Friday, May 30, 2014

Resistance fighter returns to the fray

NOT  THAT HE EVER RETIRED!  A hero before he turned 19, Glezos has not given up in his 'Nineties. Protesting austerity in Athens.

ON this day, May 30, in 1941, two young men climbed to the top of the Acropolis, on the crag high above Athens, and tore down the Nazi swastika flag which had hung over it since April 27, 1941, when German forces took over the Greek capital.

For this defiant and heroic act, which inspired popular resistance to the Nazis in Greece and throughout Europe, Manolis Glezos and his comrade Apostolos Santas were sentenced to death in absentia by a Nazi court. Glezos was captured and tortured the following year, but he survived this and several other spells in captivity, both during and after the occupation.

WARTIME COMRADES Apostolis Santas and Manolis Glezos.

Now, at 91, Manolis Glezos is going to the European Parliament as a top figure of the left-wing Syriza party. He was elected with a record 233,000 votes and pledged to wage resistance to EU/IMF-imposed austerity -and fascism. Syriza beat the conservative New Democracy and left the fascist Golden Dawn in third place.

From his youth, -he was not yet turned 19 when he tore down that Nazi flag - Manolis Glezos has had a lifetime of struggle. As a result of his treatment at Nazi hands he was affected by tubercolosis. In 1943 he was arrested again by Italian forces, and the following year by Greek Nazi collaborators. He escaped in September 1944, but after the Greek civil war the right-wing regime which the Western powers had helped tried him as a leftist, and sentenced him to death.

After an international outcry this was reduced to life imprisonment in 1950. While he was still in prison he was elected to parliament as a left-wing MP in 1951 . He went on a hunger strike demanding the release of his fellow EDA MPs that were imprisoned or exiled in the Greek islands. He ended his hunger strike upon the release of 7 MPs from their exile. He was released from prison on July 16, 1954.

Apostolos Santas also suffered post-war imprisonment and exile, before escaping and gaining political asylum in Canada, where he died.

On December 5, 1958, Manolis  Glezos was arrested and convicted for "espionage", a common Cold War accusation. Released in 1962, after an international campaign, during which he was elected an MP again, he was one of the many rounded up overnight when the colonels junta seized power in 1967, carrying out a NATO contingency plan. He spent another four years in prison.

After the colonels' regime was removed, Glezos returned to politics, and was elected to parliament as a PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) MP, and then in 1984 to the European parliament. But in 1986 he withdrew from Parliament, to concentrate on developing grass-roots democracy. He was elected president of of a community council in Aperathu. In 2002, he formed the political group Active Citizens which is part of Coalition of the Radical Left, Syriza, and in 2012 he was elected a Syriza MP.

Between his political activities and periods of imprisonment Manolis Glezos managed to acquire qualifications in geology and civil engineering, applying them in developing techniques for flood control and preventing soil erosion.

Being a nonagenarian, not to mention a national hero, does not seem to have exempted Manolis Glezos from the police violence that has met austerity protests.  In March 2010, Glezos was participating in a protest demonstration in Athens, when he was hit in the face by a police tear gas canister. He was carried away injured.  In February 2012, he was sprayed with tear gas and arrested by riot police.

Manolis Glezos says he will remain in the European Parliament for a year, after which he intends to hand over to a younger person. Meanwhile he will bring with him memories not only of resistance, but of the way the Nazis occupiers plundered his country before they left.

“The German war reparations, which were never addressed by the current government, will be brought up by Manolis Glezos in the very first meeting of the European Parliament,” Syriza leader said in a statement before the election announcing the war hero's candidature. 

Glezos himself made clear in a statement together with composer Mikos Theodorakis that he is urging not just Greeks but all peoples to resist the impositions of fascism and finance capital.


Another anti-fascist veteran and nonagenarian celebrates almost a century on Sunday. Max Levitas is 99! 

Here is the message from the SEARCHLIGHT website:

Max Levitas took part in the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 and has dedicated his life to fighting racism and supporting the labour movement in Tower Hamlets and internationally. He was a Communist councillor in Stepney, east London, for 15 years. Born in Ireland in 1915 he has never completely lost his Dublin brogue. Even today he is still a key activist in the pensioners’ movement.

A celebration ‘meeting’ is being held on Sunday 1 June, 2pm to 4pm, to celebrate Max’s 99th birthday, at the Idea Store, 321 Whitechapel Road, London E1 1BU. Nearest tube Whitechapel (turn left on leaving the station and it is on the left-hand side).

Please come and join us.



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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dublin or Quits?

OUT: PAUL MURPHY, Socialist MEP.  And setback for prospect of left unity.

GOOD CANDIDATE BUT WRONG CONTEST.  Why did SWP decide Brid Smith should stand?

 UNLIKE Britain, where Socialists to the Left of the Labour Party are used to coming nowhere when they decide to stand under their own colours in elections, Ireland's capital Dublin had a sitting member of the European parliament until the weekend.

When Irish Socialist Joe Higgins relinquished the seat he had held since 2009 to take his place in the Irish Parliament, the Dail, to which he was elected in 2011, he was able to hand it over to the man who had been his adviser, Paul Murphy.

Both of them belong to the Irish Socialist Party, a sister party of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, indeed almost like a twin, notwithstanding the different history ad conditions in the two countries. Higgins and a dozen other members of the 'Militant Tendency' in the Irish Labour Party were expelled in 1989, and decided to form Militant Labour, which went on to become the Socialist Party. Like its namesake in Britain it belongs to the Committee for a Workers International (CWI).

Both men have taken part in a number of campaigns on community and wider issues, Joe Higgins earning respect fighting for the rights of Turkish migrant workers as well as opposing the breach of Irish neutrality by US military using Shannon airport on their way to the Middle East.

During one Dail debate Justice Minister Michael McDowell declared "I do not take lectures on democracy from a Trotskyite communist like Deputy Joe Higgins." That's an accolade worth having!

Unlike UKIP MEPs and others who have gone to Brussels to collect their salaries and expenses while doing nothing in return, Paul Murphy sat as a full member on the European Parliament Committee on International Trade and as a substitute on the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, and Committee on Petitions. He was also a full member of the South Asia Delegation and a substitute on the Central Asia delegation.

Outside parliament, in 2011 Paul participated in Freedom Flotilla II which attempted to breach the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip. In August 2011, he visited the "No TAV" Italian campaign against the Turin-Lyon High Speed railway. A supporter of the Shell to Sea campaign, in August 2011 he and others were forcibly removed from Erris by Gardaí.

In early November 2011, the Dublin MEP was taking part in another humanitarian aid flotilla when  Israeli forces boarded the ship on 4 November and imprisoned him and others. Undaunted by this experience, in June 2013, he travelled to Istanbul to speak with Turkish freedom and environmental activists taking part in the occupation of Taksim square. 

Although I've not met Paul Murphy, he sounds like my idea of a socialist MEP!. I did hear Joe Higgins when he was guest speaker at the National Shop Stewards Network conference a few years ago, and I think it is fair to say having these two voices raised has been a boost to left-wing morale whatever one's particular shade of leftism.

However, seems the possibility of left unity in Dublin was too good to last.  As one commentator informed us towards the end of last year,

"In an act of blatant sectarianism the SWP in Ireland have decided to run a candidate in Dublin in the European Elections against sitting Socialist Party / CWI MEP Paul Murphy.

Paul Murphy is in a four way fight for three seats in Dublin with Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein. The SWP candidate Brid Smith (who will stand under the SWP front name of People Before Profit) has no hope of winning a seat.

This act is clearly part of the SWP engaging in a wrecking ball strategy - take enough votes from Paul Murphy to ensure he doesn't retain the seat - raise the profile of Brid Smith and then run Brid Smith as a general election candidate against socialist Member of Parliament, Joan Collins, in the hope of unseating her and winning the seat for the SWP.
 Despite this intervention Paul Murphy will likely still be in a position to fight it out for a seat in the European Parliament - but this action demonstrates that the SWP have no interest in 'left' unity' unless they can dictate and control the 'left'. Furthermore they are likely to dumb down their political programme further in an attempt to engage in populism in order to win extra votes.
Others suggested the aim was just to hit the Socialist Party by depriving it of the funds brought in by its MEP, which help to maintain full time workers.

In response some SWP or People Before Profit supporters argued that the Socialist Party and Paul Murphy "do not own the seat", that it was only handed over to Murphy by Joe Higgins, that they had as much right to stand as anyone else, and that anyway, their Brid Smith was the better candidate. Anyway there were three seats to be won, so maybe both of them could get in?

Brid Smith, it must be said, has an impressive record of campaigning, on issues from prisoners' rights to housing, and her election leaflet from People Before Profit gave full details, though curiously it does not mention the Socialist Workers Party.

Polls were said to show electors favouring Brid Smith over the sitting MEP.  Supporters argued therefore that Paul Murphy was taking away her votes, rather than her stealing votes from him.

But what was it all about? Were the SWP's differences with the Socialist Party, for instance supporting reform of the upper house in parliament, the Seanad, which the SP wants abolished, that important or relevant to a Europoll?  Surely it has not got anything to with past theoretical disagreements over the class nature of the now bygone Soviet state? If there were serious political issues that had to be raised, how come Brid Smith's party affiliation was not mentioned, but just People Before Profit?

Whatever the reasons, the outcome of the election was that on the first count, Paul Murphy got 29,953 vote, or 8.5 per cent, well below the Sinn Fein candidate who topped the poll, but ahead of Labour. Brid Smith got 23,875,  that's 6.8 per cent.

So neither of them made it into the first three, and Dublin no longer has a Socialist MEP, nor does it offer any encouragement for the hope that the Left can get its act together, aven to confront the looming menace of the far Right in Europe.

Whatever the point was, comrades of the SWP (whether in Ireland or here in Britain) was your effort really worth it? 

And what do you have in mind next?

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Reflections on the EU Election

DEFENDING JOBS AND SERVICES. Not everybody or every issue gets TV coverage

AFTER years of being either kept in ignorance about what goes on in Brussels or fed stories about straight bananas, it is hardly surprising that a large percentage of the British public is "Eurosceptic".  Some even cling nostalgically to notions of Britain's greatness as an imperial power, revived by Thatcher and her adoring press during the Falklands war, so much so they did not notice how many firms and jobs were going to the wall for the sake of the pound and the City of London, and stood by as the monstrous milk snatcher and her cops smashed the miners, before destroying their industry and communities. 

The papers told us Thatcher had restored Britain's pride, and the respect in which we were held in the world. In 1994, I had to change trains in Munich, and met up with some young German building workers who'd been out on the beer. One of them told me "We have nothing against English people. But tell me, why do you work for such low wages and put up with such bad conditions?"  Respect? Auf wiedersehn, pet.

To put my own cards on the table, I voted and campaigned against British entry to the Common Market back in the 'Seventies. I was not convinced that a group of wealthy manufacturing countries huddling together behind tariff walls made sense for fair and free trade, let alone internationalism. What about Britain's obligation to Commonwealth countries (oddly France seems to have treated its former colonies better)? And wasn't Britain's policy of food subsidies better than the Common Agricultural Policy, with its butter mountains and wine lakes?

Time moves on. We have had British governments, of whichever party, boasting how they have upheld our rights against EU directives, so we could work longer hours to try and earn a living wage and keep a roof over our heads, and carry on working longer before we reached our pensions. I had to ask my union whether this was what was meant by the banner saying "Keep Britain Working With Labour" that hung for a time on our headquarters.

British governments have also led the way in privatisation, like the recent sell-off or sell-out of Royal Mail, going further than their continental counterparts could or would.That's why, though I've seen how European court rulings aim to hamstring unions and even local authorities maintaining wages and jobs, and dare say cheap labour was one of the objects of British support for the EU's expansion eastward, I could not go along with the pretence that our problems come from Brussels, and not from the City of London and Westminster.

That's why I could not vote for the alliance of Socialist Party and Communist Party patriots standing as 'No to EU! Yes to Workers' Rights'. Labour's leaflet on the other hand barely mentioned the EU, and their party election broadcast merely admitted they had made "mistakes", before going on to waffle about immigration and people needing to learn English (something for which incidentally the Labour government cut provision, and teachers were sacked). The Greens' leaflet did say something about their policies, both on the environment and on workers' rights, and asked us to return their MEP for the London area, Jean Lambert. Having more than once seen her at events for which  other MEPs don't seem to have time, I decided for the first time in my life to vote Green. A lot of my friends seem to to have done the same.

(I might have divided my vote between Green and Labour, but unlike Ireland, where you can pick and mix, Britain has a voting system for the EU where you can only vote for one party list).

So I was glad to see that Jean is back, while Labour has made the main gains here in London, both in councils and the EU seats, likewise in the Manchester area of my origin, and other cities. I even sent a message of congratulations to friends in the London Borough of Redbridge, who but a few months ago revived the Redbridge Trades Council, and now have the pleasure of seeing their largely suburban borough controlled by Labour for their very first time.

Before those who don't know me write to say how awful the Labour Party is and dispel my "reformist illusions", I should mention that this year marks half a century since I was expelled from the Labour Party, and since then, though I have sometimes worked with Labour people politically,  I have never been tempted to rejoin. But I am not one of those people who having discovered the truth about Labour just recently, is impatient with working class Labour voters who, despite their disappointments, still prioritise the fight against the Tories and are prepared to give Labour another chance.   

Who took your jobs ?  

What is more worrying of course, is the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), led by by the unlikely figure of Nigel Farage. On the plus side, it comes accompanied by the downfall of the obnoxious Nick Griffin and the British National Party. Some of the UKIP's more crankish candidates have expressed views which even the BNP might find extreme, but somehow Farage seems to have shaken off the loon image while winning votes with the immigration card.

This is not that surprising, even if some of those areas supporting UKIP have not experienced that much immigration. They have been told for years that immigration is a problem, hardly a  week passing without papers like the Sun, Express, or Daiily Mail claiming immigrants were taking over, living in luxury on benefits, and grabbing homes and hospital beds that are in short supply. It is handy when you experience frustration, or your life and neighborhood are affected by remote but powerful forces, to have a visible target to blame.
But I am also not entirely surprised, because while a lot of people would not like to be considered or think of themselves as racialist,  the 'respectable' BBC, which contrary to supposition does not let just anybody or every issue be aired in front of its mikes,  has been finding airspace for Nigel Farage and giving him sympathetic coverage and the questions he likes. I don't often watch Question Time, but when I saw it recently Nigel Farage was being allowed to shout down a woman panel member who questioned UKIP's policies, and chair Richard Dimbleby then cut her short. No wonder the BBC reporting of the EU election results was so congratulatory to  UKIP, they might have been patting themselves on the back.

Another broadcaster which has had lots of time for Nigel Farage and his opinions is RT, Russia Today. The latest news broadcast I saw shamelessly lumped together the left-wing Greek party Syriza with right-wing Eurosceptic parties like UKIP, and explained the latter's success with the help of footage of trade union and anti-cuts marches here, as though those of fighting austerity policies would have voted for Farage. (Perhaps they decided to skip No2EU?) I'm sure any of the marchers depicted who was not horrified at the idea of supporting UKIP will certainly be so when they see what the party's policies are, on issues like unemployment or the NHS.

I was surprised to see Paul Mason, whose work I respect, and whose own background is in the labour movement and the Lancashire mining area, referring to the UKIP vote in places like Rotherham, say that workers had experienced a fall in wages, co-inciding with a rise in immigration.

I need not remind Paul or anyone else what happened to the main industry around Rotherham or similar places. British miners did not find their jobs taken away by immigrants, but their pits were closed, and coal from Colombia, South Africa or Poland took the place of the coal mined in Britain. Communities and their class tradition and culture have taken hammer blows, while generations thrown on the dole have been told it is their own fault.

Mining is not exceptional. Across the country jobs in industry -and with them union membership - have been lost, not to immigrants coming in, but by capital flowing out.  Entire industries and well-known brand names have gone abroad. I remember Paul Mason on TV talking about the effects of this in the Potteries. But while politicians and the media have all decided the problem is immigration, and even some on the "Left" insist there must be control over the movement of labour, it seems to be tabu to suggest interference with the free movement of capital.

The laws which Thatcher brought in to shackle unions, loyally maintained by Labour in office, have made it difficult for trade unionists to defend their previous gains, let alone cope with new challenges. Whether union leaders, let alone Labour, have resisted as well they could, perhaps history will judge. Remember how the TUC was going to invite Cameron to address it? Now he wants to strengthen anti-union legislation, as well as tearing up Health and Safety provisions. I'm glad we no longer hear our leaders bleating about "partnership"!

If trade unions contented themselves with organising in the public sector, which also provided a high percentage of employment in some areas of industrial decline, this has been hit by outsourcing, privatisation and cuts, hitting the most-vulnerable and lowest paid workers. Now both government and local authorities are taking away union and workplace rights, aiming to create a defeated and demoralised workforce.

I don't know to what extent British workers are desperately competing for jobs like fruit picker, carer or cleaner which we have tended to leave to immigrants. I have noticed more than once that when workers like cleaners start joining unions and becoming shop stewards, their employers, usually contractors, suddenly discover they are employing "illegals" and call in the UK Border Police to check everyone's papers. Funny coincidence, isn't it?

I do know that if you keep telling people the shortage of jobs, hospital beds and housing or anything else is natural and inevitable, and there's nothing you or they can do about it, it is no use expressing surprise, jeering or shouting abuse at them when they turn to fighting among themselves for a place in the queue, when they should be demanding enough for everybody. But nor is it honest or admirable for our politicians to pretend they are listening, and apologise - not for the shortage, but because they have allowed people into the queue who shouldn't be.

In the leafy and supposedly prosperous London Borough of Sutton an old lady was left to die without food or water because police had raided the firm responsible for her care, and arrested her immigrant carers, but nobody thought to check what was happening to their clients. I don't say that is typical (though certainly a lot of vulnerable people have died one way or another under this government). But it symbolises the way real problems and people can be forgotten while so much attention is given to blaming everything on immigrants.

And getting back to Rotherham, and the reasons many people might have decided to give a party of unknowns and unlovables a chance instead of Labour, dare we ask whether they felt freer to consider this knowing their former Labour MP was enjoying  Her Majesty's hospitality? Part of the change in Britain in recent years has been disillusion in the parliamentary establishment and system.  That was bound to have big dangers as well as opportunities. The Left needs to ask why it has not succeeded in becoming the alternative.

Ed Balls says Labour must speak "louder about immigration". Well, I saw the Labour broadcast for the Euro election and that seemed to be all it did talk about, even though it was not clear what it was saying about it or what it had to do with EU policy. I say if you want to win back people's respect you must respect people's intelligence, stop talking balls to suit the media, and start tackling the real problems, which are class issues.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Prisoner of Conscience

OMAR SA'AD refuses to swap his viola for a rifle to maintain the Occupation

WE were sitting in the garden restaurant at Tamra that night when the two young men in green fatigues came in, guns at their sides, and glancing around them before choosing their place. Our party were exchanging looks, and remarks about the "arrogance" of the Israelis. The friend from Deir al Assad who was acting as our guide turned to me and confided wryly "they're actually two of ours".
The men were Druze Arabs, serving in the Border Police.

Although well clear of the border, this was Western Galilee. Perhaps by deploying its armed Border Police here the Israeli state recognised that the region was designated part of Arab Palestine in the UN's 1947 Partition plan, and remains home to many Arabs who albeit Israeli citizens, consider themselves, not without reason, Palestinians.

It was in Galilee in 1976 that six young people were killed while demonstrating against land expropriation and plans to "Judaise" the region. This is remembered each year on March 30, yawm el ard, Land Day.

Although they don't meet the criteria for Binyamin Netanyahu's "Jewish" state, members of the Druze minority are not just equal citizens on paper but entitled to some privileges that go with serving in the armed forces. In practice they still come up against discrimination.

Omar Sa'ad was not prepared to serve for this dubious status. After he turned 18 in November 2013,  Omar, a Druze from Maghar in the Galil, was called-up for the military for 4 December 2013. A musician by profession, he declared publicly his “refus[al] to take an assault rifle and point it at another human being.”

Omar Sa’ad, like a growing number of Druze Palestinian citizens of Israel, does not want to be a part of the Israeli army because – in his words - “the Israeli government is responsible for the occupation [of the Palestinian Territories]. As an Arab Druze I consider myself part of the Palestinian people - so how can I be part of the army that occupies my people? I won’t sell all my beliefs and my identity to anyone.”

The right to reject military service on grounds of conscientious objection is protected under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Israel has ratified.

Since December 2013, Omar Sa’ad has been in and out of prison, where he has spent 149 days, generally serving sentences of between 14 and 20 days at a time before being released and called up to serve the next day. Most recently, on April 13 he began, a seventh prison sentence of 40 days. At the beginning of May, he was denied medical attention by the military prison authorities for three days despite the seriousness of his condition, which apparently relates to a virus affecting his liver.
He was eventually transferred to hospital in Haifa where he remained for over a week before being allowed home to recuperate.  He may be returned to prison after 28 May to serve the remainder of his sentence.

A number of Israeli, Palestinian and international organizations have joined forces to declare Omar and others imprisoned on such grounds, such as Uriel Ferera, to be prisoners of conscience and call on the Israeli authorities to release them and any other conscientious objectors immediately and unconditionally.

They point out that several Israeli teenagers go to prison each year because of their moral objection to serving in the army.

'Since 8 March 2014, over 100 high school seniors have written to Prime Minister Netanyahu saying that they will “refuse to serve in the occupation army”, apparently the largest group of such “refusers in the history of Israel”.

The students said they were protesting “the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories where … human rights are violated and acts defined by international law as war-crimes are perpetuated on a daily basis.“

Their letter came amidst the Israeli government’s plans to broaden army conscription and Israel's Supreme Court decision to overrule the Tal Law, which allowed special deferrals of military service granted only to ultra-Orthodox Jews, resulting in most of them not serving at all.

Although the Israeli army’s Conscience Committee can decide to allow a conscientious objector exemption from military service, it is only empowered to do so on grounds of pacifism. While Omar's refusal is based on ideological grounds that includes pacifism, he was not allowed to see the Committee.

According to the UN Human Rights Committee no discrimination is permitted “among conscientious objectors on the basis of the nature of their particular beliefs” - i.e. whether they are religious or otherwise (General Comment 22, para. 11).

Excerpts from Omar Sa’ad’s Refusal Declaration

"I refuse because I am a man of peace and I hate all forms of violence, and the military institution represents for me the peak of physical and psychological violence. Since I received the notice to appear for tests, my life has changed, I became more nervous, my thoughts were distracted, I remembered thousands of cruel images, and I couldn’t imagine myself wearing military uniform and participating in the suppression of my Palestinian people or fighting my Arab brothers. I oppose the recruitment to the Israeli military and any other military for conscience and nationalistic reasons. I hate the injustice and oppose the occupation; I hate intolerance and restriction of freedoms. I hate those who detain children, the elderly and women."

“I am a musician, I play the Viola , I have played in many places, I have musician friends from Ramallah, Jericho, Jerusalem, Hebron, Nablus, Jenin, Shfa’amr, Eilabun, Rome, Athens, Amman, Beirut, Damascus, Oslo, and we all play for freedom, humanity and peace, our weapon is the music and we shall not have any other weapon."

This petition is endorsed by:

Amnesty International -

New Profile -

Connection e. V. -

War Resisters’ International -

Coalition of Women for Peace -

Refuser’s Letter 2014 -

Orfod-Refuse, Your nation will protect you campaign -

Union of Youth National Democratic Assembly -We will not serve in your army
Communist Youth Union in Israel -

Student Department of Communist Party of Israel (CPI) & Democratic Front for Peace & Equality (DFPE)

Baladna Arab Youth Association -
Yesh Gvul -

Gush Shalom


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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

More from the Ukraine, and from Miners

Miners marching through Kryviy Rih on 11 May

WITHOUT first-hand knowledge or reliable contact it is difficult to know what to make of information coming from Ukraine, let alone to make statements except in the most general terms. Even so, some people on the Left appear ready to take sides in a very crude way, and denounce others, on the basis of prejudice, and with ignorance not inhibiting them.

Our first principle should be the working class and its unity, beyond that we need to peruse what left-wingers in the Ukraine - and Russia - are saying. In a previous blog I relayed what the Borotba group said about the massacre in Odessa. Here are some communications from another angle.  

For an independent social movement! For a free Ukraine! Left Opposition statement, published on 7 May 2014 here: Translated from the Ukrainian by Marko Bojcun

The mass killing of people in Odessa on 2 May cannot be justified in any way. The socialist union Left Opposition is convinced that “Whoever the deceased people on both sides are, the force used against the majority of them clearly exceeded any needed exercise of it in self defence. It is necessary to undertake an all-sided investigation of these events and to personally expose the provocateurs and the killers, who more than likely appeared there from all sides of the confrontation”.

We are unable at the present time to name the people responsible for these murders, their organisations or groups. However, we can see the political consequences of the Odessa massacre and we cannot but see that left wing political organisations are among those that carry political responsibility for it. Without a doubt the violence was directed and organised in the first instance by ultranationalist and chauvinist groups who quite consciously kill people and try to exploit the blood of the deceased to whip up bestial nationalist hysteria in society, which to their way of thinking should “mobilise the nation” against its “its enemies”.

Really, that is perhaps the only way to achieve their dreamed-of nazi dictatorship, which can be established only through bloodletting and the intimidation of people. This will become possible only if in Ukraine Russians will see a Banderite murderer in every Ukrainian, while Ukrainians will see in every Russian a potential “saboteur from Russian Military Intelligence”. Unfortunately, we have come far too close to the boundary beyond which this can really happen.

However, there appeared in Odessa on 2 May on opposing sides of the barricades people, including activists of left wing organisations, who only a year ago were making part in common protests against restrictions on the freedom to assemble peacefully and against the introduction of an enslaving Labour Code. Activists of the “Borot’ba” (Struggle) union appeared on the side led by the right wing chauvinists of the “Odesa druzhina” (Odessa Guard). On the other side anarchists and anti-fascists took part in actions that were actually directed by their opponents, in particular the right wing football ultras. The latter group distinguished themselves by their particular brutality against opponents.

The left organisations were unable to put forward an independent, distinct working class programme. To say nothing of not being unable to take the lead of a mass movement, they did not distance themselves, nor even manage to retrain the masses of people from fratricidal violence under nationalist slogans. These leftists ended up in the snare of uncritical support for a relatively large movement which in recent times has almost completely departed from the socio-economic order of the day and changed it into a nationalist one. At that moment for the protesters in Odessa the ability or inability, in the last instance the right, of the Ukrainian state to exist unfortunately carries more weight than the labour rights of the Ukrainian working class of all nationalities.

Instead of a strategy to remove the capitalist oligarchies from power in Ukraine and Russia there is a discussion under way as to whether the creation of a Ukrainian state was a “misunderstanding” or “a historical mistake”. Its no surprise that by and large the workers of the big factories in Eastern and Central Ukraine are not taking part in mass protest actions. Anti-Maidan and pro-Maidan actions are on the whole poorly attended and in no way can they be compared to the one-hundred-thousand strong mobilisations of Kievans during the Euro-Maidan in January and February this year. Armed radicals remain a small group of adventurists even in Sloviansk, where they have seized power and clearly are holding on only by intimidating the local population who quite logically don’t want to become the victims of the Anti-Terrorist Operation of the Government.

It is very doubtful whether a majority of the residents of Sloviansk support the monarchist idea of resurrecting “the one and indivisible” (Russia –translator), which is openly proclaimed by the Russian officer Strelkov-Hirkin, “commander-in-chief” of the Donetsk People’s Republic. At the same time it is clear that neither do they want to see in Sloviansk the “little green men” of Strelkov nor any other soldiers. After all, they understand only too well that with the continuation of the Anti-Terrorist Operation fighting will start sooner or later in the inhabited homes of the town and they will be the first to suffer – the peaceful local inhabitants.

The workers of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk by and large are not taking part in the stand-off, but continue each day to drive through the checkpoints to work. The question of a general strike has not even been raised here. Local lumpen-criminal gangs and old people who dimwittedly pine with nostalgia for the USSR are the main supporters of the “Sloviansk junta”. At the same time a mass organised workers movement is present without a doubt in Ukraine. It has appeared in Kryviy Rih when the miners’ self defence brigade prevented the escalation of violence in that city during the attempts by “titushky” (thugs hired by the authorities and employers – translator) to attack the local Maidan.

The workers showed themselves also in Chervonohrad, Lviv oblast, where they intervened in the political process and then de-facto nationalised the local electricity power station, which belongs to Rinat Akhmetov, the oligarch. The workers movement has shown itself even more powerfully in Krasnodon, Luhansk oblast. During a general strike here the miners took the city under their control. It is significant that they did not want to ally themselves with the Luhansk separatist “anti-Maidan” , nor did they declare support for the bourgeois oligarchic leaders of the Kyiv Maidan. They had their own Maidan, of the workers, armed with slogans for social justice and seriously intent on realising these slogans, unlike the Kyiv Maidan. The workers were demanding not only an increase in their wages, but also an end to outsourcing for supplementary workers in the mines. Thus it was not a narrowly economic strike, but a movement that raised the need for solidarity between workers of different skills, a movement sufficiently powerful to take the whole city under its control. And in doing that there was no violence, there were no casualties or victims!

The city was taken not only without a single shot fired, but without anyone offering even half hearted resistance. Understandably, a workers’ movement organised on a national scale is still very weak. Truly active, class conscious workers’ unions are concentrated in a few centres of the mining industry. However, it is also the case that only where the workers really intervene in a confrontation that it becomes possible to avoid mass casualties and to calm down chauvinistic hysteria.

Indeed, the emergence into the political arena of an independent, class workers’ movement remains perhaps the last chance for the survival of today’s Ukrainian state and the prevention of a civil war which is unfolding before our very eyes.

If the scenarios of dismemberment of Ukraine come to pass we will not be able to avert an explosion of violence and massive casualties. Alongside that the confrontation will assume more and more an international and interethnic character, not at all a class one. When the war in Yugoslavia was only just beginning the ultra-right forces were also very weak and marginalised. They had no more support in society than Yarosh and Tiahnybok, with their microscopic ratings, have today. However, less than a year into the war Serb and Croat nazis started to dominate in the Yugoslav political arena and turned themselves into big mass organisations.

If the miners of Luhansk, Donetsk, Lviv and Dnipropetrovsk regions cannot by their joint efforts stop this war we will all be dragged into its meat grinder. In that event a left movement in Ukraine will truly be destroyed for many years to come. It is doubtful whether it will survive in Russia either. Workers of Krasnodon and Kryviy Rih urgently need your solidarity and support! The Krasnodon strike has not ended, but only been suspended during negotiations. In Kryvyj Rih the miners are also preparing to strike in the event their demands are not met.

No support to chauvinists regardless of the flags under which they stand! For an independent and united workers’ Ukraine! For an independent workers and social movement!

Appeal of the Kryviy Rih Basin miners to the workers of Europe

11 May 2014
The attention of the world community is currently focussed on the confrontation between pro-government and anti-government forces in Ukraine. This confrontation is becoming all the more tenacious and bloody. All the more it is being turned into an interethnic confrontation that is stoking up a hysterical mutual hatred between workers of different nationalities.

What remains beyond people’s attention at this moment is the sharpening social and economic situation, and not only in the regions where the fighting is taking place. The rapid devaluation of the hryvnia (Ukrainian currency), the steep rise in prices of consumer goods, transport and basic services, as well as the cutbacks in production in many enterprises – all this has led to a sharp fall in workers’ real wages. By our estimates there has been a 30-50% fall in real wages.

The announcement by the governor of Dnipropetrovsk oblast (province) of an increase in pay for April of 20% was actually turned into an insulting handout to workers of 300-700 hryvnia (£25-58). Miners received only 15% of the actual rate, which often makes up less than half their actual income. As well, the money was paid out as “material support”, which means it will not be included in the calculation of their average monthly wage and therefore in the calculation of their annual leave.

As a result we have no option but to demand an immediate doubling of the real wage in the interests of preserving social peace in this country. We are deeply convinced that the main cause of the destabilised situation in the country is the greed of Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs, who pay a beggar’s wage to workers, send all their profits off-shore and don’t pay taxes in Ukraine. In fact the oligarchs are almost completely exempt from taxes on their profits.

We turn to you with a call to support our struggle against the oligarchs, who have brought Ukraine into the current crisis and who continue to destabilise it further, threatening to provoke a fratricidal war in Ukraine which without any doubt will have catastrophic consequences for all of Europe. It is necessary to put pressure on the corporations of the Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs, many of whom have their shares placed on the London Stock Exchange.

There is a mounting labour dispute in the enterprises of EVRAZ plc, whose headquarters are in London. Today (11 May 2014) the miners marched through the streets of Kryvyy Rih to the administration of the EVRAZ Sukha Balka plc and showered its office with loose change as a sign of protest against the fictitious “wage increase” for April. The Independent Union of Miners of Ukraine calls upon the British public to picket the offices of EVRAZ plc and the offices of other Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs’ corporations in London and other cities in Europe. If we don’t force them to come round the chances of preserving peace in Ukraine will be elusive.

At the same time we are demanding that the authorities officially recognise the miners’ self defense and the arming of miners’ brigades. Organised workers and workers’ self defense are precisely that stabilising factor which can effectively prevent the escalation of violence in Ukraine. In those places where organised workers are controlling the situation mass actions never turn into mass killings. The workers defended the Maidan in kryviy Rih. The workers did not allow any violence when they took under their control the situation in the city of Krasnodon during the recent general strike there.

We call upon the workers of Britain for solidarity. In particular we will be grateful for any information and humanitarian support, but the biggest need we feel right now is for personal protective clothing for members of the self defense brigades (body armour and the like) and mobile radio communications equipment.

Long live international workers’ solidarity!

By preserving the peace in Ukraine we will preserve the peace of Europe!

Oleksandr Bondar, Head of the branch of the Independent Union of Miners of Ukraine at the EVRAZ Sukha Balka plc

Yuri Samoilov, Co-ordinator of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine in Kryviy Rih, Head of the Independent Union of Miners of Ukraine in Kryviy Rih.


Sunday, May 04, 2014

From the Fire in Odessa

IT was a classic bit of BBC news filtering. While we were able to see a mob storming the Odessa trade union building and what looked like some frighteningly effective incendiary devices being hurled, the newsreader in the studio told us that it was not known what caused the fires to break out, in which some 36 or more people were killed.

Then the woman correspondent on the Odessa street said nationalists attacking the building had thrown petrol bombs, and police were now making arrests.

Back to the studio where the man now said once again that it was "not known" what had caused the fires to break out, but added that "both sides" had thrown petrol bombs.

This was what the BBC calls "balance", and on its News 24 channel which is not the worst of sources
 for UK news coverage. I wonder how balanced the Beeb would be if the people who died had been British, or if the scene of what happened had been Oldham or Orpington, instead of Odessa. 

Fortunately these days we do not have to rely on corporate media for all our news and information, and here, forwarded by a friend, is a report from one of the left-wing groups in Ukraine, Borotba. I don't know much about this group nor how reliable its version of events is. I gather that in Ukraine as anywhere else the Left has its differences. But as against the kind of coverage we're getting on the Beeb and other Western media, I'd say this has enough fact and ring of truth as to be worth reading.

More from the council of ‘Borotba’ union, May 3, 2014:

 On May 2, under the pretext of the so-called march ‘For unity of Ukraine’ (that was dated to football match ‘Chernomorets’ – ‘Metallist’) – the paramilitary squads of Ukrainian nationalist were brought together to Odessa from all over the country. They arrived by buses and by trains. From the very beginning – when they just started to gather on ‘Sobornaya’ square – among ordinary ultra-right fans too many well-equipped paramilitaries could be seen. They had shields, helmets, bats, traumatic and service weapons. Mostly - men about 30-40 years old who were evidently not football fans. Some of them had shields where it was written: ’14-th hundred of Maidan self-guard’. And these nationalist paramilitaries became the main striking force of bloody massacre of Odessa residents on ‘Kulikovo pole’ square.

In total there were more than thousand of nationalists that participated in the march and the slaughter that followed it. Local residents of Odessa were the minority among them, while the majority – far-right paramilitaries that were brought together there. They could be identified in particular by dialect (not typical for Odessa region), however many of them openly acknowledged and told where they came from. Local Odessa fans of ‘Chernomorets’ team have left the march at the moment when clashes started – they came just for traditional march to the stadium and when they realized that ‘visitors’ and provocateurs led them to beat local people – the majority of ‘Chernomorets’ fans (identified by black-blue scarves of Odessa club) – immediately left the so-called ‘peaceful’ march.

At the same time ‘guest-militants’ were not going to the stadium. Their aim was to terrorize the city-residents and to unleash violence against the activists of the movements opposed to Kiev junta. The action of nationalists from the very beginning had not a peaceful nature, since they were preparing to start a massacre.

There were just a few policemen, although the personnel of only local Odessa police was able to control a crowd of a thousand people and, therefore, prevent pogroms and murders. As it turned out, the majority of police officers were ordered to guard the building of Internal Affairs Department. Thus, the whole city was delivered into the hands of neo-Nazi paramilitaries. Although, it is not surprising given the fact that the current Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov has long and close connections to neo-Nazi groups, that are included into the ‘Right Sector’.

When the column of nationalists marched along Grecheskaya street - a few (some 200-250 people) activists of local Odessa militia tried to stop them. But soon the opponents of nationalists were pelted with stones, bottles and stun grenades. There were heard gunshots. The activist of "Borotba" Ivan has got a gunshot wound into the belly from a military weapon. Then activists and members of Odessa militia tried to escape in the shopping centre "Athena" in the ‘Greek’ square. A crowd of far-right nationalists demanded to start a carnage against them. The far-right paramilitaries started immediately to prepare Molotovs on the square in order to set fire to the shopping center with barricaded Odessa militia members inside it. Police officers managed to save the lives of activists as they drove police cars directly to the entrance of the shopping centre.

Then the crowd of nationalist headed to the square ‘Kulikovo Pole’, where there was a camp of opponents to Kiev junta. Activists of ‘Borotba’, along with other activists and ordinary Odessa residents, were on duty that day in the protest camp. In total there were some 200 people in the camp and half of them - women and elderly men.

Neo-Nazis began to pelt the tent camp with Molotovs and set it ablaze. Activists from the protest camp were forced to retreat to the nearby building of ‘House of Trade Unions’.

When trying to kill Odessa residents, ultrarights set ablaze the ground floor of the ‘House of Trade-Unions. And the fire spread rather quickly over the building.

People began to jump out of the windows of the upper floors - trying to escape the fire. But on the ground, they were finished off by nationalist paramilitaries. Thus, our comrade - a member of "Borotba" union Andrew Brazhevsky – was killed. Deputy of regional council Vyacheslav Markin (a fellow of the leader of ‘Borotba’ Odessa Alexey Albu) was also brutally killed the same way when he jumped out of window.  Over 40 activists were burnt alive, poisoned by smoke or were murdered by the Nazis while trying to escape from a burning building. Fortunately, most of our comrades managed to escape alive. Some of our comrades, including the leader of Odessa "Borotba" and city council deputy Alexei Albu were severely beaten by bats and kicked. They have numerous bruises, broken bones and head injuries.

The massacre in Odessa was organized by Kiev junta so that to intimidate the population that is discontent with the new regime, and so that to eliminate the active fighters against new regime. The evidence of it is the fact that far-right militants were brought together and well-equipped. Moreover, the police inaction as well as the fact that attack of ultra-rightists in Odessa was synchronized with the "anti-terrorist operation" in Slavyansk – are also the evidence of it.

Kiev junta has openly set a course toward violence and carnage against their political opponents. And the tools of this brutal violence are neo-Nazi militants – those who act closely with the secret police, who are well-armed and being financed by the oligarchy.

The massacre in Odessa reveals that Kiev regime of nationalists and oligarchs is rapidly grows into the outright terrorist dictatorship of the fascist style.

Sad Footnote:

Dear comrades!
More then 40 people were killed yesterday in the evening in the house of Trade unions. Nazis burn it and many antimaidan activists died there. Among them son of our comrade Elena Radzihovskaya. Her son was activist of "Borotba".
Yuri Shakhin

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