Workers Hammer No. 227

Summer 2014


Tony Cliff, the SWP and the Ukrainian nationalists

Once they were (Cold) Warriors

The article on page 12 notes that the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) whitewashed the role of the fascists in the Kiev coup in February. This is not new. The founder of the SWP, Tony Cliff, eulogised the forces of murderous nationalism and anti-Communism that fought against the Soviet Union during and after World War II in his seminal work, State Capitalism in Russia (published in 1955). Cliff’s “theory” of state capitalism, which allegedly meant neutrality between the imperialists on one side and the degenerated and deformed workers states on the other, was in reality a smokescreen for support to pro-NATO, anti-Soviet forces whose aim was to restore capitalism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Among the “anti-Stalinist” forces that Cliff portrays as being pro-socialist are the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and the Vlasov movement, both of which were Nazi collaborators. Ludicrously describing the UPA as an example of forces which “strive consciously or semi-consciously, even unconsciously” for the establishment of a “socialist democracy”, Cliff wrote:

“This deduction of the probable programme of the anti-Stalinist opposition from the objective data of bureaucratic state capitalism is clearly supported by the actual programmes of two organised anti-Stalinist movements which appeared during the World War II — the Vlassov movement and the Ukrainian Resurgent Army (UPA).”

As we wrote more than 20 years ago: “The UPA was founded in 1940 in the newly Soviet-occupied western Ukraine, in collaboration with the Wehrmacht and explicitly to fight against the Red Army. It is well known that all wings of Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism collaborated with Hitler when he invaded the Ukraine in 1941” (Workers Hammer no 122, April 1991). By late 1942, the UPA was dominated by the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists led by fascist Stepan Bandera. The UPA’s involvement in mass murder and ethnic cleansing is no secret. Last year the Economist wrote that: “Between February 1943 and February 1944, units of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army killed up to 100,000 Poles in Volyn and eastern Galicia, former Polish territories now in western Ukraine. The butchery reached its apogee in July, with as many as 20,000, including women, children and the elderly, murdered” (15 July 2013).

By 1947, most UPA units had escaped into the arms of Western intelligence, which turned them into a guerrilla force against the Soviets. A published declassified CIA account titled “Cold War Allies: The Origins of CIA’s Relationship with Ukrainian Nationalists” by Kevin C Ruffner explained that:

“[The] CIA reestablished and expanded its contacts with the Ukrainians and others for covert action against the Communists and as wartime assets to be used behind Red Army lines as guerrillas, saboteurs, and resistance leaders. CIA continued to cling to these groups long after their immediate utility expired out of the mistaken belief that they were a valuable wartime reserve.

“The sometimes brutal war record of many emigre groups became blurred as they became more critical to the CIA.”

Fifty Years of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency, 1998)

Cliff quotes General Malyshkin, one of General Vlasov’s chief assistants, saying that “all those industries which during the period of Bolshevism were erected at the expense of the blood and sweat of the whole people, must become the property of the state, national property”. Incredibly, Cliff goes on: “whether the Vlasov leaders were sincere or not is irrelevant. The mere fact that they took a stand for state ownership of large industry — and that in Nazi Germany — is proof that only such a stand could have appealed to the Soviet POWs whom they tried to recruit. A similar position was held by the UPA.” From Cliff’s virulently Stalinophobic standpoint, the mere fact that these forces fought the Soviet Army is all that matters; the fact they were aiding the Nazis is irrelevant.

But the fact is, of course, Cliff’s book does not elucidate what Generals Vlasov and Malyshkin were doing in Nazi Germany. Vlasov, a former Soviet Army general, was a turncoat who collaborated with Nazi Heinrich Himmler and headed the so-called Russian Liberation Army, formed to entice Russian soldiers to fight alongside the Wehrmacht. Malyshkin, also a former Soviet general, was a prisoner of war who joined the Nazis and became an instructor for propaganda courses to disseminate Nazi ideology among Soviet prisoners. During the Nazi rout at the hands of the Soviet Army, both generals were captured. They were hanged in Moscow in 1946.

To whitewash these Nazi collaborators, Cliff sucked out a couple of quotes where the UPA talked about the need for “state-national” property. After the Ukrainian masses had experienced mass murder and looting at the hands of the occupying Nazis, most Ukrainian nationalist organisations changed their tune in order to avoid losing all credibility; the UPA started talking about socialised property and even “classless society”. In fact, it has never been a problem for fascists to talk about nationalised property. In Italy, Mussolini boasted that his regime nationalised huge chunks of the economy, which was done in order to save ailing Italian capitalism.

Cliff’s State Capitalism in Russia cites an article published in April 1949 in New International, the magazine of Max Shachtman’s Independent Socialist League (previously the Workers Party) which depicts the UPA as some sort of pro-socialist force. Max Shachtman, who had been a founder of American Trotskyism alongside James Cannon, broke with Trotskyism amid the anti-Soviet hysteria provoked by the Stalin-Hitler pact and went on to form the Workers Party in 1940.

Recently, the pro-imperialist reformists of the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) reproduced the New International article — appropriately, under a Ukrainian national flag — in their efforts to support the current pro-NATO Ukrainian regime and prettify its fascist wing. The AWL’s introduction to this revisionist filth about the UPA claims that the article “tells some of the story of the guerrilla movement in Ukraine in the 1940s against both Hitler and Stalin”. The AWL is fully aware of the UPA’s history, as they admit in their introduction (, 28 February):

“There are claims that the UPA, reported in the article below as an authentically left-wing movement, was responsible for massacres of Poles and of Jews; there is also counter-claim that the UPA has been the victim of demonisation by the Stalinists, and the UPA certainly was demonised by the Stalinists after they finally suppressed it militarily.”

But the AWL washes its hands of any responsibility for publishing this trash with the shameless statement that “whether [the article’s] judgments stand up to the test of further historical research, we are not qualified to judge”. Of course, there have also long been “counterclaims” that the Holocaust did not happen, by Nazis and their sympathisers everywhere.

What Tony Cliff shares with the AWL is their hatred for the Soviet workers state. They supported the “democratic” credentials of the Western imperialists and gave a “socialist” or democratic veneer to forces who worked to undermine the Soviet Union. Support for anti-Soviet forces was at the core of the Cliff tendency from its outset and intrinsic to their support for “democratic” imperialism. In the 1980s the Cliffites hailed as “freedom fighters” the CIA-backed mujahedin in Afghanistan — anti-woman Islamic fundamentalist reactionaries fighting the Soviet Red Army who intervened to prop up the modernising Afghan PDPA government. The victory of the mujahedin wrought devastation of the country under brutal fundamentalist rule; the treacherous withdrawal of the Red Army strengthened the drive towards capitalist restoration in the USSR which has brought all-sided reaction to the world’s working people.

With the triumph of counterrevolution in 1991-92, fascist groups in Russia and the western Ukraine were emboldened, and so were their leftist apologists. In 1991, International Communist League representatives withdrew from the editorial board of Revolutionary History, an archival publication focusing on the Trotskyist movement. One reason was the desire of a substantial part of the editorial board to publish patently fascistic Ukrainian nationalist material. Our resignation letter pointed to the UPA’s all-pervasive anti-Semitism, as described in the memoirs of Mikhail Baitalsky, a Jewish Ukrainian Trotskyist who was imprisoned by Stalin’s bureaucratic regime in the Vorkuta labour camp, where he encountered some of Bandera’s followers in the 1950s. Baitalsky recounted what he learned of the activities of the Banderaite cut-throats in Ukraine:

“I will not speak of the fate of the local Jews; you can imagine what happened to them. But Poles also lived there. The Bandera forces butchered, one after another, all the Polish families who had not managed to go into hiding. They slaughtered them not with guns but with sabers. They derived pleasure from hacking up other peoples’ children with their bare hands and massacring women.”

— reprinted in Bulletin in Defense of Marxism (March 1991)

Our letter continued: “Mikhail Baitalsky didn’t hail the Banderaites as fellow fighters in the struggle against Stalin; we can’t be part of an editorial board which allies with their virtual equivalents in the Soviet Union today” (Workers Hammer no 122, April 1991).