A SYMPOSIUM OF UKRAINIAN SOCIALISTS AND TRADE UNIONISTS
On 16th December 2015, the District Administrative Court of Kyiv agreed to the request of the Minister of Justice to ban the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) from being able to officially operate or participate in elections. The move has been condemned by Amnesty International and the ‘Law on the Condemnation of the Communist and Nazi Regimes and Prohibition of Propaganda of their Symbols’, which preceded the judgement has itself been condemned by European constitutional law experts from the Council of Europe, who say that it does not meet European standards. The much respected Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has also questioned the actions against KPU.
Ukraine Solidarity Campaign asked a number of Ukrainian socialists and trade unionists their views on the ban. As can be seen below there are strongly divided opinions as regards the judgement and its consequences. One reason for this is not only the bitter legacy of Stalinism but the cynical role of the KPU in the corrupt politics of Ukraine dominated by rival oligarchs. The politics of KPU are largely unknown in the West and easily considered as similar to the Communist Party of Britain or France. However the nearest equivalent would be if the CPB were allied to the Tories and had views similar to UKiP. The KPU leader Petro Symonenko was notorious for living I a mansion in Kyiv on land worth $1.5 million, whilst multi-millionaire Oksana Kaletnik was a member of the KPU group in the Parliament. A good example KPU conservative and chauvinist opinions is an article published in Party journal Kommunist comparing the Maidan rebellion to Black ghettos in the USA entitled “white on the outside, black on the inside”:
Huge piles of garbage, all kinds of infections and diseases previously unknown to medicine, is a feature of life on these reservations. Their inhabitants do not work anywhere and only receive money because they wander aimlessly in the streets. They motivate their refusal to work by the fact that they are no longer slaves. Over there, in America, there are graffiti of Martin Luther King. Here at home, the portraits of Tymoshenko and Bandera. Here and there, they are dressed in what kindly souls have given them. Here, as on the other side of the ocean, this mess has the charming name of ‘democracy.’ But in this case we no longer have democracy. At least in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco the police sometimes make raids on such places and simply kill a few rabid Negroes. (…) Even the dark-skinned vendors in Kyiv second hand shops seem a bit more civilized than our ‘light-skinned brothers’ from the western regions of the country, who have gathered on the Maidan. ‘White’ on the outside, but ‘black’ on the inside. (M. Kuzmienko, ‘Bielye’ snaruzhi, ‘chornye’ vnutri’, Kommunist, 17 January, 2014).
It is difficult to imagine such an article appearing in the Morning Star for example, though it would certainly help our movement understand the complexities of Ukraine if it did publish what the KPU have actually been saying and doing. Nevertheless whilst standing up for democratic rights in Ukraine we have a duty to understand the complexities of politics in a country scarred by the bloody years of Stalinism.
The comrades below were all asked about the recent court judgement and what this means for democratic rights in Ukraine? Is it a danger for working class organisation? What is the nature of the politics of the KPU? What does this mean for Ukrainian left organisations?
Vitaliy Dudin is part of the Organising Committee of the new left party ‘Social Movement’; he is also a leading trade union lawyer.
I think it is a shame for Ukraine. Our state does not have any reason to ban any ideological party. They should protect society against extremists. KPU are not extremists’, but the armed nationalists are (Right Sector, Svoboda, c14). Our state shows that it cannot guarantee the key democratic right – the protection of the minority.
We do not have any strong political left organisations’, that is why this precedent cannot be of any harm for them. I don’t know any real trade union or left organisation which collaborated with KPU so I do not see any danger for anyone else. But we should understand that this can provoke a new wave of conflict inside Ukraine. The struggle around history it is a good background for neo-liberal reforms.
KPU line is no more radical then the Oppositional bloc. Plus they are homophobes like Svoboda [A far-right Party]. But even in this case they can be called an opposition.
The neo-liberal establishment has defeated all of its enemies – both real and virtual. Now we should show that it cannot save Ukraine from crisis. We will continue to build a real revolutionary party despite any reactionary steps of the authorities.
I hope that KPU will continue to work in the conservative format of the ‘New State’ name – that is the rebranding of the KPU which the Party used for the last local elections in Ukraine. It seems very clear then that that their propaganda was rather conservative (homophobic) but not leftist. It is not a reformist left party – it is closer to a mix of social populism and pro-Russian conservatism.
Artem Klymenko is a socialist activist in Poltava, part of the Marxist initiative ‘Flame’.
At first, the Communist Party was the left wing (brace) of the oligarchic pro-Russian Yanukovych regime. That is a bourgeois populist party that stands for the ideology of Stalinism, and “Soviet patriotism” (speculating on the return to the stability of the USSR, declaring that the socialist system existed then).
Petro Symonenko [First Secretary of the Central Committee of the KPU] and his closest associates are corrupt bourgeois politicians. They opposed European integration, supported the alliance with Putin’s Russia, sharply condemned the Maidan events, calling them a putsch of the far right (nationalist uprising that was sponsored by the USA). KPU also expressed its support to President Nazarbayev, [of Kazakhstan] who ordered the shooting of the insurgent workers in Zhanaozen in 2011. KPU are only called communists, which has caused a large part of Ukrainians to view the word communism with disgust.
In my opinion, among ordinary party members there were honest decent people, but most of them have lost any hope in the possibility of positive change in the political course of the Communist Party.
The ban of the party, I think, has not any significant (negative) consequences for us. It gives a real chance to rehabilitate the name Communists (Communist Party) for the Ukrainian working class (Ukrainian workers), though it will not be that easy.
De-communisation has many negative consequences, because it is a part of the anti-democratic policies. As for the ban of the Communist Party, it is not the worst thing.
Denis Gorbach, an anarchist from Kyiv, who previously helped co-found the Autonomous Workers’ Union.
First of all, it should be clear what sort of party KPU is – or was. Far from the idealised image it has among some Western Europeans, it is a conservative nationalist party which uses cultural fetishes (including Stalinist imagery and social conservatism) and economic populism as its tools in electoral politics.
Political capital obtained in this way was routinely transformed into very real material gains: KPU was able to sell their votes in the parliament, and under Yanukovych they even had some governmental posts which yielded enormous illegal income to their holders. For example, Igor Kaletnyk, son of a former regional governor and pro-governmental MP, was a member of KPU; in 2010-2012 he was the head of the Customs Office, later he became the first deputy speaker of the parliament.
Opponents of KPU often cite their Stalinist ideology, but in fact they cannot even be called Stalinists – unlike real committed Stalinist parties like the Greek KKE, the KPU was a regular bourgeois right populist party, a local analogue of UKIP or French Front National. Not only was it a nationalist party allied with the Orthodox church and drawing heavily on a conservative agenda, but it has also supported the massacre of the striking Kazakh workers in Zhanaozen on 16 December 2011: the party newspaper published an article in which it condemned “the revolt of the well-fed” which had been undermining precious political stability in Kazakhstan. In 2014, it also did not hesitate to support the changes to the Ukrainian Criminal Code which would criminalise the “inciting of social discord” – along with a number of other laws limiting the freedom of assembly and speech and introducing online censorship.
Genuine leftist organizations of Ukraine, despite all their differences on other subjects, have been always united in their attitude towards KPU, the very existence of which served to constantly discredit socialist ideas. Some of them actually hope that the ban of KPU will now clear the path for truly socialist political forces. But there is a lot to be done before these hopes will become realistic.
Today, anti-communist mood is prevalent in Ukrainian society, and the situation has been made far worse by the conflict with Russia. Too often “communist” is understood as “pro-Russian” – just as in Croatia after the war, to be socialist meant to be pro-Serb. Thus, there is no easy future for the Ukrainian left: they have to combat the nationalist stereotypes which KPU helped to create.
Volodymyr Sotnyk is a leading activist of the Free Trade Union of Railway Workers of Ukraine (VPZU) in Kyiv.
To my mind, the fact of banning KPU does not have a negative impact on democratic rights in Ukraine. KPU is a fragment of the KPSS (Communist Party of Soviet Union). KPSS controlled all aspects of life (information policy, manufacture, military activity, culture, agriculture etc.). It’s totalitarian political system was aimed at enslaving people. For the sake of keeping power, KPSS party leaders enforced mass repressions of ‘counter-revolutionaries’ among whom were intelligentsia, peasants and workers. (The number of KPSS victims in the USSR reached twenty million people.
KPU was a populist left-wing party; it never really struggled for the rights of workers. Its electorate was predominantly descendants of KPSS party leaders, descendants of those who lived through good connections until 1990 and people with limited access to information who idolise Stalin, Lenin and want a return to the USSR.
KPU did nothing significant for the Ukrainian people. In the Verkhovna Rada [Parliament] of Ukraine its members supported all anti-democratic and anti-European draft laws for stopping Ukraine’s development and the increasing of corruption.
I have nothing against left-wing parties, but KPU was just a populist party that propagandised Soviet Union ideals and has nothing in common with left-wing parties.
De-facto the working class has never been protected by KPU. Now the place for a real left party is vacant.