The Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign has already started winning. RMT-sponsored MP John McDonnell chaired the meeting, which aimed to give Russian and Ukrainian socialists the chance to discuss their struggles against fascism and for peace, and to set the Ukrainian conflict in its regional context.
Chris Ford opened the meeting at Parliament on June 9th by pointing out a major victory won for the Evraz miners with the support of two protests by the campaign, outside the firm’s headquarters and its annual shareholders meeting at the Chelsea football club. The miners in Kryvyi Rih have secured a wage increase of one-fifth.
Russian trade unionist Kirill Buketov, whom McDonell explained is in the country to speak at a school for members of the RMT (and others), gave the regional context. He explained how in Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine governments have combined state power, fascist groups and ultra nationalists to block the growth of movements fighting for the environment, for LGBT rights and for civil rights. Countering the myth that these progressive movements are artificial protests purchased by the US government, Buketov pouted out the huge scale of the protests: it’s not possible to buy hundreds of thousands of people.
Buketov’s speech was disrupted by the late arrival of a large group around 25 minutes after the start of the meeting. Members of this group barracked and heckled every speaker, in a manner more like the zoo of Prime Minister’s Questions than a labour movement meeting. Eddie Dempsey spoke for this group, introducing himself as a member of the RMT and the campaign in solidarity with “anti-fascists” in Ukraine, which reflects the views of Borotba, a
Stalinist group (to be polite, let’s say a Marxist-Leninist group drawing on eclectic sources) in Ukraine that supports the Russian nationalist militias. He told the platform they were wrong to support the government of Ukraine, their atrocities against the people, the Anti-Terrorist Operation and the EU. McDonnell robustly pointed out that Demspey was mistaken: the campaign opposes all those things.
Gerry Downing, another leader of the pro-Borotba group, criticised the campaign for referring to victims of the Anti-Terrorist Operation as terrorists, something which Chris Ford pointed out that the campaign does not do (See http://bit.ly/UkSocSo). Downing pointed to a sentence on the campaign’s website that reads “while much attention has been focussed on the Anti-Terrorist Operation of the Kyiv Government and the the separatist movement in the eastern oblasts, the rapidly deteriorating socio-economic conditions of life for the vast majority of people right across the country is largely ignored in the international media”. Downing had not noticed that the sentence was part of a report on the campaign from “Ukraine Observer”, rather than a statement by the campaign, and that it did not call anyone a terrorist.
The heckling and baying against speakers reduced the meeting to a squabble, until a Skype connection was made with the final speaker, Nina Potarskaya of the Centre for Society Research in Kyiv. As a candidate of the Assembly for Social Revolution in the recent Kyiv elections, Nina observed that social tensions are only increasing. In the confrontations, she explained, things have escalated into patriotic hysteria in both sides. This benefits only the oligarchs and the far right forces who have unprecedented support in society. She explained how the revolutionaries oppose the drawing of neo-nazis into the Ukrainian government forces and also call on the citizens of Luhansk to bring down the Russian ultra-nationalists.
One of hecklers was given the floor to disagree. She explained that she is from Luhansk and had seen what people are fighting against. The Russian language has been banned. People are being forbidden to give their children Russian names (At least one person, connected to neither campaign, scoffed at these outlandish suggestions). Referring to the ‘former’ neo-nazi governor of the Donetsk People’s Republic, she explained that Pavel Gubarov’s past doesn’t matter to her: he is fighter, and so he is an antifascist. This won resounding applause from the group, as did another Ukrainian in their entourage who called on NATO to stop what is happening in Ukraine.
Despite the disruption, the meeting was a success for the campaign: the meeting was able to happen, and independent people at the meeting now view the campaign more favourably.