Russia back on the front line

Some “quick off the cuff notes” by Arthur Dent in response to The Australian’s Tom Switzer who wrote an article on 30 September titled ‘Russia back on the front line’. The notes were originally published at Strange Times. I’m running Arthur’s notes first, followed by Tom Switzer’s article.

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1. Vivid demonstration that realists live in a parallel universe with a different “reality”. Switzer is actually quite clear that he wants to go back to the old US policy of backing the autocracies and tyrants against their people to maintain the region as a backward swamp (originally for cheap oil and anti-communism then contention with Soviet imperialism and “security” – especally Israeli security in occupying more and more territory and then sheer inertia and blind stupidity of an entire generation of the foreign policy establishment who had devoted their careers to it and persisted with it long after the collapse of the Soviet empire, the end of cheap oil and the failure of the war for Greater Israel having made Israel a strategic albatross hanging around the US neck rather than a US base in the region (the only regional power that could not join the coalition liberating Kuwait from Baathist Iraq and who had to be told their planes would be shot down if they pretended to be part of it by sending any into coalition airspace).

2. In Switzer’s alternate universe, the problem in the Ukraine is “.. the widespread Western failure to recognise an old truth of geopolitics: that a great power fights tooth and nail to protect vital security interests in its near abroad”.

In our universe there is no such Western failure. No Western government is even allowing the Ukrainian government to buy weapons to defend itself against the Russian bullying because they understand with total clarity that they have no power to confront Russian bullying behaviour in that part of the world. The facts Switzer recites about that from lessons about geopolitics drummed into him more than half a century ago are totally obvious to every policy maker and ignored only by the usual shouters.

3. In Switzer’s alternative universe “Putin fears that if Bashar al­Assad’s regime falls, Russia’s presence in western Syria and its strategic military bases on the Mediterranean will be gone.” and “Russia’s navy and advanced anti­aircraft missile systems are based along the Mediterranean. It’s likely to deploy ground troops to the eastern coast.”

In fact Russia’s navy in the Meditarranean is about the size of the US army in the Ukraine. If the Russians were imbeciles attempting what Switzer imagines they are going to do in Syria and Obama was indeed as inept and vacillating as he has successfully convinced pretty well everybody he has always been then the British, French and Turks would have both vital national interests in their near abroad and the capability to act that would compel them to stop the nonsense immediately without waiting a day longer for Obama to stop dithering.

By now Turkey would have closed the Dardanelles (not of course as a hostile act towards that deeply respected partner and Mediterranean Great Power, the Tsar of all the Russias, but simply because they were too busy dealing with the problem of two million refugees having been driven out of Syria by the Assad regime to remember to keep it open).

A few hours sailing time later, the British would have announced that their are command mines laid at Gibraltar that are currently turned on but will be turned off at the approach of any ship that is known not to be assisting anyone forcing millions of Syrians to flee Syria to Europe. Naturally this too would not be a hostile act against anybody but merely a precaution against the possible arrival of the Daesh navy, just as the Russian air to air and surface to air missiles at Latakia are to protect them from the Daesh air force. Naturally the ships of a Meditarranean Great Power like Russia would not be subject to compulsory inspection and the mines would be respecfully turned off as they went about their entirely legitmate business and if any ships of any nation were accidentally sunk by a mine that had failed to remain turned off then Her Majesty’s Government would of course pay full compensation as required by international law etc etc.

All available British and French forces would move as rapidly as possible to the British sovereign base in Cyprus not as a hostile act against anybody but merely as friendly observers of the joint naval exercises that had been announced nearby by the navies of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. After those exercises were completed they would be happy to assist their partners the Russians in returning to Vladivostok via the Suez canal without any danger of becoming subject to inspection by any Arab Gulf states wanting to check whether they were helping any notorious Syrian war criminals to escape as Britain and France are rather in favour of any assistance their Russian partners might be willing to give to Syrian war criminals leaving Damascus right now and don’t really care where they end up as long as they don’t stay in Syria.

4. In Switzer’s alternate universe Putin “has sent tanks, warships, fighter jets and troops to bolster the regime, which has faced a troop shortage and loss of towns as it seeks to maintain Alawite rule over an overwhelming Sunni majority”. Pretty well everbody agrees with Switzer about that, perhaps because those who know better have no reason not to want everybody to think that at the moment.

For my part I’ll just end by saying that Switzer and others should remember what Kissinger said the word would go out about another Great Power:

“To be an enemy of America can be dangerous, but to be a friend is fatal”

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Tom Switzer’s piece from The Australian (30 September 2015):

Since Russia’s incursion into Ukraine 18 months ago, the West has indulged in the rhetoric of moral indignation, punished Moscow with economic sanctions and treated Vladimir Putin as a pariah in world affairs. “Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters,” President
Barack Obama declared in January. “That’s how America leads — not with bluster but with persistent, steady resolve.”

Somebody forgot to tell the Russian President. Putin’s address to the UN General Assembly this week, following his lightning military deployment to Syria, marks Russia’s resurgence on the global stage. The Russians, far from being marginalised in international relations, are playing a weak hand rather skilfully and are being allowed to do so because of considerable ineptitude and vacillation on the part of the Obama administration.

The upshot is that Washington will have to take the Kremlin far more seriously in the future. This is not just because Putin’s support for the embattled Assad regime will help degrade and destroy Islamic State jihadists in a four ­year civil war that has claimed nearly 250,000 lives and displaced more than nine million people. Rather, Russia’s intervention in Syria shows how rational Moscow’s concerns over Western policy in the Middle East are, and that the Obama administration had better start treating it like the great power it still is.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Moscow voluntarily jettisoned the Warsaw Pact and acquiesced in the expansion of NATO and the EU on to the frontiers of the former Soviet Union. But the limits of Russia’s post ­Cold War retreat have been evident since the Western ­backed coup against a pro-Russian ally in Kiev in February last year. Putin has played hardball to protect what Russia has deemed as its sphere of influence in the Baltics long before Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin appeared on the scene. And in the Middle East it is determined to protect what it perceives as its vital interests.

Putin fears that if Bashar al­Assad’s regime falls, Russia’s presence in western Syria and its strategic military bases on the Mediterranean will be gone. That is why he has sent tanks, warships, fighter jets and troops to bolster the regime, which has faced a troop shortage and loss of towns as it seeks to maintain Alawite rule over an overwhelming Sunni majority.

And by reaching an understanding with Syria as well as Iraq and Iran to share intelligence about Islamic State, Putin is positioning Russia again as a key player in the Middle East, and one that is
more willing than the West to defeat Sunni jihadists. In the process, he has exposed the shortcomings of the White House’s policy towards Syria.

Until recently, the prevailing wisdom held that the Assad regime — the nemesis of Sunni militants was on the verge of collapse, an outcome that Washington, London and Canberra had enthusiastically encouraged for much of the past four years. And although Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop now recognise that Assad must be part of any negotiated political
solution, the Obama administration continues to insist that any resolution of the conflict must lead to the exit of the dictator.

US Secretary of State John Kerry warns Russia’s continued support for Assad “risks exacerbating and extending the conflict” and will undermine “our shared goal of fighting extremism”. British Chancellor George Osborne goes so far as to say the West’s aim should to be to defeat both Assad and Islamic State. But given Washington’s futile attempts to destroy the Sunni jihadist network
during the past year, most seasoned observers of the Syrian crisis are entitled to think that such strategies are manifest madness.

The consequences of removing Assad would be dire. The regime would collapse and its Alawite army would crumble. Sunni jihadists such as Islamic State and al­Qa’ida’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al­Nusra, also known as al­Nusra Front, would exploit the security vacuum and dominate all of Syria. The ethnic minorities — the Alawites, Shi’ites and Syrian Christians — would be massacred. And there would be the flight of millions more refugees into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

If we are to avoid these horrific outcomes, Russia will have to play a central and positive role. It has had significant influence in Damascus during the past half century; indeed, many Syrian
military officers have received training in Moscow. Russia’s navy and advanced anti­aircraft missile systems are based along the Mediterranean. It’s likely to deploy ground troops to the eastern coast. And Moscow has recognised that notwithstanding Assad’s brutal conduct, his regime is fighting the jihadists that Western leaders repeatedly say pose a grave and present danger to the world.

Obama says the US would work with any nation to end the fighting in Syria. But to engage Russia, the West needs to change its policy approach substantially. Alas, the prevailing Russophobia in
Washington and Brussels remains a serious obstacle in the path of reaching accommodation with Moscow.

The problem in Ukraine is not related to a revival of the Soviet empire, as some hyperventilating politicians and pundits argue. The problem is the widespread Western failure to recognise an old
truth of geopolitics: that a great power fights tooth and nail to protect vital security interests in its near abroad. Take Ukraine: it is a conduit for Russian exports to Europe and covers a huge terrain
that the French and Germans crossed to attack Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries. Most Crimeans are glad to be part of the country they called home from Catherine’s rule to that of Nikita Khrushchev.

From Moscow’s standpoint, the expansion of NATO and the EU into Russia’s traditional sphere of influence, taken together with efforts to promote democracy, is akin to Moscow expanding military alliances into Central America. Some may respond by saying that Ukraine, however ethnically and politically divided it remains, has every right to join the West. But did communist Cuba have a right to seek political and military ties with the Soviet Union in 1962? Not from Washington’s perspective. Does Taiwan have a right to seek nationhood? Not from Beijing’s perspective.

This is a shame, but it is the way the world works, and always has. Not only does Putin know it, he calculates that a weak, inept and cautious Obama administration won’t push the issue despite the dire threats and warnings from congress and the Pentagon.

And so it was inevitable that the Russians would push back in the Baltics, first to secure the Crimean peninsula, the traditional home of the Russian Black Sea fleet (which Russian intelligence feared would become a NATO base), then to destabilise Ukraine with the aim of persuading Kiev’s anti ­Russian regime to protect the minority rights of ethnic Russians and maintain its status as a buffer state.

As for Syria, the problem here is not the Russians — or even Iran’s Shia crescent of Damascus, Baghdad, Hezbollah and the Yemeni rebels. After all, they’re committed to fighting Sunni jihadists. The problem is that US ­British aligned Sunni states — Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arabs — have aided and abetted the Sunni rebellion that has morphed into Sunni jihadism.

Yet these reactionary regimes still have the temerity to call for Assad’s ouster. Following regime change, we’re told, a US­ led coalition of Arabs and Turks can create a peaceful and prosperous Syria.

Leave aside the fact Assad’s support stems not just from Moscow and Tehran but also from Syria’s military, political and business elites, including many urban Sunnis. Assad is a brutal tyrant. He
has used chemical weapons against his own people. And he has launched relentless barrel bombs in rebel areas. But he is more popular than ever in the one ­third of Syria his regime still controls
(which happens to be the major cities and the coastland). That is largely because many know his demise would lead to widespread ethnic cleansing.

The idea that Assad’s fall would lead to something approaching a peaceful transition of power is as delusional as the neo­conservative views about Iraq and Libya in 2003 and 2011 respectively. The
downfall of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, it was onfidently asserted, would lead to viable democratic states. If anything, both post­Saddam Iraq and post­Gaddafi Libya are failed
states that have attracted terrorists like flies to a dying animal.

As in the case of Iraq, Syria is an artificial state and an ethnically divided society created out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. In both nations the invasion and civil war, respectively, have unleashed centrifugal forces that are eroding political structures and borders that have prevailed since the end of World War I.

In Iraq, the 2003 invasion ended the nation’s sectarian imbalance between the minority Sunni and majority Shia communities. Ever since, the Shia have been more interested in seeking revenge against their former Sunni tormentors than in building a nation. The result: a Sunni insurgency that has morphed into a plethora of jihadist groups, including Islamic State.

In Syria, the Arab Spring in 2011 encouraged the Sunni majority to challenge and destroy the minority Alawite regime. The result: centrifugal forces that threaten the viability of Syria as we have known it for nearly a century.

As unfashionable as it is to acknowledge, partition is the likely outcome of the civil war. According to Joshua Landis, a veteran Syria observer and director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, many Syrians, and Alawites in particular, privately acknowledge that the prospect of outright military victory against the Sunni militants is highly unlikely and that it would be impossible to coexist with Sunni fanatics.

For Syria, partition would most likely mean an Alawite Shia state in the regime’s western heartland and a Sunni state to the southeast. Notwithstanding statements to the contrary, this is the emerging reality on the ground.

As long as the regime endures, it at least prevents Sunni jihadists from consolidating their hold over the whole nation and creating a strategic sanctuary along Syria’s coasts.

The moral and political problems posed by Syria’s civil war during the past four years have been real and extremely difficult ones. Assad heads a brutal regime that, according to The Washington Post, has killed about seven times as many people as Islamic State in the first six months of this year.

But the cold, hard reality is that if the US and its allies are serious about defeating the Sunni jihadists, and not merely determined to feel virtuous and moralistic, we will need to tone down our
anti­Russian bombast, restore a dialogue with Putin and recognise the madness of regime change in Damascus. And if that means accommodating Putin’s power play in the Middle East, so be it.

The Anti-War Left 100 Years Ago vs the Anti-War Left Today

Thanks to Ben Norton for permission to reprint his article. It’s spirit is spot on.

He concludes with the question: ” “Dialectics”? What’s that?”

One might also ask of today’s pseudo-left: “Internationalist solidarity”? What’s that?

* * * *

When confronted with the obscene violence of World War I 100 years ago, the strategy of the leaders of the internationalist Left was to oppose both bourgeois sides of the inter-imperialist conflict and instead advance the cause of proletarian internationalism.

Today, the strategy of much of the “internationalist” “Left” is to simply support the side that’s not the West in a kneejerk reaction and dub it “anti-imperialism.”

World War I caused a major split in the global Left. Many of the leading revolutionaries—those of whom are now some of the most celebrated figures in the history of socialism—opposed the war outright. Yet more than a few parties supported the war. This disagreement led to the dissolution of the Second International, and later to the failure of the German Revolution.

Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, and Clara Zetkin formed Die Internationale—which later became the Spartacus League (not to be confused with the absurd Sparticist League of today), which in turn later became the Communist Party of Germany (KPD)—explicitly in order to oppose the pro-war Left, particularly the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which supported the war. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were imprisoned for their opposition to the war.

Lenin referred to the war as “the imperialist war” and condemned socialists who chose a side as “social-chauvinists.” US leftists steadfastly opposed the war, and Woodrow Wilson was even re-elected in 1916 with the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War”—although he reneged on his promises and plunged into the inter-imperialist violence.

If today’s “leftists” were alive then and endorsed the same logic they do now, they would have likely written off these leading leftist figures as “utopians” and “‘useful idiots’ of Western imperialism” and instead supported the Central Powers. After all, the Central Powers consisted of relatively eastern nations—the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary, Germany, and the Emirate of Jabal Shammar (in much of modern-day Saudi Arabia)—which were fighting the imperialist West—including the UK, France, the US, and more of the states in modern-day NATO.

Our day’s supposed anti-imperialists insist that we must defend the bourgeois, quasi-fascist regimes of Syria, Russia, and more against supposed “Western encroachment” (mimicking the “lesser evil” argument liberals love to wield to continuously re-elect neoliberal Democrats who were bought and sold on Wall Street on day one). Assad’s counterrevolutionary war of terrorism against his own population must be defended, they insist; Putin’s war in Ukraine must be supported, even though he himself is supported by and supports Europe’s neo-Nazi and other fascist groups.

This strange illogic leads to authoritarian “leftists” fighting in Ukraine literally side-by-side with Nazis, in defense of Russia. In 2015, a group of Spanish “communists” who returned from fighting on behalf of Russia in the war in Ukraine—which has left many thousands dead—were arrested. They had joined the pro-Russian so-called Donbass International Brigades (so named in a slanderous and ludicrous attempt to associate itself with the International Brigades from the Spanish Civil War). They received neither travel expenses nor a salary for their fighting. They proudly boasted that they fought aside both Nazis and “communists.”

“Half of them are communists and the other half are Nazis,” they explained. “We fought together, communists and Nazis alike … We all want the same: social justice and the liberation of Russia from the Ukrainian invasion.”

If today’s “leftists” are incapable of actually distinguishing leftists from fascists, one can only imagine their response to World War II. After all, the far-right, capitalist, racist tyranny of National “Socialism” presented itself as a “worker’s party.” Hitler exploited the popularity of socialism among the working class, in order to advance one of the most horrific campaigns of terror in human history. One can almost hear the same “leftists” today who claim “Actually, it was the rebels who gassed themselves, not Assad” saying, in the 1940s, “Actually, I think it was Jews who used the gas chambers against the Nazis.” “The allegations against the ‘legitimate government’ are just Western propaganda,” they would claim, in both cases.

Today’s “leftists” would have doubtless sided with the Ottoman Empire too in its crushing of the 1916-1918 Arab Revolt, disparaging it as a “Western-backed plot,” in the same manner in which they slander the Syrian Revolution now.

Just as many “leftists” today insist that Russia, Iran, and China are not actually imperialist powers because—although they are bourgeois capitalist nations engaging in imperial domination—their imperialism is not equivalent in magnitude to that of the world’s hegemon, the US, they would likely have supported the “lesser evil” of the Central Powers in WWI. (“Here’s a map of the world’s ubiquitous US military bases and here’s a map of Iran’s (lack of) military bases—see, proof Iran is not imperialist!” constitutes a common “anti-imperialist” argument today.)

Sure, the Central Powers may have been brutally oppressive bourgeois regimes—like those today of Assad, Putin, Ayatollah Khamenei, and more—but they were not the world’s leading imperialist powers, so they should have been defended. Muh “anti-imperialism”!

Today’s Left has absorbed the manichean, black-or-white Stalinist logic of the Cold War into their very beings.

“Dialectics”? What’s that?

INTERVIEW WITH A UKRAINIAN MARXIST AND SOLDIER FIGHTING IN THE DONBAS (from Ukraine Solidarity Campaign)

“In Russia right-wing conservatism and authoritarianism are not just a tendency but full reality”.

Reprinted with permission from ukrainesolidaritycampaign in Donbas, January 12, 2015

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anti-imperialist-action

Ukrainian soldiers in Donbas with the symbol of Anti-Fascist Action – and slogan ‘Anti-Imperialist Action’.

Andriy M. (the name was changed) is one of those Kiev white-collar leftists, who after some hesitations supported Maidan last winter and in spring took a decisive stand against the reaction in Crimea and in Eastern Ukraine. His stand finally led him to the Ukrainian army and now Andriy is taking part in the ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation) in the Donbas. Having known this, “Nihilist” [1] asked him a few questions. Republished courtesy of Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski.

– How did you come to join the army? What unit is it?

– A very ordinary one, the 72nd Separate Mechanized Brigade. The one that was surrounded near Izvarino in July. In that time it was constantly being shot at, while suffering heavy personnel and equipment losses. Four hundred soldiers were even forced to withdraw to Russian territory, an outcome that generated a lot of media hype. Later the Ukrainian troops gained control of Savur-Mohyla barrow, liberated the surrounded brigade, and led it out of the ATO zone. In August-September near Melitopol the brigade was replenished with personnel and armored fighting vehicles. I then joined that brigade as a gunner and was mobilized in August. At the moment the brigade is again in the ATO zone.

– Could you have evaded military service?

– Technically yes, definitely I could. But already in March I went to the military commissariat and told the commander that the army can count on me. At that time Crimea was just annexed and the riots in the Donbas and Kharkov had begun. It was clear to me that a big war was coming. I was also convinced that Russian Army intrusion was a matter of a few weeks. For me the Putin regime, Russian occupation, and ideas of “Russian World” are absolutely unacceptable. Therefore it was impossible for me to remain a bystander. Then everything went a bit different than expected. Instead of regular army invasion, Putin began by using local paramilitary formations, but in reality it did not change the situation. Of course, lots of friends offered me “help” – shelter, leaving Kiev and going abroad, applying for a visa etc. I did not take such alternatives into consideration for reasons of principle.

– Do you characterize yourself as a leftist and a Marxist today?

– In respect of beliefs, a worldview – definitely yes. However, if one takes a point of view that sees Marxism as a political practice in the first place, I could be reproached that according to this criteria I am not a Marxist. I will not argue with that, but I just ask whether the Bolsheviks were Marxists when they were defending the Kerensky government from the Kornilov Revolt.

As a Marxist, I am aware of the fact that today a Ukrainian state is an unpleasant thing. There are very strong rightist conservative and nationalist tendencies there, with the power in the hands of big capital – the same as before, a powerful offensive is launched against the social component of state spending and workers’ rights. You know, as in the “socialist realist” art, the priority was depiction of a conflict between the good and the better, today in the Donbas there is a conflict between the bad and the worse. In Russia right-wing conservatism and authoritarianism are not just a tendency but full reality. The new expansionism in the sauce of the “Russian World” is a disgusting reactionary ideology that in reality is translated into war, violence, lies and hatred. In the Donbas all of them are in full bloom and trying to expand themselves. In my opinion, the main task is to stop it. Referring to the Kornilovism analogy, I will mention that a good friend of mine, a socialist, says that this war takes place between Petliuraites [2] and White Guards. This analogy is a bit lame, but in the situation when at war there is no communist side, for me as a Marxist the choice between White Guards and Petliuraites is obvious: in favor of the latter. At the same time it is evident that we are not even allies but just fellow travellers and just to the first crossroad.

– What do you think about Maidan? What was that?

– Maidan is a very complicated theme. On the one hand, it was a popular uprising and an experience of the self-organization of the masses, followed by the creation of volunteer battalions and a powerful and effective network of volunteers supporting those battalions, but on the other hand, there was an openly right-wing political wrapping. My approach to Maidan was changing from careful neutrality towards critical support following the infamous 16 January Laws. In any case, even the very right-wing wrapping was not sufficient to discredit the powerful democratic component of Maidan. In my opinion, it is enough to deserve acknowledgment. In any way, Maidan is in the past now; we live in the post-Maidan epoch and at the moment that mixture of progress and reaction, prepared on Maidan, is breaking down into its components: so much the better. It would be easier to separate the wheat from the chaff.

– What is this war for you?

– Firstly, it is a huge tragedy for millions of people – sorry for the banality. The civilian population is being disinformed, deceived and terrorized by both sides. In those rare cases, when the dialogue with the local inhabitants is held, the majority of them ask: “Why have you come armed to our land?” When you answer: “To prevent separatists and Putin’s soldiers from coming armed to our land”, they do not accept it. However, this is a real goal. There are lots of aspects of this war and I clearly see political profits gained by the Ukrainian and Russian elites – the profits generated from sufferings of local population and Ukrainian and Russian soldiers. For me personally, such phantasms as a territorial integrity or a national statehood have no meaning and I do not see them worth life and blood. However, if Ukraine lays down arms, the war will not stop but imperialist Russia will just continue its bloody expansion undisturbed. It is an aggression and the aggressor must be stopped not appeased. Unfortunately, there is no good solution here. One has to choose between the bad and the worse.

– What are Ukrainian soldiers in the East fighting for?

– Every soldier is fighting for his own reasons. For example, my colleague, a Maidanist and romantic nationalist, Sanya is fighting for his fatherland and the centuries-old Ukrainian dream of independence. A robust peasant, Misha, is fighting so that no-one from abroad tells him, his children, and grand-children what rules they should live by. An electrician Serhiy is fighting only because he was mobilized and he is very unhappy with it. He is also personally unhappy with the commissar who sent him to the slaughter instead of somebody more suitable. However all that does not prevent him from performing combat missions with dignity. Some people do not hide that they are fighting for money – due to the poverty and unemployment in civilian life, going to war has become a noteworthy alternative for a number of people. The majority of soldiers are convinced that they are fighting for Ukraine, its territorial integrity, the right to live not on orders from Kremlin, preventing “Donetsk bandits” and “commies” for good from trying to govern the country. That is the main motivation.

– It turns out that the soldiers are anticommunists and it is a mass phenomenon. How could you explain it?

– There is a great temptation to shift the entire responsibility to the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU). The party of Petro Simonenko did really all that could have been done to make the word “communist” offensive. Years of serving the interests of oligarchs accompanied by the socialist rhetoric and last year’s explicit support for the enemy – all that leaves a trace. However, this is not only the matter of the KPU. The ancestors of numerous soldiers and officers were victims of Stalinist repressions or died during the Holodomor (extermination by famine). For each of them those things are not an abstraction or historical events but a tragedy that directly touched their families, a crime committed by the Soviet government. And through two decades the Ukrainian state propaganda machine was successfully flooding the masses with the idea that the famine, violence and executions are the essence of communism. No wonder people easily adopt it as their own viewpoint.

– Does a communist feel comfortable in such an environment?

– Of course not. But there is one good principle: “neither to cry nor to laugh but to understand”. To keep one’s cool. To notice that the hatred to communism among the masses of soldiers is not hatred toward the ideas of justice, cooperation, solidarity and freedom. On the contrary, it is hatred of the social parasitism that typifies communist party hierarchies, and hatred of the total physical, ideological and economical violence. And it is entirely compatible with sharp non-acceptance of the new post-Maidan government. For the majority of soldiers Poroshenko, Yatseniuk and Klychko are no better than Yanukovych. The timeliness of the social question has not been abolished. Certainly, today the ultra-right forces are trying to speculate with it but that is because the left in Ukraine turned out unable to play on its traditional political field.

– Is that why the left has lost in Ukraine?

– It is a complicated question. Now I am to say a handful of standard phrases about the combination of objective and subjective factors. And where did you see a victory of the left in the period of primitive accumulation and redistribution of capital? The actual left-wing class-oriented mass movement has not been able to form yet – one cannot take for the left the Soviet-conservative KPU or pale pink bourgeois socialists! Not to mention commercial and technological political projects like Borotba, which, from the very beginning, were created to fulfill completely non-leftist tasks. Those left-wing organizations that were actually trying to fulfill the proper tasks, either were organizationally too weak to grow out of little circles or turned out to be so accustomed to the certain conditions that they were not able to realize themselves outside those conditions – like for example the Direct Action [3].

– Has your approach to the Western and Russian left changed?

– It has not changed but rather definitely formed. In the West the left is characterized by rational conformism, by dogmatism or – most often – by a combination of both of those unpleasant features. They, more or less successfully, fulfill the tasks in their own countries but in respect to Ukraine their position is affected in varying degrees by adjusting their thinking on the Ukrainian situation to some of the usual dogmas and to “export” opinions of their Ukrainian contacts that very often turn out to be presenting and analyzing in bad faith Ukrainian developments. As a result, numerous Western leftists believe that there is a socialist revolution in the Donbas, that Ukraine is a fascist state and this state is drowning the popular uprising in blood on the orders from Washington. To make them change their mind is incredibly hard, even impossible. Therefore, in my view, it is easier and better to live as if there was no Western left. As for the Russian left, a huge part of it is under the impression of bygone “Soviet socialism” and the “great victory against fascism”. The Soviet Union passed away long time ago, in the Kremlin there are no people in power who defeated fascism in 1945. Meanwhile in Kiev the power is not in hands of Bandera and Shukhevytch, but the matrix is in use and people who curse the regime furiously turn out to be faithful Putinists when it comes to the issue of Ukraine. Fortunately, not all Russian left is like that, but…

– What should be done?

– To observe attentively. In no case to shut away in an ivory tower but, quite the contrary, to be in the thick of things, as close to people as possible. As a matter of fact, it is another reason why I am in the war now. As long as we have the first-hand experience of what the people of Ukraine live and breathe, we will be able to create an effective strategy and tactics. A very complicated time is coming. A right-wing consensus in the society combined with an unsolved social question can lead to a fascist coup. One should become aware of this danger and prepare for it. To educate the masses, to propose a solution to social conflicts that would be based on a class approach. That solution must be more effective than the one proposed by the right-wing national-social populism. And I have fallen into the abstract again. Let us finish the war and then we will talk about this issue in more detail, ok?

Nihilist, December 6, 2014

Translated by Katarzyna Bielińska and edited by Louis N. Proyect

[1] “Nihilist” is a web portal edited in Ukraine by anarchists and left-wing anti-authoritarian radicals who try to “combine constant theoretical search with everyday revolutionary practice”.
[2] Petliuraites was the popular name of supporters of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, formed in Kiev after the fall of the Russian Empire. It existed since January until April 1918 and since December 1918 until November 1920. It was in war both with Soviet Russia and the imperialist Great Russian White Guards. Its Commander-in-Chief and, since February 1919, its President was Symon Petliura.
[3] The Direct Action (PD) is a network of independent students’ unions, with a left-wing anti-authoritarian and syndicalist orientation, established in 2008 in Kiev and active also in some other universitary centers of the country.

Open Letter to Oliver Stone – by Stephen Velychenko (Krytyka) 1 January 2015

Historian Stephen Velychenko penned this ‘open letter’ to US film-maker Oliver Stone on 1 January 2015. It is reprinted with permission of Krytyka, the ‘Thinking Ukraine’ website. Among other things, the letter points out that foreign involvement in regime change and revolution is nothing new and that includes the American people’s own revolution against tyranny and the Vietnamese national liberation struggle during the 1950s to the 1970s.

‘Things can turn into their opposite’ and we see this today with the various ‘anti-imperialists’ who long ago stood on the side of the people but who are now siding with the far-Right Russian chauvinist Putin’s slanders against Ukraine’s democratic struggle.

As Lenin said: “Russian Socialists who fail to demand freedom of secession for Finland, Poland, the Ukraine, etc., etc.—are behaving like chauvinists, like lackeys of the blood-and-mud-stained imperialist monarchies and the imperialist bourgeoisie”. This applies not only to ‘Russian socialists’.

– C21styork

AN OPEN LETTER TO OLIVER STONE

Dear Mr. Stone,

I am an academic historian who likes to think he has some knowledge of world events during the past centuries. I am someone who has watched and thought about some of your better films and who had the good fortune to have been in Kyiv on the Maidan in November-December 2013.

I was appalled and distressed when I read that a person of your stature had decided he would make a film about Ukraine’s ousted dictator Victor Ianukovich. What unsettled me was not your idea about interviewing a dictator on film. Documentaries about surviving ousted dictators are important and useful. What I found appalling was not only that you seem to share his interpretation of his fate, but that you seem to attach particular significance to that interpretation. You seem actually to believe Mr. Ianukovich who, understandably, like any overthrown dictator, attributes his fate to “outside forces” rather than to himself, his policies and supporters, domestic and foreign. Just like Mr. Ianukovich and Mr. Putin, you seem to think that the new government that emerged from the Maidan events 2013-14 is the product of CIA machinations, that CIA involvement was something exceptionally noteworthy, and, implicitly, that because this government is supposedly a CIA product, it has no merit or credibility.

Do you really believe Mr. Stone that in any of the great events in world history during the past centuries the intelligence services and spies of the great powers of the time were not involved? Simply noting this fact in isolation from all other events leads either to apologetics or conspiracy theories. Allow me to illustrate my point.

In so far as French secret agents were involved with the leaders of the American rebellion of 1776, some of whom were Masons, does that fact override the influence of enlightenment ideals and the interests and grievances of those who fought King George’s army? Did the presence of French spies and Masons in Philadelphia New York and Boston mean George Washington was part of a foreign plot? Does the British government’s support for Greek nationalists in the 1820s mean their anti-Turkish revolt was merely a British plot? In so far as Spanish, French and German agents supported Irish leaders in their wars against the English government, does that mean that those who fought British troops in the name of Irish independence were dupes in foreign plots? Was the 1916 Easter Rising really a failed German plot? In so far as German intelligence supported and financed the Bolsheviks in 1917-1918, does that mean the Russian revolution was simply a German plot and that those opposed to the tsar had no legitimate interests or grievances? Did covert Russian and Chinese support for Vietnam mean a sizeable proportion of the Vietnamese people had no legitimate grievances against French or American rule and that their decades long war against those governments was merely a KGB plot?

I put it to you Mr. Stone that anyone who produces a film focusing only on the participation of one particular secret service in a given event merely creates cheap propaganda – in this instance of the kind that will benefit Mr. Putin and his dictatorship. At this point, I should perhaps add that, like many others, I have a critical view of the US government and US corporations. I am well aware of the work of analysts like Chalmers Johnson, Richard Barnet, William Greider, Naomi Klein, Gregg Palast, Will Hutton, Michael Hudson, Thomas Frank and Arianna Huffington. But I am among those who do not allow their critical view of the US and corporate power to blind them to the reality of Stalinist or Putinist Russia.

In so far as I am familiar with your films they do not suggest any knowledge of or previous work on eastern Europe or Russia, let alone Ukraine on your part. This is not surprising as for many Americans, even today, Ukraine still remains a “part of Russia”, a place “far away of which we know little.” But once one decides to undertake a project related to that part of the world such intellectual indifference is no longer acceptable. Allow me therefore take the liberty to suggest that you not limit any research you might undertake to Mr. Ianukovich, his cronies and Russian advisors. Might I suggest you at least peruse Karen Dawisha’s recent book Putin’s Kleptocracy (2013) and some of Andrew Wilson’s and Timothy Snyder’s books on Ukraine.

I hope that, at this early stage, your first thoughts about your possible film on Ianukovich and his rule have been misinterpreted or misunderstood and that my remarks prove unnecessary and irrelevant. But, in as much as you do seem interested at this point in a documentary film about one of the great events of post war Europe, I hope that you will record not only the activities of the CIA in that event. I trust you will also record the role of Putin’s FSB in bringing Ianukovich to power in 2010, in controlling his government thereafter, and in the events of 2013-14. Since Mr. Putin’s government has obviously given you a visa and permission to visit Mr. Ianukovich in Russia, dare one imagine your hosts might also oblige you with access to FSB files about FSB activities?

In any case, I trust that any film you might make on Ukraine will pay due attention to the interests and grievances of Ukrainians, who, like their eastern European counterparts demonstrated in 1989, do not want to be ruled by pro-Kremlin elites and are now again, as in 1917-22, fighting a Russian invasion to prove it. I would also hope that if a director of your repute did make a documentary film about Ukraine it would not simply parrot the ideas of a reviled ousted dictator who built fortified fairy-land palaces with gold toilets in a country foul with corruption private wealth and public squalor. I would hope such a film explain that Ukrainians want no more to be controlled by Russia or Russian controlled dictators, than Latin American and Asian peoples want to be controlled by America or American controlled dictators.

Respectfully yours

Stephen Velychenko

Krytyka