Workers Vanguard No. 1048
13 June 2014
Reformist Left: Shills for U.S./EU Imperialists Over Ukraine
Throughout the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, the International Communist League and its sections have stood staunchly against the machinations of the U.S. imperialists and their counterparts in the European Union (EU). Not so the vast bulk of reformist groups across Europe, as well as in the U.S., which have in one way or another lined up in support of the “democratic” imperialist powers.
The U.S. and European states helped instigate and inflame the turmoil in Ukraine that began with the outbreak of the Maidan protests last November after then-president Victor Yanukovich rejected “partnership” with the EU. Throwing money and publicity behind the protests, Washington in particular was central to the formation of the new government that was installed with the February 22 coup. For the U.S./EU imperialists, the aim has been to establish a client state on the border of capitalist Russia, which under the rule of strongman Vladimir Putin has increasingly become a thorn in their sides as well as a political rival.
We warned from the outset about the presence among the Maidan protesters of a significant fascist element, centered on the Svoboda party, which derives from the Ukrainian nationalists led by Stepan Bandera, whose forces committed mass murders of Jews and Poles in collaboration with the Nazis during World War II. After the war, the Banderaites worked with Western intelligence against the Soviet Union. The coup that ousted Yanukovich was spearheaded by fascists and supported by the U.S. and EU. Among the first actions of the new parliament was to abolish the official status of Russian and other minority languages, a measure that the interim president vetoed under pressure to give the coup a “democratic” veneer.
The establishment of a right-wing Ukrainian-nationalist regime in Kiev alarmed the Russian-speaking population of eastern and southern Ukraine. Faced with the prospect of the further extension of the NATO military alliance to its very doorstep, capitalist Russia moved quickly to bolster its troop levels in Crimea to secure its national interests there, particularly its strategic Black Sea Fleet based in Sevastopol. The ICL supported this intervention based on our support of the democratic right of Crimea’s ethnic Russian population to self-determination. In opposition to the imperialist lie that Russia was intervening into a foreign country, we pointed out the fact that “Crimea is Russian,” including its historical adhesion to Russia, and explained:
“The people of Crimea have every right to self-determination, including independence or incorporation into Russia. In the present juncture, exercising that right might well depend on the support of Russian forces. Indeed, it was the new Crimean government that requested Russian intervention.”
—“Ukraine Coup: Spearheaded by Fascists, Backed by U.S./EU Imperialists,” WV No. 1041,
The validity of our position was underlined by the massive vote in favor of rejoining Russia in the subsequent Crimean referendum.
Our defense of the Russian intervention did not and does not imply any political support to the Putin regime, a capitalist government based on Great Russian chauvinism. We opposed Russia’s murderous 1994 and 1999 invasions of Chechnya, a country in the Caucasus whose population is overwhelmingly Muslim, and call for that country’s independence. During the 2008 war between Russia and U.S.-backed Georgia, we were revolutionary defeatist on both sides: the class interests of the workers of Georgia and Russia lay in a struggle to overthrow their respective capitalist rulers through socialist revolution. We also champion the rights of the Tatar and other oppressed minorities in Crimea and elsewhere in Russia.
After Crimea rejoined Russia, the Kiev regime launched an ongoing campaign against insurgent forces in the east. Hundreds have already been killed in the Ukrainian military’s bloody crackdown. On May 2, a fascist-led mob firebombed a trade-union building in the southern city of Odessa, massacring more than 40 anti-government protesters. Behind the repression lies the hand of the Kiev regime’s patrons—the U.S. and EU imperialists. While Washington and (to a lesser extent) the EU are implementing sanctions against associates of Putin for “intervening,” the CIA and FBI are busy advising Kiev how best to suppress the separatists. We oppose the imperialists’ sanctions against Russia and their military provocations in the region.
Spurred on by the repression unleashed by Kiev, insurgents in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk held May 11 referendums in which the overwhelming vote was for “self rule.” We defended the right of the people there to conduct the referendum and to act on the result of the vote, which could entail a push for a federated Ukraine, independence or unification with Russia. Upholding the democratic rights of all nationalities is crucial to our goal of forging the revolutionary unity of the proletariat across national, ethnic and communal lines. An urgently needed expression of such working-class unity would be the formation of multi-ethnic, non-sectarian workers militias to crush the fascists, who represent a threat to all workers and minorities in Ukraine. This perspective requires steadfast opposition to the schemes of the imperialist powers.
The situation in Ukraine is a result of the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, the world’s first workers state, in 1991-92. The imperialist-spearheaded counterrevolution led to economic collapse and the bloody resurgence of national antagonisms, unleashing untold misery on the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and the other former Soviet Republics. To the best of our ability and resources, the ICL fought to defend the USSR against capitalist restoration and for workers political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy, whose politics fatally undermined the gains of the 1917 October Revolution.
The imperialists’ mouthpieces in the bourgeois media are warning of a “new cold war” between the West and Russia. This characterization disappears the class line that existed between the U.S. and its West European allies on the one hand and the Soviet degenerated workers state and the deformed workers states of East Europe on the other. The current regime in Russia represents the very capitalist class that the imperialists fought tooth and nail to restore to power throughout the Cold War. After capitalist restoration, the oligarchs enriched themselves by looting the former state-owned industries.
In contrast to the ICL’s proletarian internationalist perspective, most reformist groups in the U.S. and West Europe have effectively lined up with their capitalist rulers, retailing lies about “Russian aggression.” In the U.S., the International Socialist Organization (ISO) hailed the Maidan mobilizations as “action from below” even while admitting the role of the fascists. And when the White House railed at Russia’s reincorporation of Crimea, the ISO and Socialist Alternative/Committee for a Workers’ International chimed in with cries of “Russian imperialism.”
In Britain, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), leading section of the tendency founded by Tony Cliff, saves the bulk of its outrage for Russia, notwithstanding some limited criticisms of the U.S. and EU. A Socialist Worker (March 3) article by SWP honcho Alex Callinicos lectured: “Russia’s seizure of military control over Crimea has brought Ukraine to the brink of war.” Callinicos whitewashed the role of the fascists in the Kiev coup, offering that “those who claim Yanukovych’s overthrow was a ‘fascist coup’ are parroting Moscow propaganda.” In fact, the fascists of Svoboda and the Right Sector were the shock troops for the coup and quickly became prominent components of the new Kiev government.
Such details are incidental to the SWP, which is known for tailing after almost any “popular” movement, no matter how reactionary. This goes back to their origins, when they capitulated to their own “democratic” imperialist rulers by refusing to defend the Chinese and North Korean deformed workers states during the Korean War of the early 1950s. The British Socialist Worker (6 May) also grotesquely alibied the May 2 fascist massacre in Odessa, reporting only that “the Russian and Ukrainian governments each blamed forces sympathetic to the other side,” even though video footage clearly showed the fascists firing into the trade-union building as people jumped to escape the flames.
It was the German-dominated EU’s attempt to extend its tentacles into Ukraine that sparked the current crisis. Part of the European left supports EU expansion, purveying the lie that this imperialist alliance can be transformed into a “social Europe,” where democracy and prosperity prevail. The Pabloite United Secretariat’s (USec) German-language journal Inprekorr (March-April) published a statement by French New Anti-Capitalist Party activist and longtime USec spokesman Catherine Samary that claimed the solution to the Ukraine crisis was a “Bigger Europe.” In its May-June issue, Inprekorr printed a declaration by Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski defending the right of Ukraine to join the EU, because anything else would be “the chauvinism of the privileged.”
The fake Trotskyist groups prettifying the fascist-infested Maidan movement today had earlier supported fascist and other anti-Soviet forces during Cold War II in the late 1970s and 80s. Notably, some Stalinist-derived organizations have not been as shrill. In Germany, which has extensive trade relations with Russia, the government has performed something of a balancing act between supporting the new regime in Kiev and trying not to break all ties with Russia. The concerns of a section of the German ruling class were reflected in a March 22 statement of the social-democratic Left Party (formed in part by East German ex-Stalinists), which opined: “The answer to the separation of the Crimea by the Russian federation which is contrary to international law and which we condemn must lie in diplomacy.”
And then there are those that have been somewhat more critical of the imperialists and their fascist allies in Ukraine. In Italy, Rifondazione Comunista denounced the U.S. and EU for supporting the fascists in Kiev and opposes the sanctions against Russia. But Rifondazione also states that it fights to ensure “Europe is independent of the USA,” thereby declaring their allegiance to the presumably more enlightened EU imperialists. In fact, the EU is an imperialist bloc whose purpose is to tighten the screws on European workers and to act as a tool for its larger powers, particularly Germany, to exploit weaker, dependent capitalist states. Its eastward expansion will only mean increased misery for the working class across the continent.
The EU maintains racist fortress Europe, under which the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas have become mass graveyards for desperate immigrants fleeing war and hunger inflicted by both the U.S. and EU imperialists in their African and Near Eastern neocolonies. Rifondazione has made its own contribution to fortress Europe by participating in bourgeois governments from 1996-98 and 2006-08. Down with the EU and racist fortress Europe! We fight for the expropriation of the bourgeoisie through socialist revolution and for an internationally planned economy that will overcome the limits of the nation-state. For a Socialist United States of Europe!
Not in the Imperialist Club
The British Workers Power (WP) group, part of the League for the Fifth International, has published a Summer 2014 “Ukraine Supplement” headlined “Stop Nato’s New War Drive” that includes a polemic against the USec’s blatantly pro-imperialist line on the Maidan protests. While aiming most of their fire at the EU and U.S., WP also claims that capitalist Russia is one of the “recent graduates to the imperialist club,” and furthermore so is China. They thus lend support to the U.S. and Japanese imperialists’ ongoing military provocations against the Chinese deformed workers state (see article on page 12). The reformists’ demonization of “Russian imperialism” is a blatant capitulation to their own capitalist rulers.
For Marxists, labeling a country imperialist is not an epithet but a scientific characterization of that country’s role within the global economic system. Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin’s 1916 pamphlet Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism put forward a Marxist description of modern imperialism as that epoch of capitalism marked by monopolies, the dominance of finance capital and the export of capital. A few major advanced capitalist states had divided the world into “spheres of influence,” where each controlled markets and access to raw materials. Rising imperialist powers like Germany sought to redivide the world at the expense of established powers like Britain and France. The result of the interimperialist rivalries was the horrendous slaughter of World War I.
Russia today is not imperialist, though it has potential to become so. Key to the fact that Russia’s imperialist aspirations have not been realized are the efforts of the existing imperialists, led by the U.S., to keep Russia out of their club. Russia is also hampered by an economy that is heavily dependent on extraction and export of natural resources. With the important exception of the armaments industry, mainly an inheritance from the Soviet Union, no branch of Russian manufacturing is competitive in the international market.
While it is a regional power, Russia does not play a role in the carve-up of the world on a global scale. Over the past 20 years, Russia has never intervened militarily outside the territory of the former Soviet Union, except for a very limited intervention in 1994 when Russian troops in Serbia served as soft cops for NATO. This is in stark contrast not only to the U.S., which as the self-appointed “world’s policeman” invades and bombs countries across the globe, but also to second-rate imperialist powers like Britain and France, which repeatedly send their troops abroad to advance their national interests. More than a century of rape, pillage and war by the imperialists of the U.S., Europe and Japan proves that these are, in fact, the biggest enemies of the world’s working people.
The Capitalist State and National Oppression
Groups like those in the Cliffite tendency justify their opposition to self-determination for Crimea by retailing the imperialist line that the referendum was not democratic due to the supposed Russian invasion. For their part, Rifondazione Comunista and Workers Power, which acknowledged in theory the right of self-determination for Crimea, refused to support the intervention of Russian troops that made the implementation of that right possible. In fact, the presence of Russian troops was welcomed by the vast majority of Crimeans for that very reason: it enabled them to finally hold a referendum to rejoin Russia after years of being prevented from doing so by successive Kiev governments.
The leader of the French Left Party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, denounced some of the cruder lies in the bourgeois press about Russian troops “invading” Crimea, but at the same time declared in a March 5 blog post: “Currently, the number one issue is to avoid war. This means above all to prevent the partition of the country: we do not touch the borders in Europe! Neither here nor anywhere.” Upholding the sanctity of borders in Europe is, of course, the line of the West European ruling classes, which oppose the exercise of self-determination by oppressed nationalities at home, such as the Basques and Catalans.
In opposition to such chauvinism, we call for the right of independence for the Basques on both sides of the French and Spanish border as well as for the Catalans, whose scheduled referendum on self-determination later this year has been declared illegal by the Castilian-chauvinist government based in Madrid. We stand for the right of Catalonia and other nations not only to “unilaterally” hold a vote on independence but to act on a vote in favor of secession.
The generally more left-sounding Stalinists of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) also express chauvinist opposition to changing borders. In a March 14 statement on the Crimea referendum posted in English on the KKE Web site, they wrote:
“The secession of the Crimea and its assimilation in Russia will further strengthen the nationalist current, both in Ukraine and in Russia.... There is also the danger of opening ‘Pandora’s Box’ in other regions as well, especially in the Balkans, leading to other regions being assimilated e.g. the assimilation of Kosovo into the so-called ‘Greater Albania’ which is linked to the annexations of the territories of neighbouring countries. There are in any case examples from the dismemberment of Yugoslavia which, in the name of the self-determination of the peoples, paved the way for border changes.”
The Pandora’s Box that the KKE is so fearful of opening is full of claims on Greek territory by bordering states. Also weighing heavily on their minds and those of the Greek bourgeoisie are Greek claims on the island of Cyprus, which was bloodily partitioned in 1974 into separate Turkish and Greek zones. The KKE’s obsession with not ceding an inch of “Greek soil” provides the framework for their position on Crimea.
That the KKE’s defense of the borders of the bourgeois state is based on the purest Greek nationalism is demonstrated in the April 27 issue of its newspaper Rizospastis, which denies the existence of Macedonian or Turkish minorities in Greece. The KKE calls for upholding the borders drawn up by the British and French imperialists in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which ended the predatory war against Turkey waged by these powers and their Greek lackeys. In opposition to such nationalism, our comrades of the Trotskyist Group of Greece uphold the right of the Macedonian minority in Greece to self-determination, including the right to unite with the existing state of Macedonia. We also defend democratic rights for the Turkish-speaking and other non-Greek minorities in Greece.
To cover its chauvinism, the KKE argues that the assimilation of Crimea into Russia would not “solve in essence any of the real problems of the Crimean people” because they would be joining a capitalist rather than a socialist country. Some left gloss was also provided by the inveterate reformists of the International Marxist Tendency, led today by Alan Woods, which conveniently sidestepped taking a position on Crimea while calling for a “united socialist Ukraine.” Concretely, this echoes the chauvinist line that Ukraine is one and indivisible—i.e., a denial that there is any aspect of national oppression posed in the country.
Arguments to the effect that self-determination is meaningless under capitalism and should be postponed until there is socialism are not new. Lenin argued forcefully against this position, including in his 1916 theses on “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination”:
“The proletariat cannot remain silent on the question of the frontiers of a state founded on national oppression, a question so ‘unpleasant’ for the imperialist bourgeoisie. The proletariat must struggle against the enforced retention of oppressed nations within the bounds of the given state, which means that they must fight for the right to self-determination. The proletariat must demand freedom of political separation for the colonies and nations oppressed by ‘their own’ nation. Otherwise, the internationalism of the proletariat would be nothing but empty words; neither confidence nor class solidarity would be possible between the workers of the oppressed and the oppressor nations.”
Cheerleaders for Counterrevolution
While much of the pseudo-Trotskyist left stands against the exercise of self-determination for Crimea today, their posture was very different when it came to the imperialist-sponsored counterrevolutionary movements that wielded self-determination as a key tool in the overthrow of the Soviet workers state. The USec, among others, supported a host of counterrevolutionary “independence” movements in the Baltic republics, going so far as to salute fascist nationalists like the Estonian “Forest Brothers” for their “armed struggle against Stalinism” (see: “Why They Misuse Trotsky,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 49-50, Winter 1993-94).
You know that you have to hold on to your wallet when organizations that sided over and over again with the forces of “democratic” counterrevolution in Soviet bloc countries now parade around with calls for a “socialist” or “Soviet” Ukraine. Take the Workers Revolutionary Party (EEK) in Greece and the Communist Workers Party (PCL) in Italy, sections of the Coordinating Committee for the Refoundation of the Fourth International (CRFI) headed by the Argentine pseudo-Trotskyist Jorge Altamira. In a March 30 declaration of their “Workers Euro-Mediterranean Conference,” they came out against Crimean self-determination, declaring: “No to all annexations, no to the dismemberment of Ukraine—for an independent, united, socialist Ukraine!”
Such rhetoric about a “socialist Ukraine” is pretty rich coming from the Altamira tendency, which hailed Boris Yeltsin’s pro-imperialist countercoup in Moscow in August 1991 that opened the floodgates to capitalist counterrevolution and has since tried to cover its tracks by denying that the counterrevolution even happened! To this day, they claim, as in their March 30 statement, that there is an “on-going process of capitalist restoration” taking place in Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet Union.
It should be noted that Savvas Michael Matsas, current leader of the EEK, was the longstanding leader in Greece of the fake-Trotskyist tendency led by political bandit Gerry Healy. While the Healyites nominally stood for “defense of the Soviet Union,” they supported just about every anti-Communist force encircling the Soviet workers state, from Khomeini’s mullahs in Iran to the CIA’s mujahedin in Afghanistan and Polish Solidarność.
Those leftists who supported the imperialists’ anti-Soviet drive in the guise of “anti-Stalinism” bear their own small measure of responsibility for the social devastation and the upsurge in nationalist chauvinism that swept the former USSR and East Europe after counterrevolution. Workers and youth looking for a revolutionary Marxist program must turn to the Bolshevik political arsenal—the experiences of the October Revolution, the early Communist International and Trotsky’s Fourth International. New gains for the workers and the oppressed will be won only by those who have fought to defend past gains. In opposition to the reformists and centrists who long ago made peace with their own capitalist rulers, the ICL fights to forge a party that can lead new October Revolutions.