Spartacist English edition No. 64
ICL Letter to Revolutionary History, 1991
Against Reformist Apologists for Ukrainian Fascism
The letter reprinted below originally appeared in the press of the British section of the International Communist League, the Spartacist League/Britain, under the headline “ICL Withdraws from Revolutionary History Editorial Board” (Workers Hammer No. 122, April 1991). The Editorial Board of the British-based “non-party” Revolutionary History (RH) journal now consists of a variety of Labourite and Stalinophobic elements. When RH was launched in 1988, an ICL representative was part of the founding Editorial Board. Our purpose was to collaborate in Marxist archival research, a task that the Prometheus Research Library, archives of the Central Committee of the Spartacist League/U.S., continues to pursue to this day. As our letter documents, our revisionist partners sought incessantly to transform the journal into an unprincipled propaganda bloc promoting anti-Soviet and pro-imperialist politics, ultimately forcing us to resign from the Editorial Board in March 1991.
One of the precipitants of our break with Revolutionary History was the revisionists’ enthusing, driven by their hatred for the Soviet degenerated workers state, over the World War II-era Ukrainian fascists of Stepan Bandera. Emboldened by the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92, the Banderaites resurfaced in a now capitalist Ukraine and grew to such an extent that they became the shock troops of the anti-Russian, pro-NATO, pro-European Union (EU) “Euro-Maidan” protests of late 2013 and early 2014. We warned from the outset against the ominous presence of these fascists, organised in Svoboda and the Right Sector, and opposed the U.S./EU-sponsored coup they spearheaded in February 2014.
We have defended the language and other national rights of the ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking populations concentrated in Crimea and in the more ethnically mixed areas of southern and eastern Ukraine. On this basis, we supported the Russian military presence that allowed Crimea the right to vote to rejoin Russia. (For more on this question, see, for example, “Fascist-Infested, Imperialist-Backed Ukraine Coup: Crimea Is Russian” and “Reformist Left: Shills for NATO Imperialists Over Ukraine,” Workers Hammer Nos. 226 and 227, Spring and Summer 2014.) We likewise support national independence for Chechnya in opposition to the Great Russian chauvinist regimes, first of Boris Yeltsin and now of Vladimir Putin.
Having done their bit to promote nationalist bloodletting as a battering ram for capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union and the East and Central European deformed workers states more than two decades ago, the reformists today line up behind the efforts of the U.S./NATO imperialists to encircle, isolate and demonise a now capitalist Russia. The one constant in all this is the opportunists’ acquiescence to the interests of their “own” capitalist ruling classes.
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22 March 1991
To the Revolutionary History Editorial Board:
This is to inform you of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist)’s decision to withdraw from the Revolutionary History Editorial Board. The political divergence between ourselves and other members of the Editorial Board, who have been unable to resist using the magazine as a vehicle for current politics, has now come to preclude any legitimate editorial participation on our part. We do not wish to act as a sort of revolutionary “conscience” for those whose ostensible Trotskyism is but a thin veneer covering a capitulationist, social-democratic core shaped by decades of demoralisation.
The immediate catalyst for our decision is the proposed, draft general editorial for the upcoming issue (Volume 3, No. 4). A pathetic and fatuous attempt to link the proposed contents (on the Trotskyists in WWII) to the recent U.S. oil grab and war in the Persian Gulf, the article doesn’t even mention the word imperialist, let alone make any distinction between an inter-imperialist conflict and an imperialist war of depredation against a neo-colony. Meanwhile it ludicrously defines “technological innovation” since Trotsky’s time as...“the missile and the fighter plane”!
You are also deeply disoriented. Any thinking person (let alone Marxist) who seriously worries about the future of our species on this planet thinks about nuclear weapons and ecological disaster, given, e.g., an American imperialist ruling class made socially psychotic by the nation’s underlying economic decline, the Zionist madmen who run Israel, and the looming threat of capitalist dismemberment of the USSR, with its many thousands of nuclear missiles. The editorial’s series of disingenuous questions smacks of a desire to alibi the dirty war against Iraq; its complaints about “flat pacifism” and “blanket condemnation from the sidelines” reflect loss of revolutionary will, despair and demoralisation in the face of very real threats to humanity’s future. And of course you end by inveighing against Stalinism as the “agency of the system inside the movement,” failing to even mention the main pro-capitalist agent inside the British working-class movement—the Labour Party, in whose wake the British Stalinists have eddied, with only brief interruptions, since 1935.
It is the continued disintegration and collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe which condition the increasingly all-sided political divergence between ourselves and the rest of the Editorial Board. The grossly anti-Communist sketch of Stalin leering over Eastern Europe which appeared on the cover of Revolutionary History Volume 3, No. 1 (which we refused to distribute publicly), the desire on the part of a good part of the Editorial Board to publish patently fascistic Ukrainian nationalist material in that same issue, the attempt of the editor to whitewash the record of the highly dubious Hungarian “anti-Stalinist” Michel Varga, also in that issue (cf. our “ICL Statement” on Varga, RH Volume 3, No. 1, pp. 27-8): these are the acts of those who currently howl along with the imperialist wolves, cheering the anti-democratic nationalist movements which openly threaten counterrevolution in the Baltic states. Such “anti-Stalinism” has nothing in common with Trotskyism, which seeks to mobilise the East European and Soviet working classes in defence of collectivised property forms and for their international extension.
As we noted in our letter of 10 July 1990 (edited without our consent and printed without date in RH Volume 3, No. 3), the Ukrainian Revolutionary Democratic Party (URDP) material proposed for publication in RH was clearly fascistic on the basis of internal evidence. Disorientation is too mild a word for those so blinded by Stalinophobia that they fail to see that the sentence which ended “Bolshevist Bonapartism” by A. Babenko [Ivan Majstrenko] (“Will Europe find in herself the strength and wisdom to defend her right of primogeniture and her priority against semi-Asiatic Moscow?”) displays a classic western fascist mindset. But we find it incredible that such a screed could be defended by reference to the writings of Marx and Engels, as Chris Ford does in his letter in Revolutionary History Volume 3, No. 3 (Spring 1991). The Russia Marx and Engels wrote of had been ruled for centuries by tsarism; a few years later it became clear, at least to Lenin, that Russia had been thrust onto the road of capitalist development and clear to Trotsky that this would mean capitalist enterprise in its most advanced form. Out of the contradiction between a backward and autocratic Russia and a developing new economy and social classes arose the February and October Revolutions of 1917. Most of the editorial board seems content to let Chris Ford have the last word on this subject; we do not want to be part of an editorial board where this has to be a subject of debate.
From 1949-1953 the American Workers Party (WP) of Max Shachtman and (for a brief period in 1950-51) the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP) of James Cannon acted as publicity agents for the URDP, to their shame and later embarrassment. The most one can say about the Workers Party in this regard is that its publication of articles which hailed the murder of Soviet General Vatutin in the midst of WWII (one of which was proposed for publication in Revolutionary History) was at least consistent with their failure to defend the USSR from Hitler. Moreover, the Shachtmanites’ support to the Ukrainian nationalists presaged their 1958 liquidation into the Cold War Socialist Party. In any case neither the WP nor the SWP made the distinction between the URDP and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) which Chris Ford insists on. Both portrayed the UPA as a sort of underground wing of the URDP and both uncritically hailed the UPA’s guerrilla struggle against the Stalinist regime. The WP’s Labor Action carried regular reports of UPA activity; the 6 November 1950 issue, for example, mourned the death of UPA General Taras Chuprinka (Roman Shukhevich).
The UPA was founded in 1940 in the newly Soviet-occupied western Ukraine, in collaboration with the Wehrmacht and explicitly to fight against the Red Army. It is well known that all wings of Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism collaborated with Hitler when he invaded the Ukraine in 1941. The Nazis quickly revealed they had very little regard for Slavic “untermenschen” and even less for Ukrainian independence; nationalist sentiment quickly turned against them. Nonetheless the UPA spent more time fighting the red anti-fascist Soviet partisans than it did the Germans, even according to the slavish apology for the nationalists written by John Armstrong, Ukrainian Nationalism (Columbia University Press, 1963). Armstrong says that the Stefan Bandera wing of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (the OUN-B) dominated the UPA by the Fall of 1942; we assume that the Bandera forces are the supposed “left” wing of Ukrainian nationalism which Chris Ford refers to. Before the Banderaites won control of the UPA it had been collaborating with the remnants of S. Petliura’s Ukrainian government in exile.
Armstrong never mentions the fact that anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic pogroms were synonymous with Petliura’s Ukrainian-nationalist White forces who massacred tens of thousands of Jews during the Russian Civil War. Petliura has been the hero of Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism ever since, and Armstrong can’t help but use a quote which reveals much about Ukrainian nationalism after 1941:
“Regardless of the negative attitude toward the Jews as a weapon of Moscovite-Bolshevik imperialism, we regard it as inexpedient at the present stage of the international situation to take part in anti-Jewish actions, in order not to become a blind tool in foreign hands and not to divert the attention of the masses from the principal enemies.”
— Conference of OUN-B, 1942
The Ukrainian nationalists also found it inexpedient to mention capitalist restoration after the Ukrainian masses had experienced the mass murder and looting of the Nazi occupation. After 1942 most Ukrainian nationalist organisations (with the possible exception of the Monarchists) changed their tune in order to avoid losing all credibility; the UPA started talking about socialised property and even “classless society.” Chris Ford provides all the quotes.
But the fascist social character of the Bandera forces never changed. Mikhail Baitalsky, a Jewish Ukrainian Trotskyist imprisoned in Vorkuta with some of Bandera’s forces in the early 1950s, describes their all-pervasive anti-Semitism in the installment of his memoirs just published in the March issue of the Bulletin in Defense of Marxism. He also writes what he learned of activities of the Banderaite “partisans”:
“In the months when we were located near Kovel, I learned of the fate of several little nearby places and settlements. I will not speak of the fate of the local Jews; you can imagine what happened to them. But Poles also lived there. The Bandera forces butchered, one after another, all the Polish families who had not managed to go into hiding. They slaughtered them not with guns but with sabers. They derived pleasure from hacking up other peoples’ children with their bare hands and massacring women. Ukrainian women who lived in these villages told me about this.”
Up until the end of the war the UPA collaborated with the Germans and one can only shudder when imagining the probable nature of their anti-Soviet guerrilla activity after the war. Armstrong reports that they made the chairmen of the new collective farms special targets. Needless to say they had little popular support. Most UPA units had escaped into the waiting arms of western intelligence forces by 1947. By 1950 they had little in the way of operational forces in the Ukraine. Kim Philby reports (My Silent War) that continued support for Bandera was a bone of contention between MI6 and the CIA in the early ’50s; luckily Philby was in a position to spike both the CIA and MI6’s attempts to give Bandera’s bands concrete assistance.
As for Ivan Majstrenko, he was part of the Borot’bist current of left Ukrainian nationalism which was won to the Bolshevik Party in the early 1920s and he may genuinely have been a communist once. But after he joined forces with the UPA he was only an insignificant publicity agent and left tail on Banderaite fascism. In 1948 his URDP joined the Ukrainian General Council (Rada) formed in Munich, home base for anti-Soviet Western intelligence agencies and all their captive-nations hangers-on. The Marxist ideological veneer of the URDP didn’t fool much of anybody—except some erstwhile Trotskyists, blinded by their own Stalinophobia.
Mikhail Baitalsky didn’t hail the Banderaites as fellow fighters in the struggle against Stalin; we can’t be part of an editorial board which allies with their virtual equivalents in the Soviet Union today.
Naturally, however, our members internationally will want to read such interesting archival material as you produce, which was the reason for our original involvement on the Editorial Board of Revolutionary History.
for the International Communist League