Statement by the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign on the CPU Ban and the Ukrainian Question
The Ukraine Solidarity Campaign condemns the decision of the District Administrative Court of Kyiv on 16th December 2015: “To suspend the activities of the Communist Party of Ukraine”. This judgement in effect prevents the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) from participating in elections and engaging in other activities under its own name. On 25 January 2016 the Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine upheld the judgement, which is now being challenged at the European Court of Human Rights.
We make this condemnation not out of support for the racist and counterfeit socialism of the CPU but in the interests of freedom and democracy in Ukraine itself.
The District court judgement considered the Communist Party of Ukraine had failed to conform with the controversial law “On the condemnation of Communist and National Socialist (Nazi) totalitarian regimes in Ukraine and prohibition of promoting their symbols”. An earlier judgement in 23rd July 2015 de-registered the CPU preventing it from standing in local elections under its name. The CPU then stood under the name of ‘New State’ in the elections.
We share the concerns of Human rights organisations that have strongly criticised both the judgement and the law upon which it was based. Amnesty International has condemned it as a betrayal of the aspirations of the EuroMaidan rebellion, John Dalhuisen, Director for Europe stating: “Expressing your opinion without fear of prosecution, particularly if that opinion is contrary to the views held by those in position of power, was one of the principles behind the EuroMaidan protests. Snuffing out the Communist party flies in the face of these ideals.” Whilst Volodymyr Yavorsky, of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union condemned it as contravening the European Convention on Human Rights. Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group also condemned the court in backing the Justice Ministry, noting: “It may well be that the SBU [Security Service] can prove that there is a need in democratic Ukraine to ban the Communist Party on the grounds of danger to national security. Neither it nor the Justice Ministry have thus far done so.”
The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission has slammed the Law on propaganda of communist and Nazi regimes for failings which could infringe people’s right to freedom of expression and of association. Despite their meeting the Ukrainian authorities to date there has been are no changes in the ‘de-communisation’ laws or their application.
Myth and Reality
Whilst opposing the restrictions the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign disagrees with a campaign in the UK, which aligns directly with the politics of the CPU. This does not help the Ukrainian labour movement, democratic socialists or human rights in Ukraine.
It is a fact that first restrictions on the CPU took place in the area controlled by the Russian client Donetsk Peoples Republic. Despite its loyalty, the regime excluded the local CPU rebranded as CP-DPR, from taking part in elections in October 2014 and again in October 2015. It is revealing that the neo-Stalinist parties in the UK have been silent about this ban by authorities they defend.
Contrary to the myths being perpetuated, the reality of CPU politics and the situation in Ukraine is very different. That there has been no popular upsurge in defence of the CPU is something that cannot be explained simply by the presence of far-right organisations or embellished accounts of repression. It is true that war in parts of the East and annexation of Crimea, has damaged its main base of support. However it is a fact that for a great many Ukrainians, including trade unionists and socialists, the CPU is utterly discredited. Support for the CPU was plummeting long before the war. In the last Parliamentary elections before the EuroMaidan the CPU won no MP’s in single member districts, dropping to 13.2% of the proportional vote, whilst CPU leader Symomenenko dropped to 3.5% in the 2010 Presidential election. This reality reinforces our view that it is for the Ukrainian people to judge the record of the CPU not court judges.
Let the People Judge
Contrary to what is being presented in the West the CPU has not historically defended working people from attacks. More than anyone it has been the trade union movement that has defended workers, whilst the CPU has had negligible involvement with unions and social movements.
Despite rhetoric of opposing all oligarchs the CPU has been part of the corrupt system of the oligarchic parties and aligned with the conservative Party of Regions, acting as servile coalition partner and supporter of these gangster capitalists! Party leader for twenty-three years, Petro Symonenko, is notorious for his Kyiv mansion worth $1.5 million, whilst multi-millionaire Oksana Kaletnyk was a member of the CPU Parliamentary group along with her cousin, millionaire Ihor Kaletnyk. When Ukraine saw mass protests to defend free education MP’s of the CPU such as Kateryna Samoylyk actively opposed the students!
CPU politics blend nostalgia for the ‘stability’ of the strong state Stalin and Brezhnev with social conservatism, similar to Europe’s right-wing populist parties, pro-death penalty, homophobic, preaching Russian nationalism and pan-Slavism, spreading islamophobia in Crimea, “defending the rights of canonical Orthodoxy” of Moscow Patriarchy. CPU opposes Ukrainian nationalists and fascists but is allied with Russian chauvinists and fascist organisations. In recent elections CPU has stood under new tittles of “Left-Opposition” and the “New State”, alliances with even more nationalist and religious conservative groups. In UK terms the CPU has more in common with UKiP or the DUP than our Labour Movement.
CPU is a hypocritical party which violates its own principles, having itself voted for anti-protest laws on 16th January 2014 which included trial in absentia, internet censorship, severe restrictions to freedom of speech and assembly, including one year corrective labour for slandering government officials. In a typical Stalinist volte-face on 22nd February 2014 the CPU Parliamentary group voted with supporters of Maidan to depose President Yanukovych – next day Symonenko called Maidan a “coup”, and after Crimea was annexed CPU spoke of a “national-fascist regime” and “junta”. A narrative which echoes Putin’s propaganda and justification for imperialist aggression, which has sadly seeped into sections of our movement and been the cause of nothing short of confusion and fuel for retrogression.
Let History Judge
The CPU claims to be the “heir of the ideas and traditions of the” of the former ruling Party of the Ukrainian SSR an extension of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The actual accomplishments’ of the people of Soviet Ukraine should be respected especially the resistance and the expulsion of the Nazi occupation. But CPU upholds a falsified history devoid of recognition of Ukraine as an oppressed nation.
In its history Ukraine has been subjugated by rival powers, mostly the object of exploitation, national oppression, and colonial Russifying policies by the ruling classes of Russia. Under the Tsarist Empire, Ukrainians suffered discrimination, bans on their language and culture, restrictions, repression and inequality. This legacy of colonialism was not overcome in the USSR but continued in a different form under Stalinism. The communists and socialists of the revolutionary period who sought the free development of Ukraine were savagely repressed.
The CPU are celebrating the Five Year Plans that started in 1929 but as always are silent that it began years of mass terror that saw millions perish, deliberately starved to death in the 1932-33 Holodomor, or killed in purges and gulags. Within the old CPU and wider movement a whole generation was virtually wiped out by Stalin; the independent Ukrainian Communist Party and the Communist Party of West Ukraine liquidated. This terror actually helped clear space for and fuel more reactionary forms of nationalism and fascist forces. For most of the post-war period Ukraine was ruled with an iron hand to contain the deep desire for greater freedom and independence.
It is tragic irony that neither the CPU’s falsified history nor the ‘de-communisation’ laws of the Ukrainian government recognise the role of the pioneering Ukrainian Marxist writers and political figures who were persecuted in the USSR.
Does this matter today?
Few people in the West know the historical context of Ukraine today, as our movement responds to events it needs to be considered more seriously. It is worth considering that Lenin himself said: “What Ireland was for England, Ukraine has become for Russia: exploited in the extreme, and getting nothing in return.” Imagine if in Ireland the Labour Party or Communist Party viewed the Irish famine a fraud, the history of the struggle for freedom and independence entirely shaped by the far-right ‘Blue Shirts’. Yet this is precisely the narrative presented by the CPU and echoed by various Communist Parties. The situation in Ukraine is complicated further by the fact that mass terror was committed in the name of ‘socialism’. The difficulties this legacy has for genuine Ukrainian left politics is obvious.
But we must also appreciate that most Ukrainians are not antagonistic to progressive social and democratic ideas, to equality and justice at work and in society. The sentiments of “anti-communism” that can be found are based not in an ingrained fascism within Ukrainian nationalism but experience of a “really existing socialism” that was a totalitarian Police state. The crimes of the Nazis and deep respect in society of resistance to the occupation do not change the disdain of Stalinist despotism which ruled them for even longer. Understanding the complexities of this view are important for in building genuine solidarity with the Ukrainian labour movement and democratic forces.
But alongside sentiments rooted in the legitimate grievances of the victims of oppression exists a real “anti-communism” that is opposed to social and democratic change. That of the oligarchic politicians and the small but at times prominent far-right. This “anti-communism” is used as a cover for the erosion of civil liberties and prosecution of neo-liberal reforms.
Underpinning the conflict between the Ukrainian state and the CPU (and various splinter parties) is not a mass communist threat but the Russo-Ukraine war. The intervention of Russia – the historic imperial power – into a nation it has historically oppressed has inevitably inflamed nationalism. It is true the CPU in South-East Ukraine supported the Russian proxy forces; however unlike their supporters in the UK, the CPU distanced itself from these local organisations even excluding prominent leaders. Nevertheless their own Russian chauvinism and alliance with Russian far-right organisations such as Slavic Unity in support of the Anti-Maidan movement whilst the war unfolded, presented them as an anti-Ukrainian party, opposing the national-political rights of the Ukrainian people and antagonistic to the very existence of the state. In a situation where communism can be as easily portrayed as pro-Putin Russian nationalism for Ukraine’s political elite, it is useful political capital against the allies of their former oligarchic rivals.
We appreciate and understand why our friends in the Ukrainian labour movement have divided opinions as regards the judgements against CPU; we say that these loathsome ideas of neo-Stalinism and Russian Chauvinism cannot be defeated by police methods. They can be combated politically and most effectively by a vibrant labour movement, in a fully democratic Ukraine. Whilst restrictions on CPU may not impact on the activities of the new left, social-democrats and trade unionists this is a dangerous precedent. For alongside the more serious threat of the anti-union Labour Code if the ‘de-communisation’ laws are not checked and reformed, they may provide a legal cover for the persecution of labour movement activists in the struggles unfolding in Ukraine.
No doubt the various neo-Stalinists will scream at us that any criticism of the CPU and their supporters is “red-baiting” or “supporting fascism”, the same people who have done their upmost to close down any informed discussion in our movement of the Ukrainian question with abuse and intimidation. We do not condemn the recent judgements against the CPU in order to stifle all political criticism of this loathsome party.
Our support here should be first and foremost with the Ukrainian trade unions and efforts to develop an independent, non-Stalinist left alternative. We must support those struggling in Ukraine with the situation as it really is not fictional creations of Putin and Stalinist propaganda. An approach summarised in our slogan – Russian Tanks, Western Banks Hands off Ukraine! Solidarity with the Ukrainian labour movement!
This statement was first posted at http://ukrainesolidaritycampaign.org/2016/02/07/18731/