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After the Second World War, the British Labour and trade union movement understandably faced many political and social challenges. In post war Britain as the Cold War developed, it largely ignored the issues around the national question in the USSR, the restriction and indeed oppression of workers’ rights, the denial of human rights and the neo imperialism of the Soviet Russification policy. Russification contributed to the final collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the independent states of Belarus and Ukraine.
The common narrative of many of those who supported or were sympathetic to the Soviet regime was that those who opposed or criticised it were essentially right-wing reactionaries or even Nazi sympathisers. This was the predominant message promoted successfully by Soviet propaganda which remained unchallenged in the minds of many socialists. Events in Hungary and Czechoslovakia in 1956 and 1968 changed that for many. Nevertheless, it is an ideological and cultural mind set which survives even to this day among many of those former supporters.
It is a narrative that ignores the political history of Ukraine’s radical, socialist and national communist movements. At the same time it denies or seeks to rationalise what can only be described as the horror of Stalin’s artificial famine which led to the death of millions of Ukrainians; the reversal of the Leninist policy of Ukrainization introduced to counter the imperialist legacy of Russian chauvinism; the thirties terror with deportations of at least hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians; and eventually Stalin’s collaboration with Hitler in the 1939 pact. It is a narrative which in modern times wholly disregarded the destructive impact of decades of subsequent Russification for the nations and peoples that made up the majority of the Soviet Union.
These issues provoke many differing interpretations of domestic and geo-politics but they are all events leaving a confusing legacy that is important to disentangle.
The long tradition of radicalism in Ukrainian society, culture and literature is all but ignored within this maelstrom of conflicting politics.
Without such a proper understanding of Ukrainian history, how is anyone to fully grasp what is happening in Ukraine?
The invasion is without question a breach of international law and a crime against humanity. It has led to tens of thousands of war crimes. Despite the targeting, torture and rape of civilians witnessed internationally every day, there are still those countries and politicians who are in denial about the true and developing nature of Russia under Putin and the emergence of a new fascism, a Russian fascism.
The establishment of so-called filtration camps, concentration camps by another name, the liquidation squads and attacks on the Ukrainian language and culture are all part of a policy of genocide which is largely ignored or excused by some on the left.
In the British Labour movement there are still too many whose ill-informed or even deliberate commentary does little more than seek to appease Russian fascism. Peace at all costs, bears a remarkable similarity to the efforts in the late thirties to achieve “peace in our time” by appeasing German fascism. History repeats itself.
At the same time there are European political leaders who reject, or don’t want to recognise, the importance of supporting Ukraine and the political consequences should the country fail to survive. Short term capitalist self-interest based on longer term geo-political decisions over energy dependence, trade and defence, have exposed the weakness and disunity of the European Union and international organisations such as the United Nations.
International law and the rule of law have never been under greater threat. There is a clear Russian and Chinese agenda aimed at breaking the post war consensus over the universality of such rights; ironically something they have in common with the far right in Europe and the UK Government whose own proposals for a new Bill of Rights seeks to undermine that very same principle of universality.
This lack of understanding, where it exists, also means a refusal to acknowledge that there can be no basis for peace in Ukraine while parts of it remain occupied by Russian forces. There is a failure to recognise that self-determination means the fundamental right of the Ukrainian people to decide their own future.
Another great irony emerging from this conflagration of confused ideologies and old allegiances has been the growth of a commonality of politics between elements of the socialist left, the old Stalinist left and the far right; a growing consensus which began to emerge during the Brexit referendum. Their common and shared narrative is divisive, destructive and increasingly isolated from mainstream progressive political movements in Britain and internationally.
Voices from Ukraine is a much-needed collection of progressive writings from many different perspectives, by Ukrainians about events in Ukraine leading up to and since the invasion. John-Paul Himka provides a progressive summary of Ukrainian history. Oksan Dutchak and Taras Bilous from the Ukrainian left expose the fraudulent arguments made by leftist elements against the Ukrainian resistance. Taras Bilous puts the case clearly and unequivocally that the role of socialists in Ukraine is to oppose Russian imperialism.
The role of women in the current conflict needs to be understood. As Russian troops with their government’s connivance use rape and torture as weapons; as the homophobic and misogynistic policy of Russian propaganda and indeed the Russian Orthodox Church become increasingly overt, we need to listen to Ukrainian feminists such as Viktoriia Pihul.
There is a growing and vibrant trade union and labour movement in Ukraine. It includes Ukrainian miners, engineers, railway workers, teachers, health workers and many others who are at the forefront of territorial militias and civic defence. Yet there has not been a single Trades Union Congress delegation to Ukraine! Solidarity has come from trade unions individually but no trade union convoys of medical and material aid to the Ukrainian trade union movement other than those organised in conjunction with the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign.
It is only now that individual links are being formed beyond the exemplary support from the National Union of Mineworkers who have retained over the years their historic links with their fellow comrades in Ukraine.
As the war continues, as Putin becomes increasingly desperate at his failure to subdue and conquer Ukraine, the need to support the country becomes all the greater. The need for international trade union solidarity is fundamental to Ukraine’s success, not just in this war, but in the reconstruction that must take place once victory is achieved. Support for the Ukrainian labour and trade union movement becomes imperative as it endeavours to protect workers’ rights, develop progressive social reform and end corruption of oligarchs, government and administrations.
There will be a need to build international solidarity around a peace which guarantees Ukrainian sovereignty, democratic rights, social reform and stability.
Voices from Ukraine is a contribution to understanding what Ukrainians think, feel and need. Their voices are a call for solidarity, peace and progress. Above all this is about the Ukrainian people deciding their future and an end to Russian imperialism. For those of us on the left, whatever our differences, it is also about defeating Russian fascism.
Buy: Ukraine: Voices of resistance and solidarity here
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