Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 26, 2014

The perfect embodiment of the anarchist concept of the revolutionary order?

Filed under: Russia,Ukraine,Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 5:36 pm

“By contrast, the Donetsk Republic formulates its agenda from below, literally on the run, in response to the public mood and the course of events. Strictly speaking this republic is not even a state—rather, it amounts to a coalition of diverse communities, most of them self-organised. In essence, it is the perfect embodiment of the anarchist concept of the revolutionary order.”

–Boris Kagarlitsky


Pro-Russia rebels paraded Ukrainian prisoners of war through the main street in central Donetsk on Sunday. Onlookers shouted insults and pelted the prisoners with beer bottles, eggs and tomatoes. Credit: Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

NY Times, August 25 2014
In Eastern Ukraine, Rebel Mockery Amid Independence Celebration

DONETSK, Ukraine — On a day when Ukrainians celebrated their independence from the Soviet Union with parades and speeches, pro-Russia separatists in the eastern part of the country staged a grim counter-spectacle: a parade that mocked the national army and celebrated the deaths and imprisonment of its soldiers.

Leading the procession was an attractive young blond woman carrying an assault rifle, followed by several dozen captured Ukrainian soldiers, filthy, bruised and unkempt, their heads shaved, wearing fetid camouflage uniforms and looking down at their feet.

Onlookers shouted that the men should be shot, and pelted the prisoners with empty beer bottles, eggs and tomatoes as they stumbled down Artyomovsk Street, Donetsk’s main thoroughfare. A loudspeaker played Tchaikovsky’s “Slavonic March,” a familiar Russian patriotic piece. Behind the prisoners were two tanker trucks spraying soapy water, demonstratively cleaning the pavement where the Ukrainian soldiers had passed.

People in the crowd shouted “fascists!” and “perverts!” and separatist fighters held back a man who tried to punch a prisoner.

The Geneva Conventions’ rules for treating prisoners of war prohibit parading them in public, but the treatment of the wounded, disheveled prisoners seemed to offend few of those watching, who in any case had turned out for the promise of seeing a ghoulish spectacle. “Shoot them!” one woman yelled.


A passer-by at a checkpoint taunted a woman suspected of aiding the Ukrainian military. The prisoner had to hold a sign saying: “She kills our children.” Credit: Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

NY Times, August 26 2014
As Peace Talks Approach, Rebels Humiliate Prisoners in Ukraine

DONETSK, Ukraine — On the sidewalk of a busy street beside a checkpoint, a bearded gunman wrapped a woman in a Ukrainian flag and forced her to stand, sobbing in terror, holding a sign identifying her as a spotter for Ukrainian artillery. “She kills our children,” it read. Because the woman was a spy, said the gunman, a pro-Russian militant, everything that would happen to her would be well-deserved.

Passers-by stopped their cars to get out and spit, slap her face and throw tomatoes at her. Her knees buckled. She struggled to mumble in protest of her innocence and to shake her head in denial.

This theatrical scene of abuse unfolded a day after the rebel movement had paraded Ukrainian prisoners of war down a main thoroughfare here at bayonet point, then dramatically washed the pavement behind them.


August 20, 2014

Is a Donetsk People’s Republic leader a Posadista?

Filed under: literature,Russia — louisproyect @ 4:00 pm

Fyodor D. Berezin

NY Times, August 20 2014
Plenty of Room at the Top of Ukraine’s Fading Rebellion

DONETSK, Ukraine — To outward appearances, Fyodor D. Berezin is the picture of a senior military commander. He wears camouflage, has bodyguards and confidently gives orders as the newly named deputy defense minister of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic. Yet, just four months ago he was an obscure author of 18 science fiction novels, one play and a dozen or so short stories.

In an interview, Mr. Berezin said he was as surprised as anybody by his rapid promotion through the rebel ranks. “Reality became scarier than science fiction,” he said in an interview over iced tea at the Havana Banana bar, a favorite rebel haunt. “I live in my books now. I fell right into the middle of my books.”

Mr. Berezin now serves under a little-known fellow Ukrainian, Mr. Kononov, who uses the nickname “the czar” in his duties as defense minister. Before the war, Mr. Berezin, 54, supplemented book proceeds with a day job as a purchasing official for a university, buying janitorial supplies. In the 1980s, he served in the Soviet Army with a rank of captain.

His eyes light up when talk turns to war, though not the kind raging on the outskirts of this besieged city, but rather battles fought in outer space between the Brashis and the Ararbacs, two civilizations on the planet Gaeia and in parallel dimensions from one of his novels.

Mr. Berezin met Mr. Strelkov last spring, and by Mr. Berezin’s account, the two got on well because of common literary interests, as Mr. Strelkov, too, is a science fiction fan. Mr. Strelkov had read one of Mr. Berezin’s books, “Parallel Cataclysm,” about a parallel dimension where the Soviet Union rules Earth and a red flag flies over the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Mr. Berezin said.

In the novel, a United States aircraft carrier group is sunk in the Pacific Ocean by a mysterious wing of fighter jets, later revealed to bear the red star of the Soviet forces from the parallel dimension, crossing over into our world to turn back the tide of American hegemony.

The author is soft-spoken, with a delicate turn of phrase, and a passion for writing that he came to late in life, after working odd jobs and raising a family. With dismay and self-deprecation unusual for a military man, he recounted his difficulties coping with his new command. When attention is diverted by one crisis, he said, another problem pops up, and people die, because this is a real war. “I am in charge of life and death decisions,” he said.

Asked about his plans for defending the city, Mr. Berezin was a little vague, saying the Ukrainian Army would bog down in urban combat. And he described an “international brigade of the future,” modeled on the legions of volunteers who flocked to Spain in 1936, rallying to the cause. For now, though, most volunteers are Russian, he said. “We really, really need help,” he said.

Still, he described the conflict here in sweeping, millennial terms, even as the territory under his command has shriveled to the city limits of his hometown.

“We are at the geopolitical pinpoint of the world,” he said. “The vectors converge here. Like an hourglass, the sides bend in here in Donetsk, and the sand passes and we are at this historical point. Depending on how the sand scatters, history will change one way or another.”

He also recounted inexplicable luck on the separatist side. One rebel, he said, miraculously killed five Ukrainians with the five bullets in a pistol magazine. Another time, a rocket-propelled grenade sailed right into the open window of an attack helicopter, “defying all the rules of probability.”

“I want the war to end, and I want to write about it all,” he said. “It’s an amazing fable. Every day, enough happens for a novel. I cannot talk about it all now, but when the war is over, I will write about it.”

full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/20/world/europe/plenty-of-room-at-the-top-of-ukraines-fading-rebellion.html

July 20, 2014

Robert Parry’s folly

Filed under: journalism,Russia,Syria,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 5:31 pm

Robert Parry

Robert Parry is part of a cadre of investigative journalists who have put themselves at the disposal of the Kremlin on the matters of Syria and/or Ukraine. Like Walter Duranty who justified Stalin’s policies to NY Times readers in the 1930s, we see Parry, Seymour Hersh and Robert Fisk using journalistic tricks of the trade to make Putin seem like an innocent victim of a worldwide conspiracy involving the CIA, NATO, George Soros-type NGO’s, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, NY Times op-ed writers, and other miscreants bent on… Bent on what exactly? In the 1930s Stalin was defending state-owned property for the same reason that Jimmy Hoffa fought against Bobby Kennedy’s investigation of racketeering in the Teamster’s Union. The union was Hoffa’s source of wealth and power. As such it was in his in own class interests to keep the union strong.

But what exactly does that have to do with Putin? Russia is the third largest recipient of Foreign Direct Investment in the world after the USA and China so such an alleged conspiracy would in effect be breaking down an open door. Just three days ago RT.com reported: “Current Rosneft and Exxon projects unaffected by sanctions – Rosneft CEO”. The article points out:

Rosneft has strong links with both the US and UK oil industry.

Rosneft has even made moves into the Western hemisphere, and owns about 30 percent of an ExxonMobil oil field in the Canadian province of Alberta.

Rosneft accounts for 40 percent of Russian oil output, and also has strong partnerships with Norway’s Statoil and Italy’s Eni.

Rosneft is an oil company. Gazprom, a gas exporter as its name would imply, has the same kind of mutually beneficial relationships with their Western counterparts as the Christian Science Monitor reported on May 2nd:

Although the European Union has imposed its own tough sanctions on 48 Russian individuals, Gazprom is arguably where daylight exists between the Obama administration and the EU on the issue of penalizing Moscow for its actions in Ukraine.

The numbers make it clear why. Russia is the EU’s third-biggest trading partner, after the U.S. and China; in 2012, bilateral EU-Russian trade amounted to almost $370 billion. The same year, U.S. trade with Russia amounted to just $26 billion.

For all of the rhetoric about the inevitable clash between Russia and the West, there is no evidence that it has anything to do with economics. I defy anybody to find an article prior to the crisis in the Ukraine that refers to Russia as inimical to capitalist interests. All you need to do is look at one of those advertising supplements in the NY Times that appears every year or so to confirm this. You know the kind I am talking about, the one that has articles to the effect of Russia being an open door for investors.

It is only when some unfortunate group of peoples finds itself on the wrong side of Russian foreign policy that the rhetoric about a new Cold War bubbles up once again. For Parry and company, there are never any legitimate grievances in a place like Syria or Ukraine. What you get is an “outside agitator” theory in which the natives become restless after a phone call from a Virginia Nuland or a Saudi prince. Russia is entitled to support any military action to put down these fifth columns until law and order is restored. In many ways, the excuses made for the iron fist are the same as Israel’s in Gaza. It is no surprise that both Bashar al-Assad and more recently Abdel Fattah el-Sisi align themselves with Russia over Islamic “extremism” and vice versa.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has made a startling intervention in Egypt’s political turmoil by backing its defence minister for the presidency, before an election has even been declared.

Whether the minister, the newly promoted Field Marshal Abdulfattah el-Sisi, will stand for president in elections scheduled for later this year is the biggest talking point in Egyptian politics, with elements of a personality cult already forming around him.

His aides have consistently denied reports that he has already made a decision, but Mr Putin chose to ignore that while welcoming him on a visit to Moscow.

“I know that you have made a decision to run for president,” Mr Putin said. “That’s a very responsible decision: to undertake such a mission for the fate of the Egyptian people. On my own part, and on behalf of the Russian people, I wish you success.”

Turning now to Parry’s article, “Airline Horror Spurs New Rush to Judgment”, you are struck by his use of the trump card—the unnamed Spooks who really know what is going on. In other words, we are up against the same tried and true method of Seymour Hersh.

Regarding the shoot-down of the Malaysian jetliner on Thursday, I’m told that some CIA analysts cite U.S. satellite reconnaissance photos suggesting that the anti-aircraft missile that brought down Flight 17 was fired by Ukrainian troops from a government battery, not by ethnic Russian rebels who have been resisting the regime in Kiev since elected President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown on Feb. 22.

Oh really? Well, I am told that some CIA analysts view Vladimir Putin as the recipient of Joseph Stalin’s brain in experimental surgery conducted by a Martian who landed on earth in 1990 determined to save the universe from George Soros and Samantha Power. Who told me that? Sorry, I must keep my sources confidential. Okay, just this one time I will divulge my source. It is Herman Goldstein, my neighbor who read it in an investor’s newsletter out of Corpus Christi, Texas. Mums the word.

Parry continues:

According to a source briefed on the tentative findings, the soldiers manning the battery appeared to be wearing Ukrainian uniforms and may have been drinking, since what looked like beer bottles were scattered around the site. But the source added that the information was still incomplete and the analysts did not rule out the possibility of rebel responsibility.

No, this is Parry and not Onion.com. I love the bit about beer bottles scattered around the site. You’d think that he would have mentioned vodka in order to make it sound more plausible. The last time I read anything this ridiculous was when Mint Press reported on rebels playing around with sarin gas containers causing an accident that cost the lives of hundreds in East Ghouta. Those Ukrainian troops and Syrian rebels, just like Bluto and Otter getting into trouble in “Animal House”.

Much of Parry’s finely honed investigative reporting talents, burnished at Newsweek no less, are turned to casting doubt on the possibility that the separatists had a ground to air missile capable of reaching 33,000 feet.

I wonder if Parry needs some brushing up on Google since a brief search would reveal that such missiles not only exist but have been used previously. Last Monday a missile brought down a Ukrainian military transport, the AN-26, from a height of 21,000 feet—far beyond the reach of a MANPAD. Well, who knows? I suppose if Parry had learned of this, he would have blamed drunken Ukrainians as well.

To drive his point home, Parry refers to the sarin gas incident that supposedly was a false flag operation intended to justify an American “regime change” invasion of Syria that would have put the FSA in power. Yes, I know. It sounds ridiculous at this point with so many articles referring to the White House’s preference for Bashar al-Assad over any and every rebel but let’s follow Parry’s tortured logic since it is clear that so many of our “anti-imperialists” will take him at his word.

Despite the war hysteria then gripping Official Washington, President Obama rejected war at the last moment and – with the help of Russian President Putin – was able to negotiate a resolution of the crisis in which Assad surrendered Syria’s chemical weapons while still denying a hand in the sarin gas attack.

Actually, there was no “war hysteria” in Washington, or more specifically in the White House. An astute analysis of Obama’s designs appeared in the NY Times on October 22nd 2013, written when the alarums over a looming war with Syria were at their loudest. It stated “from the beginning, Mr. Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention, even as public calls mounted that year for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from bombings.” The article stressed the role of White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, who had frequently clashed with the hawkish Samantha Power. In contrast to Power and others with a more overtly “humanitarian intervention” perspective, McDonough “who had perhaps the closest ties to Mr. Obama, remained skeptical. He questioned how much it was in America’s interest to tamp down the violence in Syria.”

Well, no matter. The NY Times is the boss’s newspaper and we should never believe whatever it prints. We are far better off with someone like Robert Parry who spent a decade writing for Newsweek. Wheeling out his heavy artillery, he refers his readers to an unimpeachable source:

In watching Obama’s address, I was struck by how casually he lied. He knew better than almost anyone that some of his senior intelligence analysts were among those doubting the Syrian government’s guilt. Yet, he suggested that anyone who wasn’t onboard the propaganda train was crazy.

Since then, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has revealed other evidence indicating that the sarin attack may indeed have been a rebel provocation meant to push Obama over the “red line” that he had drawn about not tolerating chemical weapons use.

Well, Seymour Hersh revealed no “evidence” at all. Evidence would be like something presented to a jury in a murder trial, like a bloody knife or tampered brakes on a car. All Hersh did was assure his readers that Bashar al-Assad was pure as the driven snow because someone who worked for the CIA told him so.

For those who want to read genuine investigative reporting instead of this “unnamed sources” crapola from Parry or Hersh, I refer you to Elliot Higgins, aka Brown Moses, who as far as I know, never worked for Newsweek.

Sy Hersh’s Chemical Misfire

Two munitions were linked to the Aug. 21 sarin attack: a Soviet M14 140 mm artillery rocket with a sarin warhead and a previously unknown munition that appeared at multiple locations. Since the sarin attack, eight separate examples of the previously unknown type of munition have been filmed and photographed in the Jobar, Zamalka, and Ein Tarma suburbs of Damascus, an example of which is shown below.

    • The munitions are used by Syrian government forces and are known as “Volcanoes.”
    • The term “Volcano” is also used for a smaller improvised rocket used by pro-government forces.
    • The type of Volcano used in the Aug. 21 attack comes in three known types: A chemical and explosive type are both launched from a two-barrel launcher, while a large explosive type is launched from a single-barrel launcher.
    • The explosive type has been used since November 2012, while the first known instance of the chemical type being used was June 2013.

I suspect it is exactly this kind of analysis—based on evidence—rather than the specious use of unnamed sources that will ultimately reveal who is responsible for the downing of the Malaysian jet.

June 24, 2014

Addendum to “Is Russia Imperialist” — what to make of state ownership of Gazprom

Filed under: corruption,oil,Russia,state capitalism — louisproyect @ 7:12 pm

In Roger Annis’s article there is a problematic reference to state ownership that I want to address:

It’s the state, not finance capital, which plays the overriding, directing role in Russia’s economy. The state happens to own much of the vaunted oil and gas industries; so too in finance and much of manufacturing. The CIA Factbook explains some of the consequences thusly: “The protection of property rights is still weak and the private sector remains subject to heavy state interference.

But before attending to that, there are a couple of other matters requiring attention. Annis claimed that since Russia’s GDP per capita is only about half of South Korea’s, it ruled out the possibility that it can be imperialist. I am not sure whether that statistic can in and of itself be used to establish a nation’s place in the capitalist food chain since Ireland ranks higher than Germany.

Consider the example of Czarist Russia, a nation that was both imperialist and underdeveloped according to Leon Trotsky, a thinker who had some influence on Annis in his youth. According to Vitali A. Meliantsev, a Russia economist, the GDP per capita in Russia on the eve of WWI was a third that of the West (page 13 of a paper linked here). Per capita GDP in Russia ran between 18-22 % that of the United States. Despite this, Lenin had no problem referring to Russia as imperialist in 1917, just before the Bolsheviks seized power.

The other thing that strikes the eye to anybody familiar with Ukrainian history is the image at the top of Annis’s article:

It has the caption “People’s Friendship Arch: This steel rainbow was erected in 1983 to commemorate the unification of Ukraine and Russia in 1653 and is meant to symbolize friendship and mutual respect between the two nations.”

I wonder if Annis has any inkling of what that “unification” means to Ukrainian nationalists. Ukraine and Czarist Russia signed an agreement in the town of Pereislav not on the basis of “mutual respect” but mostly on the basis of Ukraine’s need to find a military ally against Polish domination. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries Ukrainian Cossacks were locked in battles against the Poles, finally making an alliance with the Crimean Tatars in the 1650s that only achieved a stalemate. Led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the Cossacks viewed the Czar as a lesser evil.

Paul Robert Magosci sums up the treaty in his “History of Ukraine” as follows:

Aside from the debates among legal scholars and historians, Pereiaslav and its reputed architect, Bohdan Khmel’nyts’kyi, have taken on a symbolic force in the story of Ukraine’s relationship with Russia and have become the focus of either praise or blame. For instance, in the nineteenth century the Ukrainian national bard, Taras Shevchenko, designated Khmel’nyts’kyi the person responsible for his people’s ‘enslavement’ under Russia. The government of Tsar Alexander III (reigned 1881-1894), however, erected in the center of historic Kiev a large equestrian statue of Khmel’nyts’kyi, his outstreched arm pointing northward as an indication of Ukraine’s supposed desire to be linked with Russia. After World War II, the Pereiaslav myth was resurrected, this time by Soviet ideologists, who, on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the agreement in 1954, transformed the event into the ultimate symbol of Ukraine’s ‘reunification’ with Russia, from whom it had been forcibly separated by foreign occupation since the fall of Kievan Rus’.

Whatever writers subsequently have speculated about Pereiaslav, one thing is certain: after 1654, the tsardom of Muscovy — which within seventy-five years would be transformed into the Russian Empire — considered Malorossiia (Little Russia, i.e., Ukraine) its legal patrimony. Since the tsar considered Little Russia part of his Kievan Rus’ inheritance, whatever rights or liberties he granted the Cossacks at Pereiaslav were gifts he could take back whenever he wished.

From what I have seen from Roger Annis to this point, I am afraid that his intentions of using this photo was to help propagate the Pereiaslav myth favored by Soviet ideologues.

Let’s now take a look at Annis’s observation that “The state happens to own much of the vaunted oil and gas industries”, which is obviously a reference to Gazprom. One is not quite sure what state ownership has to do with whether a nation is imperialist or not, especially in light of Lenin’s references to German state-capitalism. In his 1921 article “Tax in Kind”, Lenin makes the case for state-capitalism but under the control of the working class:

To make things even clearer, let us first of all take the most concrete example of state capitalism. Everybody knows what this example is. It is Germany. Here we have “the last word” in modern large-scale capitalist engineering and planned organisationsubordinated to Junker-bourgeois imperialism. Cross out the words in italics, and in place of the militarist, Junker, bourgeois, imperialist state put also a state, but of a different social type, of a different class content—a Soviet state, that is, a proletarian state, and you will have the sum total of the conditions necessary for socialism.

However, it would seem that Lenin was referring more to state control than state ownership. After all, wasn’t it the case that monopoly capitalism is pretty much based on a kind of planning done in conjunction with the state? I reject Tony Cliff’s use of the term to describe the USSR but it seems useful as a way of understanding the “military-industrial complex” referred to by President Eisenhower.

What I think is more important is the usefulness of a phrase like “The state happens to own much of the vaunted oil and gas industries”. It is safe to say that I own the Macbook that I am typing this article with but is there the same relationship between the state and Gazprom?

According to Wikipedia, the largest shareholder in Gazprom as of the end of 2006 was Gazprombank at 41.235%, a chunk of stock that would ensure corporate control. You, of course, would wonder what was going on when Gazprombank, a subsidiary of Gazprom, is the largest shareholder. That is like saying that BP Bank (if there was such a thing) owned the biggest bloc of shares in BP.

Since the Wikipedia article contains no new information after 2006, you have to do a bit of digging around. A Financial Times article from November 30, 2011 brings things relatively up to date:

When Gazprom transferred control in 2007 of Gazprombank, its banking arm and the country’s third biggest lender, to Gazfond, the gas giant’s $6bn pension fund, the deal was seen as so incremental that the investor community barely noticed.

But Gazfond was closely linked to Bank Rossiya – which owned Lider Asset Management, the company that managed Gazfond’s assets and held most of the latter’s stake in Gazprombank as a nominee shareholder.

Keeping up with me? Gazprom spawned Gazprombank, which became the largest shareholder in Gazprom. But then Gazfond took over Gazprombank that was partnered with Bank Rossiya, which owned Lider Asset. Is your head spinning at this point? Try a little Dramamine.

While it is obviously difficult to penetrate through the interlocking directorships and ownerships of all these corporate entities, one thing is clear. Gazprom exists to make a group of men wealthy beyond comprehension. The NY Times reported on March 1 2012:

Arkady R. Rotenberg, a former judo coach, is now a billionaire industrialist, having made a fortune selling pipe to the state-owned gas monopoly, Gazprom.

Yuri V. Kovalchuk owned a minority stake in a small bank in St. Petersburg that in recent years won control of a number of Gazprom subsidiaries. He is now worth $1.5 billion.

Gennady N. Timchenko, once the little-known sales manager of a local oil refinery, is now one of the world’s richest men, co-owner of a commodity trading company that moves about $70 billion of crude oil a year, much of it through major contracts with Rosneft, the Russian national oil company.

What these men share, besides staggering wealth and roots in St. Petersburg, is a connection to Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, who is poised to win a new six-year term as president in elections on Sunday. The three billionaires are members of a close circle of friends, relatives, associates, colleagues from the security services and longtime advisers who have grown fabulously wealthy during Mr. Putin’s 12 years as Russia’s paramount leader.

Critics say these relationships are evidence of deeply entrenched corruption, which they view as essentially government-sanctioned theft invariably connected to Russia’s abundant natural resources: gas, oil, minerals. This has become a persistent grievance of demonstrators who have staged four large street protests since December and are promising more after the election.

“The basic point is that these guys have benefited and made their fortunes through deals which involved state-controlled companies, which were operating under the direct control of government and the president,” said Vladimir S. Milov, a former deputy energy minister and now political opposition leader who has written several reports alleging corruption. “Certain personal close friends of Putin who were people of relatively moderate means before Putin came to power all of a sudden turned out to be billionaires.”

Those street protesters that Kagarlitsky derided as effete liberal yuppies had it right. What you are seeing is government-sanctioned theft. This was alluded to, after a fashion, in the CIA Handbook that Annis cited: “the private sector remains subject to heavy state interference.” For Annis, “heavy state interference” must smack of St. Petersburg 1917 when in fact it has more in common with crony capitalism everywhere in the world, starting with those Middle East and North African countries that so often get included in the “anti-imperialist” bloc.

On December 23, 2011 Reuters published “Special Report: The Gaddafi oil papers” that will give you a strong sense of why the Kremlin and the toppled dictator found such an affinity:


In a separate report published in 2010, Ben Amer’s ministry said almost five million barrels of oil worth around half a billion dollars had disappeared from a particular field in 2008.

That report said its investigation was triggered by information from Beshti. Ghanem, the oil minister and head of the NOC [the state-owed National Oil Company]  at the time, said he did not know about the missing oil; he depended on departmental heads for information and the NOC could not control the activities of its subsidiaries. He believes Beshti was motivated by a personal grudge.

“When you are in charge of 45,000 people you are going to make enemies,” Ghanem said, adding that in Libya’s current climate, witch hunts are inevitable as individuals struggle for power. “People will come up with rubbish stories just to tarnish others for personal revenge.”

The 2010 report also found millions of dollars in payments for oil had been erratic and difficult to trace. This was partly because multiple bank accounts had been opened in the NOC’s name. On top of that, deals had been cut by individuals without authorization.

“The Director of the Crude Oil Department used to sell instant shipments on his own and without referring to … even his own superior officer,” the report says. The crude oil manager at the time, Khaled Nashnoush, is also the signatory of at least one of the allegedly backdated contracts. He could not be reached for comment, and no one at the NOC could say where he is now.

Ghanem said it would be unreasonable to expect him to monitor the activities of all individuals. “Otherwise what is the point of having a head of department?”

June 23, 2014

Indefensible Marxism

Filed under: Fascism,Russia,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 6:48 pm

Helga Zepp-LaRouche, Natalya Vitrenko and Lyndon LaRouche at a conference held by the Germany-based Schiller Institute

In Defense of Marxism is the website dedicated to the ideology of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), a group aspiring to breathe life into the moribund Fourth International project. Its top leader is Alan Woods, a 70-year-old Brit who broke with 72-year-old fellow Brit Peter Taaffe in 1992 over the question of whether their sect should remain in the Labour Party (Taaffe favored an exit). Woods is best known for his undying loyalty to the Chavista project in Venezuela while Taaffe is distinguished for having spawned Socialist Alternative, the American group that is in the spotlight now for its member Kshama Sawant having been elected to Seattle’s City Council.

Up until recently, I have had no major problems with Woods’s sect and probably forwarded more of his articles to Marxmail than any other group except for the ISO. I thought the reporting on Venezuela was valuable even if it failed to understand how its Leninist formulas were inappropriate for moving the struggle forward. There were also many interesting items on art and science that reflected a serious engagement with developments ignored by other such groups. For example, an article on Leonardo Da Vinci is very much worth reading as is one on quantum physics and Marxist dialectics.

Like a number of other groups on the left, the IMT has attached itself to the cause of the Donbass separatists. Along with John Rees’s Counterfire and others similarly inclined, Woods has taken the position that Euromaidan is a fascist plot against workers power. The two groups spearheaded a conference in London held on June 2nd in the name of the “Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine”.

To some extent, although this is impossible to prove, it might be related to IMT’s close identification with Venezuelan state policies that tend to follow RT.com and PressTV’s talking points. However, despite Venezuela’s support for Bashar al-Assad, the IMT viewed the revolt as legitimate. It may be the case that the IMT’s hostility to Euromaidan might have more to do with a long-standing inability to grasp the national question.

For example, when Argentina went to war with Britain over the Malvinas, the IMT took a “third camp” position, even continuing to refer to the Falklands. In an article by Ted Grant, the leader of the IMT until his death in 2006, we see that the rights of the British citizen take precedence over that of the Argentine nation.

Although there are only 1,800 Falkland Islanders, Marxists nevertheless have to take into consideration their rights and interests. The Junta’s claim to the Falklands is purely an imperialist claim for loot in the shape of resources which can be developed, although even this is secondary to their aim of heading off revolution by diverting workers along nationalist lines.

Despite the fact Argentina was ruled by a military dictatorship, the Argentine left supported the reintegration of the island, including Carlo Petroni, the leader of the IMT’s section who formed a Class Struggle Faction over this very issue. Commenting on an IMT article claiming that Britain “obtained” the Falklands in 1830, Petroni wrote:

The article completely ignores how Britain obtained them. Britain invaded the Malvinas and massacred its Argentinean population. Some local guerrilla fighters, led by Gaucho Rivero, waged a war against the British invaders for years. Upon his capture, Rivero was sent to die in a British prison.

For generations Argentineans have been brought up to struggle to recover the Islands. This is what explains both the courage of the Argentinean conscripts in the face of the cowardly actions of their officers during the war and the mass support among young people for the struggle against British and American imperialism. The war over the Malvinas Islands only coalesced this historical hatred for British imperialism, and completely unmasked the role of American imperialism.

It is not hard to figure out the parallels with the Ukraine. For the IMT, the Euromaidan was equated with NATO, Western banks, the IMF, fascist gangs and just about any other dirt it could dig up. The grass roots movement against Yanukovych was about as important to Alan Woods as the aspirations of the Argentine left. So aggravated was Petroni that he eventually split with the mother ship. Of course, such splits are endemic to the Trotskyist movement and I would not want to make too much of it but on the issues Petroni was obviously right.

Turning to the IMT’s coverage of Ukraine, you are really struck by the reckless disregard for objectivity. In some ways, the articles are beneath propaganda and almost appear written to make the group indistinguishable from the Communist Party in Ukraine, a mainstay of Kremlin ambitions.

The first inkling I got of something off at the IMT website was a March 26 interview with a Ukrainian named Dmitry Kolesnik that should have not passed the smell test. Kolesnik warns about an ominous development that coincides with and is related to Euromaidan: “We can even talk of the establishment of a ‘Brown International’. So, Ukrainian far-rights in power and on the streets is a part of a common European trend and, therefore, should be dealt also on an international basis.”

There is a big problem with this, however. The European far right is pretty much in agreement with the IMT that Euromaidan was a EU/NATO plot and now hails Putin as the last best hope for defending Ukraine against “imperialism”. Golden Dawn, Jobbik, the National Front in France, and the BNP in England are all on the side of the Kremlin against the Jewish/imperialist cabal of bankers and politicians. This is from the BNP website:

While the rest of the world sinks in to an economic crisis of its own making, Russia lives within its means and cuts its suit according to its cloth. Its people are not in perpetual debt, and while their lifestyle might not be as luxurious as the wealthy in the US or Europe, they live happy lives with the prospect of retiring at 55.

And here is the BNP on Ukraine:

In case you don’t know, the National Endowment for Democracy was behind the Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution. Known as an asset of the America Intelligence Community, the NED has been behind a plethora of other ‘’people’s revolutions’’ that have overthrown sovereign nations in order to bring them into a planned One World Government.

The NED were also behind the Rose Revolution in 2003 that lead to an armed conflict with Russia in 2008; and – more to the point – they were a major part of the Solidarnost protest movement that sought to overthrow Vladimir Putin after the Duma Elections of 2011.

That could have been lifted from Counterfire or the IMT website. Indeed, Boris Kagarlitsky, who was one of the keynote speakers at the June 2nd conference on the Ukraine referred to above, spoke at another conference about the menace of colored revolutions in 2010 that was organized by the FPO in Austria—that’s the party formerly led by Jörg Haider, who once referred to Auschwitz as a “punishment camp”.

By early May, Alan Woods had become a shameless defender of the separatist movement in Donbass, referring to it as a “popular revolution”.  One month later, the IMT was publishing articles even more extreme.

On June 7th an antiwar conference was held in Minsk that was endorsed by Alan Woods’s supporters in Russia. To give you an idea of the conference’s orientation, the call stated: “the military conflict that followed the victory of the neo-liberals and nationalists in the ‘Euromaidan’ actions in Kiev has claimed hundreds of lives and contributed to an unprecedented growth of chauvinism and xenophobia in Ukrainian and Russian society.”

IMT member Artem Kirpichenok gave a speech at the Minsk conference that demonized the Euromaidan movement:

Armed gangs of far-right thugs, football fans and generally fascist elements from within the public have been regularly attacking communist and trade union activists since the very beginning of the so-called Euromaidan.

Borotba, a group that shares the IMT’s politics and participated in the conference, endorsed the positions adopted there but with reservations—finding it “too moderate”. Borotba explained its objection to a statement that found the Kremlin guilty of intervention:

Here, Kagarlitskiy, is probably closer to the truth, when he said that if Russia was truly a democratic regime, the Russian tanks would already be near Kiev. The Russian regime should be criticized not for intervention but for non-interference, bordering on the actual betrayal, which is accompanied by deafening patriotic and anti-fascist propaganda.

I imagine that Kagarlitsky was trying to say that Putin was ignoring the wishes of the majority but what a commentary on his understanding of democracy! For a number of years now Putin has been cracking down on the opposition, jailing journalists and closing down media outlets that defy the Kremlin’s policy goals. When you have total control over the press, what meaning does the word democratic have? In the 1950s, Communists were fired from their jobs at universities in the USA and in the media while both parties in Washington ratcheted up the Cold War. Don’t you think that when someone like me developed anti-Communist attitudes, it had something to do with my access to information?

That being said, Borotba’s idea that Russia was guilty of “non-interference” can only be understood as the outcome of living in an ideological bubble. People living outside the bubble understand how ludicrous such a claim is but not the poor unfortunates living within it. One Igor Girkin (aka Strelkov) heads up the Donbass People’s Militia. In an interview with Pravda, Girkin revealed that his troops had experience fighting for the Russian armed forces in Chechnya, Central Asia, Yugoslavia, Iraq and even Syria. That’s some non-interference.

Searchlight, a British organization launched in 1964 to oppose fascism, published an article on the June 2nd conference titled “Warning to anti-fascists invited to meeting at SOAS”. It departed from the bubble consensus.

It pointed out that Borotba has been working with the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, whose leader Natalya Vitrenko is a long-time associate of Lyndon LaRouche, the rightwing cult leader who has been a solid supporter of the Kremlin and the Donbass separatist movement. Here’s Vitrenko hailing LaRouche on his 90th birthday:

Lyn, you have also rendered unquestionable service through your tremendous political activity as a candidate for the U.S. Presidency and builder of the Schiller Institute, which brought together scientists from all continents and became a platform for an alternative to the reforms of the IMF, the World Trade Organization, and the World Bank. On that platform, under your leadership, representatives of 39 countries in December 1995 adopted the Memorandum to Mankind, the importance of which increases with each passing year. I am proud to have had a direct role in drafting it.

On March 3rd, a statement signed by Ukrainian left organizations and individuals denounced Borotba for its collaboration with Vitrenko’s group:

”Borotba” has proved itself an organization with a non-transparent funding mechanism and unscrupulous principles of cooperation. It uses hired workers, who are not even the members of the organization. The local cells of “Borotba” took part in the protest actions together with PSPU (Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine), which is an anti-Semitic, racist, and clerical party, and has no relation to the world socialist movement) and with Kharkiv pro-government, anti-Semitic and homophobic group “Oplot”; and are known for their linkage with an infamous journalist O. Chalenko, who openly stands for Russian chauvinism.

Back in the 1970s, Lyndon LaRouche’s goons were breaking up left meetings armed with clubs and other weapons. Who would ever have dreamed that forty years later it would still be exercising a baleful influence but on a much more difficult to prevent basis. After all, it is much more difficult to ward off ideas offered in the name of Lenin that run counter to everything he stood for than it is to block a blow from a club or a fist. Difficult but necessary.

June 22, 2014

Is Russia imperialist? A reply to Roger Annis and Sam Williams

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,Japan,Russia — louisproyect @ 8:03 pm

Hideki Tojo: he anticipated Vladimir Putin

On June 18th Truthout published an article by Canadian socialist Roger Annis titled The Russia as “Imperialist” Thesis Is Wrong and a Barrier to Solidarity With the Ukrainian and Russian People that is an extended polemic against a view he describes as follows:

More deeply, the empirical, economic and political evidence disproves the claims of Russia as “imperialist.”

The role of finance capital is the benchmark of any measure of the core nature of a capitalist country. In Russia, it is nothing resembling that of the imperialist countries. It’s the state, not finance capital, which plays the overriding, directing role in Russia’s economy. The state happens to own much of the vaunted oil and gas industries; so too in finance and much of manufacturing. The CIA Factbook explains some of the consequences thusly: “The protection of property rights is still weak and the private sector remains subject to heavy state interference.”

Before addressing his arguments, a word or two about Annis’s recent evolution is in order. Shortly after the war in Iraq began, Annis resigned from the Canadian sect that was allied with the American SWP over its abstention from the antiwar movement. I have not followed his trajectory closely but was not prepared for his recent turn toward the Donetsk separatist movement. Along with Boris Kagarlitsky, Alan Woods, and Socialist Alliance member Renfrey Clarke, Annis has essentially defended a movement as anticapitalist no matter the presence of leaders with connections to the Kremlin, or more alarmingly, Russian fascism. Kagarlitsky, who runs a think-tank funded partially by the Kremlin, spoke at a conference on “colored revolutions” in 2010 hosted by the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, the Austrian party formerly led by Jörg Haider, a politician widely regarded as a neo-Nazi. In addition to Kagarlitsky, speakers included the Russian fascist Aleksandr Dugin and Israel Shamir, the eccentric journalist who smeared me as a shill for NATO. Clarke has been faithfully translating Kagarlitsky’s pro-separatist articles into English while Annis makes sure to reproduce them on his blog. It would seem to me that these people have lost their way.

Annis is strongly influenced by blogger Sam Williams, whose 30-page article “Is Russia Imperialist” reprises many of the same points made by Annis, especially the business about finance capital being key. I was only aware in the past of Williams’s blog “A Critique of Crisis Theory” having an orientation to the ongoing debates about the falling rate of profit, etc. This was the first article, as far as I know, that took up questions outside of the value theory bailiwick.

It is safe to assume that Williams was a member of the Workers World Party based on his “about me” page:

It was in this period [the 1970s] that I met my friend and collaborator Jon Britton. With his help and encouragement, I began to write articles for the socialist press, though under a different name.

Along with Bill Massey, Britton had joined the WWP after leaving the Socialist Workers Party. Sam Marcy formed the WWP after leaving the SWP over differences on how to regard the Hungarian Revolution. I have very fond memories of Jon Britton and can only say that if he chose to join the WWP, that speaks highly of the organization even if I have deep disagreements with their “global class war” analysis.

James P. Cannon viewed Hungary in 1956 as a workers revolt against Stalinist oppression while Sam Marcy took a position very close to the Kremlin’s, namely that it was a CIA plot. Oddly enough, despite the obvious embrace of Marcy’s analysis on the left, including many writers on CounterPunch where I am a regular contributor, the WWP never seemed able to exploit the broad support for its positions.

When you look at Williams’s article, you will see immediately how it dovetails with the WWP type analysis:

The Orange Revolution was part of a series of pro-Empire “color revolutions”—some successful and some not—that were organized by the Empire and its local representatives with the aim of replacing governments that resisted the Empire in one way or another. Other such “revolutions” include the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon; the unsuccessful Green Revolution in Iran, which also attempted unsuccessfully to overturn a presidential election; and the Rose Revolution in Georgia.

This, of course, was the theme of the conference organized by the FPO that Kagarlitsky spoke at. As has become quite evident in recent months, the left and the ultraright have come to an agreement that Putin is a heroic figure standing up to NATO, the IMF, Western banks, the CIA and all the rest. Even the Golden Dawn, that now has the brass to sing the Horst Wessel song at its rallies, regards Putin as a savior.

After a few thousand words reprising the talking points of the pro-Kremlin left about how Euromaidan was a fascist plot organized by the CIA, Williams turns to the question of whether Russia is imperialist. Like Annis, he insists that everything hinges on finance capital:

What is the relative position of Russian banks today? If Russia today is not only capitalist, which it indeed is, but also imperialist, we would expect Russian banks to be increasingly prominent in the world, since the “great” universal banks are the most important organizations of finance capital. The publication Global Finance lists the world’s 50 biggest banks as of 2012 in terms of assets. Despite the size and natural wealth of Russia, not a single Russian bank appears on the list.

Besides finance capital, NATO distinguishes the real imperialists from Russia:

If you have to describe the difference between the imperialism of 1914 and the imperialism of 2014 in one word, it would be NATO. Unlike in 1914, there is one military machine, or “czar,” that dominates the imperialist world. And its roots are not in feudal but purely capitalist relations. This machine includes the armed forces not only of the United States but also of other countries in the NATO “alliance,” including Britain, Germany, France and, though formally part of a separate security treaty, Japan as well.

Part of the problem with this analysis is that it focuses on imperialist rather than imperialism. Lenin’s 1914 pamphlet is a guide to understanding a system, not a handbook on classifying countries. For much of the past ten years or so, I have seen arguments on Marxmail going on at length on how to classify apartheid South Africa (or even post-apartheid) or Israel. Are they imperialist? Sub-imperialist? Lenin never intended to provide some kind of birdwatcher’s guide for such classifications, however.

Lenin’s pamphlet was written for a specific time and place, not a universally applicable textbook. If you take it that way, then you might as well conclude that the war in the Pacific pitted an imperialist USA against a non-imperialist Japan. Do we really want to view Japan as non-imperialist? I don’t think that would have sat well with someone living under occupation in Manchuria or the people of Nanking.

Unfortunately Germaine A. Hoston’s Marxism and Japanese Expansionism: Takahashi Kamekichi and the Theory of “Petty Imperialism” that appeared in the Journal of Japanese Studies (Winter, 1984) is behind a paywall  but I will be happy to send a copy on request. Takahashi Kamekichi’s made the case that Japan was not imperialist according to Lenin’s definition of the term. His evidence was impressive even if it led to the wrong conclusion.

Kamekichi honed in on the phenomenon of yukizumari, a term that meant deadlock and that referred to the failure of the post-Meiji restoration period to propel Japan into the first rank of capitalist nations. The previous partition of the world had deprived Japan of access to raw materials, especially the oil that was crucial to full-scale industrial and military prowess.

It meant that Japan was incapable of producing heavy capital goods like Germany or Britain. In the 1920s 73 percent of Japanese exports were textiles and even when capital goods were being produced, tariffs from more powerful capitalist nations inhibited sales.

Finally, and most importantly given Sam Williams’s emphasis on finance capital, Japan was simply not in the same league with the USA and Europe. Roston writes:

Finally, Japanese imperialism could not be powered by “financial capital” in the Leninist sense. Finance capital had grown prematurely in the late-developing Japan, with the support of the Meiji state, in advance of industrial capital. This process constituted a reversal of the development sequence of Europe and America. Consequently, the finance capital to be found in the zaibatsu was not identical with the finance capital Lenin and Rudolf Hilferding had described as characteristic of the “age of finance capital.”45 These internal and international financial conditions placed severe constraints on Japanese economic expansion. Even where Japan had been able to execute imperialistic ventures, the benefits of these to Japanese capitalistic development and the extent of Japan s imperialistic exploitation were necessarily more limited than those gained through comparable activities by the U.S., Great Britain, and Germany.

Japan pinned its hopes on the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a policy that was designed to achieve imperialist goals in the name of anti-imperialism, anticipating to some extent Putin’s Eurasian Economic bloc. Just as Putin positions himself as a friend of nations suffering from IMF, NATO, Western banking interests, etc., so did Japan appeal to Asian nations as its benefactor.

You get the same kind of demagogy surrounding China’s penetration of Africa today. In exchange for some clinics, roads, and rural schools, China gets access to precious resources necessary for capital accumulation.

Prime Minister Tojo gave a speech to the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere on November 5th 1943 that will ring a bell with those who have been paying attention to the left that has been suckered into supporting the Donetsk People’s Republic:

During the past centuries, the British Empire, through fraud and aggression, acquired vast territories throughout the world and maintained its domination over other nations and peoples in the various regions by keeping them pitted and engaged in conflict one against another. On the other hand, the United States which, by taking advantage of the disorder and confusion in Europe, had established its supremacy over the American continents spread its tentacles to the Pacific and to East Asia following its war with Spain. Then, with the opportunities afforded by the First World War, the United States began to pursue its ambition for world hegemony. More recently, with the outbreak of the present war, the United States has further intensified its imperialistic activities, making fresh inroads into North Africa, West Africa, the Atlantic Ocean, Australia, the Near East and even into India, apparently in an attempt to usurp the place of the British Empire.

What can we conclude from all this? It is useful to remind ourselves that Lenin wrote a pamphlet titled “Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism”. For some on the left, the emphasis on capitalism has been forgotten. Everything is reduced to a struggle between nations that are imperialist against those who are not. As Marxists, the emphasis should be on the class struggle, however. As class antagonisms deepen inside Ukraine, the small and weak left will become more critical as a voice of reason. I would urge people like Kagarlitsky, Annis, and Clarke to offer its solidarity to that left and cut its ties to the Russian propaganda machine. There’s a good chance that they will ignore me but I would hope that those still trying to make up their mind will give careful attention to what I have written. Time is of the essence.

June 16, 2014

Blood, spirit, the family, and soil: a response to Israel Shamir

Filed under: Jewish question,right-left convergence,Russia — louisproyect @ 6:53 pm

US Jews are divided on the Ukraine, as they were divided on Palestine. Friends of Palestine, people with a strong anti-imperialist record and sound knowledge of East European history – Noam Chomsky and Stephen F. Cohen — recognised and renounced the US attempt to sustain their hegemony by keeping brazen Russia down. A subset of people, Gilad Atzmon aptly called AZZ (anti-zionist zionists), Trots and other faux-Leftist shills for NATO like Louis Proyect – called for American intervention and brayed for Russian blood.

That was a paragraph in an articled titled “The Fateful Triangle: Russia, Ukraine and the Jews”  from the inimitable Israel Shamir, a frequent contributor to what I would describe as the conspiracist sphere of the Internet. These are websites that see wicked plots everywhere and in Shamir’s case, those spun by Jews.

Israel Shamir

One of the most objectionable parts of Shamir’s paragraph was the reference to me as a “US Jew”. How in the world did I earn that designation? After getting bar mitzvahed in 1958, I stopped attending synagogue. I would have stopped sooner but I was under my observant father’s thumb. I guess that Shamir is referring to my “blood” but if that were the basis for his attribution, then I would claim to be Turkish rather than Jewish since I descend from the Khazars, a Turkic tribe that adopted Judaism in the 8th century AD mostly for economic reasons. But then there’s the question of where the Khazars came from. They were probably Mongols at some point and before that who knows? Not to put too fine a point on it, my “blood” probably can be traced back to the African sub-Saharan regions, where the rest of the human race comes from. For someone who is used to thinking in class terms and hopes for a worldwide socialist system in which national identity becomes as outdated as religion and other mystifications, it is jarring to encounter someone so deep into racial distinctions as Shamir. What an odd duck.

Beside the business about “blood”, Shamir also has a thing about “spirit”: “Communism won in the East – not because the East was backward, but because the East was the most spiritual part of the planet, less ruined by modernity and alienation.”

Gosh, it’s been a long time since I heard anybody blather on about the “spiritual”. Back in 1966, just before I joined the Trotskyist movement, I used to buy LSD from a neighbor in my Hoboken tenement who went on to become a top guy in the Hare Krishna movement. Eventually his old habits returned, as he became a coke addict and a gun nut. In “Monkey on a Stick”, a fine history of the Hare Krishnas, authors John Hubner and Lindsay Gruson describe my old supplier driving around downtown Berkeley blasting out the windows of car dealers with an M-16. And all along, even now, old Hans Dutta describes himself as very “spiritual”. As for me, I am having none of it.

If you can believe the Wikipedia entry on Shamir (much of it sounds like it was describing a character in a Thomas Pynchon novel), you’ll learn that he converted to Orthodox Christianity somewhere along the line. I wonder if this means that he goes to Church on Sunday morning. What a waste of time. Homer Simpson had that right. It is a much better use of your time to be watching football games on Sunday. I suspect his Orthodoxy shapes his views on the burning social questions of the day. Like Maoist cult leader Bob Avakian in the early 70s, Shamir doesn’t want the gays dividing the working class. He concluded that a French bill to legalize gay marriage and adoption bill amounted to a “neoliberal attack on the French family”. Frankly, I would vote for any bill that undermined the nuclear family but then again I am more influenced by Engels than the Holy Bible.

Some on the left are agitated by what they regard as Israel Shamir’s anti-Semitism. I tend not to worry so much about this since the Jews haven’t faced what they call an “existential threat” since the 1930s. For me, Shamir’s crude and stupid musings on world Jewry are much more of a social gaffe, akin to peeing on a toilet seat. I am disappointed to see so many people accepting him into polite society on the leftwing of the Internet, but maybe sitting down in someone’s pee doesn’t bother them so much.

Mostly, the people today who have the most to fear are immigrants not Jews, especially those of color who are being attacked by neo-Nazis throughout Europe. As a socialist, I support open borders. As long as capital is free to cross borders, so are workers. Plus, speaking as a New Yorker, this city would be a lot less interesting without the steady influx of immigrants. Shamir feels otherwise, killing two birds with one stone: “The middle-class Gay International (a term of Joseph Massad) is on the forefront of support for immigration: one can explain it by their compassion, but one can also explain it by their own interests of having a pool of cheap and available sexual partners.” Yes, that makes perfect sense. The Gay International needs more kids from El Salvador–desperately trying to survive–because its hunger for sex partners is insatiable. What amazing social commentary from the 21st century’s De Tocqueville.

So, we see a pattern developing. If anything, Shamir is consistent. First there is blood, and then there is spirit, followed by the sacrosanct family unit, and topped off by soil. Blood, spirit, the holy family, and soil: a potent combination and far preferable to the epicene and deracinated socialist doctrines that are eroding mankind.

One can understand the appeal of blood, spirit, the family and the soil to large sectors of the left. We are living in a period when the idea of joining forces between the left and the right is quite seductive. Ralph Nader has organized a conference in Washington that brings together his own brand of anti-globalization activism and those of the Rand Paul flavor. Somehow, this siren song is lost on me. I didn’t even resort to Odysseus’s trick of stuffing my ears with bee’s wax. I must have had some kind of genetic disposition against the siren song of a Rand Paul, a character whose bad hairdo and insistence that shopkeepers have the right to exclude Blacks is reason enough to hate him.

I suppose I should say a few words on the Shamir article itself and his accusation of me as a shill for NATO. In an email exchange with Shamir, he clarified his thinking. It was not as if I ever backed American military intervention but it was more a question of backing the EuroMaidan protests. His logic is that if you are critical of Russia, you automatically become a shill for NATO. This methodology has been around for quite some time. Despite his rather problematic stance on the blood and soil stuff, he also is capable of speaking as a kind of paleo-Stalinist:

By 1933, with the capitalist world deeply mired in a devastating economic crisis, unemployment was declared abolished, and remained so for the next five and a half decades, until socialism, itself, was abolished. The Communists produced social security more robust than provided even by Scandinavian-style social democracy, but achieved with fewer resources and a lower level of development and in spite of the unflagging efforts of the capitalist world to see to it that socialism failed. Soviet socialism was, and remains, a model for humanity – of what can be achieved outside the confines and contradictions of capitalism.

I should add that the mixture of paleo-Stalinism and the blood/soil/family stuff might not be that surprising given that the Communist Party in Russia has straddled Red and Brown positions for a number of years. I doubt that they will ever return to power with such a program but they seem content to campaign around such themes no matter how few Russians buy it. For the Brown crap, the pin-headed Russian can go straight to the rightwing nationalist parties. There will always be nostalgia for “the good old days” of the USSR but I suspect that for those who take their Marxism seriously, it will not be on the basis of describing Stalin’s USSR as a “model for humanity”. The Communist movement collapsed largely because of its investment in such a fiction and like Humpty-Dumpty there is nothing that will put it back together again. I suspect that Shamir writes a lot of outrageous stuff in order to get attention. Howard Stern has the same approach, but unlike Shamir, he is intentionally funny while Shamir is just funny.

To wrap things up, let me say a word or two about the main points in Shamir’s article. He makes the case that Putin is a good friend of the Jews and of Israel, even to the point of being friendly with Masha Gessen, a “Jewish Lesbian Putin-hater”. (Apparently Shamir is as obsessed with peoples’ sexual orientation as he is with their blood quotient.) Somehow, I doubt that Putin is friendly with a woman who wrote a blistering attack on him in “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin” but let’s leave it at that.

After much more smoke-blowing about the Jews, Shamir gets to his main point, namely that global Jewry has a hard core (including me) that is part of a vast conspiracy to undermine Mother Russia and its good-hearted allies:  “Enemies of Putin in Russia, Ukraine, Europe and US do support Israel and are hostile to Palestine, to Syria of Bashar, to Venezuela of Chavez.” Well, I only speak for myself but I am quite capable of being opposed to the Baathists and supportive of the Chavistas at the same time, having written 28 articles over the years on behalf of Hugo Chavez’s movement as opposed to Shamir who has written none. He is more interested in writing about Jewzuela than Venezuela.

In terms of Syria and Palestine being litmus tests, this is a useful reminder of where things really stand. Based on Shamir’s criterion, 83 percent of the Palestinians would be considered “NATO shills” as well. So I am in good company.

Palestinians in Palestine still overwhelmingly against Assad

June 4, 2014 by Talal Alyan

As Assad opts for a modest 88.7% win for his third term, the latest Pew Global Attitudes Survey reaffirms that the self-designated liberator of Palestine continues to be flatly rejected by Palestinian in Palestine. The survey found that 83% of Palestinians under occupation consider Bashar Al Assad “unfavorable”, 65% of which regard him as “very unfavorable”

Read full article http://beyondcompromise.com/2014/06/04/palestinians-in-palestine-still-overwhelmingly-against-assad/


May 26, 2014

This is Russia, get it, faggot

Filed under: homophobia,Russia — louisproyect @ 7:09 pm

Early this month Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest, a TV show similar to “American Idol” but covering the European continent. Wurst is the stage name of Thomas Neuwirth, a bearded transvestite who wowed audiences with a number he wrote called “Rise Like a Phoenix”.

If you forget about the gown he wears, he would be indistinguishable from other androgynous stars like Prince or Turkey’s Tarkan. Strictly speaking, he performs as a man rather than in the female impersonator style of “La Cage aux Folles”.

Wurst is not very popular in Russia or Belarus, a neighbor of Russia that is even more committed to traditional values. In Belarus, a petition campaign directed to the very Orwellian sounding Ministry of Information complained:

The popular international competition will see our children filled with European liberals become a hotbed of sodomy! Belarus, one of the few countries in Europe that was able to maintain normal and healthy family values based on love and mutual support between men and women!

The Russian petition had just about the same wording. For Russians, the clear choice was the Tolmachevy sisters, twins who were the very picture of wholesomeness. They sang a treacly ballad titled “Shine” (I suppose the same thing can be said about Wurst’s song.)

Vladimir Yakunin, who runs Russian Railways and is close to Putin, stated: “This vulgar ethno-fascism from the distant past has once again become part of our lives. The ancient definition of democracy had nothing to do with bearded women but with the leadership of the people.” When asked why a handful of votes for Wurst were cast from Russia, Yakunin replied: “In Russia we also have people with different psychology or abnormal psychology so those [are the people] who voted for this person, the bearded lady.” (Financial Times, May 15)

Meanwhile, his boss told a dinner audience in St. Petersburg that he had nothing against gays just as long as they aren’t too pushy about it: “For us it is important to reaffirm traditional values…. I personally am very liberal (on matters of personal morality). People have the right to live their lives the way they want. But they should not be aggressive, or put it up for show.” That being said, he reminded them that: “The Bible talks about the two genders, man and woman, and the main purpose of union between them is to produce children.” (Telegraph, May 26)

Meanwhile, down in Iran, another country that doesn’t put up with sexual deviancy, the government was cracking down on some youngsters who made a Youtube clip of themselves dancing to Pharrell’s “Happy”. I confess to being ignorant up to that point of Pharrell or his song but subsequently learned that he is quite popular with young people and that he had invited his fans all around the world to create such videos.

The lyrics to Pharrell’s song are as vapid as Wurst’s or the Tolmachevy sisters. You’d think that the Iranians had danced to Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping”:

Pissing the night away
Pissing the night away
He drinks a whiskey drink
He drinks a vodka drink
He drinks a lager drink
He drinks a cider drink
He sings the songs that remind him
Of the good times
He sings the songs that remind him
Of the better times

Tehran’s top cop said: “After a vulgar clip which hurt public chastity was released in cyberspace, police decided to identify those involved in making that clip. Following a series of intelligence and police operations and after coordinating with the judiciary, all the suspects were identified and arrested.” Thankfully, the miscreants “confessed to their criminal acts”. (AFP, May 20)

After Iran’s “reformist” president twittered something that was interpreted as the need to cut the “Happy” dancers some slack, they were released. Some analysts view the arrests as an attempt to put the reformists on the defensive by hardliners who preferred Ahmadinejad. For those so disposed, it is probably reassuring that Putin has been able to keep the riffraff at bay, more or less after the fashion of the “kettling” tactic used by cops in the West.

For some on the left, the Russian and Iranian rulers are among the world’s best hope. As a counter-hegemonic bloc, the BRICS and their lesser allies in Syria and Iran, are just what is needed as an alternative to the IMF, NATO, Wall Street, and the EU. Probably nobody articulates this better than Asia Times’s Pepe Escobar whose May 19th article “The Geopolitical Earthquakes Reshaping Eurasia’s Economy” was ecstatic over a “new global architecture”:

Right after the potentially game-changing Sino-Russian summit comes a BRICS summit in Brazil in July. That’s when a $100 billion BRICS development bank, announced in 2012, will officially be born as a potential alternative to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank as a source of project financing for the developing world.

More BRICS cooperation meant to bypass the dollar is reflected in the “Gas-o-yuan,” as in natural gas bought and paid for in Chinese currency. Gazprom is even considering marketing bonds in yuan as part of the financial planning for its expansion. Yuan-backed bonds are already trading in Hong Kong, Singapore, London and most recently Frankfurt.

So if you are the kind of leftist who gets a frisson of excitement over a $100 billion BRIC development bank, it makes sense that you would be hostile to anything that undermined Brazilian, Russian, Indian, Chinese and South African ambitions. So what if Brazil’s World Cup hosting cost billions that could be better used to build hospitals and schools? Or that India is now being run by a man regarded by many as a fascist or that the ANC gunned down miners at Marikana? After all, you can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs.

I got my first glimmer of a tendency of the left to adopt an authoritarian attitude when it came to the clash between a BRICS figurehead and the riffraff shortly after Pussy Riot was jailed for sacrilege in a Russian Orthodox Church. Mike Whitney cheered Putin on in an August 8, 2012 article:

The truth is Putin kicked ass. But what does that prove? It proves that the Russian people are either very gullible or that the western media is just spreading more lies. So which is it?

The elections also prove that most Russians don’t share Pussy Riot’s views on Putin. Most people don’t want to “send Putin packing” as the girls said in their so-called “protest prayer”. And that’s understandable, too, because Putin has raised the standard of living for most Russians. He’s reduced poverty, increased literacy, and cut the number of people living in extreme poverty in half.

Let me try to explain the mindset of people like Mike Whitney. It is actually quite interesting in psychological terms. I assume that he, like many people on the left who have become part of the BRICS brigade, were long-haired, dope-smoking freaks who hated Nixon’s “silent majority”. But years of frustration on the far margins of the American left were difficult for many to endure. Such a lonely and thankless task it was to promote a socialism that so few workers were likely to embrace.

Salvation came in the form of the BRICS. If you never would have dreamed of going to a Richard Nixon rally, now you could rally around a Russian president who is about as close to Nixon as you are going to get. What makes Putin attractive, however, is his quarreling with the USA. If you are tired of knocking your head against the wall trying to win working people to socialism, the next best thing—at least for people like Whitney—is backing the “other side” in a geopolitical chess game. What does it matter if they are capitalist oligarchs? As long as they are “anti-American”, that’s good enough for him—goddamnit.

The fervor for Russia is really quite remarkable. On some twitter accounts that belonged to pro-Putin anti-imperialists, there were queries about how to get St. George Ribbon’s, the WWII commemorations worn by separatist militias in east Ukraine. For alienated cyber-leftists who never made a leaflet in their life, let alone passed one out, this was made to order. Wear a St. George’s Ribbon to a college class and you will be making a real statement, just like Pat Buchanan, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama wearing one on their lapel.

I suppose I am inoculated against such a psychological transference because my personality was shaped by the tail end of the beat generation. When I became a Trotskyist in 1967, I never was able to shake the feeling of being an existential outsider that had been with me since high school. I always felt a certain distance from the ranks of the party, young people shaped more by student government than Jack Kerouac.

So that predisposed me to identify with the Pussy Riot type people in Russia rather than the Richard Nixon wannabes like Vladimir Putin. I like angry, alienated people who are driven to sacrilegious behavior. I especially like Kirill Medvedev, the Russian socialist poet who has translated Charles Bukowski—an unbeatable combination in my eyes.

After the Russian Duma passed a law on June 11, 2013 against “the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations”, Medvedev joined a protest as he recounts in N+1:

I came to the Duma today to protest the homophobic legislation. On the Mokhovka side of the building I found an impenetrable wall of OMON troops and a girl with a sign that said, I think, “Lesbians are people too.” I came around the other side, along Giorgievskiy Pereulok. OMON, a bunch of journalists, a mass of young “religious activists,” and a small group of protesters, without signs. There’s a guy standing at the entrance to the Duma with a sign denouncing pedophiles. I saw a friend, Gleb Napreenko, and came over to him; he said they’d arrested four people so far. A few guys were standing next to us; one of them had a backpack, and his buddy took an egg out of the backpack [to throw it at the protesters]; there was a whole bag full of eggs in the backpack.

I thought about it for a couple of seconds, then stuck my hand into the backpack, pulled out the eggs, and stomped on them. The guys were confused, at first they didn’t say anything. Then one of them came over with an egg in his hand. We started wrestling, sort of like bulls. I was shaking. I decided that he could easily smear his egg all over my face, so I ripped the egg out of his hand and threw it on the ground. He became very angry, but he kept himself under control. I thought, maybe they’re under orders, you can throw eggs but no actual fighting. We came closer to the bus with the protesters in it. A group of young Christians followed us, and were joined by a few other people.

The guy who’d had the egg comes up to me again. “You gay?” he asks me. I say, no, I’m not gay. Cut it out, he says. You’re gay, right? No, I say, I’m not. Then why are you here? I say I came here to support these people, I don’t want eggs being thrown at them. He says to me, You got egg all over my hand, I want to wipe it off on you. I say, No, don’t wipe it off on me. Gleb says, Let me give you a napkin. The guy says, OK, give me a napkin, but I’m still going to wipe my hand on him. Gleb starts looking in his bag for a napkin, the guy and I start pushing and pulling one another, in the end my shirt is of course covered in egg. Another, bigger guy comes up and says, What, you want gay marriage? I say, Yes, I do, but I’m not really going to discuss this with you right now, in this situation. He says, This is Russia, get it, faggot?

This is Russia, get it, faggot? Yes, we get it.

May 12, 2014

Chris Ford’s introduction to Ivan Maistrenko’s “Borot’bism”

Filed under: Russia,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 8:57 pm

Screen shot 2014-05-12 at 4.52.42 PM

This is the introduction to Ivan Maistrenko’s “Borot’bism: A Chapter in the History of the Ukrainian Revolution”. Maistrenko was a veteran of the Ukrainian Revolution of 1919-1920 who eventually joined the Trotskyist movement. In referring to the Ukrainian revolution, I choose my words carefully. Although it occurred around the same time as the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks did not lead it. In fact they mostly functioned as a bureaucratic obstacle, sadly anticipating the Kremlin’s repeated miscues in Germany a few years later. The more I read about this period, the more I am convinced that there were no “heroic days” of the Comintern. When I joined the Trotskyist movement, I was indoctrinated into believing that the rise of Stalin was a kind of fall from paradise. In reality, the world would have been much better off it there had been no Comintern and that revolutionary parties had been allowed to learn from their own mistakes rather than having mistakes imposed upon them from afar. The details in Fords’ article overlaps to a considerable degree with those in Zbigniew Kowalewski’s “For the independence of Soviet Ukraine” (https://louisproyect.org/2014/04/20/lenins-party-great-russian-chauvinism-and-the-betrayal-of-ukrainian-national-aspirations/). Reading these two articles is mandatory for those trying to come to grips with the tangled history of Russia, the Ukraine and the socialist movement. For those content to repeat RT.com’s talking points, it is probably too late for you—god save your miserable soul.

Social emancipation and national liberation: the dialectics of the Ukrainian Revolution

By Chris Ford

Volodymyr Vynnychenko, one of the most well known Ukrainian leaders in the 20th century, coined the phrase vsebichne vyzvolennia — “universal liberation”. By this he meant the “universal (social, national, political, moral, cultural, etc.) liberation” of the worker and peasant masses. This striving for “such a total and radical liberation” represented the “Ukrainian Revolution” in the broad historical sense. However the expression the “Ukrainian Revolution” may also be used in the narrower sense, of the great upheavals aimed at this object, the most noteworthy of which marked the years 1917-1920. According to Vynnychenko, the “universal current” which strove to realize this historical tendency of the revolution comprised the most radical of the socialist parties, the Ukrainian Social Democratic Workers’ party (Independentists), or Nezalezhnyky, the Ukrainian Party of Socialist Revolutionaries-Borotbisty and the oppositional currents amongst the Bolsheviks in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Revolution cannot be understood without sharing the hopes, disappointments and aspirations of its participants. One such participant in those dramatic events which form the subject of this book is its author Ivan Maistrenko. His book tells the story of the revolution through the history of one element of that “universal current” — the Borotbisty. Long out of print, Borotbism is one of the most valuable studies of the revolution; its republication will fill a gap in our knowledge of this pivotal moment of the 20th century.


On the eve of the revolution Ukraine was partitioned between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires, the majority of its territory having been held in a colonial position by Tsarist Russia for over two and a half centuries. But contrary to the prognosis of a number of analysts, the development of capitalism did not render permanent its status as a so-called “non-historic” nation.’ Though this was not for the want of trying; in the mind of Moscow there was no Ukraine; only the southern province known as Malorossia — ‘Little Russia’. To maintain it in this position Ukraine was subjected to systematic institutional discrimination through policies of Russification.

Whereas movements of the subject peoples of the Austro-Hungarian Empire such as the Czechs, and Ukrainians of Galicia developed apace, this was not so across the border. There the Ukrainian movement developed slowly in a protracted struggle with Tsarist absolutism, which responded with a hostility and severe repression qualitatively different from its attitude towards other nationalities. This can be explained by the role Ukraine played in the foundation of the Russian Empire. Its ingestion by the Muscovite state, which usurped the name of the medieval state of Kievan ‘Rus‘ , brought with it the acquisition of the black earth belt, the banks of the Black Sea and its large natural resources of Ukraine. This strengthened its ability to take part in world economic life and was the step which transformed it into the Russian Empire, a factor which is of no small importance in the mind of Russian nationalism to this day.

The social and economic geography of Ukraine was changed drastically over the centuries of Russian rule, transformed into what the economist Mykhaylo Volobuyev characterized as a colony of a “European type”. As opposed to the more underdeveloped “Asiatic type” colonies, the development of capitalism resulted in a peculiar mixture of backwardness and modernity in Ukraine. This arose from a combination of the Russian state forcing the growth of capitalism and the extensive intervention of European capital. Whilst European capital appeared to relegate Russian capital to second place, it did not diminish but compounded Ukraine’s position. Volobuyev observed a dual process in the economy of the Russian Empire, a tendency towards its concentration on a capitalist basis and a centrifugal tendency to integrate with the global economy directly:

Hence, the question of whether there was a single Russian pre-revolutionary economy should be answered as follows: it was a single economy on an antagonistic, imperialist basis, but from the viewpoint of centrifugal forces of the colonies oppressed by her, it was a complex of national economies…. The Ukrainian economy was not an ordinary province of Czarist Russia, but a land which was placed in a colonial position.

The development of capitalism in Ukraine was not organic; rather, development occurred to suit the needs of others. Within the colonial framework this impacted on the state, capital, labor relations and composition of the social classes. The capitalist class on the territory of Ukraine was overwhelmingly non-Ukrainian, prompting Ukrainian socialists to consider their nation as bezburzhaunisf , bourgeoisless. In 1917 the number of wage workers stood at approximately 3.6 million, with almost half in the mining and steel enclave of the Donbas. Inclusive of their dependents, the working class generically amounted to some 6.5 million – 21 percent of the populace, with Ukrainians in the industrial centers of Katerynoslav (now Dnipropetrovsk), Odessa, Kharkov and Kiev comprising only 17 percent.

The working class also bore the stigmata of colonialism, emerging at the historic conjuncture when capitalism was shifting into the phase of imperialism. This saw the division of the globe based on the relative strength and influence of the core metropolitan states, a phase characterized by a further concentration and centralization of capital, shifting from laissez-faire with the rise of cartels, trusts and state monopolies. This witnessed a transformation not only in capital but within the working class itself, seeing the growth of a privileged strata, an ‘aristocracy of labor’. Whilst it is rarely acknowledged, Russian imperialism was no exception. In Ukraine the working class was comprised initially of mainly Russian migrant labor inclusive of an upper layer in the higher paid, skilled posts. Ukrainian new entrants found Russian not only the language of the state and administration but of the labor regime, the factory owner and foreman, their immediate class adversary.

These developments posited the national question at the point of production through a division of labor which relegated Ukrainians to the low paid, flexible labor strata, under-represented in heavy industry and over-represented in service and agricultural sectors. Like the Irish emigrants in England, they served as a pool of cheap labor, with one difference; it was in their own country. It was not coincidental that Russian nationalism expressed itself in the most extreme forms in Ukraine where the notorious Black Hundreds were disproportionately strong. This chauvinism permeated the working class. The observations of a local blacksmith in Yuzovka (now Donetsk) during the 1905 revolution provide flavor: “Whose running this? A bunch of Khokholy and Zhidy“, that is Ukrainians and Jews.

Ukraine’s process of urbanization followed the pattern of being complementary of the needs of Russian and European capital, with Russians and other non-Ukrainian minorities hegemonic. Ukrainians constituted about a third of the population; nine out of ten Ukrainians lived in the rural districts, mostly classed as peasants with whom Ukrainian was synonymous. It was here more than anywhere that the social and national questions became enmeshed in an explosive cocktail.

Capitalist growth required an end to serfdom but the ‘Emancipation’ of 1861 did not solve the agrarian problem; by 1905 it was acute with a growing a wave of discontent across the Empire. In 1917, there were 4,011,000 peasant households in Russian-ruled Ukraine. Of them, 15.8 percent had no land under cultivation, 20 percent owned between 0.1 to 3.0 desyatinas per farm and 55.6 percent owned 3.1 to 10.0 desyatinas per farm.12 These sections lived in relative scales of poverty, whilst the remaining 8.6 percent owned more than 10.0 desyatinas each and were wealthy peasants – kurkuls [kulaks].

Half of the poorer farms rented their land and made a living as sharecroppers or hired labor. The situation was exacerbated by the growth of the rural populace which outpaced the peasants’ ability to purchase land. The rate of impoverishment grew apace. In the ‘bread basket of Europe’ the kurkuls and landlords exported 24 percent of grain harvests whilst the majority lived at subsistence level or hunger. The health of Ukrainian peasants was on a scale markedly worse than European Russia. The intimate relationship between the agrarian and national questions flowed not only from the class composition of the Ukrainian nation, but directly from the nature of the landowners. Alongside the Russian state, church and monasteries, a third of arable land was held by a class of which three out of four were Russians or Poles. The alienation of the peasants was captured by the Ukrainian Bolshevik Vasyl Shakhray who, looking through the eyes of a peasant, wrote:

The city rules the village and the city is ‘alien’. The city draws to itself all the wealth and gives the village nothing in return. The city extracts taxes, which never return to the village in the Ukraine. In the city one must pay bribes to be freed from scorn and red tape. In the city are warm fires, schools, theatres, and music plays. The city is expensively dressed as for a holiday, it eats and drinks well, many people promenade. In the village there is, besides hard work, impenetrable darkness and misery, almost nothing. The city is aristocratic it is alien. It is not ours, not Ukrainian. It is Great-Russian, Jewish, Polish, but not ours, not Ukrainian.

This position as a colony of Russia and semi-colony of European capital was further evident in the economic inequality which prevailed. In 1882 to 1906, less than half of the revenue raised in Ukraine remained for reinvestment in Ukraine; a trend that continued year after year. Karl Kautsky observed that for Ukraine:

Capitalism develops in only one dimension for the Ukrainian people -it proletarianizes them, while the other dimension – the flowering of the productive forces, the accumulation of surplus and wealth – is mainly for the benefit of other countries. Because of this, capitalism reveals to Ukrainians only its negative, revolutionizing dimension…it does not lead to an increase in their wealth.

In this historical context we may delineate the problems that faced the rebirth of Ukraine. Which of the social classes could attain hegemony and transcend the deep social cleavages, establishing a cohesive and viable system? To adopt a Gramscian approach, only a fundamental class which occupies one of the poles in society could become hegemonic, securing the national-popular elements, and appear as the representative of the general interest. Whilst the emergence of national states had previously coincided with the ascendancy of the bourgeoisie, the nature of the capitalist system in Ukraine negated such a role for the bourgeoisie as the unifying ethico-political element. For a “nation of workers and peasants” with “no nationally conscious bourgeoisie” it logically followed that the hegemonic role should correspond to the nation’s character, making the emancipation of labor integral to the quest for national liberation. Concurrently the leading theorist of the Ukrainian Social Democrats, Mykola Porsh, concluded in 1907 that the:

Ukrainian national movement will not be a bourgeois movement of triumphant capitalism as in the case of the Czechs. It will be more like the Irish case, a proletarian and semi-proletarianized peasant movement.


These contours of the Ukrainian movement were already apparent in 1905, having produced its own organic intellectuals and organized in political parties, unions, co-operatives, cultural and Prosvita educational associations. The movement which emerged at the start of the 20th century contained an energetic current which was strongly influenced by socialist thought and the struggles of the worker-peasant masses. It was the starting point of a new period for the Ukrainian movement.

With the fall of the autocracy in 1917 the Ukrainian Revolution soon differentiated itself from the wider Russian Revolution, setting as its task the achievement of national liberation through the creation of a self-governing Ukrainian state. The period between February and October 1917 was one of unprecedented “national enthusiasm among the masses of Ukrainian peasants, soldiers and worker masses” in the conflict with the Russian Provisional Government.

The movement was a bloc of the petty bourgeoisie, peasantry and the Ukrainian section of the working class, centered in the Ukrainian Central Rada. At its head was Mykhaylo Hrushevsky, Ukraine’s greatest historian, elected chairman on behalf of the Ukrainian Party of Socialist Revolutionaries (UPSR), and the Marxist Volodymyr Vynnychenko, popular writer and leader of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Workers Party (USDRP), elected vice-president and then first president of the General Secretariat, the autonomous government of Ukraine. For all its imperfections arising from its improvised character, lack of experience and political culture, it was the most democratic parliament in Ukraine’s history. The Central Rada was a mass assembly consisting of councils of peasants’, soldiers’ and workers’ deputies elected at their respective congresses; it later expanded its constituency, drawing in the national minorities. This included the pioneering organization of Jewish national autonomy in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian word ‘rada’ and Russian ‘sovet’, meaning council, are direct transliterations, and such a political translation was made on many occasions with Ukrainians declaring support for soviet power and the Central Rada because it was a soviet. The revolution in Ukraine contrasted with the ‘dual power’ situation in Russia between the soviets and the Provisional Government. This was due to the national peculiarities of the revolution which gave rise to a rich diversity of popular organs of self-government, such as the Ukrainian Peasant Union, councils of workers’ deputies, soldiers’ councils, factory committees and the Ukrainian Central Rada which drew delegates from many of these and other bodies which appeared in the localities of Ukraine.

The Central Rada did not exist in a vacuum; it faced the burning questions of the world war, agrarian revolution, spiralling economic crisis and demands for workers’ control. If the project of national liberation was to succeed, it needed to provide solutions. In this regard all parties were tested by the movement from below which gave little room for prevarication for those at the helm. But whilst all the leading parties in the Central Rada identified themselves as socialists, there were fundamental differences in their conceptions of the revolution and requisite political strategy. On the burning questions they prevaricated and at key moments lagged behind the pace of the popular movement, even on the national question with which it was preoccupied. As a result, relations strained within the Central Rada, between its ruling circles drawn largely from the intelligentsia and the middle class, and the rank and file of the Ukrainian movement. The emergence of this milieu, which increasingly diverged from the radicalism of the rank and file, pointed to the danger of bureaucracy even within a body as democratic as the Central Rada.

This divergence was, as Vynnychenko explained, not about personalities but politics. The prevailing opinion was that the creation of a sovereign state was the “precondition of the success of its struggle for political and social liberation”. This perspective corresponded with the predominant view held by most socialists that the revolution in the backward Russian Empire could only be bourgeois democratic in its nature. There were differences over who comprised the camp of the ‘revolutionary democracy’, and whether it should be an alliance of the working class with the liberal bourgeoisie or an independent bloc of the workers and peasantry, excluding the latter. Either way, few believed that the requisite material and social conditions were available for a socialist revolution. In Ukraine the national question brought an additional dimension to this debate. As the urban working class was largely Russian, critics of a socialist revolution considered that the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ would exclude the Ukrainian peasantry, negating national liberation.

These traditional opinions were challenged, on the one hand by the popular movement from below and on the other hand from above by the antagonism towards the Ukrainian national democratic movement by the liberal and conservative wings of Russia. The opinion steadily grew in the socialist parties that they were in a transitional phase; the task being to “carry the bourgeois democratic revolution to its conclusion” and “carry out a social revolution.” The historical orthodoxies have largely neglected this tendency within the Ukrainian Revolution, considering its location of origin as Bolshevik influence in the soviets, or even in Russia itself. This view holds but a partial truth, for to grasp fully this conjuncture it is necessary to recognize that this tendency also grew organically out of the development of the Ukrainian Revolution itself; a fact illustrated by the increased levels of class consciousness of workers and peasants, confirmed in the evolution experienced by the Ukrainian socialist parties. One criticism levelled at Maistrenko’s Borotbism was that he adopted a “somewhat doctrinaire approach” and “party history in the Bolshevist sense.” Yet it was precisely such organs through which the subjective forces articulated their aspirations and solutions during the revolutionary process.

In Russia this radical turn saw the different strands of the popular movement brought into unity by the Bolshevik-Left SRs leadership in the soviets, which caught up with the changed mood. The key feature of the revolution in Ukraine was not of such harmony but of the divergence between the subjective forces.

The Russian or Russified population in the cities was cut off from Ukrainian towns and villages and linked instead economically and psychologically with Russia. They saw themselves as part of a wider Russian Revolution. The result was that the leading role of large sections of the urban labor movement was assumed by leaders who stood apart from the Ukrainian Revolution. Whilst the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (RSDRP) Mensheviks participated in the Central Rada, except for a brief period, the RSDRP (Bolsheviks) in the majority remained aloof from the national revolution, shaking the ground around them, and considered it “chauvinist”.

What rapidly emerged as the salient feature of the revolution in Ukraine was a split between the Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian section of the working class, the alienation of the peasantry from the urban workers and the separation of the social and national dimensions.

The question which could make or break the Ukrainian Revolution was the agrarian question. The engines of the movement were both spontaneous and organized through the All-Ukrainian Peasants Union, and its founder the Ukrainian Party of Socialist Revolutionaries; between them they represented millions of peasants. The agrarian revolution grew apace outstripping the Central Rada. Peasants and returning soldiers proceeded to expropriate estates and redistribute the land; whilst the Central Rada repeatedly made radical declarations it delayed taking decisive action until the convening of a Constituent Assembly.

In its popular base there was increasing feeling that the inactivity of the Central Rada in the social sphere could not be justified by the obstacle of the Provisional Government. The October Revolution brought these contradictions to a head, serving as a stimulus in the national sphere and sharply focusing the question of the nature of the revolution. When the Central Rada seized power in November and declared the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UNR), it offered the possibility for a new beginning. The national question was the strategic key to unifying the popular elements of the revolution; a priori this required that if the UNR was to be viable, it had to be the unifying means by which social and national objectives were realized.

A favorable conjuncture for a rapprochement between these divergent elements arose from two trends offering the possibility of a secure foundation for the Ukrainian People’s Republic. The first was the growth in support in the USDRP and the UPSR for the regeneration of the Central Rada on a thoroughly socialist basis. The second was the surge of support in the councils of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies recognizing the UNR and seeking its re-election to widen its constituency to include the soviets. In seven out of the ten of Ukraine’s largest cities the councils of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies supported the formation of a socialist government with the Central Rada as its supreme organ. This development found support from a significant section of the Russian and Jewish social democrats splitting the Bolsheviks in Ukraine.

That this rapprochement was a viable possibility can be seen from the example of short-lived initiatives in two of Ukraine’s major cities. In Kiev the Bolsheviks and Central Rada co-operated to defeat the forces of the Provisional Government. This united front took organizational form in a ‘National Committee for the defense of the revolution’ created by the Central Rada, composed of representatives of all revolutionary organizations in Kiev and socialist parties in Ukraine, including representatives of the Councils of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies of Kiev, Kharkov, Katerynoslav and Odessa. It sought to extend its authority throughout Ukraine, and appealed to all revolutionary organizations to join local committees. It expressed what the majority of workers, peasants and soldiers sought: a socialist coalition based upon the popular revolutionary organizations. In Kharkov the workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils established a ‘Kharkov Province Military Revolutionary Committee’ combining the soviets and the Free Ukrainian Rada, trade unions, factory committees and socialist parties. It had a “left orientation and a strong Ukrainian component”.

The crisis in industry, land seizures and chaos in the military all pointed in one direction – a socialist transformation. But the forces that could bring this about did not combine and moved unevenly. The rapprochement necessary for its realization was retarded. Neither the fractious Bolsheviks in Ukraine, nor their leadership in Petrograd were unified around such a perspective from within the Ukrainian People’s Republic. Their approach was tactless, taking no account of the Ukrainian peculiarities and attempting to superimpose the model of the Russian Revolution. The result compounded the divisions, hindering those wishing to give the emerging socialist transformation a Ukrainian character and form.

The All-Ukrainian Congress of Workers’, Soldiers’, and Peasants’ Deputies on 16th December 1917 was a strategic disaster. The whole event was ignited by the surprise ultimatum of the Russian Council of People’s Commissars threatening war against the UNR. The leaders of the UNR denied proportional representation to the urban soviets and some USDRP leaders ignored the mandate of their own party to seek agreement with the Bolsheviks. In an atmosphere of recriminations the Congress endorsed the Central Rada, but it was a pyrrhic victory, and an opportunity lost. The internal fragmentation produced two rival bodies claiming to be the government of the Ukrainian Peoples Republic. One was in Kharkov appointed by the ‘Central Executive Committee of the All-Ukrainian Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’, and Peasants’ Deputies’, elected by a subsequent smaller Congress of soviets. The other was formed by the Central Rada in Kiev, which also claimed to be elected by “Ukrainian congresses of peasants, workers and soldiers”. It was testament to the strength of the Ukrainian Revolution that the issue of contention had become not whether there should be a Ukrainian Peoples Republic but the class composition and political nature of its government.

The Ukrainian democracy cracked; seven left wing members of Its Central Committee of the UPSR were arrested for plotting a pro-soviet uprising. This failure of the left was mirrored by the failure of the right UPSRs which headed the government of the UNR in Kiev. In this conflict the Central Rada was victim to its own policies which had sown disillusionment amongst its popular base, illustrated in the “fratricidal war” with Soviet Russia. Many Bolshevik workers had been inclined to an accommodation with the Ukrainian movement and did not see the war as being of their making. The Soviet forces that were mustered were incredibly small, approximately 6,500 strong. The Central Rada also ran into trouble. Despite the country being awash with arms there was no will to fight and many took a neutral position or defected. For all the efforts of the Russian Bolsheviks to make the war one of classes it took the form of a national conflict, which paralyzed much of the Ukrainian left. The Kharkov government was not so much a puppet but stillborn and largely ignored by Soviet Russia’s troops.

The involvement of Soviet Russia and the Central Powers deepened the malaise; through the substitution of internal elements by external forces, the revolution consumed itself. Lured by the appeal of the Germans the Central Rada delegates at Brest Litovsk entered a union with the Central Powers. The Germans then deposed both Ukrainian Peoples Republics; first the soviet, then like the proverbial horse of Troy, they turned on their hosts and dispersed the Central Rada as unreliable “left opportunists”.

Maistrenko’s account of the ‘Ukrainian State’ brought into being by the German backed coup is particularly valuable in light of the current fashion for the Hetmanate in some quarters. In his assessment this retrogressive regime of comprador capitalists and landlords was “aimed at the destruction of the revolutionary gains” in the social, then national spheres. This provoked militant resistance by the labor movement, but the most intense and violent opposition was peasant resistance to food requisitioning and restoration of land to the landowners. The Hetmanate proved to be a defining moment, sharpening the process of differentiation in the Ukrainian Revolution.

This is confirmed by the growth of the Borotbisty, the USDRP (Independents) and the trend amongst the Ukrainian Bolsheviks known as the ‘Poltavans’ or ‘nationals’ represented by such figures as Mykola Skrypnyk and Vasyl Shakhray. This diverse current sought the transcendence of the revolution’s contradictions, encapsulated in the idea of an ‘independent Ukrainian Socialist Republic of Councils’.

While moderates set themselves the goal of restoring the Ukrainian People’s Republic, essentially unchanged in its socio-economic content, the radical left set itself other goals. The experience of year one of the revolution and this unrest was naturally reflected in the Ukrainian Party of Socialist-Revolutionaries. Its congress elected a left wing majority to the Central Committee, splitting the party between the moderates and the reconstituted UPSR, which became known as the Borotbisty. One cannot fully appreciate the growth of the Borotbisty outside of the context of the growing unrest in Europe, in response to the First World War and the October Revolution. The left saw the Ukrainian Revolution as an integral part of a revived international struggle for socialism and dependent was upon its success. From this flowed their tactics; no compromise with the Hetmanate and preparing for a decisive struggle with capital.

The strength of this left wing revealed itself during the rebellion against the German occupation and Hetmanate, initially headed by a bloc of parties under the leadership of the Directory of the UNR. The restored UNR also coincided with the revival of the councils of workers’ and peasants’ deputies. Once again the revolution stood at a crossroad. On the one hand the international situation the revolution in Germany and Austro-Hungary and the example of Soviet Russia, pushed it with redoubled force onto the path of socialist revolution. On the other hand the middle class and moderate elements proclaimed the revolution above all a national democratic revolution. The broad movement from below outgrew these constraints into one directed towards an independent soviet Ukraine.


One criticism of the Ukrainian pro-Soviet parties is that whilst the contest remained an internal affair they were defeated by their moderate socialist opponents; evidence of this is seen in the revival of the UNR in late 1918, not the soviet republic they envisaged. The balance was shifted towards them by the Russian Red Army. This critique wrests on the presumption that democratic channels existed under the Directory for such choices to be freely made. But the participatory democracy was not revived within the UNR; instead the conservative elements of the Hetmanate, in particular the military circles – the otamanschyna, were its inherent partner. It was Petlyura’s militarists, who were engaged in pogroms and indiscriminate repression of the labor and peasant movement, who emerged as the face of the revived UNR, not Vynnychenko’s “labor principle” or the democracy of the moderate socialists.

The All-Ukrainian Toilers’ Congress called in January 1919 was to have based the UNR on a new foundation of ‘labor councils’, thus bridging the divide between workers and peasants. It was also the last effort of the revolutionary socialists to come to some agreement with the Directory. Regardless of the fact that the Directory declared itself a transitory body until the congress, the military circles mounted a campaign of harassment of the very forces on which the republic was to be based. As a consequence the popular movement took a passive attitude toward the Congress whilst the radical left was prevented from carrying on agitation, and the elections were stifled.

The above assessment is further flawed in its presumption that the fall of the Directory was due to external factors. In fact the Bolsheviks could not have attained power without a shift internally. A measure of the decline in the popularity of the directory was the collapse of its armed forces from over 100,000 in December 1918 to a mere 21,000 in just over a month. Having broadly supported the Directory during the ‘November Ukrainian Revolution’, the peasants, who were dissatisfied with its policies, rapidly went into opposition. Extensive evidence reveals considerable support for the Borotbisty in the countryside in their fight with Petlyura’s evaporating forces. That a string of additional partisans actively supported their platform bears further testament to Borotbist influence. The Red Army which advanced on Kiev did so in circumstances in stark contrast to the earlier war with the Central Rada. Its ranks were swollen by Ukrainian troops who went over en masse, seeing in the revolt the means by which to realize their social aspirations so neglected by the Directory. When Arthur Adams writes that, “Peasant carts carried the Soviet infantry rapidly across the great steppes of the Dnepr’s Left Bank”, he provides an apt description of this conjuncture.

The situation in spring 1919 could not have been more favorable for a convergence between the Ukrainian and the Russian Revolutions, and reconciliation of the internal elements. The creation of a Ukrainian republic based on councils with a plurality of pro-soviet parties was a viable possibility. Why then despite these favorable circumstances was their conception of Ukraine not fully realized?

An explanation can be found in the antagonism which continued between the internal and external forces. The tendency of the internal forces was apparent in the struggle of the Central Rada for self-government, in the proclamation of the independent Ukrainian People’s Republic; and in the striving to create an independent Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic. In contradiction, the tendency of the external forces strove to subordinate Ukraine to Russia and retard the internal forces. It is a striking example of a clash between what Hal Draper later described as the “two souls of socialism”, the democratic conception of ‘socialism from below’ versus the elitist conception of ‘socialism from above’. The agency of this external, ‘socialism-from-above’ was in this case the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) and its regional branch the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Ukraine (CP(b)U).

This overarching conflict was exacerbated by the existence of a dual centre inside Ukraine which created a state of instability in the social revolution. This duality also revealed an inherent weakness of the Borotbisty. Maistrenko writes that though they were “strong in the countryside, they failed in their bid to control the revolutionary movement in the cities, where they were powerless to compete with the Bolshevik influence.” But it would be a mistake to believe there was a uniform hostility of urban workers towards the Ukrainian movement. Indeed in May 1918 the All-Ukrainian Workers Congress representing half a million workers, whose delegates were overwhelmingly non-Ukrainian, favored a struggle for “an independent Ukrainian People’s Republic”.

In tracing the fate of the Borotbisty, Maistrenko introduces the reader to a pivotal aspect of the revolution which has been surprisingly overlooked by labor historians and critical Marxist analysis of this period. In 1919 the crisis that arose after the First World War was at its peak. The “whole existing order” wrote English Prime Minister Lloyd George “is questioned by the masses from one end of Europe to the other”. In Hungary a social democrat-communist alliance proclaimed a Soviet Republic, followed by the Bavarian Soviet Republic and in June the Slovak Soy let Republic. The Ukrainian question became the decisive factor in deciding the fate of the social revolution; for it was from here that any unity could be extended to the rest of European socialism.

Symptomatic of the Bolsheviks’ approach to the Ukrainian question at this time was the composition of the ‘Provisional Worker-Peasant Government of Ukraine’. Initially at its head, then posted to Council of the National Economy, was Georgii Pyatakov who provided its theoretical scaffolding. Pyatakov belonged to the ‘radical left’ current of Marxism represented by such figures as Rosa Luxemburg and Anton Pannakoek which opposed national self-determination as a slogan invalidated by imperialism and in contradiction to internationalism. Flushed with revolutionary romanticism this was a strong current within Bolshevism. By 1919 though still ignoring the national question, Pyatakov considered the Bolsheviks needed to adjust to Ukrainian realities and demanded greater autonomy. But this ‘independence’ from Moscow was one of freedom of manoeuvre for his faction. In their attitude to the pro-soviet parties and even other Ukrainian Bolsheviks they remained elitist and hostile.

By decision of Moscow, Pyatakov had been replaced as Head of the government by Christian Rakovsky. It was not an improvement. Recently arrived from the Balkans this self-styled specialist on the Ukrainian question denied the very existence of Ukrainians as a national entity. He announced that the Ukrainian peasantry had no national consciousness, and that what did exist was now submerged in class consciousness. The national movement was simply the invention of the intelligentsia as a means to obtain power. These views of Rakovsky, combined with the existing ‘left communist’ and Russophile currents, were a recipe for disaster.

When in March 1919 the “independent” Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was founded, this was welcomed by the Ukrainian pro-soviet parties. Far-reaching socialist policies were outlined in the resolutions of the Third All-Ukrainian Congress of Workers’ Peasants’ and Red Army Deputies, and by the new Constitution of the Ukrainian SSR. The problem was that the Constitution was not implemented; Ukraine remained, and was considered by the government, a regional unit of Russia. The rift that grew within the revolutionary left stemmed not only from dissatisfaction with policy on the national question but also despite the promise of the “rebirth of soviet power locally”, there was an overall absence of self-government.

The republic was ruled through appointed revolutionary committees, revkomy, and in the countryside, committees of poor peasants, kombedy. Workers councils existed only in the large towns and then only in an advisory capacity; soviet power as such did not exist. The Ukrainian trade union movement was purged, subordinated to the state and absorbed into All-Russian structures. Despite their adherence to the soviet platform, the Ukrainian socialist parties were sidelined by the Pyatakov-Rakovsky regime. Even though the UPSR had adopted a communist program and sought unity with the Bolsheviks, they were still looked upon suspiciously and excluded from positions of authority. Branded by Ukrainian Marxists as the ‘commissar state’ the administration gave greater prominence to the Russian middle class imbued with chauvinist prejudices.

It was, complained the Borotbisty to Lenin, like an “expansion of a ‘red’ Imperialism (Russian nationalism)”, giving the impression that “Soviet power has fallen into the hands of hardened Black Hundreds preparing a counter revolution”.

This dangerous alienation was compounded by the retarding the agrarian revolution through excesses of grain requisitioning and the transplanting from Russia of an elitist land policy of the ‘commune’, formed not by the self-activity of the peasants but imposed from above. As opposed to positively transcending the social and national cleavages, the Bolshevik regime exacerbated them. This produced powerful centrifugal forces; engulfed by peasant unrest, the Ukrainian SSR split and disintegrated into internecine conflict. This crisis saw two distinct tendencies which have complicated historical analysis ever since: on the one hand the attempted revolutionary mobilization of society and on the other its antithesis – fragmentation and class decomposition. Indicative of the latter were pogroms, brigandage and ataman adventurers. No sides in the conflict escaped being tainted by the effects of this vortex.

This was an historically unprecedented situation, a result of the conflict between the internal and external forces and the heritage of imperialism. These risings, which split the Red Army, were on a scale far larger and of greater historical consequence than the more widely known Kronstadt Revolt in 1921. The most popular demand was that of democratically elected soviets. An All-Ukrainian Revolutionary Committee led by the USDRP (Independents) attempted to gain the leadership of the insurgency, raising the slogan for ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat and the poor peasants”. It sought to overthrow the “government as an occupation power”, forestall Petlyura and force the Russian communists to agree to a truly Ukrainian soviet republic.

Amidst meltdown the Bolsheviks admitted a handful of Borotbisty to the government. In an act that remains a subject of controversy, with some exceptions the Borotbisty fought alongside the Bolsheviks and sought to curtail the internecine conflict.

It is remarkable considering the conditions in which they operated that the Borotbisty could secure positive achievements at this time, but this was the case in such spheres as education and language. The Ukrainian social democrat Semen Mazurenko visited Soviet Ukraine as a UNR diplomat in the summer of 1919 recording that: “The Ukrainian language has been recognized on a par with Russian”. Achievements in the intimately connected issue of education were recognized at the time. According to one teacher, the “Bolsheviks in all their policies disclosed two tendencies”, the development of Ukrainian schools by the Borotbisty run Commissariat of Education, and the obstructiveness of local bureaucrats in “suppressing the ‘Petlyurian’ (Ukrainian) language”.


Maistrenko considers that the Bolsheviks had “more chances than the Jacobins to continue the national revolution, in other words to organize the creative impetus of the masses which was directed towards the construction of a new society”. One of those chances afforded to them was in 1919 by the calls for the reconstitution of Soviet Ukraine as a genuinely independent and participatory democracy. This was being demanded not only by the most radical of the Ukrainian socialists, but the Red Army commander on the Ukrainian front Antonov-Ovseyenko, and significantly by the newly established Hungarian Soviet Republic.

The beleaguered Hungarians pinned their hopes on aid from a Red Army advance through the Danube valley; as such the Ukrainian question was key to their survival. In Budapest former head of the UNR Vynnychenko and Soviet Hungary’s leader Bela Kun demanded a radical change of policy. They reached an agreement calling for an independent Soviet Ukraine with a coalition government of the Borotbisty, USDRP (Independents) and the Bolsheviks. But it was spurned by Rakovsky; prophetically Bela Kun concluded: “Forcing Rakovsky on the Ukrainians against their wish, in my opinion, will be an irreparable mistake”.

The experience of this and preceding episodes of the Ukrainian Revolution brings into question what has been a long accepted explanation for the fate of the Russian Revolution: the primary role of external factors in its degeneration and rise of Stalinism. Coupled with this assessment is the contention that unfavorable circumstances imposed on the Bolsheviks a restriction on options available to them. Yet on reading Borotbism, can we really agree that this fully explains the fate of the revolution? Even if one accepted the view that the one-party state in Russia arose from lack of Bolshevik allies this cannot explain events in Ukraine. Here the Borotbisty, unlike the Russian Left-SRs, did not go over to open revolt; whilst many of the other socialists who did were in part pushed and in part pulled by a situation created by the Russian Communists themselves. A multi-party democracy based on the rule of the soviets was denied the opportunity to exist in Ukraine. Any objective reader must surely conclude that Lenin’s insistence that the Borotbisty be accused of a “counter revolutionary mentality” was without any basis in fact.

For the Bolsheviks, socialism could not be developed in a single, isolated, backward country such as Russia without the aid of the more developed countries of Europe. Their project was predicated on extending the revolution westward. The entire approach of socialism-from-above in Ukraine contributed to undermining the very perspective on which the October Revolution was based.

In the summer of 1919 Bolshevik rule in Ukraine disintegrated, changing the correlation of power between the Red Army and the Russian Volunteer Army, and resulting in its occupation of large areas of Ukraine. The appalling policies and practices of the western backed ‘Emergency Government’ of General Denikin with its pogroms; repression and chauvinism are well recorded. They provide an indictment of the Russian liberal intellectuals who headed its Political Center. Barely distinguishable in their nationalism from the conservatives and militarists, their main objective was the preservation of the “one, indivisible Russia” and the restoration of Russia as a ‘great power’.

What is striking about this key juncture is that despite despair with the Bolsheviks there was not a collapse or decline in support for the pro-Soviet parties. Indeed the opposite occurred. In the case of the Borotbisty, having relaunched themselves as the ‘Ukrainian Communist Party (Borotbisty)’ they witnessed a surge in support. Hrushevsky notes that “under the slogan of a Ukrainian Republic that would be independent yet Soviet and friendly toward the Bolsheviks and Soviet Russia, the masses flocked to their banner.” The Bolsheviks received a similar surge of support enabling the Red Army to repulse Denikin’s offensive into central Russia.

One explanation for this mobilization is that it was based on a choice between restoration and resistance; this however does not fully explain Ukraine. This poses again the contention discussed above that whilst the contest remained an internal affair the pro-Soviet groups lost to their more moderate rivals. Yet despite circumstances which would appear most favorable to the parties of the UNR, they did not gain hegemony of the popular resistance in the winter of 1920. Maistrenko points to military inferiority as the cause of UNR defeat by the Whites. There is no doubt some truth in this but it does not fully explain its overall disintegration; for this we must also recognize the progressive political degeneration of the UNR played out in their encounter with Denikin.

In August 1919 Kiev was handed over to the Volunteer Army with hardly a shot fired. The reason was that the UNR leaders were contemplating an alliance with Denikin, partly in the hope of securing the support of the Entente. The delays in confronting Denikin further eroded its support especially amongst the partisans. Meanwhile life in UNR territory was so bad that even its loyal social democrats complained that citizens saw little difference between Petlyura and Denikin. Internally there was a further antagonism fracturing the UNR.

On January 22, 1919, the Directory of the UNR had officially united with the West Ukrainian People’s Republic. But this sobornist did not achieve the long sought historic unity of Ukraine; it was a symbolic act, with the western Ukrainians retaining their own army and government structure. The conservative Petrushevych regime guarded its autonomy, fearful of the socialism of the Dnieper Ukrainians. The Ukrainian Peoples Republic disintegrated when Petrushevych placed the Galician Army at the service of Denikin, whilst Petlyura turned to Pilsudski’s Poland signing away Eastern Galicia in return for an alliance. What was left of the UNR army turned to guerilla warfare, whilst several thousand went over to the Borotbisty.

Considering this end game of the UNR one cannot but question the accusation of “national treason” levelled at the Ukrainian radical socialists. On the question of independence the actual record of the various national governments of 1917-20, supported by the moderate socialists, leaves a lot to be desired. Having declared independence in January 1918, sovereignty was surrendered to the Central Powers; the Directory restored independence only to agree to give the French control over the army, railways, finance and composition of the government. Exchanging territory and sovereignty with Poland continued the same practice in which preservation of independence was not the primary principle.

In contrast the Borotbisty, the USDRP Independentists and sections of the Bolsheviks were consistent advocates of Ukrainian Independence within an international view of creating a new social order. Throughout this period they made no compromise with regard to the existence of a Ukrainian republic. In their international relations this stance strengthened reciprocal recognition by the Bolshevik leadership who, despite their centralist outlook, did not retreat from accepting the necessity of a distinct Ukrainian republic.

It would be wrong to conclude from the above that the popularity of the Borotbisty can be explained solely by a fierce reaction to the rule of Denikin and Petlyura. Such a view denigrates the fact that ordinary working people, including illiterate peasants, consciously engaged in an effort to transform the society in which they lived. Difficult as it is for some in our era of ‘post-modernism’ and ‘end of history’ to comprehend, revolutions are remarkable moments which radically change people as well as their surroundings. We should not lose sight of the fact that in 1917-1920 Ukraine experienced such a moment.

It is remarkable that even though exhausted by World War, occupation and civil war any Ukrainians remained with a reserve of energy to be powered by such ideals. Yet such was the scale of insurgency in the winter of 1919-1920 that Denikin committed as many troops against Ukrainian partisans as against the Russian Red Army itself. This vice broke the Volunteer Army, bringing a decisive turn in the revolution militarily and politically. It heralded a radical re-examination in Bolshevik Ukrainian policy, the first initiative by the Bolsheviks aimed at drawing together the social and national elements of the revolution. Maistrenko’s thorough outline of the complexities of this shift reveals an approach to ‘communist unity in Ukraine’ by the Borotbisty that was far from “national treason”. They gave every consideration to utilizing their popular base and Ukrainian Red Army to gain the upper hand in shaping Soviet Ukraine and secure recognition of the Communist International.

From our 21st century vantage point it would be easy to consider the faith of the Borotbisty in the Communist International a grave error. This would fail to appreciate the difficult choices they faced and perspective to which they adhered. The Russian Communists as a governing party were in a position to take advantage of the strength of the state apparatus, the Red Army, and the financial and moral support RCP(B) held as the main section of the Communist International.

The Borotbisty considered that the prospects for independence would be more promising in the framework of extending the revolution than on a pan-Russian level. From this standpoint the Borotbisty, like much of the international labor movement, held the Communist International in high esteem. When the Executive Committee of the International instructed them to amalgamate with the CP(b)U, a body already affiliated through the RCP(B), they were faced with the choice of remaining separate and competing with the Bolsheviks for power, or merge.

This episode also reveals the serious contradictions of Lenin’s own thought. He continued to adhere to the RSDRP policy of ‘one party, one state’, which had already had negative consequences for the revolution. Ukrainian socialists had long argued authentic internationalism was represented by self-organized national parties having equal involvement in an International alongside the Russian socialists. The Ukrainians resisted their subordination to an existing dominant-state Party, which could so easily become the conduit for chauvinism and stifle democratic initiative.

The Borotbisty and Lenin shared a common fear; they both sought to prevent a repeat of the internecine conflicts of the summer of 1919. The threat from the Polish regime of Jozef Pilsudski influenced both parties, who feared a renewed war between the left which would provide an opportunity to the right, The Borotbisty decision to merge was not considered by all a defeat; writing just three years later the communist historian Ravich-Cherkasski considered it was under their influence that the Bolsheviks evolved from being “the Russian Communist Party in the Ukraine” to becoming the “Communist Party of Ukraine”.

That Maistrenko himself did not remain with his Borotbist comrades in the CP(b)U reminds us that for many the concept of a party subordinated to the Russian party, tended to vitiate the whole notion of national liberation. The CP(b)U did not have the right to be a separate section of the Communist International. Whereas as in other countries the young communist parties were founded through a process of unity between socialist organizations, this was not the pattern in Ukraine. Consecutive efforts by the Borotbisty, USDRP Independentists and Bolsheviks such as Shakhray and Lapchynsky’s “group of federalists” to bring about such a regroupment had not succeeded in sufficient strength or consensus.

Maistrenko, like many others, did not accept amalgamation as the means to achieving a sovereign Soviet Ukraine. Instead he joined the Ukrainian Communist Party founded by the USDRP (Independentists). Known as the Ukapisty, they considered that due to the CP(b)U’s lack of organic links it relied on the military forces of Russia, meaning the revolution had took the form of occupation. After two defeats it was essential the “internal proletarian forces of Ukraine must get control over the socialist revolution and shape its course and character”.

The Ukapisty differed from the Borotbisty in an aspect which Maistrenko considers explains part of the weakness of the Borotbisty relative to the Bolsheviks. Coming out of the theoretical tradition of Classical Marxism, though having weaker links with the masses, the Ukapisty were stronger at the theoretical level. The Borotbisty with their populist origins were a party of which it was said the art of poetry was understood more than political theory. It was an attribute that Roman Rosdolsky described as “our specific Ukrainian ‘local color”‘ that all Ukrainian Marxists in one way or another emerged from.

Those who organized in the Ukapisty and other opposition parties attempted to achieve their goals through the soviets. It was a route made difficult by the fact that the soviets were steadily being supplanted by a one-Party state. At the Fourth All-Ukraine Congress of Soviets of 1920 the political landscape was shaped by the Russian Communists; elections were restricted, diminishing the representation of the Ukrainian peasantry and the working class, with many deputies drawn from the Russian Red Army stationed in Ukraine. It was a pale shadow of the mass assemblies of 1917, the scene of a persistent, but rearguard battle for an “economic and politically independent Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic”.

Any honest historian, and most of all a labor historian, would surely recognize that Lenin and the Bolsheviks reneged on their earlier assurances to convoke a congress of Soviets able to freely decide on independence, federalism or union with Russia. The soviets, the subjective element by which the divergent social and national elements of the revolution could have been positively reconciled, fell into abeyance as the locus of real political power shifted to the higher organs of the RCP(B).


In 1920 the depleted, exhausted pro-soviet forces defeated the Volunteer Army and the Polish invasion. The resulting Riga peace treaty re-partitioned Ukraine; five million Ukrainians remained under Polish rule. Maistrenko concludes that the “struggle for a sovereign Ukrainian SSR was decided in the negative not by the internal development of Ukrainian political life but by the external pressure of administrative organization.”

But the failure to establish a fully independent Ukraine in 1920 is neither the end of the history of the Borotbisty nor would it be an adequate assessment of the Ukrainian Revolution. The dialectics of the revolution resulted in what Marko Bojcun describes as “less than the Ukrainian socialists wanted to win. Yet it was more than the Russian socialists had been willing to concede.” Prior to 1917 there existed only ‘southern Russia’. The revolution had swept away the old social order and forged the Ukrainian SSR, a “clearly defined national, economic and cultural organism”. It became the framework for a significant struggle between the two trends of the CP(b)U, the centralist Russophile element, and the ‘universal current’ of Ukrainian communists born in the revolution. Those communists of the oppressed nations combined with Russian allies and succeeded in committing the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to the policy of korenizatsiia (indigenization) a program of ‘positive action’ with regard to language, culture and promotion of non-Russians in the soviet, party, trade unions and co-operative apparatus.

Whilst this gain was fragile, Ukrainization heralded an unprecedented national renaissance in the 1920’s. The Ukrainian communists, including prominent ex-Borotbisty, energetically carried forward Ukrainization, viewed as a “weapon of cultural revolution in Ukraine”. Maistrenko places this “final expression” of the Borotbisty in the context of the then intense conflict to shape the USSR. As such Ukrainization was not only the engine of efforts to assert autonomy and liquidate the vestiges of colonialism but a manifestation of opposition to ascendant Stalinism. It brought “the Ukrainian people to the threshold of nationhood by the end of the decade”.

The dynamics of Stalinist centralism and its inherent partner Russian nationalism destroyed the last vestiges of equality between the republics. The Ukrainian communists and intelligentsia were annihilated. So deeply rooted were the Borotbist “co-founders of the Ukrainian SSR” that they were amongst the last remnants of opposition purged under the guise of the destruction of the fake “Borotbist Center” in 1936. They continued to represent such a vital force in politics that they were still being subjected to official attack in 1938.

Yet the people whose name the Ukrainian SSR continued to bear survived the Stalinist holocaust the revolution providing a beacon to future generations.

The reader of Maistrenko’s Borotbism cannot but be moved by what is an historical tragedy and provoked by the questions that it poses to long accepted explanations of the fate of the revolutions. We may recall a neglected speech in Zurich in 1914 where Lenin had said:

What Ireland was for England, Ukraine has become for Russia: exploited in the extreme, and getting nothing in return. Thus the interests of the world proletariat in general and the Russian proletariat in particular require that the Ukraine regains its independence.

How well Lenin should have remembered Marx’s statement that “the English Republic under Cromwell met shipwreck in Ireland. This shall not happen twice!” It did, in Russia’s Ireland.


One of the first significant accounts of the revolution in Borotbism is a unique work whose republication comes at a time of increased interest in Ukraine. Yet amidst the array of materials now available to the reader, there remains a deficiency with regard to the pivotal role of Ukrainian Revolutionary socialism in those years.

‘This problem of the revolution’s historiography is not new and Its continuation makes this book as important today as when it first appeared in 1954. Maistrenko’s work remains the principal study of the Borotbisty, the majority left wing of the Ukrainian Party of Socialist-Revolutionaries, the largest party of the revolution which represented the mainly peasant masses. An explanation for this deficiency can be found in the perseverance of the twin paradigms that have dominated the historiography of the Ukrainian Revolution.

For six decades two historical orthodoxies of the Ukrainian Revolution dominated, both intimately linked to their twin historiography of the Russian Revolution.”‘ On the one hand was the official Soviet history of the revolution which crystallized in the late 1920s with the ascendancy of Stalinism. Molded by ‘Marxism-Leninism’, history was encaged within the parameters of partiinost and served as a source of legitimacy for the system. This considered that the revolution in Ukraine had no independent aspect but was “part and parcel of the Socialist Revolution in all Russia”. It presented the Russian Bolsheviks in the leading role of the entire revolutionary process of 1917-1920. The UPSR and the Ukrainian Social Democratic Workers Party were characterized as “petty-bourgeois parties” similar to the Russian Mensheviks, who attempted to retard the developing socialist revolution. The importance of the national question was minimized and written of pejoratively. Within this paradigm, following the October Revolution the first national government, the Central Rada, which formed the Ukrainian Peoples Republic, took the side of the counter-revolution and continued this role in its various forms of appearance during 1917-1920. The most radical elements of the Ukrainian movement broke off and joined the Bolsheviks, thus securing the position of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The omega of the Soviet orthodoxy can be found in the literature of the national paradigm developed mainly, though not exclusively, by Ukrainian émigrés. Whilst considering a distinctive revolutionary process in Ukraine, it gives the national dimension primary place to the detriment and subordination of social questions. Though free from the restrictions imposed upon Soviet historians, this school, whilst producing scholarly and valuable works, has its own self-imposed restrictions: an approach stilted towards ‘history from above’. Being overly focused on institutions and leaders, the object of the revolution narrowed to that of the achievement of a national state. In this paradigm the Bolsheviks and the Ukrainian Revolutionary socialists had little support. The real principles of the revolution were those of national self-determination, denied by an invading Russian army who imposed a “puppet” Soviet government. The Ukrainian Revolutionary socialists are guilty in this paradigm of fragmenting the UNR and allying with Bolshevism, by deliberate betrayal or political naiveté.

What is often overlooked is the similarity of the two Orthodoxies: traits considered negative in one are portrayed positively in the other. This is notable in the treatment of the socialist element of the Ukrainian Revolution. Whilst it is recognized that the majority of deputies of the Central Rada were drawn from the socialist parties, both orthodoxies put emphasis on their more moderate tendency as if it were their overall character. Both also share a conception of continuity in Soviet history running from Lenin, Stalin to the collapse of the USSR and the emergence of an independent Ukraine in 1991.

These problems of history cannot be seen separately from the context of the climate of the Cold War in which they existed. Symmetrical ideological systems existed in the East and West, mutually antagonistic, elitist and conservative in their conceptions of society. Both ruled out the possibility of an alternative to the established facts of “actually existing socialism” or western capitalism, and their assumptions were pervasive in intellectual life, including history.

Between them these orthodoxies squeezed out the possibility that a viable alternative historical course of development existed: that of an emancipatory Ukrainian socialism. To accept this actuality was to consider history as one of discontinuity between what came to exist and what was attempted in the period before Stalinism. This was Maistrenko’s view both as an activist in attempting to realize that emancipatory vision of a new society and as an historian keeping alive its memory. Maistrenko considered that Stalin’s ascendancy at the head of the bureaucracy represented not the victory of ‘socialism’ but a break with the revolution: the “Bolshevik Thermidor”. Ukrainians were “deprived not only of their national independence, but even those elementary national freedoms which they had achieved during the first years of the revolution.” In his analysis Stalinism represented Russian imperialism in a modern form reconstituting “the tradition of Russification”.

Not the spreading of communism is the task of the permanent Bolshevist war as the Stalinist propaganda columns read, but the introduction of the Russian state-capitalist system into foreign countries. This can be mixed up with socialism and communism only by he who consciously wants to discredit the liberation movement of the working people; but he actually aids imperialistic Russia, recommending her as a socialist country to those who are ignorant of the state of affairs.

Maistrenko’s concern that the identification of Stalinism with socialism could discredit the movement for workers’ liberty was well founded. By the time Maistrenko wrote Borotbism all of his former comrades had fallen under Stalinist persecution. The terror and holodomor, the genocidal famine of 1932-33, dealt a body blow to the Ukrainian socialist movement, with the surviving generation turning to revolutionary nationalism. In Canada the Ukrainian socialist bodies remained largely within the Stalinist orbit. The obvious consequence of such an absence of socialists made the field of Ukrainian labor history a difficult endeavor indeed. This was compounded by the fact that for a long time considerations of Ukraine and other nationalities were marginal within Soviet studies as a whole.

During the post-war period Maistrenko and a small number of survivors in the émigré published Vpered, a critical Marxist paper. They co-operated with other anti-Stalinist socialists who were then on the margins of the western labor movement. Part of the activity of Vpered was not only coming to terms with the changed world but reaching back to the years before Stalinism, disseminating the true history of the revolution. Amidst the cold war atmosphere and conservative climate in the diaspora, this was a difficult task. Nevertheless for a decade they maintained themselves and engaged in a battle of ideas with the prevailing orthodoxy.

Yet the influence of this small current was minor and they never were able to offset the dominant historiography. In this context we should consider Maistrenko’s Borotbism as pioneering, appearing as it did before the ‘new left’ of 1956 and the watershed of 1968. This period saw the emergence of ‘social history’ or ‘history from below’ influenced by the French Annales school and the English Marxist EP Thompson. After 1968 there was far wider dissemination of works of the revolutionary period long suppressed in the USSR and reduced to the small circles of the anti-Stalinist left. In some degree Borotbism missed this moment, and Vpered had already folded in 1960. These new historians conceptualized the Russian Revolution as a popular upsurge, the Bolsheviks achieving power not due to Machiavellian organization and ruthless tactics, but actual support amongst the self-organized workers and soldiers. They recorded a revolution of radicalized social classes and mass parties articulating their aspirations. Nor had the revolution automatically led to Stalinism; the civil war, the struggle to survive and isolation had all impacted on the conduct of the revolutionaries and the revolution’s outcome.

This new environment should have created a more fertile soil for such developments in the study of the Ukrainian Revolution, with its complex of social and national dimensions, its array of radical currents and pivotal role in the fate of the Russian Revolution itself. However despite scholarly works and the development of Ukrainian studies, the historiography largely remained within the national paradigm. Amongst the positive exceptions was the Ukrainian new left around the journals Meta and Dialoh, which emerged in the mid-seventies and whose influences still remain. This milieu attempted to rediscover the lost history of the vernacular left and revitalize study of the revolution; they were supported in their activities by the ongoing work of Maistrenko and his former Vpered comrades.

However the new approaches to the study of the revolution, instead of receiving a boost by the collapse of the USSR, have been seriously challenged. The collapse in the East coincided with a resurgence of the right in the West. The political climate was encapsulated in TINA – ‘there is no alternative’. Western capitalism was vindicated, history ended. Historiography in the East became embroiled in the politics of the transition. Historians in their rejection of old order turned to the old orthodoxy in the West. The Ancien Regime of such historians as Richard Pipes, whose propositions had been meticulously debunked, returned to prominence. This retrogression has seen a number of the social historians abandon their views or adopt the negative attributes of post-modernism.

In Ukraine the new found freedoms have seen an array of works on the revolution and much has been written to fill the historical gaps, including the fate of the Ukrainian communists of 1920s. Nevertheless historians have followed the shift and have transferred to the national paradigm. As one scholar bemoaned, most historians “concentrate on political and intellectual history, while few write on social history in general or on peasants as subjects in particular.” This situation has been to the detriment of an authentic labor history. For example, of 86 Articles in Ukrainskyi istorychnyi zhurnal in the eight years from independence, only seven on the revolution touched on peasants or workers. There are however welcome signs of new challengers to this retrogression, including the founding of the Ukrainian Labor History Society in Kiev. In these efforts Maistrenko’s Borotbism is indispensable to those who wish to defend the real history of the revolution and to break new ground in the study of the revolution. It is to be hoped that soon Borotbism will be published in its original Ukrainian. This study invites a new engagement with the radicalism of the Ukrainian Revolution. It also poses a challenge to labor historians in particular to develop an understanding of the revolution which moves outside of the prism of Petrograd. The question of labor history is a thorny one, for to its own detriment labor historians have largely failed to engage with the Ukrainian socialist movement. The explanation for this inexcusable neglect is multiple and is linked to the very fate of the revolution itself.

Firstly it is necessary to recognize the deep rooted antagonism of the Russian social democracy towards Ukrainian socialism. This can be traced to the very inception of both movements in the 19th century. Indeed it brought Engels into conflict with the ‘father of Russian Marxism’, Plekhanov, when he failed to support Ukrainian national rights. This hostility was carried over into the debates on the national question in the era of Classical Marxism of the Second International.

Secondly whilst currents like the Borotbisty were received sympathetically by some western socialists it was still the case that the conflicts between the Ukrainian and Russian Revolutionaries were not fully appreciated in a western labor movement otherwise engaged with the upheavals of the time. In the decade after the revolution the rich Ukrainian socialist literature, including fascinating engagements with Gramsci and Lukacs, was not reproduced in the West, whilst Russian writings were being widely translated. Thirdly this situation was compounded during the rise of Stalinism. Anti-Stalinist historiography often drew on such survivors as Trotsky, Serge et al, but the few Ukrainians did not receive similar recognition. The anarchists and libertarians who looked to Ukraine tended to elevate Nestor Makhno to heights beyond his actual proportion.

Fourthly there is no escaping the unfortunate reality that the two historical orthodoxies did have some influences on labor history, the Soviet distortingly and the national repulsively.

The present book is not only of importance in the context of filling a vacuum; it is a key element to our understanding of the revolution and its fate, which should take a prominent place in setting the new historical agenda.


May 9, 2014

National Bolshevism rides again

Filed under: Fascism,Russia — louisproyect @ 9:16 pm

Karl Radek, the father of National Bolshevism

As accustomed as I have become to the convergence between the anti-imperialist left and the ultraright on the geopolitical chess game, nothing prepared me for Golden Dawn’s statement that could have appeared on the Counterfire website:

Ukraine is Washington’s pretext for a conflict with Russia. The threat of conflict is evident from the flood of propaganda in the Zionist media. Putin is demonized daily as Saddam Hussein and Qaddafi were earlier, while known Zionist newspapers like the Washington Post and New York Times, present daily ‘evidence’ Russian troops are ready to invade Ukraine. The only things missing are the weapons of mass destruction in order to have a complete repeat.

The events in Ukraine demonstrate clearly that American imperialism has launched a strategy, the first unsuccessful steps which were Syria and Iran, weakening and elimination of Russia as a Great Power. Russia is the most serious obstacle to the American imperialism to assert its hegemony in the Middle East, East Mediterranean, and Eurasia.

For those unfamiliar with the British left, Counterfire is a split from the Socialist Workers Party led by John Rees and Lindsay German that also plays a major role in the Stop the War Coalition that arose in the early days of Bush’s “war on terror”. John Meadway, one of its supporters and a staff economist for a radical think-tank, tried to explain away the affinity with Golden Dawn by comparing it with the British National Party’s opposition to the war in Iraq.

Maybe Meadway has a point. There are rightwingers who oppose American imperialist interventions. Antiwar.com is a website that was launched by a libertarian named Justin Raimondo. It was the emergence of figures like Raimondo and Rand Paul that convinced some on the left that a left-right coalition might make sense.

But I think there is something else going on with the Golden Dawn statement. It is not simply against war. It is closely related to admiration for Vladimir Putin based on his anti-homosexual laws, his Great Russian nationalism, his disregard for democratic rights, his get-tough attitude toward liberals, and above all his wars on Chechnya and Syria in the name of “fighting terrorism”. In other words, the policies that Bush pursued in Iraq and that Obama pursues in the tribal areas of Afghanistan would be opposed by Golden Dawn and Counterfire become acceptable when they are carried out by the Kremlin in Chechnya and Syria.

There are few signs that anybody on the left has any sympathy for Putin’s anti-homosexual laws. On the other hand, there are obvious signs of “critical support” for the Kremlin as a kind of anti-imperialist challenge to the USA and its European allies. The BRICS, and Russia especially, become benefactors of smaller and weaker nations trying to stave off the White House, NATO, and the IMF, et al. In an article titled “The Putin Charisma”, world systems theorist Immanuel Wallerstein believes that “If a neutral referee were to assign points for Putin’s actions on some scale of positive/negative consequences for Russia, I think a fair observer would have to say that Putin has done well as a geopolitical player.” Roger Annis, a veteran of the Trotskyist movement in Canada, practically sees the Kremlin playing the same role it once did under official Communism: “Russia’s independence, and that of other, rising capitalist powers such as China and Brazil, is of considerable political consequence for the international working class. The frictions and conflicts between competing capitalist blocs create political and economic fissures through which peoples and countries can assert and defend their independent interests.”  It would seem that a strong Russia is best for the world even if it is not that great for Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, sacrilegious punk rockers, homosexuals, bloggers and print journalists who go too far, and disgruntled Muslims.

How much further can such affinities go? One doubts that Counterfire and the British National Party will be cosponsoring rallies any time soon but it would be useful for the left to understand that Communists did at one time find progressive aspects to fascism. Under the banner of National Bolshevism, some Marxists made the mistake of assuming that because the fascists fought liberals and social democrats in the name of “socialism” the two movements had something in common.

I got my first exposure to the German left’s poor grasp of the fascist movement while researching an article on the role of “Zinovievism” on the defeat of the German revolution. I wrote:

Karl Radek did not help matters unfortunately. He interpreted the Treaty of Rapallo [a treaty between German and the beleaguered USSR] as a go-ahead to support the German bourgeoisie against the dominant European capitalisms, especially France. Germany was forced to sign a punitive reparations agreement after WWI and was not able to satisfy the Entente powers. France then marched into the Ruhr in order to seize control of the mines and steel mills. The German capitalist class screamed bloody murder and proto-fascist armed detachments marched into the Ruhr to confront the French troops.

Radek interpreted these German right-wing counter-measures as a sign of progressive nationalism and argued that a bloc of all classes was necessary to confront Anglo-French imperialism. At the height of the anti-French armed struggle in the Ruhr, the German Communist Party took Radek’s cue and began to issue feelers to the right-wing nationalists.

On June 20, 1922 Radek went completely overboard and made a speech proposing a de facto alliance between the Communists and the Fascists. This, needless to say, was in his capacity as official Comintern representative to the German party. It was at a time when Trotsky was still in good graces in the Soviet Union. Nobody seemed to raise an eyebrow when Radek urged that the Communists commemorate the death of Albert Schlageter, a Freikorps figher who died in the Ruhr and was regarded as a martyr of the right-wing, a German Timothy McVeigh so to speak. Radek’s stated that “…we believe that the great majority of nationalist minded masses belong not to the camp of the capitalists but to the camp of the Workers.”

Radek’s lunacy struck a chord with the German Communist ultraleftists who went even further in their enthusiasm for the right-wing fighters. Ruth Fischer gave a speech at a gathering of right-wing students where she echoed fascist themes:

Whoever cries out against Jewish capital…is already a fighter for his class, even though he may not know it. You are against the stock market jobbers. Fine. Trample the Jewish capitalists down, hang them from the lampposts…But…how do you feel about the big capitalists, the Stinnes, Klockner?…Only in alliance with Russia, Gentlemen of the “folkish” side, can the German people expel French capitalism from the Ruhr region.

Having read just now what I wrote originally about 15 years ago, it strikes me how little has changed in some ways. Note how easy it was for Radek to slide from defense of the USSR into support for the German bourgeoisie that was regarded as relatively progressive in its confrontation with the more dominant European powers. Once that link was made, it was almost inevitable that its shock troops—the ultranationalists and fascists—would also have progressive aspects.

In an interesting article for the April 1951 “The Review of Politics”, Klemens von Klemperer used the words “sweeping equation” to describe the slippery slope from Bolshevism to fascism: “anti-West equals anti-capitalism equals pro-East equals pro-Bolshevism.” That rings a bell, doesn’t it?

Klemperer provides some useful insights into the mixed character of the Freikorps that became the object of Radek’s admiration. Originally sent to Russia to fight on the side of the Whites, many of the troops began to find their enemy’s decisiveness to their liking even as they were aiming their rifles at its troops. Klemperer writes:

Bolshevik Russia, which in the course of the civil war became more and more a political reality, began to attract the imagination of the young Freikorps fighter. Ernst von Salomon, while engaged in fighting the Bolsheviks in Riga, thus became fascinated by the “tremendous new force in the making” in the East. “Beyond the border,” he admitted, “arises an amorphous but growing power, standing in our way, which we half admire and half hate.” Bolshevik Russia gradually emerged as a potential ally in the war against “the three times spit out phrases of the French Revolution.”

Although Bukharin was intrigued by the idea of National Bolshevism, Lenin dismissed it in “Ultraleftism: an Infantile Disorder”:

It is not enough, under the present conditions of the international proletarian revolution, to repudiate the preposterous absurdities of “National Bolshevism” (Laufenberg and others), which has gone to the length of advocating a bloc with the German bourgeoisie for a war against the Entente.

Eventually Radek was superseded as National Bolshevik leader by one Ernst Niekisch, a one-time conventional Social Democrat. Niekisch became an advocate of an “anti-Western” variant that would be familiar to those reading Counterfire or Global Research today. This took shape as the National Bolshevik Resistance Movement whose slogan was “Sparta-Potsdam-Moscow” and whose emblem shown below was made up of a Prussian eagle, a sword, a hammer and a sickle. This sounds rather like something that would be hoisted on a banner by one of these mobs seizing government buildings in east Ukraine, doesn’t it?

National Bolshevism never gained a foothold in Germany. By the time that Hitler came to power, any leftist tendencies in his own movement as expressed by the Strasserite wing would soon be sacrificed to the old elites in the Night of the Long Knives.

Eduard Limonov

In today’s world, the only place it seems to have any traction is post-Communist Russia. In 1991 Eduard Limonov founded the National Bolshevik Party that despite its failure to amount to anything (it was eventually banned) anticipated much of the program of the Russian ultraright today.

Limonov went into exile from the USSR in 1974 and took up residence in New York where he became drawn to the punk underground and the Socialist Workers Party of all things. A fascinating profile on Limonov appeared in the March 2, 2008 NY Times Sunday Magazine:

Limonov arrived in New York in 1975, at the dawn of punk. He discovered CBGB, fell for Patti Smith and Richard Hell and knew everyone from Steve Rubell to the local members of the Socialist Workers Party. “Edichka” [a reference to the character based on the author in the novel “It’s Me, Eddie”] oozes with bodily fluids — the hero, abandoned by his wife, Elena, goes on “nocturnal rambles on the West Side” that feature serial sexual encounters with homeless black men. The thin plot lines, however, thread two dominant leitmotifs: self-indulgence and condescension.

Oh, well. Exposure to the Socialist Workers Party does strange things to people. I never ran into Limonov but can easily imagine someone like him evolving into a fascist. It would not be the first time.

The more famous example is Lyndon Larouche whose website—quelle surprise—makes arguments familiar to those with Counterfire:

Ukraine, WW3 & Extinction – Lyndon LaRouche & Alex Jones
Thursday, February 20, 2014 8:50

(Before It’s News)

Lyndon LaRouche joins Alex Jones for an interview about the unfolding situation in the Ukraine that could quickly devolve into World War 3 and thermo-nuclear annihilation for most of the world. Using such words as ‘extinction’, LaRouche warns that every day of a Barack Obama presidency puts us moments away from the extincition of the human race, an extinction that according to LaRouche could occur in the next few days, next week or next month.


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