The future of the left in Ukraine

This weekend (24-25 June) over 100 activists gathered from all over Ukraine, as well as from Russia and Moldova, to discuss the way forward for the left in Ukraine. The conference was organized by the editorial boards of the website (and its paper Protiv Techeniya, Against the stream) and the youth site and the youth organization Che Guevara.
The future of the left in UkraineThis weekend (24-25 June) over 100 activists gathered from all over Ukraine, as well as from Russia and Moldova, to discuss the way forward for the left in Ukraine. The conference was organized by the editorial boards of the website (and its paper Protiv Techeniya, Against the stream) and the youth site and the youth organization Che Guevara.

Vasilii Tereshchuk opened the first session, outlining the key facts leading to and resulting from the collapse of the USSR, which dominates the communist movement to this day. The objective situation is characterized by the consolidation of capitalism together with unprecedented levels of inequality. Closer ties with the world market have stimulated some sectors but thrown back others and increased Ukraine’s vulnerability to external shocks on the world market.

As a result of these processes diverse political and social organizations have sprung up, from the inert, official trade unions that are a direct continuation of the Soviet unions, which were official organs of the state apparatus, to small independent unions organized by worker activists, as well as political parties and theoretical groups. Vasilii referred here to the analogous situation in Russia, which includes a big, well-known Communist Party (CPRF) whose leaders collaborate with the manoeuvres of the ruling class, as well as unreformed Stalinist parties and artificial creations of the state used to split the communist movement into tiny groupings beyond the radar of mainstream politics.

The future of the left in UkraineSergey Kirichug developed the analysis of the changes in mood among the workers, who were and who remain largely passive despite a relatively stronger bargaining position in contrast to the 1990s which was a period of economic and social chaos. The conclusion is that only a new generation of activists, who look forward to world socialism rather than back to the USSR, which was ultimately destroyed by the parasitic bureaucracy, can build the movement from scratch.

Andriy Arkusha placed the conference in the context of previous attempts to build the left in Ukraine. The first attempt in 1991 saw bureaucrats try to turn the clock back by using the very methods of the Soviet apparatus that Yeltsin used to destroy the USSR. The second wave that crystallized around the communist banner was linked to mass street meetings where the general feeling was that it would be as easy to re-establish the USSR as it had been to break it up. The third wave fed into the growth of parliamentary parties which maintained the illusion that it would be possible for Communist Parties to travel down a parliamentary road back to socialism. But the falseness of this illusion has been demonstrated by Moldova – as Petr Ryabokov explained. In his country the CP won an absolute majority in parliament with 71 seats and is now carrying on with the same privatization policies.

The parliamentary cretinism of the CPU (and the CPRF) has been exposed during the previous period even without coming to power. In fact it is apparent precisely in the fact that the leadership did everything possible not to win elections in the first place. In 1999 the CPU candidate, Petr Simonenko, unofficially beat former president Leonid Kuchma but did not challenge the results. By contrast Viktor Yushchenko, the leader of the so-called “orange revolution” did challenge the results in the 2004 elections and, supported by the West, managed to squeeze out Viktor Yanukovich, the pro-Russian leader of the Party of Regions.

The future of the left in UkraineThe inability of the CPU to offer an alternative is even more glaring now that former allies in the “orange revolution” are busy discrediting each other and stabbing each other in the back in their efforts to form a government. The CPU’s internal party crisis was outlined later in more detail by Yelena Dikaya from Dneprodzerzhinsk. She criticized the leadership for not admitting its mistakes and changing course but choosing instead, in violation of party rules, to expel activists who organized the party at a rank and file level in the early 1990s as well as young comrades from its Komsomol (Young Communist League) who now form the nucleus of the Che Guevara group.

The decisive role of youth highlights the weakness of the organized left among the working class. Konstantin Lugovoy raised this point in the afternoon session when he asked if it was the correct time to found an organization given that the aim is to build a party of workers not a party for workers. At this point Aleksandr Budilo clarified the previous work of the All-Ukrainian Union of Workers (AUW). This was a left wing in the CPU with its own paper that was unable to transform the party under conditions of demoralization and passivity.

Another question posed by the weakness in the labour and trade union movement is the need to participate in social movements that have sprung up in Russia connected with neo-liberal reforms in the housing sector, education and health etc. Comrades Maria Kurzina and Ilya Budraitskis from the Vpered group outlined their experience in intervening in these movements in Moscow, and highlighted the need to put forward transitional demands that link such single issue campaigns with the task of carrying through the socialist transformation of society. The importance of such campaigns throughout the whole of the former Soviet Union was underlined by the fact that the experience of comrades in Moscow is now being replicated in Ukraine following recent counter-reforms as well as in Moldova.

Viktor Shapinov, an editor from and member of the Russian Communist Workers’ Party drew a laugh from the hall when he read out the speech of another comrade who was not able to attend, commenting that now he knew how difficult it was for Brezhnev to read out speeches that he had not written. On Sunday in chairing the discussion on the labour movement, which demonstrated that workers in the west of Ukraine face the same problems as workers in the east of the country, he attacked the poison of Russian chauvinism. A worker from Lvov, referring to the Bolshevik traditions of workers in that area before the Civil War, spoke about the oppression of the west of Ukraine following the Great Patriotic War (WW2). A member of the audience shouted out that the speaker should be kicked out of the hall, but was himself asked to leave by Shapinov following a vote.

Another indication of the serious attitude of the young comrades was apparent in the intervention of Marina Burik. She reported on the progress of two Marxist circles in Kiev, which read and discuss Marx’s Capital and discuss dialectical materialism. An important role in establishing these circles was played by Vasilii Pihorovich, who gave a short summary of the contribution of Soviet thinkers to dialectics, including that of Ivald Ilenkov, Mikhail Livshiz and Valerii Basenko whose works are not widely known in the West.

Alan Woods’ message read out

The future of the left in UkraineThe final subject discussed focused on international perspectives and the need for internationalism, which began with Olesya Ivashkievich, a young comrade who encouraged Russian-speaking comrades to learn Ukrainian for their everyday political activity, and other languages if possible in order to engage with the world communist movement.

The subject then turned to Cuba, with speakers referring to the picket of the American embassy in Vienna that supporters of the International Marxist Tendency in Austria jointly participated in, and the revolutionary events sweeping through Latin America. This followed on from the statement of Alan Woods (please see below) which was read out at the congress and stated our position as outlined many times on of unconditional opposition to the capitalist restoration in the USSR and calling for comrades to join in the work of Hands off Venezuela in order to ultimately defeat the forces of imperialism and capitalism.

Tom Rolling, the Moscow representative of the International Marxist Tendency and Hands off Venzuela, was also invited to speak and answered questions that were put to him regarding “the golden billion” and the perspective of the working class in the West to fighting against capitalism. The example of the severe contradictions of American capitalism served to answer the propaganda peddled in the former Soviet Union that workers in the West have been bought off, as the million strong demonstration in defence of the rights of immigrants illustrated recently.

This point was taken up by Zakhar Popovych, who explained how the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the re-integration of the former USSR into the world market and world division of labour forces workers in Ukraine and Russia to identify their interests with those of workers internationally. Finally Aleksandr Budilo put forward the perspective of the underlying contradictions facing US imperialism as the centre of world economic might shifts to the Pacific Rim, which is preparing the way for explosions in the class struggle both in China and America.

The most tangible result of the conference was the resolution passed calling for a steering committee to prepare a founding conference for a united organization of the Ukrainian left based on the ideas of Marxism, in contrast to various reformist and unreformed organizations that have exhausted their potential. The resolution stated that the immediate tasks of the future organization will include firstly, developing and spreading the ideas of Marxism in Ukraine, secondly intervening in every struggle possible to strengthen both the independent activity and confidence of the working class and the authority of the ideas of Marxism, and thirdly integrating the communist movement in Ukraine with the ongoing process of the world revolution that is beginning in Latin America today.

Delegates often positively referred to the lack of bureaucratic formalism on the part of the organizers, which contrasted with meetings of the CPU, and encouraged a stimulating and informative exchange of ideas and experience. This was reflected in the interest and discussion that the T-shirts, books and papers of the International Marxist Tendency attracted. A number of copies of the book Lenin and Trotsky: what they really stood for by Alan Woods and Ted Grant (in Russian) were sold, as well as Alan Woods’ book on the Venezuelan revolution (in English). Other stalls organized by Protiv Techeniya, Vpered, Controinfo and other groups were equally well received.

The way forward

The future of the left in UkraineIt is clear that a platform has been laid for further dialogue regarding the perspectives for the left in Ukraine and the former USSR. As well as deepening our analysis of the questions raised at the conference two other questions need to be studied further regarding our understanding of the state and the attitude of workers towards the mass organizations.

In order to understand the present situation in the Ukraine and Russia, it is first necessary to understand the contradictions in the development of the state in the Soviet period, from which the current state apparatus has its origins. It is necessary to understand the contradictions between the capitalist class, which is weak both in Russia and Ukraine, and the state apparatus, which is serving its own interests at the expense of the capitalist class even as it puts forward pro-capitalist policies. A clear understanding of this question is necessary in order to explain how a new October revolution, given the numerical growth of the working class and the higher technological base of today, will lead to healthy regimes of workers’ control over the state and economy rather than a return to the Stalinist caricature of building socialism in one country.

The CPRF and the CPU both have their roots in the Stalinist past. The leaders of these parties have shown their complete inability to fight capitalism and to give a lead to the working class and the youth. A view expressed by many at the conference was that these parties are nothing more than patriotic parties with the only difference that they look backwards to the USSR as their idealized state rather than a particular country. The repulsive nationalism of the CPRF leaders was once more demonstrated in Moscow on May Day, when reactionary nationalist groups were allowed to join the demonstration with banners of the Orthodox Church and fascist slogans. This is a complete abandonment of Lenin’s internationalism and a betrayal of the working class. Along this road no future is possible. 

The comrades who spoke at the Kiev conference correctly pointed out that the so-called “communist” parties have a reactionary leadership and a membership with no experience of initiative and independent class activity. But is it correct to blame the passivity of the working class for the crimes of the leadership? Rather it is true that the lack of a genuine Communist leadership is responsible for the apathetic attitude of the workers, who are bitterly discontented with the present situation but see no real alternative. This is the decisive fact of politics, not just in the Ukraine but in every other country internationally.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, the restoration of capitalism and the liquidation of the last remnants of the October Revolution had a demoralizing and disorienting effect on the working class. Is it not surprising that there is a certain passivity when workers and youth are still taking stock of the catastrophe brought about by the collapse of the USSR. But the main problem is the crisis of leadership of the proletariat. This is both the result and the cause of the ebb in the class struggle, which exists temporarily in the Ukraine and in Russia. But this cannot last forever. New forces are being formed and steeled under difficult conditions. The conference in Kiev is a clear indication that a new layer of class fighters is gradually being formed who are struggling to find a road to the ideas and banner of Bolshevism-Leninism.

The masses do not understand small organizations. The material force of a mass base is a more powerful argument than the correct ideas since without a mass base even the best ideas will not change society. The experience of speakers who referred to the disappointing response of workers when they sold Marxist newspapers and trade union bulletins publicly illustrates that workers are reluctant to look towards small groups for leadership even if their programme is 100% correct. Therefore, despite everything, parties like the CPU and CPRF continue to exist, despite the bankruptcy of the leaders and their programme.

The future of the left in UkraineThe key to building a serious revolutionary organization is, in the first place, clarity of ideas and perspectives. In a country where democracy is a dirty word, the mainstream political parties that engage in purely parliamentary politics cannot attract the best of the youth and the militant workers. Under difficult conditions, the revolutionary youth are beginning to regroup, criticize, discuss and re-evaluate the past. This is the only way to advance!

Despite appearances, the situation in both the Ukraine and Russia are not stable or fixed for all time. Contradiction is piled upon contradiction. Explosions are being prepared. The so-called “orange revolution” was only a symptom of the colossal discontent that is being accumulated beneath the surface of society. The masses are trying to find a way out of the crisis on the revolutionary road. A shift to the left in society is inevitable on the basis of the experience of capitalism. We will see a new growth in the confidence of the working class and its organization. On this basis it will be possible to transform small propaganda groups into mass organisations. The key to future developments is the development of the forces of Marxism now, to win and educate the cadres in preparation for the great events that impend. The conference this weekend has played a significant role in facilitating this.

Message of Alan Woods to the Kiev Left Conference

Dear Comrades,
In the name of the International Marxist Tendency and the Hands off Venezuela Campaign, I send warm comradely greetings to you. I consider your meeting to be an excellent initiative. It is absolutely necessary to establish a dialogue between all the
revolutionary forces in the world, as a prior condition for unity in action against
imperialism and capitalism.

The fall of the Soviet Union has transformed the situation on a world scale. US
imperialism strives to consolidate its world domination under the guiise of a new world
order. They have invaded Iraq and are shamelessly bullying Cuba and Iran. Above all, they seek to overthrow the government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, which they correctly see as a threat to their interests in Latin America.

The struggle against imperialism, and in the first place, US imperialism, is the first
duty of all revolutionaries in the world. However, as Lenin explained many times, the
struggle against imperialism must be conducted on revolutionary lines, as part of the
class struggle of the world proletariat for its emancipation. The struggle against
imperialism without the struggle against capitalism would be just an empty phrase.

In Venezuela, it is impossible to defeat the counterrevolution without expropriating the
Venezuelan landlords and capitalists who are the local agents of imperilaism. Likewise,
the only way to save the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutions is by spreading the socialist revolution throughout all of Latin America at least. This was the idea of Che Guevara, for which he sacrificed his life.

Now the conditions for the victory of the socialist revolution in Latin America are
immeasurably more favourable than in 1967. The workers and peasants are on the move in Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil. What is required is a revolutionary party and leadership. But this still has to be built.

Comrades! The restoration of capitalism in Russia and the Ukraine and the disintegration of the USSR has brought nothing but misery, hunger and wars to the peoples. This catastrophe was prepared by the crimes of Stalinism and the bureaucratic caricature that was falsely presented to the world as "real socialism". We firmly believe that the future of mankind lies with world socialism. We stand for the genuine ideas, programme and principles of Lenin, the Bolshevik Party and the October Revolution. These ideas are more necessary than ever. But the first condition for reviving the genuine heritage of Bolshevism is to break radically with the Stalinist past.

The Internationalist Marxist Tendency, based firmly on the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin
and Trotsky, stands for the opening of a comradely dialogue between all those who are fighting for socialism. Our tendency is actively intervening in the Venezuelan
revolution, not as commentators but as participants in the front line of the
revolutionary movement. Through Hands off Venezuela, which is active in more than 40
countries, we are participating in the construction of a broad anti-imperilalist front,
while simultaneously fighting for socialism.

We invite you to join us in building Hands off Venezuela, and also to participate in a
debate about the future of the communist movement internationally. We have nothing to lose by this and everything to gain.

Finally, I wish you every success in the work of this important conference.

Long live revolutionary Marxism!
Long live the socialist world revolution!
Workers of the world unite!

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