We publish below an extract from an internal document of 17 May 2014 expressing what was then a minority position on the outbreak of civil war in Ukraine. Now that the IBT has adopted the position that Russia is an imperialist power (see “Imperialist Rivalries Escalate”) this excerpt expresses our public line on the Ukrainian conflict and the observations remain valid today.
1. The emerging Ukrainian civil war is a product of the intersection of (a) domestic Ukrainian economic, social, national and political problems with (b) an inter-imperialist struggle for influence over Ukraine, which triggered the conflict in the first place. It appears that neither the Western imperialists nor the Russian imperialists currently wish to see Ukraine break apart (though Moscow is keeping Crimea). Nor do they wish to see the country fall into anarchy, which would not be helpful to Germany or Russia in particular, as Ukraine serves as a strategic transit route for energy resources between these two powers. It also appears that neither side of the inter-imperialist dispute fully controls the contending factions within Ukraine that seek their support to varying degrees. From a revolutionary perspective, however, the dispute between the West and Russia is politically paramount in the Ukrainian crisis, as the question of imperialism supersedes any bourgeois-democratic question that may be posed. We begin from a position of dual defeatism in the conflict between Washington/Berlin/Brussels (with their own tensions) and Moscow.
2. A position of dual defeatism in relation to the imperialist powers with competing interests in Ukraine does not entail a phony even-handedness in empirical descriptions of foreign meddling in Ukrainian affairs. While both Russian and Western military/intelligence agents are almost certainly on the ground in Ukraine (and there is some compelling evidence pointing to the presence of CIA operatives in particular), it would seem that Russia has less influence over its Ukrainian supporters than the U.S. and Germany have over their own supporters/bloc partners. The hypocrisy of the Western “democracies” energetically backing the putschist regime in Kiev and its neo-Nazi storm troopers terrorizing ethnic minorities/opponents is particularly disgusting. Revolutionaries demand the immediate expulsion of all imperialist military forces/intelligence operatives from Ukraine – a call that, while including those from Russia, in practice mainly refers to those from the Western imperialist countries.
3. The position of dual defeatism extends to the indigenous Ukrainian proxies, or would-be proxies, of the rival imperialist powers. The leading contending factions in the emerging Ukrainian civil war (centered in the eastern oblasts but manifest in other parts of the country as well) would be equally unsupportable even in the absence of imperialist sponsorship. The rightwing Ukrainian nationalist regime in Kiev came to power with the open support of fascist elements of the Maidan movement (including Svoboda, which is part of the government), and has integrated neo-Nazi Right Sector militants into the state apparatus via the formation of the National Guard. Predictably, opposition forces are more politically heterogeneous, ranging from left-leaning forces (some of which do not identify with Moscow) to rightwing Russian nationalists to outright fascists. Insofar as opposition forces have managed to seize control of parts of Eastern Ukraine, it appears that rightwing pro-Moscow Russian nationalists predominate (with the leftwing and fascist elements marginalized for the time being).
4. We must be careful not to lump together all those forces that find themselves in opposition to the Kiev regime and/or under attack from its armed forces. In many cases they will be ordinary citizens with no political affiliation, and in some cases they will be members of the workers’ movement who at least nominally oppose nationalism of all varieties. Each case must be judged on its own merits, and legitimate opposition to the Kiev regime (or simple self-defense against state and/or fascist violence) must be distinguished from the opposition of ethnic Russian exploiters/would-be exploiters.
5. While the conflict between the Kiev-based regime and opposition forces is complex (and overlain with political and ideological differences), it is assuming the form of a nascent civil war between the two basic nations of Ukraine: Ukrainians and Russians. From a Leninist perspective, those two nations have the right to self-determination, and either nation has the right to defend itself against national oppression, which the Kiev-based Ukrainian chauvinist regime appears to be trying to impose on Russians in Ukraine. Revolutionaries do not support the territorial integrity of Ukraine and are, in theory, open to various possible configurations of state borders.
6. At the same time, revolutionaries do not support the separation of Donetsk, Luhansk or other Ukrainian territories inasmuch as:
a) the question of Ukraine’s borders in the present situation is principally a question of which rival imperialist will control as much as possible of this sphere of influence; and
b) the populations in Southeastern Ukraine are mixed in complex ways, and separation would, in the present circumstances, almost certainly entail a subordination of a national minority (and even forced “population transfers” between newly-independent republics and what remains of Ukraine). In some areas of Southeastern Ukraine, ethnic Russians or Ukrainians are dominant (though the Russian language may be spoken by a majority in either case), while in others the two nations are more clearly interpenetrated. The situation may vary within oblasts. Given the particular fluidity of Ukrainian and Russian identity in Ukraine, and the complex linguistic considerations, national affiliations in this transitional area would appear to be in flux.
7. Revolutionaries oppose all forms of national oppression, in particular the Ukrainian chauvinist attacks on the rights of Russophones/ethnic Russians. We advocate equal rights for all language groups, and in particular both Russian and Ukrainian, but also including, for instance, the Tatar language in Crimea.
8. While we take no side in conflicts between competing factions in the emerging civil war, we condemn nationalist atrocities perpetrated by either side, e.g., the killing of dozens of anti-regime protestors by Right Sector Nazis in Odessa. We recognize the right of every community to defend itself against violence from the state or fascists or pogromists. We advocate multi-communal workers’ self-defense guards to defend all communities and workers’ organizations.
9. We advance the perspective of working-class unity against the capitalist-oligarch system and for socialist revolution and the formation of the Socialist United States of Europe and a Eurasian Socialist Federation - the only framework in which the national antagonisms in Ukraine (and many other former Soviet states) can be equitably addressed. Key to this revolutionary socialist perspective is proletarian-internationalist opposition to all imperialist powers (German, Russian, U.S., British, etc.) – the main enemy is at home!