Same message

Tragically, the ‘world worker class’ appears to have made very little progress over the last century! Reading through Eddie Ford’s excellent overview of the Ukrainian crisis left me feeling somewhat depressed (‘West’s wounded imperial pride’, March 27).

Almost everything we read in western media reports reduces the conflict to a clash between Russia’s imperialist ambitions to ‘recapture’ their historic colonial possessions in opposition to similar ambitions of the ‘democratic free world’ (remember that phraseology?). Eddie is spot on in his exposure of the consequences of the ‘lesser of two evils’ approach: the opportunist approach of the traditional, so-called ‘revolutionary parties’ - an approach readily pushed by Putin for winning support for his manoeuvres.

The western part of the Ukraine had been part of the sprawling Austro-Hungarian empire; historically, the Austrian province was known as the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, an area that incorporated the duchies of Auschwitz and Zator (regions passed to Poland following the 1914-18 world war). The Ribbentrop/Molotov pact of August 23 1939 agreed this region was well within the Soviet sphere of influence. Its population were far from being ardent supporters of Stalin’s brand of communism - years of iron-hard Soviet control had so affected the peoples of the western Ukraine that, when the Germans launched their attack on the USSR in June 1941, they were invariably welcomed as liberators. Admittedly, this enthusiasm somewhat abated, as Himmler’s Einsatzgruppen commenced their activities.

This deep hostility continued between Ukrainian and Russian populations, especially with the continued Russian ‘immigrations’, in all senses of the word. Indeed, even before hostilities began, in June 1941, volunteer Ukrainian units were covertly training in German Wehrmacht camps, forming units that went into action, within the Ukraine, coincident with the invading Nazi troops (newsreels of the warm welcome given to the Wehrmacht by local populations are on the web).

In August 1941, the western Ukraine, which Himmler always insisted on calling Galicia, became part of the general government, the Nazi-administered area, which comprised most of Poland. The military commander of the area, SS brigade Führer Wächter, was ‘sympathetic’ to the peoples under his control and ensured the area remained comparatively peaceful, the populace content to have thrown off their Soviet oppressors.

In March 1943, Wächter sought, and was given, permission to raise a ‘Galician’ police regiment. As manpower shortages due to combat losses grew more acute, Himmler suggested the proposed regiment be increased to a division. Such was the level of anti-Soviet feeling in the area, some 70,000 volunteers came forward, sufficient to man the projected division, together with a surplus of volunteers to form five police regiments.

The 14th Waffen-Grenadier Division der SS (Ukrainische Nr. 1) was duly formed: 350 volunteer officers and 2,000 NCOs were sent to Germany for combat training and, in mid-June 1944, the division went into action on the Russian front. Of the 14,000 troops in the division, less than 3,000 survived the war.

Those readers who might argue, ‘This is all past history - let’s move on’, might find it sobering to be reminded that in March 2002 the town of Ivano-Frankovsk in western Ukraine passed a resolution giving the 14th SS Galicia division, whose officers were personally thanked by Heinrich Himmler, in May 1944, for their part in “clearing Galicia of Jews”, the status of “fighters for the freedom and independence of Ukraine”, and awarding them the same pensions and benefits as Ukrainians who had served with the Red Army against the Nazis. Moscow was outraged at the proposal to “revise the decisions of the Nuremberg trial”, as was the Ukrainian Jewish Congress. Its head described the proposal as a scandal: “If they start rehabilitating the former SS, the next thing will be a statue of Hitler at Babi Yar,” he said, referring to the area outside Kiev, where German occupying forces killed more than 100,000 people, most of them Jews.

Subsequently, in 2006, the Ukrainian Christian News published detailed reports of the rounding up of Jews, massacred at Babi Yar by the Ukrainian police, supported only by a token force of the Waffen SS. (The pre-war total of 25,000 Jews in that city had been reduced to about 100 when the Red Army arrived in July 1944.) But there was more. The six ‘death camps’ had been mostly staffed by Ukrainian guards (Sobibor, for example, was staffed with as few as 20 German SS men, together with 100 Ukrainian guards).

On the other hand, Ukrainians, like all living under Stalin’s regime, suffered greatly during Soviet rule. Up to 10 million died in the famine engineered by the Kremlin in the early 1930s. From the mid-1940s to the 1950s, a fierce guerrilla war raged in Ukraine, a war whose history has still, in the main, to be written. The Soviet government reacted harshly, deporting and/or imprisoning 300,000 from western Ukraine alone. It wasn’t until 1959, when nationalist leader Stepan Bandera was assassinated by Soviet agents in West Germany, that the internal conflicts began to simmer.

How different, though, a hundred years ago, when many of our revolutionary ‘heroes’ seemed to be developing an understanding of the class struggle and resultingly good reason to believe a solution, a new society, to be a real, immediate, practical possibility!

Eddie Ford captures the essence of the current Ukrainian dispute as essentially a conflict between eastern and western imperialisms. The tragedy, as I see it, is that it’s almost a word-perfect rewrite of the same old issues - summed up by our old friend, Lenin. In 1916, Vladimir Ilych wrote his pamphlet, Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism: “… how shamelessly untruthful the capitalists and the social-chauvinists who have deserted to their side (and whom Kautsky opposes so inconsistently) are on the question of annexations.”

Bob Potter


Eddie Ford underestimates the role of fascists in the Kiev coup and the non-elected government that followed. They hold several posts in the government with a bias towards security and military affairs. The others in and around government are not exactly moderates. Prospective presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko ranted: “I will use all my means to make the entire world rise up, so that there wouldn’t even be a scorched field left in Russia.” Svoboda wants to “physically liquidate” anyone it deems a Ukrainophobe. Admittedly, the situation is fluid, and they might just sink into internecine warfare, but it is also a fertile ground for the growth of the far right.

Eddie also overlooks the role of the European Union/International Monetary Fund ‘rescue’ package. Alongside Nato encroachment, this is very much a driver of the whole crisis. Billions to allow Ukraine to pay interest on existing loans that are due (more help for bankers!), while increasing the national debt; drastic restructuring of the economy in the interests of global capital. Already 10% of civil servants are to be fired; domestic gas prices to rise by 50% (this is quite apart from the projected rise in price of gas supplied from Russia).

Industries in the east will likely be worst affected. As the measures bite, probably with the emergent National Guard suppressing dissent, calls for Russia to help will mount, with obvious risks of confrontation.

For now, I think the west is seeking a war of attrition, to undermine the Russian economy, humiliate the government and bring about a ‘colour revolution’ in Moscow. But we have seen what ‘soft power’ can do in Syria.

I agree with Eddie’s attacks on the pro-imperialist left, such as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty or Socialist Resistance (a branch of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International - not that it calls itself ‘United’ any more, so it only remains to drop the fake ‘International’ tag), but what of the Stop the War Coalition? They have managed a rather limp statement that identifies some of the issues - encirclement, EU, etc, meddling - but retreat to a liberal appeal for a peaceful resolution of disputes and even-handedly condemning all intervention. Not much activity on Ukraine at ground level.

Let us be clear that western, especially US, expansionism is the main driver; we should oppose war plans and sanctions and respect the clear wish of Crimea to return to Russia. However, we do not oppose imperialism in order to raise up an alternative capitalist power. Workers of every country need an independent, class-struggle perspective. It is time we had an anti-war movement that reflected this.

Mike Martin

Same evils

I’m pleased that many correspondents also disagree with Dave Vincent that the nation-state is a necessary evil (Letters, March 27). It has been asked what Marx would have done. We can easily answer by describing what the First International, of which he was a member, did. They organised!

The International announced that “the emancipation of labour is neither a local nor a national, but a social problem, embracing all countries” and that “Each member of the International Association, on removing his domicile from one country to another, will receive the fraternal support of the Associated Working Men”. Furthermore, “To counteract the intrigues of capitalists - always ready, in cases of strikes and lockouts, to misuse the foreign workman as a tool against the native workman - is one of the particular functions which our society has hitherto performed with success. It is one of the great purposes of the Association to make the workmen of different countries not only feel but act as brethren and comrades in the army of emancipation.”

The International consequently addressed fellow workers: “Help us, then, in the noble enterprise, help us to bring about a common understanding between the peoples of all countries, so that in the struggles of labour with unprincipled capitalists they may not be able to execute the threat which they so often indulge in, of using the working men of one country as instruments to defeat the just demands of the workmen in another. This has been done in the past, and seeds of discord and national antipathies have been thereby created and perpetuated. A part of our mission is to prevent the recurrence of such evils, and you can help us to achieve our aims.”

Marx, in the name of the International, writes: “If the Edinburgh masters succeeded, through the import of German labour, in nullifying the concessions they had already made, it would inevitably lead to repercussions in England. No-one would suffer more than the German workers themselves, who constitute in Great Britain a larger number than the workers of all the other continental nations. And the newly imported workers, being completely helpless in a strange land, would soon sink to the level of pariahs. Furthermore, it is a point of honour with the German workers to prove to other countries that they, like their brothers in France, Belgium and Switzerland, know how to defend the common interests of their class and will not become obedient mercenaries of capital in its struggle against labour.”

There is never an appeal to the capitalist state to impose immigration laws, but a call to the workers to unionise.

Borders are a means by which capitalists protect their assets, which include us. It is immigration controls that give employers greater power over migrants, particularly new arrivals or those who are dependent on them for their visa status, a power they do not always have over native workers. Nationalism is a huge barrier to developing class-consciousness. Borders cause workers in countries to care less about the other workers in the world. Across the world, national states are imposing ever more restrictive immigration policies. Nevertheless, people have become more internationalised and are acquiring a cosmopolitan identity.

Making the demand, ‘No borders’, reveals the importance of border controls to capitalist social relations - relationships dependent on the practices of expropriation and exploitation. The rights of property consist of the right to exclude others, while anti-nationalism is a part of a global reshaping of societies in a way that is not compatible with capitalism or of the state. Socialists must reject the concept of borders that are used as control devices over labour. By opposing the idea of borders we begin to perceive nation-states as ‘theirs’ and not part of ‘our world’.

I’ll end with another quote from the First International: “The poor have no country; in all lands they suffer from the same evils; and they therefore realise that the barriers put up by the powers that be, the more thoroughly to enslave the people, must fall.”

Alan Johnstone

Workers' pie

Phil Kent and Susil Gupta (Letters, March 27) make some valid points about my letter (March 13) concerning the problems associated with recruiting workers into trade unions.

I would like to make a few further points. For the foreseeable future, recruiting migrant workers to unions such as Unite is a lost cause. Whilst, as of October 2013, Unite has recruited more than 4,000 people to its ‘community’ membership, it has so far failed to put the necessary resources into recruiting migrant workers. At the same time, for different reasons, the public sector, including the NHS and local government, is also a lost cause when it comes to recruiting workers to the trade unions. The Unison and GMB bureaucracies act as big brakes on the ability of these unions to recruit new members.

For the foreseeable future, the bright spark is in the private sector. For example, the 3Cosas strike of outsourced cleaning workers at London University was successfully organised by the small Industrial Workers of the World, with the help of members of Workers’ Liberty and other socialist groups. Similarly, the Socialist Party in England and Wales comrades, together with the trade union-sponsored Youth Fight for Jobs campaign, are working with the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union to recruit workers employed by Greggs, the high street baker and café chain, and the McDonald’s burger chain.

Hopefully, success by the BFAWU at both Greggs and McDonald’s will have a spill-over into other high street chains, such as Poundland, 99p Stores, Argos, Next, Sports Direct, Boots, etc. This could act as a lever in replacing the rightwing bureaucrats of the Union of Shop, Distributive, and Allied Workers.

Recruiting new members to unions will only be possible on the basis of putting forward the right policies, demands and slogans. The mushrooming campaign in the US for ‘15 dollars an hour and a union’ started from small beginnings with the unionisation of workers at KFC, 7/11 Stores and McDonald’s.

The BFAWU recruitment campaigns at Greggs and McDonald’s for a minimum wage of £10 an hour and an end to zero-hour contracts for all workers can trigger off an unstoppable wave, which can end in the unionisation of the 500,000 workers employed by Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Morrison’s, Aldi and Lidl.

The more the Tories talk up the economy, the more workers will want their slice of the increased pie. Marxists should therefore do everything they can to make sure that the BFAWU recruitment campaigns at Greggs and McDonald’s are a resounding success.

John Smithee

SRCM welcome

The Scottish Republican Socialist Movement welcomes the decision of Catalan campaigners to go ahead with a referendum on independence despite the attempts of the Madrid government and the Spanish constitutional court to stop it on the grounds that it is somehow ‘unconstitutional’.

We note that polls show a majority in Catalonia now want independence. We note also that an even bigger majority want the right to vote on the question. The people of Catalonia are increasingly making their voice heard. In September 2012 some 1.5 million marched under the banner, “Catalonia, a new European state”. It was the biggest demonstration in Catalonia since the day of Franco. In September 2013, inspired by the ‘Baltic way’, which hastened the end of Soviet rule in the Baltic states, Catalans then organised a 1.6 million-strong ‘Catalan way’, joining hands from one side of the country to the other.

We condemn meanwhile the shameful decision by the so-called ‘Socialist’ opposition in Madrid to join forces with the ruling conservative government in opposing any such referendum. And finally we send solidarity greetings to the people of Catalonia - and, in particular, to comrades in Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya - as they step up their demands for the democratic right to self-determination.

Alan Stewart
Scottish Republican Socialist Movement