with guarded optimism. We will work with determination – we’ll get results. The ideas, efforts and energy of so many people cannot disappear into nothing.
In Ukraine at present are there social groups among those supporting the “new left”?
Andriy Repa (Left militant, Cherkassy)
The new left can’t just sit back and rely on one social group or another – that would be very comfortable but it lacks perspectives. We have to find gaps, openings, hollows, cracks, every kind of point of conflict which appears within the capitalist system. That’s the place where the left must be present in society, as part of the social conflict.
From within this conflict we must create alliances. It may be the workers’ everyday struggles, student strikes, civil society meetings, art exhibitions, anything that might shatter the system of profiteering and oppression. But the main means of struggle has not changed since the days of Marx. It is the class struggle between labour and capital. The focus of this central antagonism in our society are not necessarily the most numerous or the most “decadent” groups, but the revolutionary workers and progressive students. In short you can say that as in May 1968 we need an alliance of the working class and intellectuals.
Oleksandr Ladynenko (union activist, Odessa):
In Ukraine today it is hard to find a social group not interested in a broad left party. And the range of these groups is vast: from the unemployed and retired to the lower layers of the petty bourgeoisie. Our largest base is the thousands of persons in paid work.
You have to understand that the main enemy of the political left and our social base is big capital and oligarchs, foreign transnational companies, corrupt people of all kinds and other parasites. Currently our party has a moderate programme of reforms whose necessity is recognised at virtually every level of society. And everything depends on whether we can convince civil society of the need for direct struggle for these reforms. Then in the struggle, with the trust of the masses, we can talk about a new programme of a truly revolutionary transformation of society. The task of the revolutionary wing of the party will be to develop this programme, because another revolutionary situation in our country can arise pretty fast.
– How do you see the interaction of the party and the unions? Who needs the other most: the unions or the party?
Evgeni Derkazh (union activist, Dniepropetrovsk):
The unions need the party more, because the party will not be self-sufficient without the support of real groups of workers and their unions. Without the unions the party will be left hanging in the air and over time will become just another self-promoting project. The party is a collective tool and union members know how to think and act collectively, as opposed to the most theoretically correct individuals.
– What allows you to call the new party “broad left”?
A broad left party is not just an organisation with the presence of a wide range of different left currents, such as Trotskyists, anarchists, communist left, social democrats and etc. The broad left is when the party of a new type uses a wide range of methods of struggle and combines them in different ways. When we alternate our methods, using them separately and in different combinations of both an offensive and defensive type, then we can say that a broad left party has been created.
– The constitution of the party was accompanied by much discussion. The main issue was no doubt discussed – the war, the self-proclaimed republics, opinions about Maidan and the new political regime in Ukraine, and methods of overcoming the current crisis. What, in brief, is the party’s position on these issues?
Vitaly Dudin (social activist, Kyiv):
Opinions on Maidan and the war in the east of the country differ a lot, so I’m just expressing some criteria that I, as a leftist militant, mentioned during the protests in Maidan and in the course of subsequent events.
At first Maidan put forward democratic demands supported by all the left. At the same time we noted that without social demands Maidan could not win. “The cause of most problems, in our opinion, is the oligarch system which arose from the uncontrolled development of capitalism and corruption, – said the preamble to the leaflet of the “Left Opposition” entitled “10 points” in December 2013. “We consider it harmful to appeal to the general slogans on Euro-integration – instead the changes which would benefit the people and especially waged workers need to be clearly set out”. Maidan had won a tactical victory in removing Yanukovich and making the change to a presidential/parliamentary republic. At the same time the job of improving the life of society was not achieved since that was not the aim. The main result is that Maidan awakened society’s desire to influence social processes.
The war started because of Russia’s intervention, but its causes lie in the Ukraine. The so-called “militias” are agents of Russian imperialism, and worst of all they include Ukrainian citizens. Because of the way they have obtained and exercised power, the “people’s republics” are really “juntas”. The LNR and DNR are artificial formations supported by Moscow and they repeat Russia’s worst authoritarian tendencies. So even in an illegal setup there are attempts to pass resolutions that limit rights and freedoms.
At the same time the inhabitants of East and West Ukraine perceived negatively the prospect of reorganizing the country in line with the ideas of the Ukrainian nationalists (and Russian television had hyped up the influence of the Ukrainian right on the powers-that-be after Maidan). The situation of total impoverishment, due also to the administration of Victor Yanukovich, did a lot to foster the idea that the the people’s lot could be improved by getting closer to Russia.
The war has to be stopped following negotiations, and we have to rebuild Donbass together. The East has to be reintegrated after making radical social reforms, taking power from the oligarchs, cancelling the foreign debt, and managing the economy under the control of society. Right now our society is divided, so the war will continue to the benefit of both the Ukrainian and Russian ruling classes. But Moscow imperialism won’t be able to do anything after the social liberation of Ukraine.
Yes, in the constituent committee and within the party there are constant debates on these and other important issues. They are very complicated and sensitive issues. There are several approaches and discussions we try to pass common denominator. I think while the different sections and platforms of the broad left party might have some different opinions, we also have points of contact. Now the party is working on the approval of the details of its programme and electronic voting by each of its of its parts.
Here I can express my own opinion. I think the events of the years 2013-2014 in Ukraine is a classic revolutionary situation that did not become a revolution but was aborted by the ruling class of the country with the direct support of the imperialism of the most reactionary layers of Ukrainian society, the Russian and Ukrainian nationalists. At this stage it was a great help to the imperialists that in Ukraine (unlike Ireland or the Basque Country) there is no tradition of social or revolutionary-liberation nationalism. The vast majority of nationalists or groups profess ideas close to Nazism or hold pro-oligarchs, bourgeois positions.
The war in Ukraine is the natural result of over ten years of activity by sections of the international and Ukrainian bourgeoisie. They artificially created and maintained all kinds of prejudices among the masses in order to guarantee the support of workers, small entrepreneurs, farmers and other kinds of workers. They were dividing the Ukraine so as to win votes in their electoral heartlands. They were dividing people so as to govern and get rich. And from the outside they were helped in that by the imperialists of the United States, European Union and Russian Federation. They manipulated and encouraged regional contradictions to bring to power whichever clan of Ukrainian oligarchs they were friends with. They are the international imperialist forces that together with the Ukrainian capitalists and their servants are responsible for instigating the current slaughter. This instigation of contradictions in the struggle for power, trade, spheres of influence has brought the Ukraine to the edge of a catastrophe.
None of the parties to the conflict are interested in disrupting military operations. And those who started the war will not let it take its own course. Neither American, nor Russian, nor European imperialism are interested in disrupting the slaughter for which each of them is responsible along with the whole range of oligarchs and nationalists who are their puppets in Ukraine. It is cruel and overwhelming. But the war in Ukraine will continue. And people will die.
Can other forces stop the catastrophe? They can! How? ¿Invocations? Negotiations? ¿Roundtables? Conferences? Declarations? No! Only with active action to bring down their own governments who are responsible for the slaughter in Ukraine. The Ukrainian left has mostly adopted this position against the government, against the oligarchs. But that is not enough. It is time for our brothers and sisters in the US, Russia and Europe to do the same. We hope they take an active anti-militarist position. And that does not mean peaceful abstractions and dreams, but radical pressure on their governments. A truly anti-war attitude on the left would mean fighting its own imperialist governments.
So far there are no other paths of struggle for peace in Ukraine. Only the struggle to remove from power the pro-war governments in Kyiv and Moscow, Brussels and Washington. Therein lies the essence of the struggle of the left for peace: overthrowing their own pro-war governments. Whoever doesn’t understand that, understands nothing.
The military conflict in Donbass will remain a permanent latent conflict. It has fulfilled the objectives of those who planned it in an effective way, and continues to do so. Russia and its ruling class have managed to create military-patriotic hysteria, creating an image of the enemy within Russia to silence those oppose the policy of neoliberal reforms, distracting attention from the occupation and annexation of Crimea, and finding a means of keeping Ukraine in the sphere of its own imperialist interests.
Ukraine and its ruling class have managed to create military-patriotic hysteria, creating an image of the enemy within to silence those oppose the policy of neoliberal reforms, keeping the population in a state of constant fear, carrying out its “shock therapy” and diverting attention from its misanthropic economic policy, freeing itself from budgeting for the “extra mouths” in the provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk.
Together they have achieved their main goal: to abort the revolutionary situation in Ukraine which threatened the Russian and Ukrainian elite with turning into a revolution. If there is the slightest danger to the ruling classes, the slightest chance of their being overthrown, then the conflict in Donbass will be artificially revived and then, when the threat disappears, switched off again through international agreements, again and again. The revolutionaries of the future must be aware of this tactic which the ruling classes use and will continue using, if they are to find an effective means of countering it.. And they can only be assisted by uniting workers in different regions of Ukraine in the social struggle for true reforms.
And I believe that the current regime in Kiev differs little from similar regimes in Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Turkey. I think the Ukrainian version of “Putinism” differs from its Russian counterpart only in its greater dependence on the imperialist centres, less autonomy, and in that Ukraine is actually a semi-colonial country, not a weak imperialist state with its own regional ambitions.
Overcoming the crisis in Ukraine is part of the international workers struggle, of class struggle and class solidarity. The only solution lies in a true revolution that can solve the contradictions of peripheral capitalism in the post-Soviet world.