Workers Vanguard No. 1042
21 March 2014
In Wake of Fascist-Infested Ukraine Coup
U.S./EU Imperialist Frenzy as Crimea Rejoins Russia
MARCH 18—Crimea today officially rejoined Russia, as Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a reunification treaty with his Crimean counterpart. This came two days after Crimea voted by nearly 97 percent in favor of secession from Ukraine and absorption into Russia, with 83 percent of the electorate reportedly participating in the poll. Having earlier denounced the referendum as “illegitimate,” the Obama administration and its Western allies now refuse to recognize Crimea’s reunification with Russia. Washington has been joined by Germany and other European powers in imposing a new round of sanctions, including against Russian officials.
Meanwhile, within days of Fatherland party leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk being named Ukrainian prime minister, the millionaire banker was in Brussels on March 6 meeting with the secretary general of NATO. In a flagrant provocation against Russia, General Anders Fogh Rasmussen assured Yatsenyuk that NATO “will strengthen our efforts to build the capacity of the Ukrainian military, including with more joint training and exercises.”
Since then, President Barack Obama has sent fighter jets to Poland for joint exercises as well as to Lithuania for NATO patrols over the Baltic states. Following Russian military maneuvers on Ukraine’s eastern border, NATO announced regular flights over Poland and Romania. Washington also sent a navy destroyer to participate in military exercises with warships of NATO members Romania and Bulgaria, across the water from the Russian Black Sea naval base in Crimea. When Obama met with Yatsenyuk on March 12, he used the occasion to warn Russia that it would face “costs” because of its intervention in Crimea.
Tensions have been further whipped up by Washington’s client regime in Kiev, which took power last month in a right-wing coup spearheaded by fascists and supported by the U.S. and European Union (EU) imperialists. Most recently, two were killed Friday in the eastern city of Kharkiv as pro-Russia demonstrators clashed with fascists of the Right Sector, an alliance of paramilitary bands that was on the front lines of the street fighting that powered last month’s coup in Ukraine. The previous day, at least one person, a supporter of the coup, died in a similar clash in the eastern industrial city of Donetsk.
The referendum promises to undo a stupid administrative error by Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, who in 1954 presented Crimea as a “gift” to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic supposedly to mark the 300th anniversary of unification between Russia and Ukraine. No doubt the Stalinist regime viewed that heavy-handed act, which was contrary to the history as well as the national and linguistic make-up of Crimea, as a symbolic gesture: Crimea remained part of the Soviet Union and real power resided in Moscow. However, with the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state in 1991-92, Crimea’s mainly ethnic Russian population found itself part of a newly independent capitalist Ukraine.
Obama has been pontificating about Russia’s “violation” of international law—a “law” that never stopped U.S. imperialism from invading Iraq or any other country—while the Republicans have been engaging in considerable rocket rattling. Nonetheless, little enthusiasm is to be found for upping the ante in the Ukraine from the American populace, who are preoccupied by the U.S. rulers’ ongoing assaults on their well-being.
Since his ascension to power in late 1999, Putin has sought to strengthen Russia’s position as a regional power by developing its substantial reserves of fossil fuels, assuring control of supply routes for its gas and oil and refurbishing its military. For its part, U.S. imperialism has sought to expand its world domination in part by undercutting Russia’s ambitions, including through its sponsorship of pliant regimes in former republics of the USSR such as Georgia and the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. The interests of the world’s working class stand in opposition to the aspirations and machinations of both of these capitalist powers.
The truth, however, is concrete. It was the U.S. that fueled the fascist mobilizations in Kiev, thereby overturning a negotiated truce promoted by a number of EU countries with the prior Ukrainian government and instead installing a pro-Western regime on Russia’s borders. For its part, the media in the U.S. complied with its bourgeois masters, minimizing the fascist presence. Even when the New York Times acknowledged the fascist presence in the new Ukrainian government in a March 12 article, it dismissed the threat, asserting, “Who these men really are and what they stand for, outside the caricatures in the Russian media’s fun-house mirror, are not always clear.” Thus the leader of the fascist Right Sector outfit was allowed to proclaim without challenge in the article that his particular fascists are neither xenophobic nor anti-Jewish.
It hardly required in-depth investigative journalism to reveal the fascist credentials of many of those now in power in Kiev. Most prominent is Svoboda, a virulently anti-Jewish, anti-Russian, anti-Muslim and anti-Communist fascist party. Svoboda was initially named Social-National Party of Ukraine, an obvious reference to Hitler’s Nazi (National Socialist) party; its symbol was based on the Wolf’s Hook (Wolfsangel), which was used by the Waffen SS.
Svoboda derives from the Ukrainian nationalists led by Stepan Bandera, who militarily collaborated with the Nazis during World War II and carried out mass murders of Jews, Communists, Soviet soldiers and Poles. In 2011, Svoboda spokesman Yuri Michalchyshyn described the Holocaust as “a bright episode in European civilization” (quoted in Per Anders Rudling, “The Return of the Ukrainian Far Right: The Case of VO Svoboda” ). A statement posted on Svoboda’s Web site declared: “We need a Pinochet who will destroy the fifth column, build a ‘Ukraine for Ukrainians,’ and neutralize Yid power” (“Social-Nationalists in the Ukrainian Parliament,” Russian Politics and Law, September-October 2013).
Today, this cesspool of Nazi skinheads, soccer hooligans and other fascist scum holds a number of positions in the Ukrainian government, including deputy prime minister, prosecutor general and minister of defense. The deputy national security leader is the head of the Right Sector. Now those same fascist bands are to become the core of the country’s military as the new regime sets out to rebuild the armed forces “effectively from scratch,” mobilizing the fascist shock troops into a militia to be integrated into the Ukrainian armed forces.
Crimea Is Russian
As we made clear in “Ukraine Coup: Spearheaded by Fascists, Backed by U.S./EU Imperialists” (WV No. 1041, 7 March), we support the Russian intervention into Crimea so long as special rights for the overwhelmingly Muslim Tatar minority are implemented. In fact, on March 11 the Crimean Parliament passed a bill granting official language rights and proportional representation in its government to the Tatars, while pledging to provide funds for the repatriation of the Crimean Tatars expelled from the peninsula by Stalin in 1944. However, as we explained in that article, if Russia uses the intervention into Crimea to deepen the oppression of the Tatars it would be unprincipled for Marxists to support it.
It was perfectly reasonable for Crimea’s Russian-speaking population, which has chafed under the yoke of Ukrainian rule since the collapse of the Soviet Union, to be deeply alarmed by the coup in Ukraine and the rise of a new, Western-backed regime infested with anti-Russian fascists. Virtually the first act of the Ukrainian parliament was to proscribe the use of Russian as an official language, a proscription that has been subsequently vetoed by the president in deference to the U.S.’s effort to portray the coup as the epitome of “democracy.”
The Western imperialists and their media loudly howl about Russian “aggression” in Crimea. But reality has sabotaged the rhetoric. Putin’s intervention is essentially defensive, including to protect Russia’s Black Sea Fleet based in Sevastopol. The Russian “invasion” is a chimera and the intervention remains popular with the vast majority of the Crimean populace. The buildup to the referendum took place without serious incident. The legions of Western reporters dispatched to Crimea to uncover atrocities against the Tatar and other minorities there have little to show.
Our position on Russian forces in Crimea stems from the basic Leninist principle that the right of self-determination applies to the peoples of all nations, including those of great powers like Russia. The intervention of Russian troops into Crimea simply allowed the expression of self-determination for that region. There is no distinct “Crimean nation”; the majority of its population is actually Russian and has long sought—whether under the guise of independence or autonomy—greater ties to Russia, including reincorporation into the state. The referendum that the imperialists have decreed “illegal” merely codified the reality that Crimea is Russian. And even that simple codification would not have taken place if not for the presence of Russian troops. The vitriol of the Western imperialists against the Russian intervention is but a cynical cover for the oppressive politics of their Ukrainian quislings. It is belied by the inability of Crimea’s residents to even hold a referendum to express their will to separate from Ukraine until now.
In our last article, we noted that “in 1991, an attempt by local inhabitants to hold a referendum on Crimea’s independence was indefinitely banned by the Ukrainian authorities.” In fact, another attempt in 1992, which asked whether voters wanted Crimea returned to Russia, was also declared illegal by the Ukrainian government. Threats by Ukraine’s Parliament forced the Crimean Parliament to back down that August from its referendum on independence.
Pro-Russian Crimean forces attempted, yet again, to have another referendum in 1994, this time posing three questions focused on greater autonomy within Ukraine. Kiev once again intervened, first downgrading the referendum to a consultative vote and then banning it altogether. The vote went ahead anyway, with overwhelming support for autonomy, including nearly 83 percent of voters backing a provision allowing Crimean residents to hold dual citizenship (Russian as well as Ukrainian). The following year, as conflict between Ukraine and Crimea heated up, several Crimean parliamentary deputies threatened to hold a referendum on reunification with Russia. In response, the Ukrainian parliament annulled Crimea’s constitution, abolished its presidency, moved to disarm the presidential guard and began criminal proceedings against Crimea’s president at the time, Yuri Meshkov.
The 1996 Ukrainian constitution effectively abolished any possibility for Crimean self-determination, as it required a nationwide referendum to change the borders of Ukraine. There has been much ado in the Western media about the absence of a choice for the status quo on the ballot employed in the current referendum. The choices posed were federation with Russia or restoration of the 1992 Crimean constitution, which defined Crimea as an autonomous part of Ukraine. This constitution is portrayed by the Western media as assuring Russian control of Crimea. This is a lie. It merely allowed the residents of Crimea considerable freedom, including some ties with Russia. The difference between the choices on the ballot and the status quo is precisely between having the right to self-determination and having that right proscribed.
Our position on the Russian intervention into Crimea does not entail the slightest political support to Putin’s capitalist regime, which itself brutally oppresses national minorities, such as the Chechen population, within the borders of Russia. As we explained last issue, “In intervening into Crimea, Putin is seeking to defend the interests of capitalist Russia against the Western imperialists, who are aiming to establish a client state on his border. At the same time, in the context of increasing hostilities against ethnic Russians in Ukraine, Russia’s realpolitik military maneuvers intersect the very real national fears faced by Russians in Crimea.”
This is hardly the first time that a bourgeois regime has carried out a democratic reform—including as a response to popular pressure—for its own purposes. Marxists support democratic reforms beneficial to working people and the oppressed—not simply regarding national rights, but also other rights, such as abortion for women, democratic rights for gays, voting rights for black people in the U.S., etc. But we do so from the perspective of proletarian independence, maintaining political opposition to the bourgeois forces that may be forced by events to carry out such acts. To abandon support for such reforms under the guise that these provide a gilding to reactionary capitalist rule would be to abandon the possibility of mobilizing the working class in struggle for socialist revolution.
Thus, in advocating the right of self-determination—whether for Russians in Crimea or for the Chechen people, who are victims of Great Russian chauvinism—our aim is to get the national question off the agenda in order to foster unity of the proletariat across national lines. As Marxists, we oppose the poison of nationalism and fight for the class unity of the workers in fighting to overthrow all the bloody capitalist regimes of the region.
Running Dogs for
It is to be expected that the U.S. and European imperialists denounce the Russian intervention and the Crimean referendum. In this, they are joined by reformist leftists who march in lockstep behind their imperialist rulers as they vilify Russia as the greatest evil on earth today, just as these reformists did when the Western imperialists targeted Bosnia and Serbia in the 1990s.
A case in point is a March 4 statement by Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), whose sister group in the U.S. is Socialist Alternative. In the statement, the CWI graciously concedes that “the Crimea should have the right of self-determination, if it so desires,” while warning that “what is happening now will not lead to genuine self-determination; it will only mean that Crimea becomes a Russia protectorate.” Ergo, self-determination for the people of Crimea “will not be possible under capitalism, with its poverty, joblessness and exploitation and due to the competing elites playing the ‘divide and rule’ card. Only a workers’ government, replacing rotten capitalism with a society run in the interests of the working masses, can ensure the rights of all nationalities and minorities are protected.”
The logic of the CWI’s statement is made explicit by a March 2 statement by its sister group in Russia, which declares: “Russian Imperialism—Out of Crimea!” and “No Referendum in Crimea at gunpoint!” Likewise, a statement by the Russian Socialist Movement, associated with the United Secretariat (USec)—supported in the U.S. by Socialist Action—raises the call: “No Intervention by the Armies of Russia or Any Other Countries in the Affairs of Crimea!”
All this is little more than a left-sounding cover for the U.S./EU position that a vote for self-determination in Crimea is invalid because the U.S./EU imperialists say it is invalid. What the CWI eschews is exactly what is proscribed by the Western imperialist powers: the right of the people of the Crimea to vote to affiliate with Russia. For these social democrats, self-determination is valid only when it has the imprimatur of their rulers.
Certainly, these reformists did not fulminate about “gunpoints” during the 1999 U.S./NATO terror war against Serbia, carried out by the Democratic Clinton administration in the name of stopping “ethnic cleansing” in Kosovo. Much of the reformist left internationally beat the drums for “human rights” imperialism on behalf of “poor, little Kosovo,” with some even supporting direct imperialist intervention. The CWI raised the call, “Self-determination for Kosova!” even as bombs were falling on Serbia. The USec went even further, calling for military intervention into Kosovo by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe—a military bloc dominated by European powers—or the United Nations.
As Marxists, we have historically defended the right of self-determination of the Kosovo Albanians, including the right to form their own state or to integrate into a greater Albania. But in the buildup to and during the U.S./NATO war, the struggle for Kosovar self-determination had become subordinated to the need to stand for the military defense of Serbia against imperialist attack without giving any political support to the revanchist regime in Belgrade. NATO forces supplanted the Serbian army as the effective state power in Kosovo following the 1999 war, and sham “independence” was declared in 2008 as a diplomatic provocation, not least against Russia. To this day, the U.S. maintains Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo as the largest military base built by the U.S. in Europe since the Vietnam War. To promote the struggle for Kosovo’s independence amid the U.S./NATO onslaught against Serbia would have amounted to support to the imperialists’ predatory aims against that country.
In the case of Crimea today, there is no war to which the national question is subordinated. Contrary to the claims of the Western imperialists, their kept media and leftist hangers-on, the Russian intervention into Crimea is not an act of military aggression into a “foreign country.” But for these reformists, the reality is irrelevant. Simply put, they oppose the Crimean referendum for the same reason they supported Kosovar “independence” under the auspices of Western imperialism: they ape their imperialist masters.
For New October Revolutions!
The reformist left long ago made its peace with imperialism. This found its greatest expression when they lined up alongside the forces of counterrevolution in the Soviet Union. CWI members literally stood on the barricades of counterrevolution, joining Boris Yeltsin’s capitalist-restorationist forces when he grabbed power in August 1991. For its part, the USec supported every counterrevolutionary and nationalist movement in the USSR, including embracing the fascistic fringe of the Baltic nationalist movements, which sought capitalist restoration in the guise of “self-determination.”
In contrast, we Trotskyists fought for the unconditional military defense of the Soviet workers state against imperialism and counterrevolution. And we fought for this despite and against the misrule of the Stalinist bureaucratic caste that undermined the foundations of the workers state and opened the door to counterrevolution, not least by abandoning the Bolshevik struggle for international socialist revolution and adopting the lie of building “socialism in one country.” We fought for a working-class political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and replace it with a regime based on soviet democracy and revolutionary internationalism.
The liberating vision of the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky that led the 1917 October Revolution—which included the right of self-determination for all the peoples of the former tsarist empire—was grotesquely perverted by the Stalinist bureaucracy that consolidated political power beginning in 1923-24. This included the horrendous suffering faced by Crimea’s Tatars at the hands of Stalin, who forcibly deported the population from the region near the end of the Second World War. At the same time, the existence of a socialized economy with central planning provided the material basis to achieve full employment, medical care for all and other gains, which undercut the most virulent forms of bourgeois nationalism and anti-Semitism that are fueled by the discontents of capitalist society.
The destruction of the Soviet workers state brought untold miseries and horrors to the peoples of the first working-class republic. It has led to a sharp intensification of communalism and a proliferation of national hatreds, pitting working people against one another. Notwithstanding Russia’s occasional abilities to hamper U.S. imperialism’s ambition, gone is the USSR as a counterweight to U.S. imperialism as it rides roughshod over the peoples of the world. Proletarian class consciousness has been thrown back drastically, such that, for example, the working class of the land of the October Revolution no longer identifies socialism as its liberating ideal. The crucial task facing revolutionaries is to forge Bolshevik parties committed to the struggle against imperialism and all manifestations of nationalism, charting a course of independent working-class struggle leading to the fight for new October Revolutions.