24 March--For the past several months the Ukraine has been gripped by an acute political crisis sparked by revelations by Mikola Melnychenko, a former member of the political police, of president Leonid Kuchma's involvement in the grisly murder of Georgy Gongadze, a dissident journalist. The 14 March statement of the Young Revolutionary Marxists of Ukraine (YRM--a group with which we have fraternal relations) provides background on the current political situation. The following statement by the YRM, distributed in Kiev last week, comments on a recent "Open Letter" by six leftist members of the Komsomol (the youth wing of the Communist Party of Ukraine--CPU). This "Open Letter" has been circulated internationally by the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI).

To All Revolutionaries in the Komsomol


On Friday 16 March we received an "Open Letter to all Komsomol members" signed by six Komsomol members. This letter contains a series of political points many of which are unobjectionable for any socialist. Yet in our view it is a statement that, in its totality, genuine Marxists cannot endorse.

The "Open Letter" begins with the observation that the new bourgeois exploiters are constructing a capitalist social order which is qualitatively worse than bureaucratic "socialism" under the CPSU prior to 1991. This is very true, as is the observation that the new ruling class is "split now on the question to which Great power it should subordinate: the USA and EU or Russia." We of course also agree that "the Kuchma regime does not hesitate to attack democratic rights, [and employ] police violence, repression and even murder" to cling to power.

The letter correctly observes that "the bourgeois leaders of the National Salvation Forum try to exploit the justified democratic outrage of many citizens about the murder of Gongadze for their own pro-Western goals" and that they are in league with "the fascist hooligans of UNA-UMSO." It rightly notes that Kuchma's current anti-fascist rhetoric is worthless as "his regime financed the fascists for a long time." We would add that in the current crisis Kuchma has enjoyed support from Bandera's Trident and other ultra-rightists.

But the central proposition in the "Open Letter" is mistaken: its denial that the central issue posed by the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" movement is who should hold power, but rather, "what is at stake are the democratic rights of any political opposition." "Any political opposition" clearly refers to the National Salvation Forum which, if it succeeds in building a sufficiently large movement and gains support from essential layers of the bourgeoisie and particularly the officer corps, clearly intends to take power and rule in essentially the same manner as Kuchma. This is no mass plebeian popular democratic movement.

While Marxists defend the democratic rights of the pro-imperialist NSF, and thus oppose every attempt by Kuchma to impose arbitrary and undemocratic restrictions upon it, this is not the critical issue facing the workers' movement today and it is not what leftists in the Komsomol should be focusing on. Yet this is clearly the orientation of the "Open Letter": "the workers movement and particularly Komsomol must mobilise for mass actions to defend the democratic rights to protest on the street against the Kuchma regime." The authors of the "Open Letter" seek to give a left cover to their policy of winning the CPU to tail the bourgeois opposition:

"One could have thought that the CPU as the biggest party in the country would do its duty and mobilise its members and supporters against the regime but independent of the bourgeois National Salvation Front."

This talk of "independence" from the bourgeois NSF has a very Marxist tone, but when you look carefully it amounts to no more than a proposal to organize a separate contingent, alongside the NSF, in a movement aimed solely against Kuchma. But the job of Marxists is not to "independently" mobilize the working class to support one wing of the exploiters against the other, but rather to imbue them with the recognition that they can only be free by overthrowing both wings! This represents a major regression from the 22 February statement, "Ukraine Without Bourgeoisie and Fascists," that the RV-MRM signed, along with many other groups. The RV-MRM's support for this latest "Open Letter," shows that its adaptationist political orientation to Kuchma's bourgeois opposition has not changed fundamentally.

This was signalled in an earlier internet message, dated 2 March, from M. Proebsting, of the League for a Revolutionary Communist International, with which the RV-MRM is in sympathy, commenting that:

"one of the main weaknesses of this united front is that it does not unambiguously defend the bourgeois opposition against Kuchma drive for a full blown bonapartism. Instead it takes a neutral position - i.e., 'these are only two bourgeois camps fighting for power'."

Revolutionaries defend democratic rights for the NSF today, as we would for Kuchma's supporters tomorrow if the positions of these rival gangs were to be suddenly reversed. We do so not because we think the program of one is superior to the other, but solely because in defending democratic rights in general we defend the conditions which permit the easiest and fastest development of mass revolutionary consciousness within the workers movement. Defending the democratic rights of the bourgeois opposition does not change that fact that in the current conflict 'these are only two bourgeois camps fighting for power'. What sort of Marxist could fail to see that?

While the "Open Letter" is correct that "what is at stake today in the first line is not the pro-Western orientation or the danger of a fascist coup d'etat by UNA-UMSO," it does not follow that the main objective for socialists should be to organize support ("independently" or otherwise) for a campaign which everyone knows is aimed at replacing Kuchma's gang with Yushchenko/Tymoshenko's.

The RV-MRM is on record calling the NSF campaign "progressive" thereby clearly solidarizing with it, even if not uncritically:

"We Trotskyists of RV-MRM consider the protests against Kuchma as progressive. We support the demands of freedom of press and the investigation of Gongadze case as general democratic demands.

"However, we think it is impermissible for Marxists to organize a tent camp together with fascists -- particularly since they were a significant force there. Such a policy only confuses the working class and democratic students and misleads them about the deeply reactionary character of these forces. Groups like the CWI make a very serious mistake by participating with fascists in this camp. Therefor RV-MRM did not participate in the protest camp. Instead we call for kicking out the fascists of the anti-Kuchma movement."
--statement by Konstantin Y., posted on internet by LRCI, 20 February

This spells it out very clearly. The RV-MRM would love to participate in the NSF's campaign, rather than just support it from afar, but, unlike the ultra-opportunists of the CWI, they drew the line at cooperation with fascists. Instead of congratulating themselves for being so principled it might be better if the RV-MRM comrades were to ask themselves why they should be so eager to support a campaign that attracts fascists in the first place.

The main duty of Marxists in the Ukraine today is not to advertise the fact that Kuchma is running a corrupt and vicious regime and deserves to be ousted. That is already well known. The critical task for revolutionaries at this point is to alert the masses to the danger of allowing their anger at Kuchma to be channelled by the NSF into a campaign that, if it succeeds, will only mean that one reactionary regime is replaced by another. The comrades of the RV-MRM, as well as the authors of the "Open Letter," must surely recognize that a regime headed by Yushchenko will be no less dangerous for working people than Kuchma is today.

Marxists within the Komsomol, and outside it, must seek to win the most politically conscious elements of the working class to understand that while it is necessary to defend democratic rights in general (including those of the NSF) there is no "lesser evil" between the pro-Russian and pro-Western wings of the ruling class--the Kuchmas and the Yushchenko/Tymoshenkos.

The problem with the "Open Letter" is that, while it talks of "fighting for socialism and workers power" and correctly observes that this "can not be done with this party but against the CPU bureaucracy," all the talk of "independence" and "democracy" boils down to a "left" cover for supporting one set of reactionaries (those behind Yushchenko-Tymoshenko) against the other.

In its essentials the struggle in Kiev today between the rival bourgeois factions parallels that which erupted in Moscow in October 1993 between two gangs of counterrevolutionaries led by Yeltsin and Rutskoi (the latter who was backed by various Russian fascists). In that sordid struggle, as in the current one here, the key issue was not "democracy" but rather which wing of the fledgling bourgeoisie would give the orders and reap the rewards of privatization. Such situations, where the oppressors are split into two qualitatively similar factions and the workers' movement has nothing essential at stake in the victory of either, can present the revolutionary proletariat with major opportunities to take advantage of the paralysis of our class enemies.

We must reject illusions that a policy of tailing the "mass movement" generated by the NSF wing of the bourgeoisie will somehow turn into a "first step" toward socialism. In fact it represents nothing other than the political subordination of the workers to a wing of the capitalists. The orientation of revolutionaries must be to seek to direct popular anger at the whole project of capitalist restoration, and to sharpen workers' political awareness that there is nothing to choose between the two gangs of bandits. The "Open Letter" says that "We need a new workers party, a workers party truly committed to the goals of working class revolution and authentic socialism (not the bureaucratic caricature we had before 1990!)." In the abstract this is quite true, but the axis of political intervention proposed--to rally support on a "left-wing" basis for a section of the exploiters--represents an obstacle to the creation of a genuinely revolutionary workers party.

Any organization which is "truly committed to the goals of working class revolution and authentic socialism" had best start with hard opposition to Yeltsin and his counterrevolutionary backers in August 1991. In that confrontation the workers did have a side--and it was with Pugo, Yanayev and the remnants of the Stalinist bureaucracy who, for their own reasons, sought to preserve the status quo. The CPSU bureaucrats may have administered a "bureaucratic caricature" of socialism, but it was qualitatively better than what has resulted from the victory of Yeltsin and his capitalist restorationists. The great tragedy of our generation is that it was the Yeltsinites, rather than an insurgent working class, that smashed the Stalinist political monopoly.

Yet there are some so-called revolutionaries, including the comrades of the LRCI and RV-MRM who have endorsed the "Open Letter," who have not yet grasped this simple historical fact. Indeed they have yet to repudiate the shameful behavior of their own comrades who mounted Yeltsin's barricades during the coup in August 1991 and thus physically aided in the defense of the counterrevolution! It seems to us that people with this sort of political record might be well advised to spend a bit of time getting a few things straight before lecturing others on "working class revolution and authentic socialism."

18 March 2001

Published: 18 March 2001