Saturday, February 16, 2019

Freedom for Catalonia

In October 2017 the leaders of the autonomous region of Catalonia made a bid for independence following a regional referendum that overwhelmingly voted for independence from Spain. The Spanish government’s response was to declare the vote illegal, dismiss the Catalan government and dissolve its parliament.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium to avoid arrest. Twelve other Catalan leaders were detained on trumped-up charges of rebellion and embezzlement of public funds. Their trial, for their alleged roles in the events leading to the Catalonian declaration of independence, began in the Spanish Supreme Court in Madrid this week. If found guilty the prisoners could face up to 25 years in jail.
Their defence team rightly says that the trial is about “the right to self-determination and the democratic principle”. But their claim that “there is no international or European Union [EU] law that prevents the secession of a sub-state entity, it does not exist” is unlikely to be accepted by the court which, almost certainly, will uphold the pretensions of the central Spanish state.
Nor should they put much faith in the EU with its toothless parliament and Ruritanian regional governments that have done nothing to resolve the national question in Europe. Ireland remains partitioned and the Catalans, Basques and Bretons, amongst others, are still denied their national rights.
Puigdemont himself says that the Brussels “Europe of the Regions” project had failed. "A Europe of regions created by the state is like electrical cars created by oil companies. They are not interested in the electrical car. If you are the oil company or you are the state, you are not interested," he said last year.
In the 1930s the progressive Spanish republic recognised the national rights of the Catalans, Basques and Galicians whose hopes were drowned in blood by General Franco’s fascist legions.
These days the mis-named Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and the other mainstream Spanish political parties pay lip-service to the nominal “autonomy” of the regions whilst essentially upholding the centralised state that goes back to the days of the Franco dictatorship.
They claim that Catalonia’s major nationalist parties only represent the narrow interests of the Catalan bourgeoisie who want to detach the wealthiest region in the country so that they can more easily exploit it for their own use.
Whether that is true or false is irrelevant. The Catalans have a clear case for self-determination regardless of whom their leaders are or what they represent. Catalonia, once the heart of the old kingdom of Aragon, has its own distinct language and culture. It is the richest region in Spain. Catalans may only be some 16 per cent of the total Spanish population but their economy is larger than most of the members of the Eurozone. Catalonia generates more than 20 per cent of the Spanish GDP (gross domestic product) and its exports amount to over 25 per cent of Spain’s national total. An independent Catalonia is clearly viable.
Independence is clearly on the working class agenda in Catalonia today. Some want genuine autonomy and a new federal constitution for the whole of Spain. Some argue for independence “within the EU”. Others for a complete break from Spain and the European Union.
At the end of the day this is a matter that only the Catalans can rightly decide. For British communists our duty is to demand the release of all Catalan political prisoners and support the popular demands of the Catalonian people for self-government in whatever form they decide to uphold.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Fascism will fall in Ukraine

By Theo Russell
Solidarity with the Ukrainian resistance in London

Five years after a coup planned and executed by the USA at a cost of $5 billion with enthusiastic support from European Union (EU) leaders, the illegitimate president Petro Poroshenko’s fascist-infested regime is in deep crisis and has nowhere to turn.
He is so unpopular that many expect him to lose elections in June; Ukraine’s economy is a basket case and worse off than any other ex-Soviet republic. He is powerless to end the war in the Donbas without permission from his masters in Washington.
We now know that the ‘sniper’s massacre’ the day before the 22nd February 2014 coup was organised by the USA to frame president Viktor Yanukovych. In an interview last February, a group of snipers brought in from Georgia, a close ally of the USA, admitted that they were ordered by leaders of the ‘Euro-Maidan’ protests to fire on both police officers and protesters.
At the time, Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet told EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton in a leaked phone call that he had heard the shootings were carried out by “provocateurs”.
That coup ushered in a reign of fascist dictatorship and war. There is not enough space here to list all the fascist outrages against communists, trade unionists, gay people, Jewish memorials and Roma communities, nor the intimidation of courts and judges by armed fascist gangs.
Mention must be made, however, of the Odessa Trade Union House Fire massacre on 2nd May 2014, in which over 50 anti-Maidan protestors were killed by a fascist mob whilst the police stood by. A Ukrainian government investigation into the murders has so far produced nothing.
Last year Poroshenko repeatedly announced new “all out offensives” in the war in the east. But the Armed Forces of Ukraine (UAF) and the strutting loud mouths of the fascist battalions are not capable of defeating the anti-fascist People's Militias of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR).
The UAF learned a hard lesson in 2015, when two Ukraine army battalions were surrounded at Debaltseve by a much smaller Donbas force, with hundreds killed and thousands captured. Another major war could lead its total collapse.
The hearts and minds of the UAF’s conscript troops are not behind the war, and hundreds have defected to the Donbas side. Many have to buy their own food and essential equipment due to the venal corruption of their commanders.
Poroshenko has no control over the fascist militias that were incorporated into a US-trained and equipped Ukraine National Guard in 2014. Two years ago the Azov, Donbas and Right Sector fascist battalions moved to the front line without his permission.
The powerful Azov Battalion, sponsored by Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, has threatened to remove Poroshenko if fails to implement their demands. But on the battlefield it is no match for the Donbas fighters.
There is no love lost between the fascists and Kiev’s army. Last June members of the Right Sector (avid Hitler fans) fought with Ukrainian troops near the front line and similar clashes have occurred elsewhere.

High morale of anti-fascists

In contrast, the morale of the Donbas militias is as high as ever, despite Kiev’s blockade and sanctions, and their fighters are committed to the anti-fascist struggle.
The republics emerged from the ‘anti-Maidan’ uprisings in 2014, which also took place in the neighbouring province of Kharkov, in Odessa and Crimea. The populations of the mainly Russian-speaking areas of the east and south had no desire to see heavily armed, Nazi-admiring thugs marching into their towns and villages.
Claims of thousands of Russian tanks invading Ukraine in 2014–15 were a fairy tale created by NATO, but a number of Russian volunteers with valuable military experience and skills have joined the Donbas rebels, as have anti-fascist fighters from many other countries, particularly Italy and Spain.
In an interview in 2017, the Italian commander of the InterUnit battalion of international volunteers, Commander Nemo, explained where the Donbas forces’ weapons came from: privately owned weapons, weapons from police stations, secret stockpiles of Soviet weapons, and restored artillery from parks and museums.
He added: “The Ukrainian army has lost five million light weapons, of which one million were taken by the People's Republics.” Many more have been bought from corrupt Ukrainian army officers.
Without doubt Russia’s support for the Donbas has been of vital importance, with regular humanitarian aid convoys still being sent and breaks in Russian holiday camps for thousands of children from the Donbas.
The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) and Russian Communist Workers Party have also sent aid convoys, including cultural and educational materials.
The Donbas republics are governed by bourgeois social democratic movements – the ‘Donetsk Republic’ and ‘Peace for Lugansk Region’ parties – which have nationalised most of the factories and mines that were owned by Ukrainian oligarchs. The communist parties of the republics also have a strong base however, especially amongst the People's Militias.
The Lugansk and Donetsk communist parties emerged from the provincial branches of the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU), led by Petro Symonenko. Unfortunately the CPU’s lack of fighting spirit was exposed as soon as it was tested in struggle.
When President Viktor Yanukovych was removed by the unconstitutional vote of the Ukraine parliament on 22nd February 2014, which fell far short of the required three-quarters, the CPU’s delegates backed the move, effectively endorsing the coup. When Borotba (Struggle), an alliance of communist and left forces, emerged as the main anti-fascist resistance movement in Ukraine and led the rebellion in Kharkov province, the CPU refused its support.
Instead of supporting the anti-fascist Donbas people's republics, the CPU declared its support for Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” and expelled its “separatist” members. The CPU members in the Donbas still loyal to Symonenko abandoned the anti-fascist fight and crossed into Kiev-controlled Ukraine.
Last September Symonenko announced that the party would participate in elections, legitimising the illegitimate regime yet again. (Although communist or Soviet symbols and propaganda were banned in 2016, the party itself has not been outlawed.)
In 2014 the remaining members of the CPU’s provincial branches organised the new Communist Parties of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, which were recognised by the CPRF in 2016, a major defeat for the CPU.

The myth of ‘fascist-controlled Donbas’

It is very unfortunate that by far the most dangerous manifestation of fascism anywhere in the world since 1945 has been ignored by anti-fascist organisations and almost all the left parties in Britain.
This is partly because they have fallen into the trap of anti-Russian, anti-Putin hysteria and fake news, but also due to a widespread belief that the Donbas republics are dominated by fascists and right-wing religious nationalists.
It is true that right wing, or rather “red-brown” Russian nationalists such as Aleksandr Dugin’s National Bolshevik Party have promoted the idea of a Russian orthodox “Novorussia”, but the National Bolsheviks have been banned in Russia.
It is also true that a handful of local and European fascists have fought in the Donbas, and that at one point when Igor Plotnitsky was the leader of the LPR, "red-brown” populists controlled the official press agency.
Plotnitsky, however, was overthrown in a coup last November for doing large coal and petrol deals with Ukrainian oligarchs, and for considering returning Lugansk to Kiev’s control. Under the new LPR leader Leonid Pasechnik ties with the sister DPR have been greatly strengthened.
In his 2017 interview Commander Nemo explained that attempts to establish fascist battalions in the Donbas “were immediately dismantled because they were totally incompatible with the antifascist nature of the Donbas people. There are absolutely no fascist military formations that fight for the People's Republics, this is an invention.
“As for the fascists, there were two who actually fought, whilst there were about 10 who were at the front for short periods. It must be considered that there are six fascists who say they are combatants whilst they have always been in the second line.”
According to Nemo, local Ukrainian Russian and the European fascists made up 0.9 per cent of the Donbas fighters, and together with nationalists and religious fundamentalists (ultra-Orthodox and neopagans), only two per cent.

Rampant fascism in Kiev-controlled Ukraine

In contrast, there is too much evidence of the fascist nature of the western-backed regime in Kiev to cover in this article. It is now abundantly clear that fascist, openly Nazi allegiance goes right to the very top and Poroshenko himself.
Soon after taking office in 2014, Poroshenko publicly identified himself as a ‘Banderite’, a follower of Stepan Bandera, whose faction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists collaborated with Nazi Germany in the massacres of 1.5 million Jews and 70,000 Poles during the Second World War.
Last July an adviser to Poroshenko and his defence minister, Yuri Biryukov, wrote a Facebook post using the neo-Nazi symbol ‘1488’, an internationally shared Nazi code that combines a white supremacist message and ‘Heil Hitler’.
Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, closely tied to the Azov Battalion (the most powerful of about 80 fascist militias), belongs to Poroshenko’s own party, the Petro Poroshenko Bloc.
The Azov makes no attempt to hide its fascism – its symbol is based on the war-time Nazi SS ‘Wolfsangel’. Ex-Azov member Vadym Troyan is now Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Interior and chief of police for the Kiev Region.
The Azov has established a ‘street patrol unit’ funded by the government, the National Druzhina, that aims to “restore Ukrainian order”. In 2018 it carried out lethal pogroms against Roma communities, stormed city council meetings and vandalised the offices of insufficiently pliant politicians. Yet nothing is reported in the western media.
In April 2018 Mariana Batiuk, a city deputy in Lviv, posted a Facebook message congratulating Adolf Hitler on his birthday; and in December, 1st January, Stepan Bandera’s birthday, was designated a national holiday.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s fascists are actively exporting their brand of fascism to the rest of the world.
Last October Olena Semanyaka, international secretary of the National Corps, the Azov’s political wing, boasted at a ‘Paneuropa’ Conference in Kiev: “For the first time since the Second World War, nationalist formations have managed to create their own military wings.”
Last November the US website ‘The Grayzone Project’ revealed that the FBI had indicted four members of the Rise Above Movement (RAM) for going to Ukraine to train with the Azov Battalion, and said Azov was “believed to have participated in training and radicalising United States-based white supremacy organizations.”
The RAM, which emerged after Donald Trump’s election, participated in violent riots in California and in Charlottesville, Virginia, and has held burnings of ‘Cultural Marxist’ books.
Grayzone also revealed that the USA has directly armed the Azov Battalion with anti-tank rockets and that a team of US Army officers met with Azov commanders in 2017.

A democratic, fascist-free Ukraine

Ukraine has fallen out of the news since 2015, with a ‘frozen’ conflict in the Donbas and total silence from the western media on the fascist destruction of all democratic rights.
Vladimir Putin has made it clear that Russian support for the Donbas republics will continue and said last June: “It is impossible to intimidate the Donbas people. We see how they endure all these hardships, we send them help and we will continue doing this.”
When Alexander Zakharchenko, president of the DPR, was assassinated last September, Putin declared "Russia will always stand by you".
There has been widespread speculation that the Donbas republics might be integrated into the Russian Federation. The Donetsk republics, supported by the CPRF and other Russian communist parties, have asked for this since 2014.
The republics held elections in November that were a signal to Kiev from both the Donbas and Russia that they cannot wait forever for Kiev to implement the separate status for the republics promised in the 2015 Minsk peace agreement.
In February 2017 Russia announced that it would temporarily recognise passports issued by the Donbas republics, which many saw as a step towards recognition.
In December however, Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov repeated that Moscow had no plans to recognise the Donbas republics, let alone bring them into the Russian Federation.
He pointed out instead that Ukraine’s problems were "much broader and deeper", and that recognising the republics would mean leaving the rest of Ukraine in the hands of the Nazi regime: "You want to recognize the LPR and DPR? And what’s next? To lose the rest of Ukraine and abandon it to the Nazis?"
This shows that Russia’s concern is not just with the future of the Donbas but includes achieving a future Ukraine free of fascism where basic democratic rights are restored.
The fact is that Washington’s puppet government in Ukraine has failed and like Poroshenko the USA has few options available.
Although thousands of anti-fascists have gone into exile and hundreds languish in Ukraine’s prisons, with Russia’s support the resistance in the Donbas cannot be defeated. The junta in Kiev is under constant threat of military defeat in a new war, the collapse of its army, or a popular anti-fascist revolt.
It is only a matter of time before the illegitimate dictatorship is swept away and peace and freedom are restored, not only in the Donbas but in all of Ukraine. Our work in Britain is to mobilise the widest possible support for anti-fascists in Ukraine, where they are currently waging the most difficult struggle against fascism in the world.

A rousing performance!


By Mark Campey

Rouse ye women!, a play by John Kirkpatrick and Neil Gore.

A play by Townsend Productions is just starting out on a national tour and tells the true story of the women chain makers of Cradley Heath, Birmingham, who went on strike in 1910 in a fight to end low pay and establish a minimum wage. They were victorious after a long struggle against the chain manufacturers who sub-contracted work out to agents known as ‘foggers’.
These foggers supplied the iron rods, and would take a cut of 25 per cent from the women chain makers who were working 12–13 hours per day hammering up to 5,000 links per week for a pittance whilst also having the burden of domestic chores and childcare. The women had originally worked in isolation from each other but trades union activism brought them together through Mary Macarthur, suffragist and general secretary of the Women’s Trade Union League.
Macarthur exposed the terrible conditions of the ‘sweated labour’ and the National Anti-Sweating League was formed. Her activism in the National Federation of Women Workers (NFWW) helped to pressurise the Liberal government into passing the Trades Boards Act to set minimum rates in four low=paid trades. Many employers signed up to the white list of those paying the new rates but some resisted, which led to the Cradley Heath lockout lasting for nine weeks before the rebellious employers caved in. The women’s new rates were double the old rates.
This play provides the message that individually workers are vulnerable to exploitation, but together and with a determined leadership they can be powerful enough to take on the bosses and win. The accompanying songs are rousing and in keeping with their previous productions; the excellent cast encourage the audience to join in with the singing and red flag waving.
“Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains” seems an appropriate slogan here.