The Yalta Conference on Solidarity with the Resistance in South East Ukraine
The conference of solidarity with the resistance in south east Ukraine was held in Yalta, Crimea, on 6 and 7 July 2014. It was an invaluable opportunity for socialist, humanitarian, and antiwar activists from the West to meet with leftwing and nationalist opponents of the Kiev regime from all parts of Ukraine, and from Belarus and Russia. The conference was called by Boris Kagarlitsky and his NGO, the Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements, together with Alexey Anpilogov of the Novorussia central committee.
I was invited by Boris Kagarlitsky, and was not aware of any other sponsoring organisation. I am a member of Workers Power in the UK and was invited because I am the secretary of the campaign “Solidarity with the Antifascist Resistance in Ukraine”, SARU, though I did not attend in that capacity. I asked in advance if there was any Russian government backing or funding for the conference and was told categorically that there was not. I did not know who was taking part, except that representatives of Borotba would be present, and a socialist from Canada called Roger Annis.
Although there was simultaneous translation from Russian to English throughout, this was of very varied quality. Essentially, one translator was good, the other was barely comprehensible. I do not speak Russian, so my report is necessarily incomplete.
The event was a success. More than 60 people attended, including representatives of the Lugansk and Donetsk People's Republics, socialist exiles from the Borotba Union, exiles from Odessa, including eyewitnesses to the 2 May massacre at the House of Trade Unions, activists against the Kiev regime from central Ukraine, from Zaphorezhe, from Kharkiv, from women's campaigns active in Kiev and Dniepropetrovsk and a delegate from the Ruthenian region in western Ukraine. From Moscow, the leftwing journalist Maxim Shevchenko was present. There were also a number of individual activists and exiles who attended particular sessions of the conference.
Not all the delegates were from the left. As well as a delegate from the Green Party of Belarus, there was one delegate who appeared to be connected with the bourgeois Party of the Regions. Subsequently, I discovered from the list of signatories of the conference statement that a representative of the conservative nationalist organisation, Slavic Guard, had also been present.
From the West, there were academics, journalists, peace campaigners and leftists. From Canada, we had the socialist writer Alan Freeman, formerly a member of Socialist Action in the UK; Radhika Desai, an economist and author of the book Geopolitical Economy; Herman Dvorak of the Austrian section of the Fourth International and the Archive of the Austrian Resistance to Fascism; Kai Ehlers of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Germany; Todd Bjork from the EU Committee of Friends of the Earth, Sweden; Jeff Summers of the University of Wisconsin; Roger Annis the socialist blogger and coordinator of solidarity with antifascist resistance in Ukraine; Stefan Huth, one of the editors of Die Linke's paper Junge Welt in Germany, and me.
Delegates were not feted or schmoozed; there was no drinks reception or welcoming event, or any official social event so far as I am aware. There were no gifts. We were accommodated, full board, at the InTourist hotel in Yalta, a tourist hotel for Russian holidaymakers where the conference took place.
The conference was organised into three main sections. The first was a discussion of Ukraine in its geopolitical and economic context, the second dealt with international solidarity and the situation in Ukraine and the third centred on discussion of a Russian-language draft programme for the resistance, prepared by Maxim Shevchenko.
Boris Kagarlitsky opened the conference without any formalities or introductions of delegates, saying its purpose was to bring together activists in the southeast of Ukraine, Novorussia, with “leaders” of the western solidarity movement, leftists, intellectuals and journalists, people who reject government propaganda and do not accept the lies and false information about Ukraine. The task was to provide solidarity with the people, to meet and listen and understand each other. The struggle was in the intellectual, ideological and political field, and not just in Slavyansk (news had just come through of an apparent rebel reverse with the retreat from Slavyansk), but in Russia, in Europe, in the US.
Alexei Anpilogov then made some brief comments. From what I understood, his perspective was clearly nationalist, not socialist, but was not at all of a far right character. He said: we need to understand what is happening and what is coming next. If we see Russian flags in southeast Ukraine, this is not support for separatism but for the union of the Russian nation. This is not happening on a confessional basis, not just Orthodox people but Christians and Muslims, too. Nor is it ideological: sometimes we see the red flag, sometimes the eagle. On balance, the struggle for Ukrainians is to get back the country we lost in February [when the junta took power]. Now we have a civil war that could go on for years; on 6 April, we had peaceful demos but, because of attacks by the authorities, we now have resistance and massive violence. But the war will finish, and we will live in peace. This conference should help us go towards peace.
Vasily Koltashov, from Boris Kagarlitsky's NGO, then delivered an economic report on Ukraine and the EU. Unfortunately, the translation of this was poor. From what I understood, it seemed very general; until 2013, the southeast of Ukraine was its most stable region; based on coal and steel. At the end of the crisis, the oil price fell, Chinese growth rates fell, and this sector could not continue to provide sufficient profit for the Ukrainian economy.
The Maidan movement wanted unity with Europe but, for the economy of the southeast, integration with Russia was very important. The neoliberal forces were ascendant and, in seeking to realise the EU's neoliberal project, they plunged Ukraine into civil war. Globalisation in Ukraine, forcing Ukraine to become a “European country”, meant prices rising, layoffs everywhere, a new role for the Ukrainian economy in Europe and in the world.
The EU Association Agreement contained only obligations for Ukraine. There were also cultural differences, he claimed, with some opposing the EU because they said they were against “homosexual Europe” or wanted to fight for “moral ways of life”. This, he said, was a controversial way of approaching Europe. He concluded by saying that the Maidan people thought the EU would be beautiful, but the EU had another plan for Ukraine, one Donetsk and Lugansk could not and would not follow. The Ukrainian revolution had started in Donetsk and Lugansk, and it could change not just Ukraine but the whole of Europe, it could change the whole system. The formation of the USSR led to the division of other countries; the left was not comfortable with it and the process was traumatic/violent.
Greg Summers, of the University of Wisconsin and the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, then spoke. He talked about the economic expansion of the US into central and eastern Europe. He argued that the fascist character of some movements in these countries was not the cause of crisis, but the expression of it, a symptom of a response by global capital to a long crisis of accumulation and an attempted restoration of profitability. The reinsertion of the former soviet bloc into global circuits of exchange led to the destruction of the middle and working classes.
The goal of western capital was to act like conquistadores. He asserted that the recovery was unsustainable as it was based on debt, personal and state, and that the EU Association Agreement would prevent member states from protecting themselves against the extraction of profit. The EU still contained echoes of an order that was already being killed off, the social democratic welfare model, but neoliberalism meant plutocracy, and thus less democracy. The new European system would produce a new order in Europe, one that must be resisted.
Radhika Desai summarised the thesis of her book Geopolitical Economy, namely that the “global hegemony” of the US and the monopolar world order were overstated in contemporary globalisation theory and that, in a sense, the idea of globalisation is a cosmopolitan conceit, and that we are actually in a sharply multipolar world system, which brings with it the threat of war.
Boris Kagarlitsky concluded by saying that the Ukrainian elites are seeking to localise the crisis in the South and East of the country but, he asked, who was responsible not just for the crisis in the southeast but also for the degradation of the agriculture and economy of the west of Ukraine, of Kiev and the west?
He said that, internationally, there is a “blame Russia” propaganda policy,” which works because in the West people don't know or understand what is happening in Ukraine. He said that, in Russia, there is solidarity with the resistance in Ukraine but it is emotional, people believe the crisis will be solved at a state level, via an oligarchic way of fighting. We are not calling for a new USSR, he said, but for a more democratic society with social rights, a mixed economy etc.
The social base of the anti-Maidan, he argued, is different from that of the Maidan. We should create an inclusive bloc: social, cultural, linguistic. We should orient to this social bloc. From Ukraine, a social process was beginning that could unite people. Yes it was bad, a defeat, that in Slavyansk the rebels had left the town [just announced that day - RB]. The Ukrainian army is coming, we are losing. So we should formulate the mobilisation of new forces. It is not just a military problem, we cannot solve it just by announcing a new state, the result could be a real catastrophe. We should not be afraid of being pessimistic because, from defeats, like 1905, you can then regroup and begin to win, because not just of weapons but the mobilisation of forces. This was the start.
Viktor Shapinov of Borotba contrasted the apparent stasis in the political system for 20 years after 1993 with the sudden change in 2014. Yuri [?] from the Belarus Green Party pointed out that the revolutionary armies in France and Russia won not just because they advanced social demands but because they inspired people with new ideas and a vision of the future which the modern left simply does not have.
Questions began to pour in from the delegates, potentially opening wider and more practical topics for discussion. Would Ukraine default on its debt? With whom could people communicate in Lugansk? What was the Donetsk People's Republic actually doing, what was its attitude to Russia? What can we say about alternative international security arrangements? Can we still speak of “Ukraine”, or should we be saying, “former Ukraine”? Are there any healthy forces in the rest of Ukraine beyond the south east and the rebel areas? Should we protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine? Will the influence of neo-nazis in Ukraine act as a transmission belt to encourage the far right in the rest of Europe?
Alan Freeman was taken to deliver a macroeconomic report. In it, he expressed his combination of Marxist and Keynesian crisis theory and a left reformist, state-oriented policy. He said there was no escape from the crisis. The BRICS combined a downward curve and an upward curve; China and other countries that “used the state” were on an upward curve, he claimed. “Only the state can get us out of the crisis”. In the 30s, Germany and Japan crushed the working class and then invested in arms and the military. The war led to the great US recovery. That's where the recovery is leading today: that's the capitalist way. Only the working class could reorganise the world without crisis and war. He called for the idea of a “social Europe” to be included in every European state's self concept and for the poor countries to unite and do what they needed to do, whether or not the EU let them. Europe would break apart on the rock of Ukraine.
The next session had a different focus: how could we build international solidarity? I contributed to this since, despite the limited success of SARU, we had at least made a start, had held rallies and pickets, had created an alliance of organisations and had secured the affiliation of a national trade union, the RMT (which seemed to astonish some delegates).
I said the antifascist sensibilities of the labour movement had helped us to unite forces opposed to the reactionary junta in Kiev. Drawing on our experience, I proposed that the conference should issue a statement of solidarity with the resistance to the far-right/fascist coalition government, which should be directed towards the labour and progressive movements around the world and present a common basis for international solidarity campaigning.
I suggested this should include; protests outside Ukrainian embassies against the far-right/fascist coalition regime in Kiev; answers to the regime's lies; support for antiwar protests in Ukraine; bring the butchers of Odessa and Mariupol to justice, demonstrate against the NATO manoeuvres in Ukraine; raise funds for medicine, water, food, clothing and basic equipment to communities under siege; protect everyone hit by repression and so on. This was supported by Roger Annis, Stefan Huth, Alan Freeman, Radhika Desai and most of the Ukrainians and Russians.
However, it drew objections from Hermann Dvorak and Tord Bjoerk and, at this stage, only from them. Dvorak did not disclose the full attitude of his organisation, the Fourth International, which has passed a resolution declaring the unity of Ukraine as one of its goals, and which does not support the resistance. Instead, he insisted that we should call for a ceasefire on both sides, (“peace”), and claimed, without any evidence, that a declaration of the sort proposed, in the language proposed, would make it “impossible” to build solidarity.
Bjoerk, a friendly guy who has, nevertheless, written such an unfair account of my role at the meeting that I feel obliged to respond without regard for diplomatic niceties, backed Dvorak with platitudinous and patronising references to “the power of the babushka” as counterposed to the power of the gun. He was apparently unaware that there are female fighters in the resistance. Both seemed horrified when Kagarlitsky proposed from the chair that I should draft an international statement along the lines of my contribution, which I did and presented the following morning. When it was then discussed, we agreed to remit it for editing to shorten it, and to see if it it would be possible to accommodate Dvorak (who threw a tantrum when the draft was circulated).
I would have preferred not to try to accommodate the views of just two people in the room but, out of an excess of generosity, the others tried to do so. Radhika Desai edited down my draft and amendments from Jeff Summers then removed any mention of the presence of fascists in the government in Kiev. Bjork has inaccurately described my objections to this as “sectarianism” that “wrecked” the conference. That is how some people behave when they cannot get their own way.
Nevertheless, notwithstanding Dvorak and Bjork's efforts, the final outcome was an international statement that did not criticise both sides or call for the resistance to disarm, as the Minsk solidarity conference had done earlier in the year. Rather, it sided clearly with the resistance, that is, it accurately reflected the will of the conference.
Of greater general interest than the debate on the international appeal, were the sessions in which the delegates from Ukraine and Russia spoke about the situation and debated the way forward. These related to a Russian-language draft programme for the resistance, prepared by Maxim Shevchenko. This document did not appear in English during the course of the conference. The debates focused on three issues; whether to appeal to the rest of Ukraine, outside the rebel areas; the role of nationalism and the raising of social demands.
In the interest of providing, as it were, a flavour of the nature of the conference and, indeed, of the delegates themselves, I have set out my contemporaneous notes of their contributions below, this means that some formulations are unclear or ambiguous, either because of translation difficulties or, possibly, because the original contributions were unclear or ambiguous.
Representative of the Lugansk People's Republic
The situation developed slowly. Our first demand was traditional and natural: save the right to the Russian language, and grant us self-government. On 22 February, the Kiev junta tried to take that away from us. It is a known fact that the government wanted to take our language away.
Our movement began, with no weapons. On 6 February we fought the government, no guns, but then we saw armed people, soldiers from UDAR; Klitschko on 22-23 February tried to fight against our Lugansk national administration. You can see it on the internet on Bludnik's [?] blog, it had begun.
Then our movement became more organised. At first tents, then...we had a referendum of the Lugansk oblast. The authorities tried to ignore the will of the people and our requests with tents and petitions. More than 90% voted but the state tried to ignore us and called us just nationalists. The results came out, the authorities came to repress us. The first generation of our leaders were arrested and destroyed by the Kiev regime's attacks; then came military democracy, people with masks declaring they wanted to fight for Lugansk. The regime issued Facebook threats, the movement became more radical, from language rights, via federalism, to the call for secession from Ukraine. This mirrored the reactions to Maidan that went on in the rest of Ukraine.
The people in Lugansk were oppressed by tanks so they became more radical.
Alla Glitchnikova of Kagarlitsky's institute asked “what was done to connect with other regions?” The Lugansk representative replied that they contacted Donetsk, also when people were killed in Donetsk and in Kharkov, in May, they reached out. As in Odessa, the enemies came with hooligans, but the people were more energetic in resisting and stopped a massacre.
A woman from Donbass
I would like to support my colleague from Lugansk. In Donbass, at first, it was a movement against, not for. Just that we need our rights; for our language, for self determination, for our history, for our mentality. Ukraine has consisted of two mentalities. When the state was formed, it was like mixing oil and water. Donbass people have a different mentality. We wanted to follow our rights, to escape discrimination. They didn't let us, so we decided to take it ourselves. We are blamed for wanting integration with Russia, but we just look at Russia like an older brother. We are ready to fight, we can't accept to be part of Ukraine. It's more reasonable for us to make unity with Slavic people.
A man from Kharkiv
We were lucky. In the first days we had unity before the repression came, and we had people experienced in politics. We had some demands: Ukraine without oligarchs, not on our knees to Russia or Ukraine, Russia can simply help us. As the junta declared its revolution that wasn't a revolution, we declared for a united, federal Ukraine, we held meetings in the street but the city authorities tried to present these meetings as “pro Russian” and people were arrested immediately. On 2 May, they tried to do in Kharkov what they'd done in Odessa, 500 of them versus 300 of us. We tried to escape.
Donetsk and Lugansk previously voted for autonomy. But the Kiev regime did not respect or follow the result, which means we did not have open democracy in the country. Now, however, we have some plans, we issue communications, we have some results, we coordinate our actions.
Strelkov came to Slavyansk with 30 people and left with 1,000 fighters. This was not a defeat; it was a tactical victory. Our comrades who were killed did not fall in vain. Remember Vietnam: successful propaganda was made in South Vietnam, with women in contact with US soldiers, through mothers, sisters, brothers. So Giap led his country to victory. But he couldn't have won without great leadership, propaganda and antiwar protests in the US. To work inside enemy territory and engage in ideological struggle is part of the fight. Among the enemy are some who could change their minds including even some in the Maidan, even in the National Guard, even on the streets of Lviv.
Is this a war against the western population? No. Against fascists? No. Jews? No. Is Kolomoisky a Banderist? It is absurd. There is a liberal fascist form of government today, uniting oligarchs and followers of Bandera. In modern society, mass media can create any opinion, virtual money can create billions not even depending on labour. The source of their power is the USA and it is directed against our power, which is the multinational Ukrainian population; Russians, Jews, Armenians, Ukrainians, Poles, Hungarians.
They want to divide us, we want to avoid conflicts between these sections of the population. Because conflicts are not based on nation or religion, but money; power and money are the common enemy and they try to make us fight one another, rather than uniting against them, through repression, mass killings. I saw it [he is a journalist] in Afghanistan and Yugoslavia; in civil wars, be prepared for the worst. Remember: the common enemy makes us forget our common interests. 'We should form an army to make victory with direct pressure' is less than a strategy.
A man from Donbass
This is not Chile. It is Argentina, a classic dirty war. Our most important weapon to defeat the regime is clear definite information about the people who are doing their killing, photos, descriptions, available in all languages. The time of intellectuals is past, the time of civil war is upon us.
A man from central Ukraine
There was a Maidan also in 2004, to destroy oligarchy in Ukraine. The people want social reconstruction. I know people who threw molotovs in Maidan against the Berkut but who didn't want this outcome. [Commotion – he is repeatedly interrupted]. So we should make a programme not for Novorussia but for Ukraine, Russia, Europe.
A woman from Zaporozhye
We can't change the neofascist tendency and the anti-Russian movement, but we can catch the healthy part of Novorussia. When we have some power, and some protection of the population, we'll be in a stronger position. We can't think about Galicia [in the west] now.
A representative from central Ukraine
I don't think about a single Ukraine, but if we only think about forming Novorussia, our enemies will just say we don't care about the rest of Ukraine.
A woman active in Kiev and in Dnieperpetrovsk
Central Ukraine is watching. People are lying low. But in October, low wages and social degradation will hit, and central Ukraine will wake up. A threat to my house and my garden will wake me up. Central Ukraine is frightened by the armed forces. A poll said some 19% do not accept the situation in Kiev. Poroshenko was then voted in as he “wanted to finish the war”; there will be a scary situation in October. The victims; Polish, Jewish, Russian, we don't know how many will die. A women's movement is awaiting, We cannot accept the killings. 4,000 are dead, militiamen died; 21 children have died in Slavyansk. Slavyansk is starving, there is no food, the city is empty, just 25,000 left, but thousands are children, and they are starving. We are trying to get aid to them, there is a humanitarian catastrophe there.
A representative of the Donetsk People's Republic
There is a part of Ukraine that sincerely believes that their government is not fascist, and that at the same time supports Bandera. They support Svoboda, they send their children to fascistic training camps. We should speak about the population of the Lugansk and Donetsk Republics, or Novorussia, and we can't speak about Ukraine in general but about the people of former Ukraine in Donetsk and Lugansk. We will not come back to them. They use gangs that they have regularised into their military; they don't think we are part of their people, their population. They will kill us.
Representative of the Co-Ordination of the Movement 'Mothers of Ukraine'
I would like to say to our international guests: if you look at mothers who do not have food for their children you would make your draft statement not milder but more severe. Ukraine is destroyed.
A man from Donbass
You ask whether the government is fascist? It is. Even Klitschko's UDAR [a liberal party] is fascist, it carries out killings in the east. The Maidan parties, the parties concentrated around Poroshenko, are all fascists who want to destroy the people of Novorussia.
A woman representing the Lugansk People's Republic
10 people came to the square against Euromaidan. 300 people paid by Kiev came to support the EU and oppose Yanukovych. So for two months we made mass meetings, we were hunted, our leader was arrested, (he was freed just two days ago), we were told to stand to attention for Ukrainian hymns and flags. We lost a lot of blood. We exist; Russia is blamed; ordinary people are called terrorists and separatists. I want to ask you to use forces and resources to tell people we just want to be heard. Why kill us? We had a referendum, we were promised if we follow the republic we will be protected by Russia. 90% voted for it.
After the conference, both statements referred to above were issued: the international statement drafted by me and edited by Radhika Desai and Roger Annis, with amendments from Jeff Summers, and the Russian programme, by Maxim Shevchenko, voted on by the Russian-speaking delegates only, now translated into English. I do not agree with everything in that, and David Stockton has written an assessment and critique of it for Fifth International journal. It is, nevertheless, a progressive document.
I have to respond to an attack on the conference, and my participation in it, written in bad faith by the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, AWL, a group hostile to the resistance in the south east of Ukraine, and which parrots NATO propaganda about the whole conflict being in essence a liberation struggle of Ukraine against Russian oppression. The same group also backs Israel and opposes the right of Palestinian refugees to return, so devoid are they of anti-imperialist orientation.
They have claimed that the Yalta conference in July was reactionary because of the presence of nationalists. I hope the account above, taken from my handwritten notes, helps give people a sense of the true content of the conference. Yes, there were nationalists there (it is a national liberation struggle), but there was no far right or fascist aspect to the discussion. When the international statement was published at the end of the conference, it included the signature of the reactionary Slavic Guard group, which has issued anti-gay, anti-EU propaganda, but this group had not identified themselves during the conference and I complained about this to Kagarlitsky. None of this, however, affects the overall character of the conference or detracts from its progressive character … unless you believe, as do the AWL, that the resistance to Kiev's attacks on the right of Donbass to self determination deserves no support or is nothing more than a cat's paw for Russia.
Subsequently, the AWL have pointed to a different conference, also held in Yalta, in August. This certainly was a far right conference with a vile assortment of European fascists and Nazis, including Nick Griffin of the BNP, Roberto Fiore and representatives of Jobbik. Alexei Anpilogiv, a co-organiser of the July conference, also helped organise the August fascist conference. Shame on him for his opportunism, his lack of principle and understanding and his stupidity. However, his disgraceful action does not alter the character of the July conference for one moment.
The August conference was organised, as the AWL's own report makes perfectly clear, on the initiative of the Russian government. The Russian government, by contrast, had nothing to do with the July conference, which was held on the initiative of Kagarlitsky's NGO. Far from the August conference being a “second stage” of the July conference, it was a completely different event, convened by the state to counter the influence that the left has tried to secure over the representatives of the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics. Far from the August conference showing that the left had been “dumped by our allies”, it was a counter-initiative by our enemies.
The attempts to paint the two conferences as the same, to claim that I, or Alan Freeman, were “feted” by “Russian fascists” or even that I have “Nazi mates”, are libels, directed not just at us personally, of course, but at the democratic struggle of the people of the southeast of Ukraine.
In a just national struggle, socialists need to combat nationalists within the movement for leadership of the resistance. That was what the Yalta conference in July, for all its limits and doubtless its faults, tried to do. We will continue to do so, and all the invective that pro-imperialist groupings can muster will not stop us.