One year after the campaign’s foundation, Solidarity with the Antifascist Resistance in Ukraine held its Annual General Meeting at University College London on Saturday, 13 June 2015.The conference reflected the progress the campaign has made over the last year, with 65 delegates present from towns and cities across the country, with representatives from trade unions including Unite, the NUM, the NUT and the RMT, with students from many different universities and with a range of socialist and left-wing groups.
Solidarity greetings were sent to the meeting from Italian supporters involved in the antifascist caravan to Donbass, from internationalists in the US, and critically from the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republics themselves, via Skype.
The conference achieved three important things. It updated delegates on the situation in Ukraine, with reports direct from the frontline. It reviewed the work undertaken over the past year and planned future action. And it reviewed and agreed the campaigns goals, establishing a broader steering group to take us forward over the year ahead.
The first conference session examined the geopolitical context of the conflict in Ukraine. Andrew Murray of the Communist Party of Britain, Jorge Martin of Socialist Appeal and Richard Brenner of Left Unity and Workers Power spoke about how NATO engaged in a provocative military build-up in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States following its sponsorship of the Maidan coup last year, and how it had given unwavering support for the far right regime of Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk throughout its murderous assault on the east of the country in which thousands had been killed and hundreds of thousands driven from their homes.
Andrew Murray began by congratulating SARU on its work, “at this stage”, he said, “it is difficult work, but it vitally necessary”. He explained that NATO’s eastward drive meant that ‘the same powers that have destroyed the Muddle East were now going to do the same thing in eastern Europe”, and concluded that “in Ukraine we see the beginning but it is very far from the end and in the conflict there today we see the outlines of a much bigger war.”
Jorge Martin spoke about how the US Congress had voted not to supply arms and support to the Nazi Azov Battalion, and how this opened a contradiction in the ranks of the regime’s imperialist backers because “they are now incorporated into the regular army, they are one and the same thing.” He attacked the Kiev regime’s repression including its ban on ‘any defence of the regime that existed between Russia between 1917 and 1991’
Richard Brenner talked about how the campaign had been established around a year ago in reaction to the appalling massacre by the Right Sector of more than 49 antifascists and Anti-Maidan protesters in Odessa, and how we had faced criticism from within the labour movement who say we should not take sides between the ‘two narratives’ in Ukraine. Richard said if anyone had tried to go on the Maidan protest and influence it n a positive direction, they would eventually have been driven from it by the far right, not with narratives but with knives. It was therefore necessary to rouse a movement against it, and that is exactly what has happened. For this reason our campaign was called ‘Solidarity with the Antifascist resistance in Ukraine.’
After discussion from the floor we moved to discuss the contemporary situation in Ukraine itself.
First up was Aleksandr Smekalin, a deputy of the Supreme Council of the Donbass People’s Republic. Alexandr spoke about the huge difficulties people are facing in the Donbass today and welcomed the support delivered from campaigns around the world including SARU in the UK. He denounced western governments for backing the far right junta in Ukraine and said that by contrast Russia was one of the only places delivering significant material aid to the rebel republics in Ukraine, and that while this was welcome it also reinforced the need for wider international solidarity because the interests of the Russian Federation and the people’s republics did not always coincide. The reason for this, he said, was that Russia was also ruled by oligarchs.
Victor Shapinov of the Union Borotba then spoke. He invited questions from the floor and talked about how his organisation, and the Communist Party, had faced repression from the Kiev regime. He explained that working class people in the east of Ukraine were facing privations, cuts, and not being paid and how this showed that the far right regime is a regime of crisis. He said that communists could play a growing role in the resistance in the east and the west, but this would mean not only a correct policy but also really connecting with the people.
Then we heard from Alexey Markhov, a commander of the ‘Ghost’ Battalion’, a communist fighting unit of the Lugansk People’s Republic. Alexey was speaking in difficult circumstances, following the recent assassination of battalion’s commander Aleksey Mozgovoy. Aleksey Markov told us about the conditions facing the troops, about the ‘squalor and tedium’ on the front line, and said that many indicators suggested an imminent offensive by the Kiev regime forces and their Nazi auxiliary ‘punishment’ troops. He gave no optimistic gloss on the military position, but was characteristically frank about the difficulties faced, which he said they would meet and overcome. He reiterated the need for international solidarity and regretted that some on the international left represented ‘special interest groups’ rather than ‘parties of mass struggle’. He spoke sceptically about the impact of the Minsk 2 agreement, criticised aspects of the policy of the Russian Federation, and insisted that the Ghost Battalion would not abandon its joint character as a military force ‘and a political one’, because ‘both are necessary for victory’.
We also heard from Anatoly Khmelevoy, Chair of the Transport Workers Union of the Donetsk People’s Republic, who talked about the huge difficulties facing workers and citizens in Donetsk and surrounding regions and who called for international solidarity.
Davy Hopper of the Durham Miners’ Association gave warm greetings to the conference. He pledged the support of the Durham Miners for SARU and extended to us an invitation to the Durham Miners’ Gala in July. He conceded that there is a debate to have and encouraged us to come up and have it; he said he would through the Durham Miners’ Association aim to get the issue of Ukraine re-raised within the National Union of Mineworkers. Davy told us he remembered very well the solidarity he had received from Donbass miners during the 1984-85 strike and had visited Donbass himself in 1991. “So let’s get our acts together and let’s fight back and support our brothers and comrades in the Ukraine”.
The conference then agreed revised and updated aims, including an unambiguous call for the withdrawal of British troops from Ukraine and central Europe, alongside our existing policy of opposing NATO intervention, repression of the left in Ukraine, justice for the victims of the Odessa massacre, and support for the resistance.
We heard from groups across the country, including a longstanding initiative in Bristol which had recently decided to affiliate to SARU, and from a new group in Newcastle, and from Russian nationals living in the UK who expressed their support for the popular resistance in Ukraine.
A steering group was elected comprising David Ayrton, Bridget Dunne (secretary), Eddie Dempsey, Alex Gordon, Jorge Martin, Ben Gliniecki, Jack Dearlove, Tom Piers, Richard Brenner, Theo Russell, Gerald Downing and Paul Williams.