Australasian Spartacist No. 223
Fascist-Infested, Imperialist-Backed Ukraine Coup
Crimea Is Russian
Socialist Alternative: Running Dogs for Western Imperialism
We reprint below a 15 April Spartacist League leaflet excoriating Socialist Alternative (SAlt) for parroting Western imperialist propaganda over Crimea and prettifying the reactionary forces involved in the fascist-infested Ukrainian coup last February. The leaflet was widely distributed outside SAlt’s public “Marxism 2014” conference held over the Easter weekend in Melbourne. However, Marxist politics and debate were not welcome. As is usual at SAlt’s “public” meetings, the Spartacist League was bureaucratically excluded in an attempt to silence our communist politics. Nevertheless, many at the conference were eager to read a Marxist analysis of events in Crimea and Ukraine and were appalled that these topics were not part of the conference program.
On 18 March, Crimea officially rejoined Russia, having two days earlier voted overwhelmingly in favour of secession from Ukraine and absorption into Russia. The desire of Crimea’s population, however was irrelevant to the imperialists. Having denounced the referendum as “illegitimate,” the U.S. administration, along with its European and Australian allies, refused to recognise Crimea’s reunification with Russia while imposing a new round of sanctions against the latter. We say: No to sanctions against Russia!
Weeks earlier, the Western propaganda machine went into hysterical overdrive when Russian strongman Vladimir Putin deployed troops in Crimea—a direct response to the toppling of corrupt pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich and his government by a right-wing coup spearheaded by fascists and supported by the imperialists. U.S. secretary of state John Kerry declared that Russia would pay “a huge price” for its incursion, threatening Russia’s removal from the imperialist Group of 8 and the freezing of Russia’s assets abroad. U.S. president Barack Obama pontificated about Russia’s “violation” of international law—a “law” that never stopped the U.S. and its allies like Australia from invading Iraq or Afghanistan. Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, with the backing of Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten, chimed in to rail against Russia’s “unprovoked aggression.”
As Putin was ratifying Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation, the newly appointed prime minister of Ukraine, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, was signing an “association agreement” with the EU in Brussels. Earlier, NATO assured Yatsenyuk that it would help “build the capacity of the Ukrainian military, including more joint training and military exercises.” Amongst other imperialist sabre-rattling, Washington sent a navy destroyer to participate in military exercises with warships of NATO members, across the water from the Russian Black Sea naval base in Crimea. U.S. imperialism has sought to expand its global domination in part by undercutting capitalist Russia’s regional ambitions, including through sponsoring pliant regimes in former Soviet republics such as Georgia and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. It was the U.S. that fueled the fascist-infested mobilisations 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.
In intervening into Crimea, Putin sought to defend the interests of capitalist Russia against the Western imperialists. At the same time, in the context of increasing hostilities against ethnic Russians in Ukraine, these military manoeuvres intersected the very real national fears faced by Russians in Crimea. Our position on the Russian intervention does not entail the slightest political support to Putin’s capitalist regime. Similarly, our opposition to the Ukraine coup does not entail any political support to Yanukovich and his cronies. What was necessary in the lead-up to the coup was for proletarian class unity to be asserted above the national and ethnic divisions that plague that country. It would have been in the interest of the international proletariat for the working class in Ukraine to mobilise to sweep the fascists off the streets of Kiev.
SAlt Echo Imperialist Propaganda
It is to be expected that U.S. imperialism and its allies would denounce the Russian intervention, and the Crimean referendum. In this they are joined by various reformist leftists who are marching in lockstep behind their imperialist rulers. Leading the charge in Australia has been Socialist Alternative (SAlt). As the Western imperialist propaganda mills worked overtime to downplay the fascist threat and pass off the reactionary demonstrations in Kiev as a “fight for democracy,” SAlt reprinted a piece by British Socialist Workers Party leader, Alex Callinicos, which described the protests that ousted Yanukovich as “a genuine popular movement” (Red Flag, 12 March). Coyly acknowledging that “the far right” had “played a significant role in the ‘Euromaidan’ occupation in Kiev,” Callinicos nevertheless asserted that “those who claim Yanukovich’s overthrow was a ‘fascist coup’ are parroting Moscow propaganda.”
This is a conscious cover-up serving the interests of Western imperialism. The fascist “credentials” of many of those now in power in Kiev were clear from the beginning. 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. It 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. Today, such fascist scum, including from the even more extreme Right Sector, hold a number of prominent positions in the Ukrainian government while their fascist stormtroopers are being integrated into the core of the country’s armed forces.
To make perfectly clear whose propaganda SAlt parrots, Red Flag published, alongside the Callinicos screed, an article by their own Alex Chklovski. With the Western bourgeois media cranking up its vilification of Russia, Chklovski chimed in, “The main problem is Russia”! A subsequent article by Chklovski (Red Flag, 26 March) again echoes the capitalist media, inferring that the massive Crimean vote in favour of joining Russia was illegitimate because it was “[u]nder the caring eyes of Russian troops, tanks and a complete blackout of all media that isn’t rabidly pro-Kremlin .” Chklovksi sagely advises that “Russian oppression is yet to come, but oppression by Ukrainian oligarchs has been experienced for a while. This does not of course make the referendum even a sliver more democratic.” Nowhere in these articles does SAlt stand for the right of self-determination of the Russian population of Crimea.
Managing to make a buried appeal to “oppose all Western sanctions against Russia” and giving a nod to “internationalism and working class solidarity,” SAlt, like their co-thinkers in the British SWP, prettify the reactionary forces involved in the Ukrainian coup. Chklovski declares that “There is good reason to hope that the people of the region can impose their own will on their rulers. After all, Yanukovich was ousted by a movement that, despite its limitations[!], was a genuine uprising from below.” SAlt and their predecessors have habitually tailed every mass movement, no matter how reactionary its leadership and program, frequently ending up in bed with the worst enemies of the proletariat, from Khomeini in Iran in 1979, to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, to the imperialist-backed rebels in Syria today.
Having cheered capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union in 1991-92 and the destruction of the East European deformed workers states, today SAlt’s leadership continues to direct its fire to the east as Western imperialism ramps up the pressure against capitalist Russia. In peddling Callinicos’ reformist musings, SAlt reprise the hoary old “third camp” slogan of “Neither Washington nor Moscow”—as its forebears did when the Soviet workers state existed. In reality the “third camp” has always been the imperialist camp as SAlt and their predecessors have proved time and again. SAlt’s political origins go back to the late Tony Cliff and his followers in Britain who fled from Trotsky’s Fourth International in 1950. At the outbreak of the Korean War, Cliff’s followers abandoned Trotskyism by refusing to stand in defence of the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea against U.S., British and Australian imperialism. They went on to support any and all forces arrayed against the Soviet degenerated workers state in the name of “anti-Stalinism.” This included prettifying General Andrey Vlasov, the leader of the Russian fascists who fought on the side of Hitler’s Nazis during the Second World War.
In Australia, throughout the 1980s Cold War drive targetting the USSR, SAlt cadre, then as members of the International Socialist Organisation, tailed the U.S.-loyal, anti-Soviet, union-busting Hawke/Keating Labor regimes. They sided with the woman-hating, CIA-funded mujahedin cutthroats against the liberating forces of the Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan. Along with most of the Laborite left, they championed the reactionary anti-Jewish, anti-abortion, clerical-nationalist Solidarność, the chosen instrument of the Catholic church, Wall Street and Western social democracy for capitalist counterrevolution in Poland. Such was their enthusiasm for Solidarność, in December 1981 both the predecessors of Socialist Alternative and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP, now liquidated into SAlt) rallied in “solidarity” with Solidarność outside the Polish Consulate in Sydney alongside the counterrevolutionary, anti-Soviet and fascistic “Captive Nations,” who were cut from the same cloth as the scum that today infest the current Kiev regime.
It’s no wonder that former RSP honcho and now SAlt “leader” John Percy has felt so at home within SAlt since their “death of communism” lash-up last year. Throughout the 1980s, Percy was a leading cadre of the Socialist Workers Party in this country. In 1983, the SWP leadership entered into a grotesque alliance with a shadowy Australian outfit, the Croatian Movement for Statehood (HDP). The HDP were counterrevolutionary anti-Yugoslav followers of the Croatian fascist Ustasha, World War II butchers too bloody even for the Nazis, who turned the puppet state of Croatia into a vast slaughterhouse for Jews, Roma, Serbs and many Croats (see “SWP Defends Ustasha,” Australasian Spartacist No. 103, August/September 1983).
A “party” with such wretched traditions and hardened social-democratic leadership can only be a hothouse for myriad anti-communist prejudices. Thus, new recruits are schooled in rabid opposition to our Trotskyist principle of unconditional military defence of the bureaucratically deformed workers states—China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba—against imperialist attack and internal capitalist counterrevolution. A particular target of SAlt hostility is North Korea, which for years has faced down a belligerent U.S./Australian imperialist campaign of economic sanctions and militarist sabre-rattling.
Just as it was the elementary duty of revolutionaries to stand for the unconditional military defence of the Soviet degenerated workers state, and the deformed workers states created in the Stalinist image following World War II, our defence of the remaining deformed workers states against our “own” imperialist rulers continues to be a cornerstone of our revolutionary internationalist program. Within this framework we also fight for proletarian political revolution to oust the parasitic nationalist Stalinist caste and replace them with regimes based on workers democracy and proletarian internationalism. Our defence of the deformed workers states is a defence of the overturn and expropriation of capitalism. To abandon defence of the deformed workers states is to abandon the cause of international proletarian revolution.
For the Right of All Nations to Self-Determination
While reformists like SAlt willingly served as tribunes in the imperialists’ verbal blitzkrieg over Crimea, we of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) have made clear our principled support to self-determination of Crimea and the intervention by Russia that allowed the referendum enabling that right to take place. Initially we made that support conditional upon Russia implementing special rights for the Crimean Tatar minority. However, this undercut our correct position that Crimea is Russian (see “Self-Determination and Russian Intervention: Strengthening Our Position,” Workers Vanguard No. 1043, 4 April). From the beginning it was perfectly reasonable for Crimea’s Russian-speaking population to be deeply alarmed by the coup in Ukraine and the rise of a new, Western-backed regime infested with anti-Russian fascists. While the Western imperialists howl about Russian “aggression” and a non-existent “invasion,” Putin’s intervention was essentially defensive, including to protect Russia’s Black Sea fleet already based in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
Our position on Russian forces in Crimea stems from the Leninist principle that the right of self-determination applies to the peoples of all nations, including those of great powers like Russia. Contrary to Western imperialist propaganda the Russian intervention into Crimea is not an intervention into a “foreign country,” notwithstanding Crimea’s former formal status as part of Ukraine. The reality is there is no distinct “Crimean nation”; the majority of its population is Russian and has long sought greater ties to Russia, including reincorporation into the state. The referendum that the imperialists have decreed “illegal,” and which SAlt dutifully denounce, merely codified the reality that Crimea is Russian and has been since the late 18th century, when it was wrested from the Ottoman Empire. It was only in 1954 that Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev ceded Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Later, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991-92 this took on significance, as the fate of the area was the subject of heated disputes between the now bourgeois states of Russia and Ukraine. Since capitalist counterrevolution in the USSR, attempts by pro-Russian forces in Crimea to hold a referendum on autonomy and/or independence have been repeatedly thwarted by the Ukraine government.
Since gaining power in 1999, Putin has sought to strengthen Russia’s position as a regional capitalist power by developing its substantial reserves of fossil fuels and refurbishing its military while brutally oppressing national minorities, such as the Chechen population, within the borders of Russia. 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. Revolutionary Marxists seek to mobilise the working class in defence of oppressed minorities as part of the struggle against the capitalist class enemy. As Marxists, we oppose the poison of nationalism and fight for the class unity of the workers as part of the struggle to overthrow all the bloody capitalist regimes of the region.
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 endured 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. (For more on this question, see Workers Vanguard No. 1041, 7 March.) At the same time, the existence of a socialised 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, which SAlt fulsomely support, brought untold miseries and horrors to the peoples of the world’s first proletarian republic. It has led to a sharp intensification of communalism and a proliferation of national hatreds, pitting working people against one another. Defence of self-determination for the people of Crimea has posed an acid test for all organisations claiming to oppose capitalist imperialism. True to form, reformists such as SAlt have directed their main fire away from the capitalist enemy “at home” and Western imperialism in general. Combatting the imperialist blowback to Crimean self-determination and the Russian intervention is part of the struggle to forge Bolshevik parties committed to the struggle against imperialism and all manifestations of nationalism, charting a course of independent proletarian struggle leading to the fight for new October Revolutions. SAlt and their reformist ilk stand as political obstacles to achieving this goal.