Ukraine: Mutual Support and Solidarity among the Post-Soviet Left

The conference “Mutual Support and Solidarity of Post-Soviet Left in the Conditions of International and Interstate Conflicts” took place on 7-8 June in Minsk, where activists of communist and workers’ parties from Belarus, Ukraine and Russia took part.

The main task of this event was to clarify the recent events in Ukraine and the work on the left activists in the conditions of right-wing hegemony. Despite the difficulties, tied with questions of security; the conference was organized by Belarussian comrades from the internet-journal “Prasvet”, and took place with a good working atmosphere. At the end of the conference, the delegates adopted a resolution for publication by left and communist media.

In this article, I would like to explain some of the more interesting debates during the Belarussian conference.

Taras Salamnyuk

The first speaker was Taras Salamnyuk, representative of the Ukrainian journal of social critique “Spilne”. His talk was titled: “After Maidan: Lessons of left groups in Lviv, Zhytomyr, Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv in the conditions of right-wing hegemony”.

In the words of the speaker, having come into confrontation with the right-wing domination at Euromaidan, Ukrainian left organizations found themselves with two possible tactics: retreat underground or adaptation to the new realities. The discourse was defended by those who had taken the 2nd option.

As a rule, these groups ignored the first part of the protests, “Euromaidan”, but joined the demonstrations, when they took in their words; an “anti-authoritarian character”.

For this turn, in the words of Taras Salamnyuk, there were three reasons:

1. The need of be part of the movement;

2. “Narodnichestvo”, that is, the need to be with the masses;

3. Anti-authoritarian attitudes.

It is also worth mentioning the sympathy of these groups for “self-organized masses”, which they saw at Maidan. For the Kharkiv AST, the approval of the “middle classes” was very important.

For the organizations choosing the path of participating in the Maidan, the only ones with any chance were anarchist groups in west and central Ukraine, AST in Kharkiv and Autonomous Opir in Lviv. In Kiev, they couldn’t be effective due to the violent actions of “Right Sector”, but in the provinces where the far-right was weak, the said groups were able to show themselves as organized forces.

From their participation in this “national-liberation movement”, left groups, participating in Maidan, relayed the following positive results from their actions:

1.     Knowledge about self-organization;

2.     Growth in the visibility of these groups in the cities;

3.     Growth in the finances and acquisition of some equipment from donations. For example, the funds of AST grew to 10,000 hryven (over 600 €) during Maidan.

As for the negatives of their participation, the left participants list:

1.     Role of masses in right-wing actions (especially in Dnipropetrovsk);

2.     End of social demands from Maidan, immediately after the start of the civil war.

An example of the contradictory situation that the lefts found themselves in during their integration with Maidan was recalled by the speaker, when he brought up a situation in Zhytomyr, where the anarchists decided to hold a May Day march. The nationalists mobilized against them and only the last-minute interventions of “Patriots of Ukraine” and liberals allowed the anarchists to hold their demonstrations. However, the anarchists were forced to march under blue and yellow flags with slogans against “Russism”.

Sergei Odarich

Sergei Odarich in his discussion titled “Mistakes amongst the “lefts”, or why intellectual subcultures and political action are not the same things”, explained the reasons left organizations were so weak in Ukraine.

Among the reasons were:

1.      Adherence to any protest movement;

2.      Unclear self-identification, who is actually “left”?;

3.      Adherence to positive program;

4.      Naïve faith in “self-organization”;

5.      Lack of theory;

6.      Sadomasochism.

In the opinion of Odarich, there is significant evidence of the worsening of the position of left and communist organizations in Ukraine after Maidan. Some remarks in support of this argument:

1.      Inability to take certain actions that were previously considered as given (for example Mayday march);

2.      Legitimization of ultra-right groups;

3.      Growing popularity of the “Svoboda” party;

4.      Language of the far-right, the language of hate, became accepted as normal political discourse;

5.      Social action of the collective directed to the right. Even when talking of social demands at Maidan, the participants often specified that “we are not the poor, we are the middle-class, we are a making an essentially national revolution”.

During his conclusions, he remarked that in Ukraine there is a growing trend towards installing an authoritarian regime of the Putin-type. As with Putin, Poroshenko came to power under the slogans of struggle for the “family”, war against “terrorists” and restoration of “order”. It is due to this that we have the spilling of blood and the violation of basic freedoms.

Discussion of the current situation in Ukraine

Following the lectures, there was a discussion on the current situation in Ukraine.

It was remarked, that out of the left organization, the one that posed the biggest problems for Maidan was AST in Kharkiv. AST in Kharkiv – this statist organization, feels the need for unity with the urban Maidan liberal intelligentsia, which fights “for Europe, for Ukraine” in a large working class city.

Ukrainian comrades remarked that the events of Ukraine are very possible in Russia and Belarus. In the words of the Ukrainians, a large part of the “civil activists” and “human rights campaigners” have gone over to the side of the regime. “Human rights campaigners” write denunciations of the “enemies of Ukraine”, lawyers and “defenders of the rights of the armed forces” report deserters and members of their families to the authorities. All this plays a role in severely demoralizing the left that for many years worked with the liberal intelligentsia.

At the moment, the biggest hopes for Ukraine communists are tied in with the renewal of support in Kharkiv, Odessa and other large cities, where the majority of the population is against the regime, due to massive repressions and the arrests of tens of activists.

Denis Denisov from Sevastopol spoke about the situation in Crimea, where in his words, the majority of the population supported becoming part of Russia.

The authority of the Tatar Medjli is not particularly high, given a number of corruption scandals – for example, the building of a casino and office space in land, assigned for the settlement of Tatars. A fraction of the supporters of Ukraine have fled the peninsula, a fraction has demonstrated and a fraction find themselves under the control of the Russian security service. There could be problems for the Russian authorities because of the fact that Crimea has for a long time found itself under Ukrainian political culture. There are other possible problems including – the influence of Turkey, migration, the actions of Ukrainian nationalists, a blockade by Ukraine, etc. Denisov called Crimea the “body of the Ukrainian civil war”. The hopes of communists in Crimea are tied to the planned Russian investment in the ship-building and repairing industry, which can strengthen the working class.

In the process of discussing the resolutions for the document, there were corrections made by members of “Spilne” and RSM. In the opinion of the comrades, it was worth to note, that the responsibility for the bloodshed is carried primarily by the rebels in the East of Ukraine. Therefore, from their point of view, changes needed be made to the text to make it more appealing in liberal circles (at the request of RSM) and eliminated the possibility of being harassed in Ukraine for “pro-Russian” views. However, the changes did not alter the overall spirit of the document, nor its goals and objectives.